An additional ground I have for believing it to be true is that on that mountain-side near Lhasa I had a specially favourable opportunity of looking at the world from, as it were, a proper focal distance. And it is only from a proper focal distance that we can see what things really are. If we put ourselves right up against a picture in the National Gallery we cannot possibly see its beauty—see what the picture really is. No man is a hero to his own valet. And that is not because a man is not a hero, but because the valet is too close to see the real man. Cecil Rhodes at close quarters was peevish, irritable, and like a big spoilt child. Now at a distance we know him, with all his faults, to have been a great-souled man. Social reformers near at hand are often intolerable bores and religious fanatics frequently a pestilential nuisance. We have to get well away from a man to see him as he really is. And so it is with mankind as a whole.
So I become more and more certain that my vision was true. And the experience of the Great War strengthens my conviction. As we recede from it, what will stand out, we may be sure, are not the crimes and cruelties that have been committed and the suffering that has been caused, but the astounding heroism which was displayed, the self-sacrifice, the devotion and love of country that were shown—heroism and devotion such as have never before in the world's history been approached, and which was manifested by common everyday men and women in every branch of life and in every country.
* * *
The conclusion I reach from this experience is that I was, at the moment I had it, intimately in touch with the true Heart of Nature. In my exceptionally receptive mood I was directly experiencing the genius of Nature in the very act of inspiring and vitalising the whole. I was seeing the Divinity in the Heart streaming like light and heat through every part of Nature, and with the dominating forcefulness of love lifting each to its own high level.
And my experience was no unique experience. It was an experience the like of which has come to many men and many women in every land in all ages. It may not be common; but it is not unusual. And in all cases it gives the same certainty of conviction that the Heart of Nature is good, that men are not the sport of chance, but that Divine Love is a real, an effectively determining and the dominant factor in the processes of Nature, and Divine fellowship the essence of the ideal which is working throughout Nature and compelling all things unto itself.
THE HEART OF NATURE
That Nature is a Personal Being—or at least nothing less than a Personal Being—that she is actuated by an ideal, and that her ideal, so far as we are able to judge, is an ideal of Divine Fellowship, is the conclusion at which we have now arrived. But we shall understand Nature better, and so see her Beauty more fully, if we can understand how she works out this ideal in detail. And we shall best understand how she works it out if we examine what goes on within our own selves and see how we work out the ideal with which we believe Nature herself has inspired us. For it is in ourselves that the dominating spirit of Nature is most clearly manifested to us. And being ourselves the instruments and agents of Nature, and informed through and through with her spirit, we ought to be able to understand how she works if only we look carefully enough into the working of our own inner selves.
What we find is that under the inspiration of the genius of Nature we are perpetually projecting in front of us a pattern or standard of what we think we ought to be, or should like to be, and of what we think our country and the world ought to be. We set up an ideal. It is generally very vague. But there is always at the back of our minds an idea of something more perfect. And this idea we bring out from time to time from its seclusion and set up before us as an end to aim at.
Sometimes we deliberately try to draw the outlines of this ideal more definitely. Each of us will picture a slightly different ideal to the rest. The ideal men will differ just as much as actual men, and the ideal countries as much as actual countries. No two will be exactly alike. And each of us will probably make his ideal man very different from himself—perhaps the exact opposite, for each will be peculiarly conscious of his own imperfections and shortcomings.
But if the ideal man which each sets up differs in small particulars from what others set up, the general outline of all will probably be very much the same, as men in general are much the same when compared with other animals. All will be based on the idea of fellowship. So aided by examples chosen from among our friends, we may here attempt to build up an ideal type of man. For the effort will help us to realise better both what Nature is aiming at and how she works.
Formerly we might have drawn this ideal man upright, straight, rigid, unbending. More recently we might have drawn him as a super-man, the fittest-to-survive kind of man, all muscular will, intent only on bending every other will to his and crashing relentlessly on through life like a bison in the forest. But nowadays we want a man with the same reliability as the upright type, but with grace and suppleness in place of rigidity; and with the same strength as the super-man, but with gentleness and consideration in proportion to the strength. We do not want a man of wood; and what we do want is not so much a super-man as a gentle-man—a man of courtesy and grace as well as strength.
The stiff and stilted type of a bygone age will have melted under the warmth of deepening fellowship and become flowing and fluid. The man of this type will not only be full of consideration for others, but will naturally, out of a full and overflowing heart and of his own generous prompting, eagerly enter into the lives and pursuits, the hopes and fears, the joys and sorrows of those with whom he is connected. And with all this wide general kindliness he will be something more than merely amiable and good-natured, and will have capacity for intense devotion for particular men and women. He will necessarily have fine tact and address, adroitness and skill in handling difficult and delicate situations, and the sensitiveness to appreciate the most hidden feelings of others. Wit and distinction he will have, too, with ability to discern the real nature of people and events, and to distinguish the best from the good, and the good from the indifferent and bad. He will also possess that peculiar sweetness of disposition which is only found when behind it is the surest strength. And with all his gentleness, tenderness, and capacity for sympathy he will have the grit and spirit to hold his own, to battle for his rights, and to fight for those conditions which are absolutely necessary for his full development. He will, in addition, have the initiative to think out and strike out his own line and to make his own mark.
He will be a man of the world in the sense of being accustomed to meet and mix with men in many different walks of life and of many different nationalities. And he will be a man of the home in the sense of being devoted to his own family circle. He will be at home in the town and at home in the country; adapted to the varied society, interests, and pursuits which town life can afford, but devoted also to the country, to the open air and elemental nature and animals and plants.
A fixed principle and firm determination with him will be to do his duty—to do his social duty, to do the right thing at whatever temporary cost to himself. The right thing for him will be that which produces most good. And he will deem that the most good which best promotes human fellowship, warms it with love, colours it with beauty, enlightens it with truth, and sweetens it with grace. Finally, and culminatingly, he will have that spirituality and fine sensitiveness of soul which will put him in touch with the true Heart of Nature and make him eagerly responsive to the subtlest promptings which spring therefrom; so he will be possessed of a profound conviction, rooted in the very depths of his being, that in doing the right thing, or in other words pursuing righteousness, he is carrying out the will and intention of that Divine Being whom we here call Nature but whom we might also call God.
This, or something like it, is the ideal of a man which most of us would form under the impress and impetus of the indwelling genius of Nature. But this ideal can only be reached by an individual when his country also has reached it. He will be driven, therefore, to make his country behave and act up to this ideal. And his country cannot so act till the general society of nations conducts itself on the same general lines. His country, therefore, will be driven to make the general society of nations behave in accordance with the principles of high fellowship.
* * *
We have made for ourselves the ideal of a man. It remains to show that the finest pitch of all is only reached in the union of man and woman. The man is not complete without the woman, nor the woman without the man. It is in their union, therefore, that the ideal in its greatest perfection will be seen. The flower which results from the working of the ideal in the Heart of Nature, as the flower of the rose results from the working of the rose-ideal in the heart of the rose-seed, we see in the love of man and woman at the supreme moment of their union. This is the very holiest thing in Nature. It is then that both the man and the woman are to the fullest extent themselves, both to be and to express all that is in them to be. They love then to their extreme capacity to love. They are gentle then to the utmost limit of tenderness. And they are strong then to the farthest stretch of their strength.
And while they thus reach the very acme of Nature's ideal so far as we men can discern it, they, at the same time and in so doing, touch the very foundations of Nature as well. Mathematicians have discovered that there is no such thing as a perfectly straight line, and that curvature is a fundamental property of the physical world. So also is it in the spiritual world. As we reach the topmost height of the ideal we find that it has curved round, and that we are at that moment at the very base and foundation. What is attracting us forward in the farthest distance in front is the very thing that is urging us forward from behind. Pinnacle and foundation, source and end, meet.
