53: On Reading (Remembering Michael Collins)

Ruskin died on January 20, 1900. As those of you who have followed this site since its inception know, each year, when that anniversary returns, I post something a bit different, something intended not only to honor Ruskin’s memory, but something which throws an alternative light on the brilliance which inheres and endures in his work. While I’ve missed that memorial moment by a few days this new year, it doesn’t mean I’ve not been thinking about what I might do to keep this brief tradition alive. Below is the fruit of that thought.

At the beginning of our last post, my tribute to the remarkable Ruskin scholar, Van Akin Burd who departed this mortal coil a bit more than two months ago, I cited one of the Ruskin passages I love most: his definition of “A Book.” Here it is again, as stunning as ever:

 [A] book is essentially not a talked thing but a written thing, [a thing] written not with a view of mere communication but of permanence. [It comes to be] not to multiply the voice merely, not to carry it merely, but to perpetuate it. The author has something to say which he perceives to be true and useful, or helpfully beautiful. So far as he knows, no one has yet said it; so far as he knows, no one else can say it. He is bound to say it, clearly and melodiously if he may; clearly at all events. In the sum of his life he finds this to be the thing, or group of things, manifest to him; this, the piece of true knowledge, or sight, which his share of sunshine and earth has permitted him to seize. He would fain set it down for ever; engrave it on rock, if he could, saying: “This is the best of me; for the rest, I ate, and drank, and slept, loved, and hated, like another; my life was as the vapour, and is not; but this I saw and knew: this, if anything of mine, is worth your memory.” That is his “writing”; it is, in his small human way, and with whatever degree of true inspiration is in him, his inscription, or scripture. That is a “Book.”

In that post, I explained that the sentences had been taken from one of his finest lectures, “Of Kings’ Treasuries,” a talk he delivered in Manchester in 1864. I told that he intended his royal metaphor to indicate books. Not just any books though. The greatest books, those “books for all time” which contain within their pages, in contradistinction to the many millions of volumes that have consumed ink over the centuries, the most brilliant posings of the questions with which each of us must wrestle as our lives pass, the books which force us to confront the issues of what it means to be a human being and what constitutes a meaningful life. Such books, Ruskin said, are the true treasuries of life, gold and silver paling in comparison. As I wrote these things thinking of the great life which was Van Burd’s, I wondered if I could find a way to share what I believe to be the abiding importance of this astonishing lecture of Ruskin’s. (If I could time travel, I would be in that audience!)

As the posts in this series have multiplied, I’ve shared only those passages which I believe to be among Ruskin’s most vital–extracts from his writings on society, nature, art, life in general. My goal has been to suggest that, even though he lived quite some time ago, his ideas remain as relevant to ourselves and our time as they were widely believed to be when he was alive. But, as I’ve often said, such excerpts can only transfer their relevance if we give them the attention they require if they are going to “take.” It is because I am acutely aware that, in our present fractured world of instant and often superficial communication, such attention giving is an ever rarer phenomenon that most of these excerpts have been fairly brief.

Even using this general guideline, it has happened more than once that I’ve received emails from readers telling me that my posts are too long. Keep it short, these folks say. We’re too busy. We don’t want to read that much. Ruskin is hard to read anyway. So if you want to get and keep our attention, post snippets, not lectures. While I understand and sometimes empathize with such suggestions, they run counter to what Ruskin himself thought we should do if, individually, we were ever to come to adequate grips with life’s most pressing issues, problems, and  mysteries.

The primary goal his lecture “Of King’s Treasuries” was to make just this point. Profound thought can only grow slowly, Ruskin said. Like a beautiful butterfly emerging from its chrysalis, it appears only after adequate time has been given to gestation, after we have set aside sufficient time when reading the greatest books to reread, think, rethink, ponder, and reflect about them. That–and that only–is the process, he averred, which leavens us, which humanizes us, which makes us feel the vital concerns which affect ourselves, others, and the world. The other intent of his talk was to make it clear that, should we elect not to do such work–regularly read the world’s greatest books with burrowing care–our deepest humanity and earth’s well-being will be the sacrifice.

Given this, I thought that, for this “anniversary” post–and with apologies to those who prefer more concise entries–we’d test his argument by going down a more lengthy road. And so, what follows is a “summary” of “Of Kings’ Treasuries,” Ruskin’s transcendent lecture on reading and its signal importance for our lives. Here’s a picture of how he looked at the time.

