Venice throws a challenge to the discriminator, turns away from the seeker for information, scorns the separator of one thing from another. No Venetian architect stands out like the ones of Florence or Rome; the buildings are not Lombardo's or Longhena's, they are Venetian. — Robert Harbison, Eccentric Spaces
In Praeterita Ruskin recalled in wistful terms the first summer of his love for Adèle: "The fair heroine, Blanca, was to be endowed with the perfections of Desdemona and the brightness of Juliet, — and Venice and Love were to be described, as never had been thought of before" (XXXV, 182). Instead, he created a world divided against itself, its fair appearances undermined by hidden watchings and the scheming of a villainous "worm." Then, by September of the same year, he wrote an unpublished defence of Turner's Juliet and Her Nurse, which was also a celebration of Turnerian romance, and in the visit of 1841 Venice became the "Paradise of Cities" — a deathless monument to his lost love. In 1845 he found her under heavy "restoration," with a railroad bridge plunging across the bay, but he discovered also the undimmed power of Tintoretto. In 1849, when he arrived again with his wife to begin a magnum opus on Venetian history, he found her newly conquered by the Austrians — the Venice, once again, of Marcolini. For the rest of his life this city was the magnet for his most powerful ambivalences, the symbol of the terrible contradictions of human desire.
The Ruskins may have been the first English visitors to enter the city after the Austrian siege, the most prolonged of the Revolutions of 1848. The rulers that Ruskin, with some reservations, preferred to the native republicans had shelled the city and even planned to launch [90/91] balloons that would explode inside (the inventor, an officer named Paulizza, became Effie's most ardent admirer); now cannon stood beneath the southwest corner of the Ducal Palace, and though crowds gathered daily to hear the military band in St. Mark's Square, it was not unusual for officers to be stabbed in the streets at night. In a letter of January 8, 1850, to the Reverend W. L. Brown, recently published by Jeanne Clegg, Ruskin contrasts the orderliness of Brown's country parish, where things are more or less "all right," with a catalog of Venetian horrors. These include tradesmen selling toys and poultry and holy pictures in St. Mark's; an unemployed workman who murdered the Governor who had fired him, was himself wounded, and then "held up or tied up for form's sake, and properly shot"; a palace used as a coal warehouse; a church installed with a steam engine; and all this the work, he writes, of
a people — ignorant — incapable of conceiving such a thing as Truth or Honest — Blasphemous — Murderous — Sensual — Cowardly — A people governed by another; which they hate, merely because they are governed by them — Governed severely because they can be no otherwise governed-and the People that govern them; temperate — thoughtful — welltrained [sic] — well taught — yet holding their national existence by a mere steel spring which one jar may break; — inflicting oppression automatically, as a nation, while individually they are kind and good.1
Repelled and confused by political realities he had neither the flexibility nor the sophistication to grasp, he fell to sketching the monuments and poring through old records in the archives, preparing a definitive work that would contain in stark chiaroscuro both his Venices, the nightmare world of defilement and treachery and the vision of radiant purity.
The polemical aim of The Stones of Venice is to show that a nation's art is always the expression of its moral temper, an aim that further supports the argument begun in his last book for a Gothic revival along Protestant rather than Puseyite lines. His proof rests on the hugest and most exhausting scholarly project he ever attempted. Two seasons of researching and recording, of checking dates and measuring positions of columns and tracing the half-effaced details of old churches, produced three massive volumes (the first a treatise on the elements of architecture), along with thirty-nine appendixes and another series, published concurrently, called Examples of the Architecture of Venice. Like its subject, the book is cacophonous, jumbling styles and alms: the voice grows patient like a teacher's, rhapsodic like a poet's, and solemn like a [91/92] preacher's in the course of an exposition that is at once a textbook, a guidebook, a history, an Evangelical tract — and ultimately the fulfillment of his youthful dream of writing a romance, although its subject is no longer Bianca but the city herself. Again like the city, the book rises from a confluence of sources and influences. The historical argument draws upon Lord Lindsay's history of religious art (which first made the distinction between an uncorrupted medieval Christianity and a corrupted Renaissance Catholicism) and from Alexis Rio's De la poésie chrétienne. His historical approach draws upon Carlyle's Past and Present and also probably upon the visual oppositions of Pugin's Contrasts. His form, as Elizabeth Helsinger has observed, draws upon the body of contemporary traveler's guides in which "history is approached through travel, and travel experienced as history." 2 (Such guides include Murray's Handbook for Travellers in Northern Italy, Saussure's Voyages dans les Alpes, and, I would add, Wordsworth's Guide to the Lakes, which proceeds from geology to architecture to the depredations of modern tourism and railroad building.) Preceding all these sources, of course, is the boy's reading in Childe Harold and Rogers's Italy, with their romantic dream of the fairy city vanished upon the wave.
The Stones of Venice is perhaps the most remarkable of all Ruskin's attempts to anchor his fantasies in tactile details. The evidences are minute and exhaustive, the argument fantastic, the narrative mode characteristically complex. The first volume, opening and closing with famous word paintings of the city in decay, is largely devoted to a survey of the principles of architecture, using the fiction of a narrator and reader who construct a building from the ground up. The title of the second volume, which begins the historical narrative, is deliberately ambiguous, as Richard Stein has observed, since The Sea-Stories refers both to the "burning legends" and to the lower floors of the buildings. This ambiguity spreads to the first and last titles — The Foundations and The Fall — so that the three titles create the metaphor of the state as a building, evoking at once the sweep of history and the collapse of a structure (Stein, 75). Stein also argues that the three volumes, in addition to treating different subjects, use three dominant styles — the first technical, the second lyrical, the third sermonic — which correspond to three modes of history: functional, aesthetic, and moral (p. 75). As tour guide Ruskin takes us from site to site, first by gondola, then on foot, with historical commentary proceeding on two [92/93] levels — the political level, in which the actors are doges, senators, bishops, and so forth, and the architectural level, in which one style succeeds another with features of ornament and design carefully noted and compared. But what distinguishes the narrative from that in other traveler's guides is the famous set pieces by which Ruskin animates the buildings through an act of imaginative seeing, the emotional equivalent of historical memory. The result is a continuous movement through four-dimensional space rather than a switching back and forth between past and present, with the result that each site contains within itself the flow of history, while the flow of history, arrested at each site, manifests itself in spots of time. Buildings embody spiritual states that in turn occupy a less displaced level of narrative, the level of romance, which yields to another level of metaphorical condensation in which the city itself, usually personified as a woman, rises like Venus from the sea, becomes queen of the waves, then partly from her own weakness and partly from the temptation of a southern invader, changes into a harlot and expires. This de casibus plot Ruskin closely associates with the original of all such plots, the Fall of Man. As John Rosenberg noted, "Medieval Europe became a kind of second Eden, a Christianized Golden Age, a pastoral and holy paradise.... One might suppose that men had not fallen from grace until the Renaissance, and that nature had remained uncorrupted until the Industrial Revolution"(Rosenberg, 54).
The historical claims collapse the moment one starts taking them seriously. Ruskin dates the beginning of the Fall, for example, from 1418 or else from 1423, the date of the first additions to the Gothic Ducal Palace — he even claims to locate the first hammer blow; yet in his view the climax of Venetian art is the oil painting of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the period also of the Roman and Grotesque Renaissance. The generalized type of a French Gothic cathedral (which Ruskin describes as the invention of rude tribesmen rather than the sophisticated circle of Abbot Suger) never really descended to Italy and has little application to Ruskin's prize example, the Ducal Palace, with its Byzantine ornament and long rows of orderly columns. The ruin motif is perhaps the greatest extravagance: with characteristic literalness, he compares Venice's commercial decline with the devastation of Tyre, yet the rocks of this ruin are not so bleached that Ruskin cannot examine them in the company of obliging sextons and officials and spend two winters in comfortable lodgings. But behind the literal Venice and the accumulation of dubious historical connections stands Ruskin's true subject, the locus of a plot that is nothing less than the legend of the European soul. The burden of this plot has been well described by Gerald Bruns as a version of historical dissociation, the [93/94] conflict between Protestantism and rationalism. Like any historical myth, its interest lies in its explanatory power for the present.
"Since first the dominion of men was asserted over the ocean," Ruskin begins, "three thrones, of mark beyond all others, have been set upon its sands: the thrones of Tyre, Venice, and England. Of the First of these great powers only the memory remains; of the Second, the ruin; the Third, which inherits their greatness, if it forget their example, may be led through prouder eminence to less pitied destruction" (IX, 17). Like Carlyle in his historical works, Ruskin reads the past as a preacher would read the Bible, locating in paradigmatic manifestations of the historical process evidences of a "lasting witness" against the present. But Ruskin hews more strictly than Carlyle to the structure of Old Testament prophecy, in which the destruction visited upon an infidel nation foreshadows Israel's possible fate as well. The relationship of Tyre, Venice, and England is, in other words, a typological relationship.
Typology is a method of biblical interpretation that treats persons and events in the Old Testament as prefigurements of events in the life of Christ, the antitypes through which the Old Testament types are "completed" or "fulfilled." George P. Landow has decisively established the importance of Evangelical typology for Ruskin's art criticism — for his pioneering interpretations of Renaissance art, for his general theory of allegory, and for his reading of the Book of Nature, written, like the Bible, in the language of types and shadows. And as Landow has also shown, Ruskin's method derives directly from his religious education at Herne Hill, both from books and from the sermons of the great Evangelical preacher Henry Melvill, which the family heard on Sundays and which the boy summarized each week in his journal (Aesthetic Theories, 329-356). It also turns out that in 1842 John James Ruskin bought an edition of Coleridge that may have contained Coleridge's chief contribution to the typological tradition, The Statesman's Manual. We do not know whether Ruskin read this work, although he did read The Friend, passages from which Coleridge incorporated in the Manual.6 In any [94/95] case, Coleridge's argument is essential to our purposes, not only for its many verbal anticipations of Ruskin's work but also for its essential argument, the clearest exposition in romantic literature of Ruskin's method in The Stones of Venice.
