The Pleasures of England by John Ruskin


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Page 1




In the short review of the present state of English Art, given you
last year, I left necessarily many points untouched, and others
unexplained. The seventh lecture, which I did not think it necessary
to read aloud, furnished you with some of the corrective statements
of which, whether spoken or not, it was extremely desirable that you
should estimate the balancing weight. These I propose in the present
course farther to illustrate, and to arrive with you at, I hope,
a just--you would not wish it to be a flattering--estimate of the
conditions of our English artistic life, past and present, in order
that with due allowance for them we may determine, with some security,
what those of us who have faculty ought to do, and those who have
sensibility, to admire.

2. In thus rightly doing and feeling, you will find summed a wider
duty, and granted a greater power, than the moral philosophy at this
moment current with you has ever conceived; and a prospect opened to
you besides, of such a Future for England as you may both hopefully
and proudly labour for with your hands, and those of you who are
spared to the ordinary term of human life, even see with your eyes,
when all this tumult of vain avarice and idle pleasure, into which
you have been plunged at birth, shall have passed into its appointed

3. I wish that you would read for introduction to the lectures I have
this year arranged for you, that on the Future of England, which I
gave to the cadets at Woolwich in the first year of my Professorship
here, 1869; and which is now placed as the main conclusion of the
"Crown of Wild Olive": and with it, very attentively, the close of
my inaugural lecture given here; for the matter, no less than the
tenor of which, I was reproved by all my friends, as irrelevant and
ill-judged;--which, nevertheless, is of all the pieces of teaching I
have ever given from this chair, the most pregnant and essential to
whatever studies, whether of Art or Science, you may pursue, in this
place or elsewhere, during your lives.

The opening words of that passage I will take leave to read to you
again,--for they must still be the ground of whatever help I can give
you, worth your acceptance.

"There is a destiny now possible to us--the highest ever set before a
nation to be accepted or refused. We are still undegenerate in race:
a race mingled of the best northern blood. We are not yet dissolute in
temper, but still have the firmness to govern, and the grace to obey.
We have been taught a religion of pure mercy, which we must either now
finally betray, or learn to defend by fulfilling. And we are rich in
an inheritance of honour, bequeathed to us through a thousand years
of noble history, which it should be our daily thirst to increase with
splendid avarice; so that Englishmen, if it be a sin to covet honour,
should be the most offending souls alive. Within the last few years
we have had the laws of natural science opened to us with a rapidity
which has been blinding by its brightness; and means of transit and
communication given to us, which have made but one kingdom of the
habitable globe.

"One kingdom;--but who is to be its king? Is there to be no king in
it, think you, and every man to do that which is right in his own
eyes? Or only kings of terror, and the obscene empires of Mammon and
Belial? Or will you, youths of England, make your country again a
royal throne of kings; a sceptred isle; for all the world a source
of light, a centre of peace; mistress of Learning and of the
Arts;--faithful guardian of great memories in the midst of irreverent
and ephemeral visions--faithful servant of time-tried principles,
under temptation from fond experiments and licentious desires; and
amidst the cruel and clamorous jealousies of the nations, worshipped
in her strange valour, of goodwill towards men?"

The fifteen years that have passed since I spoke these words must, I
think, have convinced some of my immediate hearers that the need for
such an appeal was more pressing than they then imagined;--while they
have also more and more convinced me myself that the ground I took
for it was secure, and that the youths and girls now entering on the
duties of active life are able to accept and fulfil the hope I then
held out to them.

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Sat 18th Jan 2020, 18:17