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DOWNING'S LANDSCAPE GARDENING, AND COTTAGE RESIDENCES.
We have read of a man who was born "half an hour too late;" and who was, in consequence, utterly unable ever to do anything precisely at the right time. Mr. Downing's destiny has been far different; for the American world was ready for his two capital books upon Landscape Gardening and Cottage Residences exactly as they appeared, and no sooner. Up to this period, the few among us who possessed wealth, and were ambitious of some taste in spending it, were generally content with a faint and far-away resemblance of certain English models, in a style properly denominated the "Grecian-bewitched," paltry and incongruous without, and completely uncomfortable within; surrounded by gardens whose principal distinctive characteristic (?) was a most dogged utilitarianism. The exception to this were often melancholy ones -- mistaken attempts at elegance, setting all rules of art at defiance, or grotesque efforts of fancy, whose only result was the association of the owner's name with that mortifying word, "folly." But with increased and increasing affluence, came the extended knowledge and the improved taste which result from foreign travel -- not merely a capacity and a desire for imitation, but a power of just appreciation, which must, in all ordinary cases, be founded upon comparison; and this newly awakened sense called at once for a complete revolution in rural architecture, and a modification, at least, of the straight walks and sharp angles, which alone made a garden beautiful to the eyes of our forefathers. To guide the yet incipient taste in these matters, and American work was absolutely necessary; and most happily has this necessity been met by Mr. Downing's books. Here are plans and precepts suited to every scale of fortune among us; and general maxims which may be studied with almost equal profit by the householder in the crowded city, and the man of refined taste who retires, with a full purse, to embody his own idea of a rural home.
Common sense is, in every case, first considered. The pseudo-taste which slights this great basis, is condemned as paltry and contemptible. Would that this great principle could be indelibly engraven on the national mind! We have never yet gone so far as to make hills out of board, and paint them blue, to represent a distant prospect; or enclosed stables and pig-styes with wooden walls, cut and colored to seem a ruined castle. But we have built those same stables and pig-styes with battlements and turrets; and, after painting them white, ornamented them with green blinds -- and we have planned and erected many a costly residence, without even a thought of the prospect which was to be commanded by its windows. We have given our parlors any aspect but that of the genial south; providing thus for the three months' chilly mornings and dark afternoons. We have projected our establishments, in and out of doors, in a style which would require a dozen servants, at least, to keep in tolerable order, and then attempted to lived in them with two slatternly maids and a man-of-all-work; thus condemning every member of the family to continual toil, vexation, and disappointment.
But it is needless to carry out our list of errors. All this has passed away -- an era of better things has fairly commenced, and we may thank Mr. Downing for having helped it on. His books are already so well known that our commendation is of course superfluous, but it is a subject that lies very near our hearts, and we could not forbear adding a breath of praise to the gale of popularity.
[This review was attributed to Poe by W. D. Hull, with the comment, "This rather long review I have included in the canon without any direct evidence," noting that it reminds one of Poe's tale "The Landscape Garden." Mabbott makes no mention of the review in his notes at the University of Iowa, or in his introduction to "The Landscape Garden," "The Domain of Arnheim" or "Landor's Cottage" in his edition of the Tales and Sketches, 1978.]
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[S:0 - NYEM, 1844]