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On the effects of rural scenery.
"These are thy glorious works, Parent of good !"
Milt. PAR. Lost,
The pride and vanity of man, in order to distinguish him from the inferior animals of the creation, instead of having recourse to that reason by which he alone was formed " after the image” and “in the likeness” of his Maker, has led him to imagine a thousand frivolous and trifling marks of difference. Hence one philosopher defines him to be a laughing, and another a weeping animal. One makes the chief criterion between him and brutes, to be that, he walks upon two legs and is not covered with feathers; and another, with an affectation of piety, that he walks upon two legs and looks up to heaven; “Os Hominis sublime dedit, cælumque tueri jussit.” One, that he is the most perfect of creatures; and another, that he is the most helpless. So that, in short, the most inconsiderable varieties of form and manners have served them as sufficient foundations on which to build the most important of all generic distinctions; although in reality a negro, from under the equator, differs more in mere external appearance from a Greenlander, or an inhabi. tant of Terra del Fuego, than either of them docs from several other animals.
But though it may be very truly asserted, and few persons will now be disposed to contradict it, that the only real and certain difference between us and all other creatures, consists in the inestimable gift of reason; still this does not completely solve the difficulty;
for beasts also have some degree of understanding; and the wisest of men have never yet been able to explain the exact analogy which the internal faculties of the “half reasoning elephant," and the acute instinct of the dog, bear to our boasted understanding.
There is however one faculty of man, connected indeed with reason; but wholly independant of the exercise of its higher powers, which has, I believe, been entirely overlooked in all the various speculations upon this subject, and which yet seems to form a very marked ground of distinction between the human race and brutes. This is the delight occasioned to the mind by rural scenery; so that I would define man as an “animal capable of receiving pleasure from the beauties of Nature.” Of this there is not the least ground for supposing that other creatures are at all susceptible. No horse or dog, has ever been observed to stop to enjoy the view from a hill; to admire the rising or setting sun; or to choose to repose in a shady valley unless from the want of its shelter from the heat. A dog indeed will frisk in the snow, and, as Cowper says, will
“Shake his powder'd coat, and bark for joy:"
þut he is never seen to admire the frozen fog which hangs on the tree, nor the glitter of the sunbeams on the icirle which is suspended from the roof; and the horse bounds over the verdant mead with as much pleasure in a dreary marsh as on the mountain's top.
But if this be greater, still perhaps it may be said that this is an enjoyment not natural, but acquired, and therefore no distinction of man with respect to his genus; but either a natural taste in some individuals,
or else dependent wholly upon the improvement of the mind. If this be so, my argument is certainly illfounded, but I believe the very reverse to be the fact; I believe the most stupid and ignorant peasant receives as much temporary gratification by a view from a hill, or in a pleasant dale, as Gilpin himself ever did. Possibly indeed much more; for he has no power of frittering away his feelings by the exercise of his judgment in classing and analysing the objects before him, and thus finding a mountain too pointed, or a dale too circular, and its edges too strongly defined for picturesque beauty.
See the countryman upon a hill which commands what is commonly called a fine view. He opens his eyes, and stares around him with a grin of exquisite delight—"What a vast fine prospect here be! What a power of churches! and look, here's the river, and there's the wood! Sure 'tis a noble view, what a mort of miles one can see !” Place him in a deep valley, a Vaucluse if you will, and he exclaims, “What a vast pleasant place, so shady like, so green, and the water so clear! and then it is so lonesome-Why, a body may think here, without nobody's coming to interrupt him.”
Now in both these cases who will venture to say that the rude and uninformed peasant does not feel as much delight as a Radcliffe, or a Charlotte Smith, would do in similar situations. True it is, that the artless and, honest expressions of his feelings are not clothed in the glowing colours of the one, or the natural yet elegant language of the other. But the internal sensation is the same, and the only difference is, that he has no power of imparting the pleasure he has experienced to
others, in that exquisite manner which the two above. mentioned celebrated and rival ladies can.
I call them rivals, because they were both at the same time aspiring to fame by similar pursuits, though in writings composed in a very different style, and therefore not to be judged by the same rule. For the one is a novelist, but of the highest class, whose great merit is her delineation of character, and her views of life and manners, in which she is almost unequalled; while the works of the other are really romances as they are properly called; and the most striking circumstance which distinguishes them from other first-rate productions of the same kind, is the rich though sometimes gaudy colouring, which she throws over the vivid scenery that she so much delights to describe, and of which the imagery is such as belongs only to a warm country, and the most sublime objects of nature,
In Mrs. Radcliffe's works therefore the narrative is often of little use but to introduce the description to which it is subservient; in Mrs. Smith's, the description is only used to illustrate the story, and never forced into the service: it is always natural, and such as every reader of taste thinks he should feel himself in similar situations. Of this there are some striking instances in Ethelinde, in Desmond, and in the Old Manor House.
Although it may not be strictly pertinent to the subject of this Essay, yet I cannot resist the temptation of saying a few words concerning this last unfortunate lady, whose sorrows and misfortunes are now closed by the hand of death. It has been objected to her, and perhaps not without some foundation, that she
has not paid so much attention to morality and religion in her various publications, as she might have done; that she has not assisted her readers to draw the
proper inferences from her characters, and the situations in which she has placed them; and therefore that the enjoyment of harmless pleasure and some improvement of our mental faculties, are the only advantages to be derived from the perusal of her works. Admitting the fact, much may be said in her excuse; disappointed in and made wretched by the tenderest connection of human life, she was left to struggle for herself and family, against every species of treachery and oppression, that the chicanery of law, directed by bad hands, could exercise against her:
• The world was not her friend, nor the world's law.”
She found no helping hand to rescue her from the grasp of poverty, and bid her freely exercise the powers of her genius without being dependent on them for bread. Ill educated (that is, with respect to the most important point of education) and worse married; neglected by this world, and never taught to look up with earnest, though “trembling hope" to another, it is no wonder that she did not inculcate more strongly principles of which she knew not the value. It is no small merit that neither in her language nor her sentiments she has strengthened bad ones; and in the only work which may be deemed of a contrary tendency, the errors both moral and political seem to have procceded from the head rather than from the heart.