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Title: An Explanatory Discourse by Tan Chet-qua of Quang-chew-fu, Gent.
Author: Chambers, Sir William, 1723-1796
Language: English
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*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "An Explanatory Discourse by Tan Chet-qua of Quang-chew-fu, Gent." ***





  _Introduction by_



David Stuart Rodes, University of California, Los Angeles


  Charles L. Batten, University of California, Los Angeles
  William E. Conway, William Andrews Clark Memorial Library
  George Robert Guffey, University of California, Los Angeles
  Maximillian E. Novak, University of California, Los Angeles


  James L. Clifford, Columbia University
  Ralph Cohen, University of Virginia
  Vinton A. Dearing, University of California, Los Angeles
  Arthur Friedman, University of Chicago
  Louis A. Landa, Princeton University
  Earl Miner, Princeton University
  Samuel H. Monk, University of Minnesota
  Everett T. Moore, University of California, Los Angeles
  Lawrence Clark Powell, William Andrews Clark Memorial Library
  James Sutherland, University College, London
  H. T. Swedenberg, Jr., University of California, Los Angeles
  Robert Vosper, William Andrews Clark Memorial Library


Beverly J. Onley, William Andrews Clark Memorial Library


Frances M. Reed, University of California, Los Angeles


This "Explanatory Discourse" first appeared, in the latter part of March
1773, annexed to the second and last edition of Sir William Chambers'
_Dissertation on Oriental Gardening_ of the preceding May. As an effort,
curiously hedged, to impersonate a Chinese spokesman it seeks to exploit
the satiric vantage points of philosophic naivety and trenchant candor
enjoyed by Goldsmith's observer Lien Chi Altangi in London a dozen years
earlier. But Chambers' ventriloquism is both more defensive and more
aggressive than what we find in _The Citizen of the World_; the Preface
here in his own voice admits sensitivity to the "abuse" which the
Dissertation had incurred for its scenic fantasy, its brief opening and
closing attacks on "Capability" Brown, and its pervasive criticism of
the blandness of Brownian landscaping. By assuming the voice of Tan
Chet-qua Chambers is able to pretend to more authoritative familiarity
with actual Chinese gardens even as he deplores his readers'
misapprehension that his interest lay mainly in masquerade,
entertainment, or "the mere recital of a traveller's observation" (p.
113). It was probably a strategic error to entrust the substance of his
genuine and quite respectable challenging of Brownian style, to what he
terms the "vehicle" of alleged first-hand reports of preferable
"Chinese" lay-outs. By this date, some two decades after the chinoiserie
fad had crested in England, most of his readers might fairly be termed
rather jaded. They preferred to overreact to the frivolity and whimsey
they had come to think essentially Chinese, rather than to ponder what
Chambers seriously urges from behind his silken "screen": his interest
in a variegated emotional response to deliberately variegated landscape.
An admirer of Burke's Sublime, Chambers saw advantage in complicating
the suavity of Brown's gentle contours, shaven lawns, free-form
reflecting lakes, and still short tree-clumps, through a program of
landscaped stimulation of contrasting associative moods. This is the
essence of that argument which Chambers "cloathed ... in the garb of
fiction, to secure it a patient hearing" (p. 112) in three publications
appearing over sixteen years. There is no evidence that he was better
understood through publication of this "Discourse," the last of the

Of course, it is not as a satirist, an aesthetician of landscape, or
even as a masquerading orientalist that Sir William Chambers (1723-96)
has been best known in his time and since: with Robert Adam, he led the
British architectural profession virtually from the time he undertook
his first commissions around 1757. The two buildings for which he is
justly best remembered are the Chinese Pagoda at Kew Gardens and
Somerset House, between London's Strand and Waterloo Bridge. Yet from
that solid Palladian structure now housing the General Register Office
it takes more than the dozen miles up Thames to reach the pagoda which
in 1762 reared its eighty bright wing-displaying dragons on ten
successive roofs, and from the height of fifty meters flashed its glazed
tiles across suburbia. Chambers developed simultaneously and maintained
through his career two contrasted sensibilities. The dignified town
house he designed for his family in 1764 fronted Berners Street with a
massive rusticated doorway, yet had interior chimney-pieces and a rear
elevation modelled in "fanciful" papier-maché which his biographer John
Harris supposes was painted and varnished chinoiserie. He made his way
to the top of his profession and earned royal recognition through
tectonic skills that absorbed him with Somerset House, for instance,
during the last two decades of his life. But as early as 1752 he had
ventured the striking practice--standard by the century's end through
his pioneering and Adam's--of drawing elevations of a building proposed
as it would appear if already conditioned by time, decaying and
overgrown by vegetation.[2] Deciding what to make of his three
publications on Chinese gardens will not be eased by polarizing his
sources of inspiration or consigning his life into stretches during
which the dominant interest was product or process, structure or affect.
Here is no schizoid or frustrated Pre-Romantic--a Chatterton who somehow
survived his suicide attempt to edit copy for the _Gentleman's
Magazine_--but a consummate professional.[3] The mythic "Cina" of which
this "Discourse" was Chambers' latest account grew and changed with him
from his first-hand experience of Canton at the age of twenty, through
his architectural training in Paris and Rome, and throughout his
practice and success as the Establishment architect of his age in

The recent thorough Harris biography leaves it appropriate here only to
survey the facts most pertinent to his publications on Chinese gardens
and to advance a few speculations. The first son of a well-to-do
Scottish sutler to the armies of Charles XII of Sweden, Chambers early
left his native Gothenburg for schooling supervised by relatives in
Yorkshire. Between the ages of 17 and 26 his cosmopolitan rearing
proceeded with his apprenticeship to supercargoes or agents aboard three
successive vessels of the Swedish East India Company trading in ports
along the Indian coast and as far east as Canton. Although his eye and
sketchbook were thus early busied with oriental sights, what Chambers
later wrote of Peking (or much else Chinese beyond the docks of Canton)
was, as he admitted, based upon the observations of others. Yet it must
have been rare and significant enough in those days that when this
Westerner determined to devote his earnings from the final voyage to an
education in architecture, he had seen proportionately so much of
non-European building. Even before enrolling in J.-F. Blondel's Ecole
des Arts for the 1749-50 winter, Chambers may have met Frederick, Prince
of Wales, in London, and been encouraged by Frederick's exotic
interests.[4] It was during his second of five springs in Rome, living
with his English wife over the shop of Piranesi, that Chambers learned
of Frederick's death in March 1751 and designed for him a mausoleum
based on the ancient and neo-classical shapes before his eyes; in one of
his sections for this project he depicted it decaying like some of them,
with cypress trees beginning to grow out of the rubble that was to have
been its roof! Though this design was never executed, Chambers did meet
with royal patronage upon his return to London and dedicated to the new
Prince of Wales--soon his pupil in drawing, and three years later,
George III--his first book, _Designs of Chinese Buildings, Furniture,
Dresses, Machines and Utensils_ in 1757.

The opening sentences which Samuel Johnson contributed to Chambers'
_Designs_ scorned the "power" with which "novelty attracts regard"[5]--a
ground-note directly contrary to Chambers' sarcastic apology for "the
monster Novelty" here in his 1773 Preface. But in 1757 he could expect
his crisp text and twenty-one plates to administer a calming dose of
authenticity to the chinoiserie fever then raging. In fact, this large
and handsome volume appears to have driven from the market the
pattern-books of "William Halfpenny" and others, with their ridiculous
dragon-finials atop Georgian hip-roofs and Venetian windows bordered by
crockets--the carpentry trade trying to sustain a mood for renovations
waning by the early fifties. Chambers hoped to put a stop "to the
extravagancies that daily appear under the name of Chinese, though most
of them are mere inventions, the rest copies from the lame
representations found on porcelain and paper-hangings." This sniffy
professionalism would broaden by 1772 into mockery of the "kitchen
gardeners, well skilled in the culture of sallads, but little acquainted
with the principles of Ornamental Gardening"[6]--which everyone took for
a swipe at Launcelot "Capability" Brown, "yon stately gentleman in the
black perriwig" (p. 157 below).

Yet probably a more general and generous motive prompted Chambers to
boost in this public way, on the last five pages introducing his
_Designs_, a landscape-style in which he could hardly expect to exercise
his training or build the career just beginning. The lay-outs of Kent
and Brown took inspired advantage of topography, plants and climate
peculiar to the south of England, but to anyone coming like Chambers
from the gardens in and near Paris and Rome it might appear by 1757 that
the English style risked parochial self-exaggeration to the point where
all anecdotal human interest would be suppressed in the name of a
"Nature" literally isolated. Cosmopolitanism, more enlightened than
ever, befitted a Britain engaged in Pitt's "Great War for the Empire"
which would extend its holdings from Montreal to Madras. Was there not
an earlier empire whose leader had left visible tokens of his
eclecticism? "[H]Adrian, who was himself an architect, at a time when
the Grecian architecture was in the highest esteem among the Romans,
erected in his Villa, at Tivoli, certain buildings after the manner of
the Egyptians and of other nations."[7] It was timely to identify a pure
"original" example of culture native to quite another organic whole, and
then to transplant it intact to a British scene large enough to sustain
it. Botanically viewed, this is the principle on which arduous
horticultural experiments were being performed at this stage in
England's imperial history: the removal to Kew of Lebanese cedars,
oriental Ginkgoes, persimmons and Sophoras, or American locusts in the
earlier 1750s, and later, the infamous Bounty venture to transplant in
Jamaica breadfruit from the South Seas. Architecturally applied, it
would seem to be the principle on which Chambers developed his designs
for a score of buildings after the manner of the Romans, Chinese, Moors,
and of other nations, erected at Kew Gardens by the time the Treaty of
Paris was signed in 1763.[8] In this concern he seconded but went beyond
the hopes of Horace Walpole and William Mason that "this whole kingdom
might soon become one magnificant vast Garden, bounded only by the sea"
(below, page 133). The syntax of Lewis Mumford seems apposite: of
Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer of New York's Central Park just a
century later, Mumford has remarked that "By making nature urbane he
naturalized the city."[9] At Kew, by making the garden cosmopolitan,
Chambers helped to globalize the capital of empire and proposed the
world as Enlightened Eden.

