Frondes Agrestes - Readings in 'Modern Painters'
by John Ruskin
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'Spargit agrestes tibi silva frondes.'

Thirty-Eighth Thousand.

London: George Allen, 156, Charing Cross Road. 1902.

Printed By Ballantyne, Hanson & Co. At the Ballantyne Press


I have been often asked to republish the first book of mine which the public noticed, and which, hitherto, remains their favourite, in a more easily attainable form than that of its existing editions. I am, however, resolved never to republish the book as a whole; some parts of it being, by the established fame of Turner, rendered unnecessary; and others having been always useless, in their praise of excellence which the public will never give the labour necessary to discern. But, finding lately that one of my dearest friends, who, in advanced age, retains the cheerfulness and easily delighted temper of bright youth, had written out, for her own pleasure, a large number of passages from 'Modern Painters,' it seemed to me certain that what such a person felt to be useful to herself, could not but be useful also to a class of readers whom I much desired to please, and who would sometimes enjoy, in my early writings, what I never should myself have offered them. I asked my friend, therefore, to add to her own already chosen series, any other passages she thought likely to be of permanent interest to general readers; and I have printed her selections in absolute submission to her judgment, merely arranging the pieces she sent me in the order which seemed most convenient for the reciprocal bearing of their fragmentary meanings, and adding here and there an explanatory note; or, it may be, a deprecatory one, in cases where my mind had changed. That she did me the grace to write every word with her own hands, adds, in my eyes, and will, I trust, in the readers' also, to the possible claims of the little book on their sympathy; and although I hope to publish some of the scientific and technical portions of the original volumes in my own large editions, the selections here made by my friend under her quiet woods at Coniston—the Unter-Walden of England—will, I doubt not, bring within better reach of many readers, for whom I am not now able myself to judge or choose, such service as the book was ever capable of rendering, in the illustration of the powers of nature, and intercession for her now too often despised and broken peace.

Herne Hill,

5th December, 1874.








VI. " STONES 107







1. Perfect taste is the faculty of receiving the greatest possible pleasure from those material sources which are attractive to our moral nature in its purity and perfection; but why we receive pleasure from some forms and colours, and not from others, is no more to be asked or answered than why we like sugar and dislike wormwood.

2. The temper by which right taste is formed is characteristically patient. It dwells upon what is submitted to it. It does not trample upon it,—lest it should be pearls, even though it look like husks. It is good ground, penetrable, retentive; it does not send up thorns of unkind thoughts, to choke the weak seed; it is hungry and thirsty too, and drinks all the dew that falls on it. It is an honest and good heart, that shows no too ready springing before the sun be up, but fails not afterwards; it is distrustful of itself, so as to be ready to believe and to try all things; and yet so trustful of itself, that it will neither quit what it has tried, nor take anything without trying. And the pleasure which it has in things that it finds true and good, is so great, that it cannot possibly be led aside by any tricks of fashion, or diseases of vanity; it cannot be cramped in its conclusions by partialities and hypocrisies; its visions and its delights are too penetrating,—too living,—for any whitewashed object or shallow fountain long to endure or supply. It clasps all that it loves so hard that it crushes it if it be hollow.

3. It is the common consent of men that whatever branch of any pursuit ministers to the bodily comforts, and regards material uses, is ignoble, and whatever part is addressed to the mind only, is noble; and that geology does better in reclothing dry bones and revealing lost creations, than in tracing veins of lead and beds of iron; astronomy better in opening to us the houses of heaven, than in teaching navigation; botany better in displaying structure than in expressing juices; surgery better in investigating organization than in setting limbs.—Only it is ordained that, for our encouragement, every step we make in the more exalted range of science adds something also to its practical applicabilities; that all the great phenomena of nature, the knowledge of which is desired by the angels only, by us partly, as it reveals to farther vision the being and the glory of Him in whom they rejoice and we live, dispense yet such kind influences and so much of material blessing as to be joyfully felt by all inferior creatures, and to be desired by them with such single desire as the imperfection of their nature may admit; that the strong torrents, which, in their own gladness, fill the hills with hollow thunder, and the vales with winding light, have yet their bounden charge of field to feed, and barge to bear; that the fierce flames to which the Alp owes its upheaval and the volcano its terror, temper for us the metal vein, and warm the quickening spring; and that for our incitement, I say, not our reward,—for knowledge is its own reward,—herbs have their healing, stones their preciousness, and stars their times.

4. Had it been ordained by the Almighty[1] that the highest pleasures of sight should be those of most difficult attainment, and that to arrive at them it should be necessary to accumulate gilded palaces, tower over tower, and pile artificial mountains around insinuated lakes, there would never have been a direct contradiction between the unselfish duties and the inherent desires of every individual. But no such contradiction exists in the system of Divine Providence; which, leaving it open to us, if we will, as creatures in probation, to abuse this sense like every other, and pamper it with selfish and thoughtless vanities, as we pamper the palate with deadly meats, until the appetite of tasteful cruelty is lost in its sickened satiety, incapable of pleasure unless, Caligula like, it concentrates the labour of a million of lives into the sensation of an hour,—leaves it also open to us, by humble and loving ways, to make ourselves susceptible of deep delight, which shall not separate us from our fellows, nor require the sacrifice of any duty or occupation, but which shall bind us closer to men and to God, and be with us always, harmonized with every action, consistent with every claim, unchanging and eternal.

[1] The reader must observe, that having been thoroughly disciplined in the Evangelical schools, I supposed myself, at four-and-twenty, to know all about the ordinances of the Almighty. Nevertheless, the practical contents of the sentence are good; if only they are intelligible, which I doubt.

5. A great Idealist never can be egotistic. The whole of his power depends upon his losing sight and feeling of his own existence, and becoming a mere witness and mirror of truth, and a scribe of visions,—always passive in sight, passive in utterance, lamenting continually that he cannot completely reflect nor clearly utter all he has seen,—not by any means a proud state for a man to be in. But the man who has no invention is always setting things in order,[2] and putting the world to rights, and mending, and beautifying, and pluming himself on his doings, as supreme in all ways.

[2] I am now a comic illustration of this sentence, myself. I have not a ray of invention in all my brains; but am intensely rational and orderly, and have resolutely begun to set the world to rights.

6. So far as education does indeed tend to make the senses delicate, and the perceptions accurate, and thus enables people to be pleased with quiet instead of gaudy colour, and with graceful instead of coarse form; and by long acquaintance with the best things, to discern quickly what is fine from what is common—so far acquired taste is an honourable faculty, and it is true praise of anything to say it is "in good taste." But,[3] so far as this higher education has a tendency to narrow the sympathies and harden the heart, diminishing the interest of all beautiful things by familiarity, until even what is best can hardly please, and what is brightest hardly entertain,—so far as it fosters pride, and leads men to found the pleasure they take in anything, not on the worthiness of the thing, but on the degree in which it indicates some greatness of their own, (as people build marble porticoes, and inlay marble floors, not so much because they like the colours of marble, or find it pleasant to the foot, as because such porches and floors are costly, and separated in all human eyes from plain entrances of stone and timber);—so far as it leads people to prefer gracefulness of dress, manner, and aspect, to value of substance and heart, liking a well-said thing better than a true thing, and a well-trained manner better than a sincere one, and a delicately-formed face better than a good-natured one,—and in all other ways and things setting custom and semblance above everlasting truth;—so far, finally, as it induces a sense of inherent distinction between class and class, and causes everything to be more or less despised which has no social rank, so that the affection, pleasure, and grief of a clown are looked upon as of no interest compared with the affection and grief of a well-bred man;—just so far, in all these several ways, the feeling induced by what is called "a liberal education" is utterly adverse to the understanding of noble art.

[3] Nobody need begin this second volume sentence unless they are breathed like the Graeme:—

"Right up Ben Ledi could he press, And not a sob his toil confess."

7. He who habituates himself in his daily life to seek for the stern facts in whatever he hears or sees, will have these facts again brought before him by the involuntary imaginative power, in their noblest associations; and he who seeks for frivolities and fallacies, will have frivolities and fallacies again presented to him in his dreams.[4]

[4] Very good. Few people have any idea how much more important the government of the mind is, than the force of its exertion. Nearly all the world flog their horses, without ever looking where they are going.

8. All the histories of the Bible are yet waiting to be painted. Moses has never been painted; Elijah never; David never (except as a mere ruddy stripling); Deborah never; Gideon never; Isaiah never.[5] What single example does the reader remember of painting which suggested so much as the faintest shadow of their deeds? Strong men in armour, or aged men with flowing beards, he may remember, who, when he looked at his Louvre or Uffizi catalogue, he found were intended to stand for David, or Moses. But does he suppose that, if these pictures had suggested to him the feeblest image of the presence of such men, he would have passed on, as he assuredly did, to the next picture, representing, doubtless, Diana and Actaeon, or Cupid and the Graces, or a gambling quarrel in a pothouse—with no sense of pain or surprise? Let him meditate over the matter, and he will find ultimately that what I say is true, and that religious art at once complete and sincere never yet has existed.

