Sunday, November 23, 2008

The ring of living beauty

In his memoir Father and Son (1907), Edmund Gosse described the effect of collectors, many inspired by his father's bestseller The Aquarium, on the rockpools of Devon:
'Half a century ago, in many parts of the coast of Devonshire and
Cornwall, where the limestone at the water's edge is wrought into
crevices and hollows, the tideline was, like Keats' Grecian vase,
'a still unravished bride of quietness'. These cups and basins
were always full, whether the tide was high or low, and the only
way in which they were affected was that twice in the twenty-four
hours they were replenished by cold streams from the great sea,
and then twice were left brimming to be vivified by the temperate
movement of the upper air. They were living flower-beds, so
exquisite in their perfection, that my Father, in spite of his
scientific requirements, used not seldom to pause before he began
to rifle them, ejaculating that it was indeed a pity to disturb
such congregated beauty. The antiquity of these rock-pools, and
the infinite succession of the soft and radiant forms, sea-
anemones, seaweeds, shells, fishes, which had inhabited them,
undisturbed since the creation of the world, used to occupy my
Father's fancy. We burst in, he used to say, where no one had
ever thought of intruding before; and if the Garden of Eden had
been situate in Devonshire, Adam and Eve, stepping lightly down
to bathe in the rainbow-coloured spray, would have seen the
identical sights that we now saw,--the great prawns gliding like
transparent launches, anthea waving in the twilight its thick
white waxen tentacles, and the fronds of the duke faintly
streaming on the water like huge red banners in some reverted

'All this is long over and done with. The ring of living beauty
drawn about our shores was a very thin and fragile one. It had
existed all those centuries solely in consequence of the
indifference, the blissful ignorance of man. These rockbasins,
fringed by corallines, filled with still water almost as pellucid
as the upper air itself, thronged with beautiful sensitive forms
of life, they exist no longer, they are all profaned, and
emptied, and vulgarized. An army of 'collectors' has passed over
them, and ravaged every corner of them. The fairy paradise has
been violated, the exquisite product of centuries of natural
selection has been crushed under the rough paw of well-meaning,
idle-minded curiosity.'


Anonymous said...

A refreshing take on the subject of landscapes. Thank you for developing such a unique blog.

Best, Jamie Drouin

Plinius said...

Thanks for this.
I like the Iceland towers on your website.