Lapas attēli
PDF
ePub

As soon as he could read she began a course of Bible study, beginning at Genesis, and going straight through, “hard names and all,” and Ruskin says that to this he owed the first cultivation of his ear in sound, and that he considered it the most precious and essential part of his education. His father was a wealthy wine merchant who during the summer traveled through the various counties of England, and into Scotland, on a tour for orders. He traveled leisurely in his own post-chaise, often taking his son with him, and thus Ruskin early learned to know and to love the country. When he was four years old his father moved to Herne Hill, a suburb of London, where Ruskin lived for nearly fifty years. He was a lonely, dreamy boy, having but little companionship, and given to watching the clouds, the flowers, or the ants in his father's garden. When he was twelve years old he was given a copy of Roger's Italy, illustrated by the great artist Turner, which he pored over, learning to love the pictures. In Praeterita (scenes of his past life) Ruskin tells us how deeply these early impressions influenced his life, which was outwardly rather uneventful.

His education was largely conducted at home and at a small day-school at Peckham. In 1837 he matriculated at Christ Church, Oxford. He had already begun to contribute to the Architectural Magazine, and in 1839 he won the Newdigate prize for an English poem. Shortly after his graduation from Oxford, he entered the lists, in his Modern Painters (1st vol. 1843), as a champion of the artist Turner, who had received at that time but scanty recognition. This work, although the outcome of a desire to vindicate Turner, far outgrew its original intention, and became a setting forth of Ruskin's theory of art. In the spring

of 1840 Ruskin had an illness, and the physicians ordered him to go to Italy and live out-of-doors. This practically ended his Oxford days, although upon his return to England he took a pass degree.

For about twenty years from the publication of the first volume of Modern Painters, Ruskin gave his chief energies to the study and criticism of art.

The Stones of Venice, and the concluding volumes of Modern Painters, are among the works of this time. But from about 1860, while Ruskin's deepest interests remained unchanged, his best efforts were given to ethics and social reform. “I am tormented,” he wrote, “between the longing for rest and lovely life, and the sense of the terrific call of human crime for resistance, and of human misery for help.” Great as this break in Ruskin's life seems, from art to social science, the work of this second period was the logical outcome of the first. For twenty years he had labored for pure art, and he had come to believe that it was idle to preach the love of art and of beauty to a nation whose standards of living were so low, and whose ideals were wealth and worldly success. To promote the cause of art, it seemed necessary to purify the entire social system, and to establish truer and nobler ideals of living. Thus Ruskin was brought, though by a different route, to face the same problems as confronted Carlyle and other thoughtful men of his time.

of his time. The industrial changes of the last hundred years had brought not only an enormous increase in wealth, but new chances of acquiring it by people of every class. The love of money had become more and more the great temptation of the modern world. In 1871 Ruskin issued the first number of a series of tracts entitled Fors Clavigera. They were addressed to working men, and had

for their chief object the formation and promotion of a society called the Guild of St. George, in which practical work should be done towards solving the problems of poverty and crime. This craving to do something practical is the inspiration of "Fors.Ruskin met with a great deal of opposition and a great deal of ridicule, some even going so far as to call him mad. The difficulty was, that he was ahead of his time, and

[graphic][ocr errors][merged small]

like many prophets he met with little encouragement. He practised what he preached, he gave £7000 toward St. George's Guild, he bought land and established farms, he set up mills which should be run largely by hand instead of machinery, he established schools of agriculture and of art.

The last years of Ruskin's life were spent largely at Brantwood, his home on Lake Coniston in the beautiful Lake country. There his energies were chiefly devoted to the cause of social justice. His father

had left him a fortune of £200,000: he gave away eleven-twelfths of this great inheritance, and died in 1900 a comparatively poor man.

His Work. -- Nothing but a most loving and patient study of his works can give any conception of the beauty of Ruskin's prose style. He has the exquisite sensibility of a landscape painter, joined to a poet's love of language. Take, for instance, his description of the shore of the Bay of Uri, Lake Lucerne: “Steepest there on its western side, the walls of its rocks ascend to heaven. Far in the blue evening, like a great cathedral pavement, lies the lake in its darkness; and you may hear the whisper of innumerable falling waters return from the hollows of the cliff, like the voices of a multitude praying under their breath. From time to time the beat of a wave, slow lifted, where the rocks lean over the black depth, dies heavily as the last note of a requiem. Opposite, green with steep grass, and set with chalet villages, the Fron-Alp rises in one solemn glow of pastoral light and peace; and above, against the clouds of twilight, ghostly on the gray precipice, stand, myriad by myriad, the shadowy armies of the Unterwalden pine.” Ruskin's descriptions of Nature affect us not merely because of their magical richness and flow of style, but because to him, as to Wordsworth and Carlyle, the shows of earth and sky are more than any empty pageant, they reveal the soul of God.

Ideas of Beauty and Art. — Ruskin believed we are so made that, when we are cultivated, we must delight in beauty and be thankful to its Creator. The apprehension of true beauty is then a test of our nearness to Him whom it expresses and reveals. With these ideas of Nature and beauty, Ruskin's principles of art are naturally connected. Just as the perception

of beauty is a moral attribute, so the interpretation of beauty is likewise moral, the art of a pure soul. Great art implies the union of both powers. On this principle of the foundation of great art in morality, all Ruskin's work as an art critic is built. These ideas of Ruskin's must be firmly grasped, for they are the keynote of both his life and his work.

Social Reform. - As Ruskin's first twenty years were given to art, so all the remainder of his life was poured out in his passion for reform. Not that he wished to enter the arena; he loved a life of quiet and contemplation, but the work called and no one else responded. It meant that Ruskin had to leave a chosen and successful career to enter upon one bristling with difficulties, where he met with discouragement, disappointment, and the falling away of friends. Yet he answered to the call of human misery and gave his time, his money, his writing, himself, to the great

Whatever we may think of the wisdom or practical value of Ruskin's economic doctrines, we cannot but feel a glow of admiration for the high aims and splendid self-sacrifice of Ruskin himself. In his lifetime Ruskin suffered much from misunderstanding, ridicule, and neglect, but while some of his prominent contemporaries have lost in popular estimation, as the years have gone by, Ruskin's influence has steadily increased and his fame was never higher than now.

Other Prose-Writers. — The study of such masters as Macaulay, Carlyle, and Ruskin helps us to realize that the Victorian era was distinctly an age of great prose. In poetry, the age of Victoria must yield the first place to the age of Elizabeth: Tennyson and Browning were indeed great, yet Shakespeare, at least, was greater. But in the province of prose litera

cause.

« iepriekšējāTurpināt »