212: light and dark

Now deeply into our second pandemic year, the weariness of the struggle has begun to tell on  us all. That it will end, we all know; when it will end, none of us know. We have moved, over the last 20 months, from some measure of light, to some measure of darkness. The alternation of light and darkness in the day, in our lives, in the universe was never lost on Ruskin, as today’s quote should make clear.

The passage is taken from one of the many appendices in the third volume of The Stones of Venice. One of the things that makes this 175-year-old book still wonderful reading, even though most of us are far from the floating city on the Adriatic, the city Ruskin was fond of calling, “this Paradise of Cities,”  is the wealth of wisdom it contains. Ruskin was never one to hold back  thoughts he regarded as his most essential. If he had grasped a truth, he shared it, believing that stating it clearly would help those who read it along their path. Among such essential ruminations were his cogitations  on the intrinsic meaning of yhe alteration of light and dark, In which context, without further elaboration, we move on on to passage.

The poor, we are told, we must always have with us, and sorrow is inseparable from any hour of life. But we may make their poverty such as shall inherit the earth, and their sorrow such as shall be held by the hand of the Comforter with everlasting comfort. We can, can, if we will, shake off the lethargy and dreaming that is upon us and take the pains to think like men, We can, I say, make  kingdoms to be as well-governed households, in which, while no care or kindness can prevent occasional heart- burnings, nor any foresight or piety anticipate all of the vicissitudes of fortune, and create places where  the unity of affection and fellowship remain unbroken, and where distress is  neither embittered  by division, prolonged by  prudence, or darkened by dishonor…

And now from all directions we hear cries for the education of the lower classes–every day more widely and loudly. It is a wise and sacred cry, provided it be extended into one for the education of all classes, with definite respect to the work that each man has to do, and the substance of which such work is to be done. But it is a foolish and vein cry, if it be understood, as in the plurality of cases it is meant to be, for the expression of mere craving after knowledge, irrespective of the simple purposes of the life that now is, and the blessings of that which is to come.

One great fallacy into which men are apt to fall in their reasoning on the subject is that light, as such, is always good and darkness, as such, always evil. Far from it!!  Light untempered would be annihilation. It is good to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, but to those that think in the wilderness, so also is a shadow of the great rock in a weary land. If the sunshine is good, so also is the cloud of the rain. Light is only beautiful, only available for life, when it is tempered with shadow. Pure light is on unendurable by humanity. And it is not less ridiculous to say that the light, as such, is good in itself than to say that the darkness is good in itself. Both are rendered safe, healthy, and useful by the other; the night by the day, the day by the night, We could just as easily live without sunrise as without sunset. Of  the Celestial City we are told that there shall be “no night there,” and that there we will all shall be known even as also we are known (Revelation 21),  but the night and the mystery both have their service here, and our business is not to turn the night into the day, but be sure that we are as those who watch for the morning.

Until next time !


Please to continue well out there!


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3 Responses to 212: light and dark

  1. George P. Landow says:

    Dear Jim

    What’s the source of that quotation — For? Without my Ruskin books, I can’t quickly turn to the Library Edition.

    I hope you’re getting on well now. I’m on my 3rd chemotherapy & we’ll see how that goes, or, indeed, if it gores.




    • jimspates says:

      Dear George,

      Terrific to hear from you!Not so terrific to learn that you are about to experience your third chemo bout! I have thought of you often and wondered how you were doing.

      The source of the quotation, as best I have it, is appendix seven of volume three of the library edition’s STONES volumes. I took it from one of those many “Ruskin compendia” I have, Not a few of which continue to inspire a hundred and more years on.

      I continue to repair, if more slowly, from my stroke. I gave recently three Zoom talks on unto this last for the Ruskin Art club in LA. They went well but were more difficult than I expected them to be and left me exhausted after each. I also attended a conference in Rose Valley PA, home of a major arts and crafts group, and there gave two talks, one a general introduction to Ruskin and his genius, the other on Ruskin‘s theory of beauty. They went very well and people were wonderful. One couple invited us to dinner at their house after the conference ended and we were served not only an elegant meal but were able to wash it down with Bordeaux from 2000, banner vintage year Of the last many decades. I must say that I gained a fine appreciation of why these wines are so cherished. Looked them up later,and found that they were still available at around $250 a bottle! Not my usual fare.

      Be in touch as you are able and know that, always, you have my best wishes! You remain one of the giants of the Ruskin world!


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