Oofy here: Editorial: Not interested in this. What’s Repton, what’s Brown? Without Austen.
A gloss from the Type-Setter: the Editor, as it seems to me, refers to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and the description of Pemberley seen through the eyes of Elizabeth Bennet. Some say Austen’s Pemberley was neither Brown nor Repton but picturesque. The Editor might say that language confines and that all landscapes tend to the indistinguishable when they are put into words and that Pemberley might have been designed by Brown or Repton or anybody else.
‘they turned in at the lodge’ – the presence of a lodge, very Repton to be sure
‘The park was very large, and contained great variety of ground’ – very much a Brown then
‘They entered it in one of its lowest points, and drove for some time through a beautiful wood’ – woods planted at the entrance – very Repton again – here he is doing the very thing at Livermere in 1791: ‘The large clump which is to hide the Lodges from the house, will also prevent the house being seen at first entering the Lodges’.
‘They gradually ascended for half a mile, and then found themselves at the top of a considerable eminence, where the wood ceased, and the eye was instantly caught by Pemberley House, situated on the opposite side of a valley, into which the road, with some abruptness, wound.’ – compare Repton’s red book for Heathfield in 1794: ‘the road should be so conducted out of the valley that the house may be concealed by the trees at D till at length it presents itself under their branches’. The burst is all Repton. Austen might equally well have been describing the Leeds Approach to Harewood House.
‘It was a large, handsome, stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills; — and in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal, nor falsely adorned’ – this could be Brown or Repton. But here is the latter, at Lamer in 1792: ‘the house is displayed to great advantage, well backed by wood’.
‘She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste.’ – pure Brown of course.
Then the dining-parlour: ‘a large, well-proportioned room, handsomely fitted up. Elizabeth, after slightly surveying it, went to a window to enjoy its prospect. The hill, crowned with wood, from which they had descended, receiving increased abruptness from the distance, was a beautiful object. Every disposition of the ground was good; and she looked on the whole scene — the river, the trees scattered on its banks, and the winding of the valley, as far as she could trace it — with delight’ – could this not be the view from Ugbroke – Brown of course; or of any number of Reptons. At Babworth for example, where he wrote of the view from the house that he proposed to create in 1790 ‘the spire of Retford is happily placed, but some red tiled buildings will be better hidden, partly by a few detached trees studded along the brow of the hill, but chiefly by a plantation which may in time become a hanging wood, the finest circumstance of landscapes. At the foot of this wood. a road which always gives cheerfulness to a scene, winds gracefully across the rivulet, – a steep craggy bank which may be improved by a few trees scatter’d before the Miller’s house, sufficiently marks the difficulty of removing the road farther distant, if the fastidious eye of pretended taste should require it, – on the summit of this cliff, the windmill ( which both in its form and colour harmonises with the scene), gives animation to the whole by its motion dimly seen through the foliage of the trees in the foreground. – From out of the shrubbery which fans down the hill! and which serves to hide the village, the smoke of cottage chimneys will occasionally be seen curling in fleecy folds against the opposite wooded bank. which I must also recommend to be planted as soon as it shall belong to the estate.’ – Not so far from Austen in style, and not so far in taste either.
‘As they passed into other rooms, these objects were taking different positions; but from every window there were beauties to be seen’ – a subject close to Repton’s heart, so here he is at Holme Park in 1793: ‘the Gardener will sometimes find that from different windows of the same front he sees objects in very different situations, and often discovers beauties and defects from one spot, which are invisible from another at only a few yards distance: thus it would be necessary to paint a separate landscape from each window, if it were not obvious that we see all the objects in rapid succession without attending to the precise spot from whence each is most conspicuous.’
Thence to the walks of the pleasure ground, and what is there here that one could not find at Woodchester – Repton and Brown again, or at Mulgrave Castle – Repton. So here come Elizabeth and her party: ‘They had now entered a beautiful walk by the side of the water, and every step was bringing forward a nobler fall of ground, or a finer reach of the woods to which they were approaching … They entered the woods, and bidding adieu to the river for a while, ascended some of the higher grounds; whence, in spots where the opening of the trees gave the eye power to wander, were many charming views of the valley, the opposite hills, with the long range of woods overspreading many, and occasionally part of the stream. Mr. Gardiner expressed a wish of going round the whole Park, but feared it might be beyond a walk. With a triumphant smile, they were told that it was ten miles round. It settled the matter; and they pursued the accustomed circuit; which brought them again, after some time, in a descent among hanging woods, to the edge of the water, in one of its narrowest parts.’
