No more than a fortnight ago I found myself in colloquy with Mrs M from Barnsley who asked if that asked if the lugubrious Capability Brown really used geometry as much as I think he did.
The difficulty she faces I think is in fixing the fulcrum – the point at which the anecdotal evidence has become sufficient to generate its own gravity, thus forming a globe of sufficient weight to turn the scales and make a generalisation out of a coincidence. That there are landscapes that are underpinned by geometry and that Brown worked on them – these facts are not in question – the difficulty lies in ascertaining how much part he played in constructing this geometry – and how often we have to find occasions of it in his landscapes before we conclude that he must have been its originator.
A further difficulty then arises: if we accept that Brown did use geometry, but then allow overmuch tolerance in its application, we might conclude that it is present in all his landscapes, but we risk mistaking the undeniably true for the arguably true, and exchanging the objective for the subjective.
To find the undeniably true we must provide evidence that goes beyond the pale of any conjectural coincidence: not three objects in a straight line, but six or seven or eight; not two objects at equal angles to a third, but five.
On that basis we must accept that early works such as Wotton and Croome are geometric, as is a later piece like Burton Constable, and all these three use projective geometry – the geometry of angles, which is the province of the theodolite. Let us find a couple more and I think we can move to the argument that Brown did, on occasion, use geometry. There is for example Ampthill, with the views uphill from the house bisected by the lime avenue and admitted, even by Brown’s critic J.C.Loudon to be a master-piece of design. Ampthill again with the four objects (Millbrook clump, Home Farm, the great house and Houghton Hall) in a straight line that runs parallel to the line of the natural terrace at the top of the park. Then there’s Howsham, with the mill and Bambrough Castle on one axis, and the sham barn and orangery on the other, both set out at 45o to the orientation of the house.
I hope Mrs M that these examples will be enough at least to encourage your own curiosity to find others.