Picture of William Gilpin

William Gilpin

places mentioned

Title page, contents and Preface

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Printed by A. Strahan, Printers-Street,



As this little work is still thought worth the notice of the public, a new edition of it in large octavo hath been printed, with a set of new etchings, as the old plates were too much worn to be of farther use.—A small edition hath also been printed, as a more portable companion to those who wish to take it with them, in their travels through Wales.




The very favourable manner in which you spoke of some observations I shewed you in MS. several years ago, on the lakes and mountains of the northern parts of England ,1 induced many of my friends at different times to desire, the publication of them. But as they are illustrated by a great variety of drawings, the hazard and expence had rather a formidable appearance. A subscription was mentioned to me, and the late duchess dowager of Portland, with her usual generosity, sent me a hundred pounds as a subscription from herself: but I could not accept her grace's kindness, as I was still afraid of an engagement with the public .

You advised me to make an essay in a smaller work of the same kind, which might enable me the better to ascertain the expences of a larger.—I have followed your advice, and have chosen the following little piece for that purpose, which was the first of the kind I ever amused myself with; and as it is very unimportant in itself, you will excuse my endeavouring to give it some little credit by the following anecdote.

In the same year in which this journey was made, your late valuable friend Mr. Gray2 made it likewise, and hearing that I had put on paper a few remarks on the scenes which he had so lately visited, he desired a sight of them. They were then only in a rude state; but the handsome things he said of them to a friend3 of his, who obligingly repeated them to me, gave them some little degree of credit in my own opinion, and made me somewhat less apprehensive in risking them before the public.

If this little work afforded any amusement to Mr. Gray, it was the amusement of a very late period of his life. He saw it in London about the beginning of June 1771, and he died, you know, at the end of the July following.

Had he lived, it is possible, he might have been induced to have assisted me with a few of his own remarks on scenes which he had so accurately examined. The slightest touches of such a master would have had their effect; no man was a greater admirer of nature than Mr. Gray, nor admired it with better taste.

I can only however offer this little work to the public as a hasty sketch. A country should be seen often to be seen correctly; it should be seen also in various seasons; different circumstances make such changes in the same landscape, as give it wholly a new aspect. But these scenes are marked just as they struck the eye at first; I had no opportunity to repeat the view.

For the drawings I must apologise in the same manner. They were hastily sketched, and under many disadvantages; and pretend at best to give only a general idea of a place or scene, without entering into the details of portrait.

I do not myself thoroughly understand the process of working in aqua-tinta; but the great inconvenience of it seems to arise from its not being sufficiently under the artist's command. It is not always able to give that just gradation of light and shade, which he desires. Harsh edges will sometimes appear. It is however a very beautiful mode of multiplying drawings; and certainly comes nearer than any other to the softness of the pencil. It may indeed literally be called drawing ; as it washes in the shades. The only difference is, that it is a more unmanageable process to wash the shades upon copper with aqua-fortis, than upon paper with a brush. If however the aqua-tinta method of multiplying drawings hath some inconveniences, it is no more than every other mode of working on copper is subject to—engraving, particularly, is always accompanied with a degree of stiffness.

For myself, I am most pleased with the free, rough style of etching landscape with a needle, after the manner of Rembrandt, in which much is left to the imagination to make out. But this would not satisfy the public; nor indeed any one, whose imagination is not so conversant with the scenes of nature, as to make out a landscape from a hint.—This rough work hath, at least, the advantage of biting the copper more strongly, and giving a greater number of good impressions.

Believe me to be, dear sir, with great regard and esteem,

Your very sincere,            
And affectionate

            WILLIAM GILPIN.

November 20 , 1782.

