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The Heart of Nature - or, The Quest for Natural Beauty
by Francis Younghusband
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Here I must answer an objection which may be raised—namely, that Natural Beauty is the concern of Aesthetics, not of Geography. An objector may freely acknowledge the value and importance of recognising and describing the Natural Beauty of a country, but may contend that this is beyond the province of Geography. It should be left to poets and painters, he might say, and geographers should confine themselves to the more prosaic business of exact measurement, of accurate delineation, of reasoning regarding the relation of the facts to one another, and of explaining the facts.

To such an objector I would reply that Geography is an art as well as a science. And in parenthesis I may say that I doubt whether any science can be complete which has not art behind it. We shall never be able fully to know and understand the Earth or to describe what we see if we use our intellectual and reasoning powers alone. If we are to attain to a complete knowledge of the Earth, and if we are to describe what we learn about it in an adequate manner so that others may participate in our knowledge, then we must use our hearts as well as our heads. We must be artists as well as meticulous classifiers, cataloguers, and reasoners. The Earth is a living being, a throbbing, palpitating, living being—"live" enough to have given birth to the remote ancestors of mankind, and live enough, so some biologists consider, to be continually to this day generating the lowliest forms of organisms. To know and understand a living being, particularly when that living being happens to be his own Mother, man must use his heart as well as his head.

With his head alone the geographer may do a vast amount of most useful and necessary work which will help us to understand the Earth. He may collect and classify facts about her and record measurements, and reason about these facts and measurements, but if he is to get the deepest vision of the Earth and learn the profoundest truth about her he must exercise his finest spiritual senses as well. And when he brings those faculties of the soul into play, it will be the Beauty on the face of Mother-Earth that he will see and that will disclose to him her real nature.

And therefore I hold that if it be the function of Geography to know the Earth and to describe the Earth, then the objection that the description of its Natural Beauty is outside the scope of Geography is not a valid objection. The picture and the poem are as legitimate a part of Geography as the map.

Some years ago in lecturing to the Royal Geographical Society I said that the Society ought to have given Wordsworth the Gold Medal. I meant that the poet by his vision had taught us more about the Lake District than any ordinary geographer had been able to see. With his finer sensibility he had been able to see deeper. He had been able to reveal to us truths about the district which no mere ordnance surveyor was able to disclose. He was a true discoverer—a geographical discoverer—a geographer of the highest type. He had helped us really to know and understand the district.

Be it noted, too, that he did not, as some would think, put into the lakes and hills and valleys something from within himself which was not really in those natural features. The particular beauty that he saw there was there waiting to be revealed. The natural features aroused emotions in his sensitive soul, and his soul being aroused saw the beauty in them. If the district had been of billiard-table flatness, with no lakes, no hills, no valleys, then even he, with all his poetic feeling and imagination, could not have put into the district what it did not possess. The beauty that he saw was really there, only it required a poetic soul to discover and reveal it. The spirit of the poet put itself in touch with the spirit of the district and elicited from the district what was already in it. The spirit of Wordsworth and the spirit of the district acted and reacted upon one another and came into harmony with one another. And as he had the capacity for communicating to others what he himself had seen, we are now able to see in the Lakeland beauties which our forefathers had scarcely known.

This is why I suggest to you that Natural Beauty should be considered as a legitimate part of Geography. And if you will look about you, you will note that Natural Beauty is having an increasing effect upon the movements of men. There is a very definite relationship between the Beauty of the Earth and her human inhabitants. The Poet Laureate builds his house on the top of Boar's Hill not because the soil is specially productive up there so that he may be able to grow food, for the soil is rather poor; not because water is easily available, for it is very difficult to get, as he found when his house took fire; not because of the climate, for the climate is just as good a hundred feet lower down; not because it is easily accessible to Oxford, for a big climb up the hill is entailed every time he returns from that city—not for any of these reasons did he build his house there, but because of the view which he obtains from that spot. It was Natural Beauty which drew, the Poet Laureate to Boar's Hill, as it was Natural Beauty which drew Tennyson to Blackdown to build Aldworth with a view all over the Surrey hills and the Sussex Downs.

It is this same spell of Natural Beauty, too, which is drawing people all over England to build their houses on the most beautiful spots. Our great country-seats—the pride of England—are usually placed where the natural scenery is finest. Humbler dwellings whenever the owner has the opportunity of making a choice are for a similar reason built wherever a beautiful view, however limited, may be obtained. Whole towns even are built on spots where the surroundings are most beautiful, or, at any rate, if for some other reason they were located where they are they tend to spread in the direction of most beauty. Dartmouth was originally built where it is because that site made an excellent port. But the new town has spread all over the cliffs at the entrance of the harbour wherever a beautiful view may be found. It is the same with Torquay. People originally went there on account of the warm, soft air. But though they can get much the same air in any part of the Torquay area, where they like to build their houses is where they can get the finest views.

