It is Thanksgiving Day here in the US and there is much to be thankful for despite all the distress which circulates about us, whether that dis-ease is elsewhere in the world or upsetting our local or, alas, personal spheres. As I’ve mentioned before, I regularly read a little Ruskin in the morning. The wise words and wonderful paragraphs always have the effect of centering me for the hours approaching, serving as a prophylactic against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune which, not infrequently, make their appearance. Today, I read the paragraph below and was so moved by its grace and insight that I thought to share it. Our subject is remarking on what was a new discovery then, an understanding still to be thankful for now. It appears in one the many letters Ruskin wrote the workers of Britain in the 1870s and early 1880s (to which he gave the collective, if odd, title, Fors Clavigera–of which title more later)–the 63rd such letter to be exact, printed and circulated in 1876.
The discovery by modern science that all mortal strength is from the Sun–while it has thrown foolish persons into atheism–is, to wise ones, the most precious testimony to their faith yet given by physical nature. For it gives us the arithmetrical and measurable assurance that men are living sunshine, having the roots of their souls set in the sunlight, as the roots of the tree are in the earth. Not–note–that the dust is therefore the God of the tree, but the tree is the animation of the dust, as the living soul is of the sunshine.
As proof of the truth of this, I offer two images. The first is a close view of an astonishing maple tree on our campus. The picture was taken just a couple of weeks ago. The second is a portrait of my dear friends, John and Margaret Dawson, who, for some decades, not only lived in Coniston (in England’s beautiful Lake District), as Ruskin did during the last thirty years of his life (1870-1900), but who served, for years, as flames which kept Ruskin’s genius and importance burning during a time when both qualities were appreciated by few, John serving as Curator of the marvelous Ruskin Museum (created by Ruskin’s friend, William Gershom Collingwood, soon after Ruskin’s death) and both becoming integral members of The Friends of Ruskin’s Brantwood, his home just outside Coniston. The maple leaves have fallen now and, not long ago, John and Margaret left our immediate environment, probably to delight in long desired chats with the great soul whom they understood like few others. Memories these: to be thankful for; cherished: of Living Sunshine.
Note: For more on the Ruskin Museum and Ruskin’s home, Brantwood, see the entries on the “Ruskin Resources” Page, listed underneath the banner above.