Alexandre de Laborde, Description des nouveaux jardins de la France et de ses anciens chateaux (1808), p.95-
Description des nouveaux jardins de la France et de ses anciens châteaux - Google Books
The English translation is given in the book itself.
SEVENTEEN leagues from Paris and three from Etampes, in the middle of the lonely plains of Beauce, is a charming valley watered by a small river called the Juine, which is never known either to freeze or to overflow. Even very near its source it becomes sufficiently deep to carry boats, and its channel is sufficiently elevated to give all the effect which can be wished for in the composition of the landscape.
It displays all its beauty particularly in the neighbourhood of Méréville. This spot has accordingly been fixed upon for planting one of the finest gardens in the environs of Paris.
The river, which is the principal beauty of the spot, divides into two branches. The one flows in its natural channel, turns several mills and afterwards forms a cascade of two feet, which is seen and heard from the mansion; from thence it spreads through the valley, forming several islands and delightful walks. Its banks are planted with trees so fine and so high, that a boat may sail in the shade round the whole garden. The other branch runs in a subterraneous aqueduct for the space of three quarters of a league, and again makes its appearance through an artificial grotto of rocks in the interior of a building which was intended for a dairy.
The water rushes in the first place into a basin raised in the middle of the grotto, and is afterwards distributed through the room by spouts ornamented with white marble. The pavement as well as the parapets are also of white marble. The coolness of this place, the gentle light which it receives from above and the beauty of the marble , recalls to mind the Arabian authors and the ancient Eastern Fairy Tales. Upon leaving this building, the river, continuing its subterraneous passage, at last falls again into its own bed by a cascade of from ten to twelve feet high, and forms one of the finest situations which any mountainous country can present to the view.
The whole rising ground which commands this site, is planted with tall ever-greens, the rocks are overgrown with ivy, creepers and other plants of that kind. Steps are hewn in the rock leading to the bottom of the cascade as well as to several vaults which are near it.
.... In ignota, Palinure, jacebis arena. VIRG., V, 871. Et statuent tumulum, et lumulo solemnia mittent. VIRG VI, 380
At no great distance, is a building which separates the garden from the highway and the open country. It is a mill, and a considerable farm yard. This is a curious building, for it can serve the miller, who lives on the side which looks upon the open country, and the garden side of the house is found to be the first floor and the most delightful apartments independent of the miller's dwelling. They are distributed in such a manner, that from the one are beheld the busy country labours as well as all the productions of a valley rich in fruits and cattle, and from the other, the same river gently rolling over golden sands near an enamelled lawn and shaded with high tulip, plantain and southernwood trees and weeping willows. On this side are the gardens of Armida; and on the other those of Alcinous.
What pleases most in the general view of Méréville part, is the just proportion which prevails throughout. So much unison is every where observed, that the mansion has the appearance of having been built for the garden.
The same unison, to make use of the expression, also exists between the inhabitants of this part and those of the village. The immense works continually ordered by the owner, drew whole families from distant counties. He got houses built for them and gave them employment. The high-street of Méréville, as well as the townhall were built at his expense. When, therefore he was thrown into prison during the Reign of Terror, the inhabitants sent a deputation to claim him as their property.
But in those unhappy times, the poor man's prayer was not sooner listened to than that of others, and those good people returned with heavy hearts to bestow their care on the preservation of a spot where they had all once been happy.
When the owner's widow returned to inhabit it and to endeavour to recall past events to her memory, nothing was found in a degraded state : she could not, it is true, add any thing to it; but she preserves every thing; she cannot bestow riches; but she gives relief; and the good she now does proves what she would wish to do.
Mereville resembles Ammon's Oasis, situated in the middle of deserts, and where the inhabitants lived happy although they were separated from the rest of mankind. - The happiness in a future state, says Mahomet (1), will be, to live for ever in a garden watered by rivers....
The Entrance of the Park of Mereville
Que le début soit simple et n'ait rien d'affecté. BOILEAU, Art Poét.
The maxim is as suitable to the rules of a garden as to those of a poem; the commencement of a part ought in a manner to be only the sequel or continuation of the country which surrounds it: the elegance of the plantations with the neatness of the grass-plots and walks, are the only additions which can be made to it. When so, the interest increases as you advance: you are not dazzled at first, so as to have no further enjoyment afterwards. Our impressions acquire all their strength only in as much as they are gradual, and the art consists in leading them on, one by one, without their weakening each other or confounding themselves together.
