John Ruskin: The Later Years.
A HUNDRED YEARS AGO THE eighty-year-old John Ruskin died at Brantwood, his home on the shores of Coniston Water in Lancashire, the Lake District made famous by Wordsworth and Coleridge. For ten dark years he had been out of his right mind, only intermittently recognizing his cousin Joan Severn, a longsuffering woman who had been adopted by the Ruskin family thirty-six years before to nurse Ruskin's aging mother. In 1871 Joan Agnew, as she then was, had married the son of the Joseph Severn who closed Keats's eyes. Ruskin had met Joseph Severn on a staircase in Rome in 1841, Ruskin ascending, Severn and George Richmond descending. Richmond had closed the eyes of William Blake.
Ruskin's life was like that, a fortuity of encounters. As a child he had seen Wordsworth asleep in church. Later, at Oxford, Wordsworth would hand him the coveted Newdigate Prize for Poetry. He came to think of his life, and all life, as a maze of unexpected turns, a labyrinth (or crinkle-crankle, the Chaucerian word Ruskin liked to use) of fortunate passages and obstructing dead ends. From 1871 to 1884 he elaborated this idea in a series of monthly essays addressed to the "labourers of Great Britain." Fors Clavigera he called this work (he liked Latin titles). This is a pun as elaborate as the work itself: a claviger is the bearer of a clava (a cudgel, like Hercules'), or of a clavis (a key, like that of Janus, god of doors), or of a clavus (a nail, like Jael's in the Bible, which she drove into the head of the tyrant Sisera). Fors means "luck" and is, Ruskin said, the "better part" of the English words "force" and "fortitude."
When the club-bearing Theseus ventured into the Cretan labyrinth to slay the monstrous Minotaur, his key to getting back out was a ball of thread, or clue (etymologically kin to clava, clavis, and clavus), paid out by Ariadne.
The Cretan labyrinth was built by the archetype of all builders and designers, Daedalus: sculptor, architect, aeronaut, inventor of sails and ship rigging, designer of mechanical cows in which the Cretan queen Pasiphae could mate with a bull. The offspring of this trans-species coupling was the Minotaur, who ate Athenian children. He lived at the center of the maze Daedalus built for him, the Labyrinth. This myth has figured in European poetry and painting for three thousand years.
LITTLE JOHN RUSKIN'S FIRST labyrinth, as Professor Jay Fellows explained in his brilliant Ruskin's Maze, was the back garden at Herne Hill, the London house in which John Ruskin grew up, where long brick walls enclosed trees, flowers, grass, and walks. Here the red-haired, blue-eyed boy thought acorn cups and snail shells the most delightful things in the world. He also liked keys and pebbles.
His father, a rich wine merchant, importer and wholesaler of sherry, port, and bordeaux, was a handsome Scot, also named John. His mother, Margaret, was a strict Calvinist who unflinchingly faced up to the Bible's being "so outspoken." The Ruskins began every day with reading aloud from Scripture, right through, year after year, from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21, at which point they began again. Ruskin knew the Bible by heart.
Ruskin's upbringing, so beautifully remembered in his fragmentary autobiography, Praeterita (Shakespeare's "things past," Proust's temps retrouve), was a careful and loving education in piety, character, and intellectual curiosity. His parents hoped he would be a clergyman; Ruskin was all for being a geologist. He was a brilliant child. He was taken around England in comfortable coaches, and on European tours to see paintings and cathedrals. He fell in love with crystals, glaciers, alpine valleys, landscape painting, poetry, Greek and Latin, Gothic architecture, a daughter of the Domecq family (the wine business's French connection) and played with her in the Hampton Court topiary maze (Ruskin's first real labyrinth, though he'd seen the mazes on the floors of French churches, at Amiens and Chartres, and the Italian one at Lucca). He learned everything except the facts of life.
When, after Oxford, where he wrote two books as an undergraduate, he married Effie Gray, he did not know what to do on the wedding night, and--for six years--did nothing. Effie was beautiful, charming, and perhaps as ignorant as Ruskin about where babies come from. Ruskin's most recent biographer, Tim Hilton, author of the magnificent new John Ruskin: The Later Years (sequel to The Early Years: 1819-1859) and of a forthcoming volume on Fors Clavigera, treats this peculiar marriage with understanding and tact. He makes it clear that Ruskin, with awesome ignorance or unconscious planning, put Effie and the pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais in such deliberate proximity on a painting excursion that nature would do what it always does with twenty-year-olds sharing a bedroom in a rustic cabin. Effie filed for divorce, married Millais, had a large family, and lived happily ever after.
