The raw materials of wood, water, and surface, by the margin of many of our rivers and brooks, are at once appropriated with so much effect, and so little art, in the picturesque mode; the annual tax on the purse too is so comparatively little, and the charm so great!
While, on one hand, the residences of a country of level plains usually allow only the beauty of simple and graceful forms; the larger demesne, with its swelling hills and noble masses of wood (may we not, prospectively, say the rolling prairie too?), should always, in the hands of the man of wealth, be made to display all the breadth, variety, and harmony of both the Beautiful and the Picturesque.*
There is no surface of ground, however bare, which has not, naturally, more or less tendency to one or the other of these expressions. And the improver who detects the true character, and plants, builds, and embellishes, as he should, constantly aiming to elicit and strengthen it - will soon arrive at a far higher and more satisfactory result, than one who, in the common manner, works at random. The latter may succeed in producing pleasing grounds - he will undoubtedly add to the general beauty and tasteful appearance of the country, and we gladly accord him our thanks. But the improver who unites with pleasing forms an expression of sentiment, will affect not only the common eye, but much more powerfully, the imagination, and the refined and delicate taste.
But there are many persons with small cottage places, of little decided character, who have neither room, time nor income, to attempt the improvement of their grounds fully, after either of those two schools. How shall they render their places tasteful and agreeable, in the easiest manner? We answer, by attempting only the simple and the natural; and the unfailing way to secure this, is by employing as leading features only trees and grass. A soft verdant lawn, a few forest or ornamental trees well grouped, walks, and a few flowers, give universal pleasure; they contain in themselves, in fact, the basis of all our agreeable sensations in a landscape garden (natural beauty, and the recognition of art); and they are the most enduring sources of enjoyment in any place. There are no country seats in the United States so unsatisfactory and tasteless, as those in which, without any definite aim, everything is attempted; and a mixed jumble of discordant forms, materials, ornaments, and decorations, is assembled - a part in one style and a bit in another, without the least feeling of unity or congruity.
These rural bedlams, full of all kinds of absurdities, without a leading character or expression of any sort, cost their owners a vast deal of trouble and money, without giving a tasteful mind a shadow of the beauty which it feels at the first glimpse of a neat cottage residence, with its simple, sylvan character of well kept lawn and trees. If the latter does not rank high in the scale of Landscape Gardening as an art, it embodies much of its essence as a source of enjoyment - the production of the Beautiful in country residences.
* This reference to the rolling prairies looks like easy prophecy. In modern times several able men have attempted to define and to create a "prairie style" in Landscape Gardening. - F. A. W.
Besides the beauties of form and expression in the different modes of laying out grounds, there are certain universal and inherent beauties common to all styles, and, indeed, to every composition in the fine arts. Of these, we shall especially point out those growing out of the principles of unity, harmony, and variety.
Unity, or the production of a whole, is a leading principle of the highest importance, in every art of taste or design, without which no satisfactory result can be realized. This arises from the fact, that the mind can only attend, with pleasure and satisfaction, to one object, or one composite sensation, at the same time. If- two distinct objects, or classes of objects, present themselves at once to us, we can only attend satisfactorily to one, by withdrawing our attention for the time from the other. Hence the necessity of a reference to this leading principle of unity.
To illustrate the subject, let us suppose a building, partially built of wood, with square windows, and the remainder of brick or stone, with long and narrow windows. However well such a building may be constructed, or however nicely the different proportions of the edifice may be adjusted, it is evident it can never form a satisfactory whole. The mind can only account for such an absurdity, by supposing it to have been built by two individuals, or at two different times, as there is nothing indicating unity of mind in its composition.
In Landscape Gardening, violations of the principle of unity are often to be met with, and they are always indicative of the absence of correct taste in art. Looking upon a landscape from the windows of a villa residence, we sometimes see a considerable portion of the view embraced by the eye, laid out in natural groups of trees and shrubs, and upon one side, or perhaps in the middle of the same scene, a formal avenue leading directly up to the house. Such a view can never appear a satisfactory whole, because we experience a confusion of sensations in contemplating it. There is an evident incongruity in bringing two modes of arranging plantations, so totally different, under the eye at one moment, which distracts, rather than pleases the mind. In this example, the avenue, taken by itself, may be a beautiful object, and the groups and connected masses may, in themselves, be elegant; yet if the two portions are seen together, they will not form a whole, because they cannot make a composite idea.