Read THE LIONS IN TRAFALGAR SQUARE of The Toilers of the Field , free online book, by Richard Jefferies, on

The lions in Trafalgar Square are to me the centre of London.  By those lions began my London work; from them, as spokes from the middle of a wheel, radiate my London thoughts.  Standing by them and looking south you have in front the Houses of Parliament, where resides the mastership of England; at your back is the National Gallery — that is art; and farther back the British Museum — books.  To the right lies the wealth and luxury of the West End; to the left the roar and labour, the craft and gold, of the City.  For themselves, they are the only monument in this vast capital worthy of a second visit as a monument.  Over the entire area covered by the metropolis there does not exist another work of art in the open air.  There are many structures and things, no other art.  The outlines of the great animals, the bold curves and firm touches of the master hand, the deep indents, as it were, of his thumb on the plastic metal, all the technique and grasp written there, is legible at a glance.  Then comes the pose and expression of the whole, the calm strength in repose, the indifference to little things, the resolute view of great ones.  Lastly, the soul of the maker, the spirit which was taken from nature, abides in the massive bronze.  These lions are finer than those that crouch in the cages at the Zoological Gardens; these are truer and more real, and, besides, these are lions to whom has been added the heart of a man.  Nothing disfigures them; smoke and, what is much worse, black rain — rain which washes the atmosphere of the suspended mud — does not affect them in the least.  If the choke-damp of fog obscures them, it leaves no stain on the design; if the surfaces be stained, the idea made tangible in metal is not.  They are no more touched than Time itself by the alternations of the seasons.  The only noble open-air work of native art in the four-million city, they rest there supreme and are the centre.  Did such a work exist now in Venice, what immense folios would be issued about it!  All the language of the studios would be huddled together in piled-up and running-over laudation, and curses on our insular swine-eyes that could not see it.  I have not been to Venice, therefore I do not pretend to a knowledge of that mediaeval potsherd; this I do know, that in all the endless pictures on the walls of the galleries in London, year after year exposed and disappearing like snow somewhere unseen, never has there appeared one with such a subject as this.  Weak, feeble, mosaic, gimcrack, coloured tiles, and far-fetched compound monsters, artificial as the graining on a deal front door, they cannot be compared; it is the gingerbread gilt on a circus car to the column of a Greek temple.  This is pure open air, grand as Nature herself, because it is Nature with, as I say, the heart of a man added.

But if any one desire the meretricious painting of warm light and cool yet not hard shade, the effect of colour, with the twitching of triangles, the spangles glittering, and all the arrangement contrived to take the eye, then he can have it here as well as noble sculpture.  Ascend the steps to the National Gallery, and stand looking over the balustrade down across the square in summer hours.  Let the sun have sloped enough to throw a slant of shadow outward; let the fountains splash whose bubbles restless speak of rest and leisure, idle and dreamy; let the blue-tinted pigeons nod their heads walking, and anon crowd through the air to the roof-tops.  Shadow upon the one side, bright light upon the other, azure above and swallows.  Ever rolling the human stream flows, mostly on the south side yonder, near enough to be audible, but toned to bearableness.  A stream of human hearts, every atom a living mind filled with what thoughts? — a stream that ran through Rome once, but has altered its course and wears away the banks here now and triturates its own atoms, the hearts, to dust in the process.  Yellow omnibuses and red cabs, dark shining carriages, chestnut horses, all rushing, and by their motion mixing their colours so that the commonness of it disappears and the hues remain, a streak drawn in the groove of the street — dashed hastily with thick camel’s hair.  In the midst the calm lions, dusky, unmoved, full always of the one grand idea that was infused into them.  So full of it that the golden sun and the bright wall of the eastern houses, the shade that is slipping towards them, the sweet swallows and the azure sky, all the human stream holds of wealth and power and coroneted panels — nature, man, and city — pass as naught.  Mind is stronger than matter.  The soul alone stands when the sun sinks, when the shade is universal night, when the van’s wheels are silent and the dust rises no more.

At summer noontide, when the day surrounds us and it is bright light even in the shadow, I like to stand by one of the lions and yield to the old feeling.  The sunshine glows on the dusky creature, as it seems, not on the surface, but under the skin, as if it came up from out of the limb.  The roar of the rolling wheels sinks and becomes distant as the sound of a waterfall when dreams are coming.  All the abundant human life is smoothed and levelled, the abruptness of the individuals lost in the flowing current, like separate flowers drawn along in a border, like music heard so far off that the notes are molten and the theme only remains.  The abyss of the sky over and the ancient sun are near.  They only are close at hand, they and immortal thought.  When the yellow Syrian lions stood in old time of Egypt, then too, the sunlight gleamed on the eyes of men, as now this hour on mine.  The same consciousness of light, the same sun, but the eyes that saw it and mine, how far apart!  The immense lion here beside me expresses larger nature — cosmos — the ever-existent thought which sustains the world.  Massiveness exalts the mind till the vast roads of space which the sun tramples are as an arm’s-length.  Such a moment cannot endure long; gradually the roar deepens, the current resolves into individuals, the houses return — it is only a square.

But a square potent.  For London is the only real place in the world.  The cities turn towards London as young partridges run to their mother.  The cities know that they are not real.  They are only houses and wharves, and bricks and stucco; only outside.  The minds of all men in them, merchants, artists, thinkers, are bent on London.  Thither they go as soon as they can.  San Francisco thinks London; so does St. Petersburg.

Men amuse themselves in Paris; they work in London.  Gold is made abroad, but London has a hook and line on every napoléon and dollar, pulling the round discs hither.  A house is not a dwelling if a man’s heart be elsewhere.  Now, the heart of the world is in London, and the cities with the simulacrum of man in them are empty.  They are moving images only; stand here and you are real.