Mr. Repton

Category: Arts | Type: Historical | Title: Mansfield Park (in Context) | Author: Jane Austen | Ch: Chapter VI

Humphry Repton (1752-1818) followed the path pioneered by "Capability" Brown, who died in 1783 (Search). Repton had great talent and was also a superb self-promoter (he was the first to use the term "landscape designer"). He advertised himself in what were called Red Books (the binding), which had his sketches and watercolors with ingenious transparent overlays that vividly depicted the present scene and then his proposed modification. His specialties included approaches, gatehouses, and drives that augmented the main house's best properties. He designed as well theme gardens, Chinese, etc., and had a practical sense of incorporating into areas around a house places for games such as lawn bowling. Among his commissions were Blaise Castle, which figures in Northanger Abbey, and Stoneleigh Abbey in 1808, a magnificent manor house not far from Steventon Rectory, the Austen home.

The affluent country people of 18th-c. England became fairly obsessed with landscape, from the iconic English countryside of the Home Counties to the quasi-wild parts of the Lake District, to the distinctly wild in Wales and Highland Scotland. One reason for the interest dates back to Sir Isaac Newton's experiments with sight and color in the Opticks, work that made nature more understandable and fascinating, resulting in an entire genre of poetry known as loco-descriptive (descriptions of places). Tourism within England, Wales, and Scotland in any sort of orderly manner begins in the 18th c. By the time Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice is planning to visit the Peaks and the Lake District it has become something of an industry. 

In the early 1790s two exponents of what was known then as the "picturesque" (Search) attacked Capability Brown for his tolerance of the open, more or less regular, undramatic, and gentle space. Taste had changed and Uvedale Place and Richard Payne Knight argued for what they claimed was the essence of picturesqueness—wilder, more irregular, and contrasting scenes of hidden and open, dark and light. Repton appreciated their ideas but insisted upon the difficulty and impracticality of embodying them as part of a landscape's design. 

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