William Gilpin, engraving from 'Harper's New Monthly Magazine' No. 231, August 1869

William Gilpin
Picturesque Beauty
& Moral Gardening


Rev. William Gilpin (1724-1804)
A Dialogue upon the Gardens..., 1748: >Excerpts

Observations on the River Wye, 1782: >Excerpts
Remarks on Forest Scenery, 1791: >Excerpts

On Picturesque Beauty, 1794: >Excerpts

A Dialogue upon the Gardens of the Right Honourable the Lord Viscount Cobham at Stow in Buckinghamshire (1748)

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Calloph. I am admiring the fine View from hence: So great a Variety of beautiful Objects, and all so happily disposed, make a most delightful Picture. Don't you think this Building too is a very genteel one, and is extremely well situated ? These Trees give it an agreeable, cool Air, and make it, I think, as elegant a Retreat for the Enjoyment of a Summer's Evening, as can well be imagined. - But it is mere trifling to sit here: Let us walk towards the Rotunda. - This little Alley will carry us to Dido's Cave.

Polypth. Dido's Cave! why 'tis built of hewn Stone! Here she is however, and her pious Companion along with her.

Calloph. Those two Cupids joining their Torches, I never see but I admire extremely: they are very finely painted.

Polypth. I think they are indeed. But let us be a little complaisant, and not interrupt these kind Lovers too long. I want to see this Rotunda.

Calloph. There then you have it: I hope you cannot complain of an heavy Building here. I do not know any Piece of Stonework in the whole Garden that shews itself to more Advantage than this does, or makes a more beautiful Figure in a Variety of fine Views from several Parts of the Garden: Several Parts of the Garden likewise return the Compliment, by offering a great many very elegant Prospects to it. There you have an Opening laid out with all the Decorations of Art; a spacious Theatre; the Area floated by a Canal, and peopled with Swans and Wild-ducks: Her late Majesty is the principal Figure in the Scene, and around her a merry Company of Nymphs and Swains enjoying themselves in the Shade.

Polypth. I must confess I cannot very much admire.

Calloph. Come; none of your Cavils. - Observe how this View is beautifully contrasted by one on the opposite Side of a different kind; in which we are almost solely obliged to Nature. You must know I look upon this as a very noble Prospect! The Field is formed by that Semi-circle of Trees into a very grand Theatre. The Point of Sight is centred in a beautiful manner by the Pyramid, which appears to great Advantage amongst those venerable Oaks: Two or three other Buildings, half hid amongst the Trees, come in for their Share in the Prospect, an ad much to the Beauty of it.

Polypth. I agree with you entirely; nor do I think this other View inferior to it. That Variety of different Shades amongst the Trees; the Lake spread so elegantly amongst them, and glittering here and there thro' the Bushes, with the Temple of Venus as a Termination to the View, make up a very beautiful Landskip.

Calloph. Here is a Vista likewise very happily terminated by the Canal, and the Obelisk rising in the Midst of it. There is another close View likewise towards Nelson's Seat.

Polypth. Upon my Word, we have a Variety of very elegant Prospects centred in this Point. I could sit here very agreeably a little longer ...

Polypth. Pray, what Building is that before us? I cannot say I dislike the Taste it is designed in. It seems an Antique.

Calloph. It is the Temple, Sir, of Ancient Virtue; the Place I am now conducting you to. You will meet within it a very illustrious Assembly of great Men; the wisest Lawgiver, the best Philosopher, the most divine Poet, and the most able Captain, that perhaps ever lived.

Polypth. You may possibly, Sir, engage yourself in a Dispute, by fixing your Epithets in such an absolute manner; there are so many Competitors in each of these Ways, that altho' Numbers may be called truly eminent, it will be a difficult matter to fix Pre-eminence upon any.

Calloph. You will hardly, I fancy, dissent from me, when I introduce you to these great Heroes of Antiquity: There stands Lycurgus; there Socrates; there Homer; and there Epaminondas. Illustrious Chiefs, who made Virtue their only Pursuit, and the Welfare of Mankind their only Study; in whose Breasts mean Self- interest had no Possession. To establish a well-regulated Constitution; to dictate the soundest Morality, to place Virtue in the most amiable Light; and bravely to defend a People's Liberty, were Ends which neither the Difficulty in overcoming the Prejudices, and taming the savage Manners of a barbarous State; the Corruptions of a licentious Age, and the Ill-usage of an invidious City; neither the vast Pains of searching into Nature, and laying up a Stock of Knowledge sufficient to produce the noblest Work of Art; nor popular Tumults at Home, and the most threatning Dangers Abroad, could ever tempt them to lose Sight of, or in the least abate that Ardency of Temper with which they pursued them.

