Part 2 out of 7
one's country. I look round; not a house is to be seen but mine. I am
the Giant of Giant-castle and have ate up all my neighbours." The Earl
must have felt that the political economy of Goldsmith in his _Deserted
Village_ was not wholly the work of imagination.
Sweet smiling village! Loveliest of the lawn,
Thy sports are fled and all thy charms withdrawn;
Amidst thy bowers the tyrant's hand is seen
And desolation saddens all the green,--
_One only master grasps thy whole domain_.
* * * * *
Where then, ah! where shall poverty reside,
To scape the pressure of contiguous pride?
"Hearty, cheerful Mr. Cotton," as Lamb calls him, describes Stowe as a
ON LORD COBHAM'S GARDEN.
It puzzles much the sage's brains
Where Eden stood of yore,
Some place it in Arabia's plains,
Some say it is no more.
But Cobham can these tales confute,
As all the curious know;
For he hath proved beyond dispute,
That Paradise is STOWE.
Thomson also calls the place a paradise:
That o'er the garden and the rural seat
Preside, which shining through the cheerful land
In countless numbers blest Britannia sees;
O, lead me to the wide-extended walks,
_The fair majestic paradise of Stowe!_
Not Persian Cyrus on Ionia's shore
E'er saw such sylvan scenes; such various art
By genius fired, such ardent genius tamed
By cool judicious art, that in the strife
All-beauteous Nature fears to be out-done.
The poet somewhat mars the effect of this compliment to the charms of
Stowe, by making it a matter of regret that the owner
His verdant files
Of ordered trees should here inglorious range,
Instead of squadrons flaming o'er the field,
And long embattled hosts.
This representation of rural pursuits as inglorious, a sentiment so out
of keeping with his subject, is soon after followed rather
inconsistently, by a sort of paraphrase of Virgil's celebrated picture
of rural felicity, and some of Thomson's own thoughts on the advantages
of a retreat from active life.
Oh, knew he but his happiness, of men
The happiest he! Who far from public rage
Deep in the vale, with a choice few retired
Drinks the pure pleasures of the rural life, &c.
Let others brave the flood in quest of gain
And beat for joyless months, the gloomy wave.
_Let such as deem it glory to destroy,
Rush into blood, the sack of cities seek;
Unpierced, exulting in the widow's wail,
The virgin's shriek and infant's trembling cry._
* * * * *
While he, from all the stormy passions free
That restless men involve, hears and _but_ hears,
At distance safe, the human tempest roar,
Wrapt close in conscious peace. The fall of kings,
The rage of nations, and the crush of states,
Move not the man, who from the world escaped,
In still retreats and flowery solitudes,
To nature's voice attends, from month to month,
And day to day, through the revolving year;
Admiring sees her in her every shape;
Feels all her sweet emotions at his heart;
Takes what she liberal gives, nor asks for more.
He, when young Spring, protudes the bursting gems
Marks the first bud, and sucks the healthful gale
Into his freshened soul; her genial hour
He full enjoys, and not a beauty blows
And not an opening blossom breathes in vain.
Thomson in his description of Lord Townshend's seat of Rainham--another
English estate once much celebrated and still much admired--exclaims:
Such are thy beauties, Rainham, such the haunts
Of angels, in primeval guiltless days
When man, imparadised, conversed with God.
And Broome after quoting the whole description in his dedication of his
own poems to Lord Townshend, observes, in the old fashioned fulsome
strain, "This, my lord, is but a faint picture of the place of your
retirement which no one ever enjoyed more elegantly." "A faint
picture!" What more would the dedicator have wished Thomson to say?
Broome, if not contented with his patron's seat being described as an
earthly Paradise, must have desired it to be compared with Heaven
itself, and thus have left his Lordship no hope of the enjoyment of a
better place than he already possessed.
Samuel Boyse, who when without a shirt to his back sat up in his bed to
write verses, with his arms through two holes in his blanket, and when
he went into the streets wore paper collars to conceal the sad
deficiency of linen, has a poem of considerable length entitled _The
Triumphs of Nature_. It is wholly devoted to a description of this
magnificent garden, in which, amongst other architectural
ornaments, was a temple dedicated to British worthies, where the busts
of Pope and Congreve held conspicuous places. I may as well give a
specimen of the lines of poor Boyse. Here is his description of that
part of Lord Cobham's grounds in which is erected to the Goddess of
Love, a Temple containing a statue of the Venus de Medicis.
Next to the fair ascent our steps we traced,
Where shines afar the bold rotunda placed;
The artful dome Ionic columns bear
Light as the fabric swells in ambient air.
Beneath enshrined the Tuscan Venus stands
And beauty's queen the beauteous scene commands:
The fond beholder sees with glad surprize,
Streams glisten, lawns appear, and forests rise--
Here through thick shades alternate buildings break,
There through the borders steals the silver lake,
A soft variety delights the soul,
And harmony resulting crowns the whole.
Congreve in his Letter in verse addressed to Lord Cobham asks him to
Tell how his pleasing Stowe employs his time.
It would seem that the proprietor of Stowe took particular interest in
the disposition of the water on his grounds. Congreve enquires
Or dost thou give the winds afar to blow
Each vexing thought, and heart-devouring woe,
And fix thy mind alone on rural scenes,
_To turn the level lawns to liquid plains_?
To raise the creeping rills from humble beds
And force the latent spring to lift their heads,
On watery columns, capitals to rear,
That mix their flowing curls with upper air?
* * * * *
Or slowly walk along the mazy wood
To meditate on all that's wise and good.
To turn the level lawn to liquid plains--
Will remind the reader of Pope's
Lo! Cobham comes and floats them with a lake--
And it might be thought that Congreve had taken the hint from the bard
of Twickenham if Congreve's poem had not preceded that of Pope. The one
was published in 1729, the other in 1731.
Cowper is in the list of poets who have alluded to "Cobham's groves" and
Pope's commemoration of them.
And _Cobham's groves_ and Windsor's green retreats
When Pope describes them have a thousand sweets.
"Magnificence and splendour," says Mr. Whately, the author of
_Observations on Modern Gardening_, "are the characteristics of Stowe.
It is like one of those places celebrated in antiquity which were
devoted to the purposes of religion, and filled with sacred groves,
hallowed fountains, and temples dedicated to several deities; the resort
of distant nations and the object of veneration to half the heathen
world: the pomp is, at Stowe, blended with beauty; and the place is
equally distinguished by its amenity and grandeur." Horace Walpole
speaks of its "visionary enchantment." "I have been strolling about in
Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, from garden to garden," says Pope in
one of his letters, "but still returning to Lord Cobham's with fresh
The grounds at Stowe, until the year 1714, were laid out in the old
formal style. Bridgeman then commenced the improvements and Kent
subsequently completed them.
Stowe is now, I believe, in the possession of the Marquis of Chandos,
son of the Duke of Buckingham. It is melancholy to state that the
library, the statues, the furniture, and even some of the timber on the
estate, were sold in 1848 to satisfy the creditors of the Duke.
Pope was never tired of improving his own grounds. "I pity you, Sir,"
said a friend to him, "because you have now completed every thing
belonging to your gardens." "Why," replied Pope, "I really shall be
at a loss for the diversion I used to take in carrying out and finishing
things: I have now nothing left me to do but to add a little ornament or
two along the line of the Thames." I dare say Pope was by no means so
near the end of his improvements as he and his friend imagined. One
little change in a garden is sure to suggest or be followed by another.
Garden-improvements are "never ending, still beginning." The late Dr.
Arnold, the famous schoolmaster, writing to a friend, says--"The garden
is a constant source of amusement to us both (self and wife); there are
always some little alterations to be made, some few spots where an
additional shrub or two would be ornamental, something coming into
blossom; so that I can always delight to go round and see how things are
going on." A garden is indeed a scene of continual change. Nature, even
without the aid of the gardener, has "infinite variety," and supplies "a
perpetual feast of nectared sweets where no crude surfeit reigns."
Spence reports Pope to have said: "I have sometimes had an idea of
planting an old gothic cathedral in trees. Good large poplars, with
their white stems, cleared of boughs to a proper height would serve very
well for the columns, and might form the different aisles or
peristilliums, by their different distances and heights. These would
look very well near, and the dome rising all in a proper tuft in the
middle would look well at a distance." This sort of verdant architecture
would perhaps have a pleasing effect, but it is rather too much in the
artificial style, to be quite consistent with Pope's own idea of
landscape-gardening. And there are other trees that would form a nobler
natural cathedral than the formal poplar. Cowper did not think of the
poplar, when he described a green temple-roof.
How airy and how light the graceful arch,
Yet awful as the consecrated roof
Re-echoing pious anthems.
Almost the only traces of Pope's garden that now remain are the splendid
Spanish chesnut-trees and some elms and cedars planted by the poet
himself. A space once laid out in winding walks and beautiful
shrubberies is now a potatoe field! The present proprietor, Mr. Young,
is a wholesale tea-dealer. Even the bones of the poet, it is said, have
been disturbed. The skull of Pope, according to William Howitt, is now
in the private collection of a phrenologist! The manner in which it was
obtained, he says, is this:--On some occasion of alteration in the
church at Twickenham, or burial of some one in the same spot, the coffin
of Pope was disinterred, and opened to see the state of the remains. By
a bribe of L50 to the Sexton, possession of the skull was obtained for
one night; another skull was then returned instead of the poet's.
It has been stated that the French term _Ferme Ornee_ was first used in
England by Shenstone. It exactly expressed the character of his grounds.
Mr. Repton said that he never strolled over the scenery of the Leasowes
without lamenting the constant disappointment to which Shenstone exposed
himself by a vain attempt to unite the incompatible objects of ornament
and profit. "Thus," continued Mr. Repton, "the poet lived under the
continual mortification of disappointed hope, and with a mind
exquisitely sensible, he felt equally the sneer of the great man at the
magnificence of his attempt and the ridicule of the farmer at the
misapplication of his paternal acres." The "sneer of the great man." is
perhaps an allusion to what Dr. Johnson says of Lord Lyttelton:--that he
"looked with disdain" on "the petty State" of his neighbour. "For a
while," says Dr. Johnson, "the inhabitants of Hagley affected to tell
their acquaintance of the little fellow that was trying to make himself
admired; but when by degrees the Leasowes forced themselves into notice,
they took care to defeat the curiosity which they could not suppress, by
conducting their visitants perversely to inconvenient points of view,
and introducing them at the wrong end of a walk to detect a deception;
injuries of which Shenstone would heavily complain." Mr. Graves, the
zealous friend of Shenstone, indignantly denies that any of the
Lyttelton family had evinced so ungenerous a feeling towards the
proprietor of the Leasowes who though his "empire" was less "spacious
and opulent" had probably a larger share of true taste than even the
proprietor of Hagley, the Lyttelton domain--though Hagley has been much,
and I doubt not, deservedly, admired.
