Selections From the Works of John Ruskin
by John Ruskin
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Riverside College Classics





CHAUNCEY B. TINKER, Ph.D. Professor of English in Yale College







In making the following selections, I have tried to avoid the appearance of such a volume as used to be entitled Elegant Extracts. Wherever practicable, entire chapters or lectures are given, or at least passages of sufficient length to insure a correct notion of the general complexion of Ruskin's work. The text is in all cases that of the first editions, unless these were later revised by Ruskin himself. The original spelling and punctuation are preserved, but a few minor changes have been made for the sake of uniformity among the various extracts. For similar reasons, Ruskin's numbering of paragraphs is dispensed with.

I have aimed not to multiply notes. Practically all Ruskin's own annotation is given, with the exception of one or two very long and somewhat irrelevant notes from Stones of Venice. It has not been deemed necessary to give the dates of every painter or to explain every geographical reference. On the other hand, the sources of most of the quotations are indicated. In the preparation of these notes, the magnificent library edition of Messrs. Cook and Wedderburn has inevitably been of considerable assistance; but all their references have been verified, many errors have been corrected, and much has of course been added.

In closing I wish to express my obligation to my former colleague, Dr. Lucius H. Holt, without whose assistance this volume would never have appeared. He wrote a number of the notes, including the short prefaces to the various selections, and prepared the manuscript for the printer.


September, 1908.


INTRODUCTION The Life of Ruskin The Unity of Ruskin's Writings Ruskin's Style

SELECTIONS FROM MODERN PAINTERS The Earth-Veil The Mountain Glory Sunrise on the Alps The Grand Style Of Realization Of the Novelty of Landscape Of the Pathetic Fallacy Of Classical Landscape Of Modern Landscape The Two Boyhoods

SELECTIONS FROM THE STONES OF VENICE The Throne St. Mark's Characteristics of Gothic Architecture


SELECTIONS FROM LECTURES ON ART Inaugural The Relation of Art to Morals The Relation of Art to Use








[Sidenote: Two conflicting tendencies in Ruskin.]

It is distinctive of the nineteenth century that in its passion for criticising everything in heaven and earth it by no means spared to criticise itself. Alike in Carlyle's fulminations against its insincerity, in Arnold's nice ridicule of Philistinism, and in Ruskin's repudiation of everything modern, we detect that fine dissatisfaction with the age which is perhaps only proof of its idealistic trend. For the various ills of society, each of these men had his panacea. What Carlyle had found in hero-worship and Arnold in Hellenic culture, Ruskin sought in the study of art; and it is of the last importance to remember that throughout his work he regarded himself not merely as a writer on painting or buildings or myths or landscape, but as the appointed critic of the age. For there existed in him, side by side with his consuming love of the beautiful, a rigorous Puritanism which was constantly correcting any tendency toward a mere cult of the aesthetic. It is with the interaction of these two forces that any study of the life and writings of Ruskin should be primarily concerned.



[Sidenote: Ancestry.]

It is easy to trace in the life of Ruskin these two forces tending respectively toward the love of beauty and toward the contempt of mere beauty. They are, indeed, present from the beginning. He inherited from his Scotch parents that upright fearlessness which has always characterized the race. His stern mother "devoted him to God before he was born,"[1] and she guarded her gift with unremitting but perhaps misguided caution. The child was early taught to find most of his entertainment within himself, and when he did not, he was whipped. He had no playmates and few toys. His chief story-book was the Bible, which he read many times from cover to cover at his mother's knee. His father, the "perfectly honest wine-merchant," seems to have been the one to foster the boy's aesthetic sense; he was in the habit of reading aloud to his little family, and his son's apparently genuine appreciation of Scott, Pope, and Homer dates from the incredibly early age of five. It was his father, also, to whom he owed his early acquaintance with the finest landscape, for the boy was his companion in yearly business trips about Britain, and later visited, in his parents' company, Belgium, western Germany, and the Alps.

[Sidenote: Early education.]

All this of course developed the child's precocity. He was early suffered and even encouraged to compose verses;[2] by ten he had written a play, which has unfortunately been preserved. The hot-house rearing which his parents believed in, and his facility in teaching himself, tended to make a regular course of schooling a mere annoyance; such schooling as he had did not begin till he was fifteen, and lasted less than two years, and was broken by illness. But the chief effect of the sheltered life and advanced education to which he was subjected was to endow him with depth at the expense of breadth, and to deprive him of a possibly vulgar, but certainly healthy, contact with his kind, which, one must believe, would have checked a certain disposition in him to egotism, sentimentality, and dogmatic vehemence. "The bridle and blinkers were never taken off me," he writes.[3]

[Sidenote: Student at Oxford.]

[Sidenote: Traveling in Europe.]

At Oxford—whither his cautious mother pursued him—Ruskin seems to have been impressed in no very essential manner by curriculum or college mates. With learning per se he was always dissatisfied and never had much to do; his course was distinguished not so much by erudition as by culture. He easily won the Newdigate prize in poetry; his rooms in Christ Church were hung with excellent examples of Turner's landscapes,—the gift of his art-loving father,—of which he had been an intimate student ever since the age of thirteen. But his course was interrupted by an illness, apparently of a tuberculous nature, which necessitated total relaxation and various trips in Italy and Switzerland, where he seems to have been healed by walking among his beloved Alps. For many years thereafter he passed months of his time in these two countries, accompanied sometimes by his parents and sometimes rather luxuriously, it seems, by valet and guide.

[Sidenote: Career as an author begins.]

Meanwhile he had commenced his career as author with the first volume of Modern Painters, begun, the world knows, as a short defense of Turner, originally intended for nothing more than a magazine article. But the role of art-critic and law-giver pleased the youth,—he was only twenty-four when the volume appeared,—and having no desire to realize the ambition of his parents and become a bishop, and even less to duplicate his father's career as vintner, he gladly seized the opportunity thus offered him to develop his aesthetic vein and to redeem the public mind from its vulgar apathy thereby. He continued his work on Modern Painters, with some intermissions, for eighteen years, and supplemented it with the equally famous Seven Lamps of Architecture in 1849, and The Stones of Venice in 1853.

[Sidenote: Domestic troubles.]

This life of zealous work and brilliant recognition was interrupted in 1848 by Ruskin's amazing marriage to Miss Euphemia Gray, a union into which he entered at the desire of his parents with a docility as stupid as it was stupendous. Five years later the couple were quietly divorced, that Mrs. Ruskin might marry Millais. All the author's biographers maintain an indiscreet reserve in discussing the affair, but there can be no concealment of the fact that its effect upon Ruskin was profound in its depression. Experiences like this and his later sad passion for Miss La Touche at once presage and indicate his mental disorder, and no doubt had their share—a large one—in causing Ruskin's dissatisfaction with everything, and above all with his own life and work. Be this as it may, it is at this time in the life of Ruskin that we must begin to reckon with the decline of his aesthetic and the rise of his ethical impulse; his interest passes from art to conduct. It is also the period in which he began his career as lecturer, his chief interest being the social life of his age.

[Sidenote: Ruskin's increasing interest in social questions.]

By 1860, he was publishing the papers on political economy, later called Unto this Last, which roused so great a storm of protest when they appeared in the Cornhill Magazine that their publication had to be suspended. The attitude of the public toward such works as these,—its alternate excitement and apathy,—the death of his parents, combined with the distressing events mentioned above, darkened Ruskin's life and spoiled his interest in everything that did not tend to make the national life more thoughtfully solemn.

"It seems to me that now ... the thoughts of the true nature of our life, and of its powers and responsibilities should present themselves with absolute sadness and sternness."[4]

His lectures as Slade Professor of Art at Oxford, a post which he held at various times from 1870 to 1883, failed to re-establish his undistracted interest in things beautiful.

[Sidenote: Triumph of the reformer over the art-critic.]

The complete triumph of the reformer over the art-critic is marked by Fors Clavigera, a series of letters to workingmen, begun New Year's Day, 1871, in which it was proposed to establish a model colony of peasants, whose lives should be made simple, honest, happy, and even cultured, by a return to more primitive methods of tilling the soil and of making useful and beautiful objects. The Guild of St. George, established to "slay the dragon of industrialism," to dispose of machinery, slums, and discontent, consumed a large part of Ruskin's time and money. He had inherited a fortune of approximately a million dollars, and he now began to dispose of it in various charitable schemes,—establishing tea-shops, supporting young painters, planning model tenements, but, above all, in elaborating his ideas for the Guild. The result of it all—whatever particular reforms were effected or manual industries established—was, to Ruskin's view, failure, and his mind, weakening under the strain of its profound disappointments, at last crashed in ruin.

[Sidenote: Death in 1900.]

It is needless to follow the broken author through the desolation of his closing years to his death in 1900. Save for his charming reminiscences, Praeterita, his work was done; the long struggle was over, the struggle of one man to reduce the complexities of a national life to an apostolic simplicity, to make it beautiful and good,

Till the high God behold it from beyond, And enter it.

[1] Praeterita. He was born February 8, 1819.

[2] Ruskin himself quotes a not very brilliant specimen in Modern Painters, III, in "Moral of Landscape."

[3] Praeterita, Sec. 53.

[4] The Mystery of Life.



