Tracing its distant origins to the villa of the Roman emperor Hadrian in the second century AD, the eccentric phenomenon of the ornamental hermit enjoyed its heyday in the England of the eighteenth century It was at this time that it became highly fashionable for owners of country estates to commission architectural follies for their landscape gardens. These follies often included hermitages, many of which still survive, often in a ruined state.
Landowners peopled their hermitages either with imaginary hermits or with real hermits - in some cases the landowner even became his own hermit. Those who took employment as garden hermits were typically required to refrain from cutting their hair or washing, and some were dressed as druids. Unlike the hermits of the Middle Ages, these were wholly secular hermits, products of the eighteenth century fondness for 'pleasing melancholy'.
Although the fashion for them had fizzled out by the end of the eighteenth century, they had left their indelible mark on both the literature as well as the gardens of the period. And, as Gordon Campbell shows, they live on in the art, literature, and drama of our own day - as well as in the figure of the modern-day garden gnome.
This engaging and generously illustrated book takes the reader on a journey that is at once illuminating and whimsical, both through the history of the ornamental hermit and also around the sites of many of the surviving hermitages themselves, which remain scattered throughout England, Scotland, and Ireland. And for the real enthusiast, there is even a comprehensive checklist, enabling avid hermitage-hunters to locate their prey.
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Number of pages: 272
Weight: 450 g
Dimensions: 222 x 142 x 21 mm
Garden hermits have always been a reproach to luxury and a fascination for voyeurs. They are back in the news because their history has just been set out brilliantly by the distinguished historian, Gordon Campbell. * Robin Lane Fox, Financial Times *
This compelling book is meticulously researched and well written, and superbly produced with excellent photographs and illustrations. * Garden Design Journal *
Gordon Campbell is extremely knowledgeable on garden history and for the hermitage-bibber his book will be a valuable guide. * The Oldie *
[A] gripping detective story, wonderfully written and illustrated, with an astonishing conclusion. Unmissable. * The Tablet *
[A] succinct and fascinating history ... Although scholarly, it is written in a relaxed, non-academic style and is enlivened by a nicely dry humour. * Peter Parker, The Spectator *
[A] rollicking new history...a book for the enrichment of all our lives. * The Daily Telegraph *
The delicious subtitle of this fine little study - From Imperial Rome to Ornamental Gnome - catches its tone perfectly. Gordon Campbell treats the topic with the seriousness and attention to detail one expects of a scholar, but he never falls into the academic's trap of assuming his readers are would-be hermit scholars. * Country Life *
[An] engaging study of one of the oddest fads in garden design. * Charles Elliott, Literary Review *
[An] intriguing book. * The Lady *