Ruskin reached home on the last day of 1861, and for the next four months he was at home. Among other work, he went again through the Turner sketches at the National Gallery, removing the mildew [See 13.xliv] and adding a good many identifications. He also prepared Unto this Last for publication, and wrote the preface for it. This was dated May 10, 1862, and leaving his friend, Mr. John Simon, to make final arrangements for the publication of the book, he started in the middle of May for Switzerland and Italy.1. His companions on this occasion were Burne-Jones and his wife. “He did everything,” writes Lady Burne-Jones, “en prince, and had invited us as his guests for the whole time, but again in his courtesy agreed to ease our mind by promising to accept the studies that Edward should make while in Italy, and all was arranged and done by him as kindly and thoughtfully as if we had indeed been really his ‘children,’ as he called us.” Burne -Jones had made Ruskin’s acquaintance in 1856, when he was living with William Morris in Red Lion Square. “Just come back from being with our hero four hours,” wrote the young artist after his first visit; “so happy we’ve been: he is so kind to us, calls us his [lii/liii] dear boys, and makes us feel like such old, old friends. To-night he comes down to our rooms to carry off my drawing and show it to lots of people; to-morrow night he comes again, and every Thursday night the same—isn’t that like a dream? think of knowing Ruskin like an equal and being called his dear boys. Oh! he is so good and kind—better than his books, which are the best books in the world” (BJ I,147). This admiration quickly ripened into an affection which the elder man as warmly reciprocated. Ruskin, as he wrote to his father, felt greatly favoured in “the company of a man like Jones, whose life is as pure as an archangel’s, whose genius is as strange and high as that of Albert Dürer or Hans Memling, who loves me with a love as of a brother and—far more—of a devoted friend, whose knowledge of history and of poetry is as rich and varied, nay, far more rich and varied, and incomparably more scholarly than Walter Scott’s was at his age” [Letter from Geneva, August 12, 1862].
“Like me, like my wife” is a rule that does not always hold among friends; and Ruskin admits that as a rule he did not like his friends‘ wives, but he made an exception, he says, for “Georgie.” He did everything to make his “children” enjoy their holiday; he was a charming companion, and he must have enjoyed some of the pleasure which he gave in showing them scenes and pictures which he had known and loved during so many years. But the mood of oppression could not wholly be concealed. On the shore at Boulogne, writes Lady Burne-Jones, “a mood of melancholy came over him and he left us, striding away by himself towards the sea; his solitary figure looked the very emblem of loneliness as he went, and we never forgot it” (BJ I, 241å). They went by Lucerne and “leisurely over the St. Gothard.” At Lucerne he fell in with Sir John Nasmyth, who was travelling with his wife and daughter. In subsequent years Ruskin often corresponded with them. The travellers next went to Milan. There Mr. and Mrs. Burne-Jones left him; they went to Verona, Padua, and Venice, while he stayed for some weeks, first to write his first paper for Fraser’s Magazine (published in the June number), and then to copy and study Luini. This was one of the principal objects of Ruskin’s expedition, as he had undertaken to report upon Luini’s frecoes to the committee of the Arundel Society. He made a very careful copy in water-colour of the St. Catherine with her wheel, one of the figures in the frescoes which cover the screen or eastern wall of the Church of San Maurizio at Milan. [liii/liv] This occupied him during several weeks. The copy now hangs in his Drawing School at Oxford, and is reproduced in a later volume of this edition, where also his own account of it—extracted from letters written to his father at the time—will be found. To complete his study of Luini he visited Saronno, which contains some other of the painter‘s finest work. Ruskin, as has already been remarked [see 4.355 n], never wrote so much about Luini as might have been expected from the long study he gave to this master, and from the deep admiration he felt for his work; but in the Queen of the Air, §157, references will be found which are reminiscent of this summer’s work in San Maurizio and at Saronno.
Ruskin’s devotion to the art of Italy received public recognition at this time; he was made an Honorary Member of the Florentine Academy. A little earlier, he had been similarly elected to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (the oldest artistic body in the United States).
Having finished his work on Luini, Ruskin made his way to Geneva and looked about for quarters in which to spend the winter, and to find peace and quiet for his further contributions to Fraser’s Magazine.2. 2 He found what he wanted at the village of Mornex, a few miles from Geneva, on the slopes of the Saleve. He first took rooms in the Villa Goullierr, his landlady being the widow of the Professor of History in the University of Geneva. “I am established,” he wrote to his father (August 16), “in a little parlour with a look out only on some pines and convolvulus blossoms, and the green slope of the Saleve like a bit of Malvern hills above; on the other side I can see the top of the Mole and of Mont Blanc, but little more. I have green chairs, a deal floor, and peace, and my books all about me, and your kind letter, which I am very grateful for.” To his mother he wrote a fuller account of his hermitage:—
“MORNEX, 31st August .
“MY DEAREST MOTHER,—this ought to arrive on the evening before your birthday [Sept. 2]: it is not possible to reach you in the morning, not even by telegraph, as I once did from Mont Cenis, for—(and may Heaven be devoutly thanked therefore)—there are yet on Mont Saleve neither rails nor wires. “However, arriving in the evening, it will be in time to wish [liv/lv] you many returns of the morning, which you know I do: nor do I see reason why they should be less happy than they have been—with your feelings; nor am I without hope that if I get a house to please me here, a proper degree of feminine and maternal solicitude and curiosity may even, next year, prevail upon you to submit to the degree of vehicular and porterage arrangement which would—with patience—and without pain—bring you as far as Savoy, and enable you to bring and give me some of the good skill you have always had in inventing house arrangements.
“For the present I am making no discoveries: the place I have got to is at the end of all carriage roads, and I am not yet strong enough to get farther, on foot, than a five or six miles’ circle, within which is assuredly no house to my mind. I cast, at first, somewhat longing eyes on a true Savoyard chêeau—notable for its lovely garden and orchard—and its unspoiled, unrestored, arched gateway between two round turrets, and Gothic-windowed keep [Shown in Plate IV.; see the note on it, below, p. cxv].
View from the Base of the Brezon above Bonneville by John Ruskin . 1862-63. Graphite, ink, watercolor, and bodycolor was on white paper, 35.2 x 51.3 cm. Collection: Ruskin Foundation (RF 1206), Ruskin Library, Lancaster University. (Note: I have replaced the monochrome reproduction in the LE with a color one — George P. Landow). Click on image to enlarge it.
But on examination of the interior, finding the walls—though six feet thick—rent to the foundation, and as cold as rocks, and the floors all sodden through with walnut oil and rotten-apple juice—heaps of the farm stores having been left to decay in the ci-devant drawing room—I gave up all mediæval ideas, for which the long-legged black pigs (who lived like gentlemen at ease in the passage), and the bats and spiders who divided between them the corners of the turret-stair, have reason—if they knew it—to be thankful.
“The worst of it is that I never had the gift, nor have I now the energy, to make anything of a place; so that I shall have to put up with almost anything I can find that is healthily habitable, in a good situation. Meantime, the air here being delicious, and the rooms good enough for use and comfort, I am not troubling myself much, but trying to put myself into better health and humour; in which I have already a little succeeded.
“I felt more comfort and freshness of spirit in my evening’s walk on the rocky road yesterday (after having carefully examined all the tuckings up of the lip of the wild snapdragon) than I have done for this year back. I hope your blue pimpernels will arrive in comfort; they will probably sleep all the way in the railroad, but I cannot flatter you with the hope that they will express any degree of contentment with Denmark Hill—or even Norwood—air. I would have sent a box of earth with them, but the red pimpernel grows so frankly by our roadsides, that I have no doubt any light clayeygravel soil of the Norwood hill will do for them. They grow here only in the cornfields among the stubble, and mixed with their crops [lv/lvi] of clover, saintfoin, etc., but I suspect these blue ones will object with all their might to smoke, and to wet weather. Most of the Saleve flowers, however, have a sort of English domesticity about them, except only one—now, alas, in fruit—not in flower—the infinitely delicate, small-leaved, small-blossomed Rosa Alpina, its leaf about this size only [sketch of leaf spray], which covers the rocks in thickets, as thick as our brambles; the common dogrose mixed with it in quantities. There are no rhododendrons on the Saleve, and gentians on the summit only (gentians of the right sort, I mean): the four-leaved autumn gentian is common enough, and the autumn crocuses are just coming into bloom in the meadows. On the other side of the ravine the chestnut wood, and mixed pine, among the granite blocks of the old glaciers covered with moss, is a delicious place for the heat of the day.
My Father would be quite wild at the ‘view’ from the garden terrace—but he would be disgusted at the shut-in feeling of the house, which is in fact as much shut in as our old Herne Hill one; only to get the ‘view’ I have but to go as far down the garden as to our old ‘mulberry tree.’ By the way, there’s a magnificent mulberry tree, as big as a common walnut, covered with black and red fruit on the other side of the road. Couttet and Allen are very anxious to do all they can now that Crawley is away; and I don’t think I shall manage very badly without him—for the present, but that is because he has drilled everybody first into my ways. He is very anxious to get me well and do all he can (which is a great deal), and people like him usually, I find, though the servants at home quarrel with him, but that is partly the fault of his own temper.
