Humanities and Arts

Temple, Huygens and ‘sharawadgi’: tempering the passions to achieve tranquillity

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Sir William Temple (1628–1699), the eminent English ambassador to the Dutch Republic and a widely read essayist,1 famously used the term ‘sharawadgi’ (beauty without an apparent order)2 to describe the layout of Chinese gardens in his essay ‘Upon the Gardens of Epicurus’:Among us, the Beauty of Building and Planting is placed chiefly, in some certain Proportions, Symmetries, or Uniformities; our Walks and our Trees ranged so, as to answer one another, and at exact Distances. The Chineses scorn this way of Planting, and say a Boy that can tell an hundred, may plant Walks of Trees in strait Lines, and over against one another, and to what Length and Extent He pleases. But their greatest reach of Imagination, is employed in contriving Figures, where the Beauty shall be great, and strike the eye, but without any order or disposition of parts, that shall be commonly or easily observ’d. And though we have hardly any Notion of this sort of Beauty, yet they have a particular Word to express it; and where they find it hit their Eye at first sight, they say the Sharawadgi is fine or is admirable, or any such expression of Esteem.3