The completion of Modern Painters left the author exhausted, and suffering in some measure from the effects of reaction after a long spell of concentration upon a particular task. “I am more tired out,” he wrote to his friend Dr. John Brown (Lausanne, August 6, 1860), “than the bulk of that last volume would apparently justify, but not half the work I did is in it. I cut away half of what I had written, as I threw it into the final form, thinking the book would be too [xx/xxi] big;1 and half or nearly half of the drawings were left unfinished, the engraver not having time to do them. There are only three etchings of mine in the book, but I did seven, of which one was spoiled in biting, three in mezzotinting, so that I was fairly knocked up when I got the last sheet corrected.” The sheets were passed in May, and leaving his father to see the work finally through the press, the author set out for Chamouni. “My father well pleased,” he says, “with the last chapter and the engraved drawings from Nuremberg and Rheinfelden. On the strength of this piece of filial duty I am cruel enough to go away to St. Martin’s again, by myself, to meditate on what is to be done next. Thence I go up to Chamouni—where a new epoch of life and death begins” [Praeterita III.12] Elsewhere he marks this epoch of transition yet more trenchantly. “I got the bound volume of Modern Painters in the valley of St. Martins’s in that summer of 1860, and in the valley of Chamouni I gave up my art-work and wrote this little book—the beginning of the days of reprobation” [Readings in “Modern Painters”] “This little book” was Unto this Last, written, as he elsewhere says, at the old “Union” inn [see 13.497]
Of Ruskin’s sojourn abroad in this year there is no detailed record.2 He kept no diary, for this was doubtless written in the form of the usual daily letter to his father, but the letters of 1860 have not been preserved. His companion throughout this time was an American, Mr. W. J. Stillman—then a young artist, whose acquaintance he had made nine or ten years before, and of whose studies of landscape he hoped great things. Mr. Stillman, who was Ruskin’s guest, says that “more princely hospitality than his no man ever received, or more kindly companionship.” They spent much time in sketching together, Ruskin sometimes sitting over his pupil and directing his work so closely that, as another pupil said, “he wanted me to hold the brush while he painted.”3 “Every day,” says Mr. Stillman, “we climbed some secondary peak, five or six thousand feet, and in the evenings we discussed art or played chess, mainly in [xxi/xxii] rehearsing problems, until midnight.” Ruskin enjoyed his friend’s companionship; but there were incompatibilities of temperament:—
I have had great pleasure, and great advantage also, in Stillman’s society this last two months. We are, indeed, neither of us in a particularly cheerful humour, and very often, I think, succeed in making each other reciprocally miserable to an amazing extent; but we do each other more good than harm,—at least he does me, for he knows much just of the part of the world of which I know nothing. He is a very noble fellow—if only he could see a crow without wanting to shoot it to pieces. [Letters to Charles Eliot Norton, I, 99]
It must also have detracted somewhat from Ruskin’s pleasure in his friend that he was “disappointed in the high Alps.” Other sources of friction appear in Mr. Stillman’s account of the summer:—
“He met me with a carriage at Culoz, to give and enjoy my first impressions of the distant Alps, and for the ten days we stopped at Geneva I stayed with him at the Hôtel des Bergues. We climbed the Salève, and I saw what gave me more pleasure, I confess, than the distant view of Mont Blanc, which he expected me to be enthusiastic over—the soldanella and the gentians. The great accidents of nature—Niagara and the high Alps—though they awe me, have always left me cold. . . Our first sketching excursion was to the Perte du Rhone, and, while Ruskin was drawing some mountain forms beyond the river, he asked me to draw some huts near by. . . . When Ruskin came back, I had made a careless and slipshod five minutes‘ sketch not worth the paper it was on, as to me were not the originals. Ruskin was angry, and he had a right to be; for at least I should have found it enough that he wanted it done, to make me do my best on it, but I did not think of it in that light. We drove back towards Geneva in silence—he moody, and I sullen—and half-way there he broke out, saying that the fact that he wanted the drawing done ought to have been enough to make me do it. I replied that I could see no interest in the subject, which to me only suggested fever and discomfort, and wretched habitations for human beings. We relapsed into silence, and for another mile nothing was said, when Ruskin broke out with, “You were right, Stillman, about those cottages; your way of looking at them was nobler than mine, and now, for the first time in my life, I understand how anybody can live in America. . . .”