Polypth. A noble Panegyric upon my Word! why, Sir, these great Spirits have inspired you with the very Soul of Oratory. However, in earnest, I confess your Encomium is pretty just; and I am apt to believe that if any of those worthy Gentlemen should take it into his Head to walk from his Nitch, it would puzzle the World to find his Equal to fix in his Room. - That old Ruin, I suppose, is intended to contrast with this new Building.

Calloph. Yes, Sir, it is intended to contrast with it not only in the Landskip, but likewise in its Name and Design. Walk a little nearer, and you will see its Intention.

Polypth. I can see nothing here to let me into its Design, except this old Gentleman; neither can I find any thing extraordinary in him, except that he has met with a Fate that he is entirely deserving of, which is more than falls to the Share of every worthless Fellow.

Calloph. Have you observed how the Statue is decorated?

Polypth. O! I see the whole Design: A very elegant Piece of Satyr, upon my Word! This pompous Edifice is intended, I suppose, to represent the flourishing Condition, in which ancient Virtue still exists; and those poor shattered Remains of what has never been very beautiful (notwithstanding, I see, they are placed within a few Yards of a Parish-church) are designed to let us see the ruinous State of decayed modern Virtue. And the Moral is, that Glory founded upon true Worth and Honour, will exist, when Fame, built upon Conquest and popular Applause, will fade away. This is really the best thing I have seen: I am most prodigiously taken with it.

Calloph. I intend next to carry you to a Scene of another kind. I am going to shew you the Grotto, a Place generally very taking with Strangers. - I thought that Piece of Satyr would catch your Attention: I hope likewise you will be as well pleased here. This Gate will carry us into the romantic Retirement. What do you think of this Scene?

Polypth. Why really, Sir, it is quite a Novelty: This Profusion of Mirrors has a very extraordinary Effect: The Place seems divided into a thousand beautiful Apartments, and appears fifty times as large as it is. The Prospects without are likewise transferred to the Walls within: And the Sides of the Room are elegantly adorned with Landskips, beyond the Pencil of Titian; with this farther Advantage, that every View, as you change your Situation, varies itself into another Form, and presents you with something new.

Calloph. Don't you think that serpentine River, as it is called, is a great Addition to the Beauty of the Place?

Polypth. Undoubtedly it is. Water is of as much Use in a Landskip, as Blood is in a Body; without these two Essentials, it is impossible there should be Life in either one or the other. Yet methinks it is a prodigious Pity that this stagnate Pool should not by some Magic be metamorphosed into a crystal Stream, rolling over a Bed of Pebbles. Such a quick Circulation would give an infinite Spirit to the View. I could wish his Lordship had such a Stream at his Command; he would shew it, I dare say, to the best Advantage, in its Passage thro' the Gardens. But we cannot make Nature, the utmost we can do is to mend her. - I have heard a Scotch Gentleman speak of the River, upon which the Town of Sterling stands, which is as remarkable a Meander as I have ever heard of. From Sterling to a little Village upon the Banks of this River, by Land it is only four Miles, and yet if you should follow the Course of the Water, you will find it above twenty. - There is an House likewise that stands upon a narrow Isthmus of a Peninsula, formed by this same River, which is mighty remarkable: The Water runs close to both Ends of it, and yet if you sail from one to the other, you will be carried a Compass of four Miles. - Such a River winding about this Place, would make it a Paradise indeed!