On the Continent a similar tendency may be observed. Nice, Cannes, Monte Carlo, Biarritz, Montreux, Vevey, were no doubt originally located where they are for other reasons than only the facilities they afford for observing Natural Beauty, but that they have grown to what they are is undoubtedly due to Natural Beauty, and Natural Beauty has given the direction in which they have expanded. It is not by chance that villas and terraces and hotels have been built just on those particular points from which the most beautiful views may be seen.

And how great is the influence of Natural Beauty upon the movements of men may be gathered from the amount of money railway companies and hotels spend in advertising the charms of the particular localities which they serve. Railway-carriages are full of photographs and tourist agencies of pictures of different points in the neighbourhood of the railway or hotel. And we may be certain that business companies would not go to the expense of setting up these photographs and pictures if they did not think that people were influenced by them and would be tempted to travel to the scenes they depict.

The development of char-a-banc tours is another indication of the attraction—and the increasing attraction—of Natural Beauty. Since the War, especially, there has been a remarkable tendency of people of every rank in life to rush off whenever they can get a holiday to the most beautiful parts of these islands—to the moors of Yorkshire and Devonshire, to the Wye, the Dart, and the Severn, to the mountains of Wales, Westmoreland, and Scotland—to wherever Natural Beauty may be found. It is a noteworthy and most refreshing feature in our national life.

Every summer, too, both here and on the Continent, people make their way to the most beautiful parts of Europe—to Switzerland or the Pyrenees, the Vosges or the Rhine. And in the Dominions and America whenever they get their holidays they likewise trek away to mountain, lake, or river, wherever Nature may be enjoyed at her best. Men may, to carry on the ordinary business of life, be compelled to live in cities and places which are chosen for other reasons than their facilities for observing Natural Beauty. But whenever they can get away from their ordinary duties the tendency of men—and a tendency increasing in strength—is to fly away to the moors and sea-coast and river-sides and wherever else they can see the beauties of the Earth.

Then, again, men are increasingly sensitive about preserving Natural Beauty wherever it is best. It is quite true that men by the building of industrial towns and the erection of hideous factories, mining plant, gasometers, and so on terribly destroy Natural Beauty. But they are at least becoming conscious of their sins in this respect and of what they have lost thereby. They are therefore the more anxious to preserve what remains. And whenever there is an attempt to build on Box Hill, or erect an electric power-station on Dartmoor, a howl of execration is raised. And this howl means that men do value Natural Beauty and mean to preserve it.

Young countries also realise its value. In California the Yosemite Valley is preserved for ever for human enjoyment. And in Canada, Australia, and South Africa national parks are protected against the encroachments of industrial enterprises.

Men not only preserve spots of Natural Beauty; they also seek to improve them. The nobleman of ancient lineage and the new millionaire alike strive to add to the beauty of their estates. The hours they love best are the hours they can devote to opening up vistas, planting beautiful trees or flowering shrubs from distant lands, building up rockeries, forming artificial lakes, laying out lawns, and stocking their gardens with the choicest flowers.

The effect of Natural Beauty upon man and of man upon Natural Beauty is immense. Geographers take note of the effect which the Alps by reason of their height and ruggedness, or the Rhine by reason of its length, breadth, and depth, have upon the activities of men—upon their history, politics, and economic life. My contention is that equally should geographers note the effect which these same natural features of the Earth by reason of their beauty have upon men's activities and movements.

And when Natural Beauty is fully recognised as within the province of Geography, we shall be taught to pay to it the attention it deserves—taught to look for it, taught how to observe it, taught how to describe it, taught where are the regions of special beauty and wherein their beauty lies, and lastly taught where in an ordinary district Beauty may be found, for even in the flattest, dreariest region some beauty at some time of day or at some season may be discovered. We shall, in short, be taught to cultivate the sense for Natural Beauty, and how to put in fitting words a description of the beauty we see. Our geography textbooks, besides all the mathematical, physical, political, and commercial geography they contain, will tell us something of the Natural Beauty of the countries they set themselves to describe. And geographers when they set themselves to describe a new region will not think it necessary to confine themselves within the old limits, but will do what the ordinary man instinctively does—describe its beauties.

Our methods of describing countries will thus radically change. A few years ago Colonel Tanner of the Survey of India read to the Royal Geographical Society a paper entitled "Our Present Knowledge of the Himalaya." In that paper he gave an account of the height of the peaks, the trend of the mountain ranges, the course of the rivers, and a deal of other very valuable geographical information. But in only one single line did he make any remark about the natural beauty of that wonderful region. Yet this omission was not due to any lack of appreciation by Colonel Tanner of Himalayan beauty, for he himself had painted the finest pictures of the Himalaya which have yet been produced. He made no mention of it because he thought that to describe the natural beauty of the Himalaya was to stray beyond the bounds of Geography.

Such a grievous misconception of the true scope of Geography will, I trust, be removed in future. And when it no longer exists Geography will require for its pursuit the exercise of the finest faculties of the soul as well as the strictest qualities of the intellect. It will call forth capacity for the closest and most accurate observation and the highest powers of description. To us adventure-loving and Nature-loving Englishmen it should of all subjects be the most popular.

THE END

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