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The name of John Ruskin recalls phases of intellectual activity, so diverse, even so heterogeneous, that many of those who pronounce it with a common admiration may be said to be thinking of different men. To express any judgment as to the relative merits of these men-to decide between the claims of the art critic and the social reformer on the gratitude of their kind -may be rather to communicate information about oneself than to contribute towards a judgment of one in whom, through all these varied aspects of his personality, we must reverence lofty ideals, untiring industry, and disinterested devotion to his fellow men. The opinion, here avowed, that the earliest phase of his genius was its brightest, may be partly due to the fact that the glow of its emergence blends with that of a far-off youth. When Ruskin speaks of Nature and Art, he seems to me inspired. When he turns to finance, to politics, to the social arrangements and legislative enactments of mankind, I can recognize neither sober judgment nor profound conviction. Every one must regret such an incapacity. It is a natural instinct which desires to find in the recorded results of every life an exhibition of increasingly fertile activity; it is perplexing and disappointing
to have to recognize, without discerning any infidelity to a lofty aim, that the later date points to a lower stage. But the fact, we cannot doubt, is common. Much earnest and patient labor seems fruitless, much rich outpouring is unpreluded by any such labor; the race is not always to the swift, the battle to the strong Whether the benefactors of mankind have given their harvest early or late is a question full of interest to the biographer, by no means devoid of interest for the historian; its answer teaches much that concerns our knowledge of the course of evolution and the relation of epoch to epoch. But when we come to consider the value of the work, and the rank of the workers, it tells us little or nothing. If the work of the eleventh hour may be worth that of the whole day, so may that of the first hour. Let it not be thought, therefore, that an attempt to estimate the genius and character of a great man removed from us in the fulness of years must aim at minimizing his fame because it is focussed on the first portion of his intellectual activity.
The world on which the genius of John Ruskin first flashed was very different from the world of to-day. When the work of the Oxford Graduate first roused vehement disapproval and pas
sionate admiration no single name was least in retrospect, with the new ideas before the public which has any special he infused into the current of thought, interest for our own time. We had although he had not himself any symnever heard of George Eliot or George pathy with the coming change. The Meredith, of Herbert Spencer or Mat- most active foe of one good thing is thew Arnold; we kuew Charles Darwin generally another good thing, and Rusas the writer of an interesting book of kin's sympathies were diverted from travels, and Alfred Tennyson
the uprising of the nations, perhaps, by singer of a few graceful lyrics. The some refraction from that sympathy name of Comte was so unfamiliar, that with classes which always opposes I remember a young man fresh from sympathy with nations; and which was, college, not at all stupid, informing his no doubt, a strong tendency with him cousins that it was the French way of before it became a dominant impulse. writing and pronouncing Kant. We At any rate, the reproach sometimes knew nothing of Evolution beyond addressed to literary genius, of a want what we gleaned from the Vestiges of of sympathy with national life, was not Creation, and any question as to the wholly undeserved by him. But it was origin of species would have been asso- true of him only as it may have seemed ciated by us with the first chapters of true of Jeremiah. In his genius there Genesis. The popular art of the day was a strong revolutionary element, was pretty, sentimental, conventional; and it is difficult, in looking back, not popular fiction was decorous, heresy to melt it in with the other revolutionwas timid, orthodoxy was secure. Sci- ary manifestations of the time. From ence was rather a respectable comrade the first it was as a prophet he adof literature than the omnipotent dog- dressed the world; it was the ring of matist and legislator we know to-day. hortatory earnestness in denunciation It seems, in looking back, as if nothing or appeal which gave so vivid an origiwas the same then as now, except that nality to dissertations on matters prewhich is the same always.
viously associated with mere dilettantThis describes the world in which ism. The tone of the pulpit, enforcing Ruskin wrote and published “Modern the teaching of the artist, was somePainters.” But the middle of the cen- thing wonderfully entrancing to a gentury inaugurated a vast change. The eration knowing that kind of earneststir of '48 was in the air when first we ness only in connection with religion; learned to associate the name of John and his teaching gathered up much of Ruskin with the heavy green volume- the attention which was then withso characteristic in its disregard of the drawing itself from the ebbing tide of reader's convenience-which was rous- the High Church revival. He influing such glowing enthusiasm and pro- enced many who hated or despised the voking such fierce indignation that the High Church revival; some voices sound shape of clouds and the proportion of in my ear, as I write, which seem to the branch to the tree became subjects protest against a judgment either almost as dangerous as the Gorham obliterating from recollection controversy. The year of revolution whole-hearted and characteristic admi. seems a natural time for the emergence ration, or else associating it with a disof his genius into fame.
cipleship the unseen speakers never apvivid hopes of that era blend well, at proached near enough to repudiate. As
i I ueed hardly inform any reader that the barbar. ous and confusing antithesis of classes and masses" has no bearing here.
classes. I am opposing the stratification of the civilized world to the organic unity of a nation.