Ruskin in a deposition to the divorce court said that the female body was not what he thought it was. Hilton puts it bluntly: "He was a paedophile"--four laconic words in an 875-page work. This naked fact, however, becomes the leitmotif of the rest of Hilton's biography, as it was of Ruskin's life. Sexual obsession can, as in Nabokov's Lolita, lead to a blinding madness. It can also give us the Alice books of Lewis Carroll, Ruskin's fellow don at Oxford, or create chuckling pagans like the English novelist and travel writer Norman Douglas, voluptuous satirists like Frederick Rolfe, or ironic Germans like Thomas Mann. Or, for that matter, the philosophy of Socrates and the mind of Leonardo.
When Ruskin fell in love with the ten-year-old Rose La Touche, the spritelike daughter of a well-to-do evangelical Anglo-Irish family, he was meeting his daimon. Hilton shows how Ruskin began to fancy prepubescent girls in 1853, when he was thirty-four: an almost naked Italian peasant girl luxuriating in a sand pile acted as an epiphany, as when Dante first saw Beatrice, age nine, on the Ponte Vecchio, or when Stephen Dedalus was transformed by a girl wading in the sea's edge, in Joyce's Portrait.
Rose, and others like her to follow, was purest symbol. She was a petulant, teasing, illiterate religious fanatic wholly unworthy of Ruskin's adoration. We know nothing of Beatrice Portinari, or of Petrarch's blonde Laura; it's a good guess that they were practical Italians, afraid of owls and the evil eye, good cooks, and strong-armed beaters of dirt out of laundry on washing day at the river. And Shakespeare's Mr. W.H. probably couldn't follow the plot of Hamlet and smelled like a wet dog.
The girl in the sand pile was an event on Ruskin's road to Damascus. He had long before ceased to believe in the historical truth of the Bible. The study of the English Romantic painter J.M.W. Turner, a "sun-worshipper," and of Italian art had humanized his fundamentalism. The Victorian period saw an earnest questioning of Biblical truth and of Christian doctrine. Matthew Arnold thought that the apostles, none of whom were Eton and Oxford material, misunderstood what Jesus tried to teach them. Geology, Darwin, Bishop John William Colenso (author of The Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua Critically Examined, 1862), and German scholarship were outing closet atheists by the dozen. Ruskin's religion began to admit an appreciation of how God appeared to Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, even Catholics. He progressively came to see his Protestantism as restrictive, mean, and perhaps inhuman.
IF RUSKIN'S EROTIC EMOTIONS were fixed in a perpetual preadolescence, his genius for the synthesis of knowledge derived from perception became as extensive as that of Leonardo. His Modern Painters, begun as a survey of landscape painting in order to place Turner foremost in that art, grew through four more volumes to include Renaissance and medieval painting, and to be a richly eccentric study of geology, botany, and geography. The other two multivolume works among Ruskin's books, The Seven Lamps of Architecture and The Stones of Venice, grew in the same branching way, putting out digressions that are books in themselves, the main text pushing along through an undergrowth of footnotes, waving a dragon's tail of appendices.
There are 250 titles in Ruskin's complete works, not counting many volumes of letters and diaries. Some are technical pamphlets about drawing and perspective; some are about geology, weather, political economy, glaciers, history, wildflowers, the morphology of leaves. All of these passions flow into Fors Clavigera, where they are enlisted into the service of a vast enterprise, an all-but-imaginary Guild of St. George, a widely varied round of activities distributed all over England, duly registered as a corporation, the purpose of which was no less than to return to the culture of medieval handicraft (in an England that was supplying the world with locomotives and rails) and medieval values: the lord in his manor, the peasant in his cottage. Its purpose was also to cleanse the air, rivers, and streets. Friends of the Guild swept the pavement in front of the British Museum (in Ruskin's pay), ran a London tea shop with the best tea, cream in daily from the country. Guild members wove linen in Yorkshire, translated Xenophon, copied details of French cathedrals, measured buildings in Venice, illustrated manuscripts, set type, collected crystals, milked cows, and taught drawing. The Guild began with Ruskin's Oxford students (Oscar Wilde among them) in the 1870s, the dawn of the Aesthetic Movement, when Walter Pater urged the young to "burn with a hard, gem-like flame."
