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Posts Tagged ‘Victorian England’

John Ruskin- Ferns on a Rock 1875

The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something and tell what it saw in a plain way. Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see. To see clearly is poetry, prophecy and religion, all in one.

–John Ruskin

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I have been very interested lately  in the work and life of John  Ruskin,  who lived from 1819-1900.  He was one of those Victorian British sorts who displayed a wide range of talents throughout the era.  He was one of the greatest of  British watercolorists, perhaps second only to the great JMW Turner, whose work he defended in a book, Modern Painters, that sought to prove the superiority of the landscape painting of the time  over that of the early Masters.

John Ruskin- Amalfi

Although his painting is wonderful, he is probably best known for his criticism and his writing.  He had a real dogmatic sense of certainty in everything he took on, a quality that was very appealing if you agreed with his views but one that didn’t always sit well with those who did not.  I am not going to go into a biography of his life here but I wouldn’t deter anyone from looking further on their own by clicking on his name above or going to his bio page at the Victorian Web.  It is a most interesting life filled with famous names, controversy ( a famous court case with Ruskin being sued by James MacNeil Whistler for libel) , madness and tragedy.  All the elements of a great story.

The thing that first caught my eye was not his painting, though I do really like and appreciate it, but a rather a passage from a lecture he gave that I thought could have been written for our time as well as we seem to be ever more embracing of a culture that is anti-intellectual, anti-environmental and anti-science.  He wrote:

No nation can last, which has made a mob of itself, however generous at heart. It must discipline its passions, and direct them or they will discipline it, one day, with scorpion-whips. Above all, a nation cannot last in a money-making job; it cannot with impunity,–it cannot with existence–go on despising literature, despising science, despising nature, despising compassion, and concentrating its soul on Pence.

There are days when I fear that we must prepare ourselves for those scorpion-whips that Ruskin foresaw.

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