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The Great Chain of Being and 18th C Landscape Gardening

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  • mikebispham@cs.com
    I ve posted the material below since it covers so neatly an idea that is very relevant to our list: that of studying the same issues from many different
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 1, 2000
      I've posted the material below since it covers so neatly an idea that is very
      relevant to our list: that of studying the same issues from many different
      directions. I think that's often what goes on on this list, and its becoming
      more and more apparent to me that all our interests connect at one centre,
      which is humankind's understanding of the Nature of the world, with special
      reference to historical versions.

      It comes from the intro to a book that's just arrived, 'The Great Chain of
      Being: A Study in the History of an Idea' by Arthur O. Lovejoy. It is a
      series of lectures given by Lovejoy at Harvard in 1932-33. It has never been
      out of print, and comes very highly recommended. This is from Lovejoy's

      "THE TITLE of this book; I find, seems to some not unlearned persons odd, and
      its subject unfamiliar. Yet the phrase which I have taken for the title; was
      long one of the most famous in the vocabulary of Occidental philosophy,
      science, and reflective poetry; and the conception which in modern times came
      to be expressed by this or similar phrases has been one of the half dozen
      most potent and persistent presuppositions in Western thought. It was, in
      fact, until not much more than a century ago, probably the most widely
      familiar conception of the general scheme of things, of the constitutive
      pattern of the universe; and as such it necessarily predetermined current
      ideas on many other matters."

      Which seems to me to say: unless you understand this subject, you are not
      going to understand *the context of* anything that was painted, written,
      designed, built, during the period when this model reigned.

      In his intro, Lovejoy sets some outline parameters for any historical study.
      Here's part of one that affects us deeply, and as a bonus touches on
      Landscape Gardening.

      "... any unit-idea which the historian thus isolates he next seeks to trace
      through more than one - ultimately, indeed, through all - of the provinces of
      history in which it figures in any important degree, whether those provinces
      are called philosophy, science, literature, art, religion, or politics. The
      postulate of such a study is that the working of a given conception, of an
      explicit or tacit presupposition, of a type of mental habit, or of a specific
      thesis or argument, needs, if its nature and its historic role are to be
      fully understood, to be traced connectedly through all the phases of men's
      reflective life in which those workings manifest themselves, or through as
      many of them as the historian's resources permit. It is inspired by the
      belief that there is a great deal more that is common to more than one of
      these provinces than is usually recognized, that the same idea often appears,
      sometimes considerably disguised in the most diverse regions of the
      intellectual world.

      Landscape-gardening, for example, seems a topic fairly remote from
      philosophy; yet at one point, at least, the history of landscape-gardening
      becomes a part of any truly philosophical history of modern thought.

      The vogue of the so-called "English Garden," which spread so rapidly in
      France and Germany after 1730, was, as M. Mornet and others have shown, the
      thin end of the wedge of Romanticism, or of one kind of Romanticism. That
      vogue itself - partly, no doubt, the expression of a natural revulsion of
      taste from an over-dose of the formal gardening of the seventeenth century -
      was partly also an incident of the general craze for English fashions of all
      kinds, which Voltaire, Prevost, Diderot, and the Huguenot jounalistes in
      Holland had introduced. But this change of taste in gardening was to be the
      beginning and - I do not, assuredly, say, the cause, but the foreshadowing,
      and one of the joint causes - of a change of taste in all the arts and,
      indeed, of a change of taste in universes.

      In one of its aspects that many-sided thing called Romanticism may not
      inaccurately be described as a conviction that the world is an Englischer
      Garten on grand scale. The God of the seventeenth century, like gardeners,
      always geometrized; the God of Romanticism was one in whose universe things
      grew wild and without trimming and in all the rich diversity of their natural
      shapes. The preference for irregularity, the aversion from that which is
      wholly intellectualized, the yearning for echappees into misty distances -
      these, which were eventually to invade the intellectual life of Europe at all
      points, made their first modern appearance on a grand scale early in the
      eighteenth century in the form of the new fashion in pleasure-gardens; and it
      is not impossible trace the successive phases of their growth and diffusion."

      This vision of a garden/universe geometrically ruled from a centre, governed
      by an order that allows (even forces) infinite variability (the multiplicity
      of being) is very close to Richard Fosters's explication of the Great
      Pavement of Westminster Abbey. I think there have been minor changes in the
      grand vision in the intervening 5 centuries, but the model is still

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