Appreciative though she is of the notices I have already given of the writers from whom most is to be learnt of Capability Brown’s style (posts 48-52), Mrs D writes again from Hampshire to ask for a list of books that would interest the general reader.

Here is a selection.

Biographies of Brown

Half a dozen biographies of Brown have been written, but Dorothy Stroud Capability Brown (Faber, 1984 ed.) is the first and still the best. First published in 1950, Dot researched the book during the second world war, impelled by a feeling that she should record an England on the point of disappearing forever. She bicycled from house to house – she never learned to drive – and her conversation over the tea-table when I knew her was still peppered with tales of grandes dames receiving her in the yellow silk saloon wearing three fur coats one on top of another to keep the cold out. We owe her a lasting debt

General books on 18th century landscape

David Jacques Georgian Gardens The Reign of Nature (Batsford, 1983) and Laurence Fleming and Alan Gore The English Garden (Joseph, 1979) are both good and reliable – the first has more original research, the second more pictures. It is impossible to overlook Mark Laird The flowering of the Landscape Garden: English Pleasure Grounds 1720 – 1800 (U Penn Press, 1999) a seminal door-stopper of a book. Before reading it I could not have imagined there was so much to be written on the flower garden in the second half of the 18th century.

Books on the 18th century context

The best recent books are biographies such as Amanda Foreman Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (HarperCollins, 2008), and Stella Tilyard Aristocrats: Caroline, Emily, Louisa and Sarah Lennox , 1740-1832 (1994). None of these carry the weight of Joseph Addison’s Spectator. To understand Brown we must understand how radically society changed at the end of the 17th century: the Constitutional Settlement guaranteed the liberty of the individual and was an early victory of the Enlightenment. With it came a recognition of restraint and modesty as prime social virtues, along with conviviality and tolerance, all of which Addison promoted.However handsome, still by their nature half-hidden, Brown’s landscapes are the final, most lasting and most extensive expressions of that revolution.