It was not, of course, such national or global edenic visions which
chiefly exercised readers of Chambers' 1757 essay "Of the Art of Laying
Out Gardens Among the Chinese" and brought down upon his 1772
_Dissertation_ the ridicule which prompted the "Explanatory Discourse."
Rather, it was the lurid details through which both accounts maintained
that "The Chinese artists, knowing how powerfully contrast operates on
the mind, constantly practise sudden transitions, and a striking
opposition of forms, coulours, and shades." Though this principle earned
sympathetic response from theorists like Burke and Karnes at home and
Delille on the Continent, Chambers pressed his luck too far when he
described what he claimed to have observed, or heard from Chinese
observers, of "three different species of scenes, to which they give the
appellations of pleasing, horrid, and enchanted." Particularly
vulnerable were the programmed _frissons_ of "their scenes of horror":
"some miserable huts dispersed in the mountains serve, at once to
indicate the existence and wretchedness of the inhabitants."[10] By 1772
the _Schadenfreude_ has deepened: "Their scenes of terrour are composed
of gloomy woods, &c. gibbets, crosses, wheels, and the whole apparatus
of torture are seen from the roads. Here too they conceal in cavities,
on the summits of the highest mountains, foundries, lime-kilns, and
glass-works, which send forth large volumes of flame, and continued
columns of thick smoke, that give to these mountains the appearance of
volcanos." This was the sort of opening which William Mason exploited in
his _Heroic Epistle to Sir William Chambers_ of March, 1773:

    Now to our lawns of dalliance and delight,
    Join we the groves of horrour and affright;
    This to achieve no foreign aids we try,
    Thy gibbets, Bagshot! shall our wants supply;
    Hounslow, whose heath sublimer terrour fills,
    Shall with her gibbets lend her powder mills.[11]

Mason's _Heroic Epistle_ was one of the century's most popular poems
and, cheered on by Walpole, a viscously successful effort to tar with
Chambers' lavish brush his patron George Bute and other assorted Scots,
any critic of Brown, and the Tory establishment at large.

Yet behind Chambers' oriental screen the novelty, enduring interest, and
even the practicality of some of his ideas can be observed. That concern
to naturalize the smoky mills of industrialization may be developing a
hint (concerning Middleton Dale, in the Peak District) on page 94 of
Thomas Whately's supremely influential _Observations on Modern
Gardening_ (1770). If Chambers' generation was neither the first nor
last to grapple with what "progress" had done to the land, the English
landscaping movement presented a new stage for that encounter. While
Chet-qua's proposal to frame the dreary tracts around a metropolis "into
scenes of terror" seems less than helpful, how neatly he anticipates
Cézanne's transfer of his easel into the abandoned Bibémus Quarry (pp.
130-132). Foreshadowing William Cowper's satire of "Th' omnipotent
magician, Brown" in _The Task_, Chambers had warned that
estate-"improvement" could lead to irreparable devastation of the
nation's woodland. Several of Chambers' means to certain effects sound
more like a practical landscape architect at work than a Disneyland
impressario parading his promised thrills: when he urges diversification
of material relative to seasonal change or human entertainments, for
instance, or the use of wire fencing and other substitutes for the
ha-ha. His interest in the harmonizing of diverse but massed hues and
textures has been recognized as an early glimpse of the "English"
effects secured by Gertrude Jekyll a century and a quarter later.[12]
Though extravagances of Chambers' language distracted attention from the
liberalism of his views, such passages of the _Dissertation_ as pp.
49-50 read like the Picturesque identified by William Gilpin, Uvedale
Price, and Richard Payne Knight in the 1780s and '90s. Far from the
(Sino-British) imperial privity which Mason tartly mocked are Chet-qua's
suggestions that the country-house owner drop his palings and open his
grounds to "Holy-day folks," as he opens his Park to his kitchen-garden.
More than this, he should offer "meats for every palate," plan not for
his family or honored guests alone, but for tastes more susceptible to
surprise than theirs. Likewise the circuit plan would be well replaced
by another less coercive.[13] Points like these reveal in Chambers a
solicitude on behalf of a general public of garden-strollers not at all
necessarily landholding, nor self-conscious as "connoisseurs." Perhaps
this is why, when the planners grouped around Nikolaus Pevsner and his
_Architectural Review_ surveyed their task in postwar England, they
would find fresh applications for the term "picturesque" and fresh
relevance in this Tory's "Chinese" gardens.[14] Sinologists and
landscape-historians have long recognized, to be sure, that Chambers'
descriptions (like most of what the West has wrought in the name of
Chinese gardening since Sir William Temple enunciated his shadowy
_sharawadgi_ principle in 1685), while they may correctly celebrate
specific details, or the general principles of surprise and variety,
register no sensitivity to the Taoist or Buddhist teleology crucial to
oriental planning. What Chet-qua calls "supernatural scenery" is hence
"enchanted" by the same spirit of diversion animating the Druid or Dark
Walk and subterranean Fairy Music of Vauxhall Gardens, across the Thames
from Somerset House.[15] Enlightened secularization of the genuine
oriental principles of immanence and affect may, however, be exactly
what makes a paragraph on page 52 of the 1773 _Dissertation_ sound so
much like a ground-plan for a short story of strollers' interwoven and
inconsequential conversations and interior monologues, Virginia Woolf's
"Kew Gardens."

If allowances are made for the persistent difficulty of transcribing
Chinese phonemes, and for Chambers' dependence upon Cantonese rather
than Mandarin dialect, the oriental dress of the _Discourse_ is less
bogus than might be assumed. Chambers' varying spellings of the then
reigning emperor's name would exemplify the first problem, my failure to
authenticate the poem on pages 118-119 the second. (Over 42,000
unindexed poems in Mandarin are attributed to this emperor, now known
here as Ch'ien-lung.) Proustian though they may seem to Westerners, the
synesthetic effects of tea-taking and the evocativeness of the scents
and hues of "Mei-hoa" (plum-blossom), "fo-cheou" (chrysanthemum), and
pine are indeed celebrated in much Chinese poetry.[16] Whoever wrote the
poem, it aptly dramatizes the suggestible ethos which Chambers
recommends to English artists and their public.

This "Discourse" is appreciably more puckish in tone than the earlier
two-thirds of Chambers' published "Chinese" work. The half-title here,
page [109] of the second edition, heaps Chambers' own initialed
honors[17] upon the Canton "Gent." Chet-qua, and with the ironies of his
Preface and elaborate courtesies of the Introduction, the fun has begun.
Identification of a Chinese alter ego enables Chambers to claim a kind
of diplomatic immunity for both his enthusiasms and his judgments
against the English style. By half-heartedly ascribing the preceding 107
pages of _Dissertation_ also to Chet-qua, and receding as mere "Editor"
of the lovable old gourmet's remarks (page 148n), he trusts to keep one
step ahead of his Whig adversaries. With exemplary tolerance such as had
enhanced the European stereotype of the Chinese sage throughout the
century, Chet-qua finds more to commend in French and Italian gardens,
more to tease disarmingly in the Dutch, than Chambers had earlier.
Finally, since an actual Chinese artist-about-town usually known as
Chitqua had only recently returned to Canton, Chambers may have hoped
his masquerade could stir British hospitality for his ideas. Within
weeks of reaching London in August 1769, Chitqua had had a royal
audience. The miniature portrait busts he modelled in clay at ten
guineas apiece, as well as his delicate manners and physique ("the
eyelashes almost always in motion") earned the admiration of Wedgwood's
friend Thomas Bentley. One of his busts was shown in the 1770 Royal
Academy exhibition, and during that year he visited Oxford, met Chambers
and Bishop Percy, and sat down with Horace Walpole among others at the
first official Academy dinner. Lashes and all, he figures in Zoffany's
"Life School of the Royal Academy," painted in 1771. But what peculiarly
recommends Chitqua to Chambers' purposes here is perhaps a mob's
intervention at the start of his homeward voyage to Canton that spring,
when xenophobia and "the superstitious fears of the mariners" forced him
to return to London for another ship. On page 141 Chambers differs from
the _Gentleman's Magazine_ reporter who had Chitqua "accidentally ...
fall overboard" at Gravesend, but whatever the facts, the parallel to
Jonah at Joppa might be as clear to Chet-qua's adversaries as it was to
that reporter and win the "Discourse" a more candid hearing than the
_Dissertation_ had enjoyed.[18] To an unidentified reader of his first
edition Chambers had justified such artfulness, and his entire "Chinese"
myth for the promotion of a change in landscaping-style, this way: "I
thought it necessary to move in an exalted sphere. Our Gardeners, and I
fear our Connoisseurs too, are such _tame_ animals, that much sparring
is necessary to keep them properly on their haunches."[19] Such quixotic
energy even Mason had to salute, in the last line of his _Heroic

  Douglass College
  Rutgers University


[1] The "Explanatory Discourse" is the last of Chambers' works to be
reissued in 20th-century facsimile. Chambers' _Designs of Chinese
Buildings_ (London, 1757), rpt. in facsim. (New York: Benjamin Blom,
1968), concludes its text with his essay "Of the Art of Laying Out
Gardens Among the Chinese," pp. 14-19, rpt. in John Dixon Hunt and Peter
Willis, eds., _The Genius of the Place_ (New York: Harper & Row, 1975),
pp. 283-288. _A Dissertation on Oriental Gardening_ (London, 1772), of
which the illus. title-page reappeared in the 2nd ed. (London, 1773),
hence here, was rpt. in facsim. ed. John Harris (Farnborough, Hants.:
Gregg International, 1972). I quote from pp. 111-113 of "An
Explanatory Discourse"; Chet-qua drops his mask on p. 159 below.
Concerning the fad see Hugh Honour, _Chinoiserie: The Vision of Cathay_
(London: John Murray, 1961), esp. ch. vi.

