The Brown Advisor

300 Frequently Asked Questions about Capability Brown

292: Who’s in the picture?

A row hangs over us and it has to do with Zoffany’s portrait of David Garrick, to which note 282 of the Brown Advisor refers.

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290: What went wrong?

Many have been the triumphs of Brown’s tercentenary

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291: Is pedantry a virtue?

The more than distinguished Professor H of Pennsylvania has communicated and in his communication he makes it clear in his by-the-way fashion that when Sir William Chambers described the designs of the master-illusionist, Capability Brown, as little more than a walk around a common field, he meant ‘common field’ in the sense ‘common or garden’, that is, ordinary, everyday.

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282: With whom did Brown take coffee?

Mr C of Nailsworth and Ms B of Swindon clearly assume that I have powers to communicate with the dead and so have joined to ask me what question I would put to that great master of design, Capability Brown.

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289: What is the difference between a house and a hall?

Ms K has been in touch from Leeds over a matter of propriety. She wonders if Dukes always live in palaces, and if there is a pecking order in the names of houses as there is in the orders of the nobility.

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288: Is Brown known in Europe?

A recent note (no. 286) is reflected in recent encounters with thinkers from France (Dr C), from Germany (Dr K) and from Hungary (Dr A), who speak interestingly, but in concert and with an authority that cannot be denied, and who deny that their 18th century ancestors had any great knowledge of the gardener Brown, even when they were laying out in their own countries lavish landscapes in his style.

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287: What is a deer house?

I am proud to number amongst my acquaintance, Dr J  – I would add ‘of Sheffield’ but that he is so often to be found in Lichfield – or any other field come to that. Though not an enthusiast for office life, Dr J remains a sleek and well-groomed man, one who might earn himself a considerable income from modelling clothes for field archaeologists. Trousers with large pockets feature largely in his costume, and it was from just such a pocket that he drew out a paper, screwed it into a cone, filled it with questions and offered it to me, much as one might share a packet of chips. Uppermost amongst his concerns was the deer house, and how could he find out more about deer houses, and was there a gazetteer of deer houses. I was but little able to help him but we agreed that a deer house was likely to be an open-sided shelter in which forage might be set for feeding the deer in winter. I was too timid perhaps in the presence of such an authority, but might have suggested that these deer houses tend to be recorded in the 18th century – at Chatsworth, at Croxton, at Dunham Massey for example, and that they are not so far removed in style from the ‘shade’, or open-sided shed, often set in a walled yard, and designed for folding sheep or cattle. I had in mind the shades of that type to be found in the west wall of the Norris Castle demesne on the Isle of Wight which were set into yards. Might one conclude that the similarities between the shade and the deer house are more than coincidental, and that there was an idea in the eighteenth century that deer too might be folded, or at least encouraged by feeding to manure the parkland near the deer house, so that this might be picked up and carried to the arable land? Though common enough, deer houses are by no means ubiquitous and there is no particular association between them and landscapes attributed to the master-magician, Capability Brown. If there was an idea therefore that deer could be turned to some use as producers of manure, then it would seem that Brown was having none of it.

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286: Is Brown a classic?

Much as moulds will effloresce upon a ground bedewed and pooled with rain, so a year made florid by the celebration of the tercentenary of that master of illusion, Capability Brown, will bring us thistles as well as roses.

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283: Where does this leave Repton?

While normally I trust I may pride myself upon a sanguine and forgiving temperament, I must confess that a recent correspondence from Mr H of Twickenham, has left me with an unexpected difficulty that I cannot satisfactorily resolve.

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284: Are there no crumbs?

Hirsute and with her head in a bandage again, Mrs W of Staffordshire never looks her best after a fall, but her one wild eye is still a-roving, and thus she came to me seeking as it were a mix of bread-crumbs which she felt would liven up this dish of advisory notes and give them more kick as they came fresh from the oven.

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The Brown Advisor©2015

By John Phibbs