Don’t talk to me about ‘Fun’ – I thought I couldn’t make my distaste for it plainer, but Miss E, currently touring with her theatre group in the north of England, courtesy of the Arts Council, has been much in correspondence with me over the last month on the subject of fun, which she chooses to contrast with ‘history’. Fun, in her lexicon, is her on a bouncy castle, dressed as a parrot. History, on the other hand, is something that doesn’t have her in it. Well, there is some truth in that.
The tercentenary of the birth of that royal ring-master of the garden, Capability Brown in 1716 however aims to take people to the gate at the top of the park at Wimpole, late in the day, late in September, when the sun is reflected off the windows of the great house, and the land rolls down to it from the folly, swerving this way and that on its path, crosses the water, gently defined by woods, and then rises up to the backdrop of the Royston Hills, seven miles away to the south – to take people to the gate and then to step through and stop, and say this is England, man can do no more – one man could have done no more – to knit together the natural wealth of the planet, hewn and cut by centuries of hard work, of accident, of intent, into a single blessed image of peaceful abundance. This is meant, and furthermore it is real, it squeaks when you pinch it.
Richard Owen Cambridge said that he hoped he’d get to heaven before Brown so he could see what it was like before Brown improved it. I think he was mistaken – what’s the point of dying, if you are lucky enough to live in this England – what’s the point of going through all that malarkey, and the dreadful tedium of a funeral, only to find when you wake up on the other side that heaven is just more of the same. It is hard to escape a religious twinge in the contemplation of a great Brown. Now this response is not a response to history, Brown has no more connection with history than Shakespeare has. One does not read Hamlet to understand what life was like at the turn of the 16th century, but to understand what life is like. Period. Brown happened to be born 300 years ago. Big deal. With Brown as with Shakespeare, it pays to have one’s facts in place of course, but having ‘fun’ with Brown, without any understanding of what he did, is no more rewarding than having ‘fun’ with Shakespeare by mocking the fact that he spoke a funny old sort of language: it is silly and, after a few moments, very trying. So, please Miss E, no more talk about ‘fun’.