Wednesday, 10 May 2017

The Gospel of Simplicity by Godfrey Blount - Part 3

from Arbor Vitae, Godfrey Blount, 1899
Godfrey Blount goes on to describe his Gospel of Simplicity: A Plea for Country Life and Handicrafts (1906) “It would lead a reaction against the selfish commercialism and unspiritual philosophy of the present day, and preach in their place the charm of content, the pride of true independence, that is to say of living for other people, and not on them, and the sweet unreasonableness of Faith.

"We must do things be cause they are wanted, love things because they are alive, and believe things because they are obvious and beautiful.

"We must return in some sort to ideas and methods which the modern world considers effete and superannuated, because it cannot understand their underlying principles, or that they can be any principle at all or motive for work other than that of getting the largest and quickest return for the least immediate trouble taken.


"We must return to Simplicity, but not to innocence; to simplicity, not because we are childishly ignorant ho complicated and confused and cruel we can make our lives, but because we know it only too well, and are determined to prevent their remaining so any longer; and so we must wage war against all useless and cruel fashion (for useless fashion must always be cruel), extravagance in dress, food, and service, because it hides the light from others as well as from ourselves.  If this is asceticism, it is asceticism for the sake of our own higher comfort and humanity’s good, it is in fact supremely aesthetic – sensitively susceptible to the higher claims of Beauty which is finally but another name for Simplicity."

from Arbor Vitae, Godfrey Blount, 1899

Saturday, 22 April 2017

The Gospel of Simplicity by Godfrey Blount, Part 2

The Gospel of Simplicity’s influence can be seen in John Chiene’s book Looking Back, 1907-1860 
 “We want to get back to the time when we make the whole boot, and don’t spend our days in punching the eyeholes.  We want to get back to the gospel of simplicity, as preached by Godfrey Blount in No. 8 of the “Simple Life Series,” and by Dr Geo. Keith in his most valuable book, “Plea for a Simple Life.”

from The Herald of the Golden Age, November 1903

In the extract of The Gospel of Simplicity (Herald of the Golden Age, November 1903), in my previous post here, Blount continues “Politics can only seal, never initiate, reform.  They are therefore quite incompetent to cope with the increasing danger of substituting everywhere machinery for hand labour, dangerous because a nation’s prowess must consist in the number of her sons who can win their living from Nature unaided and direct.

What armies of the sword or plough do we imagine these fetid hives of manufacturing cities, which destroy the countryman in his third generation, will produce?

The truth is that the majority of us, in and out of Parliament, are too compromised with machinery in some form or other to question its necessity, to abstain from its convenience in private, or try to control its growth in public.  Hence our revolution must proceed on individual lines, by the conversion of persons here and there to the wisdom of ultimately adopting the more primitive, slower, simpler, but in the end more satisfactory and humane, methods of labour; and for a long time to come our movement must be ethical and patriotic in the best sense of the word, and appeal to sentiments with which politics have practically nothing to do. 

The popular cult of machinery is the saddest evidence of that hallucination that we can beat down the price Nature asks us for her fruits. 

from The Herald of the Golden Age, November 1903
If we cheapen her on one side, however, she is bound to compensate herself on another.  In spite of all the labour-saving inventions of the past century, one may venture to doubt if the ultimate cost of production has been lessened, when we come to calculate the social and moral condition their influence has had on the country, when we take into account our dependence on foreign nations for our food and clothing, the depopulation of the country, the growing danger of our big towns, and the increasing discontent, ignorance, and savagery, of the population that infests them.

In actual cost alone, it is doubtful if wholesome living, good food, clothes and accommodation are any cheaper to-day than they ever were; doubtful indeed if beyond a fairly defineable limit machinery can possibly lighten the average labour or conduct to the average happiness.

We tamper at our risk with a certain standard of effort, of personal hard work that Nature asks us in return for her gift of Life, just as we tamper at our risk with the physical and spiritual mysteries of that gift.

Machinery, in fact, has been making slaves and savages while it has been making fortunes.  It is owing to machinery that unskilled labour is superseding skilled, that the countryman has forgotten his lore, and the craftsman his cunning. 

In bringing this broad accusation against machinery I recognise of course that it is itself a result and not the cause of the disease we are suffering from, and the evil we have to fight against; the sin of greed, the love of money, the wish to gain more of the world’s wealth than is natural or healthy for us, this is the real root of the trouble, whether it takes the form of monopoly in land or capital, the means of distribution and production, or any other method in the vast field of human selfishness which remains to be exploited…

from The Herald of the Golden Age, November 1903
We cannot preach the faith that is in us unless we act it as well, by practising in what we do, and in how we live, that simplicity and directness which will keep us in loving touch with the great Nature of which we are a part.

There are many ways of doing this, of which agriculture must always come first.  But while land is difficult to come by, tools are easy to buy, and while the tenure of land is surrounded by uncertainties, there are no restrictions to our making things by hand.

