Page images
PDF
EPUB

18

MORNING THOUGHTS AT GENEVA'

[See Letter 72, § 10 (Vol. XXVIII. p. 766)]

soon

HÔTEL DES BERGUES, GENEVA,

28th August, 1876. I woke at three this morning, and as as my window became a glimmering square,2 rose every now and then to watch the light increase. The dawn was fair and clear, and the long slopes of the Buet, and double pillars of the Aiguilles d'Argentière,—“ well-known" masses, a young member of the Alpine Club would perhaps write—but to me, still mysteries, though seen these forty years and more,—were traced dark against the softly glowing sky.

But, precisely between them and my window, a little chimney of some “ works on the opposite quay was throwing up its thread of brown smoke, which, the air being perfectly calm, stayed, in a browner cloud, precisely at the level of the brightest low sky, and dimmed the aiguilles, so that there was no drawing or seeing their outline, any more than through a smoked glass.

Also, just under my window, at the corner of the bridge, there was an apparatus for laying asphalte with a vaporous boiling-pot, and a little funnel besides, sending up as much smoke as a small steamer, which, being close by, floated about in gusts and rags, sometimes over the rosy clouds, sometimes over Mont Blanc, and sometimes over the piece of lake yet left visible to the north, round the corner of the Hôtel de Russie.

Under which circumstances, I not only lost all pleasure in my view of Mont Blanc and the dawn, but received very distinct and severe pain from it.

“I am a foolish, crabbed old fellow—am 1,--and shouldn't have minded the smoke?

Well, my friend, I know I am foolish,—and God knows it better than I: but it is at present chiefly in coming to this place at all, and wandering

1 [This passage is printed partly from a proof of “Over matter for Fors,” and partly from sheets of Ms. at Brantwood. The passage was intended for Fors of February 1877.]

· [For the reference to Tennyson's Princess, see Vol. VII. p. 459, and Vol. XIX. p. 101.)

up and down its streets (such as are left of what once was Geneva), with continual echo from the walls on each side, “Dead—all dead,”—(who, all, are dead, I will tell you perhaps, some day, if I ever get more autobiography written). And it is not at all in being unable to enjoy Mont Blanc through smoke.

For let me ask you a question or two.

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

(Domo D'Ossola, 3rd September.) (I suppose, in doing so, that Fors by chance has been taken up by some traveller of the modern school, and I am not speaking now to my own St. George Companions, but to him or her. You most probably care as little for the sight of Mont Blanc as the Genevese themselves, and you came to Geneva merely to buy jewellery and live in a fashionable hotel: but by the price I see Moet stand at on the wine-card, I perceive you at least care for champagne. Well,-suppose, at table-d’hôte to-day, turning to take it just at the creamiest, you saw that the waiter had cut his finger with the wire, and dropped some blood into the glass. You would not enjoy your champagne with blood in it, would you ? Still less, if the blood were blood of a diseased person? Well, my eyes are educated just as your mouth is; and I enjoy the morning light on Mont Blanc as you do champagne ; and rather more (for, mind you, I know and understand all your tastes perfectly, and am just as fond of Moet as you; but you know none of my pleasures, and must take my estimate of them on trust). And, believe me, the trained eye has higher pleasure than the trained mouth; and in this higher pleasure it is capable also of more bitter pain. I would drink all the nastiest stuff you could mix, out of the English chemist's round the corner, if I could only get that smoke swept off Mont Blanc; and, besides, you probably would not really taste the blood in your champagne, you would only fancy you tasted it. But I not only can see the horrible smoke, but can't see the snow; I can't taste my wine because of the blood. I am a nasty creature, am I, and it isn't the taste merely, it is the idea that would be sickening to you? Yes; and it isn't the taste, but the idea that is sickening to me. That smoke means blood, as surely as the smoke from Joan of Arc's pile of faggots meant it. That smoke means the blood of the souls of the Swiss nation, perverted into vile tavern keepers from righteous citizens; it means the blood of the English nation degraded into acrobats from gentlemen, and into street swaggerers from gentlewomen; it means the blood of all nations degraded into atheists and usurers—travellers to that eternal ice which would not bend under Pietrapana from Christians, and travellers to the Celestial mountains above the crystal sea.