Dr. Johnson states that Shenstone's expenses were beyond his means,--
that he spent his estate in adorning it--that at last the clamours of
creditors "overpowered the lamb's bleat and the linnet's song; and that
his groves were haunted by beings very different from fauns and
fairies." But this is gross exaggeration. Shenstone was occasionally,
indeed, in slight pecuniary difficulties, but he could always have
protected himself from the intrusion of the myrmidons of the law by
raising money on his estate; for it appears that after the payment of
all his debts, he left legacies to his friends and annuities to his
Johnson himself is the most scornful of the critics upon Shenstone's
rural pursuits. "The pleasure of Shenstone," says the Doctor, "was all
in his eye: he valued what he valued merely for its looks. Nothing
raised his indignation more than to ask if there were any fishes in his
water." Dr. Johnson would have seen no use in the loveliest piece of
running water in the world if it had contained nothing that he could
masticate! Mrs. Piozzi says of him, "The truth is, he hated to hear
about prospects and views, and laying out grounds and taste in
gardening." "That was the best garden," he said, "which produced most
roots and fruits; and that water was most to be prized which contained
most fish." On this principle of the valuelessness of those pleasures
which enter the mind through the eye, Dr. Johnson should have blamed the
lovers of painting for dwelling with such fond admiration on the canvas
of his friend Sir Joshua Reynolds. In point of fact, Dr. Johnson had no
more sympathy with the genius of the painter or the musician than with
that of the Landscape gardener, for he had neither an eye nor an ear for
Art. He wondered how any man could be such a fool as to be moved to
tears by music, and observed, that, "one could not fill one's belly with
hearing soft murmurs or looking at rough cascades." No; the loveliness
of nature does not satisfy the thirst and hunger of the body, but it
_does_ satisfy the thirst and hunger of the soul. No one can find
wheaten bread or wine or venison or beef or plum-pudding or turtle-soup
in mere sounds and sights, however exquisite--neither can any one find
such substantial diet within the boards of a book--no not even on the
pages of Shakespeare, or even those of the Bible itself,--but men can
find in sweet music and lovely scenery and good books something
infinitely more precious than all the wine, venison, beef, or
plum-pudding, or turtle-soup that could be swallowed during a long life by
the most craving and capacious alderman of London! Man is of a dual
nature: he is not all body. He has other and far higher wants and
enjoyments than the purely physical--and these nobler appetites are
gratified by the charms of nature and the creations of inspired genius.
Dr. Johnson's gastronomic allusions to nature recal the old story of a
poet pointing out to a utilitarian friend some white lambs frolicking in
a meadow. "Aye," said, the other, "only think of a quarter of one of
them with asparagus and mint sauce!" The story is by some supposed to
have had a Scottish origin, and a prosaic North Briton is made to say
that the pretty little lambs, sporting amidst the daisies and
buttercups, would "_mak braw pies_."
A profound feeling for the beautiful is generally held to be an
essential quality in the poet. It is a curious fact, however, that there
are some who aspire to the rank of poet, and have their claims allowed,
who yet cannot be said to be poetical in their nature--for how can that
nature be, strictly speaking, _poetical_ which denies the sentiment of
A thing of beauty is a joy for ever?
Both Scott and Byron very earnestly admired Dr. Johnson's "_London_" and
"_The Vanity of Human Wishes_." Yet the sentiments just quoted from the
author of those productions are far more characteristic of a utilitarian
philosopher than of one who has been endowed by nature with
The vision and the faculty divine,
and made capable, like some mysterious enchanter, of
Clothing the palpable and the familiar
With golden exhalations of the dawn.
Crabbe, also a prime favorite with the authors of the _Lay of the Last
Minstrel_, and _Childe Harold_, is recorded by his biographer--his own
son--to have exhibited "a remarkable indifference to all the proper
objects of taste;" to have had "no real love for painting, or music, or
architecture or for what a painter's eye considers as the beauties of
landscape." "In botany, grasses, the most _useful_ but the least
ornamental, were his favorites." "He never seemed to be captivated with
the mere beauty of natural objects or even to catch any taste for the
arrangement of his specimens. Within, the house was a kind of scientific
confusion; in the garden the usual showy foreigners gave place to the
most scarce flowers, especially to the rarer weeds, of Britain; and were
scattered here and there only for preservation. In fact he neither loved
order for its own sake nor had any very high opinion of that passion in
others." Lord Byron described Crabbe to be
Though nature's sternest painter, yet _the best_.
What! was he a better painter of nature than Shakespeare? The truth is
that Byron was a wretched critic, though a powerful poet. His praises
and his censures were alike unmeasured.
His generous ardor no cold medium knew.
He seemed to recognize no great general principles of criticism, but to
found all his judgments on mere prejudice and passion. He thought Cowper
"no poet," pronounced Spenser "a dull fellow," and placed Pope above
Shakespeare. Byron's line on Crabbe is inscribed on the poet's tombstone
at Trowbridge. Perhaps some foreign visitor on reading the inscription
may be surprized at his own ignorance when he learns that it is not the
author of _Macbeth_ and _Othello_ that he is to regard as the best
painter of nature that England has produced, but the author of the
_Parish Register_ and the _Tales of the Hall_. Absurd and indiscriminate
laudations of this kind confound all intellectual distinctions and make
criticism ridiculous. Crabbe is unquestionably a vigorous and truthful
writer, but he is not the _best_ we have, in any sense of the word.
Though Dr. Johnson speaks so contemptuously of Shenstone's rural
pursuits, he could not help acknowledging that when the poet began "to
point his prospects, to diversify his surface, to entangle his walks and
to wind his waters," he did all this with such judgment and fancy as
"made his little domain the envy of the great and the admiration of the
skilful; a place to be visited by travellers, and copied by designers."
Mason, in his _English Garden_, a poem once greatly admired, but now
rarely read, and never perhaps with much delight, does justice to the
taste of the Poet of the Leasowes.
Nor, Shenstone, thou
Shalt pass without thy meed, thou son of peace!
Who knew'st, perchance, to harmonize thy shades
Still softer than thy song; yet was that song
Nor rude nor inharmonious when attuned
To pastoral plaint, or tale of slighted love.
English pleasure-gardens have been much imitated by the French. Viscomte
Girardin, at his estate of Ermenonville, dedicated an inscription in
amusing French-English to the proprietor of the Leasowes--
THIS PLAIN STONE
TO WILLIAM SHENSTONE;
IN HIS WRITINGS HE DISPLAYED
A MIND NATURAL;
AT LEASOWES HE LAID
ARCADIAN GREENS RURAL.
The Viscomte, though his English composition was so quaint and
imperfect, was an elegant writer in his own language, and showed great
taste and skill in laying out his grounds. He had visited England, and
carefully studied our modern style of gardening. He had personally
consulted Shenstone, Mason, Whateley and other English authors on
subjects of rural taste. He published an eloquent description of his own
estate. His famous friend Rousseau wrote the preface to it. The book was
translated into English. Rousseau spent his last days at Ermenonville
and was buried there in what is called _The Isle of Poplars_. The garden
is now in a neglected state, but the tomb of Rousseau remains uninjured,
and is frequently visited by the admirers of his genius.
"Dr. Warton," says Bowles, "mentions Milton and Pope as the poets to
whom English Landscape is indebted, but _he forgot poor Shenstone_." A
later writer, however, whose sympathy for genius communicates such a
charm to all his anecdotes and comments in illustration of the literary
character, has devoted a chapter of his _Curiosities of Literature_ to a
notice of the rural tastes of the proprietor of the Leasowes. I must
give a brief extract from it.
"When we consider that Shenstone, in developing his fine pastoral ideas
in the Leasowes, educated the nation into that taste for
landscape-gardening, which has become the model of all Europe, this itself
constitutes a claim on the gratitude of posterity. Thus the private
pleasures of a man of genius may become at length those of a whole
people. The creator of this new taste appears to have received far less
notice than he merited. The name of Shenstone does not appear in the
Essay on Gardening, by Lord Orford; even the supercilious Gray only
bestowed a ludicrous image on these pastoral scenes, which, however, his
friend Mason has celebrated; and the genius of Johnson, incapacitated by
nature to touch on objects of rural fancy, after describing some of the
offices of the landscape designer, adds, that 'he will not inquire
whether they demand any great powers of mind.' Johnson, however, conveys
to us his own feelings, when he immediately expresses them under the
character of 'a sullen and surly speculator.' The anxious life of
Shenstone would indeed have been remunerated, could he have read the
enchanting eulogium of Whateley on the Leasowes; which, said he, 'is a
perfect picture of his mind--simple, elegant and amiable; and will
always suggest a doubt whether the spot inspired his verse, or whether
in the scenes which he formed, he only realised the pastoral images
which abound in his songs.' Yes! Shenstone had been delighted could he
have heard that Montesquieu, on his return home, adorned his 'Chateau
Gothique, mais orne de bois charmans, don't j'ai pris l'idee en
Angleterre;' and Shenstone, even with his modest and timid nature, had
been proud to have witnessed a noble foreigner, amidst memorials
dedicated to Theocritus and Virgil, to Thomson and Gesner, raising in
his grounds an inscription, in bad English, but in pure taste, to
Shenstone himself; for having displayed in his writings 'a mind
natural,' and in his Leasowes 'laid Arcadian greens rural;' and recently
Pindemonte has traced the taste of English gardening to Shenstone. A man
of genius sometimes receives from foreigners, who are placed out of the
prejudices of his compatriots, the tribute of posterity!"
"The Leasowes," says William Howitt, "now belongs to the Atwood family;
and a Miss Atwood resides there occasionally. But the whole place bears
the impress of desertion and neglect. The house has a dull look; the
same heavy spirit broods over the lawns and glades: And it is only when
you survey it from a distance, as when approaching Hales-Owen from
Hagley, that the whole presents an aspect of unusual beauty."