Ruskin chose to live in an old stagecoach inn outside Oxford when he became the first Slade Professor of Art. He rose before dawn, read his Bible and prayed, translated a page or two of Plato (Jowett's translation being "a disgrace"), walked into Oxford with his dog, gave a lecture on Carpaccio (with visuals held up by a servant), repeated the lecture (out of necessity, for no hall at Oxford could hold the crowds who came to hear him), then rolled up his sleeves to work with spade and pickax on the road to Ferry Hinksey that he and his students were building. The long evening of reading and writing lay ahead.
His energy was boundless. He never passed up a game of chess (and kept games going by mail). He loved the theater (the more vulgar the play, the better), the Christie minstrels, military bands, dancing (he could do a memorable highland fling). He knew everybody: Prince Leopold and Sir Edward Burne-Jones, Rosa Bonheur and Charles Eliot Norton, Carlyle and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. He loved visiting girls' schools. He loved rowing and mountain climbing. If there was a subject he was not knowledgeable about, Hilton hasn't found it.
Ruskin relaxed with Euclid (in Greek) all his life. He built scaffolds in Italian churches and climbed them to inspect frescoes that hadn't been seen close-up for centuries. He collected manuscripts and books, maps and paintings. He endowed and built museums. (At one time I thought I knew the range of Ruskin's interests, only to be surprised by an exhibit, at the Ashmolean in Oxford, of archaic Greek sculpture of the kind that became appreciated after World War I, when GaudierBrzeska, Brancusi, and Modigliani made us aware of its severe, primitive beauty. Ruskin had got there first, bought it Lord knows where, and given it to the museum, to be appreciated when the world's eyes caught up with his.)
It took a while for the world to catch up with Ruskin's discoveries. He recognized, for example, the Countess of Pembroke's and her brother Sir Philip Sidney's metrical translation of the Psalms (each psalm in a different meter) for the splendid work it is, "the most beautiful book in English," forgotten and critically neglected, and republished it. His familiarity with Dante was, for the time, daring and unusual, as was his love of Chaucer.
A story of Edith Wharton's, "False Dawn" (1924), nicely illustrates Ruskin's aesthetic pioneering. The story is about an old and wealthy New York family that sends a son abroad to buy Old European Art as the basis for a museum. In Switzerland he meets up with Ruskin at an inn, is captivated by his talk, and is advised to collect not Baroque but Trecento and Quattrocento Italian paintings. So he returns to New York with Carpaccios, Cimabues, and Giottos. His father is horrified. The newspapers are satirical. The paintings are hidden in an attic for two generations, until a dealer is shown them and they sell for millions, a Piero della Francesca returning to Europe, others going to California. The sweet irony of the story is that the son had a list of advisers to show him what the Americans like. Worse luck, he falls in with this nobody John Ruskin.
RUSKIN'S INFLUENCE ON his contemporaries was pervasive. Proust worshiped him and translated two of his books, The Bible of Amiens (with his mother's help) and Sesame and Lilies. The presence of Ruskin in the Modernist movement is evident in the similarity of Pound's Cantos to Fors Clavigera: their labyrinthine twists and turns, their concern with economic systems that benefit from frequent wars, their interest in Venetian history and the Italian Quattrocento in architecture, poetry, and politics.
Beatrix Potter recorded in her diary seeing Ruskin at the Royal Academy. He was showing some friends around, commenting on the paintings. Seeing Ruskin in public was a jolly surprise, but what fascinated her artist's eye was that Ruskin's trouser leg was caught in the top of his boot and that he was surreptitiously trying to shake it loose. Kafka, too, would have noticed Ruskin's plight. It is a detail that exposes the protocol of biography, which must decide what's relevant and what isn't. The life of a person born 180 years ago was lived in a world wholly different from our own. We no longer respond to some of the most important things in Ruskin's life; his drawing, for instance. He founded a school of drawing at Oxford. He drew all of his life, taught drawing (at Working Men's College in London, as well as by correspondence for many years), wrote about drawing, breathed drawing. Hilton keeps us aware of this, but I wonder if, in an age when drawing is something artists are ashamed of and masterful draftsmen like Norman Rockwell and Paul Cadmus are considered despicable, this attention won't prove invisible.