[Sidenote: Diversity of his writings.]

Ruskin is often described as an author of bewildering variety, whose mind drifted waywardly from topic to topic—from painting to political economy, from architecture to agriculture—with a license as illogical as it was indiscriminating. To this impression, Ruskin himself sometimes gave currency. He was, for illustration, once announced to lecture on crystallography, but, as we are informed by one present,[5] he opened by asserting that he was really about to lecture on Cistercian architecture; nor did it greatly matter what the title was; "for," said he, "if I had begun to speak about Cistercian abbeys, I should have been sure to get on crystals presently; and if I had begun upon crystals, I should soon have drifted into architecture." Those who conceive of Ruskin as being thus a kind of literary Proteus like to point to the year 1860, that of the publication of his tracts on economics, as witnessing the greatest and suddenest of his changes, that from reforming art to reforming society; and it is true that this year affords a simple dividing-line between Ruskin's earlier work, which is sufficiently described by the three titles, Modern Painters, The Seven Lamps of Architecture, and The Stones of Venice, and his later work, chiefly on social subjects such as are discussed in Unto This Last, The Crown of Wild Olive, and Fors Clavigera. And yet we cannot insist too often on the essential unity of this work, for, viewed in the large, it betrays one continuous development. The seeds of Fors are in The Stones of Venice.

[Sidenote: Underlying idea in all his works.]

The governing idea of Ruskin's first published work, Modern Painters, Volume I, was a moral idea. The book was dedicated to the principle that that art is greatest which deals with the greatest number of greatest ideas,—those, we learn presently, which reveal divine truth; the office of the painter, we are told,[6] is the same as that of the preacher, for "the duty of both is to take for each discourse one essential truth." As if recalling this argument that the painter is a preacher, Carlyle described The Stones of Venice as a "sermon in stones." In the idea that all art, when we have taken due account of technique and training, springs from a moral character, we find the unifying principle of Ruskin's strangely diversified work. The very title The Seven Lamps of Architecture, with its chapters headed "Sacrifice," "Obedience," etc., is a sufficient illustration of Ruskin's identification of moral principles with aesthetic principles. A glance at the following pages of this book will show how Ruskin is for ever halting himself to demand the moral significance of some fair landscape, gorgeous painting, heaven-aspiring cathedral. In "Mountain Glory," for example, he refers to the mountains as "kindly in simple lessons to the workman," and inquires later at what times mankind has offered worship in these mountain churches; of the English cathedral he says, "Weigh the influence of those dark towers on all who have passed through the lonely square at their feet for centuries";[7] of St. Mark's, "And what effect has this splendour on those who pass beneath it?"—and it will be noticed on referring to "The Two Boyhoods," that, in seeking to define the difference between Giorgione and Turner, the author instinctively has recourse to distinguishing the religious influences exerted on the two in youth.

[Sidenote: Underlying idea a moral one.]

Now it is clear that a student of the relation of art to life, of work to the character of the workman and of his nation, may, and in fact inevitably must, be led in time to attend to the producer rather than to the product, to the cause rather than to the effect; and if we grant, with Ruskin, that the sources of art, namely, the national life, are denied, it will obviously be the part, not only of humanity but of common sense, for such a student to set about purifying the social life of the nation. Whether the reformation proposed by Ruskin be the proper method of attack is not the question we are here concerned with; our only object at present being to call attention to the fact that such a lecture as that on "Traffic" in The Crown of Wild Olive is the logical outgrowth of such a chapter as "Ideas of Beauty" in the first volume of Modern Painters. Between the author who wrote in 1842, of the necessity of revealing new truths in painting, "This, if it be an honest work of art, it must have done, for no man ever yet worked honestly without giving some such help to his race. God appoints to every one of his creatures a separate mission, and if they discharge it honourably ... there will assuredly come of it such burning as, in its appointed mode and measure, shall shine before men, and be of service constant and holy,"[8] and the author who wrote, "That country is the richest which nourishes the greatest number of noble and happy human beings,"[9] or, "The beginning of art is in getting our country clean, and our people beautiful,"[10]—between these two, I say, there is no essential difference. They are not contradictory but consistent.

[Sidenote: Art dependent upon personal and national greatness.]

Amidst the maze of subjects, then, which Ruskin, with kaleidoscopic suddenness and variety, brings before the astonished gaze of his readers, let them confidently hold this guiding clue. They will find that Ruskin's "facts" are often not facts at all; they will discover that many of Ruskin's choicest theories have been dismissed to the limbo of exploded hypotheses; but they will seek long before they find a more eloquent and convincing plea for the proposition that all great art reposes upon a foundation of personal and national greatness. Critics of Ruskin will show you that he began Modern Painters while he was yet ignorant of the classic Italians; that he wrote The Stones of Venice without realizing the full indebtedness of the Venetian to the Byzantine architecture; that he proposed to unify the various religious sects although he had no knowledge of theology; that he attempted a reconstruction of society though he had had no scientific training in political economy; but in all this neglect of mere fact the sympathetic reader will discover that contempt for the letter of the law which was characteristic of the nineteenth-century prophet,—of Carlyle, of Arnold, and of Emerson,—and which, if it be blindness, is that produced by an excess of light.

[5] See Harrison's Life, p. 111. Cf. the opening of The Mystery of Life.

[6] Part 2, sec. 1, chap. 4.

[7] See p. 159.

[8] Modern Painters, vol. 1, part 2, sec. 1, chap. 7.

[9] Unto This Last.

[10] See p. 262.



[Sidenote: Sensuousness of his style.]

Many people regard the style of Ruskin as his chief claim to greatness. If the time ever come when men no longer study him for sermons in stones, they will nevertheless turn to his pages to enjoy one of the most gorgeous prose styles of the nineteenth century. For a parallel to the sensuous beauties of Ruskin's essays on art, one turns instinctively to poetry; and of all the poets Ruskin is perhaps likest Keats. His sentences, like the poet's, are thick-set with jeweled phrases; they are full of subtle harmonies that respond, like a Stradivarius, to the player's every mood. In its ornateness Ruskin's style is like his favorite cathedral of Amiens, in the large stately, in detail exquisite, profuse, and not without a touch of the grotesque. It is the style of an artist.

[Sidenote: Ruskin's method of construction in description.]

A critical fancy may even discover in the construction of his finest descriptions a method not unlike that of a painter at work upon his canvas. He blocks them out in large masses, then sketches and colors rapidly for general effects, treating detail at first more or less vaguely and collectively, but passing in the end to the elaboration of detail in the concrete, touching the whole with an imaginative gleam that lends a momentary semblance of life to the thing described, after the manner of the "pathetic fallacy." Thus it is in the famous description of St. Mark's:[11] we are given first the largest general impression, the "long, low pyramid of coloured light," which the artist proceeds to "hollow beneath into five great vaulted porches," whence he leads the eye slowly upwards amidst a mass of bewildering detail—"a confusion of delight"—from which there slowly emerge those concrete details with which the author particularly wishes to impress us, "the breasts of the Greek horses blazing in their breadth of golden strength and St. Mark's lion lifted on a blue field covered with stars." In lesser compass we are shown the environs of Venice,[12] the general impression of the "long, low, sad-coloured line," being presently broken by the enumeration of unanalyzed detail, "tufted irregularly with brushwood and willows," and passing to concrete detail in the hills of Arqua, "a dark cluster of purple pyramids." In the still more miniature description of the original site of Venice[13] we have the same method:

"The black desert of their shore lies in its nakedness beneath the night, pathless, comfortless, infirm, lost in dark languor and fearful silence, except where the salt runlets plash into the tideless pools and the sea-birds flit from their margins with a questioning cry."

[Sidenote: His love of color.]

Equally characteristic of the painter is the ever-present use of color. It is interesting merely to count the number and variety of colors used in the descriptions. It will serve at least to call the reader's attention to the felicitous choice of words used in describing the opalescence of St. Mark's or the skillful combination of the colors characteristic of the great Venetians in such a sentence as, "the low bronzed gleaming of sea-rusted armor shot angrily under their blood-red mantle-folds"[14]—a glimpse of a Giorgione.

[Sidenote: His love of prose rhythm.]

He is even more attentive to the ear than to the eye. He loves the sentence of stately rhythms and long-drawn harmonies, and he omits no poetic device that can heighten the charm of sound,—alliteration, as in the famous description of the streets of Venice,

"Far as the eye could reach, still the soft moving of stainless waters proudly pure; as not the flower, so neither the thorn nor the thistle could grow in those glancing fields";[15]

the balanced close for some long period,

"to write her history on the white scrolls of the sea-surges and to word it in their thunder, and to gather and give forth, in the world-wide pulsation, the glory of the West and of the East, from the burning heart of her Fortitude and splendour";[16]

and the tendency, almost a mannerism, to add to the music of his own rhythm, the deep organ-notes of Biblical text and paraphrase. But if we wish to see how aptly Ruskin's style responds to the tone of his subject, we need but remark the rich liquid sentence descriptive of Giorgione's home,

"brightness out of the north and balm from the south, and the stars of evening and morning clear in the limitless light of arched heaven and circling sea,"[17]

which he has set over against the harsh explosiveness of

"Near the south-west corner of Covent Garden, a square brick pit or wall is formed by a close-set block of house to the back windows of which it admits a few rays of light—"

the birthplace of Turner.

