1772
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The English Garden, a Poem.

The English Garden, a Poem: Book the First.

Rev. William Mason


Spenser and Milton appear in a catalogue of inspirers of modern gardening; the reference is to Faerie Queene 4.10.21.

Anna Seward to Erasmus Darwin: "I have obtained more clear and accurate ideas of what constitutes the beauty of rural scenery, from Mason's English Garden, than any prose tract could have given me" 29 May 1789; in Letters, ed. Scott (1811) 2:269.

Henry Francis Cary: "Continued and finished De Lille's Jardins, and read Mason's English Garden, with Jane. On the whole, I prefer the work of the French poet, as more complete, and giving more satisfactory rules respecting the art it treats of, than that of the English poet" Literary Journal for 24 January 1797; in Memoir of the Rev. Henry Francis Cary (1847) 1:104.

Thomas Campbell: "There may be other fine passages in this poem but if there be, I confess that the somniferous effect of the whole has occasioned to me the fault or misfortune of overlooking them. What value it may possess, as an "Art of Ornamental Gardening," I do not presume to judge; but if this be the perfection of didactic poetry, as Warton pronounced it, it would seem to be as difficult to teach art by poetry, as to teach poetry by art. He begins the poem by invoking Simplicity; but she never comes. Had her power condescended to visit him, I think she would have thrown a less 'dilettante' air upon his principal episode, in which the tragic event of a woman expiring suddenly of a broken heart, is introduced by a conversation between her rival lovers about 'Palladian bridges, Panini's pencil, and Piranesi's hand.' At all events, Simplicity would not have allowed the hero of the story to construct his barns in imitation of a Norman fortress; and to give his dairy the resemblance of an ancient abbey; nor the poet himself to address a flock of sheep with as much solemnity as if he had been haranguing a senate" Specimens of the British Poets (1819; 1845) 655.

Robert Southey: "Gray, if he had been then living, might perhaps have been able to have rendered him more temperate and more reasonable in his political views; certainly he would have prevailed upon him not to write, or having written not to publish, the last book of his English Garden, which is in every respect miserably bad; bad in taste as recommending sham castles and modern ruins; bad in morals, as endeavouring to serve a political cause and excite indignation against the measures of Government by a fictitious story, (which if it had been true could have had no bearing whatever upon the justice or injustice of the American war;) and bad in poetry, because the story is in itself absurd" The Doctor (1849) 316.

Hartley Coleridge: "As this poem was the production of a powerful mind in its maturest vigour, as it had every advantage of delay and revision, and treats of a topic apparently capable of much descriptive embellishment, and with which the author was familiarly and practically acquainted, it is hard to suppose it wholly destitute of beauties, especially as it consists of 2423 lines of blank verse. We will not, therefore say that it is the dullest poem we ever read, but it is assuredly one of the dullest we ever attempted to read" Hartley Coleridge, in "William Mason" Worthies of Yorkshire and Lancashire (1836) 459.

Dwight Durling: "This poem has unusual interest for all students of eighteenth-century taste, not only as a poem, but as a statement of the new principles which had come to govern appreciation of beauty of landscape. Briefly, it represents the reaction against the geometrical French manner of Le Notre and La Quintinie, seen in its highest development at Versailles. Kent, Southcote, the originator of the ferme orne, and Brown, the new apostles of simplicity and nature, are Mason's guides. It would be pleasant, but aside from our purpose, to show how Mason tried to reduce to a system the practice of these men. His principles are 'picturesque' in the sense that they derive from landscape painting" Georgic Tradition in English Poetry (1935) 79.

Jim Corder, "Colin Against Art Again" (1961) notes that George Mason (as opposed to William) cites passages from the Faerie Queene in An Essay on Design in Gardening (1768, 1795).



While He, delicious Swain,
Who tun'd his oaten pipe by Mulla's stream,
Accordant touch'd the stops in Dorian mood;
What time he 'gan to paint the fairy vale,
Where stands the Fane of Venus. Well I ween
That then, if ever, COLIN, thy fond hand
Did steep its pencil in the well-fount clear
Of true simplicity; and 'call'd in Art
Only to second Nature, and supply
All that the Nymph forgot, or left forlorn.'
Yet what avail'd the song? or what avail'd
Ev'n thine, Thou chief of Bards, whose mighty mind,
With inward light irradiate, mirror-like
Received, and to mankind with ray reflex
The sov'reign Planter's primal work display'd?

[(1783) 1:438-52]