I intended this letter to be beautifully written, but I see it is quite irregular and bad, so I hope my father will be at home to read it to you. I am going to walk down to Geneva with it myself, to make sure of the shortest post, and with dearest love to my Father, am ever, my dearest mother,
“Your most affectionate son,
Presently, however, he found the rooms too cramped, and the view did not satisfy him. His establishment was extensive. He had with him his servant Crawley, and Couttet, the guide; and he was subsequently joined by Mr. and Mrs. Allen and their children. So he took another small cottage a little lower down the hill—a cottage ornée in [lvi/lvii] which the Empress of Russia had once stayed. His new arrangements were described in a letter to his father:—
“MORNEX, September 17, 1862.—I think for the next three months (of course not counting my home visit fixed for November) I have now got myself settled satisfactorily. I had no view from my sitting-room or bedroom—only from the garden; so I have taken—for 10 napoleons a month—the Empress of Russia’s cottage as well, which has not only a perfect view, but a little garden, more to my mind than this one. I have slept in my new house two nights, and passed the days in the garden, and am much pleased. The bedroom window opens on a wooden gallery about six or seven feet above the garden; beneath, there is a bed of white convolvulus rising in three spires, as high as the cottage, on hop-poles; then the garden slopes south-east, steeply; having an ever-running spring about four yards from the door, falling out of upright wooden pipes into stone basin, forming a lovely clear pool. Beds of crimson and blue convolvulus, marigold, nasturtium, and chrysanthemum, with intermediate cabbage and artichoke, occupy the most of the little space, all afire; surrounded by a rough mossy low stone wall, about a foot and a half high at the bottom of garden; whence the ground slopes precipitously, part grass, part vines, to a ravine about four hundred feet deep; the torrent at the bottom seen for about two miles up—among its granite blocks (something like view from Lynton in Devonshire); but on the other side of the ravine extends the lovely plain of La Roche, to the foot of the Brezon, above which I have the Mont du Reposoir, and then the Aiguille de Varens; then Mont Blanc and the Grandes Jorasses and the Aiguille Verte; and lastly the Môle on the left, where my own pear-trees come into the panorama and guide back to the marigolds. I keep, however, my old rooms here, for the rooms in my new house—delicious in the morning and evening—have too much sun in the middle of the day; here I have shade and larger space. The two houses are just about a hundred or a hundred and fifty yards apart. I sleep at the Empress’s—(Crawley and Allen above me, Couttet here); dress chiefly outside in my balcony, the air being as soft as in Italy; then walk over here, after a turn round the garden; find breakfast laid by Franceline, and my little table beside it with Horace and Xenophon. Read till eleven; walk or garden till half-past one. Dine here, where I have a nice little dining-room; back into garden, tea among my convolvuluses there—with sunset on the Alps opposite; bed at nine or half-past.” [lvii/lviii]
Plate III. Ruskin’s Home at Mornex. Photograph engraved by Allen & Co. Click on image to enlarge it.
The larger of the two houses had a pavilion in the garden, here shown in the illustration (Plate III.); the pavilion, as also the terrace-walk, commanded the view which is shown in Ruskin’s drawing (Plate V.). “The Empress of Russia’s cottage,” a humble building with a wooden balcony, may still be seen at Mornex. Such was the hermitage which now became Ruskin’s home, and which saw the travail of his soul, while he was writing the greater part of Munera Pulveris. The larger of Ruskin’s two houses has since become an inn, but the sojourn there of the great English writer, who, “whilst treading a via dolorosa, placed a posy before every shrine of beauty and gentleness and love,”4 has not been forgotten.5 Twenty years later Ruskin revisited the place, and wrote an account of it to Mr. Allen (September 8, 1882):—
“I drove to the foot of the Grande Gorge before taking the Pas, and let the sun come round on it. I walked up nearly as well as ever, and got lovely views to the right towards Annecy as soon as I passed Monnetier. When I came in sight of Mornex I saw they had new-roofed my old house, and (having Mr. Collingwood and Baxter with me) was rather taken aback at finding it a flourishing hotel! I took them in and walked along the terrace to the old Pavillon without saying anything. The view was lovelier to me than ever, but there were people on the terrace having forenoon beer! I went into the house and sat down in the salle-à-manger under my old room. The waitress, after taking order for bread and cheese, stared at being asked for news of the Chevaliers;6 but the landlord, though young, knew of them, and after being asked a few probing questions, asked in his turn, “Seriez-vous M. Ruskin?”
To my surprise and considerable complacency I found that English people often came up to see where I lived, and that the landlord even knew that I always slept in the Pavillon! I asked leave to see the old room. It was turned into a bedroom, but otherwise it and its galleries unchanged.
Then I got news of Franceline. She was living with her [lviii/lix] husband in her father’s house. I went up by myself, and she came running out—had seen me go down, and known me at once. She isn’t improved by the twenty years’ ‘progress,’ but was very glad to see me—showed me her four daughters—gave me some excellent tea and currant preserve and a bunch of white roses; listened attentively while I described Sunnyside and its business to her—and heard with reverence of my Oxford Professorship.
She sent you all manner of regards.
After saying good-bye, with some promise of coming again, I walked down to Etrembieres, and drove home here from the pont; and had a lovely walk and study of the Rhone, and made a sketch of it and the old town at sunset.7
Reminiscences of Ruskin still linger about the house. Only last year (1904) a well-known French critic, M. Augustin Filon, having gone to the mountains for rest and peace, found that he had hired the very rooms occupied by Ruskin, that he was writing in Ruskin’s chair, by Ruskin’s window. The villagers still had memories of their old friend. “A thin-faced, reddish-whiskered Englishman,” they said, “neither old nor young.” they did not know him as a writer of books. They must have thought him an accentric person (being English). They used to see him messing (tripotant) about his little kitchen, digging, delving in his garden, mixing mortar, trundling his wheelbarrow, pottering about all over the place, never idle. In that far-off period Ruskin, reflects M. Filon, was practising his philosophy of the union between brain work and hand work, the philosophy which in after time he taught his Oxford students when he turned them into navvies—to show them that a well-made road was “a work of art.” And M. Filon goes on: “It was Ruskin who put up the bell by which I call for my dinner; and who paved the courtyard. Every single stone of it was carried on the back of a diminutive donkey, Ruskin having devised this whimsical method of transport as a means of disguising his act of charity to the donkey’s owner, a very poor woman.”8 In November 1862 Ruskin returned to England for a short time in order to see his parents and to give an address to the Working Men’s [lix/lx] College.9 By Christmas, however, he was back again at Mornex.10 The peace of the place, the beauty of the surrounding country, and its rich geological interest restored him to much of his old power of enjoyment. He had days, as he wrote to his father, when his very happiness frightened him:—
“October 25.—. . . I have been up and along the ridge of the Saleve right to its southern brow to-day. There is no giving you any conception of the loveliness of its golden mossy turf, with the gentians set at intervals of a square yard or so—one at every second step; nor of the glades of grass fresh with frosty dew, under ranks of Spanish chestnut and pine.”
October 26.—There have been such divine things, all day long, between autumn leafage, flying sunshine, and floating cloud, that there’s no talking of it. The grass is so intensely green—with the dew and the pure air together—that in the morning it is like glowworms’ fire in vast masses. I enjoy immensely sauntering on the old road to Chamouni, and looking at the mists flying over the hills I knew in youth—past which my life has flown, like a cloud.
October 27.—I have had so good a day, to-day, that it almost frightens me, lest I should be “fey” or lest something should be going to happen. I have been literally in “high spirits”—the first time this six or seven years. I was walking on the old, old road from Geneva to Chamouni, down the steep hill to the bridge and up again, and towards Bonneville—Mont Blanc so clear, and all the near mountains so purple and pure, and the sunshine so dazzling, and air crystal with slight bracing North wind; and I had found out quantities of things in a heap, in Homer and Theognis in the morning, and found more in my head as I walked; and came to old things by the roadside that I’ve known these twenty years, and it was so like a dream. Then when I came home I had your pleasant letter, and a nice one from Froude, and nice one from Allen—giving good account of College,—and sate after dinner on my sofa quietly, watching the sunshine fade softly on the aiguilles of Chamouni and the Reposoir. And it is so strange to me to feel happy that it frightens me.”
