« AnkstesnisTęsti »
5 CHEYNE Row, CHELSEA,
April 30, 1871. DEAR RUSKIN, — This “Fors Clavigera,” Letter 5th, which I have just finished reading, is incomparable; a quasi-sacred consolation to me, which almost brings tears into my eyes! Every word of it is as if spoken, not out of my poor heart only, but out of the eternal skies ; words winged with Empyrean wisdom, piercing as lightning, — and which I really do
not remember to have heard the like of. Continue, while you have such utterances in you, to give them voice. They will find and force entrance into human hearts, whatever the "angle of incidence" may be; that is to say, whether, for the degraded and inhuman Blockheadism we, so-called " men,” have mostly now become, you come in upon them at the broadside, at the top, or even at the bottom. Euge, Euge!
Others, like Sir Arthur Helps, joined in this encouragement. And the old struggle with the newspapers began over again.
They united in considering the whole business insane, though they did not doubt his sincerity when Mr. Ruskin put down his own money, the tenth of what he had, as he recommended his adherents to do. By the end of the year he had set aside £7000 toward establishing a company to be called of “St. George,” as representing at once England and agriculture. Sir Thomas Dyke Acland and the Right Hon. W. Cowper-Temple (afterwards Lord Mount Temple), though not pledging themselves to approval of the scheme, undertook the trusteeship of the fund. A few friends subscribed ; in June, 1872, after a year and a half of “Fors,” the first stranger sent in his contribution, and at the end of three years £ 236 135. were collected to add to Mr. Ruskin's £7000, and a few acres of land were given. A start was made, of which we shall have to trace the fortunes in the sequel.
Meanwhile Mr. Ruskin practiced what he preached. He did not preach renunciation; he was not a pessimist any more than an optimist. Sometimes he felt he was not doing enough; he knew very well that others thought so. I remember his saying, in his rooms at Oxford, in one of those years: “ Here I am, trying to reform the world, and I suppose I ought to begin with myself. I am trying to do St. Benedict's work, and I ought to be a saint. And yet I am living between a Turkey carpet and a Titian, and drinking as much tea” – taking his second cup — “as
I can swig !"
That was the way he put it to an undergraduate; to a lady friend he wrote later on, “ I'm reading history of early saints, too, for
Amiens book, and feel that I ought to be scratched, or starved, or boiled, or something unpleasant; and I don't know if I'm a saint or a sinner in the least, in mediæval language. How did the saints feel themselves, I wonder, about their saintship!”
It is very easy to preach, and not so difficult to practice the great renunciation. But what then? It is very hard to see clearly, and infinitely hard to follow, the straight path of even-handed justice, and the fulfillment of duty to all the complex claims of life in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.
If he had forsaken all and followed the vocation of St. Francis, — he has discussed the ques
, tion candidly in “ Fors for May, 1874, — would not his work have been more effectual, his example more inspiring ? Conceivably; but that was not his mission. His gospel was not one of asceticism; it called upon no one for any sort of suicide, or even martyrdom. He required of his followers that they should live their lives to the full in “admiration, hope, and love,” and not that they should sacrifice themselves in fasting and wearing of camels’-hair coats. He wished them to work, to be honest and just, in all things immediately attainable. He asked the tenth of their living, - not the widow's two mites; and it was deeply painful to him to find, sometimes, that they had so interpreted his teaching: as when he wrote, later, to Miss Beever: “One of my poor Companions of St. George' who has sent me, not a widow's but a parlor-maid's (an old schoolmistress) all her living,' and whom I found last night, dying, slowly and quietly, in a damp room, just the size of your study (which her landlord won't mend the roof of), by the light of a single tallow candle, — dying, I say, slowly of consumption, not yet near the end, but contemplating it with sorrow, mixed partly with fear lest she should not have done all she could for her children!
The sight of this and my own shameful comforts, three wax candles and blazing fire and dry roof, and Susie and Joanie for friends! Oh me, Susie, what is to become of me in the next world, who have in this life all my good things !”
All? No, not nearly all. But even of what he had, no man was ever readier to spend and sacrifice. After carrying on “Fors” for some time his
“ attention was drawn by Mr. W. C. Sillar to the question of “usury.” At first he had seen no crying sin in interest. He had held that the “ rights of capital ” were visionary, and that the tools should belong to him that can handle them, in a perfect state of society; but he thought that the existing system was no worse in this respect than in others, and his expectation of reform in the plan of investment went hand-in-hand with his hope of a good time coming in everything else. So he quietly accepted his rents, as he accepted his professorship, for example, thinking it his business to be a good landlord and spend his money generously, just as he thought it his business to retain the existing South Kensington drawing school, and the Oxford system of education, — not at all his ideal,- and to make the best
use of them.
A lady who was his pupil in drawing, and a believer in his ideals of philanthropy, Miss Octavia Hill, undertook to help him in 1864 in efforts to reclaim part — though a very small part of the lower-class dwellings of London.
Half a dozen houses in Marylebone left by Mr. Ruskin's father, to which he added three more in Paradise Place, as it was euphemistically named, were the subjects of their experiment. They were ridiculed at first; but by the noblest endeavor they succeeded, and set an example which has been followed in many of our towns with great results. They showed what a wise and kind landlord could do by caring for tenants, by giving them inhabitable dwellings, recreation ground, and fixity of tenure, and requiring in return a reasonable and moderate rent. Mr. Ruskin got five per cent. for his capital, instead of twelve or more, which such property generally returns, or at that time returned.
But when he began to write against rent and interest there were plenty of critics ready to cite this and other investments as a damning inconsistency. He was not the man to offer explanations at any time. It was no defense to say that he took less and did more than other landlords. And so he was glad to part with the whole to Miss Hill; nor did he care to spend upon himself the £3500 which, I believe, was the price. It went right and left in gifts; till one day he cheerfully remarked,
" Is there really nothing to show for it?" he was