Markus Poetzsch »

Markus Poetzsch is Assistant Professor of English at Wilfrid Laurier University, in Waterloo, Canada, where he specialises in British Romantic literature. His recent publications include ‘Visionary Dreariness’: Readings in Romanticism’s Quotidian Sublime (2006) and his current research is focused on the intersections of pedestrianism, imagination, and memory in the literature of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

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Referring to this Article

M. POETZSCH. ‘From Eco-Politics to Apocalypse: The Contentious Rhetoric of Eighteenth-Century Landscape Gardening’, Romantic Textualities: Literature and Print Culture, 1780–1840, 19 (Autumn 2008).

Online: Internet (date accessed):

From Eco-Politics to Apocalypse

The Contentious Rhetoric of Eighteenth-Century Landscape Gardening

The final chapter of Humphrey Repton’s collected works on landscape gardening and architecture, published after his death in 1840, concludes with an encomium to Repton’s work from an unnamed source. ‘[What can bestow pure tranquillity?] has long been a philosophical question’, the admirer muses:

[R]eligion answers it. But I have always thought that the sort of taste which you have eminently contributed to form and diffuse, has a peculiar tendency to soothe, refine, and improve the mind; and, consequently, to promote most essentially the true and rational enjoyment of life. [1]

Such words, while they may elicit unqualified assent from gardeners both then and now, belie the factious debate generated by ‘the sort of taste’ alluded to here and by its impact on the practice of landscape gardening in late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century England. Far from soothing the minds of its participants, the dispute over gardening and other forms of rural ornamentation, which pitted so-called landscape improvers like Repton and the adherents of Lancelot Brown against theorists of the picturesque, reached a boiling point in the 1790s through its incorporation of the rhetoric of Anti-Jacobinism—what Andrew Stauffer has aptly characterised as ‘a rhetoric of inflammation’. [2] Never before had plans for a razed and manicured lawn or, conversely, a wild, untrimmed hedgerow, signified so much. While the eighteenth-century politicisation of land as agrarian space predates the 1790s and may, as Ann Bermingham suggests, be traced to the period of accelerated enclosure beginning around 1750, the politicisation of landscape as an aesthetic category is one of the unique hybrid discourses that develops in the immediate aftermath of the French Revolution. [3] Ostensibly centred on notions of proper landscape use, appearance and ornamentation, the debate between rural improvers and picturesque theorists very quickly engulfed the idea of ‘nature’ itself. This idea, as William Galperin notes, operated primarily as ‘a representational order’, the valences of which are not merely aesthetic but also social and political. [4] Nature, in other words, became a signifier of social value and a reflection of national identity—in essence, an ecopolitical construct that could be appropriated (a word of some import in this context) and managed under the guise of aesthetic pleasure.

The process of appropriation, long before manifesting itself in the direct and often irrevocable commodification of natural space discussed by scholars such as Jonathan Bate, Gavin Budge, and Christopher Hitt, took root at the level of discourse. [5] For the principal adversaries in the dispute over landscape gardening—Humphrey Repton and his supporters like William Wyndham and William Marshall on one side, Richard Payne Knight and Uvedale Price on the other [6] —this meant drawing provocative analogies between the natural and the political spheres, with nature being defined and ‘called upon’, as Bermingham notes, ‘to [reflect,] clarify and justify social change’. [7] Linguistic appropriation in effect operated tautologically: the landscape improvers and picturesque theorists sought not only to shape and define nature according to certain aesthetic protocols, but also to encourage an aesthetico-political order, an idea of what nature and nation should be, which could become a standard for judging what is and is not ‘natural’ in these two spheres. Thus we have, for example, Knight’s critique of Repton’s practice of levelling trees and shrubs in the creation of ‘never-ending sheets of vapid lawn’—an aesthetic commentary that also raises the spectre of political levelling—and Repton’s rejoinder, outlined in a 1794 letter to Price, that the system of picturesque embellishment fosters an ungovernable wildness unsuitable to the ideals of a constitutional monarchy, each playing on the idea (and preyingon the fear) that extreme policies in aesthetic/environmental practice reflect and encourage instability in the political realm as well. [8] However, one of the notable ironies of this debate, I would like to suggest, is that it also highlights the resistance of nature as an ecopolitical construct to the kinds of instrumental appropriations (or wars) practised by eighteenth-century landscape improvers and aestheticists. Indeed, the capacity of nature—whether read aesthetically as a ‘series of living tableaux’ or politically as a ‘representational order’ of the nation state [9] —to accommodate contesting and, in some cases, mutually exclusive appropriations, speaks to its conceptual capaciousness and slipperiness, its tendency to frustrate (by virtue of its signifying excess) the limited claims and designs of ideology. Nature thus acquires a transcendent status in the discourse of Romantic ecology.

