Modern Painters, Volume IV (of V)
by John Ruskin
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Now, Saussure's universal principle was exactly the one on which I have founded my account of the slaty crystallines:—"Fidele a mon principle, de ne regarder comme des couches, dans les montagnes schisteuses, que les divisions paralleles aux feuillets des schistes dont elles sont composees."—Voyages, Sec. 1747. I know that this is an arbitrary, and in some cases an assuredly false, principle; but the assumption of it by De Saussure proves all that I want to prove,—namely, that the beds of the slaty crystallines are in the Alps in so large a plurality of instances correspondent in direction to their folia, as to induce even a cautious reasoner to assume such correspondence to be universal.

The next point, however, on which I shall be opposed, is one on which I speak with far less confidence, for in this Saussure himself is against me,—namely, the parallelism of the beds sloping under the Mont Blanc. Saussure states twice, Sec.Sec. 656, 677, that they are arranged in the form of a fan. I can only repeat that every measurement and every drawing I made in Chamouni led me to the conclusions stated in the text, and so I leave the subject to better investigators; this one fact being indisputable, and the only one on which for my purpose it is necessary to insist, that, whether in Chamouni the beds be radiant or not, to an artist's eye they are usually parallel; and throughout the Alps no phenomenon is more constant than the rounding of surfaces across the extremities of beds sloping outwards, as seen in my plates 37, 40, and 48, and this especially in the most majestic mountain masses. Compare De Saussure of the Grimsel, Sec. 1712: "Toujours il est bien remarquable que ces feuillets, verticaux au sommet, s'inclinent ensuite, comme a Chamouni, contre le dehors de la montagne:" and again of the granite at Guttannen, Sec. 1679: "Ces couches ne sont pas tout-a-fait verticales; elles s'appuyent un peu contre le Nord-Est, ou, comme a Chamouni, contre le dehors de la montagne." Again, of the "quartz micace" of Zumloch, Sec. 1723: "Ces rochers sont en couches a peu pres verticales, dont les plans courent du Nord-Est au Sud-Ouest, en s'appuyant, suivant l'usage, contre l'exterieur de la montagne, ou contre la vallee." Again, on the Pass of the Gries, Sec. 1738: "Le rocher presente des couches d'un schiste micace raye comme une etoffe; comme de l'autre cote ils surplombent vers le dehors de la montagne." Without referring to other passages I think Saussure's simple words, "suivant l'usage," are enough to justify my statement in Chap. XIV. Sec. 3; only the reader must of course always remember that every conceivable position of beds takes place in the Alps, and all I mean to assert generally is, that where the masses are most enormous and impressive, and formed of slaty crystalline rocks, there the run of the beds up, as it were, from within the mountain to its surface, will, in all probability, become a notable feature in the scene as regarded by an artist. One somewhat unusual form assumed by horizontal beds of slaty crystallines, or of granite, is described by Saussure with unusual admiration; and the passage is worth extracting, as bearing on the terraced ideal of rocks in the middle ages. The scene is in the Val Formazza.

"Independamment de l'interet que ces couches presentent au geologiste sous un nombre de rapports qu'il seroit trop long et peut-etre inutile de detailler, elles presentent meme pour le peintre, un superbe tableau. Je n'ai jamais vu de plus beaux rochers et distribues en plus grandes masses; ici, blancs; la, noircis par les lichens; la, peints de ces belles couleurs variees, que nous admirions au Grimsel, et entremeles d'arbres, dont les uns couronnent le faite de la montagne, et d'autres sont inegalement jetes sur les corniches qui en separent les couches. Vers le bas de la montagne l'oeil se repose sur de beaux vergers, dans des prairies dont le terrein est inegal et varie, et sur de magnifiques chataigniers, dont les branches etendues ombragent les rochers contre lesquels ils croissent. En general, ces granits en couches horizontals redent ce pays charmant; car, quoiqu'il y ait, comme je l'ai dit, des couches qui forment des saillies, cependant elles sont pour l'ordinaire arrangees en gradins, ou en grandes assises posees en reculement les unes derriere les autres, et les bords de ces gradins sont couverts de la plus belle verdure, et d'arbres distribues de la maniere la plus pittoresque. On voit e mme des montagnes tres-elevees, qui out la forme de pain de sucre, et qui sont entourees et couronnees jusqu'a leur sommet, de guirlandes d'arbres assis sur les intervalles des couches, et qui forment l'effet du monde le plus singulier."-Voyages, Sec. 1758.

