How much the beauty of a simple cottage if it is covered with rough-cast, as most of our houses are in the Lake District for warmth and against the rain, is enhanced by the warm colour, whether it be pink or whether it be yellow-buff, which is often used. On the other hand there is no doubt that the plain whitewash which is used upon many of our farms and mountain dwellings, has a note of cleanliness about it which commends itself, and there is cheerfulness in our northern fells which this whitewash ministers to, with a certain practical use about it, for it warns the fell shepherd of his whereabouts on dark evenings, and he can descry his house afar off. (p. 495)
Now let us consider for a moment the extraordinary beauty of the dry-wall building of our district. These dry walls give interstices for the growth of seeds, ferns, and mosses, sometimes, as is the case on the road opposite Barrow house, a little ledge or dropstone projects below the topmost layers of stone, and this makes for the free growth of wild fern or other plants, whose seeds are dropped by the bird. Contrast the roadside beauty of the wall beside St. John’s-in-the-Vale vicarage with the suburban wall put up by the Manchester Corporation at Thirlmere. The one ministers to the pleasure of the passer-by, the other suggests only the dullness of suburban life and town associations, the very thing, mark you, which holiday-makers in the Lake District want to escape from. But speaking of these roads reminds us how very much motor traffic has destroyed their amenity. The craze to cut off corners which the roadside authorities seem obsessed with, has often deprived the country road of its chief charm. (p. 495)….
My quarrel with the roadside authorities is that they have no reverence for natural beauty. They will hack away all the loveliness of tree life without remorse…. But it is not only disfigurement of scenery by highway authorities that I protest against. It is their want of reverence for the beauty of roadside wastes. Many an approach towards a town is made beautiful in early summer by the dandelion flowers, geraniums and patches of fern that spring up at the base of the walls. Nothing is more beautiful than the little border of green growth which nature seems to supply us with at the base of these walls. But as soon as a dandelion appears or a fern uncurls its frond, by comes the man with the wheel-barrow and hoe; it is all ruthlessly torn away, and the road in naked barrenness loses one of its delights for passers-by. (pp. 496-7)….
The same may be said of our bridges. In the old days most of our roads were packhorse roads, most of our bridges were humped partly for strength to the arch and partly to escape flood water…. It so happens that we have inherited from the past a great number of examples of beautiful bridges, and it also happens that a bridge, if it is beautiful in shape in combination with the river below it, has a peculiar attraction for us all. (p. 497)….
But there is no cure for the destruction of scenery by our authorities except education. In the early days of the Cumberland County Council, no rebuilding of a bridge was possible until a qualified architect had been called in to advise. So far as I know no such qualified architect is employed now, and I shudder to think what in these days of enforced concrete and motorist demands would have been the fate of the picturesque bridges of Cumberland, had not this terrible war mercifully intervened, and for a season stopped the mischief. (p. 498)….
But what about the Cities of the Dead, have we taken them into our thought? Have we determined that as we visit the graves of our beloved ones our minds shall be lifted up to the Giver of all beauty and the Sender of all rest by the appeal either of tree or flower or monument? We shall find the exact contrary is the fact. Instead of the flowers that change with the season, we find our cemeteries crowded with bead ornaments under glittering bell glasses. Instead of Christian monuments that show thought and care in their design, we find Pagan monuments, turned out to pattern at the granite or monument maker’s works, and these of every conceivable type of unfitness in design or essential ugliness. In a countryside like our own, which provides for us the most enduring monumental stone that exists, more enduring than granite, a stone whose colour is in entire harmony with the surroundings, and that shines after a rain storm like moss agate, you will notice people importing into the district glorified chalk from foreign parts, or white marble which slowly decays as soon as the polish leaves it, and often becomes horribly stained, disfigures the whole churchyard by its glaring and restless patchiness and incongruity with the landscape, and when we come to look at the shapes of these stones we find that we have departed from the instinctive love of beauty of the monument makers of a hundred years ago, and are willing because the monument maker’s pattern books give us a leading, to adopt shapes for the tops of our headstones which cannot possibly give pleasure to the eye that knows the worth of the double curve, which our fore-elders delighted in. (p. 500)
We have done something at Crosthwaite to introduce the old British form of cross with the Viking knot or ornament upon it, and we have to thank Mr. Bromley, of High Hill, for the care with which he has worked out the designs that were given him in the first instance by Mrs. Rawnsley. But with the monument makers pattern books all over the land there is little chance that these examples will be much cared for or followed, and those of us who visit the ordinary town cemetery must come away appalled by the fact of the ugliness as well as the costliness of the majority of monuments therein, and must wonder how it comes to pass that we who remain alive are willing so to dishonour the dead, by making it impossible for the lover of beauty to find rest to his soul as he stands upon such sacred ground. (p. 501)
I fear that I have wearied you, but there is one more sorrow of heart that I must unburden. It is this—how little we have done to educate our children in elementary and secondary schools alike to the ghastly selfishness which will allow our holiday-makers to entirely disfigure the country with what I call the ‘litter nuisance.’ When I went to see the National Trust possession I spoke of before, Thurstaston, I was quite unable to sit down and enjoy the view from that beautiful Deeside moorland by reason of the fact that the whole hillside was covered with greasy paper that flitted by in the wind and of the sardine tins and empty chocolate boxes that turned it into a refuse heap. From where I sat I counted one hundred of these greasy luncheon papers and several sardine tins. I wrote to the press and complained of the cruel selfishness which spoiled the amenity of the neighbourhood. We suffer from the same thing in the Fitz Park. Notwithstanding notices are posted up and rubbish baskets are provided we have to employ a man (whose time could be better employed) to pick up litter which these unthinking people leave about. Last year a friend of mine found the top of Great Gable entirely disfigured by the same unsightliness, and this leaving of litter about does not only pertain to picnic papers and the like, but the throwing of broken bottles and tins and rubbish of other kinds into running water, river or lake, and my wife and I determined to approach the education authority on this matter. We drew up a leaflet which eventually by the kindness of the education authority found its way into our schools. Let me quote it to you. (p. 501)
The Desecration of Nature
The beauty of Nature is a gift of God. The purpose of this gift is to make us happy and to lift up our thoughts to higher things. The greatest works of Art and the greatest writings in both prose and poetry have been inspired by this gift of beauty.
