THE NATIONAL GALLERY OF NATURAL PICTURES. T HE scheme for forming
a National Gallery of Natural Pictures,—i.e., a national collection of some of the most beautiful pieces of scenery and most memorable his- toric buildings in the country, is, we are glad to note, approaching completion. On Monday week, a meeting of the Association for forming a "National Trust for places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty " is to be held at Grosvenor House, under the presidency of the Duke of Westminster, and it is to be hoped that the outcome will be to place on a sure and sound foundation a proposal which has so much to recommend it. When about a year ago we wrote on the subject,—we were dealing with a suggestion made by Canon Rawnsley in a letter in the Manchester Guardian,—we had little or no hope that the proposal would be seriously entertained. A National Gallery of Natural Pictures seemed a notion which would only be actually carried out in Utopia. When, however, a Pro- visional Council has been elected, which includes the names of the Dukes of Devonshire and Westminster, Lords Dufferin, Rosebery, Ripon, and Carlisle, and a host of other men of light and leading, the thing should be as good as done. Who, for example, can call a proposal impracticable, visionary, or chimerical to which Mr. Leonard Courtney has lent his name P While he and Professor Huxley are to be found among the supporters of the National Trust no one will be able to talk of idle dreamers of an empty day. Under such auspices, and with the President of the Royal Academy, the Master of Trinity, Cambridge, the President of Magdalen, Oxford, Mr. Watts, and Mrs. Humphry Ward, casting what Dryden calls " a holy horror" from the front seats at the meeting, we cannot be rash in believing that the Trust is bound to be a success. We shall not be surprised if we hear not only of large subscriptions, but of a waterfall, a couple of ruined abbeys, and a hundred acres of primeval wood- land being contributed in the room. We have a suggestion of a practical kind to make ; but before we make it, we may as well, even at the risk of repetition, say something as to the actual proposal, for possibly some of our readers may not have heard of the details. The object of the Association is to promote the preservation of places which are of value to the nation, "either from their natural beauty, from their historic associations, from the means of education or recreation which they afford, or from any other causer" The owners of such places would, it is believed, often be willing to secure them to the public use on certain con- ditions, if there existed some simple means of giving effect to their wishes. It often happens, however, that though the owner of the natural picture is in the abstract willing —nay, anxious—to give his waterfall or his ruin to the public for ever, he cannot make up his mind to undergo the trouble and worry of finding fit and proper persons to take over the property. You cannot abandon land ; and to create a special trust for public enjoyment, or put salt on the tail of the right local authority to undertake the responsibility, is a most difficult and tedious business. You cannot expect a landowner both to give up his rocky glen with a ruined castle at the narrowest point, or where it forks, and to " plod with attorneys" for six months in order to find some moans of getting himself divested of the estate in fee simple. If, however, there were an Association or Trust, or other public body, whose regular business it was to take over natural pictures, and to accept them without trouble, from the owners, things would wear a very different com- plexion. X has in his possession an exquisite waterfall in Wales or Scotland, or the Lakes. It is worth nothing to him in a pecuniary sense, and he would rather like to dedicate it to the public for ever, feeling that such an act would secure future generations of his countrymen in a right which he has always voluntarily accorded them. At present, however, he cannot cope with the unknown terrors of the law. How different it would be if he could suggest the thing after dinner to a member of the Council of the Natural Picture Gallery, and the member of the Council could at once reply :—" My dear fellow, don't give yourself any trouble about it. I will tell our secretary to come and talk about it on Monday." On Monday the secre- tary would appear and would smilingly accept all responsi- bility in the matter. He would assure the owner that he should have no expense and no trouble, and that all he would be asked to do would be to sign a conveyance in some two months' time. " You sign the conveyance and we do the rest," would be the motto of the Trust. There need, of course, be no hard-and-fast line as to the conditions under which the Trust would accept gifts of land. The precise conditions would depend, partly upon the wishes of the donor, and partly upon the character of the property. "Thus," to quote the words of Canon Rawnsley's memorandum, " a cliff or open hill-top, or other bit of natural scenery, would be held as an open space, free at all times to all comers. Land laid out as park, garden, or enclosed wood, would be managed more after the manner of the London parks and gardens ; while, again, houses or ruins of historic interest would require such protection and manage- ment as are necessary to their maintenance, and are com- patible with their enjoyment by the public. In Continental cities it is not uncommon to find the houses of celebrated persons open to view on payment, of a small fee,—e.g., Albert Dilrer's house at Nuremberg." A very ingenious suggestion is made as to the manner in which the Trust might be used to act as a sort of guardian of public rights. It is suggested that there may be eases in which an owner of property, " while not