By the time he mounted the stage at Rusholme Town Hall that evening in 1864, the “violent reprobation” of Ruskin’s writings on political economy had been raging for some time. For more than three years, the essays in Unto this Last (1860) and its successor, Munera Pulveris (1862), had been the object of a “torrent of invective.” For having had the temerity to publish arguments directly attacking the socially corrosive assumptions lying at the core of laissez-faire capitalism, Ruskin had been castigated (depending on which critique one read) for burdening his unsuspecting public with paragraphs laden with “intolerable twaddle” and “windy hysterics,” for sporting views of how we should trade if we wished to take care of rather than harm one another which amounted to a “perfect paradigm of blubbering.” The reason for such disparagement was not hard to unearth, for, in these works, Ruskin had shown no compunction whatsoever in accusing the majority of those who engaged in trade of regularly and willingly setting their greed before the common good, creating, in the wake of this “rage to be rich,” penury for millions, millions for whose desperate, unhappy lives they had nothing but contempt. Indeed, as Unto this Last and Munera Pulveris printed in two different intellectual journals of the day, the outcries voiced by those offended by Ruskin’s arguments reached such a fever pitch that the editors of these publications, collapsing under an avalanche of threatening letters, elected to censure Ruskin, telling him that, even though the series of essays they had promised to publish was not yet completed, more incendiary pages would not be welcome between their covers.

But on this December night such controversies seemed far away. At the time the richest city in England, the elites of Manchester had invited Ruskin to speak as an eminent widely known for his strong support of public libraries. Very much wishing to be seen as being in the vanguard of the modern, the city elders had decided to create such a library in the Rusholme Institute. The members of the committee in charge of the project were hopeful that, during his talk, he would pat them on the back for having such an advanced and humane vision. A public endorsement from “Ruskin!” could only add to the city’s stature. As it happened, by the time his last sentence ended, the good people of Manchester had received their coveted endorsement. Before that happy moment transpired, however, they had gotten much else, much they had not anticipated. For, between commencing and stopping, Ruskin, having elected not to leave his controversial social views at home when given a chance to address some of his country’s most influential citizens, had used his hour to tell those who had made the effort to come and hear him that they were ignorant, cruel, and the true source of all the ills besetting Britain.

He began innocuously enough, telling the doyens, scions, and captains of industry sitting before him that, in the minutes approaching, he wished to convince them of one thing only: of the importance of reading in a civil society. Not merely reading, however: reading, rather, the greatest things which could be read, the acknowledged best works of all time, the pages which, in the view of anyone who thought about such things carefully, would unquestionably belong in the category captured by his metaphor: “Kings’ Treasuries”—treasuries not of money, but of great ideas so persuasively set down that the readers of them would not only become more accomplished thinkers as they grappled with these idea, but would come to understand the things that were most important in life. What such books teach us, Ruskin said, is how we can “advance in Life,” in contradistinction to “advancing in Death.” All those who wrote Kings’ Treasuries had the imparting of such cardinal knowledge as their intent. They never wrote for cash. They never wrote for fame. They wrote to help us. So you see, he said, bringing these introductory remarks to a close, how vitally important the reading of such books is? As an example, he hoped they would take a moment to consider with him a few lines from Milton’s “Lycidas,” a poem he was sure they all knew, a poem which, surely, they would agree belonged in the upper echelon of the Kings’ Treasuries, “A Book” in the truest sense of that word (it was here that he introduced the definition above).

After circulating the twenty-two lines he had chosen–on the crucial role of the clergy in human affairs—Ruskin started to unpack the deeper meanings hidden in the poem’s symbols, including an analysis of the sequence in which these images appeared and the carefully chosen words Milton used to convey their meanings. When he was done, he said it was now possible to conclude two things: First, that Milton held a very dim view of priests who, though carrying the scepter and wearing the cloths symbolizing their sacred role as ministers to the true needs of the members in their flocks), proceeded to do no such thing, preferring, instead, to pander to their own comforts and intrigues while “the hungry sheep  look up, and are not fed,/But, swoln [swollen] with wind and the rank mist they draw,/Rot inwardly–and foul contagion spread.” Which pernicious priesting, Milton would have us see, is not merely reprehensible, it must be, if we are true Christians (as all in his audience, Ruskin said, surely believed themselves to be), condemned for its infidelity and the harm that infidelity occasioned.

