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FLOWERS AND FLOWER-GARDENS.
DAVID LESTER RICHARDSON,
PRINCIPAL OF THE HINDU METROPOLITAN COLLEGE, AND AUTHOR OF “LITERARY LEAVES,” “LITERARY RECREATIONS,” &C.
WITH AN APPENDIX OF
PRACTICAL INSTRUCTIONS AND USEFUL INFORMATION RESPECTING THE ANGLO-INDIAN FLOWER-GARDEN.
In every work regard the writer’s end, Since none can compass more than they intend.
This volume is far indeed from being a scientific treatise _On Flowers and Flower-Gardens_:–it is mere gossip in print upon a pleasant subject. But I hope it will not be altogether useless. If I succeed in my object I shall consider that I have gossipped to some purpose. On several points–such as that of the mythology and language of flowers–I have said a good deal more than I should have done had I been writing for a different community. I beg the London critics to bear this in mind. I wished to make the subject as attractive as possible to some classes of people here who might not have been disposed to pay any attention to it whatever if I had not studied their amusement as much as their instruction. I have tried to sweeten the edge of the cup.
I did not at first intend the book to exceed fifty pages: but I was almost insensibly carried on further and further from the proposed limit by the attractive nature of the materials that pressed upon my notice. As by far the largest portion, of it has been written hurriedly, amidst other avocations, and bit by bit; just as the Press demanded an additional supply of “_copy_,” I have but too much reason to apprehend that it will seem to many of my readers, fragmentary and ill-connected. Then again, in a city like Calcutta, it is not easy to prepare any thing satisfactorily that demands much literary or scientific research. There are very many volumes in all the London Catalogues, but not immediately obtainable in Calcutta, that I should have been most eager to refer to for interesting and valuable information, if they had been at hand. The mere titles of these books have often tantalized me with visions of riches beyond my reach. I might indeed have sent for some of these from England, but I had announced this volume, and commenced the printing of it, before it occurred to me that it would be advisable to extend the matter beyond the limits I had originally contemplated. I must now send it forth, “with all its imperfections on its head;” but not without the hope that in spite of these, it will be found calculated to increase the taste amongst my brother exiles here for flowers and flower-gardens, and lead many of my Native friends–(particularly those who have been educated at the Government Colleges,–who have imbibed some English thoughts and feelings–and who are so fortunate as to be in possession of landed property)–to improve their parterres,–and set an example to their poorer countrymen of that neatness and care and cleanliness and order which may make even the peasant’s cottage and the smallest plot of ground assume an aspect of comfort, and afford a favorable indication of the character of the possessor.
_Calcutta, September 21st_ 1855.
A friend tells me that the allusion to the Acanthus on the first page of this book is obscurely expressed, that it was not the _root_ but the _leaves_ of the plant that suggested the idea of the Corinthian capital. The root of the Acanthus produced the leaves which overhanging the sides of the basket struck the fancy of the Architect. This was, indeed, what I _meant_ to say, and though I have not very lucidly expressed myself, I still think that some readers might have understood me rightly even without the aid of this explanation, which, however, it is as well for me to give, as I wish to be intelligible to _all_. A writer should endeavor to make it impossible for any one to misapprehend his meaning, though there are some writers of high name both in England and America who seem to delight in puzzling their readers.
At the bottom of page 200, allusion is made to the dotted lines at some of the open turns in the engraved labyrinth. By some accident or mistake the dots have been omitted, but any one can understand where the stop hedges which the dotted lines indicated might be placed so as to give the wanderer in the maze, additional trouble to find his way out of it.
[Illustration of a garden.]
ON FLOWERS AND FLOWER-GARDENS,
For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth, the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.
_The Song of Solomon_.
* * * * *
These are thy glorious works, Parent of good! Almighty, Thine this universal frame,
Thus wondrous fair; Thyself how wondrous then!
* * * * *
Soft roll your incense, herbs and fruits and flowers, In mingled clouds to HIM whose sun exalts Whose breath perfumes you, and whose pencil paints.
A taste for floriculture is spreading amongst Anglo-Indians. It is a good sign. It would be gratifying to learn that the same refining taste had reached the Natives also–even the lower classes of them. It is a cheap enjoyment. A mere palm of ground may be glorified by a few radiant blossoms. A single clay jar of the rudest form may be so enriched and beautified with leaves and blossoms as to fascinate the eye of taste. An old basket, with a broken tile at the top of it, and the root of the acanthus within, produced an effect which seemed to Calimachus, the architect, “the work of the Graces.” It suggested the idea of the capital of the Corinthian column, the most elegant architectural ornament that Art has yet conceived.
Flowers are the poor man’s luxury; a refinement for the uneducated. It has been prettily said that the melody of birds is the poor man’s music, and that flowers are the poor man’s poetry. They are “a discipline of humanity,” and may sometimes ameliorate even a coarse and vulgar nature, just as the cherub faces of innocent and happy children are sometimes found to soften and purify the corrupted heart. It would be a delightful thing to see the swarthy cottagers of India throwing a cheerful grace on their humble sheds and small plots of ground with those natural embellishments which no productions of human skill can rival.
The peasant who is fond of flowers–if he begin with but a dozen little pots of geraniums and double daisies upon his window sills, or with a honeysuckle over his humble porch–gradually acquires a habit, not only of decorating the outside of his dwelling and of cultivating with care his small plot of ground, but of setting his house in order within, and making every thing around him agreeable to the eye. A love of cleanliness and neatness and simple ornament is a moral feeling. The country laborer, or the industrious mechanic, who has a little garden to be proud of, the work of his own hand, becomes attached to his place of residence, and is perhaps not only a better subject on that account, but a better neighbour–a better man. A taste for flowers is, at all events, infinitely preferable to a taste for the excitements of the pot-house or the tavern or the turf or the gaming table, or even the festal board, especially for people of feeble health–and above all, for the poor–who should endeavor to satisfy themselves with inexpensive pleasures.
In all countries, civilized or savage, and on all occasions, whether of grief or rejoicing, a natural fondness for flowers has been exhibited, with more or less tenderness or enthusiasm. They beautify religious rites. They are national emblems: they find a place in the blazonry of heraldic devices. They are the gifts and the language of friendship and of love.
Flowers gleam in original hues from graceful vases in almost every domicile where Taste presides; and the hand of “nice Art” charms us with “counterfeit presentments” of their forms and colors, not only on the living canvas, but even on our domestic China-ware, and our mahogany furniture, and our wall-papers and hangings and carpets, and on our richest apparel for holiday occasions and our simplest garments for daily wear. Even human Beauty, the Queen of all loveliness on earth, engages Flora as her handmaid at the toilet, in spite of the dictum of the poet of ‘The Seasons,’ that “Beauty when unadorned is adorned the most.”
Flowers are hung in graceful festoons both in churches and in ball-rooms. They decorate the altar, the bride-bed, the cradle, and the bier. They grace festivals, and triumphs, and processions; and cast a glory on gala days; and are amongst the last sad honors we pay to the objects of our love.
I remember the death of a sweet little English girl of but a year old, over whom, in her small coffin, a young and lovely mother sprinkled the freshest and fairest flowers. The task seemed to soften–perhaps to sweeten–her maternal grief. I shall never forget the sight. The bright-hued blossoms seemed to make her oblivious for a moment of the darkness and corruption to which she was so soon to consign her priceless treasure. The child’s sweet face, even in death, reminded me that the flowers of the field and garden, however lovely, are all outshone by human beauty. What floral glory of the wild-wood, or what queen of the parterre, in all the pride of bloom, laughing in the sun-light or dancing in the breeze, hath a charm that could vie for a single moment with the soft and holy lustre of that motionless and faded human lily? I never more deeply felt the force of Milton’s noble phrase “_the human face divine_” than when gazing on that sleeping child. The fixed placid smile, the smoothly closed eye with its transparent lid, the air of profound tranquillity, the simple purity (elevated into an aspect of bright intelligence, as if the little cherub already experienced the beatitude of another and a better world,) were perfectly angelic–and mocked all attempt at description. “Of such is the Kingdom of Heaven!”
O flower of an earthly spring! destined to blossom in the eternal summer of another and more genial region! Loveliest of lovely children–loveliest to the last! More beautiful in death than aught still living! Thou seemest now to all who miss and mourn thee but a sweet name–a fair vision–a precious memory;–but in reality thou art a more truly living thing than thou wert before or than aught thou hast left behind. Thou hast come early into a rich inheritance. Thou hast now a substantial existence, a genuine glory, an everlasting possession, beyond the sky. Thou hast exchanged the frail flowers that decked thy bier for amaranthine hues and fragrance, and the brief and uncertain delights of mortal being for the eternal and perfect felicity of angels!
I never behold elsewhere any of the specimens of the several varieties of flowers which the afflicted parent consigned to the hallowed little coffin without recalling to memory the sainted child taking her last rest on earth. The mother was a woman of taste and sensibility, of high mind and gentle heart, with the liveliest sense of the loveliness of all lovely things; and it is hardly necessary to remind the reader how much refinement such as hers may sometimes alleviate the severity of sorrow.
Byron tells us that the stars are
A beauty and a mystery, and create In us such love and reverence from afar That fortune, fame, power, life, have named themselves _a star_.
But might we not with equal justice say that every thing excellent and beautiful and precious has named itself _a flower_?
If stars teach as well as shine–so do flowers. In “still small accents” they charm “the nice and delicate ear of thought” and sweetly whisper that “the hand that made them is divine.”
