The subject of my paper [first read at Keswick] is “Reverence for Natural Beauty,” and believing as I do that God has made the world beautiful in order that men may be led by it themselves to beauty of life and reverence for that King in His beauty Whom we all desire to see in the land which is very far off, I cannot take a lower ground than this, that the knowledge of the beautiful and the pursuit of the beautiful is a religious duty…. It would have been possible for the Maker of the world to have given us black grass and black leaves. He gave us green meadows and green leaves. It would have been possible for Him to have allowed us only to see a black sky overhead—He mercifully interposed a veil of vapour which turns the blackness of space above our heads into the gold of morning, the azure of noon, and the rose-red sky of eventide. And this surely with some definite purpose of the revelation of His will, that our eyes should be rejoiced, and that our hearts should bless the Lord. (p. 404)….
“Landscape,” so Ruskin taught us, “can only be enjoyed by cultivated persons, but the faculty for it is hereditary. The child of an educated race has an innate instinct for beauty, derived from arts practised hundreds of years before his birth. In the children of noble races, trained by surrounding art, and at the same time in the practice of great deeds, there is an intense delight in the landscape of their country as memorial. To these people every rock is monumental with some ghostly inscription, and every path lovely with noble desolateness.” “In us,” says Ruskin, “however checked by lightness of temperament, the instinctive love of landscape has this deep root.” And he urges us to strive to feel with all our strength of our youth that “a nation is only worthy of the soil and the scenes that it has inherited, when, by all its acts and arts, it is making them more lovely for its children.” (p. 405)
How much of the heroism upon that awful battle-field in France and Flanders has actually been born of this innate feeling of love of country for the country’s sake, its beauty as well as its traditions. (p. 405)….
Believing as I do that this noble architecture of the hills was not only that winds might purify the air and streams run seaward with blessing for man and beast, but that as Ruskin taught us, they are here “to fill the thirst of the human heart for the beauty of God’s working, to startle its lethargy with the deep and pure agitation of astonishment.” (p. 406)….
How comes it about, then, that so many people live in the Lake Country and seem to see no beauty in it at all, and have actually to leave it for some busy town or some mountainless landscape before they feel their hearts throb with the memory of something they did not in the old days understand, but now deeply long for? It comes about because from early days their minds were not turned to the Bible of God, and that continual revelation of His presence which may be found in the glory of the ‘goings on’ in heaven and earth among our lakeland hills. It comes about because from early days their eyes have never been trained to discriminate between the thing beautiful and the thing ugly. It comes about also because they were not taught as children that the drudgery of daily life needed all the spiritual help of beautiful scenery, by lake, by vale and fell, and of great sunsets and glowing dawns, to keep them whole of heart, instead of broken of heart, to the end of their earthly journey. (p. 406)….
We cannot revere that which we neither understand or feel is any help to our souls. But believing it to be an entirely sacred work to teach people in humble life and in hard-working life to be happy, I am persuaded that the greatest gift that can be given to them is sense to perceive the delight of natural scenery, the loveliness of the natural world, which is scattered at their feet like flowers. If we could really analyse this love of nature, we shall find that wherever it exists it carries with it a sense of faith in God, that it suddenly brings with it a feeling of the presence and nearness of the Most High, a sense of the spiritual companionship and benevolence of a Heavenly Creator, such as no reasoning can procure or prevent. (p. 407)….
You remember how Wordsworth said, “We live by admiration, hope, and love,” and by that word “admiration,” he meant not only the power of taking delight in the good, the beautiful and the true, but in reverence for them with our whole heart. And this is what I had in mind when I called this address “Reverence for Natural Beauty.” (pp. 407-8)….
