The Landscape Guide

Jardin Anglo-Chinois  [The CD has additional information on the landscape garden in France]

France had so far been quietly adapting the baroque gardens of her country to the requirements of a rococo style, and meanwhile was exercising an effective influence upon Europe generally. The few voices that were raised against Versailles, Saint-Simon’s for example, were really only objections to the king, Louis XIV. The first who showed a decidedly hostile feeling to the conventional style was Langier in his Essay on Architecture, which was published in 1753. Père Attiret’s account, which appeared in France in 1747, was first translated into English about 1752. It had had time to work its effects in France, and to be compared with the ideas that came flooding in from England, French people were astonished by the similarity of the leading thoughts, and it was no wonder that they (who were in the very centre of the Chinese fashion) assumed that England had taken the whole novel idea about horticulture from this much-belauded China. So France began to adopt the new style under the name of Anglo-Chinese. This term was not altogether without justification in the second half of the century, for one important current of the picturesque style began to make a delicate approach to the Chinese, and no wonder, for Père Attiret’s verbal descriptions were now reinforced by pictorial evidence. The Emperor of China had engravings made of his gardens, and sent the pictures to the French court. Moreover, travellers brought other pictures to Europe, and these were engraved by skilled Belgians and Frenchmen who had a marvellous feeling for style, and then were sent out into the world as models.

A French publication, Le Jardin Anglo-Chinois, which was published 1770—87, gives (among illustrations of many European gardens) over a hundred striking drawings of the gardens of the Chinese emperor. Some of the originals were the property of the French king, but for the most part they were brought over by the Swedish Ambassador Cheffer (Fig. 582). 

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The work is explicitly intended for the furtherance of horticultural art, because  “everyone knows that English gardens are only imitations of the Chinese.”

The engravers had at any rate a more sympathetic feeling for their own subject- matter than the editors of the whole series had; for in the sixteen parts one finds a miscellaneous collection of every style, bearing witness to the instability of French art and its experimental nature. In one thing all seem alike, that is, in their love for piling up buildings in the garden. There is a little book, called Livre des Trophées Chinoises, with illustrations of the newest fashion in gardens, full of scrolls and flourishes that people were pleased to call Chinese. Similar publications appeared in England, where the two brothers Halfpenny, who called themselves “architectural joiners,” became well known. If one looks at these pages, one clearly perceives that the two styles were combined because there was a very poor understanding of either. The fancy for Gothic architecture, which for hundreds of years had been the last word in bad taste, appeared in England rather early, and in 1747 an anonymous book came out called Gothic Architecture, with sixty-two illustrations but wanting text. But the “shelters, porches, and pavilions, which complete the view” are hopelessly like Halfpenny’s Chinese objects (Fig. 583).

Illustrations on CD edition of Garden Visit and Travel Guide - see


 In both we get the twirls and flourishes that were used for decorating roofs, balconies, and window-frames. Goethe, moreover, in his Triumph der Empfindsamkeit gives the name of “ Chinese-Gothic “ to the picturesque grottoes of the English garden.

The real influence on English landscape gardening that came from China is connected with the name of Sir William Chambers. In his early life he was in the service of the Swedish East India Company in China. There he made a series of sketches of Chinese buildings, costumes, etc., which he published in 1757, with the intention of showing the real thing as opposed to the pseudo-Chinese. After his return to Europe he travelled a long time in Italy to prepare for an architectural career, and like Addison and Kent, he could not resist the charm of the Italian gardens.

As an Englishman, Chambers was too much captivated by the new ideas not to be fundamentally opposed to the old style; but he compared the wealth shown on the one hand by the southern continental gardens, and on the other hand by the real or only pictured beauties of the gardens in China, with the ever-increasing uniformity in the new style at home. Much had been done in various ways to make the new gardens look empty, one difficulty being that the thickly planted groups of trees were still very young, and the places appeared bare, since the chief effect of the whole picture depended on the beauty of these plantations; again there were not nearly enough men trained to the difficult work of laying out a garden picturesquely. The helpful architectural and plastic ornamentation was now confined to summer-houses, bridges, and the like.

At that time the garden in England was so far opposed to the Chinese habit of overcrowding its buildings, that Chambers wrote his famous essay, On Oriental Gardening, as a direct protest against the devastation and emptiness in the gardens of the Homeland. He urges that artists and connoisseurs both lay too much stress on Nature and Simplicity; and that this is the cry of half-educated chatterers, a sort of refrain lulling them into a lazy condition and complete want of taste. He goes so far as to say that if likeness to Nature is to be adopted as the measure of perfection, we must confess that the wax figures in Fleet Street are superior to the divine works of Buonarotti.

