Mr. Weller Speaks of Wisdom

From Pickwick Papers, chapter 55.

‘You think so now,’ said Mr. Weller, with the gravity of age, ‘but you’ll find as that you get vider, you’ll get viser. Vidth and Visdom, Sammy, alvays grows together.’

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Fancy Writing

From John Ruskin, Fors Clavigera, 23rd letter, November 1, 1872.

People used to call me a good writer then; now they say I can’t write at all; because, for instance, if I think anybody’s house is on fire, I only say, “Sir, your house is on fire;” whereas formerly I used to say, “Sir, the abode in which you probably passed the delightful days of youth is in a state of inflammation,” and everybody used to like the effect of the two p’s in “probably passed,” and of the two d’s in “delightful days.”

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Alms

From John Ruskin, Fors Clavigera, 19th letter, July 1, 1872.

Observe then, once for all, it is to be a company for Alms-giving, not for dividend-getting. For I still believe in Alms-giving, though most people now-a-days do not, but think the only hopeful way of serving their neighbor is to make a profit out of him. I am of the opinion, on the contrary, that the hopefullest way of serving him is to let him make a profit out of me, and I only ask the help of people who are at one with me in that mind.

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Letter the Fifteenth

From Ruskin, Fors Clavigera, fifteenth letter, March, 1872. Fors is surely the greatest blog of its age, or of ours, for that matter. The fifteenth letter is so strange in its wonderful, mysterious, Ruskinian discursiveness. There’s this, right at the beginning:

…but the unjust relations of the soldier, clergyman, and peasant have been hitherto constant in all great nations; they are full of mystery and beauty in their iniquity…

And toward the end, speaking of the funeral of Colonel James Fiske, who was:

…no more a soldier in deed than you are yourselves, when you go piping and drumming past my gate in Denmark Hill (I should rather say – banging, than drumming, for I observe you hit equally hard and straightforward to every tune; so that from a distance it sounds just like beating carpets), under the impression that you are defending your country as well as amusing yourselves.

I like this, too, in the next paragraph, but who knows why:

I am soon going to Florence myself to draw this beautiful San Giovanni for the beginning of my lectures on Architecture, at Oxford; and you shall have a print of the best sketch I can make, to assist your meditations on the honors of soldiership, and the efficacy of baptism.

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One’s Duty to Art

From Ruskin’s The Stones of Venice, Vol. 3 (Works, XI, 212ff.)

We have just seen that all great art is the work of the whole living creature, body and soul, and chiefly of the soul. But it is not only the work of the whole creature, it likewise addresses the whole creature. That in which the perfect being speaks must also have the perfect being to listen. I am not to spend my utmost spirit, and give all my strength and life to my work, while you, spectator or hearer, will give me only the attention of half your soul. You must be all mine, as I am all yours; it is the only condition on which we can meet each other. All your faculties, all that is in you of greatest and best, must be awake in you, or I have no reward. The painter is not to cast the entire treasure of his human nature into his labour merely to please a part of the beholder; not merely to delight his senses, not merely to amuse his fancy, not merely to beguile him into emotion, not merely to lead him into thought; but to do all this. Senses, fancy, feeling, reason, the whole of the beholding spirit, must be stilled in attention or stirred with delight; else the labouring spirit has not done its work well. For observe, it is not merely its right to be thus met, face to face, heart to heart; but it is its duty to evoke this answering of the other soul; its trumpet call must be so clear, that though the challenge may by dulness or indolence be unanswered, there shall be no error as to the meaning of the appeal; there must be a summons in the work, which it shall be our own fault if we do not obey. We require this of it, we beseech this of it. Most men to not know what is in them till they receive this summons from their fellows: their hearts die within them, sleep settles upon them, the lethargy of the world’s miasmata; there is nothing for which they are so thankful as that cry, “Awake, thou that sleepest.” And this cry must be most loudly uttered to their noblest facilities; first of all, to the imagination, for that is the most tender, and the soonest struck into numbness by the poisoned air; so that one of the main functions of art, in its service to man, is to rouse the imagination from its palsy, like the angel troubling the Bethesda pool; and the art which does not do this is false to its duty, and degraded in its nature. It is not enough that it be well imagined, it must task the beholder to imagine well; and this so imperatively, that if he does not choose to rouse himself to meet the work, he shall not taste it, nor enjoy it in any wise. Once that he is well awake, the guidance which the artist gives him should be full and authoritative: the beholder’s imagination should not be suffered to take its own way, or wander hither and thither; but neither must it be left at rest; and the right point of realization, for any given work of art, is that which will enable the spectator to complete it for himself, in the exact way the artist would have him, but not that which will save him the trouble of effecting the completion. So soon as the idea is entirely conveyed, the artist’s labour should cease; and every touch which he adds beyond the point when, with the help of the beholder’s imagination, the story ought to have been told, is a degradation to his work. So that the art is wrong which either realizes its subject completely, or fails in giving such devinite aid as shall enable it to be realized by the beholding imagination.

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Plus ça change

For those who think that the Teenager is a modern invention, there’s this, from Dickens’s Sketches by Boz, 1836, The scene is a box at the theater:

First of all, there came three little boys and a little girl, who, in pursuance of pa’s directions, issued in a very audible voice from the box-door, occupied the front row; then two more little girls were ushered in by a young lady, evidently the governess. Then came three more little boys, dressed like the first, in blue jackets and trousers, with lay-down shirt-collars: then a child in a braided frock, and a high state of astonishment, with very large round eyes, opened to their utmost width, was lifted over the seats – a process which occasioned a considerable display of little pink legs – then came ma and pa, and then the eldest son, a boy of fourteen years old, who was evidently trying to look as if he did not belong to the family.

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…to stay what is fleeting…

From John Ruskin, The Stones of Venice, Vol. III (Works, XI, 62).

But what we want art to do for us is to stay what is fleeting, and to enlighten what is incomprehensible, to incorporate the things that have no measure, and immortalize the things that have no duration. The dimly seen, momentary glance, the flitting shadow of faint emotion, the imperfect lines of fading thought, and all that bay and through such things as these is recorded on the features of man, and all that in man’s person and actions, and in the great natural world, is infinite and wonderful; having in it that spirit and power which man may witness, but not weigh; conceive, but not comprehend; love, but not limit; and imagine, but not define; – this , the beginning and the end of the aim of all noble art, we have, in the ancient art, by perception; and we have not, in the newer art, by knowledge. Giotto gives it us; Orcagna gives it us; Angelico, Memmi, Pisano, – it matters not who, – give it us; and the learned men that followed them give it us not, and we, in our supreme learning, own ourselves at this day farther from it than ever.

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