Imagens das páginas

their wine, they did not understand it, and that, if they wanted an extension of credit, they could not have it. His chief fault was his dislike of being excelled. He therefore chose his clerks, first for trustworthiness, secondly for incapacity. He used to send Henry Watson on business tours and assure him afterwards that he had done more harm than good; he would sometimes permit Henry Ritchie to write a business letter, and find with some satisfaction that it was needful afterward to write two himself, in correction of it; but both stayed with him till his death. He left 120,000 pounds, with various other property, to his son. To his wife he left 37,000 pounds. Upon his tomb appears this inscription: "He was an entirely honest merchant, and his memory is to all who keep it dear and helpful. His son, whom he loved to the uttermost, and taught to speak truth, says this of him.”

The success which he won, in spite of his independence, was due to the utmost care in executing orders and to the fact that he himself travelled for those orders instead of sending an agent. On these expeditions, which were made in wonderful old-fashioned coaches, he always took his family, including. Anne. They started as soon as possible after May 10, the father's birthday; toured through half the English counties; and sometimes invaded Scotland. Usually they started at six and had done their fifty miles in time for four o'clock dinner. After a while they ventured also to tour the continent and derived great satisfaction therefrom. Ruskin writes: modern slaves and simpletons who let themselves be dragged like cattle or felled timber through the countries they imagine themselves visiting can have no conception whatever of the complex joys and ingenious hopes connected with the choice and arrangement of the travelling carriage in old times.” Perhaps one may be pardoned for indulging in the luxury of wondering if his contempt for railroads would have included limousines.

The cumulative effect of all this varied training was that Friday was gloomy to him because of the approach of Sunday, and Monday joyous because of its departure; that he learned to enjoy the rich colors of the folds and creases of the pulpit cushion when the clergyman thumped it; that Mrs. Sherwood's “ Lady of the Manor awful book to him because it told of wicked girls who went to balls

[ocr errors]

The poor

was an

and died soon after of fever; that his disposition was extremely amiable when he was not bothered; that he could not learn to ride a horse, which his parents took for a sign of genius; that he acquired the habit of fixed attention; and that Mazzini declared that he had the most analytic mind in Europe, "an opinion in which," Ruskin modestly said," so far as I am acquainted with Europe, I am entirely disposed to concur.” Then, in a happy moment, a friend gave him Rogers's“ Italy," with illustrations by Turner. The latter aroused his enthusiasm and became a determining factor in his life. Later, when introduced to Rogers, instead of showing proper admiration for his verse, Ruskin congratulated him on the beauty of Turner's pictures and found the subject of conversation promptly turned to Africa. So he began to draw and to write verses not much worse than Mr. Rogers's own. And, in due time, being introduced to Mr. Domecq's four daughters, he was in four days reduced to a mere heap of white ashes, in which unhappy state he remained four years, from 17 to 21, as wretched as a stock-fish in an aquarium. Adèle Clothilde, whose charms were responsible for this calamity, being Spanish born, Parisian bred, and Catholic-hearted, he tried to entertain her by his own views on the Spanish Armada, the Battle of Waterloo, and the doctrine of transubstantiation. His mother was as annoyed at all this as if one of her chimneys had begun to smoke; Adèle laughed at him; and he set himself, in a state of majestic imbecility, to write a tragedy in which the sorrows of his soul were to be enshrined in immortal verse. “ There was really no more capacity nor intelligence in me,” he wrote in his old age, “than in a justfledged owlet, or just open-eyed puppy, disconsolate at the existence of the moon.”

In this state, somewhat ameliorated by private tutors, he was entered 1837 at Christ Church, Oxford, as a gentleman commoner. Gentlemen commoners are charged high fees and not expected to do any work or know much, and Ruskin was so entered because his father was afraid he could not pass the entrance examinations required of ordinary students. His companions, mostly noblemen's sons, received him as if he had been an inoffensive little cur; were loud in congratulation when he floored their tutor; cursed him with fiery disdain when he was guilty of the impropriety of writing an essay with any meaning in it, like vulgar students; tried to interest him in horse-racing; and drank his wine with approval, though they threw out of his window to the porter's children the fruit he had sent for from London for their refreshment. But they were gentlemen none the less. They never referred disrespectfully to the fact that his mother had taken up her residence at Oxford in order to be near him.

