The Landscape Guide

Life of John Claudius Loudon his wife

Early life London Country Residences Ferm ornee Russia Loss of fortune   Hothouses France and Italy Gardeners Magazine Marriage Birmingham Scotland Arboretum Suburban Gardener  Cemeteries Last illness Death Anecdotes Elegy

Early days in London

In 1803 he first arrived in London. The following day he called on Mr. Sowerby, Mead Place, Lambeth, who was the first gentleman he visited in England; and he was exceedingly delighted with the models and mineralogical specimens, which were so admirably arranged as to give him the greatest satisfaction from his innate love of order; and he afterwards devised a plan for his own books amid papers, partly founded on that of Mr. Sowerby, but much more complete.

As he brought a great number of letters of recommendation to different noblemen and gentlemen of landed property, many of them being from Dr. Coventry with whom he was a great favourite, he was soon extensively employed as a landscape gardener; and his journal is filled with accounts of his tours in various parts of England. It is curious, in turning over his memoranda, to find how many improvements suggested themselves to his active mind, which he was unable, from various circumstances, to carry into effect at the time, but which, many years afterwards, were executed either by himself or by other persons, who, however, were unaware that he had previously suggested them. Throughout his life similar occurrences were continually taking place; and nothing was more common than for him to find persons taking the merit to themselves of inventions which he had suggested years before. When this happened, he was frequently urged to assert his prior claim; but he always answered, that he thought the person who made an invention useful to the public had more merit than its original contriver; and that, in fact, so long as the public were benefited by any invention of his, it was perfectly indifferent to him who had the merit of it. There never lived a more liberal and thoroughly public-spirited man than Mr. Loudon. He had not a single particle of selfishness in his disposition, and in all his actions he never took the benefit they would produce to himself into consideration. When writing a book, his object was to obtain the best possible information on the subject he had in hand; and he was never deterred from seeking this by any considerations of trouble or expense.

That these feelings influenced him from the time of his first arrival in England may be traced in every page of his Journal; and that they continued to influence him to the last day of his life was only too evident to every one around him at that mournful period.

When Mr. Loudon first arrived in London, he was very much struck with the gloomy appearance of the gardens in the centre of the public squares, which were then planted almost entirely with evergreens, particularly with Scotch pines, yews, and spruce firs; and, before the close of the year 1803, he published an article in a work called The Literary Journal, which he entitled, "Observations on laying out the Public Squares of London." In this article he blamed freely the taste which then prevailed, and suggested the great improvement that would result from banishing the yews and firs (which always looked gloomy from the effect of the smoke on their leaves), and mingling deciduous trees with the other evergreens. He particularly named the Oriental and Occidental plane trees, the sycamore, and the almond, as ornamental trees that would bear the smoke of the city; and it is curious to observe how exactly his suggestions' have been adopted, as these trees are now to be found in almost every square in London.

About this time he appears to have become a member of the Linnaean Society, probably through the interest of Sir Joseph Banks, to whom he had brought a letter of introduction, and who, till his death in 1820, continued his warm friend. At the house of Sir Joseph Banks Mr. London met most of the eminent scientific men of that day, and the effect produced by their conversation on his active mind may be traced in his Journal. Among many other interesting memoranda of new ideas that struck him about this period, is one as to the expediency of trying the effects of charcoal on vegetation, from having observed the beautiful verdure of the grass on a spot where charcoal had been burnt. he appears, however, to have thought no more at that time on the subject, or to have forgotten it, as, when he afterwards wrote on charcoal, he made no allusion to this fact.

In 1804, having been employed by the Earl of Mansfield to make some plans for altering the Palace Gardens at Scone in Perthshire, he returned to Scotland and remained there several months, laying out grounds for many noblemen and gentlemen. While thus engaged, and while giving directions for planting and managing woods, and on the best mode of draining and otherwise improving estates, several ideas struck him, which he afterwards embodied in a book published in Edinburgh by Constable and Co., and by Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme, in London. This, then, was the first work of Mr. Loudon's presented to the public through the Messrs. Longman, with whom he continued to transact business of the same nature for nearly forty years. The book alluded to was entitled Observations on the Formation and Management of Useful and Ornamental Plantations; on the Theory, and Practice of Landscape gardening, and on gaining and embanking Land from Rivers or the Sea. As this was his first separate work, and as it is now comparatively little known, it may be interesting to copy a few sentences from the Introduction; which will show how strongly his mind was, even in his youth, imbued with the subject of his profession, though he was then apparently disposed to treat it in a different style from what he did in after years.