To invoke the transcendence of nature in this context—a transcendence that steadily repudiates, even as it appears to open itself up to, commodifcation—is to offer a counterpoint to the ecologically disengaged ‘Hartman–Bloom reading of Romanticism’, to use Bate’s phrase, which subjects nature to human transcendence. [10] My analysis also, however, challenges Green Romanticism’s own misgivings about deploying a rhetoric of transcendence where nature is concerned; far from signalling a ‘flight from the material world’, as Bate suggests, discussions of natural transcendence may lay the foundation for an ecological criticism that, as Ron Broglio has recently proposed, decentres the human subject and thereby radically shifts ‘the focal point around which nature as environment is defined’. [11]

I. Sibling Rivalry

While modern scholarship has tended to treat landscape gardening and the picturesque as compatible disciplines in what Christine Bolus-Reichert terms the ‘landed revolution’ (beginning around 1770) and also as expressions of a common aesthetic goal, that being the erasure of perceptual boundaries between artfully designed exterior spaces and those that are truly natural or wild—hence, Bate’s reference to them as ‘sister’ disciplines—the adherents of these respective modes of rural embellishment defined themselves very much in contradistinction to one another. [12] For example, although Repton had early in his mercurial career as a landscape gardener consulted both Knight and Price on a series of commissions in Herefordshire and been accepted into their ranks as a man of taste and promising talents, he fell out with both over his interpretation of the limits of the picturesque as an aesthetic strategy. Writing to Price in 1794, he characterises his disillusionment in the following terms:

During the pleasant hours we passed together amidst the romantic scenery of the Wye, I do remember my acknowledging than an enthusiasm for the picturesque, had originally led me to fancy a greater affinity betwixt Painting and Gardening, than I found to exist after more mature consideration, and more practical experience; because, in whatever relates to man, propriety and convenience are not less objects of good taste, than picturesque effect; and a beautiful garden fence is not more defective because it would not look well on canvas, than a didactic poem because it neither furnishes a subject for the painter or the musician. [13]

In the tone of one lamenting a boyhood infatuation—a tone that Wordsworth himself would adopt in his famous dismissal of the picturesque as ‘a strong infection of the age’ [14] —Repton here draws the definitive line between landscape improvers and theorists: whereas the former rely on ‘mature consideration’ and ‘practical experience’, steadily grounding the creations of ‘good taste’ in the bedrock of ‘propriety’, ‘convenience’ and comfort, the latter are actuated by mere ‘fancy’ and ‘enthusiasm’ (a word that Samuel Johnson had many years earlier driven into obloquy), seemingly uninterested in dealing with life beyond the canvas. [15] Price, for his part, characterises Repton’s departure from the picturesque as a misconstruction of its ideals, adopting the tone of a spurned headmaster whose star pupil has neglected his studies and fallen in with the wrong crowd—in this case, that ‘tasteless herd of [Lancelot] Brown’s followers,’ who, by Repton’s own admission, had tarnished his profession. [16] Emphasising Repton’s apparent unfamiliarity with the works of ‘higher artists’—which, according to picturesque theorists, represent the models for rural embellishment—Price portrays his pupil as an enemy of the art of painting motivated equally by ignorance and ‘jalousie de métier’. [17]

This final stab notwithstanding, the debate between Repton and Price, carried out in a series of correspondences in 1794 and 1795, is generally conducted with an air of rhetorical deference, each endeavouring to play the gentleman’s part by masking grievance or outrage with a veneer of disappointed expectation. Price in fact likens their controversy to the proceedings of ‘ancient tournaments […] where friends and acquaintances, merely for a trial of skill, and love of victory, with all civility and courtesy tilted at each others breasts’—an analogy apparently intended to defuse the situation by returning aesthetics to the realm of pleasure and masculine sport. [18] Situated as it is, however, against the backdrop of England’s ideological and military campaigns against Revolutionary France, Price’s allusion to an age of chivalry also carries irrefragable political overtones. Indeed, with Edmund Burke’s defence of ‘ancient chivalry’ still so fresh in the public mind (to say nothing of William Godwin’s rather more sceptical commentaries on the chivalric influence in Political Justice and Caleb Williams), Price’s conciliatory gesture highlights the already politically envenomed nature of the so-called ‘Picturesque Debate’. [19] As Stephen Copley and Peter Garside point out, in the Revolutionary years, the picturesque is first and foremost ‘an intensely and explicitly politicized aesthetic’. [20]

