The Landscape Guide

The English Landscape Garden in France

We saw before how France was drawn to the picturesque by Rousseau's introduction of English ideas. And yet she remained half-hearted; for there was always the inner voice, the romantic, deep-rooted love of formality, which restrained the French from that complete destruction of the old state of things which took place in England. It is true that they turned away from the larger designs, and made parks where they could enjoy sentimental pleasures.

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 But Versailles was still there, and they could restrict themselves to the Little Trianon. Here with the Hameau (Fig. 590), the mill, and the dairy (Fig. 591) they had a background for their games and their fashionable dresses. 

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Here Marie Antoinette trifled away the last years of her glory with her ladies and cavaliers. No threatening voice of the coming revolution penetrated to that rippling lake, where they played blind-man’s-buff on the banks; or to the beautiful round temple, whence the little god of love looked down on their happy games. The noble groups of trees that were set round the lake were calmly growing higher and higher; men who were used to this pretty little place shuddered to think of the long broad avenues at Versailles, where one was lost and felt so small. Versailles slept the sleep of the giant, slept through every danger that threatened, until the day of its awakening came.

There are similar grounds in the park at Chantilly and at many castles on the Loire. Hirschfeld tells of a whole array of gardens in and near Paris, all laid out in the new fashion. But seldom did they venture to put the dwelling-house right in the middle of the landscape garden, as in England, where a lawn, the “lawn-carpet,” with side-walks of regularly planted trees was usually found until the beginning of the nineteenth century; this was the first view to be seen in a picturesque garden, and the lawn reached close up to the house. Even at the Little Trianon there were still formal gardens about the tiny castle (Fig. 592), when in 1774 the plan for an English garden was designed by Richard; at any rate, important alterations in these formal parts had been intended in the final execution of the plan.

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As in England, so in France, a singer was found to extol the new movement; and in France it was the Abbé Delille. In many respects he sides with Mason, although when he is trying to get the better of Rapin, he himself derives his authority from Virgil. But whereas Mason, though he is poet enough to see with pain and regret the fall of aged trees, yet pulls himself together with a determined “ It must be,” the whole soul of Delille trembles at the thought that Versailles, “ the masterpiece of a great king, of Le Nôtre, of the age,” may fall. Nothing of Rapin’s could have described more pathetically and more movingly the beauties of the old garden than the verses wherein Delille tells of his fears for their ruin. But in spite of this he sees in their monotony no subject worthy of a poem, for the old gardens were the offspring of architects, the new of philosophers, painters, and poets. The programme he sets out has no single original feature; its leading thought is for picturesque Contrast. “ Imitate Poussin,” he cries, “for he paints the merry dance of shepherds, and beside it sets a grave with the inscription, ‘ I too was a shepherd in Arcady.’”