I was disappointed in the high Alps,—they left me cold, and after visiting the points of view Turner had taken drawings from, we went up to the Montanvert, where Ruskin wished me to paint for him a wreath of Alpine roses. We found the rose growing luxuriantly against a huge [xxii/xxiii] granite boulder, a pretty natural composition, and I set to work on it with great satisfaction, for botanical painting always interested me. Ruskin sat and watched me work, and expressed his surprise at my facility of execution of details and texture, saying that, of the painters he knew, only Millais had so great a facility of execution . . . From Paris, in the ensuing winter, I sent it to Ruskin, the distance being made of the actual view down the valley of Chamonix, and he wrote me a bitter condemnation of it as a disappointment; for he said that he “had expected to see the Alpine roses overhanging an awful chasm,‘ etc. (an expectation he should have given expression to earlier), and found it very commonplace and uninteresting. So it was, and I burnt it. . . .
I finally found a subject which interested me in a view of the foot of the Mer de Glace from the opposite side of the river, looking up the glacier, with the bridge under the Brevent, and a cottage in the foreground, and set to work on it energetically. Ruskin used to sit behind me and comment on my work. My methods of painting were my own . . . and I had a way of painting scud clouds, such as always hang around the Alpine peaks, by brushing the sky in thinly with the sky-blue, and then working into that, with the brush, the melting clouds, producing the grey I wanted on the canvas. It imitated the effect of nature logically, as the pigment imitated the mingling of the vapour with the blue sky; but Ruskin said this was incorrect, and that the colours must be laid like mosaic, side by side, in the true tint. Another discouragement! I used to lay in the whole subject, beginning with the sky, rapidly and broadly, and, when it was dry, returning to the foreground and finishing towards the distance; and Ruskin was delighted with the foreground painting, insisting on my doing nothing further to it. In the distance was the Montanvert and the Aiguille du Dru; but where the lines of the glacier and the slopes of the mountain at the right met, five nearly straight lines converged at a point far from the centre, and I did not see how to get rid of them without violating the topography. I pointed it out to Ruskin, and he immediately exclaimed: “Oh, nothing can be done with a subject like that, with five lines radiating from an unimportant point! I will not stay here to see you finish that study.‘ And the next day we packed up and left for Geneva. [Stillman I, 260–64, 267, 268. [
Mr. Stillman has another characteristic reminiscence of Ruskin. On Sundays no work was done, and once they fell into a discussion of Sabbatarianism. Mr. Stillman pointed out the critical objections to the identification of the weekly rest with the first day of the week. [xxiii/xxiv] “To this demonstration,” he says, “Ruskin, always deferent to the literal interpretation of the Gospel, could not make a defence; the creed had so bound him to the letter that the least enlargement of the structure broke it, and he rejected the whole tradition—not only the Sunday Sabbath, but the authority of the ecclesiastical interpretation of the texts. He said, ‘If they have deceived me in this, they have probably deceived me in all,’ and he came to the conclusion of rejecting all” (I, 265–67). Mr. Stillman perhaps exaggerates the effect which this one “demonstration” had upon the course of his friend’s thoughts; but the reminiscence agrees with the sceptical mood into which, as we shall presently see, Ruskin was now entering.
In writing to a friend, he described himself during these weeks at Chamouni as “drawing Alpine roses, or rather Alpine rose leaves” (Letter to Dr. John Brown, August 6, 1860.). But his real occupation was the thinking out of the papers which he entitled Unto this Last. His absorption in economic inquiries was, as we have already shown (16.xxii), not so much a change, as a development. His æsthetic criticism had from the first been coloured throughout by moral considerations. “Yes,” said his father, after one of Ruskin’s lectures on art, “he should have been a bishop.” Again, his study of art, and especially of architecture, had convinced him that art is the expression of national life and character. He who would raise the flower must cultivate the proper soil out of which alone it could grow in health and perfection. “A thing of beauty is a joy for ever,” said the poet; yes, replied Ruskin, but a joy which is to be for ever, must also be a joy for all (See Aratra Pentelici, § 17). His love of beauty, his study of art, had thus brought him up full front to an examination of the principles of national well-being. His exquisite sensibility to impressions of beauty in the world of nature thus became also
a nerve o‘er which do creep
The else unfelt oppressions of mankind.
