These Craftsmen Are Necessary For The Salvation Of The Land
A SMITH TO SHOE HORSES AND MEND PLOUGHS; A THATCHER TO THATCH RICKS AND ROOFS; A CARPENTER TO MAKE AND MEND GATES; A WHEELWRIGHT TO BUiLD WAGONS
C. HENRY WARREN
HE beauty of tools," writes George Bourne, " is not accidental, 'but inherent and essential."
It is inherent because long years have proved that this is exactly the best way of doing such and such a job; and it is essential because there is bound to be beauty, or fitness, in anything exactly designed to fulfil its purpose.
A% with the tool., su with the work achieved by the aid of those tools. It is not accidental, for example, that the thatch on my roof is beautifui. Those spies laced along the eaves and that scalloped double thatch along the ridge are necessary to secure the straw just where the eddying winds would lift it and to break the weight of the rain just where it falls heaviest Or again; it is not accidental that the muck-cart going past my gate is beautiful. Every line of its exact design is essential. from the back-to-front hollow of the floor to the shaving and tapering of the various timbers; the one is the immemorial shape best calcultited for a load of dung (or roots) to shake down into, and the other is an artful expedient for reducing the weight without minimising the strength.
Wherever the Machine has not Triumphed So one could go on naming instances where the beauty of craftsmanship is " inherent and essential "; they are to be found all over the countryside, wherever the machine has not yet wholly triumphed—in the drip-stones of a Cotswold cottage, in the slender iron latch of an East Anglian leaded window. in the subtle curves of a scythe hanging in the apple-tree. in every part of every plough, and in the jowled gate that leads to a wayside meadow.
Beauty and use arc almost synonymous in these things. and it is a sentimental viewpoint that sees the one alienated from the other.
The farm-hand, by and large, has no
standards of beauty-for-its-own-sake. He admires usefulness and in so doing it may happen he also admires beauty. (One has only to look at the chain-store china and ornaments with which he willtngly clutters his home to see how debased ate his purely aesthetic standards.
Use Comes First Use comes first and all the time. A thatch is beautiful to him only in so far as it is well-made; his bagging-hook is beautiful only in so far as it exactly fits his hand and does precisely what he wants it to do. And we who exclaim at their beauty without are merely revealing how remote we have allowed ourselves to become from the land which is the abiding foundation of our lives.
It is necessary to emphasise this because it is a factor too often forgotten by those who concern themselves with the revival of our country crafts. They tend to put the emphasis on beauty, as if this and not usefulness were the craftsman's aim. But no satisfactory purpose is served by attempting to revive crafts on any other basis than sheer utility. Beauty in this matter, can be left to look after itset.
The Countryman is Practic Man
In fact, it should be grasped at once that the countryman (by whom, of course, I mean the man who works on the land and lives hy it, in one way es another) is above all things a practical man, a realist. And in nothing is be more realistic than in his work and in the matter of the tools with which be does that wore.
It is not the farm-hand who waxes sentimental about the dying crafts. If he can get well-made tools from the factory, the chances are he will go to the factory for them, rather than to the local smith; at least they will be ready immediately and cheaper into the bargain His only concern is to see that they are well-made. It is when thy tools turned out by the factory cannot equal in quality and usefulness those turned out by the craftsman that the latter becomes vitally important. To pretend otherwise is bring down the scorn of the sceptics, and ightly so.
No, it is for purely practical reasons that a revival of the crafts should be encourafed. "And so." writes that same George Bourne whom I have already quoted, only this time he is writing as George Sturt in The Wheelwright's Shop, " we got curiously intimate with the peculiar needs of the neighbourhood. In farm-wagon or dung-cart, barleyroller, plough, water-barrel, or what not, the dimensions we chose, the curves we followed, were imposed upon us by the nature of the soil in this or that farm, the gradient of this or that hill, the temper of this or that customer or his choice, perhaps, in horse-flesh. The carters told us their needs. To satisfy the carter, we gave another half-inch of curve to the wagon-bottom. altered the hooks for harness on the shafts, hung the water-barrel an inch nearer to the horse or an inch farther away, according to requirements."
Remote from Fear of the Factory
And here, exactly here, is where the craftsman comes in of his own right. remote from all fear of competition by the factory.
Properly speaking. the craftsman is the medium between the lane and people who live on and by it ; he manipulates its raw materials for their use. It is necessary,
therefore, that he should be familiar at firsthand with the land and with those who serve it, with the fields and with those who work on them. In this respect the factory-hand cannot possibly compete with him.
The blacksmith in my village knows more than how to shoe horses, he knows the horses themselves. the kind of work they have to do the soil they must tread, the voices they *must respond to—and an this makes him a better smith
The carpenter knows more than how to make good gates, he uses them—and that alone makes him a better carpenter.
And the thatcher knows more than how to thatch; he lives in a thatched cottage himself—and that is bound to make him a better thatcher. Whereas the factory-hand, working in some blind building in a town far away, knows nothing of the uses to which his gates, his horseshoes, or whatever it is, will be put, let alone of the many important idiosyncracies of the men who will use them and of the region where they will be used.