The stars are the poetry of heaven–the clouds are the poetry of the middle sky–the flowers are the poetry of the earth. The last is the loveliest to the eye and the nearest to the heart. It is incomparably the sweetest external poetry that Nature provides for man. Its attractions are the most popular; its language is the most intelligible. It is of all others the best adapted to every variety and degree of mind. It is the most endearing, the most familiar, the most homefelt, and congenial. The stars are for the meditation of poets and philosophers; but flowers are not exclusively for the gifted or the scientific; they are the property of all. They address themselves to our common nature. They are equally the delight of the innocent little prattler and the thoughtful sage. Even the rude unlettered rustic betrays some feeling for the beautiful in the presence of the lovely little community of the field and garden. He has no sympathy for the stars: they are too mystical and remote. But the flowers as they blush and smile beneath his eye may stir the often deeply hidden lovingness and gentleness of his nature. They have a social and domestic aspect to which no one with a human heart can be quite indifferent. Few can doat upon the distant flowers of the sky as many of us doat upon the flowers at our feet. The stars are wholly independent of man: not so the sweet children of Flora. We tend upon and cherish them with a parental pride. They seem especially meant for man and man for them. They often need his kindest nursing. We place them with guardian hand in the brightest light and the most wholesome air. We quench with liquid life their sun-raised thirst, or shelter them from the wintry blast, or prepare and enrich their nutritious beds. As they pine or prosper they agitate us with tender anxieties, or thrill us with exultation and delight. In the little plot of ground that fronts an English cottage the flowers are like members of the household. They are of the same family. They are almost as lovely as the children that play with them–though their happy human associates may be amongst
The sweetest things that ever grew
Beside a human door.
The Greeks called flowers the _Festival of the eye_: and so they are: but they are something else, and something better.
A flower is not a flower alone,
A thousand sanctities invest it.
Flowers not only touch the heart; they also elevate the soul. They bind us not entirely to earth; though they make earth delightful. They attract our thoughts downward to the richly embroidered ground only to raise them up again to heaven. If the stars are the scriptures of the sky, the flowers are the scriptures of the earth. If the stars are a more glorious revelation of the Creator’s majesty and might, the flowers are at least as sweet a revelation of his gentler attributes. It has been observed that
An undevout astronomer is mad.
The same thing may be said of an irreverent floriculturist, and with equal truth–perhaps indeed with greater. For the astronomer, in some cases, may be hard and cold, from indulging in habits of thought too exclusively mathematical. But the true lover of flowers has always something gentle and genial in his nature. He never looks upon his floral-family without a sweetened smile upon his face and a softened feeling in his heart; unless his temperament be strangely changed and his mind disordered. The poets, who, speaking generally, are constitutionally religious, are always delighted readers of the flower-illumined pages of the book of nature. One of these disciples of Flora earnestly exclaims:
Were I, O God, in churchless lands remaining Far from all voice of teachers and divines, My soul would find in flowers of thy ordaining Priests, sermons, shrines
The popular little preachers of the field and garden, with their lovely faces, and angelic language–sending the while such ambrosial incense up to heaven–insinuate the sweetest truths into the human heart. They lead us to the delightful conclusion that beauty is in the list of the _utilities_–that the Divine Artist himself is _a lover of loveliness_–that he has communicated a taste for it to his creatures and most lavishly provided for its gratification.
Not a flower
But shows some touch, in freckle, streak or stain, Of His unrivalled pencil. He inspires
Their balmy odours, and imparts then hues, And bathes their eyes with nectar, and includes In grains as countless as the sea side sands The forms with which he sprinkles all the earth.
In the eye of Utilitarianism the flowers are but idle shows. God might indeed have made this world as plain as a Quaker’s garment, without retrenching one actual necessary of physical existence; but He has chosen otherwise; and no earthly potentate was ever so richly clad as his mother earth. “Behold the lilies of the field, they spin not, neither do they toil, yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these!” We are thus instructed that man was not meant to live by bread alone, and that the gratification of a sense of beauty is equally innocent and natural and refining. The rose is permitted to spread its sweet leaves to the air and dedicate its beauty to the sun, in a way that is quite perplexing to bigots and stoics and political economists. Yet God has made nothing in vain! The Great Artist of the Universe must have scattered his living hues and his forms of grace over the surface of the earth for some especial and worthy purpose. When Voltaire was congratulated on the rapid growth of his plants, he observed that “_they had nothing else to do_.” Oh, yes–they had something else to do,–they had to adorn the earth, and to charm the human eye, and through the eye to soften and cheer the heart and elevate the soul!
I have often wished that Lecturers on Botany, instead of confining their instructions to the mere physiology, or anatomy, or classification or nomenclature of their favorite science, would go more into the poetry of it, and teach young people to appreciate the moral influences of the floral tribes–to draw honey for the human heart from the sweet breasts of flowers–to sip from their radiant chalices a delicious medicine for the soul.
Flowers are frequently hallowed by associations far sweeter than their sweetest perfume. “I am no botanist:” says Southey in a letter to Walter Savage Landor, “but like you, my earliest and best recollections are connected with flowers, and they always carry me back to other days. Perhaps this is because they are the only things which affect our senses precisely as they did in our childhood. The sweetness of the violet is always the same; and when you rifle a rose and drink, as it were, its fragrance, the refreshment is the same to the old man as to the boy. Sounds recal the past in the same manner, but they do not bring with them individual scenes like the cowslip field, or the corner of the garden to which we have transplanted field-flowers.”
George Wither has well said in commendation of his Muse:
Her divine skill taught me this;
That from every thing I saw
I could some instruction draw,
And raise pleasure to the height
By the meanest object’s sight,
By the murmur of a spring
_Or the least bough’s rustelling; By a daisy whose leaves spread
Shut, when Titan goes to bed;
Or a shady bush or tree_,
She could more infuse in me
Than all Nature’s beauties can
In some other wiser man.
We must not interpret the epithet _wiser_ too literally. Perhaps the poet speaks ironically, or means by some other _wiser man_, one allied in character and temperament to a modern utilitarian Philosopher. Wordsworth seems to have had the lines of George Wither in his mind when he said
Thanks to the human heart by which we live, Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears, To me the meanest flower that blows can give Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.
Thomas Campbell, with a poet’s natural gallantry, has exclaimed,
Without the smile from partial Beauty won, Oh! what were man?–a world without a sun!
Let a similar compliment be presented to the “painted populace that dwell in fields and lead ambrosial lives.” What a desert were this scene without its flowers–it would be like the sky of night without its stars! “The disenchanted earth” would “lose her lustre.” Stars of the day! Beautifiers of the world! Ministrants of delight! Inspirers of kindly emotions and the holiest meditations! Sweet teachers of the serenest wisdom! So beautiful and bright, and graceful, and fragrant–it is no marvel that ye are equally the favorites of the rich and the poor, of the young and the old, of the playful and the pensive!
Our country, though originally but sparingly endowed with the living jewelry of nature, is now rich in the choicest flowers of all other countries.
Foreigners of many lands,
They form one social shade, as if convened By magic summons of the Orphean lyre.
These little “foreigners of many lands” have been so skilfully acclimatized and multiplied and rendered common, that for a few shillings an English peasant may have a parterre more magnificent than any ever gazed upon by the Median Queen in the hanging gardens of Babylon. There is no reason, indeed, to suppose that even the first parents of mankind looked on finer flowers in Paradise itself than are to be found in the cottage gardens that are so thickly distributed over the hills and plains and vallies of our native land.
The red rose, is the red rose still, and from the lily’s cup An odor fragrant as at first, like frankincense goes up.
Our neat little gardens and white cottages give to dear old England that lovely and cheerful aspect, which is so striking and attractive to her foreign visitors. These beautiful signs of a happy political security and individual independence and domestic peace and a love of order and a homely refinement, are scattered all over the land, from sea to sea. When Miss Sedgwick, the American authoress, visited England, nothing so much surprised and delighted her as the gay flower-filled gardens of our cottagers. Many other travellers, from almost all parts of the world, have experienced and expressed the same sensations on visiting our shores, and it would be easy to compile a voluminous collection of their published tributes of admiration. To a foreign visitor the whole country seems a garden–in the words of Shakespeare–“a _sea-walled garden_.”
In the year 1843, on a temporary return to England after a long Indian exile, I travelled by railway for the first time in my life. As I glided on, as smoothly as in a sledge, over the level iron road, with such magical rapidity–from the pretty and cheerful town of Southampton to the greatest city of the civilized world–every thing was new to me, and I gave way to child-like wonder and child-like exultation. What a quick succession of lovely landscapes greeted the eye on either side? What a garden-like air of universal cultivation! What beautiful smooth slopes! What green, quiet meadows! What rich round trees, brooding over their silent shadows! What exquisite dark nooks and romantic lanes! What an aspect of unpretending happiness in the clean cottages, with their little trim gardens! What tranquil grandeur and rural luxury in the noble mansions and glorious parks of the British aristocracy! How the love of nature thrilled my heart with a gentle and delicious agitation, and how proud I felt of my dear native land! It is, indeed, a fine thing to be an Englishman. Whether at home or abroad, he is made conscious of the claims of his country to respect and admiration. As I fed my eyes on the loveliness of Nature, or turned to the miracles of Art and Science on every hand, I had always in my mind a secret reference to the effect which a visit to England must produce upon an intelligent and observant foreigner.
Heavens! what a goodly prospect spreads around Of hills and dales and woods and lawns and spires, And glittering towns and gilded streams, ’till all The stretching landscape into smoke decays! Happy Brittannia! where the Queen of Arts, Inspiring vigor, Liberty, abroad
Walks unconfined, even to thy farthest cots, And scatters plenty with unsparing hand.
And here let me put in a word in favor of the much-abused English climate. I cannot echo the unpatriotic discontent of Byron when he speaks of
The cold and cloudy clime
Where he was born, but where he would not die.
Rather let me say with the author of “_The Seasons_,” in his address to England.
Rich is thy soil and merciful thy clime.
King Charles the Second when he heard some foreigners condemning our climate and exulting in their own, observed that in his opinion that was the best climate in which a man could be out in the open air with pleasure, or at least without trouble and inconvenience, the most days of the year and the most hours of the day; and this he held was the case with the climate of England more than that of any other country in Europe. To say nothing of the lovely and noble specimens of human nature to which it seems so congenial, I may safely assert that it is peculiarly favorable, with, rare exceptions, to the sweet children of Flora. There is no country in the world in which there are at this day such innumerable tribes of flowers. There are in England two thousand varieties of the rose alone, and I venture to express a doubt whether the richest gardens of Persia or Cashmere could produce finer specimens of that universal favorite than are to be found in some of the small but highly cultivated enclosures of respectable English rustics.