‘They crossed [the water] by a simple bridge, in character with the general air of the scene; it was a spot less adorned than any they had yet visited; and the valley, here contracted into a glen, allowed room only for the stream, and a narrow walk amidst the rough coppice-wood which bordered it.’ – what is that love of coppice that one does not find in Repton’s proposals for the forest setting of Claybury, 1791: ‘the sides of this glade or grass walk … sometimes contracting and sometimes expanding to let in a particular thorn or the stem of some majestic tree within the bosom of the Copse’; and the stream and the simple bridge – why not the Mill Bridge over the Wansbeck at Wallington or the trout stream at Rectory Wood, Church Stretton – Brown knew them both.
‘ Elizabeth longed to explore its windings; but when they had crossed the bridge, and perceived their distance from the house, Mrs Gardiner who was not a great walker, could go no farther, and thought only of returning to the carriage as quickly as possible’ – the very issue that Repton was addressing as early as 1791 at Claybury: ‘an occasional passage may be reserved for carriages along the grass walks in the wood that invalids may enjoy the scenery’, and that he took up again at Moggerhanger the following year ‘I should therefore not advise any regular drive; yet as it may sometimes be convenient for invalids to ride thro’ scenery, which is beyond the reach of a walk, it will be necessary to provide such a breadth of glade thro’ the woods, as will allow a carriage to pass.’ He would have had the walks wide enough for a carriage to access them at any point, and perhaps Mr Darcy was remiss for not anticipating the need.
’Mr. Gardiner, though seldom able to indulge the taste, was very fond of fishing, and was so much engaged in watching the occasional appearance of some trout in the water, and talking to the man about them, that he advanced but little.’ Think now of the trout stream that Repton wished to reintroduce at Tewin Water in 1799: ‘the current of a running water like the natural trout stream of Tewin=water refreshes the air and renders it peculiarly wholesome.’
‘… a turning in the walk concealed him from their view; the turning past, he was immediately before them.’ – is that not William Mason? – the friend, contemporary and admirer of Brown, who wrote of:
‘that fair path, from when our sight is led
Gradual to view the whole. Where’er thou wind’st
That path, take heed between the scene and eye,
To vary and to mix thy chosen greens.
Here for a while with Cedar or with larch,
That from the ground spread their close texture, hide
The view entire. Then o’er some lowly tuft,
Where rose and woodbine bloom, permits its charms
To burst upon the sight; now thro` a copse
Of beech, that rear their smooth and stately trunks,
Admit it partially, and half exclude;
And half reveal its graces: in this path
How long soe’er the wanderer roves, each step
Shall wake fresh beauties; each short point present
A different picture, new, and yet the same.’
If not Mason, you will I’m sure accept the walks that Repton proposed to lay out at Mulgrave Castle in 1793: ‘The brooks assume different characters according to the channel which they have worn at different places, and it is the duty of the improver to present this variety under the most striking circumstances of contrast; Walks, or rather paths should be formed in the wildest manner, yet leading without difficulty to the most interesting points of view, and where it can be no otherwise effected, the path must occasionally be cut through the rock, or a descent made by easy steps down the precipice, to shew such a scene as that represented in the following sketch.’
So there you have it: a detailed description of landscape by an author acknowledged for the fineness of her discernment, yet we are unable to judge what sort of a landscape it is that she has imagined. We are told by scholars that it was picturesque, but each part of the passage finds its echo in the pronouncements of Humphry Repton in the early 1790s, before the picturesque controversy had broken into print. One rueful conclusion might be our editor’s, that however detailed, it is not their description that distinguishes one form of landscape from another, it is the way that landscape imprints itself upon the mind. Hence the importance of poets.