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“ YEA, THE WORK OF OUR HANDS, ESTABLISH THOU IT”
THE CONVENTS OF ST. QUENTIN 1
BRANTWOOD, 8th February, 1880. 1. It is now close on two years since I was struck by the illness which brought these Letters to an end, as a periodical series; nor did I think, on first recovery, that I should ever be able to conclude them otherwise than by a few comments in arranging their topical index.?
But my strength is now enough restored to permit me to add one or two more direct pieces of teaching to the broken statements of principle which it has become difficult to gather out of the mixed substance of the book. These will be written at such leisure as I may find, and form an eighth volume, which with a thin ninth, containing indices, I shall be thankful if I can issue in this tenth year from the beginning of the work.
2. To-day, being my sixty-first birthday, I would ask leave to say a few words to the friends who care for me, and the readers who are anxious about me, touching the above-named illness itself. For a physician's estimate of it, indeed, I can only refer them to my physicians. But there were some conditions of it which I knew better than they could : namely, first, the precise and sharp distinction between the state of morbid inflammation of brain which
[See below, $ 14. The passage from the Orphic Hymns was printed by Ruskin by way of frontispiece to the Letter. For a notice issued with the Lötter, see above, p. xxxi.]
2 (This Index (which was to have formed an additional volume of Fors) was never completed by Ruskin, but is now printed to the post part from his notes) see below : p. 607.]
gave rise to false visions (whether in sleep, or trance, or waking, in broad daylight, with perfect knowledge of the real things in the room, while yet I saw others that were not there), and the not morbid, however dangerous, states of more or less excited temper, and too much quickened thought, which gradually led up to the illness, accelerating in action during the eight or ten days preceding the actual giving way of the brain (as may be enough seen in the fragmentary writing of the first edition of my notes on the Turner exhibition"); and yet, up to the transitional moment of first hallucination, entirely healthy, and in the full sense of the word “sane"; just as the natural inflammation about a healing wound in flesh is sane, up to the transitional edge where it may pass at a crisis into morbific, or even mortified, substance. And this more or less inflamed, yet still perfectly healthy, condition of mental power, may be traced by any watchful reader, in Fors, nearly from its beginning, —that manner of mental ignition or irritation being for the time a great additional force, enabling me to discern more clearly, and say more vividly, what for long years it had been in my heart to say.
3. Now I observed that in talking of the illness, whether during its access or decline, none of the doctors ever thought of thus distinguishing what was definitely diseased in the brain action, from what was simply curative—had there been time enough—of the wounded nature in me. And in the second place, not perceiving, or at least not admitting, this difference ; nor, for the most part, apprehending (except the one who really carried me through, and who never lost hope—Dr. Parsons of Hawkshead) that there were any mental wounds to be healed, they made, and still make, my friends more anxious about me than there is occasion for: which anxiety I partly regret, as it pains them; but much more if it makes them more doubtful than they used to be (which, for some, is saying
· [For these Notes, see V XIII. pp. 391 seq.; and for the fragmentary character of the first edition, ibl. pp. liv., lv.]
a good deal) of the “ truth and soberness ” 1 of Fors itself. Throughout every syllable of which, hitherto written, the reader will find one consistent purpose, and perfectly conceived system, far more deeply founded than any bruited about under their founders' names; including in its balance one vast department of human skill,-the arts, which the vulgar economists are wholly incapable of weighing; and à yet more vast realm of human enjoyment—the spiritual affections,—which materialist thinkers are alike incapable of imagining: a system not mine, nor Kant's, nor Comte's; but that which Heaven has taught every true man's heart, and proved by every true man's work, from the beginning of time to this day.
