John Martin 'Sadak in Search of the Waters of Oblivion' (1812)

John Martin ‘Sadak in Search of the Waters of Oblivion’ (1812)

The good Captain Ken and I hardly know where to put ourselves. At one moment we have Mrs L, apparently English-born, suggesting that Capability Brown was Irish (note 158), and now, out of an unusually weighty in-box, has slipped a question from Ms M.

Her lack of a fixed address, her devotion to literature, and indeed her name itself, all point to her own Irish background. Yet she asks what influence his Northumbrian upbringing had on Brown. Well, as if this were a cookery demonstration, let us begin by accepting a first premise: just as Desperate Dan was born hungry, so let us take it as read that Brown was born a Kirkharlean. Let us then take a pinch of sense from note 72, that he learnt to garden and to drain and to improve land there. Let us throw in three reasons for regarding Wallington as central to Brown’s development as an artist: because there landscaping took place over the whole of the vast estate, wherever prompted by the genius loci; because that landscape left behind Brown’s earlier design model whereby the scenery was to become steadily wilder as one moved away from the house; because there, whether or not designed by him, ridings 12 miles or more in length, thoroughly Brownian in character, were laid out to link the disparate parts of the design.

It seems to the Captain and me that we could continue with such a list indefinitely, but these three reasons will suffice to season a single note such as this. Finally, for the side of mutton that will make the meal, let us turn to the artist John Martin of Haydon Bridge (1789 – 1854) – if his paintings do not show you what Northumberland did for Brown’s sense of scale, then I fear nothing will.

Ms M extemporises from her initial sally to ask how Brown has influenced later landscape architects. In note 151, I have opened on his influence in the USA, and John Phibbs, our editor, launched the tercentenary in 2011 with an article in the Financial Times which made a claim for his global legacy.

In short, you may follow Brown, you may reject his ideas, but, in note 63 the point is made: his genius will persist. He is a classic.

If Ms M requires actual examples of his continued influence today, I would look no further than the sinuous and sinewy roil of the M6.