The actual beauty of some of the commonest flowers in our gardens can be in no degree exaggerated–even in the daydreams of the most inspired poet. And when the author of Lalla Rookh talks so musically and pleasantly of the fragrant bowers of Amberabad, the country of Delight, a Province in Jinnistan or Fairy Land, he is only thinking of the shrubberies and flower-beds at Sloperton Cottage, and the green hills and vales of Wiltshire.
Sir William Temple observes that “besides the temper of our climate there are two things particular to us, that contribute much to the beauty and elegance of our gardens–which are, _the gravel of our walks and the fineness and almost perpetual greenness of our turf_.”
“The face of England is so beautiful,” says Horace Walpole, “that I do not believe that Tempe or Arcadia was half so rural; for both lying in hot climates must have wanted _the moss of our gardens_.” Meyer, a German, a scientific practical gardener, who was also a writer on gardening, and had studied his art in the Royal Gardens at Paris, and afterwards visited England, was a great admirer of English Gardens, but despaired of introducing our style of gardening into Germany, _chiefly on account of its inferior turf for lawns_. “Lawns and gravel walks,” says a writer in the _Quarterly Review_, “are the pride of English Gardens,” “The smoothness and verdure of our lawns,” continues the same writer, “is the first thing in our gardens that catches the eye of a foreigner; the next is the fineness and firmness of our gravel walks.” Mr. Charles Mackintosh makes the same observation. “In no other country in the world,” he says, “do such things exist.” Mrs. Stowe, whose _Uncle Tom_ has done such service to the cause of liberty in America, on her visit to England seems to have been quite as much enchanted with our scenery, as was her countrywoman, Miss Sedgwick. I am pleased to find Mrs. Stowe recognize the superiority of English landscape-gardening and of our English verdure. She speaks of, “the princely art of landscape-gardening, for which England is so famous,” and of “_vistas of verdure and wide sweeps of grass, short, thick, and vividly green_ as the velvet moss sometimes seen growing on rocks in new England.” “Grass,” she observes, “is an art and a science in England–it is an institution. The pains that are taken in sowing, tending, cutting, clipping, rolling and otherwise nursing and coaxing it, being seconded by the often-falling tears of the climate, produce results which must be seen to be appreciated.” This is literally true: any sight more inexpressibly exquisite than that of an English lawn in fine order is what I am quite unable to conceive.
I recollect that in one of my visits to England, (in 1827) I attempted to describe the scenery of India to William Hazlitt–not the living son but the dead father. Would that he were still in the land of the living by the side of his friend Leigh Hunt, who has been pensioned by the Government for his support of that cause for which they were both so bitterly persecuted by the ruling powers in days gone by. I flattered myself into the belief that Hazlitt was interested in some of my descriptions of Oriental scenes. What moved him most was an account of the dry, dusty, burning, grassless plains of Bundelcund in the hot season. I told him how once while gasping for breath in a hot verandah and leaning over the rails I looked down upon the sun-baked ground.
“A change came o’er the spirit of my dream.”
I suddenly beheld with all the distinctness of reality the rich, cool, green, unrivalled meads of England. But the vision soon melted away, and I was again in exile. I wept like a child. It was like a beautiful mirage of the desert, or one of those waking dreams of home which have sometimes driven the long-voyaging seaman to distraction and urged him by an irresistible impulse to plunge headlong into the ocean.
When I had once more crossed the wide Atlantic–and (not by the necromancy of imagination but by a longer and more tedious transit) found myself in an English meadow,–I exclaimed with the poet,
Thou art free
My country! and ’tis joy enough and pride For one hour’s perfect bliss, _to tread the grass Of England once again_.
I felt my childhood for a time renewed, and was by no means disposed to second the assertion that
“Nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower.”
I have never beheld any thing more lovely than scenery characteristically English; and Goldsmith, who was something of a traveller, and had gazed on several beautiful countries, was justified in speaking with such affectionate admiration of our still more beautiful England,
Where lawns extend that scorn Arcadian pride.
It is impossible to put into any form of words the faintest representation of that delightful summer feeling which, is excited in fine weather by the sight of the mossy turf of our country. It is sweet indeed to go,
Musing through the _lawny_ vale:
alluded to by Warton, or over Milton’s “level downs,” or to climb up Thomson’s
That from the sun-redoubling valley lift Cool to the middle air their _lawny_ tops.
It gives the Anglo-Indian Exile the heart-ache to think of these ramblings over English scenes.
Bengala’s plains are richly green,
Her azure skies of dazzling sheen, Her rivers vast, her forests grand.
Her bowers brilliant,–but the land, Though dear to countless eyes it be,
And fair to mine, hath not for me The charm ineffable of _home_;
For still I yearn to see the foam Of wild waves on thy pebbled shore,
Dear Albion! to ascend once more
Thy snow-white cliffs; to hear again The murmur of thy circling main–
To stroll down each romantic dale Beloved in boyhood–to inhale
Fresh life on green and breezy hills– To trace the coy retreating rills–
To see the clouds at summer-tide
Dappling all the landscape wide– To mark the varying gloom and glow
As the seasons come and go–
Again the green meads to behold
Thick strewn with silvery gems and gold, Where kine, bright-spotted, large, and sleek, Browse silently, with aspect meek,
Or motionless, in shallow stream
Stand mirror’d, till their twin shapes seem, Feet linked to feet, forbid to sever,
By some strange magic fixed for ever.
And oh! once more I fain would see
(Here never seen) a poor man _free_, And valuing more an humble name,
But stainless, than a guilty fame, How sacred is the simplest cot,
Where Freedom dwells!–where she is not How mean the palace! Where’s the spot
She loveth more than thy small isle, Queen of the sea? Where hath her smile So stirred man’s inmost nature? Where
Are courage firm, and virtue fair, And manly pride, so often found
As in rude huts on English ground, Where e’en the serf who slaves for hire May kindle with a freeman’s fire?
How proud a sight to English eyes
Are England’s village families!
The patriarch, with his silver hair, The matron grave, the maiden fair.
The rose-cheeked boy, the sturdy lad, On Sabbath day all neatly clad:–
Methinks I see them wend their way On some refulgent morn of May,
By hedgerows trim, of fragrance rare, Towards the hallowed House of Prayer!
I can love _all_ lovely lands,
But England _most_; for she commands. As if she bore a parent’s part,
The dearest movements of my heart; And here I may not breathe her name.
Without a thrill through all my frame.
Never shall this heart be cold
To thee, my country! till the mould (Or _thine_ or _this_) be o’er it spread. And form its dark and silent bed.
I never think of bliss below
But thy sweet hills their green heads show, Of love and beauty never dream.
But English faces round me gleam!
I have often observed that children never wear a more charming aspect than when playing in fields and gardens. In another volume I have recorded some of my impressions respecting the prominent interest excited by these little flowers of humanity in an English landscape.
* * * * *
THE RETURN TO ENGLAND.
When I re-visited my dear native country, after an absence of many weary years, and a long dull voyage, my heart was filled with unutterable delight and admiration. The land seemed a perfect paradise. It was in the spring of the year. The blue vault of heaven–the clear atmosphere–the balmy vernal breeze–the quiet and picturesque cattle, browsing on luxuriant verdure, or standing knee deep in a crystal lake–the hills sprinkled with snow-white sheep and sometimes partially shadowed by a wandering cloud–the meadows glowing with golden butter-cups and be-dropped with daisies–the trim hedges of crisp and sparkling holly–the sound of near but unseen rivulets, and the songs of foliage-hidden birds–the white cottages almost buried amidst trees, like happy human nests–the ivy-covered church, with its old grey spire “pointing up to heaven,” and its gilded vane gleaming in the light–the sturdy peasants with their instruments of healthy toil–the white-capped matrons bleaching their newly-washed garments in the sun, and throwing them like snow-patches on green slopes, or glossy garden shrubs–the sun-browned village girls, resting idly on their round elbows at small open casements, their faces in sweet keeping with the trellised flowers:–all formed a combination of enchantments that would mock the happiest imitative efforts of human art. But though the bare enumeration of the details of this English picture, will, perhaps, awaken many dear recollections in the reader’s mind, I have omitted by far the most interesting feature of the whole scene–_the rosy children, loitering about the cottage gates, or tumbling gaily on the warm grass_.
Two scraps of verse of a similar tendency shall follow this prose description:–
AN ENGLISH LANDSCAPE.
I stood, upon an English hill,
And saw the far meandering rill,
A vein of liquid silver, run
Sparkling in the summer sun;
While adown that green hill’s side, And along the valley wide,
Sheep, like small clouds touched with light, Or like little breakers bright,
Sprinkled o’er a smiling sea,
Seemed to float at liberty.
Scattered all around were seen,
White cots on the meadows green.
Open to the sky and breeze,
Or peeping through the sheltering trees, On a light gate, loosely hung,
Laughing children gaily swung;
Oft their glad shouts, shrill and clear, Came upon the startled ear.
Blended with the tremulous bleat, Of truant lambs, or voices sweet,
Of birds, that take us by surprise, And mock the quickly-searching eyes.
Nearer sat a fair-haired boy,
Whistling with a thoughtless joy; A shepherd’s crook was in his hand,
Emblem of a mild command;
And upon his rounded cheek
Were hues that ripened apples streak. Disease, nor pain, nor sorrowing,
Touched that small Arcadian king; His sinless subjects wandered free–
Confusion without anarchy.
Happier he upon his throne.
The breezy hill–though all alone– Than the grandest monarchs proud
Who mistrust the kneeling crowd.
On a gently rising ground,
The lovely valley’s farthest bound, Bordered by an ancient wood,
The cots in thicker clusters stood; And a church, uprose between,
Hallowing the peaceful scene.
Distance o’er its old walls threw A soft and dim cerulean hue,
While the sun-lit gilded spire
Gleamed as with celestial fire!
