John Ruskin.

The Pleasures of England Lectures given in Oxford online

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THE PLEASURES OF LEARNING. _Bertha to Osburga_ 5


THE PLEASURES OF FAITH. _Alfred to the Confessor_ 31


THE PLEASURES OF DEED. _Alfred to Cœur de Lion_ 61


THE PLEASURES OF FANCY. _Cœur de Lion to Elizabeth_ 91

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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

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

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

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

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

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.

[Footnote 1: Gibbon, in his 37th chapter, makes Ulphilas also an
Arian, but might have forborne, with grace, his own definition of
orthodoxy: - and you are to observe generally that at this time the
teachers who admitted the inferiority of Christ to the Father as
touching his Manhood, were often counted among Arians, but quite
falsely. Christ's own words, "My Father is greater than I," end that
controversy at once. Arianism consists not in asserting the subjection
of the Son to the Father, but in denying the subjected Divinity.]

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_.

Next, the Norman is scarcely more apprehensive than the Celt, but he
is more constructive, and uses to good advantage what he learns from
the Frank. His main characteristic is an energy, which never exhausts
itself in vain anger, desire, or sorrow, but abides and rules, like a
living rock: - where he wanders, he flows like lava, and congeals like

Next, I take in this first sketch the Saxon and Frank together, both
pre-eminently apprehensive, both docile exceedingly, imaginative in
the highest, but in life active more than pensive, eager in desire,
swift of invention, keenly sensitive to animal beauty, but with
difficulty rational, and rarely, for the future, wise. Under the
conclusive name of Ostrogoth, you may class whatever tribes are native
to Central Germany, and develope themselves, as time goes on, into
that power of the German Cæsars which still asserts itself as an
empire against the licence and insolence of modern republicanism, - of
which races, though this general name, no description can be given in
rapid terms.

And lastly, the Lombards, who, at the time we have to deal with, were
sternly indocile, gloomily imaginative, - of almost Norman energy,
and differing from all the other western nations chiefly in this
notable particular, that while the Celt is capable of bright wit and
happy play, and the Norman, Saxon, and Frank all alike delight in
caricature, the Lombards, like the Arabians, never jest.

These, briefly, are the six barbaric nations who are to be taught: and
of whose native arts and faculties, before they receive any tutorship
from the south, I find no well-sifted account in any history: - but
thus much of them, collecting your own thoughts and knowledge, you
may easily discern - they were all, with the exception of the Scots,
practical workers and builders in wood; and those of them who had
coasts, first rate sea-boat builders, with fine mathematical
instincts and practice in that kind far developed, necessarily good
sail-weaving, and sound fur-stitching, with stout iron-work of nail
and rivet; rich copper and some silver work in decoration - the Celts
developing peculiar gifts in linear design, but wholly incapable
of drawing animals or figures; - the Saxons and Franks having enough
capacity in that kind, but no thought of attempting it; the Normans
and Lombards still farther remote from any such skill. More and more,
it seems to me wonderful that under your British block-temple, grimly
extant on its pastoral plain, or beside the first crosses engraved on
the rock at Whithorn - you English and Scots do not oftener consider
what you might or could have come to, left to yourselves.

Next, let us form the list of your tutor nations, in whom, it
generally pleases you to look at nothing but the corruptions. If we
could get into the habit of thinking more of our own corruptions and
more of _their_ virtues, we should have a better chance of learning
the true laws alike of art and destiny. But, the safest way of all, is
to assure ourselves that true knowledge of any thing or any creature
is only of the good of it; that its nature and life are in that, and
that what is diseased, - that is to say, unnatural and mortal, - you
must cut away from it in contemplation, as you would in surgery.

Of the six tutor nations, two, the Tuscan and Arab, have no effect on
early Christian England. But the Roman, Greek, Syrian, and Egyptian
act together from the earliest times; you are to study the influence
of Rome upon England in Agricola, Constantius, St. Benedict, and
St. Gregory; of Greece upon England in the artists of Byzantium and
Ravenna; of Syria and Egypt upon England in St. Jerome, St. Augustine,
St. Chrysostom, and St. Athanase.

