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As is our custom here at
Ruskin College the Ludi Magistor shall preside over
the Ceremonies Magnifica in the Great Hall of the Moynihan Library to mark the beginning of Spring Term. Let all students in attendance complete the readings
for the Ruskin Lecture.
Ruskin Lecture 2005
The Ducal palace
of Venice contains the three elements in exactly equal proportions--the Roman,
Lombard, and Arab.
The Ducal residence was removed to Venice in 809,
and the body of St. Mark was brought from Alexandria twenty years later. But others, both south and north of the empire, had felt its influence, back to the
beach of the Indian Ocean on the one hand (Arab), and to the ice creeks of the North Sea on the other (Lombard).
The work of the Lombard
was to give hardihood and system to the enervated body and enfeebled mind of Christendom; that of the Arab was to punish idolatry,
and to proclaim the spirituality of worship. Opposite in their character and mission, alike in their magnificence of energy,
they came from the North, and from the South, the glacier torrent and the lava stream: they met and contended over the wreck
of the Roman empire; and the very centre of the struggle, the point of pause of both, the dead water of the opposite eddies,
charged with embayed fragments of the Roman wreck, is VENICE.
It is the central building
of the world.
SECTION XVI . . . There had indeed come a change over Venetian architecture in the
fifteenth century; and a
change of some importance to us moderns: we English owe to it our St. Paul's Cathedral, and Europe in general owes to it
the utter degradation or destruction of her schools of architecture, never since revived. But that the reader may understand
this, it is necessary that he should have some general idea of the connection of the architecture of Venice with that of the rest of Europe,
from its origin forwards.
SECTION XVII. All European
architecture, bad and good, old and new, is derived from Greece
through Rome, and colored and perfected from the East. The history of architecture
is nothing but the tracing of the various modes and directions of this derivation. Understand this, once for all: if you hold
fast this great connecting clue, you may string all the types of successive architectural invention upon it like so many beads. The Doric and the Corinthian orders are the roots, the one of all Romanesque,
massy-capitaled buildings--Norman, Lombard, Byzantine, and what else you can name of the kind; and the Corinthian of all Gothic,
Early English, French, German, and Tuscan.
Now observe: those old Greeks
gave the shaft; Rome gave the arch; the Arabs pointed and foliated the arch. The
shaft and arch, the frame-work and strength of architecture, are
from the race of Japheth: the spirituality and sanctity of it from Ismael, Abraham, and Shem.
SECTION XVIII. There is
high probability that the Greek received his shaft system from Egypt;
but I do not care to keep this earlier derivation in the mind of the reader. It is only necessary that he should be able to
refer to a fixed point of origin, when the form of the shaft
was first perfected. But it may be incidently observed, that if the Greeks did indeed receive their Doric from Egypt, then
the three families of the earth have each contributed their part to its noblest architecture: and Ham, the servant of the
others, furnishes the sustaining or bearing member, the shaft; Japheth the arch; Shem the spiritualization of both.
SECTION XIX. I have said
that the two orders, Doric and Corinthian, are the roots of all European architecture. You have, perhaps, heard of five orders;
but there are only two real orders, and there never can be any more until doomsday. On one of these orders the ornament is
convex: those are Doric, Norman, and what else you recollect of the kind. On the
other the ornament is concave: those are Corinthian, Early English, Decorated, and what else you recollect of that kind. The
transitional form, in which the ornamental line is straight, is the centre or root of both. All other orders are varieties
of those, or phantasms and grotesques altogether indefinite in number and species. [Footnote: Appendix 7, "Varieties of the
SECTION XX. This Greek architecture,
then, with its two orders, was clumsily copied and varied by the Romans with no particular result, until they begun to bring
the arch into extensive practical service; except only that the Doric capital was spoiled in endeavors to mend it, and the
Corinthian much varied and enriched with fanciful, and often very beautiful imagery. And in this state of things came Christianity:
seized upon the arch as her own; decorated it, and delighted in it; invented a new Doric capital to replace the spoiled Roman
one: and all over the Roman empire set to work, with such materials as were nearest at hand, to express and adorn herself
as best she could.