As we are got into the North, I must confess I do not know any Part of the Kingdom that abounds more with elegant natural Views: Our well-cultivated Plains, as you observed before, are certainly not comparable to their rough Nature in point of Prospect. About three Years ago I rode the Northern Circuit: The Weather was extremely fine; and I scarce remember being more agreeably entertained than I was with the several charming Views exhibited to me in the northern Counties. Curiosity indeed, rather than Business, carried me down: And as I had my Time pretty much to myself, I spent it in a great measure in hunting after beautiful Objects. Sometimes I found myself hemmed within an Amphitheatre of Mountains, which were variously ornamented, some with scattered Trees, some with tufted Wood, some with grazing Cattle, and some with smoaking Cottages. Here and there an elegant View likewise was opened into the Country. - A Mile's riding, perhaps, would have carried me to the Foot of a steep Precipice, down which thundered the whole Weight of some vast River, which was dashed into Foam at the Bottom, by the craggy Points of several rising Rocks: A deep Gloom overspread the Prospect, occasioned by the close Wood that hung round it on every Side. - I could describe to you a Variety of other Views I met with there, if we here wanted Entertainment in the Way of Landskip. One, however, I cannot forbear mentioning, and wishing at the same time that his Lordship had such Materials to work with, and it could not be but he would make a most noble Picture. - The Place I have in view is upon the Banks of the River Eden (which is indeed one of the finest Rivers I ever saw). I scarce know a fitter Place for a Genius in this Way to exert itself in. There is the greatest Variety of garnished Rocks, shattered Precipices, rising Hills, ornamented with the finest Woods, thro' which are opened the most elegant Vales that I have ever met with: Not to mention the most enchanting Views up and down the River, which winds itself in such a manner as to shew its Banks to the best Advantage, which, together with very charming Prospects into the Country, terminated by the blue Hills at a Distance, make as fine a Piece of Nature, as perhaps can any where be met with ...

Polypthon, notwithstanding the sour Humour he had given so many Evidences of in his Walk, began now to relent, and could talk of nothing but the agreeable Entertainment that had been afforded him. Sometimes he would run out into the highest Encomiums of the many beautiful Terminations of the several Walks and Vistas; and observe how many Uses each Object served, and in how many different Lights it was made to vary itself.

"For Instance, says he, the Pavilion you shewed me from the Temple of Venus, terminates that Terrace in a very grand Manner; and makes likewise a very magnificent Appearance, where it corresponds with another of the same Form, at the Entrance into the Park: Yet the same Building, like a Person acquainted with the World, who can suit his Behaviour to Time and Place, can vary itself upon occasion into a more humble Shape, and when "viewed thro' a retired Vista, can take upon it the lowly Form of a close Retreat."

- When he had enlarged pretty copiously upon this Subject, he would next launch out into the highest Praises of the vast Variety of Objects that was every where to be met with: "Men of all Humours, says he, will here find something pleasing and suited to their Taste. The thoughtful may meet with retired Walks calculated in the best Manner for Contemplation: The gay and chearful may see Nature in her loveliest Dress, and meet Objects corresponding with their most lively Flights. The romantic Genius may entertain itself with several very beautiful Objects in its own Taste, and grow wild with Ideas of the inchanted kind. The disconsolate Lover may hide himself in shady Groves, or melancholy wander along the Banks of Lakes and Canals; where he may sigh to the gentle Zephyrs; mingle his Tears with the bubbling Water; or where he may have the best Opportunity, if his Malady be grown to such an Height, of ending his Despair, and finishing his Life with all the Decency and Pomp of a Lover in a Romance. In short, says he, these Gardens are a very good Epitome of the World: They are calculated for Minds of every Stamp, and give free Scope to Inclinations of every kind: And if it be said that in some Parts they too much humour the debauched Taste of the Sensualist, it cannot be denied on the other hand, but that they afford several very noble Incitements to Honour and Virtue."

- But what beyond all other things seemed most to please him, was the amicable and beautiful Conjunction of Art and Nature thro' the whole: He observed that the former never appeared stiff, or the latter extravagant.

Upon many other Topicks of Praise Polypthon run out with great Warmth. Callophilus seemed surprized, and could not forbear asking him, By what means his Opinions became so suddenly changed? "Why, says he, Sir, I have said nothing now that contradicts any thing I said before. I own I met with two or three Objects that were not entirely to my Taste, which I am far from condemning for that Reason; tho' if I should, it is nothing to the purpose, because I am now taking a Survey of the whole together; in which Light I must confess I am quite astonished with the View before me. Besides, I hate one of your wondering Mortals, who is perpetually breaking out into a Note of Admiration at every thing he sees: I am always apt to suspect his Taste or his Sincerity. It is impossible that all Genius's can alike agree in their Opinions of any Work of Art; and the Man who never blames, I can scarce believe is qualified to commend. Besides, finding fault now and then, adds Weight to Commendation, and makes us believed to be in earnest. However, notwithstanding what you may think of my frequent Cavils, I assure you, with the greatest Sincerity, I never before saw anything of the kind at all comparable to what I have here seen: I shall by no means close this Day with a Diem perdidi; nor would the Roman Emperor himself, I believe, have made the Reflection if he had spent his condemned Hours in this Place."

