IN the second quarter of the eighteenth century the problem of "Nature" was painfully acute for gentlemen with aesthetic leanings. The nobleman replanning his ancestral acres and the critic pondering his next literary pronouncement struggled manfully with the dual concept of a Nature tame and methodized and a universe bountiful and overflowing. Lovers of regularity championed sculptured hedgerows and rule-bound literature: champions of diversity hailed wild landscapes and the outpourings of untrammeled genius. Both groups agreed on vivere secundum naturam--but naturam meant a radically different thing for each.
By the mid-century time was running out for the defenders of regularity. Slowly but steadily the formal garden surrendered to mazes, ruins, and Strawberry Hill: the elegant artistry of Pope gave way before the lyricism of Gray and the Wartons.
The great master [ William Kent] . . . truly the dis-
ciple of nature, imitated her in the agreeable wildness
and beautiful irregularity of her plans.121
--The World, No. 15
Praise of William Kent's wildness and beautiful irregularity in landscaping symbolized a minor revolution in aesthetics that within fifty years had led English gardens from the formality of clipped yew trees to serpentining walks and pseudo-Gothicism. For centuries English gardens had followed foreign fashions. Formal Elizabethan gardens had copied the classical style of Italian