The Englishman's Heart is in the land, in the fields and waters and ancient forests of the countryside itself. There his spirit comes truly alive; there, if anywhere, he feels at home, his existence justified. His sense of kinship with nature is no mere poetic fancy. It is real, a part of his bone and blood and fibre. If he is lucky enough to own a bit of England, he knows his piece of land intimately and cares for it—each shrub and tree and growing thing, and the creatures that live on it and share it with him. In his inarticulate soul he finds no ready expression for such sentiments, wherefore his poets and artists have spoken for him: nowhere has British art and poetry reached nobler heights than in the interpretation of nature.
The Englishman's sentiment for the country is quite different from the tolerant, familiar affection he feels for his cities. Cities to him are mere necessities of existence, the workshops in which he earns his living; places to avoid, and to get out of as soon as the day's work is done. They are not generally beautiful except in so far as they retain, in park and garden and verdant square, artificial traces of the country. They grew by accident, unplanned—like most English things—in the fashion their people like to have them grow. The crumbling touch of time, the soft caress of ivy, lawn, and tree, the smoke of centuries, all combine to bless the town with a sense of timeless harmony which is not inherent in its architecture; and such elements of authentic beauty as it may possess—a guildhall, an old inn, or ancient manor of rose-colored brick or smoky stone—were built to satisfy not the hunger of an aesthetically minded community, but the good taste and comfortable common sense of individual citizens. That the old buildings are held in proud affection by the townspeople goes without saying. But they are loved, it is fair to add, less for their beauty than for their age, because they are—or in many cases were, alas!— familiar elements of the urban scene.
Today the English countryside is pitted and torn by war; many of her cities lie in ruins. In a sense, therefore, this book can be only a memory of England—the old England that has been since the beginning of time. But in a truer sense it may be taken as a triumphant prophecy of the green and pleasant land that, when her scars are healed, will be again. Here is England, in etching, lithograph, and drawing, as her greatest artists have seen her. Stone will be set on city stone, the surface of the land will again be verdant, and the hearts of her people serene in peace as they have been valorous in war. Here is the England her people are fighting to preserve, as they are fighting to defend their lives. Body and soul are one. It is worth the fight.