William Shenstone, ‘Unconnected Thoughts on Gardening’ (1764)
Edited and introduced by Stephen Bending & Andrew McRae
Shenstone’s ‘Unconnected Thoughts’ was published posthumously in his Works (1764) by his friend Robert Dodsley and is a gathering together of disparate notes rather than a finished essay. It is also a work of synthesis which draws on much of the aesthetic theory of Shenstone’s day, notably Edmund Burke’s account of the sublime and the beautiful, and the strand of thinking developed by Shaftesbury, Addison, Hutcheson and Gerard which links beauty with moral virtue. As such it represents an important statement of garden theory at mid-century and is a good guide to much of what Shenstone was doing at his own estate, the Leasowes. Shenstone concentrates on what he terms ‘landscape’ or picturesque gardening, that is, creating physical scenes in a manner reminiscent of painting. Variety is at a premium for Shenstone and the garden must always engage the mind of the visitor: he places emphasis on changing viewpoints, on scenes which invite an imaginative response, and on the association of ideas aided by inscriptions and statues. In the ‘Unconnected Thoughts’ Shenstone offers us a set of high-minded ideals and assumes that gardens are for the literate and literary, but as the other extracts in this section suggest (including Shenstone’s own letters) we should be wary of assuming that gardens were treated so exclusively as an aesthetic experience. Shenstone was acutely aware that his own aesthetic creation held out the possibility of social advancement and as his letters suggest, he delighted not only in the appearance of men of taste, but in the arrival of aristocratic visitors and even in the ‘gape and stare of the mob’. Thus theoretical statements such as the ‘Thoughts’ (which themselves assume a particular kind of educated audience) should not be seen as the whole picture: gardens were not places separated from social pressures and interactions but spaces in which the tensions of the modern age were often writ large.
The Works in Verse and Prose of William Shenstone Esq, ed. Robert Dodsley, 2 vols. (London, 1764)
Suggested secondary reading
John Dixon Hunt, The Figure in the Landscape: Poetry, Painting, and Gardening during the Eighteenth Century (Baltimore and London, 1976)
Marjorie Williams, William Shenstone—A Chapter in Eighteenth-Century Taste (London, 1935)
Gardening may be divided into three species: kitchen-gardening, parterre-gardening, and landscape, or picturesque-gardening, which latter is the subject intended in the following pages. It consists in pleasing the imagination by scenes of grandeur, beauty, or variety. Convenience merely has no share here, any farther than as it pleases the imagination.
Perhaps the division of the pleasures of the imagination, according as they are struck by the great, the various, and the beautiful, may be accurate enough for my present purpose: why each of them affects us with pleasure may be traced in other authors. See Burke, Hutchinson, Gerard. The theory of agreeable sensations, &c.
There seems however to be some objects which afford a pleasure not reducible to either of the foregoing heads. A ruin, for instance, may be neither new to us, nor majestic, nor beautiful, yet afford that pleasing melancholy which proceeds from a reflection on decayed magnificence. For this reason an able gardener should avail himself of objects, perhaps not very striking; if they serve to connect ideas, that convey reflections of the pleasing kind.
Objects should indeed be less calculated to strike the immediate eye, than the judgment or well-formed imagination; as in painting.
It is no objection to the pleasure of novelty, that it makes an ugly object more disagreeable. It is enough that it produces a superiority betwixt things in other respects equal. It seems, on some occasions, to go even further. Are there not broken rocks and rugged grounds, to which we can hardly attribute either beauty or grandeur, and yet when introduced near an extent of lawn, impart a pleasure equal to more shapely scenes? Thus a series of lawn, though ever so beautiful, may satiate and cloy, unless the eye passes to them from wilder scenes; and then they acquire the grace of novelty.
Variety appears to me to derive good part of its effect from novelty; as the eye, passing from one form or colour, to a form or colour of a different kind, finds a degree of novelty in its present object which affords immediate satisfaction.