In spite of this Chambers would not say a good word for the old style, and especially jeers at Dutch gardens, calling them “cities of verdure.” What is needed, he thinks, is the example of a land like China. The Chinese also take Nature as their model, and copy her lovely irregularity, but the main reason of their success lies in the fact that they demand a long training for their garden artists, so that the effect of their taste is visible in the whole scheme; whereas on the continent of Europe horticulture is a secondary affair for the architect, and in England is even relegated to the kitchen-gardener. But the Chinese have collected every charming thing for their gardens, lavishly bestowing the beauties that love or money can buy, though they still remain the humble servants of Nature. This Chambers demands for the English gardens, especially emphasising the need for contrast. He declares that the spectator must be amused all the time, and his powers of observation kept awake; his curiosity must be aroused, and his whole soul stirred by a great variety of conflicting emotions.

Chambers had used Attiretts letters as the chief authority for his descriptions, but he now enriches them with a lively and purposeful fancy. It was due to him (though the movement was transitory) that in England the garden landscape was enlivened with buildings. He was himself, in 1758—9, the leading architect for Kew Gardens, The Crown Princess Augusta, George the Third's mother, had built a villa at Kew, and looked about for an architect to provide the proper accessories for her garden, which she wished to have laid out in the picturesque style; and Chambers wanted to show what he could do, Hirschfeld criticises Kew Gardens as being laid out in too narrow a space, for being concentrated upon the lake in the middle, and for making no use of the lovely surrounding country of the Thames, But Chambers relies, as excuse, on his lofty eight-storied pagoda, which affords a very wide view (Fig, 584). 

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In this “ wilderness “ you see at a glance the Pagoda, a Mosque, and a Moorish building called Alhambra. There was a row of Greek temples ( and their particular style gave great joy to Chambers, who was a scholar), there was a Roman ruin (Fig. 585), and there were other lesser monuments; these objects prevented the place from being “ boring,” which Chambers so greatly dreaded.

Illustrations on CD edition of Garden Visit and Travel Guide - see


Kew has often had to bear the reproach of being too full of buildings, yet the excess is not nearly so great as we find it in many a continental garden. The importance of this place, which from the first was richly provided with foreign plants, especially American climbers and conifers, became extraordinarily conspicuous in the nineteenth century, when it was the leading botanical garden in Europe.

Chambers always overlooked one unbridgeable difference between English and Chinese requirements. The Englishman likes to stroll about; he likes to be tempted to seek view after view, by paths that are as winding as possible; and the little, necessarily restricted views which the Chinaman can enjoy sitting down, would of course be unattractive to him. What wonder that a lively protest greeted the writings of Chambers! It happened, moreover, that the Dissertation on Oriental Gardening (1772) appeared after the fashion for China had declined on the Continent.

In England there arose at once contradictory voices, and in the forefront of the battle stood the poet William Mason. He had begun a poem in 1772 about the garden, and this he published in several volumes during the next decade. He felt himself to be the herald and poet of the new style, a warrior fighting for the rights of Nature, who laughs at her fetters, and allows no beauties that are foreign to the soil which she bestows on us.

It is true, says Mason, that the gardener must learn from the painter. He adds that design is indeed a wide province, but gardening is only one of its districts. With this thought he begins an essay (of the same date) on Design in Gardening. The garden artist, he maintains, has robbed Nature of her fairest and best, and we must learn to restore into flowing curves all that is now straight, angular, or parallel; or, otherwise put, the serpentine line uniting grace and beauty is the true line of Nature. He also demands variety, which was the everlasting cry of the French garden of the old style; but the crowding in of images and ornaments, as advocated in Chambers’s essay, seemed to him an affectation, and a danger to the ideal of Nature.

In full sympathy with Walpole, Mason answered Chambers in a sarcastic epistle worthy of Pope, and his work went through numerous editions. Thus did the first quarrel break out. It took different forms in England, and lasted till the beginning of the new century. The principles underlying the movement were many-sided, and it might be that the differences were only differences of direction in that imitation of Nature to which all the parties aspired.


Illustrations on CD edition of Garden Visit and Travel Guide - see
William Chambers drawing for the pagoda at Kew