Gnome-Man’s Land: the fashionable hermit in the garden

Posted by ap507 at May 11, 2015 11:20 AM |
Professor Gordon Campbell from the University of Leicester to give free public Botanic Garden Lecture 2015 on Thursday 14 May

Issued by the University of Leicester Press Office on 11 May

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The curious story of garden hermits, from their distant ancestors in imperial Rome to their humble modern counterpart, the garden gnome, will be told at a free public lecture at the University of Leicester on Thursday 14 May.

The Botanic Garden Lecture, entitled ‘The English Ornamental Hermit’, is based on the most recent book by Professor Gordon Campbell from the University of Leicester’s School of English, ‘The Hermit in the Garden: From Imperial Rome to Ornamental Gnome’.

The lecture will explore the mark hermits made on the gardens and the literature of the eighteenth century - and how they live on in the art, literature, and drama of our own day.

The talk will be illustrated by many of the surviving hermitage buildings that remain scattered through England, Ireland, and Scotland.

The eccentric phenomenon of the ornamental hermit enjoyed its heyday in the England of the eighteenth century, when it was fashionable for owners of country estates to build architectural follies in their landscape gardens.

These follies often included hermitages, many of which still survive, often in a ruined state. Landowners peopled their hermitages with hermits, real or imaginary.

Professor Campbell said: “The eighteenth-century fashion for ornamental hermits had both precedents and a legacy that extends up to the present. The phenomenon must therefore respond to a human need with a long shelf-life. The phenomenon allowed the eighteenth-century equivalent of the overworked CEO to save time by outsourcing his contemplative side. The cultural legacy of the hermit in our own time ranges from Tom Stoppard's Arcadia to the humble garden gnome.”

Although the fashion for hermits 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.

Professor Campbell is a Renaissance and seventeenth-century specialist with a particular interest in the work of John Milton.

His broader research interests in cultural history include art, architecture, Biblical studies, classical antiquity, garden history, legal history, historical theology and the Islamic world.

The free public Botanic Garden Lecture ‘The English Ornamental Hermit’ takes place at 8:00pm in the Ken Edwards Lecture Theatre 3 at the University of Leicester on Thursday 14 May.



Notes to Editors:

For more information please contact Professor Gordon Campbell on or Dr Richard Gornall at the Botanic Garden on

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