The love which attracted the man and woman together and which they keep striving to attain in higher and higher degree, is the same as the creative impulse which comes surging up from the very Heart of Nature. Direct and without ever a break it has come out of the remotest past and deepest deeps. Few seem aware of this, and yet it is an obvious fact—and a fact which vastly increases our sense of intimacy with Nature. It was due to the same impulse which has brought the man and woman together that they themselves were brought into being. Their parents had been attracted by the same vision of love and impelled by the same impulse. Their parents' parents had been similarly attracted and impelled, and so on back and back through the whole long line of ancestry, through half a million years to primitive men, back beyond them again through the long animal ancestry for scores of millions of years to the beginning of life. Even then there is no break. Direct from the very Fountain Source of Things this creative impulse has come bursting up into their hearts. At the moment of union they are straight along the direct line of the whole world-development, so far as this planet is concerned. The elemental in the natural impulse is the most ultimately elemental, for it derives itself straight from the pure Origin of Things. As they reach after the most Divine they are impelled by the most elemental. What, in fact, happens is that the elemental is inspired through and through with the Divine.
The union of man and woman is the flower of Nature. But, like the rose, it bears within it the seed from which some still more beautiful flower may result. No pair, however sublime their union, suppose that it is the best that could by any possibility at any time exist. An absolutely perfect union depends upon an absolutely perfect pair in absolutely perfect surroundings. And no one supposes that he himself is perfect or that the world around him is perfect. So there is in the pair a consciousness of imperfection, a vision of perfection, and a desperate yearning to be more perfect and to make the world more perfect. Deep and strong as the creative impulse itself is the impulse to improvement. It is due to this impulse that the mother reaches over her child with such loving care, strives to shield it from all harm, social as well as physical, and to give it a better chance than she herself enjoyed. It is due to this same impulse that the man works to leave his profession, his business, his science, his art, his country, better than he found it. It is due to this impulse also that men as a whole are driven to improve the whole Earth, to improve plants, flowers, trees, animals, men, and make the world a better place for their successors than it has ever been for them.
The pair—even the most splendid pair that has ever wedded —have deep within them this perhaps unrecognised impulse to improvement. They know that the rose can only bring forth roses, and that they can only bring forth men: they know that they cannot bring forth angels. But they know also that the rose, when wisely mated and its offspring provided with favourable surroundings of soil and air and sunshine, can give rise to blooms incomparably more perfect than itself. And they know that they themselves, if they have wisely mated, if they carefully tend their offspring and provide them with healthy, sunny, physical and social surroundings, can give rise, in generations to come, to unions of men and women incomparably more perfect than their own—as much more perfect as their union is than the unions of primitive men—richer in colour, more graceful in form, sweeter in fragrance, and of an altogether finer texture.
* * *
This, then, is the ideal in its completeness which we set up before us. But we have no sooner set it up than we find that the presence of this ideal within us makes us restless, unsatisfied, discontented, till we have set to work to bring things up to it; and that when we do start improving them we are forthwith involved in endless strife. Improvement means effort. It does not come by itself. It is only effected by strong, persistent, determined effort. It was no easy matter for the particles in the rose-seed to battle their way through the hard seed-case, strike down into the soil, send up shoots into the air, stand steadfastly to their ideal of the rose, and produce a seed capable of bringing forth a still more perfect flower. And it is no easy matter for us to burst through our own shells, strike our roots far down into the soil of common humanity and common animality, and there firmly rooted strike up skyward, stand faithfully to our ideal, and produce something which will have capacity for still further improvement. Immense and sustained effort is required of us for this to be accomplished.
Each man finds he has to battle with himself to make way for all the best in himself to come to the front. Each has to battle with the circumstances in which he is placed in order to find scope for the exercise of the best in himself. Each has to break his way through, as that wonder of Nature, poor primitive man, had to battle his way through the impediments of the tropical forests and the brute beasts by which he was surrounded. And just as primitive man was not the animal provided with the thickest hide like the rhinoceros, nor with sharpest claws like the lion, nor with the fiercest temper like the tiger, but was of all his fellows the one with the most sensitive nature, so are those nearest the ideal the most delicately sensitive of mankind.
The ideal is never approached, much less attained, except by men and women of the most highly-strung natures—natures peculiarly susceptible to pain. And with this extra susceptibility to pain they have to expose to the risk of wounds and bruises the most sensitive parts of their natures. Suffering is therefore inevitably their lot. It is the invariable attendant of progress however beneficent. Excruciating pain each expects to have to endure—as every expectant mother and every soldier anticipates on the physical plane.
We find, too, that in working out our ideal we are not only required to endure pain, but to submit to the sternest discipline. First, we need self-discipline. Each individual finds that he is required to exercise his faculties to the full, make the utmost of himself, attain to the highest of which he is capable, and be ready for any sacrifice. So he must train his faculties to the highest. He is required also to work in concert with his fellows. The stern obligation is therefore upon him to forgo his own private advantage in order that the common end may be achieved. This obligation he has readily to acknowledge and submit to. He has also to acknowledge what he owes to Nature, what is his duty to Nature. And that duty he has to perform and her authority he has to admit. He can retain his freedom and initiative and enterprise. But he has to obey the laws of Nature, acknowledge her authority, submit to her discipline. No soldiers were more full of independence and initiative than the Australians, but no troops at the end of the War realised better than they did that success can only be achieved through strictest discipline as well as freedom and initiative. The lover also knows that only through the sternest discipline and constraint upon himself is his object attained. Thus there is an imperative necessity upon a man to be orderly in his behaviour, loyal, faithful, dutiful, and obedient to the ideal within him. Any failure in loyalty and obedience is a sin against Nature and a sin against himself. The call of honour and of humanity is upon him, and that call he has to obey without hesitation.
Equally are men expected to be ready to exercise authority, to maintain discipline and preserve order. The exercise of authority is no less an obligation and duty upon men than obedience to it. And the one has to be practised just as much as the other. Or, rather, the exercise of authority has to be practised more, for it is more difficult and more valuable. And the proper exercise of authority, maintenance of discipline, and preservation of order, is a duty men owe ultimately to Nature herself. For it is from Nature that they finally derive their authority and to Nature that they are ultimately responsible.
Whether as captain of the eleven or as head of the house at school, as manager of an office or a business, as policeman or foreman, as corporal or Commander-in-Chief, as administrator or Prime Minister, whether as nurse, parent, or schoolmistress, a man or woman is in his position of authority directly or indirectly on the appointment or choice of those over whom he has to exercise authority. He is there to exercise authority for their benefit. They have placed him—as the public place the policeman—in authority for that purpose. And they have a right to expect that he will exercise his authority with decision, maintain discipline with firmness, and preserve order with even-handed justice. For only then can they themselves know where they are, get on with their own duties and affairs, and fulfil the law of their being. Ultimately those in authority are chosen by, and are responsible to, those over whom they exercise authority. And those who choose them expect and require them to exercise authority authoritatively.
Each in his own particular sphere, in that particular place and for the time being, has to exercise his authority with strictness. Otherwise the rest cannot fulfil their own duties. The policeman has to exercise his authority even over a Prince, as otherwise there might be chaos in the streets and no one would be able to get about his business with surety. The whole people have chosen each for his particular position of authority, and for their benefit expect him to exercise it strictly.
The people, again, spring from Nature as a whole. They are the representatives of Nature. Those in authority are therefore, in their particular province, for that particular purpose, and for the time being the representatives of Nature. They are accountable to Nature, and Nature expects them as her representatives to exercise authority with wisdom and discretion, but on the same basic principles of absolute fairness and perfect orderliness that she herself in her elemental aspects exercises her authority.
Besides obeying authority and exercising authority, men have also to practise leadership. Merely to give and obey orders is nothing like sufficient. In most things a man follows some leader, but in each man there is one thing—his own particular line—in which he can lead. In that line he is expected to qualify himself for leadership, and be prepared to take the risks of high adventure. For it is only through leadership, through someone venturing out beyond the ruck and getting his fellows to follow him, that any progress is made. Mere obedience to authority and exercise of authority never initiate any new departure. These only provide the conditions for progress. In addition to these the divine gift of leadership is required. Leadership is therefore the supremely important quality which men require.
