CHAPTER IV. The Landscape Poets
There is nothing necessarily romantic in literature that concerns itself with rural life or natural scenery. Yet we may accept, with some qualification, the truth of Professor McClintock's statement, that the “beginning and presence of a creative, romantic movement is almost always shown by the love, study, and interpretation of physical nature.” Why this should be true, at all events of the romantic movement that began in the eighteenth century, is obvious enough. Ruskin and Leslie Stephen have already been quoted, as witnesses to the fact that naturalism and romanticism had a common root: the desire, namely, to escape into the fresh air and into freer conditions, from a literature which dealt, in a strictly regulated way, with the indoor life of a highly artificial society. The pastoral had ceased to furnish any relief. Professing to chant the praises of innocence and simplicity, it had become itself utterly unreal and conventional, in the hands of cockneys like Philips and Pope. When the romantic spirit took possession of the poetry of nature, it manifested itself in a passion for wildness, grandeur, solitude. Of this there was as yet comparatively little even in the verse of Thomson, Shenstone, Akenside, and Dyer.
Still the work of these pioneers in the “return to nature" represents the transition, and must be taken into account in any complete history of the romantic movement. The first two, as we have seen, were among the earliest Spenserians: Dyer was a landscape painter, as well as a poet; and Shenstone was one of the best of landscape gardeners. But it is the beginnings that are important. It will be needless to pursue the history of nature poetry into its later developments; needless to review the writings of Cowper and Crabbe, for example,—neither of whom was romantic in any sense,—or even of Wordsworth, the spirit of whose art, as a whole, was far from romantic.
Before taking up the writers above named, one by one, it will be well to notice the general change in the forms of verse, which was an outward sign of the revolution in poetic feeling. The imitation of Spenser was only one instance of a readiness to lay aside the heroic couplet in favor of other kinds which it had displaced, and in the interests of greater variety. “During the twenty-five years,” says Mr. Goss, “from the publication of Thomson's 'Spring' ['Winter'] in 1726, to that of Gray's 'Elegy' in 1751, the nine or ten leading poems or collections of verse which appeared were all of a new type; somber, as a rule, certainly stately, romantic in tone to the extreme, prepared to return, ignorantly indeed, but with respect, to what was 'Gothic' in manners, architecture, and language; all showing a more or less vague aspiration towards the nature, and not one composed in the heroic couplet hitherto so vigorously imposed on serious verse. 'The Seasons,' 'Night Thoughts' and 'The Grave' are written in blank verse: 'The Castle of Indolence' and 'The Schoolmistress' in Spenserian stanza; 'The Spleen' and 'Grongar Hill' in octosyllabics, while the early odes of Gray and those of Collins are composed in a great variety of simple but novel lyric measures.”
The only important writer who had employed blank verse in undramatic poetry between the publication of “Paradise Regained” in 1672, and Thomson's “Winter” in 1726, was John Philips. In the brief prefatory note to “Paradise Lost,” the poet of “L'Allegro” and “Il Penseroso,” forgetting or disdaining the graces of his youthful muse, had spoken of rhyme as “the invention of a barbarous age,” as “a thing trivial and of no true musical delight.” Milton's example, of course, could not fail to give dignity and authority to the majestic rhythm that he had used; and Philips' mock-heroic “The Splendid Shilling” (1701), his occasional piece, “Blenheim” (1705), and his Georgic “Cyder” (1706), were all avowed imitation of Milton. But the well-nigh solitary character of Philips' experiments was recognized by Thomson, in his allusion to the last-named poem:
“Philips, Pomona's bard, the second thou
Who nobly durst, in rime-unfettered verse,
With British freedom sing the British song.”
In speaking of Philips' imitations of Milton, Johnson said that if the latter “had written after the improvements made by Dryden, it is reasonable to believe he would have admitted a more pleasing modulation of numbers into his work.” Johnson hated Adam Smith, but when Boswell mentioned that Smith, in his rhetorical lectures at Glasgow University, had given the preference to rhyme over blank verse, the doctor exclaimed, “Sir, I was once in company with Smith and we did not take to each other; but had I known that he loved rhyme as much as you tell me he does, I should have hugged him.”
In 1725 James Thomson, a young Scotchman, came to London to push his literary fortunes. His countryman, David Malloch,—or Mallet, as he called himself in England,—at that time private tutor in the family of the Duke of Montrose, procured Thomson introductions into titled society, and helped him to bring out “Winter,” the first installment of “The Seasons,” which was published in 1726. Thomson's friend and biographer (1762) the Rev. Patrick Murdoch, says that the poem was “no sooner read than universally admired; those only excepted who had not been used to feel, or to look for anything in poetry beyond apoint of satirical or epigrammatic wit, a smart antithesis richly trimmed with rhyme.” This is a palpable hit at the stronger contrast than between Thomson and Pope, not alone in subject and feeling, but in diction and verse. Thomson's style is florid and luxuriant, his numbers flowing and diffuse, while Pope had wonted the English ear to the extreme of compression in both language and meter. Pope is among the most quotable of poets, while Thomson's long poem, in spite of its enduring popularity, has contributed but a single phrase to the stock of current quotation:
“To teach the young idea how to shoot.”
“Winter” was followed by “Summer” in 1727, “Spring” in 1728, and the completed “Seasons” in 1730. Thomson made many changes and additions in subsequent editions. The original “Seasons” contained only 3902 lines (exclusive of the “Hymn"), while the author's final revision of 1746 gave 5413. One proof that “The Seasons” was the work of a fresh and independent genius is afforded by the many imitations to which it soon gave birth. In Germany, a passage from Brockes' translation (1745) was set to music by Haydn. J. P. Uz (1742) and Wieland each produced a “Fruehling,” in Thomson's manner; but the most distinguished of his German disciples was Ewald Christian von Kleist, whose “Fruhling" (1749) was a description of a country walk in spring, in 460 hexameter lines, accompanied, as in Thomson's “Hymn,” with a kind of “Gloria in excelsis,” to the creator of nature. “The Seasons” was translated into French by Madame Bontemps in 1759, and called forth, among other imitations, “Les Saisons” of Saint Lambert, 1769 (revised and extended in 1771.) In England, Thomson's influence naturally manifested itself less in direct imitations of the scheme of his poem than in the contagion of his manner, which pervades the work of many succeeding poets, such as Akenside, Armstrong, Dyer, Somerville and Mallet. “There was hardly one verse writer of any eminence,” says Gosse, “from 1725-50, who was not in some manner guided or biased by Thomson, whose genius is to this day fertile in English literature.”
We have grown so accustomed to a more intimate treatment and a more spiritual interpretation of nature, that we are perhaps too apt to undervalue Thomson's simple descriptive or pictorial method. Compared with Wordsworth's mysticism, with Shelley's passionate pantheism, with Byron's romantic gloom in presence of the mountains and the sea, with Keats' joyous re-creation of mythology, with Thoreau's Indian-like approach to the innermost arcana—with a dozen other moods familiar to the modern mind—it seems to us unimaginative. Thomson has been likened, as a colorist, to Rubens; and possibly the glow, the breadth, and the vital energy of his best passages, as of Rubens' great canvases, leave our finer perceptions untouched, and we ask for something more esoteric, more intense. Still there are permanent and solid qualities in Thomson's landscape art, which can give delight even now to an unspoiled taste. To a reader of his own generation, “The Seasons” must have come as the revelation of a fresh world of beauty. Such passages as those which describe the first spring showers, the thunderstorm in summer, the trout-fishing, the sheep-washing, and the terrors of the winter night, were not only strange to the public of that day, but were new in English poetry.