Variety however, in some instances, may be carried to such excess as to lose its whole effect. I have observed ceilings so crammed with stucco-ornaments that, although of the most different kinds, they have produced an uniformity. A sufficient quantity of undecorated space is necessary to exhibit such decorations to advantage.
Ground should first be considered with an eye to its peculiar character: whether it be the grand, the savage, the sprightly, the melancholy, the horrid, or the beautiful. As one or other of these characters prevail, one may somewhat strengthen its effect, by allowing every part some denomination, and then supporting its title by suitable appendages. For instance, the lover’s walk may have assignation seats, with proper mottoes: urns to faithful lovers; trophies, garlands, &c. by means of art.
What an advantage must some Italian seats derive from the circumstance of being situate on ground mentioned in the classics? And, even in England, wherever a park or garden happens to have been the scene of any event in history, one would surely avail one’s self of that circumstance, to make it more interesting to the imagination. Mottoes should allude to it, columns, &c. record it; verses moralize upon it; and curiosity receive its share of pleasure.
In designing a house and gardens, it is happy when there is an opportunity of maintaining a subordination of parts; the house so luckily placed as to exhibit a view of the whole design. I have sometimes thought that there was room for it to resemble an epic or dramatic poem. It is rather to be wished than required, that the more striking scenes may succeed those which are less so.
Taste depends much upon temper. Some prefer Tibullus to Virgil, and Virgil to Homer — Hagley to Persfield, and Persfield to the Welsh mountains. This occasions the different preferences that are given to situations. A garden strikes us most, where the grand, and the pleasing succeed, not intermingle, with each other.
I believe, however, the sublime has generally a deeper effect than the merely beautiful.
I use the words landscape and prospect, the former as expressive of home scenes, the latter of distant images. Prospects should take in the blue distant hills; but never so remotely, that they be not distinguishable from clouds. Yet this mere extent is what the vulgar value.
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. We form our notions from what we have seen; and though, could we comprehend the universe, we might perhaps find it uniformly regular; yet the portions that we see of it, habituate our fancy to the contrary.
The eye should always look rather down upon water: customary nature makes this requisite. I know nothing more sensibly displeasing than Mr T—’s flat ground betwixt his terrace and his water.
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 is to travel over, what the eye has done before. This circumstance, is one objection. Another, somewhat of the same kind, is the repetition of the same object, tree after tree, for a length of way together. A third is, that this identity is purchased by the loss of that variety, which the natural country supplies every where; in a greater or less degree. 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. For such an one to be condemned to pass along the famous vista from Moscow to Petersburg, or that other from Agra to Lahore in India, must be as disagreeable a sentence, as to be condemned to labour at the galleys. I conceived some idea of the sensation he must feel, from walking but a few minutes, immured, betwixt 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.
When a building, or other object has been once viewed from its proper point, the foot should never travel to it by the same path, which the eye has travelled over before. Lose the object, and draw nigh, obliquely.
The side-trees in vistas should be so circumstanced as to afford a probability that they grew by nature.
Ruinated structures appear to derive their power of pleasing from the irregularity of surface, which is variety; and the latitude they afford the imagination, to conceive an enlargement of their dimensions, or to recollect any events or circumstances appertaining to their pristine grandeur, so far as concerns grandeur and solemnity. The breaks in them should be as bold and abrupt as possible. If mere beauty be aimed at (which however is not their chief excellence) the waving line, with more easy transitions, will become of greater importance. Events relating to them may be simulated by numberless little artifices; but it is ever to be remembered, that high hills and sudden descents are most suitable to castles; and fertile vales, near wood and water, most imitative of the usual situation for abbeys and religious houses; large oaks, in particular, are essential to these latter.
Whose branching arms, and reverend height
Admit a dim religious light.
A cottage is a pleasing object partly on account of the variety it may introduce; on account of the tranquillity that seems to reign there; and perhaps, (I am somewhat afraid) on account of the pride of human nature.
