In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennett amusingly admits to her sister Jane that she may have begun to like Mr. Darcy just a bit more after visiting his grand estate at Pemberley. What’s fascinating about this development in the novel, besides the hint at Elizabeth’s more practical reasons for warming to the character of Mr. Darcy, is that she was able to visit the estate as a tourist, not as a particular guest of its owner. Just as today one can visit historic homes or see how the other half lives by attending open houses and Parade of Homes events, our eighteenth century counterparts also enjoyed visiting opulent country estates and their beautifully tended gardens.
Between 1779 and 1786, William Watts, an English engraver, published a series of 84 plates, entitled The seats of the nobility and gentry: in a collection of the most interesting & picturesque views. Taken from the originals by artists such as Paul Sandby, the plates depict landscape views of the country estates of the English aristocracy. The details of the architecture, flora and fauna, and even the people on the estate, are intricate and finely wrought and are accompanied by a brief one page text describing the estate. A bound volume of the plates was issued in 1786 by J. and J. Boydell and our copy eventually made its way into the collection of John Hough James and later Miami’s Special Collections. One can imagine this book set out in a library or drawing room for casual browsing. Who doesn’t love a nice coffee table book? The following are selected images from the volume, along with contemporary photographs of the estates. Enjoy!
Curator of Special Collections