Another statement, which I made generally, referring, for those qualifications which it is so difficult to give without confusing the reader, to this appendix, was that of the usually greater hardness of the tops of mountains as compared with their flanks. My own experience among the Alps has furnished me with few exceptions to this law; but there is a very interesting one, according to Saussure, in the range of the Furca del Bosco. (Voyages, Sec. 1779.)

Lastly, at page 186 of this volume, I have alluded to the various cleavages of the aiguilles, out of which one only has been explained and illustrated. I had not intended to treat the subject so partially; and had actually prepared a long chapter, explaining the relations of five different and important systems of cleavage in the Chamouni aiguilles. When it was written, however, I found it looked so repulsive to readers in general, and proved so little that was of interest even to readers in particular, that I cancelled it, leaving only the account of what I might, perhaps, not unjustifiably (from the first representation of it in the Liber Studiorum) call Turner's cleavage. The following passage, which was the introduction to the chapter, may serve to show that I have not ignored the others, though I found, after long examination, that Turner's was the principal one:—

"One of the principal distinctions between these crystalline masses and stratified rocks, with respect to their outwardly apparent structure, is the subtle complexity and number of ranks in their crystalline cleavages. The stratified masses have always a simple intelligible organization; their beds lie in one direction, and certain fissures and fractures of those beds lie in other clearly ascertainable directions; seldom more than two or three distinct directions of these fractures being admitted. But if the traveller will set himself deliberately to watch the shadows on the aiguilles of Chamouni as the sun moves round them, he will find that nearly every quarter of an hour a new set of cleavages becomes visible, not confused and orderless, but a series of lines inclining in some one definite direction, and that so positively, that if he had only seen the aiguille at that moment, he would assuredly have supposed its internal structure to be altogether regulated by the lines of bed or cleavage then in sight. Let him, however, wait for another quarter of an hour, and he will see those lines fade entirely away as the sun rounds them; and another set, perhaps quite adverse to them and assuredly lying in another direction, will as gradually become visible, to die away in their turn, and be succeeded by a third scheme of structure.

"These 'dissolving views' of the geology of the aiguilles have often thrown me into despair of ever being able to give any account of their formation; but just in proportion as I became aware of the infinite complexity of their framework, the one great fact rose into more prominent and wonderful relief,—that through this inextricable complexity there was always manifested some authoritative principle. It mattered not at what hour of the day the aiguilles were examined, at that hour they had a system of structure belonging to the moment. No confusion nor anarchy ever appeared amidst their strength, but an ineffable order, only the more perfect because incomprehensible. They differed from lower mountains, not merely in being more compact, but in being more disciplined.

"For, observe, the lines which cause these far-away effects of shadow, are not, as often in less noble rocks, caused by real cracks through the body of the mountain; for, were this so, it would follow, from what has just been stated, that these aiguilles were cracked through and through in every direction, and therefore actually weaker, instead of stronger, than other rocks. But the appearance of fracture is entirely external, and the sympathy or parallelism of the lines indicates, not an actual splitting through the rock, but a mere disposition in the rock to split harmoniously when it is compelled to do so. Thus, in the shell-like fractures on the flank of the Aiguille Blaitiere, the rock is not actually divided, as it appears to be, into successive hollow plates. Go up close to the inner angle between one bed of rock and the next, and the whole mass will be found as firmly united as a piece of glass. There is absolutely no crack between the beds,—no, not so much as would allow the blade of a penknife to enter for a quarter of an inch;[124] but such a subtle disposition to symmetry of fracture in the heart of the solid rock, that the next thunderbolt which strikes on that edge of it will rend away a shell-shaped fragment or series of fragments; and will either break it so as to continue the line of one of the existing sides, or in some other line parallel to that. And yet this resolvedness to break into shell-shaped fragments running north and south is only characteristic of the rock at this spot, and at certain other spots where similar circumstances have brought out this peculiar humor. Forty yards farther on it will be equally determined to break in another direction, and nothing will persuade it to the contrary. Forty yards farther it will change its mind again, and face its beds round to another quarter of the compass; and yet all these alternating caprices are each parts of one mighty continuous caprice, which is only masked for a time, as threads of one color are in a patterned stuff by threads of another; and thus from a distance, precisely the same cleavage is seen repeated again and again in different places, forming a systematic structure; while other groups of cleavages will become visible in their turn, either as we change our place of observation, or as the sunlight changes the direction of its fall."

