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The Pleasures of EnglandLectures given in OxfordByJohn Ruskin

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The Pleasures of England

Lectures given in Oxford

By

John Ruskin

Table of Contents

LECTURE I. THE PLEASURES OF LEARNING.

LECTURE II. THE PLEASURES OF FAITH.

LECTURE III. THE PLEASURES OF DEED.

LECTURE IV. (Nov. 8, 1884.)

FOOTNOTES.

LECTURE I. THE PLEASURES OF LEARNING.

Bertha to Osburga.

In the short review of the present state of English Art, given you last year, I left necessarily many points untouched, and others unexplained. The seventh lecture, which I did not think it necessary to read aloud, furnished you with some of the corrective statements of which, whether spoken or not, it was extremely desirable that you should estimate the balancing weight. These I propose in the present course farther to illustrate, and to arrive with you at, I hope, a just—you would not wish it to be a flattering—estimate of the conditions of our English artistic life, past and present, in order that with due allowance for them we may determine, with some security, what those of us who have faculty ought to do, and those who have sensibility, to admire.

2. In thus rightly doing and feeling, you will find summed a wider duty, and granted a greater power, than the moral philosophy at this moment current with you has ever conceived; and a prospect opened to you besides, of such a Future for England as you may both hopefully and proudly labour for with your hands, and those of you who are spared to the ordinary term of human life, even see with your eyes, when all this tumult of vain avarice and idle pleasure, into which you have been plunged at birth, shall have passed into its appointed perdition.

3. I wish that you would read for introduction to the lectures I have this year arranged for you, that on the Future of England, which I gave to the cadets at Woolwich in the first year of my Professorship here, 1869; and which is now placed as the main conclusion of the "Crown of Wild Olive": and with it, very attentively, the close of my inaugural lecture given here; for the matter, no less than the tenor of which, I was reproved by all my friends, as irrelevant and ill-judged;—which, nevertheless, is of all the pieces of teaching I have ever given from this chair, the most pregnant and essential to whatever studies, whether of Art or Science, you may pursue, in this place or elsewhere, during your lives.

The opening words of that passage I will take leave to read to you again,—for they must still be the ground of whatever help I can give you, worth your acceptance.

"There is a destiny now possible to us—the highest ever set before a nation to be accepted or refused. We are still undegenerate in race: a race mingled of the best northern blood. We are not yet dissolute in temper, but still have the firmness to govern, and the grace to obey. We have been taught a religion of pure mercy, which we must either now finally betray, or learn to defend by fulfilling. And we are rich in an inheritance of honour, bequeathed to us through a thousand years of noble history, which it should be our daily thirst to increase with splendid avarice; so that Englishmen, if it be a sin to covet honour, should be the most offending souls alive. Within the last few years we have had the laws of natural science opened to us with a rapidity which has been blinding by its brightness; and means of transit and communication given to us, which have made but one kingdom of the habitable globe.

"One kingdom;—but who is to be its king? Is there to be no king in it, think you, and every man to do that which is right in his own eyes? Or only kings of terror, and the obscene empires of Mammon and Belial? Or will you, youths of England, make your country again a royal throne of kings; a sceptred isle; for all the world a source of light, a centre of peace; mistress of Learning and of the Arts;—faithful guardian of great memories in the midst of irreverent and ephemeral visions—faithful servant of time-tried principles, under temptation from fond experiments and licentious desires; and amidst the cruel and clamorous jealousies of the nations, worshipped in her strange valour, of goodwill towards men?"

The fifteen years that have passed since I spoke these words must, I think, have convinced some of my immediate hearers that the need for such an appeal was more pressing than they then imagined;—while they have also more and more convinced me myself that the ground I took for it was secure, and that the youths and girls now entering on the duties of active life are able to accept and fulfil the hope I then held out to them.

In which assurance I ask them to-day to begin the examination with me, very earnestly, of the question laid before you in that seventh of my last year's lectures, whether London, as it is now, be indeed the natural, and therefore the heaven-appointed outgrowth of the inhabitation, these 1800 years, of the valley of the Thames by a progressively instructed and disciplined people; or if not, in what measure and manner the aspect and spirit of the great city may be possibly altered by your acts and thoughts.