By this time the Gentlemen were come to the Gate, thro' which Polypthon assured his Friend he passed with the greatest Reluctance, and went growling out of this delightful Garden, as the Devil is said to have done out of Paradise.

William Kent: The Elysian Fields (1733-35) at Stowe, Buckinghamshire.
Views of the Temple of Ancient Virtue, the Temple of British Worthies, the Shell Bridge, and the Grotto.

© 2008 Photographs by S. Paul/earthworks.org

Observations on the River Wye, and Several Parts of South Wales, &c. Relative Chiefly to Picturesque Beauty; Made in the Summer of the Year 1770 (1782)

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During the whole course of our voyage from Ross, we had scarcely seen one corn-field. The banks of the Wye consist almost entirely either of wood or of pasturage; which I mention as a circumstance of peculiar value in landscape. Furrowed-lands and waving-corn, however charming in pastoral poetry, are ill-accommodated to painting. The painter never desires the hand of art to touch his grounds. — But if art must stray among them; if it must mark out the limits of property, and turn them to the uses of agriculture, he wishes that these limits may, as much as possible, be concealed; and that the lands they circumscribe may approach as nearly as may be to nature; that is, that they may be pasturage. Pasturage not only presents an agreeable surface; but the cattle which graze it add great variety and animation to the scene.

The meadows below Monmouth, which ran shelving from the hills to the water-side, were particularly beautiful, and well-inhabited. Flocks of sheep were everywhere hanging on their green steeps; and herds of cattle occupying the lower grounds. We often sailed past groups of them laving their sides in the water; or retiring from the heat under sheltered banks.

In this part of the river also, which now begins to widen, we were often entertained with light vessels gliding past us. Their white sails passing along the sides of woodland hills were very picturesque.

In many places also the views were varied by the prospect of bays and harbours in miniature, where little barks lay moored, taking in ore and other commodities from the mountains. These vessels, designed plainly for rougher water than they at present encountered, shewed us, without any geographical knowledge, that we approached the sea.

From Monmouth we reached, by a late breakfast-hour, the noble ruin of Tintern-abbey, which belongs to the Duke of Beaufort; and is esteemed, with its appendages, the most beautiful and picturesque view on the river.

Castles and abbeys have different situations, agreeable to their respective uses. The castle, meant for defence, stands boldly on the hill; the abbey, intended for meditation, is hid in the sequestered vale.


Such is the situation of Tintern-abbey. It occupies a great eminence in the middle of a circular valley, beautifully screened on all sides by woody hills, through which the river winds its course; and the hills, closing on its entrance and on its exit, leave no room for inclement blasts to enter. A more pleasing retreat could not easily be found. The woods and glades intermixed; the winding of the river; the variety of the ground; the splendid ruin, contrasted with the objects of nature; and the elegant line formed by the summits of the hills which include the whole, make all together a very enchanting piece of scenery. Every thing around breathes an air so calm and tranquil, so sequestered from the commerce of life, that it is easy to conceive a man of warm imagination, in monkish times, might have been allured by such a scene to become an inhabitant of it.

William Gilpin, A Picturesque View of Tintern Abbey. From Observations on the River Wye (London, 1782). Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

No part of the ruins of Tintern is seen from the river except the abbey-church. It has been an elegant Gothic pile; but it does not make that appearance as a distant object which we expected. Though the parts are beautiful, the whole is ill-shaped. No ruins of the tower are left which might give form and contrast to the buttresses and walls. Instead of this a number of gable-ends hurt the eye with their regularity, and disgust it by the vulgarity of their shape. A mallet judiciously used (but who durst use it?) might be of service in fracturing some of them; particularly those of the cross aisles, which are both disagreeable in themselves, and confound the perspective.

But were the building ever so beautiful, encompassed as it is with shabby houses, it could make no appearance from the river. From a stand near the road it is seen to more advantage.

But if Tintern-abbey be less striking as a distant object, it exhibits, on a nearer view (when the whole together cannot be seen) a very enchanting piece of ruin. The eye settles upon some of its nobler parts. Nature has now made it her own. Time has worn off all traces of the chisel: it has blunted the sharp edges of the rule and compass, and broken the regularity of opposing parts. The figured ornaments of the east-window are gone; those of the west-window are left. Most of the other windows, with their principal ornaments, remain.