I have crossed the ocean wave,
Haply for a foreign grave;
Haply never more to look
On a British hill or brook;
Haply never more to hear
Sounds unto my childhood dear;
Yet if sometimes on my soul
Bitter thoughts beyond controul
Throw a shade more dark than night, Soon upon the mental sight
Flashes forth a pleasant ray
Brighter, holier than the day;
And unto that happy mood
All seems beautiful and good.
LINES TO A LADY,
WHO PRESENTED THE AUTHOR WITH SOME ENGLISH FRUITS AND FLOWERS.
Green herbs and gushing springs in some hot waste Though, grateful to the traveller’s sight and taste, Seem far less sweet and fair than fruits and flowers That breathe, in foreign lands, of English bowers.
Thy gracious gift, dear lady, well recalls Sweet scenes of home,–the white cot’s trellised walls– The trim red garden path–the rustic seat– The jasmine-covered arbour, fit retreat For hearts that love repose. Each spot displays Some long-remembered charm. In sweet amaze I feel as one who from a weary dream
Of exile wakes, and sees the morning beam Illume the glorious clouds of every hue That float o’er scenes his happy childhood knew.
How small a spark may kindle fancy’s flame And light up all the past! The very same Glad sounds and sights that charmed my heart of old Arrest me now–I hear them and behold.
Ah! yonder is the happy circle seated Within, the favorite bower! I am greeted With joyous shouts; my rosy boys have heard A father’s voice–their little hearts are stirred With eager hope of some new toy or treat And on they rush, with never-resting feet!
* * * * *
Gone is the sweet illusion–like a scene Formed by the western vapors, when between The dusky earth, and day’s departing light The curtain falls of India’s sudden night.
The verdant carpet embroidered with little stars of gold and silver–the short-grown, smooth, and close-woven, but most delicate and elastic fresh sward–so soothing to the dazzled eye, so welcome to the wearied limbs–so suggestive of innocent and happy thoughts,–so refreshing to the freed visitor, long pent up in the smoky city–is surely no where to be seen in such exquisite perfection as on the broad meadows and softly-swelling hills of England. And perhaps in no country in the world could _pic-nic_ holiday-makers or playful children with more perfect security of life and health stroll about or rest upon Earth’s richly enamelled floor from sunrise to sunset on a summer’s day. No Englishman would dare to stretch himself at full length and address himself to sleep upon an Oriental meadow unless he were perfectly indifferent to life itself and could see nothing terrible in the hostility of the deadliest reptiles. When wading through the long grass and thick jungles of Bengal, he is made to acknowledge the full force of the true and beautiful expression–“_In the midst of life we are in death_.” The British Indian exile on his return home is delighted with the “sweet security” of his native fields. He may then feel with Wordsworth how
Dear is the forest frowning o’er his head. And dear _the velvet greensward_ to his tread.
Or he may exclaim in the words of poor Keats–now slumbering under a foreign turf–
Happy is England! I could be content To see no other verdure than her own.
It is a pleasing proof of the fine moral influence of natural scenery that the most ceremonious strangers can hardly be long seated together in the open air on the “velvet greensward” without casting off for a while the cold formalities of artificial life, and becoming as frank and social as ingenuous school-boys. Nature breathes peace and geniality into almost every human heart.
“John Thelwall,” says Coleridge, “had something very good about him. We were sitting in a beautiful recess in the Quantocks when I said to him ‘Citizen John, this is a fine place to talk treason in!’ ‘Nay, Citizen Samuel,’ replied he, ‘it is rather a place to make us forget that there is any necessity for treason!'”
Leigh Hunt, who always looks on nature with the eye of a true painter and the imagination of a true poet, has represented with delightful force and vividness some of those accidents of light and shade that diversify an English meadow.
RAIN AND SUNSHINE IN MAY.
“Can any thing be more lovely, than the meadows between the rains of May, when the sun smites them on the sudden like a painter, and they laugh up at him, as if he had lighted a loving cheek!
I speak of a season when the returning threats of cold and the resisting warmth of summer time, make robust mirth in the air; when the winds imitate on a sudden the vehemence of winter; and silver-white clouds are abrupt in their coming down and shadows on the grass chase one another, panting, over the fields, like a pursuit of spirits. With undulating necks they pant forward, like hounds or the leopard.
See! the cloud is after the light, gliding over the country like the shadow of a god; and now the meadows are lit up here and there with sunshine, as if the soul of Titian were standing in heaven, and playing his fancies on them. Green are the trees in shadow; but the trees in the sun how twenty-fold green _they_ are–rich and variegated with gold!”
One of the many exquisite out-of-doors enjoyments for the observers of nature, is the sight of an English harvest. How cheering it is to behold the sickles flashing in the sun, as the reapers with well sinewed arm, and with a sweeping movement, mow down the close-arrayed ranks of the harvest field! What are “the rapture of the strife” and all the “pomp, pride and circumstance of glorious war,” that bring death to some and agony and grief to others, compared with the green and golden trophies of the honest Husbandman whose bloodless blade makes no wife a widow, no child an orphan,–whose office is not to spread horror and desolation through shrieking cities, but to multiply and distribute the riches of nature over a smiling land.
But let us quit the open fields for a time, and turn again to the flowery retreats of
That in trim gardens takes his pleasure.
In all ages, in all countries, in all creeds, a garden is represented as the scene not only of earthly but of celestial enjoyment. The ancients had their Elysian Fields and the garden of the Hesperides, the Christian has his Garden of Eden, the Mahommedan his Paradise of groves and flowers and crystal fountains and black eyed Houries.
“God Almighty,” says Lord Bacon, “first planted a garden; and indeed it is the purest of all pleasures: it is the greatest refreshment to the spirits of man.” Bacon, though a utilitarian philosopher, was such a lover of flowers that he was never satisfied unless he saw them in almost every room of his house, and when he came to discourse of them in his Essays, his thoughts involuntarily moved harmonious numbers. How naturally the following prose sentence in Bacon’s Essay on Gardens almost resolves itself into verse.
“For the heath which was the first part of our plot, I wish it to be framed as much as may be to a natural wildness. Trees I would have none in it, but some thickets made only of sweet briar and honeysuckle, and some wild vine amongst; and the ground set with violets, strawberries and primroses; for these are sweet, and prosper in the shade.”
“For the heath which was the third part of our plot– I wish it to be framed
As much as may be to a natural wildness. Trees I’d have none in’t, but some thickets made Only of sweet-briar and honey-suckle,
And some wild vine amongst; and the ground set With violets, strawberries, and primroses; For these are sweet and prosper in the shade.”
It has been observed that the love of gardens is the only passion which increases with age. It is generally the most indulged in the two extremes of life. In middle age men are often too much involved in the affairs of the busy world fully to appreciate the tranquil pleasures in the gift of Flora. Flowers are the toys of the young and a source of the sweetest and serenest enjoyments for the old. But there is no season of life for which they are unfitted and of which they cannot increase the charm.
“Give me,” says the poet Rogers, “a garden well kept, however small, two or three spreading trees and a mind at ease, and I defy the world.” The poet adds that he would not have his garden, too much extended. He seems to think it possible to have too much of a good thing. “Three acres of flowers and a regiment of gardeners,” he says, “bring no more pleasure than a sufficiency.” “A hundred thousand roses,” he adds, “which we look at _en masse_, do not identify themselves in the same manner as even a very small border; and hence, if the cottager’s mind is properly attuned, the little cottage-garden may give him more real delight than belongs to the owner of a thousand acres.” In a smaller garden “we become acquainted, as it were,” says the same poet, “and even form friendships with, individual flowers.” It is delightful to observe how nature thus adjusts the inequalities of fortune and puts the poor man, in point of innocent happiness, on a level with the rich. The man of the most moderate means may cultivate many elegant tastes, and may have flowers in his little garden that the greatest sovereign in the world might enthusiastically admire. Flowers are never vulgar. A rose from a peasant’s patch of ground is as fresh and elegant and fragrant as if it had been nurtured in a Royal parterre, and it would not be out of place in the richest porcelain vase of the most aristocratical drawing-room in Europe. The poor man’s flower is a present for a princess, and of all gifts it is the one least liable to be rejected even by the haughty. It might he worn on the fair brow or bosom of Queen Victoria with a nobler grace than the costliest or most elaborate production of the goldsmith or the milliner.
The majority of mankind, in the most active spheres of life, have moments in which they sigh for rural retirement, and seldom dream of such a retreat without making a garden the leading charm of it. Sir Henry Wotton says that Lord Bacon’s garden was one of the best that he had seen either at home or abroad. Evelyn, the author of “Sylva, or a Discourse of Forest Trees,” dwells with fond admiration, and a pleasing egotism, on the charms of his own beautiful and highly cultivated estate at Wooton in the county of Surrey. He tells us that the house is large and ancient and is “sweetly environed with delicious streams and venerable woods.” “I will say nothing,” he continues, “of the air, because the pre-eminence is universally given to Surrey, the soil being dry and sandy; but I should speak much of the gardens, fountains and groves that adorn it, were they not generally known to be amongst the most natural, and (till this later and universal luxury of the whole nation, since abounding in such expenses) the most magnificent that England afforded, and which indeed gave one of the first examples to that elegancy, since so much in vogue and followed, for the managing of their waters and other elegancies of that nature.” Before he came into the possession of his paternal estate he resided at _Say’s Court_, near Deptford, an estate which he possessed by purchase, and where he had a superb holly hedge four hundred feet long, nine feet high and five feet broad. Of this hedge, he was particularly proud, and he exultantly asks, “Is there under heaven a more glorious and refreshing object of the kind?” When the Czar of Muscovy visited England in 1698 to instruct himself in the art of ship-building, he had the use of Evelyn’s house and garden, at _Say’s Court_, and while there did so much damage to the latter that the owner loudly and bitterly complained. At last the Government gave Evelyn L150 as an indemnification. Czar Peter’s favorite amusement was to ride in a wheel barrow through what its owner had once called the “impregnable hedge of holly.” Evelyn was passionately fond of gardening. “The life and felicity of an excellent gardener,” he observes, “is preferable to all other diversions.” His faith in the art of Landscape-gardening was unwavering. It could _remove mountains_. Here is an extract from his Diary.
