PLUCKING ROSES THE FORTUNE HUNTER: A GERMAN
PRINCE IN REGENCY ENGLAND
By Peter James Bowman (Signal Books 232pp £14.99)
lady’s dowry that subsidised the Pückler-Muskaus’ shared dream: a garden in Germany that would celebrate the imaginative genius of the man whom Pückler called ‘the Shakespeare of gardening’ – Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown.
The idea had come from Lucie, the prince’s German wife. Without funds, the couple’s garden plans were doomed; their best bet, Lucie informed her husband, was to obtain the wealth of a young lady who might be persuaded to share a handsome German husband with an older – and most obliging – first wife. He must go to England; she, meanwhile, would stay behind and care for the estate.
A PRINCE HE did a-wooing go, in 1826, in search of a wealthy English bride. Nothing unusual about that in the years following the Napoleonic Wars, when an entire army of Europe’s finest crossed the Channel to twirl their moustaches – ‘whiskered aliens’, harrumphed an outraged British gentleman of the press – and to show off their waltz steps in a country never known (despite the recent endeavours of Anton du Beke) for its dainty footwork. What was wrong, then, with the arrival in Regency England o f a char ming f o r t y - yea r -o l d f o r t unehunter with a splendid title, impeccable manners, and a keen enthusiasm for English culture, English gardens and English girls? Only the fact t ha t Pr i nce Her mann Pückler-Muskau, creator of two of the greatest English gardens in Germany, already had a wife. Back in Prussia, where t he a t t i t ude t o divorce was exceptionally relaxed, this small impediment presented no problems. England, moving fast towards an age of pietism and high sanctimoniousness, took a very different view.
Enchanted by the generous spirit of his dear ‘Schnucke’ (‘lambkin’), the prince assured his about-to-be divorced spouse that he had never loved her more than at this moment of supreme marital sacrifice. (We don’t know whether Lucie believed him, since her letters have disappeared; as Pückler had already seduced, among many others, her niece, she may have raised an eyebrow.)
Fidelity was not Pückler’s strong suit. There is no doubt, however, that Lucie was his dearest fr iend and confidante. Affection for his wife shines from every page of the wonderfully vivid, r ueful, obser vant epistles which t he p r i nce wrote home – and which formed the basis for his celebrated work, Tou r o f a Ger man Prince in England.
Lock up your daughters
Bowman, a scr upulous histor ian with an eye for l ively detail, perfor ms a splendid job of filling in the backg round to Pückler’s quest for romantic gardens and rich girls. Unlucky in his
I t i s that di sdainful v i ew, unhappily, which has coloured our opinion of Prince Pückler-Muskau ever since. Prejudice, of a sniggeringly ill-informed kind, has completely obscured Pückler’s uncommon achievements, both as a landscape architect and as the first nobly born author to write candidly about his own class.
Rescue – for the prince and for us – is on hand. Peter Bowman has trawled deep in the archives to brush the dust off Prince Pückler’s portrait and restore him to us as a man of singular charm, culture and good humour: a fortune hunter too decent – unfortunately for his matrimonial ambitions – to conceal either his motives or the continuing existence, back at Muskau, of his remarkably tolerant and devoted wife.
In the end, it was travel-writing and not an English scheme for winning a wealthy wife, he consoled himself in the outstretched arms of a series of unmarriageable minxes, gleefully informing Lucie that ‘your old Lou’ had been quite done in by the enthusiasm of one athletic admirer. Lucie (we can safely assume) took more pleasure in hearing about the prince’s pilgrimages – in a vast English carriage equipped with leather blinds, a writing desk and warming pans – to the gardens they both so revered.
