Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

[ocr errors]

power, and rendering itself ridiculous.” The opposition was so vehement that the magazine discontinued the series. So slow was the sale of the book that in ten years the first edition of 1,000 copies had not been exhausted. But later for thirty years the annual sale was 2,000 copies.

What were the teachings of Unto This Last? The germ of his political economy is contained in these words: There is no wealth but Life— Life, including all its powers of love, of joy, and of admiration. That country is the richest which nourishes the greatest number of noble and happy human beings." To the present mind such doctrine does not appear revolutionary, but to the political economist of 1860 it seemed presumptuous for an art critic to inject his humanitarian ideals into the principles of the “dismal science.” In his chapter on “The Veins of Wealth” occur lines which seem inspired in their passionate appeal:

“In fact, it may be discovered that the true veins of wealth are purple — and not in Rock, but in Flesh - perhaps even that the final outcome and consummation of all wealth is in the producing as many as possible full-breathed, bright-eyed, and happy-hearted human creatures. In some far-away and yet undreamt-of hour, I can even imagine that England may cast all thoughts of possessive wealth back to the barbaric nations among whom they first arose; and that, while the sands of the Indus and adamant of Golconda may yet stiffen the housings of the charger, and flash from the turban of the slave, she as a Christian mother, may at last attain to the virtues and treasures of a Heathen one, and be able to lead forth her Sons, saying, 'These are MY JEWELS."

Munera Pulveris and Time and Tide are a continuation of his studies in political economy. The first chapter of Munera Pulveris (Gifts of the Dust) appeared in Fraser's Magazine in 1863. Such a storm of criticism arose that the series was discontinued by the magazine. The book appeared in 1872. Time and Tide, twenty-five letters to a cork-cutter of Sunderland, plans a reconstruction of the social order.

It is not surprising that Ruskin's ideas of political economy aroused bitter opposition, for some of them were fantastic and Utopian. He had neither broad scholarship nor first-hand acquaintance with social and industrial conditions. What he

6

had was a sensitiveness of soul that burned with a noble indignation at the wrongs of humanity, and the vision of a seer who knows that such wrongs are preventable. Many of the ideas which seemed revolutionary in 1860 have now become the commonplaces of politicians and reformers.

He is forgotten now (writes a biographer) because he went forth into a moral wilderness and cried, “Repent and reform, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.' The kingdom of heaven is not yet come on us, perhaps is yet far off, but John was the Forerunner of that which will one day come to pass.”

Sesame and Lilies.- Originally given as lectures, this has become the most popular of his books. When published as a book in 1865, it was dedicated to pian, Ruskin's name for Lady Mount-Temple, but it was written especially for Rose La Touche, the young girl whom he loved and who in later years refused to become his wife.

The lectures discuss the influence of good books and of good women. Life is short, therefore waste no time in reading valueless books. From this he passes to a denunciation of the brutality of the age. “I've got some Billingsgate spoken out in the first lecture," he wrote to Coventry Patmore," which relieves one's mind, like swearing, even when there's nobody to hear." In the lecture on “Lilies: Of Queens' Gardens" we have some beautiful thoughts on women and their influence. The field of her influence is as the garden of a queen. The lily is the emblem of her purity and the scepter of her rule.

The Crown of Wild Olive was also first given as lectures; the topics being “ Work,” “Traffic,” and “War." He was called to Cambridge to receive an honorary degree. In writing to his mother about this event, he said the Orator dwelt more on The Crown of Wild Olive than on any other of my books."

The Ethics of the Dust consists of dialogues, for the most part imaginary, on crystals, Egyptian antiquities, and many other things. Carlyle wrote from Chelsea, The Ethics of the Dust, which I devoured without pause, and intend to look at again, is a most shining Performance!” The public, however, thought

otherwise, and Ruskin himself tells us that his publishers “ begged him to write no more in dialogue.”

Queen of the Air, founded on lectures given at University College, is a study of Greek mythology. He presents the meaning of myths as they had been refined by the poets and philosophers. “He claimed," writes Mr. Cook, “that his long study of the clouds and fields and rocks gave him an opportunity of entering sympathetically into the interpretation of nature-myths and nature-poets.” When Carlyle read the book, he wrote to Ruskin, "No such Book have I met with for long years past. The one soul now in the world who seems to feel as I do on the highest matters.” With Ruskin himself the book was a favorite. Fors Clavigera. — The two most important writings of his

later years are Fors Clavigera and Praeterita. The first consists of ninety-six letters to the workmen and laborers of Great Britain. The title has occasioned much perplexity. An ardent student of Ruskin's, after five pages of close analysis of the subtleties of the title, tells us that Fors means Force, Fortitude, and Fortune; that Clavigera means the Club, the Key, the Nail.

