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    The Landscape Garden

    by Edgar Allan Poe
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    The garden like a lady fair was cut
    That lay as if she slumbered in delight,
    And to the open skies her eyes did shut;
    The azure fields of heaven were 'sembled right
    In a large round set with flow'rs of light:
    The flowers de luce and the round sparks of dew
    That hung upon their azure leaves, did show
    Like twinkling stars that sparkle in the ev'ning blue.
    -- GILES FLETCHER

    NO MORE remarkable man ever lived than my friend, the young Ellison.
    He was remarkable in the entire and continuous profusion of good
    gifts ever lavished upon him by fortune. From his cradle to his
    grave, a gale of the blandest prosperity bore him along. Nor do I use
    the word Prosperity in its mere wordly or external sense. I mean it
    as synonymous with happiness. The person of whom I speak, seemed born
    for the purpose of foreshadowing the wild doctrines of Turgot, Price,
    Priestley, and Condorcet -- of exemplifying, by individual instance,
    what has been deemed the mere chimera of the perfectionists. In the
    brief existence of Ellison, I fancy, that I have seen refuted the
    dogma -- that in man's physical and spiritual nature, lies some
    hidden principle, the antagonist of Bliss. An intimate and anxious
    examination of his career, has taught me to understand that, in
    general, from the violation of a few simple laws of Humanity, arises
    the Wretchedness of mankind; that, as a species, we have in our
    possession the as yet unwrought elements of Content, -- and that even
    now, in the present blindness and darkness of all idea on the great
    question of the Social Condition, it is not impossible that Man, the
    individual, under certain unusual and highly fortuitous conditions,
    may be happy.

    With opinions such as these was my young friend fully imbued; and
    thus is it especially worthy of observation that the uninterrupted
    enjoyment which distinguished his life was in great part the result
    of preconcert. It is, indeed evident, that with less of the
    instinctive philosophy which, now and then, stands so well in the
    stead of experience, Mr. Ellison would have found himself
    precipitated, by the very extraordinary successes of his life, into
    the common vortex of Unhappiness which yawns for those of preeminent
    endowments. But it is by no means my present object to pen an essay
    on Happiness. The ideas of my friend may be summed up in a few words.
    He admitted but four unvarying laws, or rather elementary principles,
    of Bliss. That which he considered chief, was (strange to say!) the
    simple and purely physical one of free exercise in the open air. "The
    health," he said, "attainable by other means than this is scarcely
    worth the name." He pointed to the tillers of the earth -- the only
    people who, as a class, are proverbially more happy than others --
    and then he instanced the high ecstasies of the fox-hunter. His
    second principle was the love of woman. His third was the contempt of
    ambition. His fourth was an object of unceasing pursuit; and he held
    that, other things being equal, the extent of happiness was
    proportioned to the spirituality of this object.

    I have said that Ellison was remarkable in the continuous profusion
    of good gifts lavished upon him by Fortune. In personal grace and
    beauty he exceeded all men. His intellect was of that order to which
    the attainment of knowledge is less a labor than a necessity and an
    intuition. His family was one of the most illustrious of the empire.
    His bride was the loveliest and most devoted of women. His
    possessions had been always ample; but, upon the attainment of his
    one and twentieth year, it was discovered that one of those
    extraordinary freaks of Fate had been played in his behalf which
    startle the whole social world amid which they occur, and seldom fail
    radically to alter the entire moral constitution of those who are
    their objects. It appears that about one hundred years prior to Mr.
    Ellison's attainment of his majority, there had died, in a remote
    province, one Mr. Seabright Ellison. This gentlemen had amassed a
    princely fortune, and, having no very immediate connexions, conceived
    the whim of suffering his wealth to accumulate for a century after
    his decease. Minutely and sagaciously directing the various modes of
    investment, he bequeathed the aggregate amount to the nearest of
    blood, bearing the name Ellison, who should be alive at the end of
    the hundred years. Many futile attempts had been made to set aside
    this singular bequest; their ex post facto character rendered them
    abortive; but the attention of a jealous government was aroused, and
    a decree finally obtained, forbidding all similar accumulations. This
    act did not prevent young Ellison, upon his twenty-first birth-day,
    from entering into possession, as the heir of his ancestor,
    Seabright, of a fortune of four hundred and fifty millions of
    dollars. {*1}