[5] I knew nothing, when I wrote this passage, of Luini, Filippo Lippi, or Sandro Botticelli; and had not capacity to enter into the deeper feelings, even of the men whom I was chiefly studying,—Tintoret and Fra Angelico. But the British public is at present as little acquainted with the greater Florentines as I was then, and the passage, for them, remains true.



9. What are the legitimate uses of the imagination,—that is to say, of the power of perceiving, or conceiving with the mind, things which cannot be perceived by the senses? Its first and noblest use is,[6] to enable us to bring sensibly to our sight the things which are recorded as belonging to our future state, or invisibly surrounding us in this. It is given us, that we may imagine the cloud of witnesses, in heaven, and earth, and sea, as if they were now present,—the souls of the righteous waiting for us; that we may conceive the great army of the inhabitants of heaven, and discover among them those whom we most desire to be with for ever; that we may be able to vision forth the ministry of angels beside us, and see the chariots of fire on the mountains that gird us round; but, above all, to call up the scenes and facts in which we are commanded to believe, and be present, as if in the body, at every recorded event of the history of the Redeemer. Its second and ordinary use is, to empower us to traverse the scenes of all other history, and to force the facts to become again visible, so as to make upon us the same impression which they would have made if we had witnessed them; and, in the minor necessities of life, to enable us, out of any present good, to gather the utmost measure of enjoyment, by investing it with happy associations, and, in any present evil, to lighten it, by summoning back the images of other hours; and also to give to all mental truths some visible type, in allegory, simile, or personification, which shall most deeply enforce them; and finally, when the mind is utterly outwearied, to refresh it with such innocent play as shall be most in harmony with the suggestive voices of natural things, permitting it to possess living companionship, instead of silent beauty, and create for itself fairies in the grass, and naiads in the wave.

[6] I should be glad if the reader who is interested in the question here raised, would read, as illustrative of the subsequent statement, the account of Tintoret's 'Paradise,' in the close of my Oxford lecture on Michael Angelo and Tintoret, which I have printed separately to make it generally accessible.

10. Yet, because we thus reverence the power and art of imagination, let none of us despise the power and art of memory.

Let the reader consider seriously what he would give at any moment to have the power of arresting the fairest scenes, those which so often rise before him only to vanish; to stay the cloud in its fading, the leaf in its trembling, and the shadows in their changing; to bid the fitful foam be fixed upon the river, and the ripples be everlasting upon the lake; and then to bear away with him no darkness or feeble sun-stain, (though even that is beautiful,) but a counterfeit which should seem no counterfeit—the true and perfect image of life indeed. Or rather, (for the full majesty of such a power is not thus sufficiently expressed,) let him consider that it would be in effect nothing less than a capacity of transporting himself at any moment into any scene—a gift as great as can be possessed by a disembodied spirit; and suppose, also, this necromancy embracing not only the present but the past, and enabling us seemingly to enter into the very bodily presence of men long since gathered to the dust; to behold them in act as they lived; but, with greater privilege than ever was granted to the companions of those transient acts of life, to see them fastened at our will in the gesture and expression of an instant, and stayed on the eve of some great deed, in immortality of burning purpose.—Conceive, so far as is possible, such power as this, and then say whether the art which conferred it is to be spoken lightly of, or whether we should not rather reverence, as half-divine, a gift which would go so far as to raise us into the rank, and invest us with the felicities, of angels.[7]

[7] Passage written in opposition to the vulgar notion that the 'mere imitation' of Nature is easy, and useless.

11. I believe the first test of a truly great man is his humility. I do not mean by humility, doubt of his own power, or hesitation of speaking his opinions; but a right understanding of the relation between what he can do and say, and the rest of the world's sayings and doings. All great men not only know their business, but usually know that they know it; and are not only right in their main opinions, but they usually know that they are right in them; only they do not think much of themselves on that account. Arnolfo knows he can build a good dome at Florence; Albert Durer writes calmly to one who has found fault with his work,—"It cannot be better done;" Sir Isaac Newton knows that he has worked out a problem or two that would have puzzled anybody else; only they do not expect their fellow-men, therefore, to fall down and worship them. They have a curious under-sense of powerlessness, feeling that the greatness is not in them, but through them—that they could not do or be anything else than God made them; and they see something divine and God-made in every other man they meet, and are endlessly, foolishly, incredibly merciful.

12. As far as I can observe, it is a constant law, that the greatest men, whether poets or historians, live entirely in their own age, and the greatest fruits of their work are gathered out of their own age. Dante paints Italy in the thirteenth century; Chaucer, England in the fourteenth; Masaccio, Florence in the fifteenth; Tintoret, Venice in the sixteenth; all of them utterly regardless of anachronism and minor error of every kind, but getting always vital truth out of the vital present. If it be said that Shakespeare wrote perfect historical plays on subjects belonging to the preceding centuries, I answer that they are perfect plays, just because there is no care about centuries in them, but a life which all men recognise for the human life of all time—and this it is, not because Shakespeare sought to give universal truth, but because painting, honestly and completely, from the men about him, he painted that human nature which is indeed constant enough,—a rogue in the fifteenth century being at heart what a rogue is in the nineteenth, and was in the twelfth; and an honest or knightly man being in like manner very similar to other such at any other time. And the work of these great idealists is, therefore, always universal; not because it is not portrait, but because it is complete portrait, down to the heart, which is the same in all ages; and the work of the mean idealists is not universal, not because it is portrait, but because it is half portrait—of the outside, the manners and the dress, not of the heart. Thus Tintoret and Shakespeare paint, both of them, simply Venetian and English nature, as they saw it in their time, down to the root; and it does for all time; but as for any care to cast themselves into the particular ways and tones of thought, or custom, of past time in their historical work, you will find it in neither of them,[8] nor in any other perfectly great man that I know of.

[8] What vestige of Egyptian character is there, for instance, in Cleopatra?—of Athenian in Theseus or Timon?—of old English in Imogen or Cordelia?—of old Scottish in Macbeth?—or even of mediaeval Italian in Petruchio, the Merchant of Venice, or Desdemona? And the Roman plays appear definitely Roman only because the strength of Rome was the eternal strength of the world,—pure family life, sustained by agriculture, and defended by simple and fearless manhood.

13. I think it probable that many readers may be surprised at my calling Scott the great representative of the mind of the age of literature. Those who can perceive the intense penetrative depth of Wordsworth, and the exquisite finish and melodious power of Tennyson, may be offended at my placing in higher rank that poetry of careless glance and reckless rhyme in which Scott poured out the fancies of his youth; and those who are familiar with the subtle analysis of the French novelists, or who have in any wise submitted themselves to the influence of German philosophy, may be equally indignant at my ascribing a principality to Scott among the literary men of Europe, in an age which has produced De Balzac, and Goethe.[9]

[9] I knew nothing of Goethe when I put him with Balzac; but the intolerable dulness which encumbers the depth of Wilhelm Meister, and the cruel reserve which conceals from all but the intensest readers the meaning of Faust, have made him, in a great degree, an evil influence in European literature; and Evil is always second-rate.

But the mass of sentimental literature concerned with the analysis and description of emotion, headed by the poetry of Byron, is altogether of lower rank than the literature which merely describes what it saw. The true seer feels as intensely as any one else; but he does not much describe his feelings. He tells you whom he met, and what they said; leaves you to make out, from that, what they feel, and what he feels, but goes into little detail. And, generally speaking, pathetic writing and careful explanation of passion are quite easy, compared with this plain recording of what people said, and did; or with the right invention of what they are likely to say and do; for this reason, that to invent a story, or admirably and thoroughly tell any part of a story, it is necessary to grasp the entire mind of every personage concerned in it, and know precisely how they would be affected by what happens; which to do, requires a colossal intellect; but to describe a separate emotion delicately, it is only needed that one should feel it oneself; and thousands of people are capable of feeling this or that noble emotion, for one who is able to enter into all the feelings of somebody sitting on the other side of the table. Even, therefore, where this sentimental literature is first rate, as in passages of Byron, Tennyson, and Keats, it ought not to be ranked so high as the creative; and though perfection even in narrow fields is perhaps as rare as in the wider, and it may be as long before we have another "In Memoriam" as another "Guy Mannering," I unhesitatingly receive as a greater manifestation of power, the right invention of a few sentences spoken by Pleydell and Mannering across their supper-table, than the most tender and passionate melodies of the self-examining verse.

