28 OCTOBER 1876, Page 10


12. SOMERVELL'S protest against the extension of Rail- ifl to the Cumberland Lake District,* together with Mr. Ruskin's exquisite little bit of hyperbolic satire on the same subject, raise a question which has really a much wider scope than that to which these particular essays apply. That question is, in what cases society has a right to put an artificial restraint on the multiplica- tion either of wealth or of what are supposed to be popular enjoy- ments, for the sake of preventing the deterioration in kind of the wealth and the popular enjoyments which at present exist? The answer we should give to that question is, that society clearly has such a right, in all cases in which it can prove to the satisfaction of most reasonable men that that deterioration in kind to the wealth or the enjoyments of the people, would take place if the right were

• A Protest Against the Extension of Railways to the Lake District. By Robert Somervell, with Articles thereon reprinted from the Saturday Review, and a Preface by John Ruskin, LL.D. Windermere: Garnett. London : Simpkin, Marshall, and 0o.

not exercised. There can be little doubt that in the last generation the dislike to the very notion of "protection,"—whether connected with agriculture- and trade, or with other subjects,—attained quite unnatural proportions. It was thought that what was vaguely called " Nature " could be trusted to determine the ten- dencies, not merely of commerce, but of almost all the other arrangements which a growing society is compelled to make. And thirty years ago this appeal against the Vandalism of destroying the unique beauty of the Lake District by carry- ing thither all the alloys of town life, was received with far less favour than Mr. Somervell's and Mr. Ruskin's appeals have been received now. Most of us have learnt by this time that it is by no means safe to trust to Nature to make arrangements for us, where we ourselves can clearly judge what those arrangements will be, and discern that they are not at all likely to suit us. The great physician who was told that the right theory in cholera was to study the object Nature had in view in that disease, replied, " I can tell you very easily the object Nature has in view,—it is to put the patient into his coffin as soon as possible." And we suspect that just the same might be said of the worship of same of Nature's procedure in relation to social, no less than to physio-

logical distempers. If private interests are allowed to work freely and without restraint in the neighbourhood of large towns, it is quite certain, as the experience of late years has taught us, that we shall soon have an increased number of inhabitants at the cost of the health and happiness of the millions who at present inhabit those towns. The immediate effect of leaving natural interests to operate unmolested in such cases is that, as there is some one whose interest it is to sell land on building leases as its value rises, and also some one whose interest it is to buy land on such leases as the quantity for disposal diminishes, while the interests of the community are not represented with anything like the completeness of the interests of individuals, the number of individuals will increase with but little reference to the convenience or enjoyment of those who are already there, till at last it becomes absolutely necessary,—in a town as in a ship,—to limit the number who are to be received into any given area by considering what is for the advantage of those who are already there. It is precisely the same with a number of other social problems. The working-men say,—and we think truly,—that it is a legitimate end- for their Unions to keep in view to prevent their brother artisans from accepting a rate of wages lower than that which will support life with decency and comfort, even though by doing so they starve out the lowest class of workmen altogether ; in other words, it is right to put a limit on the number of labourers, rather than allow the standard of life in the class to deteriorate below a certain point. And so, of course, it is clearly legitimate to limit strictly the production of certain kinds of wealth,—such as manufactured chemicals,—which greatly diminish the enjoyment of life amongst the owners of other kinds of wealth. No one who has seen the dreary and stunted world in which some chemical manufactories are carried on can doubt this for a moment; and yet the question as to the right of driving railways into the heart of the few lovely districts left to this populous England of ours, is a question of precisely the same sorb. Whether it is the health of the men, or the beauty of the woods, or the solemnity of the mountains, which is to be protected, is but a question of the degree of urgency appropriate ; but they all stand on the same general footing, and the real issue in all these cases is this,—has the point been reached where you are seriously endangering what is best worth living for in the neigh- bourhood or the nation as it is, in order to add to the wealth or numbers of the neighbourhood or the nation, as you propose to transform it? If you have reached that point, you ought to stop before you sacrifice the higher life of the world as it is, merely for the sake of multiplying the physical resources you have, or filling with a bigger population the world as it is to be. You may multiply wealth (of a certain poor kind), till it ceases to com- mand that which makes wealth worth having. You may multiply pleasures at the cost of their pleasantness, till each person who en- joys them hardly attaches to them the idea of enjoyment. In the pamphlet before us, Mr. Somervell has extracted from the Daily News a very curious judgment on the policy of the extension of the railways to the Lake District to this effect,—that if railways are needed to develop rich mineral resources in that district, they ought to be made, but if only to get the poor rapidly into the heart of the mountains, they ought not to be made,—the notion, as far as we can see, being that to prevent the multiplication of wealth, and the extension of the wages-fund, and of the labour market which that implies, would be sentimental,' whereas to prevent the multiplication of the number of nominal enjoyments at the cost of what is rarest in that enjoyment is not sentimental. To ourminds, the one course is just as little sentimental in any bad sense as the other. Why should we think it of more importance to add to the re- sources of a population whose life is growing morallypoorer through the very means by which we increase those resources, than to keep their enjoyments from deteriorating at the cost of keeping their re- sources stationary ? The truth must be admitted that with every increase in our population the delight taken in natural beauty has increased too, while the opportunity of enjoying that delight has been rapidly diminishing. If this be so, it is as certain that, as time goes on, the sacrifice of everything to the growth of wealth and population will take all the savour out of the wealth, and all the joy out of the life of the people, as it would be that if, with the exten- sion of democratic institutions, the passion of ambition rapidly grew and extended, the misery of mortified political desires would extend as fast as those democratic arrangements, which are really arrangements for mortifying it. There is no more reason for sacrificing the few lovely solitudes of England to the development of mineral wealth, than there is for sacri- ficing them to the supposed necessity for taking multitudes where the only keen enjoyment is spoiled by the presence of multitudes. In the one case, as in the other, the true question is,—would not the true moral and physical resources of the nation, taken as a whole, be diminished rather than increased by this special increase of the number of one portion of them? If that question can be answered distinctly in the affirmative by the judgment of most reasonable men, there is a clear case for resisting the innovation proposed.

