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Fors clavigera. Letters to the workmen and labourers of Great Britain (Volume 6) online

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Vol. VI.




•■ (o




LXI. The Cave of Machpelaii.
LXII. Dogs of the Lord.
LXIII. Sit Splendor.
LXIV. The Three Sarcophagi.
LXV. The Mount of the Amorites.
LXVI. Miracle.
LXVII. Companionship.
LXVI 1 1. Bags that wax old.
LXIX. The Message of Jael-Atropos.
LXX. Property to whom Proper.
LXXL The Feudal Ranks.
LXXII. The Father Land.



V. (o



LXI. The Cave of Machpelah.
LXII. Dogs of the Lord.
LXIII. Sit Splendor.
LXIV. The Three Sarcophagi.
LXV. The Mount of the Amorites.
LXVI. Miracle.
LXVII. Companionship.
LXVI 1 1. Bags that wax old.
LXIX. The Message of Jael-Atropos.
LXX. Property to whom Proper.
LXXL The Feudal Ranks.
LXXII. The Father Land.





Novtmbcr 2%th, 1875.
(In the house of a friend who, being ashamed of me and my words, requests
that this Fors may not be dated from it.)

' Live and learn.' I trust it may yet be permitted
me to fulfil the adage a few years longer, for I find it
takes a great deal of living to get a little deal of learn-
ing. (Query, meaning of ' deal ' i* — substantive of verb
deal — as at whist } — no Johnson by me, and shall be
sure to forget to look when I have.) But I have learned
something this morning, — the use of the holes in the
bottom of a fireshovel, to wit. I recollect, now, often
and often, seeing my mother sift the cinders ; but,
alas, she never taught me to do it. Did not think,
perhaps, that I should ever have occasion, as a Bishop,
to occupy myself in that manner ; nor understand, —
poor sweet mother, — how advisable it might be to have
some sort of holes in my shovel-hat, for sifting cinders
of human soul.


2 Fors Clavigera.

Howsoever, I have found out the art, this morning,
in the actual ashes ; thinking all the time how it was
possible for people to live in this weather, who had
no cinders to sift. My hostess's white cat, Lily, woke
me at half-past five by piteous mewing at my window ;
and being let in, and having expressed her thanks by
getting between my legs over and over again as I was
shaving, has at last curled h'^rself up in my bed, and gone
to sleep, — looking as fat as a little pillow, only whiter ;
but what are the cats to do, to-day, who have no one
to let them in at the windows, no beds to curl up into,
and nothing but skin and bones to curl ?

' It can't be helped, you know ; — meantime, let Lily
enjoy her bed, and be thankful, (if possible, in a more
convenient manner). And do you enjoy your fire, and be
thankful,' say the pious public : and subscribe, no doubt
at their Rectors request, for an early dole of Christmas
coals. Alas, my pious public, all this temporary doling
and coaling is worse than useless. It drags out some
old women's lives a month or two longer, — makes,
here and there, a hearth savoury with smell of dinner,
that little knew of such frankincense ; but, for true help
to the poor, you might as well light a lucifer match
to warm their fingers ; and for the good to your own
hearts, — I tell you solemnly, all your comfort in such
charity is simply, Christ's dipped sop, given to you for
signal to somebody else than Christ, that it is his hour
to find the windows of )our soul open — to the Night,

Fors Clavigera. 3

whence very doleful creatures, of other temper and colour
than Lily, are mewing to get in.

Indeed, my pious public, you cannot, at present, by
any coal or blanket subscription, do more than blind
yourselves to the plain order " Give to him that asketh
thee ; and from him that would borrow of thee, turn
not thou away."

To him that asketh us, say the public, — but then —
everybody would ask us.

Yes, you pitiful public, — pretty nearly everybody
would : that is indeed the state of national dignity,
and independence, and gushing prosperity, you have
brought your England into ; a population mostly of
beggars, (at heart) ; or, worse, bagmen, not merely
bearing the bag — but nothing else but bags ; — sloppy,
star-fishy, seven-suckered stomachs of indiscriminate
covetousness, ready to beg, borrow, gamble, swindle, or
write anything a publisher will pay for.

