The first error lies in supposing that good taste is a natural gift, which springs heaven-born into perfect existence — needing no cultivation or improvement. The second is in supposing that taste alone is sufficient to the production of extensive or complete works in architecture or landscape gardening.
A lively sensibility to the beautiful, is a natural faculty, mistaken by more than half the world for good taste itself. But good taste, in the true meaning of the terms, or, more strictly, correct taste, only exists where sensibility to the beautiful, and good judgment, are combined in the same mind. Thus, a person may have a delicate organization, which will enable him to receive pleasure from everything that possesses grace or beauty, but with it so little power of discrimination as to be unable to select among many pleasing objects, those which, under given circumstances, are the most beautiful, harmonious, or fitting. Such a person may be said to have natural sensibility, or fine perceptions, but not good taste; the latter belongs properly to one who, among many beautiful objects, rapidly compares, discriminates, and gives due rank to each, according to its merit.
Now, although that delicacy of organization, usually called taste, is a natural gift, which can no more be acquired than hearing can be by a deaf man, yet, in most persons, this sensibility to the beautiful may be cultivated and ripened into good taste by the study and comparison of beautiful productions in nature and art.
This is precisely what we wish to insist upon, to all persons about to commence rural embellishments, who have not a cultivated or just taste; but only sensibility, or what they would call a natural taste.
Three-fourths of all the building and ornamental gardening of America, hitherto, have been amateur performances — often the productions of persons who, with abundant natural sensibility, have taken no pains to cultivate it and form a correct, or even a good taste, by studying and comparing the best examples already in existence in various parts of this or other countries. Now the study of the best productions in the fine arts is not more necessary to the success of the young painter and sculptor than that of buildings and grounds to the amateur or professional improver, who desires to improve a country residence well and tastefully. In both cases comparison, discrimination, the use of the reasoning faculty, educate the natural delicacy of perception into taste, more or less just and perfect, and enable it not only to arrive at beauty, but to select the most beautiful for the end in view.*
There are at the present moment, without going abroad, opportunities of cultivating a taste in landscape gardening, quite sufficient to enable any one of natural sensibility to the beautiful, combined with good reasoning powers, to arrive at that point which may be considered good taste. There are, indeed, few persons who are aware how instructive and interesting to an amateur, a visit to all the finest country residences of the older States, would be at the present moment. The study of books on taste is by no means to be neglected by the novice in rural embellishment; but the practical illustrations of different styles and principles, to be found in the best cottage and villa residences, are far more convincing and instructive to most minds, than lessons taught in any other mode whatever.
We shall not, therefore, hesitate to commend a few of the most interesting places to the study of the tasteful improver. By the expenditure of the necessary time and money to examine and compare thoroughly such places, he will undoubtedly save himself much unnecessary outlay; he will be able to seize and develop many beauties which would otherwise be overlooked; and, most of all, he will be able to avoid the exhibition of that crude and uncultivated taste, which characterizes the attempts of the majority of beginners, who rather know how to enjoy beautiful grounds than how to go to work to produce them.
* Were Mr. Downing making his plea to the generation now living he would certainly insist on the services of the trained landscape architect. — F. A. W.
For that species of suburban cottage or villa residence which is most frequent within the reach of persons of moderate fortunes, the environs of Boston afford the finest examples in the Union. Averaging from five to twenty acres, they are usually laid out with taste, are well planted with a large variety of trees and shrubs, and above all, are exquisitely kept. As a cottage ornee, there are few places in America more perfect than the grounds of Colonel Perkins, or of Thos. Lee., Esq., at Brookline, near Boston. The latter is especially remarkable for the beauty of the lawn, and the successful management of rare trees and shrubs, and is a most excellent study for the suburban landscape gardener. There are many other places in that neighborhood abounding with interest; but the great feature of the gardens of Boston lies rather in their horticultural than their artistic merit. In forcing and skilful cultivation, they still rank before any other of the country. Mr. Cush-ing's residence, near Watertown, has long been celebrated in this respect.
An amateur who wishes to study trees, should visit the fine old places in the neighborhood of Philadelphia. A couple of days spent at the Bartram Garden, the Hamilton Place, and many of the old estates bordering the Schuylkill, will make him familiar with rare and fine trees, such as Salisburias, Magnolias, Virgilias, etc., of a size and beauty of growth that will not only fill him with astonishment, but convince him what effects may be produced by planting. As a specimen of a cottage residence of the first class, exquisitely kept, there are also few examples in America more perfect than Mrs. Camac's grounds, four or five miles from Philadelphia.
For landscape gardening, on a large scale, and in its best sense, there are no places in America which compare with those on the east bank of the Hudson, between Hyde Park and the town of Hudson. The extent of the grounds, and their fine natural advantages of wood and lawn, combined with their grand and beautiful views, and the admirable manner in which these natural charms are heightened by art, place them far before any other residences in the United States in picturesque beauty. In a strictly horticultural sense, they are, perhaps, as much inferior to the best places about Boston as they are superior to them in the beauty of landscape gardening and picturesque effect.