Mr M writes from Blandford to thank me for the books I have already mentioned (see for example, notes 48-52, 71, 138), but asks if there is any good biography of Capability Brown, which would tackle the man and his life rather than taking the well-trod trail that begins and ends with the list of his commissions .
If only thinking were enough to bring such a book to hand, but it will not surprise Mr M to hear how ineffective is thinking a thing should be so if the thinking is not followed by action. Yet there is a story waiting to be told, not just of the rise to prominence of a farmer’s son from the border country, but of his siblings and children, who rose with him. The sudden emergence over a single generation of a family of men and women of prominence, and the establishment of their children in, at the very least, the upper middle classes, set against the back-drop of the acquisition of empire and the loss of the American colonies, the industrial revolution and the long succession of wars against France.
Publishers may hold back from a man who offers so little for grown women to swoon over (note 65), but it is hard to imagine a man of more national importance whose life has hitherto been less well commemorated.
However so many authors have been in communication that the Brown Advisor is confident of filling his shelves with worthwhile books during the year of Brown’s tercentenary. Thus far, and in alphabetical order, we have:
David Brown and Tom Williamson Lancelot Brown and the Capability Men – Landscape Revolution in Eighteenth-Century England (Reaktion Books) – Brown and his foremen, how his business actually worked, fantastic interest, new research,
Jane Brown, reissuing her biography The omnipotent magician
Susan Campbell A History of Kitchen Gardening (Unicorn Press), another reissue of the authoritative work, which she is further elaborating with a second volume, Capability Brown and his kitchen gardens, also with Unicorn
Kate Felus The Secret Life of the Garden, an equally authoritative exploration of the uses of the 18th century garden and its buildings
Marion Harney The architecture of Capability Brown (Yale University Press), the first book to be written on the architectural designs of the great man
Sarah Rutherford Capability Brown and his Landscape Gardens, a robust study of those of Brown’s landscapes that are owned by the National Trust
Tim Scott Bolton A Brush with Brown, another new take on Brown, exploring his work through the medium of water-colour
Steffie Shields Moving Heaven & Earth – Capability Brown’s Gift of Landscape (Unicorn Press), telling the story of Brown’s life through his landscapes and a sumptuous series of photographs
Michael Symes Observations on Modern Gardening by Thomas Whately (Boydell Press)
Roger Turner Capability Brown, a reissue of this long-lasting survey of Brown’s works
Finally our editor brings two complementary works of his own to market. These are designed to draw new audiences to Brown’s work, welcoming both those whose bent is primarily visual, and the more analytically inclined:
John Phibbs Capability Brown, defining the English landscape (Rizzoli), a series of 15 essays on 15 landscapes chosen to illustrate the great themes of Brown’s work and the progress of his career
John Phibbs Place-making, the art of Capability Brown (Historic England and the National Trust), this book asks what Brown was trying to do and how it was meant to work, and places Brown’s art in its national context