They had the same thoughts about the need of keeping inviolate the sanctuary for thought and health and national happiness which the English Lake District, still undestroyed and unvulgarised, truly is. (p. 168)
Read Wordsworth’s protest against the projected railway from Kendal to Windermere, and set side by side with it Ruskin’s preface to the pamphlet entitled A Protest against the Extension of Railways in the Lake District. The feeling and the spirit of both writers are the same. They had the same reverential regard for the life of the simple dalesmen amongst whom they dwelt. There are few tenderer pictures of cottage life than Wordsworth’s description of Margaret and Michael. You will find that Ruskin, who spoke of the men about his doors as knights at Agincourt whose words for a thousand pounds was their bond, did but echo the feeling for Westmoreland peasantry that Wordsworth gave utterance to. (pp. 168-169)
It may be true that Ruskin stood in nearer relation to the peasants than the poet. Wordsworth, as the tradition in the dales still goes, “was not a vara conversable man at best o’ times,” and when he speaks of Michael he classes him with
Shepherds, dwellers in the valleys, men
Whom I already loved;—not verily
For their own sakes but for the fields and hills
Where was their occupation and abode.
whereas with Ruskin, what he seemed most to care about was to go to the cottage or to the workshop, and be made by his tender approachableness one of the family. But both believed in the true-hearted, innate nobility of the dalesmen, and honoured them for their native worth. (pp. 169-170)
The poet who in so much that he wrote glorified the peasant’s lot by shewing the peasant could think high thoughts as he pursued his lowly calling, and prove himself a happy warrior as he wrestled with storm and heat and all the sorrow of a poor man’s lot, was after all but expressing the mind of Ruskin. Nay was himself an embodiment of Ruskin’s ideal, as all who visit Dove Cottage to-day may testify. (p. 170)
“In order to teach men how to be satisfied it is necessary fully to understand the art and joy of humble life…. the life of domestic affection and domestic peace, and full of sensitiveness to all elements of costless and kind pleasure, therefore chiefly to the loveliness of the natural world,” so wrote Ruskin. (p. 170)
It was surely to teach this lesson of blessed content that Wordsworth lived and sang. “It is not,” says Ruskin, “that men are ill-fed, but they have no pleasure in their work by which they make their bread, and therefore look to wealth as the only means of pleasure.” (p. 170)
This Wordsworth knew, and whether he was sketching the picture of the priest of the Duddon Valley, or “Wonderful Walker” at Seathwaite, or the firm-minded Leech-gatherer, or the cheerful-hearted School-master, he seems to have felt and told us that the quiet mind that labours and is content, has found enough of the will of God for men on earth to make the journey to the end a way of peace. Of no two writers in our Victorian age can it be more truly said that they agreed in their belief that a nation’s wealth was not mammon but men, and that labour in the country side had peculiar dignity and calm, and might have therewithal content. (p. 171)….
But it was not the common admiration of friends, or common need for the encouragement that friends could give, that made Wordsworth and Ruskin kin. It was rather their common perception of vital truth. If ever two minds could walk together because they were agreed, it was in the assertion that men could only truly live their highest and happiest spirit life here on earth in communion with Nature, if first they could perceive that Nature was a revelation of God’s spirit and then could wonder and love it with deepest reverence. “The Spirit of God,” so wrote Ruskin, “is around you, in the air that you breathe. His glory in the light that you see, and in the fruitfulness of the earth and the joy of its creature. He has written for you day by day, His revelation as He has granted you day by day your daily bread.” And again, “All this passing to and fro of fruitful shower and grateful shade, and all these visions of silver palaces built above the horizon, and of moaning winds and waters, and glories of coloured cloud and cloven ray, really are but to deepen in our hearts the acceptance and distinctness and clearness of the simple words, ‘Our father which art in Heaven’” (pp. 184-185)….
With this evangel of the vital needs of Admiration, Hope and Love, these two prophets of the Lord, helped their generation. Fallen asleep—the one in 1850, the other in 1900, all that is mortal of them rest in lakeland earth. Grasmere Churchyard and Coniston Churchyard are now individually consecrated; and pilgrims to either shrine will think of the double debt we owe, and hear not one but two clarion voices calling us, to lowlier reverence, loftier hopes, and love for men and Nature more devout. (p. 187)
They will hear within the voices of these seers a word of warning. This little twenty mile square of hill and dale fed their souls with noblest passion, and lifted up their hearts to noblest heights. Every year the quiet and the seclusion of it is threatened, every year its unspoiled beauty is in jeopardy. No one who truly cares for the future of Great Britain, can think of this National Resting-ground robbed of its healing charm,—its power to inspire and invigorate the thought of the present, or illustrate and enforce the thought of the past. All that is mortal of Wordsworth rest in Grasmere Churchyard; all that is mortal of Ruskin lies in Coniston. But we are false to the trust that they gave the tender earth of the countryside they loved so truly if we will not listen to their spirit words, and strive as well as we may to keep the land of their inspiration a heritage for the helpful thought, the highest pleasure, and the fullest peace of the generations yet to be. (pp. 187-188)
(Ruskin and the English Lakes, pp. 163-188)