John Ruskin.

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was fixed what has ever since been the local centre of the English
monarchy."

"Such as these were the _motives_ of Edward," says the Dean. Yes,
certainly; but such as these also, first, were the acts and visions
of Edward. Take care that you don't slip away, by the help of the
glycerine of the word "motives," into fancying that all these tales
are only the after colours and pictorial metaphors of sentimental
piety. They are either plain truth or black lies; take your
choice, - but don't tickle and treat yourselves with the prettiness or
the grotesqueness of them, as if they were Anderssen's fairy tales.
Either the King did carry the beggar on his back, or he didn't; either
Godiva rode through Coventry, or she didn't; either the Earl Leofric
saw the vision of the bright child at the altar - or he lied like a
knave. Judge, as you will; but do not Doubt.

"The Abbey was fifteen years in building. The King spent upon it
one-tenth of the property of the kingdom. It was to be a marvel of
its kind. As in its origin it bore the traces of the fantastic and
childish" (I must pause, to ask you to substitute for these blameful
terms, 'fantastic and childish,' the better ones of 'imaginative and
pure') "character of the King and of the age; in its architecture
it bore the stamp of the peculiar position which Edward occupied in
English history between Saxon and Norman. By birth he was a Saxon, but
in all else he was a foreigner. Accordingly the Church at Westminster
was a wide-sweeping innovation on all that had been seen before.
'Destroying the old building,' he says in his charter, 'I have built
up a new one from the very foundation.' Its fame as a 'new style of
composition' lingered in the minds of men for generations. It was the
first cruciform church in England, from which all the rest of like
shape were copied - an expression of the increasing hold which, in the
tenth century, the idea of the Crucifixion had laid on the imagination
of Europe. The massive roof and pillars formed a contrast with the
rude wooden rafters and beams of the common Saxon churches. Its very
size - occupying, as it did, almost the whole area of the present
building - was in itself portentous. The deep foundations, of large
square blocks of grey stone, were duly laid; the east end was rounded
into an apse; a tower rose in the centre, crowned by a cupola of wood.
At the western end were erected two smaller towers, with five large
bells. The hard strong stones were richly sculptured; the windows
were filled with stained glass; the roof was covered with lead. The
cloisters, chapter-house, refectory, dormitory, the infirmary, with
its spacious chapel, if not completed by Edward, were all begun, and
finished in the next generation on the same plan. This structure,
venerable as it would be if it had lasted to our time, has almost
entirely vanished. Possibly one vast dark arch in the southern
transept, certainly the substructures of the dormitory, with their
huge pillars, 'grand and regal at the bases and capitals,' the
massive, low-browed passage leading from the great cloister to Little
Dean's Yard, and some portions of the refectory and of the infirmary
chapel, remain as specimens of the work which astonished the last age
of the Anglo-Saxon and the first age of the Norman monarchy."

Hitherto I have read to you with only supplemental comment. But in
the next following passage, with which I close my series of extracts,
sentence after sentence occurs, at which as I read, I must raise my
hand, to mark it for following deprecation, or denial.

"In the centre of Westminster Abbey thus lies its Founder, and such is
the story of its foundation. Even apart from the legendary elements
in which it is involved, it is impossible not to be struck by the
fantastic character of all its circumstances. We seem to be in a world
of poetry." (I protest, No.) "Edward is four centuries later than
Ethelbert and Augustine; but the origin of Canterbury is commonplace
and prosaic compared with the origin of Westminster." (Yes, that's
true.) "We can hardly imagine a figure more incongruous to the
soberness of later times than the quaint, irresolute, wayward prince
whose chief characteristics have just been described. His titles of
Confessor and Saint belong not to the general instincts of Christendom
but to the most transitory feelings of the age." (I protest, No.) "His
opinions, his prevailing motives, were such as in no part of modern
Europe would now be shared by any educated teacher or ruler." (That's
true enough.) "But in spite of these irreconcilable differences,
there was a solid ground for the charm which he exercised over his
contemporaries. His childish and eccentric fancies have passed away;"
(I protest, No;) "but his innocent faith and his sympathy with his
people are qualities which, even in our altered times, may still
retain their place in the economy of the world. Westminster Abbey,
so we hear it said, sometimes with a cynical sneer, sometimes with
a timorous scruple, has admitted within its walls many who have been
great without being good, noble with a nobleness of the earth earthy,
worldly with the wisdom of this world. But it is a counterbalancing
reflection, that the central tomb, round which all those famous names
have clustered, contains the ashes of one who, weak and erring as he
was, rests his claims of interment here, not on any act of power or
fame, but only on his artless piety and simple goodness. He, towards
whose dust was attracted the fierce Norman, and the proud Plantagenet,
and the grasping Tudor, and the fickle Stuart, even the Independent
Oliver, the Dutch William, and the Hanoverian George, was one whose
humble graces are within the reach of every man, woman, and child
of every time, if we rightly part the immortal substance from the
perishable form."

