Away for quite a while. Asia, for the most part. Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Japan. Wonderful! With dearest friends. 😀 Now back. Happily writing Ruskin during the days (a book on his sociology, long pending) and thinking that a new post is considerably overdue. So here it is. Brief, but none the less worthwhile for that. Hope you agree.
As I’ve mentioned a number of times, one of the great pleasures of Ruskin reading is finding little gems tucked away, gems which quickly bring a vagabonding mind (like mine!) back to center, reminding me (us) –even in footnotes!–of what is truly important. Such was the case with the little bit below.
The last issue of Fors Clavigera, Ruskin’s long series of letters to the working people of Britain which he began in 1871, was written for Christmas, 1884, It was the 96th in the series. He called it “Rosy Vale.” The title had deep significance for him because of his abiding love for Rose La Touche, then dead for nine long, excruciating years. But there was, as always with Ruskin, more. On the one hand, there was his oft-stated view that, of all the flowers to be rightly seen by human eyes, the rose was the most beautiful and perfect On the other hand, there was his unfaltering belief that the greatest responsibility of a human being, especially a privileged human being, in life was to find ways throughout that life, using whatever strengths she or he possessed, to make the lot of those less fortunate more so.
Thus it was that the frontispiece of this final Fors letter was a sweet drawing by his friend, the artist Kate Greenaway, a drawing which depicted an obviously well-off child taking a much less well-off child to school, their way being strewn with (naturally) roses by a woman in the background, perhaps the first child’s mother. Completing the circle of meanings was the subject of this last installment, a story by Francesca Alexander (a friend Ruskin had recently made in Florence), “The Mother of the Orphans,” which told of the later days of Signora Maria Zanchetta of Bassano, whose life (think, in our own time, of Mother Teresa’s life), appropriately for a Christmas message, had been, in her own rosy vale, living testimony of the rightness of Francesca’s title. As Francesca’s version of Signora Maria’s story progressed, Ruskin added footnotes for explanation. In one of these came that centering thought:
UntIl you can dress your poor beautifully, dress yourselves plainly. Until you can feed all your poor healthily, and live yourselves like the monks of Vallus Rosina, [your necessary work will not be over. Do these things] and the message of Fors is ended.
Be well out there.