That the poet was something of a naturalist, who wrote lovingly and with his “eye upon the object,” is evident from a hundred touches, like “auriculas with shining meal”;
“The yellow wall-flower stained with iron brown;”
“The bittern knows his time, with bill engulfed,
To shake the sounding marsh.”
Thomson's scenery was genuine. His images of external nature are never false and seldom vague, like Pope's. In a letter to Lyttelton, he speaks of “the Muses of the great simple country, not the little fine-lady Muses of Richmond Hill.” His delineations, if less sharp and finished in detail than Cowper's, have greater breadth. Coleridge's comparison of the two poets is well known: “The love of nature seems to have led Thomson to a cheerful religion, and a gloomy religion to have led Cowper to a love of nature. . . In chastity of diction and the harmony of blank verse, Cowper leaves Thomson immeasurably below him; yet I still feel the latter to have been the born poet.”
The geologist Hugh Miller, who visited Lyttelton's country seat at Hagley in 1845, describes the famous landscape which Thomson had painted in “Spring”:
“Meantime you gain the height from whose fair brow
The bursting prospect spreads immense around,
And, snatched o'er hill and dale and wood and lawn,
And verdant field and darkening heath between,
And villages embosomed soft in trees,
And spiry town, by surging columns marked
Of household smoke, your eye extensive roams. . .
To where the broken landscape, by degrees
Ascending, roughens into rigid hills,
O'er which the Cambrian mountains, like far clouds,
That skirt the blue horizon, dusky rise.”
“That entire prospect,” says Miller,—“one of the finest in England, and eminently characteristic of what is best in English scenery—enabled me to understand what I had used to deem a peculiarity—in some measure a defect—in the landscapes of the poet Thomson. It must have often struck the Scotch reader that, in dealing with very extended prospects, he rather enumerates than describes. His pictures are often mere catalogues, in which single words stand for classes of objects, and in which the entire poetry seems to consist in an overmastering sense of vast extent, occupied by amazing multiplicity. . . Now the prospect from the hill at Hagley furnished me with the true explanation of this enumerative style. Measured along the horizon, it must, on the lowest estimate, be at least fifty miles in longitudinal extent; measured laterally, from the spectator forwards, at least twenty. . . The real area must rather exceed than fall short of a thousand square miles: the fields into which it is laid out are small, scarcely averaging a square furlong in superficies. . . With these there are commixed innumerable cottages, manor-houses, villages, towns. Here the surface is dimpled by unreckoned hollows; there fretted by uncounted mounds; all is amazing, overpowering multiplicity—a multiplicity which neither the pen nor the pencil can adequately express; and so description, in even the hands of a master, sinks into mere enumeration. The picture becomes a catalogue.”
Wordsworth pronounced “The Seasons” “a work of inspiration,” and said that much of it was “written from himself, and nobly from himself,” but complained that the style was vicious. Thomson's diction is, in truth, not always worthy of his poetic feeling and panoramic power over landscape. It is academic and often tumid and wordy, abounding in Latinisms like effusive, precipitant, irriguous, horrific, turgent,amusive. The lover who hides by the stream where his mistress is bathing—that celebrated “serio-comic bathing”—is described as “the latent Damon”; and when the poet advises against the use of worms for trout bait, he puts it thus:
“But let not on your hook the tortured worm
Convulsive writhe in agonizing folds,” etc.
The poets had now begun to withdraw from town and go out into the country, but in their retirement to the sylvan shades they were accompanied sometimes, indeed, by Milton's “mountain nymph, sweet Liberty,” but quite as frequently by Shenstone's nymph, “coy Elegance,” who kept reminding them of Vergil.
Thomson's blank verse, although, as Coleridge says, inferior to Cowper's, is often richly musical and with an energy unborrowed of Milton—as Cowper's is too apt to be, at least in his translation of Homer. Mr. Saintsbury detects a mannerism in the verse of “The Seasons,” which he illustrates by citing three lines with which the poet “caps the climax of three several descriptive passages, all within the compass of half a dozen pages,” viz.:
“And Egypt joys beneath the spreading wave.”
“And Mecca saddens at the long delay.”
“And Thule bellows through her utmost isles.”
It would be easy to add many other instances of this type of climacteric line, e.g. (“Summer,” 859),
“And Ocean trembles for his green domain.”
For the blank verse of “The Seasons” is a blank verse which has been passed through the strainer of the heroic couplet. Though Thomson, in the flow and continuity of his measure, offers, as has been said, the greatest contrast to Pope's system of versification; yet wherever he seeks to be nervous, his modulation reminds one more of Pope's antithetical trick than of Shakspere's or Milton's freer structure. For instance (“Spring,” 1015):
“Fills every sense and pants in every vein.”
or (Ibid. 1104):
“Flames through the nerves and boils along the veins.”
To relieve the monotony of a descriptive poem, the author introduced moralizing digressions: advice to the husbandman and the shepherd after the manner of the “Georgics”; compliments to his patrons, like Lyttelton, Bubb Dodington, and the Countess of Hertford; and sentimental narrative episodes, such as the stories of Damon and Musidora, and Celadon and Amelia in “Summer,” and of Lavinia and Palemon in “Autumn”; while ever and anon his eye extensive roamed over the phenomena of nature in foreign climes, the arctic night, the tropic summer, etc. Wordsworth asserts that these sentimental passages “are the parts of the work which were probably most efficient in first recommending the author to general notice.” They strike us now as insipid enough. But many coming attitudes cast their shadows before across the page of “The Seasons.” Thomson's denunciation of the slave trade, and of cruelty to animals, especially the caging of birds and the coursing of hares; his preference of country to town; his rhapsodies on domestic love and the innocence of the Golden Age; his contrast between the misery of the poor and the heartless luxury of the rich; all these features of the poem foretoken the sentimentalism of Sterne and Goldsmith, and the humanitarianism of Cowper and Burns. They anticipate, in particular, that half affected itch of simplicity which titillated the sensibilities of a corrupt and artificial society in the writings of Rousseau and the idyllic pictures of Bernardin de St. Pierre's “Paul and Virginia.” Thomson went so far in this vein as to decry the use of animal food in a passage which recalls Goldsmith's stanza:
“No flocks that range the valley free
To slaughter I condemn:
Taught by the power that pities me,
I learn to pity them.”
This sort of thing was in the air. Pope was not a sentimental person, yet even Pope had written
“The lamb thy riot dooms to bleed to-day,
Had he thy reason, would he skip and play?
Pleased to the last, he crops the flowery food.
And licks the hand just raised to shed his blood.”
It does not appear that Thomson was personally averse to a leg of mutton. His denunciations of luxury, and his praise of early rising and cold bathing sound rather hollow from the lips of a bard—“more fat than bard beseems"-who used to lie abed till noon, and who, as Savage told Johnson, “was perhaps never in cold water in his life.” Johnson reports, not without some spice of malice, that the Countess of Hertford, “whose practice it was to invite every summer some poet into the country, to hear her verses and assist her studies,” extended this courtesy to Thomson, “who took more delight in carousing with Lord Hertford and his friends than assisting her ladyship's poetical operations, and therefore never received another summons.”
The romantic note is not absent from “The Seasons,” but it is not prominent. Thomson's theme was the changes of the year as they affect the English landscape, a soft, cultivated landscape of lawns, gardens, fields, orchards, sheep-walks, and forest preserves. Only now and then that attraction toward the savage, the awful, the mysterious, the primitive, which marks the romantic mood in naturalistic poetry, shows itself in touches like these.
“High from the summit of a craggy cliff,
Hung o'er the deep, such as amazing frowns
On utmost Kilda's shore, whose lonely race
Reigns the setting sun to Indian worlds.”
