THE ENGLISH COUNTRYSIDE
For the genuine lover of nature, as distinct from the connoisseur of dainty or spectacular “scenery,” nature has always and everywhere some charm or satisfaction. He will find it no less—some say more—in winter than in summer, and I have little doubt that the great Alkali Desert is not entirely without its enthusiasts. The nature among which we spent our childhood is apt to have a lasting hold on us, in defiance of showier competition, and I suppose there is no land with soul so dead that it does not boast itself the fairest under heaven.
I am writing this surrounded by a natural scene which I would not exchange for the Swiss lakes, yet I presume it is undeniable that Switzerland has a more universal reputation for natural beauty than Connecticut. It is, as we say, one of the show places of the earth. So Niagara Falls, the Grand Canon, the Rockies, and California generally lord it over America. Italy has such a reputation for beauty that it is almost unfair to expect her to live up to it. I once ventured to say that the Alps must be greasy with being climbed, and it says much for such stock pieces in nature’s repertoire, that, in spite of all the wear and tear of sentimental travellers, the mock-admiration of generations, the batteries of amateur cameras, the Riviera, the English lakes, the Welsh mountains, the Highlands of Scotland, and other tourist-trodden classics of the picturesque, still remain haunts of beauty and joys forever. God’s masterpieces do not easily wear out.
Every country does something supremely well, and England may be said to have a patent for a certain kind of scenery which Americans are the first to admire. English scenery has no more passionate pilgrim than the traveller from the United States, as the visitors’ books of its various show-places voluminously attest. Perhaps it is not difficult, when one has lived in both countries, to understand why.
While America, apart from its impressive natural splendours, is rich also in idyllic and pastoral landscape, it has, as yet, but little “countryside.” I say, as yet, because “the countryside,” I think I am right in feeling, is not entirely a thing of nature’s making, but rather a collaboration resulting from nature and man living so long in partnership together. In England, with which the word is peculiarly, if not exclusively, associated, God is not entirely to be credited with making the country. Man has for generations also done his share.
It is perhaps not without significance that the word “countryside” was not to be found in Webster’s dictionary, till a recent edition. Originally, doubtless, it was used with reference to those rural districts in the vicinity of a town; as one might say the country side of the town. Not wild or solitary nature was meant, but nature humanized, made companionable by the presence and occupations of man; a nature which had made the winding highway, the farm, and the pasture, even the hamlet, with its church tower and its ancient inn, one with herself.