Ruskin liked the place so well that the idea of fixing his tent permanently among the mountains grew upon him. He had a friendly [lx/lxi] neighbour at Mornex in an old Genevese doctor11 — seventy-five years old and still hale and hearty. “He is going to walk up the Saleve with me to-morrow,” writes Ruskin to his father (September 9, 1862), “saying with perfect coolness that he will wait for me when I am out of breath, which, I doubt not, he will in very truth have to do. He is going to show me from the top the various districts of this part of Savoy—where it is damp, or dry—bleak or sheltered—clay or rock in soil, etc., and to tell me the qualities of the hill plants. He says I ought to live for at least three months of the year in the gentian zone.” On his mountain rambles Ruskin was the most delightful and stimulating of companions. He often took Mr. Allen with him at this time. “He had an eye for everything,” says Mr. Allen in reminiscences of days at Mornex; “clouds and stones, hills and flowers all interested him in the same intense way; and his printed passages of adoration in presence of the sublimity of nature were the expression of his inmost feelings and in accord with his own practice. I seem to hear him now breaking forth into a rhapsody of delight as we came unexpectedly, during a walk up the Brezon, upon a sloping bank of the star-gentian. He was full, too, of sympathy with the life of the people. I can see him now kneeling down, as he knelt on Easter Sunday, 1863, to pray with a peasant woman at a wayside chapel. “When I first reach the Alps,” he said to me once, “I always pray.”12 The Brezon, a mountain rich both in botanical and in mineralogical interest, was a constant delight to Ruskin. There is a spot a little below the summit which was the destination of many a ramble, and which he used to call “the lunch bed.” Mr. Allen remembers Ruskin’s pleasure on one occasion in counting no fewer than nine Alpine vultures during one ascent. The erratic blocks, too, greatly interested him; one of great size, stranded near La Roche,—containing 15,000 cubic feet of gneiss from the Mont Blanc range—he desired to purchase; he was agreeably surprised to find that a citizen of Geneva had already bought it, so that its preservation might be guaranteed. On other days Ruskin would walk or drive in the valley. A frequent walk on geological days was to the Gorge des Evaux;13 another favourite spot was near Bonneville, where at a particular hour there was a peculiarly beautiful glint of sunshine to be seen on the cascades: great would be his vexation if he arrived too late [lxi/lxii] or the clouds were envious. The gloom which overshadows many of Ruskin’s letters and the bitterness which colours his writings at this time were not unmixed. He said of himself that, for thinking of the sunset, he could never thoroughly enjoy the sunrise; but if the sorrows of his sensitive soul were deeper than other men’s, so also was the sunshine of his unclouded hours more intense.
Ruskin during his sojourn at Mornex reverted with some enthusiasm to a scheme he had long had in his mind for the reproduction of drawings by Turner. We have referred above to the uncertainty of aim which perplexed him during these years (1860–1863). Ultimately he devoted his main thoughts to economics, but he often felt equally drawn to the continuation of his artistic work. It is curious that a biographical notice of him, which appeared in 1861 and which he himself revised, ended with these words: “Mr. Ruskin is reported on good authority to have abandoned his other studies, in order to devote his future labours exclusively to the work of Turner and the Venetians.” What Ruskin said to the biographer was “to the illustration of the works of Turner and the Venetians.”14 And similarly to another correspondent Ruskin wrote (Denmark Hill, February 25, 1861): “touching my plans, they are all simplified into one, quiet and long:—to draw as well as I can without complaining or shrinking, because that is ill, for ten years at least, if I live so long; in hopes of doing, or directing some few serviceable engraved copies from Turner and Titian.”15 This intention, in the case of Turner, had long been present to him [See 6.4; 7.8 and n.; and 13.lix], [lxii/lxiii] and at Mornex he began to carry it out. Mr. Allen was sent for to join him, and was to bring a printing-press in order that they might print the plates which Mr. Allen was to engrave from Ruskin’s tracings of Turner’s drawings. The work did not make great progress, but two of the engravings thus made at Mornex are given (reduced) in this edition (Vol. 13., Plates xxiv. and xxvi.).
But Ruskin’s main work at Mornex was done in complete solitude. This consisted of the third and fourth essays for Fraser’s Magazine, now chapters iii. to vi. of Munera Pulveris.16 Ruskin regretted their “affected concentration of language”—the result, he said, of “thinking too long over particular passages, in many and many a solitary walk towards the mountains of Bonneville or Annecy.”17 In revising the essays for publication in book-form he found it impossible to break up the concentration, and the work remains one of the most difficult of his treatises. It was intended, he says, only for “earnest readers”; but reviewers are not always, or perhaps often, in that category, and the curtness of expression in the essays proved a stumbling-block to many. It should be remembered that the essays as they stand were written only as an introduction to an intended treatise on a larger scale; as a mere “dictionary for reference,” in Ruskin’s words (p. 145). But there is another peculiarity of the work which helps to explain its failure to catch the popular ear at the time, and which to this day makes it less read than Unto this Last. It is, in some ways, a more important part of Ruskin’s economical writings;18 it is also very closely reasoned, and it follows throughout a clear plan. But there is mixed with it so much of excursus into classical fields, so much of verbal and literary argument, that readers fail to keep hold of the main thread. Ruskin, as we have seen, was occupying himself at the time with a minute study of many Greek and Latin authors, and Dante was his constant companion. All of them were impressed into the service of his economical theories.
There is a letter to his father written from Mornex which well illustrates the manner in which Ruskin made everything that he was reading work together; it also illustrates a particular passage in Munera Pulveris19: —
October 23.—I have been reading the Odyssey to-night with much delight, and more wonder. Everything now has become a [lxiii/lxiv] mystery to me—the more I learn, the more the mystery deepens and gathers. This which I used to think a poet’s fairy tale, I perceive to be a great enigma—the Apocalypse, in a sort, of the Greeks. People‘s ineffable carelessness usually mixes up the gentle, industrious, kind Calypso with the enchantress Circe. She is the Patmos spirit of the Greeks (Calypse, Apo-Calypse), the goddess of wild nature. But what it all means, or meant, heaven only knows. I see we are all astray about everything—the best wisdom of the world has been spoken in these strange enigmas—Dante, Homer’s, Hesiod’s, Virgil’s, Spenser’s—and no one listens, and God appoints all His best creatures to speak in this way: ‘that hearing they may hear, and not understand’ [1 Matthew xiii. 14]; but why God will always have it so, and never lets any wise or great man speak plainly—Ezekiel, Daniel, St. John being utter torment to anybody who tries to understand them, and Homer scarcely more intelligible—there’s no guessing.”
Ruskin’s reading of these “enigmas” is full of flashes of insight and abounds in happy illustrations; but it sometimes led him into fanciful analogies, dubious etymologies, and strained interpretations.20 Matthew Arnold selected a passage from the essays in Fraser’s Magazine—that in which Ruskin analyses the meaning of Shakespeare’s names—to illustrate what he called “the note of provinciality”; by which he meant an absence of moderation and proportion—an excessive indulgence in literary whims—in Ruskin’s criticism. Ruskin’s infinite ingenuity in discovering hidden meanings in ancient legends, and his determination to make all things—in classical and mediæval poetry and mythology—work together for the enforcement of his principles, recall the syncretism of the first centuries after Christ, when Greek philosophy sought to harmonise all creeds and assimilate all legends and all worships. 21 A result of his thus giving the reins to his fancy is, in Munera Pulveris, a subtle and full-charged allusiveness, which makes the book somewhat difficult to read closely, and which calls, in this edition, for frequent annotation. Some of the explanatory notes are drawn, it will be seen, from the author’s letters to his father, who had complained that he found the essays “dry.” The allusive note in the essays in Fraser’s Magazine is struck in the title—“Munera Pulveris”—which Ruskin afterwards gave to them. This title is one of the most obscure in his series, and even learned [lxiv/lxv] commentators dismiss it with the bald remark that it is cryptic. 22 It has been suggested that the title may be taken “in disconnection from its context in Horace,” and has “no ulterior meaning.”23 But Ruskin expressly cites the passage from Horace as the motto of his book (p. 147), and if the title had no “ulterior meaning” it would be very unlike Ruskin. “I am not fantastic,” he wrote, “in my titles, as is often said; but try shortly to mark my chief purpose in the book by them” [See Ariadne Florentina, §27]. The desire to disconnect the quotation from the context is, however, very intelligible, for the Ode in question (i. 28) is one of the most vexed passages in Horace. Who is speaking, and who is being addressed; how many speakers there are; the scene of the Ode, the nature, the division of its parts, its purpose, are all points on which there are almost as many opinions as commentators. And on the solution of such questions, the translation of the lines quoted by Ruskin must depend. He does not himself give any translation; and it would be possible, with the necessary supply of ingenuity, to devise as many meanings for Ruskin’s title as there are versions of the lines from which it is taken. This exercise, however, is hardly necessary; for there are sufficient clues in Ruskin’s other works, and even in this book itself, to show what he had in his mind. The most important passage occurs in the Cestus of Aglaia, §34. He is there speaking of the wasted labour and ill-directed ingenuity in too much of the art of the day; and apostrophising some patient toiler in that sort, he exclaims:—
Over that genius of yours, low laid by the Matin shore, if it expired so, the lament for Archytas would have to be sung again:— “pulveris exigui—munera.”