St. Jerome, in central Bethlehem; St. Augustine, Carthaginian by
birth, in truth a converted Tyrian, Athanase, Egyptian, symmetric
and fixed as an Egyptian aisle; Chrysostom, golden mouth of all;
these are, indeed, every one teachers of all the western world, but
St. Augustine especially of lay, as distinguished from monastic,
Christianity to the Franks, and finally to us. His rule, expanded into
the treatise of the City of God, is taken for guide of life and policy
by Charlemagne, and becomes certainly the fountain of Evangelical
Christianity, distinctively so called, (and broadly the lay
Christianity of Europe, since, in the purest form of it, that is
to say, the most merciful, charitable, variously applicable, kindly
wise.) The greatest type of it, as far as I know, St. Martin of Tours,
whose character is sketched, I think in the main rightly, in the Bible
of Amiens; and you may bind together your thoughts of its course
by remembering that Alcuin, born at York, dies in the Abbey of
St. Martin, at Tours; that as St. Augustine was in his writings
Charlemagne's Evangelist in faith, Alcuin was, in living presence,
his master in rhetoric, logic, and astronomy, with the other physical

A hundred years later than St. Augustine, comes the rule of St.
Benedict - the Monastic rule, virtually, of European Christianity, ever
since - and theologically the Law of Works, as distinguished from the
Law of Faith. St. Augustine and all the disciples of St. Augustine
tell Christians what they should feel and think: St. Benedict and all
the disciples of St. Benedict tell Christians what they should say and

In the briefest, but also the perfectest distinction, the disciples
of St. Augustine are those who open the door to Christ - "If any man
hear my voice"; but the Benedictines those to whom Christ opens the
door - "To him that knocketh it shall be opened."

Now, note broadly the course and action of this rule, as it combines
with the older one. St. Augustine's, accepted heartily by Clovis,
and, with various degrees of understanding, by the kings and queens
of the Merovingian dynasty, makes seemingly little difference in
their conduct, so that their profession of it remains a scandal to
Christianity to this day; and yet it lives, in the true hearts among
them, down from St. Clotilde to her great grand-daughter Bertha, who
in becoming Queen of Kent, builds under its chalk downs her own little
chapel to St. Martin, and is the first effectively and permanently
useful missionary to the Saxons, the beginner of English
Erudition, - the first laid corner stone of beautiful English

I think henceforward you will find the memorandum of dates which I
have here set down for my own guidance more simply useful than those
confused by record of unimportant persons and inconsequent events,
which form the indices of common history.

From the year of the Saxon invasion 449, there are exactly 400 years
to the birth of Alfred, 849. You have no difficulty in remembering
those cardinal years. Then, you have Four great men and great events
to remember, at the close of the fifth century. Clovis, and the
founding of Frank Kingdom; Theodoric and the founding of the Gothic
Kingdom; Justinian and the founding of Civil law; St. Benedict and the
founding of Religious law.

Of, Justinian, and his work, I am not able myself to form any
opinion - and it is, I think, unnecessary for students of history to
form any, until they are able to estimate clearly the benefits, and
mischief, of the civil law of Europe in its present state. But to
Clovis, Theodoric, and St. Benedict, without any question, we owe more
than any English historian has yet ascribed, - and they are easily held
in mind together, for Clovis ascended the Frank throne in the year of
St. Benedict's birth, 481. Theodoric fought the battle of Verona, and
founded the Ostrogothic Kingdom in Italy twelve years later, in 493,
and thereupon married the sister of Clovis. That marriage is always
passed in a casual sentence, as if a merely political one, and while
page after page is spent in following the alternations of furious
crime and fatal chance, in the contests between Fredegonde and
Brunehaut, no historian ever considers whether the great Ostrogoth who
wore in the battle of Verona the dress which his mother had woven for
him, was likely to have chosen a wife without love! - or how far the
perfectness, justice, and temperate wisdom of every ordinance of his
reign was owing to the sympathy and counsel of his Frankish queen.

You have to recollect, then, thus far, only three cardinal dates: -

449. Saxon invasion.
481. Clovis reigns and St. Benedict is born.
493. Theodoric conquers at Verona.

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Online LibraryJohn RuskinThe Pleasures of England Lectures given in Oxford → online text (page 1 of 7)