[2] John Harris, _Sir William Chambers, Knight of the Polar Star_
(University Park: Pennsylvania State Univ. Press, 1970), p. 24 and pls.
7, 94 (not to be confused with the earlier accepted practice of
designing ruins: pls. 31, 81). For the "fanciful" aspects of his town
house see pp. 11, 217.

[3] For the evidence of correspondence esp. from 1770-74 see Heather
Martienssen, "Chambers as a Professional Man," _Architectural Review_,
135, 2 (1964), 277-283.

[4] Harris gathers evidence for the meeting with Frederick, pp. 33-35,
and on pp. 18-19, surmises that Blondel's teaching "may well have been
the foundation of Chambers's eclecticism.... The choice of a Parisian
education underlines Chambers' European character."

[5] _Boswell's Life of Johnson_, ed. George Birkbeck Hill and L. F.
Powell (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1934), IV, 188.

[6] _Designs_, first page of unpaginated Preface; _Dissertation_ (1773),
p. iii. Cf. "William and John Halfpenny" [Michael Hoare], _Chinese and
Gothic Architecture Properly Ornamented_ (London, 1752), e.g. pl. 2.

[7] _Designs_, second page of unpaginated Preface.

[8] W. J. Bean, _The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew_ (London: Cassell,
1908), pp. 194-195, following Sir John Hill, _Hortus Kewensis_ (London,
1768); Chambers, _Plans, Elevations, Sections and Perspective Views of
the Gardens and Buildings at Kew_ (London, 1763).

[9] "Frederick Law Olmsted's Contribution," _Roots of Contemporary
American Architecture_, ed. Lewis Mumford (New York: Reinhold, 1952), p.
111. _Dissertation_ (1773), p. 103 and cf. his letter of 13 May 1772 in
Harris (1970), p. 192; Walpole, _On Modern Gardening_, ed. W. S. Lewis
(New York: Young Books, 1931), p. 66; Mason, _The English Garden_, Book
I (1772), final line.

[10] _Designs_, p. 15 (ed. Hunt and Willis, p. 284).

[11] Chambers' prose is cited _Dunciad_-fashion in the _Epistle, Minor
English Poets, 1660-1780: A Selection from Alexander Chalmers'_ The
English Poets [_1810_], ed. David P. French (New York: Benjamin Blom,
1967), VIII, 108. See Isabel W. Chase, "William Mason and Sir William
Chambers' Dissertation on Oriental Gardening," _JEGP_, 35 (1936),
517-530; R. C. Bald, "Sir William Chambers and the Chinese Garden,"
_JHI_, 11 (1950), 287-320.

[12] Cowper, Book III, "The Garden," 1. 766, in _A Collection of English
Poems 1660-1800_, ed. Ronald S. Crane (New York: Harper, 1932), p. 998;
_Dissertation_ (1773), pp. xi, 23-30, 37-39, 91-99; cf. Derek Clifford,
_A History of Garden Design_, rev. ed. (New York: Praeger, 1966), pp.

[13] "Discourse," pp. 125-128, 133, 137-138, 143, 155-156;
_Dissertation_ (1773), pp. vi, 53; Harris, p. 192.

[14] Pevsner, "The Other Chambers," _Architectural Review_, 101 (1947),

[15] Temple, "Upon the Gardens of Epicurus," ed. Hunt and Willis, p. 99;
Osvald Sirén, _China and Gardens of Europe of the Eighteenth Century_
(New York: Ronald, 1950), p. iv; "Discourse," pp. 155-156.

[16] I owe this information to Prof. Ching-I Tu of Livingston Coll. and
Dr. Nelson Chou of the East Asian Lib., both at Rutgers Univ. Likewise
helpful but in no way blameworthy in my remarks on matters Chinese were
Prof. King-Lui Wu and Mr. Antony Marr of Yale Univ. and Prof. Andrew
Plaks of Princeton Univ. Though some of the proper names Chet-qua uses
eluded verification, the worst blunder noted was "Ty," which means
"emperor," at p. 139_n_. Endowing Chet-qua with "nine whiskers" instead
of the traditional five beards sorts with the unusually narrow
proportions and numerous stories of the Kew Pagoda. Rhymes and short
syntactic groupings in italics, pp. 141, 158, are not Confucian; the
28th year of Ch'ien-lung's reign (p. [115]) would be 1764. Yet the idiom
in the final n., p. 163, is authentic.

[17] The initials stand for Fellow of the Royal Soc. of Sweden; Member
of the Royal Acad. of Arts, Paris; Member of the Italian Acad. of Arts,
Florence; Treasurer of the Royal Acad.; Comptroller General of His
Majesty's Works; Architectural Tutor to the Queen. Chambers'
international reputation was assured by his _Treatise on Civil
Architecture_ (1759).

[18] "Historical Chronicle," G.M., 41 (1771), 237-238; William T.
Whitley, _Artists and their Friends in England, 1700-1799_ (Boston:
Medici Society, 1928), I, 269-272; "Johnson, Percy, and Sir William
Chambers," _Bodleian Library Record_, 4 (1952-53), 291-292.

[19] Harris, p. 193 (Chambers' emphasis).


The facsimile of "An Explanatory Discourse" is reproduced from a copy
(Shelf Mark: PML 53026) "annexed to" the second and last edition of _A
Dissertation on Oriental Gardening_ (1773) in The Pierpont Morgan
Library. The total type-page (p. 113) measures 208 × 127 mm.







    _Comptroller General of his Majesty's Works._

    [Illustration: Jacket Cover]


  Printed by W. GRIFFIN, Printer to the ROYAL ACADEMY; sold by Him in
  _Catharine-Street_: and by T. DAVIES, Bookseller to the ROYAL ACADEMY,
  in _Russel-Street, Covent Garden_: also by J. DODSLEY, _Pall Mall_:
  WILSON and NICOLL, _Strand_: J. WALTER, _Charing Cross_: and P.
  ELMSLEY, _Strand_. 1772.














  Printed by W. GRIFFIN, Printer to the ROYAL ACADEMY; sold by Him in
  _Catharine-street_; and by T. DAVIES, Bookseller to the ROYAL ACADEMY,
  in _Russel-street, Covent-Garden_: also by J. DODSLEY, _Pall-Mall_;
  WILSON and NICOLL, _Strand_; J. WALTER, _Charing-Cross_; and P.
  ELMSLEY, _Strand_. 1773.






  Quang-Chew-fu, Gent. FRSS, MRAAP;




  The PRINCIPLES laid down in the Foregoing
  DISSERTATION, are illustrated and
  applied to PRACTICE.


Every new system naturally meets with opposition; when the monster
Novelty appears, all parties, alarmed at the danger, unite to raise a
clamour: each cavils at what it doth not like, or doth not comprehend,
till the whole project is pulled to pieces, and the projector stands
plumed of every feather; not only robbed of the praise due to his labour
and good intentions, but, like a common enemy, branded with scorn and
abuse. In the first hurry of criticism, every deviation is accounted an
error; every singularity an extravagance; every difficulty a visionary's
dream: warm with resentment, biassed by interests and prejudices, the
angry champions of the old, rarely show mercy to the new; which is
almost always invidiously considered, and too often unjustly condemned.

Sensible of these difficulties, the Author of the foregoing
Dissertation, written in direct opposition to the stream of fashion,
harboured no sanguine hopes of fame from his Publication: far from
expecting at the first, either applause or encouragement, he even judged
artifice necessary to screen him from resentment; and cloathed truth in
the garb of fiction, to secure it a patient hearing.

The success of his little work, however, in one sense, far exceeded
expectation: at its first appearance here, it found not only a patient,
but a very indulgent reception; and it has since been equally fortunate
in France, and other parts of Europe; where Monsieur Delarochette's
elegant translation has made it known.

Yet flattering as this extensive suffrage may seem, it is in reality
rather mortifying to the Author; who finds, from the nature of the
encomiums bestowed upon his performance, that it has been more generally
liked than understood; and that, whilst a few have honoured it with a
deliberate reading, and separated the substance from the vehicle in
which it was contained, far the greater number have mistaken the mask
for the reality, and considered it simply as a pleasing tale; as the
mere recital of a traveller's observation; or, as the luxuriant
effusions of a fertile imagination, a splendid picture of visionary

Whether these misapprehensions arose from want of perspicuity in the
writer, or want of attention in the readers, admits of no dispute; the
former was most probably the case. The Author therefore, who wishes to
be perfectly understood, and is more ambitious of being useful than
entertaining, humbly begs leave to offer, at the end of this second
edition, such reasons and explanations as seem necessary, either to
remove doubts, or clear obscurities; he flatters himself they will be
found sufficient, and serve to place the work in its true, its most
advantageous light.

