141: The Path of the Heart

This morning’s reading (fors at work again!).

It is 1846. Ruskin has just published Modern Painters II. In it, he has worked out, for the first time, his theory of the imagination, arguing for its central role in leading us toward discovering the truth of all things and life. He is 27.

Along his still youthful way, he has said time and again that we should spend relatively little time on things of the moment, that we would be much better served if we gave our perpetually fleeting hours to those who have been acknowledged as the greats of our species, those who have devoted their lives to telling us in their respective ways of the truths they have gleaned and how it happened that they came to glean them. Among such greats, he reports that he has been much helped by Aeschylus, Homer, Dante, and Shakespeare (for the last, see Post 123). Of their impact, he says: that anyone

touched by [them] is by them held by the heart, and every circumstance or sentence of their being, speaking, or seeming, is seized upon by a process within, and is referred to that inner spring of which the hold is never lost for an instant; so that every sentence, as it has been thought out from the heart, opens for us a way down to the heart, leads us to the center, and then leaves us to gather what more we may. It is the “Open Sesame” of a huge, obscure, endless cave, with inexhaustible treasure of pure gold scattered in it. The wandering about and gathering of these pieces…[is] left to us. [True, what is found there] is often obscure, often half-told, for he who wrote it, in his clear seeing of things beneath, may have been impatient of detailed interpretation. But, if we choose to dwell upon it and trace it, it will lead us always back securely to that metropolis of the soul’s dominion from which we may follow out all the ways and tracks to [their] furthest coasts.

As I read this, it occurred to me that Ruskin, though at the time he wrote down his sentences  such a thought would’ve been the furthest thing from his mind, was in fact telling us of the health and life-enhancing effects that any careful reading of his own words provide as we, in our separate ways, go forward in our own search for truth. Certainly, this has been the case for me.

Until next time! Tomorrow.

Be well out there!


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6 Responses to 141: The Path of the Heart

  1. Harris, Jack says:

    A lovely (if brief) post that matches nicely with the NY Times piece. Ruskin is certainly a read for our times and, for those less ambitious, your blog gives us selected bits of Ruskin, and an enriching framework for understanding him and the import of his ideas.



    Jack D. Harris, Professor of Sociology
    Department of Sociology – 215 Stern Hall
    Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Geneva, NY 14456
    Email: harris@hws.edu
    Phone – Office: 315-781-3439 Cell: 315-521-1387

    • jimspates says:

      Thanks, Jack, much appreciated, though I always worry a bit, as Ruskin did when selections appeared in print, that his words and thoughts in excerpt, lovely as they are, keep us from encountering both in their even more powerful context in their original settings.
      Thanks, too, for the reference to the just out New York Times article on him and his work. I’ll provide a full reference to it tomorrow in my 200th Birthday post. 🙂

  2. genevacitycouncil says:

    What about Plato?!?!? His words (or Socrates through him) are the pure gold I try to stay in contact with!!!

    • jimspates says:

      You are of course right about Plato–and Ruskin would heartily agree. There were many days when he said that he was never quite right until he had read some Plato. Plato was, for him, as Ruskin is regularly for me, someone who can soften the day and center the soul on the things which truly matter–Plato called them “the things that are.” All of these greats are different–but fundamentally similar–paths to truth.

  3. Tess says:

    Beautiful, inspires me to get out my Plato and Ruskin again and see what treasures have been waiting patiently for me!

  4. Arjun Jain says:

    I could not agree more fervently. I have ever advocated what today one might call “role-models” for everyone. Without my own models- which in my own private language I so often call my closest friends- I cannot today think of where I might be. With them, no matter where I am or how I find myself, I can never feel alone.

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