14. Fancy plays like a squirrel in its circular prison, and is happy; but Imagination is a pilgrim on the earth—and her home is in heaven. Shut her from the fields of the celestial mountains, bear her from breathing their lofty, sun-warmed air; and we may as well turn upon her the last bolt of the Tower of Famine, and give the keys to the keeping of the wildest surge that washes Capraja and Gorgona.[10]

[10] I leave this passage, as my friend has chosen it; but it is unintelligible without the contexts, which show how all the emotions described in the preceding passages of this section, are founded on trust in the beneficence and rule of an Omnipotent Spirit.

15. In the highest poetry, there is no word so familiar, but a great man will "bring good out of it, or rather, it will bring good to him, and answer some end for which no other word would have done equally well. A common person, for instance, would be mightily puzzled to apply the word 'whelp' to anyone, with a view of flattering him. There is a certain freshness and energy in the term, which gives it agreeableness, but it seems difficult, at first hearing it, to use it complimentarily. If the person spoken of be a prince, the difficulty seems increased; and when farther he is at one and the same moment to be called a 'whelp' and contemplated as a hero, it seems that a common idealist might well be brought to a pause! But hear Shakespeare do it:—

"Awake his warlike spirit, And your great uncle's, Edward the Black Prince, Who on the French ground played a tragedy, Making defeat on the full power of France, While his most mighty father on a hill Stood smiling, to behold his lion's whelp Forage in blood of French nobility."

16. Although in all lovely nature there is, first, an excellent degree of simple beauty, addressed to the eye alone, yet often what impresses us most will form but a very small portion of that visible beauty. That beauty may, for instance, be composed of lovely flowers, and glittering streams, and blue sky and white clouds; and yet the thing that impresses us most, and which we should be sorriest to lose, may be a thin grey film on the extreme horizon, not so large, in the space of the scene it occupies, as a piece of gossamer on a near-at-hand bush, nor in any wise prettier to the eye than the gossamer; but because the gossamer is known by us for a little bit of spider's work, and the other grey film is known to mean a mountain ten thousand feet high, inhabited by a race of noble mountaineers, we are solemnly impressed by the aspect of it, and yet all the while the thoughts and knowledge which cause us to receive this impression are so obscure that we are not conscious of them.

17. Examine the nature of your own emotion, (if you feel it,) at the sight of the Alps; and you find all the brightness of that emotion hanging, like dew on a gossamer, on a curious web of subtle fancy and imperfect knowledge. First you have a vague idea of its size, coupled with wonder at the work of the great Builder of its walls and foundations; then an apprehension of its eternity, a pathetic sense of its perpetualness, and your own transientness, as of the grass upon its side;—then, and in very sadness, a sense of strange companionship with past generations, in seeing what they saw. They did not see the clouds that are floating over your head, nor the cottage wall on the other side of the field, nor the road by which you are travelling. But they saw that. The wall of granite in the heavens was the same to them as to you. They have ceased to look upon it; you will soon cease to look also, and the granite wall will be for others. Then, mingled with these more solemn imaginations, come the understandings of the gifts and glories of the Alp;—the fancying forth of all the fountains that well from its rocky walls, and strong rivers that are born out of its ice, and of all the pleasant valleys that wind between its cliffs, and all the chalets that gleam among its clouds, and happy farmsteads couched upon its pastures; while, together with the thoughts of these, rise strange sympathies with all the unknown of human life, and happiness, and death, signified by that narrow white flame of the everlasting snow, seen so far in the morning sky. These images, and far more than these, lie at the root of the emotion which you feel at the sight of the Alps. You may not trace them in your heart, for there is a great deal more in your heart, both of evil and good, than you can ever trace; but they stir you and quicken you for all that. Assuredly, so far as you feel more at beholding the snowy mountain than any other object of the same sweet silvery grey, these are the kind of images which cause you to do so; and observe, these are nothing more than a greater apprehension of the facts of the thing. We call the power 'Imagination,' because it imagines or conceives; but it is only noble imagination, if it imagines or conceives the truth. And according to the degree of knowledge possessed, and of sensibility to the pathetic or impressive character of the things known, will be the degree of this imaginative delight.

18. So natural is it to the human heart to fix itself in hope rather than in present possession, and so subtle is the charm which the imagination casts over what is distant or denied, that there is often a more touching power in the scenes which contain far-away promises of something greater than themselves, than in those which exhaust the treasures and powers of nature in an unconquerable and excellent glory, leaving nothing more to be by fancy pictured or pursued. I do not know that there is a district in the world more calculated to illustrate this power of the expectant imagination than that which surrounds the city of Fribourg in Switzerland, extending from it towards Berne. It is of grey sandstone, considerably elevated, but presenting no object of striking interest to the passing traveller; so that as it is generally seen in the course of a hasty journey from the Bernese Alps to those of Savoy, it is rarely regarded with any other sensation than that of weariness, all the more painful because accompanied with reaction from the high excitement caused by the splendour of the Bernese Oberland. The traveller—foot-sore, feverish, and satiated with glacier and precipice,—lies back in the corner of the diligence, perceiving little more than that the road is winding and hilly, and the country through which it passes, cultivated and tame. Let him, however, only do this tame country the justice of staying in it a few days, until his mind has recovered its tone, and take one or two long walks through its fields, and he will have other thoughts of it. It is, as I said, an undulating district of grey sandstone, never attaining any considerable height, but having enough of the mountain spirit to throw itself into continual succession of bold slope and dale; elevated, also, just far enough above the sea to render the pine a frequent forest tree along its irregular ridges. Through this elevated tract the river cuts its way in a ravine some five or six hundred feet in depth, which winds for leagues between the gentle hills, unthought of until its edge is approached; and then, suddenly, through the boughs of the firs, the eye perceives, beneath, the green and gliding stream, and the broad walls of sandstone cliff that form its banks; hollowed out where the river leans against them, at its turns, into perilous over-hanging; and, on the other shore, at the same spots, leaving little breadths of meadow between them and the water, half overgrown with thicket, deserted in their sweetness, inaccessible from above, and rarely visited by any curious wanderers along the hardly traceable footpath which struggles for existence beneath the rocks. And there the river ripples and eddies and murmurs in an outer solitude. It is passing through a thickly peopled country; but never was a stream so lonely. The feeblest and most far-away torrent among the high hills has its companions; the goats browse beside it; and the traveller drinks from it, and passes over it with his staff; and the peasant traces a new channel for it down to his mill-wheel. But this stream has no companions; it flows on in an infinite seclusion, not secret, nor threatening, but a quietness of sweet daylight and open air—a broad space of tender and deep desolateness, drooped into repose out of the midst of human labour and life; the waves plashing lowly, with none to hear them; and the wild birds building in the boughs, with none to fray them away; and the soft, fragrant herbs rising and breathing and fading, with no hand to gather them;—and yet all bright and bare to the clouds above, and to the fresh fall of the passing sunshine and pure rain. But above the brows of these scarped cliffs, all is in an instant changed. A few steps only beyond the firs that stretch their branches, angular, and wild, and white, like forks of lightning, into the air of the ravine,—and we are in an arable country of the most perfect richness; the swathes of its corn glowing and burning from field to field: its pretty hamlets all vivid with fruitful orchards, and flowery garden, and goodly with steep-roofed storehouse and barn; its well-kept, hard, park-like roads rising and falling from hillside to hillside, or disappearing among brown banks of moss, and thickets of the wild raspberry and rose, or gleaming through lines of tall trees, half glade, half avenue, where the gate opens, or the gateless path turns trustedly aside, unhindered, into the garden of some statelier house, surrounded in rural pride with its golden hives, and carved granaries, and irregular domain of latticed and espaliered cottages, gladdening to look upon in their delicate homeliness—delicate, yet in some sort, rude; not like our English homes—trim, laborious, formal, irreproachable in comfort—but with a peculiar carelessness and largeness in all their detail, harmonizing with the outlawed loveliness of their country. For there is an untamed strength even in all that soft and habitable land. It is indeed gilded with corn, and fragrant with deep grass, but it is not subdued to the plough or to the scythe. It gives at its own free will; it seems to have nothing wrested from it, nor conquered in it. It is not redeemed from desertness, but unrestrained in fruitfulness,—a generous land, bright with capricious plenty, and laughing from vale to vale in fitful fulness, kind and wild. Nor this without some sterner element mingled in the heart of it. For, along all its ridges stand the dark masses of innumerable pines,[11] taking no part in its gladness; asserting themselves for ever as fixed shadows, not to be pierced or banished even in the intensest sunlight; fallen flakes and fragments of the night, stayed in their solemn squares in the midst of all the rosy bendings of the orchard boughs and yellow effulgence of the harvest, and tracing themselves in black network and motionless fringes against the blanched blue of the horizon in its saintly clearness. And yet they do not sadden the landscape, but seem to have been set there chiefly to show how bright everything else is round them; and all the clouds look of pure silver, and all the air seems filled with a whiter and more living sunshine, where they are pierced by the sable points of the pines; and all the pastures look of more glowing green where they run up between the purple trunks; and the sweet field footpaths skirt the edges of the forest for the sake of its shade, sloping up and down about the slippery roots, and losing themselves every now and then hopelessly among the violets and ground-ivy and brown sheddings of the fibrous leaves, and at last plunging into some open aisle, where the light through the distant stems shows that there is a chance of coming out again on the other side; and coming out indeed in a little while from the scented darkness into the dazzling air and marvellous landscape, which stretches still farther and farther in new wilfulness of grove and garden, until at last the craggy mountains of the Simmenthal rise out of it, sharp into the rolling of the southern clouds.