Nevertheless your order is precise, and clear ; ' Give
to him that asketh thee ' — even to the half of your
last cloak — says St. Martin ; even to the whole of it,
says Christ : ' whosoever of you forsaketh not all that
he hath, cannot be my disciple.'

' And you yourself, who have a house among the
lakes, and rooms at Oxford, and pictures, and books,
and a Dives dinner every day, how about all that ? '

Yes, you may well ask, — and I answer very distinctly
and frankly, that if once I am convinced (and it is


4 Fors Clavigera.

not by any means unlikely I should be so) that to put
all these things into the hands of others, and live
myself, in a cell at Assisi, or a shepherd's cottage in
Cumberland, would be right, and wise, under the con-
ditions of human life and thought with which I have
to deal — very assuredly I will do so.

Nor is it, I repeat, unlikely that such conviction may
soon happen to me ; for I begin to question very
strictly with myself, how it is that St. George's work
does not prosper better in my hands.

Here is the half-decade of years, past, since I began
the writing of Fors, as a byework to quiet my conscience,
that I might be happy in what I supposed to be my own
proper life of Art-teaching, at Oxford and elsewhere ;
and, through my own happiness, rightly help others.

But Atropos has ruled it quite otherwise. During
these five years, very signal distress has visited me, con-
clusively removing all possibilities of cheerful action ;
separating and sealing a great space of former life into
one wide field of Machpelah ; and leaving the rest sunless.
Also, everything I have set hand to has been unpros-
perous ; much of it even calamitous ; — disappointment,
coupled with heavy money loss, happening in almost every
quarter to me, and casting discredit on all I attempt ;
while, in things partly under the influence and fortune
of others, and therefore more or less successful, — the
schools at Oxford especially, which owe the greater part
of their efficiency to the fostering zeal of Dr. Acland,

Fors Clavigera. 5

and the steady teaching of Mr. Macdonald, — I have not
been able, for my own share, to accomplish the tenth
part of what I planned.

Under which conditions, I proceed in my endeavour
to remodel the world, with more zeal, by much, than
at the beginning of the year 187 1.

For these following reasons.

First, that I would give anything to be quit of the
whole business ; and therefore that I am certain it is
not ambition, nor love of power, nor anything but
absolute and mere compassion, that drags me on. That
shoemaker, whom his son left lying dead with his head
in the fireplace the other day,* — I wish he and his son
had never been born ; — but as the like of them will be
born, and must so die, so long as things remain as
they are, there's no choice for me but to do all I know
to change them, since others won't.

Secondly. I observe that when all things, in early
life, appeared to be going well for me, they were by
no means going well, in the deep of them, but quite
materially and rapidly otherwise. Whence I conclude
that though things appear at present adverse to my
work and me, they may not at all be adverse in the
deep of them, but quite otherwise.

Thirdly. Though in my own fortune, unprosperous,
and in my own thoughts and labour, failing, I find more
and more every day that I have helped many persons

* See first article in Notes.

6 Fors Clavigera,

unknown to me ; that others, in spite of my failures, begin
to understand me, and are ready to follow ; and that
a certain power is indeed already in my hands, woven
widely into the threads of many human lives ; which
power, if I now laid down, that line (which I have
always kept the murmur of in my ears, for warning,
since first I read it thirty years ago,) —

" Che fece per viltste'l gran rifiuto,"*
would be finally and fatally true of me.

l-"ourthly, not only is that saying of Bacon's of great
comfort to me, " therefore extreme lovers of their country,
or masters, were never fortunate ; neither can they be,
for when a man placeth his thoughts without himself,
he goeth not his own way," f for truly I have always
loved my masters, Turner, Tintoret, and Carlyle, to the
exclusion of my own thoughts ; and my country more
than my own garden : but also, I do not find in the
reading of history that any victory worth having was
ever won without cost ; and I observe that too open
and early prosperity is rarely the way to it.

