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JOHN RUSKIN AS A POLITICAL ECONOMIST.

W. J. LHAMON, M.A.

In

I

We are

N his preface to "Munera Pulveris” him.

Mr. Ruskin tells us quite frankly 1863, he published "Munera Pulveris,” his experience in getting before the and unless his critics had changed English public as a political economist. their opinions meanwhile materially, He began a series of papers in the he must have enjoyed their dislike in Cornhill Magazine, the editor being a manifold degree. his friend. The outcry against them But the times change, whether became such that upon the appearance great men's critics do or not. Here is of the third number the editor wrote the deliberately expressed opinion of him in great distress and with many Mr. Alfred Ewen Fletcher, editor of apologies that he could admit but one the London Daily Chronicle, as to more political economy essay: He Ruskin's place in the world of political took the liberty of making this longer economy,

The extract is from a than the rest, giving to it“ such blunt speech delivered before the Grindeconclusion as he could,” and, using wald Conference in 1894 : his own words," the Cornhill public “ You ask me to define a living wage. was protected for that time against frankly tell you I cannot. The living wage to further disturbance on his part.'

me is a living principle, which is—that wages

shall govern contracts, and not contracts wages, These four essays now stand in his and that the capitalists shall not be allowed to published works under the general enter into cut-throat competition with the ascaption, “Unto This Last,” suggested from loss by taking it out of wages.

sumption that they shall recoup themselves evidently by Christ's paral.le in which told that the principle is contrary to political he represents the householder as pay- economy ing the same wages to each of the late economy of the New Testament, which is quite

good enough for me, and I am prepared to say and early workers in his vineyard, quite good enough for the greatest and most and justifying himself by saying, “I scientific of political economists, John Ruskin. will give unto this last even as unto work, Unto This Last, and the people said,

Ruskin thirty years ago published his great thee. It is lawful for me to do what Mr. Ruskin may be a very great art critic but I will with mine own."

he should not write about what he does not un

derstand. The respective titles of these de

Now they say, after thirty years

experience of this political economy according lightfully disquieting essays are “ The to the Gospel, Mr Ruskin is not an art critie, Roots of Honor," The Veins of but a great economist.” Wealth,” “Qui Judicatis Terram," and Still further, in the preface to Ad Valorem.” On reading them “Munera Pulveris," Mr. Ruskin gives from the standpoint of applied Chris- us a confession, in substance without tianity, or the Biblical notion of man's reserve, and in forin completely beaurightful bearing toward man, and re- tiful, of his indebtedness to Carlyle. membering that the English people He inscribes the work to him, calls are supposed to have been schooled him his " friend and guide in all chief from the time of St. Augustine and labor,” and says, “ I would that some his monks in such notions, one won- better means were in my power of ders why they should have so dis- showing reverence to the man who turbed “the Cornhill public.” This alone, of all our masters of literature, happened in 1860. Mr. Ruskin did has written, without thought of himnot cease to write because certain self, what he knew it to be needful people made up their minds to dislike for the people of his time to hear, if

the will to hear were in them; whom, paroxysms of adversity, when the devil therefore, as the time draws near does take the hindmost, and the forewhen his task must be ended, Repub- most too, of our once happily employed lican and free-thoughted England as- working men, and sends them to gutsaults with impatient reproach; and ters and back alleys to pick rags, or out of the abyss of her cowardice in puts them to sleep, after thin soup, policy and dishonor in trade, sets the among the vermin in an eight-cent hacks of her literature to speak evil, lodging house, or boards them in grateful to her ears, of the Solitary prisons for specified times, thereafter Teacher who has asked her to be brave turning them out penniless to beg or for the help of man, and just for the steal or starve. love of God.”

