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.
Quatreniere de Quincy, in his essay on " The Nature, the End, and the Means of Imitation in the Fine Arts," draws attention to the difference between copy and imitation. To me the difference is clear enough, and, no , doubt, is so to your readers; at all events this is not the place for a necessarily long disquisition on the subject. In this paper I purpose to give a short account of some of the European Parks from actual observation, convinced that at present, when park making is here becoming an institution, suchi matters can not be without interest.
The leading characteristics of the European public parks are breadth of lawn, extent of foliage, and in most cases a tolerably complete system of drives and walks. They are regarded as the lungs of the cities to which they are attached or by which they are surrounded; and, whatever may be their shortcomings in an artistic point of view, there can be no question of their utility. In all the older parks, such as Hide Park, ample accommodation for riding, cricketing, boating, and the like is provided. Regent's Park has no boats, but a very good gymnasium furnished with the usual ladders, parallel bars, swings, etc, which is extensively used. Battersea Park and Victoria Park of London, and almost all the modern parks attached to the great towns, such as Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, and Liverpool, are similarly provided, some of them with a gymnasium for the exclusive use of the fair sex. The sight of numbers of persons engaged in active games at once, stamps the character of the park as a place for popular recreation, as the seclusion, shade, and general retired air of Kensington Gardens mark them as the resort of the ultra fashionable society of Loudon.
So little has hitherto been done to the Victoria Park, and that little so indifferently, that it is unworthy of criticism, as is also Battersea Park; though much has been done there, it is acknowledged in the profession to be an example of every thing which is not praiseworthy. The new gardens at Muswell Hill I have not seen, but from the names of those engaged on the work, I form high expectations. The grounds of the Crystal Palace at Sydenham were laid-out with a considerable error as a basis of operations. These grounds are too irregular by nature ever to admit of any successful treatment in any but the natural style. I have no doubt the error was caused by the excessive care used by Sir Joseph Paxton. While studying the grounds he had a glazed perch set up high on the central part of the palace: there he would sit by the day, and, becoming accustomed to the flat appearance of the ground as seen from that height, overlooked the difference which a descent to the level produces. This mistake has utterly ruined the grounds in the vicinity of the palace.
The geometrical style is only satisfactory as long as the geometry is apparent; it avails little to know that by climbing a hill and descending a slope half a mile off we shall find an exact counterpart of the object we are then viewing: we can not take geometry on trust; the pendant must be seen to be of any value. The terrace walls are also very faulty, presenting the appearance of having sunk into the earth, and to bo still sinking. Nothing is more common than this fault; a retaining wall or abutment of architectural character is generally marred by having no plinth corresponding to the slope of the earth embankment. This need not be parallel to the slope, on the contrary a series of steps would be best. The gymnasiums, archery, and cricket grounds are numerous and extensively used; and the water display, when the fountains work, is unequalled. And here let me say, that the fountains are just what they should be: a water composition should have water for its principal feature; and while for a comparatively small flow of water architectural accessories are advantageous, when a very large body of water is set in motion, as at Sydenham, any addi- . tion of vases and urns, spouting marine monsters and the like, would mar the whole thing.
If made colossal, they dwarf the water display; if made of life size or little larger, they look puny and toy-like. I am now speaking only of spouting fountains; cascade fountains are quite different, and may be much enhanced by architectural surroundings.
The public parks of Manchester are not yet very attractive to the stranger; they have considerable merit, and in time will be very pleasing. The same may be said of those of Sheffield and Leeds. Of the arboretum of Derby, however, I can speak in the highest terms: with only fifteen acres of ground at their disposal, the trustees have succeeded in giving to the inhabitants of Derby a great boon, and to the public a model of what may be done by the judicious expenditure of moderate means. It is needless to say that in this case there was no amateuring it; the gentleman who undertook it was of known ability.
