International studio — 30.1906/​1907(1907)

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The Lay
“ I have recently heard the times in
which we are living now described as the Corru-
gated Iron Age,” began the Man with the Red
Tie, “and the term seems to me to be rather apt.
It condenses into a single phrase the whole conflict
between Art and Utilitarianism, and it puts a plain
stamp upon that ever-growing tendency to interfere
with the beauties of nature which is producing so
disastrous an effect in the rural districts.”
“ It seems to me to be a silly phrase,” retorted
the Practical Man. “What do you suppose it
means ? What has corrugated iron got to do
with art, and how does utilitarianism interfere
with the beauties of nature ? Do try and talk
plain sense.”
“ Evidently you are not a lover of the country,”
sighed the Landscape Painter; “if you wandered,
as I do, about the rural districts, you would realise
what a great amount of plain sense there is in what
you think is an unmeaning phrase. To me, it
sums up a whole host of horrors and recalls many
moments of acute suffering.”
“Oh! you are too sentimental altogether,” broke
in the Practical Man; “you are as bad as the
heroine of an Early-Victorian novel who thought
it her duty to shriek and faint away on every
possible occasion. We live in a more robust
age, and we must look at facts more sensibly.”
“And corrugated iron is one of the hardest facts
of the age,” laughed the Man with the Red Tie.
“ Quite so 1 But it is an unpleasant fact too, and I
do not want to look at it. What I see in it is the
embodiment of utilitarianism at its very lowest, the
expression of the spirit of the plain, practical man
who, because he has no sentiment himself, thinks
that everyone else ought to be incapable of
“I think it is utterly ridiculous to give way
foolishly to what you call your sensations,”
returned the Practical Man. “ People are always
talking about the necessity for providing the
country labourer with house-room at a reasonable
rate, and I hardly think you will deny that this
necessity exists. Yet you object on purely fanciful
grounds to the very material out of which the
cheapest and most efficient cottages can be built.
You talk about spoiling the country districts ; I
say that the modern type of cottage is improving
them and making them really habitable.”
“ It is making them hideous,” cried the Land-
scape Painter; “it is taking away their charm; it is

altering their whole character! In a few years
there will be hardly a beauty spot left in the
country, and all our villages will look like mining
camps. What will be left of that old-world atmo-
sphere which has inspired so many generations of
our greatest artists ? Where will be the rustic
beauties which so many of our poets have glorified?
Country life will be a sordid and squalid existence
indeed when men with views like yours have done
their worst with it.”
“ Don’t try to stop inevitable reforms, my friend,”
replied the Practical Man ; “commercial advan-
tages are more important than art fads, and the
cheapest and best materials will, of course, always
be preferred. Your thatched cottage grown over
with roses is out of date, and it is going to dis-
appear because we can put up something much
more practical and less costly in its place.”
“ I do not think these reforms are so inevitable,”
said the Man with the Red Tie. “ I am quite in
favour of all reforms which give us something
better than we have had before, but I look upon
the beauty of our country districts as a national
asset, and I feel that, if you destroy it, you are
taking away from us something that ought to be
preserved at all costs.”
“ And I feel that the practical men are destroying
a national asset, not to benefit the dweller in the
country but simply to satisfy their own craze for
cheapness,” declared the Landscape Painter.
“ They talk about reforms when the only reform
they can appreciate is the one which increases
their profits. They would take away from the
countryman one of the joys of his life, and they
would rob us, who love the country, of something
which we rightly hold dear. I say that human
habitations should be so designed and so con-
structed as to fit in with the surroundings in which
they are placed. In every district the houses
should be built of local materials, so that they
should be in keeping with the landscape and agree
with nature’s design. If they do not, they offend
against the natural proprieties, and they introduce
a jarring note into a scheme which ought to be
smooth and perfect. Besides, I am quite certain
that the character of a man is affected by the place
in which he lives. If you house him in an ugly
hut exactly like scores of others round about, you
take away his individuality and cramp his mind ;
but if you place him in pleasant surroundings, no
matter how humble they may be, you develop his
intelligence and increase his independence. Why
should you deny him a chance of self-improvement?
Is it fair to him ?” The Lay Figure.
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