But lastly, and chiefly. If there be any truth in
the vital doctrines of Christianity whatsoever, — and

* Inferno, III. 6o. I fear that few modern readers of Dante understand the
dreadful meaning of this hellish outer district, or suburb, full of the refuse or
worthless scum of Humanity — such numbers that " non haverei creduto, che
morte tanta n'havesse disfatta," — who are stung to bloody torture by insects,
and whose blood and tears together — the best that human souls can give — are
sucked up, on the hell-ground, by worms.

t Essay XI.

Foi's Clavip^era


assuredly there is more than most of us recognise, or
than any of us believe, — the offences committed in this
century by all the nations of Christendom against the
law of Christ have been so great, and insolent, that they
cannot but be punished by the withdrawal of spiritual
guidance from them, and the especial paralysis of efforts
intelligently made for their good. In times of more
ignorant sinning, they were punished by plagues of the
body ; but now, by plagues of the soul, and widely
infectious insanities, making every true physician of
souls helpless, and every false effort triumphant. Nor
are we without great and terrible signs of supernatural
calamity, no less in grievous changes and deteriora-
tion of climate, than in forms of mental disease,*
claiming distinctly to be necromantic, and, as far as I
have examined the evidence relating to them, actually
manifesting themselves as such. For observe you, my
friends, countrymen, and brothers — Either, at this actual
moment of your merry Christmas-time, that has truly
come to pass, in falling London, which your greatest
Englishman wrote of falling Rome, " the sheeted dead
do squeak and gibber in your English streets," — Or,
such a system of loathsome imposture and cretinous

* I leave this passage as it was written ; though as it passes through the
press, it is ordered by Atropos that I should hear a piece of evidence on this
matter no less clear as to the present ministry of such powers as that which
led Peter out of prison, than all the former, or nearly all, former evidence
examined by me was of the presence of the legion which ruled among the
Tombs of Gennesaret.

8 Fors Clavigera.

blasphemy is current among all classes of England and
America, as makes the superstition of all past ages
divine truth in comparison.

One of these things is so — gay friends ; — have it
which way you will : one or other of these, to me,
alike appalling ; and in your principal street of London
society, you have a picture of highly dressed harlots
gambling, of naked ones, called Andromeda and
Francesca of Rimini, and of Christ led to be crucified,
exhibited, for your better entertainment, in the same
room ; and at the end of the same street, an exhibi-
tion of jugglery, professedly imitating, for money, what
a large number of you believe to be the efforts of the
returned Dead to convince you of your Immortality.

Meantime, at the other end — no, at the very centre
of your great Babylon, — a son leaves his father dead,
with his head, instead of a fire, in the fireplace, and
goes out himself to his day's darg.


'We are very sorry; — What can we do.? How can
we help it ? London is so big, and living is so very
expensive, you know.'

Miserables, — who makes London big, but you, coming
to look at the harlotries in it, painted and other.?
Who makes living expensive, but you, who drink, and
eat,* and dress, all you can ; and never in your lives
did one stroke of work to get your living, — never
* See second article in Notes.

Fors Clavigera, 9

drew a bucket of water, never sowed a grain of corn,
never spun a yard of thread ; — but you devour, and
swill, and waste, to your fill, and think yourselves good,
and fine, and better creatures of God, I doubt not,
than the poor starved wretch of a shoemaker, who
shod whom he could, while you gave him food enough
to keep him in strength to stitch.

