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The Landscape Garden

The garden like a lady fair was cut
That lay as if she slumbered in delight,
And to the open skies her eyes did shut;
The azure fields of heaven were 'sembled right
In a large round set with flow'rs of light:
The flowers de luce and the round sparks of dew
That hung upon their azure leaves, did show
Like twinkling stars that sparkle in the ev'ning blue.
-- GILES FLETCHER

NO MORE remarkable man ever lived than my friend, the young Ellison.
He was remarkable in the entire and continuous profusion of good
gifts ever lavished upon him by fortune. From his cradle to his
grave, a gale of the blandest prosperity bore him along. Nor do I use
the word Prosperity in its mere wordly or external sense. I mean it
as synonymous with happiness. The person of whom I speak, seemed born
for the purpose of foreshadowing the wild doctrines of Turgot, Price,
Priestley, and Condorcet -- of exemplifying, by individual instance,
what has been deemed the mere chimera of the perfectionists. In the
brief existence of Ellison, I fancy, that I have seen refuted the
dogma -- that in man's physical and spiritual nature, lies some
hidden principle, the antagonist of Bliss. An intimate and anxious
examination of his career, has taught me to understand that, in
general, from the violation of a few simple laws of Humanity, arises
the Wretchedness of mankind; that, as a species, we have in our
possession the as yet unwrought elements of Content, -- and that even
now, in the present blindness and darkness of all idea on the great
question of the Social Condition, it is not impossible that Man, the
individual, under certain unusual and highly fortuitous conditions,
may be happy.

With opinions such as these was my young friend fully imbued; and
thus is it especially worthy of observation that the uninterrupted
enjoyment which distinguished his life was in great part the result
of preconcert. It is, indeed evident, that with less of the
instinctive philosophy which, now and then, stands so well in the
stead of experience, Mr. Ellison would have found himself
precipitated, by the very extraordinary successes of his life, into
the common vortex of Unhappiness which yawns for those of preeminent
endowments. But it is by no means my present object to pen an essay
on Happiness. The ideas of my friend may be summed up in a few words.
He admitted but four unvarying laws, or rather elementary principles,
of Bliss. That which he considered chief, was (strange to say!) the
simple and purely physical one of free exercise in the open air. "The
health," he said, "attainable by other means than this is scarcely
worth the name." He pointed to the tillers of the earth -- the only
people who, as a class, are proverbially more happy than others --
and then he instanced the high ecstasies of the fox-hunter. His
second principle was the love of woman. His third was the contempt of
ambition. His fourth was an object of unceasing pursuit; and he held
that, other things being equal, the extent of happiness was
proportioned to the spirituality of this object.

I have said that Ellison was remarkable in the continuous profusion
of good gifts lavished upon him by Fortune. In personal grace and
beauty he exceeded all men. His intellect was of that order to which
the attainment of knowledge is less a labor than a necessity and an
intuition. His family was one of the most illustrious of the empire.
His bride was the loveliest and most devoted of women. His
possessions had been always ample; but, upon the attainment of his
one and twentieth year, it was discovered that one of those
extraordinary freaks of Fate had been played in his behalf which
startle the whole social world amid which they occur, and seldom fail
radically to alter the entire moral constitution of those who are
their objects. It appears that about one hundred years prior to Mr.
Ellison's attainment of his majority, there had died, in a remote
province, one Mr. Seabright Ellison. This gentlemen had amassed a
princely fortune, and, having no very immediate connexions, conceived
the whim of suffering his wealth to accumulate for a century after
his decease. Minutely and sagaciously directing the various modes of
investment, he bequeathed the aggregate amount to the nearest of
blood, bearing the name Ellison, who should be alive at the end of
the hundred years. Many futile attempts had been made to set aside
this singular bequest; their ex post facto character rendered them
abortive; but the attention of a jealous government was aroused, and
a decree finally obtained, forbidding all similar accumulations. This
act did not prevent young Ellison, upon his twenty-first birth-day,
from entering into possession, as the heir of his ancestor,
Seabright, of a fortune of four hundred and fifty millions of
dollars. {*1}