The parks of Liverpool have been so often described that I fear to weary your readers by referring to them at the length they deserve. This much, however, I think it well to state: the great charm of the Prince's Park is to be found in the beautiful style of the garden and the high order in which it is kept, while the great charm of the Birkenhead Park is its intricacy and quasi snugness; this latter quality Englishmen prize highly. I can not, however, dismiss the Birkenhead Park without remarking the very great beauty of the sheets of water. From no point are the limits discernible; all is easy, graceful, and natural, with a single exception where the banks approach each other very closely, both slopes being convex. The walks by turns approach and leave the margin of the lakes; at every ten yards a new vista presents itself: the intricacy produced by an apparently simple plan is marvellous ! I made nearly a complete circuit of the first lake without knowing that I had done so; it was only by recognizing one of the bridges that I found out where I was. The entirely different aspect which the banks of the lake continually present is completely illusive.
This work, in short, is in the highest style of art, and presents a marked contrast to the celebrated Bois de Boulogne at Paris, where the water is very much like an irregular canal; every part can be seen from one end, and the drives follow the margin with scrupulous and hideous exactness. The Bois do Boulogne shows the hand of the military engineer, not the fancy of the landscape gardener. Strange as it may appear, the French, with all their elegance of character and sublety of esprit, are entirely without correct notions of landscape gardening. Since the time of Le Notre in the days of geometry, long straight avenues and square clipped gardens, they appear to have made no approach to a better style. The reason, I believe, to be this: No Frenchman cares a straw for nature; no Frenchman ever leaves Paris from choice, or is ever without light-colored kid gloves, a Palais Royal cane, and varnished boots. Besides, they care too much for what they eat. A prospect which can be enjoyed by Monsieur Leotard and Mademoiselle Rigolbochc from the windows of a suburban restaurant after a too hearty dinner, is their only notion of la campagne; nature is with them associated with la province, than which the dictionary contains a no more hateful word: it means bad dinners, bad toilettes, bad beds, and bad company.
If any proof were needed, it is contained in Chateaubriand's sentimental tours, in Lamartine's high-flown rhapsodies, in every unfledged poet's soliloquies. George Sand, however, in the Maitres Sonneurs and other works, shows considerable appreciation of the grandeur of park scenes in natural forests, and with all her faults has the material in her to make a good landscape gardener. In all French works the military heel stamps the sod, and leaves a mark.
The waterworks of Versailles and St. Cloud are very fine, the architectural decorations of the fountains in many cases good, the terraces imposing, and, where a geometrical arrangement is suitable, these works possess considerable grandeur. The long broad allees, so suitable for display, are adapted to a people gregarious in their pleasures. Grounds of this character, however, require to be filled with people. Versailles is nothing without 20,000 people in front of the building; tinder other circumstances it is as melancholy an an empty ball-room. On this account, its suitability to display, there is no style so fit for a public park of moderate dimensions, if surrounded by a city. Where we can never get so far from the boundaries as to lose the prospect of chimneys and roofs, it is useless to try to imitate the scenery of the Adirondack Mountains. However well done, it can never rise above mediocrity, and will resemble the Swiss chalet and waterfall in the Colosseum in Regent's Park, a thing very well executed, and really illusive, but nothing better than a conceit considering its situation. Works like the Tuileries gardens admit of no style but the geometric; the same is apparent in the Champs Elysecs and the Luxembourg gardens.
There was, however, nothing to prevent Versailles, St. Cloud, or Fontaine- bleau from being laid out in the natural style. Geometry need not, in such cases as city parks, be carried out in detail. All that is necessary is. to get enough geometry to produce the sensation of regularity; our way should be clear and direct, our relative position with the lines of the park, its compass points, should never be doubtful. We must feel rather than see that we arc going in the direction we intend. To produce this docs not require so much skill as common sense, a quick and correct eye to take in the advantages of the ground, and judgment to choose the best means to the end. For the purposes of immediate enjoyment, space for files, promenades for the court, etc, the French royal palace grounds are eminently well adapted, and Le Notre is acknowledged to have been a professor of brilliant talent. That he did not design in what is now known as the natural style, is due to the age in which he lived, and the influences under which he worked.
In my next I propose to notice some of the leading American Cemeteries and Parks.