The chief aim of Coleridge's "lay sermon" is to demonstrate the Bible's supreme practical relevance by means of his well-known distinction between understanding and Reason. He claims that contemporary social science (including Enlightenment philosophers and British utilitarians) necessarily falls to construct principles because it is a science of the mere understanding; limited to the gathering of data, empiricist history can only presuppose mechanistic "causes" or "forces," or more trivially, can merely relate anecdotes about great men. The fact that people consider the Bible irrelevant to contemporary politics-that they see no essential resemblance, for example, between the chaos following the French Revolution and the rebellion of Jeroboam-is a symptom of the very problem that a faithful reading of the Bible will cure; for the Bible teaches us how events may differ in form yet manifest recurrent principles. In Coleridge's reading, the Scriptures provide us with the grounds of all historical understanding, since history is the continuous unfolding of Providence; it is also a paradigm of genuinely philosophical history, since its events, as types, have both a concrete and a general significance; they are the "living educts of the Imagination," the faculty mediating between the concrete and the transcendent, the faculty that perceives things as symbols. Biblical history presents
the stream of time continuous as Life and a symbol of Eternity, inasmuch as the Past and the Future are virtually contained in the present.... In the Scriptures therefore both Facts and Persons must of necessity have a two- [95/96] fold significance, a past and a future, a temporary and a perpetual, a particular and a universal application. They must be at once Portraits and Ideals(Coleridge, VI, 29-30).
Biblical history, in short, is a vision of human freedom through time: "In the Bible every agent appears and acts as a self-substituting individual: each has a life of its own, and yet all are one life. The elements of necessity and free-will are reconciled in the highest power of an omnipresent Providence, that predestinates the whole in the moral freedom of the integral parts.... The root is never detached from the ground"(Ibid., 31-32). In this way Coleridge generalizes biblical typology to the study of all human history, since any event truly understood embodies a recurrent principle in concrete form and so stands at once as a repetition and as a prophecy. This argument provides the context of Coleridge's famous definition of the symbol: "a translucence of the Special in the Individual or of the General in the Especial or of the Universal in the General" and of "the Eternal through and in the Temporal"(Ibid.,30). Although usually taken as aesthetic doctrine, the definition also provides the key to understanding the pattern of historical events and, finally, the structure of all moral actions inspired by what Coleridge calls "enthusiasm," For the heart of his concern in the Manual is moral freedom, the human participation In a historical medium whose final purpose transcends human will.
It will be clear at once that The Stones of Venice fulfills Coleridge's project in at least two ways, as a sermon and as an act of interpretation. Coleridge is himself a bad preacher: when, for example, he proposes to show specifically how the Bible can teach practical politics, he first postpones his aim, then returns to it later by quoting a denunciation from Isaiah in order to condemn the French Revolution, then retreats again into a description of Reason. But his task is to show how to read the Bible not with understanding only but with the fullness of intuitive assent that he calls Faith, the ground of the possibility of all action and knowledge. Ruskin, on the other hand, induces assent by means of a sermonic style that combines moral fervor with an enraptured evocation of historical events and historical artifacts. And by interpreting events as biblical types, he performs a symbolic abstraction by which history in its recurrent patterns becomes grimly significant for the present.
In this regard he transcends the idea of Coleridgean history on two counts. In the first place, Coleridge conceives of history in terms of [96/97] principles but not really in terms of process or change. A comparison of the Manual with the histories of Carlyle and Ruskin validates Bruns's distinction between synchronic and diachronic conceptions, since the Victorians interpret typological recurrence as a historical evolution that compels new forms. By grounding the Venetian Gothic, for example, in the circumstances of a particular cultural occasion, Ruskin can also urge a revival of the Gothic because of cultural circumstances in England-the power of enlightened patrons and consumers to create social relations analogous to those of the Gothic builder and his workmen. 10 In the second place, by transferring most of his attention to buildings as events, he enriches the Coleridgean idea of a symbol: his churches, we might say, are portraits and ideals because they are aesthetic representations as well. In The Seven Lamps of Architecture (), he enumerated seven modes of architectural meaning as though they were virtues, which together describe, as a living spirit, or ethos, the complete moral possibilities of a Christian society. In The Stones of Venice Ruskin describes particular variations of architectural expression in time (as he had in The Poetry of Architecture), constructing a historical narrative in which the chief "characters" are spirits manifested as styles, styles manifested in particular exemplary monuments. Here rests the originality of this book. Because Ruskin believes art to be the externalization of the artisan's soul, he can read buildings with a psychological complexity that is cogent both as art criticism and as dramatic portraiture. 11
Ruskin's succession of spirits or styles presents the drama of history in terms at once idealist and typological. But we can also shift perspective and see The Stones of Venice as an action centering on a single character, the city itself. In this view, the plot takes the form of a massive Victorian melodrama in which history is predominantly elegiac.
rom the start of his book, Ruskin strikes a melodramatic tone, converting even biblical allusion into the matter of romance. The prophet's execration against Tyre, Ruskin writes, is to us "as a lovely song," so that we forget, as we watch the bleaching of the rocks between the sunshine and the sea, that they were once "as in Eden, the garden of God," "Her successor, like her in perfection of beauty, though less in endurance of dominion, is still left for our beholding in the final period of her decline: a ghost upon the sands of the sea, so weak — so quiet, — so bereft of all but her loveliness, that we might well doubt, as we watched her faint reflection in the mirage of the lagoon, which was the City, and which the Shadow" (IX, 17). The song and the warning, the sermon and the romance, alternate formally throughout the book, reflecting not only the intercutting from present to past but also profound psychic divisions within Ruskin himself. Many of the book's bestknown passages are tirades on the depravity and folly of all the actual, living figures that populate Ruskin's landscape of monuments. These gestures of alienation from the human race seem part of the impulse that led him in 1835 to sketch the city empty of people and the gondolas moving without guides, as though they would disrupt his communion with that sublimated humanity embodied in marble (in fact, his wife, Effie, once wrote that he dreaded going to church for fear of the filth of the crowds). The book is morbidly addicted to romance-to the dream of a time perfect because remote. Yet at the same time his aim (as we saw with Modern Painters II) is to escape aesthetic detachment from the human through a communion with aesthetic symbols viewed as real forms of love. In his longest and most famous chapter, Ruskin introduces the idea of an art Shakespearean in its acceptance, unbounded in its capacity to sympathize with human beings triumphing and suffering. [ For another approach to the genres of The Stones of Venice]
Theologically, the impulses to affirm and to condemn center on the paradox of the Fall; emotionally, they center on the paradoxical nature of ruins. Picturesque nostalgia celebrates the shadow of the absent on the present, preserving the lost object by simultaneously possessing and not possessing it. Similarly, Ruskin insists that Venice is a ruin in order to preserve her as the "richer inheritance" of memory. But this paradox is complicated by the more active energy of condemnation, which insists that Venice is a ruin in order to insist on her guilt. In this feminization of time, so to speak, the lost object of desire-in effect, the past itself-persists simultaneously as a goddess and a harlot, but the splitting of the female, in addition to releasing a powerful emotional ambivalence, releases a metaphysical ambiguity as well. If Venice sinned, then her fall can be rationalized as deserved punishment, yet [98/99] she survives in the book as Ruskin's capital of the imagination, charged with the fate of all things rare. The mystery of her fall challenges the intelligibility of Providence.
Ruskin's meditation on time, then, is both sentimental and metaphysical. The Venetian legend justifies the ways of God by means of a dialectic that illuminates the spiritual origins and possibilities of nineteenth-century culture, yet it also explores the obscure painfulness of all temporal existence, the mystery of the Lord's giving and the Lord's taking away. The questions it engages are the questions of Job, and they trouble the surface of Ruskin's piety, compelling his argument to deeper resolutions.
Ruskin expressed the anxieties underlying his metaphysical concerns in letters written during the two winters in Venice. These show a new anguish in his obsession with the loss of artistic treasures, since he now regarded that loss in the light of the religious doubts that had begun to assail him. One of these, the letter to Henry Acland of May 1851, contains the phrase that has since become a commonplace in Victorian studies: "[My faith], which was never strong, is being beaten into mere gold leaf, and flutters in weak rags from the letter of its old forms.... If only the Geologists would let me alone, I could do very well, but those dreadful Hammers! I hear the clink of them at the end of every cadence of the Bible verses." Our first object, he continues, must be "to find out what we are to believe, and what is to be the future root of our life.... [or] we shall only, I think, find out what roots we have got, by the edge of the axe laid to them" (XXXVI, 115). In January 1852, he wrote his father that he had no intellectual difficulties with the matter of religious belief but very many with the "manner of revealing it. The doctrine is God's affair. But the revelation is mine, and it seems to me that from a God of Light and Truth, His creatures have a right to expect plain and clear revelation touching all that concerns their immortal interests. And this is the great question with me-whether the Revelation be clear, and Men are blind ... or whether there be not also some strange darkness in the manner of Revelation itself." He continues, "I would give all the poetry in Isaiah and Ezekiel willingly, for one or two clearer dates" (XXXVI, 127). On Good Friday of 1852 he wrote describing an anxiety attack that he resolved by acting as though the Bible were true, and this gave him peace for a time.
On Easter he wrote again, concerning his need to believe in the afterlife: "It makes all the difference whether one regards a vexation as a temporary thing out of which good is to come in future, or a dead loss out of a short life." Even art can be denied an afterlife: "But the Venetian Academy repaints a Paul Veronese, and it is as if the painter had not been born" (XXXVI, 138-139). And three days later: "One's days must be either a laying up of treasure or a loss of it; life is either an [99/100] ebbing or a flowing tide; and every night one must say, Here is so much of my fortune gone — with nothing to restore it or to be given in exchange for it; or, Here is another day of good service done and interest got, good vineyard digging" (X, xxxix). The antidote to religious doubt is justified work, which will similarly defeat time by converting it into treasure to be saved rather than spent. The loss of human works is the loss of life; analogously, the modern Venetians are time's scythesmen who by "restoring" buildings are destroying the works of the past and are therefore destroying life.
