Sunday, 1 December 2013

A Quote In An Unexpected Place

In the Contemporaneity Arts Society exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery, accompanying some of the artworks, I was surprised to find a quote from John Ruskin, the Victorian art critic, referring to my home town. Taken from his 1871 Fors Clavigera - his "letters to the workmen and labourers of Great Britain" - it reads as follows:
"There was a rocky valley between Buxton and Bakewell, once upon a time, divine as the Vale of Tempe; you might have seen the Gods there morning and evening. You cared neither for the Gods nor grass, but for cash. You Enterprised a Railroad through the valley - you blasted its rocks away, heaped thousands of tons of shale into its lovely stream. The valley is gone, and the Gods with it; and now, every fool in Buxton can be in Bakewell in half-an-hour, and every fool in Bakewell in Buxton; which you think it a lucrative process of exchange - you Fools everywhere."
The Buxton to Bakewell railroad finally closed in the late 1960s, leaving behind its two viaducts at Millers and Monsal Dales. It seems it was the viaduct at Monsal Dale to which Ruskin so objected but, viewed with today's eyes, it's a magnificent and elegant structure and seems as natural as any other defining part of the local landscape. Perhaps this means Ruskin's Gods might have returned to the valley from which they were so rudely evicted. As for the fools, well, that's another matter.

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