The Hermit in the Garden: From Imperial Rome to Ornamental Gnome

The Hermit in the Garden: From Imperial Rome to Ornamental Gnome

by Gordon Campbell
     
 

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Tracing its distant origins to the villa of the Roman emperor Hadrian in the second century AD, the eccentric phenomenon of the ornamental hermit enjoyed its heyday in the England of the eighteenth century It was at this time that it became highly fashionable for owners of country estates to commission architectural follies for their landscape gardens. These

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Overview

Tracing its distant origins to the villa of the Roman emperor Hadrian in the second century AD, the eccentric phenomenon of the ornamental hermit enjoyed its heyday in the England of the eighteenth century It was at this time that it became highly fashionable for owners of country estates to commission architectural follies for their landscape gardens. These follies often included hermitages, many of which still survive, often in a ruined state.

Landowners peopled their hermitages either with imaginary hermits or with real hermits - in some cases the landowner even became his own hermit. Those who took employment as garden hermits were typically required to refrain from cutting their hair or washing, and some were dressed as druids. Unlike the hermits of the Middle Ages, these were wholly secular hermits, products of the eighteenth century fondness for 'pleasing melancholy'.

Although the fashion for them had fizzled out by the end of the eighteenth century, they had left their indelible mark on both the literature as well as the gardens of the period. And, as Gordon Campbell shows, they live on in the art, literature, and drama of our own day - as well as in the figure of the modern-day garden gnome.

This engaging and generously illustrated book takes the reader on a journey that is at once illuminating and whimsical, both through the history of the ornamental hermit and also around the sites of many of the surviving hermitages themselves, which remain scattered throughout England, Scotland, and Ireland. And for the real enthusiast, there is even a comprehensive checklist, enabling avid hermitage-hunters to locate their prey.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Would you be willing to let a man who rarely bathed and never cut his nails or hair live in your garden—and even pay him to do so? For just over a century it was a fashion for the British landed gentry to do just that as part of one of the more unusual cultural crazes: the fad for ornamental hermitages and hermits. Campbell (Renaissance studies, Univ. of Leicester; Bible: The Story of the King James Bible) briefly touches on the early religious and contemplative origins of true hermits but mainly focuses on the British Isles in the Georgian era, when the hermitage became a fashionable part of a rambling garden, with hermits a sought-after accessory. Mixing elements of history and guidebook, this well-researched study provides a thorough look at the idea of the hermit and a catalog detailing the history of numerous hermitages (many structures are extant), supplemented by examples of advertisements for hermits and a brief look at the hermit's successor, the garden gnome. VERDICT While dry prose somewhat limits the book's draw for the casual reader, those with any interest in its niche subject will find it a comprehensive and intriguing read. The various related topics on which it touches—gardening, architecture, English history—might broaden the book's appeal. Tom Stoppard's play Arcadia visits these themes as well.—Kathleen McCallister, Univ. of South Carolina Lib., Columbia

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780199696994
Publisher:
Oxford University Press
Publication date:
05/05/2013
Pages:
304
Product dimensions:
5.60(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.00(d)

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