To Live in the New World
A. J. Downing and American Landscape Gardening
252 pp., 9 x 10 in,
- Published: May 13, 1997
- Publisher: The MIT Press
- Published: July 19, 2007
- Publisher: The MIT Press
A. J. Downing (1815-1852) wrote the first American treatise on landscape gardening. As editor of the Horticulturist and the country's leading practitioner and author, he promoted a national style of landscape gardening that broke away from European precedents and standards. Like other writers and artists, Downing responded to the intensifying demand in the nineteenth century for a recognizably American cultural expression.
To Live in the New World examines in detail Downing's growing conviction that landscape gardening must be adapted to the American people and the nation's indigenous landscapes. Despite significant changes in its three editions, Downing's ATreatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening remained true to the original intent: to guide country gentlemen—with enough money, time, and taste—in the creation of ideal homes and pleasure grounds. While most historians and critics have focused on Downing's more formally written treatise, Judith Major gives equal emphasis to Downing's spirited monthly editorials in the Horticulturist. In the journal, Downing "spoke American" and encouraged his countrymen and women to practice economy, to use America's rich natural resources wisely yet artfully, to be content with a little cottage and a few fine native trees.
Although the book is not a biography, the people, events, and experiences that shaped Downing's thinking on landscape gardening are central to the story. Significantly, Downing spent his life in the spectacular natural setting of the Hudson River valley. Through his professional practice, travels, reading, and extensive correspondence, he gradually became aware of the individual and collective needs that he served. Landscape gardening, Downing came to feel, had to respect not only a client's desires and means, but also the nation's republican values of moderation, simplicity, and civic responsibility. Major takes a fresh look at the influence on Downing's theory and practice of British writers such as Archibald Alison, Uvedale Price, Humphry Repton, John Claudius Loudon, and John Ruskin, and analyzes for the first time his debt to the French academician A. C. Quatremère de Quincy's Essay on Imitation.
Judith Major has set her intimate and scholarly account of the pioneering of American horticulture against a fascinating story - the story of nineteenth century america waking up to its world status and starting to overtake Europe. The self-consciousness and the inspiration of the times are beautifully described, and the discussion of their landscapist controbersies, in which our own tangled thoughts about beauty and utility have their origins, are a terrific bonus. Anyone working in landscape should not be without this book. Anyone with an interest in landscape - in the way we have shaped our world - will find it hugely rewarding.
Paul Shepheard, Architect
John Evelyn may have made 'Gard'ning speak proper English', but nearly two centuries later A.J. Downing made it speak good 'American.' This biography of such a pivotal figure is very welcome in showing how the British tradition in garden practice and the Picturesque, which led Europe at the time, was translated to and began to flourish afresh in the New World.
David Jacques, Landscapes & Gardens, Institute of Advanced Architectural Studies
I highly recommend this book for landscape historians and landscape architects who are interested in the relationship between theory and practice, and in the ways that the built landscape can embody a culture's most pressing aesthetic and political concerns. Major's convincing demonstration of the complex exchanges between theory and practice in demonstration of the complex exchanges between theory and practice in Downing's works significantly alters our understanding of this critical moment in the discipline of landscape gardening as it was about to transform into the profession of landscape architecture.
Elizabeth Meyer, Chair, Department of Landscape Architecture, University of Virginia School of Architecture
To Live in the New World, an illuminating study of the evolution of Andrew Jackson Downing's landscape gardening theories, shows us a Downing who was an original thinker, not merely a popularizer. In the process, Judith Major reveals Andrew Jackson Downing was an advocate of American cultural landscape whose significance reached far beyond the world of design.
Dell Upton, Professor of Architectural History, University ofCalifornia, Berkeley