The Brown Advisor is in the business of explaining the work of the yellow-backed yaroozella that is Capability Brown. There is nothing here for his successor in the landscaping trade, Humphry Repton, worthy of attention though he may be. However Professor W has asked me why Repton failed in his account of the principles of landscape gardening (note 49).

Had the question been put to him directly, he might have replied that he had been forced into print prematurely by the outbreak of the Picturesque Controversy in 1794. Indeed the careful reader might trace the progress of Repton’s intention to publish through references to the project in his manuscript red books. He first proposed the idea in the introduction of his Cobham red book within a year of beginning his professional practice: ‘tho’ I am not at present prepar’d to give my sentiments at large to the public; how far this pleasing Art may be reducible to System; … I sometimes indulge myself by looking forward to a period of leisure; when I may collect these scattered fragments into one more perfect whole…’ The idea caught fire within him in the following year (at least three references) and in 1792 there were at least four, but it did not receive a single mention in 1794, the year when the controversy broke into print, and with it, as he put it in a letter to a leading picturesquer, Uvedale Price, ‘the attempt to make me an object of ridicule, by misquoting my unpublished MSS’.

The moment then passed, and he never succeeded in printing these rules. Perhaps the enterprise was ineluctably doomed, perhaps I should refer you to William Marshall’s observation that Repton’s remarks ‘mostly appear to be applicable to the particular place which he is proposing to improve, rather than to places in general. Indeed, his arguments are of course moulded to the given circumstances; and they frequently, perhaps, tend rather to stand against adverse opinions, than coolly to investigate general truths, from which alone general principles can be drawn. … He is only wrong in having described ‘the whole as tending to establish fixed principles’; a merit to which very few of them have a just claim. Indeed they are often light, and not unfrequently involved in a maze of words, well sounding but inconclusive.’ Repton, to judge from Marshall, may have come to realise that Brown’s work was not as formulaic as it seemed.