John Ruskin.

The Pleasures of England Lectures given in Oxford online

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independent creatures; recognize yourselves for slaves in whom the
thoughts are put in ward with their bodies, and their hearts manacled
with their hands: and then at least also, for shame, if you refuse to
believe that ever there were men who gave their souls to God, - know
and confess how surely there are those who sell them to His adversary.


LECTURE III.

THE PLEASURES OF DEED.

_ALFRED TO CŒUR DE LION._


It was my endeavour, in the preceding lecture, to vindicate the
thoughts and arts of our Saxon ancestors from whatever scorn might lie
couched under the terms applied to them by Dean Stanley, - 'fantastic'
and 'childish.' To-day my task must be carried forward, first, in
asserting the grace in fantasy, and the force in infancy, of the
English mind, before the Conquest, against the allegations contained
in the final passage of Dean Stanley's description of the first
founded Westminster; a passage which accepts and asserts, more
distinctly than any other equally brief statement I have met with,
the to my mind extremely disputable theory, that the Norman invasion
was in every respect a sanitary, moral, and intellectual blessing to
England, and that the arrow which slew her Harold was indeed the Arrow
of the Lord's deliverance.

"The Abbey itself," says Dean Stanley, - "the chief work of the
Confessor's life, - was the portent of the mighty future. When Harold
stood beside his sister Edith, on the day of the dedication, and
signed his name with hers as witness to the Charter of the Abbey, he
might have seen that he was sealing his own doom, and preparing for
his own destruction. The solid pillars, the ponderous arches, the huge
edifice, with triple tower and sculptured stones and storied windows,
that arose in the place and in the midst of the humble wooden churches
and wattled tenements of the Saxon period, might have warned the
nobles who were present that the days of their rule were numbered,
and that the _avenging, civilizing, stimulating_ hand of another and a
mightier race was at work, which would change the whole face of their
language, their manners, their Church, and their commonwealth. The
Abbey, so far exceeding the demands of the _dull and stagnant_ minds
of our Anglo-Saxon ancestors, was founded not only in faith, but in
hope: in the hope that England had yet a glorious career to run; that
the line of her sovereigns would not be broken, even when the race of
Alfred had ceased to reign."

There must surely be some among my hearers who are startled, if
not offended, at being told in the terms which I emphasized in
this sentence, that the minds of our Saxon fathers were, although
fantastic, dull, and, although childish, stagnant; that farther, in
their fantastic stagnation; they were savage, - and in their innocent
dullness, criminal; so that the future character and fortune of
the race depended on the critical advent of the didactic and
disciplinarian Norman baron, at once to polish them, stimulate, and
chastise.

Before I venture to say a word in distinct arrest of this judgment,
I will give you a chart, as clear as the facts observed in the two
previous lectures allow, of the state and prospects of the Saxons,
when this violent benediction of conquest happened to them: and
especially I would rescue, in the measure that justice bids, the
memory even of their Pagan religion from the general scorn in
which I used Carlyle's description of the idol of ancient Prussia
as universally exponent of the temper of Northern devotion. That
Triglaph, or Triglyph Idol, (derivation of Triglaph wholly unknown to
me - I use Triglyph only for my own handiest epithet), last set up, on
what is now St. Mary's hill in Brandenburg, in 1023, belonged indeed
to a people wonderfully like the Saxons, - geographically their close
neighbours, - in habits of life, and aspect of native land, scarcely
distinguishable from them, - in Carlyle's words, a "strong-boned,
iracund, herdsman and fisher people, highly averse to be interfered
with, in their religion especially, and inhabiting a moory flat
country, full of lakes and woods, but with plenty also of alluvial
mud, grassy, frugiferous, apt for the plough" - in all things like
the Saxons, except, as I read the matter, in that 'aversion to be
interfered with' which you modern English think an especially Saxon
character in you, - but which is, on the contrary, you will find on
examination, by no means Saxon; but only Wendisch, Czech, Serbic,
Sclavic, - other hard names I could easily find for it among the tribes
of that vehemently heathen old Preussen - "resolutely worshipful
of places of oak trees, of wooden or stone idols, of Bangputtis,
Patkullos, and I know not what diabolic dumb blocks." Your English
"dislike to be interfered with" is in absolute fellowship with these,
but only gathers itself in its places of Stalks, or chimneys, instead
of oak trees, round its idols of iron, instead of wood, diabolically
_vocal_ now; strident, and sibilant, instead of dumb.