I listen to them, and follow them till pers of the book and the worshippers their vanishing out of sight, it seems of the church have sometimes united bard to retain my conviction that the their forces against their common foes, life of Ruskin stood in any relation to but the union is transient, the antagona great Church movement. And yet it ism has been perennial. Seventy years does seem to me that the enthusiasm ago the claims of the church, after a with which we welcomed the first won- long slumber, began to revive. It was, derful volume would have been some- to many minds, like a breath of spring. thing different if it had come before the The first stirrings of a new belief that "Tracts for the Times," and all that an institution visible among men was they suggest and imply. How much not merely a commemoration of what they suggest and imply which
their had påssed away and a promise of what authors would never have accepted as was to come, but an actual fountain of standing towards them in any relation power and life-this came as a wonderwhatever! How many a great man ful revival of much besides personal rewould draw back in astonishment if he ligion. It is still commemorated in were shown his spiritual heir! I be- beoutiful buildings, in some true poetry, lieve that John Ruskin was, in some in much interesting fiction; it marks an sense, the heir of John Newman. The era in art and literature, and encircles successor would have recognized the the memories of that time like an atlegacy as little as the testator; still, it mosphere, coloring what it did
not remains that we, looking back upon mould. I have seen a copy of the Chrisboth across the chasm of revolutionary tian Year, which bears sympathetic years, may recognize common ele- pencillings from William Wilberforce; ment in their teaching, a common spirit in a contemporary copy of the Lyra in their learners, a certain analogy in Apostolica I find initials recalling a the result. But such a suggestion needs much wider divergence from High a brief excursion beyond its immediate Church doctrine even than his. It is limits.
almost as surprising to trace the hostilThe spiritual life of the past was ity as the sympathy which it aroused. bound up with the conception of
aul- The vehement protests against “Newthority-that is, of visible authority, of manisin" contained in the letters of Dr. guides discernible to mortal eyes in the Arnold, for instance, strike one, at the flesh, or present in the writings which present hour, as betraying a strange igwere a solid guarantee for their deci- norance of issues so close at hand when sion. The men who reverenced the he wrote---issues beside which his diChurch and the men who reverenced vergence from John Newman seems a the Bible have set the keynote of what small thing. It was a movement swayreligion we have known in the first two ing more or less the spirits of men who · milleniums of Christianity. The domin- opposed, repudiated, or even ignored it. ion of an infallible church was split up But the ebb was rapid, and the strength 500 years ago by those who asserted of the current was soon forgotten. the dominion of an infallible book; our When Ruskin first became famous the own time has recognized the analogy current was already slackening. Its between the two claims, and, setting Romeward tendencies were clearly recboth on one level, has prepared the ognized; its greatest teacher had openly way for a conception including all that joined that church, and many were folis true in both, or else for a blank de- lowing him. The Broad Church, though nial of any important subject-matter not so named till later, was beginning represented by either. The worship- to be felt as a stirring of vague hereti
cal tendencies, attractive to what then handle is not only an object for sightand seemed audacious thought. There was touch, but a language unfolding to us a kind of blank in the world which Rus- the reality of that which eye hath not kin was eminently adapted to fill.