We, of the so-called ' educated ' classes, who take it
upon us to be the better and upper part of the world,
cannot possibly understand our relations to the rest
better than we may where actual life may be seen
in front of its Shakespearean image, from the stalls
of a theatre. I never stand up to rest myself, and
look round the house, without renewal of wonder how
the crowd in the pit, and shilling gallery, allow us of
the boxes and stalls to keep our places ! Think of
it ; — those fellows behind there have housed us and fed
us ; their wives have washed our clothes, and kept us
tidy ; — they have bought us the best places, — brought
us through the cold to them ; and there they sit
behind us, patiently, seeing and hearing what they may.
There they pack themselves, squeezed and distant, behind
our chairs ; — we, their elect toys and pet puppets, oiled
and varnished, and incensed, lounge in front, placidly, or
for the greater part, wearily and sickly contemplative.
Here we are again, all of us, this Christmas ! Behold
the artist in tumbling, and in painting with white and
red, — our object of worship, and applause : here sit we

lo Fors Clavigera.

at our case, the dressed dolls of the place, with little
more in our heads, most of us, than may be contained
inside of a wig of flax and a nose of wax ; stuck up
by these poor little prentices, clerks, and orange sucking
mobility, Kit, and his mother, and the baby — behind
us, in the chief places of this our evening synagogue.
What for ? ' They did not stick you up,' say you, — ■
you paid for your stalls with your own money. Where
did you get your money ? Some of you — if any
Reverend gentlemen, as I hope, are among us, — by
selling the Gospel ; others by selling Justice ; others by
selling their Blood — (and no man has any right to sell
aught of these three things, any more than a woman her
body,) — the rest, if not by swindling, by simple taxa-
tion of the labour of the shilling gallery, — or of the yet
poorer or better persons who have not so much, or will
not spend so much, as the shilling to get there ? How else
should you, or could you, get your money, — simpletons ?

Not that it is essentially your fault, poor feathered
moths, — any more than the dead shoemaker's. That
blasphemous blockheadism of Mr. Greg's,* and the like
of him, that you can swill salvation into other people's
bodies out of your own champagne-bottles, is the main
root of all your national miseries. Indeed you are willing
enough to believe that devil's-gospel, you rich ones ; or

* Quoted in last Fors, p. 341, lines 18—22, from ' Contemporary Review.'
Observe that it is blasphemy, definitely and calmly uttered, first against
Nature, and secomlly against Christ.

Fors Ciaviz^ra. 1 1

most of you would have detected the horror of it before
now ; but yet the chief wrong Hes with the asscrtors of
it, — and once and again I tell you, the words of Christ
are true, — and not theirs ; and that the day has come
for fasting and prayer, not for feasting ; but, above all,
for labour — personal and direct labour — on the Earth
that bears you, and buries — as best it can.

gth December. — I heard yesterday that the son of
the best English portrait-painter we have had since
Gainsborough, had learnt farming ; that his father had
paid two hundred pounds a year to obtain that instruction
for him ; and that the boy is gone, in high spirits, to
farm — in Jamaica ! So far, so good. Nature and facts
are beginning to assert themselves to the British mind.
But very dimly.

For, first, observe, the father should have paid nothing
for that boy's farming education. As soon as he could
hold a hoe, the little fellow should have been set to do
all he could for his living, under a good farmer for master ;
and as he became able to do more, taught more, until he
knew all that his master knew, — winning, all the while he
was receiving that natural education, his bread by the
sweat of his brow.

'But there are no farmers who teach — none who take
care of their boys, or men.'

Miserables again, whose fault is that ? The landlords
choose to make the farmers middlemen between the
peasants and themselves — grinders, not of corn, but of

I 2 Fors Clavigera,

llcsh, — for their rent. And of course you dare not put
your children under them to be taught.

Read Gotthelfs ' Ulric the Farm Servant' on this
matter. It is one of his great novels, — great as Walter
Scott's, in the truth and vitality of it, only inferior in
power of design. I would translate it all in Fors, if
I had time ; and indeed hope to make it soon one of
my school series, of which, and other promised matters,
or delayed ones, I must now take some order, and give
some account, in this opening letter of the year, as far
as I can, only, before leaving the young farmer among
the Blacks, please observe that he goes there because
you have all made Artificial Blacks of yourselves, and
unmelodious Christys, — nothing but the whites of your
eyes showing through the unclean skins of you, here, in
Merry England, where there was once green ground to
farm instead of ashes.

