During his lifetime Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the worldwide Scouting movement, wrote many books and articles directed to Scouters.
Each Sunday I’ll publish a selection from his writings in the hope that you’ll draw inspiration and understanding from his timeless ideas.
Why is Nature Lore considered a Key Activity in Scouting? That is a question on which hangs the difference between Scout work and that of the ordinary Boys’ Club or Brigade. Nature lore, as I have probably insisted only too often gives the best means of opening out the minds and thoughts of boys, and at the same time, if the point is not lost sight of by their trainer, it gives them power of appreciating beauty in Nature, and consequently in art, such as leads them to a higher enjoyment of life.
This is in addition to what I have previously advocated in Nature study, namely the realisation of God, the Creator, through His wondrous work, and the active performance of His will in service for others.
I was in the sitting-room last week of a friend who had just died, and lying on the table amongst his abandoned pipes and tobacco pouch was a book by Richard Jefferies, Field and Hedgerow, in which a page was turned down which said, “The conception of moral good is not altogether satisfying. The highest form known to us at present is pure unselfishness, the doing of good, not for any reward now or hereafter, nor for the completion of any imaginary scheme. That is the best we know, but how unsatisfactory! An outlet is needed more fully satisfying to the heart’s most inmost desire than is afforded by any labour of self-abnegation. It must be something in accord with the perception of beauty and of an ideal. Personal virtue is not enough. . . . Though I cannot name the ideal good, it seems to me that it will in some way be closely associated with the ideal beauty of nature.”
In other words, one may suggest that happiness is a matter of inner conscience and outward sense. It is to be got where the conscience as well as the senses together are satisfied. If the above-quoted definition be true, the converse is at least equally certain — namely, that the appreciation of beauty cannot bring happiness if your conscience is not at rest. So that if we want our boys to gain happiness in life we must put into them the practice of doing good to their neighbours and also the appreciation of the beautiful. The shortest step to this is through Nature lore:
“Tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, Sermons in stones, and good in everything.”
Among the masses of poorer boys their eyes have never been opened, and to the Scoutmaster is given the joy of bringing about this worth-while operation. Once the germ of woodcraft has entered into the mind of a boy, observation and deduction develop automatically and become part of his character. They remain, whatever other pursuits he may afterwards take up.
(I remember suffering from that infliction myself when, as Inspector-General of Cavalry, I was once riding down the front of a smart Lancer Regiment, minutely examining each man and horse. To the astonishment of the whole parade I suddenly turned, put spurs to my charger and dashed away across the parade ground into a field beyond. I had seen two golden plovers swoop down from the sky in that direction, and immediately a flock of other birds — starlings, rooks, pigeons, etc., had risen in a crowd from the field. My immediate instinct was to see what had caused the disturbance. Was it a fox or a gun or the golden plovers? I looked to where they had pitched. It was the plovers swooping from the sky that had alarmed the other birds under the impression that hawks were upon them. I afterwards learned that this was not an unusual occurrence. But my action had no more to do with the inspection parade than has my story to do with this “Outlook.”)
As the wonders of Nature are unfolded to the young mind, so, too, its beauties can be pointed out and gradually become recognised. When appreciation of beauty is once given a place in the mind, it grows automatically in the same way as observation, and brings joy in the greyest of surroundings.
If I may diverge again, once on a dark raw foggy day I arrived for a Scout function at the big gloomful station at Birmingham. We were hustled along in a throng of grimy workers and muddy, travel-stained soldiers. Yet as we pushed through the crowd I started and looked round, went on, looked round again and finally had a good eye-filling stare before I went on. I don’t suppose my companions had realised it, but I had caught a gleam of sunshine in that murky hole such as gave a new pleasure to the day. It was just a nurse in brown uniform with gorgeous red-gold hair and a big bunch of yellow and brown chrysanthemums in her arms. Nothing very wonderful, you say. No, but for those who have eyes to see, these gleams are there even in the worst of glooms.
It is too common an idea that boys are unable to appreciate beauty and poetry; but I remember once some boys were being shown a picture of a stormy landscape of which Ruskin had written that there was only one sign of peace in the whole wind-torn scene. One of the lads readily pointed to a spot of blue peaceful sky that was apparent through a rift in the driving wrack of clouds.
Poetry also appeals in a way that it is difficult to account for, and when the beautiful begins to catch hold the young mind seems to yearn to express itself in something other than everyday prose.
Some of the best poetry can, of course, be found in prose writing, but it is more generally associated with rhythm and rhyme. Rhyme, however, is apt to become the main effort with the aspiring young poet, and so you will get the most awful doggerel thrust upon you in your efforts to encourage poetry. Switch them off doggerel if you can.
It is far too prevalent, when even our National Anthem itself amounts to it. Rhythm is a form of art which comes naturally even to the untrained mind, whether it be employed in poetry or music or in body exercises. It gives a balance and order which has its natural appeal even, and especially, among those closest to Nature — savages. In the form of music it is of course most obvious and universal. The Zulu war song, when sung by four or five thousand warriors, is a sample of rhythm in music, poetry and bodily movement combined. The enjoyment of rendering or of hearing music is common to all the human family. The song as a setting to words enables the soul to give itself expression which, when adequately done, brings pleasure both to the singer and to his hearer.
Through his natural love of music, the boy can be linked up with poetry and higher sentiment as by a natural and easy transition. It opens a ready means to the Scoutmaster of teaching happiness to his lads and at the same time of raising the tone of their thoughts.