Tuesday, September 25, 2012

thomas carlyle's trickle-down moral economics

[from Latter-Day Pamphlets #4, "The New Downing Street," 15 April 1850:]

We may depend upon it, where there is a Pauper, there is a sin; to make one Pauper there go many sins. Pauperism is our Social Sin grown manifest; developed from the state of a spiritual ignobleness, a practical impropriety and base oblivion of duty, to an affair of the ledger. Here is not now an unheeded sin against God; here is a concrete ugly bulk of Beggary demanding that you should buy Indian meal for it. Men of reflection have long looked with a horror for which there was no response in the idle public, upon Pauperism; but the quantity of meal it demands has now awakened men of no reflection to consider it. Pauperism is the poisonous dripping from all the sins, and putrid unveracities and god-forgetting greedinesses and devil-serving cants and jesuitisms, that exist among us. Not one idle Sham lounging about Creation upon false pretences, upon means which he has not earned, upon theories which he does not practise, but yields his share of Pauperism somewhere or other. His sham-work oozes down; finds at last its issue as human Pauperism,—in a human being that by those false pretences cannot live. The Idle Workhouse, now about to burst of overfilling, what is it but the scandalous poison-tank of drainage from the universal Stygian quagmire of our affairs?

Monday, September 24, 2012

How times have changed. Imagine Ruskin's response to This Quandry.

Australian Liberal Party Senator Cory Bernardi canceled an appearance at Oxford University this weekend in the wake of comments he made suggesting marriage equality might lead to calls for polygamous marriages and legal bestiality. On Tuesday, Bernardi said in a speech in Parliament: ‘The next step [after gay marriage] is having three people that love each other enter into a permanent union endorsed by society, or four people. There are even some creepy people out there, who say that it’s okay to have consensual sexual relations between humans and animals. Will that be a future step?”
The controversial politico was scheduled to address the European Young Conservative Freedom Summit at Oxford’s St Hugh’s College but withdrew because he felt his appearance would be a “distraction.” On Thursday night, Senator Bernardi—who was made to step down as the Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s parliamentary secretary—told reporters he had been quoted out of context. But outrage still brewed in both Australia and the UK. ”We strongly condemn Mr Bernardi’s comments, which do not reflect David Cameron’s or the Conservative Party’s viewpoint in any way,” said Ben Howlett of Conservative Future, the youth wing of the Conservative Party.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Suicide of Thomas Chatterton by Henry Wallis (1856)

 This my favorite Pre-Raphaelite painting. "The high hopes of the sanguine boy had begun to fade. He had not yet completed his second month in London, and already failure and starvation stared him in the face. Mr. Cross, a neighboring apothecary, repeatedly invited him to join him at dinner or supper; but he refused. His landlady also, suspecting his necessity, pressed him to share her dinner, but in vain. "She knew", as she afterwards said, "that he had not eaten anything for two or three days." But he was offended at her urgency, and assured her that he was not hungry. The note of his actual receipts, found in his pocket-book after his death, shows that Hamilton, Fell and other editors who had been so liberal in flattery, had paid him at the rate of a shilling for an article, and somewhat less than eightpence each for his songs; while much which had been accepted was held in reserve, and still unpaid for. The beginning of a new month revealed to him the indefinite postponement of the publication and payment of his work. He had wished, according to his foster-mother, to study medicine with Barrett; in his desperation he now reverted to this, and wrote to Barrett for a letter to help him to an opening as a surgeon's assistant on board an African trader. He appealed also to Mr. Catcott to forward his plan, but in vain. On the 24th of August 1770, he retired for the last time to his attic in Brook Street, carrying with him the arsenic which he there drank, after tearing into fragments whatever literary remains were at hand."  Of course, the very next day, a patron arrives to financially assist him.

John Ruskin's notes from The Royal Academy pamphlet: "Faultless and wonderful: a most noble example of the great school. Examine it well inch by inch: it is one of the pictures which intend, and accomplish, the entire placing before your eyes of an actual fact ―and that a solemn one. Give it much time."
That's Victorian London in the window and the intensity of color in Chatterton's Irish-red hair is unbelievable.Chatterton lived by forging pseudo-medieval poetry.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

"[I]f you don't want the qualities of the substance you use, you ought to use some other substance."

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Religious Scotsman and an Irreligious Irishman with a sketch of a German

Three Studies for a Portrait of Lucian Freud

Francis Bacon: There is nothing ugly; I never saw an ugly thing in my life: for let the form of an object be what it may, – light, shade, and perspective will always make it beautiful.
John Ruskin: Those who are not judged beautiful are not beautiful. Those who are, are given the prize. The prize is to be owned by a judge – that is to say to be available for him.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

ruskin as veruca salt: "I want a BEAN feast!"

