The Brown Advisor

300 Frequently Asked Questions about Capability Brown

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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281: Was Brown asking for trouble?

Mr Honey comes in spinning like a top – I have seldom seen such irritability in a man – and flings onto our table first one issue then another then another of a magazine – well, let us say a magazine with which I feel myself to be closely associated.  Each has within it another attack on the landscapes of Capability Brown.

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285: What of Steffie Shields?

A delayed train to Carlisle having given me an hour or two in hand at Newcastle, I resolved to indulge myself with Steffie Shields Moving Heaven and Earth Capability Brown’s gift of landscape.

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280: What news of the Norfolk school?

Before recommending to our public Tom Williamson and David Brown’s Lancelot Brown and the Capability Men (London: Reacktion Books, 2016), the new basket of bouquets to that great Arbiter of British Taste, Capability Brown, my friends and I decided we would each select some bonbon from the book that would justify such a purchase.

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279: What’s worse – Catholic or Tory?

A chance conversation – I was dining at Stowe – led me to surmise that there is an underlying significance to the names of things. A name first given without apparent thought will be discovered to resonate with the sub-conscious and to convey depths of meaning never suspected by the conscious mind of the namer. Thus it is with the multi-named Saxon Temple, or Gothic Temple, or Temple of Liberty. It is as if all three names were needed to drive home the point that the ancient race of Britain (the Saxon) practiced a certain form of architecture (the Gothic), and lived the life of the free. The message being that the 18th century English should recognise that England’s strength resided in its ancient liberty, and that this liberty should be protected and celebrated.

Why then I wonder was the Catholic and Tory James Gibbs called upon to design the building, a project for which his career to that point had apparently little suited him. Could it be that a Catholic had to be called upon, so to speak, to haul down the flag of Catholicism, hitherto associated with the Gothic, and to exchange it for the flag of Whiggism and liberty?

The sudden association between the autocracy of Catholicism, and the liberty of the English parliament is as striking as the position of the Tories, being at the same time upholders of the established protestant church of England with their plan for fifty new churches in the City of London while at the same time being suspected of residual Catholic sympathies; at the same time loyal supporters of the status quo (Hanover) and supporters of the Stuart succession.

It might be simplest to conclude that neither religion nor politics were quite the fixed poles that we see them to be at a distance of 300 years.

278: What of critics?

At this stage in our tercentennial celebrations for that Protean gardener, Capability Brown, I have heard cries and sighs of satiation from men and from women – there is too much juice I hear, too much pleasure, they are browned off with Brown.

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277: What of James Paine (2)?

Having recently partaken of viands and a bottle or two of the finest ginger beer, the occasion benign, and the mood as refreshing as a cool breeze on a hot day, I and my companions beg to offer an apology for having hitherto left unaddressed the life and work of the great architect James Paine (1717–1789).

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276: What of James Paine (1)?

Mrs D of Hampshire has made a fascinating inference. It is based upon a legitimate claim and the inferences of a woman of such standing deserve the most careful consideration.

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275: What was Thomas Bardwell painting at Wentworth?

We talk of course, we discuss, we chat, and at the Tatler’s Waste-bin we may even disagree. But may I say that we learn less from any fact that may be gleaned from this harvest of words, than from the lively and generous nature in which our disputes are conducted. A certain benign mood will descend upon the company and impart its blessing.

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274: Could Simon Warner be right?

One is never entirely alone in the metropolis that is Harrogate. True it is Yorkshire, but this is not the Yorkshire we are familiar with, a place of crags and craggy visages, of whinstone and wind-swept moors, here the cream of society meets at Betty’s and barely a seat to be had, even on a Wednesday.

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The Brown Advisor©2015

By John Phibbs