Oofy here: Editorial: Under the influence. More like. Ha-ha. Funny eh?
A gloss from the Type-Setter. Our editor refers here to the familiar slur on Humphry Repton that he was more a follower of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown than an initiator and it is in those terms that I pass his comments on to the Professor. He responds as follows:
‘At the start Repton claimed to have learnt most from Brown’s greatest apologists, René Louis, Marquis de Girardin, William Mason, Thomas Whately and (to a lesser extent Brown’s defender) William Gilpin. Girardin and Whately described Brown’s landscapes, while William Mason (1724-1797) was amongst Brown’s greatest admirers (‘Bards yet unborn/ Shall pay to Brown that tribute, fitliest paid/ In strains, the beauty of his scenes inspire.’). Indeed, when he came to write his red books, Repton quoted more from William Mason than from any of the others.
That however was the beginning of his career: by 1803 things had changed considerably. He turned then from the contemplation of the past to the future, adding to this breviary Brown’s enemy Sir William Chambers; together with the French garden poet, Jacques Delille, and the German/Dane Christian Cay Lorenz Hirschfeld.
We ask why it is that his contemporary, Jane Austen, as taken up with ideas of landscape as he was, shared with him only William Gilpin as a favoured author? Neither, as it would appear, did she read Sir Uvedale Price’s Essays on the Picturesque or Richard Payne Knight’s The Landscape. Repton, one might say, was using the authors of his first breviary to work out how to make Brownian landscape (all of them discussed techniques), and then turned with the new century towards Europe, towards the school of Chambers and the landscape of sensation.
Gilpin on the other hand wrote about effects without asking how they might be constructed. He was of little practical help to Repton, but altogether in the same vein as Jane Austen, his admitted admirer. She too wrote of the sensations that arise from the contemplation of landscape. However much she might pretend to eschew them, she did not ask how a shrubbery was constructed or planted. Shrubberies to her were a particular arena, generating a sense of freedom and license, and hence appropriate to morals relaxed, or indeterminate.
We tread here on ground as hard to navigate as the shrubbery itself. No one is reliable. Words are spoken, whether by Jane Austen or Humphry Repton, by Price or Knight, some fact may underlie the opinions that they express, but whether the opinions are really their own, rather than a joke against themselves, or simply the responses that would have suited their audience, we shall never know. This is Central Europe, the land of the secret listener. This is my country.’ [Notes from the Professor, trans. the Type-Setter]