Of these illustrations he saw the necessity some time ago, and framed
them into a Discourse supposed to be pronounced by Chet-qua, then in
England; judging it, at that time, a sort of propriety to put in the
mouth of a Chinese, what farther information was wanted relative to his

But as there is now no longer any necessity for disguise, both the
Dissertation and Explanatory Discourse ought certainly to appear in
their natural dress. To new-model them, however, would require more time
than the Author can possibly spare; he therefore has republished the
Dissertation, in its original form, and the Discourse as it was
originally written; hoping the indulgent reader will pardon these
defects, and gather the fruit, if there be any to gather, without
minding the trees on which it grows.


All the world knew Chet-qua, and how he was born at Quang-chew-fu,[20]
in the fourth moon of the year twenty-eight; also how he was bred a
face-maker, and had three wives, two of whom he caressed very much; the
third but seldom, for she was a virago, and had large feet. He dressed
well, often in thick sattin; wore nine whiskers and four long nails,
with silk boots, callico breeches, and every other ornament that
Mandarins are wont to wear; equalling therein the prime macarones, and
sçavoir vivres, not only of Quang-chew, but even of Kyang-ning, or
Shun-tien-fu. Of his size; he was a well-spoken portly man, for a
Chinese; a pretty general scholar; and, for a heathen, a very compleat
gentleman. He composed a tieh-tse, or billet-doux, at pleasure; recited
verses, either in Mantchou or Chinese, and sung love-songs in many
languages. He likewise danced a fandango, after the newest taste of
Macao, played divinely upon the bag-pipe, and made excellent remarks;
which, when he lodged at Mr. Marr's, in the Strand, he would repeat to
his friends over a pipe, as often as they pleased; for he was fond of
smoaking, provided the tobacco was good; and, upon these occasions, was
always vastly pleasant, and very communicative.

Amongst his favourite topics were painting, music, architecture and
gardening; to the last of which he seemed most affected, often
disserting thereon till he was tired, and the audience fast asleep; for
the tone of his voice was like opium to the hearers; his method was
diffuse, and the subject, though a good one, not generally interesting.

One day he launched out into a long description of the Eastern Gardens,
especially those of his own country, to which he was exceedingly
partial; and, in the conclusion, compared them to a splendid feast, at
which there were pleasures for every sense, and food for every fancy;
whilst our Gardens, he said, were like Spartan broth, which was
disgustful to all but Spartan palates; or like the partial niggardly
treats of the fable, adapted only to organs of a peculiar construction:
he advanced many other odd positions, spoke very freely, as well of our
Gardeners, as Gardens, and ended recommending the Chinese taste, in
preference to all others.

We were diverted with the discourse, from its singularity, and the
variety of new ideas in which it abounded; yet as it ran in direct
opposition to the general opinion and usage of England, and recommended
a system which appeared to us rather visionary than practicable, we
animadverted upon all its parts with the utmost freedom; neither sparing
the speech nor speaker in any particular.

The severity of our criticism at first disconcerted poor Chet-qua, who
remained silent, and in apparent confusion; but, after a short pause, he
reassumed his usual good humour, his countenance cleared up, he arose,
bowed to the company, and stroking his nine whiskers, began the
following discourse.


    _Tan lou ty tchan yué[21]
    Ko ou, pou ko choué.
    Ou yun king tai pan
    Fou fou teou lo ty_

If, in the hurry and warmth of speaking, Chet-qua has used expressions
that seemed disrespectful, or inadvertently started notions that
appeared extravagant, as you, Gentlemen, are pleased to assert, it is
more than he intended; his sole aim at this meeting, has been to point
out a style of Gardening preferable to your's; and to shew how much more
may be done in that Art, than has hitherto been thought on, by your or
any other European nation: to enumerate impossibilities, or amuse an
audience with golden dreams and glittering shadows, would answer no
useful purposes; and could, therefore, neither be the business nor
intention of Chet-qua, who speaks not for the pleasure of speaking, nor
with a desire of tickling the ear, but with the hope of being
serviceable; he laments his want of perspicuity, to which alone your
misapprehensions must be imputed; and begs leave to trespass on your
patience a few moments longer, to explain himself more clearly, and
endeavour to remove your prejudices against him.

He is sorry to have been under a necessity of censuring, even in a
distant manner, what seemed to him imperfect amongst you; but whoever
would be instrumental in the advancement of science, must declare his
mind freely, and sometimes enforce his precepts by examples that exist:
his observations have been as general as the subject would permit; for
it is never his inclination to give offence; yet where truth is to be
investigated, the truth must necessarily be told; else little or no
progress can ever be made: where men play the sycophants, and tacitly
suffer, or meanly applaud, what they do not approve; no amendment can
ever be expected.

It is true, that dissentions in opinion, however well meant, will often
bear an invidious aspect, and always must offend some interested
individuals; yet, to the community, they are generally advantageous,
and should always be favourably received, as they give birth to new
discoveries, and ultimately point out the highest perfection: had no man
ever ventured to dissent from his neighbour, our age would be as dark as
were those of Fo-hii, Shing tong, or Whoang-tii;[22] and I am firmly
persuaded, that your English Gardening would now have been much more
perfect, had any one ever dared to dispute its excellence: but to
dissent, is an unthankful business; a dangerous talk, that few have
spirits to undertake, particularly where party-rage is violent, at it
now and then seems to be amongst you.--But I come to the point.

In China, our large Gardens are obtained at an almost incredible
expence, and attended with many inconveniencys: amongst you, whose
policy, whose manners are totally different from ours, they might often
be had at a moderate charge, and without much trouble; for formidable
as they may at first appear, it is certain that most of their scenery is
easily executed, when proper opportunities occur, which is frequently
the case in Europe, particularly in England; where your illustrious
families have large domains; where agriculture is neater and more
various than in other countries; and where the face of nature is in
general more luxuriant; as well as better contrasted.

It is natural enough for a stranger to be dazzled with the splendor of
our Oriental plantations; upon a cursory inspection, to conclude them
too vast, too magnificent, too expensive for European imitation; and
that, in your part of the world, the greatest princes should not be
indulged with such articles of luxury, calculated, as they seem, to
exhaust their treasures, waste their lands, rob and oppress their
subjects: but a more attentive examination will probably give birth to
more favourable opinions, and serve to prove, that not only your
princes, but even your private gentlemen, may emulate us in this
particular very safely; and that our style of Gardening may be adopted
amongst you, even in its whole extent, without being attended with any
of the inconveniences just now recited.

It is not the fence that constitutes the Garden; Cobham, Stourton,
Blenheim, would still be what they are, though the pales or walls by
which they are enclosed were taken away: neither is privacy necessary to
the essence of a Garden; for Richmond and Kew are surely the same, when
open to all the world, as when they are only accessible to the Royal
Family; nor is useful or profitable culture incompatible with the idea,
either of our Chinese, or your English Gardening.

Any tract of land, therefore, whose characteristick expressions have
been strengthened by art, and in which the spontaneous arrangements of
nature have been corrected, improved and adorned by the hand of taste,
ought to be considered as a Garden, though only fenced with common
hedges, and although the roads or paths passing through it be publick,
and the grounds of which it is composed cultivated to the utmost

There remains then no obstacle to your rivalling the Chinese, either in
the grandeur or extent of their Gardens: in which, you seem to fix, the
insuperable difficulties of the imitation; since you have parks,
forests, manors and royalties, some even in private hands, more
extensive than is necessary; and since these may be so improved, and
converted into gardens upon the plan now mentioned, without waste of
land, without invasion of property, without annoyance or seclusion of
the public, and certainly with less damage or expence to the owner, than
are usually incurred in the article of your common Gardening; as no
chargeable keeping or fencing would be necessary, no grounds
unprofitably employed, no considerable assistance from art wanted: for
the features of real nature, being in themselves generally more perfect,
as well as greater than the finest imitations, require very few helps;
seldom any that are expensive.

Every artist, therefore, who has the fortune to meet with patrons of
large possessions, and liberal sentiments, may give full scope to his
imagination, and boldly apply whatever he has seen, heard, or his own
fancy may have suggested, that is great, extraordinary, or surprising:
instead of confining his views to a few acres, to form a trifling
composition, scarcely superior to the desert at a festival; and which,
insignificant as it would be, none but the healthful and vigorous could
ever see; he may convert a whole province into a Garden; where the
spectator, instead of toiling on foot, as usual, to see a few nothings,
and performing more revolutions than a horse in a mill, may wander over
a whole country at his ease, in ships or in barges, in carriages or on
horse-back, feasting the sight with scenes of the boldest dimensions,
and contemplating the luxuriant varied productions of Nature, improved
and nobly enriched by Art.

And permit me to say, that Gardens of this sort, would not only be more
magnificent, but also much more beautiful and perfect in every respect,
than any even amongst the best of your artificial performances. In the
great style of Gardening, neatness is not only superfluous, but
destructive of the principal intent: the common roads, bridleways and
paths, of a country, however wild, are always preferable to the stiff,
formal, made walks of a Garden; they are, in themselves, grander, more
natural, and may, with a very little assistance; a few accompanyments,
be made as commodious, as rich, as varied, and as pleasant.

