The Landscape Guide

Horace Walpole's essay On Modern Gardening: Lancelot Capability Brown

Introduction Ancient gardens Roman gardens Renaissance gardens John Milton Sir William Temple William Kent Early 18th century gardens  Thomas Whately Landscape Gardens Lancelot 'Capability' Brown

Lancelot 'Capability' Brown

It was fortunate for the country and Mr. Kent, that he was succeeded by a very able master; and did living artists come within my plan, I should be glad to do justice to Mr. Brown; but he may be a gainer, by being reserved for some abler pen.

In general it is probably true that the possessor, if he has any taste, must be the best designer of his own improvements. He sees his situation in all seasons of the year, at all times of the day. He knows where beauty will not clash with convenience, and observes in his silent walks or accidental rides a thousand hints that must escape a person who in a few days sketches out a pretty picture, but has not had leisure to examine the details and relations of every part.

Truth, which after the opposition given to most revolutions, preponderates at last, will probably not carry our style of garden into general use on the continent. The expense is only suited to the opulence of a free country, where emulation reigns among many independent particulars. The keeping of our grounds is an obstacle, as well as the cost of the first formation. A flat country, like Holland, is incapable of landscape. In France and Italy the nobility do not reside much, and make small expense, at their villas. I should think the little princes of Germany, who spare no profusion on their palaces and country houses, most likely to 'be our imitators; especially as their country and climate bears in many parts resemblance to ours. In France, and still less in Italy, they could with difficulty attain that verdure which the humidity of our clime bestows as the groundwork of our improvements. As great an obstacle in France is the embargo laid on the growth of their trees. As after a certain age, when they would rise to bulk, they are liable to be marked by the crown's surveyors as royal timber, it is a curiosity to see an old tree. A landscape and a crown surveyor are incompatible...

Gardening and architecture owe as much to the nobility and to men of fortune as to the professors. I need but name General Conway's rustic bridge at Park Place, of which every stone was placed by his own direction in one of the most beautiful scenes in nature; and the theatric staircase designed and just erected by Mr. Chute at his seat of the Vine in Hampshire. If a model is sought of the most perfect taste in architecture, where grace softens dignity and lightness attempers magnificence; where proportion removes every part from peculiar observation and delicacy of execution recalls every part to notice; where the position is the most happy, and even the colour of the stone the most harmonious; the virtuoso should be directed to the new front of Wentworth castle: the result of the same elegant judgment that had before distributed so many beauties over that domain, and called from wood, water, hills, prospects and buildings, a compendium of picturesque nature, improved by the chastity of art. Such an era will demand a better historian. With pleasure therefore I resign my pen; presuming to recommend nothing to my successor, but to observe as strict impartiality.