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.
As individual character often takes a tone from intimacy, or want of intimacy with trees, so national features may be detected in the treatment and culture of trees, as ornaments of the garden and the landscape.
Homer's ideal of a garden is given in his glowing picture of the grounds about the mansion of Alcinous. For brevity's sake we translate loosely.
"Near the palace was a large garden, hard by the gates, covering four acres. A hedge was stretched about it on every side; within, tall, sturdy trees had grown up, pears and pomegranates, apples, bright-fruited, and luxuriant olives. Of these the fruitage decays not, fails not, either in summer or winter, lasting the year round. Pear grows mellow after pear, apple after apple, grape-cluster after grape-cluster, fig after fig. There also a rich-fruited vineyard had been planted, with a level drying-ground, warmed by the sun. There, while some grapes they are treading, others they are gathering. In front are green grapes, having just cast the blossom, while others are purpling into ripeness. Here, too, are neatly-kept flower-beds, beside the last row of trees, blossoming throughout the year. Finally, there are two fountains - one is carried over the grounds for irrigation - the other flows into the palace, whence the occupants supply themselves with water. Such are the glorious gifts of the gods to the home of Alcinous".
The picture thus sensuously painted, is one that offers every thing to the palate ; yet little to the soul. It is poorly fitted, with all its miraculous details, for stirring the heart's deep springs of poetry and feeling, and for " Annihilating all that's made To a green thought in a green shade".
The Beautiful is overshadowed and dwarfed by the Useful. Homer's trees in the garden of Alcinous are wonderful and desirable; not because they furnish a pleasant home for birds of song and humming cicadae, not for the grace and animation they give to scenery; not for the cool, creeping shadows wherewith they dial off the long summer hours on the clovery turf; but solely for their endless supply of luscious fruits. This were a paradise too coarsely sensual, save for the age of Homer, or the dupes of Mahomet. Albeit a wealthy and great-hearted monarch, Alcinous' ideas of garden-esque beauty are cramped and gross. His wine-press is as much out of keeping where the poet puts it, like a rude impertinence, between the palace and the flower-beds, as would be a cider-mill in the French Emperor's Jardin des Plantes. He is resolved, apparently, that his water-works shall pay well for the room they take up. The two fountains suggest only ideas of use and convenience. They are little better than a pair of drinking-troughs. One of them, had the Greek been rendered literally, would have seemed to do the duty of a town-pump.
It is nought to Alcinous that water likes to leap heavenward, and dance in the sun-light as David danced before the Lord. It is nought to him that water is born with the inalienable right to life and liberty. It is nought to him that water has a natural turn for music, and will sing in chorus with birds and morning stars, if one but allow it a pebbly rill to run in.
Another gravest fault with Homer's model is, that it cannot be put into realization by human agency. It contradicts the fixed order of nature, by mixing seed-time and harvest, and expelling winter from the calendar altogether. Homer's instinct was more trustworthy than his cool judgment. His quiet and winning sketch of the scenery about Calypso's grotto, when he was making no effort to astonish, is in perfect fidelity to the principles of landscape gardening, as developed by modern artists. Hear him, with Alexander Pope to interpret: -
"Without the grot, a various sylvan scene * Appeared around, and groves of living green. Poplars and alders ever quivering played, And nodding cypress formed a fragrant shade.
On whose high branches, waving with the storm, The birds of broadest wing their mansion form. Depending vines the shelving cavern screen, With purple clusters blushing through the green Four limpid fountains from the clefts distil, And every fountain pours a several rill, In mazy windings wandering down the hill: Where blooming meads with vivid greens were crowned, And glowing violets threw odors round; A scene, where if a god should cast his sight, A god might gaze and wander with delight!"
Plato's ideal of gardenesque beauty is hinted at in the opening of his Phaedrus, where the scene of the dialogue is described somehow thus:
"By Juno, a beautiful retreat! Here the platan spreads very widely its cooling boughs, and is superbly tall. The twilight beneath the low willows - how refreshing it is! - and the whole air is filled with their pleasant fragrance - a cheerful fountain of coolest water flows beneath the platan, which appears to be sacred to certain nymphs, from the statues of virgins that adorn it. Then, again, notice what a summer-like and agreeable singing resounds from the choir of katydids. But the sweetest sight of. all is that of the grass so persuasively adapting itself to receive on its sloping velvet the reclining head".
Plato's ideal represents an advanced stage of culture and refinement. It represents a period when sense was subordinated to spirit, and the glories of nature were wedded to the creations of art, or brought into kindliest rivalry with them; and this, without sacrificing to the association aught of nature's simplicity. The Platonic garden was a place where temples were built to the Naiads and Oreads, with which Homer's fancy had peopled every stream and wooded hill; where tempting walks coaxed the feet through wierd perplexities of shade and fragrance; where glades opened through to waterfalls, spanned by rainbows, as if to afford a playground for sublime thoughts; where drooping willows caressed the white brows of marble goddesses:
"Where meeting boughs and implicated leaves Wove twilight o'er the poet's path".