[Sidenote: His beauty of style often distracts from the thought.]

But none knew better than Ruskin that a style so stiff with ornament was likely to produce all manner of faults. In overloading his sentences with jewelry he frequently obscures the sense; his beauties often degenerate into mere prettiness; his sweetness cloys. His free indulgence of the emotions, often at the expense of the intellect, leads to a riotous extravagance of superlative. But, above all, his richness distracts attention from matter to manner. In the case of an author so profoundly in earnest, this could not but be unfortunate; nothing enraged him more than to have people look upon the beauties of his style rather than ponder the substance of his book. In a passage of complacent self-scourging he says:

"For I have had what, in many respects, I boldly call the misfortune, to set my words sometimes prettily together; not without a foolish vanity in the poor knack that I had of doing so, until I was heavily punished for this pride by finding that many people thought of the words only, and cared nothing for their meaning. Happily, therefore, the power of using such language—if indeed it ever were mine—is passing away from me; and whatever I am now able to say at all I find myself forced to say with great plainness."[18]

[Sidenote: His picturesque extravagance of style.]

But Ruskin's decision to speak with "great plainness" by no means made the people of England attend to what he said rather than the way he said it. He could be, and in his later work he usually was, strong and clear; but the old picturesqueness and exuberance of passion were with him still. The public discovered that it enjoyed Ruskin's denunciations of machinery much as it had enjoyed his descriptions of mountains, and, without obviously mending its ways, called loudly for more. Lecture-rooms were crowded and editions exhausted by the ladies and gentlemen of England, whose nerves were pleasantly thrilled with a gentle surprise on being told that they had despised literature, art, science, nature, and compassion, and that what they thought upon any subject was "a matter of no serious importance"; that they could not be said to have any thoughts at all—indeed, no right to think.[19] The fiercer his anathemas, the greater the applause; the louder he shouted, the better he pleased. Let him split the ears of the groundlings, let him out-Herod Herod,—the judicious might grieve, but all would be excitedly attentive. Their Jeremiah seemed at times like to become a jester,—there was a suggestion of the ludicrous in the sudden passage from birds to Greek coins, to mills, to Walter Scott, to millionaire malefactors,—a suggestion of acrobatic tumbling and somersault; but he always got a hearing. In lecturing to the students of a military academy he had the pleasing audacity to begin:

"Young soldiers, I do not doubt but that many of you came unwillingly to-night, and many of you in merely contemptuous curiosity, to hear what a writer on painting could possibly say, or would venture to say, respecting your great art of war";[20]

after which stinging challenge, one has no doubt, any feeling of offense was swallowed up in admiration of the speaker's physical courage.

[Sidenote: Influence of Carlyle upon Ruskin.]

[Sidenote: The unity of Ruskin's style.]

There can be little doubt that this later manner in which Ruskin allowed his Puritan instincts to defeat his aestheticism, and indulged to an alarming degree his gift of vituperation, was profoundly influenced by his "master," Carlyle, who had long since passed into his later and raucous manner. Carlyle's delight in the disciple's diatribes probably encouraged the younger man in a vehemence of invective to which his love of dogmatic assertion already rendered him too prone. At his best, Ruskin, like Carlyle, reminds us of a major prophet; at his worst he shrieks and heats the air. His high indignations lead him into all manner of absurdity and self-contradiction. An amusing instance of this may be given from Sesame and Lilies. In the first lecture, which, it will be recalled, was given in aid of a library fund, we find[21] the remark, "We are filthy and foolish enough to thumb one another's books out of circulating libraries." His friends and his enemies, the clergy (who "teach a false gospel for hire") and the scientists, the merchants and the universities, Darwin and Dante, all had their share in the indignant lecturer's indiscriminate abuse. And yet in all the tropical luxuriance of his inconsistency, one can never doubt the man's sincerity. He never wrote for effect. He may dazzle us, but his fire is never pyrotechnical; it always springs from the deep volcanic heart of him. His was a fervor too easily stirred and often ill-directed, but its wild brilliance cannot long be mistaken for the sky-rocket's; it flares madly in all directions, now beautifying, now appalling, the night, the fine ardor of the painter passing into the fierce invective of the prophet. But in the end it is seen that Ruskin's style, like his subject-matter, is a unity,—an emanation from a divine enthusiasm making for "whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are of good report."

[11] See p. 162.

[12] See p. 139.

[13] See p. 147.

[14] See p. 121.

[15] See p. 122.

[16] See p. 149.

[17] See p. 122.

[18] The Mystery of Life.

[19] Sesame and Lilies, "Kings' Treasuries," Sec.Sec. 25, 31.

[20] The Crown of Wild Olive, "War."

[21] "Kings' Treasuries," Sec. 32.


The five volumes of Modern Painters appeared at various intervals between 1843 and 1860, from the time Ruskin was twenty-four until he was forty. The first volume was published in May, 1843; the second, in April, 1846; the third, January 15, 1856; the fourth, April 14, 1856; the last, in June, 1860. As his knowledge of his subject broadened and deepened, we find the later volumes differing greatly in viewpoint and style from the earlier; but, as stated in the preface to the last volume, "in the main aim and principle of the book there is no variation, from its first syllable to its last." Ruskin himself maintained that the most important influence upon his thought in preparation for his work in Modern Painters was not from his "love of art, but of mountains and seas"; and all the power of judgment he had obtained in art, he ascribed to his "steady habit of always looking for the subject principally, and for the art only as the means of expressing it." The first volume was published as the work of "a graduate of Oxford," Ruskin "fearing that I might not obtain fair hearing if the reader knew my youth." The author's proud father did not allow the secret to be kept long. The title Ruskin originally chose for the volume was Turner and the Ancients. To this Smith, Elder & Co., his publishers, objected, and the substitution of Modern Painters was their suggestion The following is the title-page of the first volume in the original edition:

MODERN PAINTERS: Their Superiority In the Art of Landscape Painting To all The Ancient Masters proved by examples of The True, the Beautiful, and the Intellectual, From the Works of Modern Artists, especially From those of J.M.W. Turner, Esq., R.A. By a Graduate of Oxford (Quotation from Wordsworth) London: Smith, Elder & Co., 65 Cornhill. 1843.



"To dress it and to keep it."[22]

That, then, was to be our work. Alas! what work have we set ourselves upon instead! How have we ravaged the garden instead of kept it—feeding our war-horses with its flowers, and splintering its trees into spear-shafts!

"And at the East a flaming sword."[22]

Is its flame quenchless? and are those gates that keep the way indeed passable no more? or is it not rather that we no more desire to enter? For what can we conceive of that first Eden which we might not yet win back, if we chose? It was a place full of flowers, we say. Well: the flowers are always striving to grow wherever we suffer them; and the fairer, the closer. There may, indeed, have been a Fall of Flowers, as a Fall of Man; but assuredly creatures such as we are can now fancy nothing lovelier than roses and lilies, which would grow for us side by side, leaf overlapping leaf, till the Earth was white and red with them, if we cared to have it so. And Paradise was full of pleasant shades and fruitful avenues. Well: what hinders us from covering as much of the world as we like with pleasant shade, and pure blossom, and goodly fruit? Who forbids its valleys to be covered over with corn till they laugh and sing? Who prevents its dark forests, ghostly and uninhabitable, from being changed into infinite orchards, wreathing the hills with frail-floreted snow, far away to the half-lighted horizon of April, and flushing the face of all the autumnal earth with glow of clustered food? But Paradise was a place of peace, we say, and all the animals were gentle servants to us. Well: the world would yet be a place of peace if we were all peacemakers, and gentle service should we have of its creatures if we gave them gentle mastery. But so long as we make sport of slaying bird and beast, so long as we choose to contend rather with our fellows than with our faults, and make battlefield of our meadows instead of pasture—so long, truly, the Flaming Sword will still turn every way, and the gates of Eden remain barred close enough, till we have sheathed the sharper flame of our own passions, and broken down the closer gates of our own hearts.

I have been led to see and feel this more and more, as I consider the service which the flowers and trees, which man was at first appointed to keep, were intended to render to him in return for his care; and the services they still render to him, as far as he allows their influence, or fulfils his own task towards them. For what infinite wonderfulness there is in this vegetation, considered, as indeed it is, as the means by which the earth becomes the companion of man—his friend and his teacher! In the conditions which we have traced in its rocks, there could only be seen preparation for his existence;—the characters which enable him to live on it safely, and to work with it easily—in all these it has been inanimate and passive; but vegetation is to it as an imperfect soul, given to meet the soul of man. The earth in its depths must remain dead and cold, incapable except of slow crystalline change; but at its surface, which human beings look upon and deal with, it ministers to them through a veil of strange intermediate being: which breathes, but has no voice; moves, but cannot leave its appointed place; passes through life without consciousness, to death without bitterness; wears the beauty of youth, without its passion; and declines to the weakness of age, without its regret.