When it had become definitely known that such was the enormous wealth
inherited, there were, of course, many speculations as to the mode of
its disposal. The gigantic magnitude and the immediately available
nature of the sum, dazzled and bewildered all who thought upon the
topic. The possessor of any appreciable amount of money might have
been imagined to perform any one of a thousand things. With riches
merely surpassing those of any citizen, it would have been easy to
suppose him engaging to supreme excess in the fashionable
extravagances of his time; or busying himself with political
intrigues; or aiming at ministerial power, or purchasing increase of
nobility, or devising gorgeous architectural piles; or collecting
large specimens of Virtu; or playing the munificent patron of Letters
and Art; or endowing and bestowing his name upon extensive
institutions of charity. But, for the inconceivable wealth in the
actual possession of the young heir, these objects and all ordinary
objects were felt to be inadequate. Recourse was had to figures; and
figures but sufficed to confound. It was seen, that even at three per
cent, the annual income of the inheritance amounted to no less than
thirteen millions and five hundred thousand dollars; which was one
million and one hundred and twenty-five thousand per month; or
thirty-six thousand, nine hundred and eighty-six per day, or one
thousand five hundred and forty-one per hour, or six and twenty
dollars for every minute that flew. Thus the usual track of
supposition was thoroughly broken up. Men knew not what to imagine.
There were some who even conceived that Mr. Ellison would divest
himself forthwith of at least two-thirds of his fortune as of utterly
superfluous opulence; enriching whole troops of his relatives by
division of his superabundance.

I was not surprised, however, to perceive that he had long made up
his mind upon a topic which had occasioned so much of discussion to
his friends. Nor was I greatly astonished at the nature of his
decision. In the widest and noblest sense, he was a poet. He
comprehended, moreover, the true character, the august aims, the
supreme majesty and dignity of the poetic sentiment. The proper
gratification of the sentiment he instinctively felt to lie in the
creation of novel forms of Beauty. Some peculiarities, either in his
early education, or in the nature of his intellect, had tinged with
what is termed materialism the whole cast of his ethical
speculations; and it was this bias, perhaps, which imperceptibly led
him to perceive that the most advantageous, if not the sole
legitimate field for the exercise of the poetic sentiment, was to be
found in the creation of novel moods of purely physical loveliness.
Thus it happened that he became neither musician nor poet; if we use
this latter term in its every -- day acceptation. Or it might have
been that he became neither the one nor the other, in pursuance of an
idea of his which I have already mentioned -- the idea, that in the
contempt of ambition lay one of the essential principles of happiness
on earth. Is it not, indeed, possible that while a high order of
genius is necessarily ambitious, the highest is invariably above that
which is termed ambition? And may it not thus happen that many far
greater than Milton, have contentedly remained "mute and inglorious?"
I believe the world has never yet seen, and that, unless through some
series of accidents goading the noblest order of mind into
distasteful exertion, the world will never behold, that full extent
of triumphant execution, in the richer productions of Art, of which
the human nature is absolutely capable.

Mr. Ellison became neither musician nor poet; although no man lived
more profoundly enamored both of Music and the Muse. Under other
circumstances than those which invested him, it is not impossible
that he would have become a painter. The field of sculpture, although
in its nature rigidly poetical, was too limited in its extent and in
its consequences, to have occupied, at any time, much of his
attention. And I have now mentioned all the provinces in which even
the most liberal understanding of the poetic sentiment has declared
this sentiment capable of expatiating. I mean the most liberal public
or recognized conception of the idea involved in the phrase "poetic
sentiment." But Mr. Ellison imagined that the richest, and altogether
the most natural and most suitable province, had been blindly
neglected. No definition had spoken of the Landscape-Gardener, as of
the poet; yet my friend could not fail to perceive that the creation
of the Landscape-Garden offered to the true muse the most magnificent
of opportunities. Here was, indeed, the fairest field for the display
of invention, or imagination, in the endless combining of forms of
novel Beauty; the elements which should enter into combination being,
at all times, and by a vast superiority, the most glorious which the
earth could afford. In the multiform of the tree, and in the
multicolor of the flower, he recognized the most direct and the most
energetic efforts of Nature at physical loveliness. And in the
direction or concentration of this effort, or, still more properly,
in its adaption to the eyes which were to behold it upon earth, he
perceived that he should be employing the best means -- laboring to
the greatest advantage -- in the fulfilment of his destiny as Poet.

