LOUDON, JOHN CLAUDIUS,
an eminent writer on gardening and agriculture, the son of a farmer
at Kerse Hall, Gogar, near Edinburgh, was born 8th April
1783, at Cambuslang in Lanarkshire, where resided his maternal aunt,
the mother of the Rev. Dr. Claudius Buchanan, celebrated for his
philanthropic labours in India. He received his education at
Edinburgh, and early evinced a decided taste for drawing and
sketching scenery. This, with a fondness which he also showed for
gardening, induced his father to bring him up as a landscape
gardener. To give him a knowledge of plants he was placed, for some
months, with Mr. Dickson, a nurseryman in Leith Walk. At this time
he acquired the habit of sitting up two nights a-week to study, and
this practice he continued for many years, drinking strong green
tea, to keep himself awake. Besides learning Latin, he also acquired
French and Italian, and paid his teachers out of the profits of
translations from these languages, which he sold to the booksellers.
The first of these was a life of Abelard, from the French, which he
had made as an exercise, and which he sent to a periodical then
publishing, called Sharton’s Encyclopaedia. He also attended the
classes of botany, chemistry, and agriculture in the university of
Edinburgh. The vacations he spent at home, working beside his
father’s labourers in the fields, with such vigour that it was a
common saying among them that they were all shamed by the young
In 1803, Mr. Loudon went to London, carrying with him numerous
letters of introduction to noblemen and gentlemen, and soon found
ample employment as a landscape gardener. In a journal which he kept
in his early years, he remarks at this time, “I am now twenty years
of age, and perhaps a third part of my life has passed away, and yet
what have I done to benefit my fellow-men?” He now learnt German,
and for a pamphlet, which he had translated by way of exercise from
that language, he received from Mr. Cadell the publisher £15. To
the Literary Journal he contributed at this period a paper entitled
‘Observations on laying out the Public Squares of London,’ which led
to their being adorned with some of the lighter trees, such as, the
oriental plane, the sycamore, and the almond, instead of yews,
pines, and other heavy plants, as had been the custom previously. In
1804, he returned to Scotland, but went back to England the
In 1806 he was attacked with rheumatic fever, and being much
debilitated, he took lodgings at Pinner near Harrow. There he had an
opportunity of noticing the inferior state of farming in England,
compared to that in Scotland, and on his recovery, with the view of
introducing improvements, and showing the advantage of the Scottish
system of agriculture, in conjunction with his father, he took a
farm near London, called Wood Hall. A pamphlet, which he published
in 1807, entitled ‘An Immediate and Effectual Mode of Raising the
Rental of Landed Property in England,’ was the means of his
introduction to General Stratton, the owner of Tew Park in
Oxfordshire, and in 1809 he went there as tenant of a large farm on
his estate. Here he established a sort of agricultural college, in
which young men were instructed in the principles of farming. He was
so successful that in 1812 he found himself worth £15,000. In 1813
he determined to travel for a time on the continent, which was then
thrown open to the English, and, giving up his farm, he proceeded,
in March of that year, to Sweden, and afterwards went to Russia,
Poland, and Germany, visiting the principal cities of the countries
through which he passed. A journal which he kept during the whole
time of his absence he illustrated with spirited sketches of the
various places he saw, most of which were afterwards engraved on
wood, for the historical part of his ‘Encyclopaedia of Gardening.’
Some of his adventures were remarkable. Once, while making a drawing
of a picturesque old fort in Russia, he was arrested as a spy, and
on his examination before a magistrate, he was very much amused at
hearing his note-book, full of unconnected memoranda, translated
into Russ. Another time, between St. Petersburg and Moscow, the
horses in his carriage being unable to drag it through a snowdrift,
the postilions very coolly unharnessed them, and trotted off,
telling him that they would bring fresh horses in the morning, and
that he would be in no danger from the wolves if he would keep the
windows of the carriage close and the leathern curtains down. On all
subsequent occasions of travelling, when he met with difficulties,
he was accustomed to say that they were nothing compared to what he
had suffered during the night he passed in the steppes of Russia.
On his return to England, finding that the principal part of
his property was lost through unprofitable investments, he devoted
himself, with renewed energy, to his old profession of a landscape
gardener. While on the continent he had viewed with attention the
various public gardens in the different cities he visited, and the
idea occurred to him of bringing out a large work on the subject of
gardening, the historical part of which should contain sketches of
the gardens of all nations. For the purpose of rendering it more
complete and valuable, in 1819 he proceeded to France and Italy, to
examine the principal gardens of these countries. In 1822, appeared
his ‘Encyclopaedia of Gardening,’ copiously illustrated with
woodcuts, a work remarkable for an immense amount of useful and
original matter, which at once established his reputation as one of
the ablest horticulturists of his time. It had an extraordinary
sale, and its great success induced him to engage in another, on the
same plan, called ‘The Encyclopaedia of Agriculture,’ published in
1825. His subsequent publications were numerous, and all of a most
useful and practical description.
