You will be pleased to hear that Miss H., a devoted amateur tomato grower from Thurrock, writes that flies there are as troublesome as the Ashford ones. She has solved the problem faced by Mr S. (see notes 25 and 27) by using her side plate as a lid to keep them out of her tea.

Implied in her response is the question: how would the master gardener, Capability Brown, have managed flies in the coffee?

Brown’s fellow artists of the 18th century fell neatly into two groups: those who wished art to be the province of the gentleman and man of taste, like the knights, Sir Joshua Reynolds and Sir William Chambers, and those like Hogarth and Gainsborough who saw the artist as rough, unpolished and without pretension. As it happens Gainsborough had been trained by a Frenchman and was influenced by Watteau, but when Reynolds divided painters in the two categories (Italianate or academic, on the one hand, and natural or instinctive on the other), he put Gainsborough in the latter, his friends commenting that he ‘hated reading’ and that his was ‘a Life where Nature is kept upon the Stretch’. Lord Shelburne was only one owner who was happy to commission Brown and Gainsborough at the same time – so far as he was concerned there may have been little to choose between them, both were English, both rough, both Goths – and despite Gainsborough’s distaste for Brown’s landscapes he did take 50 quid from him for a portrait.

Then we get Lord Harcourt, who ‘liked [Brown’s] company, in spite of his puns’, and Horace Walpole: ‘Mr Browne’s flippancy diverted me: it is what was called wit two thousand years ago. There are twenty such pieces of impertinence recorded of the Grecian philosophers, and I shall wonder if this does not make his fortune. The moment a fashionable artist, singer, or actor is insolent, his success is sure. The first peer that experiences it laughs to conceal his being angry at the freedom; the next flatters him for fear of being treated as familiarly; and ten more bear it because it is so like Browne!’

Walpole’s awkwardness about Brown was at the fore in his next letter: ‘I have recollected a passage in Madame de Sévigné exactly applicable to Browne’s impertinence to the Duke of Marlborough, and still more just. An upstart gentleman playing at picquet with the Marshal de Grammont, and being very flippant, the Marshal said to him, ‘Monsieur, gardez ces familiarités-là pour quant vous jouerez avec le Roi’ – and yet, that Mr Browne was not the King’s playfellow.’

In fact Walpole and his friends had trapped themselves in a position that may have forced them to mask their true feelings. It was an article of faith with them that the English landscape style was an original contribution to the art of the world. From this it seemed to follow both that the English genius must spring from something original in England; and that, if one were to sweep away all the artificial embellishments to a landscape, what would be left must necessarily be original – what was left would be the English landscape style. This is the way they put it at the time: ‘It is beneath [the architect] to say this is Chinese, or that Le Notre introduced in France; thus Brown disposed the ground in such a garden; or there is example for this at Stow: he has the design and he may be original. Every thing under such a hand will have truth, because every thing will rise from nature… the servile imitation we so much discourage is the bane of all improvement.’

One suspects therefore that Brown would have done something sensible about the flies, like cover his cup quite quickly with his hat, and pass it off with a joke, and Walpole would have ground his teeth. And smiled.

One coffee, one hat, no flies

One coffee, one hat, no flies