When he entered Oxford, Ruskin as a matter of fact was already a lover of art, a student of antiquity, and a minute observer of nature. He was also a successful contributor to various journals. In 1839 he won the Newdigate prize with a poem on “ Salsette and Elephanta." In spite of the example of his noble companions, he studied hard, so hard, in fact, that in 1840 he was threatened with consumption and sought refuge with his parents in Italy. On his return he took a pass degree, and set to work on a vindication of Turner, whose acquaintance he had just made and whose pictures he had begun to buy and treasure. This enterprise gradually expanded into five huge volumes, which appeared at intervals during the next twenty years and discuss the whole field of art. The first volume was published 1843 under the clumsy and contentious title—“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.” Turner was embarrassed at the greatness thus thrust upon him and many a dauber enraged because his market was spoiled. As Punch put it, their wail amounted to this:

“I paints and paints,
Hears no complaints,

And sells before I'm dry,
Till savage Ruskin
Sticks his tusk in,

And nobody will buy." But judges of literature perceived that a new master of English prose had appeared; laymen welcomed the book because it furnished them a key such as had not hitherto existed for the understanding of pictures; and even the enraged artists studied it eagerly, for it contained a mass of material the value of which they had to recognize. A second volume was published 1846. In the interval between the two Ruskin had discovered the great Christian art of mediæval Italy. He had also perfected his style.

His next important work, “The Seven Lamps of Architecture,” followed in 1849. Alarmed at the frivolity of the modern world and at its machinery, he sought in this book to show that architecture is the crowning embodiment of the virtues that make life excellent and that good architecture is impossible unless workmen are guided by the lamps of sacrifice, truth, power, beauty, memory, and obedience, all kindled by a living fire from heaven. Perhaps the most eloquent and noticeable passages of the work are those in which he protested against the ruin of the masterpieces of architecture by attempts to restore them.

In this same spirit, he wrote during the years immediately following the greatest of his works, “ The Stones of Venice.” The first volume appeared 1851, the other two 1853. One chapter, the sixth of the second volume, entitled “On the Nature of Gothic," is the central part of his whole teaching. With the twentieth chapter of Carlyle's “Sartor Resartus,” it calls on men not to despair but to labor and to hope. The spirit of the whole book reminds one of Revelations, xxi, 27, “And I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from God, out of Heaven," while its details make the reader think of Byron's stanza beginning:

“I stood in Venice on the Bridge of Sighs,

A palace and a prison on each hand;
I saw from out the wave her structures rise

As from the stroke of an enchanter's wand." After the “ Stones of Venice was completed, Ruskin returned to what he considered his main work, “Modern Painters.” The third and fourth volumes appeared 1856. In them he showed that he had arrived at the conclusion that art which is a mere record of facts is not art at all and that no real art is possible which is not the outcome of life lived in accordance with the laws of God. The last volume, which appeared 1860, showed that he was weary of the subject. He had become the dictator of taste. His teaching had already produced a revolution in domestic architecture. Turner was recognized as the greatest landscapist. Art-education was extended to the masses. And yet Ruskin was not satisfied.

As a matter of fact, his interest had shifted from art to ethics. The times were out of joint and he proceeded to try to set them right. A violent Tory of the old school (Walter Scott's school, that is to say, and Homer's) he had a most sincere love of kings and dislike of everybody who had attempted to disobey them. But a king, he thought, should do more work and get less pay than his followers, whereas the idea of a king in modern times has become that of one who governs less and gets more than anybody else. Up to 1860, therefore, he was a writer on art; after that he devoted his whole energy to the task of rescuing the lower classes from the intolerable wrongs which, in his judgment, were imposed upon them by a false conception of political economy. His first enunciation of his views alienated his own father, frightened Thackeray to such an extent that he withdrew a series of articles by Ruskin begun in “ The Cornhill Magazine," and won the stanch approval of Carlyle.

The ideas which created this tempest amount to this: Don't talk about your work, but do it. We want more faith and less reasoning, less strength and more trust, and must want them until this disgusting nineteenth century has steamed its last. Equal energy expended should bring equal reward. The possession of capital does not entitle a man to unearned increment. The so-called law of supply and demand is a fallacy, as is shown by the superabundance of poetry and the lack of food. Competition as a principle is wrong. To get rid of it labor should be organized into guilds, which should include all the masters and all the men. Good workmanship, honest production, fair wages for the men, and immunity from loss for the masters would thus be secured. Retail trade, if carried out by the salaried officers of the guild, would be neither precarious nor degrading. Workmen, holding a well-defined and dignified position, and having through a trade council some control over their work and wages, would have no ground for discontent. Masters would be the friends and not the enemies of their men, their superior talents would be recognized and used, and they would enjoy a certain pecuniary advantage but not that huge disproportion of income which is the plague of modern commerce

« AnteriorContinuar »