Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
Distinctive Features of the Beautiful and the Picturesque
By Andrew Jackson Downing (18151852)
[Born in Newburgh, N. Y., 1815. Drowned in the Hudson, near Yonkers, N. Y., 1852. Landscape Gardening and Rural Architecture. Revised Edition. 1849.]
THE BEAUTIFUL in Landscape Gardening is produced by outlines whose curves are flowing and gradual, surfaces of softness, and growth of richness and luxuriance. In the shape of the ground, it is evinced by easy undulations melting gradually into each other. In the form of trees, by smooth stems, full, round, or symmetrical heads of foliage, and luxuriant branches often drooping to the ground,which is chiefly attained by planting and grouping, to allow free development of form; and by selecting trees of suitable character, as the elm, the ash, and the like. In walks and roads, by easy-flowing curves, following natural shapes of the surface, with no sharp angles or abrupt turns. In water, by the smooth lake with curved margin, embellished with flowing outlines of trees, and full masses of flowering shrubsor in the easy-winding curves of a brook. The keeping of such a scene should be of the most polished kind,grass mown into a softness like velvet, gravel walks scrupulously firm, dry, and clean; and the most perfect order and neatness should reign throughout. Among the trees and shrubs should be conspicuous the finest foreign sorts, distinguished by beauty of form, foliage, and blossom; and rich groups of shrubs and flowering plants should be arranged in the more dressed portions near the house. And finally, considering the house itself as a feature in the scene, it should properly belong to one of the classical modes; and the Italian, Tuscan, or Venetian forms are preferable, because these have both a polished and a domestic air, and readily admit of the graceful accompaniments of vases, urns, and other harmonious accessories. Or, if we are to have a plainer dwelling, it should be simple and symmetrical in its character, and its veranda festooned with masses of the finest climbers.
The Picturesque in Landscape Gardening aims at the production of outlines of a certain spirited irregularity, surfaces comparatively abrupt and broken, and growth of a somewhat wild and bold character. The shape of the ground sought after has its occasional smoothness varied by sudden variations, and in parts runs into dingles, rocky groups, and broken banks. The trees should in many places be old and irregular, with rough stems and bark; and pines, larches, and other trees of striking, irregular growth, must appear in numbers sufficient to give character to the woody outlines. As, to produce the Beautiful, the trees are planted singly in open groups to allow full expansion, so for the Picturesque, the grouping takes every variety of form; almost every object should group with another; trees and shrubs are often planted closely together; and intricacy and varietythickets, glades, and underwoodas in wild nature, are indispensable. Walks and roads are more abrupt in their windings, turning off frequently at sudden angles where the form of the ground or some inviting object directs. In water, all the wildness of romantic spots in nature is to be imitated or preserved; and the lake or stream with bold shore and rocky, wood-fringed margin, or the cascade in the secluded dell, are the characteristic forms. The keeping of such a landscape will of course be less careful than in the graceful school. Firm gravel walks near the house, and a general air of neatness in that quarter, are indispensable to the fitness of the scene in all modes, and indeed properly evince the recognition of art in all Landscape Gardening. But the lawn may be less frequently mown, the edges of the walks less carefully trimmed, where the Picturesque prevails; while in portions more removed from the house the walks may sometimes sink into a mere footpath without gravel, and the lawn change into the forest glade or meadow. The architecture which belongs to the picturesque landscape is the Gothic mansion, the old English or the Swiss cottage, or some other striking forms, with bold projections, deep shadows, and irregular outlines. Rustic baskets, and similar ornaments, may abound near the house, and in the more frequented parts of the place .
If we declare that the Beautiful is the more perfect expression in landscape, we shall be called upon to explain why the Picturesque is so much more attractive to many minds. This, we conceive, is owing partly to the imperfection of our natures by which most of us sympathize more with that in which the struggle between spirit and matter is most apparent than with that in which the union is harmonious and complete; and partly because from the comparative rarity of highly picturesque landscape, it affects us more forcibly when brought into contrast with our daily life. Artists, we imagine, find somewhat of the same pleasure in studying wild landscape, where the very rocks and trees seem to struggle with the elements for foothold, that they do in contemplating the phases of the passions and instincts of human and animal life. The manifestation of power is to many minds far more captivating than that of beauty.