But men cannot intelligently act in concert and alertly; cannot willingly submit themselves to a rigid discipline; cannot exercise authority with confidence and weight; and cannot lead so that others may follow, unless all are animated by the same idea. And they are not likely to sacrifice their lives for that idea unless they are convinced of its value. Only for the most precious things in life do men willingly give up their lives. And before they submit to unquestioning discipline and sacrifice themselves for an ideal they need a clear understanding of that ideal and a just appreciation of its value. So they think out the ideal with greater precision and make sure that what they are aiming at is nothing short of the highest. Now the ideal of fellowship enriched with beauty and elevated to the Divine is one which all can understand and of which all can see the value. Because it is the highest it is satisfying to the deepest needs and cravings of their nature, and is therefore of a value beyond all reckoning. Assured of that, they summon up all the courage and fortitude that is theirs, all their spirit and mettle, to endure unflinchingly the pain that must be theirs. And in spite of the effort, the long, strict training, the rigid discipline, the hardship and suffering they have to undergo, they joyfully play their part because they are assured in their hearts that what they are living for and would readily die for is supremely worth while. Deep in their hearts is that divine joy of battle that fighters for the highest always feel. And they fight with power and conviction because they know that their ideal has come into their hearts straight from Nature herself, and experience has shown that what Nature has in mind she does in the end achieve: she not only has the will and intention but the power to carry into effect what she determines.
* * *
This is how we formulate the ideal to ourselves in ever-developing completeness; and this is how with pain and effort but with over-compensating joy we carry it into effect. And these experiences of ours in the formulation and working out of our ideal give us the clue to the manner in which Nature on her part works out her ideal. We are the representations and representatives of the whole, and we may assume that the whole works in much the same way as we ourselves work. If this be so we may expect to find that Nature will work as an artist works, that is, out of his own inner consciousness, spontaneously generating and continually creating new and original forms approaching (through a process of trial and error experimentation) more and more closely to that ideal of perfection which he has always, though often unconsciously, before him. And this is how we actually do find Nature working. We find her reaching after perfection of form, now in one direction, now in another; first in plants, next in animals, then in insects, then in birds, then in apes, then in men, here in one type and there in another, never reaching complete perfection anywhere, any more than the greatest artist ever does in any particular, but still reaching perfection in a higher and higher degree, and making the state of the whole of a richer and intenser perfection.
We have, therefore, ample evidence that Nature is actuated by an intention to enrich perfection and is continually working towards it. So we have confidence that Nature, hard and exacting though she be, is only exacting in order that the Highest may be attained. We know that Nature is aiming at the Highest and nothing short of the Highest. And all the spirit of daring and adventure in us leaps to the call she makes.
And we respond to the call with all the greater alacrity because we feel that the attainment of that Highest is dependent to a large degree upon ourselves. We have a sense of real responsibility in the matter. And for this reason—that though Nature lays down the great constitutional laws within which man, her completest representative, must work; and though Nature as a whole formulates the main outlines of her ideal; yet man within that constitution can make his own laws, and within its main outlines may refine and perfect the ideal.
Nature may be working out her ideal on other stars through the agency of other kinds of beings more perfect than ourselves; and while the ideal in its main outlines may be the same there as the ideal which is working itself out on this planet, it may there have assumed a higher form and be more nearly attained. But on this planet the more definite formulation of the ideal and the measures for its attainment are in the hands of men. We can perfect the ideal for ourselves, and make laws and establish customs to ensure its attainment. We are not the slaves of a despotic ruler, or pawns in the hand of an external player. Within the limits of Nature's constitution, the laws we obey are laws of our own making; the authority we obey is the authority which we ourselves have set up; and both authority and laws we can change in accordance with the growing requirements of the ideal which we ourselves are perfecting.
We go forward, therefore, with inextinguishable faith in the value of what we are battling for, and in the worthwhileness of all our efforts and endurances. And though the ideal, with which Nature has inspired us makes us restless and discontented, provokes us to increasing effort, causes us endless pain and suffering, and exacts from us the sacrifice even of our lives, we nevertheless love to have the ideal, and love Nature for implanting it in us.
* * *
And now that we have seen what is the nature of Nature, what is the end she has before her, and how she works to accomplish her end, we feel that we have gone a long way towards knowing and understanding her. We have had a vision of the hidden Divinity by which she is inspired. And this mysterious Power we have not found reigning remote in the empty spaces of the heavens. We have found it dwelling in every minutest particle of which this Earth and all the world is built, and of which we ourselves also are made—dwelling in the earth, and in the air, and in the stars; and in every living thing, in beast and bird and insect, in flower, plant, and man—and dwelling in them all in their togetherness. We have found it to be both immanent and transcendent. It only exists—and can only exist—in these its single self-active representations. But in relation to each of them it is transcendent. Each star and flower, each beast and man, is its partial representation. But the whole together is that Power which while it transcends is yet resident in, and inspires, each single part which goes to its making. In the inmost heart of Nature, as the ground and source of Nature, yet permeating Nature to the uttermost confines, and reigning supreme over the whole, we find God; actuating the heart of God we find an ideal; and actuating the heart of the ideal we find an imperative urge towards perfection, an inborn necessity to perfect itself for ever—just as inside the rough exterior of Abraham Lincoln was the real Abraham Lincoln, at his heart was an ideal, and at the heart of the ideal an inner impulse towards perfection; or as within the exterior France is the real France, in the heart of France an ideal, and in the heart of the ideal the determination to perfect itself.
This view of Nature is very different from that view of her which would regard the world as having been originally created by, and now being governed by, an always and already perfect Being, living as apart from it as the Sun is from the Earth, and being as distinct and separate from it as a father is from his son. And the difference in view must make a profound difference in our attitude to Nature, and therefore in our capacity for seeing and enjoying Natural Beauty. We may admire and worship but we can scarcely love, in any true sense of the word, a Being dwelling distant and aloof from us, and with whom, from the mere fact of his being perfect, it is most difficult for us to be on terms of homely intimacy and affection. But for a Being who, like our country, is one of whom we ourselves form part, we can have not only admiration and reverence but deep affection. We can and do love our country, for we form part of her, and have a voice and share in making and shaping her. We know that she cares for us, will look after us in misfortune, and will honour and love us if we serve her well and show her loyalty and devotion. And we can and do love Nature for precisely the same reasons. We feel ourselves part of her, and in intimate touch with her all round and always. And we have that which is so satisfying to us—the feeling that there is reciprocity of love between us and her. So our love is active, and it vehemently impels us to get to know her better and better, to get ourselves in ever closer touch with her, to discover the utmost fulness of her Beauty, and to communicate to others all that we have come to know and all the Beauty we have seen, so that others may share in our enjoyment and come to love Nature more even than we love her ourselves—love Nature in all her aspects, love physical Nature in the mountains, seas and deserts, the clouds, sunsets and stars, love plant Nature and animal Nature and human Nature; and, above all, love Divine Nature as best revealed in supreme men in their supreme moments.
In some of her aspects Nature may be stern and exacting. But she is never sheerly hard. She is compounded of mercy and compassion as well as of rigid orderliness. And her essential character is Love—and Love of no impassive and insipid kind, but of a power and activity beyond all human conception.
The importance and significance of this conclusion, if we accept it, is that we definitely abandon the repellent conception of Nature as governed by chance, or as cold and mechanical, or as guided solely by the principle of the survival of the fittest, and we accept instead the humaner and diviner view that Nature is actuated by Love; and, accepting that more winning conception, we can enter unreservedly into the Spirit of Nature and see her Beauty. Unless we had been assured in our minds, without any possibility of doubt whatever, that we could love Nature, we could never really have enjoyed her Beauty.