Ruskin most powerfully expresses the idea of paintings as embodied life in two letters of early 1852. Turner had died the year before, and his executors discovered in his garret scores of canvases in bad condition, some of them so deteriorated that the canvas had shrunk from the frame. Ruskin wrote his father:
You say Turner kept his treasures to rot, not knowing or understanding the good it would be to give me some. Yes, but in the same way, I myself, through sheer ignorance of the mighty power of those Swiss drawings, suffered the opportunity of his chief energy to pass by, and only got the two — St. Gothard and Goldau.... But I knew it not.... This was not my fault .... yet it had this irrevocably fatal effect — leaving in my heart through my whole life the feeling of irremediable loss, such as would, if I were not to turn my thoughts away from it, become in my "memory a rooted sorrow.... Men are more evanescent than pictures, yet one sorrows for lost friends, and pictures are my friends. I have none others. I am never long enough with men to attach myself to them, and whatever feelings of attachment I have are to material things. [XXXVI, 125-126; X,436n]
In the second letter Ruskin begs his father to take every chance to buy Turners at auctions, even to the amount of £10,000 — because of what they would mean to him: "But do you count for nothing the times out of time you see me looking at them morning and evening, and when I take them up to sleep with? I have fifty pounds' worth of pleasure out of every picture in my possession every week that I have it... if I should outlive you, the pictures will be with me wherever I am" (XXXVI, 134).
Underlying Ruskin's catalog of losses — the continuing destruction of Italian art, the death of Turner and the missed purchases, his own wasted time and misguided efforts, the threat, above all, of lost faith — stands the irredeemable solitude of a man who has transferred his affections to art. The letters imply moreover that the purchase of paintings had come to symbolize a paternal love purer than what his own father could give him; and as for his marriage, no comment could be more poignant than the claim that pictures were his only friends. In effect he took Venice as his bride, the city once sacred to his early and [100/101] forfeited love. The book he devoted to her voices the needs expressed in his letters by means of two intertwined purposes, the reaffirmation of faith and the preservation of life. He sets himself, in the first place, against the three hammers of the geologist, the restorer, and the Renaissance builder. By comparing his own work to geology, he makes clear early on that he sees himself as an archaeologist of the Word, providing clearer dates and harder evidence than Ezekiel and so healing the breach between science and religion opened up by the Renaissance. He sets himself, second, against the false restorers (or whom the Renaissance builders were the first) by restoring the dead stones to life-by his drawings, his careful teaching, and his imaginative resuscitation of the ancient monuments to the condition of their first "good vineyard digging." The Bible of the earth showed the geologists no traces of the Deluge, but if anything, a tale told by an idiot, spanning eons of dead tomorrows. Ruskin, reading the "language of Types" and the articulate stones of the Venetians, gave England a massive commentary on this Bible in marble, recording not the purposeless motions of wind and wave but a sea voyage and a Covenant and the workings of Providence through time.
The passage that expresses most openly the anguish and desire at the heart of The Stones of Venice immediately follows a discussion of the Byzantine style. Suddenly Ruskin breaks out in a voice like Job's:
I do not wonder at what men Suffer, but I wonder often at what they Lose. We may see how good rises out of pain and evil; but the dead, naked, eyeless loss, what good comes of that?... the whole majesty of humanity raised to its fulness, and every gift and power necessary for a given purpose, at a given moment, centred in one man, and all this perfected blessing permitted to be refused, perverted, crushed, cast aside by those who need it most,... these are the heaviest mysteries in this strange world, and, it seems to me, those which mark its curse the most. And it is true that the power with which this Venice had been entrusted was perverted, when at its highest, in a thousand miserable ways: still, it was possessed by her alone.... That mighty Landscape, of dark mountains that guard her horizon with their purple towers... that mighty Humanity.... the majesty of thoughtful form, on which the dust of gold and flame of jewels are dashed as the sea-spray upon the rock, and still the great Manhood seems to stand bare against the blue sky ... then judge if so vast, so beneficent a power could indeed have been rooted in dissipation or decay. It was when she wore the ephod of the priest, not the motley of the masquer, that the fire fell upon her from heaven. [X, 178-179]
Ruskin has been concerned to connect the Byzantine love of color with the late school of painters, including Titian, Tintoretto, Bellini, Giorgione, and Veronese, who for him stand at the apex of the Venetian [101/102] achievement. A single massive sentence enumerates that achievement in parallel clauses (beginning with "that mighty landscape," "that mighty Humanity," "the majesty of thoughtful form," "that mighty Mythology," and summed up by "the compass of that field of creation"), which are then followed by an affirmation. The complete paragraph, beginning with the colorists and ending with the religious origins of the city, establishes an unbroken genealogy, symbolized by the body of perfected Manhood, which is the shape of the city. Two other images of the city follow: the priest's garment set with stones, which symbolizes the discovery of color and is therefore the type of sanctified beauty, and the masker's garment, which is the type of unsanctified sensuousness. The imagery of the passage associates Venice with both genders yet also links the city to its cultural achievements as a pure mother to her sons, in which case the image and its suggestion — the continuity of generations amid apparent ruin — repeat the design of Tintoretto's Annunciation. Against this image Ruskin pits his anguished questions, which correspond to various statements in his letters, particularly those that express his mourning for the lost Turner drawings and those that assert the uniqueness of his need and his mission. The passage therefore counteracts fears of loss and separation with a fantasy of nurturing, but it cannot rationally resolve the contradictions Ruskin has raised: he does not know why loss is permitted or why the city turned harlot, nor can be answer them with a simple biblical faith. The Fall myth, however, suggests a symbolic resolution.
In The Symbolism of Evil, Paul Ricoeur describes myth as a means of achieving through narrative what cannot be expressed logically. In the case of the Fall story, what cannot be expressed logically is a contradiction: humans are sinful and sin is within us, yet at the same time sin is not our natural and complete condition. The Fall story, then, asserts the externality of sin and the "priority" of innocence to sin (Ricoeur, The Symbolism of Evil). Ruskin's working out of moral dilemmas in his book is precisely of this sort: by means of a central paradox — that Venice is fallen and yet unfallen — he denies the priority of Original Sin. The unconscious wish concealed in the present passage is the fantasy of continued union with the undefiled mother, but by transferring the wish onto cultural history, [102/103] Ruskin achieves a genuinely creative myth, with the force to revolutionize nineteenth-century society. For the myth of the pure birth, contained in the imagery of the maiden and the vine (the type, as Ruskin observed, "either of Christ Himself, or of those who were in a state of visible or professed union with Him" [X, 171]), provides symbolic hope: for the individual ego, hope for the survival of the original, pure energy of childhood through accidents and losses; for the historical ego, the survival of great art as a propulsive force for collective renewal, "making the whole infinite future, and imperishable past, a richer inheritance."
uskin's Fall story provides an emotional mode of viewing the world. The final chapter of the first volume, "The Vestibule," establishes this mode by guiding the reader along the roads and waterways that lead modern travelers to their first view of Venice. His dominant image is corruption, which like sin may perhaps be inevitable to organic life but is not its prior and natural condition. We see, for example, the Brenta, "A muddy volume of yellowish-grey water, that neither hastens nor slackens"; one of the villas on the Brenta, "a glaring, spectral shell of brick and stucco ... all burning in the thick glow of the feverish sunshine"; another villa of the old Venetian type, "sinking fast into utter ruin, black, and rent, and lonely"; and something else we are not allowed to see ("At last the road turns sharply to the north, and there is an open space covered with bent grass, on the right of it: but do not look that way"). At the inn in Mestre one eats "peculiar white bread, made with oil, and more like knots of flour than bread." The buildings outside are cheerless and conventional. There is a rose arbor nearby, but the air smells of "garlic and crabs, warmed by the smoke of various stands of hot chestnuts." The voyage outward continues:
we come to a low wharf or quay at the extremity of a canal..., which latter we fancy for an instant has become black with stagnation; another glance undeceives us, — it is covered with the black boats of Venice. We enter one of them... and glide away; at first feeling as if the water were yielding continually beneath the boat and letting her sink into soft vacancy. It is something clearer than any water we have seen lately, and of a pate green; the banks only two or three feet above it, of mud and rank grass, [103/104] with here and there a stunted tree; gliding swiftly past the small casement of the gondola, as if they were dragged by upon a painted scene.
The gondola takes us out along the canal, past the torn bastions of an old fort, as the scent of sea air grows and the banks widen to a reedy shore until we see a "low and monotonous dockyard wall ... the railroad bridge, conspicuous above all things." The brick buildings at the end of it, "but for the many towers which are mingled among them, might be the suburbs of an English manufacturing town": "but the object which first catches the eye is a sullen cloud of black smoke brooding over the northern half of it, and which issues from the belfry of a church. It is Venice" (IX, 412-415).
The buildings crumbling into rents, the plain baking under the sun, the waters thick with weed, the air heavy with garlic and fumes (presumably diabolical) develop a mood of increasingly sinister anticipation, dramatically confirmed by the ironic reversals of the close. We turn out to be on an antithetical pilgrimage: the road leads generally east, but it is a "broad road," concluding in the railroad bridge heading for the mouth of hell rather than the Heavenly City. The line of the bridge guides our eye to the significant object, like a line in Tintoretto, while at the same time displacing its own smoke onto the church, as though to suggest a polluted union of the religious and the mechanical, whose product is blasphemy and darkness. The anticlimax is nevertheless an epiphany: Italy is under a strange curse, of which the cloud is the emblem and the lingering trace.14
The complex emotional effect of this passage — one of the most complex Ruskin ever achieved — depends on his use of hypernormal attention to detail to create the impression of memory or dream. Dreams and memories are not, of course, as clear as waking life; attention is simply distributed differently, by agencies other than the pragmatic ego, so that the being of things may take on an unaccustomed power. Here the trope of the leisurely journey ritualizes the order of sensations, making the viewer passive before the procession of scenes. At moments when Ruskin slips into half-playful animation — the scenes "dragging by" or the gondolas black like stagnation — he resembles Dickens and that remarkable experiment in the grotesque, "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came," which this passage anticipates by a [104/105] few months. More important, the faintly uncanny quality of Ruskin's grotesque resembles a literature still struggling to be born, the urban dreamscape of Baudelaire and his symbolist followers [ For another comparison of Ruskin and Baudelaire]. Things are eerie because they are charged with indeterminable significance: the ordinary becomes unheimlich, and the "it" of the final sentence a vaguely apprehended domain of evil by which the past dooms the present.