“It is the vainest of affectations,” he afterwards wrote, “to try and put beauty into shadows, while all real things that cast them are in deformity and pain” (See Ruskin’s prefatory remarks to the Catalogue of the Educational Series). We have heard him, at the end of the last volume of Modern Painters, debating with himself how far he could honestly or with any inward satisfaction pursue the cultivation of the [xxiv/xxv] beautiful in art, without first endeavouring to realise the good and beautiful in the world of social and political life. It was with such thoughts surging in his brain and such feelings burning in his heart that he had gone, in this summer of 1860, to the mountains; and there, under the same “cloudless peace of the snows of Chamouni” (Epilogue to Modern Painters 7. 464) that had inspired and sanctified his earlier essays in art, he now turned his mind to theories of national wealth and social justice. Into these essays Ruskin put the results of much long and earnest thought,4 and to them he brought all the resources of a now matured and chastened style. Every word of Unto this Last was written out twice, he tells us [in Fors, Letter 48] “in great part of the book, three times.” In one of his Oxford lectures he compared passages in it with others from the earlier volumes of Modern Painters, as a lesson in style.5 “The language of Unto this Last,” he wrote to his father (Geneva, August 12, 1862), “is as much superior to that of the first volume of Modern Painters as that of Tacitus to that of the Continental Annual;” and elsewhere he speaks of it as “the only book, properly to be called a book, that I have yet written, the one that will stand (if anything stand) surest and longest of all work of mine” (Sesame and Lilies, § 47 — a lecture delivered in 1864).).
The author’s judgment of the style in this book has been endorsed by a recent critic, who has made a special study of Ruskin as a master of prose. “As a matter of form,” says Mr. Frederic Harrison, “I would point to Unto this Last as a work containing almost all that is noble in Ruskin’s written prose, with hardly any, or very few, of his excesses and mannerisms. It is true that we have a single sentence of 242 words and 52 intermediate stops before we come to the pause [See §74 below]. But this is occasional; and the book as a whole is a masterpiece of pure, incisive, imaginative, lucid English. If one had to plead the cause of Ruskin before the Supreme Court in the Republic of Letters, one would rely on that book as a type of clearness, wit, eloquence, versatility, passion.”6[xxv/xxvi]
By the end of June Ruskin had his first essay, or perhaps more, ready for the printer, and he sent it to the new magazine—the Cornhill—which his publisher, Mr. George Smith, had launched on January 1, 1860, under the editorship of Thackeray. Ruskin sent the paper to Mr. Smith Williams, the literary adviser of the firm; warning him that editorial “notes of reprobation” might be necessary, but desiring “to get it into print, somehow.”sup>7 A copy was sent at the same time by Ruskin to his father, who, though not too well pleased at this new venture, loyally supported his son. When others attacked him, the father’s combative instincts were aroused; yet he was not altogether happy in the fight, and a little rift in the harmonious relations which had hitherto existed between father and son now begins to make itself felt. The following notes from the father to Mrs. John Simon disclose his state of mind:—
7 BILLITER STREET, 21st July, 1860.
I addressed just now the August Cornhill Magazine — not out, but obtained by favour — to Mr. Simon, and Mr. Smith assured me his own man should have it at 44 before 5 o‘clock.
John was obliged to put “J. R.,” as the Editor would not be answerable for opinions so opposed to Malthus and the Times and the City of [xxvi/xxvii] Manchester. Please tell Mr. Simon I begged of John to spare his brain and write nothing for a year or two, but he said it only amused him and gave no thought, as it was a subject long thought of. I had two reasons to wish him not to write, for I fear his Political Economy was at fault; but I am charmed with the paper, and it can do no harm. The Times says Dr. Guthrie and my son are in Political Economy mere innocents, and I suppose we shall have the slaughter of the innocents, but I am glad to see such Political Economy. The tone is high, and our tone in the city is much too low.”
CALVERLEY HOTEL, TUNBRIDGE WELLS, “21st August, 1860.
The August and September numbers of Cornhill Magazine have articles of John’s on Political Economy, which have brought a shower of abuse on him from the Saturday Review and Scotsman. They are not bad, for all that, and it is rather amusing to see the commotion they make; perhaps I should have preferred his not meddling with Political Economy for a while! They will mistake him for a Socialist—or Louis Blanc or Mr. Owen of Lanark.”