It is thus clear that Ruskin read the first lines of the Ode as a lament over Archytas dead and buried, and not as meaning that Archytas lacks the gift of a little sand that would give rest to his shade.24 A literal translation of the lines, as Ruskin took them, [lxv/lxvi] would be: “Once thou measuredst the sea and earth and the countless sand; now, Archytas, art thou contained in the small gifts of a little dust by the Matin shore.”25 The closing words of Ruskin’s treatise confirm the interpretation suggested by the Cestus of Aglaia. The conclusion of the whole matter is the choice between the wealth which makes for life, and the phantom of wealth which makes for death; and it is in an alternative of epitaphs that Ruskin puts this choice between his readers:—
There is no other choice; you must either take dust for deity, spectre for possession, fettered dream for life . . . or else, having the sun of justice to shine on you, and the sincere substance of good in your possession, and the pure law and liberty of life within you, leave men to write this legend over your grave:— “He hath dispersed abroad. He hath given to the poor. His righteousness remaineth for ever.”
So, again, in §79 of Munera (p. 201) we read that when men exchange speculation for toil, their riches “change only from the slime of Avernus to the sand of Phlegethon.” And so, once more, in The Crown of Wild Olive (§16), Ruskin speaks of men “gathering dust for treasure, and dying rich in that.” The object then, of Ruskin’s treatise was to attack the conception of “wealth,” current in the ordinary political economy, which, in the emphasis laid upon merely material possessions and upon accumulation as distinct from distribution, “took dust for deity.” (The word in the quotation above has been here italicised in order to emphasise the clue.) The latter end of such wealth is dust also; and this, no doubt, is what Ruskin meant when he placed the lines from Horace at the head of his book—thence choosing for its title the words “munera pulveris,” “Gifts of the Dust.” There is another kind of gift which Ruskin sought to press upon his readers, another order of riches in which, according to his science of political economy, the well-being of states, as of individuals, alone consists. “There is no wealth but life” [Unto this Last, §77] and there are “riches untormenting and divine: serviceable for the life that now is; nor, it may be, without promise of that which is to come” [Crown of Wild Olive, §16]. The reward for [lxvii/lxviii] the gathering of that kind of riches is “The Crown of Wild Olive”; but the title of the present book expresses, in scornful phrase, the fallacy which it is meant to expose, not the theorem which it is meant to enforce. The science of Political Economy, he says, has been hitherto “the weighing of clouds and the portioning out of shadows”—tasks like those of Archytas. And “woe to us,” he adds, if we take the “dust” for reality, for so “all procession is to the tomb” .[Munera Pulveris, §§34, 35] Probably, however, Ruskin had many other ulterior meanings. The title which he gave to his “Letters to Workmen”—Fors Clavigera—sufficiently shows how fond he was of adopting many-sided titles. Archytas, it should be remembered, was a philosopher—a professor, it may be, of some dismal science; a man given to “counting the sand”—a proverbial expression with the Greeks and Romans for wasted trouble. It is therefore probable enough that Ruskin intended partly, by this initial motto for his book, to apostrophise the professors of the pseudo-science, as he called it. Again, he often reverted in mind to this economic doctrine and practice as mere gathering of dust. Thus, in the first edition of Sesame and Lilies he wrote, “the treasuries of the true kings are the streets of their cities; and the dust which others gather is for them a crystalline pavement for evermore” [See 18.105n]. “Measuring the sand” had, too, another signification to him, and one directly connected with false methods of State economy. So in a passage in the original essays Ruskin speaks of men “enlarging their lust of wealth through ignorance of its use, making their harlot of the dust, and setting Earth the Mother at the mercy of Earth the Destroyer, so that she has to seek in hell the children she left playing in the meadows” (p. 201n). See, also, the passages in Proserpina [in i. ch. vii., and ii. ch. iv.] where he speaks of the power of the Earth Mother, as Mother and as Judge; watching and rewarding the conditions which induce adversity and prosperity in the kingdoms of men—“the three kinds of Desert—of Reed, Sand, and Rock”—exhaustively including the states of the earth neglected by man. These passages, he tells us, contain “the summary of the aims kept in view throughout Munera Pulveris.” When this thought was uppermost in his mind, he would perhaps have taken another of the meanings of munera and translated his title “Functions of the Dust” (see §9 and compare the passage at the end of §48). It has seemed worth while to enter somewhat fully here into the [lxvii/lxviii] possible meanings of Ruskin’s phrase, because the choice of such “cryptic” titles was very characteristic of the later workings of his mind.26 We have seen instances of it already in the fifth volume of Modern Painters. When he called one of his plates in that volume “Venga Medusa” and another “The Locks of Typhon,” reminiscences of Aristophanes and Dante and Hesiod and Turner all crowded into his mind at once; the title had facets as many as his mingling thoughts. This habit of writing in parables—of turning an idea, or a word, or a phrase over and over, and making it flash out, for those who had eyes to see, a different shade of light at each turn—became more and more frequent with Ruskin, especially in books or passages written in what he calls his “third manner”—the manner of saying “all that comes into my head for my own pleasure” [Queen of the Air, §134]. It may be added that the title Munera Pulveris—though not printed before 1872—was in Ruskin’s mind much earlier. The passage in Horace was incidentally quoted in the original essays in Fraser’s Magazine (see §134n.); and in Time and Tide essays (1867) he refers to the essays, not then republished, under the title Munera Pulveris (see §§115, 155, 167 [GPL: There is no 167; perhaps the editors meant 157.). The long interval which elapsed between the appearance of the essays in Fraser’s Magazine and their publication as a book was due to a rebuff of the same kind as that which had cut short the earlier essays in the Cornhill. The fourth paper was sent to Fraser’s Magazine from Mornex in March 1863, and duly appeared in the number for April. “The present paper,” wrote Ruskin at the end of it, “completes the definitions necessary for future service. The next in order will be the first chapter of the body of the work” [See below, p. 290n]. But the next in order was never to come. Froude, the editor of the Magazine, “had not wholly lost courage,” but “the Publisher indignantly interfered; and the readers of Fraser,” says Ruskin, “as those of the Cornhill, were protected for that time from further disturbance on my part” [See the Preface to Munera Pulveris, §20; below, p. 143]. This second veto was a bitter vexation to Ruskin. Mr. Allen well remembers the day on which Ruskin heard the news; he paced his terrace-walk for hours like a caged lion, and deep gloom gathered upon him. Froude, it is clear, had not lost faith in his contributor; for, [lxviii/lxix] a few months later, when Ruskin’s views had called forth a reply in Macmillan’s Magazine (by Professor Cairnes), Froude invited Ruskin to write a rejoinder. This supplementary paper—in the form of a dialogue on Gold—was duly sent to Froude, but it was not printed. Probably it was Ruskin’s father who stopped it; he was particularly sensitive, as a City merchant, to his son’s heresies on questions of currency; and Ruskin had promised his father “to publish no more letters without letting you see them” [From a letter of November 23, 1863]. Many years later this suppressed chapter came to light, Ruskin’s servant and amanuensis Crawley having been in possession of a copy of it. It is now included in the Appendix to this volume (pp. 491–498). It should be stated, as explaining the stoppage of Munera Pulveris in Fraser’s Magazine, that the papers excited the same violent hostility and reprobation that were called forth by Unto this Last. Indeed, the outcry was now at its height, for reviews of Unto this Last, in its collected form, were appearing. The contemptuous tone of the writers in the press, and the remonstrances of private friends, hurt Ruskin’s father not a little, and a strain of vexation in the son’s letters at this time was caused by paternal entreaties for alterations or suppressions. Ruskin in reply (Mornex, August 19, 1862) begged his father “to mind critiques as little as possible; read, of me, what you can enjoy, put by the rest, and leave my ‘reputation’ in my own hands, and in God‘s—in whose management of the matter you and mama should trust more happily and peacefully than I can—for you believe that He brings all right for everything and everybody; and I, that He appoints noble laws, and blesses those who obey them, and destroys them who do not.” Now, as in the case of the papers in the Cornhill Magazine, Ruskin had an enthusiastic supporter in Carlyle, who tried to reassure Ruskin’s father. Writing to Ruskin on October 24, 1862, Froude said:—
The world talks of the article in its usual way. I was at Carlyle‘s last night . . . He said that in writing to your father as to subject, he had told him that when Solomon’s temple was building it was credibly reported that at least 10,000 sparrows sitting on the trees round declared that it was entirely wrong, quite contrary to received opinion, hopelessly condemned by public opinion, etc. Nevertheless it got finished, and the sparrows flew away and began to chirp in the same note about something else. 27 [lxix/lxx]
To Ruskin himself Carlyle had already written (June 30, 1862):—
“I have read, a month ago, your First in Fraser, and ever since have had a wish to say to it and you, Euge, macta nova virtute. I approved in every particular; calm, definite, clear; rising into the sphere of Plato (our almost best), which in exchange for the sphere of Macculloch, Mill and Co. is a mighty improvement! Since that, I have seen the little green book, too; reprint of your Cornhill operations,—about 2/3 of which was read to me (known only from what the contradiction of sinners had told me of it):—in every part of which I find a high and noble sort of truth, not one doctrine that I can intrinsically dissent from, or count other than salutary in the extreme, and pressingly needed in England above all.”28
After the last paper in Fraser Carlyle wrote again. Ruskin accidentally destroyed the letter, but he had copied out some sentences of it to send home, and he remembered others. “There is a felicity of utterance in it,” said Carlyle, “here and there, such as I remember in no other writer, living or dead, and it’s all as true as gospel.” “What enlightened public,” he added, “will make of it, I know not. to be visited with such a dividing of joint and marrow! so quiet, so sudden, fatal as the sword (here a proper name for sword I could not read) to the unhappy smith who only knew he was killed by feeling the iron in his inside, and had to shake himself before he fell in two. Euge! I tell you I know nothing like it for felicity of expression; John Mill keeps not closer to his dialectics, and he but with one gift, while here are so many;—a man who comes on etymologically, phantastically, prophetically (I am not sure of this last word—could not decipher it; if it is right, it means ‗eloquently,’ but is stronger) all at once. Glad I am that you are in for a continuance—I care not now at what interval: I have lived to see it said clearly that government—(I forget the exact phrase following, but it meant the assertion of authority generally over mob).”29
Cut short in mid-career, the essays entitled Munera Pulveris had to bide their time. Just as the collection of the Cornhill essays into a volume was due to the beginning of the Fraser essays (see above, p. 1.), so the republication of the Fraser essays was due to the beginning of a fresh series. In 1871 Ruskin’s preoccupations were largely political and economic; he had resumed the preaching of his social gospel; and in connexion with Fors Clavigera he determined to [lxx/lxxi] include Munera Pulveris in the collected series of his works. It there appeared—for the first time in collected form—on January 1, 1872. In this form the book was expensive, and the sale was slow. Fourteen years later Ruskin wrote to his publisher that “people seem ready for” a cheap edition. In 1886 such an edition was issued, and the book has of late years found many readers.
