EESE 4/2006

Foto: R. Lessenich: Stowe - Elysian Fields


In the eighteenth century the landscape garden, first brought to maturity in England, set out on a triumphal march, perhaps unique in its way, and soon became exemplary for the whole of Europe. Known as "le jardin anglais", "der englische Garten" or "il giardino inglese", it spread across the entire Continent and beyond. Its influence is felt from Zárskoje Seló and Pavlóvsk in Russia to Central Park or Prospect Park in New York. With its softly rolling greenery, its irregular patches of water – especially the serpentine lakes –, its naturally planted clumps of trees and its "painterly" views of buildings pregnant with meaning, the English landscape garden was a tremendous export hit. It can with full justice be called an English creation. Naturally, contemporary English authors such as William Mason in his poem The English Garden (1772-81) stressed its autochthonous character, and Horace Walpole, in his well-known History of the Modern Taste in Gardening (1771-80) indignantly protested against the suggestion that England must share its claim to originality with other nations. Numerous references in European literature as, for instance, even Rousseau’s double-edged compliment in La nouvelle Héloïse (1761), testify to the prior claim of the English. It is with good reason that the landscape garden remains the outstanding example of England not being on the receiving end in its exchange with the Continent in the field of fine arts; indeed it made a lasting impression on all of Europe. For some time this cultural achievement has been the focal point of an extremely lively research debate – and presumably not only as a reflection of ecological currents. I would now like to look at this debate from the specific perspective of my discipline.


What motive does the Anglicist have in entering into the debate on the landscape garden, a debate led with special intensity by art historians? His justification rests upon the fact that literature played an amazingly important role – briefly, as we will see, a decisive one – in the landscape garden movement. In my paper, I shall take a closer look at the literary contribution to the landscape garden, which, first of all, made its appearance as a "Gesamtkunstwerk" (comprehensive work of art) typical of neo-Classicism. In this I should like to concentrate on the origin and early manifestations of the English landscape garden.

The English garden must be seen as the result of an intellectual movement which developed over a lengthy period of time. After desultory beginnings in the course of the seventeenth century it really got under way after the turn of the new century and eventually ushered in a new style of gardening. A person looking for external signs of the rise of the English garden in the first two decades of the eighteenth century, will, however, be disappointed. In practice the French taste in gardening, or its more playful Dutch variant, reigned unchallenged. The court gardeners George London and Henry Wise, trained in the Le Nôtre circle, worked along the lines of the French formalist school, as Wise’s lay-outs of the royal gardens in London and the famous gardens at Chatsworth, the seat of the Dukes of Devonshire, serve to illustrate. In this context I may also mention Melbourne Hall in Derbyshire. Charles Bridgeman, too – who after 1709 worked together with the baroque architect and dramatist Sir John Vanbrugh on the lay-out of the Duke of Marlborough’s gardens at Blenheim Palace – still harked back to the ideas of his predecessors and for the most part remained true to the traditional concept of tectonic forms and symmetrical landscape formation. And professional garden treatises like Stephen Switzer’s The Nobleman. Gentleman, and Gardener’s Recreation (1715) clearly have their foundations in the past and do not unequivocally indicate that they stand on the very threshold of a new epoch in the art of gardening.

Suggestions for a new direction in gardening must, therefore, have come from outside the circle of those professionally concerned with the laying out of gardens. If one takes an enquiring look at the intellectual scene of England at that time, one finds that the most important impulses aimed at changing tastes in gardening did not originate with gardeners, architects or other professionally interested men, but with authors – hommes de lettres in the broadest sense. Theirs is the merit of having inaugurated the landscape garden movement proper. In the following, I will give a summary of the major recurring thoughts of these authors in order to establish the connection with the current scholarly discussion on the origin of the English landscape garden.

Among those authors who intellectually pioneered the rise of the landscape garden movement, Addison’s contributions are of central importance. In the first place, he can claim temporal and material precedence; and, in the second, he expounded his futuristic conceptions in the periodical essays of the moral weeklies, the new and influential media of communication. Addison’s critical examination of the formal garden of French origin was persistent and profound and in the final analysis resulted in a reversal of the order of importance attached to nature and art in their respective relation to one another. As early as December 1699 in a letter to William Congreve, Addison advocated a divergence from the traditional style of gardening. This document,1 which deals with Addison’s encounter with Fontainebleau, is of primary significance for the early, theoretically marked phase of the landscape garden movement. By taking notice and approving of certain links between the actual garden and the surrounding countryside – bordering walls were at that time still in general use – he declares his preference for Fontainebleau over the magnificent Versailles. Phrases such as "the Genius of the place" and "Artificial Wildness" show Addison’s aesthetic predilection for gardens furnished with the features of natural landscapes. As in this early document, Addison in subsequent comments, especially the famous set of essays on the 'Pleasures of the Imagination' in The Spectator in 1712,2 also assigned art an ancillary function towards a conception of nature endowed with a value of its own. Physical nature was decisively revalued by becoming the source of mental pleasures in which Addison saw a providential means for the pursuit of human happiness.3 It is of the essence that he linked his new attitude towards gardening to a revaluation of external nature, which was endowed with moral power by means of a teleological line of argument, thus attaining a new status. The followers of the landscape garden movement held that a garden was essentially a moral performance. It is not by chance that Addison also became an advocate of physico-theological thought4 in many Spectator essays, assimilating the findings of modern science to his optimistic world-view.

