The editor being out of town, the Type-Setter is called on to address the correspondence that daily reaches the Gazette. The question that falls to him now is this: if in each of his landscapes Repton tried to design something unique, does he thereby lose our respect, for being a jack-of-all-trades with no integrity, prepared to turn his hand to anything that would make him a bob or two?
Obedient to his task, he refers the question to the Professor, who replies as follows: ‘In 1842 Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859), the first Baron Macaulay, placed Jane Austen second only to Shakespeare in the creation of character: ‘There are, for example, four clergymen, none of whom we should be surprised to find in any parsonage in the kingdom, Mr Edward Ferrars, Mr Henry Tilney, Mr Edmund Bertram, and Mr Elton. They are all specimens of the upper part of the middle class. They have all been liberally educated. They all lie under the restraints of the same sacred profession. They are all young. They are all in love. Not one of them has any hobbyhorse…Not one has a ruling passion… Who would not have expected them to be insipid likenesses of each other? No such thing. …[No characters in literature are more unlike] than every one of Miss Austen’s young divines to all his reverend brethren. And all this is done by touches so delicate, that they elude analysis, that they defy the powers of description, and that we know them to exist only by the general effect to which they have contributed.’
Jane Austen herself was both aware of the range of her work and aware that it might be seen as a weakness. She wrote to J.S.Clarke, the Prince Regent’s librarian: “I will do myself the justice to declare that, whatever may be my wishes for its success, I am strongly haunted with the idea that to those readers who have preferred ‘Pride and Prejudice’ it will appear inferior in wit, and to those who have preferred ‘Mansfield Park’ inferior in good sense.” In just that way we might see the variety of Repton’s landscapes as an indication of weakness and amateur dilettantism at work.
Europe has been a lost continent since 1848. There was once a time when the kingdom of Bohemia, like the small German princedoms and the Italian city-states, could thrive in the care of the Holy Roman Empire, and though oppressed and persecuted, Czechs felt no whit diminished because their national identity was merely cultural rather than political. They were no less able to build, to create great works, to express ideas, for not having self-determination.
The failures of 1848 brought a return of Viennese oppression to the smaller states and, in consequence, the rise of nationalism, then 20 years of freedom, then Germany and Russia, and now Europe, as if longing for that earlier time of innocence, when Beethoven and Brahms, when noble souls walked in the woods, when folk song was the fountainhead. These moves to unite Europe – the Habsburgs, Napoleon, Hitler, even Hitler – are all driven by a desire to return to childhood, to recapture a resort of no danger and with it the innocence that maturity has weaned us away from.
It is that innocence, free from the need to impress on others the idea that your way is the only way (which immediately condemns you endlessly to repeat the way – whatever it may be – with which you have identified yourself), that innocence that frees one to try one thing and then, having tried it, to try another. In the grace of that innocence, if anywhere, lies the root of Repton’s greatness.’ [Notes from the Professor, trans. the Type-Setter]