With this note Ruskin brings down the curtain on the first act of his melodrama. When it rises (after a two-year intermission for his first readers), we find the gondola coursing northward toward Torcello and backward in history to geological time. Like Eden, which is the central point of the world and the meeting of four waters, Venice (whose seat is carefully prepared by minute adjustments of land and water level) is the meeting of powerful historical currents — the Arabian, the Lombardic, and the Roman — that mingle ultimately in the Ducal Palace, the "central building of the world." Since the Council Chamber contains the greatest painting in the world, Tintoretto's Paradise, the Venetian empire takes the form of concentric circles, from the united waters to the city, the building, and the room with the picture, the last suggesting that the City of Man has here become the type of the City of God. According to Northrop Frye, the romantics, tending to consider civilized life artificial and debased, reattached value to wilderness and associated human nature not with the life of reason, placed "above," but with forces rising from "below," or "within"(Frye, 32). Ruskin, recasting the romantic schema in social terms, imagines the relations of man and nature as a complete interpenetration. Cast upon the waters of exile, the Venetian forefathers made the sea their fortune; similarly, the body of their city is literally composed of the precious stones that surround her in the mountains, imitating the forms of waves and flowers and leaves. This organic body is of course the perfect form of purity as described in Modern Painters II and as such stands against the inorganic body-the slime and smoke of corruption described in "The Vestibule. "
Thus humanized, nature is not "improved," as neoclassical theory would have it, but "Interpreted," as Ruskin makes clear in the first volume when he compares the making of buildings with the making of sermons:
This infinite universe is unfathomable, inconceivable, in its whole; every human creature must slowly spell out, and long contemplate, such part of it as may be possible for him to reach; then set forth what he has learned of it for those beneath him ... and then the human being has to make its power upon his own heart visible also, and to give it the honour of the[105/106]good thoughts it has raised up in him, and to write upon it the history of his own soul. [IX, 409-410]
Architecture, then, is the ordering of both the natural flux and human temporal experience, an activity perfectly described by the symbol of weaving. In fact woven decorations are particularly interesting to Ruskin because they figure forth "the intricacy, and alternate rise and fall, subjection and supremacy, of human fortune; the 'Weave the warp, and weave the woof,' of fate and Time" (X, 163), thereby demonstrating the consonance of human creativity and Providence. In other words, the builders weave the Book of Nature into a Book of Scripture, rendering articulate the words of stones, water, and vegetation in order to repeat and affirm the myth of Redemption. But that myth is also their own spiritual history, the faith defining the cultural unity that is Venice.
The script of that history Ruskin calls the language of types, and from first to last typological imagery structures his vast narrative. In the first glimpse he gives us of the ancient Venetians, we see them fleeing across the waves in boats, with the skies still red from the sacking of their homelands. This crossing by water, an image we will meet again and again, compresses Noah's flood, the flight from Egypt to the Promised Land, and the type of all believers who find their resting place in Christ: the church at Torcello is "an ark of refuge" built "in the midst of a destruction hardly less terrible than that from which the eight souls were saved of old" (X, 34-35). Ruskin here shows human history rising, like the soul itself, from vague and confused memories of a sea of being. The dry land has not quite appeared, and the single work of human hands, more boat than building, shows the race still helpless in the hands of God; yet by virtue of that dependence, men are in unmediated communion with their Creator (X, 35).
The second scene in this book of illuminations is the island of Murano, with the ancient church of San Donato. Using the crumbling stones before him and the childlike legends preserved in dusty volumes, Ruskin imagines the church as it was in ages past — "the Garden of Venice, 'a terrestrial Paradise, — a place of nymphs and demigods!'" The ruins at both Torcello and Murano contain great mosaics of a sorrowing madonna blessing the worshipers and interceding for them on the Day of judgment. Ruskin praises these mosaics, not, he is careful to point out, in defense of mariolatry, but because they were the emblems of sincere belief, for these early worshipers "did honour something out of themselves; they did believe in spiritual presence judging, animating, redeeming them" (X, 65-68). This faith is the mark of innocence as a form of complete, childlike trust. We are still in the childhood of Venetian history, and Mary, the sorrowing intercessor, is both virgin and Mother. [106/107]
As civilization begins to flourish in Lombardy, Ruskin passes from marshland to island to mainland: the dry land seems to gather itself out of the sea, bearing the new Tyre — the city that was of old "as in Eden, the garden of God" (IX, 17). Ruskin's task is now to define the mature Byzantine style through a detailed account of St. Mark's, the greatest example of the first Venetian school, but the typological narrative continues alongside the exposition on four levels. Out of the waters rose the dry land; after the Deluge rose a rainbow; in the desert beyond the Red Sea rose a Tabernacle; after baptism the believer enters the body of the church. St. Mark's is all these things-a garden, a rainbow, a temple, and also a book and a Bride — yet her body is composed of precious stones. Stones are the dominant image of this region of the book, as water was the dominant image of the first.
The famous paragraph describing the first view of St. Mark's is a catalog of precious substances: the church is "a treasure-heap, it seems" of gold, opal, mother-of-pearl, alabaster like amber and ivory, jasper, porphyry, deep-green serpentine, marble of every color, coral, amethyst. But it is an animate treasure heap, crowded and leaping with life, bearing in its ornament all the innumerable forms of the created world:
sculpture fantastic and involved, of palm leaves and lilies, and grapes and pomegranates, and birds clinging and fluttering among the branches, all twined together into an endless network of buds and plumes; and, in the midst of it, the solemn form of angels..., their figures indistinct among the gleaming of the golden ground through the leaves beside them, interrupted and dim, like the morning light as it faded back among the branches of Eden, when first its gates were angel-guarded long ago.
The eye of the beholder rises and rises, as if scaling an Alp, past the porches and into a "continuous chain of language and of life," then farther still, above the Greek horses and the Lion of St. Mark to a culminating image of complete rapture: "until at last, as if in ecstasy, the crests of the arches break into a marble foam, and toss themselves far into the blue sky in flashes and wreaths of sculptured spray, as if the breakers on the Lido shore had been frost-bound before they fell, and the sea-nymphs had inlaid them with coral and amethyst" (X, 82-83). The body of Venice is woven of stone and water; the body of the church is woven of treasure and energy, representing first animate forms and then, at its highest point, not animate form but, it would seem, the very principle of life, the creative surge of the divine spirit in matter. As traders the Venetians converted the ocean into wealth, and as builders they froze the waves into marble, consecrating the elements, as it were, by rendering up their treasure in the shapes of leaves and birds, wind and water. The church is both the visible form of God's [107/108] revelation and the spiritual form of Venetian prosperity; for in this Puritan epic, where prosperity is the outward sign of grace, the sea, the cargo, and the merchant's ledger find their counterpart in the cathedral, whose stones are a type of the kingdom of Heaven, bestowed unto this last: "above the crowd swaying forever to and fro in the restlessness of avarice or thirst of delight, was seen perpetually the glory of the temple, attesting to them . . . that there was one treasure which the merchantman might buy without a price, and one delight better than all others, in the word and the statutes of God" (X, 140).
Ruskin takes us into the church through the baptistry, as every Christian joins the church through baptism, to be washed of sin and return to the estate of our first parents. But the garden inside is dominated by the image of the cross, suggesting, as Ruskin says later on, the "entire dependence of the heavens and the earth upon the work of the Redemption — for the iconography of the church resembles that of illuminated Bibles where the Creation ends in the Crucifixion, "the work by which all the families of created beings subsist" (X, 167). This is not the Eden of Genesis but the redeemed creation, in which the second Adam and his Bride take the place of our parents who fell. At the same time, the Venetian garden is neither the innocence of childhood nor a noble savagery but the natural state of redeemed man, just as the cross, the symbol of redemption, closely imitates the Tree of Life. In the mosaics of the central domes are two more symbols with similar meanings: the Dove of the Holy Spirit amid four streams of Pentecostal fire, and Christ enthroned on the rainbow, the "type of reconciliation" (X, 136). But for Ruskin the whole Creation is a rainbow: "In that heavenly circle which binds the statutes of colour upon the front of the sky, when it became the sign of the covenant of peace, the pure hues of divided light were sanctified to the human heart forever." In imitation of this sacred chord, the Medes built a seven-walled city, with each wall of a different color surrounding the king (who therefore wears, like Joseph — and indeed like God Himself — a coat of many colors) (X, 174-175)
Venice is also a city bright as a rainbow, an appropriate image for an art that is itself the mark of a covenant, since its forms are the works of God's hands inscribed by human thought. The famous "variegated mosaic" of Europe is therefore the perfect introduction to the following chapter, "The Nature of Gothic." As the eye moves from south to north, we see a geographical portrait of two temperaments the southern races refined and luxurious, the northern hardy and "rude" that also correspond to the Byzantine and Gothic styles, the one warm and encrusted with jewels, the other roughly carved with branchlike forms. The "reading" of Europe is a fairly subtle addition to Ruskin's typological structure (the continent is here an ordered "chord of colour," [108/109] the view that of a bird's), but bird and rainbow will reappear resonantly at the end of the subsection on Gothic naturalism: "The great Gothic spirit, as we showed it to be noble in its disquietude, is also noble in its hold of nature; it is, indeed, like the dove of Noah, in that she found no rest upon the face of the waters, — but like her in this also, 'LO, IN HER MOUTH WAS AN OLIVE BRANCH, PLUCKED OFF"' (X, 239).
