Before recommending to our public Tom Williamson and David Brown’s Lancelot Brown and the Capability Men (London: Reacktion Books, 2016), the new basket of bouquets to that ‘Tractor of True Taste, Capability Brown, my friends and I decided we would each select some bonbon from the book that would justify such a purchase.
Captain Ken found delight in documents new to him, instancing the account of Garrick’s villa in Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, Lady Shelburne’s Diary in the Bowood archives, as well as less likely sources, such as Oliver Goldsmith’s The Life of Richard Nash of Bath. He liked the advice given at Cole Green in the 1730s, that a ‘very pretty farm might be made round the park, which if paled out any Game may be preserved’, for it answered to his own belief that fermes ornées made better game reserves than parks – and finally he found agreeable the sheer number of disparate sources from which evidence was accumulated, instancing their account of the belief that damp ground is unhealthy, prevalent in the 18th century and manifest at Claremont. Then again there is the excellent account of kitchen gardens, coupled with Cowper on the joys to be found therein.
For his part, Mr Honey commented favourably on the thoughtful study of drawings, evidenced in the excellent comment of Professor W and Dr B that the plan of Cole Green shows mounds in the grove work beside the lawn, akin to those of Moor Park.
The Bar on the other hand preferred the simple eye that observes, for example, that Brown’s early landscaping work was concentrated on the house, and the closely related thinking of Brown and the architect Robert Adam that ‘true Grandeur [is] only to be produced from simplicity and largeness of parts and that conveniency [is] not inconsistent with decoration’. The Bar has long thought Brown close enough to Adam to be taken for a fellow neo-classicist.
For myself it is the small things that please: that Brown was a member of the Society for the Encouragement of the Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, that he seems to have visited Alscot, that the cost of maintaining a deer herd had been calculated at Walcot, in Shropshire.
There are of course enough of the old hits as well to pacify the more avid followers of the Norfolk School: that Brown did no work outside the park and pleasure ground, that belts were just narrow woods, that parks were shot over, that they were exclusive, a waste of money, a cause of rural depopulation and planted with exotics, that Brown made landscapes for movement, did not plant avenues (too straight), and hated quarries (too rough) equally with arable land (too smooth, perhaps), and en fin that Brown was a minor figure, of interest only to social historians trained to record the change in fashion that his work represents.
Indeed there is plenty here for all.