DENMARK HILL, 25th October, 1860.
I sent you the Cornhill Magazine, finding John’s paper liked by Mr. Simon. Early in July, John sent me from abroad his first paper, kindly saying I might suppress it if the publishing it would annoy me. ―I sent to Smith & Co., saying I thought them twelve of the most important pages I had ever read.
Immediately on seeing them in print, Dr. John Brown of Edinburgh, a good writer and able reviewer, wrote to me, wondering I had published the article, and saying the Scotsman had fallen on this unlucky paper. I replied I meant to publish any more that might come, let Scotch or English reviews say what they might; and I am glad these speculations have gone out, though I confess to have suffered more uneasiness about his newspaper letters on Politics and his papers on Political Economy than about all his books. These Political and Political Economical papers throw up a coarser and more disagreeable dust about one. The wrath of the Manchester School will be delivered in worse terms than the anger of certain Schools of Painting.
These shrewd apprehensions were abundantly fulfilled. The publication of the papers in the Cornhill Magazine raised a storm of indignant protest; even a theological heresy-hunt could not have been more fast and furious. The essays were declared to be “one of the [xxvii/xxviii] most melancholy spectacles, intellectually speaking, that we have ever witnessed” (Literary Gazette, November 3, 1860). “The series of papers in the Cornhill Magazine,” wrote another critic,8 “throughout which Mr. Ruskin laboured hard to destroy his reputation, were to our mind almost painful. It is no pleasure to see genius mistaking its power, and rendering itself ridiculous.” The papers were described by the Saturday Review as “eruptions of windy hysterics,” “absolute nonsense,” “utter imbecility,” “intolerable twaddle”; the author was “a perfect paragon of blubbering”; his “whines and snivels” were contemptible; the world was not going to be “preached to death by a mad governess”; after which quiet and measured criticisms the Reviewer proceeded, with an amusing lack of humour, to declare that it was “an act of condescension,” on his part, “to argue at all with a man who can only write in a scream.” The last passage of the book in particular—which the author himself regarded as the best he had ever written—filled the Saturday Reviewer with indignant disgust. “Even more repulsive,” he said, “is the way in which Mr. Ruskin writes of the relations of the rich and poor.” It was incredible that anybody should listen to such appeals, except that “people like for some reason to see a man degrade himself.” Ruskin himself was not a man to be brow-beaten by such bludgeoning; but the attack was carried, in newspapers all over the country, into a more vulnerable quarter. What did Thackeray mean by committing himself to such nonsense?9 What was Mr. Smith thinking of when he admitted into a magazine, which had still to establish itself in popular favour, such loud attacks on the popular creed? The blow went home; and after three of the essays had been published, the conductors of the Cornhill Magazine bowed before the storm. Ruskin afterwards told the story in the Preface to Munera Pulveris (see below, p. 143), where he describes how the editor’s sentence of excommunication was conveyed “with great discomfort to himself, and many apologies to me.” Though the editor was the vehicle of communication, it appears from the Memoir of Mr. George Smith that the edict was the publisher’s (See the Dictionary of National Biography, Supplementary Volume I, xxvii.). Ruskin’s papers were “seen,” we are told, “to be too deeply tainted with socialistic hereby to conciliate subscribers,” and Mr. Smith decided to stop so [xxviii/xxix] dangerous a contributor.10 The intimation was conveyed to Ruskin after the appearance of the third paper (“Qui Judicatis Terram”): “the Magazine must only admit one Economical Essay more,” which, accordingly, he made (by permission) longer than the rest.11 He gave it a concluding passage, but the reader should remember that the book remains a fragment. Thus in one place he promises a fuller discussion of definitions given only in extremest brevity, and gives the titles of three intended chapters—―Thirty Pieces” (on Price), “Demeter” (on Production), and “The Law of the House” (on Economy — See § 59n.; and compare §§ 77, 84n. pp. 81, 104, 113).