To these were superadded the ornaments of time. Ivy, in masses uncommonly large, had taken possession of many parts of the wall; and given a happy contrast to the grey-coloured stone of which the building is composed: nor was this undecorated. Mosses of various hues, with lichens, maiden-hair, penny-leaf, and other humble plants, had over-spread the surface, or hung from every joint and crevice. Some of them were in flower, others only in leaf; but all together gave those full-blown tints which add the richest finishing to a ruin.

Such is the beautiful appearance which Tintern-abbey exhibits on the outside, in those parts where we can obtain a nearer view of it. But when we enter it we see it in most perfection; at least if we consider it as an independent object, unconnected with landscape. The roof is gone; but the walls, and pillars, and abutments which supported it are entire. A few of the pillars indeed have given way; and here and there a piece of the facing of the wall; but in corresponding parts one always remains to tell the story. The pavement is obliterated: the elevation of the choir is no longer visible: the whole area is reduced to one level, cleared of rubbish, and covered with neat turf, closely shorn; and interrupted with nothing but the noble columns which formed the aisles and supported the tower.

When we stood at one end of this awful piece of ruin, and surveyed the whole in one view — the elements of air and earth, its only covering and pavement; and the grand and venerable remains which terminated both; perfect enough to form the perspective, yet broken enough to destroy the regularity — the eye was above measure delighted with the beauty, the greatness, and the novelty of the scene. More picturesque it certainly would have been, if the area, unadorned, had been left with all its rough fragments of ruin scattered round; and bold was the hand that removed them: yet as the outside of the ruin, which is the chief object of picturesque curiosity, is still left in all its wild and native rudeness, we excuse, perhaps we approve, the neatness that is introduced within: it may add to the beauty of the scene; to its novelty it undoubtedly does.

Among other things in this scene of desolation, the poverty and wretchedness of the inhabitants were remarkable. They occupy little huts, raised among the ruins of the monastery, and seem to have no employment but begging; as if a place once devoted to indolence could never again become the seat of industry. As we left the abbey, we found the whole hamlet at the gate, either openly soliciting alms, or covertly, under the pretence of carrying us to some part of the ruins, which each could shew; and which was far superior to anything which could be shewn by anyone else. The most lucrative occasion could not have excited more jealousy and contention.

One poor woman we followed, who had engaged to shew us the monks' library. She could scarcely crawl; shuffling along her palsied limbs and meagre contracted body by the help of two sticks. She led us through an old gate into a place overspread with nettles and briars; and pointing to the remnant of a shattered cloister, told us that was the place. It was her own mansion. All indeed she meant to tell us was the story of her own wretchedness; and all she had to shew us was her own miserable habitation. We did not expect to be interested as we were. I never saw so loathsome a human dwelling. It was a cavern loftily vaulted between two ruined walls, which streamed with various coloured stains of unwholesome dews. The floor was earth, yielding through moisture to the tread. Not the merest utensil or furniture of any kind appeared, but a wretched bedstead, spread with a few rags, and drawn into the middle of the cell to prevent its receiving the damp which trickled down the walls. At one end was an aperture, which served just to let in light enough to discover the wretchedness within. — When we stood in the midst of this cell of misery, and felt the chilling damps which struck us in every direction, we were rather surprised that the wretched inhabitant was still alive, than that she had only lost the use of her limbs.

The country about Tintern-abbey hath been described as a solitary, tranquil silence; but its immediate environs only are meant. Within half a mile of it are carried on great iron-works, which introduce noise and bustle into these regions of tranquillity.

The ground about these works appears from the river to consist of grand woody hills, sweeping and intersecting each other in elegant lines. They are a continuation of the same kind of landscape as that about Tintern-abbey, and are fully equal to it.

As we still descend the river, the same scenery continues: the banks are equally steep, winding, and woody; and in some parts diversified by prominent rocks, and ground finely broken and adorned.

But one great disadvantage began here to invade us. Hitherto the river had been clear and splendid, reflecting the several objects on its banks. But its waters now became oozy and discoloured. Sludgy shores too appeared on each side, and other symptoms which discovered the influence of a tide.


Ulleswater. An aquatint from Gilpin's Observations Relative to Picturesque Beauty, 3rd Edition (1792).

