National Geographic : 1956 Apr
reputation, might have lived anywhere in the world. Even Lakeland, which turns a bleak eye on "off-comers," must have been slightly flattered. At Coniston I found a huge gaunt house above the lake asleep in its shrubberies and dreaming of the past. Ruskin came here in 1871, when he was 52; fame was an old story to him. For years artists had believed that an attack by the critic could ruin them. Punch expressed the fear in these lines, put into the mouth of an academician: I takes and paints, Hears no complaints, And sells before I'm dry; Till savage Ruskin He sticks his tusk in, Then nobody will buy. The exquisite aspect of Coniston Water that Ruskin saw from his windows may have soothed him, for he carried on more as a social reformer than as a castigator of artists. The view is really magnificent, extending across the lake to the green banks where fields rise to the swelling curve of Coniston Fells, whose highest point is called The Old Man of Coniston. Steps Unfold When Door Is Opened When I was there, the only other visitors were young art students from London, who passed whispering through the empty house where Ruskin once kept five maidservants and a valet. There are rooms full of Ruskin's beautifully precise water-color sketches, and the room, upstairs, in which he died at the age of 80. In the coach house outside, I saw his trav eling carriage. When I opened the door, a pair of steps automatically unfolded and descended toward me. I stepped into the carriage. It was beauti fully sprung and as comfortable as a modern car. The little padded drawing room must 530 Raincoats in Grasmere Indicate Showers, Almost a Daily Event It is June, and the tourist rush is on. Sightseers in their little English-made cars roam the narrow, winding streets, most of them looking for the grave of Wordsworth in St. Oswald's churchyard (page 511). Teahouses spread cakes, bread, and rum butter. Inns, curio shops, and bookstores flourish with the season. When winter comes around, Grasmere will be its quiet self again. Vine-covered houses are built of local stone. The Lake District Planning Board, which preserves Gras mere's dignity against the assault of commercialism, sees that new houses go up in the traditional style.