One part of these rocks, I think, no geologist interested in this subject should pass without examination; viz., the little spur of Blaitiere drawn in Plate 29, Fig. 3. It is seen, as there shown, from the moraine of the Charmoz glacier, its summit bearing S. 40 deg. W.; and its cleavage bed leaning to the left or S.E., against the aiguille Blaitiere. If, however, we go down to the extremity of the rocks themselves, on the right, we shall find that all those thick beams of rock are actually sawn into vertical timbers by other cleavage, sometimes so fine as to look almost slaty, directed straight S.E., against the aiguille, as if, continued, it would saw it through and through; finally, cross the spur and go down to the glacier below, between it and the Aiguille du Plan, and the bottom of the spur will be found presenting the most splendid mossy surfaces, through which the true gneissitic cleavage is faintly traceable, dipping at right angles to the beds in Fig. 3, or under the Aiguille Blaitiere, thus concurring with the beds of La Cote.

I forgot to note that the view of this Aiguille Blaitiere, given in Plate 39, was taken from the station marked q in the reference figure, p. 163; and the sketch of the Aiguille du Plan at p. 187, from the station marked r in the same figure, a highly interesting point of observation in many respects; while the course of transition from the protogine into gneiss presents more remarkable phenomena on the descents from that point r to the Tapia, T, than at any other easily accessible spot.

Various interesting descriptions of granite cleavage will be found in De Saussure, chiefly in his accounts of the Grimsel and St. Gothard. The following summary of his observations on their positions of beds (1774), may serve to show the reader how long I should have detained him if I had endeavored to give a description of all the attendant phenomena:— "Il est aussi bien curieux de voir ces gneiss, et ces granits veines, en couches verticales a Guttannen; melangees d'horizontals et de verticales au Lauteraar; toutes verticales au Grimsel et au Gries; toutes horizontales dans le Val Formazza, et enfin pour la troisieme fois verticales a la sortie des Alpes a l'entree du Lac Majeur."


In the Preface to the third volume I alluded to the conviction, daily gaining ground upon me, of the need of a more accurately logical education of our youth. Truly among the most pitiable and practically hurtful weaknesses of the modern English mind, its usual inability to grasp the connection between any two ideas which have elements of opposition in them, as well as of connection, is perhaps the chief. It is shown with singular fatality in the vague efforts made by our divines to meet the objections raised by free-thinkers, bearing on the nature and origin of evil; but there is hardly a sentence written on any matter requiring careful analysis, by writers who have not yet begun to perceive the influence of their own vanity (and there are too many such among divines), which will not involve some half-lamentable, half-ludicrous, logical flaw,—such flaws being the invariable consequence of a man's straining to say anything in a learned instead of an intelligible manner.

Take a sentence, for example, from J. A. James's "Anxious Inquirer:"—"It is a great principle that subjective religion, or in other words, religion in us, is produced and sustained by fixing the mind on objective religion, or the facts and doctrines of the Word of God."

Cut entirely out the words I have put in italics, and the sentence has a meaning (though not by any means an important one). But by its verbosities it is extended into pure nonsense; for "facts" are neither "objective" nor "subjective"[125] religion; they are not religion at all. The belief of them, attended with certain feelings, is religion; and it must always be religion "in us," for in whom else should it be (unless in angels; which would not make it less "subjective"). It is just as rational to call doctrines "objective religion," as to call entreaties "objective compassion;" and the only real fact of any notability deducible from the sentence is, that the writer desired earnestly to say something profound, and had nothing profound to say.

To this same defect of intellect must, in charity, be attributed many of the wretched cases of special pleading which we continually hear from the pulpit. In the year 1853, I heard, in Edinburgh, a sermon from a leading and excellent Presbyterian clergyman, on a subject generally grateful to Protestant audiences, namely the impropriety and wickedness of fasting. The preacher entirely denied that there was any authority for fasting in the New Testament; declared that there were many feasts appointed, but no fasts; insisted with great energy on the words "forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats," &c., as descriptive of Romanism, and never once, throughout a long sermon, ventured so much as a single syllable that might recall to his audience's recollection the existence of such texts as Matthew iv. 2 and vi. 16, or Mark ix. 29. I have heard many sermons from Roman Catholic priests, but I never yet heard, in the strongest holds of Romanism, any so monstrous an instance of special pleading; in fact, it never could have occurred in a sermon by any respectable Roman Catholic divine; for the Romanists are trained to argument from their youth, and are always to some extent plausible.