Somebody has felicitously called So Ruskin sends us to Carlyle for Carlyle a good Old Testament Chrispolitical economy, and if any of us tian. The phrase is a contradiction had not thought of going there be. in terms ; but perhaps for that reason fore we had better immediately upon all the more pertinent. If there could his advice make a pilgrimage thither. be such a nondescript as an Old Testa“Sartor Resartus” may be read, but ment Christian, Carlyle was that. He “ Past and Present" must be if we echoes the thunders of Sinai, but he would reach the fundamentals of the does not repeat the prayers of Gol. science as Ruskin esteems them. gotha. Here is his merit, and his deThere are a certain half dozen of Car- merit. Since the former is so great, lyle's short chapters, which, if they let us in charity not emphasize the were digested and assimilated by our latter. pulpits and parliaments, and above all But Ruskin, when he tells us the by our “Mill-owning Aristocracy," whole truth about himself, had other would revolutionize a good deal of masters than Carlyle, one of them our misdirected social thinking and greater than any man. In “Fors practice. Let us say, “ The Gospel of Clavigera,” Letter X., he makes a Mammonism,” “The Gospel of Dilet- clean breast of himself, pretty much tantisin,” “The English,” “ Un-work- as follows, quoting and paraphrasing: ing Aristocracy,” “Working Aristoc • You have perhaps been provoked, in the racy,” “ Democracy,” “The Captains course of these letters, by not being able to

make out what I was. of Industry,” and “Permanence,"

It is time you should

know, and I will tell you plainly. I am, and these chapters, and a few others for my father was before me, a violent Tory of the which the digestion of these will bring old school (Walter Scott's school, that is to say, on the appetite, would be an excellent and Homer's). I name these two of numberless diet for both Canada and the United great Tory writers, because they were my own

I had Walter Scott's novels and States with their drunken, mammon- the Illiad (Pope's translation) for my only readistic “Sir Jabesh Windbags,” now and ing, when I was a child, on week days ; on again uppermost in parliament. Un- Crusoe and Pilgrim's Progress, my mother havfortunately the hell that Carlyle dis- ing it deeply in her heart to make an evangeli

. covered, what he calls the “ Heil of the cal clergyman of me, Fortunately, I had an

aunt more evangelical than my mother, and my English,” the "hell of not making aunt gave me cold mutton for my Sunday din. money,” has been too generally ex- ners, which, as I much preferred it hot, greatly tended since his time, and the Ameri- diminished the influence of Pilgrim's Progress,

and the end of the matter was that I got all the cans as well as the English have their noble imaginative teaching of Pope and Defoe,

cash payment the sole nexus,” and and yet I am not an evangelical clergyman. their “supply and demand the sole law. theirs, and that conspulsorily, and every day in of nature," and their “ paroxysms of the week. My mother forced me by steady, prosperity on the old methods of com- daily toil, to learn long chapters of the Bible by petition and devil take the hindmost,” heart, as well as to read it every syllable

through aloud, hard names and all, from Gene. paroxysms to be followed inevitably by sis to the Apocalypse, about once a year.

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that discipline I owe my power of taking pains, of Horace, and then very likely polish might have been led from Walter Scott and up your Latin for a week before you Homer to Johnston's English, or Gibson's, but get his meaning. “ Fors Clavigera once having known the 32nd of Deuteronomy, he explains at length himself, or you the Sermon on the Mount, and the most of the might never guess what he means by Apocalypse, every syllable by heart, and having it. But think of his writing letters always a way of thinking with myself what to working men for years under this in the foolishest times of youth, to write entire caption, and pouncing at them, or ly superficial or formal English.”

more especially one may guess, at some In any adequate statement, there- other bodies through them, from every fore, of the factors that go to make a imaginable stand point of history, art, Ruskin, the childhood memorising of classical literature, mythology, science, the Sermon on the Mount and the philosophy, the daily papers, the 15th chapter of First Corinthians Christian religion, the follies of roymust not be left out. Walter Scott alty, and the sufferings of poverty ! and Defoe, and Bunyan and Carlyle One is liable to meet anybody in these may be there, but Christ and the letters, from Zoroaster and the Eastern resurrection of Christ are also there. Magi to Weng Chin, the latest ChinaBut what have Christ and the resur man merchant

up

to date hanged by rection of Christ to do with political a Los Angeles mob; and from “the economy? Much every way. Who- tine ladies in the Queen's concert, sitever does not believe it let him read ting so trimly, and looking so sweet, Ruskin till he does.