But the second point was even more important. One of the greatest of the world’s writers, Milton knew that his readers could only arrive at this conclusion after they had taken the time to read his lines carefully and deliberate each image, word, rhyme, and idea–as we have just done, Ruskin said. No “summary” (no “Spark Notes” version!) of Milton’s meanings could suffice, because, unless each of us took the time to tease these meanings out, any “conclusions” we might reach would be cavalier, be opinion, not knowledge. This is the great gift of the Kings’ Treasuries, he went on. When we read them as they require to be read, we become more thoughtful, more sensitive, more humane, more human. Only two things are necessary to reach such a fine outcome. First, we must adopt a willingness to be taught by those who are—it must be accepted!—smarter, deeper, higher than ourselves. We must choose to enter into their thoughts not to find our own reprised, which thoughts are often haphazardly grown, too quickly absorbed from the crowd. “If the person who wrote the book is not wiser than you, you need not read him,” Ruskin said, but “if he be, he will think differently than you in many respects.” And, in that encounter with profound thought, and that encounter only, lies the possibility of growth. Second, having faithfully attended to the thoughts of these greats, there is yet another step to take: You must, he said, “enter into their hearts. As you go to them first for clear sight, so must you stay with them that you may share at last their just and mighty Passion…The ennobling difference between one man and another, between one animal and another, is precisely in this: That one feels more than another… [W]e are only human so far as we are sensitive, and our honor is precisely in proportion to our passion.”

And now, after spending just a few brief moments with Milton, we can easily see the benefits for “advancing in Life” that come from reading with care just 0ne passage of just one of the Kings’ Treasuries, Ruskin continued while contemplating his elegantly dressed, drivers-and-footmen-waiting-by-their-carriages-outside” audience. But here we come to another, even more difficult issue, he said, arriving at his central (but, by his audience, very unexpected) point. For the truth is, he said (we must give up all pretense regarding the matter), the truth is–you know I am right in saying this!–that almost none of us reads this way. You read–when you read! if you read!–newspapers, opinion pages, sensationalistic novels, poor poems, political tracts. While many of what we are calling here tonight Kings’ Treasuries assuredly are in your homes, they are not read there. They lie on your coffee tables or are set on nearby shelves with their titles and writers’ names prominently displayed so that you may impress your visitors and make them imagine that you read them! [The library in the very popular television series “Downtown Abbey” serves as a case in point!]

The reason for all this is obvious: you simply do not wish to read in the way we have been speaking of because, in truth, you have absolutely no idea how important it is to do so and are much distracted otherwise. Let me say it unambiguously: It “is simply and sternly impossible for the English public at this moment to understand any thoughtful writing, so incapable of thought has it become in its insanity of avarice.” Let me say it even more bluntly–for it is obvious to anyone who thinks about it for more than a moment: Today in England we are nothing other than a “money-making mob,” and no reading of the sort we have been discussing “is possible for a people with its mind in this state.” The consequences of this are grievous. Because you disdain these great and helpful books, you never encounter their life-giving lessons. As a consequence of that, all of you—and I use the next word accurately—DESPISE literature, science, art, nature, and compassion! Do you think me harsh or wild in saying this? I will prove the reality of these “despisings” to you, one by one.

And this he proceeded to do, showing, as he progressed from one subject to the next, how perverse was their approach to each. That they despised literature had already been made clear; the only science they were interested in was that which helped them discover new ways to make more money; the only art they were interested in was that which had been touted as “good” by bad critics, they themselves never have given a moment’s time to ascertaining what made one piece of art good and another rubbish; that they despised nature could be seen any moment of any day, all they needed do was look about them.

Manchester Pollution 19th Century

Manchester, mid-19th Century

Compassion he discussed last: Finally, I say–and here I once again refuse to mince words–that you despise compassion. There is no need of words of mine for proof of this. I will merely read you one of the newspaper paragraphs I am in the habit of cutting out…[this] from The Morning Post of an early date of this year…[I]t relates only one of such facts as happen now daily…[When this lecture is published] I will print the paragraph [I will read] in red. Be sure the facts themselves are written in that color, in a book we shall, all of us, literate or illiterate, have to read our page of, some day.”