Longi alterius spectare laborem.
In a scene presented to the eye, objects should never lie so much to the right or left, as to give it any uneasiness in the examination. Sometimes, however, it may be better to admit valuable objects even with this disadvantage. They should else never be seen beyond a certain angle. The eye must be easy, before it can be pleased.
No mere slope from one side to the other can be agreeable ground: the eye requires a balance, i.e. a degree of uniformity: but this may be otherwise effected and the rule should be understood with some limitation.
— Each alley has its brother,
And half the platform just reflects the other.
Let us examine what may be said in favour of that regularity which Mr Pope exposes. Might he not seemingly as well object to the disposition of an human face, because it has an eye or cheek, that is the very picture of its companion? Or does not providence who has observed this regularity in the external structure of our bodies and disregarded it within, seem to consider it as a beauty? The arms, the limbs, and the several parts of them correspond, but it is not the same case with the thorax and the abdomen. I believe one is generally solicitous for a kind of balance in a landscape, and, if I am not mistaken, the painters generally furnish one: a building for instance on one side, contrasted by a group of trees, a large oak, or a rising hill on the other. Whence then does this taste proceed, but from the love we bear to regularity in perfection? After all, in regard to gardens, 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.
All trees have a character analogous to that of men: oaks are in all respects the perfect image of the manly character: in former times I should have said, and in present times I think I am authorized to say, the British one. As a brave man is not suddenly either elated by prosperity, or depressed by adversity, so the oak displays not its verdure on the sun’s first approach; nor drops it, on his first departure. Add to this its majestic appearance, the rough grandeur of its bark, and the wide protection of its branches.
A large, branching, aged oak, is perhaps the most venerable of all inanimate objects.
Urns are more solemn, if large and plain; more beautiful, if less and ornamented. Solemnity is perhaps their point, and the situation of them should still cooperate with it.
By the way, I wonder that lead statues are not more in vogue in our modern gardens. Though they may not express the finer lines of an human body, yet they seem perfectly well calculated, on account of their duration, to embellish landscapes, were they some degrees inferior to what we generally behold. A statue in a room challenges examination, and is to be examined critically as a statue. A statue in a garden is to be considered as one part of a scene or landscape; the minuter touches are no more essential to it, than a good landscape painter would esteem them were he to represent a statue in his picture.
Apparent art, in its proper province, is almost as important as apparent nature. They contrast agreeably; but their provinces ever should be kept distinct.
Where some artificial beauties are so dexterously managed that one cannot but conceive them natural, some natural ones so extremely fortunate that one is ready to swear they are artificial.
Concerning scenes, the more uncommon they appear, the better, provided they form a picture, and include nothing that pretends to be of nature’s production, and is not. The shape of ground, the site of trees, and the fall of water, nature’s province. Whatever thwarts her is treason.
On the other hand, buildings and the works of art, need have no other reference to nature than that they afford the ευσεμνον  with which the human mind is delighted.
Art should never be allowed to set a foot in the province of nature, otherwise than clandestinely and by night. Whenever she is allowed to appear here, and men begin to compromise the difference: night, gothicism, confusion and absolute chaos are come again.
To see one’s urns, obelisks, and waterfalls laid open; the nakedness of our beloved mistresses, the naiads, and the dryads, exposed by that ruffian winter to universal observation; is a severity scarcely to be supported by the help of blazing hearths, cheerful companions, and a bottle of the most grateful burgundy.
The works of a person that builds, begin immediately to decay; while those of him who plants begin directly to improve. In this, planting promises a more lasting pleasure, than building; which, were it to remain in equal perfection, would at best begin to moulder and want repairs in imagination. Now trees have a circumstance that suits our taste, and that is annual variety. It is inconvenient indeed, if they cause our love of life to take root and flourish with them; whereas the very sameness of our structures will, without the help of dilapidation, serve to wean us from our attachment to them.
