In “Traffic” Ruskin takes on the authority of a sage, and exhorts his audience to a life of sanctity both in church and in the household. He develops this idea further as he extends the individual’s home to the household of an entire nation (“I am trying to show you — not that the Church is not sacred — but that the whole earth is”). Ruskin expresses the household of the nation through its architecture, and claim that architecture articulates the morality of the nation.

Now, you feel, as I say this to you — I know you feel — as if I were trying to take away the honour of your churches. Not so; I am trying to prove to you the honour of your houses and your hills; I am trying to show you — not that the Church is not sacred — but that the whole Earth is. I would have you feel, what careless, what constant, what infectious sin there is in all modes of thought, whereby, in calling your churches only 'holy,' you call your hearths and homes profane; and have separated yourselves from the heathen by casting all your household gods to the ground, instead of recognising, in the place of their many and feeble Lares, the presence of your One and Mighty Lord and Lares.

'But what has all this to do with our Exchange?' you ask me, impatiently. My dear friends, it has just everything to do with it; on these inner and great questions depend all the outer and little ones; and if you have asked me down here to speak to you, because you had before been interested in anything I have written, you must know that all I have yet said about architecture was to show this. The book I called 'The Seven Lamps' was to show that certain right states of temper and moral feeling were the magic powers by which all good architecture, without exception, had been produced. 'The Stones of Venice,' had, from beginning to end, no other aim than to show that the Gothic architecture of Venice had arisen out of, and indicated in all its features, a state of pure national faith, and of domestic virtue; and that its Renaissance architecture had arisen out of, and in all its features indicated, a state of concealed national infidelity, and of domestic corruption. And now, you ask me what style is best to build in; and how can I answer, knowing the meaning of the two styles, but by another question — do you mean to build as Christians or as Infidels? And still more — do you mean to build as honest Christians or as honest Infidels? as thoroughly and confessedly either one or the other?

Ruskin draws on Apocalyptic themes when he presents his point. M.H. Abrams characterizes Romantic Apocalypticism in his essay “Apocalypse: Theme and Variations” as an “apocalypse of consciousness: the mind of man possesses the power, by an interior revolution, to transform his intellect and imagination, and by so doing transform his perception of the everyday world into a new earth in which he will be thoroughly at home” (Section V). In traffic, Ruskin informs his audience of the interior power of transforming one’s individual perception of the world into a new Jerusalem.


1. . One apocalyptic characteristic is dualism: there is the opposition between good and evil and no middle ground. Abrams asserts William Blake’s belief in “contraries” (the forces of good and evil) and no middle position. How does Ruskin’s speech portray this apocalyptic dualism? Is there any position between the Christians and the Infidels?

2. Blake also claimed that contraries eventually lead to progress. How does Ruskin use the stark opposition of apocalyptic dualism in order to generate a possible narrative of future progress?

3. How can we trace an apocalyptic narrative of pure, instinctual consciousness to a broken, fallen consciousness, to a redeemed, unified wholeness? What does Ruskin exhort the audience to discover? What does Ruskin define as their new Jerusalem? What is the journey of humankind’s education in Ruskin’s speech?

Last modified 18 February 2011

6 May 2019