Hirsute and with her head in a bandage again, Mrs W of Staffordshire never looks her best after a fall, but her one wild eye is still a-roving, and thus she came to me seeking as it were a mix of bread-crumbs which she felt would liven up this dish of advisory notes and give them more kick as they came fresh from the oven. In short she is after those tit-bits that might just spark a thought from their random juxtaposition. Thus I come to reflect that many are the minds of the world and many the ways in which they may be prompted to bear fruit.
As it happens recent discussions at the Tatler’s Waste-bin have thrown up several such bon-bons of thought. There was the question introduced by a visitor from Gloucestershire, the remarkable Mrs T, who asked what dealings and what relations the master-gardener, Capability Brown would have had with similar entrepreneurial figures in other walks of life – with Josiah Wedgwood for example. Wedgwood sought Brown’s advice, but did he do so because Brown held such a pre-eminent position, or were they acquainted, and if so, did they meet often? – at the Society for the Encouragement of the Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, perhaps? – and do we have the records of this society? Then there are the canal engineers, his contemporary James Brindley, and John Smeaton, a handful of years their junior. All three worked at Trentham, but how much were they directly involved? Wedgwood and Brindley were both Staffordshire men, which gives point also to Mrs W’s inquiry, and Smeaton was a familiar face in the county, as a member of the Lunar Society. Brindley too was the engineer on the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal, on which the water for Tixall was made at Brown and Emes’ instruction, soon after 1766.
Then, though it is not my way to offer such opinions, I ventured the suggestion that Brown retained Green Lane Cottage at Milton Abbey, and Babs Wyatt’s cottage at Nuneham Courtenay in order to add to that sense of a jumble of architectural styles that the Cliffords found so attractive at Tixall. It’s not a complete answer of course for it hardly explains the Fisheries Cottage at Blenheim, or the Old Parsonage at Chatsworth, but an incomplete answer is still an answer.
I hope that Mrs W will find a few crumbs here. For just as old men, looking at old women will seek their youth within them, and find no nervous diffidence but visionaries in pleats striding out in to the world, will clearly see all the potential that there is in every woman, all the potential of a perfected humanity, who in age wears creases on her face rather than her tennis dress, as the adornments of a life well and rightly lived, so do we in looking back to the past single out all that is best and brightest in it. We look for what we can find and we build a history out of it, never quite acknowledging the strange XX – or significant gaps in what we know to be lacunae. We live our lives through metaphor and analogy and should no more be condemned for our lack of cynicism than should these old men be condemned for sexism, or Mrs W of cookism, if that is a longing for crumbs.