A gloss from the Type-Setter: the Editor having succumbed to the lure of the hunting field, it falls to the Type-Setter to endeavour to resolve another question of attribution. This time it is the vexed case of Mount Edgcumbe that occupies us. So long as the attribution of sites to Humphry Repton will sharpen our understanding of the style of his work, then we should license the speculation. The Professor. At any rate, warms to the task.
‘If the attribution of Norris Castle to the hand of Humphry Repton (notes 1818 and following) can only ultimately be resolved as a subjective opinion on the similarities of style between the landscape at Norris and red books such as those for Plas Newydd and Hooton, Mount Edgcumbe asks for a different analytical approach.
To begin, although Repton did not sketch Mount Edgcumbe for Peacock’s Polite Repository we know that he went there, and furthermore we can be fairly confident that he went there after he had made his first visit to Mulgrave Castle in September 1792 but before he submitted his red book for Mulgrave in August 1793. For he wrote there: “I have frequently been asked which was the finest Place that I had ever seen, and till I had visited Mount Edgecomb I never hesitated in pronouncing, that the scenery at Mulgrave was altogether the most magnificent, the most beautiful, the most romantic, and abounded in the greatest variety of pleasing and interesting objects”. It makes sense that he visited Mount Edgcumbe during the autumn of 1792 – he was just down the road at Trewarthenick and Catchfrench during October, and then moved on to Port Eliot in November. In the same red book he expatiated: “I am still of opinion that the natural situation of Mulgrave has the advantage of Mount Edgecomb, because the latter derives its greatest beauties from the Harbour of Plymouth, and the busy scene of shipping and dock yards, which are rather to be deemed the works of Art, than Nature,… Their natural situations are equally grand, but one is rendered perfect by the magnificent works of Art, while the other has only its own native beauties to depend on, and these have only within a few years been called into action. It is therefore hardly just to make the comparison betwixt the two places as they now are, but rather as one has been made by the utmost exertions of Art, and as the other is capable of becoming by the farther improvements of its natural scenery.”
So he visited Mount Edgcumbe in 1792, and we must next take note of his conversation with Joseph Farington in 1810, when Farington was surprised by “Repton’s indifference abt. seeing places where he was not employed. At Summer Hill it was proposed to him to walk abt. the grounds, which he declined, saying ‘He had seen fine places enough, & after all was best contented with his own situation which was by the road side.’” From this one might deduce that he would not have gone to Mount Edgcumbe without the promise at least of a commission.
In future notes I shall turn my attention to the Reptonian features (of which there are many in the landscape). What one is looking for, in the interests of scientific objectivity, are not those features (the endless lengths of carriage drive, the cottages in the woods) that are also to be found in Repton’s landscapes, but those features that are only to be found in Repton’s work.
One final point: despite his contribution to the place, the poet of Mount Edgcumbe is not William Mason, but William Cowper (for whom, see note 1835). Cowper’s are the verses that are inscribed in the Italian Garden: though the formal gardens are as unlike Cowper as anything of the date might be, his, strange to relate, is their tutelary spirit.’ [Notes from the Professor, trans. the Type-Setter]