But in 1863 Ruskin turned away, in disappointment for a while, from economic writing; the continuation of his essays in Political Economy was put aside, and he devoted himself to finishing his lecture for the Royal Institution on the Forms of the Stratified Alps of Savoy. He had by this time tired of his hermitage at Mornex, which indeed was less peaceful than he had hoped. He could no longer endure, he says, “the rabid howling, on Sunday evenings, of the holiday-makers who came out from Geneva to get drunk in the mountain-village” [Time and Tide essays, §47; see below, p. 356]. Also he had “thought in winter there would be storms, and lovely skies and effects in the Alps”; but “there was not one, from Christmas to April—nothing but crystalline clearness with cold wind, or black grey with snow” [Letter to his father from Tallories, April 21, 1863]. So, to complete his mountain studies, he left Mornex for a while and went to the Lake of Annecy—staying first at the Hôtel de Genève, Annecy, and afterwards at Talloires on the east bank of the lake, in the ancient Benedictine Abbey there, part of which had been turned into an hotel. He found the “stratification of the mountains inconceivably wonderful and interesting,” and enjoyed the coming of the spring:—
ANNECY, April 10.—I have had a good day, to-day; feeling strong in drawing and enjoying myself generally. I am glad to find it isn’t my fault when I grumble; and that provided the sky is blue, the air soft, plenty of violets and hyacinths on the banks, the mountains beautiful, the peasantry pretty, and the road good, I don’t feel anything much to complain of; so that nobody can say I don’t know what I want.”
One of his drawings of the mountains of Annecy is here reproduced in colours (Plate VI.).
Plate VI. Mountains of the Lake of Annecy by John Ruskin. Click on image to enlarge it.
After a few weeks he returned to Mornex. “You can’t think,” he wrote (May 11), “how pleased I am to get back to my den . . . .” (May 12): “I have really been enjoying myself mightily this evening; there has been a clear sunset on the Brezon with quiet air; and I‘ve had tea in my garden house, with the lilacs in bloom outside, and a red hawthorn, and pink chestnut; and the nightingales are in [lxxi/lxxii] full song (or were last night till I fell asleep—for I could hardly tell them from the other birds this evening), and the view of the plain of the Arve, now coming into the rich tufted loveliness I first saw it in—thirty years ago—is very precious to me.” But Ruskin was too sensitive to other impressions for unchequered enjoyment. “The air is very soft and sweet now,” he wrote on the following day, “but it is cloudy and gloomy; the gloomiest part of it, however, is the contrast of spring and its blossoming with the torpor and misery of the people; nothing can be more dreadful than their suffering, from mere ignorance and lethargy, no one caring for them.”
At the end of May 1863 Ruskin again went to England, reaching Denmark Hill on June 1. He had two public engagements to fulfil—one, the lecture on Geology which had occupied much of his time and thoughts during the preceding months; a report of it is reserved for the volume containing Deucalion. His other public engagement was to give evidence before the Royal Commission on the Royal Academy; this has been printed in a previous volume [14.476 seq.]. He then went for a round of visits in the North—to Winnington, to Wallington, to Lady Waterford at Ford Castle, and to his friend, and Turner’s, the Rev. William Kingsley at Thirsk.30 To Winnington, on this occasion, Ruskin took with him Mr. and Mrs. Burne-Jones; and in the Memorials of the painter we catch a glimpse of Ruskin “taking his place occasionally in a quadrille or a country dance. He looked very thin, scarcely more than a black line, as he moved about amongst the white girls in his evening dress” [BJ I, 264]. In September 1863 he returned once more to the Alps.31 His mind was now set upon building a house for himself among the Savoy mountains, and of making it his permanent home. He had already during his residence at Mornex been prospecting. It was to be a “hill-top” house. He had been one day for a solitary ramble up the Brezon, above Bonneville, and was entranced with the flowers and the view. There on the mountain summit was the place chosen for his châlet. He entered upon the scheme with characteristic enthusiasm. [lxxi/lxxii] The good people of Bonneville were delighted. They thought to see Ruskin permanently established among them as an earthly providence; and Mr. Allen, who was on one occasion sent to meet the village elders on the spot and discuss the water supply, describes how he was received with salvoes of artillery. “The hardest day’s work I ever had in my life,” says Mr. Allen, “was marking out the boundaries of Mr. Ruskin’s intended purchase.” He was resolved to buy the greater part of the mountain. There was no water; he would construct a dam to collect the snow. Dante Rossetti was to come out and design the decorations of the châlet; Burne-Jones was to paint the walls. Alas! this “house beautiful” among the mountains was to remain a châlet in the air, but for a time the scheme was very near accomplishment. He had two objects in view. First, as he explains in Præterita (ii §§206 seq.), he wanted to make some practical effort to help the peasantry, whose fundamental nobleness of character he respected, and for whose hard and often neglected lot he had so profound a pity. But also he had more and more come to feel the homelessness of his own home. He was no longer understood by his parents, nor could he enjoy their sympathy. His religious heresies grieved his mother; his economic, his father. The more he loved them—and no parents ever had a more affectionate and dutiful child—the more he felt the bitterness of the estrangement. Already, early in 1861, he had written to Professor Norton of the “almost unendurable solitude in my own home, only made more painful to me by parental love which did not and never could help me, and which was cruelly hurtful without knowing it” [Letters of John Ruskin to Charles Eliot Norton, I, 106]. Hence Ruskin felt that he must have a home of his own; and for reasons already stated, as well as for peace and seclusion, he decided to find it among the Alps. He had told the plan to Burne -Jones, who was distressed at Ruskin’s loneliness of spirit, and pleaded that, as an alternative to exile, he should find some retreat in England: for this home the painter would design a set of hangings with figures from Chaucer, and the girls at Winnington would work them. Ruskin’s reply to Burne-Jones and his wife was written just before he left England for Chamouni:—
“DENMARK HILL, 8th September, 1863.
“My DEAREST CHILDREN,—I am very deeply moved and comforted by all your letters—as who would not be, unless he were himself rock, instead of merely wishing to live among rocks. You would make me entirely happy with your loves if I felt strong, [lxxiii/lxxiv] and as if I should have life and time to stay with you, but I have a great feeling of its being too late. But do with me and for me as you will—that will be best for me. All that I mean to do—at the worst—is to buy this bit of rock land as I would a picture. You may like some day, some of you, to climb to it, with children’s feet, among Alpine roses; and I‘ve another notion of a thing the great cliff above may be useful for—some day—or night—but, for this time, have your own way. I daresay love is very nice when it doesn’t always mean leaving people—as it always does with me, somehow; and if you can find this dream of yours with its walled garden, I don’t think I should want to leave it, when I got in. And for the tapestry, please begin that directly; that at least I can live with; and let it be as you say—Chaucer‘s legend. I should like that better than any—any—anything, and it is very beautiful and kind and lovely of the twelve damosels to work it for me—and I would not have had any other if I had chosen. And it will be very wonderful and helpful and holy to me. And let the little maidens do birds and mice and funny things and little flowers, underneath; and give them all now my love and wearying for them, and take it, for you.
