Picturesque Abuses
Isaiah 40:4-5
Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight…

In this contrast between the prophet and the picturesque is there nothing but of a light or superficial nature, nothing serious? I doubt it. The prophet's thunderous intensity brings our sentiment to a check just at the point where it is apt to pervert the moral judgment. Where is that? At the point where it helps to blind us to the actual life, the actual needs and necessities of a living present. The feeling for the picturesque belongs always to those who are outside the object of their admiration. They are looking on as unconcerned spectators. That which they observe lies wholly outside their own living, personal experience, and that is why it touches them and startles them, and pleases because it startles. It is so odd, so unexpected, so dreamy, so old. That is the sentiment bred in tourists, in passengers tarrying the day, gazing from without at a scene, unaffected by its sorrows, aloof from its inner reality. We like these strange, huddled, dirty streets, and these swarming beggars, and these crumbling walls, and these crooked alleys, and all the oddities of decay, and all the quaintness of the obsolete. Abuses, so long as they do not hurt us, are much more picturesque than their remedies. In this mood what serious blunders we have made abroad — offences against our best English self, for the native English have a love for liberty, for a free people. How much has our love for the picturesque killed our sympathy for freedom in Rome or in Venice, shall we say? This error which we make again and again abroad is very apt to repeat itself here at home; for those who have leisure to enjoy the picturesque are bound, of course, to have already reached some comfort themselves, some security of position. That thatched cottage in the dell, in the hollow of the wood, could anything be more engaging? We have sketched it again and again. It is very damp, and those colours on it that we like so, the greens and the yellows, reveal the dampness. It is buried under the trees, it stands on soppy ground, and there is no drainage; there is a cesspool behind. But how raw the new brick four-roomed house would look without an offence in our rustic nook! There is a great deal more of this among us comfortable and educated people than we are at all aware of. It acts as a dead weight on us, it counteracts the force of our reforming zeal. We should never for one moment dream of letting the picturesqueness stand in our way if we had to sink into consumption through the damp or die of typhoid in some undrained, old-fashioned street; but somehow it puts in its plea with us with far greater power when others are concerned, and we are but spectators. It is against all this that the prophet's zeal thunders. The picturesque may rightly widen our sympathies for the past; it may plead for gentle handling of what is so fair in the deposits of the past, it may rightly prompt us to do oar very utmost to save what is beautiful and natural from cruel, hideous misuse by commercial greed, but there is one supreme law which it never must gainsay, the law which is uttered in the cry of the recovered king, Hezekiah, when he recovered from his sickness: "Death cannot celebrate Thee. The living shall praise Thee, as I do this day."

(Canon H. Scott-Holland, M. A.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:

WEB: Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The uneven shall be made level, and the rough places a plain.

No Fear of Utopia
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