“Or where the Northern Ocean, in vast whirls,
Boils round the naked, melancholy isles
Of farthest Thule, and the Atlantic surge
Pours in among the stormy Hebrides.”
Compare also the description of the thunderstorm in the mountains (“Summer,” 1156-68), closing with the lines:
“Far seen the heights of heathy Cheviot blaze,
And Thule bellows through her utmost isles.”
The Western Islands appear to have had a peculiar fascination for Thomson. The passages above quoted, and the stanza from “The Castle of Indolence,” cited on page 94, gave Collins the clew for his “Ode on the Superstitions of the Scottish Highlands,” which contained, says Lowell, the whole romantic school in the germ. Thomason had perhaps found the embryon atom in Milton's “stormy Hebrides,” in “Lycidas,” whose echo is prolonged in Wordsworth's “Solitary Reaper”—
“Breaking the silence of the seas
Among the farthest Hebrides.”
Even Pope—he had a soul—was not unsensitive to this, as witness his
“Loud as the wolves, on Orcas' stormy steep,
Howl to the roarings of the Northern deep.”
The melancholy which Victor Hugo pronounces a distinguishing badge of romantic art, and which we shall see gaining more and more upon English poetry as the century advanced, is also discernible in “The Seasons” in a passage like the following:
“O bear me then to vast embowering shades,
To twilight groves and visionary vales,
To weeping grottos and prophetic glooms;
Where angel-forms athwart the solemn dusk
Tremendous sweep, or seem to sweep along;
And voices more than human, through the void,
Deep-sounding, seize the enthusiastic ear;"
or this, which recalls “Il Penseroso”:
“Now all amid the rigors of the year,
In the wild depth of winter, while without
The ceaseless winds blow ice, be my retreat
Between the groaning forest and the shore,
Beat by the boundless multitude of waves,
A rural, sheltered, solitary scene;
Where ruddy fire and beaming tapers join
To cheer the gloom. There studious let me sit
And hold high converse with the mighty dead.”
The revival again, of the preternatural and of popular superstitions as literary material, after a rationalizing and skeptical age, is signalized by such a passage as this:
“Onward they pass, o'er many a panting height,
And valley sunk and unfrequented, where
At fall of eve the fairy people throng,
In various game and revelry to pass
The summer night, as village stories tell.
But far around they wander from the grave
Of him whom his ungentle fortune urged
Against his own sad breast to life the hand
Of impious violence. The lonely tower
Is also shunned, whose mournful chambers hold,
So night-struck fancy dreams, the yelling ghost.”
It may not be uninstructive to note the occurrence of the word romantic at several points in the poem:
“glimmering shades and sympathetic glooms,
Where the dim umbrage o'er the falling stream
This is from a passage in which romantic love once more comes back into poetry, after its long eclipse; and in which the lover is depicted as wandering abroad at “pensive dusk,” or by moonlight, through groves and along brooksides. The word is applied likewise to clouds, “rolled into romantic shapes, the dream of waking fancy”; and to the scenery of Scotland—“Caledonia in romantic view.” In a subtler way, the feeling of such lines as these is romantic:
“Breathe your still song into the reaper's heart,
As home he goes beneath the joyous moon;”
or these, of the comparative lightness of the summer night:
“A faint, erroneous ray,
Glanced from the imperfect surfaces of things,
Flings half an image on the straining eye.”
In a letter to Stonehewer (June 29, 1760), Gray comments thus upon a passage from Ossian:
“'Ghosts ride on the tempest to-night:
Sweet is their voice between the gusts of wind:
Their songs are of other worlds.'
“Did you never observe (while rocking winds are piping loud) that pause, as the gust is re-collecting itself, and rising upon the ear in a shrill and plaintive note, like the soul of an Aeolian harp? I do assure you, there is nothing in the world so like the voice of a spirit. Thomson had an ear sometimes; he was not deaf to this, and has described it gloriously, but given it another, different turn, and of more horror. I cannot repeat the lines: it is in his 'Winter.'“ The lines that Gray had in mind were probably these (191-94):
“Then, too, they say, through all the burdened air,
Long groans are heard, shrill sounds and distant sighs
That, uttered by the demon of the night,
Warn the devoted wretch of woe and death.”
Thomson appears to have been a sweet-tempered, indolent man, constant in friendship and much loved by his friends. He had a little house and grounds in Kew Lane where he used to compose poetry on autumn nights and loved to listen to the nightingales in Richmond Garden; and where, sang Collins, in his ode on the poet's death (1748),
“Remembrance oft shall haunt the shore,
When Thames in summer wreaths is drest,
And oft suspend the dashing oar
To bid his gentle spirit rest.”
Collins had been attracted to Richmond by Thomson's residence there, and forsook the neighborhood after his friend's death.
Joseph Warton, in his “Essay on Pope” (1756), testified that “The Seasons” had been “very instrumental in diffusing a taste for the beauties of nature and landscape.” One evidence of this diffused taste was the rise of the new or natural school of landscape gardening. This was a purely English art, and Gray, writing in 1763, says “It is not forty years since the art was born among us; and it is sure that there was nothing in Europe like it”: he adds that “our skill in gardening and laying out grounds” is “the only taste we can call our own, the only proof of our original talent in matter of pleasure.” “Neither Italy nor France have ever had the least notion of it, nor yet do at all comprehend it, when they see it.” Gray's “not forty years” carries us back with sufficient precision to the date of “The Seasons” (1726-30), and it is not perhaps giving undue credit to Thomson, to acknowledge him as, in a great measure, the father of the national school of landscape gardening. That this has always been recognized upon the Continent as an art of English invention, is evidenced by the names Englische Garten, jardin Anglais, still given in Germany and France to pleasure grounds laid out in the natural taste. Schopenhauer gives the philosophy of the opposing styles as follows: “The great distinction between the English and the old French garden rests, in the last analysis, upon this, viz., that the former are laid out in the objective, the latter in the subjective sense, that is to say, in the former the will of Nature, as it manifests (objektivirt) itself in tree, mountain, and water, is brought to the purest possible expression of its ideas, i.e., of its own being. In the French gardens, on the other hand, there is reflected only the will of the owner who has subdued Nature, so that, instead of her own ideas, she wears as tokens of her slavery, the forms which he has forced upon her-clipped hedges, trees cut into all manner of shapes, straight alleys, arched walks, etc.”
It would be unfair to hold the false taste of Pope's generation responsible for that formal style of gardening which prevailed when “The Seasons” was written. The old-fashioned Italian or French or Dutch garden—as it was variously called—antedated the Augustan era, which simply inherited it from the seventeenth century. In Bacon's essay on gardens, as well as in the essays on the same subject by Cowley and Sir William Temple, the ideal pleasure ground is very much like that which Le Notre realized so brilliantly at Versailles. Addison, in fact, in the Spectator (No. 414) and Pope himself in the Guardian(No. 173) ridiculed the excesses of the reigning mode, and Pope attacked them again in his description of Timon's Villa in the “Epistle to the Earl of Burlington” (1731), which was thought to be meant for Canons, the seat of the Duke of Chandos.
“His gardens next your admiration call,
On every side you look, behold the wall!
No pleasing intricacies intervene,
No artful wildness to perplex the scene;
Grove nods at grove, each alley has a brother,
And half the platform just reflects the other.
The suffering eye inverted nature sees,
Trees cut to statues, statues thick as trees;
With here a fountain, never to be played;
And there a summer house, that knows no shade;
Here Amphitrite sails through myrtle bowers;
There gladiators fight, or die in flowers;
Unwatered see the drooping sea-horse mourn,
And swallows roost in Nilus' dusty urn.”
