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He is pe
MONG English prose writers of the second half of the nineteenth
century, John Ruskin was scarcely equaled in the attract
iveness of his style, and he was not equaled at all in the range of his thought and the variety of his productions. culiarly identified with the second half of the century, for, with the exception of the first and minor edition of his “Modern Painters,” nearly all his great works were published between 1849 and 1900. As an “art critic,” he has had no equal among English writers. But it is with "art” as the expression of the whole idea impressed on humanity by nature that he deals, rather than with art in the limited sense in which it is generally understood. Students of any single art, as of painting or sculpture, are apt to dissent from his conclusions and to question the practical usefulness of his methods; and in the sense in which a professional painter criticizes technique, Ruskin is hardly to be classed as an art critic at all. He represents in England more nearly than any one else the larger view of art which Hegel in Germany did so much to make possible. It was from Carlyle, however, rather than from any German master, that Ruskin received his most potent inspiration. He may be called Carlyle's greatest pupil. Indeed in many things he is Carlyle's superior. His. prose style shows traces of Carlyle's mannerisms, but it is more fluent, more melodious, and more persuasive, than that of Carlyle, whose intensity of expression is often more apt to excite admiration than to carry conviction. Like Carlyle, Ruskin was, in his political views, distrustful of freedom as a mode of progress. He defined his distrust in the assertion that men are only fit for freedom in the inverse ratio of their desire for it. In his later life, he developed an ideal of æsthetic culture for the masses, depending on socialism as a mode of aristocratic control and tutelage. He was deeply moved by beauty in art and nature. The old Greek «beauty worship ” has had greater disciple than he. He himself looked on beauty as a revelar tion of divine goodness. And his message was one of reverence for the good and true not less than for the beautiful. He seems not to have considered, however, that physiological laws which made the Greeks what they were, operate against substituting the Greek for the Puritan ideal among “Anglo-Saxons.” Pericles and Aspasia, listening to a recitation from Homer with an "ear” which enabled
them to co-ordinate perfectly the relation of every vowel to every other in a period of melody as easily as a trained composer does in listening to his own opera,- such finely-organized beings as these were not fitted to serve as saints of progress for the race which produced John Milton and John Bunyan, — which in their spirit must seek its salvation by pressing through the “Valley of the Shadow of Death,” with the smoke of hell coming up through the grass-roots and a leather-winged Apolyon hovering over it. «Sin was something the Greeks knew nothing about, and when Phidias worked, the self-consciousness of the world had not advanced far enough to make possible the conception of a Devil as it is present in the subconsciousness of English-speaking peoples. The world of the old Saxons was a “Midgard” - a "middle enclosure,” with heaven on one side and hell on the other. The world of the primitive Greeks was thronged with genially human gods and demigods. Heaven was no further away than the top of Mount Olympus, and the idea of hell, of the progressive and finally climacteric punitive reactions of evil, was not sufficiently developed to cause alarm. Neither Ruskin nor any other prophet of art could have transferred to nineteenthcentury England the artistic cult developed by such conditions as these. But Ruskin in attempting it, achieved all that was possible.
He was born in London, February 8th, 1819. His father was a wine merchant who had accumulated a large fortune. On his death it descended to Ruskin, who was thus enabled to gratify without great sacrifices the desire for the study of art, which early in life became his ruling passion. After graduating from Christ Church College, Oxford, in 1842, he studied painting under Copley, Fielding, and Harding, and afterwards spent much of his time in Italy,especially in Venice where he found everything he most needed to inspire him. He held professorships both at Cambridge and Oxford, and utilized his lectures as material for a number of the remarkable volumes which during the last twenty-five years of his life he published with such astonishing rapidity. The completion of his Modern Painters » established his standing as the leading English authority on the philosophy of art, and, in consequence, the public demands on his energies were incessant and remorseless. In endeavoring to meet them, he wrecked his nervous system and for several years before he died (January 20th, 1900) he was insane. His life was tragedy. The beautiful woman whom he loved and married did not love him. Finding that she did love his friend, the painter, Millais, Ruskin secured a divorce for her and brought about her marriage to Millais. Deprived thus of domestic happiness, he devoted himself wholly to his work, and in it found "every good and perfect gift » except that consummation and sum of all, without which all is fruitless — peace.
