Schuyler 1995 - navid Schuyler DAVID SCHUYLER was born in...

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Unformatted text preview: navid Schuyler DAVID SCHUYLER was born in 1950 in Albany, New York. and was raised in the mid-Hudson River valley city of New— burgh. He holds a Ph.D. in history from Columbia University. where his disserta- tion was awarded the Richard B. Morris Prize. Professor Schuyler serves as a con- sulting editor to the Creating the North American Landscape series (Johns Hop- kins University Press) and as a member of the Editorial Board of the Frederick Law Olmsted Papers publication project. Schuyler is author of The New Urban Landscape: The Redefinition of City Form in Nin eteenth-Century America (Johns Hopkins, 1986) and coeditor of three volumes of The Papers of Freder- ick Law Olmsted, the most recent of which is The Years of Olmsted, Vaux 8r Company, 1865—1874 (Johns Hopkins, 1992). He is professor of American stud— ies at Franklin and Marshall College. *From James Fenimorc Cooper, T be Pioneers: Or; The Source: qfrlse Susque— hanna ([823; New York, £964.), page 202. I. Auguste Levasseur, Lafayette in America, in 1324 and 182;: Or, journal qf a Voyage to the United States, trans. l. D. Godham, 2. vols. (Philadelphia, 1329), 1199—100, passim. 2.. Ibid. CHAPTER 8 The Sanctificd Landscape: The Hudson River Valley, 1820 to 1850 H ow rapidly is civilization treading on the footsteps of nature! ——-IAMES FENIMORE COOI’ER * IN 1824 the Marquis de Lafayette returned to the United States to visit familiar places and to observe the changes that had taken place in the nation whose independence he had helped to cre- ate. Shortly after arriving in New York Lafayette and his party boarded the steamboat fame: Kent for a journey up the Hudson. Everywhere the aged republican went, throngs of people greeted him. In Newburgh, for example, citizens erected five triumphal arches, hosted Lafayette at a festive dinner, and showered him with wreathes, flowers, and assorted gifts. The same outpouring of respect and generosity greeted the gallant Frenchman every- where he wcnt in the United States: to a nation experiencing great change, Lafayette represented continuity, a link with the stirring events of the Revolutionary past and a commitment to republicanism that many commentators believed was being lost amid the pursuit of wealth.l Lafayette’s secretary, Auguste Levasseur, recorded the de- tails of their journey up the Hudson. They traveled past Tarry— town, where Major Andre had been captured, and other sites notable for events that occurred during the struggle for inde— pendence. But Levasseur was especially struck by the scenery of the Highlands, a place “where nature only shows herself under strange forms, and in sombre colours,” and which evoked “phan- toms” and “sinister sighings” not unlike the legends Washington Irving had created. Although someone who cherished the tem- nants of feudalism and the castles of the Middle Ages might favor the scenery of the Rhine, Levasseur wrote, “for one who prefers nature still virgin and wild, there is nothing so beautiful as the banks of the Hudson.”2 ’ The English-born landscape painter Thomas Cole arrived in New York in 1825. Although the Erie Canal extended to Buffalo that year, ensuring the prosperity of the merchants who in the future would provide the patronage essential to an artistic com— munity, according to Cole’s first biographer, Louis Legrande Noble, the artist was more captivated by the scenery than by evi- 94 PARTII: LANDSCAPE AS HISTORY —_—_—u__LLLLL—m—___x dence of a robust commercial economy. c‘From the moment when his eyes first caught the rural beauties clustering round the cliffs of Weehawken, and glanced up the distance of the Palisades,” Noble wrote, “Cole’s heart had been wandering in the Highlands, and nestling in the bosom of the Catskills.”3 Lafayette’s visit was an occasion both for reflection and for celebration. As Levasscur observed, the Frenchman’s presence provided the opportunity for reverent acknowledgment of the historical events that had taken place during the Revolutionary era and also to measure the nation’s progress since independence. Cole’s arrival in New York was unheralded, though in later years it would be considered a starting point in the maturation of land- scape painting in the United States. Despite his and Levasseur’s celebration of the scenery, the age of sail was rapidly giving way to steam, and economic development was transforming the cul- tural geography of the Hudson Valley. Levasseur was astonished by the volume of commerce on the river. “It would be difficult,” he observed, “to enumerate the boats of all sorts and sizes which carry on the trade between Albany and New York; the river is continually covered with them, and you can rarely sail for a quar- ter of an hour without meeting a long succession of them.” Cole, who. lamented the impact of civilization on his beloved wilderv ness, could do little to forestall the march of progress. Yet the celebration of the