The Landscape Guide

Horace Walpole's essay On Modern Gardening: Landscape Gardens

Introduction Ancient gardens Roman gardens Renaissance gardens John Milton Sir William Temple William Kent Early 18th century gardens Ha Ha Thomas Whately  Lancelot 'Capability' Brown

Landscape gardens

In the meantime how rich, how gay, how picturesque the face of the country! The demolition of walls laying open each improvement, every journey is made through a succession of pictures; and even where taste is wanting in the spot improved, the general view is embellished by variety. If no relapse to barbarism, formality and seclusion is made, what landscapes will dignify every quarter of our island, when the daily plantations that are making have attained venerable maturity! A specimen of what our gardens will be may be seen at Petworth, where the portion of the park nearest the house has been allotted to the modern style. It is a garden of oaks two hundred years old. If there is a fault in so august a fragment of improved nature, it is that the size of the trees is out of all proportion to the shrubs and accompaniments. In truth, shrubs should not only be reserved for particular spots and home delight, but are past their beauty in less than twenty years.

Enough has been done to establish such a school of landscape, as cannot be found on the rest of the globe. If we have the seeds of a Claude or a Gaspar amongst us, he must come forth. If wood, water, groves, valleys, glades, can inspire or poet or painter, this is the country, this is the age to produce them. The flocks, the herds, that now are admitted into, now graze on the borders of our cultivated plains, are ready before the painter's eyes, and group themselves to animate his picture. One misfortune in truth there is that throws a difficulty on the artist. A principal beauty in our gardens is the lawn and smoothness of turf: in a picture it becomes a dead and uniform spot, incapable of chiaroscuro, and to be broken insipidly by children, dogs, and other unmeaning figures.

Since we have been familiarized to the study of landscape we hear less of what delighted our sportsmen-ancestors, a fine open country. Wiltshire, Dorsetshire and such ocean-like extents were formerly preferred to the rich blue prospects of Kent, to the Thames-watered views in Berkshire, and to the magnificent scale of nature in Yorkshire. An open country is but a canvas on which a landscape might be designed.