“I hope it will make you very happy to be there, as far as any outward thing can make you and Georgie happier than you always are; but I like so much to think of you there, and I can’t bear to think of you in London. It is the only quite pleasant thing I have to think of in all the world. So stay as long as you can, that I may have it to think of. [BJ I, 266–67]
Mrs. Burne-Jones had also written to Ruskin’s father, who replied as follows:—
1 I am happy to think of my Son possessing so much of your and Mr. Jones’ regard, and to hear of so many excellent people desiring to keep him at home; my own earnest wishes are, and, since his visits to Winnington, to Thirsk, and to Wallington, my hopes are, that my Son may ultimately settle in England; but these hopes would not be strengthened by his too suddenly changing his mind, throwing up his Engagements, breaking his Appointments, or at all acting on the whim of the moment. He so far proceeded towards a settlement in Savoy as to have begun treating with a Commune about a purchase of Land. His duty is, therefore, to go to Savoy and honourably withdraw from the Affair, by paying for all Trouble occasioned, and I fully expect the Savoyards will afford him some ground for declining a purchase by the exorbitant prices they will ask for [lxxiv/lxxv] their Land. As for the ground he has bought at Chamouni, it will be a pleasure to him to keep it though he saw it not once in seven years. It is the Building Plan near Bonneville that I should rejoice to see resigned—but not suddenly abandoned for a momentary Indulgence among the Delights of Winnington, but deliberately, and a fter some goings and comings and Comparisons, between Weeks spent abroad, and Weeks spent at home. He has made a short engagement to go to Switzerland with the Rev. Osborne Gordon, which I hope he will keep, and I shall endeavour to hope that his Engagements abroad may in future be confined to a Tour with a friend, and that Home Influences may in the end prevail. Tell Mr. Jones that I know enough of him not to be jealous of any Influence he may have with my Son—I cannot be jealous of the Influence of Any one on this subject, because I do not attempt to exercise any—I want my Son to find out for himself where he is likely to be most happy, and am ready to acquiesce in any plan, Swiss or English, that shall most thoroughly secure this end. “My Son’s fellow Traveller now is the best he could possibly go with. Being rather cynical in his views generally, and not over enthusiastic upon Alps, he is not likely to much approve of the middle heights of the Brezon for a Building Site.”
The quiet humour and practical wisdom of this letter, and, discernible beneath them, the affectionate tenderness for his son, are very characteristic of the father whom Ruskin was soon to lose. The old man’s shrewdness was justified by the event. Ruskin went to Geneva with his “cynical” tutor, who walked up to the proposed hermitage and, “with his usual sagacity, calculated the daily expense of getting anything to eat, up those 4000 feet from the plain” [Præterita, ii. §206]. Having successfully accomplished the climb, and remembering that the return journey would be of the same length, Gordon remarked drily, “If you ask your friends to dinner, it will be a nice walk home for them, at night.” Ruskin feared that if they came to call and found him “not at home,” they would not come again; to which Gordon added, “and I don’t think they would come again anyhow” [Præterita, ii. §206]. Perhaps these quiet criticisms had their effect, but the determining factor was the conduct of the Commune of Bonneville, who raised their price on Ruskin exorbitantly. “Unable to see why anybody should want to buy a waste of barren rock, with pasturage only for a few goats in the summer,” they concluded that he had found a gold mine or a coal-bed in it3—a suspicion to which Ruskin’s frequent visits with his geological hammer, and 2 Ruskin’s letter to his father from Bonneville, September 11, 1863. [lxxv/lxxvi] Mr. Allen or Couttet carrying baskets for the collection of mineralogical specimens, no doubt afforded additional ground. The land at Chamouni, at the foot of the Tapia, had been duly bought; but Ruskin never built upon it, and presently sold it, “perceiving what ruin was inevitable in the valley after it became a tourist rendezvous” [Præterita, ii. §206]. The top of the Brezon he left on the Commune’s hands; and after spending a few weeks at Chamouni—busy mainly with geology—Ruskin went off to Northern Switzerland, to sketch at Baden and Lauffenbourg and Schaffhausen, and returned to Mornex no more. His interest in economical questions was unabated, and from various places on his travels he fired in “arrows of the chace” to the newspapers. Thus from Chamouni on October 2 he wrote a letter to the Times on the Gold Discoveries then being made in Australia (see below, p. 489); and this in turn led to the Dialogue on Gold which has already been mentioned (p. lxix.), and which begins with a reference to his visit to Schaffhausen. His visit to Zurich at this same time is referred to in Time and Tide essays [n §45; see below, p. 355]. 2 In the middle of November he returned to England, and after a few days with his parents he went North—making Winnington again his headquarters, and paying visits to Manchester and to Lord Somers [For whom, see 1.xxxv., 409, 463, and 15.xvii.] at Eastnor. At this time he had an idea of adding a little to his papers in Fraser’s Magazine and publishing them in a volume. He explains the scheme in a letter to Burne-Jones:—
“I want you to do me a set of simple line illustrations of mythology and figurative creatures, to be engraved and to make a lovely book of my four Political Economy papers in Fraser, with a bit I‘m just adding. I want to print it beautifully, and make it a book everybody must have. And I want a Ceres for it, and a Proserpine, and a Plutus, and a Pluto, and a Circe, and an Helen, and a Tisiphone, and an ‗Aváykn, and a Prudentia, and a Sapientia, and a Temperantia, and a Fortitudo, and a JUSTITIA, and a CHARITAS, and a FIDES, and a Charybdis, and a Scylla, and a Leucothea, and a Portia, and a Miranda, and an ‘Arhtn, and an Ophelia, and a Lady Poverty, and ever so many people more, and I‘ll have them all engraved so beautifully, you can’t think—and then I‘ll cut up my text into little bits, and put it all about them, so that people must swallow at once, and it will do them so much good. Please think of it directly” [BJ I, 271]
The letter is very characteristic of the mythological and fanciful strain in Munera Pulveris, which we have already discussed. But this scheme, as many another, was interrupted by the death of Ruskin’s father, which took place on March 3, 1864. He was 78 years of age, and Ruskin himself was 45; but the parting meant much more to Ruskin than the death of a father in old age means to most sons in middle life. It deprived him of his best friend and counsellor, and it cast upon him duties and responsibilities from which he had hitherto been shielded. His literary schemes were abandoned for a while, and the publication of Munera Pulveris was not made till nine years later.
The epitaph which Ruskin wrote for his father’s tomb in Shirley Churchyard, near Elmer’s End, Kent, may fitly find place in this volume, which contains so many pages of passionate exhortations to Truth, Honesty, and Affection:—
JOHN JAMES RUSKIN,
born in Edinburgh, May 18th, 1785.
He died in his home in London, March 3rd, 1864.
He was an entirely honest merchant,
and his memory is, to all who keep it, dear and helpful.
His son, whom he loved to the uttermost
and taught to speak truth, says this of him.
[The Editors’s section containing Ruskin’s Letters to the Press, 1863-68, has been omitted.]
[lxxxviii] The volume, whose contents we have thus briefly summarised, was an introduction to Ruskin’s economic teaching. It was mainly destructive, its primary object being to challenge the accepted science, and was only incidentally constructive; that is to say, Ruskin only indicated in passing and by inference the terms of an alternative system. Carlyle, as we have seen, encouraged him to go on; and Froude, “thinking that there was something in it,” invited him to pursue the subject in Fraser’s Magazine. In this second collection of essays Ruskin gives a series of definitions and a list of headings which were to have served as “a Preface” to a more elaborate treatise (Preface, §20). His object was now constructive, and only incidentally destructive. In broad outline he defined in Munera Pulveris the terms on which, as he conceived, a system of Political Economy should be based, and stated the questions with which such a system ought to deal.
Political Economy, he begins by stating, is a system of conduct founded on the sciences and impossible except under certain conditions of moral culture. It regulates the acts and habits of a Society or State, with reference to its means of maintenance (§1)—viz. (1) the support of its population in healthy and happy life; and (2) the increase of its numbers so far as is consistent with its happiness (§3). The material things which it is the object of political economy to produce and use are those which sustain and nourish the body or the soul, and no others (§8).
The inquiry into such things divides itself under three heads, according as it studies the phenomena of—I. Wealth; II. Money; or III. Riches. Wealth is “things in themselves valuable”; Money, “documentary claims to such things”; Riches, “the relation of one person’s possessions to another’s” (§11).
WEALTH consists of “things in themselves valuable.” Value signifies the life-giving power of a thing, which involves (a) a thing essentially useful, and (b) a capacity to use it (§§13, 14).
Here compare Unto this last, §§62,63; Munera Pulveris, Appendix iii.
Value in this sense must be closely distinguished from Cost, which means “the quantity of labour required to produce a thing”; and Price, which means “the quantity of labour which the possessor of a thing will take in exchange for it” (§12). [lxxxviii/lxxxix]
Valuable things are: (1) Land, considered (a) as a means of producing food and mechanical power; and (b) as providing objects of sight and thought.