The controlling image of this section is vegetation, with its typological associations — in addition to the olive branch and the garden, the bounteous land that the Israelites entered with the Tabernacle and the Arc of the Covenant, and the vineyard of the Lord, the type at once of Christ and the body of His communicants. If we step back and look at the book in its archetypal design, we would first see children in an ark, then a city rising like a Bride (as a spiritual Jerusalem does in Isaiah and Revelations), then a Man rising beside her to govern, like the Messiah — a partnership we can still see in the Ducal Palace standing beside St. Mark's in the Piazza. Both styles express Venetian spirituality at its zenith, but in complementary ways. Although both take the form of a sculptured garden, Ruskin stresses preciousness in one case and natural imagery in the other; temperamentally, of course, one is southern and the other northern. Morever, since Ruskin had seen few examples of the Byzantine style, he had to limit himself to external description, giving only a few brief conjectures about a "spirit of Byzantine," but the exposition of Gothic is dominated precisely by an account of its spirit or governing ethos. In this respect the chapters on St. Mark's and the Gothic culminate the aesthetic dialectic of Modern Painters II, in which the style of Angelico and the style of Tintoretto broaden into a polarity between the beautiful and the imaginative and between purity and strength — very much like the traditional symbol of the eagle and the dove. This I take to be the marriage metaphor at the heart of The Stones of Venice (and in the passage I have cited from X, 178-179), identical in structure to the Blakean marriage of Albion and Jerusalem, the soul and its emanations, the creator and his creations. But this myth of complementarity is also a myth of development, as Ruskin's history of Venice to this point suggests, a development marked by three stages in the relationship of the self to nature. In the first the personality is not clearly distinguishable from the waters out of which it rises but remains subordinate to a maternal image. In the second the union of man and nature is set aside in the form of an object, which is rendered up and sanctified; in this stage nature is an objectified anima, but not alienated from the subject. In the third stage the ego emerges as an activity of self-assertion, strengthened by communion with something greater than itself. Nature is the image both of that communion and of the soul's own internal organic relationships. [109/110] This is of course the structure of the Ruskinian sublime as well: by submission to an overwhelming vision, the self reconstitutes itself at the center of its own imaginative vision.
The central achievement of "The Nature of Gothic" is to restate in social terms the idea of a great soul whose energies are ordered by an imperishable principle of selfhood. For this purpose it uses the imagery of romantic organism specifically, the single image of a Gothic cathedral — which acts not simply as an illustration of the argument but as the continuous visible manifestation of the argument at every point: it is thought sunk in sensuous form. The six characteristics of Gothicness (Savagery, Love of Change, Love of Nature, Grotesqueness, Rigidity, Redundancy or Generosity) constitute a specific personality (as everyone has noticed, they describe Ruskin himself), but I will limit my discussion to the first three, since these in particular describe the human spirit in the "Edenic" state — mankind as Milton conceived them and as God intended them.
Savagery and Love of Change, which blend together, express "some great truths" that according to Ruskin the human race must understand "in all their work that they do under the sun." These are "the confession of Imperfection, and the confession of Desire of Change" (X, 214). The key terms of the entire exposition are "perfection" and its opposite, which act as portmanteau words, yoking a group of analogies into the similitude of a single organic conception. To see that conception clearly, along with its ambiguities, we need to distinguish some of its interrelated strands.
"Perfection" and "imperfection" are, first of all, key counters in an argument about artistic styles. In Modern Painters I Ruskin said that lack of finish was appropriate to subjects that exceed the artist's mastery, so that "sketchiness" becomes an expressive mark, the mark of the artist's power. In "The Lamp of Life" he said that imperfections characterize the vitality of an art style in its early stages, because at that point the struggle to conceive is of greater importance than subservience to standardized rules the artistic energy, that is to say, is internal, not imposed, like the energy that distinguishes an organic entity from a mechanical one. This is of course the idea restated by Browning in "Andrea del Sarto" ("A man's reach should exceed his grasp /Or what's a heaven for?"), yet both writers trivialize that idea in the examples they draw: Browning's Andrea oddly believes that Raphael is an inexpert draftsman, and Ruskin's examples of Gothic "rudeness" are similarly technical imperfections, such as rough carving, which could be corrected in a moment. This kind of imperfection seems beside the point, yet for Ruskin at least the idea fulfills a crucial aim: he wants to make a place for inferior skill in the construction of a church, so that truly to experience Gothic architecture is to experience "the still, sad [110/111] music of humanity" in its range of voices ("and then the human being has to make its power upon his own heart visible also, and to give it the honour of the good thoughts it has raised up in him, and to write upon it the history of his own soul" [IX, 410]). The divine revelation, we may conclude, can only be known through the numberless testimonies of fallible but believing hearts.
So far the Ruskinian Gothic appears to be an aesthetic correlative of laissez-faire, in which every effort for an individual good sums up to a society, the greatest good for the greatest number. But for Ruskin, laissez-faire economics really means that each individual good is gained at someone else's loss and this is precisely the opposite of the Gothic spirit. A second meaning of "imperfection" in the aesthetic argument is that quality of something by virtue of which it gains meaning only as part of a whole. On the purely perceptual level, this quality is individual difference, because when all units are identical, they become superfluous or detachable the gestalt cannot work, things do not leap together. For this reason, in his discussion of Imagination Associative in Modern Painters II, Ruskin claims that the great artist builds organic wholes in an all-at-once intuition, fusing parts that are in themselves incomplete or imperfect and this unity, Ruskin says elsewhere in the same book, resembles the unity of the human race itself, which is composed of various excellences that could not be combined in any single person. Because the medieval organization of labor permits every worker the expression of his particular excellence, a Gothic church lives in detail, however unskillful in execution. Each stone bears the mark of a particular human testimony and therefore preserves a human life. This power of architecture to express or deny the spirit of the worker inheres, moreover, in any system of labor exchange. An economy is, for better or worse, traffic in human life and this fact leads Ruskin to his first rule of humane consumption: "Never encourage the manufacture of any article not absolutely necessary, in the production of which Invention has no share" (X, 196).
Because aesthetic qualities are types of moral qualities, Ruskin's aesthetic argument becomes by untraceable shifts an argument for Christian humility: the Gothic, as John Rosenberg put it, confesses the Fall (96). According to Ruskin, the Christian makes daily admission of "lost power and fallen nature" because it tends, in the end, to "God's greater glory." To every person in her service, "Christianity" exhorts, "Do what you can, and confess frankly what you are unable to do; neither let your effort be shortened for fear of failure, nor your confession silenced for fear of shame." And so the "Gothic schools" receive "the labour of inferior minds; and out of fragments full of imperfection [111/112] , and betraying that imperfection in every touch, indulgently raise a stately and unaccusable whole" (X, 190). In the aesthetic argument"perfection" is the tyranny of neoclassical order; in the social argument, an economic tyranny that divides the labor and therefore the souls of human beings into mechanical fragments; in the moral argument, the tyranny of inflexible conscience. To be delivered of that conscience, to be released from the fear of shame and failure, is to enter the Garden again — the garden not of perfection but of spontaneity and exuberance, the unconsciousness which, Carlyle said, is both wholeness and health. Here Ruskin's Fall myth converges with the Wordsworthian myth of childhood, since for Ruskin "perfection" means not only a fall into self-knowledge and self-doubt but also an internalization of the world's demands as well — avarice, pride, ambition, and all the glittering vices associated with the Old Masters in Modern Painters I and in the present book with Renaissance builders. But the Gothic makes room for the childlike even though it is not itself childlike: the best architecture, Ruskin writes, is "the expression of the mind of manhood by the hands of childhood" (X, 200). Ruskin's habit of viewing workmen as children — one of the unattractive features of his social thought — suggests on the level of the moral argument that architecture symbolically enacts the continuance of the original, fresh energy by supplying a principle of governance lacking in childhood. In all this, the opposition of perfection and imperfection implies an opposition between two versions of Protestantism, romanticism and Puritanism, with the Gothic representing a casting out of Puritanism, which is then identified with its apparent antithesis, the spirit of secular rationalism.
What permits such variegated parts to form any unity at all? How does the sum of imperfections become "stately and unaccusable"? Ruskin's mediating category is the idea of style as ethos. The physical characters that stamp a building as "Gothic" — pointed arches, pierced window traceries, and so forth — are but the expressions of a particular mode of energy. Throughout Ruskin's exposition, vegetation, the usual symbol of organic unity, is the signature of the mode of energy known as Gothic: in its curling and wreathing and springing, its rigidity, even its prickliness and eccentricity, it is always at liberty because always, so to speak, obeying the laws of its own nature. We have reached yet a third level of the argument, the necessary imperfection of nature. To the romanticist the world is knowable only as process — the burgeoning energy that always creates itself anew, nowhere manifesting itself in the same form. To such a view, neoclassical order (like empirical abstractions) must seem only to reduce this variety to a rigid uniformity imposed from outside and to deny energy altogether. For Ruskin imperfection is "essential to all that we know of life. It is the [112/113] sign of life in a mortal body, that is to say, of a state of progress and change. Nothing that lives is, or can be, rigidly perfect; part of it is decaying, part nascent. The foxglove blossom, a third part bud, a third part past, and a third part in full bloom, is a type of the life of this world" (X, 203). In this context to confess "lost power and fallen nature" is to confess the human participation in the natural stages of generation and decay. Thus affirmed, mortality can be understood as the condition of growth. Time is the felix culpa, since whatever moves toward death discloses its being in an arc of change, a condition, Ruskin believed, that prevailed in the biblical garden itself. The infinite, original energy of childhood is preserved within the structure of an ego strong enough to accept all that is at enmity with childish joy.
