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To Live in the New World: A. J. Downing and American Landscape Gardening
A. J. Downing (1815-1852) wrote the first American treatise on landscapegardening. As editor of the Horticulturist and the country's leading practitionerand author, he promoted a national style of landscape gardening that broke away fromEuropean precedents and standards. Like other writers and artists, Downing respondedto the intensifying demand in the nineteenth century for a recognizably Americancultural expression.To Live in the New World examines in detail Downing's growingconviction that landscape gardening must be adapted to the American people and thenation's indigenous landscapes. Despite significant changes in its three editions, Downing's A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening, remainedtrue to the original intent: to guide country gentlemen--with enough money, time, and taste--in the creation of ideal homes and pleasure grounds. While mosthistorians and critics have focused on Downing's more formally written treatise, Judith Major gives equal emphasis to Downing's spirited monthly editorials in theHorticulturist. In the journal, Downing "spoke American" and encouraged hiscountrymen and women to practice economy, to use America's rich natural resourceswisely yet artfully, to be content with a little cottage and a few fine nativetrees.Although the book is not a biography, the people, events, and experiences thatshaped Downing's thinking on landscape gardening are central to the story.Significantly, Downing spent his life in the spectacular natural setting of theHudson River valley. Through his professional practice, travels, reading, andextensive correspondence, he gradually became aware of the individual and collectiveneeds that he served. Landscape gardening, Downing came to feel, had to respect notonly a client's desires and means, but also the nation's republican values ofmoderation, simplicity, and civic responsibility. Major takes a fresh look at theinfluence on Downing's theory and practice of British writers such as ArchibaldAlison, Uvedale Price, Humphry Repton, John Claudius Loudon, and John Ruskin, andanalyzes for the first time his debt to the French academician A. C. Quatrem?re deQuincy's Essay on Imitation.
Major, Judith K.