W. V. B.
T is a strange thing how little in general people know about
the sky. It is the part of creation in which nature has done
more for the sake of pleasing man more for the sole and evident purpose of talking to him, and teaching him than in any other of her works; and it is just the part in which we least attend to her. There are not man of her other works in which some more material or essential purpose than the mere pleasing of man is not answered by every part of their organization; but every essential purpose of the sky might, so far as we know, be answered if once in three days, or thereabouts, a great, ugly, black rain cloud were brought up over the blue, and everything well watered, and so all left blue again till next time, with perhaps a film of morning and evening mist for dew -- and instead of this, there is not a moment of any day of our lives, when nature is not producing scene after scene, picture after picture, glory after glory, and working still upon such exquisite and constant principles of the most perfect beauty, that it is quite certain * it is all done for us, and intended for our perpetual pleasure. And every man, wherever placed, however far from other sources of interest or of beauty, has this doing for him constantly. The noblest scenes of the earth can be seen and known but by few; it is not intended that man should live always in the midst of them; he injures them by his presence, he ceases to feel them if he is always with them; but the sky is for all: bright as it is, it is not
«too bright nor good
it is fitted in all its functions for the perpetual comfort and exalting of the heart,- for soothing it, and purifying it from its dross and dust. Sometimes gentle, sometimes capricious, sometimes awful never the same for two moments together; almost human in its passions, almost spiritual in its tenderness, almost divine in its infinity, its appeal to what is immortal in us is as distinct as its ministry of chastisement or of blessing to what is
* At least, I thought so, when I was four-and-twenty. At five-and-twenty I fancy that it is just possible there may be other creatures in the universe, to be pleased, or,- it may be, -- displeased by the weather.
mortal is essential. And et we never attend to it, we never make it a subject of thought, but as it has to do with our animal sensations, we look upon all by which it speaks to us more clearly than to brutes, upon all which bears witness to the intention of the Supreme that we are to receive more from the covering vault than the light and the dew which we share with the weed and the worm, only as a succession of meaningless and monotonous accident, too common and too vain to be worthy of a moment of watchfulness, or a glance of admiration. If in our moments of utter idleness and insipidity, we turn to the sky as a last resource, which of its phenomena do we speak of? One says, it has been wet; and another, it has been windy; and another, it has been warm. Who among the whole chattering crowd can tell me of the forms and the precipices of the chain of tall white mountains that girded the horizon at noon yesterday? Who saw the narrow sunbeam that came out of the south, and smote upon their summits until they melted and moldered away in the dust of blue rain ? Who saw the dance of the dead clouds where the sunlight left them last night, and the west wind blew them before it like withered leaves ? All has passed unregretted as unseen; or if the apathy be ever shaken off even for an instant, it is only by what is gross, or what is extraordinary. And yet it is not in the broad and fierce manifestations of the elemental energies, nor in the clash of the hail, nor the drift of the whirlwind, that the highest characters of the sublime are developed. God is not in the arthquake, nor in the fire, but in the still small voice. They are but the blunt and the low faculties of our nature, which can only be addressed through lampblack and lightning. It is in quiet and unsubdued passages of unobtrusive majesty, the deep and the calm, and the perpetual; that which must be sought ere it is seen, and loved ere it is understood; things which the angels work out for us daily, and yet vary eternally; which are never wanting, and never repeated, which are to be found always, yet each found but once; it is through these that the lesson of devotion is chiefly taught, and the blessing of beauty given.
We habitually think of the rain cloud only as dark and gray; not knowing that we owe to it perhaps the fairest, though not the most dazzling, of the hues of heaven. Often in our English mornings, the rain clouds in the dawn form soft, level fields, which melt imperceptibly into the blue; or, when of less extent, gather into apparent bars, crossing the sheets of broader clouds above; and all these bathed throughout in an unspeakable light of pure rose-color, and purple, and amber, and blue; not shining, but misty-soft; the barred masses, when seen nearer, composed of clusters or tresses of cloud, like floss silk; looking as if each knot were a little swathe or sheaf of lighted rain.
Aqueous vapor or mist, suspended in the atmosphere, becomes visible exactly as dust does in the air of a room. In the shad. ows, you not only cannot see the dust itself, because unillumined, but you can see other objects through the dust, without obscurity; the air being thus actually rendered more transparent by a deprivation of light. Where a sunbeam enters, every par. ticle of dust becomes visible, and a palpable interruption to the sight; so that a transverse sunbeam is a real obstacle to the vision —you cannot see things clearly through it. In the same way, wherever vapor is illuminated by transverse rays, there it becomes visible as a whiteness more or less affecting the purity of the blue, and destroying it exactly in proportion to the degree of illumination. But where vapor is in shade, it has very little effect on the sky, perhaps making it a little deeper and grayer than it otherwise would be, but not, itself, unless very dense, distinguishable, or felt as mist.
Has the reader any distinct idea of what clouds are ?
That mist which lies in the morning so softly in the valley, level and white, through which the tops of the trees rise as if through an inundation – why is it so heavy, and why does it lie so low, being yet so thin and frail that it will melt away utterly into splendor of morning when the sun has shone on it but a few moments more? Those colossal pyramids, huge and firm, with outlines as of rocks, and strength to bear the beating of the high sun full on their fiery flanks, - why are they so light, their bases high over our heads, high over the heads of Alps ? Why will these melt away, not as the sun rises, but as he descends, and leave the stars of twilight clear; while the valley vapor gains again upon the earth, like a shroud? Or that ghost of a cloud, which steals by yonder clump of pines; nay, which does not steal by them, but haunts them, wreathing yet round them, and yet, - and yet, — slowly; now falling in a fair waved line like a woman's veil; now fading, now gone; we look away for an instant, and look back, and it is again there. What has it to do with that clump of pines, that it broods by them, and waves itself among their branches, to and fro? Has it hidden a cloudy