Man-made wilderness

B35b2a74-646a-11e6-a774-ff13af5d13cbRichard Smyth at the Times Literary Supplement:

It’s important, then, that humankind somehow finds a place in the wilderness. Muir was indulgent towards day-trippers in search of a brush with the wild (“Among the gains of a coach-trip are the acquaintances made and the fresh views into human nature; for the wilderness is a shrewd touchstone, even thus lightly approached”). Leopold was tactful and tolerant – up to a point – with regard to the “recreational use” of wilderness by hunters and fishermen. One of the most important lines in Feral is Monbiot’s quotation from Byron: the point of rewilding, he says, is to “love not man the less, but Nature more”.

But an undeniable misanthropic streak runs through wilderness appreciation in Britain. Wild Life on Moor and Fell (1937), a nature novel by W. R. Calvert, features a lead character named “Peter the Hermit”, a “strange and lonely man”, a “dweller in the Wild”, who retires to a remote Cumbrian cottage, his only contact with mankind being a reluctant monthly trip to a barber’s shop (where he is “irked” by a “desultory and one-sided” conversation). It’s a familiar archetype. Britain has had few John Muirs, hiking jovially to the mountaintop and beckoning to the city charabancs to follow him up (though of course Muir had no love for the city itself). Instead one might think of Henry Williamson and his fascist tendencies and disdain for the “spiciness and hyper-stimulation” of town life, or T. H. White, cloistered with his goshawk and his sexual anguish.

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