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The Arcadian Friends Paperback – 6 May 2008
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"Wonderfully rich and packed with vivid details...The Arcadian Friends deserves to become a classic" (Guardian)
"The Arcadian Friends offers an invigorating new approach to familiar garden history territory. In the company of his large cast, Richardson guides us deftly through varied landscapes full of surprises." (Sunday Telegraph)
"Replete with first-rate scholarship... there are many delights here" (Literary Review)
"Richardson explains this with verve and enthusiasm, and a measure of his success is that he makes the reader want to visit, or revisit, the gardens he describes" (Telegraph)
"Wonderfully engaging... This book gives us a way to read the landscape and see again what the original owners intended." (Spectator)
The true story of the invention of Britain's greatest - and most underappreciated - art formSee all Product description
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Tim Richardson's lively, almost gossipy style is perfect for describing the landowners and designers responsible for the landscape gardens. They were an eccentric bunch indeed. But I felt he lacked the popular historian's gift for succinct summary and explanation of underlying causes. Which is a shame as a potential strength of the book is its attempt to "explain" the gardens in terms of the politics and culture of England at the time. Sections on the distinction between Whigs and Tories, the poetry of the times, and landscape painting, for example, didn't come off as they might.
His central theme that the gardens were the product of party politics - the Whig/Tory divide - was I thought pushed too far and perhaps undermined other good things about the book. There seemed too many exceptions or gardens squeezed into a mould they didn't quite fit. So I wasn't sure what to make of, for example, the claim (p.363) that "Hagley's Ruined Tower can be viewed as part of Cobham's wide front against Walpole's regime". Wasn't Walpole dead by this stage?
Nonetheless the book is the product of enormous research and is a great source for lively reference before visiting any of the gardens it covers.
Richardson brings to life the players, the patrons, the symbolism and the motivations behind England's great early landscape gardens at a time when the English Landscape garden was to prove decisive as the greatest contribution to the European 'Enlightenemnt'.
Ricky Pound 24/06/07
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Wealthy Tories opposed to the new king tended to stick to their original Elizabethan, baroque, or Italianate gardens. More practical minded Tories might just embellish their farm buildings to create a "ferme ornee," demonstrating their fiscal conservatism by refusing to waste space and money on anything as useless as a garden. In addition to the Whig/Tory division, there was also something of a Protestant/Catholic split, the new king being a Protestant and the old one a Catholic.
I hope I am not oversimplifying or misrepresenting the thesis of this book. For an American without much personal knowledge of these gardens, except through books, it does seem rather complicated. It's not the easiest read (dense prose, no pictures!) but certainly worth it for people with a real interest in historic gardens. Eventually, of course, later in the 18th century, the naturalistic garden, simplified even more, transformed from a wooded path for strolling, into a distant view for admiring, came to be known as "the English garden" (ancestor of "the American lawn", perhaps) The author regrets how much was lost when it came to be agreed that all landscapes should look the same.