In 1828 Mr. Loudon travelled through great part of France and
Germany. ‘The Encyclopaedia of Plants’ was published in 1829. In
September 1830 he married Miss Webbe, daughter of Thomas Webbe, Esq.
of Ritwell House, near Birmingham, authoress of a novel called ‘The
Mummy,’ and two years afterwards his daughter Agnes, their only
child, was born. The ‘Encyclopaedia of cottage, Farm, and Villa
Architecture’ came out in 1832. It was the first work he published
on his own account, and one of the most successful. “The labour,”
says Mrs. Loudon, “that attended this work was immense, and for
several months he and I used to set up the greater part of every
night, never having more than four hours’ sleep, and drinking strong
coffee, to keep ourselves awake.” He then set about a still more
extensive work, also at his own risk, the ‘Arboretum et Fruticetum
Britannicum,’ published in 1838, comprehending an account of all the
trees and shrubs growing in Great Britain, with engravings.
All this time, and for the remainder of his life, he laboured
under disabilities and suffering of no common kind. The severe
attack of rheumatic fever he had on his first going to England left
a permanent anchylosis, or stiffening of the joint, of the left
knee, as well as a contracted left arm. “In the year 1820,” says the
writer of a Memoir of Mr. Loudon in the ‘Gardener’s Magazine, ‘
“whilst compiling the Encyclopaedia of Gardening, he had another
severe attack of rheumatism, and the following year, being
recommended to go to Brighton, to get shampooed in Mahomet’s baths,
his right arm was there broken near the shoulder, and it never
properly united. Notwithstanding this, he continued to write with
his right hand till 1825, when the arm was broken a second time, and
he was then obliged to have it amputated; but not before a general
breaking up of the frame had commenced, and the thumb and two
fingers of the left hand had been rendered useless. He afterwards
suffered severely from ill health, till his constitution was finally
undermined by the anxiety attending on that most costly and
laborious of all his works, the Arboretum Britannicum,’ which,
unfortunately, had not paid itself.” On the conclusion of the work
he found that he owed ten thousand pounds to the printer, the
stationer, and the woodcut engraver who had been employed. The sale
of this work was slow, and the pecuniary difficulties in which it
involved him, by preying on his mind, are said to have hastened his
At one period he had four monthly periodicals going on at
once, namely, the Gardener’s Magazine, the Magazine of Natural
History, the Architectural Magazine, and the Suburban Gardener,
besides conducting the Arboretum Britannicum; and to produce these
regularly he literally worked night and day. After 1826 he had been
obliged to employ for all his works, both an amanuensis and a
draftsman, and yet, with his disabled and maimed body, his mind
retained all its vigour and clearness to the last. Early in 1843 he
was seized with chronic inflammation of the lungs, of which he died
on 14th December of that year. The last work on which he
was employed at the time of his death, entitled ‘Self-instruction
for Young Gardeners,’ is devoted to the mental improvement and
welfare of that useful class of the community. Indeed, in all his
publications he was careful, when the opportunity presented itself,
to pint out the bearing of his subject on the moral and social
improvement of his fellow-creatures. By the sale of his works, after
his death, the debt which he then owed was considerably reduced.
Mrs. Loudon had, soon after their marriage, applied her mind to the
study of botany and the other subjects more peculiarly treated of by
her husband, so that she was enabled to assist him in his labours,
and to publish herself several works of a similar kind, of a popular
and pleasing character. Of these may be mentioned the following:
Instruction in Gardening for Ladies. 1840, 12mo.
Botany for Ladies. 1842, 12mo.
The Ladies’ flower Garden. 1848.
Domestic Pets, their Habits and Management. 1851, 12mo.
The Lady’s Companion to the Flower Garden. 1849. 6th
edition, 1853, 12mo.
My Own Garden. 1855, 8vo.
Amateur Gardener’s Calendar. 12mo, 1847.
British Wild Flowers. 4to.
Conversations on Chronology. 18mo.
Entertaining Naturalist. 12mo.
Facts from the World of Nature. 12mo, 1848.
First Book of Botany for Schools. 18mo.
Glimpses of Nature. 16mo.
Ladies’ Country Companion. 12mo, 1845.
Ladies Flower Garden of Ornamental Annuals. 4to, 1840.
Ladies’ flower Garden of Ornamental Bulbous Plants. 4to, 1841.
Ladies’ Flower Garden of Ornamental Greenhouse Plants. 4to,
Ladies’ flower Garden of Perennials. 4to.
Tales about Plants. 16mo.
Year Book of Natural History for Youth. 16mo.
Young Gardener’s Year Book. 12mo.
Young Naturalist’s Journal. 16mo.
After Mr. Loudon’s death, his widow carefully edited some of
his most important works. The novel published by her in 1827,
entitled ‘The Mummy,’ excited considerable attention at the time,
and attracted the notice of Mr. Loudon, which led to an acquaintance
between them, and he soon after married her. She was also authoress
of several other works of fiction.
