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Monday, August 07, 2006

There is No Wealth but Life

A Victorian version of "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot" from Fors Clavigera: Letters to the Workmen and Labourers of Great Britain, written by Ruskin during the period 1871-1884:

You think it a great triumph to make the sun draw brown landscapes for you! That was also a discovery, and some day may be useful. But the sun had drawn landscapes before for you, not in brown, but in green, and blue, and all imaginable colours, here in England. Not one of you ever looked at them; not one of you cares for the loss of them, now, when you have shut the sun out with smoke, so that he can draw nothing more, except brown blots through a hole in a box. There was a rocky valley between Buxton and Bakewell, once upon a time, divine as the vale of Tempe; you might have seen the gods there morning and evening, - Apollo and all the sweet Muses of the Light, walking in fair procession on the lawns of it, and to and fro among the pinnacles of its crags. You cared neither for gods nor grass, but for cash (which you did not know the way to get). You thought you could get it by what the Times calls 'Railroad Enterprise.' You enterprised a railroad through the valley, you blasted its rocks away, heaped thousands of tons of shale into its lovely stream. The valley is gone, and the gods with it; and now, every fool in Buxton can be at Bakewell in half-an-hour, and every fool in Bakewell at Buxton; which you think a lucrative process of exchange, you Fools everywhere!"
In Praeterita III, he explains his sense of the word 'gods', and comments:

...and myself knowing for an indisputable fact, that no true happiness exists, nor is any good work ever done by human creatures, but in the sense or imagination of such presences. (p. 500)


Simon said...

Ruskin was referring here to the viaduct in Monsal Dale. The railway no longer runs, but the stone viaduct remains. It is now beautifully weathered and overgrown, looking very much part of the landscape. Monsal Head is certainly once again considered to be a great beauty spot and, because of the local flora and fauna, the valley is a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

I'm not sure what this says about Ruskin's tirade...

[Of course there's a road nearby as well now, so every fool and their dog can sully the landscape.]

August 08, 2006 9:55 AM  
david said...

Interesting. I wonder how much of any contemporary appreciation arises from the sight of nature reclaiming man's hubristic intervention, how much from a nostalgia for the early days of rail travel, and how much from the use of local materials in a skillfully crafted construction.

If it were an abandoned example of the ugliest kind of reinforced concrete road bridge, protruding rusting iron lattices, could we or our descendents ever consider it to be part of the landscape? I can't say I like pieces of old tarmac I occasionally encounter in the Yorkshire Dales.

August 08, 2006 4:11 PM  

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