II. Issues of Appropriation and Levelling

The text that directly brings politics into the garden is Knight’s The Landscape, a Didactic Poem, published in 1794 as a pre-emptive strike against Repton’s forthcoming Sketches and Hints on Landscape Gardening, a portion of which Knight had previewed at a bookseller’s and instantly taken issue with. The excerpt in question, from Repton’s plans for the improvement of Tatton Hall in Cheshire, articulates a process for enhancing ‘greatness in a place’, with greatness defined as the perception of ‘united and uninterrupted property’. [21] This process, which included, among other expedients, sweeping away any trees, hedges, or formal terraces that divided the boundaries of a property from the landscape beyond, all in an effort to ‘impress the mind with a sense of [the owner’s] influence’, was fittingly termed ‘appropriation’. [22] The practical success of appropriation was measured by the landholder’s ‘management of the view’ [23] —a phrase taken from Repton’s plans for Lathom House in Lancashire, a project that included the removal of the central pool and garden walls so as to widen and lengthen the prospect from the house (see Figures 1 and 2, below).

Fig. 1. Lathom House before Repton’s Modifications, from ‘The Landscape Gardening and Landscape Architecture of the Late Humphrey Repton, Esq.’ (1840)

Fig. 2. Lathom House before and after Repton’s Modifications, from ‘The Landscape Gardening and Landscape Architecture of the Late Humphrey Repton, Esq.’ (1840)

As Rachel Crawford points out, the theoretical groundwork for appropriative landscape design was laid by Stephen Switzer’s Ichnographia Rustica (1715), a landmark treatise that rejected high-walled aristocratic gardens in favour of unbounded prospects. [24] Switzer’s rationale for such a preference—namely, that ‘[t]he Eye is covetous of Extent’ [25] —gestures to the influence of an aesthetic of sublimity yet, as Crawford contends, it also clearly encodes political values, with the prospect view coming to symbolise ‘liberty and social consequence’. [26] Liberty in this context must of course be read in very limited and exclusive terms. If, as Crawford claims, Switzer’s notion of perspectival liberty was an outgrowth of his Whiggish idealism, it remains stubbornly undemocratic. The liberty extolled is always gendered and rooted in class: it is, in short, a gentleman’s liberty, conferring on the landholder, by virtue of his comprehensive perspective, a power over all that he beholds. As John Barrell remarks, the untrammelled view creates a ‘universal observer who “superior to the little Fray” of competing interests, understands the relations among them all’. [27]Repton’s notion of appropriation owes much to Switzer’s model, above all in its implicit endorsement of landed interests. Though he argues that appropriation is not so much rooted in ‘purposes of gain, as [in those] of pleasure, and convenience’, his treatise consistently aligns the landholder’s ‘influence’ with the extent of his holdings, whether that extent is measured by the eye or by direct engrossment (that is, the amalgamation of private property). [28] The method of appropriation that galled Knight in particular was Repton’s suggestion that public edifices and milestones be adorned with the family arms of local property holders so as to convey to passing travellers the eminence of who and what surrounded them. With undisguised contempt, Knight offers in The Landscape an alternative to such aesthetic ostentation:

But why not rather, at the porter’s gate,
Hang up the map of all my lord’s estate,
Than give his hungry visiters the pain
To wander o’er so many miles in vain?
For well we know this sacrifice is made,
Not to his taste, but to his vain parade;
And all it does, is but to shew combined
His wealth in land, and poverty in mind. [29]