Acceptance is thus the new spirit of Ruskin's naturalism, which reaches its culmination in his exposition of the third characteristic of Gothic, Love of Nature. Here "imperfection" refers not to the workman's powers but to his subject, which in turn defines the Gothic spirit in terms closest to that of an individual human ego. We saw earlier that Ruskin believed his knowledge of the human to be much inferior to his knowledge of nature. His fear was overcome by his sudden and passionate response to the human art of Tintoretto. We saw also that the theory of penetrative imagination provided a fiction of incorporation, which implied that knowledge of the human was possible through the study of art. The Stones of Venice heals the breach between landscape as a subject and mankind as a subject by showing how the human soul can be inscribed on natural materials through the medium of natural imagery. ("The Lamp of Power" demonstrates the same point.) Moreover, since sculptured flowers and leaves are the Venetians' compensation for a vanished life in nature, architectural ornament becomes a symbol for the incorporation of lost objects, a symbol, that is, for the creation of a self. "The Nature of Gothic" in fact equates the incorporation of natural motifs with the incorporation of the human: Ruskin splices the Gothic love of nature together with a revised theory of the human subject in painting.
Painters, he tells us, can be divided into three categories, according to their characteristic choices of subject Purists, Sensualists, and Nat [113/114] uralists. Members of the third and greatest group, which includes Giotto, Tintoretto, and Turner, "render all that they see in nature unhesitatingly, with a kind of divine grasp or government of the whole, sympathizing with all the good, and yet confessing, permitting, and bringing good out of the evil also" (X, 222). The most obvious shift from Modern Painters II is Ruskin's denigration of Angelico and the "School of Love" to a second rank, on the grounds that the Purist withdraws from the world in cloistered virtue and depicts man as similarly withdrawn. But the greatest art takes as its subject all the passions "natural" to human beings: "The passions of which the end is the continuance of the race: the indignation which is to arm it against injustice...and the fear which lies at the root of prudence, reverence, and awe, are all honourable and beautiful, so long as man is regarded in his relations of the existing world." A semicolon in place of the colon would probably convey Ruskin's meaning better; the passions are three sexuality, indignation, and religious dread from which both the monk and the happy child need protection. The great naturalist, then,
takes the human being in its wholeness, in its mortal as well as its spiritual strength. Capable of sounding and sympathizing with the whole range of its passions, he brings one majestic harmony out of them all...he casts aside the veil from the body, and beholds the mysteries of its form like an angel looking down on an inferior creature: there is nothing which he is reluctant to behold, nothing that he is ashamed to confess; with all that lives, triumphing, falling, or suffering, he claims kindred, either in majesty or in mercy, yet standing, in a sort, afar off, unmoved even in the deepness of his sympathy; for the spirit within him is too thoughtful to be grieved, too brave to be appalled, and too pure to be polluted. [X, 226-227]
This famous and climactic passage turns out to be radically ambiguous. In proclaiming the ideal of a Shakespearean comprehensiveness of sympathy and a Shakespearean omnipotence of judgment, Ruskin must nevertheless imagine the artist himself to be pure, "in a sort, afar off," and the body, though released from shame, nevertheless an inferior object. Is the statement not more Purist than Naturalist? The stance is uncomfortably close to Tennyson's Arthur, in the poem that Ruskin's book so closely anticipates in theme and subject, at the moment when Arthur finishes reviling his fallen queen: "Lo! I forgive thee, as Eternal God/Forgives: do thou for thine own soul the rest" ("Guinevere," 541-542). By our standards Ruskin's specific judgments remain very much in the Purist vein. Murillo, for example, he judges a Sensualist, citing a picture in which two beggar boys devour fruit: "But is there anything else than roguery there, or was it well for the painter [114/115] to give his time to the painting of those wicked and repulsive children? Do you feel moved with any charity towards children as you look at them?" (X, 228). Certainly they would have devastated the garden at Herne Hill. Ruskin banishes perfection, along with cloistered virtue, only to let it return in the old figure of the supreme genius, stately and unaccusable, protected by aesthetic distance from the turbulent mortal life he in some sense embraces.
As a moral idea "The Nature of Gothic" remains ambiguous. Ruskin's argument praises a variety of moral qualities, many of them inconsistent: spontaneity, vitality, independence; humility and reverence; generosity, acceptance, mercy; a passion for justice; and also what must appear as rigidity and condescension. Because the Ruskinian Gothic contains a part that governs and forgives and a part that labors and is forgiven, the essay appears to prescribe humility, yet may also be read as a prescription for spiritual pride. It leaves unclear one's precise relationship to one's own failings and one's own sexuality (the word "confession" lets Ruskin have it both ways, since the word implies recognition of a general condition), and it also leaves unclear the line dividing what one may forgive from what one must condemn. But the greatness of "The Nature of Gothic" as a moral idea rests not on the particular values it upholds but on its conception of the conditions of the moral life. The Gothic is, first of all, not a collection of traits only but the organic principle of a community: the stones of a Gothic church are types of the community of the faithful as they will be judged by a merciful God, and its structure is the paradigm of an ideal human economy. But the church is also the body of Christ, and in this regard the Gothic is the spirit of an ideal Christianity. By sinking his moral argument in architectural description, Ruskin mediates between a particular building and an invisible idea, adumbrating at once the values of Protestantism and the power of a religious community to enfold and uplift its communicants. This is perhaps the last text in English romanticism to embody Miltonian Protestantism, with its vigorous independence, its sweetness as well as its strength, and its passionate belief in the idea of a Commonwealth. The Gothic, I have said, is the spirit of man in Eden — as Milton also imagined him — and this statement leads to the second point. The organic structure of Gothic is typical of the structure of the integrated ego, a principle of self-governance that harmonizes all impulses and failings and gives purpose to all moral actions. The symbol of vegetation unifies the two realms of the communal ego and the individual ego by locating the center both within and without.
The rudeness that heaves upward the "iron buttress and rugged wall"; the changefulness that "flickers feverishly around the pinnacles, and frets and fades in labyrinthine knots"; the rigidity "here starting [115/116] up into a monster, there germinating into a blossom, anon knitting itself into a branch"; the redundancy, "which feels as if it could never do enough to reach the fulness of its ideal" — these energies circle, so to speak, around a rooted naturalism that draws spiritual nourishment from the "grass of the field which is, at once, the type and the support of human existence" and so is as noble in its "hold of nature" as the Gothic is "noble in its disquietude." Ruskin figures this "hold of nature" as the dove holding the olive branch, a symbol of the coming of Gothic that answers the earlier image of the fugitives fleeing by sea. The olive branch also symbolizes the peace that passeth all understanding; for the dove and olive are typologically related to the Holy Spirit and the vine that is the type of Christ and His believers, "that ancient religious root, in which to abide was life, from which to be severed was annihilation" (XI, 70). This abiding is spiritual nourishment, the condition by which the outside becomes the inside. The moral strength so nourished we might today call ego strength or ego integrity. Ruskin provides a different name but one we have not yet encountered.
Ruskin wrote his father that everything in the first two volumes would come together in the chapter on the Ducal Palace (X, 327n). The plan makes sense: after an exposition of the Gothic spirit, Ruskin would then turn to the "central building of the world," a palace of justice combining all the essential Venetian styles, and would begin reading its stones for the embodied wisdom of this, the climactic moment of European culture. But even Ruskin could not make the damaged ornaments of the Palace bear so much meaning. Instead he gives a tedious account of each of the 8-sided capitals supporting the outer walls — 36 capitals in all (including the bad Renaissance copies), 288 sides. But on one of these Ruskin finds an emblem that could represent the thematic cornerstone of his entire work. The subject is Temperance. As he shows in the third volume, this virtue means not "subdued and imperfect energy" nor a "stopping short in any good thing" but rather "the power which governs the most intense energy" — his example is the curvature of a Gothic ornament, expressing a "reserve of resource" in the whole (XI, 7, 9). Having exalted the savagery, rudeness, redundance, and prickly waywardness of Gothic, as though to prove that the road to wisdom is through excess, he now claims that Gothic is really temperate and the Renaissance intemperate, and he does so by picturing temperance as the intense point at which restraint and release become indistinguishable — a Golden Mean whose extremes are the two types of exhaustion exemplified by the Renaissance, repression and dissipation. The move is inevitable, given Ruskin's habit of viewing the virtues as modes of regulating energy — the ethical counterpart, so to speak, of his dynamic Aristotelianism — and as we will see, the theme becomes one of the leitmotifs of his career, from at least as early as "Moderation or the Type of Government by [116/117] Law" in Modern Painters II (where he calls it the most "essential" attribute of beauty because the "girdle and safeguard" of the rest) through such later books as Unto This Last and The Queen of the Air, where it is associated with Justice and then with Wisdom, personified by Athena. In the context of Gothic naturalism, Temperance is the "divine government" of the great artist and also that law by which organic beings move and develop according to their inherent nature. In Ruskin's thought this virtue occupies the place that Reason occupies for Blake — as the bound and outward circumference of energy — and so must be distinguished from repression as Blake distinguishes Reason from Urizenic laws.