Then there's Ruskin's world. His Venice, every stone of which he knew the history of, may as well be a different place than the one backpackers look in on. Our Venice is another Italian city; Ruskin's was another world. He traveled in a comfortable carriage, like Montaigne in his day. He stopped to draw wildflowers, clouds, rivers.
In all of Ruskin's travels there is an urgency--not like ours, to see notable places before we die or are too old to travel, but to see them while they yet exist, to see Venice before it sank into the sea, before Austrian shells destroyed more of San Marco, before fire and earthquake and renovation had their way. He had a prophetic sense that the darkening of European skies by industrial smoke portended some disaster. He rages in Fors at the burning of the Tuileries Palace in 1871. Within a few years of his death the Germans burned the medieval library at Louvain and German shells began to hit the cathedral at Amiens, about which he had written his most fervent study of Gothic architecture. Seventy French cathedrals were blown to rubble by German artillery in the First World War.
WHEN SIR EDWARD T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn brought out their Works of John Ruskin between 1903 and 1912 (thirty-nine volumes), a masterfully edited and annotated work, Ruskin's popularity was in sharp decline. In his lifetime he had attracted all manner of idealists, from a bottlecork-cutter who belonged to the Guild of St. George, to Prince Leopold, who attended his Oxford lectures. We need only look at his centrality to Henry Adams's Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (1904), at the romantic Socialism of William Morris and Oscar Wilde, at Adrian Stokes's Stones of Rimini, at Pound's early Cantos. We need a study of Ruskin's rayonnement: Rodin's study of French cathedrals, Charles Sheeler's photographs of Chartres, Proust's preface to his translation of Sesame and Lilies (1905), three lectures on the availability of culture to everybody, in libraries ("kings' treasuries") and nature ("queens' gardens"). It can be demonstrated that the Arts and Crafts Movement that spread across Europe and the United States was largely inspired by Ruskin, and that his medievalism and championing of organic design flowered in Art Nouveau (the first international style since the twelfth century). One might even argue that this century's Modernism, whose theories were incubated at the Bauhaus and in Moscow--Art Nouveau with the lines straightened--comes out of Ruskin and Morris.
As finely textured and interesting as Hilton's biography is--as interesting in its plot and characters as a George Eliot novel--it is still, problematically, a life of a Victorian giant whose work is nowadays unread. Hilton himself admits that he has met practically no one who has read more than a few pages of Fors Clavigera. Who reads any of Ruskin? There are set pieces in anthologies ("The Nature of Gothic," for instance). Yet all of Ruskin was one big rambling work, and a real familiarity with him is practically equivalent to a university education. Hilton's most tempting offer for readers is to follow the fated derivation of each of Ruskin's books from Modern Painters, written in five volumes from 1843 to 1860. This first and seminal work, with its emphasis on landscape painting, leads to studies of actual landscape, and from there to cities and cathedrals. Already in The Stones of Venice, completed in 1850, Ruskin's attention was turning to the interplay of art and economics, and to the sociology and politics of the Middle Ages as medieval people experimented with small republics.
When Victorian readers opened The Stones of Venice in 1851 they learned on its first page that three great island cities--"three thrones, of mark beyond all others"--had ruled vast empires. They were Bible readers all, and if they could not readily remember just where Tyre, the first of these cities, had been located, Ruskin's allusion to Ezekiel's description of it (the most glorious description of a city in all of literature) reminded them. The desolation of the second city, Venice, had been mourned in a sonnet everyone knew, "On the Extinction of the Venetian Republic," by Wordsworth (whose death the year before, in 1850, was fresh in English minds). We do not think of Venice as a "ruin," but Ruskin and the Victorians did. That God would eventually smite the third island city, London, was a romantic idea that nobody believed-the British Empire fall!--but readers were thrilled to hear the pious warning that it assuredly would "if it forget" the fate of Tyre and Venice. Later in the century an ardent reader of Ruskin and nephew of Ruskin's friend Sir Edward Burne-Jones would repeat this warning in a knell to Ruskin's England, Rudyard Kipling's "Recessional."
