"... So will I rest in hope To see wide plains, fair trees, and lawney slope ; The morn, the eve, the light, the shade, the flowers; Clear streams, smooth lakes, and overlooking towers".
" Is there anything more shocking than a stiff regular garden?"* What a revolution of the taste in gardening these words reveal! Yet such a complete change in fashion had taken place, that this was the opinion held by all the garden designers of the latter half of the eighteenth century. Nor were they content to lay out new gardens to suit the prevailing style, but they freely destroyed, and abused, where they could not obliterate, the work of former generations. The leader of this new departure in garden design was Kent. He was the successor of Bridgeman, and at first made gardens on the same plan. Soon, however, he went so far beyond him as to entirely leave the formal garden, and substitute for it the landscape style. Walpole considers the first step towards this revolution to have been the introduction of the sunk fence. And certainly he there touched the key-note, for as soon as walls and enclosures were dispensed with, any piece of natural and rural scenery could be included in the garden. "The capital stroke," he wrote, "the leading step to all that has followed, was (I believe the first thought was Bridgeman's) the destruction of walls for boundaries, and the invention of fosses . . an attempt then deemed so astonishing, that the common people called them Ha ! Ha's ! to express their surprise at finding a sudden and unperceived check to their walk." " No sooner was this simple enchantment made, than levelling, mowing, and rolling, followed. The contiguous ground of the park without the sunk fence, was to be harmonized with the lawn within ; and the garden in its turn was to be set free from its prim regularity, that it might assort with the wilder country without. ... At that moment appeared Kent, painter enough to taste the charms of landscape, bold and opinionative enough to dare and to dictate, and born with a genius to strike out a great system from the twilight of imperfect essays. He leaped the fence, and saw that all Nature was a garden. He felt the delicious contrast of hill and valley changing imperceptibly into each other, tasted the beauty of the gentle swell, or concave scoop, and remarked how loose groves crowned an easy eminence with happy ornament, and while they called in the distant view between their graceful stems, removed and extended the perspective by delusive comparison".
* Batty Langley, New Principles of Gardening, 1728.
Essay on Modern Gardening. By Horace Walpole, 1785.
This shows the ideal at which Kent was aiming. To copy Nature was the aim of the new school :" Nature abhors a straight line," was one of Kent's ruling principles, so avenues and straight walks and hedges were an eyesore to him, and this feeling of dislike was shared by other landscape gardeners. Batty Langley wrote, " To be condemned to pass along the famous vista from Moscow to Petersburg, or that other from Agra to Lahor in India, must be as disagreeable a sentence, as to be condemned to labour at the gallies. I conceiv'd some idea of the sensation . . . from walking but a few minutes, immured, betwixt Lord D--'s high shorn yew hedges".
This is but a specimen of the exaggerated language in which the new school of gardeners expressed their contempt for the work of their predecessors.
This passion for the imitation of Nature, was part of the general reaction which was taking place, not only in gardening, but in the world of letters and of fashion. The extremely artificial French taste had for long taken the lead in civilized Europe, and now there was an attempt to shake off the shackles of its exaggerated formalism. The poets of the age were also pioneers of this school of Nature. Dyer, in his poem of " Grongar Hill," and Thomson, in his Seasons, called up pictures which the gardeners and architects of the day strove to imitate in the scenery they planned. The idea was to create a landscape such as poets celebrated or as Claude immortalized on canvass. But the lovers of the beauties of Nature soon became as hopelessly fettered by rules and theories as had been the designers of the more formal schools. The gardens they laid out were planned to produce a set impression on the beholder :" Garden scenes," wrote the poet Shenstone, " may perhaps be divided into the sublime, the beautiful, and the melancholy or pensive." * " Art," says this same writer, "should never be allowed to set foot in the province of Nature," and yet these gardeners advocated every sort of artifice to impose on the spectator, and to make the landscape appear different from what it really was. Shenstone himself suggests a means by which an avenue may be made to appear longer than its true length. " An avenue that is widened in front and planted there with yew trees, then firs, then with trees more and more fady, till they end in the almond willow or silver osier ; will produce a very remarkable deception." His own garden at Leasowes was held by all who practised this " art of gardening" to be a most perfect specimen of this style. There was a lake, and small streams, and cascades, which George Mason describes as " living fountains," and says they were here " carried to the pitch of perfection." A seat overlooking one of these streams was inscribed with a poem in its praise, which ends thus :
" Flow, gentle stream, nor let the vain Thy small unsullied stores disdain : Nor let the pensive sage repine Whose latent course resembles thine".
Unconnected Thoughts on Gardening. By Wm. Shenstone.
All through the garden, in the dingle, or by the side of the serpentine walks., seats, grottoes, ruins or urns, appeared at unexpected places, and were inscribed with lines addressed to some friend, or singing the praises of some natural beauty.
Most conspicuous among the innovations was the change in the form of the ornamental sheets of water. " Stone basons," marble fountains, and straight canals, were swept away, or converted into miniature waterfalls, winding streams, or artificial lakes. Lord Bathurst, at Ryskins, near Colebrook,* was the first to make a winding stream through a garden, and so unusual was the effect that his friend, Lord Stafford, could not believe it had been done on purpose, and supposing it to have been for economy, asked him " to own fairly how little more it would have cost to have made the course of the brook in a strait direction." About this time Queen Caroline " threw a string of ponds in Hyde Park into one to form what is called the Serpentine River." This is only one among many instances which show that these so-called reforms, undertaken with the aim of increased simplicity, resulted in greater stiffness and formality. This is not to be wondered at, when we take into account the influence of Chinese gardening on this school of design. Sir William Chambers, one of this new class of gardeners, had, in his youth, made a voyage to China and brought back from that country ideas which he set forth in his work entitled, Dissertations on Oriental Gardening. The Pagoda at Kew, designed by him, is a well-known monument of this passing fashion. A Chinese writer, Lien-tschen, himself lays down the principles which ruled their gardening :" The Art of laying out gardens consists in an endeavour to combine cheerfulness of aspect, luxuriance of growth, shade, solitude, and repose, in such a manner that the senses may be deluded by an imitation of rural Nature." Alluding to this supposed resemblance of English gardens to those of China, Oliver Goldsmith wrote, " The English have not yet brought the art of gardening to the same perfection with the Chinese, but have lately begun to imitate them. Nature is now followed with greater assiduity than formerly: the trees are suffered to shoot out into the utmost luxuriance;the streams, no longer forced from their native beds, are permitted to wind along the valleys: spontaneous flowers take the place of the finished parterre, and the enamelled meadow of the shaven green".
* Progress of Gardening. By Barrington. Archceologia, Vol. V. Praise of Gardens. By Siveking, p. 17.