Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 65.djvu/548

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
544
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

The view I hold firmly, and which I wish to place before you today, is that this popular belief that the love of mountains is a taste, or, as some would say, a mania, of advanced civilization, is erroneous. On the contrary, I allege it to be a healthy, primitive and almost universal human instinct. I think I can indicate how and why the opposite belief has been fostered by eminent writers. They have taken too narrow a time limit for their investigation. They have compared the nineteenth century not with the preceding ages, but with the eighteenth. They have also taken too narrow a space limit. They have hardly cast their eyes beyond western Europe. Within their own limits I agree with them. The eighteenth century was, as we all know, an age of formality. It was the age of Palladian porticoes, of interminable avenues, of formal gardens and formal style in art, in literature and in dress. Mountains, which are essentially romantic and Gothic, were naturally distasteful to it. The artist says 'they will not compose,' and they became obnoxious to a generation that adored composition, that thought more of the cleverness of the artist than of the aspects of nature he used as the material of his work. There is a great deal to be said for the century; it produced some admirable results. It was a contented and material century, little stirred by enthusiasms and aspirations and vague desires. It was a phase in human progress, but in many respects it was rather a reaction than a development from what had gone before. Sentiment and taste have their tides like the sea, or, we may here perhaps more appropriately say, their oscillations like the glaciers. The imagination of primitive man abhors a void, it peoples the regions it finds uninhabitable with aery sprites, with 'Pan and father Sylvanus and the sister nymphs,' it worships on high places and reveres them as the abode of deity. Christianity came and denounced the vague symbolism and personification of nature in which the pagan had recognized and worshipped the unseen. It found the objects of its devotion not in the external world, but in the highest moral qualities of man. Delphi heard the cry 'Great Pan is dead!' But the voice was false. Pan is immortal. Every villager justifies etymology by remaining more or less of a pagan. Other than villagers have done the same. The monk driven out of the world by its wickedness fell in love with the wilderness in which he sought refuge, and soon learned to give practical proof of his love of scenery by his choice of sites for his religious houses. But the literature of the eighteenth century was not written by monks or countrymen, or by men of world-wide curiosity and adventure like the Italians of the renaissance or our Elizabethans. It was the product of a practical common-sense epoch which looked on all waste places, heaths like Hindhead, or hills like the Highlands, as blemishes in the scheme of the universe, not having yet recognized their final purpose as golf