Fields covered with corn, turneps, beans, potatoes, hemp, or productions
of a similar nature; meadows, pasture lands, hop grounds, orchards, and
other parts of English culture; interwoven with common hedges, or
blended with accidental plantations, require little, if any assistance
from Art, to be more picturesque than lawns the most curiously dotted
with clumps; and villages, country churches, farm-houses or cottages,
when placed with judgement, and designed with taste, enrich and adorn a
landscape as well as more expensive structures.

The rivers of Nature flow in forms that Art can never equal: their
natural modifications, particularly in mountainous places, are
sufficiently numerous; a little management heightens or diminishes all
their expressions, varies their appearances, and adapts them to scenes
of any character: their banks are soon adorned, even in the richest
manner; for roses, a thousand other shrubs, and most perennial flowers,
will grow as easily, and with as little culture, as primroses and briars
do. A few of these, a little planting properly employed, and blended
with rural buildings, bridges, ruins, monumental urns, and other
trifling decorations, spread over the whole an appearance that equals,
even surpasses the most elaborate cultivation.

In every large tract of land, there generally are some places abundantly
supplied with water, which often flows through uncouth marshy bottoms of
little use or value to the owner: by raising heads at their extremities,
these are easily overflowed; and lakes of very considerable dimensions
may thus be obtained, often without much trouble, always with great
advantages, as well in point of profit as of pleasure; and wherever it
may be necessary to dig, in order to give a proper depth to the water,
the earth may be raised into islands of various shapes, which serve to
complicate the forms, to enrich and beautify the scenery.

Though woods, from various causes, are now more rare than heretofore
amongst you, yet are there, in most parts, some still remaining; their
natural beauties are many, and little more is left for art to do in
them, than to form roads, to thin or thicken them occasionally; where it
may be wanting, to intersperse, amongst the plantations, a few proper
shrubs and flowers; to open recesses, and to decorate them with objects;
this done, they will be infinitely superior, in every respect, to any of
the gaudy trifling confused plantations with which all your English-made
Gardens are so crouded.

England abounds with commons and wilds, dreary, barren, and serving only
to give an uncultivated appearance to the country, particularly near the
metropolis: to beautify these vast tracts of land, is next to an
impossibility; but they may easily be framed into scenes of terror,
converted into noble pictures of the sublimest cast, and, by an artful
contrast, serve to enforce the effect of gayer and more luxuriant

On some of them are seen gibbets, with wretches hanging in terrorem upon
them; on others, forges, collieries, mines, coal tracts, brick or lime
kilns, glass-works, and different objects of the horrid kind: what
little vegetation they have, is dismal; the animals that feed upon it,
are half-famished to the artist's hands; and the cottagers, with the
huts in which they dwell, want no additional touches, to indicate their
misery: a few uncouth straggling trees, some ruins, caverns, rocks,
torrents, abandoned villages, in part consumed by fire, solitary
hermitages, and other similar objects, artfully introduced and blended
with gloomy plantations, would compleat the aspect of desolation, and
serve to fill the mind, where there was no possibility of gratifying the

In prosecuting a plan of this extensive nature, many other opportunities
would present themselves to the able artist, of dignifying nature, and
of heightening his compositions with all the force of novelty and
grandeur; stone quarries, chalk pits, mines, might as easily be framed
into vast amphitheatres, rustic arcades and perystiles, extensive
subterraneous habitations, grottos, vaulted roads, and passages, as into
other shapes; hills might, without much difficulty, be transformed into
stupendous rocks, by partial incrustations of stone, judiciously mixed
with turf, fern, wild shrubs and forest trees; gravel pits, or other
similar excavations, might be converted into the most romantic scenery
imaginable, by the addition of some planting, intermixed with ruins,
fragments of sculpture, inscriptions, or any other little
embellishments; and, in short, there would be no deviation, however
trifling, from the usual march of nature, but what would suggest, to a
fruitful imagination, some extraordinary arrangement, something to
disguise her vulgarity, to rouse the attention of the spectator, and to
excite in his mind a succession of strong and opposite sensations.

It is thus that far the noblest part of our Chinese Gardens, and those
which at first sight appear most impracticable, may be obtained even
amongst the common dispositions of English nature; and the great might
thus have pleasure-grounds, extensive and extraordinary as those of the
East, without any very considerable expence: men of less note would
naturally imitate their superiors, by embellishing their possessions in
the same manner; and instead of spending large sums to fence and to lard
a little field with twigs, to give it the name of a Garden, they would
beautify their whole estate; which, by a proper attention to the
[oe]conomical precepts of our Chinese Gardeners, might be done in such a
manner as to encrease its value, as well as improve its appearance.

By these means this whole kingdom might soon become one magnificent vast
Garden, bounded only by the sea; the many noble seats and villas with
which it abounds, would give uncommon consequence to the scenery; and it
might still be rendered more splendid, if, instead of disfiguring your
churches with monuments, our Chinese manner of erecting mausoleums by
the sides of the roads was introduced amongst you; and if all your
public bridges were adorned with triumphal arches, rostral pillars,
bas-reliefs, statues, and other indications of victory, and glorious
atchievements in war: an empire transformed into a splendid Garden, with
the imperial mansion towering on an eminence in the center,[23] and the
palaces of the nobles scattered like pleasure-pavilions amongst the
plantations, infinitely surpasses any thing that even the Chinese ever
attempted: yet vast as the design appears, the execution is certainly
within your reach.

Such, as far as I am able to judge, continued our Orator, is the true
application of nature to horticulture; perhaps the only one that can be
attempted with success: wherever she is made in little, or introduced
upon a confined plan, the effect is always trifling and bad, as will
appear to any man of real taste, who inspects the artificial scenery
even of your most approved gardens: Nature admits of no reduction in
her dimensions; trees will not grow in miniature; nor are her bold
movements to be expressed upon the surface of a few acres: and not to
mention any of your performances, it is scarcely in the power of the
most consummate art, to imitate nature perfectly; nor were it possible,
could the most skilful arrangements acquire their true effect, till
after the expiration of many years: our children may see the perfection
of what we plant; we never can.

Our eastern artists, therefore, seldom attempt to create, but rather
imitate the tonsor, the habit-maker, the posture-master, and all the
other polishers of man; who dispose, decorate, cleanse, clip, and add
grace to what is already formed to their hands: to make nature, they
say, is tedious and difficult beyond conception; but she may soon be
embellished, her redundancys suppressed, her faults corrected, her wants
supplied, her beauties improved, and set to view.

The truth of these assertions is, I think, apparent in many of your
famous plantations; but the beauties of improved natural scenery, the
defects of artificial, are no where so strongly marked as at B----m, the
most magnificent seat I have yet seen in Europe. On our entrance into
the Park, we were astonished at the sight of a stupendous palace,
surrounded with one of the noblest scenes of nature that can be
imagined; the extent is vast, the parts uncommonly large, the grounds
naturally well contrasted, the transitions bold, the plantations in
perfect maturity: what assistance was necessary from art, has hitherto
been judiciously administered; the removal of some trees, has exposed to
view beauties that seem before to have been concealed; the addition of
some others, has enriched parts that were bare; and the trifling, though
very judicious circumstance of raising a head at the end of a valley,
has obtained a very considerable lake of water, which enriches and
enlivens all the prospects; and which, by following the natural bent or
windings of the valley, has taken, without any assistance from art, the
most picturesque forms that could be desired: in short, the whole is now
admirable; and, when improved to the utmost, according to the design of
the munificent owner, will yet be more so. Ornaments to characterize
the Garden more strongly, are yet wanting, and some masterly finishing
touches still very necessary: one only little twining path, within ten
cubits of the fence, is certainly not in character with the grandeur of
the place; but the fence may be removed; and there is room, even now, on
the declivity of the banks, and by the sides of the lake, for more
considerable walks, with many recesses, which, when made and decorated,
will add variety to grandeur, and render the whole as entertaining and
splendid, as it is now great.

You enjoy the sight of this noble prospect for more than a mile; when
the little path is suddenly turned into a little wood, whence, after
having advanced a few paces, you behold a piece of scenery, all
artificial, which I cannot venture to describe in this presence: some of
you, Gentlemen, have seen what it is; and, with all your national
partiality, must allow, either that it proves the impossibility of
creating nature with any degree of success; or, that the ablest of your
countrymen have no talent that way; to create, or to improve, are
indeed very different operations; the former of which requires
infinitely the most skill: it is ten times more difficult to paint a
picture, than to judge, or suggest improvements, in one already painted.

Hitherto I have only described of B----m, what strangers usually see;
but the whole park, above twelve miles in circumference, and several
farms adjoining to it, are uncommonly beautiful, rich in old planting,
in water, and in a great variety of picturesque sites and points of
view; so that, with a very little dressing, with some assistance from
the sister arts of architecture and sculpture, the whole might easily be
converted into one large magnificent Garden.

And give me leave to observe, that these advantages are by no means
peculiar to B----m; England boasts at least a hundred other places, many
as extensive, most of them as capable of improvement, in various ways;
which, under the management of true artists, might soon be made to
rival the Tse-hiu and Chang-lin[24] of ancient days, the Yven ming, the
Tchang tchun yven,[25] or any of the present splendid pleasure Gardens
of our sublime Emperor, Kieng-long; the torch of the east, and true
descendant of Tay-tsoy, the providence of Heaven, whom Joss[26] preserve
in flesh and good spirits.

