The Repton Gazette and Brown Advisor

300 Frequently Asked Questions about Capability Brown, and a further 200 about Humphry Repton

1826: Are Repton’s red books useful?

The Type-Setter is to be found in transit. The Nonpareil of the Mall, the exquisite of Almack’s, where now the waterfalls of his white cravat, his silk stockings, his chapeau-de-bras – where his dancing shoes? He is all a-puff, either running upstairs from the editorial sopha to the observatory in the attic where the Professor contemplates the works of Humphry Repton, or downstairs in the other direction. Orders from the editor fly one way, rebuttals and refusals fly the other. ‘Rush! Rush! Always rush!’ he can be heard to say. It is his business to transmute the sparks and ferocities of his colleagues into the honeyed stuff of mutual delight.

The Editor complains that there is too much about Norris and the Professor retorts that what he is writing has nothing to do with Norris, that he does not care a button whether Repton worked at Norris or not; Norris is a vehicle for exploring what may be objectively learned from Repton’s red books, immediately before he commenced the crucial partnership with his son, John Adey. The Professor insists that with no fixed stars along the parabola of Repton’s career (this is the way in which, being Czech, he chooses to express himself), we are confined to the whirling Milky Way of his writing, from which rich mixture anyone may pull out any idea that he pleases.

Oofy here: Editorial: It’s not that. Point is. Writing about landscape doesn’t work. The words boil it down:‘plant a wood here’, ‘make a road there’. Not very inspiring. Do the same for Capability Brown. Hardly wrote anything. Clever fellow – that’s what gives him his reputation as The Whiz. His stuff would be as boring as paint, well, as boring as boring paint of course, not the psychedelic kind of wow neon stuff. Point is. I don’t think much of Repton but his red books don’t help. Point is. They may help with Norris Castle, but stab my poncho if they do much for the place they’re meant to be about.

A gloss from the Type-Setter: The Editor must have in mind the comment of Jane Austen’s Edward Ferrars who lacked all knowledge of picturesque expression and called hills ‘steep’ when he should have called them ‘bold’. Humphry Repton might have sympathised both with him and with his listener, Marianne Dashwood, who complained that “everybody pretends to feel and tries to describe with the taste and elegance of him who first described what picturesque beauty was” and in consequence “the admiration of landscape scenery” was “hackneyed out of all sense and meaning.” The Editor is not at his best with a pen but the Professor has already produced a final three notes on Norris and so the Type-Setter decides to run with them.


1825: Pleasure grounds?


1827: Approaches?


  1. Helen Thomas

    Ms HT of Shanklin would be very interested to know if the Professor is keeping a running score (with appropriate weighting) of Reptonian and non-Reptonian elements at Norris? And, if so, the current if not final result.

    • The Brown Advisor

      If I am spared the bronchitis that nightly threatens me in my garret, I expect shortly to set the Professor’s obiter dicta (note 1829). Here he will indeed offer a judgement on Repton’s involvement at Norris.

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By John Phibbs