Oofy here: Editorial: Less Rhubarb. Drop it.
A gloss from the Type-Setter. Our editor rightly feels that too much ink is spent on Horace Walpole because the man is so quotable. The Professor on the other hand is greatly attached to the gothic.
Indeed the Professor writes limitlessly on the gothic. His is the romantic type, one for whom ‘Gothic’ should be printed in a heavy Germanic font. This note perforce is a stripped down commentary on study of the influence on Repton of 18th century Strawberry HIll Gothick (which is as close as Britain got to the Czech Baroque, though the Professor dismisses it as paste-board rococo).
‘Repton may not have referred to Walpole in his red books, but he knew him – there was opportunity for an influence, but what HW thought of HR we shall never know. On the other hand Edmund Burke, the sublimist, was a good friend of Thomas Farr, the Quaker, who bought Blaise Castle, on the western edge of Bristol, in 1766 and built there a more Gothick landscape than you could ever imagine. His castle was defended with ‘huge wooden cannon upon every projecting rock’, and in the deep valley below he ‘prepared a number of narrow channels, about the width of a common navigation canal, secured by different heads or dams, and the sides built with stone walls, for the reception of water which it was afterwards discovered could never be expected: these dry channels became so unsightly, that … an engineer proposed to raise water from the bowels of the earth by a steam engine [with] … all the horrors of fire and steam, and the clangour of iron chains and forcing pumps’. He introduced local and invented legends: Giant Goram, the Robber’s Cave, a Lover’s Leap … all this was fodder for Jane Austen’s humour and Blaise was incorporated into two of her novels. Here, in Northanger Abbey, is the dreadful John Thorpe, who tried to persuade the gothickly romantic Catharine Morland to give up the walk she had arranged with the Tilneys in favour of a carriage drive to Blaise:
“‘Blaize Castle!’ cried Catherine. ‘What is that’?’
‘The finest place in England–worth going fifty miles at any time to see.’
‘What, is it really a castle, an old castle?’
‘The oldest in the kingdom.’
‘But is it like what one reads of?’
‘Exactly–the very same.’
‘But now really–are there towers and long galleries?’
Blaise returns in Emma, as Mrs Elton sings the praises of Bristol, and the two passages should be read together:
‘”My brother and sister have promised us a visit in the spring, or summer at farthest,” continued Mrs. Elton; “and that will be our time for exploring. While they are with us, we shall explore a great deal, I dare say. They will have their barouche-landau, of course, which holds four perfectly; and therefore, without saying any thing of our carriage, we should be able to explore the different beauties extremely well. They would hardly come in their chaise, I think, at that season of the year. Indeed, when the time draws on, I shall decidedly recommend their bringing the barouche-landau; it will be so very much preferable. When people come into a beautiful country of this sort, you know, Miss Woodhouse, one naturally wishes them to see as much as possible; and Mr. Suckling is extremely fond of exploring. We explored to King’s-Weston twice last summer, in that way, most delightfully, just after their first having the barouche-landau. You have many parties of that kind here, I suppose, Miss Woodhouse, every summer?”’
Now King’s Weston down is the eye-catcher in the major view from Blaise and Repton drew it, with a carriage on the top when he worked up his red book for the site. But we shall return to that illustration. First we need to be sure about dates: Austen began Northanger Abbey in 1797, sold it to Crosby in 1803, and in that version it was submitted to publishers in 1809 (it was eventually published after Austen’s death in 1818). She began Emma in 1814. She did not visit Bath until 1799 and could not have written that section of Northanger Abbey before then.
However John Harford bought Blaise Castle in 1789, ten years before Austen first visited Bath. Furthermore he had commissioned Humphry Repton in 1796 and Repton had set himself to removing Thomas Farr’s Gothick excesses.
Hear the whole passage as Repton gets to it:
“When we consider the vast expanse of water which the castle commands, it seems hardly possible, that bad taste could for a moment suggest the idea of making an artificial river, in the bottom of a dry glen; especially as nature denies the two great requisites for such an attempt, viz – a sufficient supply of water to fill the river, and a practicable level to allow of its being retained within certain limits – but I must here record, that in defiance of all obstacles, the late possessor of these beautiful premises had prepared a number of narrow channels, about the width of a common navigation canal, secured by different heads or dams, and the sides built with stone walls, for the reception of water which it was afterwards discovered could never be expected: these dry channels became so unsightly, that various expedients were suggested to avoid the expense of filling them in, and amongst the rest an engineer proposed to raise water from the bowels of the earth by a steam engine; but instead of exposing the Genius of the place to all the horrors of fire and steam, and the clangour of iron chains and forcing pumps, for the sake of counteracting the mischief already begun; I have on the contrary advised, that all the yawning chasms be hid by plantations, rather than let any traces remain of works, done under the influence of such barbarous taste, as could scar those rich hanging woods by cutting furrows down their sides, and disturb the tranquil ideas suggested from this secluded spot, by planting huge wooden cannon upon every projecting rock.
While I congratulate the present possessor on having attained the command of such romantic scenes, I must rejoice that they have fallen into his hands, and am highly gratified and flattered by his having called on me, to direct how best to preserve or heighten the native beauties of such a delightful subject.”
Austen would have known Blaise Castle to be a fake (not unlike the dreadful John Thorpe). It was a garden folly, new built in 1766 and so plain and unfrightening that it would shame the park landscape of a true Czech.
Clearly Repton found the ‘delicious terror’ of Farr’s sublime landscaping at Blaise to be as ridiculous as Austen did. But it’s not quite so straight-forward – was Austen laughing at Farr? – in which case the joke was ten years out of date when she came to tell it. Or … no doubt Jane Austen did not send Catherine Morland to Blaise because she did not go there herself. Perhaps therefore she had been denied access to Blaise and so vented her spleen on the luckless Harford by misrepresenting his landscape (whereas Farr welcomed people to visit his estate, John Harford was set on keeping them out). Or … perhaps she was taking a swing at Blaise simply because Repton was working there.
Beyond such doubts we should agree however that the pair of them were as one in turning away from the romantic topography of Blaise. Its cliffs and deep chasms are the stuff of Sir William Chambers’ dreams. These are the landscapes of Bohemia.’
[Notes from the Professor, trans. the Type-Setter]