And in this mystery of intermediate being, entirely subordinate to us, with which we can deal as we choose, having just the greater power as we have the less responsibility for our treatment of the unsuffering creature, most of the pleasures which we need from the external world are gathered, and most of the lessons we need are written, all kinds of precious grace and teaching being united in this link between the Earth and Man; wonderful in universal adaptation to his need, desire, and discipline; God's daily preparation of the earth for him, with beautiful means of life. First, a carpet to make it soft for him; then, a coloured fantasy of embroidery thereon; then, tall spreading of foliage to shade him from sun heat, and shade also the fallen rain; that it may not dry quickly back into the clouds, but stay to nourish the springs among the moss. Stout wood to bear this leafage: easily to be cut, yet tough and light, to make houses for him, or instruments (lance-shaft, or plough-handle, according to his temper); useless, it had been, if harder; useless, if less fibrous; useless, if less elastic. Winter comes, and the shade of leafage falls away, to let the sun warm the earth; the strong boughs remain, breaking the strength of winter winds. The seeds which are to prolong the race, innumerable according to the need, are made beautiful and palatable, varied into infinitude of appeal to the fancy of man, or provision for his service: cold juice, or glowing spice, or balm, or incense, softening oil, preserving resin, medicine of styptic, febrifuge, or lulling charm: and all these presented in forms of endless change. Fragility or force, softness and strength, in all degrees and aspects; unerring uprightness, as of temple pillars, or unguided wandering of feeble tendrils on the ground; mighty resistances of rigid arm and limb to the storms of ages, or wavings to and fro with faintest pulse of summer streamlet. Roots cleaving the strength of rock, or binding the transience of the sand; crests basking in sunshine of the desert, or hiding by dripping spring and lightless cave; foliage far tossing in entangled fields beneath every wave of ocean—clothing, with variegated, everlasting films, the peaks of the trackless mountains, or ministering at cottage doors to every gentlest passion and simplest joy of humanity.

Being thus prepared for us in all ways, and made beautiful, and good for food, and for building, and for instruments in our hands, this race of plants, deserving boundless affection and admiration from us, becomes, in proportion to their obtaining it, a nearly perfect test of our being in right temper of mind and way of life; so that no one can be far wrong in either who loves the trees enough, and every one is assuredly wrong in both who does not love them, if his life has brought them in his way. It is clearly possible to do without them, for the great companionship of the sea and sky are all that sailors need; and many a noble heart has been taught the best it had to learn between dark stone walls. Still if human life be cast among trees at all, the love borne to them is a sure test of its purity. And it is a sorrowful proof of the mistaken ways of the world that the "country," in the simple sense of a place of fields and trees, has hitherto been the source of reproach to its inhabitants, and that the words "countryman, rustic, clown, paysan, villager," still signify a rude and untaught person, as opposed to the words "townsman" and "citizen". We accept this usage of words, or the evil which it signifies, somewhat too quietly; as if it were quite necessary and natural that country-people should be rude, and townspeople gentle. Whereas I believe that the result of each mode of life may, in some stages of the world's progress, be the exact reverse; and that another use of words may be forced upon us by a new aspect of facts, so that we may find ourselves saying: "Such and such a person is very gentle and kind—he is quite rustic; and such and such another person is very rude and ill-taught—he is quite urbane."

At all events, cities have hitherto gained the better part of their good report through our evil ways of going on in the world generally; chiefly and eminently through our bad habit of fighting with each other. No field, in the Middle Ages, being safe from devastation, and every country lane yielding easier passage to the marauders, peacefully-minded men necessarily congregated in cities, and walled themselves in, making as few cross-country roads as possible: while the men who sowed and reaped the harvests of Europe were only the servants or slaves of the barons. The disdain of all agricultural pursuits by the nobility, and of all plain facts by the monks, kept educated Europe in a state of mind over which natural phenomena could have no power; body and intellect being lost in the practice of war without purpose, and the meditation of words without meaning. Men learned the dexterity with sword and syllogism, which they mistook for education, within cloister and tilt-yard; and looked on all the broad space of the world of God mainly as a place for exercise of horses, or for growth of food.

There is a beautiful type of this neglect of the perfectness of the Earth's beauty, by reason of the passions of men, in that picture of Paul Uccello's of the battle of Sant' Egidio,[23] in which the armies meet on a country road beside a hedge of wild roses; the tender red flowers tossing above the helmets, and glowing beneath the lowered lances. For in like manner the whole of Nature only shone hitherto for man between the tossing of helmet-crests; and sometimes I cannot but think of the trees of the earth as capable of a kind of sorrow, in that imperfect life of theirs, as they opened their innocent leaves in the warm springtime, in vain for men; and all along the dells of England her beeches cast their dappled shade only where the outlaw drew his bow, and the king rode his careless chase; and by the sweet French rivers their long ranks of poplar waved in the twilight, only to show the flames of burning cities on the horizon, through the tracery of their stems; amidst the fair defiles of the Apennines, the twisted olive-trunks hid the ambushes of treachery; and on their valley meadows, day by day, the lilies which were white at the dawn were washed with crimson at sunset.

And indeed I had once purposed, in this work, to show what kind of evidence existed respecting the possible influence of country life on men; it seeming to me, then, likely that here and there a reader would perceive this to be a grave question, more than most which we contend about, political or social, and might care to follow it out with me earnestly.

The day will assuredly come when men will see that it is a grave question; at which period, also, I doubt not, there will arise persons able to investigate it. For the present, the movements of the world seem little likely to be influenced by botanical law; or by any other considerations respecting trees, than the probable price of timber. I shall limit myself, therefore, to my own simple woodman's work, and try to hew this book into its final shape, with the limited and humble aim that I had in beginning it, namely, to prove how far the idle and peaceable persons, who have hitherto cared about leaves and clouds, have rightly seen, or faithfully reported of them.

[22] Genesis ii, 15; iii 24.

[23] "In our own National Gallery. It is quaint and imperfect, but of great interest." [Ruskin.] Paolo Uccello (c. 1397-1475), a Florentine painter of the Renaissance, the first of the naturalists. His real name was Paolo di Dono, but he was called Uccello from his fondness for birds.



I have dwelt, in the foregoing chapter, on the sadness of the hills with the greater insistence that I feared my own excessive love for them might lead me into too favourable interpretation of their influences over the human heart; or, at least, that the reader might accuse me of fond prejudice, in the conclusions to which, finally, I desire to lead him concerning them. For, to myself, mountains are the beginning and the end of all natural scenery; in them, and in the forms of inferior landscape that lead to them, my affections are wholly bound up; and though I can look with happy admiration at the lowland flowers, and woods, and open skies, the happiness is tranquil and cold, like that of examining detached flowers in a conservatory, or reading a pleasant book; and if the scenery be resolutely level, insisting upon the declaration of its own flatness in all the detail of it, as in Holland, or Lincolnshire, or Central Lombardy, it appears to me like a prison, and I cannot long endure it. But the slightest rise and fall in the road,—a mossy bank at the side of a crag of chalk, with brambles at its brow, overhanging it,—a ripple over three or four stones in the stream by the bridge,—above all, a wild bit of ferny ground under a fir or two, looking as if, possibly, one might see a hill if one got to the other side of the trees, will instantly give me intense delight, because the shadow, or the hope, of the hills is in them.

And thus, although there are few districts of Northern Europe, however apparently dull or tame, in which I cannot find pleasure, though the whole of Northern France (except Champagne), dull as it seems to most travellers, is to me a perpetual Paradise; and, putting Lincolnshire, Leicestershire, and one or two such other perfectly flat districts aside, there is not an English county which I should not find entertainment in exploring the cross-roads of, foot by foot; yet all my best enjoyment would be owing to the imagination of the hills, colouring, with their far-away memories, every lowland stone and herb. The pleasant French coteau, green in the sunshine, delights me, either by what real mountain character it has in itself (for in extent and succession of promontory the flanks of the French valleys have quite the sublimity of true mountain distances), or by its broken ground and rugged steps among the vines, and rise of the leafage above, against the blue sky, as it might rise at Vevay or Como. There is not a wave of the Seine but is associated in my mind with the first rise of the sandstones and forest pines of Fontaine-bleau; and with the hope of the Alps, as one leaves Paris with the horses' heads to the south-west, the morning sun flashing on the bright waves at Charenton. If there be no hope or association of this kind, and if I cannot deceive myself into fancying that perhaps at the next rise of the road there may be seen the film of a blue hill in the gleam of sky at the horizon, the landscape, however beautiful, produces in me even a kind of sickness and pain; and the whole view from Richmond Hill or Windsor Terrace,—nay, the gardens of Alcinous, with their perpetual summer,—or of the Hesperides (if they were flat, and not close to Atlas), golden apples and all,—I would give away in an instant, for one mossy granite stone a foot broad, and two leaves of lady-fern.[24]

I know that this is in great part idiosyncrasy; and that I must not trust to my own feelings, in this respect, as representative of the modern landscape instinct: yet I know it is not idiosyncrasy, in so far as there may be proved to be indeed an increase of the absolute beauty of all scenery in exact proportion to its mountainous character, providing that character be healthily mountainous. I do not mean to take the Col de Bonhomme as representative of hills, any more than I would take Romney Marsh as representative of plains; but putting Leicestershire or Staffordshire fairly beside Westmoreland, and Lombardy or Champagne fairly beside the Pays de Vaud or the Canton Berne, I find the increase in the calculable sum of elements of beauty to be steadily in proportion to the increase of mountainous character; and that the best image which the world can give of Paradise is in the slope of the meadows, orchards, and corn-fields on the sides of a great Alp, with its purple rocks and eternal snows above; this excellence not being in any wise a matter referable to feeling, or individual preferences, but demonstrable by calm enumeration of the number of lovely colours on the rocks, the varied grouping of the trees, and quantity of noble incidents in stream, crag, or cloud, presented to the eye at any given moment.

