English 233, Fall 2001, Alan Liu
Richard Payne Knight,
"The Landscape, A Didactic Poem," 2d ed. (1795)
[from Book I]
Whether the scene extends o'er
Or lurks, confined, in low sequester'd plains;
Whether it decks the baron's gorgeous seat,
Or humbly cheers the rustic's snug retreat;
Whether it shews, from yon' high mountain's brow,
The water'd meads and fertile fields below;
Or, deep retired in solitude and shade,
It bounds its prospect to some narrow glade;
Whether it leads aloft the aching sight
To view the craggy cliff's tremendous height;
Or, by the murmuring rivulet's shady side,
Delights to shew the curling waters glide,
Beneath reflected rocks, or antique towers,
Amidst o'ershadowing trees, or lightly tufted flowers,
'Tis still one principle through all extends,
And leads through different ways to different ends.
Whate'er its essence, or whate'er
Whate'er its modes, 'tis still, in all, the same:
'Tis just congruity of parts combined
To please the sense, and satisfy the mind.
In humbler art the self same
Nature in all rejects the pedant's chain;
Which binding beauty in its waving line,
Destroys the charm it vainly would define;
For nature, still irregular and free,
Acts not by lines, but general sympathy.
The path that moves in even serpentine,
Is still less natural than the pointed line:
When o'er the level lawn you chance to stray,
Nature and taste direct the nearest way;
But when you traverse rough uneven ground,
consult your ease, and you will oft go round:
The best of rules are those of common use;
Affected taste is but refined abuse.
[from Book II]
The quarry long neglected,
With thorns, that hang o'er mouldering beds of stone,
May oft the place of natural rocks supply,
And frame the verdant picture to the eye;
Or, closing round the solitary seat,
Charm with the simple scene of calm retreat.
Large stems of trees, and branches
May oft adorn the scenes which the divide;
For ponderous masses, and deep shadows near,
Will show the distant scene more bright and clear;
And forms distinctly mark'd, at once supply
A scale of magnitude and harmony;
From which receding gradually away,
The tints grow fainter and the lines decay.
The same effects may also be
Through the high vaulted arch or colonnade:
But harsh and cold the builder's work appears,
Till soften'd down by long revolving years;
Till time and weather have conjointly spread
Their mouldering hues and mosses o'er its head.
Bless'd is the man in whose
Some ancient abbey's walls diffuse their shade;
With mouldering windows pierced, and turrets crown'd,
And pinnacles with clinging ivy bound.
Bless'd too is he, who, 'midst
his tufted trees,
Some ruin'd castle's lofty towers sees;
Imbosom'd high upon the mountain's brow,
Or nodding o'er the stream that glides below.
Nor yet unenvy'd, to whose humbler
Falls the retired and antiquated cot;
Its roof with weeds and mosses cover'd o'er,
And honeysuckles climbing round the door;
While mantling vines along its walls are spread,
And clustering ivy decks the chimney's head.
[end of Book III]
Even its last excess, the despot's
Is oft a curb worse evils to restrain;
For few (alas, how few!) amongst us know
To use the blessings, that from freedom flow.
As the dull, stagnant pool,
that's mantled o'er
With the green weeds of its own muddy shore,
No bright reflections on its surface shows,
Nor murmuring surge, nor foaming ripple knows:
But ever peaceful, motionless, and dead,
In one smooth sheet its torpid waters spread:
So by oppression's iron hand confined,
In calm and peaceful torpor sleep mankind;
Unfelt the rays of genius, that inflame
The free-born soul, and bid it pant for fame.
But break the mound, and let
the waters flow;
Headlong and fierce their turbid currents go;
Sweep down the fences, and tear up the soil;
And roar along, 'midst havock, waste, and spoil;
Till spent their fury:then their moisture feeds
The deepening verdure of the fertile meads;
Bids vernal flowers the fragrant turf adorn,
And rising juices swell the wavy corn:
So when rebellion breaks the despot's chain,
First wasteful ruin marks the rabble's reign;
Till tired their fury, and their vengeance spent,
One common interest bids their hearts relent;
Then temperate order from confusion springs,
And, fann'd by freedom, genius spreads its wings.
What heart so savage, but must
The tides of blood that flow on Gallia's shore!
What eye, but drops the unavailing tear
On the mild monarch's melancholy bier!
Who weeps not o'er the damp and dreary cell,
Where fallen majesty is doom'd to dwell;
Where waning beauty, in the dungeon's gloom,
Feels, yet alive, the horrors of the tomb!
Of all her former state no traces left,
But e'en of nature's common needs bereft;
Through days of solitude, and nights of woe,
Which, hopeless still, in long succession flow,
She counts the moments, till the rabble's hate
Shall drag their victim to her welcome fate!
Yet, from these horrors, future
times may see
Just roder spring, and genuine Liberty:
Split into many states the power that hurl'd,
So oft, destruction o'er the affrighted world;
May hence ambition's wasteful folly cease,
And cultivate alone the happy arts of peace.
[Knight's note to line 405:]
This was written in September last (1793), when the late most
unfortunate Queen of France was confined in a cell of the
Conciergerie at Paris: and though it was then very generally
expected that she would be murdered; few, I believe, imagined
that her sufferings would be closed so soon.
[beginning of Knight's long, essayistic
note to line 415:]
The revolution that has taken place in France, is an event
quite new in the history of civilized man. . . .
[from "Postscript to the Second Edition"]
I assure Mr Repton, however,
that I will never follow the example which he has set, in
his Letter to Mr. Price, of endeavouring to involve speculative
differences of opinion, upon subjects of mere elegant amusement,
with the nearest and dearest interests of humanity; and thus
to engage the popular passions of the times in a dispute,
which I am certain that he, as well as every other candid
and liberal man, will, upon more mature reflections, wish
to keep entirely free from them. To say that his own system
of rural embellishment resembles the British constitution,
and that Mr. Price's and mine resemble the Democratic tyranny
of France, is a species of argument when any person may employ,
on any occasion, without being at any expence either of sense
or science; whence it has been the constant weapon of controversy
with those who have no other.