Page images
PDF
EPUB

LETTER 76

OUR BATTLE IS IMMORTAL1

VENICE, Sunday, 4th March, 1877. Μάχη δή, φαμεν, αθάνατός έστιν η τοιαύτη ... ξύμμαχοι δε ημίν θεοί τε άμα

και δαίμονες, ημείς δ' αυ κτήματα θεών και δαιμόνων, φθείρει δε ημάς αδικία και ύβρις μετά αφροσύνης, σώζει δε δικαιοσύνη και σωφροσύνη μετά φρονήσεως, εν ταις των θεών εμψύχοις οικούσαι δυνάμεσι.

1. “WHEREFORE, our battle is immortal; and the Gods and the Angels fight with us: and we are their possessions. And the things that destroy us are injustice, insolence, and foolish thoughts; and the things that save us are justice, self-command, and true thought, which things dwell in the living powers of the Gods.” ?

This sentence is the sum of the statement made by Plato in the tenth book of the Laws respecting the relations of the will of man to the Divine creative power. Statement which is in all points, and for ever, true; and ascertainably so by every man who honestly endeavours to be just, temperate, and true.

I will translate and explain it throughout, in due time; * 3

* For the present, commending only to those of my Oxford readers who may be entering on the apostleship of the Gospel of Dirt,4 this following sentence, with as much of its context as they have time to read :

«ο πρώτον γενέσεως και φθοράς αίτιον απάντων, τούτο ου πρώτον αλλά ύστερον απεφήναντο είναι γεγονός οι την των ασεβών ψυχήν απεργασάμενοι λόγοι, ο δε ύστερον πρότερον, όθεν ήμαρτήκασι περί θεών της όντως ουσίας."

1 ["Epistle of Jude” (see $$ 13 seq.) was a rejected title for this Letter.)

(Laws, x. 906 A. The Greek passage in the note is from 891 E, thus translated by Jowett : “They affirm that which is the first cause of the generation and destruction of all things, to be not first but last, and that which was last to be first, and hence they have fallen into error about the true nature of the Gods." The further passage translated in the text is from 902.]

[This, however, was not done.] • See Letter 75, $ 22 (p. 79). ]

3

but am obliged to refer to it here hastily, because its introduction contains the most beautiful and clear pre-Christian expression at present known to me, of the law of Divine life in the whole of organic nature, which the myth of St. Theodore taught in Christian philosophy.

I give one passage of it as the best preface to the matters I have to lay before you in connection with our beginning of real labour on English land (announced, as you will see, in the statement of our affairs for this month ) :

“ Not, therefore, Man only, but all creatures that live and die, are the possessions of the Gods, whose also is the whole Heaven.

“And which of us shall say that anything in the lives of these is great, or little, before the Gods ? for it becomes not those to whom we belong, best and carefullest of possessors, to neglect either this or that.

“For neither in the hands of physician, pilot, general, nor householder, will great things prosper if he neglect the little ; nay, the stonemason will tell

you that the large stones lie not well without the small : shall we 'then think God a worse worker than men, who by how much they are themselves nobler, by so

much the more care for the perfectness of all they do; and shall Ġod, the wisest, because it is so easy to care for little things, therefore not care for them, as if He were indolent or weary ? ?"

2. Such preface befits well the serious things I have to say to you, my Sheffield men, to-day. I had them well in my mind when I rose, but find great difficulty in holding them there because of the rattling of the steamcranes of the huge steamer, Pachino.

Now, that's curious : I look up to read her name on her bow-glittering in the morning sun, within thirty paces of me; and, behold, it has St. George's shield and cross on it;* the first ship's bow I ever saw with a knight's shield for its bearing. I must bear with her cranes as best

I may,

It is a right omen, for what I have to say in especial to the little company of you, who are minded, as I hear,

* At least, the sharp shield of crusading times, with the simple cross on it-St. George's in form, but this the Italian bearing reversed in tincture, gules, the cross argent.

1 [See above, p. 65.]
· [See below, § 15.]

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

out of your steam-crane and all other such labour in Sheffield, pestilent to the enduring Sabbath of human peace on earth and goodwill towards men,' to take St. George's shield for your defence in Faith, and begin truly the quiet work and war-his, and all the saints-cleaving the wide “seas of Death, and sunless gulfs of Doubt.” 2

3. Remember, however, always that seas of Death must mean antecedent seas of Life; and that this voice, coming to you from the laureated singer of England, prophesying in the Nineteenth Century,* does truly tell you what state Britannia's ruled waves have at present got into under her supremely wise ordination.

