It has always been one of the principal goals of this series of posts to encourage its followers to read Ruskin, who, wherever one finds his words, is virtually assured of being inspired by them. I have argued that every day of his life, it was our subject’s intent, from the first time he put pen to paper to write something that would lighten the load or brighten the path of his fellow human beings. It was his conviction that it was every person’s responsibility to use whatever powers and abilities he possessed each day daily to help his fellow human beings negotiate the path of their lives. It was a commitment he carried with him all his life. It really doesn’t matter which of Ruskin’s 86 published books one picks up, whether it is the first volume of Modern Painters, published in 1843, or the last chapter of his unfinished autobiography, Praeterita (1890), one will discover that intent to inspire or ease. For this reason, during his own time, and still today, Ruskin remains almost unique in Western literature. As a demonstration of his intentions in this regard, today’s post is comprised of three quotations, each taken from a different work, each work composed at a different time in his life. May you find them helpful. I will be more than happy (or perhaps not) if, as you travel your own road with Mr. Ruskin, you share with me any instances where you think this commitment to doing unto others as you would wish they would do unto you is not present.
Our first passage comes from the opening paragraphs of the second chapter of The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1847), a chapter bearing the title, “the Lamp of Truth.”
We do not attend sufficiently to the telling of truth. Nor do we attend enough to our continual offences against truth, however slight or unintentional these may be. We are too much in the habit of accepting falsehood and winking through the dark color of untruths’ worst purposes. That indignation which we profess to feel at the seat of falsehood absolute is indeed only sometimes sincere. We resent calumny, hypocrisy, and treachery, because they harmless, not because they are untrue. Take the detraction and the mischief from untruth, and we are little offended by it; turn it into praise, and we may even be pleased with it. And yet it is not calumny nor treachery that draw the largest sum of mischief in the world; these are continually crushed, and are felt only after being conquered. But it is the glistening and softly spoken lie, the amiable fallacy, the patriotic lie of the historian, the problematic lie of the politician, the zealous lie of the partisan, the merciful lie of a friend, and the careless lie of each man to himself, that cast that black mystery over humanity and which we thank any man who pierces– as we would think of one who dug a well in the desert; happy that the thirst for truth still remains,even when we have willfully left the fountains of it.
The second is from Modern Painters, (1851)
The delights of horseracing and hunting, of assemblies in the night instead of the day, of costly and wearisome music, or costly and burdensome dress, of chagrined contention for place or power or wealth, or applause in the eyes of the multitude, and all the endless occupations without good purpose, and idleness without rest, are not, it seems to me, enjoyments we need to be ambitious to communicate. All real and wholesome enjoyments possible to man have been just as possible to him since he first was made as they are now– and they are possible to him chiefly in peace. To watch the corn grow and the blossoms set; to draw hard breath over the plowshare and the spade; to read, to think, to love, to hope, to pray; these are the things that make men happy; they have always had the power of doing so; they never will have the power of doing more. The world’s prosperity or adversity depends on our knowing and teaching these few things; but upon iron or glass,or electricity,or steam, in no wise.
And the last can be found int he first part of On The Old Road (1885):
It may be proved, with much certainty, that God intends no man to live in this world without working: but it seems to me no less evident that He intends a man to be happy in his work. It is written, “in the sweat of thy brow thou shalt eat bread.” (Genesis 3:19). But it was never written, “in the breaking of thine heart thou shalt eat bread(!)” And, I find that, as on the whole and on the one hand, infinite misery is caused regularly by idle people, who both fail in doing what was appointed for them to do, and by not so doing, set in motion various springs of mischief in matters in which they should have had no concern, and, on the other hand, that no small misery is caused by overworked and unhappy people, and by the dark views which they necessarily take up and force upon others regarding the nature of work itself. Were it not so, I believe the fact of their being unhappy to be in itself a violation of Divine Law, and a sign of some kind of folly or sin in their way of life.
In order that people may be happy in their work these three things are needed: they must be fit for it; they must not do too much of it: and they must have a sense of success in the doing of it – not a doubtful sense such as needs some testimony by other people for its confirmation, but a sure sense, or rather knowledge, that so much work has been done well, and fruitfully done, whatever the world may say or think about it.
Until next time, as you read whatever work of Ruskin’s you have to hand, please do continue well and inspired out there!