To a modern reader, who turns to Ruskin’s essays at a time when they have done their work, the excited hostility and violent apprehension caused by their original publication may seem barely intelligible. The heresies have become in part accepted doctrine, and in the remainder the familiar gospel of economic and political schools; if they were “socialistic,” did not a distinguished statesman declare, with regard to the tendency of modern legislation, that “we are all socialists now”? But we must judge the matter historically, and put ourselves back to the state of public opinion in 1860, if we would either do justice to Ruskin’s editor or appreciate correctly the importance of his own work. The “old” Political Economy was then at the height of its power. It was the established creed, and any man who assailed it was a heretic who could expect no mercy from its ministers. In the present year (1905), if we consider the hostility which Mr. Chamberlain’s economic “heresies” have excited, we shall be better able to understand the storm which raged round Ruskin in 1860; though, to avoid misapprehension, it should be added that on the particular issue of Protection versus Free Trade, Ruskin was a pronounced Free Trader (See below, p. 72n). In 1860, moreover, the “old” Political Economy was something more than a creed—it was an accepted policy. Its abstractions were taken as rules of conduct. It governed not merely the tariff, but served as a standard for statecraft in other directions. The policy of laisser faire was still the accepted rule, and Ruskin was a heretic no less in advocating practical extensions of State interference than in attacking [xxix/xxx] the theoretical basis of economic doctrine.12 The perusal of old speeches can only be recommended to those whom Lord Rosebery has called devotees of “blue-books and cracknel biscuits”; but if a reader will turn to the essay which Matthew Arnold entitled “A French Eton,” he will find himself among the ideas which an advocate of State action had still to combat in 1864, and by this pleasant exercise will put himself in a position to understand the wrath which Ruskin’s earlier essay aroused among the devotees of the established creed. That creed was indeed beginning to be undermined by other agencies; but Ruskin had not followed the rise of the “historical” or “realistic” school of economics in Germany. He even professed, in a rash (and not entirely accurate) avowal of which his critics were not slow to take advantage (see 16.10, 406n), not to have read the authors whom he was attacking. His assault was entirely independent; and it was as trenchant as it was audacious. Herein was an additional source of aggravation. He was an intruder; let the cobbler stick to his last,13 and the author of Modern Painters to his art-criticism. What should an artist and a man of letters know of the mysteries of economics? This is a question which, in one form or another, fills a large part of the replies to Ruskin’s essays. Yet there is no reason why the exercise of singularly acute powers of analysis in one direction should disqualify a man for their exercise in another, and, moreover, Ruskin had special qualifications for the new task into which he had now thrown himself. There is perhaps no branch of inquiry which more than Political Economy demands great care and skill in the exact use of language—none in which there are more ambiguities and shibboleths to scatter confusion or excite prejudice. Ruskin, though among the most copious and eloquent of writers, was never “intoxicated by the exuberance” of his language; no English writer has ever used words with greater exactness and precision, and this habit was a valuable equipment for sword-exercise among the “masked words” of Political Economy (See Sesame and Lilies, §16 (18.66). It should be remembered, too, that though Ruskin’s main interests in the earlier portion of his life had been with art, he was familiar from his youth up with the ideas and practice of the mercantile world as they were to be observed in a city merchant’s house (see Ruskin‘s letter to Dr. John Brown cited below, p. xxxiv). And, again, Ruskin claimed with justice [xxx/xxxi] that his first-hand knowledge of arts and crafts gave him a real insight into the finer qualities of work,14 and a considerable advantage over many of the armchair economists; to which it may be added that he had used his opportunities of foreign travel to investigate closely the conditions of agriculture and national life.15
