Puslapio vaizdai
[ocr errors][merged small]

tians, had conducted their enterprises. And when the so-called laws of this so-called science were taken as practical rules for life and conduct, and clashed, as they often did, with plain morality, or were made the shield of selfishness, the pretext of political crime (as in the case of the employment of children in mills, the selling of dangerous or bad wares to savages, and so on), then he pressed the conclusion that it was a superannuated creed, no better than a heathenism in whose name all manner of evils might be speciously justified, — "tantum religio potuit suadere malorum.”

Destructive criticism like this was only the preface to his work. He had two things yet to do: to rearrange definitions of the terms and statements of real laws; and to reconstruct ideals of life and conduct in harmony with them.

Here, however, he stumbled his readers on the threshold — though that, they say, is a good omen. The morbid excitement under which he labored often obscured the lucidity of his exposition and the conclusiveness of his reasoning, leading him to speak, like one of the prophets of old, in a trance; not, like a wise diplomatist, buttonholing his hearer, but holding only the skirts of the spirit that carried him whither he hardly knew, and assuredly would not willingly have gone. But however he was misunderstood at the time, the question for us is, What is the burden of the prophecy, however strangely delivered ? what is the drift of his teaching?


The difficulties fall under two heads: first, the strange use of familiar terms, unavoidable in the reconstruction of a study; for example, when he means by "value" not commercial value, but intrinsic, and by “money” not merely the means of exchange, but “the documentary expression of legal claim to labor,” which may be destroyed, and yet the claim may exist; and so on. In the second place, his protest against the assumption of immorality as the normal condition of human intercourse led him to assume, as most people would feel, a rather higher standard of principle than poor humanity is accustomed to practice. Instead of replacing the old theories by a new one instantly acceptable and applicable, he drew up, with axiom and theorem, a scheme of economy which was “a system of conduct founded on the sciences, directing the arts, and impossible except under certain conditions of moral culture." Puzzling as this was to the British business man, it was not absurd. It was like practical geometry, which deals with ideally perfect triangles and circles, not with crooked sticks; but may be useful in building and engineering, more than if it assumed that all wood is warped and all iron flawed. Ruskin's economy points to an ideal; it calls on practical legislation to accept the principle, “ I ought, there. fore I can,” and to drag the world up to a moral standard; whereas the old economy's influence was the reverse. And in practical issues he was fully cognizant of human infirmities, and of the necessity for gradual evolution to the “moral culture” he speaks of.

The various ideals and proposals which resulted, in general culture, education, ethics, and social science, we must notice one by one as they come into view in the various books of the period. A few points, especially economical, may be mentioned. These first two books did not suggest anything directly revolutionary. They upheld free trade; they did not decry interest; they declined to accept socialism. But they objected to the fixing of price by competition

- as they did to competition in any shape; and thought that, if trade and labor could be paid as “professions” are paid, common consent would soon fix a normal standard of wages. The basis of the valuation of labor would be, not the labor market and the rights of capital, but a consensus that equal industry is worth equal remuneration; regard being had, in the case of skilled labor, to arrears of work involved in the worker's actual capacity. It is sometimes said that Mr. Ruskin thought that

landscape artists and laboring men ought to be paid alike.” What he did hold was that in any trade or class the wages should be fixed by a commonly accepted tariff, and not altered except by common consent.

For those who failed to get work under such conditions, he thought that the government should provide, by an extension of existing systems of industrial schools and reformatories, and by a reconstruction of the prison and poor laws. This was

. not part of his ideal commonwealth, but a means of effecting a transition to it.

He wished to see the ignorant taught, the idle employed, and the penniless pensioned, by the public; as indeed they practically are; but more kindly, more educationally. As supplementary to private enterprise, he would have the wreckage and breakage of society taught in government schools and employed in government workshops, under compulsion, if necessary; as a kind of moral hospital for the cure of idleness and vice and pauperism, -a desperate remedy for a desperate evil, but one which, after all, it seems we are adopting, in schemes for home colonization and the rescue of the “submerged tenth."

Here is a true anecdote. When the General of the Salvation Army was working at the scheme which lately met with such an outcry of acceptance, he told the Rev. H. V. Mills, the first promoter of the home-colony plan, that he was entirely ignorant of political economy, and asked for a book on the subject. Mills gave him “Unto this Last."




"In delectu autem narrationum et experimentorum melius hominibus cavisse nos arbitramur quam qui adhuc in historia naturali versati sunt.”

BACON, Instauratio Magna.

Our hermit among the Limestone Alps of Savoy differed in one respect from his predecessors. They, for the most part, saw nothing in the rocks and stones around them except the prison walls of their seclusion; he could not be within constant sight of the mountains without watching them and thinking over them, and the wonders of their scenery and structure. And it was well for him that it could be so.

The terrible depression of mind which his social and philanthropic work had brought on, found a relief in the renewal of his old mountain-worship. After sending off the last of his “ Fraser” papers, in which, when the verdict had twice gone against him, he tried to show cause why sentence should not be passed, the strain was at its severest. He felt, as few others not directly interested felt, the sufferings of the outcast in English slums and Savoyard hovels; and heard the cry of the op

« AnkstesnisTęsti »