As if to console me for the equivocation of my last (note 256), Dr L-G, whose Malvern garden had brought on the volte-face, has just told me the most extraordinary thing à propos turkeys, a subject already touched upon by the Brown Advisor (note 113). It appears that Sir William Chambers reported to his friend Thomas Worsley in 1774 that ‘Master Brown had put padlocks on the wilderness at Hampton Court where he breeds turkeys’. What an extraordinary thing to learn.
The wilderness was right outside his windows, so that is not the point, it is the image it conjures up of a place over which the wonderful Capability, son of William Brown, had taken complete control, of which, to judge by the record made of Hampton Court by John Spyers, he took little care and from which he drew a considerable income after being appointed the master gardener to George III.
Even the most fervent amongst Brown’s admirers may want now to reconsider the criticisms of his work for the king made by William Robinson, Clerk-Itinerant to the Board of Works, who wrote as early as 1770 to complain that the gardens were not ‘in so good a condition as they ought to be … none of the Walkes being fit for use, and most of the other parts of the Gardens much neglected.’ Brown might reply in terms as high-coloured as he liked (note 223), the facts, if we judge by Spyers, are otherwise.
That exhibition of Spyers’ paintings at Hampton Court becomes only more serious to my eye, the longer I consider it. It has me reaching nervously for my own padlocks – could it be that no prejudice, no presupposition, neither reputation nor conclusion, is quite secure from that master iconoclast, the lean Dr L-G, and the man on the inside, John Spyers?