69: Responsibility to the Union


We continue, here in the United States, enmeshed (for–are you kidding?–another two months!) in the strangest run for the Presidency in this Republic in, certainly, my memory (that repository now well into its eighth decade, a frightening prospect in itself!)–testing whether this candidate or that candidate can long endure. It seems to have become, for all intents and purposes, a civil war, or, better said, at regular intervals, a war of civility, a war characterized by certifiable lunacy on the one hand and competent dullness on the other. The outcome will determine, as I see it, whether this nation can endure, at least as it was envisioned twelve score of years ago. (Which endurance, or the lack thereof, will affect the endurance of every bastion of civilization remaining on this lovely planet.)

Every day we find ourselves on a new battlefield of this strange contest, not knowing what to expect from which contestant–“fire all the generals, they have become patsies” or “I never knew that ‘NS’ on some emails meant ‘National Security.'” It all seems so temporal, so now, having always to do with dotty immediacies, interminable carpings, never with larger visions of what might be truly good for the Union.

In which disassembled context I thought the following bit from my morning’s reading of Mr R’s The Political Economy of Art might have some interest. Would that we could get those wildly wielding those barbed swords at their opponent to read it. He is speaking about the responsibility each of us bears to preserve what is life’s most valuable for those who will soon follow us and the responsibility such successors, reflecting backward, bear us for having worked hard to preserve the best of us for them.

[T]here are two great reciprocal duties concerning [our efforts] constantly to be exchanged between the living and the dead. As we live and work, we are to be always thinking of those who are to come after us, that what we do may be serviceable, as far as we can make it so, to them, as well as to us. Then, when we die, it is the duty of those who come after us to accept this work of ours with thanks and remembrance, not thrusting it aside or tearing it down the moment they think they have no use for it. And each generation will only be happy or powerful to the pitch that it ought to be in fulfilling these two duties to the Future and the Past.

[Our] own work will never be rightly done, even for itself—never good, nor noble, nor pleasurable to its own eyes—if it does not prepare itself also for the eyes of generations yet to come. And its own possessions will never be enough for it, and its own wisdom never enough for it, unless it avails itself gratefully and tenderly of the treasures and the wisdom bequeathed to it by its ancestors.

For–be assured–all the best things and treasures of this world are not to be produced by each generation for itself. But we are all intended not to carve our work in snow that will melt but each and all of us is to be continually rolling a great white gathering snowball, higher and higher, larger and larger, along the Alps of human power.

For what it’s worth.


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5 Responses to 69: Responsibility to the Union

  1. Kateri says:

    Wonderful post, Jim. Would we get them to read it…if only. And yet…would they even understand? I keep humouring (or consoling…or bolstering…) myself, telling myself that all will be fine regardless, because what really matters is the individual act of kindness and fairness, of tolerance and justice…and that those things will add up and win, and we will collectively be better for them. I keep imagining that most people are truly good, and want to do good. One way is to share such relevant thoughts, and philosophies, such good words, as you continue to do. Thanks so much. I will forward this to friends.


    Kateri •••••••••••••••••••••••••••• http://www.kateriewing.com


  2. George P. Landow says:

    Nice, Jim!

    Cheers from a boat docked at Ayr (about the head by road to Glasgow)

    George George P. Landow Professor of English and the History of Art Emeritus, Brown University Editor-in-chief, the Victorian Web



  3. Shannon Gale says:

    Hello Jim, Well said. Last night, I returned from an ancestral trace in Scotland. Arthur Severn’s mother’s side of the family, The Montgomerie’s-Earls of Eglinton. Your post of Mr. Ruskin’s words could not be any more meaningful today! I am truly grateful for how the past has paved the way for our lives today. I thought of you and mentioned you to Professor Nicholas Roe, English Department at St. Andrews University. He is an expert on Keats and Severn. Yours, Shannon

    Sent from my iPhone


  4. cw291 says:

    Dear Jim

    I’d forgotten that passage and am pleased to read it again. One of the most important things, for me, in Ruskin is his insistence on a human community in time as well as place. ‘When we build, let us think that we build for ever.’ In the Guild of St George we have recently been engaged in the business of memorialising. We have put stones on the site of St George’s Museum in Sheffield and the grave of its first curator Henry Swan. We have erected a sign on St George’s Field in Sheepscombe, Gloucestershire, remembering that it was donated to the people of that region by Margaret Knight in 1936, the Guild being entrusted with its maintenance and care. We shall soon erect a new gravestone for William Graham, who planted the first orchard on Guild land in the Wyre.

    All good things


  5. Tim Holton says:

    A key aspect of Ruskin’s effort to join the world — the joining of generations, as well as ourselves to the rest of nature and creation, and to our fellows. “To put things to rights!” — all in the battle against the Lord of Decomposition.

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