Now I have read you these passages from Dean Stanley as the most
accurately investigatory, the most generously sympathetic, the most
reverently acceptant account of these days, and their people, which
you can yet find in any English history. But consider now, point by
point, where it leaves you. You are told, first, that you are living
in an age of poetry. But the days of poetry are those of Shakespeare
and Milton, not of Bede: nay, for their especial wealth in melodious
theology and beautifully rhythmic and pathetic meditation, perhaps
the days which have given us 'Hiawatha,' 'In Memoriam,' 'The Christian
Year,' and the 'Soul's Diary' of George Macdonald, may be not with
disgrace compared with those of Caedmon. And nothing can be farther
different from the temper, nothing less conscious of the effort, of a
poet, than any finally authentic document to which you can be referred
for the relation of a Saxon miracle.

I will read you, for a perfectly typical example, an account of one
from Bede's 'Life of St. Cuthbert,' The passage is a favourite one of
my own, but I do not in the least anticipate its producing upon you
the solemnizing effect which I think I could command from reading,
instead, a piece of 'Marmion,' 'Manfred,' or 'Childe Harold.'

... "He had one day left his cell to give advice to some visitors; and
when he had finished, he said to them, 'I must now go in again, but do
you, as you are inclined to depart, first take food; and when you have
cooked and eaten that goose which is hanging on the wall, go on board
your vessel in God's name and return home.' He then uttered a prayer,
and, having blessed them, went in. But they, as he had bidden them,
took some food; but having enough provisions of their own, which they
had brought with them, they did not touch the goose.

"But when they had refreshed themselves they tried to go on board
their vessel, but a sudden storm utterly prevented them from putting
to sea. They were thus detained seven days in the island by the
roughness of the waves, and yet they could not call to mind what fault
they had committed. They therefore returned to have an interview with
the holy father, and to lament to him their detention. He exhorted
them to be patient, and on the seventh day came out to console their
sorrow, and to give them pious exhortations. When, however, he had
entered the house in which they were stopping, and saw that the goose
was not eaten, he reproved their disobedience with mild countenance
and in gentle language: 'Have you not left the goose still hanging
in its place? What wonder is it that the storm has prevented your
departure? Put it immediately into the caldron, and boil and eat it,
that the sea may become tranquil, and you may return home.'

"They immediately did as he commanded; and it happened most
wonderfully that the moment the kettle began to boil the wind began
to cease, and the waves to be still Having finished their repast, and
seeing that the sea was calm, they went on board, and to their great
delight, though with shame for their neglect, reached home with a fair
wind. Now this, as I have related, I did not pick up from any chance
authority, but I had it from one of those who were present, a most
reverend monk and priest of the same monastery, Cynemund, who still
lives, known to many in the neighbourhood for his years and the purity
of his life."

* * * * *

I hope that the memory of this story, which, thinking it myself
an extremely pretty one, I have given you, not only for a type of
sincerity and simplicity, but for an illustration of obedience, may
at all events quit you, for good and all, of the notion that the
believers and witnesses of miracle were poetical persons. Saying
no more on the head of that allegation, I proceed to the Dean's
second one, which I cannot but interpret as also intended to be
injurious, - that they were artless and childish ones; and that because
of this rudeness and puerility, their motives and opinions would not
be shared by any statesmen of the present day.