But I must go back to the question of loss in the pleasure of sight only. For I mean more than you do in speaking of that pleasure itself. Among the points of true value in the first and second volume of Modern Painters, none were more vital than the distinction made between ordinary sight, and what there being no English word for it-I was forced to call

[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

[Inferno, xxxii. : see Vol. V. p. 297; and compare Vol. XVIII. p. 99, and Vol. XXVII. p. 412.]

by the Greek one " Theoria,” “Contemplation ”l_seeing within the temple of the heart. And I never, through all the years that have passed since, felt the full value of the power I had in this kind as I did, by the will of Fors, yesterday in walking down the Simplon Pass. It had become nobler to me than ever, in the degree of the advance of my own powers of thought and reach of sympathy, and I felt as if I had never seen it truly until now.?

And just as I was passing between the shade and sun, after passing the bridge at the great gallery, there came out of the gallery, following me, a caleche, with four foreigners in it, one a lady, well featured and with considerable character and power in her expression—the men, as far as I could judge, average conditions of the somewhat stout and coarse Frenchman, well to do in the world,

And in all the world they were well to do in, there is not assuredly a more dramatically exciting mountain scene than that at the great gallery of Gondo. Two torrents meeting each other, both powerful-one in a fall of some four hundred feet-a bridge over the face of the fall, entering a cave—what Adelphi manager could concert for his playbill better material than this ! Alps above in a sea of them, tossed breaker over breaker in hollow-crested crags, soft wreathing woods of Italy in the ravine below, and all this bursting on the eyes in an instant, not by the slow raising of a curtain, but the passing through a rock gate,

The four travellers never moved their heads, nor raised their eyes. They were talking, of course, but not of anything particularly interesting, not in the least eagerly. They simply continued their conversation, undisturbed by any of these external phenomena. Now, the difference between these people and me was not that at all that they were ordinary persons, and I a man of genius. It would be very pleasant to think that. I should not gnash my teeth at them and feel my whole day at Domo d'Ossola embittered by the sight of them—if I thought that I was so much their better; I should be walking about with my nose in the air and my toes turned out, on that supposition! It is true that I see colours better than most people, and know a thing or two that few do about rocks and clouds. I am very glad I do. What I am not glad of, but horror-struck to feel is, that while I was taught in early youth to look at Nature with the joy of a child in its Father's work, these who drive past me, blind—nay, the nations among whom I live-are now taught to see in her nothing but a chaos of the clay they would fain forget they are made of, these persons being, in all probability, just as capable of good and happiness as I-wittier assuredly, being French; stronger and braver, being healthy and young-and I doubt not in their hearts capable of all average human goodness, are yet spoiled and poisoned into this wreck of animal stupidity in comparison of me, because if you will look back to

(See Modern Painters, vol. i. pt. ii. sec. i. ch. ii., and vol. ii. sec. i. ch. xv. (Vol. III. pp. 140 seq., and Vol. IV. pp. 208 seq.). Compare “Readings in Modern Painters" (1877), where Ruskin says that the main value of the book is “exactly in that systematic scheme of it which I had despised, and in the very insistence upon the Greek term Theoria, instead of sight or perception, in which I had thought myself perhaps uselessly or affectedly refined" (Vol. XXII. p. 512).]

[For Ruskin's early love of the Simplon Pass, see Præterita, ii. § 131.]

