Monthly Archives: December 2010

Blind Mouths

From Sesame and Lilies, “Of Kings’ Treasuries,” by John Ruskin

…The first thing, therefore, that a bishop has to do is at least to put himself in a position in which, at any moment, he can obtain the history, from childhood, of every living soul in his diocese, and of its present state. Down in that back street, Bill and Nancy, knocking each other’s teeth out! – Does the bishop know all about it? Has he his eye upon them? Has he had his eye upon them? Can he circumstantially explain to us how Bill got into the habit of beating Nancy about the head? If he cannot, he is no bishop, though he had a mitre as high as Salisbury steeple; he is no bishop, — he has sought to be at the helm instead of the masthead; he has no sight of things. “Nay,” you say, “it is not his duty to look after Bill in the back street.” What! the fat sheep that have full fleeces – you think it is only those he should look after while (go back to your Milton) “the hungry sheep look up, and are not fed, besides what the grim wolf, with privy paw” (bishops knowing nothing about it)., “daily devours apace, and nothing said.”?

and a page or two later, speaking of those “puffed up” with religion, a few lines that ring true today:

This is literally true of all false religious teaching; the first and last, and fatalest sign of it, is that “puffing up.” Your converted children, who teach their parents; your converted convicts, who teach honest men; your converted dunces, who, having lived in cretinous stupefaction half their lives, suddenly awakening to the fact of there being a God, fancy themselves therefore His peculiar people and messengers; your sectarians of every species, small and great, Catholic or Protestant, of high church or low, in so far as they think themselves exclusively in the right and others wrong; and, pre-eminently, in every sect, those who hold that men can be saved by thinking rightly instead of doing rightly, by word instead of act, and wish instead of work; — these are the true fog children – clouds, these, without water; bodies, these, of putrescent vapour and skin, without blood or flesh; blown bagpipes for the fiends to pipe with – corrupt, and corrupting, — “Swollen with wind, and the rank mist they draw.”

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Ad Valorem

From Unto This Last, by John Ruskin, 1860

    The best and simplest general type of capital is a well-made ploughshare. Now, if that ploughshare did nothing but beget other ploughshares, in a polypous manner, — however the great cluster of polypous plough might glitter in the sun, it would have lost its function of capital. It becomes true capital only by another type of splendor, — when it is seen “splendescere sulco,” to grow bright in the furrow; rather with diminution of its substance, than addition, by the noble friction. And the true home question, to every capitalist and to every nation, is not, “how many ploughs have you?” but , “where are your furrows?” not “how quickly will this capital reproduce itself?” – but, “what will it do during reproduction?” What substance will it furnish, good for life? what work construct, protective of life? if none, its own reproduction is useless – if worse than none, — (for capital may destroy life as well as support it), its own reproduction is worse than useless; ….

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Fors Clavigera

From Fors Clavigera, Letter 1, January 1870, by John Ruskin

            I have listened to many ingenious persons, who say we are better off now than ever we were before. I do not know how well off we were before; but I know positively that many very deserving persons of my acquaintance have great difficulty in living under these improved circumstances: also, that my desk is full of begging letters, eloquently written either by distressed or dishonest people; and that we cannot be called, as a nation, well off, while so many of us are either living in honest or in villainous beggary.

            For my own part, I will put up with this state of things, passively, not an hour longer. I am not an unselfish person, nor an Evangelical one; I have no particular pleasure in doing good; neither do I dislike doing it so much as to expect to be rewarded for it in another world. But I simply cannot paint, nor read, nor look at minerals, nor do anything else that I like, and the very light of the morning sky, when there is any – which is seldom, nowadays, near London – has become hateful to me, because of the misery that I know of, and see signs of, where I know it not, which no imagination can interpret too bitterly.

            Therefore, as I have said, I will endure it no longer quietly; but henceforward, with any few or many who will help, do my poor best to abate this misery. But that I may do my best, I must not be miserable myself any longer; for no man who is wretched in his own heart, and feeble in his own work, can rightly help others.

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