“Gave his brother some directions about his garden” (at Wooton Surrey), “which, he was desirous to put into some form, for which he was to remove a mountain overgrown with large trees and thickets and a moat within ten yards of the house.”
No sooner said than done. His brother dug down the mountain and “flinging it into a rapid stream (which carried away the sand) filled up the moat and levelled that noble area where now the garden and fountain is.”
Though Evelyn dearly loved a garden, his chief delight was not in flowers but in forest trees, and he was more anxious to improve the growth of plants indigenous to the soil than to introduce exotics.
Sir William Temple was so attached to his garden, that he left directions in his will that his heart should be buried there. It was enclosed in a silver box and placed under a sun-dial.
Dr. Thomson Reid, the eminent Scottish metaphysician, used to be found working in his garden in his eighty-seventh year.
The name of Chatham is in the long list of eminent men who have enjoyed a garden. We are told that “he loved the country: took peculiar pleasure in gardening; and had an extremely happy taste in laying out grounds.” What a delightful thing it must have been for that great statesman, thus to relieve his mind from the weight of public care in the midst of quiet bowers planted and trained by his own hand!
Burton, in his _Anatomy of Melancholy_, notices the attractions of a garden as amongst the finest remedies for depression of the mind. I must give the following extracts from his quaint but interesting pages.
“To see the pleasant fields, the crystal fountains, And take the gentle air amongst the mountains.
“To walk amongst orchards, gardens, bowers, mounts, and arbours, artificial wildernesses, green thickets, arches, groves, lawns, rivulets, fountains, and such like pleasant places, (like that Antiochian Daphne,) brooks, pools, fishponds, between wood and water, in a fair meadow, by a river side, _ubi variae avium cantationes, florum colores, pratorum frutices_, &c. to disport in some pleasant plain, or park, run up a steep hill sometimes, or sit in a shady seat, must needs be a delectable recreation. _Hortus principis et domus ad delectationem facta, cum sylva, monte et piscina, vulgo la montagna_: the prince’s garden at Ferrara, Schottus highly magnifies, with the groves, mountains, ponds, for a delectable prospect; he was much affected with it; a Persian paradise, or pleasant park, could not be more delectable in his sight. St. Bernard, in the description of his monastery, is almost ravished with the pleasures of it. “A sick man (saith he) sits upon a green bank, and when the dog-star parcheth the plains, and dries up rivers, he lies in a shady bower,” _Fronde sub arborea ferventia temperat astra_, “and feeds his eyes with variety of objects, herbs, trees, to comfort his misery; he receives many delightsome smells, and fills his ears with that sweet and various harmony of birds; _good God_, (saith he), _what a company of pleasures hast thou made for man!_”
* * * * *
“The country hath his recreations, the city his several gymnics and exercises, May games, feasts, wakes, and merry meetings to solace themselves; the very being in the country; that life itself is a sufficient recreation to some men, to enjoy such pleasures, as those old patriarchs did. Dioclesian, the emperor, was so much affected with it, that he gave over his sceptre, and turned gardener. Constantine wrote twenty books of husbandry. Lysander, when ambassadors came to see him, bragged of nothing more than of his orchard, _hi sunt ordines mei_. What shall I say of Cincinnatus, Cato, Tully, and many such? how they have been pleased with it, to prune, plant, inoculate and graft, to show so many several kinds of pears, apples, plums, peaches, &c.”
The Romans of all ranks made use of flowers as ornaments and emblems, but they were not generally so fond of directing or assisting the gardener, or taking the spade or hoe into their own hands, as are the British peasantry, gentry and nobility of the present day. They were not amateur Florists. They prized highly their fruit trees and pastures and cool grottoes and umbrageous groves; but they expended comparatively little time, skill or taste upon the flower-garden. Even their love of nature, though thoroughly genuine as far as it went, did not imply that minute and exact knowledge of her charms which characterizes some of our best British poets. They had no Thompson or Cowper. Their country seats were richer in architectural than floral beauty. Tully’s Tuscan Villa, so fondly and minutely described by the proprietor himself, would appear to little advantage in the eyes of a true worshipper of Flora, if compared with Pope’s retreat at Twickenham. The ancients had a taste for the _rural_, not for the _gardenesque_, nor perhaps even for the _picturesque_. The English have a taste for all three. Hence they have good landscape-gardeners and first-rate landscape-painters. The old Romans had neither. But though, some of our Spitalfields weavers have shown a deeper love, and perhaps even a finer taste, for flowers, than were exhibited by the citizens of Rome, abundant evidence is furnished to us by the poets in all ages and in all countries that nature, in some form or another has ever charmed the eye and the heart of man. The following version of a famous passage in Virgil, especially the lines in Italics, may give the English reader some idea of a Roman’s dream of
Ah! happy Swains! if they their bliss but knew, Whom, far from boisterous war, Earth’s bosom true With easy food supplies. If they behold No lofty dome its gorgeous gates unfold And pour at morn from all its chambers wide Of flattering visitants the mighty tide; Nor gaze on beauteous columns richly wrought, Or tissued robes, or busts from Corinth brought; Nor their white wool with Tyrian poison soil, Nor taint with Cassia’s bark their native oil; _Yet peace is theirs; a life true bliss that yields; And various wealth; leisure mid ample fields, Grottoes, and living lakes, and vallies green, And lowing herds; and ‘neath a sylvan screen, Delicious slumbers. There the lawn and cave With beasts of chase abound._ The young ne’er crave A prouder lot; their patient toil is cheered; Their Gods are worshipped and their sires revered; And there when Justice passed from earth away She left the latest traces of her sway.
Lord Bacon was perhaps the first Englishman who endeavored to reform the old system of English gardening, and to show that it was contrary to good taste and an insult to nature. “As for making knots or figures,” he says, “with divers colored earths, that may lie under the windows of the house on that side on which the garden stands, they be but toys: you may see as good sights many times in tarts.” Bacon here alludes, I suppose, to the old Dutch fashion of dividing flowerbeds into many compartments, and instead of filling them with flowers, covering one with red brick dust, another with charcoal, a third with yellow sand, a fourth with chalk, a fifth with broken China, and others with green glass, or with spars and ores. But Milton, in his exquisite description of the garden of Eden, does not allude to the same absurd fashion when he speaks of “curious knots,”
Which not nice art,
In beds and _curious knots_, but nature boon Poured forth profuse on hill and dale and plain.
By these _curious knots_ the poet seems to allude, not to figures of “divers colored earth,” but to the artificial and complicated arrangements and divisions of flowers and flower-beds.
Though Bacon went not quite so freely to nature as our latest landscape-gardeners have done, he made the _first step_ in the right direction and deserves therefore the compliment which Mason has paid him in his poem of _The English Garden_.
On thy realm
Philosophy his sovereign lustre spread; Yet did he deign to light with casual glance The wilds of Taste, Yes, sagest Verulam, ‘Twas thine to banish from the royal groves Each childish vanity of crisped knot
And sculptured foliage; to the lawn restore Its ample space, and bid it feast the sight With verdure pure, unbroken, unabridged; For verdure soothes the eye, as roseate sweets The smell, or music’s melting strains the ear.
Yes–“_verdure soothes the eye_:”–and the mind too. Bacon himself observes, that “nothing is more pleasant to the eye than green grass kept finely shorn.” Mason slightly qualifies his commendation of “the sage” by admitting that he had not quite completed his emancipation from the bad taste of his day.
Witness his high arched hedge In pillored state by carpentry upborn, With colored mirrors decked and prisoned birds. But, when our step has paced the proud parterre, And reached the heath, then Nature glads our eye Sporting in all her lovely carelessness, There smiles in varied tufts the velvet rose, There flaunts the gadding woodbine, swells the ground In gentle hillocks, and around its sides Through blossomed shades the secret pathway steals.
_The English Garden_.
In one of the notes to _The English Garden_ it is stated that “Bacon was the prophet, Milton the herald of modern Gardening; and Addison, Pope, and Kent the champions of true taste.” Kent was by profession both a Painter and a Landscape-Gardener. Addison who had a pretty little retreat at Bilton, near Rugby, evinces in most of his occasional allusions to gardens a correct judgment. He complains that even in _his_ time our British gardeners, instead of humouring nature, loved to deviate from it as much as possible. The system of verdant sculpture had not gone out of fashion. Our trees still rose in cones, globes, and pyramids. The work of the scissors was on every plant and bush. It was Pope, however, who did most to bring the topiary style into contempt and to encourage a more natural taste, by his humorous paper in the _Guardian_ and his poetical Epistle to the Earl of Burlington. Gray, the poet, observes in one of his letters, that “our skill in gardening, or rather laying out grounds, is the only taste we can call our own; the only proof of original talent in matters of pleasure. This is no small honor to us;” he continues, “since neither France nor Italy, has ever had the least notion of it.” “Whatever may have been reported, whether truly or falsely” (says a contributor to _The World_) “of the Chinese gardens, it is certain that we are the first of the Europeans who have founded this taste; and we have been so fortunate in the genius of those who have had the direction of some of the finest spots of ground, that we may now boast a success equal to that profusion of expense which has been destined to promote the rapid progress of this happy enthusiasm. Our gardens are already the astonishment of foreigners, and, in proportion as they accustom themselves to consider and understand them will become their admiration.” The periodical from which this is taken was published exactly a century ago, and the writer’s prophecy has been long verified. Foreigners send to us for gardeners to help them to lay out their grounds in the English fashion. And we are told by the writer of an interesting article on gardens, in the _Quarterly Review_, that “the lawns at Paris, to say nothing of Naples, are regularly irrigated to keep up even the semblance of English verdure; and at the gardens of Versailles, and Caserta, near Naples, the walks have been supplied from the Kensington gravel-pits.” “It is not probably known,” adds the same writer, “that among our exportations every year is a large quantity of evergreens for the markets of France and Germany, and that there are some nurserymen almost wholly engaged in this branch of trade.”