All God’s gifts to us carry responsibility; we are bound to use them as He intends us to do, or we go against His goodwill. His goodwill is that all of us shall enjoy the beauty of Nature, not some of us; therefore we must not only enjoy the gift ourselves but we must protect it from being spoiled for other people. For instance, if we break down branches of flowering trees or root up flowering plants we are spoiling for other people what we have enjoyed ourselves. This is selfish. Again, if we destroy birds’ nests, especially if they are rare kinds, we are preventing other people from enjoying the sight of those birds. This is selfish. If we throw rubbish of any kind, broken bottles, crockery, tins, papers, &c., into clear water—either stream, lake or pond—we are destroying the beauty of the water for other people. This again is selfish.
One of the ways in which many beautiful places are spoiled is by the leaving about of waste paper, bottles, orange peel, banana skins, egg shells, cigarette boxes, &c., &c. All these things are very ugly in themselves, and the ugliness and untidyness of leaving them about prevents the beauty of the place which is God’s gift for making us happy and lifting up our thoughts to higher things. For how can we be happy if we are surrounded by signs of thoughtlessness and selfishness and how then can our thoughts be lifted up to higher things? There are many places of great beauty in this country which people can only visit perhaps once in a year or perhaps even once in a lifetime. Is it not the height of unkindness to them to spoil in any way their enjoyment of such places?
We are proud of our native land, and if we do anything to destroy its beauty or injure it in any way we are not true patriots, for the true patriot thinks first of his country and then of himself.
Make it a rule never to leave waste paper about—either bring it away or bury it, and all remains of food, such as orange peel, egg shells, &c., &c. In New York if anyone is seen to throw away a scrap of waste paper in the street he is at once spoken to by the police and made to pick it up.
Never cut your name or initials on anything—turf, wood or stone—or deface anything by writing on it.
Many beautiful places and grounds hitherto left open have been closed because of the bad behaviour in these ways of a few persons. Take care you are never among these few.
There are many places open to the public such as properties of the National Trust, Mountains, Lakes, Parks and Commons; you as one of the public should help to protect them. Boys and girls can do this, as well as grown-up people.
Keswick, July, 1916. H.D.R.
It is to the schools we must really look for help in this matter. It is in the impressionable time of school age that the child’s mind can be turned not only to the wicked selfishness of litter making, but to the constantly increasing delight that comes from eyes trained to perceive bird-glory upon earth, the beauty of the continual changing of leaf, woodland, and fern, the unutterable grandeur of sky-scape and star-scape, and all that goes to make each day, each night to differ in its power of appeal to the human heart. The kindest thing that can be done for a child that has to develop into a working man or woman, is to give him the continual pleasure of observation of natural beauty, wherever his lot in life is cast. (pp. 501-03)
How little this has been affected in the past we may judge from the fact that, so far as I know, not more than probably a dozen of the working inhabitants of this town of Keswick take such delight in the loveliness of their surroundings, that they will go off in any spare hours that may come to them for a mountain walk or for a stroll in the fields. At this present moment I only know two men of whom I can confidently affirm that their greatest pleasure in life is a walk in the countryside. (p. 503)
I end as I began; if we desire to rear a generation of men and women proud of their native land, willing to work for it or to die for it if need be, it is our bounden duty, each and all, to do what we can to add to its beauty, and as far as possible to refuse to discredit or diminish the great entail of natural beauty which has been bequeathed to us.
I conclude by reading the words of a great teacher and lover of natural beauty, who received his first impression of the loveliness of the natural world in this valley, and who has put it on record that the first thing that he remembered in life was being taken by his nurse to the brow of Friars Crag on Derwentwater, and who in later years founded the Guild of St. George and provided a creed for the members of that Guild. The fifth clause of that creed runs as follows:—
“I will not kill nor hurt any living creature needlessly, nor destroy any beautiful thing, but will strive to save and comfort all gentle life, and guard and perfect all natural beauty upon the earth.”
Now there must be in every community a certain number of people who would accept that fifth article of the creed of St. George’s Guild, why should not these people join together and determine, as far as in them lay, that the spirit of reverence for natural beauty should be a real and living thing in their midst?
Alas, I am leaving the parish, and am glad of this opportunity accorded me of making this last appeal for the beauty of our lake country hereabouts undegraded and undestroyed. (p. 503)
(Parents’ Review, XXIX (July 1918), 492-503)