Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

&

By some curious process the pupil unconsciously acquired the manners and tone of voice of his master. But Emerson's main influence was in waking the hidden fires of Thoreau's own deep and self-sufficient nature. Emerson was in turn himself impressed, for we are told that “he delighted in being led to the very inner shrines of the wood god by this man, clear-eyed and true, and stern enough to be trusted with their secrets. Then was the time of the New England transcendentalists. Thoreau hated systems and the labelling of men, but in the essential principles of transcendentalism-the inward guiding light and the spiritual symbolism of natural phenomena-was his faith fixed :

"I hear beyond the range of sound,

I see beyond the range of sight,” he sings. The practical teaching of the transcendentalists was simplicity of life, and that each should think for himself and labour with his own hands; the political teaching, the exaltation of the individual and depression of the state in its controlling power.

Thoreau loved the country round Concord, and believed that it contained all of wild life sufficient for the interpretation of nature. So Richard Jefferies believed of Wiltshire. The Concord district was an epitome of nature's presentments, and Thoreau's desires stretched no further. Once he went to Canada. This was his grand tour.

The experiment of seclusion at Walden pond was made in 1845. His

purpose was to front only the essential facts of life. To reduce it to its lowest terms, and if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it and publish its meanness to the world, or if it were sublime to know it by experience.” It will be observed that the relationship of man to man was an irrelevant factor in forming a true estimate of the value of life.

So he built his hut by Walden pond, sowed his beans (hoed them too), and let his “consciousness” ferment. Every morning he bathed. He cultivated about two-and-a-half acres, and“ when my hoe tinkled against the stones that music echoed to the woods and the sky, and was an accompaniment to my labour which yielded an instant and immeasurable crop.”

He took long walks in all weathers, and in the deep snow would " keep an appointment” with a birch tree ten miles off. But some days he devoted entirely to contemplation, when he could not afford “ to sacrifice the bloom of the present moment to any work whether of the head or hands.” He would then sit in his doorway rapt in reverie. At such times he said (contesting the charge of idleness) that he "grew like corn in the night.

His food was almost strictly vegetarian, his drink water, nor did he use tobacco. Simplify, simplify,” was his cry. His motive, however, was not ascetic, not to mortify the flesh, but

66

[blocks in formation]

to improve and sharpen the senses. His keenest pleasures were sensuous, and his faculties of sight, smell and touch abnormally acute. But there was a deeper meaning in sensuous perception. “ I have been thrilled to think that I owed a mental perception to the comme

monly gross sense of taste, that I have been inspired through the palate, that some berries which I had eaten on a hillside had fed my genius.”

Thoreau's life at Walden was not strictly secluded. He received a few visitors and sometimes went to Concord to get a little work. Of misanthropy he made no profession, though he “ never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.” His hut was supposed to be a station on “the great under ground railway" for runaway slaves. The only political question which stirred him was abolitionism. After two years of hermit life Thoreau believed that its purpose was satisfied. He was no longer a “parcel of vain strivings," but had evolved a theory that life is not a hardship but a pastime if one lives simply, and that life it was which gave him content. The chief points in this theory were that the maintenance of life to advance in the direction of one's dreams brings peace.

His love of nature was absorbing. In wildness he saw the preservation of the world. His power over animals seemed magical, and only matched by that of St. Francis of Assisi. He did not regard animals as aliens, but as possessing “ the character and importance of another order of men.” Human sympathy and innocence many animals readily perceive, presumably from minute characteristics of behaviour, and for this reason, perhaps, his presence was not disturbing. Thoreau also knew how to sit still. Birds, reptiles, and fish would transact their business round him. One of his most surprising feats was to thrust his hand in the water and bring up fish, which lay placidly therein. His hermitage was inhabited by birds, squirrels, hares and moles. Snakes coiled round his leg. Often he rescued and protected foxes from the hunt.

His fascination over children (probably for the same reasons) was as complete as over wild animals, and one of his great delights was to lead a band of boys and girls to pick huckleberries. A boy who stumbles and scatters his fruit he consoles by the explanation that nature provides such losses for next year's crop.

His view of nature was optimistic. Everything is working to some wise and gracious end. Joy is the condition of life. No man living in the midst of nature with average senses should be melancholy. “Nothing can rightly compel a simple and brave man to a vulgar sadness. While I enjoy the friendship of the seasons I trust that nothing can make life a burden to me.” Each individual should develop in his own place and under the natural conditions of that place. “I think nothing is to be hoped from you,” he says,

" if this bit of mould under your feet is not sweeter to you than any other in this world or in any world.''

Of Thoreau's writings, “Walden," is perhaps the most interesting. But all his writings, and the story of the manner of his life, however great dissent from his doctrines may be, have a deep psychological interest.

His life was short. The Poet-Naturalist died in his fortyfifth spring

I would end with these words of his: “I think the most important requisite in describing an animal is to be sure that you give its character and spirit, for in that you have, without error, the sum and effect of all its parts known and unknown.”

J. L. OTTER.

A VILLAGE NATURALIST.*

In Memoriam : William Greenip (rural postman), a close observer of

Nature : obiit November ist, at Keswick.]
God sometimes fills a poor man's patient heart

With His own reverent love and constant care

For all the things He hath created fair,
Birds, flowers, the wings that fly, the fins that dart,-
And therewithal by Nature's winsome art

Leads him to heights of philosophic air

Where clamour dies, Heaven's ether is so rare,
And bids him walk with gentleness apart.
Friend ! such wert thou : the Newlands valley dew,
The star o'er Grisedale's purple head that shone,

Were not more silent, but each stream and glade,
Each bird that flashed, all dusky moths that flew,
All flowers, held commune with thee. Thou art gone :
And Nature mourns the tender heart she made.

