139: The Kindly Veil

Sometimes–in truth, often–when reading Ruskin the very thing you need for that moment appears. He would have said that the effect was an instance of the Third Fors at work, that particular fors, force, being the eternal power which, as its appointed task, is always present, waiting at the ready to support and strengthen life when it perceives that someone(s), or something(s) needs a little help. [The gods whom we recently looked at, and then, not long later, cavalierly rejected (Post 135 and Post 136), are ongoing evidence of the reality of the Third Fors.]

Some, of course, would refer to such sudden, happy moments as “blind luck.” But, Ruskin would say that such a view is not only myopic, but foolish, the help bestowed having been neither blind nor luck, and, rejected out of hand, nothing less than a denial of the existence of an intelligent energy source which was constituted from the beginning of time into the very structure of the universe.

In any event, the sentences below appeared in my reading this morning. To, and for, me, they were, in my current state, marvelously helpful. I offer them here in the same spirit of help, they needing nothing additional from me, their sweet insight and–need I still mention?–peerless composition being sufficient unto the day (all days). In the original, they can be found in the fourth volume of Modern Painters (which no one turning that volume’s pages, whether then or now, would have suspected were waiting there on the next page, just waiting for their turn!):

Our happiness as thinking beings must depend on our being content to accept only partial knowledge, even in those matters which chiefly concern us. If we insist upon perfect intelligibility and complete declaration in every moral subject, we shall instantly fall into misery or unbelief.

Our whole happiness and power of energetic action depend on our being able to breathe and live in the cloud, content to see it opening here and closing there, rejoicing to catch, through the thinnest films of it, glimpses of stable and substantial things, but yet perceiving a nobleness even in the concealment, and rejoicing that the kindly veil is spread where untempered light might have scorched us, or infinite clearness wearied…

[If we accept such partial knowledge humbly,] it instantly becomes an element of pleasure. And I like to think that every rightly constituted mind ought to rejoice, not so much in knowing anything clearly, as in feeling that there is infinitely more which it cannot know.

None but proud or weak men would mourn over this, for we may always know more if we choose by working on. But the pleasure is…in knowing that the journey is endless, the treasure inexhaustible: watching the cloud still march before [us], with its summitless pillar and being sure that, to the end of time and to the length of eternity, the mysteries of its infinity will still open farther and father, their dimness being the sign and necessary adjunct of their inexhaustibleness.

(Which words, now that I am done typing them, seem to have a lot more to do with Posts 135 and 136 than I thought when first I set my fingers into motion. The Third Fors.)

Until next time.

Be well out there in Mr. Ruskin’s bicentenary year!


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2 Responses to 139: The Kindly Veil

  1. Arjun Jain says:

    Another rather excellent post, Jim! The subject is one over which I myself have spent very many an impassioned hour. The ‘kindliness’ of the veil though I have come today to suspect, I have, for certain, and at last, been able to see it for what it is- a veil, truly. It takes a long, long time, does it not, to be able to dismantle that edifice, of pride and weakness, past which only can any real sort of pleasure be taken, in having realised the necessity of its dimness to its inexhaustibleness, mystery’s?

  2. jimspates says:

    Thanks for your comments, Arjun. From his side, I think JR would respond by saying that we have all been intensely trained by our modern societies and moment in history to view the natural world as impersonal and, in that guise, to see nature as a likely enemy–which thinking is a mirror-image of our larger modern world view, fostered by the ideology of laissez-faire capitalism and popular interpretations of Darwin, that everything and everyone is in competition with each other. Which view, Ruskin would say, has disasterous consequences, setting us at each others’ throats, building worry and anxiety into our daily lives,and fostering a willingness to exploit nature, What he wants us to see–and this is the purport of so much of his writing–is that this aversarrial view is a CONSTRUCT, and that other views are possible, and, he would add, more credible once you allow yourself to take them seriously. Hence, “the KINDLY veil.” Hence, in recent posts, his argument contending for the ACTUAL existence of the gods (whom our construct insistently tells us to banish) who stand at the ready to help us if we but decide to acknowledge and allow them. Cheers, 🙂

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