In March, 1719 Pope settled with his widowed mother in a villa — which he would occupy the house for the remaining twenty-five years of his life — with a small plot of land running down to the Thames near Twickenham. He immediately set about acquiring more land — by 1734 he owned at least five acres — and and improving the house and grounds. He employed an army of workmen to construct what would one day be called the "Paradigm of the Picturesque Garden," an "eloquent expression of the pictorial and poetic sensibility" of the early eighteenth century.
Trees and shrubs were planted to form groves, arcades, and "wildernesses," and unusual vegetables, herbs, and quincunxes of vines and fruit-trees filled the kitchen gardens. Pope oversaw the building of hothouses, a large "mount" covered with trees, bushes, and heaps of rugged and mossy stones (with a spiral path to the top, where one came upon a large Forest seat, shaded by a tree); niches containing urns and stone busts of Homer, Virgil, Marcus Aurelius, and Cicero; stone pavilions at the water's edge; an orangery; a bowling-green; an open temple made of shells; an amphitheatre; a memorial obelisk to his mother (erected in 1735); and, most importantly, his famous grotto, the construction of which commenced in 1722. The walls and ceiling of the grotto were lined with flints, pebbles, and shells, and contained concealed mirrors and alabastor lamps which served to illuminate its rills, fountains, and pools, as well as the enormous collection of exotic minerals — crystals, metallic ores, lava, coral, gold ore, Italian marble — and plants, statues, fossils, and shells — which friends of the poet, over a period of many years, gathered from all over the world and presented to him. The grotto began in the basement of the villa and ran under the road to the garden, where a path led through a "wilderness" or carefully overhanging trees to the temple.
The whole assemblage at Twickenham was a serious work of art, as much so as any painting or poem — Pope suggested, in 1734, that "all gardening is landscape painting. Just like a landscape hung up" — and great pains were taken to control light and shadow, perspective and point of view, and thus the spectator's mood. The whole was wrought with enormous care: Horace Walpole commented that Pope had "twisted and twirled; and rhymed and harmonised" his "little bit of ground" (we ought to remember that Pope's gardens, like their creator, were tiny — at least compared with those which had been created on the great estates of his noble and wealthy friends) — and the poetic analogy is an apt one. In what ways does Pope's accomplishment at Twickenham relate to the pictorial art and the poetry both of the Neo-classical Period and of the Romantic? Over the years Twickenham became a more and more complex, finished, and tasteful work of art; one which embodied the complex relationship between Art and Nature which was a constant theme in Pope's work — and it provided him as well, of course, with a graceful and tranquil setting in which to spend a properly Horation retirement.
Incorporated in the Victorian Web July 2000