* * *
So Nature is not something static, fixed, and immovable, determined once and for all like a rock is, at least to outward appearance. Nature is a Person, and a Person is a process. Nature flows. Nature is always moving on. As our thoughts are all connected with one another and passing into one another; as all events are connected with one another and are continually passing from one into another, and form one great all-inclusive event which is in continual process of happening; so is Nature always in process of passing from one state into another state, while the whole forms one great event for ever happening. And actuating the whole process, determining the whole great event, is an inner core of Activity which endures through all the changes. It is the "I" of Nature, which informs, directs, controls the whole from centre to utmost extremity through all space and all time. It is the Soul and Spirit, the Genius of Nature. It is what we should mean when we speak of God.
Actuated by this spirit, whose essential character is Love, the process glides smoothly, unbrokenly, and wellnigh imperceptibly forward. As we lift our eyes and look out upon Nature in its present actually existing state, what we see in that instant is the whole achievement of the past, and it contains within it here and now the promise of all the future. All the past is in the present, and in it also is the potency of the future. The achievement fills us with admiration. The promise thrills us with hope. To that Spirit which has achieved this result, which actuates the process and ourselves with it, which determines the great event, which ensures the uniformity and law and order which are the foundations of our freedom, and the essential condition of all progress, our hearts are drawn out and yearningly stretch themselves out in a love boundless as the process itself.
The more we find ourselves drawn to Nature and in harmony and love with her, the more Beauty do we see. In closest reciprocity Love of Nature inspires Natural Beauty and Natural Beauty promotes Love of Nature. And it is from the Heart of Nature that both Love and Beauty spring. Both also remain permanent and everlasting through all the changing processes of Nature—permanent but ever increasing in depth and height and volume. The promise of all the Love and Beauty of to-day was hidden in the womb of the past. In the womb of to-day is contained the promise of a Love and Beauty still more glorious. And ours it is to bring them into being.
NATURAL BEAUTY AND GEOGRAPHY
PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESS TO THE ROYAL GEOGRAPHICAL SOCIETY, DELIVERED AT THE ANNIVERSARY MEETING, MAY 31, 1920
NATURAL BEAUTY AND GEOGRAPHICAL SCIENCE
I have something to say which to old-fashioned geographers may appear very revolutionary, and which you may hesitate to accept straight away. But it has come to me as the result of much and varied geographical work in the field; of listening to many lectures before this Society; and of composing this Address and five lectures for you, firstly, as far back as 1888, on my journey across Central Asia from Peking to India; secondly, on my journey to Hunza and the Pamirs; thirdly, on Chitral; fourthly, on my mission to Tibet; and fifthly, on the Himalaya. And I expect when you come to think over what I have now to say you will find that, after all, my conclusions are not anything desperately revolutionary but something quite obvious and natural.
What I want to lay before you for your very earnest consideration is this—that we should take a profounder and broader view of Geography, of its fundamental conception, and of its scope and aim, than we have hitherto taken; and should regard the Earth as Mother-Earth, and the Beauty of her features as within the purview of Geography.
I will state my case as clearly and briefly as I can. Geography is a science. Science is learning, knowing, understanding. The object of geographical learning, knowing, understanding is the Earth. We must first, then, have a true conception of what the Earth really is. And next we must be certain in our minds as to what is most worth knowing about it.
To begin with our conception of the Earth. At the dawn of Geography it was believed to be a flat disc. Later it was discovered to be a sphere. Then it was found to be not a hard solid sphere like a billiard-ball, but to be hard only on the surface, and within to be quick with fervent heat. Now it is coming to be regarded as spirit as well as body—as in its essential nature spiritual rather than material.
When we get as far back as science is able to take us we find that the ultimate particles of which the Earth is made up are not minute specks of some substance or material, but are simply centres of radiant energy. Even with a microscope of infinite power we should never be able to see one, like we see a grain of pollen or a grain of sand. And if we had fingers of infinite delicacy, we should never be able to take one up between the forefinger and thumb and feel it. These ultimate particles are invisible and intangible. Nothing could be less substantial. And we find further that, inconceivably minute as they are, they act of themselves under the mutual influence of one another. The electrons are not like shot which have been heaped together by some outside agency, and which roll about the floor if someone outside gives them a push, but which will otherwise remain immobile. They congregate together of their own inner prompting. They are like a swarm of midges or bees in which each individual acts on its own impulsion, and, in the case of bees, all together form themselves into a definite organisation with a collective spirit of its own. The Earth is indeed influenced by its parent the Sun, and acts in accordance with the same laws and is swayed by the same impulses as govern the whole Universe, of which it is a minute though highly important mite. But the point is that the Earth is not something like a lump of clay which a potter takes in his hands and moulds into a ball. The Earth moulds itself from activities that it contains within itself.
Running through the whole mighty swarm of electrons we call the Earth is a tendency to order, organisation, and system. The myriad millions of ultimate particles in their all-togetherness and from their interaction upon one another become possessed of an imperative urge towards excellence. The electrons group themselves into atoms; the atoms clump themselves together into molecules; the molecules combine into chemical compounds, and these into organisms of ever-increasing size and complexity. So in the process of the ages there came into being, from out of the very Earth itself, first, lowly forms of plants and animals, then higher and higher forms exhibiting higher and higher qualities, till the flowers of the field, the animals, and man himself came into existence.
And now we reach the point I wish to make. If this account of the Earth which physicists and biologists give us be true, then we geographers should take a less material and a more spiritual view of the Earth than we have done, and should, like primitive people all the world over, regard her as Mother-Earth, and recognise our intimate connection with her. Primitive peoples everywhere regard the Earth as alive and as their Mother. And so intensely do they feel this liveness that many will not run the plough through the soil from dislike of lacerating the bosom of Mother-Earth. They see plants and trees spring up out of her, and these plants and trees providing them with fruits and seeds, leaves and roots, upon which to live. And they quite naturally look upon her as their Mother. And we men of the more advanced races have still more cause to consider her as our Mother, for we now know that not only the plants and trees but we ourselves sprang from her—as indeed we are nourished by her daily, eating her plants or the animals which feed on her plants. And as we judge of a lily, not by its origin, the ugly bulb, but by the climax, the exquisite flower; so we should not judge of the Earth by its origin, the fiery mist, but by its issue—ardent human fellowship. And if we thus judge her we shall find her a mother worthy of our affection.
So the first point I have to put before you is that we geographers should regard the object of our science not as a magnified billiard-ball, but as a living being—as Mother-Earth. Not as hard, unimpressionable, dull, and inert, but as live, supple, sensitive, and active—active with an intensity of activity past all conceivability. Yet with no chaotic activity, but with activity having coherence and direction, and that direction towards excellence.
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Now as to what we ought to know about the Earth. While Geology concerns itself with its anatomy, Geography, by long convention, restricts its concern to the Earth's outward aspect. Accordingly, it is in the face and features of Mother-Earth that we geographers are mainly interested. We must know something of the general principles of geology, as painters have to know something of the anatomy of the human or animal body. But our special business as geographers is with the outward expression. And my second point is that the characteristic of the face and features of the Earth most worth learning about, knowing, and understanding is their Beauty; and that knowledge of their Beauty may be legitimately included within the scope of geographical science.
It may be argued, indeed, that science is concerned with quantity —with what can be measured—and that Natural Beauty is quality which is something that eludes measurement. But geographical science, at least, should refuse to be confined within any such arbitrary limits and should take cognisance of quality as well as quantity. This is my contention. I am not maintaining that the actual enjoyment of the Natural Beauty of the Earth should be regarded as within the scope of geographical science, though this Society as a social body might well participate in such enjoyment. Enjoyment is feeling, whereas science is knowing; and feeling and knowing are distinct faculties. We can easily see the distinction. We may be travelling to Plymouth to embark for South Africa on some absorbing enterprise, and be so engrossed with thoughts of the adventure before us as to be unable to enjoy the famed West Country through which the train is passing, though all the time we were quite aware in our minds of its beauty. We are not actually enjoying the beauty, though we know quite well that it is there. On another occasion we may be returning after long absence in countries of far different character; our minds may be free from any disturbing thoughts; and we may be in a mood to enjoy to the full every beauty we see. England will then seem to us a veritable garden, the greenness of everything, the trimness of the hedges, the sheets of purple hyacinths, and some still remaining primroses, will startle us with joy, though we have long been aware of their beauty. This time we both know and enjoy the Natural Beauty. We see from this instance the distinction between knowing Natural Beauty and enjoying it. I am not claiming more than that knowing Natural Beauty—being aware of it—is part of Geography. But I am claiming liberty to extend our knowing up to the extreme limit when it merges into feeling.