It is perfectly true that Edward the Confessor was himself in many
respects of really childish temperament; not therefore, perhaps, as I
before suggested to you, less venerable. But the age of which we are
examining the progress, was by no means represented or governed by
men of similar disposition. It was eminently productive of - it was
altogether governed, guided, and instructed by - men of the widest and
most brilliant faculties, whether constructive or speculative, that
the world till then had seen; men whose acts became the romance, whose
thoughts the wisdom, and whose arts the treasure, of a thousand years
of futurity.

I warned you at the close of last lecture against the too agreeable
vanity of supposing that the Evangelization of the world began at St.
Martin's, Canterbury. Again and again you will indeed find the stream
of the Gospel contracting itself into narrow channels, and appearing,
after long-concealed filtration, through veins of unmeasured rock,
with the bright resilience of a mountain spring. But you will find it
the only candid, and therefore the only wise, way of research, to look
in each era of Christendom for the minds of culminating power in all
its brotherhood of nations; and, careless of local impulse, momentary
zeal, picturesque incident, or vaunted miracle, to fasten your
attention upon the force of character in the men, whom, over each
newly-converted race, Heaven visibly sets for its shepherds and kings,
to bring forth judgment unto victory. Of these I will name to you, as
messengers of God and masters of men, five monks and five kings; in
whose arms during the range of swiftly gainful centuries which we are
following, the life of the world lay as a nursling babe. Remember,
in their successive order, - of monks, St. Jerome, St. Augustine, St.
Martin, St. Benedict, and St. Gregory; of kings, - and your national
vanity may be surely enough appeased in recognizing two of them for
Saxon, - Theodoric, Charlemagne, Alfred, Canute, and the Confessor. I
will read three passages to you, out of the literal words of three
of these ten men, without saying whose they are, that you may compare
them with the best and most exalted you have read expressing the
philosophy, the religion, and the policy of to-day, - from which I
admit, with Dean Stanley, but with a far different meaning from his,
that they are indeed separate for evermore. I give you first, for an
example of Philosophy, a single sentence, containing all - so far as I
can myself discern - that it is possible for us to know, or well for us
to believe, respecting the world and its laws.


"OF GOD'S UNIVERSAL PROVIDENCE, RULING ALL, AND COMPRISING ALL.

"Wherefore the great and mighty God; He that made man a reasonable
creature of soul and body, and He that did neither let him pass
unpunished for his sin, nor yet excluded him from mercy; He that gave,
both unto good and bad, essence with the stones, power of production
with the trees, senses with the beasts of the field, and understanding
with the angels; He from whom is all being, beauty, form, and number,
weight, and measure; He from whom all nature, mean and excellent,
all seeds of form, all forms of seed, all motion, both of forms and
seeds, derive and have being; He that gave flesh the original beauty,
strength, propagation, form and shape, health and symmetry; He
that gave the unreasonable soul, sense, memory, and appetite; the
reasonable, besides these, fantasy, understanding, and will; He,
I say, having left neither heaven, nor earth, nor angel, nor man,
no, nor the most base and contemptible creature, neither the bird's
feather, nor the herb's flower, nor the tree's leaf, without the true
harmony of their parts, and peaceful concord of composition: - It is
in no way credible that He would leave the kingdoms of men and their
bondages and freedom loose and uncomprised in the laws of His eternal
providence."[5]

[Footnote 5: From St. Augustine's 'Citie of God,' Book V., ch. xi.
(English trans., printed by George Eld, 1610.)]

This for the philosophy.[6] Next, I take for example of the Religion
of our ancestors, a prayer, personally and passionately offered to the
Deity conceived as you have this moment heard.

[Footnote 6: Here one of the "Stones of Westminster" was shown and
commented on.]