Ruskin, therefore, was by no means so ill equipped as his critics chose to assume, for the warfare which he carried into the camp of the established school of economics. But it is a tradition of criticism that one author should have one subject, and the intrusion of an artcritic into an alien field remained to the end one of the popular counts in the indictment against him. Yet, even in the first fury of reprobation, there were some who feared, while they affected to despise. He is not worth our powder and shot, wrote one of the organs of the established school; yet, if we do not crush him, “his wild words will touch the springs of action in some hearts, and ere we are aware a moral floodgate may fly open and drown us all.”16 Only the pen of Ruskin himself could do justice to the horror thus naively expressed lest an incursion of moral ideas should drown the whole scheme of the orthodox religion in economics. The fear was to be justified in good time. An estimate of the contribution made by Ruskin to the moralisation of Political Economy belongs to the second part of the Introduction; but the history of the little book, Unto this Last, with which we are here concerned, is itself eloquent on the subject. The essays in the Cornhill Magazine came to an abrupt termination, as we have seen, in November 1860 (see above). In June 1862 Ruskin collected them into a volume, with an additional preface. The edition consisted of 1000 copies, and ten years later it was still not exhausted. Ruskin preserved a curious correspondence which he had with Messrs. Smith, Elder & Co. in 1873, when he finally transferred the publication of his books to Mr. George Allen. Among this correspondence is a “List of Mr. Ruskin’s Works of which Smith, Elder and Co. [xxxi/xxxii] have copies on hand, with the estimated time for the sale of the stock on hand.” Of Unto this Last, 102 copies remained, and the publishers estimated that two years would be required to dispose of them. A few years later, Ruskin re-issued the book on his own account,17 and the rate of sale during the last quarter of a century has been 2000 per annum. Ruskin was told of a working man who, being too poor to buy the book, had copied it out word for word (Fors Letter 48, Notes and Correspondence) Subsequently a selection of extracts, sold at a penny,18 has also circulated widely among the working classes, and the book has been translated also into French, German, and Italian. The floodgate has flown open. Ruskin had faith in the ultimate vindication of his essays; but at the time the stoppage of them in the Cornhill and the violent reprobation which they encountered caused him much disappointment and bitterness of spirit. The book not only sold very slowly itself, but its heresies checked the sale of his other books also. “It will sell, some day, yet, you‘ll see,” he wrote to his father (Mornex, October 20, 1862); “but is there absolutely no sale yet? It is enough to make one turn knave and try to make money by bad writing.” “There is a certain doubtfulness of oneself,” he writes again (November 3), “which is difficult to bear when one thing fails after another—the sale of my books entirely stopped;” but “it is to be remembered,” he adds, “that I have never yet set myself to make money.19 If I were to prepare a good lecture on Alps or plants, and give it over and over again and again with rich illustrations, I should soon bring people. Or I could write a book on Switzerland, which people would buy, but I‘m too proud.” One word of encouragement, indeed, he received, and it was from the man whose good opinion he most valued. He seems to have sent an “advance” copy of the last essay to Carlyle, whose reply has been placed on record:—
CHELSEA, October 29, 1860.
DEAR RUSKIN,—You go down through those unfortunate dismal-science people like a treble-X of Senna, Glauber, and Aloes; like a fit of British cholera, threatening to be fatal ! I have read your paper with exhilaration, exultation, often with laughter, with bravissimo! Such a thing flung [xxxi/xxxii] suddenly into half a million dull British heads on the same day, will do a great deal of good. I marvel in parts at the lynx-eyed sharpness of your logic, at the pincer-grip (red-hot pincers) you take of certain bloated cheeks and blown-up bellies. More power to your elbow (though it is cruel in the extreme). If you dispose, stand to that kind of work for the next seven years, and work out then a result like what you have done in painting. Yes, there were “a something to do”—not easily measurable in importance to these sunk ages. Meantime my joy is great to find myself henceforth in a minority of two, at any rate. The Dismal-Science people will object that their science expressly abstracts itself from moralities, from etc., etc.; but what you say and show is incontrovertibly true—that no “science,” worthy of men (and not worthier of dogs or of devils), has a right to call itself “political economy,” or can exist at all, except mainly as a fetid nuisance and a public poison, on other terms than those you shadow out to it for the first time. On third last page, and never till then, I pause slightly, not too sorrowfully, and appeal to the times coming (Noble is the spirit there, too, my friend; but alas, it is not Philanthropismus that will do there; it is Rhadamanthismus I sorrowfully see) which are yet at a great distance! Go on and prosper.
