Welcome to “Why Ruskin”

The goal of this website is to introduce readers to the remarkable thought of the great 19th Century British Art and Social Critic, John Ruskin. Even though his is hardly a household name these days, it is my deep belief that Ruskin’s brilliant thought and carefully worked out ideas (always encased in glorious prose) still retain great relevancy for our modern days, offering “new” ways of thinking about and, quite possibly, alleviating or lessening many of the troubles which continue to beset us. But there is another level to Ruskin’s genius, his unparalleled ability to make the beauty of this world and life come alive in his paragraphs. I am hopeful that, after reading some of the posts here, you might come to agree with both assessments.

If you are a First Time Visitor, I recommend that you start by reading the First Post: “An Introduction to this Site” (to do so, click on the underlined passage). Using a number of Ruskin’s best quotes, this offering explains the site’s history and goals. Then, if you’d like to read other Posts, slide your cursor to the right hand side of this page and click on the Drop Down for “Previous Posts by Topic,” select a “Category,” click on it, following which which all Posts relevant to that topic–“Nature” or “Society,” say–will appear on the screen in the sequence of their posting. More information about Ruskin and myself can be found in the Pages listed in the navigation bar under the banner photographs above. If you’d like to be notified of  subsequent Posts as they publish, click on the “FOLLOW” button at the top of the right hand column. The most recent Post on the site can always be read below this “Welcome” note (just scroll down). Questions, suggestions, or comments are always welcome.  The lovely drawing–there are many more–of a peacock and a falcon feather is Ruskin’s.

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137: FYC 3

For your consideration (cf. Post 90, Post 91). Another unplanned encounter with some fractions of Ruskin’s thought. Leading to this brief, perhaps useful, sharing.

Yesterday, I was waiting for a friend to pick me up so that we could go to breakfast, where, as per usual, we would settle the affairs of the world during one of the hours which we regularly repeat because of, from each side, the treasured company. Our house having  no easy view of the street, and it being a decidedly very wintry morning in early December, I found a seat facing one of the windows which would afford me the chance to see his car arriving outside. He was a little late. And so to pass the moments, I glanced over at a bookcase nearby. On it reside a number of the very finest of the Ruskin compendia I reviewed some time back (Post 115). Perhaps fors-guided, my eye fell on Maude Bateman and Grace Allen’s wonderful collection (personally presented to its subject late in his life, with a consequence that tears of gratitude and pride flowed from their subject’s fast-failing eyes): The Ruskin Birthday Book. I opened it–or so I thought–to the pair of quotations these prescient Ruskinians had selected for December 8, reading there as follows:

The first–not the chief but the first–piece of good work a man has to do is to find rest for himself, a place for the sole of his foot: his house, or piece of holy land; and then to make it so hold and happy that, if by any chance he receive order to leave it, there may be bitter pain in obedience…

lines coupled with (for the same day):

Your first business is to make your homes healthy and delightful…and then let your return to them [at the end of yours] be your “holy day…”

Lovely, I thought, this pair of excerpts from two Fors Clavigera letters (the 42nd and 22nd, respectively), it being the season for decorating, sweetening, and generally making our houses even more restful than they might have been in the eleven preceding months. Holy places, Ruskin rightly calls them. On their walls, the pictures that sooth and inspire us, on their tables, the things, little or less so, that we love to look at or eat on, around each of the rooms our chosen furniture, furniture chosen for its comforts and because, at the same time, we find it lovely to look at. Holy places, these homes, places that tell all who visit them what it is that we hold dear and who we, in our heart of hearts, truly are. (I used to ask my students, when discussing Ruskin’s wonderful lecture, “Traffic,” to pause for a moment to think of their dorm rooms, of the pictures they had mounted on their walls, of the neatness and sweetness–or lack thereof–of their lived-in spaces, of the music they listened to regularly there and of the television programs they regularly watched, suggesting as I did so, as Ruskin had in his lecture, that all such things were messages which had been tacitly, if unconsciously, tapped out by their room’s soul occupants.)

“Or so I thought,” I said above. Discovering, as I looked more closely at the page that I had opened in this fine compendium of some of the greatest thoughts of the man to whom it was dedicated, that I had not, in fact, just read the entry for December 8, but, rather, that for November 8! Careless mistake.

I glanced out the window. My friend still not having arrived, I turned to the entry for the correct date, reading there this:

It is in quiet and subdued passages of unobtrusive majesty, the deep and the calm, and the perpetual…which must be loved ere [they] are understood. [The] things which the angels work out for us daily, and yet vary eternally, which are never wanting, and never repeated, which are to be found always, yet each found but once. It is through these that the lesson of devotion is chiefly taught, and the blessing of beauty given.

But now my friend was outside waiting. I put the book down, promising myself that I would return to this passage (from the first volume of Modern Painters), which had been much too quickly read for grasping, later. Which, that later time now having arrived, I have.

All this, then, for your consideration.

Be well out there.

Until next time, 🙂

Jim

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