    When it had become definitely known that such was the enormous wealth
    inherited, there were, of course, many speculations as to the mode of
    its disposal. The gigantic magnitude and the immediately available
    nature of the sum, dazzled and bewildered all who thought upon the
    topic. The possessor of any appreciable amount of money might have
    been imagined to perform any one of a thousand things. With riches
    merely surpassing those of any citizen, it would have been easy to
    suppose him engaging to supreme excess in the fashionable
    extravagances of his time; or busying himself with political
    intrigues; or aiming at ministerial power, or purchasing increase of
    nobility, or devising gorgeous architectural piles; or collecting
    large specimens of Virtu; or playing the munificent patron of Letters
    and Art; or endowing and bestowing his name upon extensive
    institutions of charity. But, for the inconceivable wealth in the
    actual possession of the young heir, these objects and all ordinary
    objects were felt to be inadequate. Recourse was had to figures; and
    figures but sufficed to confound. It was seen, that even at three per
    cent, the annual income of the inheritance amounted to no less than
    thirteen millions and five hundred thousand dollars; which was one
    million and one hundred and twenty-five thousand per month; or
    thirty-six thousand, nine hundred and eighty-six per day, or one
    thousand five hundred and forty-one per hour, or six and twenty
    dollars for every minute that flew. Thus the usual track of
    supposition was thoroughly broken up. Men knew not what to imagine.
    There were some who even conceived that Mr. Ellison would divest
    himself forthwith of at least two-thirds of his fortune as of utterly
    superfluous opulence; enriching whole troops of his relatives by
    division of his superabundance.

    I was not surprised, however, to perceive that he had long made up
    his mind upon a topic which had occasioned so much of discussion to
    his friends. Nor was I greatly astonished at the nature of his
    decision. In the widest and noblest sense, he was a poet. He
    comprehended, moreover, the true character, the august aims, the
    supreme majesty and dignity of the poetic sentiment. The proper
    gratification of the sentiment he instinctively felt to lie in the
    creation of novel forms of Beauty. Some peculiarities, either in his
    early education, or in the nature of his intellect, had tinged with
    what is termed materialism the whole cast of his ethical
    speculations; and it was this bias, perhaps, which imperceptibly led
    him to perceive that the most advantageous, if not the sole
    legitimate field for the exercise of the poetic sentiment, was to be
    found in the creation of novel moods of purely physical loveliness.
    Thus it happened that he became neither musician nor poet; if we use
    this latter term in its every -- day acceptation. Or it might have
    been that he became neither the one nor the other, in pursuance of an
    idea of his which I have already mentioned -- the idea, that in the
    contempt of ambition lay one of the essential principles of happiness
    on earth. Is it not, indeed, possible that while a high order of
    genius is necessarily ambitious, the highest is invariably above that
    which is termed ambition? And may it not thus happen that many far
    greater than Milton, have contentedly remained "mute and inglorious?"
    I believe the world has never yet seen, and that, unless through some
    series of accidents goading the noblest order of mind into
    distasteful exertion, the world will never behold, that full extent
    of triumphant execution, in the richer productions of Art, of which
    the human nature is absolutely capable.

    Mr. Ellison became neither musician nor poet; although no man lived
    more profoundly enamored both of Music and the Muse. Under other
    circumstances than those which invested him, it is not impossible
    that he would have become a painter. The field of sculpture, although
    in its nature rigidly poetical, was too limited in its extent and in
    its consequences, to have occupied, at any time, much of his
    attention. And I have now mentioned all the provinces in which even
    the most liberal understanding of the poetic sentiment has declared
    this sentiment capable of expatiating. I mean the most liberal public
    or recognized conception of the idea involved in the phrase "poetic
    sentiment." But Mr. Ellison imagined that the richest, and altogether
    the most natural and most suitable province, had been blindly
    neglected. No definition had spoken of the Landscape-Gardener, as of
    the poet; yet my friend could not fail to perceive that the creation
    of the Landscape-Garden offered to the true muse the most magnificent
    of opportunities. Here was, indeed, the fairest field for the display
    of invention, or imagination, in the endless combining of forms of
    novel Beauty; the elements which should enter into combination being,
    at all times, and by a vast superiority, the most glorious which the
    earth could afford. In the multiform of the tree, and in the
    multicolor of the flower, he recognized the most direct and the most
    energetic efforts of Nature at physical loveliness. And in the
    direction or concentration of this effort, or, still more properly,
    in its adaption to the eyes which were to behold it upon earth, he
    perceived that he should be employing the best means -- laboring to
    the greatest advantage -- in the fulfilment of his destiny as Poet.

