As regular readers know, we have been of late burrowing into Ruskin’s long series of Fors Clavigera letters (96, all addressed to the workmen and laborers of Great Britain between 1871 and 1884). For the last two years, I have been engaged in a project to reread them all (slow going; more than 1500 dense pages; that’s our Ruskin!). Currently, I’m about 2/3rds of the way through. As with all Ruskin’s writings, sometimes, most unexpectedly, what I like to call a “nugget,” a brilliant sentence, paragraph or page, illuminates something you didn’t see or had failed to understand properly before. I’ve made note of these nuggets as I’ve read along–examples of what Dickens calls, in one of his great works “the True Gold,” and I thought that, today, for a bit of a change of pace, I’d share a few with you.
As we know, before his death, and not infrequently before it, Ruskin was one of the most anthologized writers who ever lived, and I’ve devoted an entire post to a listing all the Ruskin compendia of which I am aware (see post 115: The Ruskin Compendia ). It may be of use for you to get one or two of these collections for your own reading pleasure. Almost all of them are easily available on the web. In the meantime, here are a few of the aforementioned “nuggets,” almost all of them from the Fors letters. If you have any of your own nuggets to share, please write a comment to this post and I will respond to them and perhaps interpolate them into the post. One of the fine things about this new digital world, is that everything we put on it can be revised, added to, or deleted.
To read a bit of Ruskin daily, I’ve often said, is a privilege, a chance to walk a few steps with genius. The following nuggets are a sample of the reward which come from such strolls!
“Utmost wisdom is not in self-denial, but in finding the ability to derive extreme pleasure in very little things.” (Fors Clavigera, Letter 34)
“What [do we] mean by [using the word]’s “captain,” or “head person”?… Have you yourselves ever seen a “Captain,” think you? – Of the true quality? And did you know him when you saw him?” ( Fors Clavigera, Letter 25.)
“It does not at all follow that [we are doing a right thing] – But one must be deliberately acting in a way we entirely suppose to be right, or we shall not do it becomingly.”(Fors Clavigera, Letter 25)
“Your literary institutes must fail everywhere as long as you think that to merely buy a book and know your letters will enable you to read that book. Not one word of any book is readable by you until your mind is one with the author’s, and his words are not merely like your words, but his thoughts are like your thoughts“(Fors Clavigera Letter 25).
“Next comes something which I fancy will be unexpected by most of my readers–for the fashion of all literary students catering to public acceptance has hitherto been to pick out of the air whatever little bits they thought would be acceptable or enticing to the public ear, and keep anything of suspicious taste out of what they write” (Fors Clavigera, Letter 28)
“In the libraries of the St. George’s’ school’s, there shall be none but noble books to read, and none but noble art to see.” (Fors Clavigera , Letter 57)
“You shall never love art well, until you love what she mirrors better.” The Eagle’s Nest.
“Every tradesman’s books on St. George’s grounds must be open on the Master’s order, so that not only will his business position be entirely known, but his profits to the public.” (Fors Clavigera, Letter 77.) When told by some readers that this was a stipulation to which few, if any, would Agree, Ruskin responded by saying that this was unfortunate, for if business people did abide by it, St. George’s work would be done.
“Behind every secret lies guilt or danger.” (Fors Clavigera Letter 77.)
“We must first learn how to behave with the heart, which is the first part of all the body that has to be instructed.” (Fors Clavigera, Letter 28)
“And the whole point of this book (Fors Clavigera) is that you find ways to manage and be content with your own lives.” ( Fors Clavigera, Letter 48)
“To be despised…may be no ill-fortune; the real ill-fortune is to be despicable.” (Proserpina)
“Every great composition in the world, every great piece of painting or literature, without any exception, From the birth of man to this hour is an assertion of moral law, as strict, when we examine it, as Dante’s vision of that law in The Divine Comedy!” (Fors Clavigera Letter 83).
“The substantial wealth of man consists in the earth he cultivates, with its serviceable animals and plants, and in the rightly produced work of his own hands.” (Fors Clavigera, Letter 37, [and for reiteration, in case anyone had forgotten] “The ‘wealth of the world,’ consists, broadly, in its healthy, food – giving land, its convenient building land, its useful animals, its books and its works of art.” (Fors Clavigera, Letter 73, 1874)
“For all the arts of mankind or womankind are only rightly learned, or practiced, only when they are so with a definite purpose of pleasing or teaching others. A child dancing for its own delight, – a lamb leaping – or a fawn at play–are happy and holy creatures; but they are not artists. An artist is: A PERSON WHO HAS SUBMITTED IN HIS WORK TO A LAW WHICH IT WAS PAINFUL TO OBEY, SO THAT HE MIGHT BESTOW A DELIGHT WHICH IT IS GRACIOUS TO BESTOW.” (caps in original: For Clavigera, Letter 58).
Youth is properly the forming time…the time during which a man makes himself, or is made into that which he is forever to be. Then comes the time of labor, when, having become the best he can be, he does the best he can do. Then comes the time of death, which, in happy lives, is very short. But it is always a time. The ceasing of breath is only the end of life.” (Fors Clavigera, letter 32)
“The highest reward for a person’s toil is not what they get for it, but what they become by it” (this is a great one. I’ve lost the original source; if anyone knows it, please share)
There are many more, which I shall, perhaps, share at another time.
In the meantime–and, as always, with my warmest wishes–Please do continue well out there! (And! as always also during these post-stroke days, my abiding thanks to Jen Webb of the Digital Learning Center at Hobart and William Smith Colleges foe her techno-wizardry!