Bound as I am to commend and encourage the interest of my friends in the working of the Brown Advisor, I am bound also to respond to such comments as they may make. However what I have lately heard from the Bar I find disquieting; it has caused me to turn again to Dr Sarah Rutherford’s work: The landscape gardens of Capability Brown.
She persistently refers in that to Capability Brown’s probity and honesty. Yet how are we to square that with the indisputable evidence that he was neglecting Hampton Court (notes 223, 257) where even Mary Yorke could not refrain from the comment in 1773 that Mr Brown had ‘several houses for different kinds of fruit which though they do not look so spruce as those at Sir James Cockburn’ (being built of old ragged looking Wood) yet I remember the Gardener there owned once to us that the Hot-houses at Hampton Court were very good.’ The fact of the matter is, as the Bar made clear, that Brown did not defend himself against the criticisms of Mr Robinson for the way he was managing Hampton Court, he simply pulled rank on him.
The Bar then referred me to that letter of Sir William Chambers, written ten years earlier, in which he had to defend Brown against the accusation of Lord Middleton that Brown charging him ‘two shillings per day for three labourers belonging to this neighbourhood’ while paying them no more than ‘fourteen pence per day as that is the constant price of labour in this Country.’
I was on the point of a dismissive and rather unhelpful rejoinder that troubling though such revelations may be, showing that Brown’s moral code may indeed sometimes have zigged and sometimes zagged, we should not forget that we are in pursuit of a genius not a saint. However a comment of Dr J, currently enjoying a rare excursion from Staffordshire, came to mind. Sir William Chambers was responsible for all the hard landscaping, from gravel to glass, wood to brick, throughout the gardens. So was this slack maintenance Chambers’ doing? And was Spyers whistle-blowing, not on Brown, but on his arch-enemy, Chambers? Could he even have been trying to make the gardens look a little more delapidated than they were?
But if Brown was in any way involved in a plot to embarrass his rival, that hardly puts him back on his pedestal. Perhaps there is merit in the unhelpful and dismissive rejoinder after all.