    "Its adaptation to the eyes which were to behold it upon earth." In
    his explanation of this phraseology, Mr. Ellison did much towards
    solving what has always seemed to me an enigma. I mean the fact
    (which none but the ignorant dispute,) that no such combinations of
    scenery exist in Nature as the painter of genius has in his power to
    produce. No such Paradises are to be found in reality as have glowed
    upon the canvass of Claude. In the most enchanting of natural
    landscapes, there will always be found a defect or an excess -- many
    excesses and defects. While the component parts may exceed,
    individually, the highest skill of the artist, the arrangement of the
    parts will always be susceptible of improvement. In short, no
    position can be attained, from which an artistical eye, looking
    steadily, will not find matter of offence, in what is technically
    termed the composition of a natural landscape. And yet how
    unintelligible is this! In all other matters we are justly instructed
    to regard Nature as supreme. With her details we shrink from
    competition. Who shall presume to imitate the colors of the tulip, or
    to improve the proportions of the lily of the valley? The criticism
    which says, of sculpture or of portraiture, that "Nature is to be
    exalted rather than imitated," is in error. No pictorial or
    sculptural combinations of points of human loveliness, do more than
    approach the living and breathing human beauty as it gladdens our
    daily path. Byron, who often erred, erred not in saying,

    I've seen more living beauty, ripe and real,

    Than all the nonsense of their stone ideal. In landscape alone is the
    principle of the critic true; and, having felt its truth here, it is
    but the headlong spirit of generalization which has induced him to
    pronounce it true throughout all the domains of Art. Having, I say,
    felt its truth here. For the feeling is no affectation or chimera.
    The mathematics afford no more absolute demonstrations, than the
    sentiment of his Art yields to the artist. He not only believes, but
    positively knows, that such and such apparently arbitrary
    arrangements of matter, or form, constitute, and alone constitute,
    the true Beauty. Yet his reasons have not yet been matured into
    expression. It remains for a more profound analysis than the world
    has yet seen, fully to investigate and express them. Nevertheless is
    he confirmed in his instinctive opinions, by the concurrence of all
    his compeers. Let a composition be defective, let an emendation be
    wrought in its mere arrangement of form; let this emendation be
    submitted to every artist in the world; by each will its necessity be
    admitted. And even far more than this, in remedy of the defective
    composition, each insulated member of the fraternity will suggest the
    identical emendation.

    I repeat that in landscape arrangements, or collocations alone, is
    the physical Nature susceptible of "exaltation" and that, therefore,
    her susceptibility of improvement at this one point, was a mystery
    which, hitherto I had been unable to solve. It was Mr. Ellison who
    first suggested the idea that what we regarded as improvement or
    exaltation of the natural beauty, was really such, as respected only
    the mortal or human point of view; that each alteration or
    disturbance of the primitive scenery might possibly effect a blemish
    in the picture, if we could suppose this picture viewed at large from
    some remote point in the heavens. "It is easily understood," says Mr.
    Ellison, "that what might improve a closely scrutinized detail,
    might, at the same time, injure a general and more distantly --
    observed effect." He spoke upon this topic with warmth: regarding not
    so much its immediate or obvious importance, (which is little,) as
    the character of the conclusions to which it might lead, or of the
    collateral propositions which it might serve to corroborate or
    sustain. There might be a class of beings, human once, but now to
    humanity invisible, for whose scrutiny and for whose refined
    appreciation of the beautiful, more especially than for our own, had
    been set in order by God the great landscape-garden of the whole
    earth.

    In the course of our discussion, my young friend took occasion to
    quote some passages from a writer who has been supposed to have well
    treated this theme.

    "There are, properly," he writes, "but two styles of
    landscape-gardening, the natural and the artificial. One seeks to
    recall the original beauty of the country, by adapting its means to
    the surrounding scenery; cultivating trees in harmony with the hills
    or plain of the neighboring land; detecting and bringing into
    practice those nice relations of size, proportion and color which,
    hid from the common observer, are revealed everywhere to the
    experienced student of nature. The result of the natural style of
    gardening, is seen rather in the absence of all defects and
    incongruities -- in the prevalence of a beautiful harmony and order,
    than in the creation of any special wonders or miracles. The
    artificial style has as many varieties as there are different tastes
    to gratify. It has a certain general relation to the various styles
    of building. There are the stately avenues and retirements of
    Versailles; Italian terraces; and a various mixed old English style,
    which bears some relation to the domestic Gothic or English
    Elizabethan architecture. Whatever may be said against the abuses of
    the artificial landscape-gardening, a mixture of pure art in a garden
    scene, adds to it a great beauty. This is partly pleasing to the eye,
    by the show of order and design, and partly moral. A terrace, with an
    old moss-covered balustrade, calls up at once to the eye, the fair
    forms that have passed there in other days. The slightest exhibition
    of art is an evidence of care and human interest."