For consider, first, the difference produced in the whole tone of landscape colour by the introductions of purple, violet, and deep ultramarine blue, which we owe to mountains. In an ordinary lowland landscape we have the blue of the sky; the green of grass, which I will suppose (and this is an unnecessary concession to the lowlands) entirely fresh and bright; the green of trees; and certain elements of purple, far more rich and beautiful than we generally should think, in their bark and shadows (bare hedges and thickets, or tops of trees, in subdued afternoon sunshine, are nearly perfect purple, and of an exquisite tone), as well as in ploughed fields, and dark ground in general. But among mountains, in addition to all this, large unbroken spaces of pure violet and purple are introduced in their distances; and even near, by films of cloud passing over the darkness of ravines or forests, blues are produced of the most subtle tenderness; these azures and purples[25] passing into rose-colour of otherwise wholly unattainable delicacy among the upper summits, the blue of the sky being at the same time purer and deeper than in the plains. Nay, in some sense, a person who has never seen the rose-colour of the rays of dawn crossing a blue mountain twelve or fifteen miles away, can hardly be said to know what tenderness in colour means at all; bright tenderness he may, indeed, see in the sky or in a flower, but this grave tenderness of the far-away hill-purples he cannot conceive.

Together with this great source of pre-eminence in mass of colour, we have to estimate the influence of the finished inlaying and enamel-work of the colour-jewellery on every stone; and that of the continual variety in species of flower; most of the mountain flowers being, besides, separately lovelier than the lowland ones. The wood hyacinth and wild rose are, indeed, the only supreme flowers that the lowlands can generally show; and the wild rose is also a mountaineer, and more fragrant in the hills, while the wood hyacinth, or grape hyacinth, at its best cannot match even the dark bell-gentian, leaving the light-blue star-gentian in its uncontested queenliness, and the Alpine rose and Highland heather wholly without similitude. The violet, lily of the valley, crocus, and wood anemone are, I suppose, claimable partly by the plains as well as the hills; but the large orange lily and narcissus I have never seen but on hill pastures, and the exquisite oxalisis pre-eminently a mountaineer.[26]

To this supremacy in mosses and flowers we have next to add an inestimable gain in the continual presence and power of water. Neither in its clearness, its colour, its fantasy of motion, its calmness of space, depth, and reflection, or its wrath, can water be conceived by a lowlander, out of sight of sea. A sea wave is far grander than any torrent—but of the sea and its influences we are not now speaking; and the sea itself, though it can be clear, is never calm, among our shores, in the sense that a mountain lake can be calm. The sea seems only to pause; the mountain lake to sleep, and to dream. Out of sight of the ocean a lowlander cannot be considered ever to have seen water at all. The mantling of the pools in the rock shadows, with the golden flakes of light sinking down through them like falling leaves, the ringing of the thin currents among the shallows, the flash and the cloud of the cascade, the earthquake and foam-fire of the cataract, the long lines of alternate mirror and mist that lull the imagery of the hills reversed in the blue of morning,—all these things belong to those hills as their undivided inheritance.

To this supremacy in wave and stream is joined a no less manifest pre-eminence in the character of trees. It is possible among plains, in the species of trees which properly belong to them, the poplars of Amiens, for instance, to obtain a serene simplicity of grace, which, as I said, is a better help to the study of gracefulness, as such, than any of the wilder groupings of the hills; so, also, there are certain conditions of symmetrical luxuriance developed in the park and avenue, rarely rivalled in their way among mountains; and yet the mountain superiority in foliage is, on the whole, nearly as complete as it is in water: for exactly as there are some expressions in the broad reaches of a navigable lowland river, such as the Loire or Thames, not, in their way, to be matched among the rock rivers, and yet for all that a lowlander cannot be said to have truly seen the element of water at all; so even in the richest parks and avenues he cannot be said to have truly seen trees. For the resources of trees are not developed until they have difficulty to contend with; neither their tenderness of brotherly love and harmony, till they are forced to choose their ways of various life where there is contracted room for them, talking to each other with their restrained branches. The various action of trees rooting themselves in inhospitable rocks, stooping to look into ravines, hiding from the search of glacier winds, reaching forth to the rays of rare sunshine, crowding down together to drink at sweetest streams, climbing hand in hand among the difficult slopes, opening in sudden dances round the mossy knolls, gathering into companies at rest among the fragrant fields, gliding in grave procession over the heavenward ridges—nothing of this can be conceived among the unvexed and unvaried felicities of the lowland forest: while to all these direct sources of greater beauty are added, first the power of redundance,—the mere quantity of foliage visible in the folds and on the promontories of a single Alp being greater than that of an entire lowland landscape (unless a view from some cathedral tower); and to this charm of redundance, that of clearer visibility,—tree after tree being constantly shown in successive height, one behind another, instead of the mere tops and flanks of masses, as in the plains; and the forms of multitudes of them continually defined against the clear sky, near and above, or against white clouds entangled among their branches, instead of being confused in dimness of distance.

Finally, to this supremacy in foliage we have to add the still less questionable supremacy in clouds. There is no effect of sky possible in the lowlands which may not in equal perfection be seen among the hills; but there are effects by tens of thousands, for ever invisible and inconceivable to the inhabitant of the plains, manifested among the hills in the course of one day. The mere power of familiarity with the clouds, of walking with them and above them, alters and renders clear our whole conception of the baseless architecture of the sky; and for the beauty of it, there is more in a single wreath of early cloud, pacing its way up an avenue of pines, or pausing among the points of their fringes, than in all the white heaps that fill the arched sky of the plains from one horizon to the other. And of the nobler cloud manifestations,—the breaking of their troublous seas against the crags, their black spray sparkling with lightning; or the going forth of the morning[27] along their pavements of moving marble, level-laid between dome and dome of snow;—of these things there can be as little imagination or understanding in an inhabitant of the plains as of the scenery of another planet than his own.

And, observe, all these superiorities are matters plainly measurable and calculable, not in any wise to be referred to estimate of sensation. Of the grandeur or expression of the hills I have not spoken; how far they are great, or strong, or terrible, I do not for the moment consider, because vastness, and strength, and terror, are not to all minds subjects of desired contemplation. It may make no difference to some men whether a natural object be large or small, whether it be strong or feeble. But loveliness of colour, perfectness of form, endlessness of change, wonderfulness of structure, are precious to all undiseased human minds; and the superiority of the mountains in all these things to the lowland is, I repeat, as measurable as the richness of a painted window matched with a white one, or the wealth of a museum compared with that of a simply furnished chamber. They seem to have been built for the human race, as at once their schools and cathedrals; full of treasures of illuminated manuscript for the scholar, kindly in simple lessons to the worker, quiet in pale cloisters for the thinker, glorious in holiness for the worshipper. And of these great cathedrals of the earth, with their gates of rock, pavements of cloud, choirs of stream and stone, altars of snow, and vaults of purple traversed by the continual stars,—of these, as we have seen,[28] it was written, nor long ago, by one of the best of the poor human race for whom they were built, wondering in himself for whom their Creator could have made them, and thinking to have entirely discerned the Divine intent in them—"They are inhabited by the Beasts."[29]

Was it then indeed thus with us, and so lately? Had mankind offered no worship in their mountain churches? Was all that granite sculpture and floral painting done by the angels in vain?

Not so. It will need no prolonged thought to convince us that in the hills the purposes of their Maker have indeed been accomplished in such measure as, through the sin or folly of men, He ever permits them to be accomplished. It may not seem, from the general language held concerning them, or from any directly traceable results, that mountains have had serious influence on human intellect; but it will not, I think, be difficult to show that their occult influence has been both constant and essential to the progress of the race.

[24] In tracing the whole of the deep enjoyment to mountain association, I of course except whatever feelings are connected with the observance of rural life, or with that of architecture. None of these feelings arise out of the landscape properly so called: the pleasure with which we see a peasant's garden fairly kept, or a ploughman doing his work well, or a group of children playing at a cottage door, being wholly separate from that which we find in the fields or commons around them; and the beauty of architecture, or the associations connected with it, in like manner often ennobling the most tame scenery;—yet not so but that we may always distinguish between the abstract character of the unassisted landscape, and the charm which it derives from the architecture. Much of the majesty of French landscape consists in its grand and grey village churches and turreted farmhouses, not to speak of its cathedrals, castles, and beautifully placed cities. [Ruskin.]

[25] One of the principal reasons for the false supposition that Switzerland is not picturesque, is the error of most sketchers and painters in representing pine forest in middle distance as dark green, or grey green, whereas its true colour is always purple, at distances of even two or three miles. Let any traveller coming down the Montanvert look for an aperture, three or four inches wide, between the near pine branches, through which, standing eight or ten feet from it, he can see the opposite forests on the Breven or Flegere. Those forests are not above two or two and a half miles from him; but he will find the aperture is filled by a tint of nearly pure azure or purple, not by green. [Ruskin.]

