OBSERVATIONS ON THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF LANDSCAPE DESIGN
CONTAINING SOME OBSERVATIONS ON TASTE
In every other polite Art, there are certain established rules or general principles, to which the professor may appeal in support of his opinions; but in Landscape Gardening every one delivers his sentiments, or displays his taste, as whim or caprice may dictate, without having studied the subject, or even thought it capable of being reduced to any fixed rules. Hence it has been doubted, whether each proprietor of his own estate, may not be the most proper person to plan its improvement.
Had the art still continued under the direction of working gardeners, or nurserymen, the proprietor might supersede the necessity of such landscape gardeners, provided he had previously made this art his study; but not, (as it is frequently asserted) because the gentleman who constantly resides at his place, must be a better judge of the means of improving it, than the professor whose visits are only occasional: for if this reason for a preference were granted, we might with equal truth assert, that the constant companion of a sick man has an advantage over his physician.
Improvements may be suggested by any one, but the professor only acquires a knowledge of effects before they are produced, and a facility in producing them by various methods, expedients, and resources, the result of study, observation, and experience. He knows what can, and what can not be accomplished within certain limits. He ought to know what to adopt, and what to reject; he must endeavour to accommodate his plans to the wishes of the person who consults him,* although, in some cases, they may not strictly accord with his own taste.
Good sense may exist without good taste, yet, from their intimate connexion, many persons are as much offended at having their taste, as their understanding, disputed; hence the most ignorant being generally the most obstinate, I have occasionally found that, as "a little learning is a dangerous thing," a little taste is a troublesome one.
Both taste and understanding require cultivation and improvement. Natural taste, like natural genius, may exist to a certain degree, but without study, observation, and experience, they lead to error: there is, perhaps, no circumstance which so strongly marks the decline of public taste, as the extravagant applause bestowed on early efforts of unlettered and uncultivated genius: extraordinary instances of prematurity deserve to be patronised, fostered, and encouraged, provided they excite admiration from excellence, independent of peculiar circumstances; but the public taste is endangered by the circulation of such crude productions as are curious only from the youth or ignorance of their authors. Such an apology to the learned will not compensate for the defects of grammar in Poetry, nor to the scientific artist for the defects of proportion and design in Architecture; while the incorrectness of such efforts is hardly visible to the bulk of mankind, incapable of comparing their excellence with works of established reputation. Thus in poetry, in painting, and in architecture, false taste is propagated by the sanction given to mediocrity.
The same motives which induce me to mention what I recommend, will also justify me in mentioning what I disapprove; a few observations, therefore, are subjoined to mark those errors, or absurdities in modern gardening and architecture, to which I have never willingly subscribed, and from which it will easily be ascertained how much of what is called the improvement of any place in the list, may properly be attributed to my advice. It is rather upon my opinions in writing, than on the partial and imperfect manner in which my plans have sometimes been executed, that I wish my Fame to be established.
OBJECTION No. 1.
There is no error more prevalent in modern gardening, or more frequently carried to excess, than taking away hedges to unite many small fields into one extensive and naked lawn, before plantations are made to give it the appearance of a park; and where ground is subdivided, by sunk fences, imaginary freedom is dearly purchased at the expence of actual confinement.
The baldness and nakedness round a house is part of the same mistaken system, of concealing fences to gain extent. A palace, or even an elegant villa, in a grass field, appears to me incongruous; yet I have seldom had sufficient influence to correct this common error.
An approach which does not evidently lead to the house, or which does not take the shortest course, cannot be right.
A poor man’s cottage, divided into what is called a pair of lodges, is a mistaken expedient to mark importance in the entrance to a Park.
The entrance gate should not be visible from the mansion, unless it opens into a court yard.
The plantation surrounding a place, called a Belt, I have never advised; nor have I ever willingly marked a drive, or walk, completely round the verge of a park, except in small villas where a dry path around a person’s own field, is always more interesting to him than any other walk.
Small plantations of trees, surrounded by a fence, are the best expedients to form groupes, because trees planted singly seldom grow well; neglect of thinning and of removing the fence, has produced that ugly deformity called a Clump.
Water on an eminence, or on the side of a hill, is among the most common errors of Mr. Brown’s followers; in numerous instances I have been allowed to remove such pieces of water from the hills to the valleys; but in many my advice has not prevailed.
Deception my be allowable in imitating the works of NATURE; thus artificial rivers, lakes, and rock scenery, can only be great by deception, and the mind acquiesces in the fraud after it is detected: but in works of ART every trick ought to be avoided. Sham churches, sham ruins, sham bridges, and every thing which appears what it is not, disgusts when the trick is discovered.
In buildings of every kind the character should be strictly observed. No incongruous mixture can be justified. To add Grecian to Gothic, or Gothic to Grecian, is equally absurd; and a sharp pointed arch to a garden gate, or a dairy window, however frequently it occurs, is not less offensive than Grecian architecture, in which the standard rules of relative proportion are neglected or violated.
The perfection of landscape gardening consists in the fullest attention to these principles, Utility, Proportion, and Unity, or harmony of the parts to the whole.