Here’s something all of us have experienced and been much frustrated by. Below is Ruskin’s view of the vexing problem along with his suggestion for how to make things better. In the next post, we’ll look at a lovely example he uses to prove his case. These sentences–and those that follow in the promised post–can be found in the tenth chapter of the third volume of Modern Painters, published in 1856. It is worth remembering as we read to keep in mind that our subject took it as a matter of significant pride that he never published anything until he was completely sure of the truth of what he wrote. Which is why, as we have frequently seen in earlier posts, he was so often and deeply frustrated when his audiences, nowhere nearly as attentive to his points as he was sure they would be, often didn’t understand or accept his arguments. Given what our attention spans are now, some sixteen decades later, it is difficult to imagine what level his exasperation would reach…
Another character of the imagination is equally [important]. It is eminently a weariable faculty, eminently delicate, and incapable of bearing fatigue–so that, if we give it too many objects at a time to employ itself upon, or very grand ones for a long time together, it fails under the effort, becomes jaded–exactly as the limbs do by bodily fatigue–and incapable of answering any farther appeal till it has had rest.
[T]his is the real nature of the weariness that is so often felt in travelling…seeing too much. It is not that the monotony and number of the beautiful things seen have made them valueless, but that the imaginative power has been overtaxed–and, instead of letting it rest, the traveller, wondering to find himself dull and incapable of admiration, seeks for something more admirable, excites and torments, and drags the poor fainting imagination up by the shoulders, saying: “Look at this, and look at that, and this more wonderful still!”—until the imaginative faculty faints utterly away, beyond all further torment or pleasure, dead for many a day to come, and the despairing prodigal takes to horse-racing… good now for nothing else than that. Whereas, if the imagination had only been laid down on the grass among simple things and left quiet for a little while, it would have come to itself gradually, recovered its strength and color, and soon been fit for work again. So that, whenever the imagination is tired, it is necessary to find for it something, not more admirable, but less admirable, such as in that weak state it
can deal with, and give it peace… [T]hen it will recover.
Until that next time, be well out there as we all make our way through those days when Spring, in its usual fashion, continues its teasing approach.