Bless'd isle admired: The English countryside as a reflection of economic power in the first half of the 19th century

Fatsar, Kristof (2012) Bless'd isle admired: The English countryside as a reflection of economic power in the first half of the 19th century. In: ECLAS 2012 Conference: The Power of Landscape; 19-22 Sep 2012, Warsaw, Poland. (Unpublished)


A well known and analysed aspect of the English landscape gardening movement is the claim of moral supremacy over the rivalling French style. English considered formal gardening with its clipped hedges and trained trees as a manifestation of French absolutism, whereas English gardens with their freely growing plants had ambition to reveal the true nature of liberal society that England was blessed with. However, it must be pointed out that those French gardens reflecting political power and their opponent English designed landscapes demanding moral power are all individual responses to the landscape. They indeed expose the wealth of their owners but say little about the economic power of the entire society. British Agricultural Revolution gradually but dramatically changed the face of the English countryside by the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries through a series of Enclosure Acts. New methods of farming backed by achievements of the Industrial Revolution were also responsible for the transformation of the landscape. These advancements were well known in the Continent and attracted many professionals and reform-minded individuals to Britain. Among them were many Hungarian intellectuals whose struggles to change the feudal society of their homeland more similar to that of Britain is clearly expressed in their writings. For them, everything was connected: While English landscape gardens referred to the freedom and equality of all citizens, the overall cultivated English countryside expressed ‘good society’ where those free citizens were able to experiment and develop various farming methods and implement them to improve productivity. And finally, good society can lead to the common wealth of the nation. The state of a society and its economic power is therefore well expressed in the landscape. This research explores Hungarian public thinking on designed and evolved landscapes of Britain in the first half of the 19th century through the eyes of Hungarian travellers. Diaries, journals and travelogues were used, with numerous previously unknown manuscripts among them. The research has revealed that the perception of the English countryside had serious impact on Hungarian agricultural development and landscape evolution.

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