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the highest terms the “Fighting Temeraire" of Turner, says that some of his other performances are quite incomprehensible to him, “since he has forsaken nature, or attempted (like your French barbers) to embellish it.”
O ye gods ! Why will he not stick to copying her majestical countenance, instead of daubing it with some absurd antics and fard of his own P Fancy pea-green skies, crimson like trees and orange and purple grass—fancy cataracts, rainbows, suns, moons and thunderbolts—shake them well up, with a quantity of gamboge; and you will have an idea of a fancy picture by Turner. It is worth a shilling alone to go and see “Pluto and Proserpina.” Such a landscape such figures such a little red-hot coal-scuttle of a chariot As Nat Lee sings:
“Methought I saw a hieroglyphic bat
If you can understand these lines you can understand one of Turner's landscapes.
In another article he satirically speaks of Turner as, “a great and awful mystery.”
But it is worth everybody's while to read “ Modern Painters,” no matter whether or no one agrees with Mr. Ruskin about Turner's supernal excellence. We can all agree about the
charm and beauty of Mr. Ruskin's prose.
AS POLITICAL ECONOMIST.
MR. Ruskin’s “ Modern Painters,” “Stones of Venice” and “Seven Lamps of Architecture” did much to establish true canons of art in painting and architecture. The English world was educated not only as to what they should admire, but why they should admire it, and it was just in the condition when it most sadly needed the instruction. After some hesitation and protest Ruskin was accepted as the one chief critic and teacher of the day, despite some apparent oddities and crankeries in his conclusions. He had formulated his opinions so splendidly that his rhetoric convinced where his logic did not, and for well-nigh twenty years he sat in the highest seat of art criticism.
Then two things happened, both of which have been consolidated under the term Ruskinism. The first of these was that having been elected to the chair of criticism, he assumed a dictatorship. His word was to be the law. The second thing was that having achieved so great a success in the domain of art, he thought that every other field of human endeavor and industry became his province. He began to write and speak on sociology and political economy, not as the scribes, but as one having authority. The result was that he was turned upon and derided, his judgment even in the things he so well knew was disabled, and the chair in which he had been seated by acclaim was taken away from him. It is not impossible that he will be again seated in that chair and be placed on a higher platform than before, but for the present and for a quarter of a century past he is and has been discredited both as critic and prophet. It was in the autumn of 1859 that Ruskin wrote the series of lectures or essays which have since been published under the title of “Unto This Last.” They were the outcome of his reflections on the labor strikes then occurring in England. Thackeray was at that time engaged in launching the Cornhill Magazine, and in search for striking contributions, accepted these essays, from Mr. Ruskin. Their publication excited no end of condemnation in England, and after the
first three had appeared Thackeray wrote to Ruskin saying that he could publish but one more, giving as his reason the general hostility to them of the reading public. In his preface to the published volume Mr. Ruskin says that when published in the Cornhill “they were reprobated in a violent manner by most of the readers they met with. Not a whit the less,” he goes on to say, “I believe them to be the best—that is to say, the truest, rightestworded and most serviceable—things I have ever written ; and the last of them, having had especial pains spent on it, is probably the best I shall ever write.” This, then, is the volume that became the turning point in Mr. Ruskin's career. A number of years had to elapse ere he was entirely dethroned, but the beginning of it all may be traced back to the publication of “Unto This Last” and Mr. Ruskin's challenge in the preface, that it was the best thing he had written and that thenceforth he would do battle for the principles he had laid down. Certainly a more remarkable spectacle than Mr. Ruskin fighting for what he deemed the right, against a people blinded, in his estimation, to their own most vital interests, has rarely been
seen. Ajax defying the lightning is the nearest approach to it in mythical history, and in impuissance comes nearest to it in fact. “Unto This Last" undertook to elevate political economy from the region of the “dismal” to which Carlyle had assigned it into the region of imagination and ideality. It was not what is, but what ought to be, that Mr. Ruskin dealt with, and not so much what ought to be as what he thought ought to be, and upon this there was a wide difference of opinion. Political economy if it deals with anything deals with the realm of selfishness; in other words, with human nature as it is. This is really what makes it so “dismal,” and upon the whole incomprehensible. Mr. Ruskin, in his aspiration to lead the world into a higher and better life, taught that the proper theory of political economy was unselfishness and he would have it extended so as to include politics, education and police regulations. In the old definition political economy was concerned only with material things, and commodities were wealth. Mr. Ruskin would have it that life is wealth and that ethics have as much to do with the science as material objects. Mr. Ruskin would construct an ideal monarchy just as Plato imagined an ideal republic, in which the