71: Four More

Good Folks,

Ruskin wrote so many wonderful and worthy things, it is difficult, often, to harness them. My technique for a long time has simply been to copy out or reference those I think of especial merit and, if I can’t think of a way to put them to immediate good use, drop them into a folder. Then, later (today!), hunting for something profitable to post, I leaf through the collection to see what’s sequestered there. Usually–a very nice bit of serendipity!–as I peruse the amalgam and lift out this or that one for possible inclusion, I find that, arranged in this new way, they create a theme and message unexpectedly . Such is the case, I believe, with the four “new” snippets which follow (for the initial “Four,” see Post 58) . My first choice, about how truths are invented (cf. Post 5), reaches us across the decades from The Two Paths, a series of lectures Ruskin delivered in 1859:

We are, all of us, willing enough to accept dead truths or blunt ones–truths which can be fitted harmlessly into spare niches or shrouded or coffined at once out of the way, we holding complacently the cemetery keys, and supposing we have learned something. But a sapling truth, with earth at its root and blossom on its branches, or a trenchant truth that can cut its way through bars and sods, most [of us], or it seems to me, dislike the sight or entertainment of, if by any means such guest or vision may be avoided. And indeed it is no wonder!–for one such truth, thoroughly accepted, connects itself strangely with others, and there is no saying what it may lead us to.

Here is one such “sapling truth”–from the seventh appendix to The Stones of Venice  (1853): 

Education then, briefly, is the leading of human souls to what is best, and making what is best out of them. And these two objects are always attainable together, and by the same means: for the training which makes men happiest also makes them the most serviceable to others.

Which insight, of course, immediately raises the question of how we can become an instrument working in the service of this verity, a query our author answers at another place in the same appendix. As a requirement attending the gift of life, Ruskin says, each of us is charged to determine

what kind of faculties he possesses; what are the present state and wants of mankind; what is his place in society; and what are the readiest means in his power for attaining happiness and diffusing it.

A view which returns us to The Two Paths, specifically to this suggestion explaining how we can most effectively teach what we should to whom we should when we should. His lecture’s focus being on the specific design an artist chooses when creating a work, he begins there: Design in a picture, he writes 

is the choosing and placing of color so as to help and enhance all the other colors it is set beside. So of thoughts: in a good composition, every idea is presented in just that order, and with just that force, which will perfectly connect it with all the other thoughts in the work, and will illustrate the others as well, as well as receive illustration by it, so that the entire chain of thoughts offered to the beholder’s mind shall be reviewed by him with as much delight and with as little effort as is possible.

And thus you see that design is human invention consulting human capacity. Out of the infinite heap of things around us in the world, it chooses a certain number which it can thoroughly grasp, and presents this group to the beholder in the form best calculated to enable him to grasp it also–and to grasp it with delight.

Happy designs.

Until next time…




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1 Response to 71: Four More

  1. Kateri Ewing says:

    Thank you, Jim. It always amazes me how, when we put our thoughts out to the universe, other thoughts and wisdoms meet you and there is a little more light shed all around. I have this practice of slipping two fingers, quite randomly, into the pages of a book that I love and reading the words I find as a jumping board to further along some thoughts I am already considering. Today, all I had to do was open my email.

    This is most helpful to me at this time:

    “what kind of faculties he possesses; what are the present state and wants of mankind; what is his place in society; and what are the readiest means in his power for attaining happiness and diffusing it.”

    Of course, I add in the pronoun “she.” 🙂

    Thanks again,


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