I read the following passage today from Liberty Hyde Bailey’s Outlook to Nature. It’s bit anachronistic to use the term “Entertainment culture,” as I did above, but Bailey’s words seem to ring as true today (if not truer) than when he wrote them in the days before television, computers and the internet!
Some of us do not enjoy nature because there is not enough sheer excitement in it. It has not enough dash and go for this uneasy age; and this is the very reason why we need the solace and resource of nature so much. On looking over the lists of Christmas books I was surprised to find how often the word ” sensation” occurs. In the announcement of the forthcoming number of a magazine, I find twenty articles, of which at least nineteen are to be ” tragic,” “thrilling,” “mystery-laden,” or otherwise unusual. The twentieth one I hope to read. One would think that a piece of writing is valuable in proportion as it is racy, exciting, startling, astounding, striking, sensational. In these days of sensational sales, to have a book sell phenomenally well is almost a condemnation of it. An article or book that merely tells a plain story directly and well is too tame; so even when we write of nature we must pick out the unusual, then magnify and galvanize it. From this literature the reader goes out to nature and finds it slow and uninteresting; he must have a faster pace and a giddier whirl of events. He has little power to entertain himself; and, his eyes never having been trained to see what he looks at, he discovers nothing and the world is vacuous and void. He may find temporary relief in some entertainment provided for him out of hand, as the so-called news of the newspapers or some witless frippery on the stage. Yet, unless all poets and philosophers have misled us, the keenest and most resourceful delights that men have found have been the still small voices of the open fields.
There is another objection to much of the nature writing,—the fact that it is unrepresentative of nature. It exploits the unusual and exceptional, and therefore does not give the reader a truthful picture of common and average conditions. … The best nature writing, as I conceive of it, is that which portrays the commonplace so truthfully and so clearly that the reader forthwith goes out to see for himself. Some day we shall care less for the marvelous beasts of some far-off country than for the mice and squirrels and wood-chucks of our own fields. (12-14)