The Romans, tried in the alembic of the great German writer, are found still colder in their love of nature's charms than the Greeks. "A nation which manifested a marked predilection for agriculture and rural life might have justified other hopes; but with all their capacity for practical activity, the Romans, in their cold gravity and measured sobriety of understanding, were, as a people, far inferior to the Greeks in the perception of beauty, far less sensitive to its influence, and much more devoted to the realities of every-day life, than to an idealizing contemplation of nature".
Judging them by their writings, Humboldt pronounces the great Roman writers to be comparatively destitute of real poetic feeling for nature. Livy and Tacitus show, in their histories, little or no interest in natural scenery. Cicero describes landscape without poetic feeling. Pliny, though he rises to true poetic inspiration when describing the great moving causes of the natural universe, "has few individual descriptions of nature." Ovid, in his exile, saw little to charm him in the scenery around him; and Virgil, though he often devoted himself to subjects which prompt the enthusiasm of a lover of nature, rarely glows with the fire of a true worshipper of her mysterious charms. And not only were the Romans indifferent to the beauty of natural landscape which daily surrounded them, but even to the sublimity and magnificence of those wilder and grander scenes, into which their love of conquest often led them. The following striking paragraph, from Humboldt's work, is at once eloquent and convincing on this point:
"No description of the eternal snows of the Alps, when tinged in the morning or evening with a rosy hue, - of the beauty of the blue glacier ice, or of any part of the grandeur of the scenery in Switzerland, - have reached us from the ancients, although statesmen and generals, with men of letters in their train, were constantly passing from Helvetia into Gaul. All these travellers think only of complaining of the difficulties of the way; the romantic character of the scenery seems never to have engaged their attention.
It is even known that Julius Caesar, when returning to his legions, in Gaul, employed his time while passing over the Alps in preparing a grammatical treatise, 'De Analogia.'"
The corollary to be drawn from this learned and curious investigation of the history of national sensibility and taste, is a very clear and satisfactory one, viz., that as success, in "the art of composing a landscape" (as Humboldt significantly calls landscape gardening), depends on appreciation of nature, the taste of an individual as well as that of a nation, will be in direct proportion to the profound sensibility with which he perceives the beautiful in natural scenery.
Our own observation not only fully confirms this theory, but it also leads us to the recognition of the fact, that among our countrymen, at the present day, there are two distinct classes of taste in rural art; first, the poetic or northern taste, based on a deep, instinctive feeling for nature; and second, the artistic or symmetric taste, based on a perception of the beautiful, as embodied in works of art.
The larger part of our countrymen inherit the northern or Anglo-Saxon love of nature, and find most delight in the natural landscape garden; but we have also not a few to whom the classic villa, with its artistic adornments of vase and statue, urn and terrace, is an object of much more positive pleasure than the most varied and seductive gardens, laid out with all the witchery of nature's own handiwork.
It is not part of our philosophy to urge our readers to war against their organizations, to whichever path, in the Delectable Mountains, they may be led by them; but those who have not already studied "Cosmos" will, we trust, at least thank us for giving them the key to their natural bias towards one or the other of the two world-wide styles of ornamental gardening.