Yesterday I was waiting for a friend to pick me up so that we could go out for our usual breakfast, where, also as usual, we would settle the affairs of the world in the midst of what we regard as each others’ treasured company. Our house having no easy view of the street and, it being a decidedly very wintry December morning, I found a seat facing one of the few windows that would allow me to see his car arriving outside. He was a bit late. And so, to pass the moments, I glanced over at a nearby bookcase. On it a number of the very finest of the Ruskin compendia I reviewed earlier (Post 115) reside. Perhaps fors-guided, my eye fell on Maude Bateman and Grace Allen’s wonderful collection (personally presented to its subject late in life, with the result that tears of gratitude and pride streamed from their subject’s failing eyes): The Ruskin Birthday Book. I opened it–or so I thought–to the pair of quotations these prescient Ruskinians had selected to represent the 8th of December, reading there as follows:
The first–not the chief but the first–piece of good work a man has to do is to find rest for himself, a place for the sole of his foot: his house or piece of holy land; and then [he is] to make it so hold and happy that, if by any chance he receive order to leave it, there may be bitter pain in obedience…
These lines coupled with (for the same day):
Your first business is to make your homes healthy and delightful…and then let your return to them [at the end of yours] be your “holy day…”
Lovely, I thought, this pair of excerpts from two Fors Clavigera letters (the 42nd and 22nd respectively), it being the season for decorating, sweetening, and generally making our houses even more restful than they might have been in the eleven previous months. Holy places, Ruskin rightly calls them! On their walls, the pictures that sooth and inspire us, on their tables, the things, little or larger, that we love to look at or eat on; around each room our chosen furniture, furniture loved for its comforts and because we findit delightful to look at. Holy places: places that tell all who visit them what it is that we hold most dear and who we, in our heart of hearts, really are. (I used to ask my students, when we were discussing Ruskin’s wonderful lecture, “Traffic,” to pause and recall their dorm rooms, recall the pictures they had mounted on their walls, recall the furniture they had chosen, recall the music that they listened to and the television programs they watched regularly, suggesting as they endured the exercise, as Ruskin had suggested in a paragraph in his lecture, that all such things were messages that had been tacitly tapped out, however unconsciously, by their room’s soul occupants.)
“Or so I thought,” I said, discovering, as I looked more closely at the page I had opened in this fine compendium of some of the greatest thoughts of the man to whom their book was, as this website is, dedicated, that I had, in fact, not just read the entry for December 8, but, rather, had read the one for November 8! Careless mistake.
I glanced out the window. My friend still was not there–and so I turned to the entry for the correct date, finding there this:
It is [the] quiet and subdued passages of unobtrusive majesty, the deep and the calm and the perpetual…which must be loved ere [they] are understood. [The] things which the angels work out for us daily, and yet vary eternally, which are never wanting, and never repeated, which are to be found always; yet each found but once. It is through these that the lesson of devotion is chiefly taught, and the blessing of beauty given.
But now my friend was outside. I put the book down, promising myself that I would return to this passage (from the first volume of Modern Painters), which had been much too quickly read for grasping, later. Which, that later time having arrived, I now have.
And so, all this, for your consideration.
Be well out there.
Until next time, 🙂