[11] Almost the only pleasure I have, myself, in rereading my old books, is my sense of having at least done justice to the pine. Compare the passage in this book, No. 47.

19.[12] Although there are few districts of Northern Europe, however apparently dull or tame, in which I cannot find pleasure; though the whole of Northern France (except Champagne), dull as it seems to most travellers, is to me a perpetual paradise; and, putting Lincolnshire, Leicestershire, and one or two such other perfectly flat districts aside, there is not an English county which I should not find entertainment in exploring the cross-roads of, foot by foot,—yet all my best enjoyment would be owing to the imagination of the hills, colouring with their far-away memories every lowland stone and herb. The pleasant French coteau, green in the sunshine, delights me either by what real mountain character it has in itself, (for in extent and succession of promontory, the flanks of the French valleys have quite the sublimity of true mountain distances,) or by its broken ground and rugged steps among the vines, and rise of the leafage above against the blue sky, as it might rise at Vevay or Como. There is not a wave of the Seine, but is associated in my mind with the first rise of the sandstones and forest pines of Fontainebleau; and with the hope of the Alps, as one leaves Paris, with the horses' heads to the southwest, the morning sun flashing on the bright waves at Charenton. If there be no hope or association of this kind, and if I cannot deceive myself into fancying that perhaps at the next rise of the road there may be the film of a blue hill in the gleam of sky at the horizon, the landscape, however beautiful, produces in me even a kind of sickness and pain; and the whole view from Richmond Hill or Windsor Terrace,—nay, the gardens of Alcinous, with their perpetual summer—or of the Hesperides, (if they were flat, and not close to Atlas,) golden apples and all, I would give away in an instant, for one mossy granite stone a foot broad, and two leaves of lady fern.

[12] This, and the following passage, have nothing to do with the general statements in the book. They occur with reference only to my own idiosyncrasy. I was much surprised when I found first how individual it was, by a Pre-Raphaelite painter's declaring a piece of unwholesome reedy fen to be more beautiful than Benvenue.

20. I cannot find words to express the intense pleasure I have always in first finding myself, after some prolonged stay in England, at the foot of the old tower of Calais Church. The large neglect, the noble unsightliness of it; the record of its years written so visibly, yet without sign of weakness or decay; its stern wasteness and gloom, eaten away by the Channel winds, and overgrown with the bitter sea grasses; its slates and tiles all shaken and rent, and yet not falling; its desert of brickwork, full of bolts, and holes, and ugly fissures, and yet strong, like a bare brown rock; its carelessness of what any one thinks or feels about it, putting forth no claim, having no beauty, nor desirableness, pride, nor grace; yet neither asking for pity; not, as ruins are, useless and piteous, feebly or fondly garrulous of better days; but, useful still, going through its own daily work,—as some old fisherman, beaten grey by storm, yet drawing his daily nets: so it stands, with no complaint about its past youth, in blanched and meagre massiveness and serviceableness, gathering human souls together underneath it; the sound of its bells for prayer still rolling through its rents; and the grey peak of it seen far across the sea, principal of the three that rise above the waste of surfy sand and hillocked shore,—the lighthouse for life, and the belfry for labour, and this—for patience and praise.

I cannot tell the half of the strange pleasures and thoughts that come about me at the sight of that old tower; for, in some sort, it is the epitome of all that makes the continent of Europe interesting, as opposed to new countries; and, above all, it completely expresses that agedness in the midst of active life which binds the old and the new into harmony. We in England have our new streets, our new inn, our green shaven lawn, and our piece of ruin emergent from it—a mere specimen of the Middle Ages put on a bit of velvet carpet, to be shown; and which, but for its size, might as well be on a museum shelf at once, under cover;—but, on the Continent, the links are unbroken between the past and present; and, in such use as they can serve for, the grey-headed wrecks are suffered to stay with men; while, in unbroken line, the generations of spared buildings are seen succeeding, each in its place. And thus, in its largeness, in its permitted evidence of slow decline, in its poverty, in its absence of all pretence, of all show and care for outside aspect, that Calais tower has an infinite of symbolism in it, all the more striking because usually seen in contrast with English scenes expressive of feelings the exact reverse of these.[13]

[13] My friend won't write out the reverse! Our book is to be all jelly, and no powder, it seems. Well, I'm very thankful she likes the jelly,—at any rate, it makes me sure that it is well made.



21. It is a strange thing how little in general people know about the sky. It is the part of creation in which Nature has done more for the sake of pleasing man—more for the sole and evident purpose of talking to him, and teaching him—than in any other of her works; and it is just the part in which we least attend to her. There are not many of her other works in which some more material or essential purpose than the mere pleasing of man is not answered by every part of their organization; but every essential purpose of the sky might, so far as we know, be answered if once in three days, or thereabouts, a great, ugly, black rain-cloud were brought up over the blue, and everything well watered, and so all left blue again till next time, with perhaps a film of morning and evening mist for dew;—and instead of this, there is not a moment of any day of our lives, when Nature is not producing scene after scene, picture after picture, glory after glory, and working still upon such exquisite and constant principles of the most perfect beauty, that it is quite certain[14] it is all done for us, and intended for our perpetual pleasure. And every man, wherever placed, however far from other sources of interest or of beauty, has this doing for him constantly. The noblest scenes of the earth can be seen and known but by few; it is not intended that man should live always in the midst of them; he injures them by his presence, he ceases to feel them if he is always with them; but the sky is for all: bright as it is, it is not

"too bright nor good For human nature's daily food;"

it is fitted in all its functions for the perpetual comfort and exalting of the heart,—for soothing it, and purifying it from its dross and dust. Sometimes gentle, sometimes capricious, sometimes awful—never the same for two moments together; almost human in its passions, almost spiritual in its tenderness, almost divine in its infinity, its appeal to what is immortal in us is as distinct as its ministry of chastisement or of blessing to what is mortal is essential. And yet we never attend to it, we never make it a subject of thought, but as it has to do with our animal sensations; we look upon all by which it speaks to us more clearly than to brutes, upon all which bears witness to the intentions of the Supreme that we are to receive more from the covering vault than the light and the dew which we share with the weed and the worm, as only a succession of meaningless and monotonous accident, too common and too vain to be worthy of a moment of watchfulness, or a glance of admiration. If in our moments of utter idleness and insipidity, we turn to the sky as a last resource, which of its phenomena do we speak of? One says, it has been wet; and another, it has been windy; and another, it has been warm. Who among the whole chattering crowd can tell one of the forms and the precipices of the chain of tall white mountains that girded the horizon at noon yesterday? Who saw the narrow sunbeam that came out of the south, and smote upon their summits until they melted and mouldered away in a dust of blue rain? Who saw the dance of the dead clouds when the sunlight left them last night, and the west wind blew them before it like withered leaves? All has passed unregretted as unseen; or, if the apathy be ever shaken off even for an instant, it is only by what is gross, or what is extraordinary. And yet it is not in the broad and fierce manifestations of the elemental energies, not in the clash of the hail, nor the drift of the whirlwind, that the highest characters of the sublime are developed. God is not in the earthquake, nor in the fire, but in the still, small voice. They are but the blunt and the low faculties of our nature, which can only be addressed through lamp-black and lightning. It is in quiet and subdued passages of unobtrusive majesty, the deep and the calm, and the perpetual; that which must be sought ere it is seen, and loved ere it is understood; things which the angels work out for us daily, and yet vary eternally; which are never wanting, and never repeated; which are to be found always, yet each found but once;—it is through these that the lesson of devotion is chiefly taught, and the blessing of beauty given.

[14] At least, I thought so, when I was four-and-twenty. At five-and-fifty, I fancy that it is just possible there may be other creatures in the universe to be pleased, or,—it may be,—displeased, by the weather.

22. We habitually think of the rain-cloud only as dark and grey; not knowing that we owe to it perhaps the fairest, though not the most dazzling, of the hues of heaven. Often in our English mornings, the rain-clouds in the dawn form soft, level fields, which melt imperceptibly into the blue; or, when of less extent, gather into apparent bars, crossing the sheets of broader cloud above; and all these bathed throughout in an unspeakable light of pure rose-colour, and purple, and amber, and blue; not shining, but misty-soft; the barred masses, when seen nearer, composed of clusters or tresses of cloud, like floss silk; looking as if each knot were a little swathe or sheaf of lighted rain.

