« PreviousContinue »
THE TWO CLAVIGERÆ 1
BELLEFIELD, BIRMINGHAM,2 16th July, 1877.
I have been staying for two days with the good Mayor
[See below, $ 4. “The Worcestershire Clavigeræ” and “Birmingham” were rejected titles for this Letter.]
[The house of Mr. George Baker, then Mayor of Birmingham. Ruskin sent him the MS. of this portion of Fors with the following letter :
“BRANTWOOD, CONISTON, LANCASHIRE,
“ Wednesday (July 18th, 1877).
“Perhaps you may like to keep the first scratch of the beginning
“I am terribly pushed with all arrears of home work, and cannot
« J. RUSKIN.
of Birmingham: and he has shown me St. George's land, his gift, in the midst of a sweet space of English hill and dale and orchard, yet unhurt by hand of man: and he has brought a representative group of the best men of Birmingham to talk to me; and they have been very kind to me, and have taught me much : and I feel just as I can fancy a poor Frenchman of some gentleness and sagacity might have felt, in Nelson's time,—taken prisoner by his mortal enemies, and beginning to apprehend that there was indeed some humanity in Englishmen, and some providential and inscrutable reason for their existence.
You may think it strange that a two days' visit should produce such an effect on me; and say (which indeed will be partly true) that I ought to have made this visit before now. But, all things considered, I believe it has been with exactness, timely; and you will please remember that just in proportion to the quantity of work and thought we have spent on any subject, is the quantity we can farther learn about it in a little while, and the power with which new facts, or new light cast on those already known, will modify past conclusions. And when the facts are wholly trustworthy, and the lights thrown precisely where one asks for them, a day's talk may sometimes do as much as a year's work.
The one great fact which I have been most clearly impressed by, here, is the right-mindedness of these men, so far as they see what they are doing. There is no equivocation with their consciences,-no silencing of their thoughts in any wilful manner; nor, under the conditions apparent to them, do I believe it possible for them to act more wisely or faithfully. That some conditions, nonapparent to them, may give unexpectedly harmful consequences to their action, is wholly the fault of others.
2. Meantime, recovering myself as a good ship tries to do after she has been struck by a heavy sea, I must say to my Birmingham friends a few things which I could not, while I was bent on listening and learning ;-could not,
[See Vol. XXVIII, pp. 629, 630; and above, p. 164.]
also, in courtesy, but after deliberation had : so that, in all our debate, I was under this disadvantage, that they could say to me, with full pleasure and frankness, all that was in their minds; but I could not say, without much fear and pause, what was in mine. Of which unspoken regrets this is the quite initial and final one; that all they showed me, and told me, of good, involved yet the main British modern idea that the master and his men should belong to two entirely different classes; perhaps loyally related to and assisting each other; but yet,—the one, on the whole, living in hardship—the other in ease ;—the one uncomfortable—the other in comfort ;—the one supported in its dishonourable condition by the hope of labouring through it to the higher one,—the other honourably distinguished by their success, and rejoicing in their escape from a life which must nevertheless be always (as they suppose) led by a thousand to one * of the British people. Whereas St. George, whether in Agriculture, Architecture, or Manufacture, concerns himself only with the life of the workman,—refers all to that,-measures all by that,—holds the Master, Lord, and King, only as an instrument for the ordering of that; requires of Master, Lord, and King, the entire sharing and understanding of the hardship of that,and his fellowship with it as the only foundation of his authority over it.
3. “But we have been in it, some of us,-and know it, and have, by our patience
“ Won your escape from it.” I am rude—but I know what you would say.
Does then the Physician-the Artist-the Soldier--the good Priest-labour only for escape from his profession? Is not this manufacturing toil, as compared with all these, a despised one, and a miserable,
* I do not use this as a rhetorical expression. Take the lower shopkeepers with the operatives, and add the great army of the merely helpless and miserable; and I believe " a thousand to one of the disgraced and unhappy poor to the honoured rich will be found a quite temperately expressed proportion.
by the confession of all your efforts, and the proclamation of all your pride ; and will you yet go on, if it may be, to fill England, from sea to sea, with this unhappy race, out of which you have risen?