The expansion of physico-theology was a prerequisite for the development of the landscape garden. As Jacques Boyceau’s Traité du jardinage selon les raisons de la nature et de l'art (1638) exemplifies, French gardening theory of the seventeenth century saw no clash between nature and symmetry and was devoted to a geometric concept that stressed the possibilities of art to transform or even violate nature. This concept was grounded on the assumption of the defective state of physical nature.5 In his Sacred Theory of the Earth (1681-89) Gilbert Burnet still adhered to the opinion that the world had originally been geometrically designed and that nature had been in a ruinous condition since the Fall. But this sombre view of man’s physical environment was increasingly superseded by the more optimistic one of the physico-theologists who came to the fore about the turn of the new century and had their intellectual stronghold in England. With the help of physico-theological thinking – I would like to mention only William Derham’s popular book Physico-Theology: Or, a Demonstration of the Being and Attributes of God from His Works of Creation (1713) – the stamp of metaphysical approval was put upon nature; the latter not only became more attractive aesthetically but – of major significance during the Enlightenment – morally as well. The new view of nature was widely disseminated by literature, especially in the form of descriptive and didactic poetry, as testified to by Blackmore’s poem Creation (1712). Addison expanded upon this fundamentally new orientation, for example, in Spectator number 414 (25 June, 1712). It implied man’s integration into nature and was an important prerequisite for the principle that a dynamic attitude to nature, as displayed in the formal garden – which portrayed a nature that was rigorously controlled, not to say violated – should be superseded by a more passive one. It must be noted in the same breath that Addison – very much in accordance with the basic aesthetic tenets of neo-Classicism – still, of course, had in mind the embellishment of nature through art; but the norms were reset. The fact that Claude Lorrain’s idealized paintings enjoyed the particular esteem of the early landscape garden movement is also connected with this underlying current of thought to be found in neo-Classicism.

Although, in his turn towards a garden conception oriented towards the natural components of landscape, Addison postulated – as in Spectator number 477 (6 September, 1712) among others – the replacement of the hitherto prevailing regularity by the principles of "irregularity","asymmetry" and "wildness", which alone promised the desired effect of "variety", such aesthetic aspects must not be seen in isolation. In their pleas for a new style of gardening, Addison as well as Pope pushed – for example – the utilitarian aspect considerably into the foreground. While Pope, in his well-known Guardian essay number 173 (29 September, 1713), directed against topiary art, called for an ethically more adequate mode of gardening by drawing attention to the social benefits of classical examples with their humanist aura of utility, Addison’s catchword in Spectator 477 was "Pleasure as well as [...] Plenty". One could show – kindly allow me to anticipate later developments for a second – that this utilitarian principle even determines the tripartite structure of Pope’s Epistle to Burlington (1731). which subordinates aesthetic considerations to social significance by making them subject to moral-pragmatic categories. In the previously mentioned Spectator essay (no. 414), Addison indicates the disparity of the social foundations on which French and English gardens (or parks) rest – in France a court nobility intent on ostentation and magnificent self-exhibition; in England an aristocracy living in the country and interested in good husbandry.

The peculiar nature of the English life-style and, more exactly, of English political conditions also made its impact in more specifically ideological terms. I am referring to the political inspiration of the English landscape garden in the sense of a reaction against French absolutist patronage, since the sovereign manner in which nature was appropriated in the formal French garden was interpreted as a self-representation of royal omnipotence. In contrast to this, the literary pioneers of the English landscape garden bound up their new conception of nature postulated for this garden with the idea of political liberty as its fundamental legitimatization. In the description of an Alpine paradise in Tatler number 161 (20 April, 1710), Addison made the association between liberty in politics and liberty in landscape unmistakably clear. As described in this dream vision, nature is distinguished by variety, plentifulness and disorder in all its aspects. Prominent features are a meandering stream and a profusion of plants, which allows all flowers to bloom in their individual beauty without being penned into regular borders and parterres. It is expressly stated that this Alpine paradise is the abode of the Goddess of Liberty. Thus the connection between liberty in politics and liberty in landscape is established beyond any doubt in this important genetic document.6 In illustration of the ideological component in the rise of the English landscape garden I have allowed myself a short quotation from Shaftesbury to close this part of my paper; in his enthusiastic description of the harmony of the world in The Moralists (1709) Shaftesbury contrasts the beauty of unspoiled nature with "the formal mockery of princely gardens".7 Even if his rhapsodic passages in The Moralists cannot be taken as an unequivocal declaration in favour of the future style of gardening, his revelation of the numinous qualities even of wild landscape implies a positive reassessment of nature itself inasmuch as the latter reflects the divine order of the universe.


