It was not till the end of the eighteenth century that a healthy reaction set in in England, when Repton turned back to Kent’s fundamental principle and freed it from its unnatural excrescences, with the formula: the garden should be an artistic representation of the landscape, a work of art whose materials are provided by Nature herself, whether grass, flowers, bushes, trees, water, or whatever it may be that she has to offer. Thus began our modern landscape gardening.
In another region too, a change was brought about from the Rococo to a more natural style. It is true that Nature plays no direct role in Robinson Crusoe, and wins as little notice there as in its numberless imitations; yet the book roused a longing for healthier, more natural conditions in thousands of minds. It led the idyllic tendency of the day back to its source, and by shewing all the stages, from the raw state of Nature up to the culture of the community, in the life of one man, it brought out the contrast between the far-off age of innocence and the perverted present.
The German Simplicissimus closed with a Robinsonade, in which the hero, after long wandering, found rest and peace on an island in the ocean of the world, alone with himself and Nature. The readers of Robinson Crusoe were in much the same position. Defoe was not only a true artist, but a man of noble, patient character, and his romance proved a healing medicine to many sick minds, pointing the way back to Nature and a natural fife, and creating a longing for the lost innocence of man.
Rousseau, who was also a zealous advocate of the English gardens, and disgusted by the French Pigtail style, was more impressed by Robinson Crusoe than by any other book. It was the first book his Emilia gave him, as a gospel of Nature and unspoilt taste.
THE SENSITIVENESS AND EXAGGERATION OF
THE ELEGIAC IDYLLIC FEELING
This longing to return to the lost paradise of Nature gradually produced a state of melancholy hyper-sensitiveness, an epidemic of world pain, quite as unnatural as the Rococo.
The heart came into its rights again and laid claim to absolute dominion in its kingdom, and regret that it had lain so long deprived of its own, gave rise to a tearful pensiveness, which added zest to restitution. It was convalescence, but followed at once by another complaint. Feeling swung from one extreme to the other.
German feeling in the first half of the eighteenth century was chiefly influenced, on the one hand, by Richardson’s novels, which left no room for Nature, and by the poetry of Young and Thomson; on the other, by the pastoral idylls interspersed with anacreontic love-passages, affected by the French. At first description and moralizing preponderated.
In 1729 Haller’s Alps appeared. It had the merit of drawing the eyes of Europe to Alpine beauty and the moral worth of the Swiss, but shewed little eye for romantic scenery. It is full of descriptive painting, but not of a kind that appeals: scene follows scene with considerable pathos, especially in dealing with the people; but landscape is looked at almost entirely from the moralizing or utilitarian standpoint.