This Roman Christian architecture
is the exact expression of the Christianity of the time, very fervid and beautiful--but very imperfect; in many respects ignorant,
and yet radiant with a strong, childlike light of imagination, which flames up under Constantine, illumines all the shores
of the Bosphorus and the Aegean and the Adriatic Sea, and then gradually,
as the people give themselves up to idolatry, becomes Corpse-light. The architecture sinks into a settled form--a strange,
gilded, and embalmed repose: it, with the religion it expressed; and so would have remained for ever,--so does
remain, where its languor has been undisturbed. [Footnote: The reader will find
the weak points of Byzantine architecture shrewdly seized, and exquisitely sketched, in the opening chapter of the most
delightful book of travels I ever opened,-- Curzon's "Monasteries of the Levant."] But rough wakening was ordained.
Section XXI. This Christian
art of the declining empire is divided into two great branches, western and eastern; one centred at Rome, the other at Byzantium,
of which the one is the early Christian Romanesque, properly so called, and the other, carried to higher imaginative perfection
by Greek workmen, is distinguished from it as Byzantine. But
I wish the reader, for the
present, to class these two branches of art together in his mind, they being, in points of main importance, the same; that
is to say, both of them a true continuance and sequence of the art of old Rome itself, flowing uninterruptedly down from the
fountain-head, and entrusted always to the best workmen who could be found--Latins in Italy and Greeks in Greece;
and thus both branches may be ranged under the general term of Christian Romanesque, an architecture which had lost the refinement
of Pagan art in the degradation of the empire, but which was elevated by Christianity to higher aims, and by the fancy of the Greek workmen endowed with brighter forms. And this art the reader may conceive
as extending in its various branches over all the central provinces of the empire, taking aspects more or less refined, according
to its proximity to the seats of government; dependent for all its power on the vigor and freshness of
the religion which animated
it; and as that vigor and purity departed, losing its own vitality, and sinking into nerveless rest, not deprived of its beauty,
but benumbed and incapable of advance or change.
SECTION XXII. Meantime there
had been preparation for its renewal. While in Rome and Constantinople,
and in the districts under their immediate influence, this Roman art of pure descent was practised in all its refinement,
an impure form of it--a patois of Romanesque--was carried by inferior workmen into distant provinces; and still ruder imitations
of this patois were executed by the barbarous nations on the skirts of the empire. But these barbarous nations were in the
strength of their youth; and while, in the centre of Europe, a refined and purely descended art was sinking into graceful
formalism, on its confines a barbarous and borrowed art was organizing itself into strength and consistency. The reader must
therefore consider the history of the work of the period as broadly divided into two great heads: the one embracing the elaborately
languid succession of the Christian art of Rome; and the other, the imitations of it executed by nations in every conceivable
phase of early organization, on the edges of the empire, or included in its now merely nominal extent.
SECTION XXIII. Some of the barbaric
nations were, of course, not susceptible of this influence; and when they burst over the Alps, appear, like the Huns, as scourges
only, or mix, as the Ostrogoths, with the enervated Italians, and give physical strength to the mass with which they mingle,
without materially affecting its intellectual character. But others, both south and north of the empire, had felt its influence,
back to the beach of the Indian Ocean on the one hand, and to the ice creeks of the North
Sea on the other. On the north and west the influence was of the Latins; on the south and east, of the Greeks.
Two nations, pre-eminent
above all the rest, represent to us the force of derived mind on either side. As the central power is eclipsed, the orbs of
reflected light gather into their fulness; and when sensuality and idolatry had done their work, and the religion of the empire
was laid asleep in a glittering sepulchre, the living light rose upon both horizons, and the fierce swords of the Lombard
and Arab were shaken over its golden paralysis.
SECTION XXIV. The work of
the Lombard was to give hardihood and system to the enervated body and enfeebled mind of Christendom;
that of the Arab was to punish idolatry, and to proclaim the spirituality of worship. The Lombard covered
every church which he built with the sculptured representations of bodily exercises--hunting and war. . . . The Arab banished all imagination of creature form from his temples, and
proclaimed from their minarets, "There is no god but God." Opposite in their character and mission, alike in their magnificence
of energy, they came from the North, and from the South, the glacier torrent and the lava stream: they met and contended over the wreck of the Roman empire;
and the very centre of the struggle, the point of pause of both, the dead water of the opposite eddies, charged with embayed
fragments of the Roman wreck, is VENICE.
The Ducal palace
of Venice contains the three elements in exactly equal proportions--the Roman,
Lombard, and Arab. It is the central building of the world.
