Alexander Pope wrote this mocking judgment of topiary in 1713, showing an early disdain for the practice. Some of the references are obvious, others would require a better understanding of history, at least for me.
Catalogue of Greens
Alexander Pope (1688-1744)
I believe it is no wrong observation, that persons of genius, and those who are most capable of art, are always most fond of nature : as such are chiefly sensible, that all art consists in the imitation and study of nature. On the contrary, people of the common level of understanding are principally delighted with the little niceties and fantastical operations of art, and constantly think that finest which is least natural. A citizen is no sooner proprietor of a couple of yews, but he entertains thoughts of erecting them into giants, like those of Guildhall. . . .
For the benefit of all my loving countrymen of this curious taste, I shall here publish a catalogue of Greens to be disposed of by an eminent Town Gardiner, who has lately applied to me upon this head. He represents, that for the advancement of a politer sort of ornament in the Villa’s and Gardens adjacent to this great city, and in order to distinguish those places from the meer barbarous countries of gross nature, the world stands much in need of a virtuoso Gardiner, who has a turn to Sculpture, and is thereby capable of improving upon the ancients of his profession, in the imagery of Ever-greens. My correspondant is arrived to such perfection that he also cutteth family pieces of men, women, or children. Any ladies that please may have their own effigies in Myrtle, or their husband’s in Horn-beam. He is a Puritan wag, and never fails, when he shows his garden, to repeat that passage in the Psalms, ‘Thy Wife shall be as the fruitful Vine, and thy Children as Olive-branches round thy table.’
I proceed to his catalogue as he sent it for my recommendation.
Adam and Eve in Yew; Adam a little shattered by the fall of the Tree of Knowledge in the Great Storm; Eve and the Serpent very flourishing.
Noah’s ark in Holly, the ribs a little damaged for want of water.
The Tower of Babel, not yet finished.
St. George in Box; his arm scarce long enough, but will be in a condition to stick the Dragon by next April.
A green Dragon of the same, with a tail of Ground- Ivy for the present. N. B. These two not to be sold separately.
Edward the Black Prince in Cypress.
A Laurstine Bear in Blossom, with a Juniper Hunter in Berries.
A pair of Giants, stunted, to be sold cheap.
A Queen Elizabeth in Phyllirea, a little inclining to the green sickness, but of full growth.
Another Queen Elizabeth in Myrtle, which was very forward, but miscarried by being too near a Savine.
An old Maid of honour in Wormwood.
A topping Ben Johnson in Laurel.
Divers eminent modern Poets in Bays, somewhat blighted, to be disposed of a pennyworth.
A quick-set Hog shot up into a Porcupine, by being forgot a week in rainy weather.
A Lavender Pigg, with Sage growing in his belly.
A pair of Maidenheads in Fir, in great forwardness.