The following interview between
Shenstone and Thomson in 1746, published in the Edinbu rgh Magazine
of 1800 , provides a valuable glimpse of how cognoscenti actually
responded to a garden. Shenstone's garden at The Leasowes (Plates
79 and 80) was among the most notable gardens of the mid-century
and its creator's 'Unconnected Thoughts on Gardening' among
the most important writings (see pp. 289 ff.) This interview reveals
not only the social pastimes (and crudities) for which a garden
provided space, but also its poetic or associationist role: Shenstone
and his guests discussing how to improve the `idea' of Virgil's
Grove; Pope proposing to create the image of a Gothic cathedral
among the trees of a garden. Thomson's remarks further suggest that
to his ability to read pictures in landscape he has also added an
appreciation of the importance of movement through a garden, the
three- even four-dimensional experience of submitting to scenery.
His account of Lord Lyttelton in the second extract from The Seasons
(see pp. 194 - 5) also described this experience.
- Editor's Note, Hunt and Willis, The Genius of the Place
`Account of an Interview between
Shenstone and Thomson' (1746)
MR William Lyttelton and Mr Thomson, Author
of the Seasons, found me reading a pamphlet in one of my niches
at the Leasowes. Mr Lyttelton introduced his friend by saying
he had undertaken to shew that gentleman all the beauties of
the country, and thought he could not complete his promise without
giving him a view of my situation. Thomson burst out in praise
of it, and appeared particularly struck with the valley and brook
by which he had passed, as they came the foot-way from Hales
Owen. After some little stay in the house, we passed into the
green behind the house. Thomson wished the garden to be extended,
so as to include the valley on the left hand; not considering
that I meant no regular garden, but to embellish my whole farm.
The French, it appears, have their [P]arque ornèe; and
why is not Ferme ornèe as good an expression?
He was much pleased upon observing how finely the back landskip
was bounded. I took him to a seat near my upper pool, where he
immediately mentioned Farmer's Hill as the principal beauty of
the place. He seemed pleased also with the study on the bank
of the water, since removed. As we were returning, Mr L. told
me, "that I might not perhaps know that gentleman, tho' he was
assured I was perfectly well acquainted with him in his writings.
That it was Mr Thomson." My behaviour was a little awkward, and
better calculated to express the satisfaction I took in the honour
he did me, than to give him any idea either of my understanding
or politeness. Being limited in point of time, and conscious
of an hare upon the spit at Hagley, he could not stay to see
my upper wood: "You have nothing to do (says he) but to dress
Nature. Her robe is ready made; you have only to caress her;
love her; kiss her; and then --- descend into the valley." Coming
out into the court before the house, he mentioned Clent and Waw-ton
Hill as the two bubbies of Nature: then Mr L. observed the nipple,
and then Thomson the fringe of Uphmore wood; till the double
entendre was work'd up to a point, and produced a laugh. Thomson
observed the little stream running across my gate, and hinted
that he should avail himself of that also. We now passed into
Virgil's Grove. What a delightful place, says he, is this for
a person of a poetical genius. I don't wonder you're a devotee
to the Muses. --- This place, says Mr L. will improve a
poetical genius. --- Aye, replied Mr T. and a poetical genius
will improve this place. I should think of nothing farther. Your
situation detains us beyond the time appointed. How very valuable
were this stream at Hagley! --- I told him my then intention
of building a model of Virgil's Tomb; which, with the Obelisk
and a number of mottoes selected from Virgil, together with the
pensive idea belonging to the place, might vindicate, or at least
countenance, the appellation I had given it. Thomson assented
to my notion of taste in gardening (that of contracting Nature's
beauties, altho' he somewhat misquoted me, and did not understand
the drift of my expression. Collecting, or collecting into a
smaller compass, and then disposing without crowding the several
varieties of Nature, were perhaps a better account of it, than
either was expressed by his phrase or mine.) He denominated my
Virgil's Grove there Le Vallon occlus. --- Sombre, says Mr L.
--- No, not sombre occlus. --- This must evidently be the idea
of Petrarch's Valclusa. He recommended a walk up that
valley from Virgil's Grove. Mr Pitt (the Secretary) had done
the same before. He was wishing at my Upper Pond to turn the
water into a running stream. I mentioned the inconvenience; to
obviate which, he proposed a bridge. I went with him to Hale's
Mills. Thomson asked if I had seen many places laid out in the
modern way ? --- No --- Asked if I had seen Chiswick? --- Yes.
--- He mentioned it as a sublime thing in the true Venetian taste.
He supposed me to come often to town; and desired to wait on
me at Richmond , Mr L. commending Richmond prospects, he said
they were only too rich in villas. He begged a pinch of snuff;
and, on passing by the Abetes, near the Mill Pool, mentioned
that Pope had a scheme in his head of planting trees to resemble
a Gothic Cathedral. Hearing the Dam there was made by the Monks,
O! says he, this is God-dam, the wit of which I could not see.
I directed them to scape Hales town, and to go up the lane by
the pool side, not without an eye to the pleasing figure my house
makes across that pool; where Mr L. advised me to have a boat,
and was much struck with the appearance it must have from my
wood. Here Mr Thomson shaking hands with me, we all parted, omnes
omnia bona dicentes, et laudentes fortunam mean.
The year after I met Mr Thomson, as I returned
from Church, at Hales Mill, in a hired two-wheeled chaise, with
a black horse and a white one length wise. We accosted each other
with much cordiality, and he promised earnestly to come and see
me (as he had done the year before,) when I expected
a longer visit. But 'twas then, as I remember, that the park
improvements there engrossed the family's attention, and Mr T.
could not be spared from any projects of that sort.
August 27, 1748 . --- The very week
he was again expected at Hagley appeared this paragraph in the
Birmingham paper: "This morning, at four, died, of a violent
fever, at his house in Kewlane, the celebrated Mr James Thomson,
Author of the Seasons, &c." I have heard he waited too long
for the return of his friend Dr Armstrong, and did not chuse
to employ any other physician.
He had nothing of the Gentleman in his person
or address. But he made amends for the deficiency by his refined
sense and spirited expression; and, as I remember, a manner of
speaking not unlike his friend Quin. He did not talk a great deal
or fluently; but, after pauses of reflection, produced something
or other that accounted for his delay.