11. The Duty of Daylight

Good Friends,

We’ve just begun a new semester here, with its attendant intensities, lunacies, relevancies, and their opposite.  “Scrambling to keep up with it all” might be something of an understatement. Happily, in the few days preceding this, I chanced on some fine sentences of the great Victorian’s which pertain to the predicament. They were written over the course of a number of decades. All are intended to help us think about what Ruskin calls, in Modern Painters II (1846),the duty of daylight.” Each touches, in its way, on what I do or think I do or try to do or should be doing.  (This last phrase gains more and more salience as I work my way ever deeper into Jonathan Kozol’s new book, Fire in the Asheshighly recommended if you are desirous of learning something of what life is like for the truly poor children of America’s inner cities, children who cannot live anywhere else but in these these horrific, harmful places because their families do not have enough money to move them to places like the ones in which we live.) In any event, given that it is more than likely that all of us, in one way or another, are revolving in a new something, whether that be this new year, a  semester, our work, or a new relationship, I thought that, perhaps, the lines below would have some resonance. Let me know if they do. I type them sequentially.

To do as much as you can healthily and happily do each day–in a well-determined direction, with a view to far-off results, and with present enjoyment of one’s work, is the only proper, the eventually only profitable, way. (Letter to J. J. Liang, 6 August 1854)

Remember, then, that I at least have warned you, that the happiness of your [whole] life, and its power, and its rank on earth and in heaven, depend on the way you pass your days now… Every day of your life is ordaining, irrevocably, for good or evil, the custom and practice of your soul–ordaining either sacred customs and dear and lovely recurrence, or trenching deeper and deeper the furrows for seeds of sorrow… (From Sesame and Lilies, “Of Queens’ Gardens,” 1865)

Generally, good, useful work, whether of the head or the hand, is either ill-paid, or not paid at all.  I do not say it should be so, but it always is so.  People, as a rule, only pay for being amused or being cheated, not for being served. (From The Crown of Wild Olive, “Work,” 1866)

The lives we need to have written for us are of the people whom the world has not thought of–far less heard of–who are yet doing the most of its work, and from whom we may learn how it can best be done. (From The Story of Ida, “Preface,” 1883)

The duty (more likely, “duties”) of daylight.



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5 Responses to 11. The Duty of Daylight

  1. chaplainlma says:

    Love the first quote particularly.



    Lesley M. Adams Chaplain Hobart and William Smith Colleges Geneva, NY 14456 315-781-3671

    Walking, I am listening to a deeper way. Suddenly, all my ancestors are behind me. Be still, they say. Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands. Linda Hogan (b.1947) Chickasaw writer

    From: Why Ruskin <comment-reply@wordpress.com> Reply-To: Why Ruskin <comment+7ywj6s84rgmosjmvrf4jy_@comment.wordpress.com> Date: Tuesday, February 4, 2014 2:04 PM To: Lesley Adams <ladams@hws.edu> Subject: [New post] 11. The Duty of Daylight

    jimspates posted: “Good Friends, We’ve just begun a new semester here, with its attendant intensities, lunacies, relevancies, and their opposite. “Scrambling to keep up with it all” might be something of an understatement. Happily, in the few days preceding this, I chan”

  2. David Barrie says:

    This post made me think also of the lovely passage in Modern Painters II about the ‘duty of DELIGHT’ – but maybe you had that pun in mind all along!

  3. David Barrie says:

    The comment below comes from David Barrie, a close reader of JR. In an earlier note, he said that my focus on Ruskin’s phrase “the duty of daylight” reminded him of a similar phrase (not unlike Ruskin at all!) in Modern Painters II, about “the duty of DELIGHT.” It’s a lovely idea: that it is our duty to attend to what is beautiful and wonderful–full of beauty, full of wonder–in the world around us as we go through our days. David has gone so far as to give us the full quote where Ruskin enjoins us to this pleasant task. His reference to “Cook and Wedderburn” as the source of Ruskin’s paragraph reminds me that I have yet to let you all know where to find these JR quotes in their context should you choose to do so. I shall try to rectify that oversight in one of the next couple of posts.Thanks, David!

    “It comes in the chapter headed ‘General Conclusions Respecting the Theoretic Faculty’ (Cook and Wedderburn, 4:215-6): “‘It has been said by Schiller, in his letters on aesthetic culture, that the sense of beauty never farthered the performance of a single duty. Although this gross and inconceivable falsity will hardly be accepted by anyone in so many words, seeing that there are few who do not receive, and know that they receive, at certain moments strength of some kind, or rebuke, from the appealings of outward things; and that it is not possible for a Christian man to walk across so much as a rood of the natural earth, with mind unagitated and rightly poised, without receiving strength and hope from some stone, flower, leaf, or sound, nor without a sense of a dew falling upon him out of the sky; though, I say, this falsity is not wholly and in terms of admitted, yet it seems to be partly and practically so in much of the doing and teaching even of holy men, who in the recommending of the love of God to us, refer but seldom to those things in which it is most abundantly and immediately shown: though they insist much on His giving of bread, and raiment, and health (which He gives to all inferior creatures), they require us not to thank Him for that glory of His works which he has permitted us alone to perceive: they tell us often to meditate in the closet, but they send us not, like Isaac, into the fields at even; they dwell on the duty of self-denial, but they exhibit not the duty of delight.”


  4. Michele Day says:

    I am so glad you posted these quotes as you have mentioned the start of a new semester can be quite hectic! They illuminate the importance of staying present in the moment, facilitating your own happiness through doing what is meaningful to you, and also recognizing that monetary benefits do not dictate level of success, but rather what was personally gained from engaging in the work. These ways may not always be the easiest but are important to actively remember!

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