Venice is not really sinking: the sea is rising up over it. It is a city built on wooden piles driven into sand. Its origins bespeak the fact that the barbarians who poured into Italy in the early years of the first millennium came on horses. If you built a city offshore, you had foiled these fur-clad, long-bearded Huns and Goths. The city's name may echo the people mentioned in the seventh century B.C. by the Greek poet Alcman: the Wenetioi, who bred long-maned horses as beautiful as girls. Their knack for wandering became a Venetian talent: a Venetian merchant named for the evangelist who lies entombed in the chapel of the Ducal Palace, Mark, and for the wandering missionary, Paul--Marco Polo in the local dialect--is the first European to visit China. For trade was the source of Venice's wealth. Its navy denuded the Dalmatian coast for masts. Its people became rich, as Shakespeare knew, beyond all imagining. They ate not with their fingers, like Queen Elizabeth, but with forks. Their warehouses were laden with silk, spices, weapons, Egyptian cotton, Sicilian wheat, silver, and gold. After 1450 they printed the world's most beautiful books, in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. It was this perfection of civilization that Ruskin studied in fine detail. Its energy had lasted for well over a thousand years, always perilously and always brilliantly, holding off Turks, mainland Italians, enemies from over the Alps. When Ruskin first saw Venice, an enormous painting by Tiepolo hung in shreds inside the Ducal Palace (which had been hit by Austrian artillery) and the roof was open to rain.
Ruskin's Newdigate Prize poem at Oxford had been about Romantic ruins (those at Salsette and Elephanta in India). John William Burgon's "Petra"--with its one memorable line: "A rose-red city half as old as time"--is the best known of the Newdigates. For many years their subjects, set by the chancellor, were meditations on Volney's prose work Les Ruines (1791), which had inspired Shelley's "Ozymandias." Even Macaulay imagined a future New Zealand poet gazing on the ruins of London Bridge. Archaeology in Ruskin's lifetime gave the history of civilizations a deeper past. Geologists were tracing strata of rock with coherent fossils of flora and fauna from Siberia to Michigan: orders of nature that, like civilizations, had flourished and disappeared millions of years ago. The past seemed to be not one creation, as in Genesis, but many, each canceled by awesome catastrophes followed by a new beginning.
What Ruskin saw in all this was that civilizations that took thousands of years to mature could be destroyed in a second. One Austrian shell through the roof of San Marco could make ashes of a Veronese. Time itself is enemy enough of the arts: watercolors and photographs are irrevocably fading. Automobile exhaust in our time is eating the Parthenon. Turner's paintings, as Ruskin observed, kept their brilliant colors for a few hours only, losing their intensity as they dried. The skies of Europe were darkening. Venice was disappearing into the Adriatic.
Ruskin had traced European painting from Turner back to its medieval beginnings, architecture back to the Romanesque. He had consistently laid down an ethics and a morality for individual works and styles. Egyptian art was executed by slaves; how could it be good? Greek art was sensual and therefore morally suspect. Ruskin burned Turner's pornographic drawings (and Charles Eliot Norton, after Ruskin's death, burned Ruskin's correspondence with Rose La Touche). Victorians thought in categories of foul and fair. The aristocracy knew "what's done, and what isn't done"--a taboo system much stronger than law.
Ruskin's mind evolved, book by book. He thought and felt his way out of Victorian constraints, or tried to, and went mad in the process. Hilton charts this dramatic change, an awakening that was as tragic as Lear and as triumphant as Spinoza's escape from dogma and superstition into crystalline reason. Ruskin did not abandon his evangelical fundamentalism; he transformed it. He evolved a philosophy of religion in which morality and art were complementary and mutually vital.
His sense of the foul and fair became a new energy. England's economic system was foul. It created more illth (a word he coined) than wealth. Its proponents, moreover, didn't know what real wealth was. They had lost their sense of moral decency (Ruskin resigned his professorship at Oxford rather than countenance vivisection in the medical school). Ruskin decided that Turner's glorious paganism had been fair, that the soul does not survive the death of the body, that the grace of God was as evident in Aristotle as in St. Paul. The England he began to imagine in Fors Clavigera was to be organized in accordance with this new value system: a socialist society devoted to justice, significant work (handicraft rather than manufacture), administered by benevolent "captains" of guilds, with happy clean children and noble stonemasons like the ones who had raised Chartres in French fields.