In my introduction to the Economist of Xenophon I said that every fairly educated European boy or girl ought to learn the history of five cities,—Athens, Rome, Venice, Florence, and London; that of London including, or at least compelling in parallel study, knowledge also of the history of Paris.

A few words are enough to explain the reasons for this choice. The history of Athens, rightly told, includes all that need be known of Greek religion and arts; that of Rome, the victory of Christianity over Paganism; those of Venice and Florence sum the essential facts respecting the Christian arts of Painting, Sculpture, and Music; and that of London, in her sisterhood with Paris, the development of Christian Chivalry and Philosophy, with their exponent art of Gothic architecture.

Without the presumption of forming a distinct design, I yet hoped at the time when this division of study was suggested, with the help of my pupils, to give the outlines of their several histories during my work in Oxford. Variously disappointed and arrested, alike by difficulties of investigation and failure of strength, I may yet hope to lay down for you, beginning with your own metropolis, some of the lines of thought in following out which such a task might be most effectively accomplished.

You observe that I speak of architecture as the chief exponent of the feelings both of the French and English races. Together with it, however, most important evidence of character is given by the illumination of manuscripts, and by some forms of jewellery and metallurgy: and my purpose in this course of lectures is to illustrate by all these arts the phases of national character which it is impossible that historians should estimate, or even observe, with accuracy, unless they are cognizant of excellence in the aforesaid modes of structural and ornamental craftsmanship.

In one respect, as indicated by the title chosen for this course, I have varied the treatment of their subject from that adopted in all my former books. Hitherto, I have always endeavoured to illustrate the personal temper and skill of the artist; holding the wishes or taste of his spectators at small account, and saying of Turner you ought to like him, and of Salvator, you ought not, etc., etc., without in the least considering what the genius or instinct of the spectator might otherwise demand, or approve. But in the now attempted sketch of Christian history, I have approached every question from the people's side, and examined the nature, not of the special faculties by which the work was produced, but of the general instinct by which it was asked for, and enjoyed. Therefore I thought the proper heading for these papers should represent them as descriptive of the Pleasures of England, rather than of its Arts.

And of these pleasures, necessarily, the leading one was that of Learning, in the sense of receiving instruction;—a pleasure totally separate from that of finding out things for yourself,—and an extremely sweet and sacred pleasure, when you know how to seek it, and receive.

On which I am the more disposed, and even compelled, here to insist, because your modern ideas of Development imply that you must all turn out what you are to be, and find out what you are to know, for yourselves, by the inevitable operation of your anterior affinities and inner consciences:—whereas the old idea of education was that the baby material of you, however accidentally or inevitably born, was at least to be by external force, and ancestral knowledge, bred; and treated by its Fathers and Tutors as a plastic vase, to be shaped or mannered as they chose, not as it chose, and filled, when its form was well finished and baked, with sweetness of sound doctrine, as with Hybla honey, or Arabian spikenard.

Without debating how far these two modes of acquiring knowledge—finding out, and being told—may severally be good, and in perfect instruction combined, I have to point out to you that, broadly, Athens, Rome, and Florence are self-taught, and internally developed; while all the Gothic races, without any exception, but especially those of London and Paris, are afterwards taught by these; and had, therefore, when they chose to accept it, the delight of being instructed, without trouble or doubt, as fast as they could read or imitate; and brought forward to the point where their own northern instincts might wholesomely superimpose or graft some national ideas upon these sound instructions. Read over what I said on this subject in the third of my lectures last year (page 79), and simplify that already brief statement further, by fastening in your mind Carlyle's general symbol of the best attainments of northern religious sculpture,—"three whalecubs combined by boiling," and reflecting that the mental history of all northern European art is the modification of that graceful type, under the orders of the Athena of Homer and Phidias.