The Platonic garden was a place for social enjoyment. Friends there came together, without ceremony, in the long summer evenings, and timed the music of their talk by the cicada's ticking in the grass. It was a favorite place for intellectual encounters and jousts of wit. Instead of a smooth spot warmed by the sun, where slaves were treading grapes in the winepress, and water-tanks where drudging housemaids were filling their pitchers; it had green broad lawns, shaded by platans and olives, with temples sacred to dance and song, and inviting seats sacred to conversation; where keen thinkers were solving the problems of a philosophy, well-named divine: a philosophy "Not harsh and crabbed, as dull fools believe, Bat musical as is Apollo's lute".
There are few things in which the triumphs of genius and art are more signal and limitless than in Landscape Gardening. The artist gardener is dependent upon Nature for every feature of rural beauty that he develops. Yet he almost seems to originate where he only improves or reproduces. He can select what is comely, and discard what is worthless; he can chasten what is rude, and enliven what is tame; he can harmonize as well by sympathy as by contrast. He can pleasure the eye and the ear with unexpected sights and sounds; herein lie the secrets of his power. The visitor who walks through the grounds at Chatsworth, sees not a single element of rural beauty that may not be seen somewhere else; yet here these elements are so crowded together and so skilfully grouped, nature's deformities are transformed into such loveliness that one can scarcely believe he is treading the same old worn-out and ugly earth which was blasted with the primal curse.
Proportionately as men advance in civilization, their love for the beautiful in gardening grows deeper and stronger. With each onward step in self-culture, there is a marked improvement in their skill and taste for managing the details of a parterre or an ornamental landscape. The passion for natural beauty sometimes attributed to the Indian and the wild trapper will not bear a close inspection. They will stop to admire whatever stuns and amazes, like a cataract; but are generally cold to that which insinuates its lesson of loveliness in the whispering of leaves and the tinting of flowers. They are like Alcinous, seeing most beauty in what contributes most to the joys of the table. Their chief love is given to objects that gratify the animal appetite, heedless of what would minister through the outward senses to the hunger of the heart. Who ever heard, unless it were in some fiction's baseless fabric, of an Indian planting a rose-bush by the door of his hut; or a trapper stretching an aeolian harp in a crevice of his cabin?
It sometimes happens that a teacher is outstripped by his pupils. Homer gave a lesson to the Greeks in ornamental planting. Selecting whatever was most admired in the garden of Alcinous and the Retreat of Calypso, they added other features suggested by their own genius and riper taste. Yet they failed to fully perfect the art of heightening the expression of rural beauty. To do this was a triumph reserved for our own Milton, who has improved upon Homer and the Attics.
In picturing his Paradise, Milton is careful to keep within the possibilities of Nature. There, nothing that reads like an extract from Baron Munchausen or the Arabian Nights. At the same time he is more liberal and artistic than Plato. His imagination moves with a more graceful freedom, a more various fertility. Aware that breadth and variety of view are essential to a landscape's permanent charm, he has warily avoided the use of definite and belittling terms. In place of prisoning the reader's fancy to a four-acre lot, misnamed a "great" garden, and half a dozen sorts of fruittrees, he permits it to wander, at its own sweet will, in a limitless mazy error:
"Beside crisped brooks Rolling on orient pearl and sands of gold,"
" Flowers worthy of Paradise, which not nice art In beds and carious knots, but Nature boon Poured forth profuse on hill and dale and plain,"
"Groves whose trees wept odorous gums and balm, Others, whose fruit burnished with golden rind, Hung amiable,"
"Level downs and flocks Grazing the tender herb, are interspersed "
•' With grots and caves Of cool recess, o'er which the mantling vine Lays forth her purple grape, and gently creeps Luxuriant".
In his finished idea of a landscape garden, Milton was far in advance not alone of the Attics, but of his own age. After the lapse of two centuries, both prolific in contributions to the refined comforts and pleasures of life, the graceful flight of his inventive fancy is hardly yet caught up with, by the slow steps of practical art. If the picture of rural scenery he has so charmingly sketched, could be embodied in all its happy adjustments of wood and water, of lawn and rocks and sky, with its cheerful groupings of animal and vegetable forms, and above all, the entire absence of any thing like straining after effect, so that "Nowhere appeared the art which all this beauty wrought," what rapture would it not bring to the eyes of our Loudons and our Downings?
We ask the attention of readers to the article of Professor Edward North, on page 299. The writer is a master indeed of English style.