I am rebuked by Dr S in far-away London for a recent communication (note 236) in which I made little attempt to explain to my readers the differences between the ‘valley direct’, the ‘valley transverse’ and the ‘valley adventitious’.
It is as though my correspondents worked in concert, for Dr L of Stanstead Mountfichet in the same post has asked me to explain a ‘shred’. The latter is a word with an ancient and distinguished pedigree to describe a tree whose side branches have regularly been sheered off, usually by tenant farmers in search of fire-wood, leaving the trunk to their landlord, as required by the terms of their lease.
The categorisation of valleys however is one that I have newly devised, and I beg to take this opportunity to apologise for its unfamiliarity – I had indulged a venial propensity to dwell on the pleasant memories and reflections that a convivial evening at the Tatler’s Waste-bin is always liable to elicit and had insufficiently considered the sentiments of those who, through accident or ill-fortune, were unable to attend.
Yet these inquiries bring to mind a seminar I recently attended, hosted by the Institute of Jargoneutics at the University of Herefordshire and dedicated to the motion ‘Jargon is not language but phenomenology’.
While never one to decry the value of jargon, to slow discussion, to confuse argument and put off any coming to conclusions, as well as to lend a spurious authority to statements, theories and institutions which would otherwise have no claim on our attention, I joined the delegates as curious to hear how the war proceeded between the ‘ism-ists’ and the ‘olog-ists’ and where now the proper place of the acronym might sit in semantic discourse. After much turning of my head as the argument flowed freely to and fro across the room, I found myself still with no clear argument with which to confront my prior understanding that while jargon creates new words for phenomena when there are perfectly good old words available to do the job; new words must be still created for phenomena that have not hitherto been described.
When I speak therefore of the ‘valley direct’ I require my readers to visualise first the general run of great houses in landscapes designed by that gi-normous gorge of talent that is Capability Brown. There sits the great house on the brow of the hill, and running across its line of sight is the valley, with something very like a river at its foot, running from one side of the picture to the other and the grass running down from house to water. Now the ‘valley direct’ is a rarer creature, in which the house appears to stand at the head of a valley, and the valley which is usually slight and has always been modelled by earth-moving, curves and sweeps this way and that as it runs down from us and out of sight. Such is the valley on the north-west front at Claremont, such the valley before Newton House at Dinefwr, such between the house and bridge at Prior Park, and the famous Grecian Valley itself before the Temple of Concord at Stowe.
Mrs W of Suffolk has expressed a similar concern, though on a different footing. She feels that new words and definitions, whether jargon or not, threaten to place any understanding of landscape beyond the reach of the ordinary person. Well Mrs S, I only do what I can, but where there is no useful language it must be reforged if that will help people to see what it is that they are looking at.