"Various are the vegetable productions which this earth affords. Blades of grass spring up every where, and clothe the surface with pasture; groups of shrubs arise in some places, and diversify this uniform covering; but trees are the most striking objects that adorn the face of inanimate nature. If we imagine for a moment that the surface of Europe were totally divested of wood, what would be our sensations on viewing its appearance? Without this accompaniment, hills and valleys, rivers and lakes, rocks and cataracts, all of themselves the most perfect that could be imagined, would present an aspect bleak, savage, and uninteresting. But, let the mountains be covered with wood, and the water shaded by trees, and the scene is instantly changed what was before cold and barren, is now rich, noble, and full of variety. In traveling through a naked country, a whole unvaried horizon is comprehended by the eye with a single glance; its surface is totally destitute of intricacy to excite curiosity and fix attention; and both the eye and the mind are kept in a state of perpetual weariness and fatigue. But, in a wooded country, the scene is continually changing; the trees form a varied boundary to everything around, and enter into numberless and pleasing combinations with all other objects; the eye is relieved without distraction, and the mind fully engaged without fatigue. If we examine even a tree by itself, the intricate formation and disposition of its boughs, spray, and leaves, its varied form, beautiful tints, and diversity of light amid shade, make it far surpass every other object; and, notwithstanding this multiplicity of separate parts, its general effect is simple and grand.

"But wood is not only the greatest ornament on the face of our globe, but the most essential requisite for the accommodation of civilized society. The implements of agriculture, the machinery of manufactures, and the vehicles of commercial intercourse, are all made of timber; nor is there an edifice or superstructure of almost any denomination, in which this material does not form the principal part.

"Wood is more particularly valuable in Great Britain, where the existence and prosperity of the empire depends upon the support of a numerous shipping, emphatically called its 'wooden walls.'

"From the universal utility, and the unrivalled beauty of wood, it may reasonably be supposed to have been assiduously cultivated in all improved countries; and, accordingly, we find trees were planted, and the growth of timber encouraged, by every polished nation. To this subject, as to all other parts of rural economy, the Romans paid great attention; and the writings of some of their most celebrated authors contain many excellent observations and precepts on the culture and management of timber and ornamental trees." (p. 20.) "But, independently of the beauty and profit of wood, the pleasure attending the formation and management of plantations will be a considerable recommendation to every virtuous mind. We look upon our young trees as our offspring; and nothing can possibly be more satisfying than to see them grow and prosper under our care and attention; nothing more interesting than to examine their progress, and mark 'their several peculiarities. As they advance to perfection, we foresee their ultimate beauty; and the consideration that we have reared them raises a most agreeable train of sensations in our minds; so innocent and rational, that they may justly rank with the most exquisite of human gratifications. But, as the most powerful motives to planting are those which address themselves to the interest of the individual, I proceed to consider it more particularly in this point of view." (p. 23.)

The work is divided into sections, in one of which, in particular, on the principal distinctions of trees and shrubs, are some very interesting observations, which show how well their author was acquainted with the characteristics of trees and shrubs even at that early period of his life. Before Mr. Loudon left Edinburgh, he published another work, entitled A short Treatise on some Improvements lately made in Hothouses. This was in 1805; and the same year he returned to England. Oh this second voyage to London, he was compelled by stress of weather to land at Lowestoft; and he took such a disgust at the sea, that he never afterwards traveled by it if it was possible to go by land, he now resumed his labours as a landscape gardener; and his Journal is filled with the observations he made, and the ideas that suggested themselves of improvements, on all he saw. Among other things, he made some remarks on the best mode of harmonizing colours in flower-gardens, which accord, in a very striking manner, with the principles afterwards laid down by M. Chevreul in his celebrated work entitled De la Loi du Contraste simultane des Couleurs, published in Paris in 1839. Mr. Loudon states that he had observed that flower-gardens looked best when the flowers were so arranged as to have a compound colour next the simple one, which was not contained in it. Thus, as there are only three simple colours, blue, red, and yellow, he advises that purple flowers, which are composed of blue and red, should have yellow next them; that orange flowers, which are composed of red and yellow, should be contrasted with blue; and that green flowers, which are composed of blue and yellow, should be relieved by red. He accounts for this on the principle that three parts are required to make a perfect whole; and he compares the union of the three primitive colours formed in this manner with the common chord in music; an idea which has since been worked out by several able writers. He bad also formed the plan of a Pictorial Dictionary, which was to embrace every kind of subject, and to be illustrated by finished woodcuts printed with the type.


Copyright © |