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