It is a custom in some countries to condemn the characters of those (after death) that have neither planted a tree, nor begat a child.
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 rivulet in jetteaus; in short, admires no part of nature, but her ductility, exhibits every thing that is glaring, that implies expense, or that effects a surprise because it is unnatural. The peasant is his admirer.
It is always to be remembered in gardening that sublimity or magnificence, and beauty or variety, are very different things. Every scene we see in nature is either tame and insipid; or compounded of those. It often happens that the same ground may receive from art; either certain degrees of sublimity and magnificence, or certain degrees of variety and beauty; or a mixture of each kind. In this case it remains to be considered in which light they can be rendered most remarkable, whether as objects of beauty, or magnificence. Even the temper of the proprietor should not perhaps be wholly disregarded: for certain complexions of soul will prefer an orange tree or a myrtle, to an oak or cedar. However this should not induce a gardener to parcel out a lawn into knots of shrubbery; or invest a mountain with a garb of roses. This would be like dressing a giant in a sarsenet gown, or a saracen’s head in a brussels nightcap. Indeed the small and circular clumps of firs, which I see planted upon some fine large swells, put me often in mind of a coronet placed on an elephant or camel’s back. I say a gardener should not do this, any more than a poet should attempt to write of the king of Prussia in the style of Philips. On the other side, what would become of Lesbia’s sparrow should it be treated in the same language with the anger of Achilles?
Gardeners may be divided into three sorts, the landscape gardener, the parterre gardener, and the kitchen gardener, agreeably to our first division of gardens.
I have used the word landscape-gardeners; because in pursuance of our present taste in gardening, every good painter of landscape appears to me the most proper designer. The misfortune of it, is, that these painters are apt to regard the execution of their work, much more than the choice of subject.
The art of distancing and approximating, comes truly within their sphere: the former by the gradual diminution of distinctness, and of size; the latter by the reverse. A straight-lined avenue that is widened in front, and planted there with ewe trees, then firs, then with trees more and more shady, till they end in the almond-willow, or silver osier; will produce a very remarkable deception of the former kind; which deception will be increased, if the nearer dark trees, are proportionable and truly larger than those at the end of the avenue that are more shady.
To distance a building, plant as near as you can to it, two or three circles of different coloured greens — evergreens are best for all such purposes — suppose the outer one of holly, and the next of laurel, etc. The consequence will be that the imagination immediately allows a space betwixt these circles and another betwixt the house and them; and as the imagined space is indeterminate, if your building be dim-coloured, it will not appear inconsiderable. The imagination is a greater magnifier than a microscopic glass. And on this head, I have known some instances, where by showing intermediate ground, the distance has appeared less, than while an hedge or grove concealed it.
Hedges, appearing as such, are universally bad. They discover art in nature’s province.
Trees in hedges partake of their artificiality, and become a part of them. There is no more sudden, and obvious improvement, than an hedge removed, and the trees remaining; yet not in such manner as to mark out the former hedge.
Water should ever appear, as an irregular lake, or winding stream. Islands give beauty, if the water be adequate; but lessen grandeur through variety.
It was the wise remark of some sagacious observer, that familiarity is for the most part productive of contempt. Graceless offspring of so amiable a parent! Unfortunate beings that we are, whose enjoyments must be either checked, or prove destructive of themselves. Our passions are permitted to sip a little pleasure; but are extinguished by indulgence, like a lamp overwhelmed with oil. Hence we neglect the beauty with which we have been intimate; nor would any addition it could receive, prove an equivalent for the advantage it derived from the first impression. Thus negligent of graces that have the merit of reality, we too often prefer imaginary ones that have only the charm of novelty: And hence we may account, in general, for the preference of art to nature, in our old fashioned gardens.
