Some Thoughts on the Common Toad
Orwell loved the natural world from his childhood when he rambled in the fields around Henley-on-Thames and on the South Downs at Eastbourne. His letters and diaries reveal his careful observation of the nature surrounding him and of field expeditions throughout his life, even when in Catalonia or at the sanatorium in Kent in 1938.
Orwell had been disappointed by earlier letters of complaint to Tribune, when he ventured into nature-related topics instead of hard politics. An "As I Please" article published on 21 January 1944 referring to rambler roses he'd planted at the cottage he lived in before the war had brought correspondence criticizing his bourgeois nostalgia.
Orwell describes the emergence from hibernation of the common toad and its procreative cycle - offering it as an alternative to the skylark and primrose as a less conventional example of the coming of spring. Orwell points out that the pleasures of spring are available to everybody and cost nothing and can be appreciated in the town as much as the country.
However, Orwell is concerned with feelings in some groups that there is something reprehensible in enjoying nature. For the political discontent groaning under the capitalist system, the love of nature seems sentimental, while others seem to see the appreciation of nature as reactionary in a machine age. Orwell dismisses these ideas and argues that retaining a childhood love of nature makes a peaceful and decent future more likely.
How many times have I stood watching the toads mating, or a pair of hares having a boxing match in the young corn, and thought of all the important persons who would stop me enjoying this if they could. But luckily they can't.... The atom bombs are piling up in the factories, the police are prowling through the cities, the lies are streaming from the loudspeakers, but the earth is still going round the sun, and neither the dictators nor the bureaucrats, deeply as they disapprove of the process, are able to prevent it.
The article prompted an appreciative letter from John Betjeman on April 18, 1946, saying, "I have always thought you were one of the best living writers of prose," and telling Orwell he had "enjoyed and echoed every sentiment" of his thoughts on the common toad.
- The Orwell Prize: "Some Thoughts on the Common Toad" Retrieved 17 June 2013.
- D. J. Taylor, Orwell: The Life. Chatto & Windus, 2003
- Orwell, Sonia, and Ian Angus (1968), The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George orwell. Volume 3. As I Please 1943-1945, p. 105. Penguin ISBN 0-14-003153-7
- Bernard Crick, Orwell: The Life. Secker & Warburg, 1980
- From the Orwell archive - Bernard Crick, Orwell: The Life. Secker & Warburg, 1980
- Collected Works: Smothered Under Journalism, p.241