‘A good gardener can make more progress in his field dur ing a br ief stay here than in ten years’ study at home’, Pückler noted, and few garden enthusiasts can have been so zealous in their pursuit of knowledge. A visit to the park at Richmond had inspired his original plan to create an English garden in Germany. In 1826, he travelled more widely: Kew, Stowe, Blenheim, Woburn, Syon, Warwick and Easton. Visiting these man-made l andscapes, and more besides, Pückler
LITERARY REVIEW March 2011
scrupulously noted their strengths and f ailures. All would contr ibute to the grand schemes for his own Arcadias, created at Muskau and, later, at Branitz; all his observations would provide material for his celebrated tome Hints on Landscape Gardening (1834).
The real joy of this entertaining book, especially for non-gardeners, lies in its author’s skilful presentation of the pr ince’s response to the country from which he hoped to pluck a willing bride. Pückler noticed everything and left out nothing. Affectionately parodied as Count Smorltork in The Pickwick Papers, the prince gave Dickens a run for his money in his own description of a Brighton belle who delighted in throwing sweets at the startled faces of various dowagers and colonels, and of an obstreperous turbaned matron: ‘a fat lady of fifty-five … who waltzed around like a frenzied bacchante whenever she had enough room to do so’.
The eating habits of the English appalled Pückler: how, he wondered, could anybody stay cheerful on a diet of roast meat, boiled potatoes and rock-hard navy
STARS I N THEIR EYES DISCOVERERS OF THE UNIVERSE: WILLIAM
AND CAROLINE HERSCHEL
By Michael Hoskin (Princeton University Press 237pp £20.95)
THE BARE BONES of the story of William Herschel are well known: he was a German musician who came to England, took up astronomy, and discovered the planet Uranus. Oh yes, and he had a sister who helped him out a bit. All this is true; but, as Michael Hoskin’s delightful book makes clear, it is not the whole story.
The f ir st clue is g iven by the plural in the t i t le. Although Caroline Herschel was definitely number two in the partnership, they certainly made a team, and William could never have achieved as much as he did without her. The rest of the title hints at what lifts Hoskin’s account out of the ordinary. It might seem a bit rich to describe the team who found a planet as ‘discoverers of the universe’, but it is Hoskin’s persuasively argued contention that until Herschel came along at the end of the eighteenth century, the universe was regarded as eternal, static and unchanging. Even Isaac Newton subscr ibed, for the most par t , to this view. It was Herschel who realised that the universe is evolving – that, for example, clusters of stars change their appearance as time passes because of the way individual stars move under the influence of gravity. He wrote: ‘These clusters may be the Laboratories of the universe, if I may biscuits? Why would an Englishman only raise his glass when drinking a toast? And (most distressing of all to a gallant gentleman) why must order of precedence always place the reluctant prince next to his hostess, instead of her pretty daughter?
But – setting aside execrable food and baffling customs – Pückler adored England. Ecstatically, he wrote to Lucie about the marvellous actors, the hospitable inns, and the romantic castles. He thrilled to the charm of the Thames at night, its bridges glowing ‘like flaming garlands’ above the procession of lamp-lit boats. In fact, he declared: ‘If in my next life I cannot be an Englishman I should just as soon stay in my grave.’
Happily, England returned the compliment. Tour of a German Prince (translated, and heavily censored, in 1832 by a lady admirer) was still candid enough to cause a scandal – and to sell like hot-cakes. Peter Bowman’s intelligent and entertaining book – an absolute treat to read – merits the same pleasant fate. To order this book for £11.99, see LR bookshop on page 12
so express myself, wherein the most salutary remedies for the decay of the whole are prepared.’ It was the nature of the universe, rather than the universe itself, that Herschel discovered.
It takes a man of confidence to overturn centuries of received wisdom. Herschel had a powerful personality and
The Society of Authors
Grants for Authors The Society is offering grants to published authors who need funding to assist in the writing of their next book. Writers of fiction, non-fiction and poetry may apply.
The grants are provided by The Authors’ Foundation and the K. Blundell Trust.
Closing date 30 April 2011.
For full details write with SAE to: Awards Secretary, The Society of Authors, 84 Drayton Gardens, London SW10 9SB.
or email: email@example.com website: www.societyofauthors.org
LITERARY REVIEW March 2011