And in like manner, if cottages are ever to be wisely built again, the peasant must enjoy his cottage, and be himself its artist, as a bird is. Shall cock-robins and yellow-hammers have wit enough to make themselves comfortable, and bullfinches peck a gothic tracery out of dead clematis, — and your English yeoman be fitted by his landlord with four dead walls and a drainpipe ? That is the result of your spending 300,000l. a year at Kensington in science and art then ? You have made beautiful machines, too, wherewith you save the peasant the trouble of ploughing and reaping, and threshing; and after being saved all that time and toil, and getting, one would think, leisure enough for his education, you have to lodge him also, as you drop a puppet into a deal box, and you lose money in doing it ! and two hundred years ago, without steam, without electricity, almost without books, and altogether without help from “Cassell’s Educator” or the morning newspapers, the Swiss shepherd could build himself a châlet, daintily carved, and with flourished inscriptions, and with red and blue and white ηοικιλία ; and the burgess of Strasburg could build himself a house like this I showed you, and a spire such as all men know; and keep a precious book or two in his public library, and praise God for all: while we, — what are we good for, but to damage the spire, knock down half the houses, and burn the library, — and declare there is no God but Chemistry ?
What are we good for ? Are even our engines of destruction useful to us ? Do they give us real power ? Once, indeed, not like halcyons, but like sea-eagles, we had our homes upon the sea; fearless alike of storm or enemy, winged like the wave petrel; and as Arabs of an indeed pathless desert, we dwelt in the presence of all our brethren. Our pride is fallen; no reed shaken with the wind, near the little singing halcyon’s nest is more tremulous than we are now; though we have built iron nests on the sea, with walls impregnable. We have lost our pride — but have we gained peace ? Do we even care to seek it, how much less strive to make it ?
John Ruskin : The Eagle’s Nest