JR to Charles Eliot Norton, 28 December 1858:

I want to get all the Titians – Tintorets – Paul Veroneses, Turners and Sir Joshuas – in the world – into one great fireproof Gothic gallery of marble and serpentine. I want to get them all perfectly engraved. I want to go and draw all the subjects of Turner's 19,000 sketches in Switzerland & Italy elaborated out myself. I want to get everybody a dinner who has'nt got one. I want to macadamize some new roads to heaven with broken fool's heads. I want to hang up some knaves out of the way: not that I've any dislike to them; but I think it would be wholesome for them; and for other people, and that they would make good crow's meat. I want to play all day long and arrange my cabinet of minerals with new white wool. I want somebody to nurse me when I'm tired. I want Turner's pictures not to fade. I want to be able to draw clouds, and to understand how they go – and I can't make them stand still – nor understand them – They all go sideways – plagiai [Greek] – (what a fellow that Aristophanes was – and and yet to be always in the wrong, in the Main – except in his love for Aeschylus and the country – Did ever a worthy man do so much mischief on the face of the Earth?) Farther, I want to make the Italians industrious – the Americans quiet; – the Swiss Romantic; – the Roman Catholics Rational – and the English Parliament honest – and I can't do anything and don't understand what I was born for.

ruskin & norton: the correspondence

[Charles Eliot Norton, by Samuel Worcester Rowse]

I’ve just finished volume 36 of the Library Edition of Ruskin, the first of two fat volumes of letters, and I’ve found myself taking yet another detour as I head down the home stretch of this two+ year odyssey of scaling what I’ve come to think of as “The Maroon Mountain.” I’ve turned, that is, to John Bradley and Ian Ousby’s 1987 Cambridge UP edition of The Correspondence of John Ruskin and Charles Eliot Norton. Here’s why: 

Norton, not many years younger than Ruskin, was a well-to-do Boston Brahmin type with a keen interest in literature and the arts, which he cultivated to some degree under the tutelage of Ruskin, whom he had met in 1855 on a trip to England. He’d paid a visit to Denmark Hill to see Ruskin’s Turners; the two men met by chance the next year on a boat on Lake Geneva, and eventually they formed one of the closest friendships of Ruskin’s life (tho largely epistolary). Many of Ruskin’s most searchingly personal letters are to Norton; he seemed to pour out many of his deepest fears, desires, and ambitions to the American, and their friendship weathered seveeral severe storms – Ruskin’s bitter scorn for the bloodshed of the Civil War, Norton’s distaste at the revelations of Froude’s biography of Carlyle (Ruskin thought Froude had done justice to Carlyle in his warts-and-all depiction): Ruskin named Norton (who had founded the Atlantic, & become a professor at Harvard) one of his literary executors, and Praeterita ends with an evocation of the two men’s 1870 visit to Siena.

As I worked my way thru the first Library Edition volume of letters (thru 1869, that is) I began to note the increasing frequency of letters to Norton; it seemed like every third letter, sometimes every other letter, was to Norton. The letters to Norton, indeed, seem to come to dominate the LE’s presentation of Ruskin’s correspondence.

Here’s what was going on:

When Edward Tyas Cook and Alexander Wedderburn laid out the plans for the Library Edition soon after Ruskin’s death in 1900, they mapped out an edition of 30 volumes, but knew there would probably be more: already collected works might take up more space in a fully annotated edition than they did in available editions – they planned on only 2 volumes for Fors, for instance, which ultimately fills 3 in the LE – and unexpected materials might turn up that warranted publication. Cook and Wedderburn were flexible about what would go into the LE, but they intended to reprint everything by Ruskin that had already been published; unpublished works might or might not be included, depending on their importance. Here they had a lot to choose from, as there were reams of manuscript materials at Ruskin’s home at Brantwood, and scores of thousands of letters in the hands of various correspondents.

Cook & Wedderburn put out a call to correspondents for copies of Ruskin’s letters, to be used for the biographical material at the beginning of each LE volume or possibly to be included in a final volume of “Letters.” They meant to make a rigorous but representative selection, not the two-volume leviathan that now makes up volumes 36 & 37 of the edition. But their own stricture of reprinting everything Ruskin had written that was now in print got in the way. Wedderburn had edited Ruskin’s letters to the press in 1880 as Arrows of the Chace, and those were included in the edition, tho not in the “Letters” volume. Ruskin himself had allowed his letters to Susan Beever to be published in 1887 under the title Hortus Inclusus – so all of those letters had to be reprinted, and were accordingly folded into “Letters.” And every letter of Ruskin’s which had been quoted in someone’s memoirs, printed in someone’s biography, or even cited at length in an auction catalogue, had to be reprinted.

And then there was Norton. When Cook & Wedderburn contacted Norton about what they knew was his huge hoard of Ruskin letters, he panicked, as it were. He already felt Ruskin had written and published way too much in his later years, revealed far too much of himself (Norton thought Hortus Inclusus had been a terrible idea); and he was entirely unwilling to let Cook & Wedderburn do whatever they wanted – up to & including printing them all – with the personally revealing letters of Ruskin’s he’d received. So Norton himself edited & published a long set of the Ruskin letters in the Atlantic, then in 1904 himself issued with Houghton Mifflin a more or less complete two-volume collection of what he rightly considered the most important surviving continuous run of Ruskin’s correspondence.

