After our last, honorific post in celebration of Ruskin’s 199th birthday (#112), I thought it might be useful to send out a reminder of why the enocomia set down in praise of him and his works in that post were written. They came about because, as readers turned his pages–almost any page!–they would discover, to their surprise and challenge, paragraphs like those below, good for considered thought then, now, and later. That later being, happily, now.
They first appeared in Ruskin’s initial systematic foray into sociological thought, The Political Economy of Art, two lectures he gave to the good people of Manchester, an audience which, having much enjoyed what he said on those warm summer nights (July 10, 12, 1859), would invite him back just three weeks before Christmas in 1864 to talk to them again, this time about the signal importance of reading in and for life. That second talk, as long time readers of these posts will remember, would be when he would tell them about the talented Michael Collins, explaining why the story of that (until then unnoticed) Irish laborer was so important for them to know (#53). But, as I said, that would be later. On this earlier evening, he said:
[T]here are two great reciprocal duties concerning our industry, constantly to be exchanged between the living and the dead. We, as we live and work, 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 Past and the Future. Its own work will never be rightly done, even for itself—never good, or noble, or pleasurable,to its own eyes—if it does not prepare it 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–that 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.
Words which, even though they were first uttered 160 years ago, seem to possess a special kind of prescience for our own fracturing. later time; words which remind us of why Messers Stillman, Tighe-Gregory, and Schumacher said the laudatory things they did about the subject of these posts.
Until next time.
Be well out there!