We can all help to encourage the revival of handicraft without waiting for Parliament to protect us, and help individually to hasten a better day, or avert a worse.

"We conceive at present of labour as a disagreeable factor in our existence; our main object is to avoid the necessity for doing any of it ourselves and to shuffle it by hook or crook on to somebody else’s back, or to get it done by “labour-saving” machines, whereas it is labour alone, backed by a good conscience, that keeps us healthy, happy, and sane."

from The Herald of the Golden Age, November 1903


Friday, 14 April 2017

The Gospel of Simplicity by Godfrey Blount, Part 1

The Herald of the Golden Age journal,
November 1903

In November 1903 the journal The Herald of the Golden Age (online here) wrote about ‘Books Received’ on Godfrey Blount's ‘The Gospel of Simplicity’: “This powerful plea for a return to country life and handicraft, written by one of the Members of our Order, sounds note that is much needed at this present tie, and it deserves the widest circulation.  In order to give our readers a comprehensive idea of the contents of the booklet, some lengthy extract are printed on page 129.”

In fact the edition prints devotes over two full pages to the work.  This is where I have taken the extract below from.  Blount's The Gospel of Simplicity was printed as part of Arthur Fifield's "The Simple Life Press":

“A gospel of simplicity is obviously what age of complexity requires.  But it is not easy to define simplicity: to put it onto practice is the hardest task in the world.  The greatest art is the simplest and the most uncommon.

The Herald of the Golden Age,
November 1903

Could we dare to suggest an epitome of the Sermon on the Mount it might be, “Blessed are the simple for they know what Life means.”  And in his own way Socrates said, “The less we want the nearer we shall be to the gods who want nothing.”

But do not credit what I mean by Simplicity with bad manners and want of sensitiveness or taste.  On the contrary it is for its very want of taste that we condemn society.  Simplicity, because it faces the problems of Life and knows what can be known about Nature, sets eternal fashions.  Society, losing touch with these things, plunges into the bottomless pit of ever-increasing luxury.  But that is prostitution, not good taste. 

Nor does Simplicity involve a puritanical asceticism: far from that, it believes that all our pleasures are keen in proportion to their purity, and sacred if they have been honestly earned and involve no unkindness to our fellow creatures. 

Our duty as reformers then has a material and spiritual aspect as well as a person and public one.  No mere reform by Act of Parliament or philanthropic association aristocratically patronised can alter the fact that we cannot lead simple lives before we have simple wants and thoughts, nor hope to see clearly through the tangled social conditions that surround us before we have set our own lives in order.  It is fortunate perhaps that the tangle involves us all, because in trying to tread our way out of this Cretan labyrinth each one of us will be doing his best for all.

Illustration from The Herald of the Golden Age extract,
November 1903

My object is consequently to plead for a revival of Hand Craft, which carried out to a thorough and logical conclusion would involve a return to the country and agricultural pursuits.  These are the first of all handicrafts, for if we could revert to hand labour as the method of gaining our daily bread it would be the fitting counterpart of that desire for simplicity and aspiration which we are anxious to effect in our ideas about life as well as in our domestic matters.

Most reformers would I am sure demur at my inclusion of the land question under the, to them, less important question of a revival of Handicrafts, and would assume that greater facility for the acquisition of land must precede every other material reform.  I venture to partially disagree with them; not that this, too, is not urgently required – I am sure it must be – but that in the present absence of all worthy ambition the mere giving people an opportunity of leading healthy and innocent lives does not, unfortunately, ensure their doing so.


What we have to do is to create the feeling anew, to educate a new peasantry who will come to the country as emigrants to a new land, keen to face new experiences and learn new lessons, with no alternative in the background in case of failure.  The question, in fact, is a far greater one than mere land reform, it s one of education, of building suitable characters for a great nation that is to be.”

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Arts and Crafts Weekend 7-9th July 2017, Haslemere!!!

I'm excited to report that the Haslemere Educational Museum is running a 'Celebration of the Arts and Crafts Movement' on the weekend beginning the 7th July.  There is a packed programme of events, that you can see on the leaflet here.