An inquiry was held on Friday by Mr. Richards, Deputy Coroner…respecting the death of Michael Collins, aged 58 years. Mary Collins, a miserable looking woman, said [at the inquest] that she lived with the deceased and his son in a room [in one of the poorest slums in London]. Deceased was a “translator” of boots. Witness reported that she went out and bought old boots. Deceased and his son then made them into good ones. [After which,] witness sold them for what she could get at the shops, which was very little indeed…for the people in the shops said, “We must have our profit.” Deceased and his son used to work night and day to try and get a little bread and tea and pay for the room so as to keep the home together…[T]he family never had enough to eat… In winter they made not half so much. For three years they had been getting from bad to worse… Five years ago deceased  had applied to the parish for aid. The relieving officer gave him 4 lb. of bread and told him if he came again he would “get the stones” [that is, would be made to do useless work–moving stones from one pile to another]…[Things] got worse and worse until last Friday week when they had not even a halfpenny to buy a candle. Deceased then lay down on the straw and said he could not live till morning… Son sat up the whole night to make “translations” to make money, but deceased died Saturday morning… The witness began to cry… Dr. G.P. Walker said deceased died from syncope [fainting caused by a sudden drop in blood pressure], from exhaustion, and want of food…There was not a particle of fat on the body. There was no disease but, if there had been medical attendance, he might have survived the syncope… The jury returned the following verdict: “That deceased died from exhaustion from want of food and the common necessaries of life; also through want of medical aid.”

Dore--The London Poor

 Gustav Dore: “The London Poor” (1872)

“It may be well,” Ruskin went on immediately after finishing the account of Michael Collins and his family, “to preserve beside this paragraph another [newspaper] cutting out of my store [of same]–from The Morning Post of about a parallel date…

“The salons of Mme. C–, who herself did the honors with clever imitative grace and elegance, were crowded with princes, dukes, marquises, and counts… Some English peers and members of Parliament were present and appeared to enjoy the animated and dazzingly improper scene. On the second floor, the supper tables were loaded with every delicacy of the season. That our readers may form some idea of this dainty…demi-monde, I [offer a list of the wines] served to all the guests (about 200)… Choice Yquem, Johannisburg, Lafitte, Tokay, and champagne of the finest vintages were poured most lavishly… After supper [which supper had included 16 different varieties of hors d’oeuvres, inexhaustible quantities of salmon, filets de boeuf, timbales milanaises, elegant foie gras, salade venetiennes, white jellies with fruits, and an uncountable variety of cheeses,] dancing was resumed with increased animation. The ball terminated with a chaine diabolique and a cancan d’enfer…”

Dore--At the Ball, Mansion House, London

Gustave Dore, “At the Ball, Mansion House, London” (1872)

Now, having said all this, I wish to make one other point, Ruskin said, revealing the deeper reason for his choice of the earlier discussed lines from Milton’s “Lycidas”: Putative Christians are no better than putative priests. This dead Mr. Collins and the millions like him who live in privation in cities all across this nation, whether we are speaking of London, Leeds, Birmingham, or your lovely Manchester (you will pass many of these people, will you not, as your carriages make their leisurely way home tonight?)–are your flock! Are you not required, is it not one of the two great Commandments set down by the founder of your professed religion, to love your neighbor as yourself? And, if you are not the ones who should be doing this caring for these suffering others–I earnestly ask you to tell me!!–who might be? You who have come here this night have all the prestige, all the power, and all but a pittance of the money. Mr. Collins, his wife, and son, working ceaselessly day and night, going blind in the process, are starving to death, slowly and excruciatingly: they can’t do anything. They are the ones drawing what Milton termed “the rank mist,” the ones who “rot inwardly,” the ones who “foul contagion spread” while you, in your “profusion of pitiless wealth,” concentrating “your souls on Pence” barely even know they exist. Is it not correct to say of ourselves now that our “national wish and purpose are only to be amused? Our national religion is the performance of church ceremonies and preaching of soporific truths (or untruths) to keep the mob quietly at work while we amuse ourselves. [Meanwhile, the consequence of] this amusement is fastening on us as a feverous disease of parched throat and wandering eyes, senseless, dissolute, merciless. How literally that word Dis-ease—the Negation and Impossibility of Ease—express the entire moral state of English Industry and its amusements!” You despise compassion.

After which (it is a useful exercise to imagine ourselves in the audience), Ruskin returned to the Kings’ Treasuries in a final attempt to convince those who had come to hear him of the importance—for Manchester, for England, for humanity—of reading these works, stressing once more their ability to transform us for Good if we read them regularly and well: “He only,” he said, coming to his conclusion,“is advancing in Life whose heart is getting softer, whose blood warmer, whose brain quicker, whose spirit is entering into Living Peace. And the men who have this life in them are the true lords or kings of the earth, they and they only.” Ending: And, yes, it is a good idea to build a public library, not to mention libraries of similar sort all over Britain, as long as their shelves are stocked with Kings’ Treasuries.

