Sunday, November 14, 2010

“I venerate Ruskin”, said George Eliot, “as one of the great teachers of the age ; he teaches with the inspiration of the Hebrew prophet.” In the light of this encomium, briefly underline the core of Ruskin’s message in The Crown of Wild Olive.

Ruskin has been acclaimed as a great teacher and a prophet of the age. Like Hebrew prophet he exhorts his people to shun the path of evil and to adopt the path of righteousness and upright living. Almost all that he wrote conveys his moral message. Ruskin revolted against the gross materialistic attitude of the eighteenth century.
Poetry has become mere polished exercise, life mere polished existence. High morals were not cared for. With the advent of the nineteenth century, prophets like Wordsworth and Coleridge came to enlighten the age. They were followed by Ruskin and Carlyle who wrote to arouse a new awakening in the mind of the public. ‘Ruskin linked art and life with morality. He emerged as a great moralist both in the realm of art and in the various spheres of society.
Like Plato, Ruskin stood for morality in art and literature. Plato would banish from his Republic all poets who were not edifying. Ruskin carried the idea still further, making the arts an exponent of the social and political virtues of a nation and of the writers themselves. Though Ruskin was not the first exponent of this type of reciprocity of art and morals, yet he made the idea so peculiarly his own that, in England at least, it is always associated with him. Literature, according to him, supports the theory that there is a correspondence between moral elevation and imaginative work. Good art, he says, is balanced, reserved, constructive, inventive, complete, pure and lovely. The best artist exhibits all these qualities. Finally, Ruskin works out the relationship between the artist and the ethical state of the age. All the good qualities of the artist will be rendered useless if the condition of the age is degraded.
The Crown of Wild Olive embodies this message of Ruskin. He emphasises the moral approach to all things : “the wealth of nations, as of men, consists in substance, not in ciphers.” In his lecture on Traffic, he exhorts people to give up Mammon-worship because it is detrimental to art, science and pleasure. He says, “Continue to make that forbidden duty your principal one and soon no more art, no more science, no more pleasure will be possible. Catastrophe will come or worse than catastrophe, slow mouldering and withering into Hades. But if you can fix some conception of a true human state of life to be striven for—life for all men as for yourselves if you can determine some honest and simple order of existence ; following these trodden ways of wisdom which are pleasantness and seeking her quiet and withdrawn paths, which are peace;—then, and so sanctifying wealth into ‘commonwealth’, all your art, your literature, your daily labours, your domestic affection and citizen’s duty, will join and increase into one magnificent harmony.”
He gives a message to the lovers of money : “However, in every nation, there are and must always be certain number of these Friend’s servants who have it principally for the object of their lives to make money. They are always, as I said, more or less stupid and cannot conceive of anything else so nice as money.” He continues to say, “That whenever money is the principal object of life with either man or nation, it is both got ill and spent ill and does harm both in the getting and spending ; but when it is not the principal object it and all other things will be well got and well-spent.”
Ruskin was a staunch advocate of self-development. It is not what a man has that is to be considered but what he is. Is he a self-made man not in exterior circumstances, but in wealth of character ? One must be at the very outset, realize 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, 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 the prophecy of Ruskin.

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