23. Aqueous vapour or mist, suspended in the atmosphere, becomes visible exactly as dust does in the air of a room. In the shadows, you not only cannot see the dust itself, because unillumined, but you can see other objects through the dust, without obscurity; the air being thus actually rendered more transparent by a deprivation of light. Where a sunbeam enters, every particle of dust becomes visible, and a palpable interruption to the sight; so that a transverse sunbeam is a real obstacle to the vision—you cannot see things clearly through it. In the same way, wherever vapour is illuminated by transverse rays, there it becomes visible as a whiteness more or less affecting the purity of the blue, and destroying it exactly in proportion to the degree of illumination. But where vapour is in shade, it has very little effect on the sky, perhaps making it a little deeper and greyer than it otherwise would be, but not, itself, unless very dense, distinguishable or felt as mist.

24. Has the reader any distinct idea of what clouds are?

[15]That mist which lies in the morning so softly in the valley, level and white, through which the tops of the trees rise as if through an inundation—why is it so heavy, and why does it lie so low, being yet so thin and frail that it will melt away utterly into splendour of morning when the sun has shone on it but a few moments more? Those colossal pyramids, huge and firm, with outlines as of rocks, and strength to bear the beating of the high sun full on their fiery flanks,—why are they so light, their bases high over our heads, high over the heads of Alps? Why will these melt away, not as the sun rises, but as he descends, and leave the stars of twilight clear; while the valley vapour gains again upon the earth, like a shroud? Or that ghost of a cloud, which steals by yonder clump of pines; nay, which does not steal by them, but haunts them, wreathing yet round them, and yet,—and yet,—slowly; now falling in a fair waved line like a woman's veil; now fading, now gone; we look away for an instant, and look back, and it is again there. What has it to do with that clump of pines, that it broods by them, and weaves itself among their branches, to and fro? Has it hidden a cloudy treasure among the moss at their roots, which it watches thus? Or has some strong enchanter charmed it into fond returning, or bound it fast within those bars of bough? And yonder filmy crescent, bent like an archer's bow above the snowy summit, the highest of all the hills—that white arch which never forms but over the supreme crest,—how is it stayed there, repelled apparently from the snow,—nowhere touching it, the clear sky seen between it and the mountain edge, yet never leaving it—poised as a white bird hovers over its nest? Or those war clouds that gather on the horizon, dragon-crested, tongued with fire,—how is their barbed strength bridled? What bits are those they are champing with their vapourous lips, flinging off flakes of black foam? Leagued leviathans of the Sea of Heaven,—out of their nostrils goeth smoke, and their eyes are like the eyelids of the morning; the sword of him that layeth at them cannot hold the spear, the dart, nor the habergeon. Where ride the captains of their armies? Where are set the measures of their march? Fierce murmurers, answering each other from morning until evening—what rebuke is this which has awed them into peace;—what hand has reined them back by the way in which they came?

[15] This is a fifth volume bit, and worth more attention.

I know not if the reader will think at first that questions like these are easily answered. So far from it, I rather believe that some of the mysteries of the clouds never will be understood by us at all. "Knowest thou the balancings of the clouds?" Is the answer ever to be one of pride? The wondrous works of Him, who is perfect in knowledge? Is our knowledge ever to be so?...

For my own part, I enjoy the mystery, and perhaps the reader may. I think he ought. He should not be less grateful for summer rain, or see less beauty in the clouds of morning, because they come to prove him with hard questions; to which perhaps, if we look close at the heavenly scroll, we may find also a syllable or two of answer, illuminated here and there.[16]

[16] Compare, in 'Sartor Resartus,' the boy's watching from the garden wall.

And though the climates of the south and east may be comparatively clear, they are no more absolutely clear than our own northern air. Intense clearness, whether, in the north, after or before rain, or in some moments of twilight in the south, is always, as far as I am acquainted with natural phenomena, a notable thing. Mist of some sort, or mirage, or confusion of light or of cloud, are the general facts; the distance may vary in different climates at which the effects of mist begin, but they are always present; and therefore, in all probability, it is meant that we should enjoy them.... We surely need not wonder that mist and all its phenomena have been made delightful to us, since our happiness as thinking beings must depend on our being content to accept only partial knowledge even in those matters which chiefly concern us. If we insist upon perfect intelligibility and complete declaration in every moral subject, we shall instantly fall into misery of unbelief. Our whole happiness and power of energetic action depend upon our being able to breathe and live in the cloud; content to see it opening here, and closing there; rejoicing to catch through the thinnest films of it, glimpses of stable and substantial things; but yet perceiving a nobleness even in the concealment, and rejoicing that the kindly veil is spread where the untempered light might have scorched us, or the infinite clearness wearied. And I believe that the resentment of this interference of the mist is one of the forms of proud error which are too easily mistaken for virtues. To be content in utter darkness and ignorance is indeed unmanly, and therefore we think that to love light and find knowledge must always be right. Yet (as in all matters before observed,) wherever pride has any share in the work, even knowledge and light may be ill pursued. Knowledge is good, and light is good: yet man perished in seeking knowledge, and moths perish in seeking light; and if we, who are crushed before the moth, will not accept such mystery as is needful to us, we shall perish in like manner. But, accepted in humbleness, it instantly becomes an element of pleasure; and I think that every rightly constituted mind ought to rejoice, not so much in knowing anything clearly, as in feeling that there is infinitely more which it cannot know. None but proud or weak men would mourn over this, for we may always know more, if we choose, by working on; but the pleasure is, I think, to humble people, in knowing that the journey is endless, the treasure inexhaustible,—watching the cloud still march before them with its summitless pillar, and being sure that, to the end of time, and to the length of eternity, the mysteries of its infinity will still open farther and farther, their dimness being the sign and necessary adjunct of their inexhaustibleness. I know there are an evil mystery, and a deathful dimness,—the mystery of the great Babylon—the dimness of the sealed eye and soul; but do not let us confuse these with the glorious mystery of the things which the "angels desire to look into," or with the dimness which, even before the clear eye and open soul, still rests on sealed pages of the eternal volume.

25. On some isolated mountain at day-break,[17] when the night mists first rise from off the plain, watch their white and lakelike fields, as they float in level bays, and winding gulfs, about the islanded summits of the lower hills, untouched yet by more than dawn, colder and more quiet than a windless sea under the moon of midnight; watch when the first sunbeam is sent upon the silver channels, how the foam of their undulating surface parts, and passes away, and down under their depths the glittering city and green pastures lie like Atlantis, between the white paths of winding rivers; the flakes of light falling every moment faster and broader among the starry spires, as the wreathed surges break and vanish above them, and the confused crests and ridges of the dark hills shorten their grey shadows upon the plain. Wait a little longer, and you shall see those scattered mists rallying in the ravines, and floating up towards you, along the winding valleys, till they crouch in quiet masses, iridescent with the morning light, upon the broad breasts of the higher hills, whose leagues of massy undulation will melt back, back into that robe of material light, until they fade away, lost in its lustre, to appear again above in the serene heaven like a wild, bright, impossible dream, foundationless, and inaccessible, their very bases vanishing in the unsubstantial and mocking blue of the deep lake below. Wait yet a little longer, and you shall see those mists gather themselves into white towers, and stand like fortresses along the promontories, massy and motionless, only piled, with every instant, higher and higher into the sky, and casting longer shadows athwart the rocks; and out of the pale blue of the horizon you will see forming and advancing a troop of narrow, dark, pointed vapours, which will cover the sky, inch by inch, with their grey network, and take the light off the landscape with an eclipse which will stop the singing of the birds, and the motion of the leaves, together;—and then you will see horizontal bars of black shadow forming under them, and lurid wreaths create themselves, you know not how, among the shoulders of the hills; you never see them form, but when you look back to a place which was clear an instant ago, there is a cloud on it, hanging by the precipice, as a hawk pauses over his prey;—and then you will hear the sudden rush of the awakened wind, and you will see those watch-towers of vapour swept away from their foundations, and waving curtains of opaque rain, let down to the valley, swinging from the burdened clouds in black bending fringes, or, pacing in pale columns along the lake level, grazing its surface into foam as they go. And then, as the sun sinks, you shall see the storm drift for an instant from off the hills, leaving their broad sides smoking and loaded yet with snow-white, torn, steam-like rags of capricious vapour, now gone, now gathered again,—while the smouldering sun, seeming not far away, but burning like a red-hot ball beside you, and as if you could reach it, plunges through the rushing wind and rolling cloud with headlong fall, as if it meant to rise no more, dyeing all the air about it with blood;—and then you shall hear the fainting tempest die in the hollow of the night, and you shall see a green halo kindling on the summit of the eastern hills, brighter, brighter yet, till the large white circle of the slow moon is lifted up among the barred clouds, step by step, line by line; star after star she quenches with her kindling light, setting in their stead an army of pale, penetrable, fleecy wreaths in the heaven, to give light upon the earth, which move together hand in hand, company by company, troop by troop, so measured in their unity of motion that the whole heaven seems to roll with them, and the earth to reel under them. And then wait yet for one hour, until the east again becomes purple, and the heaving mountains, rolling against it in darkness, like waves of a wild sea, are drowned one by one in the glory of its burning; watch the white glaciers blaze in their winding paths about the mountains, like mighty serpents with scales of fire; watch the columnar peaks of solitary snow, kindling downwards chasm by chasm, each in itself a new morning—their long avalanches cast down in keen streams brighter than the lightning, sending each his tribute of driven snow, like altar-smoke, up to heaven; the rose-light of their silent domes flushing that heaven about them, and above them, piercing with purer light through its purple lines of lifted cloud, casting a new glory on every wreath, as it passes by, until the whole heaven, one scarlet canopy, is interwoven with a roof of waving flame, and tossing vault beyond vault, as with the drifted wings of many companies of angels; and then, when you can look no more for gladness, and when you are bowed down with fear and love of the Maker and Doer of this, tell me who has best delivered this His message unto men!