domesticated landscape he championed, and the evidence that civilization was destroying both natural beauty and the physical remains of the nation’s history, led to the sancti- fication of the Hudson River valley. In the middle of the nine- teenth century, contemporaries combined an appreciation of land- scape with an increasing awareness of the importance of history to urge the preservation of a simple vernacular farmhouse that had been associated with important events of the Revolutionary War. That building became the first structure in the United States preserved for its historic significance} The domestication of landscape, the achievement of a bal- ance between nature and the human presence, was a necessary precondition for the sanctification of the Hudson Valley. Andrew Jackson Downing, the Newburgh, New York, nurseryman and landscape gardener who became the preeminent arbiter of taste in the mid-nineteenth century, chronicled the cultivation of the land and the symbolic impress of civilization upon it. Two of his ear- liest essays, published in the New—Tare Mirror in 1835, proclaimed the superiority of cultivated nature over the sublime, of pastoral civilization over wilderness. The first, “Beacon Hill,” led readers to the summit of Mount Beacon, which was directly across the 3. Louis Legrande Noble, Tine Lafi: met/i Wiirb' LfThomm Coir, edited by Elliot S. Vesell (1853; Cambridge, MA, 1964.), page 34.. There are numerous works devoted to the culture ofthe Hudson River valley during the mid nineteenth century, but see especially James T. Callow, Kindred Spirits: Knickereaclzer Writers andAmerimn Artists, 1807—1855 (Chapel Hill, 196?); Barbara Novak, Nature and Culture: American Landscape and Painting 1825—1871 (New York, 1980); Ray- mond J. O’B rien, American Subiime: Landscape and Scenery afthe Lower Hadron Valley (New York, 1981); and Walter L. Creese, The Growing qf‘the American Landscape: Eight Great Sleeves and their Building: (Princeton, 1985). 4.. A. Levasseur, Lafayette in America, 1:100. See also Charles B. Hosmer, Ir, Preemie (fifths Page: A H irmry qf the H mm: Preservation Movement in the United Stem Befilre Wifliumrbmy (New York, 1965), pages 2.9~ 51. Barbara Novak has similarly ar- gued that “America’s search for some sense of the past in the raw new world Focused on an idea of landscape th :1! was at once strongly nationalistic and moralistic.” See Novak, American Painting afthe Nineteenth Century (New York, [979), page 61. THE SANCTIFIED LANDSCAPE 95 5. [A. J. Downing], “American Highland Scenery. Beacon Hill,” New Tort Mirror 12 (14. March 1835): 2937 294.. See also George B. Tatum and Elisabeth B. MacDougall, eds, Prophet With Home: The Career affin- drcwfmksgn Dawning 1315—1352 (Wash- ington, DC, 1989). 6. A. I. D[owning]., “The Dans- Kamer. A Reverie in the Highlands,” Nov-Erie Mirror 13 (10 October 183s):117—118. Washington Irving’s tale described how Stuyvesant’s crew “were most horribly frightened, on going ashore above the [Hudson] highlands, by a gang of merry roister- 111g devils, frisking and curveting on a flay rock, which projected into the river, and which is called the Duyvel’i Pam-Kramer to this very day.” Died- l'lch Knickerbocker, A H artery qf'Nrw York, From the quinning affine Warm to #11: End ofthe Dutch Dynasty . . . (1819; Philadelphia, 1871), pages 392—393. Hudson from Newburgh. Named because of the beacon fires that alerted Washington’s troops to the movements of the British army in the long months between the battle of Yorktown and comple- tion of the negotiations in Paris that ended the War for Indepen- dence, Mount Beacon was, to the young Downing’s untraveled eye, one of nature’s “most majestick thrones.” He compared the view favorably to betteruknown prospects in the Catskills, which were too sublime for his taste. From Mount Beacon, by contrast, “In every direction the country is full of beauty, and presents a luxurient and cultivated appearance.” Downing noted that visi- tors could enjoy the scenery because settlement had eliminated the dangers traditionally associated with wilderness, which in- creased the appeal of the landscape: “none of the fashionable,” he wrote, “think their summer’s tour complete until they have loi- tcred away a day or two at ‘Cozzens’ [Hotel], falling in raptures with the captivating, though (at that place) stern and majestick beauty of the Highlands.”5 The second of Downing’s essays was a “reverie” at Dans Kamer, a flat rock that projected into the Hudson several miles above Newburgh. The northernmost point of Newburgh Bay, this was a locale celebrated by Washington Irving as a ceremonial powwow ground for Native Americans. Downing, who praised Irving for preserving the “rich old legends and antiquarian scraps” of the river’s history, amply described the autumnal splendor of the vicinity and reiterated Knickerbocker’s tale of how the “wild yell of the savage” had alarmed Peter Stuyvesant’s crew. The age of the canoe had given way to the tall sloop and the steamboat, however, and where wigwams once stood