It must, however, be confessed, that there is an inconveniency
subsisting amongst you, which will always retard, and often prevent the
execution of this extensive plan of Gardening; it is the licentiousness
of your youth and common people, who delight in destroying every
extraordinary thing that comes in their way: if a great man plants trees
to shade and beautify a road, the people cut them down; if statues, or
other pieces of sculpture, are set to adorn places of public resort, the
boys pelt at them with stones, till all their extremities are
demolished: wherever there are buildings, or seats, even in your Royal
Gardens, we see them constantly disfigured with scurrilous inscriptions,
or obscene rhimes; and where there are any uncommon trees, they are
divested of every branch within reach; the shrubs are robbed of their
blossom; the flowers are trodden under foot; the birds and animals are
destroyed: in short, no mischief, that drunken mirth or deliberate
malevolence can suggest, is left undone. What pity that such destructive
brutality should exist in a country so particularly favoured by Nature,
and so capable of improvement in the highest degree; whilst, in every
other part of the world, it is unknown, almost unheard of!

But there is a strong tincture of the rhubarb in all human competitions;
and liberty, which has so many advantages, is, nevertheless, attended
with some inconveniencies, of a very serious nature; amongst which, the
ferocity of its lowest votaries is none of the least formidable. Since
our arrival here last July, I have seen at least twenty of their
boisterous pranks; in which, not to enumerate the broken windows, the
bloody noses, the kicks, and the bastinadoes of other gentlemen, I have
myself been a melancholy sufferer upon various occasions; particularly
at Portsmouth, where I was thrown into the sea, and narrowly escaped
drowning, for the diversion of the company. Would to Heaven!--as I say
to the mistress Chet-quas in a morning--would to Heaven, my ducks, we
were well at Quang-chew-fu again, with all our long nails, and all our
whiskers about us! The rigours of an Emperor are less frightful to me,
than the frolics of a savage mob, elevated to madness with songs of
freedom, and tons of strong beer: it is easier to please a man with one
good head, than a monster with ten thousand, all bad ones.

    _Miao kao faan-quai_[27]
    _Tsat paat quai-tsai_

Pardon this digression, which the terrors of a disturbed imagination
have drawn me into; and permit your servant to re-assume the thread of
his Discourse.

Wherever the extent is considerable, and the lands properly formed for
the purpose, the mode of natural Gardening, just recommended, ought
certainly to be employed in preference to any other, as it surpasses all
others in perfection, and is yet most easily executed: but in or near
great cities, where property is much divided, on flats, where nature has
no play, in all tame situations; the richer and more artificial manner
of our Gardening is preferable: because it may contain much variety in a
small compass, and corrects the natural defects of the ground more
speedily, more effectually, with less charge than any other.

This manner is also properest for grounds that immediately surround
elegant structures, where order and symmetry are absolutely necessary;
and for many little enclosures, or resting-places of various kinds, that
must always be dispersed in different parts of extensive plantations;
where nicety of dress, and excessive decoration are in character; and
where they may be conveniently secured with stronger fences, to guard
them from public intrusion.

These choice pieces of cultivation are appropriated to the owner and his
select friends; set aside for convivial pleasures, and enjoyments that
can only be tasted in private: they may be considered as more spacious
apartments, as habitations adapted to the milder seasons of the year, in
which Art and Nature unite to furnish a variety of whatever is
beautiful, elegant, extraordinary or entertaining; whilst the larger
improvements are suited to the more open amusements of the owner,
contrived upon a bolder system, for a more distant and cursory
inspection: they are a noble indication of his consequence; a
benevolent, as well as artful tribute to the community; which, whilst it
serves to multiply the conveniencys, or promote the innocent amusements
of the public, secures the popularity of the benefactor, and marks, in
the strongest colours, his power, wealth and munificence. How these
considerations operate in England, I, who am a stranger, cannot
determine; but in the kingdoms of the East they have great weight.

Your connoisseurs will, I know, object to our artificial scenery; which
they consider as unnatural, and represent as too expensive for
imitation. On the former of these points you have already heard my
sentiments; I need not now repeat them: those who are not yet convinced,
may still feed on crabs, and leave ananas to better heads.

Till my arrival in England, I never doubted but the appearance of art
was admissible, even necessary to the essence of a splendid Garden: and
I am more firmly of that opinion, after having seen your English
Gardens; though the contrary is so violently maintained by your
countrymen, in opposition to the rest of the world, to the practice of
all other polished nations, all enlightened ages; and, as far as I am
able to judge, in opposition to reason. But your people delight in
extremes; and, whenever they get upon a new scent, pursue it with such
rage, that they always overshoot the bounds. We admire Nature as much as
you do; but being of a more phlegmatick disposition, our affections are
somewhat better regulated: we consider how she may be employed, upon
every occasion, to most advantage; and do not always introduce her in
the same garb; but show her in a variety of forms; sometimes naked, as
you attempt to do; sometimes disguised; sometimes decorated, or assisted
by art; scrupulously avoiding, in our most artless dispositions, all
resemblance to the common face of the country, with which the Garden is
immediately surrounded; being convinced, that a removal from one field
to another, of the same appearance, can never afford any particular
pleasure, nor ever excite powerful sensations of any kind.

If I must tell you my mind freely, Gentlemen, both your artists and
connoisseurs seem to lay too much stress on nature and simplicity; they
are the constant cry of every half-witted dabbler, the burthen of every
song, the tune by which you are insensibly lulled into dullness and
insipidity. If resemblance to nature were the measure of perfection, the
waxen figures in Fleet-street, would be superior to all the works of the
divine Buonarotti; the trouts and wood-cocks of Elmer, preferable to the
cartoons of Raphael: but, believe me, too much nature is often as bad
as too little, as may be deduced from many examples, obvious to every
man conversant in polite knowledge. Whatever is familiar, is by no means
calculated to excite the strongest feelings; and though a close
resemblance to familiar objects may delight the ignorant, yet, to the
skilful, it has but few charms, never any of the most elevated sort; and
is sometimes even disgusting: without a little assistance from art,
nature is seldom tolerable; she may be compared to certain viands,
either tasteless, or unpleasant in themselves: which, nevertheless, with
some seasoning, become palatable; or, when properly prepared, compose a
most exquisite dish.

And with respect to simplicity, wherever more is admitted than may be
requisite to constitute grandeur, or necessary to facilitate conception,
it is always a fault. To the human mind, some exertion is always
necessary: it must be occupied to be pleased; and is more satisfied with
a treat, than with a frugal repast: for though it doth not delight in
intricacies, yet, without a certain, even a considerable degree of
complication, no grateful sensations can ever be excited. Excessive
simplicity can only please the ignorant or weak, whose comprehensions
are slow, and whose powers of combination are confined.

Simplicity must therefore be used with discretion, and the dose be
adapted to the constitution of the patients, amongst savages and
Hottentots; where arts are unknown, refinements unheard of, an abundant
portion may be necessary; but wherever civilization has improved the
mental faculties, a little, with proper management, will go a very great
way: need I prove what the music, poetry, language, arts and manners, of
every nation demonstrate, beyond the possibility of a doubt.

Another favourite word of your virtuosi, is purity; a word of which,
being a stranger, I do not perhaps know the full value; nor exactly in
what sense it is applied to the art in question. We are told, that in
the purity of Gardening, you were never equalled by any nation; even
that this boasted purity never appeared in any country but England: it
may be so; your Gardens have certainly been purged to the quick, freed
of every encumberance, and cleansed of every extrinsick redundancy; so
that nothing now remains but the genuine carcass, in its native purity:
yet whether this quality, which I apprehend is the only one that can
positively be implied, is a perfection or a blemish, will always be
disputed; for though pure wine[28] is, without doubt, a delicious
beverage, and preferable to that which is mixed, yet pure water is very
insipid, and may be much mended, by the additions of arrack, lemon and
sugar, to turn it into punch; and ninety-nine persons in a hundred will
maintain, that your pure Gardens might be much improved by the addition
of embellishments proper to produce variety, and set off the vegetation
to advantage: for vary your trees and shrubs as much as possible,
combine them in every imaginable arrangement, they are still but trees
and shrubs; they can impress but a very few images upon the mind of the
spectator, and only affect his senses with very slight perceptions.

That our artificial stile of Gardening is expensive, is doubtless true;
yet certainly not ruinously so. In my former voyage, I knew an
unfortunate prince, who, on a very moderate allowance from his
relations, supported a court in splendour; and, with the surplus, formed
one of the most extraordinary, as well as magnificent artificial Gardens
I ever saw. It is surprizing what good management will do, where
management is necessary; but you are too rich ever to need it in any
thing. I have seen more money expended here, in digging an ugly pond,
than would have compleated a whole Garden elsewhere; yet, after all, the
pond would never hold water. But, to proceed--You have all seen what the
French have done at Versailles, Marli, Trianon, Saint Cloud, Liancourt,
and Chanilly; the Italians near Rome, at Tivoli, at Frescati, and in
many other parts of Italy: I do not here enter into the merit of these
works; but they are certainly as costly, perhaps more so, than any of
ours; yet these were done by foreigners, of different denominations; all
without the least help of magick: you are richer than they; you may,
with some trouble, acquire their skill; it is hoped you have already
more than their spirit: be not, therefore, afraid to attempt, what they
have already long since accomplished.