"O Thou who art the Father of that Son which has awakened us, and
yet urgeth us out of the sleep of our sins, and exhorteth us that we
become Thine;" (note you that, for apprehension of what Redemption
means, against your base and cowardly modern notion of 'scaping
whipping. Not to take away the Punishment of Sin, but by His
Resurrection to raise us out of the sleep of sin itself! Compare the
legend at the feet of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah in the golden
Gospel of Charles le Chauve[7]: -

"HIC LEO SURGENDO PORTAS CONFREGIT AVERNI
QUI NUNQUAM DORMIT, NUSQUAM DORMITAT IN ÆVUM;")

"to Thee, Lord, I pray, who art the supreme truth; for all the truth
that is, is truth from Thee. Thee I implore, O Lord, who art the
highest wisdom. Through Thee are wise all those that are so. Thou art
the true life, and through Thee are living all those that are so. Thou
art the supreme felicity, and from Thee all have become happy that
are so. Thou art the highest good, and from Thee all beauty springs.
Thou art the intellectual light, and from Thee man derives his
understanding.

[Footnote 7: At Munich: the leaf has been exquisitely drawn and legend
communicated to me by Professor Westwood. It is written in gold on
purple.]

"To Thee, O God, I call and speak. Hear, O hear me, Lord! for Thou art
my God and my Lord; my Father and my Creator; my ruler and my hope; my
wealth and my honour my house, my country, my salvation, and my life!
Hear, hear me, O Lord! Few of Thy servants comprehend Thee. But Thee
alone I _love_,[8] indeed, above all other things. Thee I seek: Thee
I will follow: Thee I am ready to serve. Under Thy power I desire to
abide, for Thou alone art the Sovereign of all. I pray Thee to command
me as Thou wilt."

[Footnote 8: Meaning - not that he is of those few, but that, without
comprehending, at least, as a dog, he can love.]

You see this prayer is simply the expansion of that clause of the
Lord's Prayer which most men eagerly omit from it, - _Fiat voluntas
tua_. In being so, it sums the Christian prayer of all ages. See now,
in the third place, how far this king's letter I am going to read to
you sums also Christian Policy.

"Wherefore I render high thanks to Almighty God, for the happy
accomplishment of all the desires which I have set before me,
and for the satisfying of my every wish.

"Now therefore, be it known to you all, that to Almighty God
Himself I have, on my knees, devoted my life, to the end that
in all things I may do justice, and with justice and rightness
rule the kingdoms and peoples under me; throughout everything
preserving an impartial judgment. If, heretofore, I have,
through being, as young men are, impulsive or careless, done
anything unjust, I mean, with God's help, to lose no time
in remedying my fault. To which end I call to witness my
counsellors, to whom I have entrusted the counsels of the
kingdom, and I charge them that by no means, be it through
fear of me, or the favour of any other powerful personage, to
consent to any injustice, or to suffer any to shoot out in any
part of my kingdom. I charge all my viscounts and those set
over my whole kingdom, as they wish to keep my friendship or
their own safety, to use no unjust force to any man, rich or
poor; let all men, noble and not noble, rich and poor alike,
be able to obtain their rights under the law's justice; and
from that law let there be no deviation, either to favour the
king or any powerful person, nor to raise money for me. I have
no need of money raised by what is unfair. I also would have
you know that I go now to make peace and firm treaty by the
counsels of all my subjects, with those nations and people who
wished, had it been possible for them to do so, which it was
not, to deprive us alike of kingdom and of life. God brought
down their strength to nought: and may He of His benign love
preserve us on our throne and in honour. Lastly, when I have
made peace with the neighbouring nations, and settled and
pacified all my dominions in the East, so that we may nowhere
have any war or enmity to fear, I mean to come to England this
summer, as soon as I can fit out vessels to sail. My reason,
however, in sending this letter first is to let all the people
of my kingdom share in the joy of my welfare: for as you
yourselves know, I have never spared myself or my labour; nor
will I ever do so, where my people are really in want of some
good that I can do them."

What think you now, in candour and honour, you youth of the latter
days, - what think you of these types of the thought, devotion, and
government, which not in words, but pregnant and perpetual fact,
animated these which you have been accustomed to call the Dark Ages?

The Philosophy is Augustine's; the Prayer Alfred's; and the Letter
Canute's.

And, whatever you may feel respecting the beauty or wisdom of these
sayings, be assured of one thing above all, that they are sincere; and
of another, less often observed, that they are joyful.

Be assured, in the first place, that they are sincere, The ideas of
diplomacy and priestcraft are of recent times. No false knight or
lying priest ever prospered, I believe, in any age, but certainly
not in the dark ones. Men prospered then, only in following
openly-declared purposes, and preaching candidly beloved and trusted
creeds.