Still the criticism is not merely fanciful which discovers an analogy between the French garden, with its trim regularity and artificial smoothness, and the couplets which Pope wrote: just such an analogy as exists between the whole classical school of poetry and the Italian architecture copied from Palladio and introduced in England by Inigo Jones and Christopher Wren. Grounds were laid out in rectangular plots, bordered by straight alleys, sometimes paved with vari-colored sand, and edged with formal hedges of box and holly. The turf was inlaid with parterres cut in geometric shapes and set, at even distances, with yew trees clipped into cubes, cones, pyramids, spheres, sometimes into figures of giants, birds, animals, and ships—called “topiary work” (opus topiarium). Terraces, fountains, bowling-greens (Fr.boulingrin) statues, arcades, quincunxes, espallers, and artificial mazes or labyrinths loaded the scene. The whole was inclosed by a wall, which shut the garden off from the surrounding country.
“When a Frenchman reads of the Garden of Eden,” says Horace Walpole, in his essay “On Modern Gardening” (written in 1770, published in 1785), “I do not doubt but he concludes it was something approaching to that of Versailles, with clipped hedges, berceaux and trellis work. . . The measured walk, the quincunx and the etoile imposed their unsatisfying sameness on every royal and noble garden. . . Many French groves seem green chests set upon poles. . . In the garden of Marshal de Biron at Paris, consisting of fourteen acres, every walk is buttoned on each side by lines of flower-pots, which succeed in their seasons. When I saw it, there were nine thousand pots of asters, or la reine Marguerite. . . At Lady Orford's, at Piddletown, in Dorsetshire, there was, when my brother married, a double enclosure of thirteen gardens, each I suppose not much above a hundred yards square, with an enfilade of correspondent gates; and before you arrived at these, you passed a narrow gut between two stone terraces that rose above your head, and which were crowned by a line of pyradmidal yews. A bowling green was all the lawn admitted in those times: a circular lake the extent of magnificence.”
Walpole names Theobalds and Nonsuch as famous examples of the old formal style of garden; Stourhead, Hagley, and Stowe—the country seat of Lyttelton's brother-in-law, Lord Cobham—of the new. He says that mottoes and coats of arms were sometimes cut in yew, box, and holly. He refers with respect to a recent work by the Rev. Thomas Whately, or Wheatley, “Observations on Modern Gardening,” 1770; and to a poem, then and still in manuscript, but passages of which are given by Amherst, entitled “The Rise and Progress of the Present Taste in Planting Parks, Pleasure Grounds, Gardens, etc. In a poetic epistle to Lord Viscount Irwin,” 1767.
Gray's friend and editor, the Rev. William Mason, in his poem “The English Garden,” 1757, speaks of the French garden as already a thing of the past.
“O how unlike the scene my fancy forms,
Did Folly, heretofore, with Wealth conspire
To plant that formal, dull disjointed scene
Which once was called a garden! Britain still
Bears on her breast full many a hideous wound
Given by the cruel pair, when, borrowing aid
From geometric skill, they vainly strove
By line, by plummet and unfeeling shears
To form with verdure what the builder formed
With stone. . .
Hence the sidelong walls
Of shaven yew; the holly's prickly arms
Trimmed into high arcades; the tonsile box,
Wove in mosaic mode of many a curl
Around the figured carpet of the lawn. . .
The terrace mound uplifted; the long line
Deep delved of flat canal.”
But now, continues the poet, Taste “exalts her voice” and
“At the awful sound
The terrace sinks spontaneous; on the green,
Broidered with crisped knots, the tonsile yews
Wither and fall; the fountain dares no more
To fling its wasted crystal through the sky,
But pours salubrious o'er the parched lawn.”
The new school had the intolerance of reformers. The ruthless Capability Brown and his myrmidons laid waste many a prim but lovely old garden, with its avenues, terraces, and sun dials, the loss of which is deeply deplored, now that the Queen Anne revival has taught us to relish the rococo beauties which Brown's imitation landscapes displaced.
We may pause for a little upon this “English Garden” of Mason's, as an example of that brood of didactic blank-poems, begotten of Phillips' “Cyder” and Thomson's “Seasons,” which includes Mallet's “Excursion" (1728), Somerville's “Chase” (1734), Akenside's “Pleasures of Imagination” (1742-44), Armstrong's “Art of Preserving Health” (1744), Dyer's “Fleece” (1757) and Grainger's “Sugar Cane” (1764). Mason's blank verse, like Mallet's, is closely imitative of Thomson's and the influence of Thomson's inflated diction is here seen at its worst. The whole poem is an object lesson on the absurdity of didactic poetry. Especially harrowing are the author's struggles to be poetic while describing the various kinds of fences designed to keep sheep out of his inclosures.
When such the theme, becomes the poet's task:
Yet must he try by modulation meet
Of varied cadence and selected phrase
Exact yet free, without inflation bold,
To dignify that theme.”
Accordingly he dignified his theme by speaking of a net as the “sportsman's hempen toils,” and of a gun as the
Whose iron entrails hide the sulphurous blast
When he names an ice-house, it is under a form of conundrum:
”—the structure rude where Winter pounds,
In conic pit his congelations hoar,
That Summer may his tepid beverage cool
With the chill luxury.”
This species of verbiage is the earmark of all eighteenth-century poetry and poets; not only of those who used the classic couplet, but equally of the romanticizing group who adopted blank verse. The best of them are not free from it, not even Gray, not even Collins; and it pervades Wordsworth's earliest verses, his “Descriptive Sketches” and “Evening Walk” published in 1793. But perhaps the very worst instance of it is in Dr. Armstrong's “Economy of Love,” where the ludicrous contrast between the impropriety of the subject and the solemn pomp of the diction amounts almost to bouffe.
In emulation of “The Seasons” Mason introduced a sentimental love story—Alcander and Nerina—into his third book. He informs his readers (book II. 34-78) that, in the reaction against straight alleys, many gardeners had gone to an extreme in the use of zigzag meanders; and he recommends them to follow the natural curves of the footpaths which the milkmaid wears across the pastures “from stile to stile,” or which
—“the scudding hare
Draws to her dew-sprent seat o'er thymy heaths.”
The prose commentary on Mason's poem, by W. Burgh, asserts that the formal style of garden had begun to give way about the commencement of the eighteenth century, though the new fashion had but very lately attained to its perfection. Mason mentions Pope as a champion of the true taste, but the descriptions of his famous villa at Twickenham, with its grotto, thickets, and artificial mounds, hardly suggest to the modern reader a very successful attempt to reproduce nature. To be sure, Pope had only five acres to experiment with, and that parklike scenery which distinguishes the English landscape garden requires a good deal of room. The art is the natural growth of a country where primogeniture has kept large estates in the hands of the nobility and landed gentry, and in which a passion for sport has kept the nobility and gentry in the country a great share of the year. Even Shenstone—whose place is commended by Mason—Shenstone at the Leasowes, with his three hundred acres, felt his little pleasance rather awkwardly dwarfed by the neighborhood of Lyttelton's big park at Hagley.
The general principle of the new or English school was to imitate nature; to let trees keep their own shapes, to substitute winding walks for straight alleys, and natural waterfalls or rapids for jets d'eau in marble basins. The plan upon which Shenstone worked is explained in his “Unconnected Thoughts on Gardening" (1764), a few sentences from which will indicate the direction of the reform: “Landscape should contain variety enough to form a picture upon canvas; and this is no bad test, as I think the landscape painter is the gardener's best designer. The eye requires a sort of balance here; but not so as to encroach upon probable nature. A wood or hill may balance a house or obelisk; for exactness would be displeasing. . . It is not easy to account for the fondness of former times for straight-lined avenues to their houses; straight-lined walks through their woods; and, in short, every kind of straight line, where the foot has to travel over what the eye has done before. . . To stand still and survey such avenues may afford some slender satisfaction, through the change derived from perspective; but to move on continually and find no change of scene in the least attendant on our change of place, must give actual pain to a person of taste. . . I conceived some idea of the sensation he must feel from walking but a few minutes, immured between Lord D——'s high shorn yew hedges, which run exactly parallel at the distance of about ten feet, and are contrived perfectly to exclude all kind of objects whatsoever. . . The side trees in vistas should be so circumstanced as to afford a probability that they grew by nature. . . The shape of ground, the disposition of trees and the figure of water must be sacred to nature; and no forms must be allowed that make a discovery of art. . . The taste of the citizen and of the mere peasant are in all respects the same: the former gilds his balls, paints his stonework and statues white, plants his trees in lines or circles, cuts his yew-trees, four-square or conic, or gives them what he can of the resemblance of birds or bears or men; squirts up his rivulets in jets d'eau; in short, admires no part of nature but her ductility; exhibits everything that is glaring, that implies expense, or that effects a surprise because it is unnatural. The peasant is his admirer. . . Water should ever appear as an irregular lake or winding stream. . . Hedges, appearing as such, are universally bad. They discover art in nature's province.”
There is surely a correspondence between this new taste for picturesque gardening which preferred freedom, variety, irregularity, and naturalness to rule, monotony, uniformity, and artifice, and that new taste in literature which discarded the couplet for blank verse, or for various stanza forms, which left the world of society for the solitudes of nature, and ultimately went, in search of fresh stimulus, to the remains of the Gothic ages and the rude fragments of Norse and Celtic antiquity.
Both Walpole and Mason speak of William Kent, the architect and landscape painter, as influential in introducing a purer taste in the gardener's art. Kent was a friend of Pope and a protege of Lord Burlington to whom Pope inscribed his “Epistle on the Use of Riches,” already quoted (see ante p. 121), and who gave Kent a home at his country house. Kent is said to have acknowledged that he caught his taste in gardening from the descriptive passages in Spenser, whose poems he illustrated. Walpole and Mason also unite in contrasting with the artificial gardening of Milton's time the picture of Eden in “Paradise Lost:”
”—where not nice art in curious knots,
But nature boon poured forth on hill and dale
Flowers worthy of Paradise; while all around
Umbrageous grots, and caves of cool recess,
And murmuring waters, down the slope dispersed,
Or held by fringed banks in crystal lakes.
Compose a rural seat of various hue.”
But it is worth noting that in “L'Allegro” “retired leisure,” takes his pleasure in “trim gardens,” while in Collins,
“Ease and health retire
To breezy lawn or forest deep.”
Walpole says that Kent's “ruling principle was that nature abhors a straight line.” Kent “leaped the fence and saw that all nature was a garden. He felt the delicious contrast of hill and valley, changing imperceptibly into each other. . . and remarked how loose groves crowned an easy eminence with happy ornament. . . The great principles on which he worked were perspective and light and shade. . . But of all the beauties he added to the face of this beautiful country, none surpassed his management of water. Adieu to canals, circular basins, and cascades tumbling down marble steps. . . The gentle stream was taught to serpentine seemingly at its pleasure.” The treatment of the garden as a part of the landscape in general was commonly accomplished by the removal of walls, hedges, and other inclosures, and the substitution of the ha-ha or sunken fence. It is odd that Walpole, though he speaks of Capability Brown, makes no mention of the Leasowes, whose proprietor, William Shenstone, the author of “The School-mistress,” is one of the most interesting of amateur gardeners. “England,” says Hugh Miller, “has produced many greater poets than Shenstone, but she never produced a greater landscape gardener.”
At Oxford, Shenstone had signalized his natural tastes by wearing his own hair instead of the wig then (1732) universally the fashion. On coming of age, he inherited a Shropshire farm, called the Leasowes, in the parish of Hales Owen and an annuity of some three hundred pounds. He was of an indolent, retiring, and somewhat melancholy temperament; and, instead of pursuing a professional career, he settled down upon his property and, about the year 1745, began to turn it into a ferme ornee. There he wooed the rustic muse in elegy, ode, and pastoral ballad, sounding upon the vocal reed the beauties of simplicity and the vanity of ambition, and mingling with these strains complaints of Delia's cruelty and of the shortness of his own purse, which hampered him seriously in his gardening designs. Mr. Saintsbury has described Shenstone as a master of “the artificial-natural style of poetry.” His pastoral insipidities about pipes and crooks and kids, Damon and Delia, Strephon and Chloe, excited the scorn of Dr. Johnson, who was also at no pains to conceal his contempt for the poet's horticultural pursuits. “Whether to plant a walk in undulating curves and to place a bench at every turn where there is an object to catch the view; to make water run where it will be seen; to leave intervals where the eye will be pleased, and to thicken the plantation where there is something to be hidden, demands any great powers of mind, I will not enquire.” The doctor reports that Lyttelton was jealous of the fame which the Leasowes soon acquired, and that when visitors to Hagley asked to see Shenstone's place, their host would adroitly conduct them to inconvenient points of view—introducing them, e.g., at the wrong end of a walk, so as to detect a deception in perspective, “injuries of which Shenstone would heavily complain.” Graves, however, denies that any rivalry was in question between the great domain of Hagley and the poet's little estate. “The truth of the case,” he writes, “was that the Lyttelton family went so frequently with their company to the Leasowes, that they were unwilling to break in upon Mr. Shenstone's retirement on every occasion, and therefore often went to the principal points of view, without waiting for anyone to conduct them regularly through the whole walks. Of this Mr. Shenstone would sometimes peevishly complain.”
Shenstone describes in his “Thoughts on Gardening,” several artifices that he put in practice for increasing the apparent distance of objects, or for lengthening the perspective of an avenue by widening it in the foreground and planting it there with dark-foliaged trees, like yews and firs, “then with trees more and more fady, till they end in the almond-willow or silver osier.” To have Lord Lyttelton bring in a party at the small, or willow end of such a walk, and thereby spoil the whole trick, must indeed have been provoking. Johnson asserts that Shenstone's house was ruinous and that “nothing raised his indignation more than to ask if there were any fishes in his water.” “In time,” continues the doctor, “his expenses brought clamors about him that overpowered the lamb's bleat and the linnet's song; and his groves were haunted by beings very different from fawns and fairies;” to wit, bailiffs; but Graves denies this.
The fame of the Leasowes attracted visitors from all parts of the country—literary men like Spence, Home, and Dodsley; picturesque tourists, who came out of curiosity; and titled persons, who came, or sent their gardeners, to obtain hints for laying out their grounds. Lyttelton brought William Pitt, who was so much interested that he offered to contribute two hundred pounds toward improvements, an offer that Shenstone, however, declined. Pitt had himself some skill in landscape gardening, which he exercised at Enfield Chase and afterward at Hayes. Thomson, who was Lyttelton's guest at Hagley every summer during the last three or four years of his life, was naturally familiar with the Leasowes. There are many references to the “sweet descriptive bard,” in Shenstone's poems and a seat was inscribed to his memory in a part of the grounds known as Vergil's Grove. “This seat,” says Dodsley, “is placed upon a steep bank on the edge of the valley, from which the eye is here drawn down into the flat below by the light that glimmers in front and by the sound of various cascades, by which the winding stream is agreeably broken. Opposite to this seat the ground rises again in an easy concave to a kind of dripping fountain, where a small rill trickles down a rude niche of rock work through fern, liverwort, and aquatic weeds. . . The whole scene is opaque and gloomy.”
