Brief Biographical sketch

From Chambersí Dictionary of Eminent Scotsmen 1862:

LOUDON, JOHN CLAUDIUS .óThis eminent improver of our gardening and agriculture, was born at Cambuslang, Lanarkshire, on the 8th of April, 1783. His father was a respectable farmer, who resided at Kerse Hall, near Gogar, in the neighbourhood of Edinburgh: his mother was only sister of the mother of Dr. Claudius Buchanan, so well known by his philanthropic labours in behalf of the Hindoos, and his work entitled "Christian Researches in Asia." Even when a child, John Claudius Loudon evinced that taste in gardening for which he was afterwards so distinguished; and his chief pleasure at that time was to lay out, and make walks and beds in a little garden which his father had given him. He was early sent to Edinburgh for the benefit of his education, where he resided with his uncle; and besides studying botany and chemistry, he learned Latin, and afterwards French and Italian, contriving to pay the fees of his teachers by the sale of his translations from the two last-mentioned languages. Being placed at the age of fourteen under the charge of a nurseryman and landscape gardener, he continued his studies in botany and chemistry, to which he added that of agriculture, at the university of Edinburgh; while to obtain as much time as possible from the duties of the day, he was wont to sit up two nights during each week, a practice that grew into a habit, and which he continued for years during his subsequent studies.

In 1803, when he had now reached his twentieth year, and obtained a considerable reputation in landscape gardening, Loudon went up to London, carrying with him numerous letters of introduction to some of the first landed proprietors in England. On entering the great metropolis, the tasteless manner in which the public squares were laid out caught his observant eye: their gloomy trees and shrubs were planted as if the places had been designed for church-yards rather than haunts of recreation. As the solitary voice of a stranger would have been unheard upon such a prevalent evil, he had recourse to the press, and published an article, entitled "Observations on Laying out the Public Squares of London," in the Literary Journal, in which he recommended the Oriental plane, almond, sycamore, and other lighter trees, instead of the lugubrious plantings that had hitherto been in vogue. The advice gradually prevailed, and the effect is to be seen in the cheerful, graceful aspect of our public squares in London, as well as over the kingdom. He now became an author as well as practical workman, and his pen went onward with little intermission for forty years, until his life terminated. His first publication, which appeared in 1804, was entitled, "Observations on the Formation and Management of Useful and Ornamental Plantations." In the following year he published "A Short Treatise on some Improvements lately made in Hothouses;" and in 1800, "A Treatise on Forming, Improving, and Managing Country Residences; and on the Choice of Situations, appropriate to every Class of Purchasers." As Loudon was an excellent artist, this work was enriched with thirty-two copperplate engravings of landscape scenery, drawn by himself.

A disaster which soon after befell him, and under which the activity of others would have been paralyzed, only opened up for Loudon a wider range of action. In consequence of travelling upon a rainy night on the outside of a coach, and neglecting afterwards to change his clothes, so severe an attack of rheumatic fever ensued that he was obliged to take lodgings at Pinner, near Harrow. Here, during the days of convalescence, he had an opportunity of observing the cumbrous, wasteful, and unskilful modes of farming pursued in England, and so much at variance with those which were beginning to be put in practice in his own country. With Loudon, to see an evil was to labour for its removal, and persist until it was removed. For the sake of giving practical illustrations of his proposed amendments, he induced his father to join with him in renting Wood Hall, near London, where their operations were so successful, that in 1807 he was enabled to call public attention to the proof, in a pamphlet entitled "An Immediate and Effectual Mode of Raising the Rental of the Landed Property of England, &c., by a Scotch Farmer, now farming in Middlesex." This excellent work introduced him to the notice of General Stratton, by whom he was induced to farm Tew Park, a property belonging to the General in Oxfordshire. On moving to this new locality, Mr. Loudon did not content himself with reaping the fruits of his superior farming; anxious that others should share in the benefit, he established an academy or college of agriculture on the estate of Tew Park, where young men were instructed in the theory of farming, and the best modes of cultivating the soil; and anxious to diffuse this knowledge as widely as possible, he published, in 1809, a pamphlet, entitled, "The Utility of Agricultural Knowledge to the Sons of the Landed Proprietors of Great Britain, &c., by a Scotch Farmer and Land-Agent."

