Monday, November 14, 2016

'The Ethics of the Dust' by John Ruskin

WAYSIDE FLOWERS °03
{ The best of John Ruskin }

"No road to any good knowledge is wholly among the lilies and the grass; there is rough climbing to be done always."

Excerpts from Lectures to little housewives on the elements of crystallization.



I.
“The great difficulty is always to open people's eyes : to touch their feelings and break their hearts, is easy, the difficult thing is to break their heads. What does it matter as long as they remain stupid, whether you change their feelings or not? You cannot always be at their elbow to tell them what is right and they may just do as wrong as before or worse, and their best intentions merely make the road smooth for them.”

II.
“We can make ourselves uncomfortable to any extent with perhapses.”

III.
“And it is very nice, in the midst of a wild world, to have the very idea of poetical justice done always to one's hand : - to have everybody found out, who tells lies; and everybody decorated with a red ribbon, who doesn't. ... But it isn't life : and, in the the way children might easily understand it, it isn't morals.”

IV.
“My dear, it means simply that you are to go the road which you see to be the straight one; carrying whatever you find is given you to carry, as well as stoutly as you can; without making faces, or calling people to come and look at you. Above all, you are neither to load, nor unload, yourself; nor cut your cross to your own liking. Some people think it would be better for them to have it large; and many, that they could carry it much faster if it were small; and even those who like it largest are usually very particularly about its being ornemental, and made of the best ebony. But all that you have really to do is to keep your back as straight as you can; and not think about what is upon it - above all, not to boast of what is upon it. The real and essential meaning of "virtue" is in that straightness of back.”

V.
“Well, Lily, we must go through a little dreadfulness, that's a fact : no road to any good knowledge is wholly among the lilies and the grass; there is rough climbing to be done always.”

VI.
“[Their shape] depends on time and accident, and things which the crystal cannot help. If it is cooled too quickly, or shaken, it must take what shape it can; but it seems as if, even then, it had in itself the power of rejecting impurity ... Here is a crystal of quartz, well enough shaped in its way; but it seems to have been languid and sick at heart; and some white milky substance has got into it, and mixed itself up with it, all through. It makes the quartz quite yellow, if you hold it up to the light, and milky blue on the surface. Here is another, broken into a thousand separate facets and out of all traceable shape; but as pure as a mountain spring. I like this one best.”

VI.
SIBYL. But surely, these two beautiful things, gold and diamonds, must have been appointed to some good purposes ?

L. Quite conceivably so, my dear : as also earthquakes and pestilences; but of such ultimate purposes we can have no sight.”

VII.
EGYPT. I used to feel that, when I was queen : sometimes I had to carve gods, for company, all over my palace. I would fain have seen real ones, if I could.”

VIII.
“There is always a considerable quantity of pride, to begin with, in what is called "giving one's self to God." As if one had ever belonged to anybody else!”

IX.
“I don't go to the thundering things with a million of bad voices in them.”

X.
“[Cooking] means the knowledge of Medea, and of Circe, and of Calypso, and of Helen, and of Rebekah, and of the Queen of Sheba. It means the knowledge of all herbs, and fruits, and balms, and spices; and of all that is healing and sweet in fields and groves, and savory in meats, it means carefulness, and inventiveness, and watchfulness, and willingness, and readiness of appliance, it means the economy of your great-grandmothers, and the science of modern chemists; it means much tasting, and no wasting, it means English thoroughness, and French art, and Arabian hospitality, and it means, in fine, that you are to be perfectly and always "loaf-givers"; and, as you are to see, imperatively, that everybody has something pretty to put on - so you are to see, yet more imperatively, that everybody has something nice to eat.”

XI.
“You should at least know two Latin words; recollect that "mors" means death and delaying; and "vita" means life and growing : and try always, not to mortify yourselves, but to vivify yourselves.”

XII.
“There is but one way in which man can ever help God - that is, by letting God help : and there is no way in which His name is more guiltily taken in vain, than by calling the abandonment of our own work, the performance of His.”

XIII.
“You may any day be forced to do a fatal thing, as you might be forced to take poison; the remarkable law of nature in such cases being, that it is always unfortunate you who are poisoned, and not the person who gives you the dose. It is a very strange law, but it is a law ... So also you may be starved to death, morally as well as physically, by other people's faults. ... Do you think that your goodness comes all by your own contriving? Or that you are gentle and kind because you dispositions are naturally more angelic than those of the poor girls who are playing, with wild eyes, on the dust-heaps in the alleys of our great towns; and who will on day fill their prisons - or better, their graves? ... The main judgement question will be, I suppose, for all of us, "Did you keep a good heart through it?”


John Ruskin. The ethics of the dust : 10 lectures to little housewives on the elements of crystallization. 1895.
Ethel Sands. The Chintz couch. 1911. Tate Gallery, London.
This article was originally published on a retired domain and has been republished for archival purposes.

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