That Temperance should be the ruling virtue of a writer so well known for his extravagance and his fondness for antitheses ought not to seem as strange as it does. On one hand, he tells us, his cast of mind is medieval in that it defines virtues in terms of opposing vices, but these oppositions often turn into spectrums in which the good acts as the synthesis of tendencies that are bad only in extremes. The tripartite structure sometimes imitates the organic cycle of growth, maturity, and decay, so that the interplay in Ruskin's thought between tripartite arcs and polar oppositions represents (to put it simply) the structural expression of his uneasy synthesis of organic philosophy with Evangelical morality. In The Stones of Venice the dialectical structure of paradise and fall accompanies an equally marked set of tripartite patterns: three volumes, three major periods, three zones in the map of Europe, at the center of which stands the Gothic. The Gothic is defined in terms of its antithesis, the Renaissance, but also in terms of its mediating position: it is the midpoint between Purism and Sensualism and also the zenith of Venetian history before Renaissance excess, the point when assertiveness meets reverence in the perfect harmony of self-government. In symbolic terms, the virgin and the strumpet meet in the synthesis I have associated with the Apocalyptic Marriage, which for Ruskin is also the moment when the self fully incorporates the world. Only at this point of synthesis can the body be accepted, and the human being taken "in its wholeness, in its mortal as well as its spiritual strength."
uskin's Venetian tragedy takes place in five acts, in which the early periods and the Byzantine (with their imagery of water and treasure) correspond to rising action, the Gothic the turning point (since, rather mysteriously, we are told that the Fall issues from a weakening of Gothic strength), and the Roman and Grotesque Renaissance the falling action. Throughout the second volume Ruskin continually reminds us of the Fall by juxtaposing past and present in the mythic and ironic [117/118] modes. Venetian piety, on the one hand, is represented by anima figures — the interceding Virgin of Murano, the Bride of St. Mark's, and of course the queen of the seas herself — and each has her antithesis. In Murano the people worship a Romanist idol, a more wretched relative of the stuffed Pope in Past and Present: "With rouged cheeks and painted brows, the frightful doll stands in wretchedness of rags, blackened with the smoke of the votive lamps at its feet." Beneath the original figure in the apse stands the inscription, "Whom Eve destroyed, the pious Virgin Mary redeemed" (X, 68). In "St. Mark's" the shops contain prints of the Virgin presiding over heaps of produce, while in the Piazza itself are "vendors of toys and caricatures," the idle middle classes reading empty journals, and above all the "unregarded children" standing before the sculptured Bride, who curse and quarrel, "clashing their bruised centesimi upon the marble ledges of the church porch" (X, 84-85). In Murano the rag doll Virgin is a prostitute to debased religious desires. The Bride of St. Mark's, proclaiming the treasure of Wisdom, is opposed by the madonna of the melons, an unredeemed Eve presiding as a goddess of traffic. And the treasure heap of the church is opposed by the "bruised centesimi," signifying that the money changers are in the temple — and the pigeons have nothing to do with the Holy Spirit (Rosenberg, 91-92). The figure of the city herself as harlot — the image of commerce sexualized — needs no comment. But the most forceful antithesis of all is the portrait of the bead factory in "The Nature of Gothic," in which the integrity of spiritual energies in Gothic — the fulfillment and union of head, heart, and hand — meets its opposite in the modern workers, "small fragments and crumbs of life," who as slaves of labor are condemned to enact not their own sins, like Dante's lost souls, but the primal sin of Renaissance self-division. All day they chop glass rods into proliferating bits, "their hands vibrating with a perpetual and exquisitely timed palsy, and the beads dropping beneath their vibrations like hail" (X, 196-197).
The Renaissance is for Ruskin primarily a split between head and heart. In terms of architectural ornament, he imagines this as a splitting of the language of types (the union of head and heart) into the extremes of blank walls and obscene ornament. The first of these[118/119]expresses what Ruskin calls pride of knowledge. As the six characteristics of Gothic all flow from the first, a confession of imperfection, so do the four characteristics of the Renaissance spirit — Pride of Science, Pride of State, Pride of System, and Infidelity — flow from pride of knowledge. Upon the sweet imperfection of burgeoning forms that was Gothic at its finest (which had, however, started to weaken on its own) descends the unnatural, schoolmasterly restraint of Renaissance perfection — a cold, haughty, joyless spirit without life or virtue or belief. The new architecture overwhelmed the older sculptured gardens with blank pediments and monotonous geometry. The result was a violent reaction in the disordered soul of Venice. Deprived of the pleasures that were natural and innocent, the Venetians loaded down their marble salons with sensual images until, in the late stages of decline, they turned to an art of debauchery and depravity — what Ruskin calls the "Grotesque Renaissance," "a spirit of brutal mockery and insolent jest, which, exhausting itself in deformed and monstrous sculpture, can sometimes be hardly otherwise defined than as the perpetuation in stone of the ribaldries of drunkenness" (XI, 135). To this wreck we owe the modern factory system, the great prisonlike cities, the deadness of neoclassicism in art, and a great many other evils, general and specific.
Ruskin's unifying image of the Renaissance spirit is an organism cut off at the roots (or rather from the nourishment that surrounds it), so that, sapped gradually of its life energy, it makes more and more desperate compensations. The initial loss expresses itself as austerity and infidelity, which express themselves as knowledge. In one passage he compares the first excited acquisition of knowledge to "the casting of that deep sea-line" and the mere possession of information for its own sake as an encumbrance:
For one effect of knowledge is to deaden the force of the imagination and the original energy of the whole man: under the weight of his knowledge he cannot move so lightly as in the days of his simplicity.... And the whole difference between a man of genius and other men...is that the first remains in great part a child, seeing with the large eyes of children, in perpetual wonder, not conscious of much knowledge, — conscious, rather, of infinite ignorance, and yet infinite power; a fountain of eternal admiration, delight, and creative force within him, meeting the ocean of visible and governable things around him. [XI, 65-66]
What has been cut off, in other words, is the emotional life, along with the heart and eyes, which are the organs of the spirit. With the feelings destroyed, the reason, working in isolation, becomes "heartless" or aggressive in its relations to the world rather than absorptive. For example, the proud technique of Renaissance painting, founded on the sciences of anatomy and perspective, treats the objects of representation sadistically, as things to be "measured, and handled, dissected and [119/120] demonstrated" (IX, 61). Deprived of strength and connection, the self also turns ravenous; but since it can no longer incorporate the world as part of a nourishing whole, it attempts to appropriate things by numbering and possessing, and "knowledge" becomes the mental form of this appropriation. We can notice this point most easily by seeing how images from earlier sections of the book are deformed by the Renaissance mind, particularly the images of food, stones, the word, and the body.
Among the early Venetians, the vine was the type of spiritual nourishment, flowing in instinctive self-regulation. Knowledge is a form of mental food and like all food can be used or abused. The proud man commits the "old Eve-sin," stuffing himself or hoarding like a human "granary," even to the point of starving himself by disuse. The soul ought not to be "dead walls encompassing dead heaps of things known and numbered" but "running waters in the sweet wilderness of things unnumbered and unknown" (XI, 64-66). Paradoxically, to hoard or number is to reduce one's store — to insist on one's territorial isolation from the communal wealth — since to say "mine" is to mark out an infinity that is "not mine." The "dead walls" lead to the second image, stones. Renaissance architecture is mere heaping together of geometrical regularities, but it has decoration of a sort — inscriptions boasting of vain achievements, coats of arms, huge effigies. But the great architecture of Venice spoke through the life and color of its stones proclaiming no less forcefully than the vine itself the union of man with the works of God. Another kind of stone that men hoard is money. Knowledge, Ruskin says, is like "current coin," of which one may be proud if it is earned. But pride of knowledge is like money begged and collected, not earned — it is a possession not truly one's own, an excrement, and this Ruskin opposes to the child's first discovery of things (XI, 72-73), which is spontaneous and so partakes of the infinite depths. Ruskin does not develop this suggestive contrast, but money is as expressive of the Renaissance spirit as food is, since pride of knowledge is really spiritual miserliness or compensatory avarice — numbering, possessing, hiding, stuffing the things that in themselves cannot nourish or give life.
Third, the Renaissance deforms the nature of words, making grammar the first of the sciences and reducing human knowledge to a series of grammars: "the whole mind of the world was occupied by the exclusive study of Restraints.... all the acts, thoughts, and workings of mankind, — poetry, painting, architecture, and philosophy, — were reduced by them merely to so many different forms of fetter-dance" (XI, 115). By considering language as a system of objects to be analyzed and classified, not as a living means of interchange with the world, the Renaissance treats communication as the miser treats money he cannot [120/121] spend or the glutton food he cannot digest, once again breaking connections with the infinite. But in her great days Venice was, as I have said, the meeting point of the natural elements in symbolic human speech. The antithesis of grammar is the Symbol — the meeting of finite and infinite.
By recoil, the insatiable hunger turns at last to lust. And so the body is the fourth and climactic image deformed by the Renaissance. In his discussion of the language of Types in "Early Renaissance," Ruskin compares the materials of the builder with the human body: "the crystalline strength and burning colour of the earth from which we were born and to which we must return; the earth which, like our own bodies, though dust in its degradation, is full of splendour when God's hand gathers its atoms; and which was forever sanctified by Him...when He bade the high priest bear the names of the Children of Israel on the clear stones of the Breastplate of Judgment" (XI, 41-42). The human body, like the sanctified earth, is an emblem of purity, that is, of organic energy, as much as water is and as much as the grass. These sentences in fact contain the densest metaphorical compression of the book, rendering water, words, stones, body, and grass or food into a single entity — a vital circulation moving in and out of death and life, sustained by God. The ephod bearing stones as names symbolizes sanctification and covenant, paralleling the image of the rainbow, only here a man's body bears the type of God's Judgment, as the stones upon the body are the type of the sanctified community. Each of the children of God, as it were, is a stone with a meaning, an atom in the great "chord of colour" that is also the Creation.
The Renaissance version of the sanctified body Ruskin shows to us in his remarkable history of tomb sculpture. In early times the deceased is represented in repose upon a simple sarcophagus, with the symbols of Death and Salvation around him. In later times, when both death and religion are denied together, the deceased begins to rise and look about him, the angels disappear, the drapery and ornaments grow heavy and cumbrous, and the symbols bespeak earthly prowess and power. The climax of the survey is a sculptural group sixty or seventy feet high, a pile of yellow and white marble capped by a Dogaressa who is "a consummation of grossness, vanity, and ugliness, — the figure of a large and wrinkled woman, with elaborate curls in stiff projection round her face, covered from her shoulders to her feet with ruffs, furs, lace, jewels, and embroidery" (XI, 113). "The soul of the sixteenth century dared not contemplate its body in death," Ruskin comments (XI, 110), yet the hideous Dogaressa, stuffed like a puppet, is all death — she is the new anima of Venice, taking the place of the Virgin. The yellow and white heap is the antithesis of the facade of St. Mark's, which seems to recall, in its exuberant animation, the birth of Venice out of the sea. [121/122] But to be cut off is to die, and the Renaissance, spiritually defunct, can only affirm the fact of its mortality and more desperately it clings to life.