were “a thousand cheerfiil homes gleaming in the sunshine.” What best character— ized the changes wrought by civilization, Downing implied, was the domestication of the landscape, the establishment of homes, farms, and villages: the “once dense wilderness,” he wrote approv- ingly, “has disappeared under the hand of civilized man.”6 Taken together, Downing’s later writings on architecture and landscape gardening are a prescriptive treatise on the domes- tication of nature. In his more famous books Downing provided illustrations of the Beautiful (or Graceful) and the Picturesque, but not of the Sublime, the state of nature at its rawest and most powerful, and which evoked associations of awe and terror. He supplied plans for country houses and their gardens, and for dwellings in small towns and villages, but none for large cities. He also promoted the suburb as a place of residence for those persons who were compelled to work in urban areas but who wished to raise their families in landscaped surroundings more 96 PARTII: LANDSCAPE AS HISTORY “Landscape Gardening, in the Graceful School” (above) and "Land5cape Gardening, in the Picturesque School" (below), Engravings appeared as figures 12 and 13 in the second edition of Andrew Jackson Downing's A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Ga rdem'ng Adapted to North America (New York: Wiley and Putnam, 1844). Courtesy of the Shadek-Fackenthal Library, Franklin and Marshall College, Lancaster, Pennsylvania. THE SANCTIFlED LANDSCAPE 97 (’- 7. G. B. Tatum and E. B. Mac- Dnugall, eds, Prophet With Honor; pasnm; Thomas Cole, “Essay on ' American Scenery” (1335), in 101111 W- McCoubrey, ed., American Art 1700 — , 1960: Sources and Documents (Engle— ' Wood Cliffs, N], 1965), page 100. appropriate to the new culture of domesticity. As Downing’s writings indicate, by the second quarter of the nineteenth century nature and civilization had achieved a harmonious equilibrium in the Hudson River valley. Thomas Cole presented a similar assess- ment in his “Essay on American Scenery,” which he published in the same year as Downing’s writings in the New-Twit Mirror. A “cultivated” landscape, Cole wrote, “encompasses our homes, and though devoid of the stern sublimity of the wild, its quieter spirit steals tenderly into our bosoms mingled with a thousand domes“ tic affections and heart-touching associations.”7 The Hudson River landscape not only was domesticated, but also was considered by contemporaries an important element in the nation’s collective identity. Because of the short time that had passed since independence, the United States lacked the m0n~ uments, ruins, and centuries of tradition that provided Europeans with a sense of identity in place and time. Iames Fenirnore Coo- per, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and other writers complained about the absence of historical associations in the New World. But if the United States lacked the physical remains of the past, it had nature in abundance—«a landscape older than all the institutions of Eu- ropean civilization. In Home A: Found, Cooper’s fictional charac~ ter Eve Efiingham. described the “Silent Pine” that stood in “soli— tary glory” on the bank of Lake Otsego: It is indeed eloquent; one hears it speak even now of the fierce storms that have Whistled round its tops—of the seasons that have passed since it extrlca ted that verdant cap from the throng of sisters that grew beneath it, and ol‘all that has passed on the Otsego, when this limpid lake lay like a gem embedded in the forest. When William the Conqueror first landed in England this tree stood on the spot Where it now stands! H ere, then, is at last an American antiquity! As if following Cooper’s assertion of the supremacy of na- ture over civilization, in an era dominated by romanticism, artists and writers found in the domesticated landscape a source of in- spiration and the guarantor of America’s distinctiveness as a cul- ture. “The painter of American scenery,” Cole noted in his jour- nal, “has privileges superior to any other. All nature here is new to art.” While Cole was preparing to depart on a visit to Europe in 1829, newspaper editor and poet William Cullen Bryant warned the artist that “Thine eyes shall see the light of distant skies.” The last six lines of Bryant’s sonnet cast the landscapes of the Old and New Worlds in dramatic contrast: 98 PARTII: LANDSCAPEAS HISTORY The domesticated landscape: "The Hudson at Newburgh,” an oil on canvas by W. G. Wall. The painting appeared in Hudson River Portfolio (1825). Courtesy of the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum Library: Collection of Printed Books. Fair scenes shall greet thee Where thou goestwfiir But difibrent—eveiywhere the trace-airmen. Paths, homes, graves, ruins, from the [owestgilen To Where 111% shrinks from the fierce Alpine air. Gaze on them, till the tears shall dim thy sigh t, I But keep that earlier; Wilder image bright. Bryant’s poem warned his friend Cole to avoid the temptations of an overcivilized Europe