The development of this chapter in Ruskin’s intended treatise would have been of particular interest. If one were constructing such a treatise out of his actually written passages, one would refer under (a) to Time and Tide essays, §151, where he lays down the conditions of land-tenure with regard to making the most of it, and to many similar passages in Fors Clavigera; while under (b), one would go to almost all his books for passages on the importance of national scenery as an element of national wealth; see in the General Index the headings “Landscape” and “Scenery.” Compare p. 545, below; and see also Fors Clavigera, Letter 95; and consider the question which in one form or another Ruskin so often puts: “If the whole of England were turned into a mine, would it be richer or poorer?” See, for instance, Sesame and Lilies, §83; Crown of Wild Olive, §123 n.; Queen of the Air, §92; and Fors Clavigera, Letter 12.
(2) Houses, Furniture, and Instruments; (3) Food, Medicines, Luxuries, Clothing; (4) Books; and (5) Works of Art.
Here, again, the discussion of these elements of national wealth is widely scattered through Ruskin’s books. For typical passages, see Cestus of Aglaia, §96, and “Kings’ Treasuries” in Sesame and Lilies.
The definition of wealth thus given (i.e., that it is in “an intrinsic value developed by a vital power”) opposes three current views:— (1) That a thing becomes wealth by becoming an object of desire. True wealth, however, is “the constant object of a legitimate desire, not the accidental object of a morbid one” (§§32–34).
On this point compare Queen of the Air, §125. (2) A second popular view of wealth is that the worth of things depends on the demand for them, instead of on the use of them. But all exchangeableness of commodity depends on the sum of capacity for its use; things which we cannot use may be a form of money, but they are not wealth (§§31, 35, 36).
The idea that the value of a thing is what it will fetch in the market is called by Ruskin in Fors Clavigera “the Judasian fallacy” (Letter 82). Compare also Letter 70.
(3) The third popular view of wealth, contradicted by Ruskin’s definition, confuses Guardianship with Possession. But the things [xxxix/xc] which a man possesses but cannot use, he does not in the full sense possess at all; he is merely a curator (§§37, 38).
From the definition of wealth, given in opposition to these three views, it follows that the sum of wealth held by a nation depends strictly on its intrinsic quality, and varies with the number and character of its holders (§§39–46). Hence the questions to be asked are: (A) What is the National Store? (B) Who hold it?
(A) The first question resolves itself into three, thus:—
(a) What is the nature of the national store? Everything depends on whether the accumulation is of things that conduce to life, or to death (§§4747, 48). There is also waste of toil in the production of unnecessary luxuries (§49); and this is not easily calculable, for it is not true that “labour is limited by capital”: the amount of labour obtainable depends on the amount of heart and head put into it (§§50-53).
(b) What is the quantity of the store in relation to the population? Of two nations who have equal store, the more numerous is the richer, if the type of the inhabitant be as high; but the question remains what degree or extent of poverty is counterbalanced by the degree or extent of wealth (§§54–57).
Ruskin says (1872) that of these large plans of inquiry he had accomplished nothing (§57 n., p. 181). But in various places he glances at such questions. See, for instance, on the relations between rich and poor, the paper on “The Basis of Social Policy” in A Joy for Ever (16.161–69); and therein especially §§178–81. Also Sesame and Lilies, note to §30. And, on the question of numbers, Queen of the Air, §§120, 121 (“utmost multitude of good men on every given space of ground”).
(c) What is the quantity of the store in relation to the currency? MONEY, it will be remembered, has been defined as the documentary expression of a legal claim. It is not merely “a means of exchange,” but a token of right. It is not wealth, but a documentary claim to wealth; all the money in the world might be destroyed, and the world be neither richer nor poorer than it was before. If the wealth increases, but not the money, the worth of the money increases; if the money increases, but not the wealth, the worth of the money diminishes (§§21–24). The worth of a piece of money, which claims a given quantity of the national store, depends on cost and price. Cost is the quantity of l abour required to produce a thing. (Labour is “that quantity of our work which we die in”.) Cost is thus an ascertainable physical quantity; but price involves the human will, and is dependent on the cost of a thing, its attainable quantity at that cost, the number and power of the persons who want it, and the estimate they have formed of its desirableness (§62). “Cheapness” is either a form of the rage for badness in commodities or “a measure of the extent of distress” (§62n).
On this subject, compare Two Paths, §186; Fors Clavigera, Letters 51 and 59; and Art of England, §125.
Ruskin works out the action of these factors (§§63, 64), and goes on to point out that “the real worth of the currency is founded on the entire sum of the relative estimates formed by the population of its possessions (§65); and to distinguish between the truth and the strength of a currency. It is strong or weak, in proportion to the degree of estimate in which a nation holds the house, horse, or picture which is claimed; it is true or false according to the security of the claim which it gives, and the first necessity of all economical government is to make the security absolute (§67).
(B) Who are the holders of the store, and who the claimants? In discussing this question, Ruskin begins with a clear statement of his theory of Currency. “The currency of any nation consists of every document acknowledging debt which is transferable in the country” (§69). “National currency, in its perfect condition, is a form of acknowledgment of debt, so regulated and divided, that any person presenting a commodity of tried worth in the public market, shall, if he please, receive in exchange for it a document giving him claim to the return of its equivalent, (a) in any place (§71), (b) at any time (§72), and (c) in any kind” (§73).
This idea is worked out in Fors Clavigera, Letter 58.
The fulfilment of these purposes requires that the basis of currency should be indestructible and easily tested; and these qualities ar e united in gold, with however some disadvantages (§§25, §74, 75); as the sole basis of currency, it has the further disadvantage of instability (§76). Therefore the currency should be based on several substances of truer intrinsic value (§77).
Passing to discuss the total currency, this represents the quantity of debt in a country, and the store, the quantity of its possession. Most property-holders are both currency-holders and store-holders. The store-holder is the more useful member of society; for the currency-holder is as a rule the idle accumulator, and what is vainly accumulated [xci/xcii] is as a rule vainly spent (§81–86). These last sections are followed by illustrations from literature and mythology (§§87–94).
On the subject of money and currency generally, the reader should compare the Dialogue on “Gold” and the letters in Appendix ii. (below, pp. 488–498); and also Queen of the Air, §§122, 123. For money as a token of right, see Fors Clavigera, Letter 44; for Ruskin’s proposals to base currency on food instead of gold, see below, pp. 200, 488–489; Fors Clavigera, Letter 58; and Sesame and Lilies, note to §30.
The next chapter discusses Commerce. As currency conveys right of choice out of many things in exchange for one, so “Commer ce is the agency by which the power of choice is obtained.” It is a necessary process (§96); but the right condition of it is that the merchant should receive pay (i.e., wages for labour or skill) but not profit (i.e., gain dependent on the state of the market). The greater part of such gain is unjust, as also is usury (i.e., an exorbitant rate of interest) (§98). The “inhumanity of mercenary commerce” is then illustrated from Shakespeare (§100), and the law of grace in such dealings from other authors (§§101–103). From the point of view of the State, honesty is the best policy, for what one member gains by fraud or undue advantage, another loses (§104).
Ruskin then passes (ch. v.) to examine PRINCIPLES OF GOVERNMENT (or, economically considered, the machinery and scope by which the State contributes to the accumulation, distribution, or use, of wealth). The Government of a State consists in (1) customs, (2) laws, (3) councils.
(1) Customs. The customs and manners of a sensitive and highly trained race are always vital (§107, and therefore conduce to its wealth). Hence it is the business of the State to educate its people so that such customs may be induced (§§106, 108).
It were superfluous to give full references here to passages where Ruskin insists on education as a matter of State concern (see, e.g., Unto this Last, Preface, §6), and on education as an ethical process (see 7.429n.; 11.204n.): these are constant themes in his writings. Compare also Time and Tide essays, §§13, 29.
The highest sensibility is inconsistent with foul or mechanical employment (§§108, 109: see below, in the analysis of Time and Tide essays, p. xcix., for Ruskin’s treatment of this question).
(2) Laws. These are of three kinds:—
(a) Archic Law, dealing with acts; that of appointment and precept, defining what is and is not to be done (§111). Ruskin here [xcii/xciii] draws two distinctions—first, not everything which is enjoined need be enforced by penalty; and secondly, educational laws should be strict, in order that criminal ones may be gentle (§112).
This is an idea which is constantly developed in Ruskin’s books. See, in this volume, Appendix viii., pp. 541–545; and on principles of punishment, see Lectures on Art, §§89, 90.
(b) Meristic Law, dealing with possessions; that of balance and distribution, which defines what is and is not to be possessed. Here Ruskin’s treatment is very brief. He advocates laws “enforcing the due conditions of possession”; notices incidentally the proper management of national museums; and hints at laws limiting the accumulation of property (§112).
The place of Museums in a system of Social Economy was a principal subject in Ruskin’s lecture at the Royal Institution in 1867 (see Vol. 19).
(c) Critic Law, dealing with injuries; that of discernment and award, which defines what is and is not to be suffered. Here, again, the treatment is very brief. Ruskin glances at the large cost of law, and the sums grudgingly spent on research (§116). He then distinguishes between injuries of which a man is conscious, and those of which he is unconscious; a man is injured alike (a) if he is hindered from doing what he should, and (b) if he is not hindered from doing what he should not (§§117, 118). Hence the worth and worthlessness of every man should be ascertained (§116); and reward and punishment become help and hindrance (§119).
