Having recently partaken of viands and a bottle or two of the finest ginger beer, the occasion benign, and the mood as refreshing as a cool breeze on a hot day, I and my companions beg to offer an apology for having hitherto left unaddressed the life and work of the great architect James Paine (1717–1789).
By way of introduction, here is a list of the places where both Paine and Capability Brown worked, with the years of their employment, and the considerable overlap will be apparent.
James Paine Brown
Whitley Beaumont (1752-4) 1779
Alnwick (1754-68) 1759-1779
Wallington (1755) 1765-1770
Chatsworth (1756-67) 1760-1764
Brocket (1760-1775) unknown
Syon House (1760) 1754-1759
Worksop (1761-67) unknown
Sandbeck (1763–68) from 1767
Thorndon (1764–70) 1766-1772
Weston (1765-70) 1765-1768
Melton Constable (1767) 1764-1769
Chillington (1770-1773) 1760-1762
Wardour Castle House (1770–76) 1750-1780
James Paine was born in Hampshire, and might have held a resentment against Brown for that reason, as was intimated in my last note. Here then is what he wrote of Brown in 1767, and repeated in a 2nd edition in 1783:
‘The great Vitruvius has enumerated the qualifications of an architect, and the catalogue is formidable enough to deter a man of a moderate share of modesty and abilities, from attempting to pursue its study; what surprising genius’s then must those be who are born architects? how much above every other order of men? but, as nothing is impossible with the great Author of nature, so we have seen a genius of this kind, who, after having been from his youth confined against his nature, to the serpentine walks of horticulture, emerge, at once, a compleat architect, and produce such things, as none but those who were born with such amazing capability, could possibly have done; nor is the foregoing a singular instance; (except in that of birth) there are many of the same, and other professions, who have suddenly commenced architects, and their works seldom fail of discovering the schools in which they prosecuted their studies.’
This is generally read as a sarcastic attack on Brown for his lack of education and presumption might have been taken straight from the pen of Switzer (of whom, once again, see my last). Furthermore it is savage enough to have been written by Sir William Chambers in 1770, when he complained of ‘peasants emerg[ing] from the melon grounds to take the periwig, and turn professors’
Who then could have written this of Chatsworth, grudging, perhaps, but worthy – and in the same 1st edition?
`The situation of Chatsworth is so extremely well known, that it needs no description, but in justice to Mr LANCELOT BROWN, who was employed by His GRACE, in laying out the improvements near the house, it would be an omission not to say, that he has executed his part in a masterly manner, and has by his skill, contributed towards making it perhaps one of the noblest places in Europe.’
And who this, in a later volume, of Chillington?
`In this park is confessedly one of the finest pieces of water within an enclosure, that this kingdom produces; the verges of which are bounded by fine plantations, intermixed with groves of venerable stately oaks. … This bridge crosses a private navigation, which is used to bring fuel and other weighty articles to the house and serves as a boundary on that side of the park. At another neck of this beautiful water is erected another bridge, concealing the other extreme of the water, built by Lancelot Brown,Esq; who designed and conducted the execution of the improvements of this justly admired park.’
Who else but Paine?
Forgive me if I attempt a narrative around these confused sentiments. There is a petering out of Paine’s work in the 1770s, and he might perhaps have blamed Brown for that, but could it not rather be that when Paine opened hostilities against Brown in 1767, he shared these with Chambers, who made them his own for his A Dissertation on Oriental Gardening (1770). However Paine and Chambers had fallen out by that time: Paine staying with the Society of Artists of Great Britain in 1768 when Chambers left to join the Royal Academy. Might not the row with Chambers have led Paine to rethink his regard for Brown, who was a member of the sister society (for the Encouragement of the Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, founded in 1754, a nugget to be gleaned from the treasure trove lately salvaged by the notorious Tom Williamson and David Brown in Lancelot Brown and the Capability Men) hence the glowing encomia – no but this is more than words, there is a real warmth in the accounts of Chillington and Chatsworth that is more than mere courtesy would require.
But will you allow me to suggest an alternative reading: that Paine’s words were sincerely meant and that he always had the highest regard for Brown? He was indeed quick, quite humbly born, his architecture quirky and much-questioned.
In James Paine then, Mrs D, in answer to the inference to which I adverted in my last note, you might choose to find an example of mind changed by greatness. All this and the rest, the narrative and Brown’s position in the battle between Paine and Chambers, is speculation. I cannot leave it however without thoroughly commending to those interested in the professional and other relations between these architects and Brown, Steffie Shields Moving heaven and earth. Her footnotes are a dream of compression.