Far other than these, their neighbour Saxons, Jutes and
Angles! - tribes between whom the distinctions are of no moment
whatsoever, except that an English boy or girl may with grace remember
that 'Old England,' exactly and strictly so called, was the small
district in the extreme south of Denmark, totally with its islands
estimable at sixty miles square of dead flat land. Directly south
of it, the definitely so-called Saxons held the western shore of
Holstein, with the estuary of the Elbe, and the sea-mark isle,
Heligoland. But since the principal temple of Saxon worship was close
to Leipsic,[9] we may include under our general term, Saxons, the
inhabitants of the whole level district of North Germany, from the
Gulf of Flensburg to the Hartz; and, eastward, all the country watered
by the Elbe as far as Saxon Switzerland.

[Footnote 9: Turner, vol. i., p. 223.]

Of the character of this race I will not here speak at any length:
only note of it this essential point, that their religion was at
once more practical and more imaginative than that of the Norwegian
peninsula; the Norse religion being the conception rather of natural
than moral powers, but the Saxon, primarily of moral, as the lords
of natural - their central divine image, Irminsul,[10] holding the
standard of peace in her right hand, a balance in her left. Such a
religion may degenerate into mere slaughter and rapine; but it has the
making in it of the noblest men.

[Footnote 10: Properly plural 'Images' - Irminsul and Irminsula.]

More practical at all events, whether for good or evil, in this trust
in a future reward for courage and purity, than the mere Scandinavian
awe of existing Earth and Cloud, the Saxon religion was also more
imaginative, in its nearer conception of human feeling in divine
creatures. And when this wide hope and high reverence had distinct
objects of worship and prayer, offered to them by Christianity, the
Saxons easily became pure, passionate, and thoughtful Christians;
while the Normans, to the last, had the greatest difficulty in
apprehending the Christian teaching of the Franks, and still deny the
power of Christianity, even when they have become inveterate in its
form.

Quite the deepest-thoughted creatures of the then animate world, it
seems to me, these Saxon ploughmen of the sand or the sea, with their
worshipped deity of Beauty and Justice, a red rose on her banner, for
best of gifts, and in her right hand, instead of a sword, a balance,
for due doom, without wrath, - of retribution in her left. Far
other than the Wends, though stubborn enough, they too, in battle
rank, - seven times rising from defeat against Charlemagne, and
unsubdued but by death - yet, by no means in that John Bull's manner
of yours, 'averse to be interfered with,' in their opinions, or their
religion. Eagerly docile on the contrary - joyfully reverent - instantly
and gratefully acceptant of whatever better insight or oversight a
stranger could bring them, of the things of God or man.

And let me here ask you especially to take account of that origin of
the true bearing of the Flag of England, the Red Rose. Her own
madness defiled afterwards alike the white and red, into images of the
paleness, or the crimson, of death; but the Saxon Rose was the symbol
of heavenly beauty and peace.

I told you in my first lecture that one swift requirement in our
school would be to produce a beautiful map of England, including
old Northumberland, giving the whole country, in its real geography,
between the Frith of Forth and Straits of Dover, and with only
six sites of habitation given, besides those of Edinburgh and
London, - namely, those of Canterbury and Winchester, York and
Lancaster, Holy Island and Melrose; the latter instead of Iona,
because, as we have seen, the influence of St. Columba expires
with the advance of Christianity, while that of Cuthbert of
Melrose connects itself with the most sacred feelings of the entire
Northumbrian kingdom, and Scottish border, down to the days of
Scott - wreathing also into its circle many of the legends of Arthur.
Will you forgive my connecting the personal memory of having once had
a wild rose gathered for me, in the glen of Thomas the Rhymer, by the
daughter of one of the few remaining Catholic houses of Scotland, with
the pleasure I have in reading to you this following true account
of the origin of the name of St. Cuthbert's birthplace; - the rather
because I owe it to friendship of the same date, with Mr. Cockburn
Muir, of Melrose.

"To those who have eyes to read it," says Mr. Muir, "the name
'Melrose' is written full and fair, on the fair face of all this reach
of the valley. The name is anciently spelt Mailros, and later, Malros,
never Mulros; ('Mul' being the Celtic word taken to mean 'bare'). Ros
is Rose; the forms Meal or Mol imply great quantity or number. Thus
Malros means the place of many roses.

