Loudon, John Claudius (DNB00)

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LOUDON, JOHN CLAUDIUS (1783–1843), landscape-gardener and horticultural writer, son of a farmer, was born at Cambuslang, Lanarkshire, 8 April 1783. As a child he evinced fondness for gardening, and was sent to live with an uncle in Edinburgh in order to obtain a good education. He made rapid progress in drawing and arithmetic, overcame an initial dislike to Latin, and took copious notes on botany and chemistry, illustrated with clever pen-and-ink sketches. At fourteen he was apprenticed to a nurseryman and landscape-gardener, but continued to attend classes, sitting up two whole nights in every week to prepare for them. At this period he acquired a knowledge of French and Italian, paying his teachers himself by the proceeds of translations which he made for an Edinburgh publisher, and for many years he kept a journal in French in order to familiarise himself with the language.

In 1803 Loudon came to London, where he readily obtained employment, and in the same year published his first essay, ‘Observations on Laying-out Public Squares.’ In 1806 he was elected a fellow of the Linnean Society; but in the same year he had an attack of rheumatic fever, which disabled him for two years, leaving him with an ankylosed knee and a contracted left arm. While convalescent he lodged at Pinner, and was impressed by the inferiority of English to Scottish farming. He accordingly persuaded his father to join him in taking a lease of Wood Hall, near Pinner, and published a pamphlet entitled ‘An Immediate and Effectual Mode of Raising the Rental of the Landed Property in England.’ In 1809 he rented the large farm of Tew Park, Oxfordshire, where he took pupils in agriculture, and by 1812 he had made a profit of 15,000l. He then threw up his farm, dismissed his pupils, and started on a continental tour, apparently with the view of studying European methods of farming and gardening. He visited Gottenburg, Memel, Berlin, Riga, St. Petersburg, and Moscow, which he reached in March 1814, following the line of march of the French army. On his return to England he found that his investments had failed, and his fortune was gone. After a short interval, however, he again went abroad, visiting France and Italy in 1819–20, and making preparation for his ‘Encyclopædia of Gardening,’ which first appeared in 1822; it bears little trace of his foreign experiences. He knew the wants of the class for whom he wrote, and his judicious compilation proved successful. It was followed in 1825 by the ‘Encyclopædia of Agriculture,’ and in 1829 by the ‘Encyclopædia of Plants.’

In 1820 his right arm was broken; it was badly set, and in 1825 was amputated. During these years of pain he acquired the habit of taking laudanum, gradually increasing the dose until it reached a wineglassful every eight hours; but after the amputation, with characteristic decision, by gradually diluting the doses, he freed himself from the habit.

In 1826 he began to publish the monthly ‘Gardener's Magazine,’ which he continued to edit until his death. It was for some years very successful, affording him an income of 750l. per annum; but its circulation declined in 1831 after the appearance of Paxton's ‘Horticultural Register.’ In 1828 Loudon had begun the ‘Magazine of Natural History’ In 1831, after superintending the laying out of the Birmingham Botanical Garden, Loudon made a tour with his wife through the Lakes and Scotland, and was entertained at public dinners at Ayr and Kilmarnock; but he was suddenly recalled to London by the fatal illness of his mother. In 1832 he began the compilation of the ‘Encyclopædia of Cottage, Farm, and Villa Architecture,’ the first work that he published at his own risk. It was issued in the following year, and its success led him to begin the publication of his most valuable, but pecuniarily disastrous work, the ‘Arboretum et Fruticetum Britannicum,’ in monthly parts. In March 1834, he established the ‘Architectural Magazine,’ in which some of Mr. Ruskin's earliest essays appeared, and in 1836 the ‘Suburban Gardener and Villa Companion.’