One of the greatest of Ruskin’s lectures this, a ranking member in the pantheon of Kings’ Treasuries in its own right. If I have had any luck in writing what’s above, I have provided some sense of its greatness and, I trust, some sense of the lecture’s ongoing importance for those of us who still read. Nevertheless, as I set down every sentence, excepting only for the excerpts from Ruskin himself, I was acutely aware that, in the very act of doing so, I was proceeding directly against Ruskin’s recommendation, underming the deepest value of the lecture for helping us to advance in Life. For, whatever the usefulness of this post might be, it is but a different kind of “Spark Notes,” a summary of something which cannot, should not be summarized. Only the talk itself, read many times, bestows the remarkable gifts it contains. I know I am right in saying this.

And so, to rectify this offense, I am going to close with a link to the lecture in its entirety, so that, after you have opened it and printed it out, you will be able to read for yourself what I have left out (much! all but a smidgen of Milton’s lines, for one thing!). As mentioned in the first post in this series (see the link to that entry in the introductory paragraph at the top of this post), when I professed for a salary, something of Ruskin’s would be found in every course I taught. In one upper level course–“Moral Sociology and The Good Society”–I began by having my students read “Of Kings’ Treasuries” with care, hoping that, by doing so, they would become ready, willing, and able for read what was to follow: all of Plato’s Republic, all of Dickens’ Bleak House, all of Ruskin’s Unto this Last. So that they might have their own copies to mark up, I scanned Clive Wilmer’s version of the lecture, scanned as well his impeccable interpretive notes to the text (essential for understanding Ruskin’s nineteenth century references). We took a week’s worth of classes to unpack it. Here is that scan. Do tell me what you think after you’ve read it.

Of King’s Treasuries

Lastly, as a contemporary verification of everything Ruskin said about the importance of real reading for those of us who breathe a century and a half after he spent his hour and a half on the stage at the Rusholme Town Hall signifying something, try reading Ceridwen Dovey’s recent essay in The New Yorker (10 July 2015): “Reading as a Form of Therapy.”

http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/can-reading-make-you-happier?mbid=nl_061015_Daily&CNDID=32650218&mbid=nl_061015_Daily&CNDID=32650218&spMailingID=7814231&spUserID=OTEyMzQyNDQwOTAS1&spJobID=701300899&spReportId=NzAxMzAwODk5S0

Until next time. (when, maybe, snippets will stage a comeback!)

Be well out there.

Jim

PS: I have recommended Wilmer’s collection of some of Ruskin’s most important writings on society before. It is still easily available on Amazon and similar sites. Here’s the full reference: Clive Wilmer, editor, Unto this Last and Other Writings of John Ruskin. London and New York: Penguin Books, 1985.

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8 Responses to 53: On Reading (Remembering Michael Collins)

  1. John Anthony Hilton says:

    Thanks for giving this Ruskin passage again. Of course, you know that Elgar wrote ‘This is the best of me’ etc on the ms of his score of his setting of Newman’s ‘The Dream of Gerontius’.

  2. Peter says:

    Jim, Thank you for this and for providing the context of the lecture, Kings’ Treasuries. I didn’t realize it was three years after “Unto This Last” or that the invitation was made under the auspices of endorsing a new public library.

    Interesting that you chose to illustrate the poor and elite of London with drawings by Gustave Dore, about whose work, Ruskin wrote, in the Mystery of Life and Its Arts, “You are all wild, for instance, with admiration of Gustave Dore. Well, suppose I were to tell you, in the strongest terms I could use, that Gustave Dore’s art was bad—bad, not in weakness,—not in failure,—but bad with dreadful power—the power of the Furies and the Harpies mingled, enraging, and polluting; that so long as you looked at it, no perception of pure or beautiful art was possible for you. Suppose I were to tell you that! What would be the use? Would you look at Gustave Dore less? Rather, more, I fancy.”