Courtesy of The Wordsworth Trust, Dove Cottage.


Remarks on Forest Scenery (1791)

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FROM clumps we naturally proceed to park-scenery, which is generally composed of combinations of clumps, interspersed with lawns. It is seldom composed of any large district of wood; which is the characteristic of forest scenery.

The park, which is a species of landscape little known, except in England, is one of the noblest appendages of a great house. Nothing gives a mansion so much dignity as these home demeisns; nor contributes more to mark it's consequence. A great house, in a course of years, naturally acquires space around it. A noble park therefore is the natural appendage of an ancient mansion.

To the size, and grandeur of the house, the park should be proportioned. Blenheim-castle with a paddock around it; or a small villa in the middle of Woodstock-park, would be equally out of place.

The house should stand nearly in the centre of the park; that is, it should have ample room about it on every side. Petworth-house, one of the grandest piles in England, loses much of it's grandeur from being placed at the extremity of the park, where it is elbowed by a church-yard.

The exact spot depends intirely on the ground. There are grand situations of various kinds. In general, houses are built first; and parks are added afterwards by the occasional removal of inclosures. A great house stands most nobly on an elevated knoll, from whence it may overlook the distant country; while the woods of the park skreen the regularity of the intervening cultivation. Or it stands well on the side of a valley, which winds along it's front; and is adorned with wood, or a natural stream hiding, and discovering itself among the clumps at the bottom of the vale. Or it stands with dignity, as Longleat does, in the centre of demeisns, which shelve gently down to it on every side. - Even on a dead flat I have seen a house draw beauties around it. At the seat of the late Mr. Bilson Legge, (now lord Stawel's) in the middle of Holt-forest, a lawn unvaried by a single swell, is yet varied with clumps of different forms, receding behind each other, in so pleasing a manner, as to make an agreeable scene.

By these observations I mean only to shew, that in whatever part of a park a house may have been originally placed, it can hardly have been placed so awkwardly, but that, in some way or other, the scenery may be happily adapted to it. There are some situations indeed so very untoward, that scarce any remedy can be applied: as when the front of a house immediately urges on a rising ground. But such awkward situations are rare; and in general, the variety of landscape is such, that it may almost always be brought in one form, or other, to serve the purposes of beauty. The many improvements of the ingenious Mr. Brown, in various parts of England, bear witness to the truth of these observations. - The beauty however of park-scenery is undoubtedly best displayed on a varied surface - where the ground swells, and falls where hanging lawns, skreened with wood, are connected with vallies - and where one part is continually playing in contrast with another.

As the park is an appendage of the house, it follows, that it should participate of it's neatness, and elegance. Nature, in all her great walks of landscape, observes this accommodating rule. She seldom passes abruptly from one mode of scenery to another; but generally connects different species of landscape by some third species, which participates of both. A mountainous country rarely sinks immediately into a level one; the swellings and heavings of the earth, grow gradually less. Thus as the house is connected with the country through the medium of the park; the park should partake of the neatness of the one, and of the wildness of the other.

As the park is a scene either planted by art, or, if naturally woody, artificially improved, we expect a beauty, and contrast in it's clumps, which we do not look for in the wild scenes of nature. We expect to see it's lawns, and their appendages, contrasted with each other, in shape, size, and disposition; from which a variety of artificial scenes will arise. We expect, that when trees are left standing as individuals, they should be the most beautiful of their kind, elegant and well-balanced. We expect, that all offensive trumpery, and all the rough luxuriance of undergrowth, should be removed; unless where it is necessary to thicken, or connect a scene; or hide some staring boundary. In the wild scenes of nature we have grander exhibitions. but greater deformities, than are generally met with in the works of art. As we seldom meet with these sublime passages in improved landscape; it would be unpardonable if any thing disgusting should appear.

In the park-scene we wish for no expensive ornament. Temples, Chinese bridges, obelisks, and all the laboured works of art, suggest inharmonious ideas. If a bridge be necessary, let it be elegantly plain. If a deer-shed, or a keeper's lodge be required; let the fashion of each be as simple, as it's use. Let nothing appear with ostentation, or parade. - Within restrictions however of this kind we mean not to include piles of superior grandeur. Such a palace as Blenheim-castle distributes it's greatness far and wide. There, if the bridge be immense, or the obelisk superb, it is only what we naturally expect. It is the chain of ideas properly carried on, and gradually lost. My remarks regard only such houses, as may be rich indeed, and elegant; but have nothing in them of superior magnificence.