What we have now to consider is the value of this Natural Beauty. A region may be flat or mountainous, dry or wet, barren or fertile, useful or useless for either political or commercial purposes. But it is not its flatness or ruggedness, or its utility or inutility for political or commercial purposes, that we may find in the end is the most noteworthy characteristic, but its beauty—its own particular beauty. The conventional gold or oil prospector, or railway engineer, or seeker for sites for rubber or coffee plantation, or pasture-lands for sheep and cattle, may not bother his head about the beauty of the forests, the rivers, the prairies, and the mountains he is exploring. He is much too absorbed in the practical business of life to be distracted by anything so fanciful—as he thinks. Yet even he does see the beauty, and long afterwards he finds it is that which has stuck most firmly in his mind. And when he has unthinkingly destroyed it, future generations lament his action and take measures to preserve what remains. Advertisements, also, show us daily that nearly all countries—and it seems more especially new countries like Canada and New Zealand—regard Natural Beauty as one of their most valuable assets. And the reason why the Natural Beauty of the Earth is deemed so valuable a characteristic of its features is not hard to understand when we come to reflect. It is because Beauty is a quality which appeals to the universal in man—appeals to all men for all time, and appeals to them in an increasing degree. It is something which all men can admire and enjoy. And the more they enjoy it the more they want to get others to share in their enjoyment. Also the more Natural Beauty they see, the more, apparently, there is to see. Poets in their poems, and painters in their pictures, are continually pointing out to us less keen-sighted individuals new beauties in the features of the Earth. The mineral wealth of the Earth has its limits; even the productivity, though perennially renewed, is not unbounded. But the Natural Beauty is inexhaustible. And it is not only inexhaustible: it positively increases and multiplies the more we see of it and the more of us see it. So it has good claim to be considered the most valuable characteristic of the Earth.
And if Beauty should prove to be its most valuable characteristic, it follows that knowledge of it is the knowledge about the Earth which is most worth having. It will certainly be the case that knowledge of other characteristics may be of more value to particular men for a special purpose for the time being. If an engineer has to build a railway, knowledge of the exact height above sea-level of various points and of the general configuration of the ground is of more value than knowledge of its beauty. But for the engineer himself, when he is not thinking of his railway, and for mankind in general, knowledge of the beauty may be the more valuable kind of knowledge.
For years I was employed in exploring the region where three Empires meet, where the Himalaya, the Hindu Kush, and mountains which form the Roof of the World converge. I had to report on the extent to which it afforded a barrier against the advance of Russia towards India, and wherein it would lie the most appropriate boundary between India and Russia, between India and China, and between Russia and China. What I learned of that region as a barrier against invasion was of more value to the Viceroy and Commander-in-Chief in India and the political and military authorities in England in the discharge of their official duties than what I learned of its beauties. But this utility of the region as a military barrier is not the characteristic which has most value to men in general. What to them has most value is its beauty—the awful beauty of its terrific gorges and stupendous heights. And it is knowledge of this beauty which is most worth having, and which has most geographical value.
Besides exploring the far region beyond Kashmir I was also employed for years in exercising a general supervision over the entire administration of Kashmir itself. Reports from experts used to come to me containing every description of geographical knowledge. Surveyors would send in maps for general purposes, for the construction of roads and railways, for the delimitation of village boundaries, and for registering the ownership of individual fields. Geologists would report on the crustal relief (as the features of Mother-Earth are inelegantly termed). Forestry, agricultural, and botanical experts would report on the productivity of the soil, on the plants and trees which are or might be grown, and on their present and possible distribution. Mineralogists would report on the minerals, their distribution and the possibility of commercially exploiting them. Every aspect of geographical science was presented to me. And each particular kind of knowledge for its own particular purpose was highly valuable. But the point I would wish to make is that my geographical knowledge of Kashmir would have been incomplete—and I would have been wanting in knowledge of its most valuable characteristic—if I had had no knowledge of its beauty. I might have had the most precise knowledge about the form and structure of the crustal relief of this portion of the Earth, of the productivity of the soil, of the distribution of its population, and of animals and plants, and about the effect of the crustal forms on the animals and plants, and of the animals and plants upon the crustal forms and of all upon man, and of man upon them all; but if I had had no knowledge of the beauty of these crustal forms and of the influence which their beauty has upon man, I should not have known what was most worth knowing about Kashmir. My geographical knowledge of that country would have been wanting in its most important particular.
These illustrations will, I hope, make clear what I mean when I urge that Beauty may be the most valuable characteristic of the Earth's features, and that the scope of Geography should certainly be extended to include a knowledge of it.
And there should be less hesitation in accepting the latter half of this conclusion when we note that Natural Beauty affects the movements of man, and that man is having an increasing effect upon Natural Beauty—spoiling it in too many cases, improving it in many others, but certainly having an effect upon it. There is thus a quite definite relation between man and Natural Beauty, and it should therefore be within the scope of Geography to take note of this relationship. To an increasing degree man now moves about in search of new Natural Beauty or to enjoy it where it has been already found. From all over the world men flock to Switzerland, drawn there by its beauty. Here at home they go to the Thames Valley, or Dartmoor, or the coast of Cornwall, or North Wales, or the Highlands, simply to enjoy the Natural Beauty. And railway companies and the Governments of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand think it worth while to spend large sums of money in publishing pictures of the beauty of the countries in which they are interested in order to attract holiday-makers or home-seekers to them.
And here, as in other cases, man now is not content to be an impassive spectator and to be entirely controlled by his surroundings. He does not allow the "crustal relief" to have the upper hand in the matter. He will not admit that all he has to do is to adapt himself to his surroundings. That servile view of our position in the Universe is fast departing. We are determined to have the ascendancy. And much as we admire the Beauty of the Earth we set about improving it. We fail disastrously at times, I allow. But sometimes unconsciously, and sometimes deliberately, we succeed. We have in places made the Earth more beautiful than it was before we came, and we have certainly shown the possibility of this being done. From what I have seen in uninhabited countries I can realise what the river-valleys of England must have been like before the arrival of man—beautiful, certainly; but not so beautiful as now. They must have been an unrelieved mass of forest and marsh. Now the marshes are drained and turned into golden meadows. The woods are cleared in part and well-kept parks take their place, with trees specially selected, pruned, and trim, and made to stand out well by themselves so that their umbrageous forms may be properly seen. Gardens are laid out, the famous lawns of England are created, and flowering and variegated shrubs from many lands are planted round them. And homes are built—the simple homes of the poor and the stately homes of the rich—which in the setting of trees and lawns and gardens add unquestionably to the natural beauty of the land. St. James's Park, with its lake, its well-tended trees, its daisy-covered lawns, its flowerbeds, its may and lilac, laburnum and horse-chestnut, and with the towers of Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament rising behind it, is certainly more beautiful than the same piece of land was two thousand years ago in its natural condition.
What has been done in this respect in England is only typical of what is done in every country and of what has been done for ages past. The Moghul emperors, by the planting of gardens on the borders of the Dal Lake in Kashmir, added greatly to its beauty. And the Japanese are famous for the choice of beautiful surroundings for their temples and for the addition which they themselves, by the erection of graceful temples and by properly cared-for trees and gardens, make to the natural beauty of the place.
So man is both affected by the Beauty of the Earth's features and himself affects that Beauty. And this relationship between man and the Natural Beauty of the Earth is one of which Geography should take as much cognisance as it does of the relationship between man and the productivity of the Earth.
