Chambers, Sir William

, an eminent architect, was a native of Sweden, but originally descended from the family of Chalmers in Scotland, barons of Tartas, in France. His grandfather was an opulent merchant, who supplied the armies of Charles XII. with money and military stores, and suffered considerably in his fortune by being obliged to receive the base coin issued by that monarch. This circumstance occasioned his son to reside many years in, Sweden, in order the more effectually to prosecute his pecuniary claims. The subject of this article was born in that country, and for what reason is not known, was brought over from Sweden in 1723, at the age of two years, and placed at a school at Rippon, in Yorkshire. His first entrance into life was as a supercargo to the Swedish East India company. In this capacity he made one voyage to China; and, it appears, lost no opportunity of observing what was curious in that country. At the age of eighteen, however, he quitted this profession, and with it all commercial views, to follow the bent of his inclination, which led him to design and architecture.

His first residence in London was in Poland- street, but not, as has been asserted, in the business of a carpenter. At a very early period of his life he was considered as one of the best architects and draughtsmen in Europe; and his abilities introduced him to the patronage of the late John eari of Bute, by whose interest he was appointed to be drawing master to his present majesty, then prince of Wales. The first work of consequence in which he was engaged was the villa of the late earl of Besborougb, at Roehampton, in Surry. He delivered to his lordship his plan as architect, and his estimate as surveyor, and, on being applied to afterward to know whether he would undertake to complete the building himself for the money mentioned in the estimate, he readily consented, and, in the execution of his contract, gave and received that satisfaction which seldom fails to result from the happy concurrence of professional taste and skill with the most distinguished character for punctuality and probity. His conduct on this occasion became the most honourable | introduction to considerable employment among the nobility and gentry.

As an author, Mr. Chambers very soon distinguished himself. In 1759 he published “Designs for Chinese Buildings,” and a “Treatise on Civil Architecture.” Soon after his present majesty’s accession to the throne, he was employed to lay out and improve the royal gardens at Kevv. The result of his labours appeared in 1765, in a splendid publication in large folio, entitled “Plans, elevations, sections, and perspective views of the Gardens and Buildings at Kew in Surry, the seat of her royal highness the princess of Wales.” In the execution of this magnificent work, the talents of several of our ablest designers and engravers are eminently displayed: the architectural designs being drawn by Mr. Chambers, the figures by Cipriani, and the views by Kirby, Thomas Sandby, and Marlow. The engravings were executed by Paul Sandby, Woollett, Major, Grignion, Rooker, and others. The plates were, consequently, universally admired, but with respect to the designs, the greater part were considered rather as objects of curiosity than of taste; and Mr. Chambers himself, as if apprehensive that the style of decoration he had adopted would be censured, anticipates the objections by an apology for the disadvantages of situation under which he laboured.' “The gardens at Kew,” he observes, “are not very large: nor is their situation by any means advantageous, as it is low, and commands no prospects. Originally, the ground was one continued dead flat: the soil was, in general, barren, and without either wood or water. With so many disadvantages, it was not easy to produce any thing even tolerable in gardening; but princely munificence, and an able director, have overcome all difficulties, and converted what was once a desert into an Eden.

Such is the apology of Mr. Chambers; and it must be acknowledged, perhaps, that these gardens are laid out as well as the nature of the place would permit; but, witty regard to the ornaments and buildings, it cannot be-suf-i ficiently regretted, that a fondness for the unmeaning faU balas of Turkish and Chinese chequer- work should prevail over a taste for the beautiful models of Grecian and Roman architecture. It is yet more to be regretted that our architect proved in a subsequent publication that he was not so much constrained by the situation of the place, as | impelled by an irresistible predilection for the Chinese mode of gardening.

In 1771, Mr. Chambers was announced in the catalogue of the royal academy as a knight of the Swedish order of the Polar Star; and the following year he published the work just alluded to, and entitled “A Dissertation on Oriental Gardening,” 4to. The design of this work is to demonstrate, that notwithstanding the boasted improvement of our national taste in ornamental gardening, we are yet in a state of ignorance and barbarism with respect to this pleasing art, of which the Chinese alone are masters. In. the preface he says, that his account of the Chinese manner of gardening was collected from his own observations in China, from conversations with their artists, and remarks transmitted to him at different times by travellers. Besides sir William’s failure in proving his main point, this publication was very unlucky in another respect. A sketch of it had been published some years before; but the performance itself appearing immediately after the publication of Mr. Mason’s “English Garden,” it was suggested, very invidiously perhaps, that our author’s intention was to depreciate the designs of our English gardeners, in order to divert his sovereign from his plan of improving Richmond gardens into the beautiful state in which they now appear. The strange and horrible devices described in this “Dissertation” have been much ridiculed, but are no more than what had been before published by father Attirer, in his account of the emperor of China’s gardens, near Pekin, translated by Mr. Spence (under the assumed literary name of sir Harry Beaumont) in 1753, and since republished in Dodsley’s “Fugitive Pieces.” In whatever light, however, the “Dissertation” might be considered, it was certainly productive of amusement, and the cause of gardeners and gardening was amply revenged by a publication which appeared next year, and was generally attributed to Mr. Mason, entitled “An Heroic Epistle to sir William Chambers, knt. comptroller- general of his majesty’s works, and author of a late Dissertation on Oriental Gardening; enriched with explanatory notes, chiefly extracted from that elaborate performance.A vein of solemn irony, and delicate yet keen satire, runs through this poetical commentary; and sir William’s principles of design in gardening, or rather the Oriental principles, which he had so fondly adopted, are treated with very | little respect. It was followed in 1774, by “.An Heroic Postscript.

In 1775, sir W. Chambers was appointed to conduct the building of that great national work, Somerset-place. This appointment was worth 2000l. a year to him, nor was he too liberally rewarded. The terrace behind this magnificent building is a bold effort of conception. His designs for interior arrangements were excellent, but his staircases were his master-pieces, particularly those belonging to the royal and antiquary societies. He did not live, however, to see the whole finished according to the original plan, and all intention of completing what would be truly a national honour, and a great ornament to the metropolis, seems now to be given up. Sir William, however, continued for many years in the highest rank of his profession, and besides being architect to the king, he was surveyor-general of his majesty’s board of works, treasurer of the royal academy, F. It. S. and F. S. A. and member of the royal academy of arts at Florence, and of the royal academy of architecture at Paris.

Previously to his death, he had sustained a long and severe illness, arising from a derangement of the nervous system, for which many remedies were applied without success. He died at his house in Norton-street, Marybone, March 8, 1796, in the sixty-ninth year of his age, and was interred on the 18th, in Poets-corner, Westminster-abbey. He left a son and three daughters, who shared his ample fortune, which he acquired with great honour, and enjoyed with hospitality bordering on magnificence. His country retirement for some years had been at Whitton-place, near Hounslow-heath; in the improvement of which delightful spot he appears to have studied the decorations of an Italian villa. His character in private life was very amiable, and the courtesy and affability with which he treated the workmen employed under him endeared him to them, and made it easy for him to collect a numerous and able body of artificers when any of his works required extraordinary expedition. 1


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