Thus far I have tried to give a condensed rendering of the essential thoughts expressed by those authors whose names are bound up with the landscape garden movement. At this point I enter into debate with the art historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, whose views, owing to their comprehensive range, even today continue to have an effect on any discussion of the subject, although this is sometimes only grudgingly admitted or even ignored. They are presented as a general frame of reference against which my own line of thought can be checked and differentiated. Of course I willingly admit to a grain of local patriotism in thus drawing attention to the seminal work of Pevsner, who was a Privatdozent in Göttingen until 1934 when he was obliged to emigrate to England and – as wicked tongues have it – there established art history as an academic discipline. In his historically highly influential essay "The Genesis of the Picturesque", which appeared in the Architectual Review in 1944 and has been reprinted several times,8 Pevsner, who was the first to stress its literary provenance, posed three basic questions concerning the origin of the landscape garden: "Why was it created by the English? Why was it created at that particular moment, that is, between 1710 and 1730? And why was it created at the same time and by the same men as the most rigidly formal architectural style – Lord Burlington Palladianism?"9 He answered the first two questions – I will come back to the third – as follows: "It was conceived in England , because it is the garden of liberalism, and England just at that moment turned liberal, that is, Whig".10 With this captivatingly concise explanation, which undoubtedly contains a good measure of truth, Pevsner set the tone for the debate of the subsequent decades, particularly among art historians. I would, therefore, like to delineate more clearly my position towards the genetic problem by dealing with Pevsner’s theses, which he put forward again in his book The Englishness of English Art (1956), and which I recapitulated because of their historically far-reaching effect. The problems raised by him have again and again absorbed the attention of scholars in this field, even without explicit reference to Pevsner or acknowledgement of his pioneering research. By the way, a commemorative volume, containing an essay on Pevsner and Englishness, appeared a short time ago.11 To the three questions Pevsner posed I want to add a fourth and in my opinion crucial one. It is surprising that, apart from in my own publications,12 upon which I shall sometimes draw, the following question has never been thoroughly discussed until now: why was literature able to play such an outstanding part genetically? As will be seen, the answer to this question sheds additional light on the first two questions posed by Pevsner and bids fair to give a satisfactory explanation of the inception of the landscape garden.

First of all it must be stated that despite the altogether welcome impetus aroused by Pevsner’s theses, his smooth summation does not quite fit the bill. Thus, the beginning of what he characterizes as a Whig epoch (1710-1730) actually coincided with a Tory renaissance. Consequently, the genetically most productive phase was, if anything, marked by a liberal low; Addison’s extremely important contributions mostly originated in the conservative era of Queen Anne. Of course, one can avoid the difficulties suggested here - and this seems to be the right perspective - by assessing the years between 1710 and 1714 as a period of time during which the already initiated process of liberalization in England was merely delayed. Moreover and quite apart from this fact, compared with its continental rival France, even the England of the closing years of Queen Anne’s reign thought of itself as the epitome of freedom. A fact more inconsistent with Pevsner’s Whig thesis – which many art historians have adopted without hesitation – is that Pope, a star witness for the genesis of the landscape garden, was a Tory! A number of scholars have since become more cautious about the strictly party-political orientation. Thus, Hunt and Willis express themselves rather warily in the introduction to their well-known anthology The Genius of the Place: "The English landscape garden was associated from the start with the idea of Liberty".13 And finally one has to consider that the antagonism between Whigs and Tories was increasingly replaced by that between Court and Country after the accession of the Hanoverians, which both blurred and to some extent diminished party distinctions. This constellation also forms the ideological basis for the sort of landscape garden with which I will later illustrate my more theoretical statements.