But Natural Beauty is manifested in an innumerable variety of forms. The whole Beauty is never manifested in any one particular feature or region, but each has its unique aspect. Each feature has its own peculiar beauty different from the beauty of any other feature. And what men naturally do, and what I would suggest geographers should deliberately do, is to compare the beauty of one region with the beauty of another, so that we may realise the beauty of each with a greater intensity and clearness. We can compare the beauty of Kashmir with the beauty of Switzerland and California. And the comparison will enable us to see more clearly and to appreciate the distinctive elements which make up the peculiar beauty of each of those countries. It has been frequently noticed that people who have always lived in the same place are unable to see its full beauty. The inhabitants of the Gilgit frontier, when I first went among them, had never left their mountains, and were altogether ignorant of the special grandeur of their beauty. They thought all the world was just the same. But men who have seen many varieties of Natural Beauty and have taken pains to compare the varieties with one another become trained to see more Beauty in each feature. Fresh discoveries of Beauty are thus made, and our knowledge of the Beauty of the Earth is thereby increased.
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What I hope, then, is that this Society should definitely recognise that learning to see the Beauty in natural features and comparing the peculiar beauties of the different features with one another is within the scope of Geography, and will indeed become its chief function. I should like to see the tradition established and well known and recognised that we encourage the search for Natural Beauty, and look upon the discovery of a new region which possesses special beauty, and the discovery of a new beauty in a region already well known, as among the most important geographical discoveries to be made. In this matter I trust our Society will take the lead. Englishmen are born lovers of Natural Beauty and born travellers. The search for Natural Beauty ought, therefore, to be a congenial task for this Society. As I have tried to make clear, we cannot really know and understand the Earth—which is the aim of Geography —until we have seen its beauties and compared the varying beauties of the different features with one another and seen how they affect man and man affects them. We are constituted as a Society for the purpose of diffusing geographical knowledge, and I trust that in future we shall regard knowledge of the Beauty of the Earth as the most important form of geographical knowledge that we can diffuse.
When I was Writing out the lecture which I was invited to give before the Society on "The Geographical Results of the Tibet Mission" I could not resist devoting special attention to the natural beauty of Tibet. But as I read the manuscript through I feared that this attention to Beauty would be regarded by our Society as a lapse from the narrow path of pure Geography, and that I should be frowned upon in consequence and not regarded as a serious geographer. I ought, I feared, to have devoted more attention to survey matters, to the exact trend of the mountains, and the source and course of the rivers. But looking back now I see that my natural instinct was a right one—that a knowledge of the beauties of Tibet was not only one geographical result of the Mission, but the chief geographical result; and that, in fact, I ought to have paid not less but more attention, both in Tibet to noting its beauties in all their multitudinous variety, and in writing my lecture to expressing with point and precision what I had seen, so that you might share it with me, and learn what is the most valuable characteristic of Tibet.
When the new tradition is established, and travellers become aware that we regard knowledge of Natural Beauty as within the scope of our activities, the error into which I fell will be avoided. We shall think travellers barbaric if they continue to concern themselves with all else about the face of the Earth except its Beauty. We shall no longer tolerate a geographer who will learn everything about the utility of a region for military, political, and commercial purposes, but who will take no trouble to see the beauty it contains. We shall expect a much higher standard of him. We shall expect him to cultivate the power of the eye till he has a true eye for country—a seeing eye; an eye that can see into the very heart and, through all the thronging details, single out the one essential quality; an eye which can not only observe but can make discoveries. We shall require him to have the capacity for discriminating the essential from the unessential, for bringing that essential into proper relief and placing upon it the due emphasis. When he thus has true vision and can really see a country, and when he has acquired the capacity for expressing either in words or in painting what lie has seen, so that he can communicate it to us, then he will have reached the standard which this Society should demand. And this is nothing less than saying that we expect of him that he should have in him something of the poet and the painter.
Careless snap-shotting in the field and idle turning on of lantern slides at our meetings will no longer satisfy us. A traveller if he is going to photograph must spend the hours which a real artist would devote to discovering the essential beauty of a scene, and to composing his picture before he dreams of exposing his plate. But we want more than photographs: we want pictures to give that important element in Natural Beauty—the colour. And we want pictures painted in words as well as on canvas. Not shallow rhapsodising of the journalese and guide-book type, but true expression in which each noun exactly fits the object, each epithet is truly applicable, and each phrase is rightly turned, and in which the emphasis is placed on the precisely right point, and the whole composed so as distinctly to bring out that point.
Then in time we shall gather together the most valuable knowledge about the Earth. And when a stranger from a far land comes to us to know about any particular country, we shall be able to provide him with something worth having. When an Australian comes to England and wishes to know its essential characteristics, we shall do something more than hand him over maps and treatises on the orography and hydrography, the distribution of rainfall, of plants and animals, and the population. We shall regard ourselves as having omitted to point out to him the essential characteristic of the land from which Englishmen have sprung and in which they dwell if we have not shown him the beauty of its natural features. We shall give him the maps as aids to finding his way about, and we shall give him the treatises. But we shall tell him that these are only aids for special purposes, and that if he is really to understand England he must know its beauty in its many aspects. He will then have the geographical knowledge of chief value about England.
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A project in which the Society is now interested affords an excellent opportunity of applying the principles I have been trying to persuade you to adopt. The most prominent feature of this Earth, and the feature of most geographical interest, is the great range of the Himalaya Mountains. In this range the supreme summit is Mount Everest, the highest point on the Earth, 29,002 feet above sea-level. Attempts have been made to ascend the second highest mountain, K2, 28,278 feet, notably by the Duke of the Abruzzi. Colonel Hon. Charles Bruce, Major Rawling, and others have had in mind the idea of ascending Mount Everest itself. And for more than a year past both the Alpine Club and this Society have been definitely entertaining the idea of helping forward the achievement of this object. We hope within the next few years to hear of a human being standing on the pinnacle of the Earth.
If I am asked, What is the use of climbing this highest mountain? I reply, No use at all: no more use than kicking a football about, or dancing, or playing on the piano, or writing a poem, or painting a picture. The geologist predicts to a certainty that no gold will be found on the summit, and if gold did exist there no one would be able to work it. Climbing Mount Everest will not put a pound into anyone's pocket. It will take a good many pounds out of people's pockets. It will also entail the expenditure of much time and necessitate the most careful forethought and planning on the part of those who are organising the expedition. And it will mean that those who carry it out will have to keep themselves at the very highest pitch of physical fitness, mental alertness, and moral courage and endurance. They will have to be prepared to undergo the severest hardships and run considerable risks. And all this, I say, without the prospect of making a single penny. So there will be no use in climbing Mount Everest. If the ascent is made at all it will be made for the sheer love of the thing, from pure enjoyment—the enjoyment a man gets from pitting himself against a big obstacle.
But if there is no use, there is unquestionably good in climbing Mount Everest. The accomplishment of such a feat will elevate the human spirit. It will give men—and especially us geographers—a feeling that we really are getting the upper hand on the Earth, that we are acquiring a true mastery of our surroundings. As long as we impotently creep about at the foot of these mighty mountains and gaze on their summits without attempting to ascend them, we entertain towards them a too excessive feeling of awe. We are almost afraid of them. We have a secret fear that they, the material, are dominating us, the spiritual. But as soon as we have stood on their summit we feel that we dominate them—that we, the spiritual, have ascendancy over them, the material. And if man stands on Earth's highest summit he will have an increased pride and confidence in himself in his struggle for ascendancy over matter. This is the incalculable good which the ascent of Mount Everest will confer.
We who have lived among the peoples of the Himalaya are better able than most to appreciate how great this good is. We have seen how tame and meagre is their spirit in comparison with the spirit of, for example, the Swiss, or French, or Italian inhabitants of the Alps; and in comparison with what men's spirit ought to be. They have many admirable qualities, but they are fearful and unenterprising. Contact with them brings home to us what a spirit of daring and high adventure means to a people. And we are impressed with the necessity of taking every step possible to create, sustain, and strengthen this spirit in a people and in the human race generally. The ascent of Mount Everest, we believe, will be a big step in that direction.
