Sunday, November 14, 2010

Bring out the special significance of Ruskin’s ideas for his age.

Ruskin’s ideas are full of deep significance for his age. Before going in to the significance of his ideas, it is apt to have glimpse on the conditions of his age. It was a period of social delusions and contrast. The age of Ruskin was too much angrossed in sheer materialism. The Victorian prosperity dazzled the eyes of man who utterly lost sight of spiritual heritage. Ruskin found that English workman was unhappy.
Wealth was growing fast but it enriched only a few. The Reform Act of 1832 had broken the back of the aristocracy and transferred power to the prosperous tradesman of the towns, the worshippers of “Britannia of the Market”, that goddess whose temple Ruskin proposed in his lecture on Traffic to decorate with “pendent purses”. The artisans were very much at the mercy of the employers. The middle classes enjoyed the additional comforts which the development of trade, manufacturs, and mechanical inventions had brought within their reach and they were rich in optimistic hope and thought that they were living in the very best of all possible times and places. But it was a vain hope. In fact darkness surrounded man on all sides.
Ruskin stood up against this prevailing darkness of his age. He taught people that wealth is not the equivalent of happiness. Factories and mills deprive man of natural surroundings and contami­nate his soul. In place of greenery, he sees the smoke of the chimney and instead of the charpings of birds and musical flow of fountains and streams, he listens to the sirens of factories and mills. Monetary habits degrade human beings who become so selfish and shameless that they do not hesitate in exploiting their own brothers and sisters without any tinge of repentance or any fear from God. In Unto This Last, Ruskin offer his message: “There is no wealth but life. Life, includ­ing all its powers of love, of joy and of admiration. That country is the richest which nourishes the greatest number of noble and happy human beings”. The greatest good of the greatest number—that is the aim of democracy and that objective was laid down and propounded by Ruskin in the 19th century. In the preface to The Crown of Wild Olive Ruskin speaks of his notion of wealth ;
“That the wealth of notions, as of men, consists in substance, not in ciphers and that the real good of all work and of all commerce depends on the final worth of the thing you make or get by it.”
He further says that prime object of life and labour is “the producing of as many as possible, full breathed, bright-eyed and happy-hearted human beings.” Even his attitude to machinery is now seen to be largely justified and though few today advocate the abolition of machinery, it is increasingly recognized that machine-mindedness tends to dehumanise men and that means must be sought to make man the master and not the servant of the machine.
To his age, Ruskin taught the lesson of self-development. It is not what a man has that is to be considered but what he is. The important question is : Is he a self-made man not in exterior circumstances, but in wealth of character ? One must at the very outset, realise the mystery and wonder of life, discard the placid enthusiasm that is the mark of the artificial man, cultivate the openness of perception, the retention of the childish sense of wonder that marks the true man, the man, who has eyes admiringly wide to the world about him, is worthy of the power that placed him in it          
to be willing to see the beauty that is—to show helpful sympathy for men about us, to be willing and glad to work for the joy of doing our work well and above all to keep clear our sight of the real mystery and nobility of life—that, in short, is the burden of Ruskin’s message.
In the age of gross materialism, Ruskin’s message to the people was quite significant. To Ruskin, man is a being of emotions, sentiments and sympathies, and the view which did not call these into account seemed inadequate. Profit is not the only motive of human action……Happiness in life must, besides, be measured by other things than money. People, to be ideal men and women, not only must have food, clothes and shelter but must have also beautiful and ennobling surroundings. Peace should be an esteemable asset. In its ugly cities, its dishonestly made clothing, its prevailing shames and meanness, the present time offends against the ideals of life. William Morris, influenced by these teachings preached an ideal common-wealth; without smoke or machinery, without competition or envy. Ruskin saw little good in the extreme socialistic ideal nor did he wish entirely to dispose of machinery : he did feel that the ugliness should de done away with and that working people should not be relegated, as a penalty for leading industrial lives, to filth and degradation. He denounced the idea of the economist that progress depends on competition––the uneasing and merciless battle of each man against his neighbour.
Throughout his writings, Ruskin offered a message to his time. Unto this Last expresses his message very clearly and explicitly. In Para 275 of Ad Valorem, his message finds a poetical image. If we read the passage, we find it as the very basis of internationalism. If UNO one day achieves this objective, the earth will be converted into a heaven and we will become divine-beings. Likewise, Modern Painters taught the claim of all lower nature in the hearts of men of the rock and herb as a part of their necessary spirit life. The Stones of Venice taught the laws of constructive art and dependence of all human work of edifice, for its beauty on the happy life of the work-man. The Inaugural Oxford Lectures taught the necessity that it should be led and the gracious laws of beauty and labour recognised by the upper no less than the lower classes of England ; one lastly, Fors Clavigera has declared the relation of these to each other and the only possible conditions of peace and honour for low and high, for rich and poor, together in the holding of that first Estate, under the only Despot, God.
Compton-Rickett summarises Ruskin’s message as follow “No writer in Victorian times did more than Ruskin to draw attention to the terrible wastage going on in the social organism—under present economic conditions—and to stir the individual to more serious effect in the cause of human brotherhood, not in the spirit of condescending chastity, but in the saver and ampler spirit of common justice”.

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