THE derivation of words is like that of rivers;1 there is one real source, usually small, unlikely, and difficult to find, far up among the hills; then, as the word flows on and comes into services, it takes in the force of other words from other sources, and becomes quite another word—often much more than one word, after the junction—a word as it were of many waters, sometimes both sweet and bitter. Thus the whole force of our English “charity” depends on the guttural in “charis” getting confused with the c of the Latin “carus”; thenceforward throughout the Middle Ages, the two ideas ran on together, and both got confused with St. Paul’s agaph, which expresses a different idea in all sorts of ways; our “charity” having not only brought in the entirely foreign sense of almsgiving, but lost the essential sense of contentment, and lost much more in getting too far away from the “charis” of the final gospel benedictions. For truly it is fine Christianity we have come to, which, professing to expect the perpetual grace or charity of its Founder, has not itself grace or charity enough to hinder it from overreaching its friends in sixpenny bargains; and which, supplicating evening and morning the forgiveness of its own debts, goes forth at noon to take its fellow-servants by the throat, saying,—not merely “Pay me that thou owest,”2 but “Pay me that thou owest me not.”

It is true that we sometimes wear Ophelia’s rue with a difference, and call it “Herb o‘ grace o‘ Sundays.”3 taking consolation out of the offertory with—―Look, what he layeth out, it shall be paid him again.”4 Comfortable words indeed, and good to set against the old royalty of Largesse—

Whose moste joie was, I wis,
When that she gave, and said, “Have this.” 5

(I am glad to end, for this time, with these lovely words of Chaucer. [292/293] We have heard only too much lately of “Indiscriminate charity,” 6 with implied reproval, not of the Indiscrimination merely, but of the Charity also. We have partly succeeded in enforcing on the minds of the poor the idea that it is disgraceful to receive; and are likely without much difficulty, to succeed in persuading not a few of the rich that it is disgraceful to give. But the political economy of a great state makes both giving and receiving graceful; and the political economy of true religion interprets the saying that “it is more blessed to give than to receive,”7 not as the promise of reward in another life for mortified selfishness in this, but as pledge of bestowal upon us of that sweet and better nature, which does not mortify itself in giving.)

5th October, 1871.

Notes by Editors of the Library Edition

1. Compare Sesame and Lilies, §19.

2. Matthew xviii. 28

3. This passage in the text was explained by Ruskin in a letter to his father:—

―MORNEX, March 29, 1863.—. . . That bit about Ophelia, just at the end of my paper in small print, needs ever so much note to make it intelligible. Rue, the Latin ruta (Greek rnth, means the plant of “deliverance” or of redemption; hence the grace of salvation, its bitterness being the type of purging or purification. Therefore Ophelia calls it “herb of grace” (and, before gives rosemary for remembrance). Perdita as exquisitely—

For you there’s rosemary and rue; these keep
Seeming and savour all the winter long:
Grace and remembrance to you both.

In my use of it I have a double meaning—referring to the idea of purchased salvation at the offertory— “you may wear your rue with a difference.”

For the references to Shakespeare, see Hamlet, iv. 5, line 180; and The Winter’s Tale, iv, 3, line 73.]

4. Proverbs xix.17

5. The Romaunt of the Rose, 1142.

6. Compare Sesame and Lilies, §136; Queen of the Air, §132; and Fors Clavigera, Letter 93.

7. Acts XX.35.

Last modified 25 March 2019