The actual climbing of this mountain this Society will leave in the hands of the Alpine Club, who have special experience in mountain climbing. But the reconnaissance and mapping of the mountain and its neighbourhood will fitly remain with us. And here we reach the point where the principles I have been offering for your consideration might be applied. Were it not that the size of the first party will have to be limited on account of transport and supply difficulties, I should greatly like to have a poet or a painter, or anyhow a climber like Mr. Freshfield with a poetic soul, a member of it. For I say quite deliberately and mean quite literally that the geography of Mount Everest and its vicinity will not be complete until it has been painted by some great painter and described by some great poet. Making the most accurate map of it will not be completing our knowledge of it. The map-maker only prepares the way—in some cases for the soldier or the politician or the engineer —in this case for the geologist, the naturalist, and above all for the painter and poet. Until we have a picture and a poem—in prose or verse—of Mount Everest we shall not really know it; our Geography will be incomplete, and, indeed, will lack its chief essential.
The Duke of the Abruzzi, in his expedition to the second highest mountain in the world, took with him the finest mountain photographer there is—Signor Vittorio Sella—and he brought back superb photographs, for he is a true artist with a natural feeling for high mountains. But I have seen the very mountains that he photographed, and when I look at these photographs—the best that man can produce—I almost weep to think how little of the real character of great mountains they communicate to us. The sight of the photographs wrings me with disappointment that it was a photographer and not a painter who went there. Here in Europe are artists by the score painting year after year the same old European scenes. And there in the Himalaya is the grandest scenery in the world, and not a painter from Europe ever goes there—except just one, the great Russian Verestchagin, whose pictures, alas! are now buried somewhere in Russia. The Indian Services might do something, and they have indeed produced one great painter of Himalayan scenery, Colonel Tanner. But the Services are limited, and it is to Europe that we must mainly look.
On the first expedition to Mount Everest it may be only possible to send a photographer. But this will be a pioneering expedition to open the way, at least, for the painter. And then we may have Mount Everest pictured in all her varied and ever-varying moods, as I have, from a distance, seen her for three most treasured months. Now serene and majestic; now in a tumult of fury. Now rooted solid on earth; now hung high in the azure. Now hard and material; now ethereal as spirit. Now stern and austere—cold, and white, and grey; now warm and radiant and of every most delicate hue. Now in one aspect, now in its precisely opposite, but always sublime and compelling; always pure and unspotted; and always pointing us starward.
These are the pictures—either by painter or by poet—that we want. And they can only be painted by one who has himself gone in among the mountains, confronted them squarely, braced himself against them, faced and overcome them—realised their greatness, realised also that great as they are he is greater still.
And this that we want of the greatest natural feature of the Earth is only typical of what this Society should require in regard to all Earth's other features in order to make our Geography complete. As men have pictured the loveliness of England, the fairness of France, the brilliance of Greece, so we want them to picture the spaciousness of Arabia, the luxuriance of Brazil, and the sublimity of the Himalaya. For not till that has been done will our Geography be complete. But when that has been accomplished and the quest for Beauty is being pushed to the remotest lands and Earth's farthest corners, even the British schoolboy will love his Geography, and our science will have won its final triumph. At nothing less, then, than the heart of the boy should our Society deign to aim.
AN ADDRESS TO THE UNION SOCIETY OF THE UNIVERSITY COLLEGE, LONDON, DELIVERED ON MARCH 17, 1921.
You have been good enough to leave to me the choice of subject on which to address you this evening, and I have chosen the subject "Natural Beauty and Geography" because I have the honour to hold at present the position of President of the Royal Geographical Society, and am therefore supposed to know something about Geography, and because a love of Natural Beauty is one of the great passions of my life.
I believe the two are inseparably connected with one another, and, briefly, the view I want to put before you is this—.that a description of the Natural Beauty of the Earth should be included in Geography. By Geography we mean a description of the Earth. And we cannot adequately describe the Earth until we have observed it in all its aspects and really know and understand it. And we cannot really understand the Earth until we have entered into her spirit and feel ourselves in harmony with it. But when our spirit is in harmony with the spirit of the Earth we, in that instant, see the Beauty of the Earth. When we are seeing Beauty in the Earth we are understanding the Earth. In describing the Beauty of the Earth we shall be describing something that we really know about it—something of the real nature of the Earth.
For this reason I maintain that Geography should be taken to include a description of the Natural Beauty of the Earth's features. The description of the Earth is not full and complete, and is lacking in its most important particular, when it excludes a description of Natural Beauty, and only includes scientific details about the size and shape of the earth; its configuration; the composition of the crust; the depth, area, and volume of the ocean; the temperature, degree of moisture and pressure of the atmosphere; the height of the mountains; the length, breadth, volume, course, and catchment area of its rivers; the mineral and vegetable products of various regions; the political areas into which it is divided; the relation of the political and commercial activities of the population to the physical character of the features and to the climate. I, of course, acknowledge the importance of all this geographical knowledge. To the historian and the statesman it is essential that he should know the part which a certain mountain range or river or desert has played in human history. A soldier must know with extreme accuracy the configuration of the country over which his army is operating. An engineer must know the exact level and contour of a region over which he has to lay a railway or construct a canal. A merchant must know whether a country produces cotton, tea, and sugar; or wheat, wool, and meat. For all these and others, each for his own particular purpose, we want the kind of information I have described above—that is, what usually goes under the name of Geography. But the point I wish now to urge is that we shall not have plucked the very flower of geographical knowledge until in addition to all this we have a knowledge of the Beauty of the Earth.
Perhaps you will understand me better if I illustrate my point. When a dressmaker has to make a dress for a lady she has to measure her with the minutest accuracy. She must gain a knowledge, by careful measurement, of the exact shape and size of the lady's body, its true contour, and the length and breadth of the limbs—just as an engineer must have accurate knowledge of the Earth's surface. And to the dressmaker as a dressmaker knowledge of the lady's beauty has no value whatever. The lady may have the beauty of form of a Venus, but if the dressmaker has only knowledge of that beauty and has not exact measurements she will never be able to make the dress. But for humanity at large—and, as far as that goes, for the dressmaker herself when she is free of her dressmaking—knowledge of the lady's beauty is the knowledge that really matters. Whether she is twenty-six inches round the waist or only twenty-five matters comparatively little.
Now the Earth I regard as a lady—as dear Mother-Earth. A real living being—live enough, at any rate, to give birth to mankind, to microscopic animalculae first and through them to man. And no one can look at the features of Mother-Earth without recognising her Beauty. It is there staring us in the face. So I cannot conceive why we geographers should confine ourselves to the dressmaker attitude of mind and describe every other characteristic of the Earth except her Beauty. I should have thought that it was the very first thing with which we should have concerned ourselves—that the first duty of those who profess and call themselves geographers should have been to describe the beauty of their Mother-Earth.
Say a visitor from Mars arrived upon the Earth, he would no doubt report on his return that the mountains here were so many thousands of feet high and the seas so many thousands of feet deep, and the area of the land and sea so many thousand square miles; that the productivity of the land in one quarter had had the effect of attracting a large part of the population to that quarter, and the aridity or cold of another portion had had the effect of preventing human settlement there; and that mountains, seas, or deserts confining certain groups of human beings tightly within given areas had had the effect of compacting them into highly organised political bodies. All this and much more geographical knowledge the Martian would bring back to Mars. But his fellow-Martians would tell him that this was all very interesting, but that what they really wanted to know was what the Earth was like. They would ask him if he had not some lantern slides of the Earth, some photographs, something which would convey to them an impression of the real character of the Earth. And then at last he would be driven to describe her Beauty.