Knight’s objection to the appropriation of landscape by family arms—what one might describe as a kind of domestic colonialism—has, surprisingly, little to do with the deception involved in arrogating to oneself more than one’s actual share or with the class differences implied by the juxtaposition of ‘my lord’s estate’ with ‘his hungry visiters’. What disconcerts him, rather, is the tastelessness of publicly broadcasting one’s name and holdings. The lack bemoaned in the phrase ‘poverty of mind’ is neither intelligence nor moral judgment but a refined aesthetic. As he goes on to suggest, good or proper taste is characterised by a modesty of display: ‘Its greatest art is aptly to conceal; | To lead, with secret guile, the prying sight | To where component parts may best unite, | And form one beauteous, nicely blended whole’. [30] What Knight advocates here is not the concealment of the landscaping artifice that facilitates unrestricted views (the ha-ha, for example) but rather a form of concealment intended to rein in the free, unchecked perspective upon which Repton’s idea of ‘influence’ hinges. Knight’s text indeed foregrounds considerable anxiety about allowing the viewer’s ‘prying sight’ to turn wherever and take in whatever it pleases. The picturesque art of concealment therefore subjects visual pleasure (the ‘nicely blended whole’) to methodologies of control: what one might characterise as the power ‘[t]o lead’. For this reason, as Crawford suggests, the art of concealment had political implications, particularly at a point in English history when ‘the country estate had become an emblem of empire’. [31] For the estate as for the empire, the pleasure of the untrammelled perspective was attended by an acute fear of losing control over one’s distant holdings. This fear is directly articulated in Thomas Whately’s influential Observations on Modern Gardening (1770). Having rehearsed the Switzerian doctrine of unimpeded views and the need for concealing separations between private property and the land beyond, Whately pauses to consider ‘occasions, when we should rather wish to check, than to promote, the general tendency’ toward expansive views: ‘As scenes encrease in extent, they become more impatient of control […] [and] less manageable’. [32] Whately’s comments, as Crawford argues, ‘parallel contemporary Whig arguments about the management of colonies’ and reflect ‘the instability associated with extension of the British empire’. [33]

Written a quarter of a century later, when questions of political insecurity abroad and at home had only multiplied and intensified, Knight’s critique of appropriation may therefore be read as a resonance of his own political anxieties as a Foxite Whig. Indeed, in the lines following his advocacy of control over ‘the prying sight’, he develops an image of relentless political turmoil and upheaval—‘Systems on systems triumph and decay, | Empires on empires in oblivion fall, | And ruin spread alternate over all’—against which only the artistic ideal of ‘unadorned simplicity’ is immune. [34] That ideal, while it appears natural and effortless, is always framed and managed so as to delimit the viewer’s range of responses, the physical as well as the aesthetic. Even the path that brings the visitor to the landholder’s door, though shaped with ‘careless easy curves’ that appear to invite rambles and wanderings, is designed to culminate in a single arresting image: ‘The stately mansion rising to the view’. [35] Knight’s notion of proper taste, translated into landscape design, consistently betrays his anxiety about controlling and regulating the visitor’s prying eyes and straying feet. Notwithstanding his disdain for the ‘vain parade’ of the Reptonian landholder who needlessly exhausts his hungry visitors by leading them on a circuitous route around his property, Knight’s aesthetic priorities are in the end no more egalitarian. Indeed, his dispute with Repton over appropriation hinges not on the power of landed interests or on class difference, but rather on the most effective means of regulating both the land(scape)—the estate/empire—and the visitor’s reaction to it and movements within it. This point is critical to understanding the complicated deployment of political rhetoric in the debate over appropriation and landscape ornamentation more generally. Indeed, while one might assume on the basis of Knight’s political affiliations that his attack on the doctrine of appropriation was a coded critique of inherited property and the despotism of wealthy land owners, and thus represented a check on the growing tide of Anti-Jacobinism in the mid 1790s, he and Price were no less fearful, as Bermingham points out, of the prospect of democratic levelling. [36]

As an aesthetic practice, levelling certainly lies at the root of their controversy with Repton. In his ‘Advertisement’ to the second edition of The Landscape (1795), Knight juxtaposes, for the reader’s consideration, ‘the rich and natural scenes of Windsor or New Forest [with] the shaven parks and gardens of either of those places’, suggesting that good taste always prefers richness and variegation because these qualities are ‘natural’. [37] The poem pursues this theme by opening with an image of ‘poor Nature, shaven and defaced, | To gratify the jaundiced eye of taste’. [38] In this literalisation of inflamed rhetoric, levelling takes on the function of a ‘strange disease’ transmitted from the improver’s ‘jaundiced eye’ to the face of Nature where it promptly unravels all structure and order—de-facing, de-naturalising, and, ironically, de-humanising. [39] Levelling is not, however, merely a physical ailment inflicted on the body of nature; in Knight’s view, it also represents a form of moral corruption, a transgression against a higher Nature, namely, divine order. The rhetoric of inflammation thus repeatedly taints improvers as ‘sacrilegious’, with Knight taking on the role of eco-prophet and prayerful intercessor. Book II, for example, opens in an elegiac mode as the poet, after surveying the works of the ‘improver’s desolating hand’, ‘[t]o Heaven devoutly […] address[es] [his] prayer’:

