My postman is always the first to know when Mrs L of Melton Mowbray has filled her pen.
The envelopes have such a stiffness to them, and one might think that such a whiteness, such purity, such lucidity must contain an equal whiteness, purity and lucidity imprisoned within it. Yet I counselled Miss K, who intercepted the letter on her way to feed the song-birds, to beware their turbulent depth. Just as falling into an ocean, one would be well-advised to take in a deep breath, so deeply might one breathe before taking up the paper knife.
I bolstered my stamina with a slice of toast and Marmite and found Mrs L on this occasion asking me to advise her how high off the ground she should be to make the most of a landscape from the hand of Capability Brown. Would I recommend a horse, a bicycle, or a wheel-chair? I have grounds for believing that Mrs L has recently reacquainted herself with Claremont, a landscape that sets a particular test, which I suspect she has in the back of her mind. Thus would I generally advise that the work of an artist such as Capability Brown is best admired from a point close to the ground. Prospects were regarded in his day as vulgar and common because one only has to climb up a church tower to get a prospect and no skill in landscaping is required to bring off the effect – and the very first thing that Catherine Morland learnt from Henry Tilney when they walked to Beechen Cliff was that ‘a good view [was] no longer to be taken from the top of an high hill’ – yet – yet I have to acknowledge that the high point of the Claremont landscape is, literally, its high point, which is the Belvedere. Do I misrecall the picturesque Uvedale Price when he commented that prospects were so vulgar, he only had three of them at Foxley (his place)?
The house at Claremont is also built upon a ridge and looks down upon the landscape from both its fronts, yet the site was chosen by Brown. I must conclude that Brown was used to houses that looked down upon their landscape.
So then we must ask how high one’s eyes might be from the ground if one sat in a gig or sulky – lower surely than on horseback, but lower than the pedestrian? – I hardly know. The point is that landscape is more plastic, more ductile, when the beholder is low enough for the view out to be blocked with a holly bush, or framed with a single beech. Claremont House on its ridge – and Kirtlington is similarly set – in both cases Brown was intent on some particular character in his view and must be tackled for it at some other time.