198: Thinking with the Heart

Friends,

Our last post, #197: Affairs of the Master (Some Fallout from Glass Pocketing)generated some lovely replies. One in particular, sent by Jonathan Chiswell Jones, got me to thinking (again) about Ruskin and Tolstoy. Tolstoy, like Gandhi, 194: Ruskin in Sri Lanka, loved Ruskin, thought him one of the greatest of the world’s greatest. That thought got me to Stuart Eagles in the UK. Stu is the world expert on Ruskin and Tolstoy. I told him I was ruminating about putting up a post on these two giants. In light of which, Stu sent me quite a lot of material about the two of them, more than I expected. Reviewing it, I decided that what was really needed to do some degree of justice to the connection was a more detailed post, one more like the one on Ruskin and Gandhi (#194) than anything brief. I will do such, but not today.

Not today because it is November 3, 2020, election day in the United States of America, and, given the current state of our troubled and ill country in this troubled and ill world, I thought that something that showed something of Ruskin’s good heart and love of humanity was what was needed.

Which brought me back to a famous something that Tolstoy once said about Ruskin, a tribute which, to my mind, is one of the finest tributes one great thinker could bestow on another, that one great writer could bestow on another. We read it first in a post of some years back, Post 12. Late Applause. It remains as wonderful now as it was then, as wonderful as it was when first published by Tolstoy in 1899. It goes as follows (the translation is Stu Eagles’):

Ruskin is one of the most remarkable of men–not only of England and of our generation, but of all countries and times. He is one of those rare men who think with their hearts (“les grandes pensées viennent du coeur“), and so he thinks and says what he has himself seen and felt, and what everyone will think and say in the future. Ruskin is recognized in England as a writer and art-critic, but he is not spoken of as a philosopher, political economist, and Christian moralist… Ruskin’s power of thought and expression is, however, such that–in spite of the unanimous opposition he met with, especially among the orthodox economists (even the most radical of them), who cannot but attack him since he destroys their teaching at its very roots–his fame grows and his thoughts penetrate among the public.

To think with the heart! What could that possibly mean? What’s below, I submit, iterations of which heartfullness appear on almost every page of Ruskin’s remarkable prose. Purposefully, the passage I’ve chosen has never, or so I believe, been selected by anyone as one his most memorable. (But, like so many unselected others, it is!) It comes from the 39th letter of the Fors Clavigera series, the one for March, 1874. Ruskin is telling his readers of his love of theater, especially when he is staying in London. At its best, it gives him respite from all that he must do if he is, in the diminishing amount of time he has left, to right his (our) reeling world. The passage is a bit long, but I do beg you to stay with it, as, especially when you read it a second time, its nuances and interconnections become clearer. After all, what else could you possibly do of import on the night of an election?

To Think with the Heart:

I was but just in time to get my tickets for [a play called] “Jack
in the Box,” on the day I wanted, and put them carefully in the
envelope with those I had been just securing at Hengler’s [Theater] for
my fifth visit to “Cinderella.” For indeed, during the last three
weeks, the greater part of my available leisure has been spent
between “Cinderella” and “Jack in the Box”–with this curious result
upon my mind, that the intermediate scenes of Archer Street
and Prince’s Street, Soho, have become to me merely as one
part of the drama, or pantomime which I happen to have seen
last. Or, so far as the difference in the appearance of men and things
may compel me to admit some kind of specific distinction, I
begin to ask myself, “Which is the reality, and which the
pantomime?” Nay, it appears to me not of much moment which
we choose to call “Reality.” Both are equally real. And the only
question is whether the cheerful state of things which the
spectators, especially the youngest and wisest, entirely applaud
and approve at Hengler’s and Drury Lane [Theater], must necessarily be
interrupted always by the woeful interlude of the outside world. It is a bitter question to me, for I am myself now, hopelessly, a man of the world!—of that woeful outside one, I mean.

It is now Sunday; half-past eleven in the morning.
Everybody about me is gone to church except the kind cook,
who is straining a point of conscience to provide me with
dinner. Everybody else is gone to church, to ask to be made
angels of, and profess that they despise the world and the flesh,
which I find myself always living in (rather, perhaps, living, or
endeavoring to live, in too little of the last). And I am left
alone with the cat, in the world of sin.

But I scarcely feel less an outcast when I come out of the
Circus on week days, into my own world of sorrow. Inside the
Circus, there have been wonderful Mr. Edward Cooke, and
pretty Mademoiselle Aguzzi, and the three brothers Leonard,
like the three brothers in a German story, and grave little
Sandy, and bright and graceful Miss Hengler, all doing the
most splendid feats of strength, and patience, and skill, [while, in Drury Lane,] there
have been dear little Cinderella and her Prince, and all the
pretty children beautifully dressed, taught thoroughly how to
behave, and how to dance, and how to sit still, and giving
everybody delight that looks at them. Whereas, the instant I
come outside the door, I find all the children about the streets
ill-dressed, and ill-taught, and ill-behaved, and nobody cares to
look at them.