In the best words he could find he would express the impression which the Earth had made upon him. If he were a painter and if the Martians possess paint, he would paint pictures to express the feelings which a contemplation of the Earth had aroused in him. That is, he would show them the Beauty of the Earth in her various aspects. Perhaps he might not be able to see as much Beauty in her as we her children see. We may be too partial and see beauties that a stranger may not perceive. On the other hand, he might see beauties that we through being so accustomed to them have never recognised—as men living always within sight of some superb mountain scarcely appreciate its grandeur. Anyhow, he would describe to the Martians whatever he had seen of the Beauty of the Earth, and then at last they would feel that they were really able to know and understand her.
To descend from these celestial spheres and to examine what actually happens among ourselves when we venture into an unknown portion of this globe and seek to know what is there, a chief ingredient in the lure which draws men on to fill up the blank spaces in the map is undoubtedly a love of Natural Beauty; and its Natural Beauty is certainly what above everything else regarding that region remains in their memories after it has been explored. It is not only love of Natural Beauty that draws men on. Love of adventure has much to do with it also. Men feel a fearful joy in pitting themselves against stern natural obstacles and being compelled to exert all their physical energy and endurance, and all their wit and nerve and courage, in order to overcome them. The stiffer the obstacle, the more insistent do they feel the call to measure themselves against it. They thrill to the expectation of having their full capacities and faculties drawn out. By some curious natural instinct they seem driven to put themselves into positions where they are forced to exert themselves to the full stretch of their capabilities. This same instinct tells them that they will be never so happy as when they are making the very utmost of themselves and exercising their whole being at its highest pitch. Anticipation of their joy in adventure is therefore no small part of the lure which draws men into the unknown. And with it also is ambition to make a name and achieve fame. Some, too, are drawn on by the hope of wealth through finding gold, diamonds, and so on. But from what I have seen of gold and diamond prospectors on the spot in the act of prospecting, I should say it was quite as much love of adventure as covetousness of wealth that drew them into unknown parts. For experience shows them only too often that it is not the prospector but the company promoter and financier who make the money even when the prospector finds the gold or diamonds. Yet prospectors go forward as cheerfully as ever. They are fascinated by the life of adventure.
All this is true. Men delight in sheer adventure and in testing and sharpening themselves against formidable natural obstacles. Yet we shall find that love of Natural Beauty has an even greater share than love of adventure in enticing them to the unknown. Men picture to themselves beauties of the most wonderful kind which they expect to see—enchanting islands, mysterious forests, majestic rivers, heavenly mountains, delightful lakes. Instinct tells them that they will have the joy which comes from exerting their capacities to the full. But somewhere in the back of their being is, also this expectation of seeing wonders of Natural Beauty, and of seeing more of this Beauty from the very fact that they will be seeing it as a prize truly won and when their faculties are all tuned up to a fine pitch of appreciation.
And when they return from the unknown, when the adventure is over, when they are again relaxed, it will be the Natural Beauty which they have seen that will remain in their memories long after they have forgotten their exertion, long after they have expended any wealth they may have found, long after they have recorded the exact measurements of the various features of the region.
Curiosity to see the Natural Beauty of an unknown region is a principal ingredient in the lure that draws men to it. And Natural Beauty is what, above everything else in regard to the unknown region, stands out in men's memories on their return.
This at any rate is my own experience, and we are perhaps on safer ground when we speak of what we have ourselves experienced than when we speak of what we imagine must be the experiences of others. Though in this case I have good reason to believe that my own experiences are very similar to the experiences of others, and may therefore be taken as typical.
Almost my earliest recollections are of a Somersetshire village set in a lovely valley, fringed with woods and surrounded by hills. Up the hills on the side of the valley on which I lived I used constantly to go. But over the hills on the far side of the river I was never taken. So I used to picture to myself wonderful woods and rivers, and castles and great cities, and I longed to go there. The lure of Natural Beauty was beginning to make itself felt. As I grew to boyhood I was fortunate enough to be taken to North Wales, Devonshire and Cornwall, and later on to Switzerland and the South of France, and everywhere I saw much Natural Beauty. But, still, that only made me want to see more.
In all these cases, however, I only went where I was taken. I did not go where I chose or with an object of my own. It was not till I was in India and had the first leave from my regiment that I could go where I liked. Now, where I liked was to the Himalaya. And if I look back now and enquire of myself what made me choose the Himalaya, I can say most clearly that it was because I had in my mind a vision of long snowy ranges, and dazzling peaks, and frowning precipices, and rushing torrents, and endless forests. I thought how glorious it would be to be able to wander about at will and see all the magnificent scenery, to feast on the Natural Beauty, and when I came back to be able to tell others of the wonders I had seen.
So I made my first short trip in the Himalaya. But this only served to arouse my curiosity still more. I had seen some great mountains. But they were none of them more than 20,000 feet in height. I wanted to see still higher mountains. I heard, too, that up the valley of the Sutlej were some fearful gorges through which the river forced its way. I wanted to see them too, and see a great river in the very act of forcing its way through the mighty Himalaya. Above all, I wanted to see what lay on the other side of the Himalaya. I wanted to get into Tibet.
That for the time being proved impossible, and my thoughts wandered off to the far eastern part of Asia. I had read a book called "On the Amur," by Atkinson. Not altogether a very veracious book, but a fascinating book for all that. In it were alluring pictures of the broad, placid river. Rich forests came down to the water's edge. And on its surface were depicted delightful rafts and canoes. To glide down such a river, to camp on its banks and plunge into the forests which clothed them, seemed a joy second only to the joy of scrambling about the Himalaya. So with Mr. H. E. M. James—now Sir Evan James—I went to Manchuria, not, indeed, to reach the Amur itself, but to discover the source of its great tributary the Sungari, and to follow it down through the forests and over the plains for several hundred miles.
Now, what I want to impress upon you is that in all these cases it was the Natural Beauty which was the attraction—it was the picture I made to myself of what these countries would be like that drew me on. And I am sure it is with others as it was with me. Natural Beauty is at bottom what incites the traveller.
And, whether I had to go where I was taken or could go where I chose, it was the Natural Beauty that stuck in my memory. And when I returned it was of the Natural Beauty that I wished to tell my friends. And this, again, is the experience of others also. To this day, though I have never since seen them, I remember the beauties of Cader Idris and Dolgelly, Snowdon and Carnarvon, in North Wales, and of the rugged cliffs and long Atlantic waves on the Cornish coast. The Dart, here rippling over boulders and between rocky banks, here in deep, clear salmon pools, here merging into a long inlet of the sea and everywhere framed in wooded hill-sides, I have often again seen. But even if I had not, its beauty would never have departed from my memory. And it is the same with the first view of the Alps from the Jura, the view of Lake Geneva, of the Jungfrau, of the Pyrenees from Pau, and of the valley of the Loire. I have never seen those parts of Switzerland and of France since then, but their beauty remains with me to this day. And it is of their beauty that I have ever afterwards been naturally inclined to speak. When I talk about the Loire I do not tell my friends that it rises in a certain place, is so many miles long, at certain parts has a certain width, depth, and volume, and eventually flows into a certain sea. What I naturally speak about is its beauty, the rich valley through which it flows, the graceful bridges by which it is spanned, the picturesque old towns and romantic castles on the banks. And this is the common habit of mankind. Our friends may bore us—and we may bore our friends —with interminable accounts of the discomfort and inconveniences and the petty little incidents of travel. But when they and we have got through that and settle down to describe the country itself, it is of its beauty that we speak.
Natural Beauty is what attracts us to a country. Its Natural Beauty is the fact about it which remains most persistently in our memory. And it is about its Natural Beauty that we are most inclined to speak. Lastly, when we are in distant countries it is of the Natural Beauty that we chiefly think. When our thoughts go back to the home country it is not on its exact measurements and configuration that they dwell, but on its beauty.
From all of which considerations I conclude that any description of the Earth which excludes a description of its Natural Beauty is incomplete. Geography must include a description of Natural Beauty. And personally I would go so far as to say that the description of Natural Beauty is the most important part of Geography.