Again the moss-grown terraces to raise,
And spread the labyrinth’s perplexing maze;
Replace in even lines the ductile yew,
And plant again the ancient avenue.
Some features then, at least, we should obtain,
To mark this flat, insipid, waving plain;
Some vary’d tints and forms would intervene,
To break this uniform, eternal green. [40]

Knight’s disdain for the flatness and uniformity of the Reptonian garden is based largely on the picturesque principle of connection. Outlined by Price in the third volume of his Essays on the Picturesque, connection involves the composition and arrangement of ‘the different parts of the different landscapes of a whole place, without injuring the unity of that whole’. [41] Connection, as Price suggests, is easily and quickly destroyed by either scattering or crowding the individual elements of a landscape, and, once lost, ‘nothing is restored with greater difficulty, or by a more tedious process’. [42] Of particular relevance to this essay is Price’s attendant politicisation of the principle of connection. A varied landscape with intervening elements and gradations, each in turn productive of the impression of a unified whole, becomes for Price an apt symbol of England itself:

The mutual connection and dependence of all the different ranks and orders of men in this country; the innumerable, but voluntary ties by which they are bound and united to each other, (so different from what are experienced by the subjects of any other monarchy,) are perhaps the firmest securities of its glory, its strength, and its happiness […]. [A]nd although the separation of the different ranks and their gradations, like those of visible objects, is known and ascertained, yet from the beneficial mixture, and frequent intercommunication of high and low, that separation is happily disguised, and does not sensibly operate on the general mind. [43]

In this striking defence of class difference and privilege—a system ‘naturalised’ through its alignment with the fecundity and variety of nature itself, qualities that, as noted above, are themselves already pre-defined as aesthetic ideals—Price even manages to accommodate the principle of concealment, which operates here as a political tool of self-preservation by which the ‘high[er]’ orders of society intermingle with the ‘low’ without forfeiting the privilege of ‘separation’. If aesthetic beauty is the goal behind the desire for connection in a landscape garden, fear of class conflict and social disintegration drives the political rhetoric of ‘beneficial mixture’: ‘should any sudden gap, any distinct undisguised line of separation be made, such as between the noble and the roturier, the whole strength of that firm chain (and firm it may stand) would at once be broken’. [44] Although Price’s response to Repton’s levelling impulse is more genially phrased and nuanced in its conception than Knight’s dismissive reference to the ‘flat, insipid, waving plain’, it is clearly no less polemical. Like Knight, Price associates levelling with a general tendency toward disconnection—a ‘fashion’, as Stephen Daniels and Charles Watkins suggest, that was regarded as ‘dangerously destabilising’ by the landed classes. [45] Although Price concedes that landscape levelling in the name of comfort and convenience is at times necessary, he warns improvers not to exceed the example of nature in this regard. As he suggests, ‘there are scenes in wild, unimproved nature, of the same kind as those in which modern gardening most excels […] [but these] scenes [are] produced by accident, not design’. [46] Translated politically, such a statement represents a check on the revolutionary impulse to dismantle traditional hierarchies of power; if nature on occasion disregards the principle of connection, the nation should not. Indeed, Price’s statement appears to imply that social and political inequalities, whenever pernicious and not conducive to the maintenance of a ‘firm chain’, have a tendency to correct themselves naturally. One cannot help hearing echoes of Godwin here—Godwin, that is, in his more moderate strains. Take, for example, the following passage from Political Justice, published only a year earlier: ‘Imperfect institutions […] cannot long support themselves, when they are generally disapproved of, and their effects truly understood. There is a period, at which they may be expected to decline and expire, almost without an effort’. [47] The only material difference here is that Price envisions levelling as a product of nature’s occasional ‘accidents’, and Godwin, as a consequence of institutional imperfection.