Shenstone was at least as proud of his estate of the Leasowes as was
Pope of his Twickenham Villa--perhaps more so. By mere men of the world,
this pride in a garden may be regarded as a weakness, but if it be a
weakness it is at least an innocent and inoffensive one, and it has been
associated with the noblest intellectual endowments. Pitt and Fox and
Burke and Warren Hastings were not weak men, and yet were they all
extremely proud of their gardens. Every one, indeed, who takes an active
interest in the culture and embellishment of his garden, finds his pride
in it and his love for it increase daily. He is delighted to see it
flourish and improve beneath his care. Even the humble mechanic, in his
fondness for a garden, often indicates a feeling for the beautiful, and
a genial nature. If a rich man were openly to boast of his plate or his
equipages, or a literary man of his essays or his sonnets, as lovers of
flowers boast of their geraniums or dahlias or rhododendrons, they would
disgust the most indulgent hearer. But no one is shocked at the
exultation of a gardener, amateur or professional, when in the fulness
of his heart he descants upon the unrivalled beauty of his favorite
'Plants of his hand, and children of his care.'
"I have made myself two gardens," says Petrarch, "and I do not imagine
that they are to be equalled in all the world. I should feel myself
inclined to be angry with fortune if there were any so beautiful out of
Italy." "I wish," says poor Kirke White writing to a friend, "I wish you
to have a taste of these (rural) pleasures with me, and if ever I should
live to be blessed with a quiet parsonage, and _another great object of
my ambition--a garden_, I have no doubt but we shall be for some short
intervals at least two quite contented bodies." The poet Young, in the
latter part of his life, after years of vain hopes and worldly
struggles, gave himself up almost entirely to the sweet seclusion of a
garden; and that peace and repose which cannot be found in courts and
political cabinets, he found at last
In sunny garden bowers
Where vernal winds each tree's low tones awaken,
And buds and bells with changes mark the hours.
He discovered that it was more profitable to solicit nature than to
flatter the great.
For Nature never did betray
The heart that loved her.
People of a poetical temperament--all true lovers of nature--can afford,
far better than more essentially worldly beings, to exclaim with
I care not Fortune what you me deny,
You cannot bar me of free Nature's grace,
You cannot shut the windows of the sky
Through which Aurora shows her brightening face:
You cannot bar my constant feet to trace
The woods and lawns and living streams at eve:
Let health my nerves and finer fibres brace,
And I their toys to the _great children_ leave:--
Of fancy, reason, virtue, nought can me bereave.
The pride in a garden laid out under one's own directions and partly
cultivated by one's own hand has been alluded to as in some degree
unworthy of the dignity of manhood, not only by mere men of the world,
or silly coxcombs, but by people who should have known better. Even Sir
William Temple, though so enthusiastic about his fruit-trees, tells us
that he will not enter upon any account of _flowers_, having only
pleased himself with seeing or smelling them, and not troubled himself
with the care of them, which he observes "_is more the ladies part than
the men's_." Sir William makes some amends for this almost contemptuous
allusion to flowers in particular by his ardent appreciation of the use
of gardens and gardening in general. He thus speaks of their attractions
and advantages: "The sweetness of the air, the pleasantness of the
smell, the verdure of plants, the cleanness and lightness of food, the
exercise of working or walking, but above all, the exemption from cares
and solicitude, seem equally to favor and improve both contemplation and
health, the enjoyment of sense and imagination, and thereby the quiet
and ease of the body and mind." Again: "As gardening has been the
inclination of kings and the choice of philosophers, so it has been the
common favorite of public and private men, a pleasure of the greatest
and the care of the meanest; and indeed _an employment and a possession
for which no man is too high or too low_." This is just and liberal;
though I can hardly help still feeling a little sore at Sir William's
having implied in the passage previously quoted, that the care of
flowers is but a feminine occupation. As an elegant amusement, it is
surely equally well fitted for all lovers of the beautiful, without
reference to their sex.
It is not women and children only who delight in flower-gardens. Lord
Bacon and William Pitt and the Earl of Chatham and Fox and Burke and
Warren Hastings--all lovers of flowers--were assuredly not men of
frivolous minds or of feminine habits. They were always eager to exhibit
to visitors the beauty of their parterres. In his declining years the
stately John Kemble left the stage for his garden. That sturdy English
yeoman, William Cobbett, was almost as proud of his beds of flowers as
of the pages of his _Political Register_. He thus speaks of gardening:
"Gardening is a source of much greater profit than is generally
imagined; but, merely as an amusement or recreation it is a thing of
very great value. It is not only compatible with but favorable to the
study of any art or science; it is conducive to health by means of the
irresistible temptation which it offers to early rising; to the stirring
abroad upon one's legs, for a man may really ride till he cannot walk,
sit till he cannot stand, and lie abed till he cannot get up. It tends
to turn the minds of youth from amusements and attachments of a
frivolous and vicious nature, it is a taste which is indulged at home;
it tends to make home pleasant, and to endear to us the spot on which it
is our lot to live,--and as to the _expenses_ attending it, what are all
these expenses compared with those of the short, the unsatisfactory, the
injurious enjoyment of the card-table, and the rest of those amusements
which are sought from the town." _Cobbett's English Gardener_.
"Other fine arts," observes Lord Kames, "may be perverted to excite
irregular and even vicious emotions: but gardening, which inspires the
purest and most refined pleasures, cannot fail to promote every good
affection. The gaiety and harmony of mind it produceth, inclining the
spectator to communicate his satisfaction to others, and to make them
happy as he is himself, tend naturally to establish in him a habit of
humanity and benevolence."
Every thoughtful mind knows how much the face of nature has to do with
human happiness. In the open air and in the midst of summer-flowers, we
often feel the truth of the observation that "a fair day is a kind of
sensual pleasure, and of all others the most innocent." But it is also
something more, and better. It kindles a spiritual delight. At such a
time and in such a scene every observer capable of a religious emotion
is ready to exclaim--
Oh! there is joy and happiness in every thing I see,
Which bids my soul rise up and bless the God that blesses me
The amiable and pious Doctor Carey of Serampore, in whose grounds sprang
up that dear little English daisy so beautifully addressed by his
poetical proxy, James Montgomery of Sheffield, in the stanzas
Thrice welcome, little English flower!
My mother country's white and red--
was so much attached to his Indian garden, that it was always in his
heart in the intervals of more important cares. It is said that he
remembered it even upon his death-bed, and that it was amongst his last
injunctions to his friends that they should see to its being kept up
with care. He was particularly anxious that the hedges or railings
should always be in such good order as to protect his favorite shrubs
and flowers from the intrusion of Bengalee cattle.
A garden is a more interesting possession than a gallery of pictures or
a cabinet of curiosities. Its glories are never stationary or stale. It
has infinite variety. It is not the same to-day as it was yesterday. It
is always changing the character of its charms and always increasing
them in number. It delights all the senses. Its pleasures are not of an
unsocial character; for every visitor, high or low, learned or
illiterate, may be fascinated with the fragrance and beauty of a garden.
But shells and minerals and other curiosities are for the man of science
and the connoisseur. And a single inspection of them is generally
sufficient: they never change their aspect. The Picture-Gallery may
charm an instructed eye but the multitude have little relish for human
Art, because they rarely understand it:--while the skill of the Great
Limner of Nature is visible in every flower of the garden even to the
It is pleasant to read how the wits and beauties of the time of Queen
Anne used to meet together in delightful garden-retreats, 'like the
companies in Boccaccio's Decameron or in one of Watteau's pictures.'
Ritchings Lodge, for instance, the seat of Lord Bathurst, was visited by
most of the celebrities of England, and frequently exhibited bright
groups of the polite and accomplished of both sexes; of men
distinguished for their heroism or their genius, and of women eminent
for their easy and elegant conversation, or for gaiety and grace of
manner, or perfect loveliness of face and form--all in harmonious union
with the charms of nature. The gardens at Ritchings were enriched with
Inscriptions from the pens of Congreve and Pope and Gay and Addison and
Prior. When the estate passed into the possession of the Earl of
Hertford, his literary lady devoted it to the Muses. "She invited every
summer," says Dr. Johnson, "some poet into the country to hear her
verses and assist her studies." Thomson, who praises her so lavishly in
his "Spring," offended her ladyship by allowing her too clearly to
perceive that he was resolved not to place himself in the dilemma of
which Pope speaks so feelingly with reference to other poetasters.
Seized and tied down to judge, how wretched I,
Who can't be silent, and who will not lie.
I sit with sad civility, I read
With honest anguish and an aching head.
But though "the bard more fat than bard beseems" was restive under her
ladyship's "poetical operations," and too plainly exhibited a desire to
escape the infliction, preferring the Earl's claret to the lady's
rhymes, she should have been a little more generously forgiving towards
one who had already made her immortal. It is stated, that she never
repeated her invitation to the Poet of the Seasons, who though so
impatient of the sound of her tongue when it "rolled" her own
"raptures," seems to have been charmed with her _at a distance_--while
meditating upon her excellencies in the seclusion of his own study. The
compliment to the Countess is rather awkwardly wedged in between
descriptions of "gentle Spring" with her "shadowing roses" and "surly
Winter" with his "ruffian blasts." It should have commenced the poem.
O Hertford, fitted or to shine in courts
With unaffected grace, or walk the plain,
With innocence and meditation joined
In soft assemblage, listen to my song,
Which thy own season paints; when nature all
Is blooming and benevolent like thee.
Thomson had no objection to strike off a brief compliment in verse, but
he was too indolent to keep up _in propria persona_ an incessant fire of
compliments, like the _bon bons_ at a Carnival. It was easier to write
her praises than listen to her verses. Shenstone seems to have been more
pliable. He was personally obsequious, lent her recitations an attentive
ear, and was ever ready with the expected commendation. It is not likely
that her ladyship found much, difficulty in collecting around her a
crowd of critics more docile than Thomson and quite as complaisant as
Shenstone. Let but a _Countess_
Once own the happy lines,
How the wit brightens, how the style refines!
Though Thomson's first want on his arrival in London from the North was
a pair of shoes, and he lived for a time in great indigence, he was
comfortable enough at last. Lord Lyttleton introduced him to the Prince
of Wales (who professed himself the patron of literature) and when his
Highness questioned him about the state of his affairs, Thomson assured
him that they "were in a more poetical posture than formerly." The
prince bestowed upon the poet a pension of a hundred pounds a year, and
when his friend Lord Lyttleton was in power his Lordship obtained for
him the office of Surveyor General of the Leeward Islands. He sent a
deputy there who was more trustworthy than Thomas Moore's at Bermuda.