and doing the whole duty of womanIt is all but impossible to make a wearing their fine clothes gracefully; complete classification of Ruskin's and the pretty singer, white throated, writings on political economy. The warbling Home, sweet Home' to chiefest are, “Unto this Last," "Mu- them, morally and melodiously,” to nera Pulveris,” and “ Fors Clavigera.” the wanderers of the street, the The latter consists of numerous letters "canaille,” going their way to their to working men, covering a period of poor home--"bitter sweet"; " Cuvrier ten years, from 1871 to 1881. But you and petrouleuse--prisoners at lastwill find political economy like the glaring wild, on their way to die.” grains of gold in its native quartz al- These are wonderful letters. They most anywhere in his writings. In his are the store-house of a magician ; but

Arrows of the Chase,” in “A Joy For- they are the sermons also of a seer,
ever," in “ Lectures on Art," in " The the warnings of a
Two Paths,” even in “The Stones of pathetic pleadings of a father.
Venice," and quite frequently in his

And all the while there is the charm miscellaneous writings are to be found of his wonderful English. John Rusiteration and reiteration of the author's kin's mother tongue is the toy of his political economy convictions. playful moods, the lightning and the

If classification is difficult, charac- thunder of his prophetic moods, the terization is more so. None but a arsenal inexhaustible of his soldierly master artist in the use of words, and moods, the ring and robe of his fathera genius as original, as sparkling and ly moods, and always the perfect as daring as his own could succeed in transparency of his thought Proan attempted faithful description of fessor Frederic Harrison, writing in his ways of coming at the matter. the Nineteenth Century of last year, The very titles of his most distinctive speaks of Ruskin's prose after this chapters are conundrums. You must style : “Milton began, and once or figure them out, sometimes at a good twice completed, such a resounding deal of pains. For “Munera Pul- voluntary on his glorious organ. But veris ” you must go to the 28th Ode neither Milton, nor Brown, nor Jeremy

Taylor, was yet quite master of the right up the wrongs among men in noble instrument. 'Ruskin, who comes some purely mechanical or legalistic after two centuries further of continu- way, seriously advocating as his panous progress in their art, is the master acea government levers, and bands, and of the sublime instrument of prose. pulleys, and cog-wheels; government And though it be true that too often, factories and store houses ; and railin wanton defiance of calm judgment, roads, and pneumatic tubes, and telehe flings to the winds his self-control, phones, and trandle-beds. He would he has achieved in this rare and peril- sing you to sleep with a government ous art some amazing triumphs over fiddle and rouse you to work with a language, such as the whole history of government whistle, and expect you our literature cannot match.”

to be supremely happy. Mrs. BrownRuskin is essentially a poet, only he ing should be high authority with us has not taken the trouble to make his here: thoughts jingle. This is why so many "A starved man exceeds a fat beast ; prosy people were taken by surprise

We'll not barter, sir, when Mr. Gladstone appointed him The heautiful for barley. And even so

I hold you will not compass your poor ends of poet laureate three years ago. But of barley feeding and material ease the really funny thing escaped the Without the poet's individualism to move critics. That John Ruskin should be Your universal.

It takes a soul to move a body ; appointed at a fixed yearly stipend to It takes a high-souled man sing a sonnet or write an ode every To move the masses even to a cleaner sty;

It takes the ideal to blow a hair's breadth off time a sprig of royalty died or was

The dust of the actual. Ah, your Fouriers born-this was the thing to be stared failed at and smiled at. However, such Because not poets enough to understand prose can come only from the soul of That life develops from within. a poet. The insight, the music, the Before attempting a statement of passion, the command of materials, Ruskin's value as a political economist the creative genius are all there; but, it is needful to note that he had some impatient of metre and rhyme, this eccentricities. He quarrelled needlessessential poet flings his work broad- ly with steam power and its smokecast in the form of rich and resistless stacks, with railroads and the general prose, and lo! we in our stupidity sit multiplication of machinery. He waiting for a Gladstone to tell us that could have no patience with the itch our hero is really a poet.