4. I use the word “Heaven” here in an absolutely literal sense, meaning the blue sky, and the light and air of it. Men who live in that light,—" in pure sunshine, not under mixed-up shade,” s—and whose actions are open as the air, always arrive at certain conditions of moral and practical loyalty, which are wholly independent of religious opinion. These, it has been the first business of Fors to declare. Whether there be one God or three,-no God, or ten thousand,-children should have enough to eat, and their skins should be washed clean. It is not I who say that. Every mother's heart under the sun says that, if she
Again, whether there be saints in Heaven or not, as long as its stars shine on the sea, and the thunnies swim there—every fisherman who drags a net ashore is bound to say to as many human creatures as he can, “Come and
And the fishmongers who destroy their fish by cartloads that they may make the poor pay dear for what is left," ought to be flogged round Billingsgate, and out of
dine, " 4
1 (Acts xxvi. 25.).
• Compare Ruskin's saying that the object of education is to see the sky : Letter 9, 19 (Vol. XXVI. p. 164).]
• [Plato, Phædrus, 239 C. The Greek is given in Art of England, $ 79.]
it. It is not I who say that. Every man's heart on sea and shore says that—if he isn't at heart a rascal. Whatever is dictated in Fors is dictated thus by common sense, common equity, common humanity, and common sunshine -not by me.
5. But farther. I have just now used the word “Heaven in a nobler sense also: meaning, Heaven and our Father therein.
And beyond the power of its sunshine, which all men may know, Fors has declared also the power of its Fatherhood,—which only some men know, and others do not, and, except by rough teaching, may not.
For the wise of all the earth have said in their hearts always, “God is, and there is none beside Him; "I and the fools of all the earth have said in their hearts always, “I am, and there is none beside me."
Therefore, beyond the assertion of what is visibly salutary, Fors contains also the assertion of what is invisibly salutary, or salvation-bringing, in Heaven, to all men who will receive such health: and beyond this an invitationpassing gradually into an imperious call—to all men who trust in God, that they purge their conscience from dead works, and join together in work separated from the fools; pure, undefiled, and worthy of Him they trust in.
6. But in the third place. Besides these definitions, first, of what is useful to all the world, and then of what is useful to the wiser part of it, Fors contains much trivial and desultory talk by the way. Scattered up and down in it,-perhaps by the Devil's sowing tares among the wheat, --there is much casual expression of my own personal feelings and faith, together with bits of autobiography, which were allowed place, not without some notion of their being useful, but yet imprudently, and even incontinently,
1 [See Deuteronomy iv. 39.]
because I could not at the moment hold my tongue about what vexed or interested me, or returned soothingly to my memory
Now these personal fragments must be carefully sifted from the rest of the book, by readers who wish to understand it, and taken within their own limits,-no whit farther. For instance, when I say that “St. Ursula sent me a flower with her love,” ? it means that I myself am in the habit of thinking of the Greek Persephone, the Latin Proserpina, and the Gothic St. Ursula, as of the same living spirit; and so far regulating my conduct by that idea as to dedicate my book on Botany to Proserpina ; and to think, when I want to write anything pretty about flowers, how St. Ursula would like it said. And when on the Christmas morning in question, a friend staying in Venice brought me a pot of pinks, “with St. Ursula's love,” the said pot of pinks did afterwards greatly help me in my work ;—and reprove me afterwards, in its own way, for the failure of it.
7. All this effort, or play, of personal imagination is utterly distinct from the teaching of Fors, though I thought at the time its confession innocent, without in any wise advising my readers to expect messages from pretty saints, or reprobation from pots of pinks: only being urgent with them to ascertain clearly in their own minds what they do expect comfort or reproof from. Here, for instance (Sheffield, 12th February), I am lodging at an honest and hospitable grocer's, who has lent me his own bedroom, of which the principal ornament is a card printed in black and gold, sacred to the memory of his infant son, who died aged fourteen months, and whose tomb is represented under the figure of a broken Corinthian column, with two graceful-winged ladies putting garlands on it. He is comforted by this conception, and, in that degree, believes and feels with me: the merely palpable fact is probably, that
1 [See Letter 74, $ 1 (above, p. 30).]