In this way, while Loudon was generously doing his uttermost to be the Triptolemus of England, and teaching the best modes of increasing and eliciting the riches of its soil, his own success was a practical comment upon the efficacy of his theories; for, in 1812, he found himself the comfortable possessor of £15,000. This was enough for one who had a higher aim in life than mere money-making, and to fit himself more effectually for that aim, he resolved to improve his mind by travel. Accordingly, he resigned his profitable farm, and in March, 1813, commenced his travels on the continent, visiting the principal cities of Germany and Russia. Short though this tour was, for he returned to England in the following year, it was associated with a variety of interesting adventures, of which he published a full account, illustrated by sketches from his own pencil. On returning to London, he found that the greater part of his property had disappeared, from the faithlessness of the investments to which it had been intrusted, and thus he had to begin the world anew. He returned to his original occupation, that of landscape gardening, on which he resolved to produce an extensive work; and for the improvement of his knowledge on this subject, he made, in 1819, a tour of France and Italy. Three years after the work appeared, under the title of "The Encyclopaedia of Gardening;" and such was the high reputation it acquired, that its author was reckoned the first horticulturist of his day. Of this work a second edition appeared in 1824, containing great alterations and improvements. Encouraged by the success that attended it, Loudon commenced another equally copious, and upon the same plan, which appeared in 1825, entitled "The Encyclopaedia of Agriculture." In 1826 he commenced the "Gardenerís Magazine," the first periodical that had ever been devoted to horticultural subjects. In 1828 he commenced the "Magazine of Natural History, which was also the first periodical of the kind.

In 1829 he published the "Encyclopaedia of Plants," which was less his own work than any of its predecessors, as he claimed nothing of it beyond the plan and general design. During the two years that followed, he was chiefly employed in producing new editions of his Encyclopaedias of Agriculture and Gardening, and of these, the first was almost wholly re-written, and the latter entirely so. But these occupations, although so laborious, were not his sole nor even his chief task at the time, for he was also closely engaged with the "Encyclopaedia of Cottage, Farm, and Villa Architecture,"óso closely, indeed, that himself and Mrs. Loudon used to sit up the greater part of every night employed upon it, never having more than four hoursí sleep, and drinking strong coffee to keep themselves awake. It would have been hard, indeed, had such labour been in vain; and therefore it is gratifying to add, that this was not only one of the most useful, but also most successful of all his works, and is still a standard authority upon the subject. His next, and also his greatest work, which would of itself have been sufficient for any ordinary lifetime, was his "Arboretum et Fruticetum Britannicum," in which he gave an account, with pictorial illustrations, of all the trees, wild or cultivated, that grow in Great Britain. This production, which was published in 1838, at his own risk, was so unsuccessful, that after paying artists and other persons engaged in it, he found himself in debt to the amount of £10,000 to the printer, stationer, and wood-engraver, while the sale of such a splendid publication was so slow, that there was no prospect that it would ever pay its own expenses.

Up to this period Loudon had been one of the most prolific of authors, while all that he had written, he had written well. Nothing, indeed, could exceed his indomitable resolution, unless it might be the philanthropic spirit by which it was animated. Independently of the subjects which we have enumerated, he wrote several minor productions, supplemented his own works from time to time, and was a contributor to Brandeís "Dictionary of Science." Even, also, while the pressure of these numerous avocations was at the greatest, he was discharging the office of editor to four separate periodicals, all of them established by himself, and which he superintended at one and the same time. All this suggests the idea of a frame of iron, and a constitution impervious to human weaknesses and wants, as well as the most unflinching energy of purpose. But our wonder is heightened when we find that, during the greater part of these labours, poor Loudon was an invalid and a cripple. The rheumatic fever with which he was attacked in 1806, ended in an anchylosed knee, and a contracted left arm. Thus he continued till 1820, when, while employed in compiling the "Encyclopaedia of Gardening," he had another severe attack of rheumatism, that compelled him to have recourse in the following year to Mohammedís Baths, at Brighton. Here he submitted to the rough process of shampooing; but this remedy, so available in many cases like his own, was too much for his feeble bones: his arm broke so close to the shoulder, that it could not be set in the usual manner; and in a subsequent trial, it was again broken, and this time so effectually, that in 1826 amputation was found necessary. But a general breaking up of the system had also been going on, by which the thumb and two fingers of the left hand had been rendered useless, so that he could only use the third and little finger. Yet though thus so maimed and mutilated, as apparently to be unfit for anything but the sick-chamber or a death-bed, the whole energy of life seemed to rally round his heart, and be as ready for fresh encounters as ever, so that his work went on unchecked and unabated; and when he could no longer write or draw, he had recourse to the services of the draughtsman and amanuensis.

