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MOUNTAIN, MEADOW, AND MERE
"Devotion to the beauty of the external forms of Nature affords to men of great excitability and a passionate sense of the beautiful an escape from many dangers and disturbances. The appetite for the beautiful in such men must be fed; and human beauty is a diet which leads to excessive stimulation, frequent vicissitudes of feeling at all events, and in every probability to the excitement of bitter and turbulent passions. The love and admiration of nature leads from all these; being, in truth, the safe outlet for every excess of sensibility. The pleasure so derived appears to be, of all human pleasures, the most exempt from correlative pains."
ONE day, while reading Thomas Ballantyne's "Essays in Mosaic," I came across the above passage excerpted from Taylor's "Notes from Books," and it struck me that I could not do better than take it as a text, to help me to explain why and how the following papers came to be written.
I need scarcely say that I have always found a delight in the beauty of the daisy-starred meadows, the heath-covered hills, the cool green woods, and the murmuring waters. Blue-and-white skies, or skies resplendent with sunrise or sunset hues, are pictures that always charm me. Most of all do I delight in being by running water. I love to sit on a grey boulder while the torrent dashes past me, its roar drowning all other sound. It seems to absorb all one's faculties, and one sits there and rests-perhaps dreams. Thinking is out of the question. It will be seen, therefore, that I agree very fully with the spirit of the extract I have quoted. I have one emendation to make, however. The love of Nature pure and simple-that is, the going out into the country for the express purpose of enjoying her wonderful beauty alone is apt to develop a morbid spirit. It will lead to a despising of anything else, which, by contrast to "Nature" and the "natural," can be called "human" or "artificial." It will in effect lead to
Nature-worship;" and, instead of leading up to the adoration of the Creator through His works, will set His works up as the object of worship. It will be content with a god who has his being in leaves and stones. I am satisfied I take no exaggerated view of this tendency. Therefore I say, let the pursuit of Nature's beauty go hand in hand with some other pursuit, or
even be subservient to it. Whether it be the harmless occupations of botanizing, geologizing, or butterflyhunting, or the more exciting and dangerous sports of shooting, fishing, or boating, there ought to be something to occupy part of one's attention and prevent all one's energies being, devoted to pure admiration and eye-pleasing.
Most men have sporting instincts at heart, and therefore they will agree with me in my recommendation of sport; but there are some poor puling creatures, who sit down and weep sentimentally over the sufferings of the sportman's victims. I class them with those members of the female sex (I don't like to call them by the honest old-fashioned term of "women") who agitate questions they know nothing about. The Saturday Review calls the latter the "Shrieking Sisterhood." I should call the others "The Weeping Brotherhood." I am not going to bore my readers with a learned disquisition on the alleged cruelty of sport. I have made up my mind as to what is cruel and what is not, and I strive to avoid the former. It is a question for every
man's own conscience.
Well, then, suppose a man to be an admirer of Nature, and a sportsman. Suppose him also to have the knack of putting down his impressions in writing. Is it to be wondered at that he should do so-to give
his friends some small share of the pleasure he has himself derived? I fancy I am not alone in the feeling I experience when I am enjoying some lovely scene, or taking place in some exciting sport, that I should enjoy it more if some friend were with me to share it. I have often felt that part of the pleasure of looking at an exquisite picture was lost to me because some bosom friend was not by my side to see it also.
It was that feeling which induced me to write these papers in the first instance, and it is that feeling which has led to their being brought out in a collected form. I utterly disclaim any literary ambition with regard to them.
Many people have a mistaken notion that when a man dabbles in literature he must of necessity neglect his business. Can anything be more absurd? Take the case of a bachelor, in lodgings. What is he to do in the long winter evenings after his day's work is over? Why not amuse himself as well by writing an article as in any other way? Yet, if it is known that he does so, he comes to be looked upon as an idle fellow, rather clever, perhaps, but decidedly not a business man. If, on the contrary, he does nothing different to the majority of young men, but spends his time in a billiard-room or debating class-both which ways of spending an evening require rather more time
and attention than writing an article-he escapes condemnation.
One word as to the frequent use of the word "I" in this book. It has an egotistical sound about it, and I have striven to avoid it as much as possible; but in papers like these it is manifestly impossible to do without its constant use.
As I wrote these articles the freshness of the hills and streams seemed to be wafted over me by memory's aid. I could not wish them to do more than to bring similar impressions to the reader.