If you like to make the most of every minute of your day you are probably already someone who listens to podcasts, using your commute, weekly shop or trip to the gym to fill your mind with new, fascinating, or funny facts about the world. If that is the case then you will be pleased to hear that the team behind the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography have recorded 250 life stories from the Oxford DNB. These span a whole range of people from Boudicca to Bobby Moore, Mrs Simpson to Mills & Boon and - in a recent episode - our very own Mr Brown.
The episode on Capability Brown is only 18 minutes long but it provides a succinct introduction to the life and work of Brown while also reflecting on the reason for his success, and his legacy. It is taken from a longer article which can be found on the Oxford DNB website and which is freely accessible via any UK Public Library membership (just type in the number from your local library card). It portrays him as a shrewd businessman with a distinctive style and mode of operating, a man who took every opportunity to expand his interests and deliberately sought high profile clients.
The ODNB account of Brown does not only discuss his professional life. “To judge from the surviving correspondence,” we learn, “Brown's marriage was a happy one. Of the couple's five surviving children, Lancelot Brown (1748–1802) served as MP for Totnes (1780–84), Huntingdon (1784), and Huntingdonshire (1792–4), while John (1751–1808) joined the navy and rose to the rank of an admiral of the blue. Brown's dry wit made him ‘an agreeable, pleasant companion’, as Elizabeth Montague wrote, and William Mason's epitaph ‘Christian, Husband, Father, Friend’ expressed a widely felt sentiment.”
Neither does the writer of the biography shy away from expressing his admiration of his subject, concluding that: “While more than 30 per cent of the landscapes attributed to him were relatively small (120 hectares or less), he was capable of working on an immense scale, not only constructing gardens and parkland, but planting woods and building farms linked by carriage drives, or ‘ridings’, that ran many miles from the main house (as at Heveningham, Suffolk, from 1781), and it is for these very large landscapes that he is best remembered. The images that he created are as deeply embedded in the English character as the paintings of Turner and the poetry of Wordsworth.” If you want a snapshot of the life and work of this remarkable character then look no further!
About the Author: Katie Stileman, Oxford University Press