Art, indeed, is often requisite to collect and epitomize the beauties of nature; but should never be suffered to set her mark upon them: I mean in regard to those articles that are of nature’s province; the shaping of ground, the planting of trees, and the disposition of lakes and rivulets. Many more particulars will soon occur, which, however, she is allowed to regulate, somewhat clandestinely, upon the following account: man is not capable of comprehending the universe at one survey. Had he faculties equal to this, he might well be censured for any minute regulations of his own. It were the same, as if, in his present situation, he strove to find amusement in contriving the fabric of an ant’s nest, or the partitions of a beehive. But we are placed in the corner of a sphere; endued neither with organs, nor allowed a station, proper to give us an universal view; or to exhibit to us the variety, the orderly proportions, and dispositions of the system. We perceive many breaks and blemishes, several neglected and unvariegated places in the part; which, in the whole would appear either imperceptible, or beautiful. And we might as rationally expect a snail to be satisfied with the beauty of our parterres, slopes, and terraces, or an ant to prefer our buildings to her own orderly range of granaries, as that man should be satisfied, without a single thought that he can improve the spot that falls to his share. But, though art be necessary for collecting nature’s beauties, by what reason is she authorized to thwart and to oppose her? Why, fantastically endeavour to humanize those vegetables, of which nature, discreet nature, thought it proper to make trees? Why endow the vegetable bird with wings, which nature has made momentarily dependent upon the soil? Here art seems very affectedly to make a display of that industry, which it is her glory to conceal. The stone which represents an asterisk, is valued only on account of its natural production: nor do we view with pleasure the laboured carvings and futile diligence of Gothic artists. We view with much more satisfaction some plain Grecian fabric, where art, indeed, has been equally, but less visibly, industrious. It is thus we, indeed, admire the shining texture of the silk-worm; but we loath the puny author, when she thinks proper to emerge and to disgust us with the appearance of so vile a grub.
But this is merely true in regard to the particulars of nature’s province, wherein art can only appear as the most abject vassal, and had, therefore, better not appear at all. The case is different where she has the direction of buildings, useful or ornamental; or, perhaps, claims as much honour from temples, as the deities to whom they are inscribed. Here then it is her interest to be seen as much as possible. And, though nature appear doubly beautiful by the contrast her structures furnish, it is not easy for her to confer a benefit which nature, on her side, will not repay.
A rural scene to me is never perfect without the addition of some kind of building: indeed I have known a scar of rock-work, in great measure, supply the deficiency.
In gardening it is no small point to enforce either grandeur or beauty by surprise; for instance, by abrupt transition from their contraries. But to lay a stress upon surprise only (for example, on the surprise occasioned by an Ha-Ha without including any nobler purpose) is a symptom of bad taste, and a violent fondness for mere concetto.
Grandeur and beauty are so very opposite, that you often diminish the one as you increase the other. Variety is most akin to the latter, simplicity to the former.
Suppose a large hill, varied by art, with large patches of different-coloured clumps, scars of rock, chalk quarries, villages, or farm-houses; you will have, perhaps, a more beautiful scene, but much less grand than it was before.
In many instances, it is most eligible to compound your scene of beauty and grandeur. Suppose a magnificent swell arising out of a well-variegated valley; it would be disadvantageous to increase its beauty, by means destructive to its magnificence.
There may possibly, but there seldom happens, any occasion to fill up valleys, with trees or otherwise. It is for the most part the gardener’s business to remove trees, or aught that fills up the low ground; and to give, as far as nature allows, an artificial eminence to the high.
The hedge-row apple-trees in Herefordshire afford a most beautiful scenery, at the time they are in blossom: but the prospect would be really grander, did it consist of simple foliage. For the same reason, a large oak (or beech) in autumn, is a grander object than the same in spring. The sprightly green, is then obfuscated.
Smoothness and easy transitions are no small ingredient in the beautiful; abrupt and rectangular breaks have more of the nature of the sublime. Thus a tapering spire is, perhaps, a more beautiful object than a tower, which is grander.