Thomson's deputy after deducting his own salary remitted his principal
three hundred pounds per annum, so that the bard 'more fat than bard
beseems' was not in a condition to grow thinner, and could afford to
make his cottage a Castle of Indolence. Leigh Hunt has versified an
anecdote illustrative of Thomson's luxurious idleness. He who could
describe "_Indolence_" so well, and so often appeared in the part
Slippered, and with hands,
Each in a waistcoat pocket, (so that all
Might yet repose that could) was seen one morn
Eating a wondering peach from off the tree.
A little summer-house at Richmond which Thomson made his study is still
preserved, and even some articles of furniture, just as he left
them. Over the entrance is erected a tablet on which is the
AND THEIR CHANGE.
Thomson was buried in Richmond Church. Collins's lines to his memory,
In yonder grave a Druid lies,
are familiar to all readers of English poetry.
Richmond Hill has always been the delight not of poets only but of
painters. Sir Joshua Reynolds built a house there, and one of the only
three landscapes which seem to have survived him, is a view from the
window of his drawing-room. Gainsborough was also a resident in
Richmond. Richmond gardens laid out or rather altered by Brown, are now
united with those of Kew.
Savage resided for some time at Richmond. It was the favorite haunt of
Collins, one of the most poetical of poets, who, as Dr. Johnson says,
"delighted to rove through the meanders of enchantment, to gaze on the
magnificence of golden palaces, to repose by the waterfalls of Elysian
gardens." Wordsworth composed a poem upon the Thames near Richmond in
remembrance of Collins. Here is a stanza of it.
Glide gently, thus for ever glide,
O Thames, that other bards may see
As lovely visions by thy side
As now fair river! come to me;
O glide, fair stream for ever so,
Thy quiet soul on all bestowing,
Till all our minds for ever flow
As thy deep waters now are flowing.
Thomson's description of the scenery of Richmond Hill perhaps hardly
does it justice, but the lines are too interesting to be omitted.
Say, shall we wind
Along the streams? or walk the smiling mead?
Or court the forest-glades? or wander wild
Among the waving harvests? or ascend,
While radiant Summer opens all its pride,
Thy hill, delightful Shene? Here let us sweep
The boundless landscape now the raptur'd eye,
Exulting swift, to huge Augusta send,
Now to the sister hills that skirt her plain,
To lofty Harrow now, and now to where
Majestic Windsor lifts his princely brow
In lovely contrast to this glorious view
Calmly magnificent, then will we turn
To where the silver Thames first rural grows
There let the feasted eye unwearied stray,
Luxurious, there, rove through the pendent woods
That nodding hang o'er Harrington's retreat,
And stooping thence to Ham's embowering walks,
Beneath whose shades, in spotless peace retir'd,
With her the pleasing partner of his heart,
The worthy Queensbury yet laments his Gay,
And polish'd Cornbury woos the willing Muse
Slow let us trace the matchless vale of Thames
Fair winding up to where the Muses haunt
In Twit nam's bowers, and for their Pope implore
The healing god, to loyal Hampton's pile,
To Clermont's terrass'd height, and Esher's groves;
Where in the sweetest solitude, embrac'd
By the soft windings of the silent Mole,
From courts and senates Pelham finds repose
Enchanting vale! beyond whate'er the Muse
Has of Achaia or Hesperia sung!
O vale of bliss! O softly swelling hills!
On which the _Power of Cultivation_ lies,
And joys to see the wonders of his toil.
The Revd. Thomas Maurice wrote a poem entitled _Richmond Hill_, but it
contains nothing deserving of quotation after the above passage from
Thomson. In the _English Bards and Scotch Reviewers_ the labors of
Maurice are compared to those of Sisyphus
So up thy hill, ambrosial Richmond, heaves
Dull Maurice, all his granite weight of leaves.
Towards the latter part of the last century the Empress of Russia
(Catherine the Second) expressed in a French letter to Voltaire her
admiration of the style of English Gardening. "I love to
distraction," she writes, "the present English taste in gardening. Their
curved lines, their gentle slopes, their pieces of water in the shape of
lakes, their picturesque little islands. I have a great contempt for
straight lines and parallel walks. I hate those fountains which torture
water into forms unknown to nature. I have banished all the statues to
the vestibules and to the galleries. In a word English taste
predominates in my _plantomanie_."
I omitted when alluding to those Englishmen in past times who
anticipated the taste of the present day in respect to laying out
grounds, to mention the ever respected name of John Evelyn, and as all
other writers before me, I believe, who have treated upon gardening,
have been guilty of the same oversight, I eagerly make his memory some
slight amends by quoting the following passage from one of his letters
to his friend Sir Thomas Browne.
"I might likewise hope to refine upon some particulars, especially
concerning the ornaments of gardens, which I shall endeavor so to handle
as that they may become useful and practicable, as well as magnificent,
and that persons of all conditions and faculties, which delight in
gardens, may therein encounter something for their owne advantage. The
modell, which I perceive you have seene, will aboundantly testifie my
abhorrency of those painted and formal projections of our cockney
gardens and plotts, which appeare like gardens of past-board and
marchpane, and smell more of paynt then of flowers and verdure; our
drift is a noble, princely, and universal Elysium, capable of all the
amoenities that can naturally be introduced into gardens of pleasure,
and such as may stand in competition with all the august designes and
stories of this nature, either of antient or moderne tymes; yet so as to
become useful and significant to the least pretences and faculties. We
will endeavour to shew how the air and genious of gardens operat upon
humane spirits towards virtue and sanctitie: I mean in a remote,
preparatory and instrumentall working. How caves, grotts, mounts, and
irregular ornaments of gardens do contribute to contemplative and
philosophicall enthusiasme; how _elysium, antrum, nemus, paradysus,
hortus, lucus_, &c., signifie all of them _rem sacram it divinam_; for
these expedients do influence the soule and spirits of men, and prepare
them for converse with good angells; besides which, they contribute to
the lesse abstracted pleasures, phylosophy naturall; and longevitie: and
I would have not onely the elogies and effigie of the antient and famous
garden heroes, but a society of the _paradisi cultores_ persons of
antient simplicity, Paradisean and Hortulan saints, to be a society of
learned and ingenuous men, such as Dr. Browne, by whome we might hope to
redeeme the tyme that has bin lost, in pursuing _Vulgar Errours_, and
still propagating them, as so many bold men do yet presume to do."
The English style of landscape-gardening being founded on natural
principles must be recognized by true taste in all countries. Even in
Rome, when art was most allowed to predominate over nature, there were
occasional instances of that correct feeling for rural beauty which the
English during the last century and a half have exhibited more
conspicuously than other nations. Atticus preferred Tully's villa at
Arpinum to all his other villas; because at Arpinum, Nature predominated
over art. Our Kents and Browns never expressed a greater contempt,
than was expressed by Atticus, for all formal and artificial decorations
of natural scenery.
The spot where Cicero's villa stood, was, in the time of Middleton,
possessed by a convent of monks and was called the Villa of St. Dominic.
It was built, observes Mr. Dunlop, in the year 1030, from the fragments
of the Arpine Villa!
Art, glory, Freedom, fail--but Nature still is fair.
"Nothing," says Mr. Kelsall, "can be imagined finer than the surrounding
landscape. The deep azure of the sky, unvaried by a single cloud--Sora
on a rock at the foot of the precipitous Appennines--both banks of the
Garigliano covered with vineyards--the _fragor aquarum_, alluded to by
Atticus in his work _De Legibus_--the coolness, the rapidity and
ultramarine hue of the Fibrenus--the noise of its cataracts--the rich
turquoise color of the Liris--the minor Appennines round Arpino, crowned
with umbrageous oaks to the very summits--present scenery hardly
elsewhere to be equalled, certainly not to be surpassed, even in Italy."
This description of an Italian landscape can hardly fail to charm the
imagination of the coldest reader; but after all, I cannot help
confessing to so inveterate a partiality for dear old England as to be
delighted with the compliment which Gray, the poet, pays to English
scenery when he prefers it to the scenery of Italy. "Mr. Walpole,"
writes the poet from Italy, "says, our _memory_ sees more than our eyes
in this country. This is extremely true, since for _realities_ WINDSOR
or RICHMOND HILL is infinitely preferable to ALBANO or FRESCATI."
Sir Walter Scott, with all his patriotic love for his own romantic land,
could not withhold his tribute to the loveliness of Richmond Hill,--its
"_unrivalled landscape_" its "_sea of verdure_."
"They" (The Duke of Argyle and Jeanie Deans) "paused for a
moment on the brow of a hill, to gaze on the unrivalled
landscape it presented. A huge sea of verdure, with crossing and
intersecting promontories of massive and tufted groves was
tenanted by numberless flocks and herds which seemed to wander
unrestrained and unbounded through the rich pastures. The
Thames, here turreted with villas, and there garlanded with
forests, moved on slowly and placidly, like the mighty monarch
of the scene, to whom all its other beauties were but
accessaries, and bore on its bosom an hundred barks and skiffs
whose white sails and gaily fluttering pennons gave life to the
whole." _The Heart of Mid-Lothian_.
It must of course be admitted that there are grander, more sublime, more
varied and extensive prospects in other countries, but it would be
difficult to persuade me that the richness of English verdure could be
surpassed or even equalled, or that any part of the world can exhibit
landscapes more truly _lovely_ and _loveable_, than those of England, or
more calculated to leave a deep and enduring impression upon the heart.
Mr. Kelsall speaks of an Italian sky "_uncovered by a single cloud_,"
but every painter and poet knows how much variety and beauty of effect
are bestowed upon hill and plain and grove and river by passing clouds;
and even our over-hanging vapours remind us of the veil upon the cheek
of beauty; and ever as the sun uplifts the darkness the glory of the
landscape seems renewed and freshened. It would cheer the saddest heart
and send the blood dancing through the veins, to behold after a dull
misty dawn, the sun break out over Richmond Hill, and with one broad
light make the whole landscape smile; but I have been still more
interested in the prospect when on a cloudy day the whole "sea of
verdure" has been swayed to and fro into fresher life by the fitful
breeze, while the lights and shadows amidst the foliage and on the lawns
have been almost momentarily varied by the varying sky. These changes
fascinate the eye, keep the soul awake, and save the scenery from the
comparatively monotonous character of landscapes in less varying climes.
And for my own part, I cordially echo the sentiment of Wordsworth, who
when conversing with Mrs. Hemans about the scenery of the Lakes in the
North of England, observed: "I would not give up the mists that
_spiritualize_ our mountains for all the blue skies of Italy."