[26] The Savoyard's name for its flower, "Pain du Bon Dieu," is very beautiful; from, I believe, the supposed resemblance of its white and scattered blossom to the fallen manna, [Ruskin.]

[27] Ezekiel vii, 10; Hosea vi, 3.

[28] In "The Mountain Gloom," the chapter immediately preceding.

[29] Ruskin refers to The Fulfilling of the Scripture, a book by Robert Fleming [1630-94].



Stand upon the peak of some isolated mountain at daybreak, when the night mists first rise from off the plains, and watch their white and lake-like fields, as they float in level bays and winding gulfs about the islanded summits of the lower hills, untouched yet by more than dawn, colder and more quiet than a windless sea under the moon of midnight; watch when the first sunbeam is sent upon the silver channels, how the foam of their undulating surface parts and passes away, and down under their depths the glittering city and green pasture lie like Atlantis,[31] between the white paths of winding rivers; the flakes of light falling every moment faster and broader among the starry spires, as the wreathed surges break and vanish above them, and the confused crests and ridges of the dark hills shorten their grey shadows upon the plain.... Wait a little longer, and you shall see those scattered mists rallying in the ravines, and floating up towards you, along the winding valleys, till they crouch in quiet masses, iridescent with the morning light,[32] upon the broad breasts of the higher hills, whose leagues of massy undulation will melt back and back into that robe of material light, until they fade away, lost in its lustre, to appear again above, in the serene heaven, like a wild, bright, impossible dream, foundationless and inaccessible, their very bases vanishing in the unsubstantial and mocking blue of the deep lake below.[33]... Wait yet a little longer, and you shall see those mists gather themselves into white towers, and stand like fortresses along the promontories, massy and motionless, only piled with every instant higher and higher into the sky, and casting longer shadows athwart the rocks; and out of the pale blue of the horizon you will see forming and advancing a troop of narrow, dark, pointed vapours, which will cover the sky, inch by inch, with their grey network, and take the light off the landscape with an eclipse which will stop the singing of the birds and the motion of the leaves, together; and then you will see horizontal bars of black shadow forming under them, and lurid wreaths create themselves, you know not how, along the shoulders of the hills; you never see them form, but when you look back to a place which was clear an instant ago, there is a cloud on it, hanging by the precipices, as a hawk pauses over his prey.... And then you will hear the sudden rush of the awakened wind, and you will see those watch-towers of vapour swept away from their foundations, and waving curtains of opaque rain let down to the valleys, swinging from the burdened clouds in black bending fringes, or pacing in pale columns along the lake level, grazing its surface into foam as they go. And then, as the sun sinks, you shall see the storm drift for an instant, from off the hills, leaving their broad sides smoking, and loaded yet with snow-white, torn, steam-like rags of capricious vapour, now gone, now gathered again; while the smouldering sun, seeming not far away, but burning like a red-hot ball beside you, and as if you could reach it, plunges through the rushing wind and rolling cloud with headlong fall, as if it meant to rise no more, dyeing all the air about it with blood.... And then you shall hear the fainting tempest die in the hollow of the night, and you shall see a green halo kindling on the summit of the eastern hills, brighter—brighter yet, till the large white circle of the slow moon is lifted up among the barred clouds, step by step, line by line; star after star she quenches with her kindling light, setting in their stead an army of pale, penetrable, fleecy wreaths in the heaven, to give light upon the earth, which move together, hand in hand, company by company, troop by troop, so measured in their unity of motion, that the whole heaven seems to roll with them, and the earth to reel under them.... And then wait yet for one hour, until the east again becomes purple, and the heaving mountains, rolling against it in darkness, like waves of a wild sea, are drowned one by one in the glory of its burning: watch the white glaciers blaze in their winding paths about the mountains, like mighty serpents with scales of fire: watch the columnar peaks of solitary snow, kindling downwards, chasm by chasm, each in itself a new morning; their long avalanches cast down in keen streams brighter than the lightning, sending each his tribute of driven snow, like altar-smoke, up to the heaven; the rose-light of their silent domes flushing that heaven about them and above them, piercing with purer light through its purple lines of lifted cloud, casting a new glory on every wreath as it passes by, until the whole heaven, one scarlet canopy, is interwoven with a roof of waving flame, and tossing, vault beyond vault, as with the drifted wings of many companies of angels: and then, when you can look no more for gladness, and when you are bowed down with fear and love of the Maker and Doer of this, tell me who has best delivered this His message unto men![34]

[30] Some sentences of an argumentative nature have been omitted from this selection.

[31] A mythical island in the Atlantic.

[32] I have often seen the white, thin, morning cloud, edged with the seven colours of the prism. I am not aware of the cause of this phenomenon, for it takes place not when we stand with our backs to the sun, but in clouds near the sun itself, irregularly and over indefinite spaces, sometimes taking place in the body of the cloud. The colours are distinct and vivid, but have a kind of metallic lustre upon them. [Ruskin.]

[33] Lake Lucerne. [Ruskin.]

[34] The implication is that Turner has best delivered it.



In taking up the clue of an inquiry, now intermitted for nearly ten years, it may be well to do as a traveller would, who had to recommence an interrupted journey in a guideless country; and, ascending, as it were, some little hill beside our road, note how far we have already advanced, and what pleasantest ways we may choose for farther progress.

I endeavoured, in the beginning of the first volume, to divide the sources of pleasure open to us in Art into certain groups, which might conveniently be studied in succession. After some preliminary discussion, it was concluded that these groups were, in the main, three; consisting, first, of the pleasures taken in perceiving simple resemblance to Nature (Ideas of Truth); secondly, of the pleasures taken in the beauty of the things chosen to be painted (Ideas of Beauty); and, lastly, of pleasures taken in the meanings and relations of these things (Ideas of Relation).

The first volume, treating of the ideas of Truth, was chiefly occupied with an inquiry into the various success with which different artists had represented the facts of Nature,—an inquiry necessarily conducted very imperfectly, owing to the want of pictorial illustration.

The second volume merely opened the inquiry into the nature of ideas of Beauty and Relation, by analysing (as far as I was able to do so) the two faculties of the human mind which mainly seized such ideas; namely, the contemplative and imaginative faculties.

It remains for us to examine the various success of artists, especially of the great landscape-painter whose works have been throughout our principal subject, in addressing these faculties of the human mind, and to consider who among them has conveyed the noblest ideas of beauty, and touched the deepest sources of thought.

I do not intend, however, now to pursue the inquiry in a method so laboriously systematic; for the subject may, it seems to me, be more usefully treated by pursuing the different questions which rise out of it just as they occur to us, without too great scrupulousness in marking connections, or insisting on sequences. Much time is wasted by human beings, in general, on establishment of systems; and it often takes more labour to master the intricacies of an artificial connection, than to remember the separate facts which are so carefully connected. I suspect that system-makers, in general, are not of much more use, each in his own domain, than, in that of Pomona, the old women who tie cherries upon sticks, for the more convenient portableness of the same. To cultivate well, and choose well, your cherries, is of some importance; but if they can be had in their own wild way of clustering about their crabbed stalk, it is a better connection for them than any other; and, if they cannot, then, so that they be not bruised, it makes to a boy of a practical disposition not much difference whether he gets them by handfuls, or in beaded symmetry on the exalting stick. I purpose, therefore, henceforward to trouble myself little with sticks or twine, but to arrange my chapters with a view to convenient reference, rather than to any careful division of subjects, and to follow out, in any by-ways that may open, on right hand or left, whatever question it seems useful at any moment to settle.

And, in the outset, I find myself met by one which I ought to have touched upon before—one of especial interest in the present state of the Arts. I have said that the art is greatest which includes the greatest ideas; but I have not endeavoured to define the nature of this greatness in the ideas themselves. We speak of great truths, of great beauties, great thoughts. What is it which makes one truth greater than another, one thought greater than another? This question is, I repeat, of peculiar importance at the present time; for, during a period now of some hundred and fifty years, all writers on Art who have pretended to eminence, have insisted much on a supposed distinction between what they call the Great and the Low Schools; using the terms "High Art," "Great or Ideal Style," and other such, as descriptive of a certain noble manner of painting, which it was desirable that all students of Art should be early led to reverence and adopt; and characterizing as "vulgar," or "low," or "realist," another manner of painting and conceiving, which it was equally necessary that all students should be taught to avoid.

But lately this established teaching, never very intelligible, has been gravely called in question. The advocates and self-supposed practisers of "High Art" are beginning to be looked upon with doubt, and their peculiar phraseology to be treated with even a certain degree of ridicule. And other forms of Art are partly developed among us, which do not pretend to be high, but rather to be strong, healthy, and humble. This matter of "highness" in Art, therefore, deserves our most careful consideration. Has it been, or is it, a true highness, a true princeliness, or only a show of it, consisting in courtly manners and robes of state? Is it rocky height or cloudy height, adamant or vapour, on which the sun of praise so long has risen and set? It will be well at once to consider this.

And first, let us get, as quickly as may be, at the exact meaning with which the advocates of "High Art" use that somewhat obscure and figurative term.