"This is precisely the notable characteristic of the neighbourhood.
The wild rose is indigenous. There is no nook nor cranny, no bank nor
brae, which is not, in the time of roses, ablaze with their exuberant
loveliness. In gardens, the cultured rose is so prolific that it
spreads literally like a weed. But it is worth suggestion that the
word may be of the same stock as the Hebrew _rôsh_ (translated rôs
by the Septuagint), meaning _chief_, _principal_, while it is also
the name of _some_ flower; but of _which_ flower is now unknown.
Affinities of _rôsh_ are not far to seek; Sanskrit, _Raj_(a),
_Ra_(ja)_ni_; Latin, _Rex_, _Reg_(ina)."

I leave it to Professor Max Muller to certify or correct for you the
details of Mr. Cockburn's research,[11] - this main head of it I can
positively confirm, that in old Scotch, - that of Bishop Douglas, - the
word 'Rois' stands alike for King, and Rose.

[Footnote 11: I had not time to quote it fully in the lecture; and in
my ignorance, alike of Keltic and Hebrew, can only submit it here to
the reader's examination. "The ancient Cognizance of the town confirms
this etymology beyond doubt, with customary heraldic precision. The
shield bears a _Rose_; with a _Maul_, as the exact phonetic equivalent
for the expletive. If the herald had needed to express 'bare
promontory,' quite certainly he would have managed it somehow.
Not only this, the Earls of Haddington were first created Earls
of _Melrose_ (1619); and their Shield, quarterly, is charged, for
Melrose, in 2nd and 3rd (fesse wavy between) three _Roses_ gu.

"Beyond this ground of certainty, we may indulge in a little excursus
into lingual affinities of wide range. The root _mol_ is clear enough.
It is of the same stock as the Greek _mála_, Latin _mul_(_tum_), and
Hebrew _m'la_. But, _Rose_? We call her Queen of Flowers, and since
before the Persian poets made much of her, she was everywhere _Regina
Florum_. Why should not the name mean simply the Queen, the Chief?
Now, so few who know Keltic know also Hebrew, and so few who know
Hebrew know also Keltic, that few know the surprising extent of the
affinity that exists - clear as day - between the Keltic and the Hebrew
vocabularies. That the word _Rose_ may be a case in point is not
hazardously speculative."]

Summing now the features I have too shortly specified in the Saxon
character, - its imagination, its docility, its love of knowledge,
and its love of beauty, you will be prepared to accept my conclusive
statement, that they gave rise to a form of Christian faith which
appears to me, in the present state of my knowledge, one of the
purest and most intellectual ever attained in Christendom; - never yet
understood, partly because of the extreme rudeness of its expression
in the art of manuscripts, and partly because, on account of its very
purity, it sought no expression in architecture, being a religion
of daily life, and humble lodging. For these two practical reasons,
first; - and for this more weighty third, that the intellectual
character of it is at the same time most truly, as Dean Stanley
told you, childlike; showing itself in swiftness of imaginative
apprehension, and in the fearlessly candid application of great
principles to small things. Its character in this kind may be
instantly felt by any sympathetic and gentle person who will read
carefully the book I have already quoted to you, the Venerable Bede's
life of St. Cuthbert; and the intensity and sincerity of it in the
highest orders of the laity, by simply counting the members of Saxon
Royal families who ended their lives in monasteries.

Now, at the very moment when this faith, innocence, and ingenuity were
on the point of springing up into their fruitage, comes the Northern
invasion; of the real character of which you can gain a far truer
estimate by studying Alfred's former resolute contest with and victory
over the native Norman in his paganism, than by your utmost endeavours
to conceive the character of the afterwards invading Norman,
disguised, but not changed, by Christianity. The Norman could not, in
the nature of him, become a _Christian_ at all; and he never did; - he
only became, at his best, the enemy of the Saracen. What he was, and
what alone he was capable of being, I will try to-day to explain.