    A recording as Ruskin reading his clipping of the inquest into the death of Michael Collins, translator of boots, begins at about the 5:50 minute mark, here:
    [audio src="http://ia601505.us.archive.org/6/items/sesame_and_lilies_1602_librivox/sesameandlilies_09_ruskin_64kb.mp3" /]

    The rest of the free audio book, Sesame and Lilies -, revised and enlarged edition, is here: https://librivox.org/sesame-and-lilies-by-john-ruskin/

    • jimspates says:

      Thanks for this, Peter. You are quite right to mention Ruskin’s deep dislike of Dore’s work. I’ve often thought about this and, as usual, believe he was right–generally (see below for more on that last word). If you look at the images on this site which allows you to review a lot of Dore’s drawings,

      Dore’s Drawings

      you’ll find MANY which illustrate Ruskin’s critique: drawings which seem to delight in the salacious, the vile, and the ugly. (In comparison, I think today of what are called “Gothic [!] Comics.”) It was not the untalented corrupt whom we needed to worry about, Ruskin said, it was the talented corrupt–because these latter had the artistic power (whether using brush or word) to seduce us into thinking that they were only presenting a “slice of life,” like any other. An utterly wrong-headed way of looking at the world, Ruskin said. Art should always strive to render for us what is most beautiful, most noble, the things we should most aspire to be in the presence of, or accomplish because they were deeds which helped us or inspired others to become more beautiful or more noble. Nevertheless, he was hardly a Pollyanna; he knew well that the salacious, vile, and ugly had to be admitted openly. However, if you are going to do that, he said, you must present along with your (limited) depiction of these unhappy realities, an image of the better, of the state or attitude we should strive for which would counter or at least ameliorate these damaging aspects of life. The greatest novelists, for example, like Scott and Dickens (well, mostly Dickens, but that’s another reply) always did this. You could not close their books without knowing what was wrong to indulge in and what was better.

      Which brings me back to Dore and why I used his images in this post. Given that photographs of the terrible conditions which existed among the poor in England’s cities are in fairly short supply because of the time period, I find that, consistently, Dore’s drawings of London (in particular; many of his inner London drawings can be seen on the site I mentioned), like Dickens’ descriptions in BLEAK HOUSE, give a true sense of the human horror which existed at the time. Michael Collins and his family were among these invisible sufferers. Ruskin may not have liked my decision to use Dore even in this limited capacity (might induce someone to go and look at his other, much more vicious, work!), but that’s my reason for having done so.

      Lastly, I thank you (profusely!) for the link to the reading of SESAME AND LILIES! It is a fine rendition and I heartily recommend a listen to anyone following our exchange.

      Jim

  3. Peter says:

    Jim, Here’s a better link perhaps. The Michael Collins clipping is in section 9:
    https://archive.org/details/sesame_and_lilies_1602_librivox

    • jimspates says:

      Folks–Note Peter’s better link for the audio version of SESAME AND LILIES. One of the things that should be said about this recording is that the reader is particularly sensitive to Ruskin’s emphases and “tone,” not always the case with audio book readers as I suspect many of you know. Jim

  4. Peter says:

    I think of Ruskin’s admonishment when I’m watching true-crime tv programs. Surrounding ourselves with licentious images and stories is spiritually debilitating. We identify with the victims and we identify with the perpetrators. In many respects, we are living in a post-moral age. That is to say, we must be more resolutely self-disciplined. For many of us, there is no one to keep us from indulging or to admonish us, for our own good, when we do indulge. The Dore drawings you chose to represent the rich and the poor did represent them and in the style of the period. Dore’s other drawings, even his most fanciful, seem innocent and harmless in comparison to the “entertainments” we can look at or not look at, as we choose, today. If, like me, we look, maybe “no perception of pure or beautiful art is possible for us” any more. This reminds me of your most recent post on this blog, Jim, #57, where you ask your students to go to their dorm rooms and write down what posters they have hanging on their walls.

  5. jimspates says:

    Again, fine comments, Peter. You summarize our modern dilemma perfectly. Things have gone so far now in the “service” of “free expression” that not only are horrible things in front of us all but perpetually but (and this is the most important part of your comment as I see it) such lamentable omnipresence has killed, or at least dulled deeply, any sense we might have had–indeed, were once taught–about what is truly beautiful in the world and morally right to do in life. The song from Johann Strauss II’s opera, “Die Fliedermaus,” “To Each his Own,” 1874 (Ruskin’s time), was the bellwether which signaled the victory of “the modern” in my view. When all perspectives and choices are a matter of “personal taste” (Post 57), are “relative,” no standards of judgment remain which can be appealed to as superior or right or better or, even, more human. After which, every form of abasement and mutilation and cruelty become licensed as “legitimate personal expressions” and, as a civilization, we are lost. Ruskin fought against such a foolish, damnable, damning, view all his life. And lost. Well, maybe not. There’s still us! We can always read–and SHOULD!–his Modern Painters books to learn what Beauty truly is and can read Unto this Last and The Crown of Wild Olive to reclaim the moral.

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