The distinguishing characteristics of Mr. Loudon were energy,
determination, and enthusiasm. He was, besides, a most industrious
and methodical compiler, and, as stated in one account of his life,
“as soon as he had formed the plan of one of his works, he seemed
endowed with an instinctive feeling which guided him at once to the
persons who could give him the best information on the subjects he
had in view. Around him, in his study, masses of knowledge, thus
gleaned from practical men, were arranged in labelled compartments,
ever ready when needed; and by the alchemy of his mind, and the
incessant labours of his pen, he gave these thoughts to the public
in an inviting and useful form” A Memoir of Mr. Loudon, by his
widow, appeared in his last work, ‘Self-Instruction for Young
Gardeners.’ In the ‘Gardener’s Magazine’ also there was a Memoir of
him, shortly after his death. His widow, who had a pension of £100
from the Civil List, died in July 1858.
Mr. Loudon’s works are:
Observations on the Formation and Management of Useful and
Ornamental Plantations, on the Theory and Practice of Landscape
Gardening, and on Gaining and Embanking Land from Rivers, or the
Sea. Edin. 1804, 8vo.
A Short Treatise on some Improvements lately made in
Hot-Houses, by which from four-fifths to nine-tenths of the Fuel
commonly used, will be saved; time, labour, and risk greatly
lessened; and several other advantages produced. Illustrated by nine
large copperplates. Edin. 1805, 8vo.
A Treatise on Forming, Managing and Improving Country
Residences, and on the choice of situations; appropriate to every
class of Purchasers. With an Appendix, containing an Enquiry into
the utility and merits of Mr. Repton’s Mode of shewing Effects by
Slides and Sketches, and Strictures on his Opinions and Practice in
Landscape Gardening. Illustrated by Descriptions of Scenery and
Buildings, by references to Country Seats, in most parts of Great
Britain, and by 32 engravings. London, 1806, 2 vols. 4to.
The Utility of Agricultural Knowledge to the sons of the
Landed Proprietors of Great Britain, &c. By a Scottish Farmer and
Land Agent. London, 1809. Pamphlet.
Designs for Laying out Farms and Farm Buildings in the Scotch
Style, adapted to England; comprising an Account of the Introduction
of the Berwickshire Husbandry into Middlesex and Oxfordshire. Lond.
Account of the Mode of Roofing with Paper, used at Tew Lodge
Farm, and other places. Lond. 1811, 8vo.
An Immediate and Effectual Mode of Raising the Rental of the
Landed Property of England, and rendering Great Britain independent
of other Nations, for a supply of Bread and corn. With an Appendix,
containing Hints to Commercial Capitalists, and to the Tenantry of
Scotland. Lond. 1811, 8vo.
Remarks on the Construction of Hot-Houses; pointing out the
most advantageous Forms, Materials, and Contrivances to be used in
their construction; with a Review of the various methods of building
them in foreign countries, as well as in England; with 10 plates.
1817, royal 4to.
Sketches of Curvilinear Hot-Houses; with a Description of the
various purposes in Horticultural and General Architecture, to which
a solid Iron Sash Bar, lately invented, is applicable. 1818.
Encyclopaedia of Gardening, first edition, 1822. Second
edition, with alterations and improvements, 1824. Third ed., 1831.
New ed., by Mrs. Loudon. London, 1850, 8vo.
The Greenhouse Companion. Anonymous.
Encyclopaedia of Agriculture. Lond., 1825. 2d ed. 1830.
The Gardener’s Magazine, commenced in 1826; the first
periodical ever devoted exclusively to horticultural subjects.
The Magazine of Natural History; begun in 1828; also the first
of its kind.
Encyclopaedia of Plants. 1829.
Hortus Britannicus. London, 1830, 8vo. New ed., edited by Mrs.
Loudon. London, 1850, 8vo.
Encyclopaedia of Cottage, Farm, and Villa Architecture, and
Furniture. London, 1833, 8vo.
Architectural Magazine; the first periodical devoted
exclusively to architecture.
Arboretum et Fruticetum Britannicum, 1838; published monthly.
London, 1838, 8 vols., 8vo.
The Suburban Gardener. 1838.
Hortus Lignosus Londinensis. 1838.
Repton’s Landscape Gardening, edited by Mr. Loudon. 1839.
Gardener’s Gazette, edited by him from 1840 till November
Encyclopaedia of Trees and Shrubs, an abridgment of the
Arboretum. London, 1842, 8vo.
On the Laying out, Planting, and Managing of Cemeteries, and
on the Improvement of Churchyards. Lond. 1843, 8vo.
Self-Instruction for Young Gardeners, Foresters, Bailiffs,
Land Stewards, and Farmers, with a Memoir of the Author. London,
The Villa Gardener. 2d ed., by Mrs. Loudon. London, 1850, 8vo.
He also contributed to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and to
Brande’s ‘Dictionary of Science,’ and published numerous supplements
to his various works.
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