In the section on the final stage of decline, the "Grotesque Renaissance," Ruskin takes one final glance at the virginal Venice that has vanished forever and provides the most shocking ironic contrast of the book. The Church of Saint Mary the Beautiful was in the Middle Ages the scene of one of the loveliest of Venetian festivals, the Feast of the Maries. In Venetian tradition the Feast of the Maries was celebrated on February 2, the feast also of the Purification of the Virgin, for on this day all marriages took place. It was also, as Clegg shrewdly observes, the date of the wedding of the elder Ruskins (p. 126). The church that today stands on the site is also called Santa Maria Formosa, but it is wholly devoid of religious ornament. Instead, at the base of the tower, there is a frightful image of a head, " — huge, inhuman, and monstrous, — leering in bestial degradation, too foul to be either pictured or described." "This spirit of idiotic mockery" is repeated in many figures throughout the ruinous city; in the head at Santa Maria Formosa, however, "the teeth are represented as decayed" (XI, 144-145, 162). The decayed teeth are the apotheosis of insatiable and bestial hunger, as the spirit of idiotic mockery descends from the Father of Lies. Venice has been delivered over to the Adversary. The original church of St. Mary had been founded where a prelate had seen a vision of the Virgin descending from a silver cloud. The silver cloud plays, in our memory, upon the black smoke rising from the belfry in "The Vestibule," and we realize all at once that the ruin is complete.
oy whose grounds are true": Arnold's powerful phrase captures in an instant the vision toward which the energy of The Stones of Venice perpetually moves, as the sentence of a later writer captures the complex mixture of wrath and desire that motivates that energy: "On one of its sides, Victorian history is the story of the English mind employing the energy imparted by Evangelical conviction to rid itself of the restraints which Evangelicalism had laid on the senses and the intellect; on amusement, enjoyment, art; on curiosity, on criticism, on science" (Young, 5).
What joy does this book affirm? The simplest answer appears in the resurrected image of Wordsworthian childhood, pictured in Ruskin's conclusion as a kind of Franciscan pastoralism. The modern malaise, he writes, is a disorder in our faculty for delight. The child's pleasures are "true, simple, and instinctive," but the youth is apt to "abandon his [122/123] early and true delight for vanities." The English nation has done the same, first by laboring for ambition, second and chiefly by being ashamed of simple pleasures, "especially of the pleasure in sweet colour and form.... If we refuse to accept the natural delight which the Deity has thus provided for us, we must either become ascetics, or we must seek for some base and guilty pleasures to replace those of Paradise, which we have denied ourselves" (XI, 222-223). Carlyle electrified his readers by demanding that they become men; Ruskin here succors them by urging them to become good children but with characteristic equivocation. "Natural delight" and "pleasure in sweet colour and form" may possibly include sexuality (the phrases certainly describe the aestheticized eroticism of Ruskin's letters from Winnington for example), but the sentence seems by its thrust to separate all pleasures into the childlike and the guilty. This "Purist" reading of the book as a whole and of Gothic naturalism in particular is finally inadequate, since the Gothic retains characteristics of the childlike yet transcends the childlike precisely as it transcends Purism: it is the fullest possible development of the ego, able to claim kindred "with all that lives, triumphing, falling, or suffering."
The ambiguity derives from Ruskin's casting the Fall myth in the shape of an arc, the shape both of organic growth and of imperial history. On one hand the binary structure of the book makes the Renaissance Fall seem the fall from a childlike period of innocence, but on the other hand, the tripartite structure places the Gothic at the zenith of life, the place occupied by the blooming center of the foxglove. In one sense this structure hearkens back to the Immortality Ode, in which the mature poet, humanized by suffering, recaptures joy in a deeper, more comprehensive form. Yet Ruskin's narrative departs radically from the three-part structure of the Ode and of the romantic myth of imagination in general, since the book is cast in the form not of a crisis autobiography but of a sermon using the past as an object lesson. The result is that the mature stage, instead of following a fall into despondency and doubt, seems to grow organically from the first without ever really passing through suffering or doubt. But if this conception is more wishful than the Wordsworthian model, it is also more anxious, since it entertains the possibility of a permanent fall — indeed, it invites the possibility, since the decay of Venice also imitates a natural cycle, perhaps an inevitable one. The Stones of Venice is therefore an immensely problematical book. Like Wordsworth, Ruskin asserts the priority of innocence, but his preaching stresses a search of the past for its meanings (in which archaeology is a kind of trope for introspection) rather than the educative meaning of suffering — yet those meanings remain disturbingly ambiguous, since the stones everywhere bear the mark of the Fall. Both writers are occupied with the formation of a [123/124] mature soul, but Ruskin substitutes for active experience the experience of reading texts, of absorbing lessons from the symbols of art.
Yet art history is also autobiography, since the themes of the book reflect the movement of Ruskin's mind in the decade preceding its publication. We saw that after the emotional breakdown in college (which, as Ruskin viewed it, followed from the repression of grief through study), he threw himself into the writing of a book that enunciated his inherited beliefs — Evangelicalism and Wordsworthian naturalism — as earned positions: and in a sense they were earned, since the moral aesthetic was an attempt to fuse delight and piety in a way that would preserve the original energy of childhood. That project also affirmed the unity of his ambitions and his parents' desires, incidentally healing the breach that had temporarily opened up because of his love for Adèle. Ruskin's marriage seemed also to fulfill the mutual will, since marriage was expected of him. Yet his diary for 1847, complaining among other things of nameless forebodings and a "horror of great darkness," suggests that the forming of a new relationship obscurely threatened the continuity of past and present, reviving ancient and painful conflicts — coincidentally, he was married the year of the Revolution in France and the day the Great Charter was delivered to Parliament.
The sufferings of his marriage were the first instance since his love for Adèle in which Ruskin could not ask his father for help; a second was the new form his career was taking. In 1850 he felt compelled to justify the sternness of his purpose in The Stones of Venice when his father complained that the first volume might seem tedious to readers. In 1851 he sent his father for approval three letters addressed to the Times on education, taxation, and representation that anticipate some of the radical proposals he printed some years later. His father suppressed them for fear of his son's reputation. The next year Ruskin wrote, "I began thinking over my past life, and...I saw I had always been working for myself in one way or another...or for my own aggrandisement and satisfaction of ambition; or else to gratify my affections in pleasing you and my mother, but that I had never really done anything for God's service" (X, xxxvii-xxxix). In the conclusion of his book he wrote: "If the sacrifice is made for man's admiration, and knowledge is only sought for praise, passion repressed or affected for praise, and the arts practised for praise, we are feeding on the bitterest [124/125] apples of Sodom" (XI, 222). These indirect reproaches occur at the same time as the letters to his father about buying Turners, letters that show how poignantly Ruskin depended on magical sources of strength and approval — the flow of money, the flow of paintings. In order truly to affirm his legacy from his parents, that is, to identify the grounds of his justification through works, Ruskin had also to repudiate part of the parental will.
The Stones of Venice enacts this conflict by determining what must be preserved and what repudiated in the cultural heritage of Europe. In taking the step of championing Catholic art, Ruskin splits that art into an antithetical pair, the Gothic, which turns out to be the true and original form of Protestantism, and the Renaissance, which covertly traces a life-denying Puritanism to its source in Rome; Ruskin then becomes the true Protestant. This splitting and fusion characterize the entire work, which is therefore the most psychically overdetermined book Ruskin ever wrote. It offers itself only too readily for psychoanalytic interpretation. The major figures of Ruskin's unconscious life seem all to be here: the virginal bride or mother and the harlot wife, the punishing father, the manly hero, all bound together by the pervasive imagery of nourishment and castration, of union and expulsion. In terms of the plot of Marcolini, the hero and heroine consummate their love, only to be destroyed by villainous designs; but who, in both play and book, is this villain? Is Marcolini himself the Sphinx-Atropos and his bride tainted from the start?
The riddle of the Sphinx is unresolved in The Stones of Venice as well, and this is also the reason why the book can yield to no stable psychoanalytic reading. For each figure is both Ruskin and someone else in an ambiguous pattern of shifts and consolations that, however imperfectly, move toward a clear moral aim: the discovery of what in the psychic legacy must be absorbed and what repudiated in order to create a self strong enough to live. In symbolic terms at least, the answer is clear. The Renaissance is the spirit that denies. Cold, isolated, selfish, and ambitious, it resembles parts of Ruskin (which showed themselves in his treatment of Effie) and parts of an internalized father who can never be pleased; more generally, it is the punishing superego that persists historically as the death instinct, manifesting itself outwardly as pure aggressiveness and inwardly as decay. The Gothic, on the other hand, is the spirit that affirms, persisting historically as the life instinct. It resembles other parts of Ruskin and of an internalized approving conscience, manifesting itself as an original self-love capable of incorporating the world and regulating its internal economy as a wise father does his children. In the Gothic the child becomes father of the man, a man capable of fathering others in turn — specifically, the oppressed — just as, in religious terms, justified works are the spon [125/126] taneous overflow of justified faith. At the center of "The Nature of Gothic" and therefore of the book as a whole stands the modern worker, the devastated victim of a life-denying social system, whose sufferings must touch the hearts of Ruskin's readers before the lost past can revive. As a call to action the Gothic gives pulse to life in the present — a source of strength to accept, to give, to flourish, and to create; the strength also to labor, to witness, and to live out an allotted length of days.
Entered the Victorian Web December 2000; last modified 7 November 2012