Hilton, Dorset

Hilton, Dorset

My breakfast musings were interrupted this morning by a great bouncing at the door – thus my postman announces himself when the post has anything but bills and an invitation to subscribe to Reader’s Digest.

He brought notes from three correspondents, and all on the same subject: the Misses A of Dorset and E of Swansea, and Master W.D. from Chancery Lane, have separately asked me to summarise the work of Capability Brown in fewer than 1,000 words. Of course it is a great honour to be so tasked, but it took no more than a corner of toast to fortify me to a refusal. It can be hard to distinguish high purpose from sloth and incapacity, but in this case not only do I not have the ability, but the thought makes me tired, and furthermore it would not serve my interests, which are those of the tercentenary.

Brown was not a simple, slick, single sentence operator and though there is much to be said for simple explanations, we should see what happens when, by way of example, we summarise Beethoven in four syllables – ‘da-da-da-Dum’ would just about do it. Such a reduction might enable the music-lover to judge that they had ‘got’ him and were ready for Wagner. We should remember that those who are told what to look at will only see what they have been told to look at. The aim of the tercentenary is to foster landscape as an experience; slow looking, slow landscape.

But if I leave you, Misses A and E, and Master W.D. with some images – the view up Hilton Water to Hilton at Milton Abbey, or the vale of Belvoir, beyond Woolsthorpe, from Blackberry Hill, and if I don’t explain why I regard them as so important for our understanding of England and the land we live in, I can see that this will irritate you and you will tell me that I am being wilfully obscure – well I don’t wish to irritate, but I am happy to be wilfully obscure if any words of explanation are likely to interrupt the interaction of your imagination and landscape. To understand English landscape you need a simple eye, a kind of innocence that sees as unusual things that everyone else takes for granted. That’s all. That’s the trick.