One ornament of this kind, I should be inclined to allow; and that is a handsome gate at the entrance of the park: but it should be proportioned in richness, and elegance to the house; and should also correspond with it in stile. It should raise the first impression of what you are to expect. Warwick-castle requires a mode of entrance very different from lord Scarsdale's at Kettlestone; and Burleigh-house, very different from both. The park-gate of Sion-house is certainly elegant; but it raises the idea of a stile of architecture, which you must drop, when you arrive at the house.

The road also through the park should bear the same proportion. It should be spacious, or moderate, like the house it approaches. Let it wind: but let it not take any deviation, which is not well accounted for. To have the convenience of winding along a valley, or passing a commodious bridge, or avoiding a wood, or a piece of water, any traveller would naturally wish to deviate a little; and obstacles of this kind, if necessary, must be interposed. Mr. Brown was often very happy in creating these artificial obstructions.

From every part of the approach, and from the ridings, and favourite walks about the park, let all the boundaries be secreted. A view of paling, tho in some cases it may be picturesque, is in general disgusting.

If there be a natural river, or a real ruin in the scene, it may be a happy circumstance: let the best use be made of it: but I should be cautious in advising the creation of either. At least, I have rarely seen either ruins, or rivers well manufactured. Mr. Brown, I think, has failed more in river making than in any of his attempts. An artificial lake has sometimes a good effect; but neither propriety, nor beauty can arise from it, unless the heads and extremities of it are perfectly well managed, and concealed: and after all, the success is hazardous. You must always suppose it a portion of a larger piece of water; and it is not easy to carry on the imposition. If the house be magnificent, it seldom receives much benefit from an artificial production of this kind. Grandeur is rarely produced.

Seldom art
Can emulate that magnitude sublime,
Which spreads the native lake; and failing there,
Her works betray their character, and name;
And dwindle into pools

The most natural inhabitants of parks are fallow deer; and very beautiful they are: but flocks of sheep, and herds of cattle are more useful; and, in my opinion, more beautiful. Sheep particularly are very ornamental in a park.

Their colour is just that dingy hue, which contrasts with the verdure of the ground; and the flakiness of their wool is rich, and picturesque. I should wish them however to wear their natural livery; and not to be patched with letters, and daubed over with red-ochre. To see the side of a hill spread with groups of sheep - or to see them through openings among the boles of trees, at a little distance, with a gleam of light falling upon them, is very picturesque.

As the garden, or pleasure-ground, as it is commonly called, approaches nearer to the house, than the park, it takes of course a higher polish. Here the lawns are shorn, instead of being grazed. The roughness of the road is changed into an elegant gravel walk; and knots of flowers, and flowering shrubs are introduced, yet blended with clumps of forest-trees, which connect it with the park. Single trees also take their station here with great propriety. The spreading oak, or elm, are no disgrace to the most ornamented scene. It is the property of these noble plants to harmonize with every species of landscape. They equally become the forest, and the lawn: only here they should be beautiful in their kind; and luxuriant in their growth. Neither the scathed, nor the unbalanced oak would suit a polished situation.

Here too, if the situation suits it, the elegant temple may find a place. But it is an expensive, a hazardous, and often a useless decoration. If more than one however be introduced in the same view, they croud the scene, unless it be very extensive. More than two should in no case be admitted. In the most polished landscape, unless nature, and simplicity lead the way, the whole will be deformed ...

FROM scenes of art, let us hasten to the chief object of our pursuit, the wild scenes of nature - the wood - the copse - the glen - and open-grove.

William Gilpin. Landscape, a River between Hills.
Pencil, watercolor, pen, and ink. Late 1880s (Tate Collections)

On Picturesque Beauty (1794)

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Disputes about beauty might perhaps be involved in less confusion, if a distinction were established, which certainly exists, between such objects as are beautiful, and such as are picturesque – between those, which please the eye in their natural state; and those, which please from some quality, capable of being illustrated by painting.

Ideas of beauty vary with the objects, and with the eye of the spectator. The stonemason sees beauties in a well-jointed wall, which escape the architect, who surveys the building under a different idea. And thus the painter, who compares his object with the rules of his art, sees it in a different light from the man of general taste, who surveys it only as simply beautiful.