English landscape gardening is a noble art. Its principles are sound and of perpetual application. Yet we have advanced so much farther in the passion for nature than the men of Shenstone's day that we are apt to be impatient of the degree of artifice present in even the most skillful counterfeit of the natural landscape. The poet no longer writes odes on “Rural Elegance,” nor sings
“The transport, most allied to song,
In some fair valley's peaceful bound
To catch soft hints from Nature's tongue,
And bid Arcadia bloom around;
Whether we fringe the sloping hill,
Or smooth below the verdant mead;
Or in the horrid brambles' room
Bid careless groups of roses bloom;
Or let some sheltered lake serene
Reflect flowers, woods and spires, and brighten all the scene.”
If we cannot have the mountains, the primeval forest, or the shore of the wild sea, we can at least have Thomson's “great simple country,” subdued to man's use but not to his pleasure. The modern mood prefers a lane to a winding avenue, and an old orchard or stony pasture to a lawn decorated with coppices. “I do confess,” says Howitt, “that in the 'Leasowes' I have always found so much ado about nothing; such a parade of miniature cascades, lakes, streams conveyed hither and thither; surprises in the disposition of woods and the turn of walks. . . that I have heartily wished myself out upon a good rough heath.”
For the “artificial-natural” was a trait of Shenstone's gardening no less than of his poetry. He closed every vista and emphasized every opening in his shrubberies and every spot that commanded a prospect with come object which was as an exclamation point on the beauty of the scene: a rustic bench, a root-house, a Gothic alcove, a grotto, a hermitage, a memorial urn or obelisk dedicated to Lyttelton, Thomson, Somerville, Dodsley, or some other friend. He supplied these with inscriptions expressive of the sentiments appropriate to the spot, passages from Vergil, or English or Latin verses of his own composition. Walpole says that Kent went so far in his imitation of natural scenery as to plant dead trees in Kensington Garden. Walpole himself seems to approve of such devices as artificial ruins, “a feigned steeple of a distant church or an unreal bridge to disguise the termination of water.” Shenstone was not above these little effects: he constructed a “ruinated priory” and a temple of Pan out of rough, unhewn stone; he put up a statue of a piping faun, and another of the Venus dei Medici beside a vase of gold fishes.
Some of Shenstone's inscriptions have escaped the tooth of time. The motto, for instance, cut upon the urn consecrated to the memory of his cousin, Miss Dolman, was prefixed by Byron to his “Elegy upon Thyrza”: “Heu quanto minus est cum reliquis versari quam tui meminisse!” The habit of inscription prevailed down to the time of Wordsworth, who composed a number for the grounds of Sir George Beaumont at Coleorton. One of Akenside's best pieces is his “Inscription for a Grotto,” which is not unworthy of Landor. Matthew Green, the author of “The Spleen,” wrote a poem of some 250 lines upon Queen Caroline's celebrated grotto in Richmond Garden. “A grotto,” says Johnson, apropos of that still more celebrated one at Pope's Twickenham villa, “is not often the wish or pleasure of an Englishman, who has more frequent need to solicit than exclude the sun”; but the increasing prominence of the mossy cave and hermit's cell, both in descriptive verse and in gardening, was symptomatic. It was a note of the coming romanticism, and of that pensive, elegiac strain which we shall encounter in the work of Gray, Collins, and the Wartons. It marked the withdrawal of the muse from the world's high places into the cool sequestered vale of life. All through the literature of the mid-century, the high-strung ear may catch the drip-drip of spring water down the rocky walls of the grot.
At Hagley, halfway up the hillside, Miller saw a semi-octagonal temple dedicated to the genius of Thomson. It stood in a grassy hollow which commanded a vast, open prospect and was a favorite resting place of the poet of “The Seasons.” In a shady, secluded ravine he found a white pedestal, topped by an urn which Lyttelton had inscribed to the memory of Shenstone. This contrast of situation seemed to the tourist emblematic. Shenstone, he says, was an egotist, and his recess, true to his character, excludes the distant landscape. Gray, who pronounced “The Schoolmistress” a masterpiece in its kind, made a rather slighting mention of its author. “I have read an 8vo volume of Shenstone's letters; poor man! He was always wishing for money, for fame and other distinctions; and his whole philosophy consisted in living, against his will, in retirement and in a place which his taste had adorned, but which he only enjoyed when people of note came to see and commend it.” Gray unquestionably profited by a reading of Shenstone's “Elegies,” which antedate his own “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” (1751). He adopted Shenstone's stanza, which Shenstone had borrowed from the love elegies of a now forgotten poet, James Hammond, equerry to Prince Frederick and a friend of Cobham, Lyttelton, and Chesterfield. “Why Hammond or other writers,” says Johnson, “have thought the quatrain of ten syllables elegiac, it is difficult to tell. The character of the elegy is gentleness and tenuity, but this stanza has been pronounced by Dryden. . .to be the most magnificent of all the measures which our language affords.”
Next after “The Schoolmistress,” the most engaging of Shenstone's poems is his “Pastoral Ballad,” written in 1743 in four parts and in a tripping anapestic measure. Familiar to most readers is the stanza beginning:
“I have found out a gift for my fair,
I have found where the wood-pigeons breed.”
Dr. Johnson acknowledged the prettiness of the conceit:
“So sweetly she bade me adieu,
I thought that she bade me return;”
and he used to quote and commend the well-known lines “Written at an Inn at Henley:
“Whoe'er has travell'd life's dull round,
Where'er his stages may have been,
May sigh to think he still has found
The warmest welcome at an inn.”
As to Shenstone's blank verse—of which there is not much—the doctor says: “His blank verses, those that can read them may probably find to be like the blank verses of his neighbors.” Shenstone encouraged Percy to publish his “Reliques.” The plans for the grounds at Abbotsford were somewhat influenced by Didsley's description of the Leasowes, which Scott studied with great interest.
In 1744 Mark Akenside, a north country man and educated partly in Scotland, published his “Pleasures of Imagination,” afterwards rewritten as “The Pleasures of the Imagination” and spoiled in the process. The title and something of the course of thought in the poem were taken from Addison's series of papers on the subject (Spectator, Nos. 411-421). Akenside was a man of learning and a physician of distinction. His poem, printed when he was only twenty-three, enjoyed a popularity now rather hard to account for. Gray complained of its obscurity and said it was issued nine years too early, but admitted that now and then it rose “even to the best, particularly in description.” Akenside was harsh, formal, and dogmatic, as a man. Smollett caricatured him in “Peregrine Pickle.” Johnson hated his Whig principles and represents him, when settled at Northampton, as “having deafened the place with clamors for liberty.” He furthermore disliked the class of poetry to which Akenside's work belonged, and he told Boswell that he couldn't read it. Still he speaks of him with a certain cautious respect, which seems rather a concession to contemporary opinion than an appreciation of the critic's own. He even acknowledges that Akenside has “few artifices of disgust than most of his brethren of the blank song.” Lowell says that the very title of Akenside's poem pointed “away from the level highway of commonplace to mountain paths and less dogmatic prospects. The poem was stiff and unwilling, but in its loins lay the seed of nobler births. Without it, the 'Lines Written at Tintern Abbey' might never have been.”
One cannot read “The Pleasures of Imagination” without becoming sensible that the writer was possessed of poetic feeling, and feeling of a kind that we generally agree to call romantic. His doctrine at least, if not his practice, was in harmony with the fresh impulse which was coming into English poetry. Thus he celebrates heaven-born genius and the inspiration of nature, and decries “the critic-verse” and the effort to scale Parnassus “by dull obedience.” He invokes the peculiar muse of the new school:
“Indulgent Fancy, from the fruitful banks
Of Avon, whence thy rosy fingers cull
Fresh flowers and dews to sprinkle on the turf
Where Shakspere lies.”
