“Regular irregularity” in landscape gardening
By LANGLEY, Batty, 1728
New Principles of Gardening: Or The Laying Out and Planting [of] Parterres, Groves, Widernesses, Labyrinths, Avenues, Parks, &c. After a more Grand and Rural Manner, than has been done before; With experimental directions for raising the several kinds of fruit trees, forest-trees, ever-greens and flowering-shrubs with which gardens are adorn’d. To which is added, the various names, descriptions, temperatures, medicinal virtues, uses and cultivations of several roots, pulse, hercs &c, of the kitchen and physick gardens, that are absolutely necessary for the service of families in general. Illustrated with great variety of Grand Designs, curiously engraven on twenty eight folio plates, by the best hands.
- Author: LANGLEY, Batty
- Publication place: London
- Publisher: A. Bettesworth and J. Batley in Pater-Noster Row; J. Pemberton in Fleetstreet; J. Bowles in St Paul’s Church-yard; J. Clarke under the Royal Exchange; J. Bowles at Mercer’s Hall
- Publication date: 1728.
- Physical description: First edition quarto (247 by 194mm), 13 preliminaries, including title page in manuscript as original is missing, dedication, introduction and contents, -207pp, -191pp, p, additional folding engraved frontispiece, 27 folding or double-page plates and plans, title with advertisement to verso, M3 supplied in contemporary manuscript, frontispiece torn and frayed with some loss to image (laid down), some other tears to plates repaired, plate 3 with small ink stains, embossed stamp of F.H. Cripps-Day to outer margin of dedication and his signature on upper pastedown, library stamp to upper pastedown, contemporary panelled calf, rubbed, corners worn, rebacked preserving original spine, with gilt spine in six compartments separated by raised bands, black morocco label lettered in gilt.Collation: B‑2D4; B‑2B4.
- Inventory reference: 14798
Here, Batty Langley presents his arguments in favour of liberating landscape gardening from the strict canon of the popular Dutch style, which insisted on formal and regular patterns. Inspired by the idyllic gardens described in classical texts, Langley advocates a freer form, characterised by labyrinths, faux-ruins and winding trails “that will present new and delightful Scenes to our View at every Step we take” (p.iii). He illustrates his philosophy of “regular irregularity” with a series of plans and diagrams throughout the volume, all of which were engraved by his brother Thomas.
The first section of the work is dedicated to mathematical problems based on lines, angles and shapes (p.2–24), reflecting the work done in his 1726 ‘Practical Geometry’, in which he laid out the theory of his “arti-natural” design. The second and largest section is taken up with a study of the various plants found in a British garden, and the use to which their flowers, fruits and seeds can be put. He warns against leeks, which “being hot and dry, ingender bad Blood” (p.55) and concludes the book with a vehement defence of violets, the syrup of which makes for an excellent treatment of digestive problems (p.191). ‘New Principles of Gardening’ was dedicated to George II, at whose feet Langley claims to lay these “inquiries into vegetable nature”. The king was known for his patronage of the arts, most prominently sponsoring Handel to produce music for the Royal Fireworks in 1748. During his reign, the vast gardens of the palaces also underwent renovation under Royal Gardener, Charles Bridgeman. Although there is no evidence that Bridgeman used Langley as a direct source of inspiration, his designs feature many similarities to the plans proposed in ‘New Principles of Gardening’, such as the use of ha-has to provide unimpeded landscapes.
Langley’s career was not limited to writing. He put his horticultural philosophies into practice when designing the garden of his patron, Thomas Vernon, at Twickenham Park, and also spent a brief time producing artificial stones. Furthermore, Savage records Langley as a writer of architectural theory, claiming that his ornamental designs for “ceilings, parquetting, painting, paving, &c” were crucial in the transition towards the Rococo style in Britain. Harris is less impressed, scornfully stating that “a closer impression of Batty Langley’s architectural books does not improve the poor impression made at a glance”. His skills were clearly trusted at the time, however, since he and his brother ran a building school in London, where they gave lessons in drawing, geometry, mechanics and architecture. The vast range of jobs pursued by Langley may be explained by the fact that he had 14 children to provide for. It is his authorship of ‘New Principles of Gardening’, however, that won him a legacy as a key figure in the evolution of the British garden.