The entrance of the Park of Méréville is exactly of this description, but its effect is much more lively from the contrast which it forms with the barrenness of the plains that you have just crossed. The situation of the valley is such, that you arrive at it almost without suspecting its existence, and it is upon turning off a naked and rocky road that you enter a part where you breathe the most delicious coolness. The road that crosses it is cut from the declivity of a hill covered with a wood of lofty trees, which rises, to the left, in form of an amphitheatre, and descends, to the right, into a meadow. The cluster of trees artfully scattered over the lawn, by no means intercept the prospect of the valley and thus leave an open view of the towers and tops of the castle. All this side of the garden is entirely in the taste of English parks. The road forms an easy circuit, which has nothing strained in it and never deviates from its object, to which, however, it does not lead too directly.
General View of the Castle of Mereville from the West
The castle of Méréville was formerly one of those gothic fabrics, forming almost a perfect square, the four angles of which were flanked with four towers. These have a handsome appearance on the outside and at the same time form commodious apartments in the castle. Nevertheless, as it was not sufficiently spacious and that its aspect was inelegant, two wings have been joined to it, which are remarkable for their happy harmony with the style of the primitive building, and give an air of great elegance and lightness to the whole mansion. One finds in it that art which has been so much improved in England, of taking advantage of old buildings by imitating their style, instead of altering their structure for the purpose of bringing them to more regular or more modern forms. In order not to injure the appearance of the whole by adjacent buildings for stables and outhouses, a large subterraneous construction has been formed, and this being divided into halls, answers all these puposes. These halls exhibit a regular line from afar, and join the elegance of an Italian fabric to the awful aspect of the gothic structure.
General View of the Castle of Mereville from the East
General View of the Park of Mereville, taken from the Terrace of the Castle
Among the constructions usually met with in ancient gardens, terraces were considered as the most necessary, and were looked upon, with sufficient reason, as the intermediate structure between the building and the country. Indeed, they afford a real delight during several hours in the day, when one wishes to enjoy the prospect of the surrounding sites and to take an airing, without straying far from the castle. It, therefore, appears to me proper to retain their use and easy to give them an agreeable form. For this purpose it will suffice to slope their borders, to throw down the stonework which supports them and to cover the slope and top with green turf, flowers and shrubs. Such is the terrace of Méréville, from which you have a prospect of the whole park, without perceiving its details. To the right you see and hear the fall of the river, which, rushing under a bridge of rocks, meanders through the meadow and afterwards loses itself to the left in a thicket of lofty trees, where it forms the delightful island a view of which we give.
The mountain, which bounds the extremities of the garden and valley, is ornamented with a few buildings which serve as a shepherd's habitation and sheepfold, and with a very high column, which commands a view of the whole country.
PLATES XLVIII AND XLIX.
The Mill of Méréville
|From the Park|
This structure is as pleasant from its style, which is at once rural and elegant, as from its situation. Being surrounded with lofty poplars and in a manner wrapped in shades and verdure, nothing can equal the content that one breathes in it in summer. Placed upon a village road on the one side, this mill belongs to the miller, who turns it to profit and whose yard exhibits all the variety of country-labour. On the other side, it forms a part of the park, the repose of which it disturbs only by the noise of its wheel. On the first story some handsome lodging rooms and an elegant saloon have been fitted up. From the latter you enjoy a delightful view of the surrounding country and the beauty of the shades in the park. This peaceable and smilingg habitation seems calculated to serve as a retreat to the poet and an asylum to the philosopher.
Ornamented mills are in general the most natural and almost always the most picturesque kind of buildings, whether in gardens or in the open country,
|From the countryside|
Ar the end of the lake of Méréville, and opposite to the rostral column, is a building of which you perceive only the portal ornamented with Ionic columns. This building, which was intended to serve as a dairy to an ornamented farm that has not been entirely completed, is one of the most singular and agreeable structures which can embellish a garden.
The edifice is in the form of an oblong, the end of which is a very elevated grotto, from the middle of which rushes a branch of the river, which falls away gently into a basin, whence it spreads itself through the hall in white marble channels; the floor and walls, which are breast-high, and of the same substance, as are also two large tables at the sides. These rivulets, ever limpid, running through the interior of a hall over a marble bed, call to mind the delights of the East and the charming palaces of Grenada. This use of waterworks in buildings, so common in Asia and Africa, might be employed to great advantage in our parks, and would give to some structures a coolness and a very agreeable air of enchantment.