With these passages on “Critic Law,” Letter xii. in Time and Tide essays should be compared, “the necessity of imperative law to the prosperity of states.” Compare also A Joy for Ever, §15. Here Ruskin is in line with, and anticipated, the thought of the political thinkers who developed the idea of “positive freedom” and advocated its embodiment in legislation. “Freedom of contract, freedom in all the forms of doing what one will with one’s own, is valuable only as a means to an end. That end is what I call freedom in the positive sense; in other words, the liberation of the powers of all men equally for the contribution to a common good” (Liberal Legislation and Freedom of Contract: a lecture by Professor T. H. Green, Oxford, 1881).
(3) Government by Council. This is (a) visible, and (b) invisible—the latter being that exercised by all energetic and intelligent men, in regulating the ways and forming the charac ter of the people, and this is the more important kind of government (§122).
On this point, see below, in the analysis of Time and Tide essays, p. cii. [xciii/xciv]
Visible Governments are either (a) monarchies, (b) oligarchies, or (c) democracies. Forms of government are, however, only good or bad so far as they attain, or miss, the government of the unwise and unkind by the wise and kind (§§123–126).
Compare Time and Tide essays, §158, and Fors Clavigera, Letters 1 and 14.
All modern governments are costly (and this is why, as Ruskin probably had in his mind, there is a cry for limiting the sphere of government). But this is only because we set governments to unproductive, instead of productive, work; governments should manage the railways, thus (and otherwise) earning income for its subjects (§§128, 129). Here, again, see below, in the analysis of Time and Tide essays, p. cii. Ruskin next glances at the kind of suffrage which would produce a true government capable of true work. Votes should be proportioned to intelligence and experience (§129).
Compare the earlier letters intended for the Times, in 12.600–03.
Slavery is then touched upon. A condition of slavery is inherent in human nature; some men are made for it (§§133–135), and compulsion is not in itself an evil (§130). The purchase by money ofthe right of compulsion is an evil; and this is not confined to negro slavery (§131) —nor is the yet worse form, namely, the purchase of body and soul §132).
For references to illustrative passages in this connexion, see the footnote on p. 254, below.
In the sixth chapter Ruskin takes up the third branch of the subject as mapped out at the beginning, namely, RICHES—that is, “the magnitude of the possessions of one person or society as compared with those of other persons or societies.” Such inequalities between the shares of different persons are just and necessary, depending on the various industry, capacity, good fortune, and desires of men (§26). But economists have to inquire into: (1) the advisable modes of collection; (a) how far distribution enters into the matter: “the first of all inquiries respecting the wealth of any nation is not, how much it has, but whether it is in the possession of persons who can use it” ((§27)); and (b) how far the poverty takes away from the advantage of the wealth ((§28)). Secondly, economists have to inquire into [xciv/xcv] (2) the advisable methods of administration—under the headings of (a) selection, (b) direction, and (c) provision ((§29)).
Taking up in chapter vi. the inquiries thus outlined, Ruskin illustrates from simple instances the ways in which the inequalities mentioned may arise and the extent to which they may be carried. Entirely selfish action on the part of the provident creates maximum inequality in his own favour; entirely unselfish, minimum inequality: he enriches his neighbours instead, and has acted as their true Lord and King (143)). Every rich man is a Master; it is by his choice of the work to which he puts the poor that his worthiness or unworthiness is proved (142)).
With this subject of the reclamation of waste lands, etc., Ruskin dealt in his “Notes on Employment” (see below, Appendix viii., p. 545) and Letters on Inundations (Appendix ix., pp. 547–552).
The way to produce house-room is to improve the dwellings of the poor, before you try your hand at stately architecture (157)).
This was a topic in Social Economy which Ruskin constantly enforced by precept and illustrated by practice. See on the latter point Time and Tide essays, §148; and for other passages, Sesame and Lilies, § 135; and Lectures on Art, §122.
The way to get more clothes is to think more of better distribution at home than of underselling abroad (§158).
Compare Time and Tide essays, §110, and Sesame and Lilies, §§130, 137.
The way to get more fuel is to make coal-mines safer, and to promote afforestation (§159).
Compare Fors Clavigera, Letter 60.
(ii) You must set him to make that which will cause him to lead the healthiest life.
Here, again, a chapter in Ruskin’s intended treatise on Political Economy might be compiled from his other books; see especially ch. vi. in vol. 2 of The Stones of Venice. [xcv/xcvi] (iii) Of the things produced, it is a question of wisdom and conscience how much you take, and how much you leave to others. The natural law is to provide for old age, but otherwise to die poor (152)).
See, under this head, p. ci., below, in the analysis of Time and Tide essays.
“Such methods will not pay.” No, not at first in currency, but in life and in light (160)); in “the sincere substance of good,” though not in “gifts of the dust”—hence the title of the book (on which see above, pp. lxv.–lxvii.).
The book, whose contents have thus been summarised, gives, it will be seen, the headings under which Ruskin would have arranged a systematic treatise on Political Economy, had he ever written one. It states, as its principal object, the outline of his own system, and only incidentally attacks the current doctrine. In the Preface which he added in 1872 he summarises some of his points of attack:—
1. He emphasises the importance of considering at every stage intrinsic value (1-8)), and, as correlative to this, intrinsic contrary of value, “the negative power having been left by former writers entirely out of account, and the positive power left entirely undefined” (9)).
2. Political Economists, he says, basing their science upon popular demand, connect demand and supply “by heavenly balance.” This, as a statement of the way in which prices are regulated, is partly true; as a statement of a process with which it is unwise to interfere, it is untrue (§§9–11).
On this subject see the Letters on the Law of Supply and Demand in Appendix iii. (pp. 409 seq.); and compare Cestus of Aglaia, §103 (Vol. 19), Sesame and Lilies (18.35).
3. The “law” of Political Economists that wages are determined by competition is neither true in fact, nor expedient in policy (§12). These three matters have already been touched upon in the analysis, both of Unto this Last and of Munera Pulveris. And to them should be added the further points of attack already indicated in Unto this Last (see above, pp. lxxxiii., lxxxv.). But, continues Ruskin, the current handbooks of Political Economy are defective, in that, even within the limits of their scope, they fail to state clear principles. Thus:—
4. Expenditure on Luxury. There is no explicit teaching on this point (16). Mill’s treatment of it is inconclusive (Unto this Last, [xcvi/xcvii] §57); and, as Ruskin elsewhere says, it was sometimes alleged that luxury was good for trade [See below, p. 423; and A Joy for Ever, §48 and note 5th (16.48, 123); and Two Paths, §189 (16.406)].
5. In this connexion we may here notice Ruskin’s criticism of Mill’s theorem that “a demand for commodities is not a demand for labour” (Unto this Last, §76, and Fors Clavigera, Letter 2)—a theorem which is used to support the expediency of unlimited saving, and to reduce the economic importance of consumption. 6. Next, Ruskin asserts that the handbooks do not grapple with the question of rent, or settle the just conditions of the possession of land (Munera Pulveris, §17, a criticism of Fawcett; and Time and Tide essays, §§ 156, 157, an attack on Mill; with which latter, however, compare ibid., §157 n.). This attack on Fawcett is carried further in Fors Clavigera, Letters 11, 14, 78.
7. Similarly, he asserts that they do not tackle the question of National Debt (Munera Pulveris, §18; again a criticism of Fawcett).
On the ideas of National Debt and National Store, see Fors Clavigera, Letters 1, 7, 14, 22, and 58.
In order to give a true summary of Ruskin’s attack on the current Political Economy, it is necessary to add here two propositions of his, of which one is only briefly touched upon in the present volume, while the other belongs to a later stage of his thought. They are generally accounted fallacies, even by those most sympathetic in other respects to his economic standpoint, and the prominence which they assumed in his later writings probably did much to prevent or delay political economists from recognising the validity of his other criticisms.
8. Ruskin alleges that there can be “no profit in exchange.” At first he limits this statement to a verbal distinction, admitting that while there is no “profit,” there is “advantage” (Unto this Last, §66); but presently he describes the whole process as “nugatory” (ibid., §67), thus denying that exchange can benefit both parties and increase the amount of wealth—a position strangely inconsistent with his own fundamental conception whereby wealth can be increased by placing the right things in the right hands. In his later writings he is still more emphatic in denying any profit to processes of trade: see Fors Clavigera, Letters 45, 82, where he calls the view he is [xcvii/xcviii] attacking “the heresy of the tables”—the heresy, that is, of the money-changers.
9. Next, he attacks all interest as illegitimate. In this volume, indeed, he attacks only the taking of an exorbitant rate of interest (Munera Pulveris, §98); but his later note, added to that passage, points to the view elaborated in Fors Clavigera and elsewhere that the taking of any interest at all is extortion, the process of lending capital being essentially unproductive (Fors, Letters 1, 14, 18, etc.).
Last modified 27 March 2019