And here I must advise you that in all points of history relating
to the period between 800 and 1200, you will find M. Viollet le
Duc, incidentally throughout his 'Dictionary of Architecture,' the
best-informed, most intelligent, and most thoughtful of guides.
His knowledge of architecture, carried down into the most minutely
practical details, - (which are often the most significant), and
embracing, over the entire surface of France, the buildings even of
the most secluded villages; his artistic enthusiasm, balanced by the
acutest sagacity, and his patriotism, by the frankest candour, render
his analysis of history during that active and constructive period the
most valuable known to me, and certainly, in its field, exhaustive.
Of the later nationality his account is imperfect, owing to his
professional interest in the mere _science_ of architecture, and
comparative insensibility to the power of sculpture; - but of the
time with which we are now concerned, whatever he tells you must be
regarded with grateful attention.

I introduce, therefore, the Normans to you, on their first entering
France, under his descriptive terms of them.[12]

[Footnote 12: Article "Architecture," vol. i., p. 138.]

"As soon as they were established on the soil, these barbarians became
the most hardy and active builders. Within the space of a century
and a half, they had covered the country on which they had definitely
landed, with religious, monastic, and civil edifices, of an extent and
richness then little common. It is difficult to suppose that they had
brought from Norway the elements of art,[13] but they were possessed
by a persisting and penetrating spirit; their brutal force did not
want for grandeur. Conquerors, they raised castles to assure their
domination; they soon recognized the Moral force of the clergy, and
endowed it richly. Eager always to attain their end, when once they
saw it, they _never left one of their enterprises unfinished_, and
in that they differed completely from the Southern inhabitants of
Gaul. Tenacious extremely, they were perhaps the only ones among the
barbarians established in France who had ideas of order; the only ones
who knew how to preserve their conquests, and compose a state. They
found the remains of the Carthaginian arts on the territory where they
planted themselves, they mingled with those their national genius,
positive, grand, and yet supple."

[Footnote 13: They _had_ brought some, of a variously Charybdic,
Serpentine, and Diabolic character. - J.R.]

Supple, 'Delié,' - capable of change and play of the mental muscle, in
the way that savages are not. I do not, myself, grant this suppleness
to the Norman, the less because another sentence of M. le Duc's,
occurring incidentally in his account of the archivolt, is of extreme
counter-significance, and wide application. "The Norman arch," he
says, "is _never derived from traditional classic forms_, but only
from mathematical arrangement of line." Yes; that is true: the Norman
arch is never derived from classic forms. The cathedral,[14] whose
aisles you saw or might have seen, yesterday, interpenetrated
with light, whose vaults you might have heard prolonging the sweet
divisions of majestic sound, would have been built in that stately
symmetry by Norman law, though never an arch at Rome had risen round
her field of blood, - though never her Sublician bridge had been
petrified by her Augustan pontifices. But the _decoration_, though not
the structure of those arches, they owed to another race,[15] whose
words they stole without understanding, though three centuries before,
the Saxon understood, and used, to express the most solemn majesty of
his Kinghood, -

"EGO, EDGAR, TOTIVS ALBIONIS" -

not Rex, that would have meant the King of Kent or Mercia, not of
England, - no, nor Imperator; that would have meant only the profane
power of Rome, but _BASILEVS_, meaning a King who reigned with sacred
authority given by Heaven and Christ.

[Footnote 14: Of Oxford, during the afternoon service.]

[Footnote 15: See the concluding section of the lecture.]

With far meaner thoughts, both of themselves and their powers, the
Normans set themselves to build impregnable military walls, and
sublime religious ones, in the best possible practical ways; but
they no more made books of their church fronts than of their bastion
flanks; and cared, in the religion they accepted, neither for its
sentiments nor its promises, but only for its immediate results on
national order.

As I read them, they were men wholly of this world, bent on doing the
most in it, and making the best of it that they could; - men, to their
death, of _Deed_, never pausing, changing, repenting, or anticipating,
more than the completed square, ὰνευ ψογου, of their battle, their
keep, and their cloister. Soldiers before and after everything, they
learned the lockings and bracings of their stones primarily in defence
against the battering-ram and the projectile, and esteemed the pure
circular arch for its distributed and equal strength more than for its
beauty. "I believe again," says M. le Duc,[16] "that the feudal castle
never arrived at its perfectness till after the Norman invasion,
and that this race of the North was the first to apply a defensive
system under unquestionable laws, soon followed by the nobles of the
Continent, after they had, at their own expense, learned their
superiority."