But Akenside is too abstract. In place of images, he presents the reader with dissertations. A poem which takes imagination as its subject rather than its method will inevitably remain, not poetry but a lecture on poetry—a theory of beauty, not an example of it. Akenside might have chosen for his motto Milton's lines:
“How charming is divine philosophy!
Not harsh and crabbed, as dull fools suppose,
But musical as is Apollo's lute.”
Yet he might have remembered, too, what Milton said about the duty of poetry to be simple, sensuous, and passionate. Akenside's is nothing of these; it is, on the contrary obscure, metaphysical, and, as a consequence, frigid. Following Addison, he names greatness and novelty, i.e., the sublime and the wonderful, as, equally with beauty, the chief sources of imaginative pleasure, and the whole poem is a plea for what we are now accustomed to call the ideal. In the first book there is a passage which is fine in spirit and—though in a less degree—in expression:
“Who that from Alpine heights his laboring eye
Shoots round the wide horizon, to survey
Nilus or Ganges rolling his bright wave
Through mountains, plains, through empires black with shade.
And continents of sand, will turn his gaze
To mark the windings of a scanty rill
That murmurs at his feet? The high-born soul
Disdains to rest her heaven-aspiring wing
Beneath its native quarry. Tired of earth
And this diurnal scene, she springs aloft
Through fields of air; pursues the flying storm;
Rides on the vollied lightning through the heavens;
Or, yoked with whirlwinds and the northern blast,
Sweeps the long trace of day.”
The hint for this passage was furnished by a paragraph in Addison's second paper (Spectator, 412) and the emotion is the same to which Goethe gives utterance in the well-known lines of “Faust”;
“Doch jedem ist es eingeboren
Dass sein Gefuehl hinauf und vorwaerts dringt,” etc.
But how greatly superior in sharpness of detail, richness of invention, energy of movement is the German to the English poet!
Akenside ranks among the earlier Spenserians by virtue of his “Virtuoso” (1737) and of several odes composed in a ten-lined variation on Spenser's stanza. A collection of his “Odes” appeared in 1745—the year before Collins' and Joseph Warton's-and a second in 1760. They are of little value, but show here and there traces of Milton's minor poetry and that elegiac sentiment, common to the lyrical verse of the time, noticeable particularly in a passage on the nightingale in Ode XV, book i;, “To the Evening Star.” “The Pleasures of Imagination” was the parent of a numerous offspring of similarly entitled pieces, among which are Joseph Warton's “Pleasures of Melancholy,” Campbell's “Pleasures of Hope,” and Rogers' “Pleasures of Memory.”
In the same year with Thomson's “Winter” (1726) there were published in two poetical miscellanies a pair of little descriptive pieces, “Grongar Hill” and “The Country Walk,” written by John Dyer, a young Welshman, in the octosyllabic couplet of Milton's “L'Allegro” and “Il Pensoroso.” (“Grongar Hill,” as first printed was a sort of irregular ode with alternate rhyming; but it was much improvised in later editions, and rewritten throughout in couplets.)
Dyer was a landscape painter who had been educated at Westminster school, studied under Richardson at London, and spent some time wandering about the mountains of Wales in the practice of his art. “Grongar Hill” is, in fact, a pictorial poem, a sketch of the landscape seen from the top of his favorite summit in South Wales. It is a slight piece of work, careless and even slovenly in execution, but with an ease and lightness of touch that contrast pleasantly with Thomson's and Akenside's ponderosity. When Dyer wrote blank verse he slipped into the Thomsonian diction, “cumbent sheep” and “purple groves pomaceous.” But in “Grongar Hill”—although he does call the sun Phoebus—the shorter measure seems to bring shorter words, and he has lines of Wordsworthian simplicity—
“The woody valleys warm and low,
The windy summit, wild and high.”
or the closing passage, which Wordsworth alludes to in his sonnet on Dyer—“Long as the thrush shall pipe on Grongar Hill”:
“Grass and flowers Quiet treads
On the meads and mountain heads. . .
And often, by the murmuring rill,
Hears the thrush while all is still,
Within the groves of Grongar Hill.”
Wordsworth was attracted by Dyer's love of “mountain turf” and “spacious airy downs” and “naked Snowdon's wide, aerial waste.” The “power of hills” was on him. Like Wordsworth, too, he moralized his song. In “Grongar Hill,” the ruined tower suggests the transience of human life: the rivers running down to the sea are likened to man's career from birth to death; and Campbell's couplet,
“'Tis distance lends enchantment to the view
And robes the mountain in its azure hue,”
is thought to owe something to Dyer's
“As yon summits soft and fair,
Clad in colors of the air
Which to those who journey near
Barren, brown and rough appear,
Still we tread the same coarse way,
The present's still a cloudy day.”
Dyer went to Rome to pursue his art studies and, on his return in 1740, published his “Ruins of Rome” in blank verse. He was not very successful as a painter, and finally took orders, married, and settled down as a country parson. In 1757 he published his most ambitious work, “The Fleece,” a poem in blank verse and in four books, descriptive of English wool-growing. “The subject of 'The Fleece,' sir,” pronounced Johnson, “cannot be made poetical. How can a man write poetically of serges and druggets?” Didactic poetry, in truth, leads too often to ludicrous descents. Such precepts as “beware the rot,” “enclose, enclose, ye swains,” and
“-the utility of salt
Teach thy slow swains”;
with prescriptions for the scab, and advice as to divers kinds of wool combs, are fatal. A poem of this class has to be made poetical, by dragging in episodes and digressions which do not inhere in the subject itself but are artificially associated with it. Of such a nature is the loving mention—quoted in Wordsworth's sonnet—of the poet's native Carmarthenshire
“-that soft tract
Of Cambria, deep embayed, Dimetian land,
By green hills fenced, by Ocean's murmur lulled.”
Lowell admired the line about the Siberian exiles, met
“On the dark level of adversity.”
Miltonic reminiscences are frequent in Dyer. Sabrina is borrowed from “Comus”; “bosky bourn” and “soothest shepherd” from the same; “the light fantastic toe” from “L'Allegro”; “level brine” and “nor taint-worm shall infect the yearning herds,” from “Lycidas”; “audience pure be thy delight, though few,” from “Paradise Lost.”
“Mr. Dyer,” wrote Gray to Horace Walpole in 1751, “has more of poetry in his imagination than almost any of our number; but rough and injudicious.” Akenside, who helped Dyer polish the manuscript of “The Fleece,” said that “he would regulate his opinion of the reigning taste by the fate of Dyer's 'Fleece'; for if that were ill received, he should not think it any longer reasonable to expect fame from excellence.” The romantic element in Dyer's imagination appears principally in his love of the mountains and of ancient ruins. Johnson cites with approval a sentence in “The Ruins of Rome”:
“At dead of night,
The hermit oft, midst his orisons, hears
Aghast the voice of Time disparting towers.”
These were classic ruins. Perhaps the doctor's sympathy would not have been so quickly extended to the picture of the moldering Gothic tower in “Grongar Hill,” or of “solitary Stonehenge gray with moss,” in “The Fleece.”
 W. D. McClintock, “The Romantic and Classical in English Literature,” Chautauquan, Vol. XIV, p. 187.
 “Eighteenth Century Literature,” p. 207.
 “Autumn,” lines 645-47.
 “Life of Philips.”
 “Eighteenth Century Literature,” p. 221
 Cf. Chaucer: “And as a bitoure bumbleth in the mire.”
—Wyf of Bathes Tale.
 Phillimore's “Life of Lyttelton,” Vol. I, p. 286.
 “First Impression of England,” p. 135.
