Captain Ken, who crosses himself whenever he sees anything green, asks me why anyone should bother with a forest.
The point I asked him to consider is that Shakespeare was ‘Arden`s boast’, Spenser was inspired by forests, even the polished Alexander Pope began his life as a published poet in 1713 with Windsor Forest. Gilpin was more enthusiastic about the beauty of forests than he was about any other class of scenery and seekers after aboriginal England connected Druids (the ‘oak priests’) with deep woodland.
Then, he must consider the influence of the forest on Capability Brown, consider also that in no art could the forest as a source of national identity be more appropriately acknowledged than in landscape gardening – why here is Humphry Repton doing so: ‘Under this name [the Forest] I consider the wood before mentioned which is doubtless a part of the adjoining forest [Hainault] from which it ought not to be separated. What Brown acknowledged concerning the forest of Needwood, I confess of the little forest of Hainault, it has been the school from whence I have drawn those lessons of beauty, which I am now called upon to teach others. With awful reference for this favourite spot, I should tremble at my own presumption if I were to suggest any further interference of Art than such as may enable us conveniently to avail ourselves of its natural beauties, without attempting to improve them.’
Captain Ken responds that H Repton is a fool, and in this case I have to agree, Nonetheless he has said enough to make the question worth asking: what did Brown get out of forests? Was it the value of the vert which clads the vales and flats of forest land? Or some deeper verity?