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XXI by Sir Francis Bacon are cited constantly and widely in every book, and every essay upon gardencraft; it seems impossible to be silent as to the twain ; and—a test which is not by computation and measurement—we do not weary of the quotations.
One of the sentences of Walpole's which is constantly quoted is his description of sunken boundaries and his explanation of their name ba-ba. His derivation has been attributed to his imagination, for the ba-ba was not even invented by Bridgman, as Walpole states. It is named and described as a common feature in gardens in The Theory and Practise of Gardening, published in 1712, and was known as a ba-ba in French gardens of the seventeenth century. Walpole knew this book both in French and as Englished, for his Essay bears evidence of his knowledge; yet bis mis-statement stands with the rest of the nonsense about the sunken boundary.
Walpole tried to give precise dates and to generalize the introduction of formal gardens in England, just as he tried to make generalizations as to Gothic architecture ; but the exotic style in gardening was not imported by wholesale ; it was the result of slow years of Italian tradition. In the garden of Henry VIII., referred to by Walpole, it is certain that Italian workmen were employed and Italian designs were copied. Many features of the mediaval garden survived in the English formal garden; but after the sixteenth century French influences ruled. John Evelyn and other Nature-lovers Englished several important French books ; and French gardeners were imported to England. James I., had one named Mollet, of a family of
famous garden-designers ; Beaumont was gardener to King James II.; and the gardens of English royalty and nobility in the days of Charles II., were wholly under the influence of Le Nôtre, whose pupil, Rose, was Royal Gardener.
Everything was reversed when Walpole's Essay was circulated in France ; the Jardin a l’Anglaise promptly dominated French gardening. Scotch and English gardeners were in vast demand ; Walpole's letters refer frequently to the sending of Scotch gardeners to France; the most famous was Blaikie. Many beautiful old formal gardens in France were destroyed to make way for those new English notions. It is sad to read the
It gives to this Essay an indisputable importance to know that it afförds the sole instance where English taste in the matter of design ever took firm hold on the Continent. The question as to whether we approve of the results does not alter the fact.
Walpole helped largely to fix the landscape garden in England as well as in France. Two fine papers of Sir Uvedale Price in 1798, the brilliant protest of Sir Walter Scott in 1828, and a single book in 1829, were three futile voices that tried to uphold the formal garden. Silence, save two magazine articles in 1842 and 1845, gave a whole century of absolute power to Walpole's words.
Walpole certainly did excellent work in exposing the poor flimsy whimsies of the formal garden of his day. Close alliance with Holland through the House of Orange had brought forth in England many absurd travesties of Dutch fashions. But
the English garden had also abundant enrichment through the rare bulbs which came from Turkey and Persia and from the Cape of Good Hope through Holland's sea-trade. And it is a singular fact that many of the American trees and plants and shrubs so eagerly craved by English botanists and garden owners in the eighteenth century also came to them by way of Holland until the years when Friend John Bartram, of Pennsylvania, entered into his sprightly correspondence and eager interchange of botanical treasures with Friend Peter Collinson, of Surrey, England.
- The exigencies of sprightly writing did not carry Walpole beyond the bounds of accuracy in his descriptions ; but his account of English gardencraft is incomplete. He gives an unmitigated bad name to London and Wise and yet they contributed much to the progress of floriculture in England. - Of the sincerity of Walpole's attack upon the older English gardens, I am not certain. I must quote a significant countertestimony from one of his own letters. He laments the old gardens at Houghton which had been remodelled by one of his vaunted landscape gardeners, after the property had left the ownership of Sir Robert Walpole. i
When Horace Walpole knew them in childhood they were laid out in the extreme of the formal style. Sir Robert made them between the years 1722 and 1738, and planted the grand trees of which his fine beeches still stand. Horace Walpole writes :
I strolled into the garden. They told me it was now called the “ pleasure ground.” What a dissonant idea of pleasure! Those groves, those alleys where I have passed so many charming moments are now stripped up or overgrown; many fond paths I could not unravel, though with a very exact clue in my memory. In the days when all my soul was tuned to pleasure and vivacity, I hated Houghton and its solitude; yet, how I loved this garden, as now with many regrets, I love Houghton.
This rings true!“ How I loved this garden!" Who can ever doubt Walpole's love of Nature who reads such sentences in his letters ? Nor his love of home! All bis history and theory of gardencraft cannot speak to our hearts as does this single outburst of nature and truth.
ALICE MORSE EARLE