Clatter! Bang! Wallop! You’ll forgive me. I have been resting. It began soon after I had a chute fitted to my front door – last Wednesday in fact. The Post Office had requested that I make the change so as to make it easier for my postman to deliver the quantity of post that now reaches me, but last Wednesday, as I was at the front door and tying my shoe-laces he emptied his sack and half a dozen packets of books fell on my head. I shall read them all just as soon as the throbbing has stopped, but the first I chanced upon was Kate Feluś’s The Secret Life of the Georgian Garden. The relevance to the tercentenary of the Great Genius of Capability Brown may be tangential, but who cares about tangents with a gift so wonderful.
The trouble, the one trouble if I may say so, with opening up a new seam in our exploration of landscape, with entirely fresh sources of evidence, is that as the central drift of the argument (that garden buildings were used spaces and that by their use the gardens themselves were brought to life) makes its majestic progress through the book, like the magnificent glacier of an irrefutable truth, it leaves a lateral moraine of questions unanswered.
Can the word ‘folly’ really derive from the French ‘feuillerie’? and if so, then when does a ‘feuillerie’ become a ‘folie’ and a ‘folie’ become a ‘fabrique’? and at what stage did the word ‘folly’ step over into England? and if a netty is an eye-catcher, then what part of its function would the 18th century gentleman like to catch a glimpse of? Like a great gossip, Feluś never tells us absolutely everything – there will always be another tea party I suppose, another whisper in another ear. One wants to know how often these buildings were used for tea and for music and for billiards, and to what degree, on the other hand, they were built simply to display good taste. How does the number of buildings at a place relate to the place of the family in society? One wants to know whether time of day or season of the year determined the way that these eye-catchers were placed and orientated. And what were the sporting men doing meanwhile, with their horse-racing, steeple-chasing, hunting, shooting, card-playing and gambling? Where else but Burghley does one find an eighteenth century Grandstand for watching the races?
What a pleasure, what a feast, what a book that throws up so many questions, falling around our picnic like confetti. I’m very glad I bought it!