Pomfret, a poet of small powers, if a poet at all, has yet contrived to produce a popular composition in verse–_The Choice_–because he has touched with great good fortune on some of the sweetest domestic hopes and enjoyments of his countrymen.
If Heaven the grateful liberty would give That I might choose my method how to live; And all those hours propitious Fate should lend In blissful ease and satisfaction spend; Near some fair town I’d have a private seat Built uniform; not little; nor too great: Better if on a rising ground it stood, On this side fields, on that a neighbouring wood.
Pomfret perhaps illustrates the general taste when he places his garden “_near some fair town_.” Our present laureate, though a truly inspired poet, and a genuine lover of Nature even in her remotest retreats, has the garden of his preference, “_not quite beyond the busy world_.”
Not wholly in the busy world, nor quite Beyond it, blooms the garden that I love, News from the humming city comes to it In sound of funeral or of marriage bells; And sitting muffled in dark leaves you hear The windy clanging of the minster clock; Although between it and the garden lies A league of grass.
Even “sounds inharmonious in themselves and harsh” are often pleasing when mellowed by the space of air through which they pass.
‘Tis distance lends enchantment to the _sound_.
Shelley, in one of his sweetest poems, speaking of a scene in the neighbourhood of Naples, beautifully says:–
Like many a voice of one delight,
The winds, the birds, the ocean floods, _The city’s voice itself is soft_, like solitude’s.
No doubt the feeling that we are _near_ the crowd but not _in_ it, may deepen the sense of our own happy rural seclusion and doubly endear that pensive leisure in which we can “think down hours to moments,” and in
This our life, exempt from public haunt, Find tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, Sermons in stones, and good in every thing.
Besides, to speak truly, few men, however studious or philosophical, desire a total isolation from the world. It is pleasant to be able to take a sort of side glance at humanity, even when we are most in love with nature, and to feel that we can join our fellow creatures again when the social feeling returns upon us. Man was not made to live alone. Cowper, though he clearly loved retirement and a garden, did not desire to have the pleasure entirely to himself. “Grant me,” he says, “a friend in my retreat.”
To whom to whisper solitude is sweet.
Cowper lived and died a bachelor. In the case of a married man and a father, garden delights are doubled by the presence of the family and friends, if wife and children happen to be what they should be, and the friends are genuine and genial.
All true poets delight in gardens. The truest that ever lived spent his latter days at New Place in Stratford-upon-Avon. He had a spacious and beautiful garden. Charles Knight tells us that “the Avon washed its banks; and within its enclosures it had its sunny terraces and green lawns, its pleached alleys and honeysuckle bowers,” In this garden Shakespeare planted with his own hands his celebrated Mulberry tree. It was a noble specimen of the black Mulberry introduced into England in 1548. In 1605, James I. issued a Royal edict recommending the cultivation of silkworms and offering packets of mulberry seeds to those amongst his subjects who were willing to sow them. Shakespeare’s tree was planted in 1609. Mr. Loudon, observes that the black Mulberry has been known from the earliest records of antiquity and that it is twice mentioned in the Bible: namely, in the second Book of Samuel and in the Psalms. When New Place was in the possession of Sir Hough Clopton, who was proud of its interesting association with the history of our great poet, not only were Garrick and Macklin most hospitably entertained under the Mulberry tree, but all strangers on a proper application were admitted to a sight of it. But when Sir Hough Clopton was succeeded by the Reverend Francis Gastrell, that gentleman, to save himself the trouble of showing the tree to visitors, had “the gothic barbarity” to cut down and root up that interesting–indeed _sacred_ memorial–of the Pride of the British Isles. The people of Stratford were so enraged at this sacrilege that they broke Mr. Gastrell’s windows. That prosaic personage at last found the place too hot for him, and took his departure from a town whose inhabitants “doated on his very absence;” but before he went he completed the fall sum of his sins against good taste and good feeling by pulling to the ground the house in which Shakespeare had lived and died. This was done, it is said, out of sheer spite to the towns-people, with some of whom Mr. Gastrell had had a dispute about the rate at which the house was taxed. His change of residence was no great relief to him, for the whole British public felt sorely aggrieved, and wherever he went he was peppered with all sorts of squibs and satires. He “slid into verse,” and “hitched in a rhyme.”
Sacred to ridicule his whole life long, And the sad burden of a merry song.
Thomas Sharp, a watchmaker, got possession of the fragments of Shakespeare’s Mulberry tree, and worked them into all sorts of elegant ornaments and toys, and disposed of them at great prices. The corporation of Stratford presented Garrick with the freedom of the town in a box made of the wood of this famous tree, and the compliment seems to have suggested to him his public festival or pageant in honor of the poet. This Jubilee, which was got up with great zeal, and at great expense and trouble, was attended by vast throngs of the admirers of Shakespeare from all parts of the kingdom. It was repeated on the stage and became so popular as a theatrical exhibition that it was represented night after night for more than half a season to crowded audiences.
Upon the subject of gardens, let us hear what has been said by the self-styled “melancholy Cowley.” When in the smoky city pent, amidst the busy hum of men, he sighed unceasingly for some green retreat. As he paced the crowded thorough-fares of London, he thought of the velvet turf and the pure air of the country. His imagination carried him into secluded groves or to the bank of a murmuring river, or into some trim and quiet garden. “I never,” he says, “had any other desire so strong and so like to covetousness, as that one which I have had always, that I might be master at last of a small house and a large garden, with very moderate conveniences joined to them, and there dedicate the remainder of my life only to the culture of them and the study of nature,” The late Miss Mitford, whose writings breathe so freshly of the nature that she loved so dearly, realized for herself a similar desire. It is said that she had the cottage of a peasant with the garden of a Duchess. Cowley is not contented with expressing in plain prose his appreciation of garden enjoyments. He repeatedly alludes to them in verse.
Thus, thus (and this deserved great Virgil’s praise) The old Corycian yeoman passed his days; Thus his wise life Abdolonymus spent;
Th’ ambassadors, which the great emperor sent To offer him a crown, with wonder found The reverend gardener, hoeing of his ground; Unwillingly and slow and discontent
From his loved cottage to a throne he went; And oft he stopped, on his triumphant way: And oft looked back: and oft was heard to say Not without sighs, Alas! I there forsake A happier kingdom than I go to take.
_Lib. IV. Plantarum_.
Here is a similar allusion by the same poet to the delights which great men amongst the ancients have taken in a rural retirement.
Methinks, I see great Dioclesian walk In the Salonian garden’s noble shade
Which by his own imperial hands was made, I see him smile, methinks, as he does talk With the ambassadors, who come in vain To entice him to a throne again.
“If I, my friends,” said he, “should to you show All the delights which in these gardens grow, ‘Tis likelier much that you should with me stay, Than ’tis that you should carry me away: And trust me not, my friends, if every day I walk not here with more delight,
Than ever, after the most happy sight In triumph to the Capitol I rode,
To thank the gods, and to be thought myself almost a god,”
Cowley does not omit the important moral which a garden furnishes.
Where does the wisdom and the power divine In a more bright and sweet reflection shine? Where do we finer strokes and colors see Of the Creator’s real poetry.
Than when we with attention look
Upon the third day’s volume of the book? If we could open and intend our eye
_We all, like Moses, might espy,
E’en in a bush, the radiant Deity_.
In Leigh Hunt’s charming book entitled _The Town_, I find the following notice of the partiality of poets for houses with gardens attached to them:–
“It is not surprizing that _garden-houses_ as they were called; should have formerly abounded in Holborn, in Bunhill Row, and other (at that time) suburban places. We notice the fact, in order to observe _how fond the poets were of occupying houses of this description. Milton seems to have made a point of having one_. The only London residence of Chapman which is known, was in Old Street Road; doubtless at that time a rural suburb. Beaumont and Fletcher’s house, on the Surrey side of the Thames, (for they lived as well as wrote together,) most probably had a garden; and Dryden’s house in Gerard Street looked into the garden of the mansion built by the Earls of Leicester. A tree, or even a flower, put in a window in the streets of a great city, (and the London citizens, to their credit, are fond of flowers,) affects the eye something in the same way as the hand-organs, which bring unexpected music to the ear. They refresh the common-places of life, shed a harmony through the busy discord, and appeal to those first sources of emotion, which are associated with the remembrance of all that is young and innocent.”
Milton must have been a passionate lover of flowers and flower-gardens or he could never have exhibited the exquisite taste and genial feeling which characterize all the floral allusions and descriptions with which so much of his poetry is embellished. He lived for some time in a house in Westminster over-looking the Park. The same house was tenanted by Jeremy Bentham for forty years. It would be difficult to meet with any two individuals of more opposite temperaments than the author of _Paradise Lost_ and the Utilitarian Philosopher. There is or was a stone in the wall at the end of the garden inscribed TO THE PRINCE OF POETS. Two beautiful cotton trees overarched the inscription, “and to show” says Hazlitt, (who subsequently lived in the same house himself,) “how little the refinements of taste or fancy entered Bentham’s system, he proposed at one time to cut down these beautiful trees, to convert the garden, where he had breathed an air of truth and heaven for near half a century, into a paltry Chreistomathic School, and to make Milton’s house (the cradle of _Paradise Lost_) a thoroughfare, like a three-stalled stable, for the idle rabble of Westminster to pass backwards and forwards to it with their cloven hoofs!”
No poet, ancient or modern, has described a garden on a large scale in so noble a style as Milton. He has anticipated the finest conceptions of the latest landscape-gardeners, and infinitely surpassed all the accounts we have met with of the gardens of the olden time before us. His Paradise is a
Spot more delicious than those gardens feigned Or of revived Adonis or renowned
Alcinous, host of old Laertes’ son Or that, not mystic, where the sapient King Held dalliance with his fair Egyptian spouse
The description is too long to quote entire, but I must make room for a delightful extract. Familiar as it must be to all lovers of poetry, who will object to read it again and again? Genuine poetry is like a masterpiece of the painter’s art:–we can gaze with admiration for the hundredth time on a noble picture. The mind and the eye are never satiated with the truly beautiful. “A thing of beauty is a joy for ever.”