Though Pevsner’s sweeping Whig thesis incorporating the Tory Pope into the vanguard of liberal garden pioneers cannot be accepted as it stands and, moreover, lacks the necessary subtle differentiation in the analysis of the historical subject-matter, it still points to the prominence of Whig initiative in the actual genesis of the English garden. It is not for nothing that the strictly Whiggish Kit-Cat Club – where, for instane, Charles Howard, 3rd Earl of Carlisle, met Sir John Vanbrugh, the architect of Castle Howard14 - has several times been referred to as the organizational nucleus of the landscape garden movement.15 The ideological bent of the latter and much of its inner dynamics are further illuminated by the fact that the adoption of the Palladian style, particularly promoted by Lord Burlington, can be regarded as a parallel move to opt for the kind of architectural form that seemed best suited to project the image of English political liberty.16 A Whig halo that does not quite encircle Pope does indeed seem to surround the inception of the landscape garden. Pevsner’s third question referred to the in no way self-evident fact that the same persons – one could speak of trendsetters in taste – who launched the new style in gardening also assisted in the breakthrough of Palladian architecture. Natural gardens and Palladian architecture are in fact closely connected, and Palladian buildings – villas, temples, bridges – are just as much a fixed element of the landscape garden – at least in the first half of the century – as pointed arches are a necessary component of Gothic churches. The softly modelled nature – the neo-Classical landscape garden was still quite a bit removed from the Romantic conception of nature – seems to embrace these Palladian buildings with ease. You can still experience this co-operation, this joint effort of nature and architecture, in the sense of an atmosphere conducive to meditation, in such famous landscape parks as Studley Royal in Yorkshire or Stourhead in Wiltshire. Yet the symbiosis of the natural garden with the austere architectural formalism of the Palladian style is not a particularly compelling one aesthetically. With this I return to the specific limitation of the aesthetic impulse which I hinted at in connexion with Addison’s genetic contributions. The limitation of mere aesthetic categories – decisive for understanding the neo-Classical landscape garden – can here be explicated. From an exclusively aesthetic point of view, I feel that the rationalistic formal garden with its transparent orderliness and clear proportions would be an appropriate or even more compatible partner to Palladian architecture. And baroque buildings like St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome – which Pope draws on, not accidentally, as a model in An Essay on Criticism (ll. 247-252) – satisfy the neo-Classical ideal of the symmetry of parts and the harmony of the whole almost as well as the Palladian buildings, which cannot conceivably be separated from the landscape garden. Palladian architecture, with its severe symmetry and its extreme sense of proportion, in no way corresponded with the tendencies of asymmetry, irregularity, contrast and variety17 aimed at in the natural style of gardening. Thus, from a purely aesthetic point of view, certain discrepancies continue to bother us. For this reason, the art historian Rudolf Wittkower has tried to find an escape from these inconsistencies by pursuing Pevsner’s socio-cultural line of argumentation and stressing the affinity of Palladianism to the natural garden from an ideological angle. His most important statement reads: "Burlington’s Neoclassicism and so-called romanticism vis-a-vis nature were two sides of the same medal inscribed 'LIBERTY'".18 Wittkower’s approach, with which one might tentatively agree, certainly facilitates the elucidation of a difficult problem. Judith Hook clearly supports this view: "[...] Shaftesbury, Colen Campbell and Lord Burlington had already begun to view Palladianism as that architectural form which best expressed the new English political liberty".19 She even maintains that the adoption of the Palladian style was tantamount to "a test of Whig political orthodoxy [...]".20

In my opinion, no doubt can remain that the occupation with the most essential components of the landscape garden requires us to put the importance of the aesthetic side into perspective. For it is only in this manner that the various elements of the landscape garden – under the aegis of literature – can be united in a genetically plausible manner. I will clarify this with one last example, which is linked to the present chain of argument. It concerns the influence of painting, which played an important role in the practical realization of the English landscape garden. As you can see by the example of Stourhead, the landscape garden movement had a marked predilection for certain schools of painting, but especially for the culture-saturated art of Claude Lorrain. In his pictures, suffused with a mild, Arcadian quietude, reality and ideal are harmoniously blended. This special orientation towards Claude Lorrain’s paintings partly followed premises of an ideological nature, for according to "naturalistic" criteria other schools of painting, for example the Dutch, should have met with more approval. As the mention of Jacob van Ruisdael and others in Richard Payne Knight’s poem The Landscape (1794) testifies,21 the influence of the Dutch landscape painters, however, only made itself felt at a later stage, that is during the heyday of the picturesque garden. Even in this sector, aesthetics remained functionally dependent on specific contemporary modes of thought, which betrayed their historico-political motives through their commitment to classical antiquity.

Source: Wikipedia


With my considerations on the proper limitation of the importance of the aesthetic element – not of course its neglect – I return to the question I added to the original three posed by Pevsner and which can now be given full attention, that is, why literature was able to play such an outstanding part genetically. The English landscape garden was a comprehensive work of art, which – in Rudolf Sühnel’s words – was marked by "die Verbindung von Freiheitspathos, Naturandacht und Antikenkult.22 In this characterization the ideological aspect also takes precedence. In my opinion, the socio-political approach offers a valid approach for answering the question of function. The rise of the new type of garden coincided with the consolidation of the rule of a – predominantly Whig – aristocracy, whose political and cultural independence from the court as an all-embracing centre of power manifested itself in their magnificent country seats. Whereas in France an aristocracy based on the court and given to ostentation was attached to the capital as the only sphere of influence, in England an aristocracy dispersed in rural centres of gravitation and interested in the economic exploitation of the land was able to display its political and social self-image through the creation of landscape gardens. In the previously mentioned number 414 of The Spectator Addison at least hinted at these dissimilar social conditions that were operative in the paradigmatic change of norms from the French to the English garden. It is certain that the economic motive of using the spacious pasture grounds that were becoming readily available through the enclosures at that time provided an additional incentive for the nascent aspirations towards an aesthetic ennoblement of the countryside.23 The French formal garden was the visual embodiment of a grand concept of order; its replacement by the English landscape garden apparently required the presence of an equally all-embracing intellectual counter-movement which articulated itself above all through literature. If the beginnings of the English landscape garden can to a significant extent be ascribed to the impulses of a uniquely liberal English civilization – upon which matter some sort of agreement seems to prevail – then it was literature – coming as it did into closer contact with the social world than the other arts – that was predestined to articulate the English lead in this field and to become the pioneer of a cultural undertaking of national dimensions.