H. D. RAWNSLEY.

THE PRESERVATION AND ENJOYMENT OF

OPEN SPACES.

(Continued from p. 174.) HERE is a branch of the open space movement which

still remains to be noticed. It has been well remarked that footpaths convert all rural England into one great

open space. It is not surprising then that the Commons Preservation Society, at a recent meeting, formally determined to bring footpaths within the scope of its work. After carefully

* Although the following has already appeared in the Spectator of November 15th, we reprint it in our columns by kind permission of the author, a well-known Selbornian.

PRESERVATION OF OPEN SPACES.

189 considering the law on the subject, and the points in which it may advantageously be amended, it has drafted a Bill which will no doubt, sooner or later, furnish matter for discussion in the House of Commons. The main object in view is to emphasize the duty of local authorities to put the law in motion wherever a footpath, reputed to be a public way, is shut up or obstructed. At present the duty usually falls upon individuals, and as the existence of a public right of way depends mainly upon the extent and nature of its use, in case of litigation many witnesses must be called, and the expenses are considerable.

There are moreover one or two highly technical doctrines on the subject of footpaths which are often abused to the public detriment, and which the Society seek to abrogate. Hitherto, however, it has been found that more is done for the protection of public rights by quietly enforcing the law as it is, and thus educating public opinion, than by new legislation ; and perhaps the most important advance in the protection of footpaths is that which was first suggested by the Kyrle Society. A local society is formed, the ordnance maps of the districts are obtained, and every footpath is carefully walked and examined, and its course traced on the map, while a record is made of the state of the path and the character of the gates and stiles. Application is then made to the local authority to restore stiles and put up guide-posts, and generally to assist the public in the assertion of its rights of way. A very good example of such a society is the Northern Heights Footpath Association, which has its headquarters at Hampstead and meets at the house of Mr. Edmund Maurice. Without being driven to actual litigation in a single instance, the Association has restored to the public many paths which were rapidly falling into disuse, and the series of maps which it will shortly publish will probably induce at the same time both a larger use and a more vigilant guardianship of the rural ways of the neighbourhood.

I should not omit to say that there is a National Foot-path Preservation Society, which like the Commons Preservation Society, gives advice and aid in the protection of footpaths. I am not personally acquainted with the nature of its work, which, however, has been already described in the June number of NATURE Notes.

Closely akin to foot-paths in the pleasure they afford to the wayfarer, are the green strips by the road-side, still happily common in rural England. In many places these have been inclosed through a spirit of greed on the side of the landlord, and through ignorance and supineness on the part of the public. As a rule the right of way of the public extends from hedge to hedge, and though certain summary remedies against encroachment apply only to the distance of fifteen feet from the crown of the road, any inclosure or obstruction on the green sward by the side is unlawful, and may be prevented by the proper legal procedure. There have been some notable cases in which this area has been enforced-e.g., on the great road near Ascot, and on the road from Southampton to Salisbury in the neighbourhood of the New Forest. It is, however, desirable to simplify the procedure and to put roadside strips, so far as obstructions are concerned, on the same footing as metalled roads. This object the Commons Preservation Society hope to attain by legislation at the first convenient opportunity.

In towns the equivalent of the wayside strip is a line of trees edging the street, and a movement, fostered by all the Open Space Societies and headed by Mr. Shaw Lefevre, has recently taken shape to supply London with suitable boulevards. A means of doing this exists in the rule that in a metropolitan thoroughfare no projection beyond the general line of buildings can take place without the consent of the London County Council. The Metropolitan Board carelessly threw away this great power of improving London, and allowed one-storey shops to be run out in many places. The County Council are not likely thus to betray their trust. The front courts or gardens between the house line and the road being valueless property, could at a trifling expense be acquired for the public and converted into avenues and tree-planted side-ways. A committee to further such a treatment of the great thoroughfares of the Pentonville, Euston and Marylebone Roads has lately been formed.

Another movement of a different kind has arisen during the last year.

Those working amongst the poor have been struck by the lack of cricket and football grounds, and the consequent difficulty of popularising healthy outdoor games amongst the wage-earning population of London. Captain John Sinclair, of the County Council, has with great perseverance and tact got together a representative body under the name of the London Playing Fields Committee, and much information as to the demand for, and supply of, playing fields has been collected. So. far as the Committee succeed merely in forming cricket grounds on existing open spaces, the Open Space Societies have little direct interest in the matter—indeed it may be their duty to oppose an excessive application of such a treatment ; but as a new argument for the necessity of ample open spaces round London the movement may be warmly welcomed.

At the extreme opposite wing of the army marches the Selborne Society. That it is warmly interested in the preservation of open spaces it would be waste of time to prove; the movement for saving Sudbrook Park from the builder originated in the Lower Thames Valley Branch of the Selborne Society. But it views open spaces less as affording means of exercise and as reservoirs of fresh air than as store-houses of natural beauty. Its object is to prevent the disappearance of wild nature before the drill-sergeant of tillage and building. An open common, where the very grouping of furze, turf and heather is the unconscious work of centuries of use, a wild wood where natural forces are allowed undisturbed sway, even a great park where tree

« AnteriorContinuar »