I have been made horridly aware that I may inadvertently have given offence to the good people of Yorkshire. It is not the business of the Brown Advisor to offend. We are fellow-workers in one great enterprise, to wrestle that bouncing boy, the place-maker, Capability Brown, from under the morass of half-digested histories and false assumptions under which his reputation has so long been buried.
However I am uncomfortably aware that Mrs L of Ilkley (whose handling of a footnote has all the fatal dexterity of a Sicilian with a stiletto) will bridle at my attempt to translate Yorkshire into the Queen’s English (note 156). Yorkshire is for her the true voice of England. If its grammar is sometimes uncouth, it is undeniably aboriginal.
Mrs L has only added to my discomfort by her discovery that subscribers to A General History of Ireland (1778) include a number of Brownes from Co Mayo and one Lancelot Browne esq of Hampton Court. Let us hold off from one possible conclusion, that Brown was Irish – we have no reason to connect the Mayo Browns and our Hampton Court Brown. However we must, at the very least, ask whence came his interest in Irish history.
Three possible points of connection between the great gardener, Brown, and Ireland have been recorded:
Muckross, Killarney, really far too remote a possibility to take seriously, and anyway the involvement with the owner Thomas Herbert came 20 or so years before the history was published.
Carton, Dorothy Stroud recorded Brown’s refusal to work there, ‘because he had not finished England yet’. However in a later letter Lady Kildare wrote to her husband: ‘I saw Mr Brown the day before yesterday at his house at Hammersmith; he returned the night before from some place he has work going on. He says he will certainly come if he can possibly and will let me know a month before; he said he was vary ambitious of coming and would certainly if his health would permit him; he was indeed very ill.’ One might think of Carton as a possibility but for yet another letter of 1762 in which poor Brown was defied to do better there than she had herself: `the new river is beautiful. One turn of it is a masterpiece in the laying out, and I defy, Kent, Brown or Mr Hamilton to excel it …’
That leaves Slane Castle, County Meath, where Brown is likely to have sent his drawings for the stables between 1781 and 1783, but where he may have been involved as early as 1770.
With every courtesy to Mrs L, rather than speculate further on Brown’s ancestry, I would prefer to acknowledge her supreme skill at fishing these delicious fragments from the ruins of history.