John Ruskin Selected Writings

'To be taught to write or to speak - but what is the use of speaking, if you have nothing to say? To be taught to think - nay, what is the use of being able to think, if you have nothing to think of? But to be taught to see is to gain word and thought at once, and both true.' Ruskin was the most powerful and influential critic of the nineteenth century. He wrote about nature, art, architecture, politics, history, myth, and much besides; all his work is characterized by a clarity of vision as unsettling and intense now as it was for his first readers. This new selection draws on the whole range of his astonishingly varied output, from the passionate celebration of J. M. W. Turner's painting in the first volume of Modern Painters (1843) to Praeterita (1885-9), the elegiac autobiography of his later years. The introduction outlines Ruskin's life and thought, and shows why he remains such a rewarding writer today.

art, critical theory, Ruskin
John Ruskin
Dinah Birch
Oxford World Classics

The Storm-Cloud of the Nineteenth Century (pp. 267 – 278), one of the essays in the book, is a dramatic pioneering description of the first visible manifestations of atmospheric pollution, observed by Ruskin in the Coniston area of Lake District, namely above the Old Man mountain. It was especially interesting for my reading the relation Ruskin seems to find between the decaying of the souls the author suggests it was in progress at that time and the pernicious effects of Industrial Revolution.
What particularly surprised me in The Eagle’s Nest. The Relation of Wise Art to Wise Science (pp. 237 – 250), another essay in the book, it was the advice the author gives to men for him to make an effort on producing what he calls “unconscious art”, like the one birds make building their nests and singing. Ruskin stresses the aesthetic engagement man should, in a sort of an unconscious and natural way, apply in the architecture and building of their own houses. This capacity would be a reflex of their inner goodness and knowledge or “wise science”, which Ruskin interestingly defines as a “submission to an eternal system” (p.236).

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