The appetite for a literature on the great gardener Capability Brown waxes apace! I have received a further request from Mrs C of Stranded-sub-Solent who is building a tree-top library against the possibility that the next wave overtops her roof.
She wants some books that will bring to her what it felt like to be alive and involved with the landscape during the 18th century – a time when landscape was landscape and the sea kept its place. She has been reading Mrs Delaney’s letters with pleasure. Of course there is a good deal of published correspondence of this sort – Lady Hertford, Lady Luxborough, William Shenstone, Maria Edgeworth, Fanny Burney , David Garrick, Sanderson Miller, but all these – even the great Shenstone – tend to detail and the meticulous consideration of a flower bed, rather than landscape. It is striking to consider how small a part theories of landscape played in most social correspondence of the day. Though it remains constant, it is but a thread in Jane Brown’s 2006 volume: My Darling Herriott Henrietta Luxborough, Poetic Gardener and Irrepressible Exile, as it is also in Vere Birdwood’s of 1994: So Dearly loved, so much admired Letters to Hester Pitt, Lady Chatham from her relations and friends 1744 – 1801.
One turns from correspondence to the journals of the great 18th century travellers, John Byng has been extracted into a soft cover book by the National Trust; Arthur Young has been republished by Forgotten Books; Horace Walpole’s visits to country seats are available, but the Yale edition is forbidding; Bishop Pococke is out of print; Sir John Parnell is best read in manuscript. It seems incredible that so little ink should have been spilled upon Brown’s ingenuity. It’s a poor look-out for the enthusiast.