The Garden Guide

Book: History of Garden Design and Gardening
Chapter: Chapter 4: British Gardens (1100-1830)

Criticism of picturesque garden design style

Previous - Next

588. Of enlightened and liberal minds, who have in some degree opposed Price's principles, we can only instance the late W. Windham, who, in a letter to Repton, (Repton was at one period secretary to Windham, when that gentleman was in office,) written after the publication of his defence, combats, not the works of Price, but the popular objections to the supposed desire of subjecting every thing to the picturesque. 'The writers of this school,' he observes, 'show evidently that they do not trace with any success the causes of their pleasure. Does the pleasure that we receive from the view of parks and gardens result from their affording, in their several parts, subjects that would appear to advantage in a picture ? What is most beautiful in nature is not always capable of being represented in a painting; as prospects, moving flocks of deer. Many are of a sort which have nothing to do with the purposes of habitation; as the subjects of Salvator Rosa. Are we therefore to live in caves ? Gainsborough's Country Girl is more picturesque than a child neatly dressed. Are our children to go in rags ? No one will stand by this doctrine; nor do they exhibit it in any distinct shape at all, but only take credit for their attachment to general principles, to which every one is attached as well as they. It is contended that, in laying out a place, whatever is most picturesque is most conformable to true taste. If they say so, they must be led to consequences which they can never venture to avow. If they do not say so, the whole is a question of how much or how little, which, without the instances before you, can never be decided.' 'Places are not to be laid out with a view to their appearance in a picture, but to their use, and the enjoyment of them in real life; and their conformity to these purposes is that which constitutes their true beauty. With this view, gravel walks, and neat mown lawns, and, in some situations, straight alleys, fountains, terraces, and, for aught I know, parterres and cut hedges, are in perfect good taste, and infinitely more conformable to the principles which form the basis of our pleasure in those instances, than the docks and thistles, and litter and disorder, that may make a much better figure in a picture.' (Letter from Windham, published by Repton, in a note to his Observations on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening.) The opinion of Professor Dugald Stewart, as given incidentally in his Philosophical Disquisitions on the Beautiful (Essays, p. 285. 1810, 4to edit.), is of great value. He says: - 'As to the application of the knowledge thus acquired from the study of paintings, to the improvement of natural landscape, I have no doubt that, to a superior understanding and taste, like those of Price, it may often suggest very useful hints; but, if recognised as the standard to which the ultimate appeal is to be made, it would infallibly cover the face of the country with a new and systematical species of affectation, not less remote than that of Brown from the style of gardening which he wishes to recommend. Let painting be allowed its due praise, in quickening our attention to the beauties of nature; in multiplying our resources for their further embellishment; and in holding up a standard, from age to age, to correct the caprices of fashionable innovations: but let our taste for these beauties be chiefly formed on the study of nature herself; nor let us ever forget so far what is due to her indisputable and salutary prerogative, as to attempt an encroachment upon it by laws, which derive the whole of their validity from her own sanction.' (p. 287.)