I do not know that the principles in question are anywhere more distinctly expressed than in two papers in the Idler, written by Sir Joshua Reynolds, of course under the immediate sanction of Johnson; and which may thus be considered as the utterance of the views then held upon the subject by the artists of chief skill, and critics of most sense, arranged in a form so brief and clear as to admit of their being brought before the public for a morning's entertainment. I cannot, therefore, it seems to me, do better than quote these two letters, or at least the important parts of them, examining the exact meaning of each passage as it occurs. There are, in all, in the Idler three letters on painting, Nos. 76, 79, and 82; of these, the first is directed only against the impertinences of pretended connoisseurs, and is as notable for its faithfulness as for its wit in the description of the several modes of criticism in an artificial and ignorant state of society: it is only, therefore, in the two last papers that we find the expression of the doctrines which it is our business to examine.

No. 79 (Saturday, October 20, 1759) begins, after a short preamble, with the following passage:—

"Amongst the Painters, and the writers on Painting, there is one maxim universally admitted and continually inculcated. Imitate nature is the invariable rule; but I know none who have explained in what manner this rule is to be understood; the consequence of which is, that everyone takes it in the most obvious sense—that objects are represented naturally, when they have such relief that they seem real. It may appear strange, perhaps, to hear this sense of the rule disputed; but it must be considered, that, if the excellency of a Painter consisted only in this kind of imitation, Painting must lose its rank, and be no longer considered as a liberal art, and sister to Poetry: this imitation being merely mechanical, in which the slowest intellect is always sure to succeed best; for the Painter of genius cannot stoop to drudgery, in which the understanding has no part; and what pretence has the Art to claim kindred with Poetry but by its power over the imagination? To this power the Painter of genius directs him; in this sense he studies Nature, and often arrives at his end, even by being unnatural in the confined sense of the word.

"The grand style of Painting requires this minute attention to be carefully avoided, and must be kept as separate from it as the style of Poetry from that of History. (Poetical ornaments destroy that air of truth and plainness which ought to characterize History; but the very being of Poetry consists in departing from this plain narrative, and adopting every ornament that will warm the imagination.)[36] To desire to see the excellences of each style united—to mingle the Dutch with the Italian school, is to join contrarieties which cannot subsist together, and which destroy the efficacy of each other."

We find, first, from this interesting passage, that the writer considers the Dutch and Italian masters as severally representative of the low and high schools; next, that he considers the Dutch painters as excelling in a mechanical imitation, "in which the slowest intellect is always sure to succeed best"; and, thirdly, that he considers the Italian painters as excelling in a style which corresponds to that of imaginative poetry in literature, and which has an exclusive right to be called the grand style.

I wish that it were in my power entirely to concur with the writer, and to enforce this opinion thus distinctly stated. I have never been a zealous partisan of the Dutch School, and should rejoice in claiming Reynolds's authority for the assertion, that their manner was one "in which the slowest intellect is always sure to succeed best." But before his authority can be so claimed, we must observe exactly the meaning of the assertion itself, and separate it from the company of some others not perhaps so admissible. First, I say, we must observe Reynolds's exact meaning, for (though the assertion may at first appear singular) a man who uses accurate language is always more liable to misinterpretation than one who is careless in his expressions. We may assume that the latter means very nearly what we at first suppose him to mean, for words which have been uttered without thought may be received without examination. But when a writer or speaker may be fairly supposed to have considered his expressions carefully, and, after having revolved a number of terms in his mind, to have chosen the one which exactly means the thing he intends to say, we may be assured that what costs him time to select, will require from us time to understand, and that we shall do him wrong, unless we pause to reflect how the word which he has actually employed differs from other words which it seems he might have employed. It thus constantly happens that persons themselves unaccustomed to think clearly, or speak correctly, misunderstand a logical and careful writer, and are actually in more danger of being misled by language which is measured and precise, than by that which is loose and inaccurate.

Now, in the instance before us, a person not accustomed to good writing might very rashly conclude that when Reynolds spoke of the Dutch School as one "in which the slowest intellect was sure to succeed best," he meant to say that every successful Dutch painter was a fool. We have no right to take his assertion in that sense. He says, the slowest intellect. We have no right to assume that he meant the weakest. For it is true, that in order to succeed in the Dutch style, a man has need of qualities of mind eminently deliberate and sustained. He must be possessed of patience rather than of power; and must feel no weariness in contemplating the expression of a single thought for several months together. As opposed to the changeful energies of the imagination, these mental characters may be properly spoken of as under the general term—slowness of intellect. But it by no means follows that they are necessarily those of weak or foolish men.

We observe, however, farther, that the imitation which Reynolds supposes to be characteristic of the Dutch School is that which gives to objects such relief that they seem real, and that he then speaks of this art of realistic imitation as corresponding to history in literature.

Reynolds, therefore, seems to class these dull works of the Dutch School under a general head, to which they are not commonly referred—that of historical painting; while he speaks of the works of the Italian School not as historical, but as poetical painting. His next sentence will farther manifest his meaning.

"The Italian attends only to the invariable, the great and general ideas which are fixed and inherent in universal Nature; the Dutch, on the contrary, to literal truth and a minute exactness in the detail, as I may say, of Nature modified by accident. The attention to these petty peculiarities is the very cause of this naturalness so much admired in the Dutch pictures, which, if we suppose it to be a beauty, is certainly of a lower order, which ought to give place to a beauty of a superior kind, since one cannot be obtained but by departing from the other.

"If my opinion was asked concerning the works of Michael Angelo, whether they would receive any advantage from possessing this mechanical merit, I should not scruple to say, they would not only receive no advantage, but would lose, in a great measure, the effect which they now have on every mind susceptible of great and noble ideas. His works may be said to be all genius and soul; and why should they be loaded with heavy matter, which can only counteract his purpose by retarding the progress of the imagination?"

Examining carefully this and the preceding passage, we find the author's unmistakable meaning to be, that Dutch painting is history; attending to literal truth and "minute exactness in the details of nature modified by accident." That Italian painting is poetry, attending only to the invariable; and that works which attend only to the invariable are full of genius and soul; but that literal truth and exact detail are "heavy matter which retards the progress of the imagination."

This being then indisputably what Reynolds means to tell us, let us think a little whether he is in all respects right. And first, as he compares his two kinds of painting to history and poetry, let us see how poetry and history themselves differ, in their use of variable and invariable details. I am writing at a window which commands a view of the head of the Lake of Geneva; and as I look up from my paper, to consider this point, I see, beyond it, a blue breadth of softly moving water, and the outline of the mountains above Chillon, bathed in morning mist. The first verses which naturally come into my mind are—

A thousand feet in depth below The massy waters meet and flow; So far the fathom line was sent From Chillon's snow-white battlement.[37]

Let us see in what manner this poetical statement is distinguished from a historical one.

It is distinguished from a truly historical statement, first, in being simply false. The water under the Castle of Chillon is not a thousand feet deep, nor anything like it.[38] Herein, certainly, these lines fulfil Reynolds's first requirement in poetry, "that it should be inattentive to literal truth and minute exactness in detail." In order, however, to make our comparison more closely in other points, let us assume that what is stated is indeed a fact, and that it was to be recorded, first historically, and then poetically.

Historically stating it, then, we should say: "The lake was sounded from the walls of the Castle of Chillon, and found to be a thousand feet deep."

Now, if Reynolds be right in his idea of the difference between history and poetry, we shall find that Byron leaves out of this statement certain unnecessary details, and retains only the invariable,—that is to say, the points which the Lake of Geneva and Castle of Chillon have in common with all other lakes and castles.

Let us hear, therefore.

A thousand feet in depth below.

"Below"? Here is, at all events, a word added (instead of anything being taken away); invariable, certainly in the case of lakes, but not absolutely necessary.

The massy waters meet and flow.

"Massy"! why massy? Because deep water is heavy. The word is a good word, but it is assuredly an added detail, and expresses a character, not which the Lake of Geneva has in common with all other lakes, but which it has in distinction from those which are narrow, or shallow.

"Meet and flow." Why meet and flow? Partly to make up a rhyme; partly to tell us that the waters are forceful as well as massy, and changeful as well as deep. Observe, a farther addition of details, and of details more or less peculiar to the spot, or, according to Reynolds's definition, of "heavy matter, retarding the progress of the imagination."

So far the fathom line was sent.

Why fathom line? All lines for sounding are not fathom lines. If the lake was ever sounded from Chillon, it was probably sounded in metres, not fathoms. This is an addition of another particular detail, in which the only compliance with Reynolds's requirement is, that there is some chance of its being an inaccurate one.

From Chillon's snow-white battlement.

Why snow-white? Because castle battlements are not usually snow-white. This is another added detail, and a detail quite peculiar to Chillon, and therefore exactly the most striking word in the whole passage.

"Battlement"! Why battlement? Because all walls have not battlements, and the addition of the term marks the castle to be not merely a prison, but a fortress.

This is a curious result. Instead of finding, as we expected, the poetry distinguished from the history by the omission of details, we find it consist entirely in the addition of details; and instead of being characterized by regard only of the invariable, we find its whole power to consist in the clear expression of what is singular and particular!