The specific part adopted by literature was compatible with the increasing interest in landscape – an interest that was specifically aroused in the early eighteenth century through the poetic and philosophical associations evoked by nature. The landscape garden of the first half of the eighteenth century, which Ronald Paulson appropriately calls "the poetic garden or the emblematic or learned garden",24 was like a kind of moral stage. The new definition of the meaning of nature transmitted by literature could easily become the sounding-board for related ideas. To quote one pertinent example, the free growth of a plant was compared to the free development of a human being25 – an analogy which implied as its antithesis the formal garden as a symbol of unnaturalness.26 Literature was able to become the theoretical promoter of the landscape garden movement because it was the privileged and fairly popular medium for the propagation of certain ideological notions – notions that led to the gradual erosion of the French concept of gardening. It can to a large degree be credited to literature in its role as the transmitter of basic political and intellectual ideas that the gardens coming into existence in Georgian England were associated with liberty and p e r c e i v e d by contemporaries in terms of national characteristics – always a revealing piece of information. The aura of liberty surrounding the English garden must not, of course, mislead one into thinking of it as a wholly autochthonous creation with respect to its art-historical configurations. Thus Marie-Luise Egbert seems to exaggerate when she critically remarks that "many writers on gardens deliberately passed over in silence the obvious foreign inspirations of the new garden model, thereby creating the very myth of the Englishness of the landscape garden".27 New works of art are never creationes ex nihilo, which would be against all experience in cultural matters, and no sound scholar ever denied that the English landscape garden, especially in the realization of its architectural components, profited from the rich store of forms made available by earlier periods of the history of art. The ideological ambience is, however, sufficient to substantiate the claim for a national archetype in gardening determined more by semantic predispositions than by objective data relating to the ordinary give-and-take of the arts. The fact that literature possessed a public dimension and was not only a transmitter of taste but also of values, enabled it to become the fundamental conveyor of meaning within the framework of a friendly artistic climate at this stage of the landscape garden movement.

Above and beyond performing the function of an interpretative agent, a fundamental bestower of meaning, literature was largely responsible for the timing of a genetic process resulting in the replacement of one cultural model by another. It was literature that assumed the part of a co-ordinating agency, ensuring not only the conceptual but also the temporal coalescence of essential components such as the new moral vindication of nature and the patriotic preoccupation with the freedom of unrestrained landscape. This revaluation of nature was bound to activate latent objections to the French formal garden and to rouse aspirations towards a more uninhibited shaping of landscape. However, it was by no means clear w h e n the new moral vindication of nature would become effective in genetic terms. It seems to me that the support rendered by empirical science through the publications of the Royal Society, for example, did not become genetically effective until the later part of Queen Anne’s reign, when the physico-theological approach to nature drew substantial support from contemporaries and permeated other, more easily accessible spheres of intellectual life. We have to come to terms with the fact that the decisive theoretical foundations of the landscape garden were laid during the exact phase of the War of the Spanish Succession when England, opposing French ambitions of hegemony, became the centre of world politics and acutely aware of its privileged position based on constitutional liberty. It was the prerogative of literature to shape the national profile. The English authors who advocated a break with the past in the art of gardening under the impact of political circumstances performed a function that devolved upon them in the cultural context at the end of Queen Anne’s reign. It was the fact that literature possessed a public dimension and was the fundamental transmitter of values indicative of national self-identity that enabled it to become the prime mover of change at this stage of the landscape garden movement. That such impulses made themselves felt so early, and well before any practical achievements, proves the significance of ideological incentives; their anticipatory appeal makes David Watkin’s readiness "to see the political interpretation as a rhetorical justification after the event, rather than as a guiding inspiration from the start"28 seem unjustified. The genetically crucial query ought to be when and under what conditions were certain visual props at the permanent disposal of the fine arts used to accomplish a break with the French taste in gardening. Seen in this light, borrowing from Italian gardens;29 for instance, only means that artistic support was needed in order to realize one’s native ambitions. The argument put forward here is the very reverse of what Stephen Bending implies, namely that "One of the myths of the English landscape garden in the eighteenth century was of its almost miraculous 'discovery' as a wholly native art in the early years of the Hanoverian succession".30 Of course the landscape garden was not a creation sprung fully armed from the brains of Addison, Shaftesbury and others; nor can a causally flawless, historically preordained ineluctability for its inception be construed. Still, some attempt to discover a degree of historical plausibility is necessary. In this context, even the prosaic indications provided by mere chronology should not be despised. There is no denying the fact that the landscape garden only came into existence – and pretty rapidly, at that - after its literary promoters had made their appeal for its establishment; the constituents of this appeal point to a strong Anglocentric strain as a motive for the creation of this new form of art.