prepared to dedicate it to the public, or even to admit the public to its enjoyment, would be very willing to prevent its conversion into a building estate (such a case as that of Holland House will occur to Londoners), if he could establish in perpetuity a legal restraint upon its use, and thus give the public a modified interest in it. Such an arrangement might probably be made with the proposed Asso- ciation, which—being a corporate body—might be made the depositary of reversionary interests and covenants enforceable at anytime for the purpose of keeping the land in etatu quo, or, if necessary, special statutory power for such a purpose might be obtained, as in the case of prehistoric monuments." That is, help would be given to the owners of property, who often have a strong feeling against a beautiful piece of scenery being built over. The Settlor of an estate by will or by marriage- ..ettlement who had this feeling would be able to arrange that, if the person to whom the land went attempted to build on it, such land should at once pass to the National Trust. Yet another example of the good that might be accomplished by the Trust may be quoted from Canon Rawnsley's memo- randum :—" The Association aims at nothing more than supplying means for giving effect to the wishes of land- owners, though no doubt its very existence might act as an incentive to generosity. In the first instance (as already stated) it could hardly expect to be'raore than the recipient of gifts,—a lady has already expressed her desire to make over to the Association a beautiful sea-cliff on the west coast of Wales. But if its objects and mode of action find favour with the public, it will probably in time accumulate funds, through gift, bequest, or otherwise, which will enable it to purchase places of special beauty or interest, as opportunity serves ; and in other cases funds might be raised for particu- lar purposes. It is notorious that during the last two years the top of Snowdon, the island in the middle of Grasmere Lake, and the Lodore Falls have come into the market. Had such a Trust as that now proposed been in existence, each of these places might have been obtained for the nation." It is easy to follow out this line of thought. When it was known locally that a beautiful piece of scenery was in the market, persons interested would be able to put the Society in motion, and, with their help, to raise a subscription for pre- serving it for public enjoyment. Take the case given,—that of the Lodore Waterfall. If the Trust had been in. existence, and able, not only to support local feeling, but to create a wider public interest, one cannot doubt that hundreds of those who have seen the water come down at Lodore would have given their guineas and their shillings to preserve it for public enjoyment. If, too, there is a National Trust, a great many people would willingly sell to it a good deal below the market price. Plenty of men have sold oil-pictures to the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square at a low figure, from a mixture of national and personal pride. They were obliged to part with their Titians and Bellinis, but did not quite like the notion of canvases of which they were fond going to the hammer. There was, however, little or no desecration in the idea of the cherished masterpiece being moved from the owner's drawing-room to the National Gallery. In the same way, men who love their glens and their hill-tops, their fore- shores, their rocks, and their ruins, would far rather see them go to the National Trust than be put up to auction. Many a man who would hate the notion of the stranger trampling round the ivy-clad cloister as owner would find little misery in the thought of public possession, and in order to secure public rather than private possession would sell cheap.
Enough as to the objects of the National Trust. A. word as to our suggestion. We believe that Sir William Harcourt has made some sort of promise to add on Report a clause to hie Finance Bill, which will prevent gifts of land for public purposes being taxed under the death-duties. We would do that, and something more. We would enable any person who succeeds to a landed estate to dedicate any portion of that estate to the public, i.e., to lodge the freehold in the hands of trustees or of any public body, and when he had done so, to pay no death-duty of any sort or kind on that portion of the estate. For example, a man might succeed to an estate with a romantic ravine in it, worth nothing to let by the year, yet of considerable value as a potential building estate. He might, however, be a man who would as soon think of cutting it up into what the Americans call " town lots," as beating his wife. He would then be in this position. He would be forced to pay a sum under the death-duties for a property which under no conceivable circumstances would he use as a source of profit. Hence he might be very much inclined to say, "I will once and for all dedicate my ravine to the public and so save my having to pay down three or four hundred pounds for death-duty." In other words, a man would be given the right to give up a portion of his land to the public instead of paying duty thereon. Possibly there may be some hidden objection to this proposal, but we cannot see what it is. At any rate, it is one which the friends of the National Trust should consider, and that quickly. If they can get a clause of the kind we suggest into the present Bill, they will, we believe, have materially helped on the cause they have at heart. Meantime the great thing—the first and essential step —is to get a body constituted which shall be capable of holding land, and so capable of accepting gifts from generous owners of the soil. To get a collection a hat is necessary. It is a hat which the National Trust will primarily provide.