Though Mrs. Stowe, the American authoress already quoted as one of the
admirers of England, duly appreciates the natural grandeur of her own
land, she was struck with admiration and delight at the aspect of our
English landscapes. Our trees, she observes, "are of an order of
nobility and they wear their crowns right kingly." "Leaving out of
account," she adds, "our _mammoth arboria_, the English Parks have trees
as fine and effective as ours, and when I say their trees are of an
order of nobility, I mean that they (the English) pay a reverence to
them such as their magnificence deserves."
Walter Savage Landor, one of the most accomplished and most highly
endowed both by nature and by fortune of our living men of letters, has
done, or rather has tried to do, almost as much for his country in the
way of enriching its collection of noble trees as Evelyn himself. He
laid out L70,000 on the improvement of an estate in Monmouthshire, where
he planted and fenced half a million of trees, and had a million more
ready to plant, when the conduct of some of his tenants, who spitefully
uprooted them and destroyed the whole plantation, so disgusted him with
the place, that he razed to the ground the house which had cost him
L8,000, and left the country. He then purchased a beautiful estate in
Italy, which is still in possession of his family. He himself has long
since returned to his native land. Landor loves Italy, but he loves
England better. In one of his _Imaginary Conversations_ he tells an
"The English are more zealous of introducing new fruits, shrubs and
plants, than other nations; you Italians are less so than any civilized
one. Better fruit is eaten in Scotland than in the most fertile and
cultivated parts of your peninsula. _As for flowers, there is a greater
variety in the worst of our fields than in the best of your gardens._ As
for shrubs, I have rarely seen a lilac, a laburnum, a mezereon, in any
of them, and yet they flourish before almost every cottage in our
"We wonder in England, when we hear it related by travellers, that
peaches in Italy are left under the trees for swine; but, when we
ourselves come into the country, our wonder is rather that the swine do
not leave them for animals less nice."
Landor acknowledges that he has eaten better pears and cherries in Italy
than in England, but that all the other kinds of fruitage in Italy
appeared to him unfit for dessert.
The most celebrated of the private estates of the present day in England
is Chatsworth, the seat of the Duke of Devonshire. The mansion, called
the Palace of the Peak, is considered one of the most splendid
residences in the land. The grounds are truly beautiful and most
carefully attended to. The elaborate waterworks are perhaps not in the
severest taste. Some of them are but costly puerilities. There is a
water-work in the form of a tree that sends a shower from every branch
on the unwary visitor, and there are snakes that spit forth jets upon
him as he retires. This is silly trifling: but ill adapted to interest
those who have passed their teens; and not at all an agreeable sort of
hospitality in a climate like that of England. It is in the style of the
water-works at Versailles, where wooden soldiers shoot from their
muskets vollies of water at the spectators.
It was an old English custom on certain occasions to sprinkle water over
the company at a grand entertainment. Bacon, in his Essay on Masques,
seems to object to getting drenched, when he observes that "some sweet
odours suddenly coming forth, _without any drops falling_, are in such
a company as there is steam and heat, things of great pleasure and
refreshment." It was a custom also of the ancient Greeks and Romans to
sprinkle their guests with fragrant waters. The Gascons had once the
same taste: "At times," says Montaigne, "from the bottom of the stage,
they caused sweet-scented waters to spout upwards and dart their thread
to such a prodigious height, as to sprinkle and perfume the vast
multitudes of spectators." The Native gentry of India always slightly
sprinkle their visitors with rose-water. It is flung from a small silver
utensil tapering off into a sort of upright spout with a pierced top in
the fashion of that part of a watering pot which English gardeners call
The finest of the water-works at Chatsworth is one called the _Emperor
Fountain_ which throws up a jet 267 feet high. This height exceeds that
of any fountain in Europe. There is a vast Conservatory on the estate,
built of glass by Sir Joseph Paxton, who designed and constructed the
Crystal Palace. His experience in the building of conservatories no
doubt suggested to him the idea of the splendid glass edifice in Hyde
Park. The conservatory at Chatsworth required 70,000 square feet of
glass. Four miles of iron tubing are used in heating the building. There
is a broad carriage way running right through the centre of the
conservatory. This conservatory is peculiarly rich in exotic plants
of all kinds, collected at an enormous cost. This most princely estate,
contrasted with the little cottages and cottage-gardens in the
neighbourhood, suggested to Wordsworth the following sonnet.
Chatsworth! thy stately mansion, and the pride
Of thy domain, strange contrast do present
To house and home in many a craggy tent
Of the wild Peak, where new born waters glide
Through fields whose thrifty occupants abide
As in a dear and chosen banishment
With every semblance of entire content;
So kind is simple Nature, fairly tried!
Yet he whose heart in childhood gave his troth
To pastoral dales, then set with modest farms,
May learn, if judgment strengthen with his growth,
That not for Fancy only, pomp hath charms;
And, strenuous to protect from lawless harms
The extremes of favored life, may honour both.
The two noblest of modern public gardens in England are those at
Kensington and Kew. Kensington Gardens were begun by King William the
III, but were originally only twenty-six acres in extent. Queen Anne
added thirty acres more. The grounds were laid out by the well-known
garden-designers, London and Wise. Queen Caroline, who formed the
Serpentine River by connecting several detached pieces of water into
one, and set the example of a picturesque deviation from the straight
line, added from Hyde Park no less than three hundred acres which
were laid out by Bridgeman. This was a great boon to the Londoners.
Horace Walpole says that Queen Caroline at first proposed to shut up St.
James's Park and convert it into a private garden for herself, but when
she asked Sir Robert Walpole what it would cost, he answered--"Only
three Crowns." This changed her intentions.
The reader of Pope will remember an allusion to the famous Ring in Hyde
Park. The fair Belinda was sometimes attended there by her guardian
The light militia of the lower sky.
They guarded her from 'the white-gloved beaux,'
These though unseen are ever on the wing,
Hang o'er the box, _and hover o'er the Ring_.
It was here that the gallantries of the "Merry Monarch" were but too
often exhibited to his people. "After dinner," says the right garrulous
Pepys in his journal, "to Hyde Parke; at the Parke was the King, and in
another Coach, Lady Castlemaine, they greeting one another at every
The Gardens at Kew "Imperial Kew," as Darwin styles it, are the richest
in the world. They consist of one hundred and seventy acres. They were
once private gardens, and were long in the possession of Royalty, until
the accession of Queen Victoria, who opened the gardens to the public
and placed them under the control of the Commissioners of Her Majesty's
Woods and Forests, "with a view of rendering them available to the
She hath left you all her walks,
Her private arbors and new planted orchards
On this side Tiber. She hath left them you
And to your heirs for ever; common pleasures
To walk abroad and recreate yourselves.
They contain a large Palm-house built in 1848. The extent of glass
for covering the building is said to be 360,000 square feet. My
Mahomedan readers in Hindostan, (I hope they will be numerous,) will
perhaps be pleased to hear that there is an ornamental mosque in these
gardens. On each of the doors of this mosque is an Arabic inscription in
golden characters, taken from the Koran. The Arabic has been thus
LET THERE BE NO FORCE IN RELIGION.
THERE IS NO OTHER GOD EXCEPT THE DEITY.
MAKE NOT ANY LIKENESS UNTO GOD.
The first sentence of the translation is rather ambiguously worded. The
sentiment has even an impious air: an apparent meaning very different
from that which was intended. Of course the original text _means_,
though the English translator has not expressed that meaning--"Let there
be no force _used_ in religion."
When William Cobbett was a boy of eleven years of age he worked in the
garden of the Bishop of Winchester at Farnham. Having heard much of Kew
gardens he resolved to change his locality and his master. He started
off for Kew, a distance of about thirty miles, with only thirteen pence
in his pocket. The head gardener at Kew at once engaged his services. A
few days after, George the Fourth, then Prince of Wales, saw the boy
sweeping the lawns, and laughed heartily at his blue smock frock and
long red knotted garters. But the poor gardener's boy became a public
writer, whose productions were not exactly calculated to excite the
merriment of princes.
Most poets have a painter's eye for the disposition of forms and
colours. Kent's practice as a painter no doubt helped to make him what
he was as a landscape-gardener. When an architect was consulted about
laying out the grounds at Blenheim he replied, "you must send for a
landscape-painter:" he might have added--"_or a poet_."
Our late Laureate, William Wordsworth, exhibited great taste in his
small garden at Rydal Mount. He said of himself--very truly though not
very modestly perhaps,--but modesty was never Wordsworth's
weakness--that nature seemed to have fitted him for three callings--that
of the poet, the critic on works of art, and the landscape-gardener.
The poet's nest--(Mrs. Hemans calls it 'a lovely cottage-like
building')--is almost hidden in a rich profusion of roses and ivy
and jessamine and virginia-creeper. Wordsworth, though he passionately
admired the shapes and hues of flowers, knew nothing of their fragrance.
In this respect knowledge at one entrance was quite shut out. He had
possessed at no time of his life the sense of smell. To make up for this
deficiency, he is said (by De Quincey) to have had "a peculiar depth of
organic sensibility of form and color."
Mr. Justice Coleridge tells us that Wordsworth dealt with
shrubs, flower-beds and lawns with the readiness of a practised
landscape-gardener, and that it was curious to observe how he had imparted
a portion of his taste to his servant, James Dixon. In fact, honest James
regarded himself as a sort of Arbiter Elegantiarum. The master and his
servant often discussed together a question of taste. Wordsworth
communicated to Mr. Justice Coleridge how "he and James" were once "in a
puzzle" about certain discolored spots upon the lawn. "Cover them with
soap-lees," said the master. "That will make the green there darker than
the rest," said the gardener. "Then we must cover the whole." "That will
not do," objects the gardener, "with reference to the little lawn to
which you pass from this." "Cover that," said the poet. "You will then,"
replied the gardener, "have an unpleasant contrast with the foliage
Pope too had communicated to his gardener at Twickenham something of his
own taste. The man, long after his master's death, in reference to the
training of the branches of plants, used to talk of their being made to
hang "_something poetical_".
It would have grieved Shakespeare and Pope and Shenstone had they
anticipated the neglect or destruction of their beloved retreats.