1 See Gray's Memoirs, p. 377.

2 Mr. Gray's account of this tour is contained in a letter, dated the 24th of May 1771.

My last summer's tour was through Worcestershire, Glocestershire, Monmouthshire, Herefordshire, and Shropshire, five of the most beautiful counties in the kingdom. The very principal light, and capital feature of my journey, was the river Wye, which I descended in a boat for near forty miles from Ross to Chepstow. Its banks are a succession of nameless beauties. One out of many you may see not ill-described by Mr. Whately, in his observations on gardening, under the name of the New-Weir. He has also touched on two others, Tintern-Abbey and Persfield, both of them famous scenes, and both on the Wye. Monmouth, a town I never heard mentioned, lies on the same river in a vale that is the delight of my eyes, and the very seat of pleasure. The vale of Abergavenny, Ragland, and Chepstow-castles, Ludlow, Malvern-hills, &c. were the rest of my acquisitions, and no bad harvest in my opinion: but I made no journal myself, else you should have had it. I have indeed a short one, written by the companion of my travels, Mr. Nicholls, that serves to recal and fix the fleeting images of these things.

3 William Fraser Esq. under-secretary of state.


SECTION I.   page 1.

GENERAL PURPOSES of travelling—end proposed in this tour—Lord Cadogan's—Wallingford-road—Shillingford—Witney—Burford—picture of the More family—view at Barrington—Northleach—vale of Severn—Glocester—Ross.

SECT. II.   p. 17.

The Wye—sources of its beauty—and general ornaments.

SECT. III.   p. 27.

Remarks on weather as it affects landscape—first part of the river from Ross—Goodrich-castle—remarks on natural composition—Rure-dean church—Stone-quarries and Bishop's-wood—remarks on Mannerists—Lidbroke—Welch-Bicknor—Cold-well—White-church—New-Weir—coricle—Monmouth.

SECT. IV.   p. 45.

Saint Breval's—how pasturage affects landscape—Tintern-abbey—iron works.

SECT. V.   p. 57.

Persfield—Chepstow—country between Chepstow and Monmouth.

SECT. VI.   p. 67.

Journey to the sources of the Wye, and through the midland counties of Wales.

SECT. VII.   p. 89.

Ragland-castle—Brecknoc-hills—Abergavenny—vale of Usk—Tretower-castle—Brecknoc—its castle and abbey—country between Brecknoc and Trecastle—remarks on white objects—Llandovery.

SECT. VIII.   p. 101.

Llandilo—vale of Towy—poem of Grongar-hill criticised—Dinevawr-castle—observations on varied surfaces—Merlin's cave—distant view of the vale of Towy.

SECT. IX.   p. 111.

Country after we leave Llandilo—Black-mountain—effects of a storm—scenery beyond the Black-mountain—view of Neath.

SECT. X.   p. 119.

Vista of mountains—copper works—Margam sand-bank—river Abravon—Lord Mansel's woods—Pyle—remarks on painting a crowd.

SECT. XI.   p. 127.

Bridgend—Cowbridge—distant view of the Bristol channel—heights of Clanditham—remarks on distant views—Cardiff—Newport—approach to the ferry—passage—distant view of the Welsh coast.

SECT. XII.   p. 141.

Road to Bristol—remarks on strong tinting—Bristol—hot-wells—country between Bristol and Bath—Bath—Chippenham—Marlborough—Marlborough-downs—road to Newberry—Donnington-castle—remarks on painting imaginary objects.





  1. ON the left of the river stood a lofty rock, as if hewn from the quarry, hanging over the precipice, haunted by birds of prey.
  2. Perhaps you may introduce some trifling plant: but does this compensate for want of unity and simplicity in a whole?
  3. Every man is at liberty to fill his glass to the height he chooses.
  4. Glasses unequally filled.
  5. Countries which have never known the plough are my delight—wild woods and rivers wandering through artless vales.
  6. At first, when the vessel pushing from the shore, appeared surrounded by water, all was terror. The trembling animals urging each other on both sides from it, occasioned at first some confusion; but their fears subsiding gradually from the familiarity of the object, tranquillity took place.
  7. A scene of wild brushwood.
  8. Even then the awful genius of the place held the trembling rustic in awe. Even then he entered those gloomy woods, with superstitious fear. Some God, no doubt, (though what God is uncertain,) inhabits those sacred groves. The Arcadians often think they see Jove himself, flashing lightning from the clouds, when the louring storm comes forward over the lofty woods.

William Gilpin, Observations of the River Wye, and several parts of South Wales (London: Cadell Junior and W. Davies, 1800) Conversion to HTML and placename mark-up by Humphrey Southall, 2012.

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