Many contemporaries claimed that to walk in their gardens was an intellectual exercise for the educated elite, emphasising their classical knowledge through emblematic statutory and allegorical features, which would be wasted on the uneducated masses who would simply see what was attractive and miss the intellectual story. The philosopher David Hume wrote in 1757 that "few are qualified to give judgement on any work of art, or establish their own sentiment as the standard of beauty…When the critic has no delicacy he judges without distinction, and is only affected by the grosser and more palpable qualities of the object; the finer touches pass unnoticed and disregarded".
At Stowe in Buckinghamshire Viscount Cobham created a garden full of political statements after his falling out with Robert Walpole and resignation from politics. He created a Temple of British Worthies, which held busts of Cobham's supporters alongside historical figures. Furthermore he built a Temple of Ancient Virtue, starkly contrasted with a decaying Temple of Modern Virtue, which rather pointedly held a headless statue of Robert Walpole.
|Temple of British Worthies, Stowe|
Similarly, at that other great English garden, Stourhead in Wiltshire, Henry Hoare dammed the river Stour to create a great lake around which he laid out a beautiful landscape garden, replete with classical buildings and follies. Carved above the door of his first building, the Doric Temple of Flora, is a quote from Virgil "Procul, O procul este, profani" meaning "Begone, you who are uninitiated". Clearly this garden was designed for those who had a classical education and who could appreciate its subtleties and philosophical meaning.
|Temple of Flora, Stourhead|
Rather than being simply for pleasure, many eighteenth century gardens were created to convey the message that their owner was well educated, democratic and patriotic. William Gilpin wrote of Stowe in 1748 "I must own there appears a very visible connection between an improved taste for pleasure and a taste for virtue: when I...enjoy myself in these happy walks, I can feel my mind expand itself, my notions enlarge, and my heart better disposed either for a religious thought or a benevolent action: In a word, I cannot help imagining a Taste for these exalted pleasures contributes towards making me a better man”. Noble sentiments indeed.