[ocr errors]

the chapters on Theoria in Modern Painters, you will see that the entire difference between the human sight of beauty and the animal scorn of it is shown to consist, in this concurrence, with physical sense, of Mental Religion.? I use the word in its true meaning—the acknowledgment of Spiritual Power. But with this, or faith in God, there must also, in true contemplation, be joined charity to men, and such lower form of charity as may tenderly cherish all lower creatures. No beauty is visible to human eyes but through this arc of triple light. Religion, without love of man, becomes madness; love of man, without tenderness to the lower creature, becomes insolence; and as

“The bat that Aits at close of eve

Has left the brain that won't believe," :

so also Religion, without love of man,—is that possible ? Alas, too possible. God forbid but that some of the people who go to church in England should not be sincere in their worship; but they are trying to love their God, and not their brothers, and their worship is fit only for Bedlam.

Here in Italy, on the other hand, their Religion is ended; but their affectionateness, not yet. I was up last night among the vast stone pines of the Sanctuario of Orta. Aisle after aisle of temple in those mountain cedars, and chapel following chapel, for succession, formerly, of secret prayer.

All of them closed, now; but built against the side of one of them a " Caffè Ristorantè,” and at the opposite side over the closed door, written : Qui si chiamano i custodi del monte per visitare le cappelle.”

Not to be pulled wholly down for a while, if perchance yet a penny may be turned out of the religion of their fathers.3

(See Ruskin's analysis of the contents of section i. in vol. ii, of Modern Puinters (Vol. IV. pp. 11-17):]

* (Blake's Auguries of Innocence. The lines are quoted in Letter 74 (above,
36).)
* (The entry in Ruskin's diary is as follows:

(September 3, 1876.) Sunday evening, Orta.-Up at the Sanctuario ; one of the dismallest walks I ever had in this world! the vast stone pines and closed chapels being monuments of religion wholly gone ; a party of blackguards making the loveliest of the green avenues horrible with their laughs; shrieking children, rude and graceless in gesture, rushing about the Caffè Ristorantè'opposite the main terrace, with door beside it inscribed, 'Qui si chiamano,' etc. They came out, two of them, and staggered and spit about on the terrace till I was obliged to go. But such stone pines I have not seen since the Farnese."]

[ocr errors][merged small]

19

" THESE THY CREATURES

CREATURES OF BREAD AND WINE”

اور

[See Letter 73; above, p. 24]

I can't completely tell you how to regulate the price of a cabbage, or of a pint of milk, unless I clear your minds first on the principles of currency, free trade, corporal punishment, and commercial remuneration; and to clear your minds on these matters is not only to sweep out nearly the entire mass of what you have been taught since you were born, but also to explain the mechanism to you of a system of true government, of which the working must be by the concurrence of a system of cog-wheels infinitely more complex than those of a chronometer, and of which the Spring must be Faith, and the Diamond, Honour.

And if such my difficulty in expressing, much more that of proving, the truth to you, must be extreme, because in every application of such laws to actual life their good result must be for some time thwarted by the collaterally adverse conditions under which they are lived; and even their accurate application is impossible, in any particular instance, without a knowledge of detail which it will take time to acquire.

But, with careful reading of my previous statements, I think you may possibly now at least understand the broad principles by which true conmerce must be regulated in food. God has given us imperishable goldperishable, but preservable for all necessary time, bread and wine."

These thy creatures of bread and wine," ? brought forth to us by the Eternal Priesthood of Justice, are to be distributed in purity to all who need them, at the time that they need them; and the sign of the quantity which any person may claim of them is to be written in sacred Gold.

That is the Divine law-simple, universal, and constant. So far as you keep it, you shall live happily and decently in regard of bodily nourishment; so far as you break it, you must live miserably and indecently. But to apply it with immediate precision to the question--vital to you after hard fag work-the present price of a pot of beer in Sheffield, 1 must know all the conditions of making beer good, and the quantity you

1 [Printed from sheets of MS. at Brantwood. The sheets are headed “Conclusion”; i.e., probably the intended conclusion of Letter 73, a passage from Plato (§ 15) being afterwards substituted.] [See the Prayer of Consecration in the Communion Service.]

« PreviousContinue »