I am, yours always (sleeping a little better, and hoping an evening soon), T. CARLYLE.”20
Carlyle was equally enthusiastic when the essays were collected two years later into a book. Writing to his friend Thomas Erskine, of Linlathen, (August 4, 1862), he said:—
Here is a very bright little book of Ruskin’s, which, if you have not already made acquaintance with it, is extremely well worth reading. Two years ago, when the essays came out in the fashionable magazines, there rose a shriek of anathema from all newspaper and publishing persons. But I am happy to say that the subject is to be taken up again and heartily gone into by the valiant Ruskin, who, I hope, will reduce it to a dog’s likeness—its real physiognomy for a long time past to the unenchanted eye—and peremptorily bid it to quit this inflicted earth, as R. has done to several things before now. He seems to me to have the best talent for preaching of all men now alive. He has entirely blown up the world that used to call itself of “Art,” and left it in an impossible posture, uncertain whether on its feet at all or on its head, and conscious that there will be no continuing on the bygone terms. If he could do as much for Political Economy (as I hope), it would be the greatest benefit [xxxiii/xxxiv] achieved by preaching for generations past; the chasing off of one of the brutallest nightmares that ever sate on the bosom of slumberous mankind, kept the soul of them squeezed down into an invisible state, as if they had no soul, but only a belly and beaver faculty in these last sad ages, and were about arriving we know where in consequence. I have read nothing that pleased me better for many a year than these new Ruskiniana.”21
But other friends, whose opinion also Ruskin valued, were coldly critical. Dr. John Brown, as we have seen, remonstrated with Ruskin’s father for allowing such doctrine to see the light. Ruskin, writing from Lausanne (August 6, 1860), addressed to his friend a plea for suspension of judgment:—
You will perhaps like the political Economy better as it goes on; meantime, you must remember that having passed all my life in pretty close connection with the mercantile world, and hearing these subjects often discussed by men of business at my father’s table, I am likely to know pretty well what I am about, even in this out-of-the-way subject, as it seems; so you must just wait patiently to see the end of it.”
The later papers somewhat modified Dr. John Brown’s first criticisms, and Ruskin wrote again with more confidence (November 11, 1860):—
The value of these papers on economy is in their having, for the first time since money was set up for the English Dagon, declared that there never was nor will be any vitality nor Godship in him, and that the value of any ship of the line is by no means according to the price you have given for your guns, but to the price you have given for your Captain. For the first time, I say, this is declared in purely accurate scientific terms—Carlyle having led the way, as he does in all noble insight in this generation.
Another friend who was out of sympathy with Ruskin’s essays was his old tutor, the Rev. W.L. Brown, of Wendlebury. To him Ruskin wrote at the end of 1860:—
Do you know, I think you a little enjoy arguing—for the argument’s sake—is it not so? Had it been otherwise, would you have written that argument about the oxen? Of course, if we assume the right of one man over another to be that which a man has over an ox (namely, to kill him if he wishes to eat him), all [xxxiv/xxxv] other laws of labour and payment of labour must be modified by that right. But the law between man and man is another law than that between man and ox.
Again, though I am glad to have your clergyman’s view of the blessings of the poor, I do not admit it as one bearing on Political Economy. If it is indeed best to be poor, let us all be poor; if best to be rich, try to be rich as many as can.
But you will find that my assertion to the rich man is precisely this—that he does not know what he is seeking for, but is eating and drinking his own damnation, and that what he calls Political Economy is the foulest form of Not discerning the Lord’s Body [1 Corinthians xi. 29.].
Kind letter received this morning; again best thanks. All good wishes to you for many happy years.
You will, on thinking steadily over the matter, find that my definition is not wider than the Political Economists’. Their’s is as wide as mine. Only it is false. They mean by wealth—money or money’s worth, and they say money’s worth is determinable irrespectively of moral faculties. I say—your money’s worth depends wholly upon your own head and heart—cod’s head or man’s head, as it happens to be. You buy a horse for a hundred guineas. If you can ride him, he is worth your guineas (compare Munera Pulveris, § 35)—may be worth immeasurably more than one hundred guineas. If you can‘t ride him, he may be worth—a broken neck to you. You have paid your hundred guineas for an executioner on four legs. That is not an imaginative or theoretical way of putting it. It is pure, simple, mercantile fact. So the poor beasts and wretches who fancy themselves rich in this precious city of ours go on working hard all their days in order to obtain on their death-beds the power of saying—in a palsied manner—£100,000, etc., shall belong to A. or B. Fancy it put to a man in his youth, “Will you work hard all your days—lose your soul and your body together—for the power, on your death-bed, of adjudicating on a property you never had a farthing of?’ (compare Munera Pulveris, § 37). For this is the fact: All the supposed pleasures of money-wealth—are pleasures of imagination. The fact is, they work hard—for another man to spend, and refuse themselves even the pleasure of this man’s thanks. They give away all they have. But they take care to get nothing but God’s damnation and man’s abuse in return. This is the clear, incontrovertible fact about them. I get so wild with contempt and anger when I think of these things that I can’t write. [xxxv/xxxvi]
Last modified 20 February 2019