Saturday, 13 April 2013

Rustic Renaissance by Godfrey Blount, The Introduction

I have recently got a copy of Godfrey Blount's Rustic Renaissance (The Simple Life Series No. 21, A.C. Fifield, London, 1905), and I have found that this small book excellently conveys the values of Godfrey Blount and with that the Peasant Arts movement itself.  It looks like the tree motif of A.C. Fifield's The Simple Life Series was designed by Godfrey Blount.

The Rustic Renaissance
(Blount, G., The Simple Life Series No. 21, A.C. Fifield, London 1905)

The Rustic Renaissance begins with a Preface which shows a remarkable self-awareness of their cause:

"My object in the following pages is to adduce sundry arguments in defence of what is beginning to be known as "The Simple Life," in which, if I have not succeeded in rescuing it from that position of ideal impracticability with which it is usually regarded - and indeed no advocate of simplicity ever expects his gospel to be eagerly welcomed by those who do not desire it - I have at least endeavoured to cope with some of the less recognised, but none the less formidable, difficulties in the way of attaining it, and to reason over their details.

"There are immense practical difficulties to be surmounted before any general or popular return to country life is possible, but I have avoided all reference to the Land question, not because I am ignorant how urgently reform in this direction is required, but because its need is admitted on all hands, and I am unwilling to commit myself to any particular plan of reform in this matter.  We must also acknowledge that till there is a more wide-spread desire on the part of our population to "inherit the earth" again, it is futile to tilt the dragons of monopoly.

"But neither is this little book intended to instruct the fugitive from modern industrialism how best to build a cottage, and cultivate the narrow strip of ground which public or private enterprise may have secured him from the grasp of the monopolist; nor is it designed to teach the would-be eremite how to sleep in the open air, grow carrots or eat grass.  These are subjects which deserve and have met with their worthy specialists.  My humble desire is rather to save "The Simple Life" on the one hand from that stigma of Bohemian savagery and want of culture for which the advocates of strange and extreme methods of living are responsible; and on the other hand, from the no less certain extinction that will overtake it, as it overtakes every good cause, as soon as it becomes the plaything of fashionable faddists.

"My object is to appeal for simplicity by identifying it with a revival of true culture, the culture which condemns alike an unsanctified asceticism and the refinements of epicurean luxury.  It insists, instead, firstly on the appreciation and then on the reproduction of those simple crafts and sciences which lie at the root of all civilisation, and are as superior to its superficial culture as a folk-story is to a popular novel."

Detail of Blount, G., The Rustic Renaissance,
The Simple Life Series No. 21, A.C. Fifield, London 1905

Vegetarianism in Haslemere c.1900

I've been wondering how popular vegetarianism was in 1893 when Maude Egerton King published 'Vegetarianism' (King, M.E,, My book of songs and sonnetsPercival & Co., London, 1893).  The impression I get from The Vegetarian Society, is that whilst the Society was formed in 1885 (from two previous groups that were established in 1849 and 1877), the movement was not that popular in 1893.

Gandhi at the 1891 Portsmouth Vegetarian Federal Union Conference

Interestingly Gandhi and George Bernard Shaw are both cited as being members of the Society.  Both having tentative links to the Haslemere Peasant Arts movement, with Gandhi citing in Hind Swaraj (Gandhi, M.K., c.1909) Godfrey Blount's New Crusade as recommended further reading, "some testimonies by eminent men", as discussed in my October 2011 post.  Bernard Shaw had links with Joseph King as discussed in my November 2010 post and honeymooned in Haslemere, staying in Haslemere around 1898 to 1900.

It appears that Godfrey and Ethel Blount were also vegetarians, as shown iTherese La Chard’s memoirs A Sailor Hat in the House of the Lord (George Allen & Unwin, London, 1967) where she reminisces about living in a bungalow in the Blounts' garden in Weydown Road, Haslemere c.1910, "The meals seemed to consist largely of salads and haricot beans eaten with horn spoons off heavy pottery plates laid on handwoven strips."

From this I would conclude that Maude's 1893 poem did not reflect a passing fad for her but that vegetarianism was part of the Haslemere Peasant Arts lifestyle.  

Friday, 5 April 2013

Vegetarianism by Maude Egerton King

From My book of songs and sonnets (King, M., Percival & Co., London, 1893), this poem is cited as "dedicated to a very gentle friend", I wonder who that was?  It covers five pages, here is the beginning:

"When I tell how sad a thing
    Wears my heart out year by year,
Sight of creatures suffering,
    Martyrdoms of service here,

Seldom paying wrong for wrong,
   Dumb before a human rage,
Toiling hard and toiling long
  To be slain in useless age,

Elaborate diaper,
from Arbor Vitae, Blount, G.,
A.C. Fifield, London, 3rd edition, 1910

Never sacred from abuse,
  While a breath of helpless life
Holds them fit for slavish use,
  Or for science with her knife,

You will never ask again
   Why I made my view, and chose
Ne'er to add by death or pain
   To a cup that overflows

See the little god of self,
  Custom waiting on his greed;
Craves he feast of flesh or pelf,
  All is sanctioned by his need.

Ceaseless toil of men and beasts
  Is his worship's heavy price;
And the cities teem with priests
  Slaying hourly sacrifice.

No such load of death and toil
  Can my single life redress,
But at least I need not spoil
  Any live thing's happiness...."

Frieze from
Arbor Vitae, ibid

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