Lancelot “Capability” Brown died 234 years ago today, on 6th February 1783.
Brown had dined the night before with Lord Coventry, an old friend and owner of Croome, in Worcestershire, one of Brown’s earliest and longest projects. On return to his daughter Bridget Holland’s house in Hertford Street in Mayfair, he is thought to have fallen as the result of a fit, possibly an attack of the asthma which he had suffered for many years. He hit his head as he fell and died around nine the next day.
“Your Dryads must go into black gloves, Madam. Their father-in-law Lady Nature’s second husband, is dead! Mr Brown dropped down at his own door yesterday” wrote Horace Walpole to Lady Ossory, although he also sent a much nicer epitaph to William Mason.
“With one Lost Paradise the name
Of our first ancestor is stained;
Brown shall enjoy unsullied fame
For many a Paradise he regained”*
The parish register records that Brown was buried on 16th February at the Church of St Peter and St Paul in Fenstanton, the only place he is thought to have bought property and where he held the title of Lord of the Manor in his later years. A memorial to Brown and his family sits in the chancel, near the altar, but the actual whereabouts of his burial are unclear.
After Brown’s burial, his eldest son Lancelot Jnr. and Lord Coventry arranged for Reverend William Mason to write an epitaph for Brown’s monument to be erected in the church. Rev. Mason was both a poet and designer of gardens, most famous for his poem The English Garden**
Lancelot Jnr. wrote to Lord Coventry on November 27th 1783
"My Lord, The great Friendship your Lordship honoured my Father with, when living, con-vinces me that every tribute paid to his memory will be acceptable to your Lordship. I have therefore taken the Liberty to enclose an Epitaph which I pro-pose to have engraven on a monument now erecting, which will be placed in Fenstanton Church, where he lies buried. Some prose will be added, but the lines I send are the product of Mr Mason’s pen. Few people have as yet seen them and I do not wish them to be made very public ‘till the Monument is completed. I hope your Lordship will excuse this Liberty as it arises from the affection of a Son anxious to do the fullest Honour to the memory of his Father and hand his name to posterity with every advantage in his Power.
The Epitaph was carved onto the memorial in the Chancel and reads:
Ye sons of elegance, who truly taste The simple charms that genuine art supplies, Come from the sylvan scene his genius grac’d And offer here your tributary sighs But know that more than genius slumbers here.Virtues were his, which arts best powers transcend, Come, ye superior train, who these revere And weep the Christian, Husband, Father, Friend.
The Church of St Peter and St Paul at Fenstanton are fundraising to raise money for the restoration of the monument and you can support them here.
*Quotes taken from “Capability Brown” by Dorothy Stroud; 1975; Faber and Faber ISBN 0 571 10267 0.
**Reverend Mason's poem The English Garden didn’t meet with universal acclaim. Thomas Campbell a slightly younger poet and critic, commented that: "There may be other fine passages in this poem but if there be, I confess that the somniferous effect of the whole has occasioned to me the fault or misfortune of overlooking them". This did not prevent Revd. Mason from being buried in Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey.