Tuesday, April 07, 2009
People who love gardens
In a recent Books and Culture magazine, Alan Jacobs writes on Governing and Gardening, a book review of Tim Richardson's The Arcadian Friends: Inventing the English Landscape Garden.
A quote from Jacob's review:
Classical—or more specifically Palladian—buildings like Stourhead's Pantheon were common features on the larger estates, but there were also many kinds of pseudo-temple, the aforementioned grottoes, and, increasingly as the century wore on, hermitages. Usually the hermitages would contain statues or books, but it was sometimes thought that hermitages should be inhabited. Curiously, this becomes a major theme in Tom Stoppard's magnificent 1995 play Arcadia, during which Lady Croom hires a bumbling landscape designer named Noakes, whom she comes to refer to as "Culpability" Noakes [as opposed to Culpability Brown, the famous landscaper].
When Noakes tells her that he is building a hermitage, and she inquires where he plans to get a hermit, he stammers—not having considered this point—that he could perhaps advertise in the newspaper for one. To this Lady Croom replies, "But surely a hermit who takes a newspaper is not a hermit in whom one can have complete confidence."
A wonderful scene, and we learn from Richardson that it's not wholly fictional. The Hon. Charles Hamilton, in the course of creating what would become one of the masterpieces of the age at his estate Painshill, in Surrey, actually did advertise in the newspapers for a hermit to live in his hermitage. He offered said hermit not only (a very small) room and (meager) board but the princely sum of 700 guineas—about $50,000—upon certain strict conditions: for seven years the hermit could not shave, cut his hair, trim his fingernails, or speak to anyone.
On the plus side, he would receive a hermit's cloak, a human skull, and a Bible. Hamilton got a taker soon enough, and was quite pleased until—just three weeks into the experiment—the hermit was found carousing in a nearby pub and was fired on the spot. Thus confirming the wisdom of Lady Croom's suspicions.