…Of what there is no doubt is that this life was wasteful, extravagant, ostentatious- an appalling contrast, as Dr. Samuel Johnson noted, to the human wretchedness of rural or urban slums; yet it was saved both by its humanity and by its taste. The houses, the pictures, the furniture, and above all the landscaped gardens in which nature had been so gently subdued, are its permanent memorial and a part of the European tradition .They give style and grandeur to what might have been merely a gross and vulgar self-indulgence. These boastful, splendiferous men created enduring beauty.
There have been far richer men, before and since their time, greater connoisseurs, greater patrons of the arts, even greater eccentrics, but in the British aristocracy of the eighteenth century there met two hostile but fertilizing traditions that gave it its curious splendor. In it the feudal world was still alive in its arrogance, its fierce disregard of consequence, its personal sense of destiny, but it operated in the new world of bourgeois delights. Secure in its own greatness, the aristocracy could parade its great wealth without guilt and with a total disregard of the envy of the multitude. For these noblemen’s way of life was based not on wealth alone but on a sense of caste. Their blood and power stretched back into antiquity and looked forward to eternity. Greatness was all.
Unawares, the great wave of democratic industrialization engulfed them; inexorably, the end came. Yet the houses remain, and their parks that time has perfected. The paths thread through the ancient oaks and scented limes, disclosing across the calm lakes the Palladian grace of mellowing brick and stone.
As one walks slowly between the trees, one is conscious of the generations of men and women who walked here. They too were full of hope. They were here and are no more; soon we shall follow them; but these houses and these parks, either in splendor or in ruin, will long outlast the life that made them, carrying their grace and beauty to stir the hearts of people for whom destiny is no longer personal.