SECTION XXV. The reader
will now begin to understand something of the importance of the study of the edifices of a city which includes, within the
circuit of some seven or eight miles, the field of contest between the three pre-eminent architectures of the world:--each
architecture expressing a condition of religion; each an erroneous condition, yet necessary to the correction of the others, and corrected by them.
SECTION XXVI. It will be
part of my endeavor, in the following work, to mark the various modes in which the northern and southern architectures were
developed from the Roman: here I must pause only to name the distinguishing characteristics of the great families. The Christian
Roman and Byzantine work is round-arched, with single and well-proportioned shafts; capitals imitated from classical Roman;
mouldings more or less so; and large surfaces of walls entirely covered with imagery, mosaic, and paintings, whether of scripture
history or of sacred symbols.
The Arab school is at first
the same in its principal features, the Byzantine workmen being employed by the caliphs; but the Arab rapidly introduces characters
half Persepolitan, half Egyptian, into the shafts and capitals: in his intense love of excitement he points the arch and writhes
it into extravagant foliations; he banishes the animal imagery, and invents an ornamentation of his own (called Arabesque)
to replace it: this not being adapted for covering large surfaces, he concentrates it on features of interest, and bars his
surfaces with horizontal lines of color, the expression of the level of the Desert. He retains the dome, and adds the minaret.
All is done with exquisite refinement.
SECTION XXVII. The changes
effected by the Lombard are more curious still, for they are in the anatomy of the building, more than
its decoration. The Lombard architecture represents, as I said, the whole of that of the northern barbaric
nations. And this I believe was, at first, an imitation in wood of the Christian Roman churches or basilicas. Without staying
to examine the whole structure of a basilica, the reader will easily understand thus much of it: that it had a nave and two
aisles, the nave much higher than the aisles; that the nave was separated from the aisles by rows of shafts, which supported,
above, large spaces of flat or dead wall, rising above the aisles, and forming the upper part of the nave, now called the
clerestory, which had a gabled wooden roof.
These high dead walls were,
in Roman work, built of stone; but in the wooden work of the North, they must necessarily have been made of horizontal boards
or timbers attached to uprights on the top of the nave pillars, which were themselves also of wood. [Footnote: Appendix 9,
"Wooden Churches of the North."] Now, these uprights were necessarily thicker than the rest of the timbers, and formed vertical square pilasters above the nave piers. As Christianity extended
and civilization increased, these wooden structures were changed into stone; but they were literally petrified, retaining
the form which had been made necessary by their being of
wood. The upright pilaster above the nave pier remains in the stone edifice, and is the first form of the great distinctive
feature of Northern architecture--the vaulting shaft. In that form the Lombards brought it into Italy, in the seventh century,
and it remains to this day in St. Ambrogio of Milan, and St. Michele of
SECTION XXVIII. When the
vaulting shaft was introduced in the clerestory walls, additional members were added for its support to the nave piers. Perhaps
two or three pine trunks, used for a single pillar, gave the first idea of the grouped shaft. Be that as it may, the arrangement
of the nave pier in the form of a cross accompanies the superimposition of the vaulting shaft; together with corresponding
grouping of minor shafts in doorways and apertures of windows. Thus, the whole body of the Northern architecture, represented
by that of the Lombards, may be described as rough but majestic work, round-arched, with grouped shafts, added vaulting shafts,
and endless imagery of active life and fantastic superstitions.
SECTION XXIX. The glacier
stream of the Lombards, and the following one of the Normans, left their erratic
blocks, wherever they had flowed; but without influencing, I think, the Southern nations beyond the sphere of their own presence.
But the lava stream of the Arab, even after it ceased to flow, warmed the whole of the Northern air; and the history of Gothic
architecture is the history of the refinement and spiritualization of Northern work under its influence. The noblest buildings
of the world, the Pisan-Romanesque, Tuscan (Giottesque) Gothic, and Veronese Gothic, are those of the Lombard schools themselves,
under its close and direct influence; the various Gothics of the
North are the original forms of the architecture which the Lombards brought into Italy,
changing under the less direct influence of the Arab.
SECTION XXX. Understanding
thus much of the formation of the great European styles, we shall have no difficulty in tracing the succession of architectures
in Venice herself. From what I said of the central character of Venetian art,
the reader is not, of course, to conclude that the Roman, Northern, and Arabian elements met together and contended for the
mastery at the same period. The earliest element was the pure Christian Roman; but few, if any, remains of this art exist
at Venice; . . . .
