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The Fane of Pastoral Poetry

Stowe: The Grecian Valley



As Bevington reports, The Fane of Pastoral Poetry began its life with another name in another part of the garden -- as Gibbs' Building (named after its architect) on the border between Warden Hill Walk and the Home Park, where Queen Caroline's Monument now stands. From the late 1720s to the early 30s it was surrounded by half of the busts that now inhabit the Temple of British Worthies, and it was thus also known as the Temple of Worthies. Gilbert West celebrates it in his poem on Stowe.

The Fane of Pastoral Poetry
A view of the Fane of Pastoral Poetry from the northwest

Bevington also reports that the Fane was moved to its present location at the northeast corner of the garden and of the Grecian Valley in 1764, and that a statue of the Muse of Pastoral Poetry, Thalia, was placed nearby to the north. The Survey claims that Thalia had a more prominent place inside. Restoration of the Fane, completed during summer 2002, included replacement of the roof, instalation of benches in the interior and herms at the four exterior corners, and limewashing of the structure.

According to the Survey, about the same time that the Fane was altered and moved from the edge of the Home Park, a grouping of statues was placed just to the southwest of the site. The initial statue, of a faun, was joined by a group of statues of shepherds and shepherdesses that had previously surrounded the Queen's Pillar in the Queen's Theatre on the western edge of the South Front near the Rotunda. This collection, called the Circle of the Dancing Faun, remained until around 1800, and its thematic relationship to the Fane would have been inescapable. The National Trust began restoration of the Circle in 2009 with the replacement of two statues of a shepherd and a shepherdess.

The Fane of Pastoral Poetry
A view of the Fane of Pastoral Poetry from the Grecian Valley

It is appropriate that both the Fane and the Circle of the Dancing Faun be located in the Grecian Valley, at least according to the aesthetic principles of Alexander Pope because, as Pope claimed, pastoral poetry is most properly written about the life of shepherds and shepherdesses in ancient Greece. Here are some of Pope's particular notions set down in his "Discourse on Pastoral Poetry" (1704):
If we would copy Nature, it may be useful to take this Idea along with us, that pastoral is an image of what they call the Golden age. So that we are not to describe our shepherds as shepherds at this day really are, but as they may be conceiv'd to have been; when the best of men follow'd the employment. . . . For what is inviting in this sort of poetry proceeds not so much from the Idea of that business, as of the tranquility of a country life. We must therefore use some illusion to render a Pastoral delightful; and this consists in exposing the best side only of a shepherd's life, and in concealing its miseries.
Nature, for Pope and for most of the thinkers of his day, was idealized. That is, Nature was truly natural at its most beautiful and tranquil. It should not be surprising that Pope approved of his friend Lord Cobham's estate and its garden buildings, as artificial as those buildings might seem to us. The forms of those buildings evoke the beauty and tranquility of classical architecture.

Wolfe's Obelisk seen through the Fane of Pastoral Poetry
A view of Wolfe's Obelisk
through the Fane of Pastoral Poetry from the southeast

As the photograph above indicates, the relative placement of the Fane and the monument to General Wolfe was carefully planned -- as carefully planned as the relative placement of the Temple of Ancient Virtue and the other temples in the Elysian Fields and Hawkwell Field. If the landscape designer (and, it should go without saying, the landowner) saw it as his duty and privilege to return nature to its ideal state, it follows that the lines of connection he drew between the elements of a garden would become clear to anyone who paid attention to the design. To put it another way, the garden reflects the mind of its designer much in the same way that nature reflects the mind of its creator. In Lord Cobham's world, the creator was thought to be entirely rational and the creation (except for the unfortunate effects of the human fall from grace) to be rationally ordered.

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John D. Tatter, Birmingham-Southern College, jtatter@bsc.edu