It is of course impossible to determine, in such cases, how far the preacher, having conscientiously made up his mind on the subject by foregoing thought, and honestly desiring to impress his conclusion on his congregation, may think his object will be best, and even justifiably attained, by insisting on all that is in favor of his position, and trusting to the weak heads of his hearers not to find out the arguments for the contrary; fearing that if he stated, in any proportionate measure, the considerations on the other side, he might not be able, in the time allotted to him, to bring out his conclusion fairly. This, though I hold it an entirely false view, is nevertheless a comprehensible and pardonable one, especially in a man familiar with the reasoning capacities of the public; though those capacities themselves owe half their shortcomings to being so unworthily treated. But, on the whole, and looking broadly at the way the speakers and teachers of the nation set about their business, there is an almost fathomless failure in the results, owing to the general admission of special pleading as an art to be taught to youth. The main thing which we ought to teach our youth is to see something,—all that the eyes which God has given them are capable of seeing. The sum of what we do teach them is to say something. As far as I have experience of instruction, no man ever dreams of teaching a boy to get to the root of a matter; to think it out; to get quit of passion and desire in the process of thinking; or to fear no face of man in plainly asserting the ascertained result. But to say anything in a glib and graceful manner,—to give an epigrammatic turn to nothing,—to quench the dim perceptions of a feeble adversary, and parry cunningly the home thrusts of a strong one,—to invent blanknesses in speech for breathing time, and slipperinesses in speech for hiding time,—to polish malice to the deadliest edge, shape profession to the seemliest shadow, and mask self-interest under the fairest pretext,—all these skills we teach definitely, as the main arts of business and life. There is a strange significance in the admission of Aristotle's Rhetoric at our universities as a class-book. Cheating at cards is a base profession enough, but truly it would be wiser to print a code of gambler's legerdemain, and give that for a class-book, than to make the legerdemain of human speech, and the clever shuffling of the black spots in the human heart, the first study of our politic youth. Again, the Ethics of Aristotle, though containing some shrewd talk, interesting for an old reader, are yet so absurdly illogical and sophistical, that if a young man has once read them with any faith, it must take years before he recovers from the induced confusions of thought and false habits of argument. If there were the slightest dexterity or ingenuity in maintaining the false theory, there might be some excuse for retaining the Ethics as a school-book, provided only the tutor were careful to point out, on first opening it, that the Christian virtues,—namely, to love with all the heart, soul, and strength; to fight, not as one that beateth the air; and to do with might whatsoever the hand findeth to do,—could not in anywise be defined as "habits of choice in moderation." But the Aristotelian quibbles are so shallow, that I look upon the retention of the book as a confession by our universities that they consider practice in shallow quibbling one of the essential disciplines of youth. Take, for instance, the distinction made between "Envy" and "Rejoicing at Evil" ([Greek: phthonos] and [Greek: epichairekakia]), in the second book of the Ethics, viz., that envy is grieved when any one meets with good-fortune; but "the rejoicer at evil so far misses of grieving, as even to rejoice" (the distinction between the good and evil, as subjects of the emotion, being thus omitted, and merely the verbal opposition of grief and joy caught at); and conceive the result, in the minds of most youths, of being forced to take tricks of words such as this (and there are too many of them in even the best Greek writers) for subjects of daily study and admiration; the theory of the Ethics being, besides, so hopelessly untenable, that even quibbling will not always face it out,—nay, will not help it in exactly the first and most important example of virtue which Aristotle has to give, and the very one which we might have thought his theory would have fitted most neatly; for defining "temperance" as a mean, and intemperance as one relative extreme, not being able to find an opposite extreme, he escapes with the apology that the kind of person who sins in the other extreme "has no precise name; because, on the whole, he does not exist!"

I know well the common censure by which objections to such futilities of so-called education are met, by the men who have been ruined by them,—the common plea that anything does to "exercise the mind upon." It is an utterly false one. The human soul, in youth, is not a machine of which you can polish the cogs with any kelp or brickdust near at hand; and, having got it into working order, and good, empty, and oiled serviceableness, start your immortal locomotive at twenty-five years old or thirty, express from the Strait Gate, on the Narrow Road. The whole period of youth is one essentially of formation, edification, instruction, I use the words with their weight in them; intaking of stores, establishment in vital habits, hopes and faiths. There is not an hour of it but is trembling with destinies,—not a moment of which, once past, the appointed work can ever be done again, or the neglected blow struck on the cold iron. Take your vase of Venice glass out of the furnace, and strew chaff over it in its transparent heat, and recover that to its clearness and rubied glory when the north wind has blown upon it; but do not think to strew chaff over the child fresh from God's presence, and to bring the heavenly colors back to him—at least in this world.