 Appendix to Preface to the Second Edition of “Lyrical Ballads,”
 There are, of course, Miltonic reminiscences in “The Seasons.” The moon's “spotted disk” (“Autumn,” 1091) is Milton's “spotty globe.” The apostrophe to light (“Spring” 90-96) borrows its “efflux divine" from Milton's “bright effluence of bright essence increate” (“Paradise Lost,” III. 1-12) And cf. “Autumn,” 783-84:
”—from Imaus stretcht
Athwart the roving Tartar's sullen bounds,”
with P.L., III, 431-32; and “Winter,” 1005-08.
Beneath the shelter of an icy isle,
While night o'erwhelms the sea.”
with P.L., I. 207-208.
 “Ward's English Poets,” Vol. III. p. 171.
 There were originally three damsels in the bathing scene!
 It was to this episode that Pope supplied the lines (207-14)
“Thoughtless of beauty, she was beauty's self,” etc.,
which form his solitary essay in blank verse. Thomson told Collins that he took the first hint of “The Seasons” from the names of the divisions—Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter—in Pope's “Pastorals.”
 Appendix to Preface to Second Edition of “Lyrical Ballads.”
 “The Hermit.”
 “Essay on Man,” Epistle I.
 “Falsely luxurious, will not man awake?” etc.
 “Nor, when cold winter keens the brightening flood,
Would I, weak shivering, linger on the brink.”
 “Life of Thomson.”
 “Spring,” 755-58.
 “Autumn,” 862-65.
 “Epistle of Augustus.”
 “Autumn,” 1030-37. Cf. Cowper's
“O for a lodge in some vast wilderness,
Some boundless contiguity of shade!”
 “Winter,” 424-32.
 “Spring,” 1026-28.
 Shakspere's “broom groves whose shade the dismist bachelor loves;”
“Fountain heads and pathless groves,
Places which pale passion loves,”
“Moonlight walks when all the fowls
Are safely housed, save bats and owls.”
 Letter to Howe, September 10.
 Letter to Howe, November, 1763.
 Alicia Amherst (“History of Gardening in England,” 1896, p. 283) mentions a French and an Italian work, entitled respectively “Plan de Jardins dans le gout Anglais,” Copenhagen, 1798; and “Del Arte dei Giardini Inglesi,” Milan, 1801. “This passion for the imitation of nature,” says the same authority, “was part of the general reaction which was taking place, not only in gardening but in the world of literature and of fashion. The extremely artificial French taste had long taken the lead in civilized Europe, and now there was an attempt to shake off the shackles of its exaggerated formalism. The poets of the age were also pioneers of this school of nature. Dyer, in his poem of 'Grongar Hill,' and Thomson, in his 'Seasons,' called up pictures which the gardeners and architects of the day strove to imitate.” See in this work, for good examples of the formal garden, the plan of Belton House, Lincoln, p. 245; of Brome Hall, Suffolk; of the orangery and canal at Euston, p. 201; and the scroll work patterns of turf and parterres on pp. 217-18.
 In Temple's gardens at Moor Park, Hertfordshire, e.g., there were terraces covered with lead. Charles II. imported some of Le Notre's pupils and assistants, who laid out the grounds at Hampton Court in the French taste. The maze at Hampton Court still existed in Walpole's time (1770).
 It is worth noticing that Batty Langley, the abortive restorer of Gothic, also recommended the natural style of landscape gardening as early as 1728 in his “New Principles of Gardening.”
 “History of Gardening in England.”
 I. 384-404.
 “The Works of William Mason,” in 4 vols., London, 1811.
 See Pope's paper in the Guardian (173) for some rather elaborate foolery about topiary work. “All art,” he maintains, “consists in the imitation and study of nature.” “We seem to make it our study to recede from nature, not only in the various tonsure of greens into the most regular and formal shapes, but,” etc., etc. Addison, too, Spectator 414, June 25, 1712, upholds “the rough, careless strokes of nature” against “the nice touches and embellishments of art,” and complains that “our British gardeners, instead of humoring nature, love to deviate from it as much as possible. Our trees rise in cones, globes, and pyramids. We see the marks of the scissors upon every plant and bush. I do not know whether I am singular in all its luxuriancy and diffusion of boughs and branches, than when it is thus cut and trimmed into a mathematical figure.” See also Spectator, 477, for a pretty scheme of a garden laid out with “the beautiful wildness of nature.” Gilbert West's Spenserian poem “Education,” 1751 (see ante, p. 90) contains an attack, in six stanzas, upon the geometric garden, from which I give a single stanza.
“Alse other wonders of the sportive shears,
Fair nature mis-adorning, there were found:
Globes, spiral columns, pyramids, and piers,
With sprouting urns and budding statues crowned;
And horizontal dials on the ground,
In living box by cunning artists traced;
And gallies trim, on no long voyage bound
But by their roots there ever anchored fast,
All were their bellying sails out-spread to every blast.”
 “Essays on Men and Manners,” Shenstone's Works, Vol. II. Dodsley's edition.
 “On Modern Gardening,” Works of the Earl of Orford, London, 1798, Vol. II.
 Graves, “Recollections of Shenstone,” 1788.
 “Ward's English Poets,” Vol. III. 271.
 “Life of Shenstone.”
 See ante, p. 90, for his visits to Gilbert West at Wickham.
 See especially “A Pastoral Ode,” and “Verses Written toward the Close of the Year 1748.”
 “A Description of the Leasowes by R. Dodsley,” Shenstone's Works, Vol. II, pp. 287-320 (3d ed.) This description is accompanied with a map. For other descriptions consult Graves' “Recollections,” Hugh Miller's “First Impressions of England,” and Wm. Howitt's “Homes of the Poets” (1846), Vol. I. pp. 258-63. The last gives an engraving of the house and grounds. Miller, who was at Hagley—“The British Tempe"-and the Leasowes just a century after Shenstone began to embellish his paternal acres, says that the Leasowes was the poet's most elaborate poem, “the singularly ingenious composition, inscribed on an English hillside, which employed for twenty long years the taste and genius of Shenstone.”
 See “Lady Luxborough's Letters to Shenstone,” 1775, for a long correspondence about an urn which she was erecting to Somerville's memory. She was a sister of Bolingbroke, had a seat at Barrels, and exchanged visits with Shenstone.
 “Letter to Nichols,” June 24, 1769.
 Dryden's “Annus Mirabilis,” Davenant's “Gondibert,” and Sir John Davies' “Nosce Teipsum” were written in this stanza, but the universal currency of Gray's poem associated it for many years almost exclusively with elegiac poetry. Shenstone's collected poems were not published till 1764, though some of them had been printed in Dodsley's “Miscellanies.” Only a few of his elegies are dated in the collected editions (Elegy VIII, 1745; XIX, 1743; XXI, 1746), but Graves says that they were all written before Gray's. The following lines will recall to every reader corresponding passages in Gray's “Churchyard”:
“O foolish muses, that with zeal aspire
To deck the cold insensate shrine with bays!
“When the free spirit quits her humble frame
To tread the skies, with radiant garlands crowned;
“Say, will she hear the distant voice of Fame,
Or hearing, fancy sweetness in the sound?”
“I saw his bier ignobly cross the plain.”
“No wild ambition fired their spotless breast.”
“Through the dim veil of evening's dusky shade
Near some lone fane or yew's funereal green,” etc.
“The glimmering twilight and the doubtful dawn
Shall see your step to these sad scenes return,
Constant as crystal dews impearl the lawn,” etc.
 “Life of Akenside.”
 “Pleasures of Hope.”
 cf. Wordsworth's
“Some casual shout that broke the silent air,
Or the unimaginable touch of time.”
—Mutability: Ecclesiastical Sonnets, XXXIV.