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Chalk-Stream Studies
by [?]

“Like a tall bully, lifts the head and lies,”

I am called upon now-a-days to worship, as my better, my teacher. Shall I, the son of Odin and Thor, worship Hrymir the frost giant, and his cows the waterfalls? Shall I bow down to the stock of a stone? My better? I have done an honest thing or two in my life, but I never saw a mountain do one yet. As for his superiority to me, in what does it consist? His strength? If he be stronger than I, let him cut stones out of my ribs, as I can out of his. His size? Am I to respect a mountain the more for being 10,000 feet high? As well ask me to respect Daniel Lambert for weighing five-and-twenty stone. His cunning construction? There is not a child which plays at his foot, not an insect which basks on his crags, which is not more fearfully and wonderfully made; while as for his grandeur of form, any college youth who scrambles up him, peel him out of his shooting jacket and trousers, is a hundred times more beautiful, and more grand too, by all laws of art. But so it is. In our prurient prudery, we have got to despise the human, and therefore the truly divine, element in art, and look for inspiration, not to living men and women, but to leaves and straws, stocks and stones. It is an idolatry baser than that of the old Canaanites; for they had the courage to go up to the mountain tops, and thence worship the host of heaven: but we are to stay at the bottom, and worship the mountains themselves. Byron began the folly with his misanthropic “Childe Harold.” Sermons in stones? I don’t believe in them. I have seen a better sermon in an old peasant woman’s face than in all the Alps and Apennines of Europe. Did you ever see any one who was the better for mountains? Have the Alps made * * * a whit honester, or * * * a whit more good-natured, or Lady * * * a whit cleverer? Do they alter one hair’s breadth for the better the characters of the ten thousand male and female noodles who travel forth to stare at them every year? Do mountains make them lofty-minded and generous-hearted? No. Caelum, non animum mutant, qui trans mare currunt. Don’t talk to me of the moral and physical superiority of mountain races, for I tell you it is a dream. Civilization, art, poetry, belong to the lowlands. Are the English mountaineers, pray, or the French, or the Germans? Were the Egyptians mountaineers, or the Romans, or the Assyrians, as soon as they became a people? The Greeks lived among mountains, but they took care to inhabit the plains; and it was the sea and not the hills which made them the people which they were. Does Scotland owe her life to the highlander, or to the lowlander? If you want an experimentum crucis, there is one. As for poetry, will you mention to me one mountain race which has written great poetry? You will quote the Hebrews. I answer that the life of Palestine always kept to the comparatively low lands to the west of Jordan, while the barbarous mountaineers of the eastern range never did anything,–had but one Elijah to show among them. Shakspeare never saw a hill higher than Malvern Beacon; and yet I suppose you will call him a poet? Mountaineers look well enough at a distance; seen close at hand you find their chief distinctions to be starvation and ignorance, fleas and goitre, with an utter unconsciousness–unless travellers put it into their heads–of the “soul-elevating glories” by which they have been surrounded all their lives.’