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A History of English Romanticism in the Eighteenth

Was naturally familiar with the Leasowes


Shenstone

describes in his "Thoughts on Gardening," several artifices that he put in practice for increasing the apparent distance of objects, or for lengthening the perspective of an avenue by widening it in the foreground and planting it there with dark-foliaged trees, like yews and firs, "then with trees more and more fady, till they end in the almond-willow or silver osier." To have Lord Lyttelton bring in a party at the small, or willow end of such a walk, and thereby spoil the whole trick, must indeed have been provoking. Johnson asserts that Shenstone's house was ruinous and that "nothing raised his indignation more than to ask if there were any fishes in his water." "In time," continues the doctor, "his expenses brought clamors about him that overpowered the lamb's bleat and the linnet's song; and his groves were haunted by beings very different from fawns and fairies;" to wit, bailiffs; but Graves denies this.

The fame of the Leasowes attracted visitors from all parts of the country--literary men like Spence, Home, and Dodsley; picturesque tourists, who came out of curiosity; and titled persons, who came, or sent their gardeners, to obtain hints for laying out their grounds. Lyttelton brought William Pitt, who was so much interested that he offered to contribute two hundred pounds toward improvements, an offer that Shenstone, however, declined. Pitt had himself some skill in landscape gardening, which he exercised at Enfield Chase and afterward

at Hayes.[41] Thomson, who was Lyttelton's guest at Hagley every summer during the last three or four years of his life, was naturally familiar with the Leasowes. There are many references to the "sweet descriptive bard," in Shenstone's poems[42] and a seat was inscribed to his memory in a part of the grounds known as Vergil's Grove. "This seat," says Dodsley, "is placed upon a steep bank on the edge of the valley, from which the eye is here drawn down into the flat below by the light that glimmers in front and by the sound of various cascades, by which the winding stream is agreeably broken. Opposite to this seat the ground rises again in an easy concave to a kind of dripping fountain, where a small rill trickles down a rude niche of rock work through fern, liverwort, and aquatic weeds. . . The whole scene is opaque and gloomy."[43]

English landscape gardening is a noble art. Its principles are sound and of perpetual application. Yet we have advanced so much farther in the passion for nature than the men of Shenstone's day that we are apt to be impatient of the degree of artifice present in even the most skillful counterfeit of the natural landscape. The poet no longer writes odes on "Rural Elegance," nor sings

"The transport, most allied to song, In some fair valley's peaceful bound To catch soft hints from Nature's tongue, And bid Arcadia bloom around; Whether we fringe the sloping hill, Or smooth below the verdant mead; Or in the horrid brambles' room Bid careless groups of roses bloom; Or let some sheltered lake serene Reflect flowers, woods and spires, and brighten all the scene."

If we cannot have the mountains, the primeval forest, or the shore of the wild sea, we can at least have Thomson's "great simple country," subdued to man's use but not to his pleasure. The modern mood prefers a lane to a winding avenue, and an old orchard or stony pasture to a lawn decorated with coppices. "I do confess," says Howitt, "that in the 'Leasowes' I have always found so much ado about nothing; such a parade of miniature cascades, lakes, streams conveyed hither and thither; surprises in the disposition of woods and the turn of walks. . . that I have heartily wished myself out upon a good rough heath."


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