In earlier posts, such as notes 31 and 58, the Brown Advisor has endeavoured to separate out variety, greatness and extent, suggesting that these qualities should be held in balance. Islands, as the poet Shenstone remarked, give beauty, if the water be adequate; but lessen grandeur through variety.
Shenstone surely borrowed the thought from the Spectator himself, Joseph Addison, who remarked that ‘there is generally in Nature something more Grand and August, than what we meet with in the Curiosities of Art’.
But now I am asked by Mr S of Leominster whether there is really anything grand about Berrington. The question is a difficult one for a Herefordshire man, since that county is the home of the ardent picturesque, and for such people ‘grand’ has a meaning that is close to ‘sublime’, while whatever else Berrington may be, it is emphatically not sublime. But might I put it to Mr S that Berrington is still grand in Addison’s sense. The lake is not visible from the house, nor is the London Approach brought round the lake as it might be, because the landscape is to unfold piece by piece, almost by accident, with no hint of ‘the Curiosities of Art’. So the north front with its pediment is more decorated than the south simply because the north front needs a little more decoration to give it an even chance against the south, with its splendid view south to the industries of Leominster. Everything about the position of the house is a little skew-whiff because its compositions are to be subordinated to nature.
As William Combe put it: ‘Where Nature is grand, improve her grandeur, not by adding extraneous decorations, but by removing obstructions. Where a scene is, in itself, lovely, very little is necessary to give it all due advantage, which undergoes no variety of cultivation.’
We should not think the less of Berrington if it continually confounds our expectations that it should behave like other 18th century landscapes. I fear Mr S that the fault lies in our own preconceptions of what landscape is.