I wonder if Mr. Tennyson, of late years, has read any poetry but his own; or if, in earlier years, he never read, with attention enough to remember, words which most other good English scholars will instantly compare with his somewhat forced--or even, one might say, steam-craned, rhyme, to “wills,”: “Roaring moon of—Daffodils.” Truly, the nineteenth century altogether, and no less in Midsummer than March, may be most fitly and pertinently described as a “roaring moon”: but what has it got to do with daffodils, which belong to lakes of Life, not Death ? Did Mr. Tennyson really never read the description of that golden harbour in the little lake which my Companions and I have been striving to keep the nineteenth century from changing into a cesspool with a beach of broken ginger-beer bottles ?

"The waves beside them danced; but they

Outdid the sparkling waves in glee.
A poet could not but be gay

In such a jocund company."
* The sonnet referred to begins, I hear, the periodical so named.
1 (Luke ii. 14.]
: [From Tennyson's Prefatory Sonnet to the Nineteenth Century (March 1877).]

* (Ruskin, as appears from his note, had not yet seen the magazine; he quotes from some newspaper. Tennyson wrote “will” and “ daffodil."]

* [Wordsworth, Poems of the Imagination, “ I wandered lonely as a cloud" (1801). The poet states in a, prefatory note that “the daffodils grew and still grow on the margin of Ullswater," but that the poem was written at Grasmere; and Ruskin here

No steam-craned versification in that, you will observe, by the way; but simple singing for heart's delight, which you will find to be the vital form of real poetry ;disciplined singing, also, if it may be, but natural, all the while. So also architecture, sculpture, painting, Sheffield ironwork. Natural to Sheffield,*-joyful to Sheffield, otherwise an entirely impossible form of poetry there. (Three enormous prolonged trumpetings, or indecent bellowings—audible, I should think, ten miles off-from another steamer entering the Giudecca, interrupt me again,--and you need not think that I am peculiar in sensitiveness: no decent family worship, no gentle singing, no connectedly thoughtful reading, would be possible to any human being under these conditions, wholly inevitable now by any person of moderate means in Venice. With considerable effort, and loss of nervous energy, I force myself back into course of thought.)

4. You don't, perhaps, feel distinctly how people can be joyful in ironwork, or why I call it " “poetry”?

Yet the only piece of good part-singing I heard in Italy, for a whole summer, was over a blacksmith's forge (and there has been disciplined music, as you know, made of its sounds before now; and you may, perhaps, have seen and heard Mr. G. W. Moore as the Christy Blacksmith ?). But I speak of better harmonies to be got out of your work than Handel's, when you come at it with a true heart, fervently, as I hope this

as I hope this company of you All the fine work of man must be first instinctive, for he is bound to be a fine Animal King of Animals; then, moral or disciplined, for he is bound to be a fine Spirit also, and King of Spirits. The Spirit power begins in directing the Animal power to other than egoistic ends. Read, in connection with last Fors, The Animals of the Bible, by John Worcester, Boston, Lockwood and Brooke, 1875. refers to his preface to the protest by Mr. R. Somervell (a Companion of St. George's Guild) against the extension of the railway to Grasmere, etc. He there uses the same phrase about converting the lake into “a pool of drainage, with a beach of broken ginger-beer bottles.”]

[Compare Lectures on Art, $ 67 (Vol. XX. pp. 73–74).] * {For other references to the Moore and Burgess Minstrels, see Vol. XXVIII. P. 492; and the Introduction, above, p. xx.]

[See 1 Peter i. 22.]

1

3

now

are like to do, to whom St. George has now given thirteen acres of English ground for their own;' so long as they observe his laws.

They shall not be held to them at first under any formal strictness—for this is mainly their own adventure; St. George merely securing coign of vantage for it, and requiring of them observance only of his bare first principles-good work, and no moving of machinery by fire. But I believe they will be glad, in many respects, to act by St. George's advice; and, as I hope, truly begin his active work; of which, therefore, it seems to me necessary to state unambiguously the religious laws which underlie the Creed and vow of full Companionship, and of which his retainers will, I doubt not, soon recognize the outward observance to be practically useful.

5. You cannot but have noticed—any of you who read attentively,—that Fors has become much more distinctly Christian in its tone, during the last two years; and those of you who know with any care my former works, must feel a yet more vivid contrast between the spirit in which the preface to the Crown of Wild Olive was written, and that in which I am now collating

now collating for you the Mother Laws of the Trades of Venice.

This is partly because I am every day compelled, with increasing amazement, and renewed energy, to contradict the idiotic teaching of Atheism which is multiplied in your ears; but it depends far more essentially on two vital causes: the first, that since Fors began, “such things have befallen me”* personally, which have taught me much, but of which I need not at present speak; the second, that in the work I did at Assisi in 1874, I discovered a fallacy which had underlain all my art teaching (and the teaching of Art, as I understand it, is the teaching of all things) since the year 1858.

Of which I must be so far tedious

* Leviticus x. 19.
1 (See below, § 15 (p. 98); and compare Letter 77, § 4 (p. 112). )
. (On this passage, see the Introduction to Vol. XXIII. p. xlvi.]

« PreviousContinue »