Monday, February 6, 2012

Capability

‘I know that you, Alan, will condemn all this as bad and antiquated; for,ever since Dodsley has described the Leasowes, and talked of Brown's imitations of nature and Horace Walpole's late Essay on Gardening, you are all for simple nature--condemn walking up and down stairs in the open air and declare for wood and wilderness. But NE QUID NIMIS. I would not deface a scene of natural grandeur or beauty, by the introduction of crowded artificial decorations; yet such may, I think, be very interesting, where the situation, in its natural state, otherwise has no particular charms.’

The Brown referred to in the passage from “Redgauntlet” above, is famous landscape architect Lancelot “Capability” Brown, who died this day, February 6, 1783.  The passage seems to indicate that Scott didn’t agree with all of Brown’ s approach.  Scott delved deep into the subject of landscape gardening in his “On Landscape Gardening”.  The following passage from that essay, discusses Brown as part of the new English style of gardening that Brown’s mentor, William Kent was an originator of. 

‘…It is worth notice, that, while exploding the nuisance of graven images in the ancient and elaborate gardens, Kent, like some of the kings of Israel, though partly a reformer, could not altogether wean himself from every species of idolatry. He swept, indeed, the gardens clear of every representation of mythology, and the visitor’s admiration was no longer excited by beholding

“Statues growing that noble place in,
All heathen godesses most rare,
Homer, Plutarch, and Nebuchadnezzar,
All standing naked in the open air.”


But to make amends for their ejection, Kent and his followers had temples, obelisks, and gazabos of every description in the park, all stuck about on their respective high places, with as little meaning, and at least as little pretension to propriety, as the horticultural Pantheon which had been turned out of doors.

The taste for this species of simplicity spread far and wide. Browne, the successor of Kent, followed in his footsteps; but his conceptions, to judge from the piece of artificial water at Blenheim (formed, we believe, chiefly to blunt the point of an ill-natured epigram,) were more magnificent than those of his predecessor. We cannot, however, suppose old Father Thames so irritable as this celebrated professor intimated, when he declared that the river would never forgive him for having given him so formidable a rival.

The school of spade and mattock flourished the more, as it was a thriving occupation, when the projector was retained to superintend his improvements — which seldom failed to include some forcible alteration on the face of nature. The vanity of some capability-men dictated those violent changes which were recommended chiefly by the cupidity of others. While the higher-feeling class were desirous, by the introduction of a lake, the filling up a hollow, or the elevation of a knoll, to show to all the world that Mr. — – had laid out those grounds; the meaner brothers of the trade were covetous of sharing the very considerable sums which must be expended in making such alterations. ..’

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