93: Limbs of the Mind


A few posts ago (#88), we were ruminating about how to stay fit. The scientific evidence accumulated thus far suggests that gaining this happy end isn’t as hard as most of us think.  We needn’t run ten miles a day, nor swim the all the laps that equal that number of miles. Instead, all we need to do is walk, as much as possible, leaving, as much as possible, all the trains, planes, and automobiles to their rest and rust. Walking also protects us from being lumbered with the “parcel” status that Mr. Ruskin (also Post 88) found so distasteful.

Below is his advice for keeping that other part of our good souls, our minds, well. Like walking, it isn’t all that hard to effect. Indeed, his recommendations remind me of the fine advice offered by our pair of presidents, Clinton and Gearan, with whom we commenced in our last post (#92). Ruskin proffers his advice in a guise we have met before, that of “The Old Lecturer” in The Ethics of the Dust (1866). It goes like this:

May we not, to begin with, accept this great principle: that, as our bodies to be in health must be generally exercised, so our minds, to be in health, must be generally cultivated?

You would not call a man healthy who had strong arms but was paralytic in his feet, nor one who could walk well but had no use of his hands, nor one who could see well if he could not hear. You would not voluntarily reduce your bodies to any such partially developed state. Much more then, you would not, if you could help it, reduce your minds to it.

Now, your minds are endowed with a vast number of gifts of totally different uses—”limbs of the mind”–as it were, which, if you don‘t exercise, you cripple. One is curiosity. That is a gift, a capacity of pleasure in knowing, which if you destroy, you make yourselves cold and dull. Another is sympathy, the power of sharing in the feelings of living creatures, which if you destroy, you make yourselves hard and cruel. Another of your limbs of mind is admiration, the power of enjoying beauty or ingenuity, which if you destroy, you make yourselves base and irreverent. Another is wit, or the power of playing with the lights on the many sides of truth, which if you destroy, you make yourselves gloomy, and less useful and cheering to others than you might be.

So that, in choosing your way of work, it should be your aim, as far as possible, to bring out all these faculties, as far as they exist in you. Not one merely; nor another; but all of them. And the way to bring them out is simply to concern yourselves attentively with the subjects of each faculty. To cultivate sympathy you must be among living creatures, and thinking about them; to cultivate admiration, you must be among beautiful things and looking at them.

All this sounds much like truism (at least I hope it does!), for then you will surely not refuse to act upon it and consider farther [both why and how]…you are to keep yourselves in [continual] contemplation of living creatures and lovely things.

Enough advice and exercise for this day!

Until next time…



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