And this being quite indisputably the broad fact of the matter, I greatly marvel that your historians never, so far as I have read, think of proposing to you the question—what you might have made of yourselves without the help of Homer and Phidias: what sort of beings the Saxon and the Celt, the Frank and the Dane, might have been by this time, untouched by the spear of Pallas, unruled by the rod of Agricola, and sincerely the native growth, pure of root, and ungrafted in fruit of the clay of Isis, rock of Dovrefeldt, and sands of Elbe? Think of it, and think chiefly what form the ideas, and images, of your natural religion might probably have taken, if no Roman missionary had ever passed the Alps in charity, and no English king in pilgrimage.

I have been of late indebted more than I can express to the friend who has honoured me by the dedication of his recently published lectures on 'Older England;' and whose eager enthusiasm and far collected learning have enabled me for the first time to assign their just meaning and value to the ritual and imagery of Saxon devotion. But while every page of Mr. Hodgett's book, and, I may gratefully say also, every sentence of his teaching, has increased and justified the respect in which I have always been by my own feeling disposed to hold the mythologies founded on the love and knowledge of the natural world, I have also been led by them to conceive, far more forcibly than hitherto, the power which the story of Christianity possessed, first heard through the wreaths of that cloudy superstition, in the substitution, for its vaporescent allegory, of a positive and literal account of a real Creation, and an instantly present, omnipresent, and compassionate God.

Observe, there is no question whatever in examining this influence, how far Christianity itself is true, or the transcendental doctrines of it intelligible. Those who brought you the story of it believed it with all their souls to be true,—and the effect of it on the hearts of your ancestors was that of an unquestionable, infinitely lucid message straight from God, doing away with all difficulties, grief, and fears for those who willingly received it, nor by any, except wilfully and obstinately vile persons, to be, by any possibility, denied or refused.

And it was precisely, observe, the vivacity and joy with which the main fact of Christ's life was accepted which gave the force and wrath to the controversies instantly arising about its nature.

Those controversies vexed and shook, but never undermined, the faith they strove to purify, and the miraculous presence, errorless precept, and loving promises of their Lord were alike undoubted, alike rejoiced in, by every nation that heard the word of Apostles. The Pelagian's assertion that immortality could be won by man's will, and the Arian's that Christ possessed no more than man's nature, never for an instant—or in any country—hindered the advance of the moral law and intellectual hope of Christianity. Far the contrary; the British heresy concerning Free Will, though it brought bishop after bishop into England to extinguish it, remained an extremely healthy and active element in the British mind down to the days of John Bunyan and the guide Great Heart, and the calmly Christian justice and simple human virtue of Theodoric were the very roots and first burgeons of the regeneration of Italy.1 But of the degrees in which it was possible for any barbarous nation to receive during the first five centuries, either the spiritual power of Christianity itself, or the instruction in classic art and science which accompanied it, you cannot rightly judge, without taking the pains, and they will not, I think, be irksome, of noticing carefully, and fixing permanently in your minds, the separating characteristics of the greater races, both in those who learned and those who taught.

Of the Huns and Vandals we need not speak. They are merely forms of Punishment and Destruction. Put them out of your minds altogether, and remember only the names of the immortal nations, which abide on their native rocks, and plough their unconquered plains, at this hour.

Briefly, in the north,—Briton, Norman, Frank, Saxon, Ostrogoth, Lombard; briefly, in the south,—Tuscan, Roman, Greek, Syrian, Egyptian, Arabian.

Now of these races, the British (I avoid the word Celtic, because you would expect me to say Keltic; and I don't mean to, lest you should be wanting me next to call the patroness of music St. Kekilia), the British, including Breton, Cornish, Welsh, Irish, Scot, and Pict, are, I believe, of all the northern races, the one which has deepest love of external nature;—and the richest inherent gift of pure music and song, as such; separated from the intellectual gift which raises song into poetry. They are naturally also religious, and for some centuries after their own conversion are one of the chief evangelizing powers in Christendom. But they are neither apprehensive nor receptive;—they cannot understand the classic races, and learn scarcely anything from them; perhaps better so, if the classic races had been more careful to understand them.