Although Addison’s explicit ideological pronouncements are rather the exception, the literary initiators of the landscape garden joined in seeking to invest this with certain expectations of a political nature. Thus, for instance, even if – as I said – Shaftesbury’s well-known statement quoted earlier cannot be read as an unequivocal declaration in favour of a definite type of garden, it can still be interpreted in the context of his many utterances pleading for cultural independence from political motives. In his Letter concerning the Art or Science of Design, written in 1712, he rejected the baroque art of Sir Christopher Wren, blaming its orientation on the corrupt taste of courts. As art criticism here overlaps with criticism of society, he is quite consistent in postulating the development of a national taste in the arts as the cultural equivalent of contemporary political conditions. With an emphatic gesture he expresses his confidence that England will reap great cultural rewards from the propitious circumstance of a political liberty that bears on all the arts.31 That such a scope of activity was just then being envisaged, was in accordance with what I would like to call the logic of contextual determinants. Addison’s statements along with Shaftesbury’s provide incontrovertible evidence of authentic contemporaneity and cannot be contradicted with the argument – perhaps valid to a certain extent in the case of Mason’s poem The English Garden – that they are the result of reasoning after the event. Addison’s essays were born of the mental climate of which he was, perhaps, the most reliable spokesman. In this context I might also mention that the recent attempts of Stephen Bending and other scholars to deny the relevance of Horace Walpole’s well-known history of eighteenth-century gardening have not convinced me.32 Walpole’s narrative may be somewhat one-sided in that it overstates some aspects while omitting others, but it does not fall prey to inadmissible monocausal explanations and does full justice to basic cultural and social trends that acted as stimuli to the landscape garden movement. It was in the complex but sharply delineated political and cultural contours of the later part of Queen Anne’s reign that literature, which allied the new moral vindication of nature to ideological predispositions, was able to perform the preparatory and accelerating function of a purveyor of ideas and help foster an intellectual atmosphere in which the ambition to create a national type of garden was put on the public agenda. The pilot function of literature, interestingly, underlines the conception of the English garden as a spiritual landscape in the sense pointed out by Bruno Snell.33


Foto R. Lessenich: Elysian Fields and Cobham's Column

Let me close by casting a brief glance at Stowe – a corroborative glance in that it confirms the national aura of the landscape garden and the contributing function of literature as a fundamental conveyor of meaning. Stowe is both representative and exceptional – representative in that it is the most famous and widely mentioned English landscape garden of the eighteenth century, exceptional in that it illustrates the intellectual endowment of "the poetic garden or the emblematic or learned garden" to an unusual degree. Stowe testifies to the genetic priority of literature which, as an abstract medium, could only make its imprint on this garden because the latter was to an unusual degree accessible to external ideological influences primarily brought to bear upon it by authors. As detailed research has shown,34 literature was instrumental in defining the character of the Elysian Fields, the outstanding part of the newly laid out grounds. There, the contrastive principle operative in satire and structurally determinative in Addison’s essay in number 123 of The Tatler (21 January, 1710) was transposed to the pictorial level. More specifically, it is only through the help of literature as the main vehicle of the national idea of liberty that the meaningful interaction between the buildings to which the walker’s attention is directed can take full effect. The relations between the Temple of Ancient Virtue, the Temple of Modern Virtue and the Temple of British Worthies, the most spectacular building there, only emerge in all their neatly adjusted concatenations when one realizes the degree to which literature offered semantic pre-coding.

Foto R. Lessenich: Stowe - Exedra

Thus, to quote but one relevant example, in the Temple of Ancient Virtue, Lycurgus, whom Thomson praised as the founder of the mixed state in Liberty35 symbolizes the political ideal of contemporary England and forms the counterpart to King Alfred the Great. The latter, represented in the Temple of British Worthies, is intended, according to the superscription, to be looked upon as the protector of liberty and thus to call to mind the very virtue the destruction of which was held against Sir Robert Walpole by the Opposition circle around Lord Cobham. In order to disseminate its intended meaning, the Temple of British Worthies - as well as the Temple of Ancient Virtue - could not simply rely upon traditional symbols, but had to benefit from the assistance of literature, which had made certain political motives its peculiar province and put them at the disposal of an admittedly select public.

The patriotic aura of Stowe as a cohesive force imbuing the gardens with meaning becomes most unmistakably evident in the much-debated stylistic pluralism
36 – a phenomenon relevant to the English landscape garden in its entirety. The coexistence of classical-Palladian, Gothic-medieval, Chinese and – a little later – Greek buildings cannot satisfactorily be explained from a strictly formal or aesthetic point of view.

