BLTC Press Titles

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The Picture of Dorian Gray

Oscar Wilde

The Count of Monte Cristo

Alexandre Dumas

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

A. Conan Doyle

Novalis Including Hymns to the Night

Novalis, George MacDonald, Thomas Carlyle

Accepting the universe

by John Burroughs


The Nature that the poets sing and that naturewriters exploit is far from being the whole story. When we think cf Nature as meaning only birds and flowers and summer breezes and murmuring streams, we have only touched the hem of her garment — a garment that clothes the whole worlj with the terrific and the destructive, as well as with the beautiful and the beneficent. Yet her fairer forms and gentler influences are undoubtedly the expression of those forces and conditions that go hand in hand with the things that make for our development and well-being.

Probably not till flowers bloomed and birds sang was the earth ripe for man. Not till the bow appeared on the retreating storm-cloud was anything like human life possible. Of savage, elemental Nature, black in tempest and earthquake, hideous in war and pestilence, our poets and nature-students make little, while devout souls seem to experience a cosmic chill when they think of these things.

The majority of persons, I fancy, when they consider seriously the problem, look upon Nature as a sort of connecting link between man and some higher power, neither wholly good nor wholly bad; divine in some aspects, diabolical in others; ministering to our bodies, but hampering and obstructing our souls. They see her a goddess one hour, and a fury the next; destroying life as freely as she gives it; arming one form to devour another; crushing or destroying the fairest as soon as the ugliest; limited in her scope and powers, and not complete in herself, but demanding the existence of something above and beyond herself.

Under the influence of Christianity man has taken himself out of the category of natural things, both in his origin and in his destiny. Such a gulf separates him from all other creatures, and his mastery over them is so complete that he looks upon himself as exceptional, and as belonging to another order. Nature is only his stepmother, and treats him with the harshness and indifference that often characterize that relation.

When Wordsworth declared himself a worshiper of Nature, was he thinking of Nature as a whole, or only of an abridged and expurgated Nature — Nature in her milder and more beneficent aspects? Was it not the Westmoreland Nature of which he was a worshiper? — a sweet rural Nature, with grassy fells and murmuring streams and bird-haunted solitudes? What would have been his emotion in the desert, in the arctic snows, or in the pestilential forests and jungles of the tropics? Very likely, just what the emotion of most of us would be — a feeling that here are the savage and forbidding and hostile aspects of Nature against which we need to be on our guard. That creative eye and ear to which Wordsworth refers is what mainly distinguishes the attitude of the modern poet toward Nature from the ancient. Sympathy is always creative — "thanks to the human heart by which we live."

The Wordsworthian Nature was of the subjective order; he found it in his own heart, in his dreams by his own fireside, in moments of soul dilation on his Westmoreland hills, when the meanest flowers that blow could bring to him "thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears."

The Nature that to Wordsworth never betrays us, and to Milton was "wise and frugal," is a humanized, man-made Nature. The Nature we know and wrest our living from, and try to drive sharp bargains with, is of quite a different order. It is no more constant than inconstant, no more wise and frugal than foolish and dissipated; it is not human at all, but unhuman.

When we infuse into it our own idealism, or recreate it in our own image, then we have the Nature of the poets, the Nature that consciously ministers to us and makes the world beautiful for our sake.

When in his first book, "Nature," Emerson says that the aspect of Nature is devout, like the figure of Jesus when he stands with bended head and hands folded upon the breast, we see what a subjective and humanized Nature, a Nature of his own creation, he is considering. His book is not an interpretation of Nature, but an interpretation of his own soul. It is not Nature which stands in an attitude of devotion with bowed head, but Emerson's own spirit in the presence of Nature, or of what he reads into Nature. Yet the Emerson soul is a part of Nature — a peculiar manifestation of its qualities and possibilities, developed through centuries of the interaction of man upon man, through culture, books, religion, meditation.

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