Thursday, November 22, 2007

Concerning scenes

William Shenstone's house The Leasowes in 1765

Ian Hamilton Finlay started writing his Detatched Sentences on Gardening after Stephen Bann lent him an edition of William Shenstone's 'Unconnected Thoughts on Gardening' (1764).  Shenstone's book is reprinted on line.  Here is an extract:
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 [beautiful] 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.

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