    "From what I have already observed," said Mr. Ellison, "you will
    understand that I reject the idea, here expressed, of 'recalling the
    original beauty of the country.' The original beauty is never so
    great as that which may be introduced. Of course, much depends upon
    the selection of a spot with capabilities. What is said in respect to
    the 'detecting and bringing into practice those nice relations of
    size, proportion and color,' is a mere vagueness of speech, which may
    mean much, or little, or nothing, and which guides in no degree. That
    the true 'result of the natural style of gardening is seen rather in
    the absence of all defects and incongruities, than in the creation of
    any special wonders or miracles,' is a proposition better suited to
    the grovelling apprehension of the herd, than to the fervid dreams of
    the man of genius. The merit suggested is, at best, negative, and
    appertains to that hobbling criticism which, in letters, would
    elevate Addison into apotheosis. In truth, while that merit which
    consists in the mere avoiding demerit, appeals directly to the
    understanding, and can thus be foreshadowed in Rule, the loftier
    merit, which breathes and flames in invention or creation, can be
    apprehended solely in its results. Rule applies but to the
    excellences of avoidance -- to the virtues which deny or refrain.
    Beyond these the critical art can but suggest. We may be instructed
    to build an Odyssey, but it is in vain that we are told how to
    conceive a 'Tempest,' an 'Inferno,' a 'Prometheus Bound,' a
    'Nightingale,' such as that of Keats, or the 'Sensitive Plant' of
    Shelley. But, the thing done, the wonder accomplished, and the
    capacity for apprehension becomes universal. The sophists of the
    negative school, who, through inability to create, have scoffed at
    creation, are now found the loudest in applause. What, in its
    chrysalis condition of principle, affronted their demure reason,
    never fails, in its maturity of accomplishment, to extort admiration
    from their instinct of the beautiful or of the sublime.

    "Our author's observations on the artificial style of gardening,"
    continued Mr. Ellison, "are less objectionable. 'A mixture of pure
    art in a garden scene, adds to it a great beauty.' This is just; and
    the reference to the sense of human interest is equally so. I repeat
    that the principle here expressed, is incontrovertible; but there may
    be something even beyond it. There may be an object in full keeping
    with the principle suggested -- an object unattainable by the means
    ordinarily in possession of mankind, yet which, if attained, would
    lend a charm to the landscape-garden immeasurably surpassing that
    which a merely human interest could bestow. The true poet possessed
    of very unusual pecuniary resources, might possibly, while retaining
    the necessary idea of art or interest or culture, so imbue his
    designs at once with extent and novelty of Beauty, as to convey the
    sentiment of spiritual interference. It will be seen that, in
    bringing about such result, he secures all the advantages of interest
    or design, while relieving his work of all the harshness and
    technicality of Art. In the most rugged of wildernesses -- in the
    most savage of the scenes of pure Nature -- there is apparent the art
    of a Creator; yet is this art apparent only to reflection; in no
    respect has it the obvious force of a feeling. Now, if we imagine
    this sense of the Almighty Design to be harmonized in a measurable
    degree, if we suppose a landscape whose combined strangeness,
    vastness, definitiveness, and magnificence, shall inspire the idea of
    culture, or care, or superintendence, on the part of intelligences
    superior yet akin to humanity -- then the sentiment of interest is
    preserved, while the Art is made to assume the air of an intermediate
    or secondary Nature -- a Nature which is not God, nor an emanation of
    God, but which still is Nature, in the sense that it is the handiwork
    of the angels that hover between man and God."

    It was in devoting his gigantic wealth to the practical embodiment of
    a vision such as this -- in the free exercise in the open air, which
    resulted from personal direction of his plans -- in the continuous
    and unceasing object which these plans afford -- in the contempt of
    ambition which it enabled him more to feel than to affect -- and,
    lastly, it was in the companionship and sympathy of a devoted wife,
    that Ellison thought to find, and found, an exemption from the
    ordinary cares of Humanity, with a far greater amount of positive
    happiness than ever glowed in the rapt day-dreams of De Stael.
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