For another reason, yesterday I returned to Ruskin’s little book of 1866, The Ethics of the Dust. It was an experiment. He was fresh from re-reading the Greek classics, a great many of which, as you know, took the form of dialogues. So he thought to try the genre, imagining himself as an “Old Lecturer” and his interlocutors as a group of students at a girls’ “finishing school” in the north of England. The imagining wasn’t so far from reality, as, throughout the 1860s, Ruskin taught (sporadically) at just such a school, Winnington Hall, in Northwich. (One of the greatest collections of Ruskin’s deeply thought-provoking and beautiful letters is The Winnington Letters of John Ruskin, edited by Van Akin Burd; still available on the web–but getting scarcer!)
There’s a lot to say about The Ethics… but I’ll let all that go for the moment and, instead, just type out a couple of wonderful lines I came across as I was (re)turning the pages of this unique little book. Encountering them, I immediately knew that they pertained to me. Maybe they will resonate with some of you too.
In the fourth “lecture” of The Ethics…, the Old Lecturer is asking the girls if they have been diligently practicing their music. Some say yes with enthusiasm, others, hanging their heads and suddenly looking into vacant corners of the room, remain silent in chagrin. The Lecturer, knowing Isabel to be a particularly enthusiastic music lover, asks:
Can you play a Mozart sonata yet, Isabel?
(Isabel sadly shakes her head. To which, the Lecturer replies:)
The more need to practice then! All one’s life is a music–if one touches the notes rightly–and in time. But there must be no hurry!
Be well out there!
P.S.: Someplace in the vast cache which comprises Ruskin’s writings and letters, he remarks that Mozart has written the laws of melody for all time. 🙂