[17] I forget now what all this is about. It seems to be a recollection of the Rigi, with assumption that the enthusiastic spectator is to stand for a day and night in observation; to suffer the effects of a severe thunder-storm, and to get neither breakfast nor dinner. I have seen such a storm on the Rigi, however, and more than one such sunrise; and I much doubt if its present visitors by rail will see more.

26.[18] The account given of the stages of creation in the first chapter of Genesis is in every respect clear and intelligible to the simplest reader, except in the statement of the work of the second day. I suppose that this statement is passed over by careless readers without any endeavour to understand it, and contemplated by simple and faithful readers as a sublime mystery which was not intended to be understood. But there is no mystery in any other part of the chapter, and it seems to me unjust to conclude that any was intended here. And the passage ought to be peculiarly interesting to us, as being the first in the Bible in which the heavens are named, and the only one in which the word "Heaven," all-important as that word is to our understanding of the most precious promises of Scripture, receives a definite explanation. Let us therefore see whether, by a little careful comparison of the verse with other passages in which the word occurs, we may not be able to arrive at as clear an understanding of this portion of the chapter as of the rest. In the first place the English word, "Firmament," itself is obscure and useless; because we never employ it but as a synonym of heaven, it conveys no other distinct idea to us; and the verse, though from our familiarity with it we imagine that it possesses meaning, has in reality no more point nor value than if it were written, "God said, Let there be a something in the midst of the waters, and God called the something, Heaven." But the marginal reading, "Expansion," has definite value; and the statement that "God said, Let there be an expansion in the midst of the waters, and God called the expansion, Heaven," has an apprehensible meaning. Accepting this expression as the one intended, we have next to ask what expansion there is, between two waters, describable by the term "heaven." Milton adopts the term "expanse," but he understands it of the whole volume of the air which surrounds the earth. Whereas, so far as we can tell, there is no water beyond the air, in the fields of space; and the whole expression of division of waters from waters is thus rendered valueless. Now with respect to this whole chapter, we must remember always that it is intended for the instruction of all mankind, not for the learned reader only; and that therefore the most simple and natural interpretation is the likeliest in general to be the true one. An unscientific reader knows little about the manner in which the volume of the atmosphere surrounds the earth; but I imagine that he could hardly glance at the sky when rain was falling in the distance, and see the level line of the bases of the clouds from which the shower descended, without being able to attach an instant and easy meaning to the words, "expansion in the midst of the waters;" and if, having once seized this idea, he proceeded to examine it more accurately, he would perceive at once, if he had ever noticed anything of the nature of clouds, that the level line of their bases did indeed most severely and stringently divide "waters from waters"—that is to say, divide water in its collective and tangible state, from water in its aerial state; or the waters which fall, and flow, from those which rise, and float. Next, if we try this interpretation in the theological sense of the word heaven, and examine whether the clouds are spoken of as God's dwelling-place, we find God going before the Israelites in a pillar of cloud; revealing Himself in a cloud on Sinai; appearing in a cloud on the mercy-seat; filling the Temple of Solomon with the cloud when its dedication is accepted; appearing in a great cloud to Ezekiel; ascending into a cloud before the eyes of the disciples on Mount Olivet; and in like manner returning to judgment: "Behold He cometh with clouds, and every eye shall see Him." "Then shall they see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory." While, further, the "clouds" and "heavens" are used as interchangeable words in those psalms which most distinctly set forth the power of God: "He bowed the heavens also, and came down; He made darkness pavilions round about Him, dark waters, and thick clouds of the skies." And again, "Thy mercy, O Lord, is in the heavens, and Thy faithfulness reacheth unto the clouds." And again, "His excellency is over Israel, and His strength is in the clouds." And again, "The clouds poured out water, the skies sent out a sound, the voice of Thy thunder was in the heaven." Again, "Clouds and darkness are round about Him, righteousness and judgment are the habitation of His throne; the heavens declare His righteousness, and all the people see His glory." In all these passages the meaning is unmistakable if they possess definite meaning at all. We are too apt to take them merely for sublime and vague imagery, and therefore gradually to lose the apprehension of their life and power. The expression, "He bowed the heavens," for instance, is, I suppose, received by most readers as a magnificent hyperbole, having reference to some peculiar and fearful manifestation of God's power to the writer of the psalm in which the words occur. But the expression either has plain meaning, or it has no meaning. Understand by the term "heavens" the compass of infinite space around the earth, and the expression "bowed the heavens," however sublime, is wholly without meaning: infinite space cannot be bent or bowed. But understand by the "heavens" the veil of clouds above the earth, and the expression is neither hyperbolical nor obscure; it is pure, plain, accurate truth, and it describes God, not as revealing Himself in any peculiar way to David, but doing what He is still doing before our own eyes, day by day. By accepting the words in their simple sense, we are thus led to apprehend the immediate presence of the Deity, and His purpose of manifesting Himself as near us whenever the storm-cloud stoops upon its course; while by our vague and inaccurate acceptance of the words, we remove the idea of His presence far from us, into a region which we can neither see nor know: and gradually, from the close realization of a living God, who "maketh the clouds His chariot," we define and explain ourselves into dim and distant suspicion of an inactive God inhabiting inconceivable places, and fading into the multitudinous formalisms of the laws of Nature. All errors of this kind—and in the present day we are in constant and grievous danger of falling into them—arise from the originally mistaken idea that man can, "by searching, find out God—find out the Almighty to perfection"—that is to say, by help of courses of reasoning and accumulations of science, apprehend the nature of the Deity, in a more exalted and more accurate manner than in a state of comparative ignorance; whereas it is clearly necessary, from the beginning to the end of time, that God's way of revealing Himself to His creatures should be a simple way, which all those creatures may understand. Whether taught or untaught, whether of mean capacity or enlarged, it is necessary that communion with their Creator should be possible to all; and the admission to such communion must be rested, not on their having a knowledge of astronomy, but on their having a human soul. In order to render this communion possible, the Deity has stooped from His throne, and has, not only in the person of the Son, taken upon Him the veil of our human flesh, but, in the person of the Father, taken upon Him the veil of our human thoughts, and permitted us, by His own spoken authority, to conceive Him simply and clearly as a loving father and friend; a being to be walked with and reasoned with, to be moved by our entreaties, angered by our rebellion, alienated by our coldness, pleased by our love, and glorified by our labour; and, finally, to be beheld in immediate and active presence in all the powers and changes of creation. This conception of God, which is the child's, is evidently the only one which can be universal, and, therefore, the only one which for us can be true. The moment that, in our pride of heart, we refuse to accept the condescension of the Almighty, and desire Him, instead of stooping to hold our hands, to rise up before us into His glory, we hoping that, by standing on a grain of dust or two of human knowledge higher than our fellows, we may behold the Creator as He rises,—God takes us at our word. He rises into His own invisible and inconceivable majesty; He goes forth upon the ways which are not our ways, and retires into the thoughts which are not our thoughts; and we are left alone. And presently we say in our vain hearts, "There is no God."

[18] This passage, to the end of the section, is one of the last, and best, which I wrote in the temper of my youth; and I can still ratify it, thus far, that the texts referred to in it must either be received as it explains them, or neglected altogether.

