Mrs D of Hampshire has made a fascinating inference. It is based upon a legitimate claim and the inferences of a woman of such standing deserve the most careful consideration. The claim, which she can support by reference to all of the many of books that have recently been published on Capability Brown, the grand-papa, the Protean prime mover and the principal practitioner of the English landscape style, the claim is that Brown had his detractors and that 18th century society could be divided into Brownites and anti-Brownites (true enough). Her inference however was that no one of his contemporaries changed sides and that none of them were therefore directly affected by the landscapes that he was making, despite the fact that these changed so radically during his lifetime. From this one might conclude that Brown was condemned by his detractors not for anything he did, but for what he represented – and that what he represented (to his critics) was the uneducated ignorance of the north.
However true this may be for some of Brown’s contemporaries, my companions at the Tatler’s Waste-bin were of a mind to encourage Mrs D to turn to the writing of the architect, James Paine – ah! but I run too fast – a moment’s patience…
The talk at first was of Stephen Switzer who wrote in 1718, when Brown was only two years old: there are likewise several Northern Lads, which whether they have serv’d any time in this Art, or not, very few of us know any thing of; yet by the help of a little Learning, and a great deal of Impudence, they invade these Southern Provinces; and the natural Benignity of this Warmer Climate has such a wonderful Influence on them, that one of them knows (or at least pretends to know) more in one Twelve-month, than a laborious honest South Countryman does in seven Years. …’ – and so his rant ran on, though it is never clear who his target was – Charles Bridgeman perhaps? – Switzer knew Bridgeman, but so far as we know had nothing against him, and anyway, as Captain Ken observed, did not Bridgeman hale from Cambridge way?
Nonetheless it is no less true today than it was 300 years ago, that if southerners lean, they will tend to lean against the north.
Therefore we agreed that we should look around those salvoes and fusillades that have fallen upon Brown’s reputation, and see for ourselves where the guns are hid, and where they sprang from.
As for James Paine, we agreed to return to the subject after partaking of the collation provided for our supper by the TW-b.