Friday, 14 April 2017

The Gospel of Simplicity by Godfrey Blount, Part 1

The Herald of the Golden Age journal,
November 1903

In November 1903 the journal The Herald of the Golden Age (online here) wrote about ‘Books Received’ on Godfrey Blount's ‘The Gospel of Simplicity’: “This powerful plea for a return to country life and handicraft, written by one of the Members of our Order, sounds note that is much needed at this present tie, and it deserves the widest circulation.  In order to give our readers a comprehensive idea of the contents of the booklet, some lengthy extract are printed on page 129.”

In fact the edition prints devotes over two full pages to the work.  This is where I have taken the extract below from.  Blount's The Gospel of Simplicity was printed as part of Arthur Fifield's "The Simple Life Press":

“A gospel of simplicity is obviously what age of complexity requires.  But it is not easy to define simplicity: to put it onto practice is the hardest task in the world.  The greatest art is the simplest and the most uncommon.

The Herald of the Golden Age,
November 1903

Could we dare to suggest an epitome of the Sermon on the Mount it might be, “Blessed are the simple for they know what Life means.”  And in his own way Socrates said, “The less we want the nearer we shall be to the gods who want nothing.”

But do not credit what I mean by Simplicity with bad manners and want of sensitiveness or taste.  On the contrary it is for its very want of taste that we condemn society.  Simplicity, because it faces the problems of Life and knows what can be known about Nature, sets eternal fashions.  Society, losing touch with these things, plunges into the bottomless pit of ever-increasing luxury.  But that is prostitution, not good taste. 

Nor does Simplicity involve a puritanical asceticism: far from that, it believes that all our pleasures are keen in proportion to their purity, and sacred if they have been honestly earned and involve no unkindness to our fellow creatures. 

Our duty as reformers then has a material and spiritual aspect as well as a person and public one.  No mere reform by Act of Parliament or philanthropic association aristocratically patronised can alter the fact that we cannot lead simple lives before we have simple wants and thoughts, nor hope to see clearly through the tangled social conditions that surround us before we have set our own lives in order.  It is fortunate perhaps that the tangle involves us all, because in trying to tread our way out of this Cretan labyrinth each one of us will be doing his best for all.

Illustration from The Herald of the Golden Age extract,
November 1903

My object is consequently to plead for a revival of Hand Craft, which carried out to a thorough and logical conclusion would involve a return to the country and agricultural pursuits.  These are the first of all handicrafts, for if we could revert to hand labour as the method of gaining our daily bread it would be the fitting counterpart of that desire for simplicity and aspiration which we are anxious to effect in our ideas about life as well as in our domestic matters.

Most reformers would I am sure demur at my inclusion of the land question under the, to them, less important question of a revival of Handicrafts, and would assume that greater facility for the acquisition of land must precede every other material reform.  I venture to partially disagree with them; not that this, too, is not urgently required – I am sure it must be – but that in the present absence of all worthy ambition the mere giving people an opportunity of leading healthy and innocent lives does not, unfortunately, ensure their doing so.

What we have to do is to create the feeling anew, to educate a new peasantry who will come to the country as emigrants to a new land, keen to face new experiences and learn new lessons, with no alternative in the background in case of failure.  The question, in fact, is a far greater one than mere land reform, it s one of education, of building suitable characters for a great nation that is to be.”

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