Puslapio vaizdai




“He was forty before he talked of any mission from Heaven.” – The Hero as Prophet.

"In this way he has lived till past forty; old age is now in view of him, and the earnest portal of death and eternity.” The Hero as King.


At forty years of age Mr. Ruskin finished “ Modern Painters,” and concluded the whole cycle of work by which he is popularly known as a writer on art. Since then, art has sometimes been his text, rarely his theme. He has used it as the opportunity, the vehicle, so to say, for teachings of far wider range and deeper import; teachings about life as a whole, conclusions in ethics and economics and religion, to which he seeks to lead others, as he was led, by the way of art. And in this later period, when he does speak of art in especial, the greater range of his inquiry naturally modifies his aim and standpoint; just as, in a vast wall-painting, the detail is viewed and treated otherwise than when it formed the subject of separate still-life studies. Some observers prefer the still-life; and indeed it may be good work. But the broad treatment is the greater.

If we want to understand Mr. Ruskin, there is only one way of studying him; and that is to trace from point to point the growth of his mind. Now all those books — “Modern Painters,”

Stones of Venice," "Seven Lamps,” the earlier Lectures and Letters on Art — are works of a young man, not yet forty ; that is to say, before the age at which most great authors, painters, and thinkers have done their best. They contain much that is valuable and much that is characteristic; but they are only the forecourt, not the presence-chamber. They lead to his final conclusions, but they do not express them. What the juvenile poems are to these works, they are to the later works, — seedlings and saplings, so like

, and so unlike the full-grown plant. It is no use quarreling with the author for not composing a consistent explanation of his views; though it would have been convenient for students, who might as well wish that Plato had left them a handbook of his philosophy, or that Shakespeare had appended notes to “ Hamlet.”

During the time when he was preaching his later doctrines, Mr. Ruskin wished to suppress the interfering evidences of the earlier; not so much because they contained mistaken estimates and misleading statements, as because they betrayed a tone of thought which differed from the tone of his later period as much as a stained window differs from a Tintoret. He let his works on art run out of print, not for the benefit of secondhand booksellers, but in the hope that he could fix upon his audience the burden of his prophecy for the time being. But the youthful works were still read; high prices were paid for them, or they were smuggled in from America. And since the epoch of “ Fors” has passed, he has agreed to the reprinting of all that early material. He calls it obsolete and trivial ; others find it interestingly biographical, — perhaps even classical.

But when we read articles professing to criticise his life-work, and find that they estimate his arttheory from a few passages in “ Modern Painters," Volumes I. and II., obviously immature; when, on the other hand, magazine writers analyze, as axioms of his social science, without tracing their origin and import, the winged words with which he tried, in his failing powers and forlorn hopes, to arouse the dull conscience of a Philistine public; when men of a different generation, an alien race, of traditions dissimilar and irreconcilable temperament, hastily sample his paragraphs as customsofficers gauge a cargo; we turn at last to the historical method, and ask whether these things should be so. And as a geologist, puzzled at some inversion of strata, Nature's paradox, yet, on accurately plotting it out upon his map or model, sees the fitness and necessity of the phenomenon; so, with the biographical scheme understood, the discrepancies and difficulties of Ruskin fall into their place and explain themselves. He at last stands revealed, and then can be criticised, as we criticise any other thinking, growing man, — say Plato, Titian, Goethe, — who has left a long life's work behind him. This year, then, 1860, the year of the Italian

, , kingdom, of Garibaldi, and of the beginning of the American war, marks his turning-point, from the early work, summed up, not too adequately, in Mr. Harrison's 1“ Selections,” to the later work which no one has yet thoroughly examined in print.

Until he was forty, Mr. Ruskin was a writer on art; after that his art was secondary to ethics. Until he was forty he was a believer in English Protestantism; afterwards he could not reconcile current beliefs with the facts of life as he saw them, and had to reconstruct his creed from the foundations. Until he was forty he was a philanthropist, working heartily with others in a definite cause, and hoping for the amendment of wrongs, without a social upheaval. Even in the beginning of 1860, in his evidence before the House of Commons Select Committee on Public Institutions, he was ready with plans for amusing and instructing the laboring classes, and noting in them a “thirsty desire" for improvement. But

1 I have always understood from Mr. Ruskin that the Selections were made by Mr. W. H. Harrison; the editors of the Bibliography attribute them to Mr. Williams, of Smith, Elder & Co.

It is interesting to remark, in passing, that he did not believe in lectures without intermediate study, and anticipated the illus

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while his readiness to make any personal sacrifice, in the way of social and philanthropic experiment, and his interest in the question, were increasing, he became less and less sanguine about the value of such efforts as the Working Men's College, and less and less ready to coöperate with others in their schemes. He began to see that no tinkering at social breakages was really worth while; that far more extensive repairs were needed to make the old ship seaworthy.

So he set himself, by himself, to sketch the plans for the repairs. Naturally sociable, and accustomed to the friendly give-and-take of a wide acquaintance, he withdrew from the busy world into a busier solitude. During the next few

years he lived much alone among the Alps, or at home, thinking out the problem ; sometimes feeling, far more acutely than was good for clear thought, the burden of the mission that was laid upon him. In March, 1863, he wrote from his retreat at Mornex to Mr. Norton: "The loneliness is very great, and the peace in which I am at present is only as if I had buried myself in a tuft of grass on a battlefield wet with blood, — for the cry of the earth

, about me is in my ears continually, if I do not lay my head to the very ground.” And, a few months later : "I am still very unwell, and tormented between the longing for rest and lovely life, and the sense of this terrific call of human

trated courses to mixed and working-class audiences which are now the chief feature of University Extension.

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