Wordsworth said, "I often ask myself what will become of Rydal Mount
after our day. Will the old walls and steps remain in front of the house
and about the grounds, or will they be swept away with all the beautiful
mosses and ferns and wild geraniums and other flowers which their rude
construction suffered and encouraged to grow among them. This little
wild flower, _Poor Robin_, is here constantly courting my attention and
exciting what may be called a domestic interest in the varying aspect of
its stalks and leaves and flowers." I hope no Englishman meditating to
reside on the grounds now sacred to the memory of a national poet will
ever forget these words of the poet or treat his cottage and garden at
Rydal Mount as some of Pope's countrymen have treated the house and
grounds at Twickenham. It would be sad indeed to hear, after this,
that any one had refused to spare the _Poor Robins_ and _wild geraniums_
of Rydal Mount. Miss Jewsbury has a poem descriptive of "the Poet's
Home." I must give the first stanza:--
Low and white, yet scarcely seen
Are its walls of mantling green;
Not a window lets in light
But through flowers clustering bright,
Not a glance may wander there
But it falls on something fair;
Garden choice and fairy mound
Only that no elves are found;
Winding walk and sheltered nook
For student grave and graver book,
Or a bird-like bower perchance
Fit for maiden and romance.
Another lady-poet has poured forth in verse her admiration of
THE RESIDENCE OF WORDSWORTH.
Not for the glory on their heads
Those stately hill-tops wear,
Although the summer sunset sheds
Its constant crimson there:
Not for the gleaming lights that break
The purple of the twilight lake,
Half dusky and half fair,
Does that sweet valley seem to be
A sacred place on earth to me.
The influence of a moral spell
Is found around the scene,
Giving new shadows to the dell,
New verdure to the green.
With every mountain-top is wrought
The presence of associate thought,
A music that has been;
Calling that loveliness to life,
With which the inward world is rife.
His home--our English poet's home--
Amid these hills is made;
Here, with the morning, hath he come,
There, with the night delayed.
On all things is his memory cast,
For every place wherein he past,
Is with his mind arrayed,
That, wandering in a summer hour,
Asked wisdom of the leaf and flower.
The cottage and garden of the poet are not only picturesque and
delightful in themselves, but from their position in the midst of some
of the finest scenery of England. One of the writers in the book
entitled '_The Land we Live in_' observes that the bard of the mountains
and the lakes could not have found a more fitting habitation had the
whole land been before him, where to choose his place of rest. "Snugly
sheltered by the mountains, embowered among trees, and having in itself
prospects of surpassing beauty, it also lies in the midst of the very
noblest objects in the district, and in one of the happiest social
positions. The grounds are delightful in every respect; but one
view--that from the terrace of moss-like grass--is, to our thinking, the
most exquisitely graceful in all this land of beauty. It embraces the
whole valley of Windermere, with hills on either side softened into
Eustace, the Italian tourist, seems inclined to deprive the English of
the honor of being the first cultivators of the natural style in
gardening, and thinks that it was borrowed not from Milton but from
Tasso. I suppose that most genuine poets, in all ages and in all
countries, when they give full play to the imagination, have glimpses of
the truly natural in the arts. The reader will probably be glad to renew
his acquaintance with Tasso's description of the garden of Armida. I
shall give the good old version of Edward Fairfax from the edition of
1687. Fairfax was a true poet and wrote musically at a time when
sweetness of versification was not so much aimed at as in a later day.
Waller confessed that he owed the smoothness of his verse to the example
of Fairfax, who, as Warton observes, "well vowelled his lines."
THE GARDEN OF ARMIDA.
When they had passed all those troubled ways,
The Garden sweet spread forth her green to shew;
The moving crystal from the fountains plays;
Fair trees, high plants, strange herbs and flowerets new,
Sunshiny hills, vales hid from Phoebus' rays,
Groves, arbours, mossie caves at once they view,
And that which beauty most, most wonder brought,
No where appear'd the Art which all this wrought.
So with the rude the polished mingled was,
That natural seem'd all and every part,
Nature would craft in counterfeiting pass,
And imitate her imitator Art:
Mild was the air, the skies were clear as glass,
The trees no whirlwind felt, nor tempest's smart,
But ere the fruit drop off, the blossom comes,
This springs, that falls, that ripeneth and this blooms.
The leaves upon the self-same bough did hide,
Beside the young, the old and ripened fig,
Here fruit was green, there ripe with vermeil side;
The apples new and old grew on one twig,
The fruitful vine her arms spread high and wide,
That bended underneath their clusters big;
The grapes were tender here, hard, young and sour,
There purple ripe, and nectar sweet forth pour.
The joyous birds, hid under green-wood shade,
Sung merry notes on every branch and bow,
The wind that in the leaves and waters plaid
With murmer sweet, now sung and whistled now;
Ceased the birds, the wind loud answer made:
And while they sung, it rumbled soft and low;
Thus were it hap or cunning, chance or art,
The wind in this strange musick bore his part.
With party-coloured plumes and purple bill,
A wondrous bird among the rest there flew,
That in plain speech sung love-lays loud and shrill,
Her leden was like humane language true;
So much she talkt, and with such wit and skill,
That strange it seemed how much good she knew;
Her feathered fellows all stood hush to hear,
Dumb was the wind, the waters silent were.
The gently budding rose (quoth she) behold,
That first scant peeping forth with virgin beams,
Half ope, half shut, her beauties doth upfold
In their dear leaves, and less seen, fairer seems,
And after spreads them forth more broad and bold,
Then languisheth and dies in last extreams,
Nor seems the same, that decked bed and bower
Of many a lady late, and paramour.
So, in the passing of a day, doth pass
The bud and blossom of the life of man,
Nor ere doth flourish more, but like the grass
Cut down, becometh wither'd, pale and wan:
O gather then the rose while time thou hast,
Short is the day, done when it scant began;
Gather the rose of love, while yet thou may'st
Loving be lov'd; embracing, be embrac'd.
He ceas'd, and as approving all he spoke,
The quire of birds their heav'nly tunes renew,
The turtles sigh'd, and sighs with kisses broke,
The fowls to shades unseen, by pairs withdrew;
It seem'd the laurel chaste, and stubborn oak,
And all the gentle trees on earth that grew,
It seem'd the land, the sea, and heav'n above,
All breath'd out fancy sweet, and sigh'd out love.
_Godfrey of Bulloigne_
I must place near the garden of Armida, Ariosto's garden of Alcina.
"Ariosto," says Leigh Hunt, "cared for none of the pleasures of the
great, except building, and was content in Cowley's fashion, with "a
small house in a large garden." He loved gardening better than he
understood it, was always shifting his plants, and destroying the seeds,
out of impatience to see them germinate. He was rejoicing once on the
coming up of some "capers" which he had been visiting every day, to see
how they got on, when it turned out that his capers were elder trees!"
THE GARDEN OF ALCINA.
'A more delightful place, wherever hurled,
Through the whole air, Rogero had not found;
And had he ranged the universal world,
Would not have seen a lovelier in his round,
Than that, where, wheeling wide, the courser furled
His spreading wings, and lighted on the ground
Mid cultivated plain, delicious hill,
Moist meadow, shady bank, and crystal rill;
'Small thickets, with the scented laurel gay,
Cedar, and orange, full of fruit and flower,
Myrtle and palm, with interwoven spray,
Pleached in mixed modes, all lovely, form a bower;
And, breaking with their shade the scorching ray,
Make a cool shelter from the noon-tide hour.
And nightingales among those branches wing
Their flight, and safely amorous descants sing.
'Amid red roses and white lilies _there_,
Which the soft breezes freshen as they fly,
Secure the cony haunts, and timid hare,
And stag, with branching forehead broad and high.
These, fearless of the hunter's dart or snare,
Feed at their ease, or ruminating lie;
While, swarming in those wilds, from tuft or steep,
Dun deer or nimble goat disporting leap.'
_Rose's Orlando Furioso_.
Spenser's description of the garden of Adonis is too long to give
entire, but I shall quote a few stanzas. The old story on which Spenser
founds his description is told with many variations of circumstance and
meaning; but we need not quit the pages of the Faerie Queene to lose
ourselves amidst obscure mythologies. We have too much of these indeed
even in Spenser's own version of the fable.
THE GARDEN OF ADONIS.
Great enimy to it, and all the rest
That in the Gardin of Adonis springs,
Is wicked Time; who with his scythe addrest
Does mow the flowring herbes and goodly things,
And all their glory to the ground downe flings,
Where they do wither and are fowly mard
He flyes about, and with his flaggy wings
Beates downe both leaves and buds without regard,
Ne ever pitty may relent his malice hard.
* * * * *
But were it not that Time their troubler is,
All that in this delightful gardin growes
Should happy bee, and have immortall blis:
For here all plenty and all pleasure flowes;
And sweete Love gentle fitts emongst them throwes,
Without fell rancor or fond gealosy.
Franckly each paramour his leman knowes,
Each bird his mate; ne any does envy
Their goodly meriment and gay felicity.
There is continual spring, and harvest there
Continuall, both meeting at one tyme:
For both the boughes doe laughing blossoms beare.
And with fresh colours decke the wanton pryme,
And eke attonce the heavy trees they clyme,
Which seeme to labour under their fruites lode:
The whiles the ioyous birdes make their pastyme
Emongst the shady leaves, their sweet abode,
And their trew loves without suspition tell abrode.
Right in the middest of that Paradise
There stood a stately mount, on whose round top
A gloomy grove of mirtle trees did rise,
Whose shady boughes sharp steele did never lop,
Nor wicked beastes their tender buds did crop,
But like a girlond compassed the hight,
And from their fruitfull sydes sweet gum did drop,
That all the ground, with pretious deaw bedight,
Threw forth most dainty odours and most sweet delight.
And in the thickest covert of that shade
There was a pleasaunt arber, not by art
But of the trees owne inclination made,
Which knitting their rancke braunches part to part,
With wanton yvie-twine entrayld athwart,
And eglantine and caprifole emong,
Fashioned above within their inmost part,
That neither Phoebus beams could through them throng,
Nor Aeolus sharp blast could worke them any wrong.
And all about grew every sort of flowre,
To which sad lovers were transformde of yore,
Fresh Hyacinthus, Phoebus paramoure
And dearest love;
Foolish Narcisse, that likes the watry shore;
Sad Amaranthus, made a flowre but late,
Sad Amaranthus, in whose purple gore
Me seemes I see Amintas wretched fate,
To whom sweet poet's verse hath given endlesse date.
_Fairie Queene, Book III. Canto VI_.
I must here give a few stanzas from Spenser's description of the _Bower
In which whatever in this worldly state
Is sweet and pleasing unto living sense,
Or that may dayntiest fantasy aggrate
Was poured forth with pleantiful dispence.
The English poet in his Fairie Queene has borrowed a great deal from
Tasso and Ariosto, but generally speaking, his borrowings, like those of
most true poets, are improvements upon the original.
THE BOWER OF BLISS.