"Its adaptation to the eyes which were to behold it upon earth." In
his explanation of this phraseology, Mr. Ellison did much towards
solving what has always seemed to me an enigma. I mean the fact
(which none but the ignorant dispute,) that no such combinations of
scenery exist in Nature as the painter of genius has in his power to
produce. No such Paradises are to be found in reality as have glowed
upon the canvass of Claude. In the most enchanting of natural
landscapes, there will always be found a defect or an excess -- many
excesses and defects. While the component parts may exceed,
individually, the highest skill of the artist, the arrangement of the
parts will always be susceptible of improvement. In short, no
position can be attained, from which an artistical eye, looking
steadily, will not find matter of offence, in what is technically
termed the composition of a natural landscape. And yet how
unintelligible is this! In all other matters we are justly instructed
to regard Nature as supreme. With her details we shrink from
competition. Who shall presume to imitate the colors of the tulip, or
to improve the proportions of the lily of the valley? The criticism
which says, of sculpture or of portraiture, that "Nature is to be
exalted rather than imitated," is in error. No pictorial or
sculptural combinations of points of human loveliness, do more than
approach the living and breathing human beauty as it gladdens our
daily path. Byron, who often erred, erred not in saying,

I've seen more living beauty, ripe and real,

Than all the nonsense of their stone ideal. In landscape alone is the
principle of the critic true; and, having felt its truth here, it is
but the headlong spirit of generalization which has induced him to
pronounce it true throughout all the domains of Art. Having, I say,
felt its truth here. For the feeling is no affectation or chimera.
The mathematics afford no more absolute demonstrations, than the
sentiment of his Art yields to the artist. He not only believes, but
positively knows, that such and such apparently arbitrary
arrangements of matter, or form, constitute, and alone constitute,
the true Beauty. Yet his reasons have not yet been matured into
expression. It remains for a more profound analysis than the world
has yet seen, fully to investigate and express them. Nevertheless is
he confirmed in his instinctive opinions, by the concurrence of all
his compeers. Let a composition be defective, let an emendation be
wrought in its mere arrangement of form; let this emendation be
submitted to every artist in the world; by each will its necessity be
admitted. And even far more than this, in remedy of the defective
composition, each insulated member of the fraternity will suggest the
identical emendation.

I repeat that in landscape arrangements, or collocations alone, is
the physical Nature susceptible of "exaltation" and that, therefore,
her susceptibility of improvement at this one point, was a mystery
which, hitherto I had been unable to solve. It was Mr. Ellison who
first suggested the idea that what we regarded as improvement or
exaltation of the natural beauty, was really such, as respected only
the mortal or human point of view; that each alteration or
disturbance of the primitive scenery might possibly effect a blemish
in the picture, if we could suppose this picture viewed at large from
some remote point in the heavens. "It is easily understood," says Mr.
Ellison, "that what might improve a closely scrutinized detail,
might, at the same time, injure a general and more distantly --
observed effect." He spoke upon this topic with warmth: regarding not
so much its immediate or obvious importance, (which is little,) as
the character of the conclusions to which it might lead, or of the
collateral propositions which it might serve to corroborate or
sustain. There might be a class of beings, human once, but now to
humanity invisible, for whose scrutiny and for whose refined
appreciation of the beautiful, more especially than for our own, had
been set in order by God the great landscape-garden of the whole
earth.

In the course of our discussion, my young friend took occasion to
quote some passages from a writer who has been supposed to have well
treated this theme.

"There are, properly," he writes, "but two styles of
landscape-gardening, the natural and the artificial. One seeks to
recall the original beauty of the country, by adapting its means to
the surrounding scenery; cultivating trees in harmony with the hills
or plain of the neighboring land; detecting and bringing into
practice those nice relations of size, proportion and color which,
hid from the common observer, are revealed everywhere to the
experienced student of nature. The result of the natural style of
gardening, is seen rather in the absence of all defects and
incongruities -- in the prevalence of a beautiful harmony and order,
than in the creation of any special wonders or miracles. The
artificial style has as many varieties as there are different tastes
to gratify. It has a certain general relation to the various styles
of building. There are the stately avenues and retirements of
Versailles; Italian terraces; and a various mixed old English style,
which bears some relation to the domestic Gothic or English
Elizabethan architecture. Whatever may be said against the abuses of
the artificial landscape-gardening, a mixture of pure art in a garden
scene, adds to it a great beauty. This is partly pleasing to the eye,
by the show of order and design, and partly moral. A terrace, with an
old moss-covered balustrade, calls up at once to the eye, the fair
forms that have passed there in other days. The slightest exhibition
of art is an evidence of care and human interest."

