Mr C of Dagenham, a formidable scholar of the old school, has asked me why anyone should regard the landscape at Shugborough as anything like Brown’s work.

His question assumes a familiarity with Lord Verulam’s journal of 1769, which I was lately able to peruse in the Hertfordshire Record Office. The entry on which Mr C has exercised his enormous energies runs as follows: ‘… From hence we went to Shucborough belonging to Mr Anson, elder brother of the late Lord Anson, who left his fortune and some of his eastern curiosities to this gentleman.... The grounds are laid out in the very extremity of Mr. Brown’s taste, are well watered and prettily interspersed with ruins and buildings, chiefly Chinese.’

I share his puzzlement, tending to concur with the Rev William Gilpin’s assessment of the place: ‘Mr Anson’s improvements are nobly conceived, making their object ye whole face of a country. It is a pity so generous a design had not been directed by a better taste. His buildings are all upon Grecian, & Roman models; & some of them very beautiful. But they want accmpanimts. There is something ludicrous in adorning a plain field with a triumphal arch; or ye lanthorn of Demosthenes, restored in all its splendor, a polished jewel, set in lead, is absurd. But, above all, ye temple of ye winds, seated in a pool, is ill-placed’ 

I have wondered whether the apparently random placings were meant to replicate the scatter of ancient buildings in 18th century Athens, and so to revive the Claudean air of a great city now lost –surely an attitude to design entirely at odds with what we understand of Brown’s.

However when I turn to his late masterpiece at Berrington, and the view of it from Windy Hill - on its east side, where one might expect to find the Triumphal Arch – standing at that viewpoint, one finds the arch instead crammed down beside the walled garden, and makes part of a disordered mass of masonry, that looks like nothing so much as an Italian hill town overlooking the distant wastes of the Campagna. Should we see Brown’s work as constantly pushing away from the sense of order in which he had been apprenticed? Had Lord Verulam had recognised that, and was that the ‘very extremity of Mr Brown’s taste’ to which he referred?