SECTION XXXI. The Ducal
residence was removed to Venice in 809, and the body of St. Mark was brought from
Alexandria twenty years later. The first church
of St. Mark's was, doubtless, built in imitation of that destroyed at Alexandria,
and from which the relics of the saint had been obtained. During the ninth, tenth, and eleventh centuries, the architecture of Venice seems to have
been formed on the same model, and is almost identical with that of Cairo under
the caliphs, [Footnote: Appendix 10, "Church of Alexandria."]
it being quite immaterial whether the reader chooses to call both Byzantine or both Arabic; the workmen being certainly Byzantine,
but forced to the invention of new forms by their Arabian masters, and bringing these forms into use in whatever other parts of the world they were employed. . . .
SECTION XXXII. To this style
succeeds a transitional one, of a character much more distinctly Arabian: the shafts become more slender, and the arches consistently
pointed, instead of round; certain other changes, not to be enumerated in a sentence, taking place in the capitals and mouldings.
This style is almost exclusively secular. It was natural for the
Venetians to imitate the beautiful details of the Arabian dwelling-house, while they would with reluctance adopt those of
the mosque for Christian churches.
I have not succeeded in
fixing limiting dates for this style. It appears in part contemporary with the Byzantine manner, but outlives it. Its position
is, however, fixed by the central date, 1180, . . . in this transitional style
in Venice. . . .
SECTION XXXIII. The Venetians
were always ready to receive lessons in art from their enemies (else had there been no Arab work in Venice).
But their especial dread and hatred of the Lombards appears to have long prevented them from receiving
the influence of the art which that people had introduced on the mainland of Italy.
Nevertheless, during the practice of the two styles above distinguished, a peculiar and very primitive condition of pointed
Gothic had arisen in ecclesiastical architecture. It appears to be a feeble reflection of the Lombard-Arab forms, which were
attaining perfection upon the continent, and would probably, if left to itself, have been soon merged in the Venetian-Arab
school, with which it had from the first so close a fellowship, that it will be found difficult to distinguish the Arabian
ogives from those which seem to have been built under this early Gothic influence. . .
But, in the thirteenth century,
the Franciscans and Dominicans introduced from the continent their morality and their architecture, already a distinct Gothic,
curiously developed from Lombardic and Northern (German?) forms; and the influence of the principles exhibited in the vast
churches of St. Paul and the Frari began rapidly to affect the Venetian-Arab school. Still the two systems never became united; the Venetian
policy repressed the power of the church, and the Venetian artists resisted its example; and thenceforward the architecture
of the city becomes divided into ecclesiastical and civil: the one an ungraceful yet powerful form of the Western Gothic,
common to the whole peninsula, and only showing Venetian
sympathies in the adoption of certain characteristic mouldings; the other a rich, luxuriant, and entirely original Gothic,
formed from the Venetian-Arab by the influence of the Dominican and Franciscan architecture, and especially by the engrafting
upon the Arab forms of the most novel feature of the Franciscan
work, its traceries. These various forms of Gothic, the distinctive architecture
of Venice, chiefly represented by the churches of St. John and Paul, the Frari, and San Stefano, on the ecclesiastical side,
and by the Ducal palace, and the other principal Gothic
palaces, on the secular side, will be the subject of the third division of the essay.
SECTION XXXIV. Now observe.
The transitional (or especially Arabic) style of the Venetian work is centralized by the date 1180, and is transformed gradually
into the Gothic, which extends in its purity from the middle of the thirteenth to the beginning of the fifteenth century;
that is to say, over the precise period which I have described as the central epoch of the life of Venice. I dated her decline from the year
1418; Foscari became doge five years later, and in his reign the first marked signs appear in architecture of that mighty
change . . . , the change to which London owes St. Paul's, Rome St. Peter's, Venice and Vicenza the edifices commonly supposed
to be their noblest, and Europe in general the degradation of every art she has since practised.
SECTION XXXV. This change
appears first in a loss of truth and vitality in existing architecture all over the world. (Compare "Seven Lamps," chap. ii.)