There the most daintie paradise on ground
Itself doth offer to his sober eye,
In which all pleasures plenteously abownd,
And none does others happinesse envye;
The painted flowres; the trees upshooting hye;
The dales for shade; the hilles for breathing-space;
The trembling groves; the christall running by;
And that which all faire workes doth most aggrace,
The art, which all that wrought, appeared in no place.
One would have thought, (so cunningly the rude
And scorned partes were mingled with the fine,)
That Nature had for wantonesse ensude
Art, and that Art at Nature did repine;
So striving each th' other to undermine,
Each did the others worke more beautify;
So diff'ring both in willes agreed in fine;
So all agreed, through sweete diversity,
This Gardin to adorn with all variety.
And in the midst of all a fountaine stood,
Of richest substance that on earth might bee,
So pure and shiny that the silver flood
Through every channel running one might see;
Most goodly it with curious ymageree
Was over-wrought, and shapes of naked boyes,
Of which some seemed with lively iollitee
To fly about, playing their wanton toyes,
Whylest others did themselves embay in liquid ioyes.
* * * * *
Eftsoones they heard a most melodious sound,
Of all that mote delight a daintie eare,
Such as attonce might not on living ground,
Save in this paradise, be heard elsewhere:
Right hard it was for wight which did it heare,
To read what manner musicke that mote bee;
For all that pleasing is to living eare
Was there consorted in one harmonee;
Birdes, voices, instruments, windes, waters all agree:
The ioyous birdes, shrouded in chearefull shade,
Their notes unto the voice attempred sweet;
Th' angelicall soft trembling voyces made
To th' instruments divine respondence meet;
The silver-sounding instruments did meet
With the base murmure of the waters fall;
The waters fall with difference discreet,
Now soft, now loud, unto the wind did call;
The gentle warbling wind low answered to all.
_The Faerie Queene, Book II. Canto XII._
Every school-boy has heard of the gardens of the Hesperides. The story
is told in many different ways. According to some accounts, the
Hesperides, the daughters of Hesperus, were appointed to keep charge of
the tree of golden apples which Jupiter presented to Juno on their
wedding day. A hundred-headed dragon that never slept, (the offspring of
Typhon,) couched at the foot of the tree. It was one of the twelve
labors of Hercules to obtain possession of some of these apples. He slew
the dragon and gathered three golden apples. The gardens, according to
some authorities, were situated near Mount Atlas.
Shakespeare seems to have taken _Hesperides_ to be the name of the
garden instead of that of its fair keepers. Even the learned Milton in
his _Paradise Regained_, (Book II) talks of _the ladies of the
Hesperides_, and appears to make the word Hesperides synonymous with
"Hesperian gardens." Bishop Newton, in a foot-note to the passage in
"Paradise Regained," asks, "What are the Hesperides famous for, but the
gardens and orchards which _they had_ bearing golden fruit in the
western Isles of Africa." Perhaps after all there may be some good
authority in favor of extending the names of the nymphs to the garden
itself. Malone, while condemning Shakespeare's use of the words as
inaccurate, acknowledges that other poets have used it in the same way,
and quotes as an instance, the following lines from Robert Greene:--
Shew thee the tree, leaved with refined gold,
Whereon the fearful dragon held his seat,
That watched _the garden_ called the _Hesperides_.
For valour is not love a Hercules,
Still climbing trees in the Hesperides?
_Love's Labour Lost_.
Before thee stands this fair Hesperides,
With golden fruit, but dangerous to be touched
For death-like dragons here affright thee hard.
_Pericles, Prince of Tyre_.
Milton, after the fourth line of his Comus, had originally inserted, in
his manuscript draft of the poem, the following description of the
garden of the Hesperides.
THE GARDEN OF THE HESPERIDES
Amid the Hesperian gardens, on whose banks
Bedewed with nectar and celestial songs
Eternal roses grow, and hyacinth,
And fruits of golden rind, on whose fair tree
The scaly harnessed dragon ever keeps
His uninchanted eye, around the verge
And sacred limits of this blissful Isle
The jealous ocean that old river winds
His far extended aims, till with steep fall
Half his waste flood the wide Atlantic fills;
And half the slow unfathomed Stygian pool
But soft, I was not sent to court your wonder
With distant worlds and strange removed climes
Yet thence I come and oft from thence behold
The smoke and stir of this dim narrow spot
Milton subsequently drew his pen through these lines, for what reason is
not known. Bishop Newton observes, that this passage, saved from
intended destruction, may serve as a specimen of the truth of the
Poets lose half the praise they should have got
Could it be known what they discreetly blot.
As I have quoted in an earlier page some unfavorable allusions to
Homer's description of a Grecian garden, it will be but fair to follow
up Milton's picture of Paradise, and Tasso's garden of Armida, and
Ariosto's Garden of Alcina, and Spenser's Garden of Adonis and his Bower
of Bliss, with Homer's description of the Garden of Alcinous. Minerva
tells Ulysses that the Royal mansion to which the garden of Alcinous is
attached is of such conspicuous grandeur and so generally known, that
any child might lead him to it;
For Phoeacia's sons
Possess not houses equalling in aught
The mansion of Alcinous, the king.
I shall give Cowper's version, because it may be less familiar to the
reader than Pope's, which is in every one's hand.
THE GARDEN OF ALCINOUS
Without the court, and to the gates adjoined
A spacious garden lay, fenced all around,
Secure, four acres measuring complete,
There grew luxuriant many a lofty tree,
Pomgranate, pear, the apple blushing bright,
The honeyed fig, and unctuous olive smooth.
Those fruits, nor winter's cold nor summer's heat
Fear ever, fail not, wither not, but hang
Perennial, while unceasing zephyr breathes
Gently on all, enlarging these, and those
Maturing genial; in an endless course.
Pears after pears to full dimensions swell,
Figs follow figs, grapes clustering grow again
Where clusters grew, and (every apple stripped)
The boughs soon tempt the gatherer as before.
There too, well rooted, and of fruit profuse,
His vineyard grows; part, wide extended, basks
In the sun's beams; the arid level glows;
In part they gather, and in part they tread
The wine-press, while, before the eye, the grapes
Here put their blossoms forth, there gather fast
Their blackness. On the garden's verge extreme
Flowers of all hues smile all the year, arranged
With neatest art judicious, and amid
The lovely scene two fountains welling forth,
One visits, into every part diffused,
The garden-ground, the other soft beneath
The threshold steals into the palace court
Whence every citizen his vase supplies.
_Homer's Odyssey, Book VII_.
The mode of watering the garden-ground, and the use made of the water by
Whence every citizen his vase supplies--
can hardly fail to remind Indian and Anglo-Indian readers of a Hindu
gentleman's garden in Bengal.
Pope first published in the _Guardian_ his own version of the account of
the garden of Alcinous and subsequently gave it a place in his entire
translation of Homer. In introducing the readers of the _Guardian_ to
the garden of Alcinous he observes that "the two most celebrated wits of
the world have each left us a particular picture of a garden; wherein
those great masters, being wholly unconfined and pointing at pleasure,
may be thought to have given a full idea of what seemed most excellent
in that way. These (one may observe) consist entirely of the useful part
of horticulture, fruit trees, herbs, waters, &c. The pieces I am
speaking of are Virgil's account of the garden of the old Corycian, and
Homer's of that of Alcinous. The first of these is already known to the
English reader, by the excellent versions of Mr. Dryden and Mr.
I do not think our present landscape-gardeners, or parterre-gardeners or
even our fruit or kitchen-gardeners can be much enchanted with Virgil's
ideal of a garden, but here it is, as "done into English," by John
Dryden, who describes the Roman Poet as "a profound naturalist," and "_a
THE GARDEN OF THE OLD CORYCIAN.
I chanc'd an old Corycian swain to know,
Lord of few acres, and those barren too,
Unfit for sheep or vines, and more unfit to sow:
Yet, lab'ring well his little spot of ground,
Some scatt'ring pot-herbs here and there he found,
Which, cultivated with his daily care
And bruis'd with vervain, were his frugal fare.
With wholesome poppy-flow'rs, to mend his homely board:
For, late returning home, he supp'd at ease,
And wisely deem'd the wealth of monarchs less:
The little of his own, because his own, did please.
To quit his care, he gather'd, first of all,
In spring the roses, apples in the fall:
And, when cold winter split the rocks in twain,
And ice the running rivers did restrain,
He stripp'd the bear's foot of its leafy growth,
And, calling western winds, accus'd the spring of sloth
He therefore first among the swains was found
To reap the product of his labour'd ground,
And squeeze the combs with golden liquor crown'd
His limes were first in flow'rs, his lofty pines,
With friendly shade, secur'd his tender vines.
For ev'ry bloom his trees in spring afford,
An autumn apple was by tale restor'd
He knew to rank his elms in even rows,
For fruit the grafted pear tree to dispose,
And tame to plums the sourness of the sloes
With spreading planes he made a cool retreat,
To shade good fellows from the summer's heat
_Virgil's Georgics, Book IV_.
An excellent Scottish poet--Allan Ramsay--a true and unaffected
describer of rural life and scenery--seems to have had as great a
dislike to topiary gardens, and quite as earnest a love of nature, as
any of the best Italian poets. The author of the "Gentle Shepherd" tells
us in the following lines what sort of garden most pleased his fancy.
ALLAN RAMSAY'S GARDEN.
I love the garden wild and wide,
Where oaks have plum-trees by their side,
Where woodbines and the twisting vine
Clip round the pear tree and the pine
Where mixed jonquils and gowans grow
And roses midst rank clover grow
Upon a bank of a clear strand,
In wrimplings made by Nature's hand
Though docks and brambles here and there
May sometimes cheat the gardener's care,
_Yet this to me is Paradise_,
_Compared with prim cut plots and nice_,
_Where Nature has to Act resigned,_
_Till all looks mean, stiff and confined_.
I cannot say that I should wish to see forest trees and docks and
brambles in garden borders. Honest Allan here runs a little into the
extreme, as men are apt enough to do, when they try to get as far as
possible from the side advocated by an opposite party.
I shall now exhibit two paintings of bowers. I begin with one from
And over him Art stryving to compayre
With Nature did an arber greene dispied
Framed of wanton yvie, flouring, fayre,
Through which the fragrant eglantine did spred
His prickling armes, entrayld with roses red,
Which daintie odours round about them threw
And all within with flowers was garnished
That, when myld Zephyrus emongst them blew,
Did breathe out bounteous smels, and painted colors shew
And fast beside these trickled softly downe
A gentle streame, whose murmuring wave did play
Emongst the pumy stones, and made a sowne,
To lull him soft asleepe that by it lay
The wearie traveiler wandring that way,
Therein did often quench his thirsty head
And then by it his wearie limbes display,
(Whiles creeping slomber made him to forget
His former payne,) and wypt away his toilsom sweat.