Thus for a short time he was actually editing five monthly publications. At this, the most laborious period of his life, he generally took no food between a seven o'clock breakfast and an eight o'clock dinner; during most of the day's interval he was standing in the open air directing the draughtsmen employed for the ‘Arboretum;’ and he afterwards engaged in literary work until two or three o'clock in the morning. In 1836 he sold the ‘Magazine of Natural History’ to Mr. Charlesworth, and in 1838 he gave up the ‘Architectural Magazine’ and completed the ‘Arboretum,’ finding himself saddled with a debt to his printer, stationer, and engraver of 10,000l. The ‘Arboretum’ and other works were placed in the hands of Messrs. Longman on behalf of his creditors; and, in spite of the fact that his chronic rheumatism had produced a swelling of his stiff right knee, and had rendered useless the thumb and two fingers of his remaining hand, Loudon resumed work as a landscape-gardener, while two of his sisters learnt wood-engraving to assist him in his future publications, and his wife began to write botanical works on her own account. Under the skilful treatment of William Lawrence, Loudon's health improved, and between 1839 and 1841 he laid out the arboretum presented to the town of Derby by Joseph Strutt, his most important work of the kind. For a few months in 1840 he acted as editor of the ‘Gardener's Gazette,’ and, with his wife and daughter, in the same year made a trip to Paris to examine certain shrubs in the Jardin des Plantes. In the following year, after the opening of the Derby garden, they made an extended semi-professional tour to Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, Paisley, and Stranraer. At Leeds Loudon fell ill, and was laid up for six weeks at Paisley; but at Castle Kennedy, near Stranraer, he directed the laying-out of Lord Stair's grounds, and then returned home, visiting his friend Sopwith at Newcastle on the way. In 1842 he was attacked with inflammation of the lungs, and went to Brighton, and to various places in Devonshire and Cornwall, for the benefit of his health. His work on the laying-out of cemeteries, published in 1843, created a demand for his services in a new direction, and while suffering from a second attack in that year he superintended the making of a cemetery at Southampton, and visited the Isle of Wight and Bath for similar purposes.

He had now reduced the debt on the ‘Arboretum’ to 2,400l.; but had incurred further liabilities of 1,200l. in publishing the ‘Encyclopædia of Trees and Shrubs’ (1842), an abridgment of the ‘Arboretum,’ and an edition of Repton's ‘Landscape-Gardening.’ One of his creditors became bankrupt, and his assignees threatened Loudon with both bankruptcy and arrest. His strength, however, was failing and his body wasting away with chronic bronchitis; but, though confined to two rooms in his house at Porchester Terrace, Bayswater, from 16 Oct. 1843 Loudon allowed himself hardly any rest in order to free himself from debt. With that end in view, he published on 1 Dec. an appeal to the public to purchase 350 copies of the ‘Arboretum;’ on the 13th he dictated his ‘Self-Instruction for Gardeners’ to his wife until midnight, and on the 14th he died in his wife's arms, while actually standing on his legs. He was buried in Kensal Green cemetery. Loudon is commemorated by a genus Loudonia, described by Lindley, and an oil portrait of him by Linnell was presented by subscription to the Linnean Society.

Loudon married in 1830 Jane, daughter of Thomas Webb of Birmingham [see Loudon, Jane], and left one daughter, Agnes. In addition to the works already mentioned he published, among others, ‘A Treatise on Forming and Managing Country Residences,’ 2 vols. 4to, 1806; ‘Manual of Cottage Gardening and Husbandry,’ 1830, 8vo; ‘Illustrations of Landscape-Gardening and Garden Architecture,’ 1830–3, fol.; ‘Hortus Britannicus,’ 1830, 8vo, of which Mrs. Loudon issued another edition in 1850; and ‘Hortus Lignosus Londinensis,’ 1838, 8vo.

[Cottage Gardener, v. 143, xx. 255–9; Proceedings of Linnean Society, i. 204; Gardener's Chronicle, 1844 p. 7, 1845 p. 754; Life, by Mrs. Loudon, prefixed to Self-Instruction for Gardeners, 1844.]

G. S. B.