All the Gothics in existence,
southern or northern, were corrupted at once: the German and French lost themselves in every species of extravagance; the
English Gothic was confined, in its insanity, by a strait-waistcoat of perpendicular lines; the Italian effloresced on the
main land into the meaningless ornamentation of the Certosa of Pavia and the Cathedral of Como, (a style sometimes ignorantly
called Italian Gothic), and at Venice into the insipid confusion of the Porta della Carta and wild crockets of St. Mark's.
This corruption of all architecture, especially ecclesiastical, corresponded with, and marked the state of religion over all
Europe,--the peculiar degradation of the Romanist superstition, and of public morality in consequence,
which brought about the Reformation.
SECTION XXXVI. Against the
corrupted papacy arose two great divisions of adversaries, Protestants in Germany
and England, Rationalists in France
and Italy; the one requiring the purification of religion,
the other its destruction. The Protestant kept the religion, but cast aside the heresies of Rome, and with them her arts,
by which last rejection he injured his own character, cramped his intellect in refusing to it one of its noblest exercises, and materially diminished his influence. It may be a serious question how far
the Pausing of the Reformation has been a consequence of this error.
The Rationalist kept the
arts and cast aside the religion. This rationalistic art is the art commonly called Renaissance, marked by a return to pagan
systems, not to adopt them and hallow them for Christianity, but to rank itself under them as an imitator and pupil. In Painting it is headed by Giulio Romano and Nicolo Poussin; inArchitecture by
Sansovino and Palladio.
SECTION XXXVII. Instant
degradation followed in every direction,--a flood of folly and hypocrisy. Mythologies ill understood at first, then perverted
into feeble sensualities, take the place of the representations of Christian subjects, which had become blasphemous under
the treatment of men like the Caracci. Gods without power, satyrs without rusticity, nymphs without innocence, men without
humanity, gather into idiot groups upon the polluted canvas, and scenic affectations encumber the streets with preposterous
marble. Lower and lower declines the level of abused intellect; . . . And thus
Christianity and morality, courage, and intellect, and art all crumbling together into one wreck, we are hurried on to the
fall of Italy, the revolution in France, and the condition of art in
(saved by her Protestantism from severer penalty) in the time of George II.
SECTION XXXVIII. . . . Nor is it merely wasted wealth or distempered conception which we have to regret in
this Renaissance architecture: but we shall find in it partly the root, partly the expression, of certain dominant evils of
modern times--over-sophistication and ignorant classicalism; the one destroying the healthfulness of general society, the
other rendering our schools and universities useless to a large number of the men who pass through them.
Now Venice, as she was once
the most religious, was in her fall the most corrupt, of European states; and as she was in her strength the centre of the
pure currents of Christian architecture, so she is in her decline the source of the Renaissance. It was the originality and
splendor of the palaces of Vicenza and Venice
which gave this school its eminence in
the eyes of Europe;
and the dying city, magnificent in her dissipation, and graceful in her follies, obtained wider worship in her decrepitude
than in her youth, and sank from the midst of her admirers into the grave.
SECTION XXXIX. It is in
Venice, therefore, and in Venice only
that effectual blows can be struck at this pestilent art of the Renaissance. Destroy its claims to admiration there, and it
can assert them nowhere else. . . .
SECTION XLVI. Now, the architect
who built under Foscari, in 1424 (remember my date for the decline of Venice,
1418), was obliged to follow the principal forms of the older palace. But he had not the wit to invent new capitals in the
same style; he therefore clumsily copied the old ones. The palace has seventeen main arches on the sea facade, eighteen on
the Piazzetta side, which in all are of course carried by thirty-six pillars;
. . .
SECTION XLVII. The capitals
thus selected from the earlier portion of the palace for imitation, together with the rest, will be accurately described hereafter;
the point I have here to notice is in the copy of the ninth capital, which was decorated (being, like the rest, octagonal)
with figures of the eight Virtues:--Faith, Hope, Charity, Justice, Temperance, Prudence, Humility (the Venetian antiquaries
call it Humanity!), and Fortitude. The Virtues of the fourteenth century are somewhat hard-featured; with vivid and living
expression, and plain every-day clothes of the time. Charity has her lap full of apples (perhaps loaves), and is giving one to a little child, who stretches his arm for it across a gap in the leafage of
the capital. Fortitude tears open a lion's jaws; Faith lays her hand on her breast, as she beholds the Cross; and Hope is
praying, while above her a hand is seen emerging from sunbeams--the hand of God (according to that of Revelations, "The Lord God giveth them light"); and the inscription above is, "Spes optima in Deo."