Foto R. Lessenich: Stowe House

It can only be explained by reference to the integrative power of the prevailing idea of liberty that was responsible for the semantic standardization of vastly dissimilar buildings. Aesthetically the discrepancy between the Gothic Temple and the Palladian buildings is manifestly evident;37 their simultaneity only becomes plausible on an ideological plane. The Gothic Temple, known as the Temple of Liberty for the first few years, conspicuously associated the Gothic style in architecture with the national idea of liberty.38 This association was rendered possible through contemporary modes of thought: the term Goths was used for all the Germanic invaders of Rome, who were believed to be the ancestors of the present English constitution which, in contemporary usage, was also designated as "our old Gothick Constitution".39 It was literature that paved the way for the new connotation of medieval architecture. Thus, to quote again only one particularly pertinent example, the topical theme of Gothic or Old English liberty was extensively treated in Thomson’s Liberty (1735-36). In this work the same stamp of approval was put upon classical (Greek and Roman) and Gothic-medieval liberty that established semantic accord between stylistically dissimilar buildings. It is the very aesthetic heterogeneity of the garden buildings that makes the dependence of the early landscape garden on ideological impulses emerge all the more strikingly. In the consciousness of contemporary observers the stylistic pluralism of the garden buildings appeared to be subsumed under the semantic monism of the patriotic glorification of political liberty40 – an English privilege indicative of fundamental human rights and therefore cosmopolitan by implication. To repeat a point already made: it does not invalidate the argument pursued in my paper that the ‘Englishness’ of the early landscape garden could only assert itself under the art-historical terms of selective but assimilative borrowing. After all, nobody questions the national aura of Versailles as the epitome of the French formal garden in spite of its hints of Italian models. Internationalism in the fine arts did not prevent the landscape garden from becoming imbued with the spirit of an enlightened nationalism.

Stowe certainly offers an especially advantageous object for the connexions established in the course of my paper. Other parks, however, also reveal the fact that in the landscape garden of the early eighteenth century, exuding to an astonishing degree the very spirit of political integrity, it was literature that acted as the pre-eminent giver of meaning.



This article (slightly revised) was originally given as a lecture at the annual conference of the South-Central Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies in Cocoa Beach (Florida) on 24 February 2006.

1 See The Letters of Joseph Addison, ed. Walter Graham (Oxford, 1941), 10-12.

2 See numbers 411-421 of this periodical.

3 Cf. Heinz-Joachim Müllenbrock, "Die Literaturtheorie Joseph Addisons", in RüdigerAhrens and Erwin Wolff (eds.), Englische und amerikanische Literaturtheorie. Studien zu ihrer historischen Entwicklung, 2 vols. (Heidelberg 1978-79), I, 275.

4 On the tradition of this important school of thought see the informative fourth chapter in Thomas Noll, Die Landschaftsmalerei von Caspar David Friedrich. Physikotheologie, Wirkungsästhetik und Emblematik. Voraussetzungen und Deutung (München and Berlin, 2006), pp. 47-55. See also pp. 63-68 of this book.

5 See Louis Hautecoeur, Les Jardins des Dieux et des Hommes (Paris, 1959), p. 151.

6 See also the comment in The Tatler, ed. Donald F. Bond, 3 vols. (Oxford, 1987), II, 401, note 6.

7 Anthony Earl of Shaftesbury, Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times, etc., ed. John M. Robertson, 2 vols. (Gloucester, Mass., 1963), II, 125

. 8 See, for instance, Nikolaus Pevsner, Studies in Art, Architecture and Design, 2 vols. (London, 1968), I, 79-101.

9 Nikolaus Pevsner, "The Genesis of the Picturesque", The Architectural Review 96 (1944), pp. 139-146: 139.

10 Ibid., p. 146.

11 See Andrew Causey, "Pevsner and Englishness", in Reassessing Nikolaus Pevsner, ed. Peter Draper (Aldershot, 2003), pp. 161-174.

12 See Heinz-Joachim Müllenbrock, "The English Landscape Garden: Literary Context and Recent Research", The Yearbook of English Studies 14 (1984), pp. 291-299; Der englische Landschaftsgarten des 18. Jahrhunderts und sein literarischer Kontext (Göttingen, 1986); "The ‘Englishness’ of the English landscape garden and the genetic role of literature: a reassessment", Journal of Garden History 8 (1988), pp. 97-103; "Der englische Landschaftsgarten des 18. Jahrhunderts: Zur Funtion der Literatur bei der Genese eines epochemachenden Gesamtkunstwerks", in Kunstgriffe. Auskünfte zur Reichweite von Literaturtheorie und Literaturkritik. Festschrift für Herbert Mainusch, ed. Ulrich Horstmann and Wolfgang Zach (Frankfurt a.M., 1989), pp. 241-251.

13 The Genius of the Place. The English Landscape Garden 1620-1820, ed. John Dixon Hunt and Peter Willis (London, 1975, repr. 1979), p. 33.

14 Cf. Valentin Hammerschmidt and Joachim Wilke, Die Entdeckung der Landschaft. Englische Gärten des 18. Jahrhunderts (Stuttgart, 1990), p. 27.

