Keep the Innocent Eye

Casson, Hugh


  • Lord Casson describes his appreciation and preference for the simple pleasures he derives from life, art and family, and expresses his relative disinterest in religion and politics.
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And now, This I Believe. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. Sir Hugh Casson of Britain is a builder. His knighthood was awarded him for his brilliant work as chief architect of the Festival of Britain. Sir Hugh is a slender man with sharp features and untidy hair. He decided to pursue architecture when he was 8 years old. He is known for his witty tongue and swift, ever-ready pen to illustrate his words. Here now the beliefs of Sir Hugh Casson.
When I Accepted the invitation to join in this series, it was not—goodness knows—because I felt I had anything profound to contribute. I regarded it—selfishly, perhaps-as a chance to get my own ideas straight. I started, because it seemed simplest that way, with my own profession. The signposts I try to follow as an architect are these: to keep the innocent eye with which we are all born, and therefore always to be astonished; to respect the scholar but not the style snob; to like what I like without humbug, but also to train my eye and mind so that I can say why I like it; to use my head but not to be frightened to listen to my heart (for there are some things which can be learned only through emotion); finally, to develop to the best of my ability the best that lies within me.
But what, you may say, about the really big problems of life—Religion and politics and world affairs? Well, to be honest, these great problems do not weigh heavily upon my mind. I have always cared more for the small simplicities of life-family affection, loyalty of friends, joy in creative work.
Religion? Well, when challenged I describe myself as “Church of England,” and as a child I went regularly to church. But today, though I respect churchgoing as an act of piety and enjoy its sidelines, so to speak, the music and the architecture, it holds no significance for me. Perhaps, I don’t know, it is the atmosphere of death in which religion seems to be so steeped that has discouraged me—the graveyards, the parsonical voice, the thin damp smell of stone.
And even today a “holy” face conjures up not saintliness but moroseness. So, most of what I learned of Christian morality I think I really learned indirectly at home and from friends.
World affairs? I wonder if some of you remember a famous prewar cartoon. It depicted a crocodile emerging from a peace conference and announcing to a huge flock of sheep (labeled “People of the World”), “I am so sorry we have failed. We have been unable to restrain your warlike ambitions.” Frankly, I feel at home with those sheep—mild, benevolent, rather apprehensive creatures, acting together by instinct and, I know, of course very, very woolly. But I have learned too, I think, that there is still no force, not even Christianity, so strong as patriotism;
that the instinctive wisdom with which we all act in moments of crisis—that queer code of conduct which is understood by all but never formulated—is a better guide than any panel of professors; and finally that it is the inferiority complex, usually the result of an unhappy or unlucky home, which is at the bottom of nearly all our troubles. Is the solution, then, no more than to see that every child has a happy home? I’m not sure that it isn’t. Children are nearer truth than we are. They have the innocent eye.
If you think that such a philosophy of life is superficial or tiresomely homespun or irresponsible, I will remind you in reply that the title of this series is not “This I ought to believe,” nor even “This I would like to believe” but “This I Believe.”
Those were the beliefs of a British architect, Sir Hugh Casson. He lives with his wife, herself a successful architect, and their three young daughters in London.