So on he fares, and to the border comes Of Eden, where delicious Paradise,
Now nearer, crowns with her enclosure green, As with a rural mound, the champaign head Of a steep wilderness, whose hairy sides With thicket overgrown, grotesque and wild, Access denied: and overhead up grew
Insuperable height of loftiest shade, Cedar, and pine, and fir, and branching palm, A sylvan scene; and as, the ranks ascend Shade above shade, a woody theatre
Of stateliest view. Yet higher than their tops, The verdurous wall of Paradise up-sprung: Which to our general sire gave prospect large Into his nether empire neighbouring round; And higher than that wall a circling row Of goodliest trees, loaden with fairest fruit, Blossoms and fruits at once, of golden hue, Appear’d, with gay enamell’d colours mix’d; On which the sun more glad impress’d his beams, Than on fair evening cloud, or humid bow. When God hath shower’d the earth; so lovely seem’d That landscape: and of pure now purer air Meets his approach, and to the heart inspires Vernal delight and joy, able to drive
All sadness but despair: now gentle gales, Fanning their odoriferous wings, dispense Native perfumes and whisper whence they stole Those balmy spoils. As when to them who sail Beyond the Cape of Hope, and now are past Mozambic, off at sea north-east winds blow Sabean odours from the spicy shore
Of Araby the Blest; with such delay Well pleased they slack their course, and many a league Cheer’d with the grateful smell, old Ocean smiles.
* * * * *
Southward through Eden went a river large, Nor changed his course, but through the shaggy hill Pass’d underneath ingulf’d; for God had thrown That mountain as his garden mould, high raised Upon the rapid current, which through veins Of porous earth with kindly thirst up-drawn, Rose a fresh fountain, and with many a rill Water’d the garden; thence united fell Down the steep glade, and met the nether flood, Which from his darksome passage now appears; And now, divided into four main streams, Runs diverse, wandering many a famous realm And country, whereof here needs no account; But rather to tell how, if art could tell, How from that sapphire fount the crisped brooks, Rolling on orient pearl and sands of gold, With mazy error under pendent shades,
Ran nectar, visiting each plant, and fed Flowers worthy of Paradise, which not nice art In beds and curious knots, but nature boon Pour’d forth profuse on hill, and dale, and plain, Both where the morning sun first warmly smote The open field, and where the unpierced shade Imbrown’d the noontide bowers; thus was this place A happy rural seat of various view;
Groves whose rich, trees wept odorous gums and balm; Others whose fruit, burnish’d with golden rind, Hung amiable, Hesperian fables true,
If true, here only, and of delicious taste: Betwixt them lawns, or level downs, and flocks Grazing the tender herb, were interposed; Or palmy hillock, or the flowery lap
Of some irriguous valley spread her store, Flowers of all hue, and without thorn the rose: Another side, umbrageous grots and caves Of cool recess, o’er which the mantling vine Lays forth her purple grape, and gently creeps Luxuriant; meanwhile murmuring waters fall Down the slope hills, dispersed, or in a lake, That to the fringed bank with myrtle crown’d Her crystal mirror holds, unite their streams. The birds their quire apply; airs, vernal airs, Breathing the smell of field and grove attune, The trembling leaves, while universal Pan, Knit with the Graces and the Hours in dance, Led on the eternal Spring.
Pope in his grounds at Twickenham, and Shenstone in his garden farm of the Leasowes, taught their countrymen to understand how much taste and refinement of soul may be connected with the laying out of gardens and the cultivation of flowers. I am sorry to learn that the famous retreats of these poets are not now what they were. The lovely nest of the little Nightingale of Twickenham has fallen into vulgar hands. And when Mr. Loudon visited (in 1831) the once beautiful grounds of Shenstone, he “found them in a state of indescribable neglect and ruin.”
Pope said that of all his works that of which he was proudest was his garden. It was of but five acres, or perhaps less, but to this he is said to have given a charming variety. He enumerates amongst the friends who assisted him in the improvement of his grounds, the gallant Earl of Peterborough “whose lightnings pierced the Iberian lines.”
Know, all the distant din that world can keep, Rolls o’er my grotto, and but soothes my sleep. There my retreat the best companions grace Chiefs out of war and statesmen out of place. There St. John mingles with my friendly bowl The feast of reason and the flow of soul; And he whose lightnings pierced the Iberian lines Now forms my quincunx and now ranks my vines; Or tames the genius of the stubborn plain Almost as quickly as he conquered Spain.
Frederick Prince of Wales took a lively interest in Pope’s tasteful Tusculanum and made him a present of some urns or vases either for his “laurel circus or to terminate his points.” His famous grotto, which he is so fond of alluding to, was excavated to avoid an inconvenience. His property lying on both sides of the public highway, he contrived his highly ornamented passage under the road to preserve privacy and to connect the two portions of his estate.
The poet has given us in one of his letters a long and lively description of his subterranean embellishments. But his verse will live longer than his prose. He has immortalized this grotto, so radiant with spars and ores and shells, in the following poetical inscription:–
Thou, who shalt stop, where Thames’ translucent wave Shines a broad mirror through the shadowy cave, Where lingering drops from mineral roofs distil, And pointed crystals break the sparkling rill, Unpolished gems no ray on pride bestow, And latent metals innocently glow,
Approach! Great Nature studiously behold, And eye the mine without a wish for gold Approach–but awful! Lo, the Egerian grot, Where, nobly pensive, ST JOHN sat and thought, Where British sighs from dying WYNDHAM stole, And the bright flame was shot thro’ MARCHMONT’S soul; Let such, such only, tread this sacred floor Who dare to love their country, and be poor.
Horace Walpole, speaking of the poet’s garden, tells us that “the passing through the gloom from the grotto to the opening day, the retiring and again assembling shades, the dusky groves, the larger lawn, and the solemnity at the cypresses that led up to his mother’s tomb, were managed with exquisite judgment.”
Cliveden’s proud alcove,
The bower of wanton Shrewsbury and love,
alluded to by Pope in his sketch of the character of Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, though laid out by Kent, was probably improved by the poet’s suggestions. Walpole seems to think that the beautiful grounds at Rousham, laid out for General Dormer, were planned on the model of the garden at Twickenham, at least the opening and retiring “shades of Venus’s Vale.” And these grounds at Rousham were pronounced “the most engaging of all Kent’s works.” It is said that the design of the garden at Carlton House, was borrowed from that of Pope.
Wordsworth was correct in his observation that “Landscape gardening is a liberal art akin to the arts of poetry and painting.” Walpole describes it as “an art that realizes painting and improves nature.” “Mahomet,” he adds, “imagined an Elysium, but Kent created many.”
Pope’s mansion was not a very spacious one, but it was large enough for a private gentleman of inexpensive habits. After the poet’s death it was purchased by Sir William Stanhope who enlarged both the house and garden. A bust of Pope, in white marble, has been placed over an arched way with the following inscription from the pen of Lord Nugent:
The humble roof, the garden’s scanty line, Ill suit the genius of the bard divine; But fancy now displays a fairer scope
And Stanhope’s plans unfold the soul of Pope.
I have not heard who set up this bust with its impudent inscription. I hope it was not Stanhope himself. I cannot help thinking that it would have been a truer compliment to the memory of Pope if the house and grounds had been kept up exactly as he had left them. Most people, I suspect, would greatly have preferred the poet’s own “unfolding of his soul” to that “_unfolding_” attempted for him by a Stanhope and commemorated by a Nugent. Pope exhibited as much taste in laying out his grounds as in constructing his poems. Sir William, after his attempt to make the garden more worthy of the original designer, might just as modestly have undertaken to enlarge and improve the poetry of Pope on the plea that it did not sufficiently _unfold his soul_. A line of Lord Nugent’s might in that case have been transferred from the marble bust to the printed volume:
His fancy now displays a fairer scope.
Or the enlarger and improver might have taken his motto from Shakespeare:
To my _unfolding_ lend a gracious ear.
This would have been an appropriate motto for the title-page of “_The Poems of Pope: enlarged and improved: or The Soul of the Poet Unfolded_.”
But in sober truth, Pope, whether as a gardener or as a poet, required no enlarger or improver of his works. After Sir William Stanhope had left Pope’s villa it came into the possession of Lord Mendip, who exhibited a proper respect for the poet’s memory; but when in 1807 it was sold to the Baroness Howe, that lady pulled down the house and built another. The place subsequently came into the possession of a Mr. Young. The grounds have now no resemblance to what the taste of Pope had once made them. Even his mother’s monument has been removed! Few things would have more deeply touched the heart of the poet than the anticipation of this insult to the memory of so revered a parent. His filial piety was as remarkable as his poetical genius. No passages in his works do him more honor both as a man and as a poet than those which are mellowed into a deeper tenderness of sentiment and a softer and sweeter music by his domestic affections. There are probably few readers of English poetry who have not the following lines by heart,
Me, let the tender office long engage To rock the cradle of reposing age;
With lenient arts extend a mother’s breath; Make langour smile, and smooth the bed of death; Explore the thought, explain the asking eye, And keep at least one parent from the sky.
In a letter to Swift (dated March 29, 1731) begun by Lord Bolingbroke and concluded by Pope, the latter speaks thus touchingly of his dear old parent:
“My Lord has spoken justly of his lady; why not I of my mother? Yesterday was her birth-day, now entering on the ninety-first year of her age; her memory much diminished, but her senses very little hurt, her sight and hearing good; she sleeps not ill, eats moderately, drinks water, says her prayers; this is all she does. I have reason to thank God for continuing so long to me a very good and tender parent, and for allowing me to exercise for some years those cares which are now as necessary to her, as hers have been to me.”