I would desire, therefore, to receive God's account of His own creation as under the ordinary limits of human knowledge and imagination it would be received by a simple-minded man; and finding that "the heavens and the earth" are spoken of always as having something like equal relation to each other, ("Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them,") I reject at once all idea of the term "heavens" being intended to signify the infinity of space inhabited by countless worlds; for between those infinite heavens and the particle of sand, which not the earth only, but the sun itself, with all the solar system, is, in relation to them, no relation of equality or comparison could be inferred. But I suppose the heavens to mean that part of creation which holds equal companionship with our globe; I understand the "rolling of these heavens together as a scroll," to be an equal and relative destruction with the melting of the elements in fervent heat; and I understand the making of the firmament to signify that, so far as man is concerned, most magnificent ordinance of the clouds;—the ordinance that, as the great plain of waters was formed on the face of the earth, so also a plain of waters should be stretched along the height of air, and the face of the cloud answer the face of the ocean; and that this upper and heavenly plain should be of waters, as it were, glorified in their nature, no longer quenching the fire, but now bearing fire in their own bosoms; no longer murmuring only when the winds raise them or rocks divide, but answering each other with their own voices, from pole to pole; no longer restrained by established shores, and guided through unchanging channels, but going forth at their pleasure like the armies of the angels, and choosing their encampments upon the heights of the hills; no longer hurried downwards for ever, moving but to fall, nor lost in the lightless accumulation of the abyss, but covering the east and west with the waving of their wings, and robing the gloom of the farther infinite with a vesture of diverse colours, of which the threads are purple and scarlet, and the embroideries flame.

This I believe is the ordinance of the firmament; and it seems to me that in the midst of the material nearness of these heavens, God means us to acknowledge His own immediate presence as visiting, judging, and blessing us: "The earth shook, the heavens also dropped at the presence of God." "He doth set His bow in the clouds," and thus renews, in the sound of every drooping swathe of rain, His promises of everlasting love. "In them hath He set a tabernacle for the sun;" whose burning ball, which, without the firmament, would be seen but as an intolerable and scorching circle in the blackness of vacuity, is by that firmament surrounded with gorgeous service, and tempered by mediatorial ministries: by the firmament of clouds the temple is built, for his presence to fill with light at noon; by the firmament of clouds the purple veil is closed at evening, round the sanctuary of his rest; by the mists of the firmament his implacable light is divided, and its separated fierceness appeased into the soft blue that fills the depth of distance with its bloom, and the flush with which the mountains burn, as they drink the overflowing of the dayspring. And in this tabernacling of the unendurable sun with men, through the shadows of the firmament, God would seem to set forth the stooping of His own Majesty to men, upon the throne of the firmament. As the Creator of all the worlds, and the Inhabiter of eternity, we cannot behold Him; but as the Judge of the earth and the Preserver of men, those heavens are indeed His dwelling-place: "Swear not, neither by heaven, for it is God's throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool!" And all those passings to and fro of fruitful showers and grateful shade, and all those visions of silver palaces built about the horizon, and voices of moaning winds and threatening thunders, and glories of coloured robe and cloven ray, are but to deepen in our hearts the acceptance, and distinctness, and dearness of the simple words, "Our Father, which art in heaven."



27. Of all inorganic substances, acting in their own proper nature, and without assistance and combination, water is the most wonderful. If we think of it as the source of all the changefulness and beauty which we have seen in clouds,—then, as the instrument by which the earth we have contemplated was modelled into symmetry, and its crags chiselled into grace;—then, as in the form of snow, it robes the mountains it has made with that transcendent light which we could not have conceived if we had not seen;—then, as it exists in the foam of the torrent, in the iris which spans it, in the morning mist which rises from it, in the deep crystalline pools which mirror its hanging shore, in the broad lake and glancing river;—finally, in that which is to all human minds the best emblem of unwearied, unconquerable power the wild, various, fantastic, tameless unity of the sea;—what shall we compare to this mighty, this universal element, for glory and beauty? or how shall we follow its eternal changefulness of feeling? It is like trying to paint a soul!

28. The great angel of the sea—rain; the angel, observe,—the messenger sent to a special place on a special errand. Not the diffused, perpetual presence of the burden of mist, but the going and returning of the intermittent cloud. All turns upon that intermittence. Soft moss on stone and rock; cave fern of tangled glen; wayside well—perennial, patient, silent, clear, stealing through its square font of rough-hewn stone; ever thus deep, no more;—which the winter wreck sullies not, the summer thirst wastes not, incapable of stain as of decline;—where the fallen leaf floats undecayed, and the insect darts undefiling: cressed brook and ever-eddying river, lifted even in flood scarcely over its stepping stones,—but through all sweet summer keeping tremulous music with harp-strings of dark water among the silver fingering of the pebbles. Far away in the south the strong river gods have all hasted, and gone down to the sea. Wasted and burning, white furnaces of blasting sand, their broad beds lie ghastly and bare; but here in the moss lands, the soft wings of the sea angel droop still with dew, and the shadows of their plumes falter on the hills; strange laughings and glitterings of silver streamlets, born suddenly, and twined about the mossy heights in trickling tinsel, answering to them as they wave.

29. Stand for half an hour beside the fall of Schaffhausen, on the north side, where the rapids are long, and watch how the vault of water first bends unbroken, in pure polished velocity, over the arching rocks at the brow of the cataract, covering them with a dome of crystal twenty feet thick, so swift that its motion is unseen except when a foam globe from above darts over it like a falling star; and how the trees are lighted above it under all their leaves,[19] at the instant that it breaks into foam; and how all the hollows of that foam burn with green fire like so much shattering chrysoprase; and how, ever and anon startling you with its white flash, a jet of spray leaps hissing out of the fall, like a rocket, bursting in the wind and driven away in dust, filling the air with light; and how through the curdling wreaths of the restless crashing abyss below, the blue of the water, paled by the foam in its body, shows purer than the sky through white rain-cloud, while the shuddering iris stoops in tremulous stillness over all, fading and flushing alternately through the choking spray and shattered sunshine, hiding itself at last among the thick golden leaves which toss to and fro in sympathy with the wild water,—their dripping masses lifted at intervals, like sheaves of loaded corn, by some stronger gush from the cataract, and bowed again upon the mossy rocks as its roar dies away,—the dew gushing from their thick branches through drooping clusters of emerald herbage, and sparkling in white threads along the dark rocks of the shore, feeding the lichens, which chase and chequer them with purple and silver.

[19] Well noticed. The drawing of the fall of Schaffhausen, which I made at the time of writing this study, was one of the very few, either by other draughtsmen or myself, which I have seen Turner pause at with serious attention.

30. Close beside the path by which travellers ascend the Montanvert from the valley of Chamouni, on the right hand, where it first begins to rise among the pines, there descends a small stream from the foot of the granite peak known to the guides as the Aiguille Charmoz. It is concealed from the traveller by a thicket of alder, and its murmur is hardly heard, for it is one of the weakest streams of the valley. But it is a constant stream, fed by a permanent, though small, glacier; and continuing to flow even to the close of summer, when more copious torrents, depending only on the melting of the lower snows, have left their beds,—"stony channels in the sun." The long drought which took place in the autumn of 1854, sealing every source of waters except these perpetual ones, left the torrent of which I am speaking, and such others, in a state peculiarly favourable to observance of their least action on the mountains from which they descend. They were entirely limited to their own ice fountains, and the quantity of powdered rock which they brought down was, of course, at its minimum, being nearly unmingled with any earth derived from the dissolution of softer soil, or vegetable mould, by rains. At three in the afternoon, on a warm day in September, when the torrent had reached its average maximum strength for the day, I filled an ordinary Bordeaux wine flask with the water where it was least turbid. From this quart of water I obtained twenty-four grains of sand and sediment more or less fine. I cannot estimate the quantity of water in the stream; but the runlet of it at which I filled the flask was giving about two hundred bottles a minute, or rather more, carrying down, therefore, about three quarters of a pound of powdered granite every minute. This would be forty-five pounds an hour; but allowing for the inferior power of the stream in the cooler periods of the day, and taking into consideration, on the other side, its increased power in rain, we may, I think, estimate its average hour's work at twenty-eight or thirty pounds, or a hundredweight every four hours. By this insignificant runlet, therefore, rather more than two tons of the substance of the Mont Blanc are displaced and carried down a certain distance every week; and as it is only for three or four months that the flow of the stream is checked by frost, we may certainly allow eighty tons for the mass which it annually moves. It is not worth while to enter into any calculation of the relation borne by this runlet to the great torrents which descend from the chain of Mont Blanc into the valley of Chamouni.[20] I but take this quantity, eighty tons, as the result of the labour of a scarcely noticeable runlet at the side of one of them, utterly irrespective of all sudden falls of stones and of masses of mountain (a single thunderbolt will sometimes leave a scar on the flank of a soft rock looking like a trench for a railroad), and we shall then begin to apprehend something of the operation of the great laws of change which are the conditions of all material existence, however apparently enduring. The hills, which, as compared with living beings, seem "everlasting," are in truth as perishing as they; its veins of flowing fountain weary the mountain heart, as the crimson pulse does ours; the natural force of the iron crag is abated in its appointed time, like the strength of the sinews in a human old age; and it is but the lapse of the longer years of decay which, in the sight of its Creator, distinguishes the mountain range from the moth and the worm.

[20] I have slightly modified and abridged what follows, being impatient of its prolixity, as well as ashamed of what is truly called the ludicrous under-estimate of the mass of the larger streams.