And that they did so prosper, in the degree in which they accepted
and proclaimed the Christian Gospel, may be seen by any of you in your
historical reading, however partial, if only you will admit the idea
that it could be so, and was likely to be so. You are all of you in
the habit of supposing that temporal prosperity is owing either to
worldly chance or to worldly prudence; and is never granted in any
visible relation to states of religious temper. Put that treacherous
doubt away from you, with disdain; take for basis of reasoning
the noble postulate, that the elements of Christian faith are
sound, - instead of the base one, that they are deceptive; reread the
great story of the world in that light, and see what a vividly real,
yet miraculous tenor, it will then bear to you.

Their faith then, I tell you first, was sincere; I tell you secondly
that it was, in a degree few of us can now conceive, joyful. We
continually hear of the trials, sometimes of the victories, of
Faith, - but scarcely ever of its pleasures. Whereas, at this time,
you will find that the chief delight of all good men was in the
recognition of the goodness and wisdom of the Master, who had come
to dwell with them upon earth. It is almost impossible for you to
conceive the vividness of this sense in them; it is totally impossible
for you to conceive the comfort, peace, and force of it. In everything
that you now do or seek, you expose yourselves to countless miseries
of shame and disappointment, because in your doing you depend on
nothing but your own powers, and in seeking choose only your own
gratification. You cannot for the most part conceive of any work but
for your own interests, or the interests of others about whom you are
anxious in the same faithless way; everything about which passion is
excited in you or skill exerted is some object of material life, and
the idea of doing anything except for your own praise or profit has
narrowed itself into little more than the precentor's invitation to
the company with little voice and less practice to "sing to the praise
and glory of God."

I have said that you cannot imagine the feeling of the energy of daily
life applied in the real meaning of those words. You cannot imagine
it, but you _can_ prove it. Are any of you willing, simply as a
philosophical experiment in the greatest of sciences, to adopt the
principles and feelings of these men of a thousand years ago for a
given time, say for a year? It cannot possibly do you any harm to try,
and you cannot possibly learn what is true in these things, without
trying. If after a year's experience of such method you find yourself
no happier than before, at least you will be able to support your
present opinions at once with more grace and more modesty; having
conceded the trial it asked for, to the opposite side. Nor in acting
temporarily on a faith you do not see to be reasonable, do you
compromise your own integrity more, than in conducting, under a
chemist's directions, an experiment of which he foretells inexplicable
consequences. And you need not doubt the power you possess over
your own minds to do this. Were faith not voluntary, it could not be
praised, and would not be rewarded.

If you are minded thus to try, begin each day with Alfred's
prayer, - fiat voluntas tua; resolving that you will stand to it, and
that nothing that happens in the course of the day shall displease
you. Then set to any work you have in hand with the sifted and
purified resolution that ambition shall not mix with it, nor love of
gain, nor desire of pleasure more than is appointed for you; and that
no anxiety shall touch you as to its issue, nor any impatience nor
regret if it fail. Imagine that the thing is being done through you,
not by you; that the good of it may never be known, but that at least,
unless by your rebellion or foolishness, there can come no evil into
it, nor wrong chance to it. Resolve also with steady industry to do
what you can for the help of your country and its honour, and the
honour of its God; and that you will not join hands in its iniquity,
nor turn aside from its misery; and that in all you do and feel you
will look frankly for the immediate help and direction, and to your
own consciences, expressed approval, of God. Live thus, and believe,
and with swiftness of answer proportioned to the frankness of the
trust, most surely the God of hope will fill you with all joy and
peace in believing.

But, if you will not do this, if you have not courage nor heart enough
to break away the fetters of earth, and take up the sensual bed of
it, and walk; if you say that you are _bound_ to win this thing, and
become the other thing, and that the wishes of your friends, - and
the interests of your family, - and the bias of your genius, - and the
expectations of your college, - and all the rest of the bow-wow-wow
of the wild dog-world, must be attended to, whether you like it
or no, - then, at least, for shame give up talk about being free or


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Online LibraryJohn RuskinThe Pleasures of England Lectures given in Oxford → online text (page 3 of 7)