SECTION XLVIII. This design,
then, is, rudely and with imperfect chiselling, imitated by the fifteenth century workmen: the Virtues have lost their hard
features and living expression; they have now all got Roman noses, and have had their hair curled. Their actions and emblems
are, however, preserved until we come to Hope: she is still praying, but she is praying to the sun only: The hand of God is gone.
Is not this a curious and
striking type of the spirit which had then become dominant in the world, forgetting to see God's hand in the light He gave;
so that in the issue, when the light opened into the Reformation on the one side, and into full knowledge of ancient literature on the other, the one was arrested and the other perverted?
. . .
I shall rest in my account of
Venetian architecture, in a form clear and simple enough to be intelligible even to those who never thought of architecture
before.. . . For observe: I said the Protestant had despised the arts, and the Rationalist corrupted them. But what has the
Romanist done meanwhile? He boasts that it was the papacy which raised the arts; why could it not support them when it was
left to its own strength? How came it to yield to Classicalism which was based on infidelity, and to oppose no barrier to
innovations, which have reduced the once faithfully conceived imagery of its worship to stage decoration? [Footnote: Appendix
XII., "Romanist Modern Art."] Shall we not rather find that Romanism, instead of being a promoter of the arts, has never shown
itself capable of a single great conception since the separation of Protestantism from its side? [Footnote: Perfectly true:
but the whole vital value of the truth was lost by my sectarian ignorance. Protestantism (so far as it was still Christianity,
and did not consist merely in maintaining one's own opinion for gospel) could not separate itself from the Catholic Church.
The so-called Catholics became themselves sectarians and heretics in casting them out; and Europe was turned into a mere cockpit,
of the theft and fury of unchristian men of both parties; while innocent and silent on the hills and fields, God's people
in neglected peace, everywhere and for ever Catholics, lived and died.]
So long as, corrupt though it
might be, no clear witness had been borne against it, so that it still included in its ranks a vast number of faithful Christians,
so long its arts were noble. But the witness was borne--the error made apparent; and Rome, refusing to hear the testimony
or forsake the falsehood, has been struck from that instant with an intellectual palsy, which has not only incapacitated her
from any further use of the arts which once were her ministers, but has made her worship the shame of its own shrines, and
her worshippers their destroyers.
Come, then, if truths such as
these are worth our thoughts; come, and let us know, before we enter the streets of the Sea city, whether we are indeed to
submit ourselves to their undistinguished enchantment, and to look upon the last changes which were wrought on the lifted
forms of her palaces, as we should on the capricious towering of summer clouds in the sunset, ere they sank into the deep
of night; or, whether, rather, we shall not behold in the brightness of their accumulated marble, pages on which the sentence
of her luxury was to be written until the waves should efface it, as they fulfilled--"God has numbered thy kingdom, and finished
As is our custom here at New Ruskin College the Ludi Magistor
shall preside over the Ceremonies Magnifica in the Great Hall of the Moynihan Library to mark the beginning of the Last Term. Let all students in attendance complete
the readings for the Ruskin Lecture.
The Ruskin Lecture 2004
THAT TO STUDY PHILOSOPY IS TO LEARN TO DIE
The Ruskin Lecture 2004
ESSAYS OF MICHEL DE MONTAIGNE
Edited by William
i. 31.]--“that to study philosophy is nothing but to prepare one’s
self to die.” The reason of which is, because study and contemplation do
in some sort withdraw from us our soul, and employ it separately from the body, which is a kind of apprenticeship and a resemblance
of death; or, else, because all the wisdom and reasoning in the world do in the end conclude in this point, to teach us not
to fear to die. And to say the truth, either our reason mocks us, or it ought
to have no other aim but our contentment only, nor to endeavour anything but, in sum, to make us live well, and, as the Holy
Scripture says, at our ease. All the opinions of the world agree in this, that
pleasure is our end, though we make use of divers means to attain it: they would, otherwise, be rejected at the first motion;
for who would give ear to him that should propose affliction and misery for his end?
The controversies and disputes of the philosophical sects upon this point are merely verbal:
[”Let us skip over those subtle trifles.”—Seneca, Ep., 117.]
