The Garden Guide

Book: Fragments on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening, 1816
Chapter: Fragment XxvIII. Containing Extracts From The Report On Woburn Abbey.

Character of Woburn Abbey

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CHARACTER AND SITUATION. So intimately connected is the character of a place with the situation of the house, that it is hardly possible to separate them in idea; yet it is obvious that, at Woburn, these two circumstances are at variance with each other. The character of Woburn Abbey (whether we consider its command of surrounding property, its extent of domain, the hereditary honours of the family, the magnificence of the mansion, or the number of its appendages,) is that of greatness. To greatness we always annex ideas of elevation; and, I believe, in every European language, loftiness of situation, whether literally or figuratively expressed, forms the leading characteristic of greatness; to which we are always supposed to look up, and not to look down. Every epithet applied to it seems to confirm the general opinion, that what is low cannot be truly great; from the exalted sovereign to the kneeling slave, or from the lofty mountain to the humble valley. But as greatness of character may be distinct from greatness of dimensions, so loftiness of character may exist without loftiness of situation. The works of art, however great or lofty in themselves, can never be truly so when surrounded by the works of nature, with which they are liable to be compared: thus, the stupendous mass of ruins at Stonehenge is rendered diminutive in appearance by the vast extent of Salisbury Plain.