III. Visions of Apocalypse

Having thus directed the improver’s hand to the example of nature in order to curb his/her urge to level for the sake of appropriation, the defenders of the picturesque also delineate the consequences of ignoring nature. Here again, it is Knight who deploys the most provocative language, gradually abandoning, in Book III of The Landscape, all pretensions to a purely aesthetic critique and opening the reader’s eyes instead to visions of political chaos and apocalypse. [48] Having chided improvers for carelessly introducing non-native species to British soil, Knight proceeds to articulate an eco-jingoism that positions the English countryside—and England itself, the ‘Bless’d land’—as a moderate centre between the extremes of northern and southern climates. [49] As he suggests, however, it is a centre not immune to the perturbations of rebellious impulses. One moment a ‘stagnant pool […] mantled o’er | With the green weeds of its muddy shore’, England is transformed into a scene of ‘havock, waste, and spoil’ in the short time it takes improving hands to ‘break the mound, and let the waters flow’. [50] The deluge of rebellion sweeps unimpeded over the improver’s shaven lawns. Even though Knight articulates the hope that its moisture will prompt the growth of ‘vernal flowers’, just as ‘[t]he tides of blood that flow on Gallia’s shore’ will someday produce ‘the happy arts of peace’, his notes to the poem, written with an eye on the current headlines out of France, undermine that optimism:

The armed rabble which now govern and lay waste France, under the directions of the different clubs established in every part of that country, and concentrated in Paris, may yet proceed for many years in their career of pillage and extermination; but when depopulation and ruin are advanced to a certain extent, the constituent communities will become too thinly scattered, to hold together of their own accord, and must either divide into separate states, or submit to some external force. [51]

For Knight, political levelling in the name of liberty, fraternity, and equality has social and environmental consequences similar in type, if not perhaps in degree, to those produced by aesthetic levelling in the name of appropriation: it weakens the human connection to land, enforces divisions between properties and property holders, and, perhaps most significant of all, scatters so-called ‘constituent communities’.

In terms of its environmental focus, Knight’s position is remarkably clairvoyant and, one might add, congenial to the modern ear; its politics, however, are rather more slippery. One cannot after all separate Knight’s disdain for the policies of appropriation—policies that, as Bermingham notes, were encouraged by the General Acts of Enclosure and the ‘conspicuous consumption of [the] nouveaux riches’ who were buying up and razing land at an unprecedented rate [52] —from his resistance to the perceived malice of democratic levelling. Nor can one read his hesitant invocation of ‘[j]ust order […] and genuine liberty’ in The Landscape without recalling the cautionary note that a ‘despot’s chain, | Is oft a curb worse evils to restrain’. [53] Perhaps most ironic of all, however, is Knight’s attempt to disclaim any political affiliations in the postscript to the second edition of his poem, where he takes Repton to task for having aligned the picturesque system of rural embellishment with ‘the Democratic tyranny of France’—precisely the same charge he has levelled at the improvers. [54] As if recognising the untenability of maintaining a controversy from a position ideologically indistinguishable from that of one’s opponent, Knight endeavours to untangle aesthetics from politics by declaring that ‘subjects of mere elegant amusement’ must not involve ‘the nearest and dearest interests of humanity’—ostensibly a disparagement of Repton’s tactics but also, and more importantly, a signal of a rhetorical impasse. [55] To argue for a return to discourse-specific rhetoric is to acknowledge a loss of control over that rhetoric. Or, to put it another way, the unravelling of conjoined discourses signals the failure of landscape improvers and picturesque theorists to bring nature as a construct—aesthetic, political, or otherwise—under the control of ideological appropriations. Whether levelled or variegated, expansive or secluded, whether shaped for everyday convenience or for refined pleasure, whether claimed by a rebellious rabble or by a constitutional monarchy, the idea of nature that Repton, Price, and Knight seek to make subject to their own tastes consistently exceeds and eludes their rhetorical control. In the end, their efforts of appropriation have the character of family arms affixed to milestones: they make illusory claims to a containment of vastness which is itself already encoded numerically and thus foregrounds its distance as a signifier from the signified that is nature’s inappropriable reality.

