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Tue lord Burlington, to whom this Epistle is dedicated, was the well-known builder of the fine façade and court of Burlington-house, and the active and liberal friend of British taste in every form. Possessing hereditary rank and opulence, third earl of Burlington, and fourth earl of Cork, he devoted his influence and his fortune almost wholly to the promotion of the arts in England : though a knight of the garter, captain of the band of gentlemen-pensioners, and enjoying remarkable favor at court, he early retired from public life to the decoration of his magnificent house and gardens at Chiswick; made his town-house the chief ornament of London in its quarter; and, among other acts of liberality, restored, at his own expense, the front of St. Paul's, Covent-garden, as a mark of respect for the memory of its architect, Inigo Jones. Walpole, in his • Anecdotes of Painting,' gives a slight but striking tribute to the taste of this distinguished nobleman : Never,' says he, ' were protection and great wealth more generously and judiciously diffused than by this great person, who had every quality of a genius and artist, except envy. Though his own designs were more chaste and classic than Kent's, he entertained him in his house till his death, and was more studious to extend his friend's fame than his own. Walpole proceeds to state the effect which the colonnade in the court of Burlington-house had on himself:-'I had not only never seen it, but had never heard of it, at least with any attention, when, soon after my return from Italy, I was invited to a ball at Burlington-house. As I passed under the gate by night, it could not strike me; but, at daybreak, looking out of the window to see the sun rise, I was surprised with the vision of the colonnade that fronted me: it seemed one of those edifices in fairy tales, that are raised by genii in a night's time.'
The Boyle family would well deserve a national record : the history of a line, which within two centuries produced six individuals, all memorable, and some of high eminence, ought to be among the treasures of a great people.
This Epistle was written the first of the moral series, and, as such, was published in 1731 : but it appeared the fourth in the edition of 1735. The new arrangement, which was intended for the clearer perception of the reasoning, has however given rise to some perplexities, anachronisms, &c.
ARGUMENT OF EPISTLE IV.
The vanity of expense in people of wealth and quality. The
abuse of the word taste, ver. 13. That the first principle and foundation in this, as in every thing else, is good sense, v. 40. The chief proof of it is to follow nature, even in works of luxury and elegance. Instanced in architecture and gardening, where all must be adapted to the genius and use of the place; and the beauties not forced into it, but resulting from it, v.50. How men are disappointed in their most expensive undertakings, for want of this true foundation, without which nothing can please long, if at all; and the best examples and rules will be but perverted into something burdensome and ridiculous, v. 65, &c. to 92. A description of the false taste of magnificence; the first grand error of which is to imagine that greatness consists in the size and dimension, instead of the proportion and harmony of the whole, v. 97. and the second, either in joining together parts incoherent, or too minutely resembling, or in the repetition of the same too frequently, v. 105, &c. A word or two of false taste in books, in music, in painting, even in preaching and prayer, and lastly in entertainments, v. 133, &c. Yet Providence is justified in giving wealth to be squandered in this manner, since it is dispersed to the poor and laborious part of mankind, v. 169, [recurring to what is laid down in the first book, Ep. ii., and in the Epistle preceding this, v. 159, &c.] What are the proper objects of magnificence, and a proper field for the expense of great men, v. 177, &c. And, finally, the great and public works which become a prince, v. 191, to the end.