As this difference therefore between the beautiful, and the picturesque appears really to exist, and must depend on some peculiar construction of the object; it may be worth while to examine, what that peculiar construction is. We inquire not into the general sources of beauty, either in nature, or in representation. This would lead into a nice, and scientific discussion, in which it is not our purpose to engage. The question simply is, What is that quality in objects, which particularly marks them as picturesque?

In examining the real object, we shall find, one source of beauty arises from that species of elegance, which we call smoothness, or neatness; for the terms are nearly synonymous. The higher the marble is polished, the brighter the silver is rubbed, and the more the mahogany shines, the more each is considered as an object of beauty: as if the eye delighted in gliding smoothly over a surface.

In the class of larger objects the same idea prevails. In a pile of building we wish to see neatness in every part added to the elegance of the architecture. And if we examine a piece of improved pleasure-ground, every thing rough, and slovenly offends.

Mr Burke, enumerating the properties of beauty, considers smoothness as one of the most essential. “A very considerable part of the effect of beauty, says he, is owing to this quality: indeed the most considerable: for take any beautiful object, and give it a broken, and rugged surface, and however well-formed it may be in other respects, it pleases no longer. Whereas, let it want ever so many of the other constituents, if it want not this, it becomes more pleasing, than almost all the others without it”. How far Mr Burke may be right in making smoothness the most considerable source of beauty, I rather doubt. A considerable one it certainly is.
Thus then, we suppose, the matter stands with regard to beautiful objects in general. But in picturesque representation it seems somewhat odd, yet perhaps we shall find it equally true, that the reverse of this is the cafe; and that the ideas of neat and smooth, instead of being picturesque, in reality strip the object, in which they reside, of all pretensions to picturesque beauty. Nay, farther, we do not scruple to assert, that roughness forms the most essential point of difference between the beautiful, and the picturesque; as it seems to be that particular quality, which makes objects chiefly pleasing in painting. I use the general term roughness; but properly speaking roughness relates only to the surface of bodies: when we speak of their delineation, we use the word ruggedness. Both ideas however equally enter into the picturesque; and both are observable in the smaller, as well as in the larger parts of nature-in the outline, and bark of a tree, as in the rude summit, and craggy sides of a mountain.

Let us then examine our theory by an appeal to experience; and try how far these qualities enter into the idea of picturesque beauty; and how far they mark that difference among objects, which is the ground of our inquiry.

A piece of Palladian architecture may be elegant in the last degree. The proportion of it’s parts-the propriety of it’s ornaments-and the symmetry of the whole may be highly pleasing. But if we introduce it in a picture, it immediately becomes a formal object, and ceases to please. Should we wish to give it picturesque beauty, we must use the mallet, instead of the chissel; we must beat down one half of it, deface the other, and throw the mutilated members around in heaps. In short, from a smooth building we must turn it into a rough ruin. No painter, who had the choice of the two objects, would hesitate which to chuse.

Again, why does an elegant piece of garden-ground make no figure on canvas? The shape is pleasing; the combination of the objects, harmonious; and the widening of the walk in the very line of beauty. All this is true, but the smoothness of the whole, tho right, and as it should be in nature, offends in picture. Turn the lawn into a piece of broken ground: plant rugged oaks instead of flowing shrubs: break the edges of the walk: give it the rudeness of a road; mark it with wheel-tracks; and scatter around a few stones, and brushwood; in a word, instead of making the whole smooth, make it rough; and you make it also picturesque. All the other ingredients of beauty it already possessed.

William Gilpin
William Gilpin, watercolor, late 1780s

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William Gilpin (1724-1804)
A Dialogue upon the Gardens of the Right Honourable the Lord Viscount Cobham at Stow in Buckinghamshire, 1748
Remarks on Forest Scenery, 1791
John Dixon Hunt & Peter Willis eds.
The Genius of the Place: The English Landscape Garden 1620-1820
London: Paul Elek Ltd, 1975, 1979 (pp.254-259/337-341)

Observations on the River Wye, and Several Parts of South Wales, &c. Relative Chiefly to Picturesque Beauty; Made in the Summer of the Year 1770, 1782

London: 2nd Edition, R. Blamire, 1789 (Sect. IV, pp. 44-53)

Three Essays: on Picturesque Beauty; on Picturesque Travel; and on Sketching Landscape; to Which is Added a Poem to Landscape Painting, 1794

London: R. Blamire, 1794 (Essay I)