A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

No Wealth But Life

Tuesday 7 and Wednesday 8 August. I'm denying myself the high fells for 2 days and enjoying some low-level walks. Walk 1: Elterwater - Skelwith Bridge - Colwith Force - High Park - Fletcher's Wood - Elterwater (very pleasant); Walk 2: A circular stroll round Tarn Hows (disappointing, rather tame - it's such a well known, picture postcard beauty spot, but just too pretty and not wild enough for my taste). Also visited Far Sawrey (where a dog was lying fast asleep in the middle of the road), Near Sawrey (busy because of the tourist attraction, Hill Top, Beatrix Potter's farmhouse home), Hawkshead (spoilt by more tourists, gift shops and Beatrix Pottery) and Coniston (not impressed - even if meant partly in jest, this notice in the Sun Hotel car park immediately got my back up: "Freeloaders risk being clamped and are at risk of negotiating release with the rottweiler"). However, though Coniston Water is not my favourite Lake, spending several hours on its eastern shore at Brantwood (see photo), Ruskin's home, was the highlight of these 2 "rest days". John Ruskin (1819-1900) lived here from 1871 till the year of his death. He's buried in Coniston churchyard. One of the greatest figures of the Victorian Age, he was a polymath and eccentric genius. The local Coniston folk looked upon him fondly and called him "The Professor". He was passionate about all things that interested him - which was more or less everything. He was a writer, an artist, a poet, a critic, a social reformer, a geologist, a meteorologist, a botanist, a conservationist, a landscape gardener and much more. He warned of the dangers of factory pollution, fought to improve the working conditions of the city poor, championed the Pre-Raphaelites and was the intellectual influence behind the foundation of the National Trust. He advocated the minimum wage 150 years before Tony Blair. He was a man of ideas but also eminently practical. His genius lay in the multiplicity of his talents. Nowadays people like this are in short supply - we tend to specialize in one thing at the expense of all else. Diversity is unfortunately not a characteristic of our own age, a time when science and art, experience and imagination, the practical and the conceptual are poles apart. Sadly Ruskin suffered from periodic bouts of mental illness - many have put this down to an over-active brain! Among the multitude of quotes one could cite from Ruskin, how about this one: There is no wealth but life. Beautifully and succinctly put. And so, so true.

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