and to keep nature, the birthright of the American continent, foremost in his paintings.8 8. J. F. Cooper, HomgAs Found (1838; New York, I961), page 2021.: T. Cole, journal, quoted in L. L. Noble, Lifi: and Work: ofTbamw Cole, page 14.8; W. C. Bryant, “To Cole, the Painter, Departing for Europe,” in I. W. McCoubrey, ed., American Art 1700 —1960, page 96. See also Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Marble Farm (1859; New York, 1961), page vi. THE SANCTIFIED LANDSCAPE A host of other writers echoed the same theme. Writing in the Literary World, for example, a correspondent asserted that landscape was the “first field and the best field for our painters,” as it guaranteed originality and “distinguished success.” Another suggested that American artists who traveled to Europe left he- hind “GOD’S landscape,” while Asher B. Durand’s “Letters on Landscape Painting” advised aspiring artists to study American nature rather than the masterpieces of the art of the past. Follow- ing these injunctions, and undoubtedly inspired by Cole’s com- mercial success, numerous artists set out to explore the aesthetic potential of the Hudson Valley. Many of their prosperous coun- trymen, predominantly from large cities, shared the artists” appre- ciation of the domesticated landscape. During the second quarter of the nineteenth century the pages of literary magazines filled with reveries on the Hudson Highlands and the Catskills, while engravers produced hundreds of illustrations of handsome scenes of natural beauty for popular gift books and souvenirs. As the environmental impact of the emerging industrial cities was be- coming evident, those who could afford the cost and who shared an enthusiasm for landscape began patronizing such well-known establishments as Cozzens Hotel and the Catskill Mountain House to partake the beauties of nearby scenery. Hartford mer- chant John Olmsted took his son Frederick on numerous “tours in search of the picturesque,” and years later the son recalled how deeply the perception of nature had affected his father and shaped his own career as a landscape architect: On a Sunday evemng we were crossing the meadows alone. I was tired and he had taken me in his arms. I soon noticed that he was inattentive to my pra ttle and iooicing in his race 32 w‘ in it something unusual. Foiiowmg the direction of his eyes, I said: “Oh! there’s a star.” Then he said something of Infinite Love with a tone and manner which really moved me, chick that I was, so much so that it has ever since remained in my heart. Only the ineffable beauties of nature could evoke such a response from the normally stolid John Olmsted, a response the son later attempted to make possible for visitors to the urban public parks he designed throughout the United States. For John Olmsted and for numerous other members of his generation, during the second quarter of the nineteenth century nature had become a source of inspiration, a place not for the rigors of agriculture, which neces- 100 PART II: LANDSCAPE AS HISTORY "Below Cozzens," an engraving that appeared in William Cullen Bryant’s Picturesque America (New York, 1874), illustrates what Downing termed the "stern and majestick beauty" of the Hudson Highlands. The engraver and the date of the engraving are unknown. Courtesy of the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum Library: Collection of Printed Books. THE SANCTIFIED LANDSCAPE 101 9. “The Fine Arts. Exhibition at'the National Academy,” Literary led 1 (15 May 134.7):347fi48; ibid., 6 (4. May 1850) :448; A. B. Durand, “Letters :7' 'on Landscape Painting—II” (1855), in I. W. McCoubrey, ed., Amer/term Ant 17004960, pages 1ro—1I3; R. I. O’Brien, American Sublime, pages 102—163; F. ' L. Olmsted, “Passages in the Life of an Unpractical Man,” in The Papers of Frederick Law Claimed, Vol. I: The Far- marirr 19m, 1822—1352, edited by -- _ Charles Caper] McLaughlin and ' Charles E. Beveridge (Johns Hopkins, _ 1977), page 100. See also Betsy Black- - mar and Elizabeth Cromley, Resorts qf the Catskills (New York, 1979) and Ro- land Van Zandt, The Catskill Mountain Heme (New Brunswick, NJ, 1966). 10. R. W. Emerson, “Nature” (1836), in Reginald L. Cook, ed., Ralph Waldo Emerson: Selected Prose and Poetry, 2d ed. (New York, 1969), pages 5—-6; I. T. Callow, Kindred Spirits, p. 12.0; W. C. Bryant, “Forest Hymn,” quoted in loshua C. Taylor, America As Art (Washington, D.C., 1976), page 104.; N; P. Willis, Outflow: at Idlewild (New York, 1855), page 28; R. I. O’Brien, American Sublime, pages 1233124; B. Novak, Nature and Cu!- ture, passim. sitated the transformation of the land, but for contemplation, for tranquility, for renewal that was impossible within the confines of cities and the routine of daily life.9 A corollary to the impress of civilization was the sacraliza— tion of the landscape. Ralph Waldo Emerson, for example, de- scribed nature as “these plantations of God” and asserted that “In the woods, we return to reason and faith.” Th...
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