[Footnote 16: Article "Château," vol. iii, p. 65.]

The next sentence is a curious one. I pray your attention to it. "The
defensive system of the Norman is born of a profound sentiment of
_distrust_ and _cunning, foreign to the character of the Frank_."
You will find in all my previous notices of the French, continual
insistance upon their natural Franchise, and also, if you take the
least pains in analysis of their literature down to this day, that
the idea of falseness is to them indeed more hateful than to any other
European nation. To take a quite cardinal instance. If you compare
Lucian's and Shakespeare's Timon with Molière's Alceste, you
will find the Greek and English misanthropes dwell only on men's
_ingratitude_ to _themselves_, but Alceste, on their _falsehood to
each other_.

Now hear M. le Duc farther:

"The castles built between the tenth and twelfth centuries along the
Loire, Gironde, and Seine, that is to say, along the lines of the
Norman invasions, and in the neighbourhood of their possessions, have
a peculiar and uniform character which one finds neither in central
France, nor in Burgundy, nor can there be any need for us to throw
light on (_faire ressortir_) the superiority of the warrior spirit
of the Normans, during the later times of the Carlovingian epoch,
over the spirit of the chiefs of Frank descent, established on the
Gallo-Roman soil." There's a bit of honesty in a Frenchman for you!

I have just said that they valued religion chiefly for its influence
of order in the present world: being in this, observe, as nearly as
may be the exact reverse of modern believers, or persons who profess
to be such, - of whom it may be generally alleged, too truly, that they
value religion with respect to their future bliss rather than their
present duty; and are therefore continually careless of its direct
commands, with easy excuse to themselves for disobedience to them.
Whereas the Norman, finding in his own heart an irresistible impulse
to action, and perceiving himself to be set, with entirely strong
body, brain, and will, in the midst of a weak and dissolute confusion
of all things, takes from the Bible instantly into his conscience
every exhortation to Do and to Govern; and becomes, with all his might
and understanding, a blunt and rough servant, knecht, or knight of
God, liable to much misapprehension, of course, as to the services
immediately required of him, but supposing, since the whole make of
him, outside and in, is a soldier's, that God meant him for a soldier,
and that he is to establish, by main force, the Christian faith and
works all over the world so far as he comprehends them; not merely
with the Mahometan indignation against spiritual error, but with a
sound and honest soul's dislike of material error, and resolution to
extinguish _that_, even if perchance found in the spiritual persons to
whom, in their office, he yet rendered total reverence.

Which force and faith in him I may best illustrate by merely putting
together the broken paragraphs of Sismondi's account of the founding
of the Norman Kingdom of Sicily: virtually contemporary with the
conquest of England.

"The Normans surpassed all the races of the west in their ardour for
pilgrimages. They would not, to go into the Holy Land, submit to the
monotony[17] of a long sea voyage - the rather that they found not
on the Mediterranean the storms or dangers they had rejoiced to
encounter on their own sea. They traversed by land the whole of
France and Italy, trusting to their swords to procure the necessary
subsistence,[18] if the charity of the faithful did not enough provide
for it with alms. The towns of Naples, Amalfi, Gaeta, and Bari, held
constant commerce with Syria; and frequent miracles, it was believed,
illustrated the Monte Cassino (St. Benedict again!) on the road of
Naples, and the Mount of Angels (Garganus) above Bari." (Querceta
Gargani - verily, laborant; _now_, et orant.) "The pilgrims wished
to visit during their journey the monasteries built on these two
mountains, and therefore nearly always, either going or returning to
the Holy Land, passed through Magna Græcia.

[Footnote 17: I give Sismondi's idea as it stands, but there was no
question in the matter of monotony or of danger. The journey was made
on foot because it was the most laborious way, and the most humble.]

[Footnote 18: See farther on, p. 110, the analogies with English
arrangements of the same kind.]

"In one of the earliest years of the eleventh century, about forty
of these religious travellers, having returned from the Holy Land,
chanced to have met together in Salerno at the moment when a small
Saracen fleet came to insult the town, and demand of it a military
contribution. The inhabitants of South Italy, at this time, abandoned
to the delights of their enchanted climate, had lost nearly all
military courage. The Salernitani saw with astonishment forty Norman
knights, after having demanded horses and arms from the Prince of
Salerno, order the gates of the town to be opened, charge the Saracens


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