|Forum topic by JADobson||posted 06-06-2016 09:06 PM||417 views||0 times favorited||2 replies|
06-06-2016 09:06 PM
In light of a certain recent thread I thought this passage was particularly appropriate. It comes from the lecture “Traffic” in the book The Crown of Wild Olive by John Ruskin, the grandfather of the Arts and Crafts movement. You can read the whole thing here: http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/ruskin/traffic.html.
edit: I’ll just add that it is well worth reading the whole lecture.
Permit me, therefore, to fortify this old dogma of mine somewhat. Taste is not only a part and an index of morality — it is the ONLY morality. The first, and last, and closest trial question to any living creature is, ‘What do you like?’ Tell me what you like, and I’ll tell you what you are. Go out into the street, and ask the first man or woman you meet, what their ‘taste’ is, and if they answer candidly, you know them, body and soul. ‘You, my friend in the rags, with the unsteady gait, what do you like?’ ‘A pipe and a quartern of gin.’ I know you. ‘You, good woman, with the quick step and tidy bonnet, what do you like?’ ‘A swept hearth and a clean tea-table, and my husband opposite me, and a baby at my breast.’ Good, I know you also. ‘You, little girl with the golden hair and the soft eyes, what do you like?’ ‘My canary, and a run among the wood hyacinths.’ ‘You, little boy with the dirty hands and the low forehead, what do you like?’ ‘A shy at the sparrows, and a game at pitch-farthing.’ Good; we know them all now. What more need we ask?
‘Nay,’ perhaps you answer: ‘we need rather to ask what these people and children do, than what they like. If they do right, it is no matter that they like what is wrong; and if they do wrong, it is no matter that they like what is right. Doing is the great thing; and it does not matter that the man likes drinking, so that he does not drink; nor that the little girl likes to be kind to her canary, if she will not learn her lessons; nor that the little boy likes throwing stones at the sparrows, if he goes to the Sunday school.’ Indeed, for a short time, and in a provisional sense, this is true. For if, resolutely, people do what is right, in time they come to like doing it. But they only are in a right moral state when they have come to like doing it; and as long as they don’t like it, they are still in a vicious state. The man is not in health of body who is always thirsting for the bottle in the cupboard, though he bravely bears his thirst; but the man who heartily enjoys water in the morning and wine in the evening, each in its proper quantity and time. And the entire object of true education is to make people not merely do the right things, but enjoy the right things — not merely industrious, but to love industry — not merely learned, but to love knowledge — not merely pure, but to love purity — not merely just, but to hunger and thirst after justice.
But you may answer or think, ‘Is the liking for outside ornaments, — for pictures, or statues, or furniture, or architecture, — a moral quality?’ Yes, most surely, if a rightly set liking. Taste for any pictures or statues is not a moral quality, but taste for good ones is. Only here again we have to define the word ‘good.’ I don’t mean by ‘good,’ clever — or learned — or difficult in the doing. Take a picture by Teniers, of sots quarrelling over their dice: it is an entirely clever picture; so clever that nothing in its kind has ever been done equal to it; but it is also an entirely base and evil picture. It is an expression of delight in the prolonged contemplation of a vile thing, and delight in that is an ‘unmannered,’ or ‘immoral’ quality. It is ‘bad taste’ in the profoundest sense — it is the taste of the devils. On the other hand, a picture of Titian’s, or a Greek statue, or a Greek coin, or a Turner landscape, expresses delight in the perpetual contemplation of a good and perfect thing. That is an entirely moral quality — it is the taste of the angels. And all delight in art, and all love of it, resolve themselves into simple love of that which deserves love. That deserving is the quality which we call ‘loveliness’ — (we ought to have an opposite word, hateliness, to be said of the things which deserve to be hated); and it is not an indifferent nor optional thing whether we love this or that; but it is just the vital function of all our being. What we like determines what we are, and is the sign of what we are; and to teach taste is inevitably to form character. As I was thinking over this, in walking up Fleet Street the other day, my eye caught the title of a book standing open in a bookseller’s window. It was — ‘On the necessity of the diffusion of taste among all classes.’ ‘Ah,’ I thought to myself, ‘my classifying friend, when you have diffused your taste, where will your classes be? The man who likes what you like, belongs to the same class with you, I think. Inevitably so. You may put him to other work if you choose; but, by the condition you have brought him into, he will dislike the other work as much as you would yourself. You get hold of a scavenger, or a costermonger, who enjoyed the Newgate Calendar for literature, and “Pop goes the Weasel” for music. You think you can make him like Dante and Beethoven? I wish you joy of your lessons; but if you do, you have made a gentleman of him: — he won’t like to go back to his costermongering.’
—John Ruskin, April 1864