I have formerly told you what sort of art we employ in our Chinese
Gardening; I now recommend it to your imitation; and though in general
your European artificial manner appears not to me perfect, yet doth it
contain many things highly deserving notice, which you have imprudently
laid aside, without substituting any equivalent.

To instance the Gardens of France; they are, I will allow, sufficiently
extravagant: you hear of nothing but islands of love, or halls of
festivity; every recess is the retreat of a God, every prospect a scene
of enchantment: like their petit maitres, they are all out of nature,
all affectation; yet it is an affectation often delightful, and
absurdity generally overflowing with taste and fancy: in their best
works there is such a mysterious, pleasing intricacy in the disposition,
such variety in the objects, so much splendour and animation in the
scenery, and so much skill apparent in the execution of every part, that
the attention of the spectator never flags; the succession is so rapid,
that he is hurried on from one exhibition to another, with his mind
constantly upon the stretch: he has only time to be pleased; there is no
leisure to reflect, none to be disgusted with the extravagance of what
he sees. If their Gardens are less rational than yours, they are
certainly much more entertaining; and though, upon the whole, they can
by no means be proposed as models for imitation, yet are there many
things to be borrowed from them, which might be adopted by you with
considerable advantage.

I may say the same with regard to the Italian Gardens, of which the
style is less affected, less extravagant than in those of France: the
heat of the climate obliges the inhabitants to seek for shade; the walks
are sheltered, the plantations close, whence their compositions have a
gloom, and an air of solitude that are exceedingly awful. There is a
grandeur of manner in all their works, seldom to be met with elsewhere;
which, about Rome, and in some other parts of Italy, is greatly
heightened by the majestick face of Nature, framed upon a larger scale,
and broken into nobler forms, than in most other countries. Their
vegetation too is uncommonly picturesque; the abundance of water with
which they are every where supplied, enables them to form a thousand
pleasing combinations; and the venerable vestiges of ancient structures,
which rear their decaying heads above the plantations, add surprizingly
to the dignity of the scenery.

At every step, the admiration of the spectator is excited by statues,
therms, bas-reliefs, sarcophagi urns, vases, and other remains of
ancient splendour; or he is delighted with the productions of modern
artists, ingeniously imagined, well executed, and skilfully disposed.
It is not easy to conceive any thing more entertaining, to a man of
taste, than an Italian Garden; in which, amidst a profusion of pleasing
objects, the same elegance of choice, the same elevation of style so
conspicuous in the sculpture and painting of the great Italian schools,
is every where prevalent.

To branch out into farther descriptions of your continental Gardens, is
perhaps superfluous, and may be thought foreign to the present purpose;
as some of them differ very little from those just mentioned; and others
are too trifling, or imperfect, to deserve any notice: yet permit me,
before I finish, to give a slight sketch of the Dutch Gardening; from
which I am apt to believe your ideas of the artificial style are chiefly
collected, and your extraordinary aversion to it principally owing.

In Holland, parterres, embroidered in box, brick-dust, sea-coal, and
broken porcelain, are every where admired. No Garden is perfect, that is
not surrounded with a wet ditch, and many _lusthouses_ hanging over it,
for smoking tobacco; nor is there any elegance, without some tons of
lead, transformed into skating Dutchmen, Harlequins, and fluting
Shepherdesses, all richly painted, in proper colours: azure flower-pots,
with gilt handles, are seen in every corner; and golden mercury are
perched, like birds, upon every pinnacle: every pass is guarded by
pasteboard Grenadiers; and Fame, straddling over the entrance, displays
a Dutch label to the passenger, telling the name and beauties of the
place, the virtues and moral opinions of the proprietor. These
particularities, with all the formal absurd parts of the French
Gardening, make an Eden in Holland; a thing too ridiculous to be out of
humour with any where; 'tis a pity it has had so serious an effect upon
you. You are a wise people; yet, in the reformation of Gardening, you
have followed the beaten road of ignorance: to avoid one fault, you have
run headlong into another, its opposite: because, in the Old Gardening,
art, order and variety, were carried to an extravagant excess, you have,
in the New, almost totally excluded them all three: to mend an
exuberant, fantastick dress, you have stripped stark naked: and, to
heal a distempered limb, you have, like some famous surgeons of our day,
chopped it entirely off.

All connoisseurs amongst you, and even amongst us, agree in despising
our enchanted, or supernatural scenery; which, they say, is trifling,
absurd, extravagant, abounding in conceits and boyish tricks; that
operating chiefly by surprize, it has little or no effect, after a first
or second inspection, and consequently can afford no pleasure to the
owner: yet our best Artists, who have no excessive reverence for the
decrees of connoisseurs[29], and who think the owner is not the only
person to be entertained, often introduce it; either where the plan is
extensive, and admits of many changes; or, where the ground is barren of
natural varieties: saying, in their vindication, that it serves as an
interlude between more serious expositions; that, at a treat, there
should be meats for every palate; in a shop of general resort, goods for
every fancy; in a Garden, designed for publick inspection, exhibitions
of every kind; that all may find something to their liking, and none go
away disappointed or dissatisfied: and, as at a feast, men eat of what
they best relish, without mumbling the rest of the dishes, but leave
them untainted for others to feed upon, so, in a Garden, if a man be too
wise to laugh, or be pleased with trifles, he may pass them over
unnoticed: amongst the multitude, there are many fancies to gratify;
children, old women, eunuchs, and pleasure-misses, ought to be diverted,
as well as sages, mandarines, or connoisseurs. It is not every one, say
they, that enjoys the force or fierceness of grand compositions; to some
they are even terrifying: weak minds delight in little objects, which
are easiest adapted to their confined comprehensions; as children are
better pleased with a puppet-show, than with more serious or noble

Thus they reason; and say moreover, that, as the principal parts of this
supernatural Gardening consists in a display of many surprizing
phenomena, and extraordinary effects, produced by air, fire, water,
motion, light, and gravitation, they may be considered at a collection
of philosophical experiments, exhibited in a better manner, upon a
larger scale, and more forcibly than is common: in that light they
think, even men of sense may venture to look at them, without
impeachment of their understanding; to admire what is ingenious, new or
extraordinary; and stare at what they do not comprehend. Whether the
connoisseurs or the artists are most in the wrong, I will not decide;
you, Gentlemen, must determine for yourselves.

Some free expressions, relative to your Gardeners, constitute a heavy
part of the charge exhibited against me: it seems therefore necessary,
in alleviation of this high offence, to declare, that whatever has been
said on that subject, was with an eye to the general character of the
fraternity; and by no means levelled at yon stately gentleman in the
black perriwig, as he has been pleased to maintain. It could not be my
business to mark out individuals, either by excessive praise, which was
perhaps expected, or by more poignant censure: such conduct must have
been fawning in one in instance, invidious in both; for there is no
exalting one ph[oe]nomenon, without proportionably degrading the rest:
as in a draw-well, one bucket can never rise, but when the other sinks.
If a man far outstrips his brothers, he will of course be distinguished;
if only a little, his safest station is in the croud. And really it is
odd that any one should officiously have stepped out of the ranks,
insisting, like master Dogberry in the play, upon his exclusive title;
where nothing partial was even distantly hinted at, no names mentioned,
nor any thing said, that was not full as applicable to the brotherhood
in general, as to the sagacious claimant in particular: but

    _Man lup jao kai_
    _Tai kup tao baï._

There is reason to believe, from various hints which have been dropped
by Gentlemen here present, that the veracity of Chet-qua's description
is doubted; nay, that the Gardens described, are supposed to have no
existence but in Chet-qua's brain: be it so, my friends; I shall not
seek to refute what you seem so strongly disposed to believe; it is not
at present material: for the end of all that I have said, was rather as
an Artist, to set before you a new style of Gardening; than as a
Traveller, to relate what I have really seen: and, notwithstanding your
strictures, you all seemed satisfied, even entertained with the
description: there is no doubt, but the reality, like all other
realities, would affect you still more strongly than the picture. I have
endeavoured to shew, how that may be obtained: the rest is left to those
it most concerns; the ingenious, the wealthy, and the great; who have
power and inclinations to execute what I attempt to plan: my part is
done, as far as I am able to do it; theirs may begin when they think

And although they may at first be embarrassed in the execution of a
system so much more complicated and dependant on genius, on skill, and
on nice judgement, than that which has hitherto been pursued; yet there
is no doubt, but practice and perseverance will, by degrees, dispel
every difficulty: it is at least glorious to hazard arduous attempts;
and more honourable even to fail in manly pursuits, than to succeed in
trifling, childish enterprizes. Let the timid or the feeble meanly creep
upon the earth, with uniform, sluggard pace; but the towering spirit
must attempt a nobler flight, and climb the paths that lead to fame: now
gayly sporting on the slippery surface, as doth the gentle, graceful
lizard; now thundering up the precipice, with the tremendous dragon's
stride; now soaring to the top, stately and splendid as the imperial
bird;[30] when, with his glittering crest and twelve irradiant wings, he
comes upon the morning's light, while myriads of the warbling tribes, at
awful distance, crowd the vaulted air, adore their King, and, with loud
songs of frantick joy, shake the firm earth, and all yon starry heaven.

