Ruskin was born and brought up in an industrial age which saw the rapid emergence of factories and mills. The cottage industries were replaced by machine-led mills. The green pastures, gardens and open fields were pushed into background and new industrial colonies were taking their place. The obvious result was that instead of fresh air and beauties of natural landscape, the smoky, filthy and choking atmosphere was visible everywhere. People were migrating from their simple villages to industrial towns in order to find a livelihood. Ruskin gives a graphic picture’ of the changed image of villages in the preface to The Crown of Wild Olive :
“Twenty years ago, there was no lovelier piece of lowland scenery in South England, nor any more pathetic, in the world by its expression of sweet human character and life, than that immediately bordering on the sources of the Wandle and including the lower moors of Addington and the villages Biddington and Carshalton, with all their pools and streams.”
These pools and streams were defiled by the human hand. All filth of houses and streets was thrown into them, thereby diffusing venom and infection in all places where Gad meant those waters to bring joy and health. Wordsworthian vernal bloom disappeared giving place to layers of smoke and stench.
The industrialization affected not only nature but the soul of man. Instead of getting pleasure in peace of nature, people began to take pleasure in getting and spending. Utilitarianism and Mammon-worship became their ideal of life. Attaching the utilitarian attitude of man, Ruskin enunciated certain golden principles of life in Unto this Last : (i) Man is more .important than money ; (ii) Man’s real wealth is his soul and he should enrich it ; and (iii) The object of life and labour is to produce happy, healthy men and women.
In fact, Ruskin had the deepest hatred for the materialistic tendencies of his age. This tendency dwarfed man’s personality and made him a beast. This materialistic tendency was a direct offshoot of growing industrialization which ‘makes people selfish and greedy. Such people do not hesitate from exploiting the poor and helpless. They do not care even for their religion because their main aim is to earn money. All other considerations are secondary. Ruskin satirises such people in his lecture on ‘Work’ :
“However, in every nation, there are and must always be a 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. Stupidity is always the basis of the Judas bargain.”
Another evil of industrialization is that it made the rich richer and the poor poorer. The rich grew more influential and being without real culture, sacrificed all moral scruples in order to prosper themselves. Wealth became the idol of
and with financial prosperity came vanity and luxury. Trade and commerce developed to an unwanted extent and new inventions multiplied the comforts and enjoyments of the middle-classes. They entertained the idea that commerce was the only means of national prosperity. But Ruskin could not relish his complacent self-satisfaction. He saw that all was not well even with the prosperous classes. They were being deadened in soul by the wealth they possessed. England
Ruskin, therefore, exhorts people not to make money the goal of their life. This is his solution of the evils of money. He makes his stand clear in the following words :
“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 getting and spending ; but when it is not the principal object, it and other things will be well got and well spent.”
Likewise, the practical solution for fighting the ills of wealth is an honest and simple life devoted to wisdom and peace :
“But if you can fix some conception of a true human state can life to be striven for—life for all men as for yourselves—if you of determine some honest and simple order of existence ; following those trodden ways of wisdom, which are pleasantness and seeking her quiet and withdrawn paths, which are peace—then and so sanctifying wealth into ‘common-wealth’, all your art, your literature, your daily labours, your domestic affection and citizen’s duty, will join and increase into one magnificent harmony.”
The following remedies have been suggested by Ruskin to arrest the evils of industrialization :
(i) There should be training schools for youths, established at Government cost and supervision. Every child born in the country should, at the parent’s wish, be permitted to pass through them ; and in these schools the child should imperatively be taught with the best skill of teaching that the country could produce, the following three things :
(a) The laws of health and exercises enjoined by them.
(b) Habits of gentleness and justice ; and
(c) The calling by which he is to live.
(ii) Alongwith these schools should be established factories and workshops, for the production and sale of every necessary of life and the exercise of every useful art. And that, interfering no whit with private enterprise, nor setting any restraints or tax on private trade, but leaving both to do their best, and beat the Government if they could— there should, as these factories and shops, be authoritatively good and exemplary work done, and pure and true substance sold ; so that a man could be sure, if he chose to pay the Government price, that he got for his money bread that was bread, ale that was ale, and work that was work.
(iii) Any man or woman or boy or girl, out of employment, should be at once received at the nearest Government school and set to work as it appeared, on trial, they were fit for, at a fixed rate of wages determinable every year. Those found incapable of work through ignorance, through sickness, should be tended ; but those being found objecting to work, they should be set under compulsion of the strictest nature, to the more painful and degrading forms of necessary toil, especially to that in mines and other places of danger (such danger being, however, diminished to the utmost by careful regulation and discipline) and the due wages of such work be retained—cost of compulsion first abstracted—to be at the workman’s command, as soon as he has come to sounder mind respecting the laws of employment.
(iv) For the old and destitute, comfort and home should be provided ; which provision, when misfortune had been by the working of such a system sifted from guilt, would be honourable instead of disgraceful to the receiver.