"From what I have already observed," said Mr. Ellison, "you will
understand that I reject the idea, here expressed, of 'recalling the
original beauty of the country.' The original beauty is never so
great as that which may be introduced. Of course, much depends upon
the selection of a spot with capabilities. What is said in respect to
the 'detecting and bringing into practice those nice relations of
size, proportion and color,' is a mere vagueness of speech, which may
mean much, or little, or nothing, and which guides in no degree. That
the true 'result of the natural style of gardening is seen rather in
the absence of all defects and incongruities, than in the creation of
any special wonders or miracles,' is a proposition better suited to
the grovelling apprehension of the herd, than to the fervid dreams of
the man of genius. The merit suggested is, at best, negative, and
appertains to that hobbling criticism which, in letters, would
elevate Addison into apotheosis. In truth, while that merit which
consists in the mere avoiding demerit, appeals directly to the
understanding, and can thus be foreshadowed in Rule, the loftier
merit, which breathes and flames in invention or creation, can be
apprehended solely in its results. Rule applies but to the
excellences of avoidance -- to the virtues which deny or refrain.
Beyond these the critical art can but suggest. We may be instructed
to build an Odyssey, but it is in vain that we are told how to
conceive a 'Tempest,' an 'Inferno,' a 'Prometheus Bound,' a
'Nightingale,' such as that of Keats, or the 'Sensitive Plant' of
Shelley. But, the thing done, the wonder accomplished, and the
capacity for apprehension becomes universal. The sophists of the
negative school, who, through inability to create, have scoffed at
creation, are now found the loudest in applause. What, in its
chrysalis condition of principle, affronted their demure reason,
never fails, in its maturity of accomplishment, to extort admiration
from their instinct of the beautiful or of the sublime.

"Our author's observations on the artificial style of gardening,"
continued Mr. Ellison, "are less objectionable. 'A mixture of pure
art in a garden scene, adds to it a great beauty.' This is just; and
the reference to the sense of human interest is equally so. I repeat
that the principle here expressed, is incontrovertible; but there may
be something even beyond it. There may be an object in full keeping
with the principle suggested -- an object unattainable by the means
ordinarily in possession of mankind, yet which, if attained, would
lend a charm to the landscape-garden immeasurably surpassing that
which a merely human interest could bestow. The true poet possessed
of very unusual pecuniary resources, might possibly, while retaining
the necessary idea of art or interest or culture, so imbue his
designs at once with extent and novelty of Beauty, as to convey the
sentiment of spiritual interference. It will be seen that, in
bringing about such result, he secures all the advantages of interest
or design, while relieving his work of all the harshness and
technicality of Art. In the most rugged of wildernesses -- in the
most savage of the scenes of pure Nature -- there is apparent the art
of a Creator; yet is this art apparent only to reflection; in no
respect has it the obvious force of a feeling. Now, if we imagine
this sense of the Almighty Design to be harmonized in a measurable
degree, if we suppose a landscape whose combined strangeness,
vastness, definitiveness, and magnificence, shall inspire the idea of
culture, or care, or superintendence, on the part of intelligences
superior yet akin to humanity -- then the sentiment of interest is
preserved, while the Art is made to assume the air of an intermediate
or secondary Nature -- a Nature which is not God, nor an emanation of
God, but which still is Nature, in the sense that it is the handiwork
of the angels that hover between man and God."

It was in devoting his gigantic wealth to the practical embodiment of
a vision such as this -- in the free exercise in the open air, which
resulted from personal direction of his plans -- in the continuous
and unceasing object which these plans afford -- in the contempt of
ambition which it enabled him more to feel than to affect -- and,
lastly, it was in the companionship and sympathy of a devoted wife,
that Ellison thought to find, and found, an exemption from the
ordinary cares of Humanity, with a far greater amount of positive
happiness than ever glowed in the rapt day-dreams of De Stael.

Edgar Allan Poe