We have already mentioned the ill success of Loudonís "Arboretum Britannicum." This was the heaviest blow of all, and tended to accelerate the disease that terminated in his death; but still, come what might, he resolved that to the last he would be up and doing. Accordingly, as soon as the above-mentioned work was finished in 1838, he began the "Suburban Gardener," which was published the same year, and also his "Hortus Lignosus Londonensis;" and in the year following he published his edition of "Reptonís Landscape Gardening." In 1840 he undertook the editorship of the "Gardenerís Gazette," and in 1842 he published his "Encyclopaedia of Trees and Shrubs." During the same year he finished his "Suburban Horticulturalist;" and, in 1843, appeared his last work, on "Cemeteries." Disease in the lungs had been meanwhile going on for three months, from which he endured much suffering, until his life and labours were terminated together on the 14th of December, 1843, in the sixty-first year of his age. Few men have written so much under such depressing circumstances as John Claudius Loudon, or whose writings were so well adapted to the purpose for which they were produced; and while their practical character and utility have been universally acknowledged, they are pervaded throughout with an earnest desire to improve the character and elevate the standing of those classes whose occupations are connected with gardening and agriculture. Add to this that "he was a warm friend, and most kind and affectionate in all his relations of son, husband, father, and brother, and never hesitated to sacrifice pecuniary considerations to what he considered his duty."

We have already made a passing allusion in this memoir to Mrs. London, by whose aid he was materially benefited when aid was most needed. To her he was married in 1831, and in her he found a fellow-student and literary co-operator, as well as a domestic companion and comforter. Her works, which also were numerous, were chiefly connected with her husbandís favourite departments of gardening and botany; and these she endeavoured to simplify and recommend to the attention of her own sex, a labour of love in which she was highly successful. She and one daughter survived Mr. Loudon, of whom she has written an affectionate and truthful biography.

John Claudius Loudonís 1829 plan for London


Brief Biographical sketch of Jane Loudon

from Adamsí Cyclopaedia of Female Biography 1865


Jane Loudon, whose reputation is founded chiefly on works of utility, is the daughter of Thomas Webb, Esq., of Ritwell House near Birmingham, who, in consequence of over speculation, became embarassed in his circumstances. Miss Webb, possessing literary talents, resolved to turn them to good account; and, in 1827, published her first work, a novel entitled "The Mummy," in which she embodied ideas of scientific progress and discovery, that now read like prophecies. Among other foreshadowings of things that were to be, was a steam plough, and this attracted the attention of Mr. John C. Loudon, whose numerous and valuable works on gardening, agriculture, etc., are so well known, led to an acquaintance, which terminated in a matrimonial connection. After her marriage, Mrs. Loudon devoted her talents entirely to those branches of literature connected with her husband's favourite pursuits. "The Ladies' Flower Garden," The Ladies' Country Companion," Gardening for Ladies," The Ladies' Companion to the Flower Garden," and several works of a similar character, have become standard books of reference, and attained a large circulation. It should be mentioned that the daughter of this lady, Miss Agnes Loudon, appears to inherit her mother's taste and talent. She has written several juvenile works of great excellence. Mrs Loudon is now a widow, and in receipt of a pension of a hundred pounds per annum, from the civil list, which she has deservedly gained.

Miss Agnes Loudon


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