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An Explanatory Discourse by Tan Chet-qua of Quang-

THE AUGUSTAN REPRINT SOCIETY

AN EXPLANATORY DISCOURSE

BY TAN CHET-QUA, of QUANG-CHEW-FU, Gent.

SIR WILLIAM CHAMBERS (1773)

_Introduction by_ RICHARD E. QUAINTANCE, JR.

PUBLICATION NUMBER _191_ WILLIAM ANDREWS CLARK MEMORIAL LIBRARY UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, LOS ANGELES _1978_

GENERAL EDITOR

David Stuart Rodes, University of California, Los Angeles

EDITORS

Charles L. Batten, University of California, Los Angeles William E. Conway, William Andrews Clark Memorial Library George Robert Guffey, University of California, Los Angeles Maximillian E. Novak, University of California, Los Angeles

ADVISORY EDITORS

James L. Clifford, Columbia University Ralph Cohen, University of Virginia Vinton A. Dearing, University of California, Los Angeles Arthur Friedman, University of Chicago Louis A. Landa, Princeton University Earl Miner, Princeton University Samuel H. Monk, University of Minnesota Everett T. Moore, University of California, Los Angeles Lawrence Clark Powell, William Andrews Clark Memorial Library James Sutherland, University College, London H. T. Swedenberg, Jr., University of California, Los Angeles Robert Vosper, William Andrews Clark Memorial Library

CORRESPONDING SECRETARY

Beverly J. Onley, William Andrews Clark Memorial Library

EDITORIAL ASSISTANT

Frances M. Reed, University of California, Los Angeles

INTRODUCTION

This "Explanatory Discourse" first appeared, in the latter part of March 1773, annexed to the second and last edition of Sir William Chambers' _Dissertation on Oriental Gardening_ of the preceding May. As an effort, curiously hedged, to impersonate a Chinese spokesman it seeks to exploit the satiric vantage points of philosophic naivety and trenchant candor enjoyed by Goldsmith's observer Lien Chi Altangi in London a dozen years earlier. But Chambers' ventriloquism is both more defensive and more aggressive than what we find in _The Citizen of the World_; the Preface here in his own voice admits sensitivity to the "abuse" which the Dissertation had incurred for its scenic fantasy, its brief opening and closing attacks on "Capability" Brown, and its pervasive criticism of the blandness of Brownian landscaping. By assuming the voice of Tan Chet-qua Chambers is able to pretend to more authoritative familiarity with actual Chinese gardens even as he deplores his readers' misapprehension that his interest lay mainly in masquerade, entertainment, or "the mere recital of a traveller's observation" (p. 113). It was probably a strategic error to entrust the substance of his genuine and quite respectable challenging of Brownian style, to what he terms the "vehicle" of alleged first-hand reports of preferable "Chinese" lay-outs. By this date, some two decades after the chinoiserie fad had crested in England, most of his readers might fairly be termed rather jaded. They preferred to overreact to the frivolity and whimsey they had come to think essentially Chinese, rather than to ponder what Chambers seriously urges from behind his silken "screen": his interest in a variegated emotional response to deliberately variegated landscape. An admirer of Burke's Sublime, Chambers saw advantage in complicating the suavity of Brown's gentle contours, shaven lawns, free-form reflecting lakes, and still short tree-clumps, through a program of landscaped stimulation of contrasting associative moods. This is the essence of that argument which Chambers "cloathed ... in the garb of fiction, to secure it a patient hearing" (p. 112) in three publications appearing over sixteen years. There is no evidence that he was better understood through publication of this "Discourse," the last of the three.[1]


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