Cook & Wedderburn were, one assumes, appalled. As they told Norton as soon as the Houghton Mifflin volumes hit their shelves, they’d had no intention of quoting from any of the letters to him without his express permission, much less of publishing the letters as a whole. But now they were boxed in by their own editorial guidelines: they embargoed sales of the Houghton Mifflin collection in the UK, and set about incorporating every last one of Norton’s letters into their own “Letters” volumes – swelling them I’d guess by at least 400 pages.

But Norton, as his reaction to Froude’s life of Carlyle might indicate, had had no intention of embarrassing his friend’s memory. His own edition of Ruskin’s letters to him is pretty heavily censored, removing many personal details & most references to money matters. And when he was finished editing, he destroyed a great many letters (& left instructions to his daughter to destroy as many more as she saw fit before handing the rest over the Harvard’s library).

So I’m reading Ousby & Bradley’s more recent edition, not merely because its annotations are somewhat more complete than Cook & Wedderburn’s, but because they print the letters in full, without Norton’s omissions. Alas, there’s a pretty significant number of them which are available only by way of the Houghton Mifflin/Cook & Wedderburn edition, as their original holographs have been destroyed. We can only guess what Ruskin had to say there (tho as Ousby and Bradley argue, there are probably no real surprises).

Thursday, September 6, 2012

London, United Kingdom, Crystal Palace at Sydenham
Here's a view of the Crystal Palace, a cast-iron and plate-glass building originally erected in Hyde Park, London, England, to house the Great Exhibition of 1851.
This is part of Ruskin's response to the edifice:

For three hundred years, the art of architecture has been the subject of the most curious investigation; its principles have been discussed with all earnestness and acuteness; its models in all countries and of all ages have been examined with scrupulous care, and imitated with unsparing expenditure. And of all this refinement of inquiry,--this lofty search after the ideal,--this subtlety of investigation and sumptuousness of practice,--the great result, the admirable and long-expected conclusion is, that in the center of the 19th century, we suppose ourselves to have invented a new style of architecture, when we have magnified a conservatory!
It is to this, then, that our Doric and Palladian pride is at last reduced! We have vaunted the divinity of the Greek ideal--we have plumed ourselves on the purity of our Italian taste--we have cast our whole souls into the proportions of pillars and the relations of orders--and behold the end! Our taste, thus exalted and disciplined, is dazzled by the luster of a few rows of panes of glass; and the first principles of architectural sublimity, so far sought, are found all the while to have consisted merely in sparkling and in space.
Let it not be thought that I would depreciate (were it possible to depreciate) the mechanical ingenuity which has been displayed in the erection of the Crystal Palace, or that I underrate the effect which its vastness may continue to produce on the popular imagination. But mechanical ingenuity is not the essence either of painting or architecture, and largeness of dimension does not necessarily involve nobleness of design. There is assuredly as much ingenuity required to build a screw frigate, or a tubular bridge, as a hall of glass;--all these are works characteristic of the age; and all, in their several ways, deserve our highest admiration, but not admiration of the kind that is rendered to poetry or to art. We may cover the German Ocean with frigates, and bridge the Bristol Channel with iron, and roof the county of Middlesex with crystal, and yet not possess one Milton, or Michael Angelo.

Well, it may be replied, we need our bridges, and have pleasure in our palaces; but we do not want Miltons, nor Michael Angelos.
Truly, it seems so; for, in the year in which the first Crystal Palace was built, there died among us a man whose name, in after-ages, will stand with those of the great of all time [Turner]. Dying, he bequeathed to the nation the whole mass of his most cherished works; and for these three years, while we have been building this colossal receptacle for casts and copies of the art of other nations, these works of our own greatest painter have been left to decay in a dark room near Cavendish Square, under the custody of an aged servant.
This is quite natural. But it is also memorable.
There is another interesting fact connected with the history of the Crystal Palace as it bears on that of the art of Europe, namely, that in the year 1851, when all that glittering roof was built, in order to exhibit the paltry arts of our fashionable luxury--the carved bedsteads of Vienna, and glued toys of Switzerland, and gay jewelry of France--in that very year, I say, the greatest pictures of the Venetian masters were rotting at Venice in the rain, for want of roof to cover them, with holes made by cannon shot through their canvas.

There is another fact, however, more curious than either of these, which will hereafter be connected with the history of the palace now in building; namely, that at the very period when Europe is congratulated on the invention of a new style of architecture, because fourteen acres of ground have been covered with glass, the greatest examples in existence of true and noble Christian architecture are being resolutely destroyed, and destroyed by the effects of the very interest which was beginning to be excited by them.  

Photo of the interior of the Crystal Palace - The Nubian Court