How shall one believe in the ability of a man to make gates for instance, when, every time he goes into the country on holi day, he leaves them open in every field through which he passes?
By the very conditions of his life and work, the factory-hand has beoken that live connection between man and the land ; and by so doing he has forfeited the first credential for serving it Why, in earlier days—and there is no need to go back more than a hundred years—so close and living was the country craftsman's connection with the land that it even owed some of its most beneficial inventions to him.
Arthur Young, during the course of his tours, was quick to report on several village craftsmen whose contributions to the local (and sometimes to the national) husbandry were of no mean importance.
Blacksmith Inventor of the Iron Plough To name only one, it was a certain John Brand, a blacksmith of Lawford, near Manningtrce, who invented the first iron plough —not to mention a horse-rake on wheels and a hand-mill for grinding wheat. Well might Young write, in his rather grandiose way: " Brand has abilities far superior to the obscurity in which he lives." Imagine a factory-hand, working cr. eight-hour shifts in the heart of a town. contributing anything so important to the welfare of the nation's farming!
Here, then, is the canker we have to watch.
Of course, if the land is destined to be run like a factory, which is what some influential folk are evidently desirous should come to pass, then the mass-production gate (or whatever it may be) is good enough. It is, in fact, the only kind that is suitable on a farm run on highly mechanised lines, prodigal use of artiticiala, and complete disregard for the personal factor.
Decline of Fertility
But the land cannot be farmed on factory lines, crops cannot he forced indefinitely, and the decline of fertility cannot be ignored for many more years—unless we are willing to mortgage the future beyond all hope of recovery. Anybody, therefore, whose judgment has not been irrevocably warped by too close an attention to the claims of Big Business can see with half an eye what is the only alternative.
Briefly (for this is not my immediate concern here) it is this: a system of husbandry of which the basis is the small, mixed farm, since thereby alone can our lost Fertility be restored and farming itself be refounded on the ideal of subsistence instead of, as now. profit.
This is not to say we should return unconditionally to the old ways. Obviously we must go forward, but it should be along the lines of our true tradition and firm in the realisation that service of the land, and not exploitation, is the only way whereby it can be cajoled into yielding its full measure of crops for man's use and pleasure.
Try Love As Lord Northbourne says, in his Look to the Land: " We have tried to conquer nature by force and by intellect; it now remains for us to try the way of love," Moreover, it is inherent in any system of small, mixed farming that each unit should be as self-supporting as possible, not only in the matter of feeding-stuffs, but also in the matter of machinery. (There is no need to he afraid & that word; a wheelbarrow, after all, is a machine, and a most excellent one at that.) And this is where the local craftsman comes in. There must be a smith to shoe the horses and mend the ploughs, a thatcher to thatch the ricks and the cottage roofs. a carpenter to make and mend the gates, a wheelwright to build the wagons, and so on. There must be all these, and they must be on the spot—men acquainted with local conditions, intimate, as Sturt says, with all the peculiar needs of the neighbourhood.
Craftsmanship Based on Reality A revival of craftsmanship based on such a reality would have no fear of laying itself open to the accusation of sentimentality; it would be as indigenous to the system and as essential to it as corn to East Anglia. The cult of beauty does not come into it, but beauty will nevertheless be achieved, naturally, as leaves grow on a tree.
This way. and this way alone, craftsmanship is necessary for the salvation of the
land, how is this revival to be accomplished? Our craftsmen did not learn their crafts in the schools; the fund of intimate knowledge (or lore) which they possess was not studied in the books. They came by it all practically and in no other way.
That blacksmith to whom I have already referred, for instance, is a smith to-day simply and solely because his father was a smith before him. He was initiated into the crafts by imperceptible stages from the very cradle, The smithy was home to him and during all his most impressionable years be looked and listened and lent a hand in his father's forge.
What he learned at the school, in between whiles, he has since forgotten; but he has newer forgotten the knack he learned from his father—a knack that now entitles him to athrecla.im of being the best smith for miles around.
Knowledge in the Blood And here is the important thing for our present consideration; for the life of him he could not explain what it is that makes a good blacksmith. His knowledge is as much in the blood as in the head, And so it is with all our best village craftsmen; their craft has been handed down to them from generation to generation by practice and by practice alone. And now they are the last of their tribe. The precious tradition has been snapped; their children have gone away to the towns. It is little use, therefore, instituting a revival of craftsmanship in the schools. At most this would only be a second-best.
Apprenticeship is the only way and apprenticeship at an early age. The grand old survivors among OUT village craftsmen are the only satisfactory teachers, but they will not be able to teach as the schools understand it. By use and by contact, close and continual, their craft was handed on to them, and that is the only way they can hand it on to others; .in the forge or in the workshop, going about their daily job, fulfilling their precioas function of service to the men and the fields. And there must be no delay, for in a few years time all their lore will be one with the earthly graves where they lie.
Next week The Rape of the Earth, by Sir Albert Howard.