The reference on the Uppark plan looks too neat for Brown

The reference on the Uppark plan looks too neat for Brown

The Brown Advisor has long accepted as law the judgements of scholarship. It is only because we have not accustomed ourselves that the pronouncements dredged up and synthesised from primary research will surprise us by their sometimes radical and iconoclastic conclusions. No matter what, no matter how eccentric their opinions then, the Brown Advisor welcomes the breadth and breath of the scholar.

This acknowledgement is by way of introduction. My postman has unloaded a further slew of queries relating to the attribution of landscapes. We understand that our editor, John Phibbs, has attended to those that pertain to the authorship of that zealous workhorse, Capability Brown, and they will shortly be brought into the fourth edition of his list of attributions.

It is with no few misgivings then that I advert here to one of these, a plan for Uppark on the basis of which the park has been attributed to Brown. The authorship of the plan has rightly been brought into question by Bob of Sussex whom I had the great pleasure of meeting on a recent excursion to Hampton Court. The Brown Advisor has never had the opportunity to look at the Uppark plan, but took the attribution in good faith from Dr J of Stafford. It certainly has the character of a plan by Brown, yet the hand is not his, and this brings into question again the difficulty attendant on using cartography as the reliable and sufficient cause for an attribution. If we cannot wait for a comprehensive set, let us at least hope to see, all in one place, a substantial collection of plans from Brown’s office. Then we may be able to distinguish the different hands of his collaborators. When it comes to Uppark, it is true that there are signs of Brown’s hand in the field and in the commentary of Humphry Repton – the location of the paddock, the straight approach, the large clumps on hill-tops – but this is not surety.

There is no simple exit from this pickle, yet a comparison might be made with the poems of Homer. We do not know if Homer existed, if he did exist we do not know if he wrote anything down, nor do we know which parts of his poems are actually his, rather than interpolations. Yet the poems themselves survive. We seem able to enjoy and explore them without troubling over much as to exactly what is and what isn’t Homer. We do not require a line to be judged truly Homeric before we can say it is good. Centuries of scholiasts have arrived at something like an ‘original’ text for the Iliad, though with many aberrances and omissions and they have concluded that he did not actually compose the line generally adjudged the most beautiful in the whole poem – that in which the old men of Troy, seeing Helen, the cause of all their misfortune, come to the battlements, fall silent til one sighs ‘nay but she is most like the gods to look upon.’

In similar fashion we must encourage scholars to wrestle with what is and what is not Brown but while they do that, let all admirers of landscapes enjoy and explore the great art that is in them without over–troubling themselves as to authorship.