From the whole tenour of this Discourse, and indeed from the substance
of the first Dissertation, it is evident, Gentlemen, that your servant
Chet-qua has no aversion to natural Gardening; but is, on the contrary,
a zealous advocate in its favour, wherever there is room to expand, and
work upon a great scale, or where it can conveniently, and with
propriety be introduced. The style which in England has been adopted,
preferable to others, is not what appears to him reprehensible; but he
laments the little use you have made of your adoption, and apprehends
your partiality is too excessive, while you obstinately refuse the
assistance of almost every extraneous embellishment, and persist in an
indiscriminate application of the same manner, upon all occasions,
however opposite, or ill adapted; and often where no probability of
success appears. Natural Gardening, when treated upon an extensive plan,
when employed with judgement, and conducted with art, is perhaps as
superior to all other sorts of culture, as heroick verse is to every
other species of writing; but there are many occasions, where neither
the one nor the other can, with the least propriety, be employed; where
they would only serve to give a ridicule to the whole composition; and
where different or less elevated modes of expression are, on all
accounts, preferable. Artists of other professions, vary their manners
of applying to the human affections; suiting them to the circumstances
or nature of the subjects before them; and they are oftenest indebted to
these variations for their success; why then should Gardeners always
confine themselves to the same tract, and torture all dispositions to
adapt them to the same method, like that tyrant of old, who stretched or
mutilated every guest, till he fitted a particular bed? Can they hope to
succeed by means, which others have found ineffectual; or is it
reasonable to suppose, that Nature will change her course to please
their fancy? Variety is a powerful agent, without the assistance of
which, little can be effected; it captivates even with trifles; and,
when united to perfection, has charms which nothing can resist: the most
exquisite pictures of nature, receive additional beauties from a
judicious opposition of art; and the confined, uniform, tasteless walk
of imitation, which you have unfortunately fallen into, must have many
helps to make it even tolerable; a thousand enlivening additions, to
animate its native dulness.

Thus I have considered every part of my first Discourse, and offered in
its vindication, what immediately occurs to me: perhaps, with more
leisure, I might have contrived a better Speech, and a stronger Defence;
but the hurry of Face-making[31] is such, that there is scarcely time to
eat rice, or drink brandy,[32] much less to think: I never frequent my
wives but by night; I have only heard one of them scold, and seen the
others by twilight, these six months: judge then, what can be expected
from Chet-qua; the little knowledge he has, or thinks he has, is freely
communicated to his neighbours; he wishes it were more and better; yet
such as it is, he flatters himself it will be kindly received; and that
his neighbours will use what may be useful, without kicking too
violently at the rest.



[20] _Quang-chew-fu_--Canton. _For she was a virago, and had large
feet_--Both which are accounted great defects in China. _Nine whiskers,
&c._--All beaus wear whiskers in China; and all gentlemen long nails, to
shew that they are idle. _Kyang-ning, or_ Nang-king--Capital of
Kyang-nang. _Shun-tien-fu_--Peking.

[21] _Tan lou ty tchan yué, &c._--The motto which Chet-qua has made
choice of, is part of a poem written by Kien-long, reigning emperor of
China, in praise of drinking tea: and published, by his imperial edict,
bearing date the twelfth day, of the ninth moon, of the thirteenth year
of his reign; in thirty-two different types, or characters; under the
inspection of Yun-lou, and Houng-yen, princes, by the title of
Tsin-ouang; Fouheng, grandee, by the title of Taypao; Count, by the
title of Valiant; and first president of almost all the great tribunals
of the empire: whose deputies were Akdoun and Tsing-pou, grandees, by
the title of Tay-tsee Chaopao; and these were again assisted by Isan,
Fouki, Elguingue, Tetchi, Mingté, Tsoungmin, Tchangyu, Tounmin, and
about a dozen other mandarines of rank and reputation; so that there is
no doubt but the work is perfectly correct. Here follows the exact copy
of it, with an English translation, for the entertainment and
instruction of the curious in poetry. There is a French translation of
the same work, by Father Amiot, published at Paris, in 1770, from which
the present Publication is in a great measure taken; the Editor having
found it easier to translate from the French copy, than from the Chinese

    Mei-hoa ché pou yao
    Fo-cheou hiang tsie kié,
    Soung-che ouei fang ny;
    San pin tchou tsing kûé;
    Pong y tché kio tang,
    Ou tché tcheng koang hiué
    Houo heou pien yu hié,
    Ting yen y cheng mié.

    Yué ngueou po sien jou,
    Tan lou ty tchan yué,
    Ou yun king tai pan
    Ko ou, pou ko choué.
    Fou fou teou lo ty
    Ho ho yun kiang tché
    Ou-tsuen y ko tsan
    Lin-fou chang ché pié.

    Lan ku Tchao-tcheou ngan
    Pó siao Yu-tchouan kiu
    Han siao ting sing leou
    Kou yué kan hiuen tsué,
    Joan pao tchen ki yu
    Tsiao king sing ou kié,
    Kien-long ping-yn
    Siao, tchun yu ty.


The colours of the Mei hoa are never brilliant, yet is the flower always
pleasing: in fragrance or neatness the fo-cheou has no equal: the fruit
of the pine is aromatick, its odour inviting. In gratifying at once the
sight, the smell and the taste, nothing exceeds these three things: and
if, at the same time, you put, upon a gentle fire, an old pot, with
three legs, grown black and battered with length of service, after
having first filled it with the limpid water of melted snow; and if,
when the water is heated to a degree that will boil a fish, or redden a
lobster, you pour it directly into a cup made of the earth of yué, upon
the tender leaves of superfine tea; and if you let it rest there, till
the vapours which rises at first in great abundance, forming thick
clouds, dissipate by degrees, and at last appear merely as a slight mist
upon the surface; and if then you gently sip this delicious beverage, it
is labouring effectually to remove the five causes of discontent which
usually disturb our quiet: you may feel, you may taste, but it is
impossible to describe the sweet tranquillity which a liquor, thus
prepared, procures.

Retired, for some space of time, from the tumults of business, I sit
alone in my tent, at liberty to enjoy myself unmolested: in one hand
holding a fo-cheou, which I bring nearer to my nose, or put it farther
off, at pleasure; in the other hand holding my dish of tea, upon which
some pretty curling vapours still appear: I taste, by intervals the
liquor; by intervals, I consider the mei-hoa--I give a fillip to my
imagination, and my thoughts are naturally turned towards the sages of
antiquity.--I figure to myself the famous Ou-tsuen, whose only
nourishment was the fruit of the pine; he enjoyed himself in quiet,
amidst this rigid frugality! I envy, and wish to imitate him.--I put a
few of the kernels into my mouth; I find them delicious.

Sometimes, methinks, I see the virtuous Lin-fou, bending into form, with
his own hands, the branches of the mei-hoa-chou. It was thus, say I to
myself, that he relieved his mind, after the fatigues of profound
meditation, on the most interesting subjects. Then I take a look at my
shrub, and it seems as if I were assisting Lin-fou, in bending its
branches into a new form.--I skip from Lin-fou to Tchao-tcheon, or to
Yu-tchouan; and see the first in the middle of a vast many tea-cups,
filled with all kinds of tea, of which he sometimes tastes one,
sometimes another; thus varying incessantly his potation: while the
second drinks, with the profoundest indifference, the best tea, and
scarcely distinguishes it from the vilest stuff.--My taste is not
their's; why should I attempt to imitate them?----

But I hear the sound of the evening bell; the freshness of the night is
augmented; already the rays of the moon strike through the windows of my
tent, and with their lustre brighten the few moveables with which it is
adorned. I find myself neither uneasy nor fatigued; my stomach is empty,
and I may, without fear, go to rest.----It is thus that, with my poor
abilities, I have made these verses, in the little spring of the tenth
moon of the year Ping-yn, of my reign Kien-long.

[22] _Fo-hii_, _Shing-tong_, or _Whoang-tii_--Some of the first emperors
of China; who invented the eight qua's, together with the kay-tse, and
created colsus.

[23] _An eminence in the center_--Meaning Windsor, probably.

[24] _Tse-hiu and Chang-lin_--Two celebrated parks, which belonged to
the emperors of the Ty.

[25] _Yven-ming-yven, and Tchang-tchun-yven_--Are Gardens near Pe-king,
belonging to the present Emperors of China.

[26] _Joss_--A corruption of Dios, God.

[27] _Miao kao, etc._--Muttering expressions from Hoang-fou-tse, or

[28] _For though pure wine, etc._--It is remarkable, that our Orator
draws most of his similes and allusions either from the kitchen or the
cellar; whether this particularity proceeded from any skill of his in
the culenary art, from his affection for good living, or from any other
hidden motive; or whether it was merely accidental, the Editor never
could learn with any degree of certainty.

[29] In China they have an innumerable multitude of connoisseurs and
criticks; who, with a very superficial knowledge, a few general maxims,
and some hard words, boldly decide on subjects they do not understand:
hence the whole fraternity is fallen into disrepute. They have, indeed,
like us, some real connoisseurs amongst them; but these are very rare in

[30] _The imperial bird_, or foung hoang, is a fabulous being, of the
nature of the ph[oe]nix, by the Chinese poets, accounted the emperor of
birds, as the dragon is of all the scaly tribe: he is said never to
appear, but in great pomp, attended by a numerous train of all the most
brilliant and extraordinary of the volatile race.

[31] _Hurry of face-making_--The Chinese call portrait painting, or
modelling portraits in coloured clay, which was Chet-qua's particular
profession, face-making.

[32] _Eat rice or drink brandy_--The Chinese call dining, eating rice;
and their common liquors, at meals, are spirits, of various sorts.

Transcriber's note:  In this etext the ^ indicates superscript.

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "An Explanatory Discourse by Tan Chet-qua of Quang-chew-fu, Gent." ***

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