See Google Books for the full illustrated texts of The Tour of Doctor Syntax in Search of the Picturesque and The second tour of doctor Syntax in search of consolation.
As described in an earlier LL post, The discovery of Dr. Syntax, the Doctor's excursions were a parody on the tours of the Reverend William Gilpin (1724-1804). Starting with his 1792 Essay on Prints, Gilpin expounded a theory on the nature of the "picturesque" - what aesthetic rules governed our appreciation of a picture of natural scene. For instance:
For Gilpin, both texture and composition were important in a "correctly picturesque" scene. The texture should be "rough", "intricate", "varied", or "broken", without obvious straight lines. The composition should work as a unified whole, incorporating several elements: a dark "foreground" with a "front screen" or "side screens", a brighter middle "distance", and at least one further, less distinctly depicted, "distance". A ruined abbey or castle would add "consequence". A low viewpoint, which tended to emphasise the "sublime", was always preferable to a prospect from on high. While Gilpin allowed that nature was good at producing textures and colours, it was rarely capable of creating the perfect composition. Some extra help from the artist, perhaps in the form of a carefully placed tree, was usually required.
- William Gilpin (clergyman), Wikipedia, retrieved May 5th 2009
Probably Gilpin's worst misfortune was to be followed by such able satirists, and some of his ideas were easy to ridicule, such as his statement in The Wye Tour about the ruins of Tintern Abbey being insufficiently picturesque:
... a number of gabel-ends hurt the eye with their regularity, and disgust it by the vulgarity of their shape. A mallet judiciously used (but who durst use it ?) might be of service in fracturing some of them; particularly those of the cross aisles, which are most disagreeable in themselves, and confound the perspective.
More recent commentators have given Gilpin better press, however. For instance, the paper by Francesca Orestano, 'The Revd William Gilpin and the picturesque; or, who's afraid of Doctor Syntax?' (Garden History, 31:2 (2003), 163-79. ISSN 03071243) - see intro - credits him as originator of a modern aesthetic of judging scenery simply by eye, rather than through some metaphorical moral filter, and many of his compositional ideas aren't much different from the kinds of decisions made in taking a photograph nowadays. But it would have been pretty radical in the face of an aesthetic shaped by upper-crust travellers who had been on the Grand Tour and were conditioned to approach ruins with emotions such as "pleasing melancholy" and "agreeable horror", and by Edmund Burke's 1757 Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful that divided aesthetic experience of landscape into the "beautiful" (the soft and reassuring) and the "sublime" (the deeply scary). The picturesque, according to one strong advocate, the landscape architect Uvedale Price:
holds a station between beauty and sublimity
- Essays on the Picturesque, as Compared with the Sublime and Beautiful, 1794
(This reminds me, in many ways, of the writer and computational scientist Rudy Rucker's term "gnarly", that he uses for the area of meaningful and productive complexity that lies between simplicity and chaos). The 18th -19th century categorisations of landscape may seem peculiar, but travel for the middle-classes, even within Britain was very much a novelty. People had little idea what to do and feel about landscape: how to handle, for instance, landscapes so unfamiliar that they seemed in equal measure beautiful and terrifying, as with Thomas Gray's comment on the Scottish Highlands, which left him feeling that the pretty and mundane images of art were pretty trivial in comparison:
the mountains are ecstatic, and ought to be visited in pilgrimage once a year. None but those monstrous creatures of God know how to join so much beauty with so much horror. A fig for your poets, painters, gardeners, and clergymen, that have not been among them, their imagination can be made up of nothing but bowling-greens, flowering shrubs, horse-ponds. Fleet ditches, shell-grottoes, and Chinese rails.
- Gray's Works, edit. E. Gosse, vol. iii. p. 223.
It really was a kind of culture-shock on experiencing alien environments, and the observers can't be blamed for being fazed and coming up with rather flaky theories about why. (One might compare the modern Paris syndrome).
The picturesque is so formative of perception of landscape that it has been heavily discussed. See, for instance, Keith Waddington's thesis Pictures and Poetry. Debunking the Bunk: An Examination of Picturesque Influence. Google Books also has extensive preview of The search for the picturesque: landscape aesthetics and tourism in Britain, 1760-1800 (Malcolm Andrews, Stanford University Press, 1989, ISBN 0804714029). One feels the early analysts would have liked prospect-refuge theory.