  • Friday 7th July, 7pm - An Evening Talk by Eric Knowles, a leading authority in Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Decorative Arts.  A well-known face in he world of antiques, having graced the BBC's Antiques Roadshow programme for over 20 years
  • Saturday Morning Lectures at the Museum:
    • 9.30am - The Rustic Renaissance, Lindsay Moreton, Collections Manager, Haslemere Educational Museum.  An introduction to the diverse European Arts Collection at the Museum and the craftspeople who inspired the local Arts and Crafts Movement
    • 10.15am - Craft Routes to Ditchling, Donna Steele, Curator Ditching Museum of Art + Craft.  Discussing the appeal of the rural idyll to these modernist artists and craftspeople.
    • 11.15am - The Beauty and Romance of Arts and Crafts Gardens, Dr Sarah Rutherford, Garden Historian.  
    • 12.00 - F.W. Troup - A Scotsman in Surrey, Professor Neil Jackson RIBA FSA, Charless Reilly Professor of Architecture.  About Troup's work whether casting beadwork or designing houses for Joseph King in Haslemere
  • Haslemere ' Peasant Arts' Trail, 2.30pm - with me! - Wander around the outside of the Arts and Crafts industry buildings and houses of Haslemere with the local expert.  
  • Arts and Crafts Dinner at St Christopher's Church, 7pm.  An evening at St Christopher's Church with an informed tour of this stunning example of an Arts and Crafts building followed by music and dinner by candlelight.
  • Sunday morning- Visit to Munstead Wood.  A guided tour of Gertrude Jekyll's iconic garden at Munstead Wood by the Head Gardener Annabel Watts and neighbour Gail Naughton, owner of The Quadrangle, once the working garden of Jekyll's estate.  The tour will also include a visit to Busbridge Church, home to Morris & Co windows and Lutyens' rood screen.  The churchyard is the resting place of Gertrude Jekyll.
There's a leaflet, and a booking form, which I've photo'd below.  The museum website has a small bit of information on the event at the moment, but it says: For more information, please contact haslemerevisitor@haslemere.com or phone 01428 645425








Sunday, 12 March 2017

Peasants in Chicago?

I am not sure what to make of this hanging that is on The Art Institute of Chicago's website (here) as part of their collection: "probably designed by the Haslemere Peasant Industries".  It's described as 'Hanging' (1899/ 1901).  The hanging seems to have been come from the Louise A. Lutz estate (2009).  It is described as "Linen, plain weave; appliquéd with linen, plain weave; embroidered with cotton in stem, buttonhole, and satin stitches.  161.3 x 94.6 cm".

Hanging, 1899/1901
"probably designed by the Haslemere Peasant Industries"
The Art Institute of Chicago

There are numerous elements of this tapestry that seem familiar with the Peasant Arts movement works: the boats, the stylised trees, the flowers, the natural dye colours and the quote.  I am not sure that the design looks quite Haslemere Peasant Arts enough though?  The Scots pine type trees are a design that I have not seen by the movement before.  The sea in the background is also a composition that is unfamiliar.  The wording at the bottom does not sound meaningful enough.  The internet says that this phrase originates from a poem by Henry Lodsworth Longfellow, an American poet.   The size of the appliquéd linen pieces are all very small, and this seems a more intricate work than is typical of the Peasant Arts movement.

'The Deep Sea' Peasant Tapestry Wall-Hanging, designed by Godfrey Blount,
Studio International, vol 29

Embroidered Panel, Godfrey Blount, 1896, V&A MUSEUM
I am not an expert, but I do not think that this is designed by the Haslemere Peasant Industries, but I do think that it has been influenced by them.  What do you think?

The Sleeping Beauty 1907

The Haslemere Educational Museum has a large collection of Jospeh King’s postcards.  They are categorized by country and too plentiful to read in detail.  When I looked through these a few years ago, this one of a sleeping girl in Ticnio, Switzerland caught my eye.  The girl is shown in “costume ticinesi”, the typical dress of the peasants of the canton of Ticino, in South West Switzerland, which seems to have been a particularly poor region, as this account I found online seems to suggest (Swissinfo).  

1907 postcard from Joseph King at Locarno, Ticino
to Kitty King, from Haslemere Educational Museum

This records the memories of Clementina Rusconi born in 1905, by Franco Binda for his 1983 book 'The old people and the mountain'.  Clementina seems to have lived a life similar to that of the sleeping haymaker in the postcard that Joseph King sent his daughter, Kitty, on the 22nd April 1907.  Clementina recalls “People now say we lived that way because we were ignorant, but it is not true.  We were not ignorant, we just didn’t have any money.  For a day’s labour, from sunrise to sunset, we were paid SFr1.50 and, when when we could get that sort of work, eating polenta and cod was a luxury…We would cut wild hay in the area known as Al Valee, above Daghei, opposite Capelina (Val d’Osola)…All in all, we were unaware of our precarious situation and were more contented than people are now...For us, shows were a minor consideration.  It did not bother us much, because we were used to going barefoot.”

postcard detail,
1907 postcard from Joseph King at Locarno, Ticino
to Kitty King, from Haslemere Educational Museum


Joseph King writes to his daughter, Miss Kitty King”

“Locarno

This is such a place & such a lovely day to enjoy it. and the girls are so pretty & busy till they fall aside tired with work like The Sleeping Beauty whom you see on other side!  But I don’t love my dear girl at home the less because so many little peasant are pretty here. 

Dein Vater”

I wonder if King appreciated the hardship of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and I wonder what they made of him?

Carrying hay in the village of Sonogo in Val Verzasca
from http://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/a-peasant-woman-remembers---/6768772




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