15 See, for instance, Dorothy Stroud, "Eighteenth Century Landscape Gardening", in Studies in Architectural History, [vol. I], ed. William A. Singleton (London and York, 1954), p. 37; and Joseph Burke, English Art 1714-1800 (Oxford, 1976), p. 45, note 3.

16 See Judith Hook, The Baroque Age in England (London, 1976), pp. 46, 51.

17 The unfolding of this element even made Henry Home (Lord Kames) maintain the superiority of gardening over architecture; cf. Erwin Panofsky, "The Ideological Antecedents of the Rolls-Royce Radiator", Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, vol. 107, no.4 (Philadelphia, 1963), p. 274.

18 Rudolf Wittkower, "English Neo-Palladianism, the Landscape Garden, China and the Enlightenment", in id., Palladio and English Palladianism (London, 1974), p.183.

19 The Baroque Age in England, p. 51.

20 Ibid., p. 51.

21 See the extract in Hunt and Willis (eds.), The Genius of the Place, p. 344.

22 Rudolf Sühnel, Der Park als Gesamtkunstwerk des englischen Klassizismus am Beispiel von Stourhead (Heidelberg, 1977), p. 8.

23 The economic component is, however, overemphasized by Wolfgang Schepers, Hirschfelds Theorie der Gartenkunst 1779-1785 (Worms, 1980), pp. 5-6.

24 Ronald Paulson, "The Poetic Garden", in id., Emblem and Expression in English Art of the Eighteenth Century (London, 1975), p. 20.

25 See Adrian von Buttlar, Der englische Landsitz 1715-1760: Symbol eines liberalen Weltentwurfs (Mittenwald, 1982), p. 143.

26 Significantly - and quite in line with national idiosyncracies - the formal geometric garden was likewise associated with the "goût naturel" of the French nation! Cf. Gert Gröning and Uwe Schneider, "Nationalistische und regionalistische Tendenzen in der Gartenkultur am Beispiel von Frankreich, den USA und Italien", in iid. (eds.), Gartenkultur und nationale Identität: Strategien nationaler und regionaler Identitätsstiftung in der deutschen Gartenkultur (Worms, 2001), p. 8.

27 Marie-Luise Egbert, "Patriotic Islands: The Politics of the English Landscape Garden", Erfurt Electronic Studies in English 5/2002 (http:// eestudies/ eese/ artic22/ egbert/ 5-2002.html ).

28 David Watkin, The English Vision. The Picturesque in Architecture, Landscape and Garden Design (London, 1982), p. 1.

29 See especially John Dixon Hunt, Garden and Grove. The Italian Renaissance Garden in the English Imagination: 1600-1750 (London and Melbourne, 1986).

30 Stephen Bending, "A Natural Revolution? Garden Politics in Eighteenth-Century England", in Refiguring Revolutions. Aesthetics and Politics from the English Revolution to the Romantic Revolution, ed. Kevin Sharpe and Steven N. Zwicker (Berkeley, 1998), p. 242.

31 See Anthony Earl of Shaftesbury, Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times, with a Collection of Letters, 3 vols. (Basil, 1790), III, 331, 335.

32 See my forthcoming article "Horace Walpole’s Place in the Historiography of the English Landscape Garden" in 1650-1850: Ideas, Aesthetics, and Inquiries in the Early Modern Era.

33 See Bruno Snell, "Arkadien. Die Entdeckung einer geistigen Landschaft, in id., Die Entdeckung des Geistes. Studien zur Entstehung des europäischen Denkens bei den Griechen (3rd impr., Hamburg, 1955), pp. 371-400.

34 For references see my contributions listed in note 12.

35 See Liberty, Book II, lines 114-120.

36 Discussed as ‘metastyle’ by von Buttlar, Der englische Landsitz, pp. 68-70. This discursive move does not, however, solve the problem of aesthetic heteromorphism, but only shifts it to another plane.

37 In Shotover Park (Oxfordshire), by the way, the clash is not nearly as conspicuous as in the case of Stowe, because – a skilful solution of the aesthetic predicament - the Gothic eye-catcher, perhaps the earliest known Gothic folly, is placed at the end of a canal so that it cannot clash with adjacent classical buildings.

38 For the Gothic as the mythical domain of the national idea of liberty see Christine Gerrard, The Patriot Opposition to Walpole: Politics, Poetry, and National Myth, 1725-1742 (Oxford, 1994), pp. 108-149.

39 See Josef Haslag, ‘Gothic’ im siebzehnten und achtzehnten Jahrhundert. Eine wort- und ideengeschichtliche Untersuchung (Köln and Graz, 1963), pp. 30-35.

40 Bernd-Peter Lange seems to subscribe to my view first expressed in 1988, though he does not refer to it; see his article "The English Garden and the Patriotic Discourse", Englishness [anglistik & englischunterricht 46/47 ], ed. Hans-Jürgen Diller et al. (Heidelberg, 1992), p. 57.