IV. Postscript

The phrase ‘nature’s inappropriable reality’, far from implying a refusal to acknowledge environmental crises rooted in practices of appropriation and commodification, is intended to signal what Timothy Morton has recently characterised as the ‘strange strangeness’ of the natural world, its irreducible alterity. [56] The culmination of the eighteenth-century debate over landscape gardening is but one measure of that alterity, that resistance to rhetorical control and to the reductive equations of political urgency that would seek to bring nature in line with the country estate, and the country estate with the British empire. Instead, as Price himself concedes, nature appears to proceed by ‘accidents,’ at times severing the various ‘connections’ upon which aesthetic and political ideals are founded. The gardening debate thus calls into question contemporary formulations of ‘[t]he ideal Romantic relationship between human beings and nature […] [as] a meeting halfway or more’. [57] Nature’s inappropriable reality may frustrate such a ‘meeting’, demanding instead that we transform our ideological constructs of the natural into ‘something other than […] object[s] enframed by human desires’. [58] To engage the natural world as ‘something other’, something fundamentally unamenable to our epistemological frameworks and modes of representation, is perhaps the only way to decentre the human in its relation to the environment. For in the end, as Broglio suggests, ‘[i]t is not the internal coherence of humanness that matters but rather the possibility of self-difference that provides a means of thinking and relating to nature’.

1. Humphrey Repton, The Landscape Gardening and Landscape Architecture of the Late Humphrey Repton, Esq, edited by Gavin Budge (1840; Bristol: Thoemmes Press, 2001), p. 606.

2. Andrew M. Stauffer, Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism (Cambridge: CUP, 2005), p. 70.

3. Ann Bermingham, Landscape and Ideology: The English Rustic Tradition, 1740–1860 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986), p. 10.

4. William Galperin, ‘The Picturesque, the Real, and the Consumption of Jane Austen’, The Wordsworth Circle, 28.1 (1997), 19.

5. Jonathan Bate, Song of the Earth (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002), p. 127; Gavin Budge, ‘Introduction’, Aesthetics and the Picturesque, 1795–1840 (Bristol: Thoemmes Press, 2001), p. vi; Christopher Hitt, ‘Ecocriticism in the Long Eighteenth Century’, College Literature, 31.3 (2004), 128–29.

6. William Wyndham of Fellbrig Hall, a neighbour and supporter of Repton’s work for whom the latter worked as confidential secretary, characterised the aesthetic theories of Knight and Price as ‘absurd [and] unphilosophical’. William Marshall, author of Planting and Ornamental Gardening (1785), supported Repton’s cause with a withering review of Knight’s The Landscape: A Didactic Poem, in which he argues that ‘the goading objects of pictureskness have a […] tendency to excite the spirit of discord’. See Repton, Landscape Gardening, p. 115; William Marshall, A Review of the Landscape, A Didactic Poem: Also of an Essay on the Picturesque: Together with Practical Remarks on Rural Ornament, edited by Gavin Budge (1795; Bristol: Thoemmes Press, 2001), p. 83.

7. Bermingham, Landscape and Ideology, p. 1.

8. Richard Payne Knight, The Landscape: A Didactic Poem (London: W. Bulmer & Co., 1795), p. 40 (Book II, l. 76); Repton, Landscape Gardening, p. 10.

9. David Marshall, The Frame of Art: Fictions of Aesthetic Experience, 1750–1815 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005), p. 17.

10. Jonathan Bate, Romantic Ecology: Wordsworth and the Environmental Tradition (London & New York: Routledge, 1991), p. 7.

11. Bate, Romantic Ecology, p. 40; Ron Broglio, Technologies of the Picturesque: British Art, Poetry and Instruments 1750–1830 (Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2008), p. 118.

12. Christine Bolus-Reichert, ‘The Landed Revolution: Humphrey Repton, Arthur Young, and the Politics of Improvement’, Romanticism, 5 (1999), 203; Bate, Song of the Earth, p. 136.

13. Repton, Landscape Gardening, pp. 5–6.

14. William Wordsworth, The Prelude, edited by J. C. Maxwell (London: Penguin Books Ltd, 1971), Book XI, l. 156.

15. Repton’s dismissal of the motives and ethics of the picturesque is, notably, still rehearsed by modern scholars, most recently by J. Baird Callicott who characterises the movement as ‘superficial […] narcissistic [and] trivial’. See his ‘The Land Aesthetic’, in Environmental Ethics: Divergence and Convergence, 2nd edn, edited by Richard G. Botzler and Susan J. Armstrong (Boston: McGraw–Hill, 1998), p. 134.