Many of the different opinions relating to the preference to be given to seats, villas, etc. are owing to want of distinction betwixt the beautiful and the magnificent. Both the former and the latter please; but there are imaginations particularly adapted to the one, and to the other.
Mr Addison thought an open unenclosed champaign country, formed the best landscape. Somewhat here is to be considered. Large unvariegated, simple objects have the best pretensions to sublimity; a large mountain, whose sides are unvaried with objects, is grander than one with infinite variety: but then its beauty is proportionably less.
However, I think a plain space near the eye gives a kind of liberty it loves: and then the picture, whether you choose the grand or beautiful, should be held up at its proper distance. Variety is the principal ingredient in beauty; and simplicity is essential to grandeur.
parterre-gardening: a flower-garden laid out in a regular form, usually close to the house.
grandeur … variety: Shenstone follows the aesthetic categories popularized by Edmund Burke, the sublime, the beautiful and the combination or variation of the two (see note to l. 00, above).
pleasures … imagination: the phrase comes from Addison’s famous series of essays in The Spectator (1711-14), a journal republished throughout the eighteenth century; it was also the title of Mark Akenside’s poem of 1744, which, like Shenstone, relied on the theories of previous philosophers.
Burke…sensations: Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Inquiry into the Sublime and the Beautiful (1757); Francis Hutcheson, An Inquiry into the Original of our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue (1725); Alexander Gerard, An Essay on Taste (1759); Louis Jean Lévesque de Pouilly, The Theory of Agreeable Sensations (1749). Burke equated the beautiful with the feminine and the sociable, and the sublime with the masculine, the unknown and the terrifying; Hutcheson followed Joseph Addison and Shaftesbury in exploring the close relationship between beauty and moral virtue and in opposing the Hobbesian view of human nature as ultimately selfish; Gerard produced perhaps the most sustained analysis of taste as a faculty, divided into the senses of novelty, sublimity, beauty, imitation, harmony, ridicule and virtue. For a brief outline of these different accounts of taste, see Walter John Hipple, Jr., The Beautiful, The Sublime, & The Picturesque in Eighteenth-Century British Aesthetic Theory (Carbondale, 1957).
‘Garden-scenes may perhaps be divided into the sublime, the beautiful, the melancholy or pensive; to which last I know not but we may assign a middle place betwixt the former two, as being in some sort composed of both. See Burke’s Sublime, &c’ (Shenstone’s note).
foregoing heads: i.e. the sublime and the beautiful.
connect … pleasing: i.e. Shenstone champions the value of association in garden design.
Objects … imagination: i.e. mere novelty should be avoided in favour of those objects which invite meditation; thus Shenstone raises the question not only of garden design but of the kind visitor for whom that garden is most suited, implicitly suggesting that he must be a man of education and taste.
objection … novelty: i.e. novelty is valuable, even if it is ugly (rather than beautiful or grand), because it creates variety.
stucco-ornaments: ornamental shapes created from a hard plaster made from marble dust, gypsum and glue. Highly elaborate scenes were created on ceilings in the eighteenth century.
lover’s … art: Shenstone no doubt has in mind his own lover’s walk at the Leasowes.
England … pleasure: Shenstone describes a practice common by the mid-eighteenth century; at Stourhead, Wiltshire, Henry Hoare erected a tower in memory of King Alfred, while Shenstone’s friend Richard Jago celebrated the historical associations of over forty estates in his poem, Edge-Hill (1767).
Tibullus … mountains: Albius Tibullus (c.48-19 BC), Roman poet, friend of Virgil and author of three books of elegies characterized by their gentle evocation of love and rural simplicity; Shenstone thus sketches the gamut of poetic genres from the elegiac to the epic of Homer and parallels this with landscapes ranging from the beauty of Hagley, to the more sublime but still cultivated scenes created by Valentine Morris at Piercefield in south Wales, to the wildness of the Welsh mountains.
painter … designer: Shenstone echoes the views of Kent and Pope, amongst others.
