The world we live in is a fairyland of exquisite beauty, our very existence is a miracle in itself, and yet few of us enjoy as we might, and none as yet appreciate fully, the beauties and wonders which surround us. The greatest traveller cannot hope even in a long life to visit more than a very small part of our earth, and even of that which is under our very eyes how little we see!
What we do see depends mainly on what we look for. When we turn our eyes to the sky, it is in most cases merely to see whether it is likely to rain. In the same field the farmer will notice the crop, geologists the fossils, botanists the flowers, artists the colouring, sportsmen the cover for game. Though we may all look at the same things, it does not at all follow that we should see them.
It is good, as Keble says, "to have our thoughts lift up to that world where all is beautiful and glorious,"—but it is well to realise also how much of this world is beautiful. It has, I know, been maintained, as for instance by Victor Hugo, that the general effect of beauty is to sadden. "Comme la vie de l'homme, même la plus prospère, est toujours au fond plus triste que gaie, le ciel sombre nous est harmonieux. Le ciel éclatant et joyeux nous est ironique. La Nature triste nous ressemble et nous console; la Nature rayonnante, magnifique, superbe ... a quelque chose d'accablant."
This seems to me, I confess, a morbid view. There are many no doubt on whom the effect of natural beauty is to intensify feeling, to deepen melancholy, as well as to raise the spirits. As Mrs. W. R. Greg in her memoir of her husband tells us: "His passionate love for nature, so amply fed by the beauty of the scenes around him, intensified the emotions, as all keen perception of beauty does, but it did not add to their joyousness. We speak of the pleasure which nature and art and music give us; what we really mean is that our whole being is quickened by the uplifting of the veil. Something passes into us which makes our sorrows more sorrowful, our joys more joyful,—our whole life more vivid. So it was with him. The long solitary wanderings over the hills, and the beautiful moonlight nights on the lake served to make the shadows seem darker that were brooding over his home."
But surely to most of us Nature when sombre, or even gloomy, is soothing and consoling; when bright and beautiful, not only raises the spirits, but inspires and elevates our whole being—Nature never did betrayThe heart that loved her; 'tis her privilege,Through all the years of this our life, to leadFrom joy to joy: for she can so informThe mind that is within us, so impressWith quietness and beauty, and so feedWith lofty thoughts, that neither evil tongues,Rash judgments, nor the sneers of selfish men,Nor greetings where no kindness is, nor allThe dreary intercourse of daily life,Shall e'er prevail against us, or disturbOur cheerful faith, that all which we beholdIs full of blessings.
Kingsley speaks with enthusiasm of the heaths and moors round his home, "where I have so long enjoyed the wonders of nature; never, I can honestly say, alone; because when man was not with me, I had companions in every bee, and flower and pebble; and never idle, because I could not pass a swamp, or a tuft of heather, without finding in it a fairy tale of which I could but decipher here and there a line or two, and yet found them more interesting than all the books, save one, which were ever written upon earth."
Those who love Nature can never be dull....