And on the other syde a pleasaunt grove
Was shott up high, full of the stately tree
That dedicated is t'Olympick Iove,
And to his son Alcides, whenas hee
In Nemus gayned goodly victoree
Theirin the merry birds of every sorte
Chaunted alowd their cheerful harmonee,
And made emongst themselves a sweete consort
That quickned the dull spright with musicall comfort.
_Fairie Queene, Book 2 Cant. 5 Stanzas 29, 30 and 31._
Here is a sweet picture of a "shady lodge" from the hand of Milton.
EVE'S NUPTIAL BOWER.
Thus talking, hand in hand alone they pass'd
On to their blissful bower. It was a place
Chosen by the sov'reign Planter, when he framed
All things to man's delightful use, the roof
Of thickest covert was inwoven shade,
Laurel and myrtle, and what higher grew
Of firm and fragrant leaf, on either side
Acanthus, and each odorous bushy shrub,
Fenced up the verdant wall, each beauteous flower
Iris all hues, roses, and jessamine,
Rear'd high their flourish'd heads between, and wrought
Mosaic, under foot the violet,
Crocus, and hyacinth, with rich inlay
Broider'd the ground, more colour'd than with stone
Of costliest emblem other creature here,
Beast, bird, insect, or worm, durst enter none,
Such was their awe of man. In shadier bower
More sacred and sequester'd, though but feign'd,
Pan or Sylvanus never slept, nor nymph
Nor Faunus haunted. Here, in close recess,
With flowers, garlands, and sweet smelling herbs,
Espoused Eve deck'd first her nuptial bed,
And heavenly quires the hymenean sung
I have already quoted from Leigh Hunt's "Stories from the Italian poets"
an amusing anecdote illustrative of Ariosto's ignorance of botany. But
even in these days when all sorts of sciences are forced upon all sorts
of students, we often meet with persons of considerable sagacity and
much information of a different kind who are marvellously ignorant of
the vegetable world.
In the just published Memoirs of the late James Montgomery, of
Sheffield, it is recorded that the poet and his brother Robert, a
tradesman at Woolwich, (not Robert Montgomery, the author of 'Satan,'
&c.) were one day walking together, when the trader seeing a field of
flax in full flower, asked the poet what sort of corn it was. "Such corn
as your shirt is made of," was the reply. "But Robert," observes a
writer in the _Athenaeum_, "need not be ashamed of his simplicity.
Rousseau, naturalist as he was, could hardly tell one berry from
another, and three of our greatest wits disputing in the field whether
the crop growing there was rye, barley, or oats, were set right by a
clown, who truly pronounced it wheat."
Men of genius who have concentrated all their powers on some one
favorite profession or pursuit are often thus triumphed over by the
vulgar, whose eyes are more observant of the familiar objects and
details of daily life and of the scenes around them. Wordsworth and
Coleridge, on one occasion, after a long drive, and in the absence of a
groom, endeavored to relieve the tired horse of its harness. After
torturing the poor animal's neck and endangering its eyes by their
clumsy and vain attempts to slip off the collar, they at last gave up
the matter in despair. They felt convinced that the horse's head must
have swollen since the collar was put on. At last a servant-girl beheld
their perplexity. "La, masters," she exclaimed, "you dont set about it
the right way." She then seized hold of the collar, turned it broad end
up, and slipped it off in a second. The mystery that had puzzled two of
the finest intellects of their time was a very simple matter indeed to a
country wench who had perhaps never heard that England possessed a
James Montgomery was a great lover of flowers, and few of our English
poets have written about the family of Flora, the sweet wife of Zephyr,
in a more genial spirit. He used to regret that the old Floral games and
processions on May-day and other holidays had gone out of fashion.
Southey tells us that in George the First's reign a grand Florist's
Feast was held at Bethnall Green, and that a carnation named after his
Majesty was _King of the Year_. The Stewards were dressed with laurel
leaves and flowers. They carried gilded staves. Ninety cultivators
followed in procession to the sound of music, each bearing his own
flowers before him. All elegant customs of this nature have fallen into
desuetude in England, though many of them are still kept up in other
parts of Europe.
Chaucer who dearly loved all images associated with the open air and the
dewy fields and bright mornings and radiant flowers makes the gentle
That fairer was to seene
Than is the lily upon his stalkie greene,
rise early and do honor to the birth of May-day. All things now seem to
breathe of hope and joy.
Though long hath been
The trance of Nature on the naked bier
Where ruthless Winter mocked her slumbers drear
And rent with icy hand her robes of green,
That trance is brightly broken! Glossy trees,
Resplendent meads and variegated flowers
Flash in the sun and flutter in the breeze
And now with dreaming eye the poet sees
Fair shapes of pleasure haunt romantic bowers,
And laughing streamlets chase the flying hours.
The great describer of our Lost Paradise did not disdain to sing a
SONG ON MAY-MORNING.
Now the bright Morning star, Day's harbinger,
Comes dancing from the east, and leads with her
The flowery May, who from her green lap throws
The yellow cowslip and the pale primrose
Hail bounteous-May, that dost inspire
Mirth and youth and warm desire;
Woods and groves are of thy dressing,
Hill and dale do boast thy blessing.
Thus we salute thee with our early song,
And welcome thee and wish thee long.
Nor did the Poet of the World, William Shakespeare, hesitate to
Do observance to a morn of May.
He makes one of his characters (in _King Henry VIII_.) complain that it
is as impossible to keep certain persons quiet on an ordinary day, as it
is to make them sleep on May-day--once the time of universal merriment--
when every one was wont "_to put himself into triumph_."
'Tis as much impossible,
Unless we sweep 'em from the doors with cannons
To scatter 'em, _as 'tis to make 'em sleep
On May-day Morning_.
Spenser duly celebrates, in his "Shepheard's Calender,"
Thilke mery moneth of May
When love-lads masken in fresh aray,
when "all is yclad with pleasaunce, the ground with grasse, the woods
with greene leaves, and the bushes with bloosming buds."
Sicker this morowe, no longer agoe,
I saw a shole of shepeardes outgoe
With singing and shouting and iolly chere:
Before them yode a lustre tabrere,
That to the many a hornepype playd
Whereto they dauncen eche one with his mayd.
To see those folks make such iovysaunce,
Made my heart after the pype to daunce.
Tho to the greene wood they speeden hem all
To fetchen home May with their musicall;
And home they bringen in a royall throne
Crowned as king; and his queene attone
Was LADY FLORA.
This is the season when the birds seem almost intoxicated with delight
at the departure of the dismal and cold and cloudy days of winter and
the return of the warm sun. The music of these little May musicians
seems as fresh as the fragrance of the flowers. The Skylark is the
prince of British Singing-birds--the leader of their cheerful band.
LINES TO A SKYLARK.
Wanderer through the wilds of air!
Freely as an angel fair
Thou dost leave the solid earth,
Man is bound to from his birth
Scarce a cubit from the grass
Springs the foot of lightest lass--
_Thou_ upon a cloud can'st leap,
And o'er broadest rivers sweep,
Climb up heaven's steepest height,
Fluttering, twinkling, in the light,
Soaring, singing, till, sweet bird,
Thou art neither seen nor heard,
Lost in azure fields afar
Like a distance hidden star,
That alone for angels bright
Breathes its music, sheds its light
Warbler of the morning's mirth!
When the gray mists rise from earth,
And the round dews on each spray
Glitter in the golden ray,
And thy wild notes, sweet though high,
Fill the wide cerulean, sky,
Is there human heart or brain
Can resist thy merry strain?
But not always soaring high,
Making man up turn his eye
Just to learn what shape of love,
Raineth music from above,--
All the sunny cloudlets fair
Floating on the azure air,
All the glories of the sky
Thou leavest unreluctantly,
Silently with happy breast
To drop into thy lowly nest.
Though the frame of man must be
Bound to earth, the soul is free,
But that freedom oft doth bring
Discontent and sorrowing.
Oh! that from each waking vision,
Gorgeous vista, gleam Elysian,
From ambition's dizzy height,
And from hope's illusive light,
Man, like thee, glad lark, could brook
Upon a low green spot to look,
And with home affections blest
Sink into as calm a nest! D.L.R.
I brought from England to India two English skylarks. I thought they
would help to remind me of English meadows and keep alive many agreeable
home-associations. In crossing the desert they were carefully lashed on
the top of one of the vans, and in spite of the dreadful jolting and the
heat of the sun they sang the whole way until night-fall. It was
pleasant to hear English larks from rich clover fields singing so
joyously in the sandy waste. In crossing some fields between Cairo and
the Pyramids I was surprized and delighted with the songs of Egyptian
skylarks. Their notes were much the same as those of the English lark.
The lark of Bengal is about the size of a sparrow and has a poor weak
note. At this moment a lark from Caubul (larger than an English lark) is
doing his best to cheer me with his music. This noble bird, though so
far from his native fields, and shut up in his narrow prison, pours
forth his rapturous melody in an almost unbroken stream from dawn to
sunset. He allows no change of season to abate his minstrelsy, to any
observable degree, and seems equally happy and musical all the year
round. I have had him nearly two years, and though of course he must
moult his feathers yearly, I have not observed the change of plumage,
nor have I noticed that he has sung less at one period of the year than
another. One of my two English larks was stolen the very day I landed in
India, and the other soon died. The loss of an English lark is not to be
replaced in Calcutta, though almost every week, canaries, linnets,
gold-finches and bull-finches are sold at public auctions here.
But I must return to my main subject.--The ancients used to keep the
great Feast of the goddess Flora on the 28th of April. It lasted till
the 3rd of May. The Floral Games of antiquity were unhappily debased by
indecent exhibitions; but they were not entirely devoid of better
characteristics. Ovid describing the goddess Flora says that "while
she was speaking she breathed forth vernal roses from her mouth." The
same poet has represented her in her garden with the Florae gathering
flowers and the Graces making garlands of them. The British borrowed the
idea of this festival from the Romans. Some of our Kings and Queens used
'_to go a Maying_,' and to have feasts of wine and venison in the open
meadows or under the good green-wood. Prior says:
Let one great day
To celebrate sports and floral play
Be set aside.
But few people, in England, in these times, distinguish May-day from the
initial day of any other month of the twelve. I am old enough to
remember _Jack-in-the-Green_. Nor have I forgotten the cheerful