The reader may pursue the investigation for himself in other instances. He will find in every case that a poetical is distinguished from a merely historical statement, not by being more vague, but more specific; and it might, therefore, at first appear that our author's comparison should be simply reversed, and that the Dutch School should be called poetical, and the Italian historical. But the term poetical does not appear very applicable to the generality of Dutch painting; and a little reflection will show us, that if the Italians represent only the invariable, they cannot be properly compared even to historians. For that which is incapable of change has no history, and records which state only the invariable need not be written, and could not be read.

It is evident, therefore, that our author has entangled himself in some grave fallacy, by introducing this idea of invariableness as forming a distinction between poetical and historical art. What the fallacy is, we shall discover as we proceed; but as an invading army should not leave an untaken fortress in its rear, we must not go on with our inquiry into the views of Reynolds until we have settled satisfactorily the question already suggested to us, in what the essence of poetical treatment really consists. For though, as we have seen, it certainly involves the addition of specific details, it cannot be simply that addition which turns the history into poetry. For it is perfectly possible to add any number of details to a historical statement, and to make it more prosaic with every added word. As, for instance, "The lake was sounded out of a flat-bottomed boat, near the crab-tree at the corner of the kitchen-garden, and was found to be a thousand feet nine inches deep, with a muddy bottom." It thus appears that it is not the multiplication of details which constitutes poetry; nor their subtraction which constitutes history, but that there must be something either in the nature of the details themselves, or the method of using them, which invests them with poetical power or historical propriety.

It seems to me, and may seem to the reader, strange that we should need to ask the question, "What is poetry?" Here is a word we have been using all our lives, and, I suppose, with a very distinct idea attached to it; and when I am now called upon to give a definition of this idea, I find myself at a pause. What is more singular, I do not at present recollect hearing the question often asked, though surely it is a very natural one; and I never recollect hearing it answered, or even attempted to be answered. In general, people shelter themselves under metaphors, and while we hear poetry described as an utterance of the soul, an effusion of Divinity, or voice of nature, or in other terms equally elevated and obscure, we never attain anything like a definite explanation of the character which actually distinguishes it from prose.

I come, after some embarrassment, to the conclusion, that poetry is "the suggestion, by the imagination, of noble grounds for the noble emotions."[39] I mean, by the noble emotions, those four principal sacred passions—Love, Veneration, Admiration, and Joy (this latter especially, if unselfish); and their opposites—Hatred, Indignation (or Scorn), Horror, and Grief,—this last, when unselfish, becoming Compassion. These passions in their various combinations constitute what is called "poetical feeling," when they are felt on noble grounds, that is, on great and true grounds. Indignation, for instance, is a poetical feeling, if excited by serious injury; but it is not a poetical feeling if entertained on being cheated out of a small sum of money. It is very possible the manner of the cheat may have been such as to justify considerable indignation; but the feeling is nevertheless not poetical unless the grounds of it be large as well as just. In like manner, energetic admiration may be excited in certain minds by a display of fireworks, or a street of handsome shops; but the feeling is not poetical, because the grounds of it are false, and therefore ignoble. There is in reality nothing to deserve admiration either in the firing of packets of gunpowder, or in the display of the stocks of warehouses. But admiration excited by the budding of a flower is a poetical feeling, because it is impossible that this manifestation of spiritual power and vital beauty can ever be enough admired.

Farther, it is necessary to the existence of poetry that the grounds of these feelings should be furnished by the imagination. Poetical feeling, that is to say, mere noble emotion, is not poetry. It is happily inherent in all human nature deserving the name, and is found often to be purest in the least sophisticated. But the power of assembling, by the help of the imagination, such images as will excite these feelings, is the power of the poet or literally of the "Maker."[40]

Now this power of exciting the emotions depends of course on the richness of the imagination, and on its choice of those images which, in combination, will be most effective, or, for the particular work to be done, most fit. And it is altogether impossible for a writer not endowed with invention to conceive what tools a true poet will make use of, or in what way he will apply them, or what unexpected results he will bring out by them; so that it is vain to say that the details of poetry ought to possess, or ever do possess, any definite character. Generally speaking, poetry runs into finer and more delicate details than prose; but the details are not poetical because they are more delicate, but because they are employed so as to bring out an affecting result. For instance, no one but a true poet would have thought of exciting our pity for a bereaved father by describing his way of locking the door of his house:

Perhaps to himself at that moment he said, The key I must take, for my Ellen is dead; But of this in my ears not a word did he speak; And he went to the chase with a tear on his cheek.[41]

In like manner, in painting, it is altogether impossible to say beforehand what details a great painter may make poetical by his use of them to excite noble emotions: and we shall, therefore, find presently that a painting is to be classed in the great or inferior schools, not according to the kind of details which it represents, but according to the uses for which it employs them.

It is only farther to be noticed, that infinite confusion has been introduced into this subject by the careless and illogical custom of opposing painting to poetry, instead of regarding poetry as consisting in a noble use, whether of colours or words. Painting is properly to be opposed to speaking or writing, but not to poetry. Both painting and speaking are methods of expression. Poetry is the employment of either for the noblest purposes.

This question being thus far determined, we may proceed with our paper in the Idler.

"It is very difficult to determine the exact degree of enthusiasm that the arts of Painting and Poetry may admit. There may, perhaps, be too great indulgence as well as too great a restraint of imagination; if the one produces incoherent monsters, the other produces what is full as bad, lifeless insipidity. An intimate knowledge of the passions, and good sense, but not common sense, must at last determine its limits. It has been thought, and I believe with reason, that Michael Angelo sometimes transgressed those limits; and, I think, I have seen figures of him of which it was very difficult to determine whether they were in the highest degree sublime or extremely ridiculous. Such faults may be said to be the ebullitions of genius; but at least he had this merit, that he never was insipid; and whatever passion his works may excite, they will always escape contempt.

"What I have had under consideration is the sublimest style, particularly that of Michael Angelo, the Homer of painting. Other kinds may admit of this naturalness, which of the lowest kind is the chief merit; but in painting, as in poetry, the highest style has the least of common nature."

From this passage we gather three important indications of the supposed nature of the Great Style. That it is the work of men in a state of enthusiasm. That it is like the writing of Homer; and that it has as little as possible of "common nature" in it.

First, it is produced by men in a state of enthusiasm. That is, by men who feel strongly and nobly; for we do not call a strong feeling of envy, jealousy, or ambition, enthusiasm. That is, therefore, by men who feel poetically. This much we may admit, I think, with perfect safety. Great art is produced by men who feel acutely and nobly; and it is in some sort an expression of this personal feeling. We can easily conceive that there may be a sufficiently marked distinction between such art, and that which is produced by men who do not feel at all, but who reproduce, though ever so accurately, yet coldly, like human mirrors, the scenes which pass before their eyes.

Secondly, Great Art is like the writing of Homer, and this chiefly because it has little of "common nature" in it. We are not clearly informed what is meant by common nature in this passage. Homer seems to describe a great deal of what is common:—cookery, for instance, very carefully in all its processes.[42] I suppose the passage in the Iliad which, on the whole, has excited most admiration, is that which describes a wife's sorrow at parting from her husband, and a child's fright at its father's helmet;[43] and I hope, at least, the former feeling may be considered "common nature." But the true greatness of Homer's style is, doubtless, held by our author to consist in his imaginations of things not only uncommon but impossible (such as spirits in brazen armour, or monsters with heads of men and bodies of beasts), and in his occasional delineations of the human character and form in their utmost, or heroic, strength and beauty. We gather then on the whole, that a painter in the Great Style must be enthusiastic, or full of emotion, and must paint the human form in its utmost strength and beauty, and perhaps certain impossible forms besides, liable by persons not in an equally enthusiastic state of mind to be looked upon as in some degree absurd. This I presume to be Reynolds's meaning, and to be all that he intends us to gather from his comparison of the Great Style with the writings of Homer. But if that comparison be a just one in all respects, surely two other corollaries ought to be drawn from it, namely,—first, that these Heroic or Impossible images are to be mingled with others very unheroic and very possible; and, secondly, that in the representation of the Heroic or Impossible forms, the greatest care must be taken in finishing the details, so that a painter must not be satisfied with painting well the countenance and the body of his hero, but ought to spend the greatest part of his time (as Homer the greatest number of verses) in elaborating the sculptured pattern on his shield.

Let us, however, proceed with our paper.

"One may very safely recommend a little more enthusiasm to the modern Painters; too much is certainly not the vice of the present age. The Italians seem to have been continually declining in this respect, from the time of Michael Angelo to that of Carlo Maratti,[44] and from thence to the very bathos of insipidity to which they are now sunk; so that there is no need of remarking, that where I mentioned the Italian painters in opposition to the Dutch, I mean not the moderns, but the heads of the old Roman and Bolognian schools; nor did I mean to include, in my idea of an Italian painter, the Venetian school, which may be said to be the Dutch part of the Italian genius. I have only to add a word of advice to the Painters,—that, however excellent they may be in painting naturally, they would not flatter themselves very much upon it; and to the Connoisseurs, that when they see a cat or a fiddle painted so finely, that, as the phrase is, it looks as if you could take it up, they would not for that reason immediately compare the Painter to Raffaelle and Michael Angelo."

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