And then, again at Drury Lane, there’s just everything I want
people to have always got for them, for a little while. And they
seem to enjoy them just as I should expect they would.
Mushroom Common, with its lovely mushrooms, white and
grey, so finely set off by the incognita fairy’s scarlet cloak; the
golden land of plenty with furrow and sheath; Buttercup Green,
with its flock of mechanical sheep, which the whole audience
claps because they are of pasteboard, as they do the sheep in
“Little Red Riding Hood” because they are alive, but in either
case, must have them on the stage in order to be pleased with
them, and never clap when they see the creatures in a field
outside!

They can’t have enough, any more than I can, of the
loving duet between Tom Tucker and Little Bo Peep. They
would make the dark fairy dance all night long in her amber
light if they could–and yet contentedly return to what they call
“a necessary state of things” outside, where their corn is reaped
by machinery, and the only duets are between steam whistles. Why haven’t they a steam whistle to whistle to them on the stage, instead of Miss Violet Cameron [a stage actress]? Why haven’t they a steam “Jack in the Box” to jump for them, instead of Mr. Evans [etc.]? Or a steam doll to dance for them, instead of Miss Kate
Vaughan [etc.]?

They still seem to have human ears and eyes in the
Theatre–to know that there, for an hour or two, that golden light,
and song, and human skill and grace are better than
smoke-blackness, and shrieks of iron and fire, and monstrous
powers of constrained elements. And then they return to their
underground railroad [also: “The Tube” or subway}, and say, “This, behold! This is the right way to move, and live in a real world.”

Very notable it is also that just as in these two theatrical
entertainments—the Church and the Circus—the imaginative
congregations still retain some true notions of the value of
human and beautiful things, and don’t have steam-preachers
nor steam-dancers. So also they retain some just notion of the
truth, in moral things: Little Cinderella, for instance, at Hengler’s, never thinks of offering her poor fairy Godmother a ticket from the Mendicity Society. She
immediately goes and fetches her some dinner. And she makes
herself generally useful, and sweeps the doorstep, and dusts the
door—and none of the audience think any the worse of her on
that account. They think the worse of her proud sisters who
make her do it.

But when they leave the Circus, they never
think for a moment of making themselves useful like
Cinderella. They forthwith play the proud sisters as much as
they can, and try to make anybody else who will sweep their
doorsteps. Also at bthe audience, gentle and simple, feel that the only
chance Cinderella has of pleasing her Godmother, or marrying a
prince, is in remaining patiently at her tub, as long as the Fates
will have it so, heavy though it be. And again, in all the dramatic
representations of Little Red Riding Hood, everybody
disapproves of the carnivorous propensities of the Wolf. They
clearly distinguish there—as clearly as the Fourteenth Psalm,
itself—between the class of animal which eats, and the class of
animal which is eaten. But once outside the theatre, they
declare the whole human race to be universally
carnivorous—and are ready themselves to eat up any quantity
of Red Riding Hoods, body and soul, if they can make money
by them.

And lastly—[both] at Hengler’s and Drury Lane–see how the
whole of the pleasure of life depends on the existence of
Princes, Princesses, and Fairies. One never…thinks Cinderella would be a
bit better off if there were no princes. The audience understands
that though it is not every good little house-maid who can
marry a prince, the world would not be the least pleasanter, for
the rest, if there were no princes to marry. 

Nevertheless, it being too certain that the sweeping of
doorsteps diligently will not in all cases enable a pretty maiden
to drive away from said doorsteps for evermore in a gilded
coach, one has to consider what may be the next best for her.
And next best, or, in the greater number of cases, [may just be to] enter over the swept and garnished steps, and abide with her in her own life, such as it is.

§

To think (and write) with the heart.

Until next time, please continue well out there.

And, when this strange election night is over, may we all make every attempt to go on thinking with our own still good hearts, as we go on doing whatever it is we do to right our various listing ships.

Jim

 

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3 Responses to 198: Thinking with the Heart

  1. Jack Harris says:

    Thank you Jim. I am reminded of Philip Rieff’s call for us to have a “feeling intellect” in his book Fellow Teachers. Certainly Ruskin impressed us with his demonstration of just that in his work and in his life. Not so easy to do, especially in challenging times ….

  2. Jonathan Chiswell Jones says:

    It was the Fox who confided to The Little Prince in St Exupery’s immortal classic: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.” For some of us, it is the task of a lifetime to learn how to ‘see rightly’, more especially if we have had the benefit of an expensive private education.

  3. Michelle Ruth Lovric says:

    Lovely piece! And quite a swerve into a kind of proto-feminism at the end too. Like Ruskin, I am currently ‘left
    alone with the cat, in the world of sin.’ And just this moment sin is balancing on a pin-head in your part of the world. Terrifying.

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