Moscow to Petersburg: reference not traced
Agra to Lahore: the Indian subcontinent’s ‘Great Trunk Road’, which passes through Agra and Lahore.
Whose … light: cf. John Milton, ‘Il Penseroso’, ‘But let my due feet never fail, / To walk the studious cloister’s pale, / And love the high embowered roof, / With antique pillars’ massy proof, / And storied windows richly dight, / Casting a dim religious light’ (ll. 155-60).
Longi … laborem: reference to Lucretius, ‘Pleasant it is, when over a great sea the winds trouble the waters, to gaze from shore upon another’s great tribulation, not because any man’s troubles are a delectable joy, but because to perceive what ills you are free from yourself is pleasant’ (De Rerum Natura, 2.1-4).
Each … other: the lines from Alexander Pope’s ‘Epistle to Burlington’ (ll. 117-18) which satirize symmetrical garden designs were much quoted throughout the eighteenth century.
a discovery of: apparent to the eye.
Urns: see Shenstone-Luxborough correspondence, above.
ευσεμνον: the beautiful (as opposed to terrifying) sublime (Greek).
compromise: make concessions to.
To … observation: Shenstone’s dislike of autumn as the precursor of the bare landscapes of winter appears throughout his correspondence. Cf. his description of a conversation with the poet Thomson (above) for a more overtly sexualized language of landscape.
jetteaus: small fountains.
ductility: ability to be changed.
The taste … admirer: cf. Goldsmith (below).
knots: small but often elaborate flower-beds.
sarsenet: a very fine and delicate form of silk material.
saracen… nightcap: i.e. a warlike Arab or Muslim from the Middle East wearing a night cap made from the thick but delicately formed Brussels lace instead of a turban. A Saracen’s head would be familiar as a public house sign.
coronet: a small crown, usually associated in Britain with the peerage where different designs of coronet define the peers’ ranks and would appear prominently on their carriages.
king… Philips: Ambrose Philips (1675?-1749) earned the nickname of ‘Namby Pamby’ for his light, and many thought childish, pastoral poems; Frederick II (1712-86), or Frederick the Great as he became known, the ‘enlightened’ despot who raised the European stature of Prussia through a series of largely successful wars with Austria.
Lesbia’s sparrow: Lesbia was the name by which the Roman poet Catullus (c.84-c.54BC) addressed a mysterious woman to whom he wrote a series of passionate love poems, the most famous of which was on the death of her pet sparrow.
anger of Achilles: in Homer’s Iliad, the Greek hero Achilles retires in anger from the field of battle when king Agamemnon refused to give him Briseis as part of his booty.
execution … subject: i.e. they worry more about how it is done than what it is.
approximating: bringing into proximity.
almond-willow… osier: both common forms of willow, a tree frequently pollarded to produce long thin shoots (osiers) used in basket-weaving, etc.
Why … soil: Shenstone’s attack on the false taste in topiary works was a commonplace by this time.
Gothic … Grecian: the distinction between highly wrought ‘gothic’ carving of medieval Europe and the elegant simplicity of ancient Greek architecture was common, but the former was by no means as universally dismissed as Shenstone’s language suggests; close friends, including Bishop Percy, were amongst those seeking to revive an interest in native gothic architecture.
abject vassal: lowly subordinate.
scar of rock-work: outcrop of rocks, either natural or constructed.
concetto: conceit, affectation (Italian).
Herefordshire: one of the most important apple-growing regions of England.
Addison … landscape: in his essays on the ‘Pleasures of the Imagination’, Joseph Addison (1672-1719) championed the power of the individual’s imagination and the open and various landscapes which gave it most freedom (see The Spectator, 414, 25 June 1712).
stubble: the stalks of cereal crops which remain after harvesting.
fallow ground: ploughed and harrowed land which is left unplanted.