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The great “Art Treasures Exhibition,” at Manchester, had brought together a splendid collection of pictures from the galleries, public and private, of the British kingdom, and it was a fine opportunity for Mr. Ruskin to address the lovers of art in behalf of artists and working-men. He did so, with wisdom, justice, and deep feeling; it is to be hoped that the influence of those lectures will not be confined to his own country.
As a Christian Philosopher, Mr. Ruskin deservedly ranks with the “judicious” Hooker, the eloquent Jeremy Taylor, and the “divine” Herbert. A devout spirit animates and inspires all his works. In the lowly cottage and the lofty cathedral, in the smiling valley and in the sublime mountaintop, he has an ever-realizing sense of the presence of God; and acknowledges that divine presence, not with light words, but with words of solemn import;—not as the God of Nature alone, but as the Almighty Father and Friend revealed in the life-giving gospel of Jesus Christ.
The most striking characteristic of Mr. Ruskin, next to his deep religious sentiments, is his intense love of Nature:
“Where rose the mountains, these to him were friends;
Mr. Ruskin furnishes his readers with a lens through which all natural objects are glorified; the sky assumes new beauty —the clouds are decked with wondrous magnificence,—and even each individual tree excites curiosity and intense admiration. As he exults over them, we are ready to exclaim, with one of our own eloquent writers,—“What a thought that was, when God thought of a tree!”
It is a rare and delightful privilege to know exactly how the love of the Beautiful in Nature has been developed in any one human being; more especially in a many-sided being, such as John Ruskin. He has himself given us this privilege,
for which we owe him many thanks, in the following charming morsel of philosophical autobiography: -
“I cannot, from observation, form any decided opinion * the extent in which this strange delight in nature in" the hearts of young persons in general; and, in staf has passed in my own mind, I do not mean to dra” tive conclusion as to the nature of the feeling in oth but the inquiry is clearly one in which personal the only safe ground to go upon, though a narro will make no excuse for talking about myself w to this subject, because, though there is much eg world, it is often the last thing a man thinks of do. though there is much work to be done in the world, it . the best thing a man can do,-to tell the exact truth ab the movements of his own mind; and there is this farther rea son, that, whatever other faculties I may or may not possess, this gift of taking pleasure in landscape I assuredly possess in a greater degree than most men; it having been the ruling pas. sion of my life, and the reason for the choice of its field of labor.
“The first thing which I remember as an event in life, was being taken by my nurse to the brow of Friar's Crag on Derwentwater; the intense joy, mingled with awe, that I had in looking through the hollows in the mossy roots, over the crag, into the dark lake, has associated itself more or less with all twining roots of trees ever since. Two other things I remember, as, in a sort, beginnings of life;—crossing Shapfells (being let out of the chaise to run up the hills), and going through Glenfarg, near Kinross, in a winter’s morning, when the rocks were hung with icicles; these being culminating points in an early life of more travelling than is usually indulged to a child. In such journeyings, whenever they brought me near hills, and in all mountain ground and scenery, I had a pleasure, as early as I can remember, and continuing till I was eighteen or twenty, infinitely greater than any which has been since possi ble to me in anything; comparable for intensity only to the sy of a lover in being near a noble and kind mistress, but no * explicable or definable than that feeling of love itself. thus much I can remember, respecting it, which is it to our present subject. it was never independent of associated thought. soon as I could see or hear, I had got reading ive me associations with all kinds of scenery; and m particular, were always partly confused with favorite book, Scott's Monastery; so that Glenother glens were more or less enchanted to me, forms of hesitating creed about Christie of the Clint a the monk Eustace; and with a general presence of ate Lady everywhere. I also generally knew, or was told by my father and mother, such simple facts of history as were necessary to give more definite and justifiable association to other scenes which chiefly interested me, such as the ruins of Lochleven and Kenilworth; and thus my pleasure in mountains or ruins was never, even in earliest childhood, free from a certain awe and melancholy, and general sense of the mean
ing of death, though in its principal influence entirely exhila. rating and gladdening. “Secondly: it was partly dependent on contrast with a very simple and unamused mode of general life; I was born in Lon. don, and accustomed, for two or three years, to no other pros pect than that of the brick walls over the way; had no brothers, nor sisters, nor companions; and though I could always make myself happy in a quiet way, the beauty of the mountains had an additional charm of change and adventure which a country-bred child would not have felt. “Thirdly: there was no definite religious feeling mingled with it. I partly believed in ghosts and fairies; but supposed that angels belonged entirely to the Mosaic dispensation, and cannot remember any single thought or feeling connected with them. I believed that God was in heaven, and could hear me and see me; but this gave me neither pleasure nor pain, and I seldom thought of it at all. I never thought of nature as God’s work, but as a separate fact or existence. “Fourthly: it was entirely unaccompanied by powers of reflection or invention. Every fancy that I had about nature was put into my head by some book; and I never reflected about anything till I grew older; and then, the more I reflected, the less nature was precious to me: I could then make myself happy, by thinking, in the dark, or in the dullest scenery; and the beautiful scenery became less essential to my pleasure. “Fifthly: it was, according to its strength, inconsistent with every evil feeling, with spite, anger, covetousness, discontent, and every other hateful passion; but would associate itself deeply with every just and noble sorrow, joy, or affection. It had not, however, always the power to repress what was inconsistent with it; and, though only after stout contention, might at last be crushed by what it had partly repressed. And as it only acted by setting one impulse against another, though it had much power in moulding the character, it had hardly any in strengthening it; it formed temperament, but never instilled principle; it kept me generally good-humored and kindly, but could not teach me perseverance or self-denial: what firmness or principle I had was quite independent of it; and it came itself nearly as often in the form of a temptation as of a safeguard, leading me to ramble over hills when I should have been learning lessons, and lose days in reveries which I might have spent in doing kindnesses.
“Lastly: although there was no definite religious sentiment mingled with it, there was a continual perception of Sanctity in the whole of nature, from the slightest thing to the vastest; —an instinctive awe, mixed with delight; an indefinable thrill, such as we sometimes imagine to indicate the presence of a disembodied spirit. I could only feel this perfectly when I was alone; and then it would often make me shiver from head to foot with the joy and fear of it, when after being some time away from the hills, I first got to the shore of a mountain river, where the brown water circled among the pebbles, or when I saw the first swell of distant land against the sunset, or the first low broken wall, covered with mountain moss. I cannot in the least describe the feeling: but I do not think this is my fault, nor that of the English language, for, I am afraid, no feeling is describable. If we had to explain even the sense of bodily hunger to a person who had never felt it, we should be hard put to it for words; and this joy in nature seemed to me to come of a sort of heart-hunger, satisfied with the presence of a Great and Holy Spirit. These feelings remained in their full intensity till I was eighteen or twenty, and then, as the reflective and practical power increased, and the ‘cares of this world” gained upon me, faded gradually away, in the manner described by Wordsworth in his Intima. tions of Immortality.”
Happily for the world, these emotions or “feelings,” became enthroned in the Intellect of Ruskin.