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THE PROTEST IN ECONOMICS.
“Nor kind nor coinage buys
Aught above its rate ;
It is not every traveler nowadays who knows the Salève. One goes through the Alps too quickly to linger among the foothills, and a mere three thousand feet of crag above the plain does not stop the way to aiguilles and glaciers. But the tourist of the future, after seeing Voltaire's Fernex in the morning, will perhaps pick his way among the fields beyond Carouge and through the gorge
of Monnetier, or drive on his pilgrimage by Annemasse round the Petit Salève, to another shrine at Mornex. There, two thousand feet above sea-level, basking in the morning sun, and looking always over the broad valley of the Arve at Mont Blanc and its panorama, are country retreats of the modern Genevese, beneath the old mother-castle of Savoy; and there, with its shady little garden and rustic summer-house, is the chalet, or cottage ornée, where Mr. Ruskin went into hermitage, and wrote his “ Political Economy.” You can enter, now; it is a place of public entertainment; and in the cool, broad-windowed dining-room, you can drink a glass to the memory.
After three or four months there, he went, at the end of 1861, to Lucerne; then in February, 1862, hearing that the Turner drawings in the National Gallery had been mildewed, he ran home to see about them; and was kept until the end of May. He found that his political economy work was not such a total failure as it had seemed. The editor of “ Fraser's Magazine” thought there was something in it, and would give him another chance for the new papers he had been writing at Mornex. So, by way of a fresh start, he had his four “ Cornhill ” articles published in book form ; and almost simultaneously, in June, 1862, the first of the new series appeared.
The author had then returned to Lucerne; and he soon crossed the St. Gothard to Milan, where he tried to forget the harrowing of hell in a close study of Luini, and in copying the St. Catherine, now at Oxford: Mr. Ruskin has never said so much about Luini as, perhaps, he intended. A short notice in the “Cestus of Aglaia,” and
“ occasional references scattered up and down his later works, hardly give the prominence in his writings that the painter held in his thoughts.
In August he went back to Mornex, with the faithful Couttet. Mr. Ruskin had been ill at Milan, and was going to be better among the Alps. His Working Men's College pupil, George Allen, who had been learning engraving from Le Keux, met him there with his wife and children, and, among other occupations, made himself famous as a rifle-shot at Swiss “ Tirs,” and
” as a skillful carpenter helped to mend Savoyard cottages.
In September the second article appeared in “Fraser.” “Only a genius like Mr. Ruskin could · have produced such hopeless rubbish,” says a newspaper of the period. Far worse than any newspaper criticism was the condemnation of Denmark Hill. His father, whose eyes had glistened over early poems and prose eloquence, strongly disapproved of this heretical economy. It was a bitter thing that his son should turn prodigal of a hardly earned reputation, and be pointed at for a fool. And it was intensely painful for a son “who had never given his father a pang that could be avoided,” as old Mr. Ruskin had once written, to find his father, with one foot in the grave, turning against him. He went home in November for a few weeks'; in December the third paper appeared. History repeated itself, as usual, with variations. This time not only the public but the publisher interfered ; and with the fourth paper the heretic was gagged. A year after, his father died; and these “ Fraser " articles were laid aside until the end of 1871, when they
were taken up again, and published on New Year's Day, 1872, as “ Munera Pulveris.” 1
It will surely be asked, Why was there so great a noise about a few articles on a theoretical subject like political economy?
We are so accustomed nowadays to free speculation and outspoken theorizing — even to bold experiments in socialism and kindred systems — that it is rather difficult for us to see what the “harm" was in these essays, until we put ourselves at the point of view of the time thirty years ago — when they were written, in order to see how it was they terrified people, disturbed consciences, and seemed like an eclipse-portent. It was not just that they attacked a theory. They aimed at the working creed, the comfortable scheme of all society, the sanction of property as then held and constituted, and the justification of life as then lived.
People had been asking why there were poverty and misery, vice and crime. When Ruskin was still a verse-writing little lad the poor-laws had been blamed for great part of it, and in 1834 had been overhauled, by the light of political economy, and hopefully reconstituted. Later, great schemes of charity had been not only set going, but energetically worked. And still there were poverty and vice. People cried to their gods, the allpowerful Laws of Competition, Supply and Demand, and the rest, to step in and save them: with absolute faith that if the right sacrifice were offered, the right formula preferred, the great religion of Adam Smith would make the world what its priests declared it, in desperate faith, to be, the best of all possible worlds. Imagine what some virtuous Norseman felt, when the first Christian missionary stood up and said : “ The vice you deplore, the barbarity you lament, is not to be cured by sacrifice to your idols, or recital of Runes ; it is only to be done away by throwing down Thor and unlearning the Sagas of Blood; and by taking to heart the White Christ and His Gospel of forgiveness.” Ruskin said exactly that. He said that the reason of poverty and vice was nothing else — discounting human frailty — than the mistaken creed in which the virtuous world had been comforting itself, justifying itself, these fifty years or more.
1 The title is an allusion to Horace, Odes, I. xxviii. 3; as Unto this Last refers to Matthew xx. 14.
Autres temps, autres meurs,” they say: we may say, too, Other times, other truths. Monasticism was a grand movement, for the age of St. Benedict; but when the monasteries became a scandal, they needed reform upon reform. The political economy of the orthodox school was, in its origin, a fine advance upon the cruder notions dating from Machiavelli. It had suggested a wider view of life, the wealth no longer of tyrants or narrow oligarchies, but of broader-based society. It had initiated the habit of mind which regards the welfare of the state, — no longer “l'état c'est