This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
Among the numerous natural embellishments which are so abundantly scattered over the surface of this country, and the natural facilities afforded for beautifying the private pleasure-ground of the wealthy proprietor, there are but few instances where these natural facilities have been advantageously turned to account in artificial decoration.
It would appear the taste of the Puritans, which swept everything bearing the semblance of grace and beauty, from their religious and civil architecture, inspired their decendants with a taste no less justifiable of sweeping everything from ornamental grounds that has the shape and form which nature gave it, and if a cropping rock or jutting ledge or projecting precipice, happen to come within the sacred limits of the so-called improvements, it must of course, be blown to pieces, (to build stone walls, perhaps, though plenty more may be found within a dozen yards of it,) nor is this pretext of utility itself always given, for who would have rocks in their garden or shrubbery, when they may be seen plentifully in the fields and uncultivated wilds, so in accordance with this taste? Away go the rocks, and their place - if it happens to be a slope - is supplied with a turf bank, yclept a terrace.
Now if natural decorations increase the interest and beauty of a garden, accordingly as they are treated in an artistic manner, so also do decorations merely artificial gain in proportion as they resemble nature. But the artificial has never the value or the interest of the natural, any more than a copy has the interest or value of an original picture from the hands of one of the old masters. So truly is this the case, when applied to garden scenery, that a place wholly artificial, however well executed, has nothing interesting or pleasing about it, until by age, it has obtained something of a natural appearance.
An object purely natural, in the midst of a pleasure-ground, is not only a pleasing relief to the mind, but is also more striking and impressive, more august and grand, than the ornamental vase, or the geometrical parterre. These may be pretty or beautiful, but even the hard, cold, stern features of a projecting rock, gives us a nobler and more exalted kind of pleasure than these artificial nicities. The practice of imitating the rude works of nature by making artificial rockeries has been attempted in England, on an extensive scale, and in some instances has been carried to an extreme, nearly as ridiculous as the famous rock of Semiramis, with all the rocks that lay in the shape of tributary kings around her. The object in most of these rock builders seems to be, who will have the largest pile, as if mere bulk were the only method of producing effect. Some of these noble stone gatherers have been pretty largely imbued with the same notions that filled the minds of the builders of the Pyramids, or the Tower of Babel, or the great wall of China, collecting from all parts of the country, at enormous expense, boulders and conglomerates, large masses of spar and basalt, as if determined to leave behind them a lasting memorial of their extravagance and bad taste, in the shape of a huge unsightly pile of stones.
It has been remarked natural object, are general!/ the least successful, and it is indisputably true that these huge attempts at artificial rock making have invariably been the least happy in producing the anticipated results, and in some instances, as at Woburn Abbey, are an absolute disfiguration of the grounds. The Rockery at Sion House, considered in regard to the boldness and beauty of the design, or the tastefulness of its execution, is perhaps the finest piece of artificial Rockwork in Britain. It fails however in producing that effect upon the mind of the beholder, as a piece of landscape scenery, which such a mass of human skill and labor is expected to produce. The peculiar object of this rockery is certainly attained - if this was its only object - of forming a gradual, easy, and imperceptible boundary to the flower ground, but for this purpose detached masses of shrubbery are inconceivably better adapted; and could be accomplished at a trifling cost.
The Chatsworth rockery is but an unsuccessful attempt to impress the mind by an imitation of nature. Notwithstanding its magnitude, it is but a mimicry of some of the natural rockeries that might be seen at places of less repute, as at Penryn and other places in Wales, at Invermay, Dunkeld, Taymouth, and hundreds of places in the Scottish Highlands, and such natural rockeries as we frequently meet with in this country, wanting only a little help from art in the shape of walks, shrubs and climbers. Such spots we may see almost every where without looking for them, though in very few instances have any such spots been taken advantage of for ornamental purposes. And it is not uncommon to see splendid country mansions built by the side of a salt marsh without a prospect from itself, or a decent place for a pleasure garden around it - though numerous picturesque and beautiful locations could be found within a mile circle of itself.*
These rockeries already mentioned, cannot be regarded as anything else than a violent outrage upon the principles of taste; both are incongruous in the highest degree,and equally offensive to a well regulated judgment. Neither is in harmony or unity with the surrounding objects, and both are equally out of place, and equally void of the necessary appendages to effect. In the one there is nothing but a pile of rocks in an open lawn; the other a similar pile by the side of an artistical flower garden, and both exposed to view from nearly every side and from a considerable distance. When covered with foliage, so as to conceal the individual parts of the composition, their several beauties are lost, and the whole has the appearance of a large mound of earth covered with different varieties of plants, with here and there a rock sticking out among them. Again, if the plants be kept small by constant trimming, as is necessary to show the composition of the fragments, then the mind, in spite of all its enthusiasm, cannot conjure up any other idea than that the thing called a rockery is but an artificial heap of stones.