Frequently, I’m happy to attest, I come across a passage when reading Ruskin that is just so transcendently beautiful, so universally and humanly right, that, even though I may have read it a number of times before, I am once again transfixed, awed, and deeply moved by the sheer brilliance of his words; at these times, I often wonder why we have not all been repeatedly exposed to such passages over the course of our own educational arc. Such is the case with brief quote I offer today..
By the late 1860s, Ruskin, not for the first time in his life, was depressed. For all intents and purposes, his art and architectural criticism were behind him, He had spent much of the decade speaking, always brilliantly, on subjects that had to do with his political economy (first systematized in Unto this Last in 1860) . But his radical and humane thinking on these absolutely critical matters had generally been reprobated. and that forcefully, by the public. Hence, it is not surprising that he began to think that his life to that point, a life which, from the first, he had devoted to public service and to making the lives of his fellows easier, had been a failure.
Then in 1869, rather surprisingly, he was appointed the first Slade professor of Fine Art at his alma mater, Oxford University. Among the principal duties attending his new position was an expectation that he would prepare a series of lectures on the subject and history of art for the students who took his courses. Into the preparation and delivery of these talks, not uncharacteristically, he threw great energy. Many of them contain some of his greatest passages. Happily, most have been preserved. After each sequence of lectures was delivered, the separate subjects were collected, and then, demand for his work still being significant, were published in book form. One such collection, published in 1872, bore the title, The Eagle’s Nest, and it is from that series that today’s passage is taken. As you read it, imagine what a privilege it would’ve been to have been in the student audience in the Scheldonian Theater at Oxford, as he read, in his eloquent style (all who were there agreed on this), the following words aloud for the first time; They contain the essence of his entire teaching:
All nature, with one voice, with one glory, is set to teach you reverence for the life communicated to you from the Father of Spirits. The Song of birds, and their plumage; the scent of flowers, their color, their very existence, are in direct connection with the ministry of that communicated Life: and all the strengths, and all the arts, of men, are measured by, and founded upon, their reverence for the passion, and their guardianship of, the purity of love.
Until next time;
Please do continue well out there!
thank you, Jim. A much needed refreshment!
Ruskin’s literary essays are the greatest gift to mankind. My own writing begins to feel right only when I hit that Ruskinian mix of a detached eye and a very engaged mind. I am very grateful for your blog and happy to contribute to the conversation. I just launched my own book of literary essays in Leiden, The Netherlands. It is now posted on uTube.
Fascinating insight to an artists mindset. Struggling for relevance and recognition, even Ruskin’s genius. Beautiful words to live by.