31. Few people, comparatively, have ever seen the effect on the sea of a powerful gale continued without intermission for three or four days and nights; and to those who have not, I believe it must be unimaginable, not from the mere force or size of surge, but from the complete annihilation of the limit between sea and air. The water, from its prolonged agitation, is beaten, not into mere creamy foam, but into masses of accumulated yeast, which hang in ropes and wreaths from wave to wave; and where one curls over to break, form a festoon like a drapery from its edge; these are taken up by the wind, not in dissipating dust, but bodily, in writhing, hanging, coiling masses, which make the air white, and thick as with snow, only the flakes are a foot or two long each; the surges themselves are full of foam in their very bodies, underneath, making them white all through, as the water is under a great cataract,—and their masses, being thus half water and half air, are torn to pieces by the wind whenever they rise, and carried away in roaring smoke, which chokes and strangles like actual water. Add to this, that when the air has been exhausted of its moisture by long rain, the spray of the sea is caught by it as described above, and covers its surface not merely with the smoke of finely divided water, but with boiling mist: imagine also the low rain-clouds brought down to the very level of the sea, as I have often seen them, whirling and flying in rags and fragments from wave to wave; and finally conceive the surges themselves in their utmost pitch of power, velocity, vastness, and madness, lifting themselves in precipices and peaks furrowed with their whirl of ascent, through all this chaos; and you will understand that there is indeed no distinction left between the sea and air; that no object, nor horizon, nor any landmark, or natural evidence of position is left; that the heaven is all spray, and the ocean all cloud, and that you can see no farther in any direction than you could see through a cataract.[21]

[21] The whole of this was written merely to show the meaning of Turner's picture of the steamer in distress, throwing up signals. It is a good study of wild weather; but, separate from its aim, utterly feeble in comparison to the few words by which any of the great poets will describe sea, when they have got to do it. I am rather proud of the short sentence in the 'Harbours of England,' describing a great breaker against rock:—"One moment, a flint cave,—the next, a marble pillar,—the next, a fading cloud." But there is nothing in sea-description, detailed, like Dickens' storm at the death of Ham, in 'David Copperfield.'



32. The words which marked for us the purpose of the clouds are followed immediately by those notable ones,—"And God said, Let the waters which are under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear." We do not, perhaps, often enough consider the deep signification of this sentence. We are too apt to receive it as the description of an event vaster only in its extent, not in its nature, than the compelling of the Red Sea to draw back that Israel might pass by. We imagine the Deity in like manner rolling the waves of the greater ocean together on an heap, and setting bars and doors to them eternally. But there is a far deeper meaning than this in the solemn words of Genesis, and in the correspondent verse of the Psalm, "His hands prepared the dry land." Up to that moment the earth had been void; for, it had been without form. The command that the waters should be gathered, was the command that the earth should be sculptured. The sea was not driven to its place in suddenly restrained rebellion, but withdrawn to its place in perfect and patient obedience. The dry land appeared, not in level sands forsaken by the surges, which those surges might again claim for their own; but in range beyond range of swelling hill and iron rock, for ever to claim kindred with the firmament, and be companioned by the clouds of heaven.

What space of time was in reality occupied by the "day" of Genesis, is not at present of any importance for us to consider. By what furnaces of fire the adamant was melted, and by what wheels of earthquake it was torn, and by what teeth of glacier and weight of sea-waves it was engraven and finished into its perfect form, we may, perhaps, hereafter endeavour to conjecture; but here, as in few words the work is summed by the historian, so in few broad thoughts it should be comprehended by us; and, as we read the mighty sentence, "Let the dry land appear," we should try to follow the finger of God as it engraved upon the stone tables of the earth the letters and the law of its everlasting form, as gulf by gulf the channels of the deep were ploughed; and cape by cape the lines were traced with Divine foreknowledge of the shores that were to limit the nations; and chain by chain the mountain walls were lengthened forth, and their foundations fastened for ever; and the compass was set upon the face of the depth, and the fields and the highest part of the dust of the world were made; and the right hand of Christ first strewed the snow on Lebanon, and smoothed the slopes of Calvary.

It is not, I repeat, always needful, in many respects it is not possible, to conjecture the manner or the time in which this work was done; but it is deeply necessary for all men to consider the magnificence of the accomplished purpose, and the depth of the wisdom and love which are manifested in the ordinances of the hills. For observe, in order to bring the world into the form which it now bears, it was not mere sculpture that was needed; the mountains could not stand for a day unless they were formed of materials altogether different from those which constitute the lower hills, and the surfaces of the valleys. A harder substance had to be prepared for every mountain chain, yet not so hard but that it might be capable of crumbling down into earth fit to nourish the Alpine forest, and the Alpine flower; not so hard but that in the midst of the utmost majesty of its enthroned strength there should be seen on it the seal of death, and the writing of the same sentence that had gone forth against the human frame, "Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." And with this perishable substance the most majestic forms were to be framed that were consistent with the safety of man; and the peak was to be lifted and the cliff rent, as high and as steeply as was possible, in order yet to permit the shepherd to feed his flocks upon the slopes, and the cottage to nestle beneath their shadow. And observe, two distinct ends were to be accomplished in doing this. It was, indeed, absolutely necessary that such eminences should be created, in order to fit the earth in any wise for human habitation; for without mountains the air could not be purified, nor the flowing of the rivers sustained, and the earth must have become for the most part plain, or stagnant marsh. But the feeding of the rivers and the purifying of the winds, are the least of the services appointed to the hills. 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,—are their higher missions. They are as a great and noble architecture, first giving shelter, comfort, and rest; and covered also with mighty sculpture and painted legend. It is impossible to examine, in their connected system, the features of even the most ordinary mountain scenery, without concluding that it has been prepared in order to unite as far as possible, and in the closest compass, every means of delighting and sanctifying the heart of man: "as far as possible,"—that is, as far as is consistent with the fulfilment of the sentence of condemnation on the whole earth. Death must be upon the hills; and the cruelty of the tempests smite them, and the briar and thorn spring up upon them; but they so smite as to bring their rocks into the fairest forms, and so spring as to make the very desert blossom as the rose. Even among our own hills of Scotland and Cumberland, though often too barren to be perfectly beautiful, and always too low to be perfectly sublime, it is strange how many deep sources of delight are gathered into the compass of their glens and vales; and how, down to the most secret cluster of their far-away flowers, and the idlest leap of their straying streamlets, the whole heart of Nature seems thirsting to give, and still to give, shedding forth her everlasting beneficence with a profusion so patient, so passionate, that our utmost observance and thankfulness are but, at last, neglects of her nobleness, and apathy to her love. But among the true mountains of the greater orders, the Divine purpose of appeal at once to all the faculties of the human spirit becomes still more manifest. Inferior hills ordinarily interrupt, in some degree, the richness of the valleys at their feet; the grey downs of southern England and treeless coteaux of central France, and grey swells of Scottish moor, whatever peculiar charm they may possess in themselves, are at least destitute of those which belong to the woods and fields of the lowlands. But the great mountains lift the lowlands on their sides. Let the reader imagine first the appearance of the most varied plain of some richly cultivated country; let him imagine it dark with graceful woods, and soft with deepest pastures; let him fill the space of it, to the utmost horizon, with innumerable and changeful incidents of scenery and life; leading pleasant streamlets through its meadows, strewing clusters of cottages beside their banks, tracing sweet footpaths through its avenues, and animating its fields with happy flocks, and slow wandering spots of cattle; and when he has wearied himself with endless imagining, and left no space without some loveliness of its own, let him conceive all this great plain, with its infinite treasures of natural beauty, and happy human life, gathered up in God's hands from one edge of the horizon to the other, like a woven garment, and shaken into deep falling folds, as the robes droop from a king's shoulders; all its bright rivers leaping into cataracts along the hollows of its fall, and all its forests rearing themselves aslant against its slopes, as a rider rears himself back when his horse plunges, and all its villages nestling themselves into the new windings of its glens, and all its pastures thrown into steep waves of greensward, dashed with dew along the edges of their folds, and sweeping down into endless slopes, with a cloud here and there lying quietly, half on the grass, half in the air,—and he will have as yet, in all this lifted world, only the foundation of one of the great Alps. And whatever is lovely in the lowland scenery, becomes lovelier in this change; the trees which grew heavily and stiffly from the level line of plain, assume strange curves of strength and grace as they bend themselves against the mountain side; they breathe more freely and toss their branches more carelessly as each climbs higher, looking to the clear light above the topmost leaves of its brother tree; the flowers which on the arable plain fall before the plough, now find out for themselves unapproachable places where year by year they gather into happier fellowship, and fear no evil; and the streams which in the level land crept in dark eddies by unwholesome banks, now move in showers of silver, and are clothed with rainbows, and bring health and life wherever the glance of their waves can reach....

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