Monday, March 26, 2012

The Omnipotent Magician


Recently while reading a novel by Jeffrey archer, I came upon a passing reference to the English landscaper, Lancelot Brown. That tiny, brief reference sparked an interest that culminated in my buying Jane Brown's excellent biography of Mr. Brown titled The Omnipotent Magician: Lancelot 'Capability' Brown, 1716-1783.

It's out of print now, but worth tracking down and reading. According to Ms Brown, the nickname 'Capability' doesn't appear to have ever been used during Lancelot Brown's lifetime, but was added in later years as a joke, because he is said to have looked at any and all pieces of land and told the owners that their landscapes had great capabilities to be made into something special. Whatever the truth to the nickname, it doesn't matter. Brown was an interesting person who did change the looks of English landowners' lands. He created beautiful, scenic views to be enjoyed while on the estate, while driving to it, from the windows of the house, and so on. (Think of Pemberley in the BBC movie version of Pride and Prejudice. The artificial lakes are exactly the kind of feature Brown loved to add to a landscape, along with a curving approach to the house, glimpses of the house or other buildings between trees, etc.)

He had a vision for making views, and he did quite well in his lifetime. The book includes pictures of some of the landscapes and views that Lancelot and his men created. It's really a fascinating biography, and also serves well as a springboard to find out about contemporaries of his.

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