The Garden Guide

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

Humphry Repton on landscape gardening

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590. The taste of the present day in landscape-gardening may be considered as comparatively chastened and refined by the discussion which has taken place on the subject, and by a great many fine examples. It is also more liberal than it was half a century ago; admitting the use of the beauties of every style, even the geometric, as occasion requires; in short, considering beauty as always relative to the state of society; and, in gardening, even to the state of the surrounding country. The principal artist of the period which has intervened since the death of Brown and Emes was the late H. Repton, Esq. This gentleman, from being an amateur, began his career as professor of landscape-gardening about 1788; and, till a sort of decline and inactivity of taste took place, from 1800 to 1810, he was extensively consulted. Though at first an avowed defender and follower of Brown, he gradually veered round with the change effected in public opinion by the Essays on the Picturesque; so that, comparing his earlier works of 1795 and 1805 with his Fragments on Landscape-Gardening published in 1817, he appears by the latter much more a disciple of Price, than a defender of his 'great self-taught predecessor.' Repton was a beautiful draughtsman, and gave, besides plans and views, his written opinion in a regular form, generally combining the whole in a manuscript volume, which he called the red book of the place. He never, we believe, undertook the execution of his plans; nor was he, as far as we are aware, ever employed out of England; but Valleyfield, in Perthshire, was visited by his two sons, and arranged from their father's designs. The character of this artist's talents seems to have been cultivation rather than genius; he was more anxious to follow than to lead; and to gratify the preconceived wishes of his employers, and improve on the fashion of the day, rather than to strike out grand and original beauties. This, indeed, is perhaps the most useful description of talent both for the professor and his employers. Repton's taste in Gothic architecture, in terraces, and architectural appendages to mansions, was particularly elegant. His published Observations on these subjects are valuable; though we think otherwise of his remarks on landscape-gardening, which we look upon as puerile, wanting depth, often at variance with each other, and abounding too much in affectation and arrogance. On the whole, however, we have no hesitation in asserting, that, both by his splendid volumes and extensive practice among the English nobility, he has supported the credit of this country for taste in laying out grounds. One of his earliest scenes of action was Cobham Hall, in Kent, where, as Prince Puckler Muskau observes, there is an inscription to his memory by Lord Darnley. Repton was born near Felbrig, in Norfolk, and died at Hare Street, in Essex, in 1817.