Pope lost his mother two years, two months, and a few days after the date of this letter. Three days after her death he entreated Richardson, the painter, to take a sketch of her face, as she lay in her coffin: and for this purpose Pope somewhat delayed her interment. “I thank God,” he says, “her death was as easy as her life was innocent; and as it cost her not a groan, nor even a sigh, there is yet upon her countenance such an expression of tranquillity, nay almost of pleasure, that it is even amiable to behold it. It would afford the finest image of a saint expired, that ever painting drew, and it would be the greatest obligation which even that obliging art could ever bestow upon a friend if you would come and sketch it for me.” The writer adds, “I shall hope to see you this evening, as late as you will, or to-morrow morning as early, _before this winter flower is faded_.”
On the small obelisk in the garden, erected by Pope to the memory of his mother, he placed the following simple and pathetic inscription.
I wonder that any one could have had the heart to remove or to destroy so interesting a memorial.
It is said that Pope planted his celebrated weeping willow at Twickenham with his own hands, and that it was the first of its particular species introduced into England. Happening to be with Lady Suffolk when she received a parcel from Spain, he observed that it was bound with green twigs which looked as if they might vegetate. “Perhaps,” said he, “these may produce something that we have not yet in England.” He tried a cutting, and it succeeded. The tree was removed by some person as barbarous as the reverend gentleman who cut down Shakespeare’s Mulberry Tree. The Willow was destroyed for the same reason, as the Mulberry Tree–because the owner was annoyed at persons asking to see it. The Weeping Willow
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream,
has had its interest with people in general much increased by its association with the history of Napoleon in the Island of St. Helena. The tree whose boughs seemed to hang so fondly over his remains has now its scions in all parts of the world. Few travellers visited the tomb without taking a small cutting of the Napoleon Willow for cultivation in their own land. Slips of the Willow at Twickenham, like those of the Willow at St. Helena, have also found their way into many countries. In 1789 the Empress of Russia had some of them planted in her garden at St. Petersburgh.
Mr. Loudon tells us that there is an old _oak_ in Binfield Wood, Windsor Forest, which is called _Pope’s Oak_, and which bears the inscription “HERE POPE SANG:” but according to general tradition it was a _beech_ tree, under which Pope wrote his “Windsor Forest.” It is said that as that tree was decayed, Lady Gower had the inscription alluded to carved upon another tree near it. Perhaps the substituted tree was an oak.
I may here mention that in the Vale of Avoca there is a tree celebrated as that under which Thomas Moore wrote the verses entitled “The meeting of the Waters.”
The allusion to _Pope’s Oak_ reminds me that Chaucer is said to have planted three oak trees in Donnington Park near Newbury. Not one of them is now, I believe, in existence. There is an oak tree in Windsor Forest above 1000 years old. In the hollow of this tree twenty people might be accommodated with standing room. It is called _King’s Oak_: it was William the Conqueror’s favorite tree. _Herne’s Oak_ in Windsor Park, is said by some to be still standing, but it is described as a mere anatomy.
—-An old oak whose boughs are mossed with age, And high top bald with dry antiquity.
_As You Like it_.
“It stretches out its bare and sapless branches,” says Mr. Jesse, “like the skeleton arms of some enormous giant, and is almost fearful in its decay.” _Herne’s Oak_, as every one knows, is immortalised by Shakespeare, who has spread its fame over many lands.
There is an old tale goes that Herne the hunter, Sometime a keeper here in Windsor Forest, Doth all the winter time, at still midnight, Walk round about an oak, with great ragg’d horns, And there he blasts the trees, and takes the cattle; And makes milch cows yield blood, and shakes a chain In a most hideous and dreadful manner. You have heard of such a spirit; and well you know, The superstitious, idle-headed eld
Received, and did deliver to our age, This tale of Herne the Hunter for a truth.
_Merry Wives of Windsor_.
“Herne, the hunter” is said to have hung himself upon one of the branches of this tree, and even,
—-Yet there want not many that do fear, In deep of night to walk by this Herne’s Oak.
_Merry Wives of Windsor_.
It was not long ago visited by the King of Prussia to whom Shakespeare had rendered it an object of great interest.
It is unpleasant to add that there is considerable doubt and dispute as to its identity. Charles Knight and a Quarterly Reviewer both maintain that _Herne’s Oak_ was cut down with a number of other old trees in obedience to an order from George the Third when he was not in his right mind, and that his Majesty deeply regretted the order he had given when he found that the most interesting tree in his Park had been destroyed. Mr. Jesse, in his _Gleanings in Natural History_, says that after some pains to ascertain the truth, he is convinced that this story is not correct, and that the famous old tree is still standing. He adds that George the Fourth often alluded to the story and said that though one of the trees cut down was supposed to have been _Herne’s Oak_, it was not so in reality. George the Third, it is said, once called the attention of Mr. Ingalt, the manager of Windsor Home Park to a particular tree, and said “I brought you here to point out this tree to you. I commit it to your especial charge; and take care that no damage is ever done to it. I had rather that every tree in the park should be cut down than that this tree should be hurt. _This is Hernes Oak_.”
Sir Philip Sidney’s Oak at Penshurst mentioned by Ben Jonson–
That taller tree, of which the nut was set At his great birth, where all the Muses met–
is still in existence. It is thirty feet in circumference. Waller also alludes to
Yonder tree which stands the sacred mark Of noble Sidney’s birth.
Yardley Oak, immortalized by Cowper, is now in a state of decay.
Time made thee what thou wert–king of the woods! And time hath made thee what thou art–a cave For owls to roost in.
The tree is said to be at least fifteen hundred years old. It cannot hold its present place much longer; but for many centuries to come it will
Live in description and look green in song.
It stands on the grounds of the Marquis of Northampton; and to prevent people from cutting off and carrying away pieces of it as relics, the following notice has been painted on a board and nailed to the tree:–“_Out of respect to the memory of the poet Cowper, the Marquis of Northampton is particularly desirous of preserving this Oak_.”
Lord Byron, in early life, planted an oak in the garden at Newstead and indulged the fancy, that as that flourished so should he. The oak has survived the poet, but it will not outlive the memory of its planter or even the boyish verses which he addressed to it.
Pope observes, that “a tree is a nobler object than a prince in his coronation robes.” Yet probably the poet had never seen any tree larger than a British oak. What would he have thought of the Baobab tree in Abyssinia, which measures from 80 to 120 feet in girth, and sometimes reaches the age of five thousand years. We have no such sylvan patriarch in Europe. The oldest British tree I have heard of, is a yew tree of Fortingall in Scotland, of which the age is said to be two thousand five hundred years. If trees had long memories and could converse with man, what interesting chapters these survivors of centuries might add to the history of the world!
Pope was not always happy in his Twickenham Paradise. His rural delights were interrupted for a time by an unrequited passion for the beautiful and highly-gifted but eccentric Lady Mary Wortley Montague.
Ah! friend, ’tis true–this truth you lovers know; In vain my structures rise, my gardens grow; In vain fair Thames reflects the double scenes Of hanging mountains and of sloping greens; Joy lives not here, to happier seats it flies, And only dwells where Wortley casts her eyes.
What are the gay parterre, the chequered shade, The morning bower, the evening colonnade, But soft recesses of uneasy minds,
To sigh unheard in to the passing winds?
So the struck deer, in some sequestered part, Lies down to die, the arrow at his heart; He, stretched unseen, in coverts hid from day, Bleeds drop by drop, and pants his life away.
These are exquisite lines, and have given delight to innumerable readers, but they gave no delight to Lady Mary. In writing to her sister, the Countess of Mar, then at Paris, she says in allusion to these “most musical, most melancholy” verses–“_I stifled them here; and I beg they may die the same death at Paris_.” It is not, however, quite so easy a thing as Lady Mary seemed to think, to “stifle” such poetry as Pope’s.
Pope’s notions respecting the laying out of gardens are well expressed in the following extract from the fourth Epistle of his Moral Essays. This fourth Epistle was addressed, as most readers will remember, to the accomplished Lord Burlington, who, as Walpole says, “had every quality of a genius and an artist, except envy. Though his own designs were more chaste and classic than Kent’s, he entertained him in his house till his death, and was more studious to extend his friend’s fame than his own.”
Something there is more needful than expense, And something previous e’en to taste–’tis sense; Good sense, which only is the gift of Heaven, And though no science fairly worth the seven; A light, which in yourself you must perceive; Jones and Le Notre have it not to give. To build, or plant, whatever you intend, To rear the column or the arch to bend; To swell the terrace, or to sink the grot; In all let Nature never be forgot.
But treat the goddess like a modest fair, Nor over dress nor leave her wholly bare; Let not each beauty every where be spied, Where half the skill is decently to hide. He gains all points, who pleasingly confounds, Surprizes, varies, and conceals the bounds. _Consult the genius of the place in all_; That tells the waters or to rise or fall; Or helps the ambitious hill the heavens to scale, Or scoops in circling theatres the vale; Calls in the country, catches opening glades, Joins willing woods and varies shades from shades; Now breaks, or now directs, th’ intending lines; Paints as you plant, and, as you work, designs. Still follow sense, of every art the soul; Parts answering parts shall slide into a whole, Spontaneous beauties all around advance, Start e’en from difficulty, strike from chance; Nature shall join you; time shall make it grow A work to wonder at–perhaps a STOWE. Without it proud Versailles! Thy glory falls; And Nero’s terraces desert their walls. The vast parterres a thousand hands shall make, Lo! Cobham comes and floats them with a lake; Or cut wide views through mountains to the plain, You’ll wish your hill or sheltered seat again.
Pope is in most instances singularly happy in his compliments, but the allusion to STOWE–as “_a work to wonder at_”–has rather an equivocal appearance, and so also has the mention of Lord Cobham, the proprietor of the place. In the first draught of the poem, the name of Bridgeman was inserted where Cobham’s now stands, but as Bridgeman mistook the compliment for a sneer, the poet thought the landscape-gardener had proved himself undeserving of the intended honor, and presented the second-hand compliment to the peer. The grounds at Stowe, more praised by poets than any other private estate in England, extend to 400 acres. There are many other fine estates in our country of far greater extent, but of less celebrity. Some of them are much too extensive, perhaps, for true enjoyment. The Earl of Leicester, when he had completed his seat at Holkham, observed, that “It was a melancholy thing to stand alone in