“Ruskin intended by his title (among many other meanings) to indicate his purpose of showing how in the lives of men Fortune appoints things irreversibly, of fastening in sure places the truths necessary to their well-being, and of nailing down, as on the barn-door, the follies of the age; and to indicate in his method 'the desultory and accidental character of his work.'" The work is both a criticism upon the civilization of his age and an attempt in social reconstruction.

Some critics consider Fors Clavigera Ruskin's masterpiece, while others find the letters “mere studies in reviling and abusing." It is “Ruskin's Hamlet, and also his Apocalypse," writes Mr. F. Harrison. “It is the self-revelation of a sensitive soul at one moment consumed with a 'divine rage against iniquity,' and at the next unreservedly confessing some personal whim. Using letters as his literary form, he had opportunity to touch upon any subject that for the moment interested him. Whatever flashed into his mind might be discussed, and where was a mind

more susceptible to suggestion?" His intimate American friend, Professor Norton, once wrote:

“Never was a soul more open and accessible to immediate impressions. . . . It was like an Æolian harp, its strings quivering musically in serene days under the touch of the soft air; but, as the clouds gathered and the winds rose, vibrating in the blast with a tension that might break the sounding-board itself.”

Praeterita. — In writing Fors Clavigera Ruskin had touched upon many personal incidents. This led Professor Norton to suggest to Ruskin that he write an autobiography. Ruskin followed the suggestion and in 1885 published Praeterita, a work never fully completed. In the language of Mr. Harrison, it is “certainly the most charming thing that he ever gave to the world.” The first hundred pages are especially charming in their substance and style. The frank revelations of his innocent childhood, the keen observations, the analysis of the faults and virtues of his early education, his insight into character, the marvelous simplicity and melody of his English, all combine to make this autobiography one of the great Books of Confession. With the writing of Praeterita his literary work ended.

Further Biographical Facts. In 1869 he was elected Slade Professor of Art in the University of Oxford. For about ten years of the time between 1870 and 1884, with signal success, he lectured to the Oxford undergraduates. Although Ruskin lived to be over eighty years of age, he was never a robust man. Of an exceedingly nervous temperament, he finally broke down under the weight of private sorrow, and disappointment that the great world paid so little heed to his teachings. His frequent mental disturbances caused him to resign his professorship. In 1888 he made the last of his many trips abroad. During his last ten years he lived the quiet life of one who had withdrawn from the work and worry of the world. He died January 20, 1900.

Personal Characteristics.- In private intercourse Ruskin was one of the gentlest and humblest of men. This is in strange contrast to the dogmatism and self-assertiveness of his writings. All who knew him well agreed with Jowett's verdict after a visit to

Brantwood: “He is the gentlest and most innocent of mankind.” And Max Müller gave expression to the same opinion: "He was really the most tolerant and agreeable man in society.

. . I remember him diffident as a young girl, full of questions and grateful for any information.” In conversation he did not, like Dr. Johnson or Macaulay, assume the role of dictator. But this does not mean that he never indulged in retort. When he was requested to give money to assist a workingman in the publishing of a book of poems, he replied, “ Certainly not. Mr. Ruskin would set poets to work, not workingmen to rhyme.”

In money matters he was the soul of generosity. Inheriting a large fortune, he gave away during his lifetime, to public charities, to relatives, to struggling artists, to reform movements, more than he inherited.

His critics have charged him with being a sentimentalist, and Ruskin himself has confessed to being “an impetuous, inconsiderate, weakly communicative person.” But he has written also a noble defense:

“ Because I have passed my life in almsgiving, not in fortunehunting; because I have labored for the honor of others, not my own, ... because I have lowered my rents, and assured the comfortable lives of my poor tenants, instead of taking from them all I could force for the roofs they needed; because I love a wood walk better than a London street, and would rather watch a seagull fly than shoot it, and rather hear a thrush sing than eat it; finally, because I never disobeyed my mother, because I have honored all women with solemn worship, and have been kind even to the unthankful and evil; therefore the 'hacks of English art and literature wag their heads at me, and the poor wretch who pawns the dirty linen of his soul daily for a bottle of sour wine and a cigar, talks of the 'effeminate sentimentality of Ruskin.'”

His Style. - When Tennyson was asked to name the six authors who had written the stateliest English prose, he mentioned Hooker, Bacon, Milton, Jeremy Taylor, De Quincey, and Ruskin a noble group of great writers. To enroll Ruskin with this list is high praise, but not too high, for Ruskin, though at times guilty of fallacious reasoning, and querulous with petty complainings, is one of the masters of English prose. Lord

« AnteriorContinuar »