Once again we have orbited around to the first of the two closely-placed Ruskin anniversaries of the year—today– the day which reminds us of his passing at Brantwood just shy of three weeks into a new century in 1900, and February 8, his birthday (expect another post around that time). Each year, I try to put up something a little special commemorating these two days, something to remind us of Ruskin’s genius and why he remains, as I fervently believe he does, so relevant to us more than a century later.
Normally, I have no fixed plan for these Posts. As I’ve often mentioned, I read some Ruskin every day for inspiration and centering-the-soul purposes. Often in the perusals, I come across something I think might be useful in a post, something inspiring. Aiding me in attaining this goal this year has been the arrival of a small volume which, heretofore, I had no idea existed. It was compiled by M. Ethel Jameson, and is the print version of her Masters’ Thesis in Library Science awarded at the University of Chicago in 1900. It was printed by the Riverside Press here in the US and bears the title, A Biographical Contribution to the Study of John Ruskin. I don’t remember how I found about it and I presume that few copies exist, so good luck if you try to find one. It’s a valuable little book because, Ruskin’s influence then on the wane, Jamison compiled not only a list of all the books Ruskin wrote, but of all the books that had been written about him, as well as provide reference to hundreds of articles about him, a listing which would have been then very difficult to collect. She also includes a section of tributes to Ruskin written by various folks and, while these are hardly the most valuable of her contributions, it is these which provide the substance of today’s celebration of our subject.
Always, human beings live immersed in the culture of their times. A massive part of that surrounding lies in the unperceived absorption of thousands–, likely millions– of bits of information we don’t even know we have internalized, such as the names of presidents, dates of critical events (9/11), and the names of many people about whom we think little on any given day. Sensing this, Jameson has selected her representative applaudings from the vast store of those who read Ruskin and thought highly enough of him to write something in praise of him or some aspect of his work. In these citations which appear in her thesis, she never deigns to identify the writers beyond mere mention of their names, assuming that her readers would know who they were reflexively, as we moderns would, for example, immediately recognize names like Toni Morrison, William Faulkner, Martin Luther King, or Brad Pitt. As a result, what you will find below, offered here in praise of Ruskin on the anniversary of his death, are a number of such quotes. I have not made any attempt to find out who many of the individuals cited are, but, should you wish to do so and later inform me of the results of your sleuthings, I would be delighted. Here we go!
W. G. COLLINGWOOD: “Ruskin did for English literature what Aristotle did for Greek ethics… His work was so influential he was practically acknowledged to be the authority upon all matters of art, almost the dictator of taste… He knew more about scenery than most geologists; more about geology than most artists… he was different from other men by the breadth and vividness of his sympathies because he had lived as few other men had lived, by the fact that his work was infused with admiration, hope, and love. Is not such a life worth living whatever its final monument may be? Ruskin did not know if there was a another life or not; he hoped there was; and yet if he were not a saint or a Christian, was there any man in the world who was narrowed to the kingdom of heaven than this stubborn heretic?”
HOPPIN: Ruskin has done more for the right understanding of art than any other living man or artist.
J. M. W. TURNER: he knows a great deal more about pictures than I do; he puts things into my head, and points out meanings that I never intended in my pictures.
CHARLOTTE BRONTE: The Stones of Venice are nobly laid our and chiseled. How grandly the quarry of vast marbles is disclosed! Mr. Ruskin seems to me to be one of the few genuine writers, as distinguished from the bookmakers of our age. His earnestness amuses me, for I cannot help laughing to think how Utilitarians will fret over his deep, serious, and fanatical (or so they will think) reverence for art. I congratulate you, his publishers, Smith and Elder, on the approaching publication of his new book. If The Seven Lamps of Architecture resembles its predecessors – the Modern Painters books – there will be no lamps at all, but rather a new constellation – seven bright new stars for whose rising the reading world ought to be anxiously agape.
CARLYLE: [from a letter to Ruskin and regarding Ruskin’s fifth letter in the Fors Clavigera series] Throughout, it is written with the old nobleness and fire, in which no other living voice to my knowledge, equals yours; it is incomparable, a quasi- sacred consolation which almost brings tears to my eyes. Every word of it is as if spoken not out of my own poor heart, but out of the eternal skies, word swelling with Empyrean Wisdom and lightning which I really do not remember the like of. Continue, while you have such utterances in yo, to give them voice. They will find and force their way into human hearts whatever their “angle of incidence” may be, denigrating the degraded and inhuman blockeadedism which we so-called men have exhibit in this age. You come upon them at the broadside, at the top and even at the bottom. Euge! Euge! [Bravo! Bravo!]” [For considerably more on this wonderful fors letter, see Post 205: “The White Thorn Blossom,” FORS CLAVIGERA, LETTER 5
ELBERT HUBBARD: I believe John Ruskin, William Morris, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, and Leo Tolstoy to be prophets of God, and they should rank in mental reach aAnd spiritual insight as high as Elijah, Hosea, Ezekiel, and Isaiah.
HAMERTON, P. G.: Among prose writers, Ruskin stands quite alone.
HOPPIN: Ruskin has been an apostle of good in other things besides art, and has fought a glorious fight against untruths and materialism.
HOBSON: He ever seeks to touch the heart as well as convince the understanding… In Munera Pulveris he has amply justified the claims of his theory of social economics… There is in him nothing of the intellectual wrecker; his analytic faculty is directed against the faults of a bad system of art, education, and social order, is always charged with the spirit of repair, eager to assert itself in imposing order upon chaos, supplanting noxious weeds by wholesome fruit bearing plants, and preparing the barren ground for useful cultivation. He has humanized political economy. He has succeeded in telling our age more of the truths it most requires to hear than any other man. Mr. Ruskin will rank as a great social teacher of his age not merely because he told the largest number of important truths on the largest variety of vital matters… but because he has made the most powerful and most felicitous attempt to grasp and express, as a comprehensive whole, the needs of a human society as it setss about the process of social reform.
RITCHIE: Ruskin should’ve been a novelist. When he chooses to describe a man or a woman, there stands the figure before us; when he tells the story, we live it. His is the descriptive, rather than the constructive faculty; his mastery is over detail and quantity knows no equal.
SAINTSBURY: he is a crotcheteer with a tongue of gold… Ruskin’s books are always found to contain the very finest prose– without exception and beyond comparison– which have been written in English during the last half of the 19th century[SJ1] .
LUCKING TAVENER: it is everywhere acknowledged that he is the greatest master of English prose.
And to close, here is one– also from the above-mentioned Saintsbury– which would’ve brought a smile to our subject’s face: Ruskin is a political economist who would bankrupt El Dorado and unsettle Sparta!”
I trust that these citations from Ms. Jamison’s little book have brightened your day.
And so, until next time, please do continue well out there,