A recent note (no. 286) has been further reflected in encounters with thinkers from France (Dr C), from Germany (Dr K) and from Hungary (Dr A), who speak interestingly, but in concert and with an authority that cannot be denied, and who deny that their 18th century ancestors had any great knowledge of the gardener Capability Brown, even when they were laying out in their own countries lavish landscapes in his style.Had they known him the boyars might not have brusquely brushed-off the burly Brown, but failing that introduction they call instead their gardens of the enlightenment ‘English Style’, ‘modern style’, natural style’.
In England too the new style was recognised early, but it was associated with Brown and Brown remained a personality rather than a name only. So Arthur Young, finding himself in Suffolk in 1786 wondered: ‘how many thousands have landed at Harwich within sight of the mouth of this river, have passed to London, and returned without an idea of its rural beauties, that set all idea of imitations at defiance? The river Orwell, Mr Brown, will pardon every exertion of your art.’
So to Dr Garnett during his highland tour in 1800: at Sir James Pulteney’s ‘ … the Tummel rolling furiously along, and forming a fine cascade, together with the wild mountain scenery, constitute all that a landscape gardener could desire, and which the hands of a BROWN or a REPTON would have quickly transformed into a paradise’ and at Taymouth: ‘The hand of a Brown would undoubtedly have given to these grounds more the air of nature, but I question much if the effect produced upon the mind of a stranger, would have equalled that which he experiences, or at least which I experienced, from the venerable rows of limes, though contrary to the present taste.’
These references came to hand from the Bar and Captain Ken respectively, the one contemplating a voyage by sea, and the other by bicycle. The difference in Brown’s reputation, distinct from his influence, may be due in part to the practice of owners, claiming before their foreign guests that his work was their own, or was the hand of nature alone, tempted as they may have been by Brown’s own preference for anonymity.