It is impossible to illustrate the point at issue more happily than Mr. Ruskin illustrates it by this somewhat extravagant, but still most effective and admirable analogy :—

" Suppose I were sitting, where still, in much changed Oxford, I am happy to find myself, in one of the little latticed cells of the Bodleian Library :—and my kind and much-loved friend, Mr. Coxe, were to come to me, with news that it was proposed to send nine hundred excursion- ists through the library every day, in three parties of three hundred each ;—that it was intended they should elevate their minds by reading all the books they could lay hold of while they stayed ;—and that practically scientific persons accompanying them were to look out for, and burn, all the manuscripts that had any gold in their illuminations, that the said gold might be made of practical service :—but that he, Mr. Coxe, could not, for his part, sympathise with the movement, and hoped I would write something in deprecation of it ! As I should then feel, I feel now, at Mr. Somervell's request that I would write him a preface in defence of Helvellyn. What could I say for Mr. Core ? Of course, that nine hundred people should see the library daily, instead of one, is only fair to the nine hundred, and if there is gold in the books, is it not public property? If there is copper or slate in Helvellyn, shall not the public burn or hammer it out—and they say they will, of course—in spite of us? What does it signify to them how we poor old quiet readers in this mountain library feel ? True, we know well enough,—what the nine hundred excursionist scholars don't—that the library can't be read quite through in a quarter of an hoar; also, that there is a pleasure in real reading, quite different from that of turning pages ; and that gold in a missal, or slate in a crag, may be more precious-than in a bank, or a chimney-pot. But how are these prac- tical people to credit us,—these who cannot read, nor ever will; and who have been taught that nothing is virtuous but care for their bellies, and nothing useful but what goes into them ? "

Undoubtedly the common cry that every pleasure is to be thrown open to everybody, would be a very just cry, if the pleasure in question could really be shared by everybody without ceasing altogether to be a pleasure. But as Mr. Ruskin puts it, nine hundred people cannot share the pleasure of turning over a book, and yet leave any one person the pleasure of reading the book and so enjoying the most characteristic gratification which the book is cal- culated to give. And if you cannot turn the population of a railway- train into the heart of the mountains, and yet give any one of that population the true joy of the mountain scenery, so neither can you distribute the lead and the copper which the mountains con- tain amongst the people who might live on the produce, and yet protect the natural enjoyments of those who find in the beauty of the mountains their purest delight. All these questions of the right to restrain Goths and Vandals are really questions in- volving a somewhat delicate moral judgment. So long as the delight protected is the delight of the very few,—who must always remain the few,—and the substantial interests promoted are the interests of the many, there can be little real doubt about the matter. But now the question as to the preservation un- spoiled of a few districts of perfect beauty in the United Kingdom is becoming one which must be determined in the next few genera- tions, and it seems to us that nothing can be more shortsighted than to determine it in the negative, on the vulgar ground that the multiplication of wealth is always for the advantage of the poor. Luckily in this particular case the mineral wealth of the Lake District is more than doubtful. All the best evidence goes to show that it hardly exists. But even if it were otherwise, nothing can be clearer than that England with a million or two more of inhabitants and no beautiful natural solitudes, would be a much poorer country in all the best senses of the word, than an England with a million or two fewer inhabitants and a reserve of beautiful natural solitudes, where Englishmen and women could still have the opportunity of bathing their minds in what is loveliest and loneliest, and ceasing for a time to be units in that feverish crowd who

"glance, and nod, and bustle by, And never once possess their souls Before they die."