I have received numerous inquiries relating to the account book of l’incroyable, Capability Brown. The volume is now the property of the Royal Horticultural Society and kept in their Linley Library.
There are those who regard it as his only account book, and those who dismiss it as a dry document that tells us very little. Prominent amongst the latter is that noted anarchist, the Ha-ha Hero, no louder in his Scottish tartans than in his denunciations of everything English.
Well, Mr HhH, I would not pretend that this manuscript is an ‘open sesame’ and vade mecum to the world of Brown, yet there must be more to it than memoranda and some scrappy account of financial exchanges. One thing that I have sought to elicit from the account book is some idea of the timing of events. Thus one might think that each new commission was entered as it came in. Alas this is far from the case, the first entries are more or less alphabetical, and the later ones give every impression of having been entered up to a decade after the commission. First blow to you, I must admit, first blow to you sir.
Let us then take the case of Cornelius Griffin, last seen in the records of Brown’s account with Drummonds Bank in 1769, after which he was paid by the Duke of Northumberland to work at Alnwick Castle. While the payments made to him for his work at Redgrave ( 1767-1769) seem fine, those for Maiden Early and Copped Hall, both undated, crop up amongst projects apparently begun in the 1770s. Now this can’t be right in the case of Griffin, for he died unexpectedly in 1772 (note 238 will have it all). On the face of it one might have thought that the payments for Maiden E and C Hall must have been incurred before 1767, since after that Griffin was either occupied at Redgrave or at Alnwick, or was dead. Works at both places are likely to have begun in or after 1764, because that is broadly speaking when the surviving account book begins.
But there you have it, Brown may have begun each fresh commission on a fresh page, but he did not necessarily enter them as the projects came in. In this I lean to Captain Ken, rather than Mr Honey, preferring to speak of somewhat lax accounting procedures, rather than any return from the grave, or double-working, on the part of Cornelius Griffin. There is relish, Mr HhH, in the puzzling out of what these accounts tell us about the man and his organisation, even if they shed but little light what he actually did for the many places at which he had accepted instruction.