178: The Wisdom of Life

Good Folks,

Here’s another of those suddenly appearing Ruskin insights for consideration.

It arrives near the end of the 49th Fors Clavigera letter, one of 1874’s remarkable dozen. A woman reader has written, thrice taking him to task for what she believes are certain inconsistencies or hypocrisies in his Fors teachings. He addresses to the first two (which we shall not), and then comes to the third.

In his earlier letters, she has noticed his virulent  hatred of railroads (see, as examples, Post 88: The Walker and the Parcel and Post 136: Banishing the Gods). She even suspects he rides them. To which accusation, he responds:

I do so constantly, my dear lady; few men more. I use everything that comes within reach of me. If the devil were standing at my side at this moment, I should endeavor to make some use of him… The wisdom of life is in preventing all the evil we can, and in using what is inevitable, to the best purpose.

I use my sicknesses for the work I despise in health; my enemies, for study of the philosophy of benediction and malediction; and railroads, for whatever I find of help in them—looking always hopefully forward to the day when their embankments will be ploughed down again, like the camps of Rome, into our English fields. But I am perfectly ready even to construct a railroad, when I think one necessary… 

Which I suppose, during these sequestered times, is wisdom sufficient unto this day…

Do be well out there!

Until next time.



P.S.: Below, adding a bit more for cogitation on this complex matter, is a (too small, alas) image of Turner’s “Rain, Steam, and Speed–The Great Western Railway,” 1844 (National Gallery, London), a picture Ruskin would have known intimately. As you have a look at it, don’t miss (most do) the little hare running for its life in the lower right corner.


Turner - Rain, Steam and Speed - National Gallery file.jpg



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