“But we cannot all be physicians, artists, or soldiers. How are we to live ?"
Assuredly not in multitudinous misery. Do you think that the Maker of the world intended all but one in a thousand of His creatures to live in these dark streets; and the one, triumphant over the rest, to go forth alone into the green fields?
4. This was what I was thinking, and more than ever thinking, all the while my good host was driving me by Shenstone's home, The Leasowes, into the vale of Severn; and telling me how happily far away St. George's ground was, from all that is our present England's life, and-pretended-glory. As we drove down the hill a little farther towards Bewdley (Worcestershire for “Beaulieu," I find; - Fors undertakes for pretty names to us, it seems Abbey-dale, Beau-lieu, and if I remember, or translate, rightly, the House by the Fountain ?-our three Saxon, Norman, and Celtic beginnings of abode) my host asked me if I would like to see “nailing.” “Yes, truly.” So he took me into a little cottage where were two women at work,-one about seventeen or eighteen, the other perhaps four or five and thirty; this last intelligent of feature as well could be; and both, gentle and kind, each with
1 [A mile north-east of Halesowen. Johnson, in his life of the poet, says, "His delight in rural pleasures, and his ambition of rural elegance, induced him to point his prospects, to diversify his surface, to entangle his walks, and to wind his waters; which he did with such judgment and such fancy as made his little domain the envy of the great and the admiration of the skilful, a place to be visited by travellers and copied by designers." The grounds have since been much altered ; and “a line of canal close to the place has interfered with its rural quiet, and brought the disagreeable accompaniment of rude traffic and vexatious depredation. Enough of their original appearance, however, remains to render these grounds highly interesting” (Murray's Handbook for Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, and Herefordshire, 1884, p. 209). "For references by Ruskin to Shenstone, see Vol. V. pp. 218, 247; Vol. XII. p. 335; and Vol. XXII. p. 320.]
• [Ty'n-y-ffynon, the name not of St. George's Cottages at Barmouth, but of the house and home of Mrs. Talbot, who gave them to the Guild. For St. George's land at Abbeydale (elsewhere called Mickley or Totley, see above, p. 98.]
hammer in right hand, pincers in left (heavier hammer poised over her anvil, and let fall at need by the touch of her foot on a treadle like that of a common grindstone). Between them, a small forge, fed to constant brightness by the draught through the cottage, above whose roof its chimney rose :—in front of it, on a little ledge, the glowing lengths of cut iron rod, to be dealt with at speed. Within easy reach of this, looking up at us in quietly silent question,-stood, each in my sight an ominous Fors, the two Clavigeræ.
At a word, they laboured, with ancient Vulcanian skill. Foot and hand in perfect time: no dance of Muses on Parnassian mead in truer measure ;-no sea fairies upon yellow sands more featly footed. Four strokes with the hammer in the hand : one ponderous and momentary blow ordered of the balanced mass by the touch of the foot ; and the forged nail fell aside, finished, on its proper heap; -level-headed, wedge-pointed,* a thousand lives soon to depend daily on its driven grip of the iron way.
5. So wrought they,—the English Matron and Maid ; so was it their darg' to labour from morning to evening seven to seven,—by the furnace side,—the winds of summer fanning the blast of it. The wages of the Matron Fors, I found, were eight shillings a week; t-her husband, otherwise and variously employed, could make sixteen. Three shillings a week for rent and taxes, left, as I count, for the guerdon of their united labour, if constant, and its product providently saved, fifty-five pounds a year, on which they had to feed and clothe themselves and their six children; eight souls in their little Worcestershire ark.
* Flattened on two sides, I mean: they were nails for fastening the railroad metals to the sleepers, and made out of three-inch (or thereabouts) lengths of iron rod, which I was surprised and pleased to find, in spite of all our fine machines, the women still preferred to cut by hand.
† Sixteen-pence a day, or, for four days' work, the price of a lawyer's letter. Coinpare Fors 64, § 6. [Vol. XXVIII. p. 566.]
[See Vol. XXVII. p. 599, and Vol. XXVIII. p. 93.]