And first, — here's the woodcut, long promised, of a
rose-leaf cut by the leaf-cutting bee, true in size and
shape ; a sound contribution to Natural History, so far
as it reaches. Much I had to say of it, but am not in
humour to-day. Happily, the letter from a valued
Companion, Art. HI. in Notes, may well take place of
any talk of mine.*

Secondly, I promised a first lesson in waiting, of which,

* The most valuable notes of the kind correspondent who sent me this
leaf, with many others, and a perfect series of nests, must be reserved till
spring-time : my mind is not free for them, now.

Fors Clavioera.


therefore, (that we may see what is our present knowledge
on the subject, and what farther we may safely ask
Theuth* to teach,) I have had engraved two examples,
one of writing in the most authoritative manner, used
for modern service, and the other of writing by a practised
scribe of the fourteenth century. To make the compari-
son fair, we must take the religious, and therefore most
careful, scripture of both dates ; so, for example of
modern sacred scripture, I take the casting up of a
column in my banker's book ; and for the ancient, a
letter A, with a io-w following words, out of a Greek

* Compare Letter XVI. 11, and XVII. 7.


Fo7's C/avioera.

Psalter, which is of admirable and characteristic, but not
(by any honest copyist,) inimitable execution.

Here then, first, is modern writing; in facsimile of
which I have thought it worth while to employ Mr.
Burgess's utmost skill ; . for it seems to me a fact of
profound significance that all the expedients we have
invented for saving time, by steam and machinery, (not
to speak of the art of printing,) leave us yet so hurried,

and flurried, that we cannot produce any lovelier cali-
graphy than this, even to certify the gratifying existence
of a balance of eleven hundred and forty-two pounds,
thirteen shillings, and twopence, while the old writer,
though required, eventually, to produce the utmost pos-
sible number of entire psalters with his own hand, yet
has time for the execution of every initial letter of
them in the manner here exhibited.

Respecting which, you are to observe that this is
pure writing ; not painting or drawing, but the expres-
sion of form by lines such as a pen can easily produce,
(or a brush used with the point, in the manner of a
pen ;) and with a certain habitual currency and fluent

Fors Clavige7'a. j 5


habit of finger, yet not dashing or flourishing, but with
perfect command of direction in advance, and moment
of pause, at any point.

You may at first, and very naturally, suppose, good
reader, that it will not advance your power of English
writing to copy a Greek sentence. But, with your
pardon, the first need, for all beautiful writing, is that
your hand should be, in the true and virtuous sense,
free; that is to say, able to move in any direction it
is ordered, and not cramped to a given slope, or to any
given form of letter. And also, whether you can learn
Greek or not, it is well, (and perfectly easy,) to learn
the Greek alphabet, that if by chance a questionable
word occur in your Testament, or in scientific books,
you may be able to read it, and even look it out in
a dictionary. And this particular manner of Greek
writing I wish you to notice, because it is such as Victor

i6 Fors Clavigera.

Carpaccio represents St. Jerome reading in his study ;
and I shall be able to illustrate by it some points of
By/antine character of extreme historical interest.

Copy, therefore, this letter A, and the following words,
in as perfect facsimile as you can, again and again,
not being content till a tracing from the original fits
your copy to the thickness of its penstroke. And even
by the time next Fors comes out, you will begin to
know how to use a pen. Also, you may at spare times
practise copying any clearly-printed type, only without the
difference of thickness in parts of letters ; the best writing
for practical purposes is that which most resembles
print, connected only, for speed, by the current line. •

Next, for some elementary practice of the same kind
in the more difficult art of Reading.

A young student, belonging to the working classes,
who has been reading books a little too difficult or too
grand for him, asking me what he shall read next, I
have told him, ' Waverley ' — with extreme care.

It is true that, in grandeur and difficulty, I have not
a whit really lowered his standard ; for it is an achieve-
ment as far beyond him, at present, to understand
' Waverley,' as to understand the ' Odyssey ; " but the
road, though as steep and high-reaching as any he has
travelled, is smoother for him. What farther directions
I am now going to give him, will be good for all
young men of active minds who care to make such
activity serviceable.

Fors Claviorera. 17

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