Hilton promises us a study of Fors as a sort of third volume of his biography. The book still belongs to the distinguished list of worthy and influential works that are almost never read even by those interested in literature and ideas: Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, Doughty's Travels in Arabia Deserta, Horace Traubel's Conversations with Walt Whitman in Camden, Thoreau's Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, the Bible. The one book of Ruskin's that people seem to read, Praeterita, began as a part of Fors.
A more eccentric work than Fors Clavigera has never been written (unless it is Tristram Shandy). The book's original purpose, to found the Guild of St. George, becomes incidental. Its hero is Theseus; its Ariadne, Rose La Touche; and its Minotaur is the economics of capitalism, laissez-faire business, banks, usury, and the kind of advertising that makes the inferior product seem to be the best. In short, our own world of engineered obsolescence, scoundrels in high places, and eleven different taxes and surcharges on one telephone bill.
One of the oldest images in world art and literature is that of a hero--Gilgamesh, Odysseus, Samson, Beowulf, St. George, and perhaps the one hunter on the cave walls at Lascaux--facing a monster, a dragon, a demon. On the night of February 22, 1878, at Brantwood, the fifty-nine-year-old Ruskin fought with the Devil. He took off all his clothes, to be armorless like David before Goliath. Being Ruskin, he wrote it all down in his diary, before and after. Hilton analyzes these cryptic, terrifying, and pitiful pages with subtlety and insight. It was a battle of symbol against symbol--a St. Anthony contending with hallucinations. Faith fought with doubt, fair fought with foul, sanity with insanity. Ruskin's servant found him at dawn, naked and freezing, out of his mind.
These paranoid seizures would return with increasing ferocity. Ruskin, the most decent of men, would curse Joan Severn (whom he normally wrote to in baby talk), accusing her and her husband of being freeloaders and layabouts. He thought the cook was Queen Victoria. He gathered the household on their knees at the front door to confess to Cardinal Manning. He became so impossible that Joan agreed to his leaving Brantwood for a boarding house in Folkestone, where he was lonely, disoriented, and a stranger among strangers.
The great mind that had been so skilled in perception in Ruskin's youth and so omnidirectional in his maturity flared into an incandescent irrationality, and went out. For his last ten years he sat in his room at Brantwood, shielded by the Severns. Turner, too, had gone batty, Swift and Nietzsche, Emerson and John Clare. Ruskin's madness had a kind of logic to it: his frustrated loves, his failure to make people understand his vision of a just society, and his religious doubts compounded his despair. Add old age, a cruelly trussed hernia (from dancing a jig), loneliness, and disembodied voices.
BIOGRAPHIES GRASP THE exteriors of lives and give what account they can of their interiors. These can be wholly different realities. The existence in space and time of the art historians Max Raphael and Erwin Panofsky, two great inheritors of what Ruskin began, will be dramatic and interesting when we have biographies of them as complete as Hilton's of Ruskin, but until we read their books our knowledge of them is little better than ignorance. Curiously, we don't believe this. I know several intelligent people who have read biographies of Joyce and Wittgenstein but not Joyce and Wittgenstein. Hilton's immensely readable and meticulously researched life of Ruskin will be read by hundreds of people who have never read a word of Ruskin and probably won't.
What they will miss is Ruskin's voice. It is, even at its most querulous and preacherly, not writing but speaking. It is, in a beautiful sense, thinking aloud, at its most congenial, conversational, richly anecdotal, and always observant. He is the world's best companion for looking at a Venetian building or Gothic carving. He can tell you that the stone flowers that seem to be mere decoration at the top of a cathedral column grow wild in the fields round about. He takes nothing for granted; his readers are children to be taught, to be beguiled into learning. For one of his Oxford lectures he brought a plow, to make certain that his students knew what one looked like. (The lecture was on sculpture.) He could make passages from the Bible sound like words you had never heard before. A lecture that began with Michelangelo ended with the proper shoes for little girls; one on landscape painting ended with the industrial pollution of rivers and what to do about it.
Most of the problems Ruskin addressed are ours as well. The century that began in the year of his death saw the most terrible wars in all of recorded time; and cruelty, without shame or pity, has gone on disgracing humanity. For fifty years Ruskin tried to show us how to live and how to praise.
Guy Davenport is the author of twenty-eight books, most recently Objects on a Table, published by Counterpoint Press in 1998.