England’s greatest invention
“Of all the great things that the English have invented and made part of the credit of the national character,” said the American novelist Henry James, “the most perfect, the most characteristic, the only one they have mastered completely in all its details, so that it becomes a compendious illustration of their social genius and their manners, is the well-appointed, well-administered, well-filled country house”. How right he was, says Lara Brown in The Critic. The French have their monasteries; we have our “great estates”. They are preserved in “literature as well as stone”, dominating novels like Sense and Sensibility, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. And they serve as a “physical reminder” of continuity and “our duty to the generations that follow us”. Those who created and preserved these historic estates planted trees, to adapt the Greek proverb, in whose shade they knew they would never sit.