[120] Compare Stones of Venice, vol. iii. chap. iii. Sec. 74.

[121] Taken all in all, the works of Cruikshank have the most sterling value of any belonging to this class, produced in England.

[122] "The notice in Blackwood is still more scurrilous; the circumstance of Keats having been brought up a surgeon is the staple of the jokes of the piece. He is told 'it is a better and wiser thing to be a starved apothecary than a starved poet.'"—Milnes' Life of Keats, vol. i. p. 200, and compare pp. 193, 194. It may perhaps be said that I attach too much importance to the evil of base criticism; but those who think so have never rightly understood its scope, nor the reach of that stern saying of Johnson's (Idler, No. 3, April 29, 1758): "Little does he (who assumes the character of a critic) think how many harmless men he involves in his own guilt, by teaching them to be noxious without malignity, and to repeat objections which they do not understand." And truly, not in this kind only, but in all things whatsoever, there is not, to my mind, a more woful or wonderful matter of thought than the power of a fool. In the world's affairs there is no design so great or good but it will take twenty wise men to help it forward a few inches, and a single fool can stop it; there is no evil so great or so terrible but that, after a multitude of counsellors have taken means to avert it, a single fool will bring it down. Pestilence, famine, and the sword, are given into the fool's hand as the arrows into the hand of the giant: and if he were fairly set forth in the right motley, the web of it should be sackcloth and sable; the bells on his cap, passing balls; his badge, a bear robbed of her whelps; and his bauble, a sexton's spade.

[123] By the way, this doubt of the possibility of an emperor's death till he proves it, is a curious fact in the history of Scottish metaphysics in the nineteenth century.

[124] The following extract from my diary refers to the only instance in which I remember any appearance of a spring, or welling of water through inner fissures, in the aiguilles.

"20th August. Ascended the moraine till I reached the base of Blaitiere; the upper part of the moraine excessively loose and edgy; covered with fresh snow: the rocks were wreathed in mist, and a light sleet, composed of small grains of kneaded snow, kept beating in my face; it was bitter cold too, though the thermometer was at 43 deg., but the wind was like that of an English December thaw. I got to the base of the aiguille, however, one of the most grand and sweeping bits of granite I have ever seen; a small gurgling streamlet, escaping from a fissure not wide enough to let in my hand, made a strange hollow ringing in the compact rock, and came welling out over its ledges with the sound, and successive wave, of water out of a narrow-necked bottle, covering the rock with ice (which must have been frozen there last night) two inches thick. I levelled the Breven top, and found it a little beneath me; the Charmoz glacier on the left, sank from the moraine in broken fragments of neve, and swept back under the dark walls of the Charmoz, lost in cloud."

[125] If these two unlucky words get much more hold in the language, we shall soon have our philosophers refusing to call their dinner "dinner," but speaking of it always as their "objective appetite."


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Page 31: 'his insistence upon this' corrected from 'insistance.'

Page 45: 'for in utter darkness the distinction is not visible' changed from 'darknes.'

Page 52: 'sharks, slugs, bones, fungi, frogs' originally 'fogs.'

Page 60: 'sitting about three yards from a bookcase' changed from 'yard.'

Page 89: 'We imagine the Deity in like manner' originally 'maner.'

Page 143: 'whatever their material may be,—tilted slightly up' changed from 'tited.'

Page 155: 'action actually taking place' corrected from 'palce.'

Page 185: 'which in its beautifully curved outline)' extra ')' removed.

Page 261: 'it seems partly to rebuke, and partly to guard'corrected from 'and party.'

Page 279: 'partly of their own own gravity' removed duplicate 'own.'

Page 284: (footnote [91]) 'Ce n'est pas c'a' changed to 'Ce n'est pas ca.'

Page 291: 'are distinguished from the work of other painters' from 'distingushd.' Page 300: 'Shakespere' changed to 'Shakespeare.'

Page 317: CHAPTER XIX start added '1' after the Sec..

Page 352: 'its direction is illegitimate' from 'illegitmate.'

Page 356: 'Celui qui boira' corrected from 'doira.'

Page 358: 'all its peculiarities are mannerisms' changed from 'peculiarites.'


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