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.
II. Sketches of European Capitals, by William Ware, Author of Letters from
Palmyra, etc. Boston: Phillips, Sampson & Co.; 1851. 1 vol. 12 mo. One of the most delightfully instructive volumes for a long time published, is this new sketch-book of Mr. Ware's. By persons of refinement, and especially to such as have a taste for art, it will be read and re-read with increasing delight. It rarely happens that an American of so much artistic feeling and culture, adds to that feeling so much literary ability as Mr. Ware does. You feel it to be a peculiar pleasure to linger over, the fine galleries of art, and the rich facades of old capitals, in his company, His appreciation of the beautiful is so genial, and ready, and warm, and his utterance of his enjoyment is in such pure and choice English, that it is a noble delight to sit at his feet as a pupil and learner. It is neither our province nor our intention to review Mr. Ware's book. We only wish occasion to make a comment or two upon his notice of the English Parks - especially since town parks, in the proper sense of the word, are just now subjects of attention in this country.
"Another similar feature of London, similar for magnificence, for vastness, for an indescribable nobleness, is its parks. They are in no proper sense of the word, however, parks, unless you mean deer parks. They certainly are rather vast landed estates, farms, sites for towns and cities. It is a misnomer to speak of a city park which you can neither see across nor travel round, in the midst of which, in an English atmosphere, you might easily lose your way, and may be as easily robbed and murdered - so far as society could know anything about it, as in the midst of Hounslow Heath, or the Arabian Sahara. They are the country, rather than parks; a portion of the country fenced in, with houses just visible in the distance. There, where the whole Island is hardly bigger than some of our states, those parks, are several of them, four hundred acres each. Here, where in our American cities. territory is a mere drug, cheap and illimitable, the largest of our parks, or squares, hardly reach forty acres - I suppose, on the principle that what is common, aheap, plenty, is to he despised.
But these English around though too large for comfort use beauty or safety, have the single merit of consistency; they are in due proportion to all the rest of London, and the character of the people.
St. James' Park is the true size for every object for which a park should exist at all; large enough for beauty, air, health, exercise. Nothing can be imagined more elegant in its design, more complete in its plan and ornament. It may be considered a model for all the world of landscape gardening, and for all city parks; any deviation from which must be so far into error. It is a gem of beauty and elegance, and is, one cannot but think, the most beautiful piece of cultivated ground in the world; so different in its graceful curves from all our rectilinear plantings, and in its charming variegated shrubberies, from our unending monotonous elms. I would not decry the elm. I saw no oak or elm in England, that would compare for grandeur with our elms, especially of the valley of the Connecticut. But we must beware of the proverb, "too much of a good thing," etc. The elm is not everything. St. James Park combines the beauty of the conservatory with the grandeur of forest planting. Here, trees, in groups, or if large, insulated; there, a dense parterre of shrubs and lowers; then, in addition, sheets of water with their appropriate inhabitants.
Our Boston Common, with a moderate outlay of taste and sense, might, with its naturally varied surface, have been made as beautiful as the Park of St. James is now, one must suppose. - though still not too late for some change for the better - condemned for all time to their geometrical lines of elms and maples, as if there were in nature neither such things as shrubs, flowers, or curved lines. Our American idea of a city park, or square, seems to be - it is not the same thing in all cities - rows of forest trees, with straight paths between, which will conduct the business man, by the shortest possible cut, to his shop or his couning-room, allowing never the sacrifice of a foot or an inch to taste, the love of beauty, or the enjoymeut of a walk. With the single exception of the Common in Boston, no other park or square in the country, exceeds some ten or fifteen acres. And, though so 6mall, yet if well laid out, it were in most cases enough - better at least, and less of a nuisance - for that they are with all their vast extent - than Hyde, Regent's, or Victoria."
The impression of vastness produced on the mind of Mr. Ware by the London Parks, is precisely that which is felt by all Americans at first sight, and so far we agree with him. But he seems to have overlooked the highest merit of those parks, as compared with the larger parks of the continental cities, though his description clearly shows that he felt what he did not understand the true value of, viz: their truthful expression of nature. That they are like vast landed estates - portions of real country, with trees, streams of water, broad meadow-like surfaces, untouched by art, is just their highest praise, both as proving the real fondness of the English for natural beauty, (for all continental town parks are formal,) and as evincing a knowledge of the great charm and power of contrast in art; for nothing can be finer than the contrast of the great London Parks, so rural, so simple, so entirely natural in character, with the highly artificial aspect of the elaborated and complex streets and buildings of the city.
But Mr. Ware makes also a greater practical mistake when he complains of the useless size of the great London Parks. His error can only be explained by supposing he could only have seen them when London was comparatively deserted, or that he only walked there in the morning - when they always look lonely. One of the main uses of the great parks - Hyde Park, for instance - is for the purpose of taking exercise in carriages or on horse-back. St. James' Park, which is not undeservedly Mr. Ware's beau ideal, is only a park for promenade. It is too small for any other purpose, (though containing 87 acres,) and we have several times seen its numerous broad walks and alleys absolutely thronged with men, women and children, all enjoying their promenade. To understand the value of the Parks of London, one must visit them day after day, in the London "season" - and from half past three to six o'clock in the afternoon. He will then see Hyde Park, vast as it seems in the morning, completely and wholly taken possession of.