for rushing off somewhere at the rate But if Ruskin is a poet, why should of a mile a minute if you had nothhe meddle with a matter so prosy and ing to do when you got there. He supposedly scientific as political econ- complains that they have turned every omy? That, now, is the question first river in England into a common sewuppermost in the mind of every pure- er," so that you cannot so much as ly materialistic, or legalistic, or mam- baptize an English baby but with monistic, or mechanical patent-right filth, unless you hold its face out in adjuster of the affairs of men with the rain ; and even that,” he says, men. And the answer, bluntly, is sim- hitting at the coal smoke from boiler ply this: Nobody but the essential furnaces,-"even that falls dirty.” In poets, including the actual ones, his fifth "Fors” he declares that no should meddle with such matters on machines will increase the possibilany great scale. They alone must be ities of life, but that they do increase the masters, the fountain head, the the possibilities of idleness. Somelight of the world, and the bread of times of late one is tempted to believe life on such matters. Ten chances to him in that. In this same “ Fors" he one the economist who has neither in- proposes to give a tenth of his propsight nor sentiment will propose to erty, asking any others who will to

join him, for the purchase of Eng- the greatest of American reformers. lish lands to be made over in perpet- He held with John Bright, “that the uity to English people, who would first five hundred men who

pass

in the take them and live on them and till Strand would make as good a parliathem with their own hands, “and such ment as that which sits at St. Stephhelp of force as could be found in ens.” He believed in the people, and wind and wave.” “We will have no when they mobbed him he went on steam-engines on it,” he declares, “and appealing to them, expecting that no railroads.

We will have no un their to.morrow would rectify their tended and unthought-of creatures on to-day. The Jack of this trust is it; none wretched but the sick; none Ruskin's deficiency, and in respect to idle but the dead. We will have no it, and perhaps in this respect alone, liberty upon it, but instant obedience he is to be followed more cautiously to known law and appointed persons; than Benjamin Kidd, and such leaders no equality upon it, but instant re as see clearly that there can be no cognition of every betterness that we permanent industrial brotherhood excan find and reprobation of every cept as it is based upon a permanent worseness." Such a strange com- brotherhood of the ballot box. We mingling of generous, old-fashioned may well believe Henry George when Hebrew tithing, and heroic, John he says that," between democratic Bull conservativeness it would be ideas and the aristrocratic adjustbard to find in any smaller man ments of society there is an irreconthan John Ruskin, and a greater cilable conflict.” than he would probably have foreseen The value of Ruskin's economical the futility, if not the folly, of a teachings is precisely the value of his struggle against machinery: He has art teachings. He is wholly, and a mighty soul of love for the people, emphatically, and uncompromisingly and he mourns with a father's tears ethical and spiritual everywhere and for them in their oppression, their always. Mere formal art, or art hunger, their rags, their sins, and their for art's sake” as the materialists and enforced idleness. He pleads for their sensualists will have it is his abominahomes, their lands, their schools and tion unutterable, even spite of his their churches with eloquence and powers of utterance. But art for the pathos, and a power of rebuke all but ideal, for faith and hope and love, for inspired. He demands of the people the human hand and head and heart that they obey their appointed leaders, that are back of it, and for the one but he does not say from whom the God who is good and eternal back of appointed shall leaders receive their these-real art, that is, was adopted appointment. He is no democrat. He by him, and inculcated, and defended, would not trust the people in order and by every possibility of his life adthat he might rule them, but he would vanced. He believes in souls as well rather rule them in order that he as bodies, in the immortals quite as might trust them. He does not like much as in mortals, in the actually American institutions. His Tory blood eternal side by side with the actually is too thick for that. In this respect temporal, and in such a God as is both he falls below the great leaders of Father and Judge, and who demands democracy, and far below the great- of his children that they be both est of his acknowledged great mas- brothers and guardians one of another. ters, for of all the teachers in this Economically speaking, it is the misworld the very greatest was the first sion of Ruskin to “put a soul beneath great Democrat. Contrast John Rus- the ribs of death." kin for a moment with Wendell The first pages of “ Unto this Last," Phillips. The latter is easily one of are an index to all that he has writ

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