For landscape gardening, on a large scale, and in its best sense, there are no places in America which compare with those on the east bank of the Hudson, between Hyde Park and the town of Hudson. The extent of the grounds, and their fine natural advantages of wood and lawn, combined with their grand and beautiful views, and the admirable manner in which these natural charms are heightened by art, place them far before any other residences in the United States in picturesque beauty. In a strictly horticultural sense, they are, perhaps, as much inferior to the best places about Boston as they are superior to them in the beauty of landscape gardening and picturesque effect.
Among these places, those which enjoy the highest reputation, are Montgomery Place, the seat of Mrs. Edward Livingston, Blithewood, the seat of R. Donaldson, Esq., and Hyde Park, the seat of W. Langdon, Esq. The first is remarkable for its extent, for the wonderful variety of scenery - wood, water, and gardenesque - which it embraces, and for the excellent general keeping of the grounds. The second is a fine illustration of great natural beauty, - a mingling of the graceful and grand in scenery, - admirably treated and heightened by art. Hyde Park is almost too well known to need more than a passing notice. It is a noble site, greatly enhanced in interest lately, by the erection of a fine new mansion.
The student or amateur in landscape gardening, who wishes to examine two places as remarkable for breadth and dignity of effect as any in America, will not fail to go to the Livingston Manor, seven miles east of Hudson, and to Rensselaerwyck, a few miles from Albany, on the eastern shore. The former has the best kept and most extensive lawn in the Union; and the latter, with five or six miles of gravelled walks and drives, within its own boundaries, exhibits some of the cleverest illustrations of practical skill in laying out grounds that we remember to have seen.
If no person, about to improve a country residence, would expend a dollar until he had visited and carefully studied, at least twenty places of the character of these which we have thus pointed out, we think the number of specimens of bad taste, or total want of taste, would be astonishingly diminished. We could point to half a dozen examples within our own knowledge, where ten days spent by their proprietors in examining what had already been done in some of the best specimens of building and gardening in the country, could not but have prevented their proprietors from making their places absolutely hideous, and throwing away ten, twenty, or thirty thousand dollars.. Ignorance is not bliss, nor is it economy, in improving a country-seat.
We think, also, there can scarcely be a question that an examination of the best examples of taste in rural improvement at home, is far more instructive to an American, than an inspection of the finest country places in Europe; and this, chiefly, because a really successful example at home is based upon republican modes of life, enjoyment, and expenditure, - which are almost the reverse of those of an aristocratic government. For the same reason, we think those places most instructive, and best worthy general study in this country, which realize most completely our ideal of refined country life in America. To do this, it is by no means necessary to have baronial possessions, or a mansion of vast extent. No more should be attempted than can be done well, and in perfect harmony with our habits, mode of life, and domestic institutions. Hence, smaller suburban residences, like those in the neighborhood of Boston, are, perhaps, better models, or studies for the public generally, than our grander and more extensive seats; mainly because they are more expressive of the means and character of the majority of those of our countrymen whose intelligence and refinement lead them to find their happiness in country life.
It is better to attempt a small place, and attain perfect success, than to fail in one of greater extent.
Having pointed out what we consider indispensable to be done, to assist in forming, if possible, a correct taste in those who have only a natural delicacy of organization, which they miscall taste, we may also add that good taste, or even a perfect taste, is often by no means sufficient for the production of really extensive works of rural architecture or landscape gardening.
"Taste," says Cousin, in his Philosophy of the Beautiful, "is a faculty indolent and passive; it reposes tranquilly in the contemplation of the Beautiful in Nature. Genius is proud and free; genius creates and reconstructs".
He, therefore (whether as amateur or professor), who hopes to be successful in the highest degree, in the arts of refined building or landscape gardening, must possess not only taste to appreciate the beautiful, but genius to produce it. Do we not often see persons who have for half their lives enjoyed a reputation for correct taste, suddenly lose it when they attempt to embody it in some practical manner? Such persons have only the "indolent and passive," and not the "free and creative faculty." Yet there are a thousand little offices of supervision and control, where the taste alone may be exercised with the happiest results upon a country place. It is by no means a small merit to prevent any violations of good taste, if we cannot achieve any great work of genius. And we are happy to be able to say that we know many amateurs in this country who unite with a refined taste a creative genius, or practical ability to carry beautiful improvements into execution, which has already enriched the country with beautiful examples of rural residences; and we can congratulate ourselves that, along with other traits of the Anglo-Saxon mind, we have by no means failed in our inheritance of that fine appreciation of rural beauty, and the power of developing it, which the English have so long possessed.
We hope the number of those who are able to enjoy this most refined kind of happiness will every day grow more and more numerous; and that it may do so, we are confident we can give no better advice than again to commend beginners, before they lay a corner stone, or plant a tree, to visit and study at least a dozen or twenty of the acknowledged best specimens of good taste in America.