People who live in ugly surroundings cannot help producing ugly things, and this is why one so constantly insists that we who are trying to educate our generation must be careful about the surroundings of our school rooms and their fittings, must see that their colouring is right, and that the pictures on their walls are beautiful, must encourage the children to bring flowers into those school-rooms, must see that the colours that we give the little kindergarten children or the paints we give the older children are carefully selected so as to train their eyes not to harsh contrasts but to beautiful harmonies of colour. This is why, also, we hate the coarse and vulgar postcard, “comics,” as they are called, and protest against degrading kinema pictures that bring before young minds the ugly and seamy side of life. That is why, also, we do our best to protest against the abominable posters on our hoardings that graphically and in the grossest colours picture scenes of violence and horror…. I know, too, a kindred subject; all who have a love of scenery and the beauty of the countryside at heart must constantly feel called to protest against the disfiguring of landscape by advertisement boards. (pp. 409-10)….
We live in a countryside which is not our own, which is dear to the hearts of the civilised world. The man who orders his painter to paint the roofs of his building with any colour which is out of harmony with the surroundings is guilty of an act of great unkindness. At this time of day especially are we called upon to protest against the uglifying of the countryside. Our men are dying by thousands for beautiful Britain, “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori,” said the Roman writer, but if you turn that country into a cinder heap or fill its rivers and streams with broken crockery or black, slimy water, if wherever you are in the country you care so little to preserve its charm, if you thoughtlessly destroy the happiness of those who come after by leaving litter about, if you make the life of the dwellers on our towns miserable by the dullness of their surroundings and the hideous meanness of the slums, it ceases to be a country for which a patriot would fight and fall. (pp. 410-11)….
Now what are we doing or have done to safeguard this glorious heritage for those who come after us? for it is not one person’s duty but the duty of us all to keep a most careful watch on the beauty of our neighbourhood, and to protest in season and out of season against any needless destruction of its grace and power of appeal to the heart. (p. 412)….
But how thoughtlessness of the public enjoyment of woodland beauty can work havoc in such a neighbourhood as this was witnessed a few years ago at Shoulthwaite Moss, when, with no other ostensible reason than the one given me by the then Chairman of the Manchester Waterworks, viz., that they wanted to tidy up their property, that beautiful outgoing fringe of birch trees at the northern end of the Moss was utterly cleared away, and the loveliest foreground to one of the noblest views of Helvellyn granted man was obliterated. A few years later the man with the axe under his arm came along, and without more excuse than that the fallen leaves might blow into the lake, though this could have been entirely forestalled by the building of a low stone wall at the eastern and sheltered side of the wood, the man with the axe proceeded to clear away the last remnant of the forest primeval on the Manchester property west of Thirlmere and to destroy for ever the beauty of Sandy Ghyll. It was an unkindness to all who pass along that way, and it gained nothing for the ratepayers. I am told that to cut and cart away that bit of forest primeval cost much more than the wood fetched. (pp. 413-14)….
Think again of the way in which the architect from a distance who knows nothing of the peculiar beauty of our Cumberland houses will sometimes invade the district where only grey stone and grey slate as being of the natural material should be used, will insist on importing into this northern neighbourhood the red brick or red tiled building, whose only home is Surrey and the south. (p. 414)….
Looking down the other day from Walla Crag over the Crosthwaite valley there was a light veil of smoke above the town which added harmonious colour to the grey buildings and made them seem almost as impalpable and visionary as vapour birth upon a dewy morn in May. There was not a single jarring note in the landscape, and this was entirely as it should be. But it was my fortune to visit a few months ago a new possession of the National Trust at Thurstaston on the Dee. The rock in the neighbourhood is red sandstone and nobody could possibly have been annoyed by any building made of it, but some thoughtless architect had come in with red brick and red tile of the most flaring character, and built a new school close to the edge of the ground on which a huge outcrop of red stone still stands, one of the last remaining altars of the Pagan Viking, and it made it quite impossible for anyone to be able to enjoy the harmony of the landscape which stretches away in a level flat for ten miles, because of this abomination of inharmonious colour imported into the landscape. (pp. 414-15)
(Parents’ Review, XXIX (June 1918), 404-15)