16. Repton, Landscape Gardening, p. 9.

17. Uvedale Price, Essays on the Picturesque, as Compared with the Sublime and the Beautiful, edited by Gavin Budge (1794; Bristol: Thoemmes Press, 2001), pp. 43 and 94.

18. Ibid., p. 176.

19. Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, edited by Thomas H. D. Mahoney (1790; Indianapolis: Bobbs–Merrill Co. Ltd, 1955), p. 86; Hazel Fryer, ‘Humphrey Repton’s Commissions in Herefordshire: Picturesque Landscape Aesthetics’, Garden History, 22.2 (1994), 162.

20. Stephen Copley and Peter Garside, ‘Introduction’, The Politics of the Picturesque: Literature, Landscape and Aesthetics since 1770 (Cambridge: CUP, 1994), p. 5.

21. Repton, Landscape Gardening, p. 92.

22. Ibid.

23. Ibid., p. 89.

24. Rachel Crawford, Poetry, Enclosure, and the Vernacular Landscape, 1700–1830 (Cambridge: CUP, 2002), p. 4.

25. Stephen Switzer, Ichnographia Rustica: or, the Nobleman, Gentleman, and Gardener’s Recreation (London: D. Browne et al., 1718), p. 185.

26. Crawford, Poetry, Enclosure, and the Vernacular Landscape, p. 72.

27. John Barrell, English Literature in History, 1730–1780: An Equal, Wide Survey (New York: St Martin’s Press, 1983), p. 51.

28. Repton, Landscape Gardening, p. 222.

29. Knight, The Landscape, p. 13 (Book I, ll. 169–76).

30. Ibid., p. 14 (Book I, ll. 192–95).

31. Crawford, Poetry, Enclosure, and the Vernacular Landscape, p. 76.

32. Thomas Whately, Observations on Modern Gardening (1770; New York: Garland Publishing Inc., 1982), pp. 12–13.

33. Crawford, Poetry, Enclosure, and the Vernacular Landscape, p. 76.

34. Knight, The Landscape, p. 14 (Book I, ll. 202–04; notes p. 14).

35. Ibid., pp. 15–16 (Book I, ll. 213 and 218).

36. Bermingham, Landscape and Ideology, p. 67.

37. Knight, ‘Advertisement’, The Landscape, p. viii.

38. Knight, The Landscape, p. 2 (Book I, ll. 19–20).

39. Ibid., p. 2 (Book I, l. 17).

40. Ibid., pp. 31–32 (Book II, ll. 2 and 8–16).

41. Price, Essays on the Picturesque, p. 111.

42. Ibid., p. 108.

43. Ibid., pp. 178–79.

44. Ibid., p. 179.

45. Stephen Daniels and Charles Watkins, ‘Picturesque Landscaping and Estate Management: Uvedale Price and Nathaniel Kent at Foxley’, in Politics of the Picturesque, edited by Copley and Garside, p. 21.

46. Price, Essays on the Picturesque, pp. 102–03.

47. William Godwin, Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and its Influence on Morals and Happiness, edited by F. E. L. Priestley, 3 vols (1793; Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1946), I, 274.

48. As John Whale points out, Knight’s footnote on the Reign of Terror at the conclusion of Book III threatens to ‘dominat[e] the whole book’. See ‘Romantic Explorers and Picturesque Travellers’, in Politics of the Picturesque, edited by Copley and Garside (Cambridge: CUP, 1994), p. 188.

49. Knight, The Landscape, p. 84 (Book III, l. 257).

50. Ibid., p. 91 (Book III, ll. 377–78, 390 and 387).

51. Ibid., pp. 91–94 (Book III, ll. 393, 402 and 420; notes pp. 93–94).

52. Bermingham, Landscape and Ideology, p. 67.

53. Knight, The Landscape, pp. 91–92 (Book III, ll. 416 and 373–74).

54. Ibid., p. 101.

55. Ibid.

56. Timothy Morton, ‘Animals, Vegetables, Minerals, and Other Alien Beings’, Activism, Apocalypse, and the Avant-Garde (ASLE UK Conference, University of Edinburgh, 11 July 2008).

57. Gary Harrison, ‘Romantic Ecology’, Encyclopedia of World Environmental History, edited by Shepard Krech, John Robert McNeill, and Carolyn Merchant, 3 vols (New York & London: Routledge, 2004), III, 1064.

58. Broglio, Technologies of the Picturesque, p. 195.

59. Ibid., p. 118.