Waugh and Arboretums

Today’s Financial Times has a feature length article about John Claudius Loudon (1783-1843), the inventor of the arboretum. The first of this new type of garden was planted in Derby in 1840 and inspired similar designs in the U.S. at New York (Central Park) and Boston (Arnold Arboretum). Waugh offered an ironic comment on Loudon’s invention in his war trilogy:

Some arboreta made so little concession to nature and aesthetics they were not much more than museums to dendrology. And there is more than a hint of Victorian pomposity about the word arboretum, although perhaps not quite as pompous as arbortorium, which is how the superb collection at Westonbirt in Gloucestershire was known until the 1950s. Evelyn Waugh caught this mood in Unconditional Surrender (1961): “He faced, across a half an acre of lawn, what the previous owners had referred to as their ‘arboretum’. Ludovic thought of it merely as ‘the trees’.”

The quote is from the scene in Book 2, Ch. 5 at the parachute training camp as Ludovic looks out the windows of his rooms that were specially chosen to avoid any view of the platforms and other military apparatus of the facility he is meant to be commanding (Little, Brown, 2012, p. 114).

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