seen and shall not see. This truth, was, we may say, Catholic and Protes- known in ecclesiastical dialect as the tant at once. He has told us in his Real Presence, however contemptuousdeeply-interesting fragments of auto- ly ignored or passionately denied in biography that his mother made him that particular form, is one that will learn the Bible by heart, and has ac- never lose its hold upon the hearts of tually expressed his gratitude to her for men; the church which bears witness the discipline. His Scotch blood some- to it survives crimes and follies, and how benefited by a process which might, manifests in every age its possession of one would think, have resulted in mak- something for which the world CONing him loathe the deepest poetry in the sciously or unconsciously never ceases world's literature. The Bible has passed to yearn. "To them that are without, into his heart, his imagination, not less these things are done in parables,” is, effectively than into his memory; so far in some form, the message of almost he is a Scotchman and a Protestant. every great spiritual teacher; it has But he could not be a Protestant in an never been set forth more eloquently exclusive sense. We cannot, indeed, than by Ruskin. Sometimes his love of say that his writings are untouched by symbolism passes into extravagance. this narrow Protestantism; his criti- One of the later volumes of “Modern cism of Raphael's well-known cartoon Painters" contains a passage, for inof the giving of the keys to Peter seems stance, on the symbolism of the color to me even a grotesque instance of it. scarlet, against which a pencil that was To blame a great church painter for hardly ever permitted such license left translating into pictorial record the sym- a mark of explanation expressing, I bolism of the command "Feed my will venture to say, the judgment of sheep," instead of reproducing with every sane reader, and though we rarecareful accuracy the details of a chap- ly come upon anything in him that is ter of St. John he may never have read merely extravagant, we often find it -this we must confess to be a strange very difficult to go along with his picaberration of genius into something like torial interpretations. The student who stupidity. It is so far characteristic takes with him to the contemplation of that it expresses Ruskin's hatred of the any great picture some description from Renaissance; but it leads the reader the pen of the great critic is often bewho seeks to understand his real bent wildered in the endeavor to apply it to of sympathy astray. The spirit of the what he sees before his eyes. Every Renaissance was equally hostile to one must have felt this, I think, in the Catholicism and Protestantism. Rus- case which he chooses as the typical kin, by birth and breeding, a child of example of imagination-Tintoret's stern Scotch Protestantism, was, by the great picture at Venice of the Crucifixnecessities of his art-life, an exponent ion. As we make out the figure of the of that which is enduring in the influ- ass behind the Cross, feeding on withence of the Catholic Church. For what ered palm trees, in which Ruskin bas has given enduring power to Rome, in taught us to see a mournful judgment spite of her association in the past with on the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, all that is foul and all that is cruel, is we cannot but ask ourselves-How her hold on the vast, deep, lofty revela- much did the critic find, and how much tion that what we see and what we did he bring? It is pathetic to remem
ber that he was himself at times conscious of the doubt. "I wonder how much Shakespeare really meant of all that," he once said to a friend, after listening to a lecture on Shakespeare. “I suppose, at any rate, he meant more than we can follow, and not less," said his friend--Frederick Maurice. “Well, that is what I used to think of Turner," he replied, sadly, "and now I don't know." I give the reminiscence as illustrating the fluctuating revelations of the prophet, his temptations to doubt the revelation, not as an index to the bent of his true thought. Inspiration and doubt are as substance and shadow; we might alınost venture to say that a man must know neither or botlı. He who has never doubted the revelation has never, in the true sense of the word, believed it. But the message was in the revelation, not the doubt.
Those haunting voices, which come back as I write, seem again to bring their protest against any association of the lesson of Ruskin with mystic truth. "What we cared for in his teaching," I hear them say, "was not hidden meaning or mystery; it was an escape from all that. He taught us to see things. He opened our eyes to discern what was before us. The waves had danced and broken on the shore. The clouds had woren gold and silver draperies over our head, and we had looked at them, but when Ruskin anointed our eyes with his euphrasy and rue, we discovered that we had never previously seen them To see the beautiful world is enough; an excursion into that region would be only embarrassed by this heavy baggage of symbolism." The protest embodies the recollections of hundreds, perhaps thousands--my own among them. How vividly across the mist of years I recall first reading his description of a wave. The waves, as I read, broke round me on rocks and sand I had known from childhood, yet my feeling was of perplexity.
“What can this and that mean-overhanging lips, lacework, etc.—I have often seen waves and never all that!" It was like reading it in a foreign tongue. Then I looked at the waves, and discovered that never before had I seen one. Perhaps even more have felt this in looking at the clouds; for no spot of earth shuts us off from testing the truth of his description of them. Ruskin did for every reader what spectacles do for a short-sighted person. Where we saw a vague blur he gave definite form and distinct color. He did not necessarily pass on a message from the breaking wave and the melting cloud, but he could not have passed on the outward image if to him it had not been much more than an image. It would not have been sight to his readers if to him it had not been thought.
Perhaps I may make my meaning clearer by comparing him with a great poet. Wordsworth saw in Nature the same kind of reflection and interpretation of the moral life of man as Ruskin saw in Art. He brought Wordsworth's ideas afresh to the minds of men, dyed with fresh splendor and purified from their clogging accretions. Eloquence is not subject to the invasions of the prosaic in the same way that verse is, and is also more welcome to an average intelligence. To translate poetry into eloquence is, for the time at all events, to give its meaning a wider audience. One who reads the lines on Peel Castle, on revisiting the W ye, the sonnet beginning “Hail, Twilight,” and one or two others, and then turns to many passages in “Modern Painters," may test the effect of such a translation. Both writers bring home to the mind of the reader that he who sees only outward things sees these incompletely. If Ruskin were remembered only as one who had taught us to look at the outward face of Nature, we should have incurred a deep debt of gratitude to him,