There is more
in them of opposition and obstinacy than is consistent with so sacred a profession; but whatsoever personage a man takes upon
himself to perform, he ever mixes his own part with it.
Let the philosophers
say what they will, the thing at which we all aim, even in virtue is pleasure. It
amuses me to rattle in ears this word, which they so nauseate to and if it signify some supreme pleasure and contentment,
it is more due to the assistance of virtue than to any other assistance whatever. This
pleasure, for being more gay, more sinewy, more robust and more manly, is only the more seriously voluptuous, and we ought
give it the name of pleasure, as that which is more favourable, gentle, and natural, and not that from which we have denominated
it. The other and meaner pleasure, if it could deserve this fair name, it ought
to be by way of competition, and not of privilege. I find it less exempt from
traverses and inconveniences than virtue itself; and, besides that the enjoyment is more momentary, fluid, and frail, it has
its watchings, fasts, and labours, its sweat and its blood; and, moreover, has particular to itself so many several sorts
of sharp and wounding passions, and so dull a satiety attending it, as equal it to the severest penance. And we mistake if we think that these incommodities serve it for a spur and a seasoning to its sweetness
(as in nature one contrary is quickened by another), or say, when we come to virtue, that like consequences and difficulties
overwhelm and render it austere and inaccessible; whereas, much more aptly than in voluptuousness, they ennoble, sharpen,
and heighten the perfect and divine pleasure they procure us. He renders himself
unworthy of it who will counterpoise its cost with its fruit, and neither understands the blessing nor how to use it. Those who preach to us that the quest of it is craggy, difficult, and painful, but
its fruition pleasant, what do they mean by that but to tell us that it is always unpleasing?
For what human means will ever attain its enjoyment? The most perfect
have been fain to content themselves to aspire unto it, and to approach it only, without ever possessing it. But they are deceived, seeing that of all the pleasures we know, the very pursuit is pleasant. The attempt ever relishes of the quality of the thing to which it is directed, for it is a good part of,
and consubstantial with, the effect. The felicity and beatitude that glitters
in Virtue, shines throughout all her appurtenances and avenues, even to the first entry and utmost limits.
Now, of all the benefits
that virtue confers upon us, the contempt of death is one of the greatest, as the means that accommodates human life with
a soft and easy tranquillity, and gives us a pure and pleasant taste of living, without which all other pleasure would be
extinct. Which is the reason why all the rules centre and concur in this one
article. And although they all in like manner, with common accord, teach us also
to despise pain, poverty, and the other accidents to which human life is subject, it is not, nevertheless, with the same solicitude,
as well by reason these accidents are not of so great necessity, the greater part of mankind passing over their whole lives
without ever knowing what poverty is, and some without sorrow or sickness, as Xenophilus the musician, who lived a hundred
and six years in a perfect and continual health; as also because, at the worst, death can, whenever we please, cut short and
put an end to all other inconveniences. But as to death, it is inevitable:--
eodem cogimur; omnium
urna serius ocius
exitura, et nos in aeternum
[”We are all bound one voyage; the lot of all, sooner or later, is to come out of the urn. All must to eternal exile sail away.” Hor.,
Od., ii. 3, 25.]
if it frights us, ‘tis a perpetual torment, for which there is no sort of consolation.
There is no way by which it may not reach us. We may continually turn
our heads this way and that, as in a suspected country:
“Quae, quasi saxum Tantalo, semper impendet.”
[”Ever, like Tantalus stone, hangs over us.” Cicero, De Finib.,
Our courts of justice
often send back condemned criminals to be executed upon the place where the crime was committed; but, carry them to fine houses
by the way, prepare for them the best entertainment you can—
Dulcem elaborabunt saporem:
avium cyatheaceae cantus
[”Sicilian dainties will not tickle their palates, nor the melody of birds and harps bring back sleep.”—Hor.,
Od., iii. 1, 18.]
Do you think they can
relish it? and that the fatal end of their journey being continually before their eyes, would not alter and deprave their
palate from tasting these regalios?
iter, numeratque dies, spatioque viarum Metitur vitam; torquetur peste futura.”
considers the route, computes the time of travelling, measuring his life by the length of the journey; and torments himself
by thinking of the blow to come.”—Claudianus, in Ruf., ii. 137.]
The end of our race
is death; ‘tis the necessary object of our aim, which, if it fright us, how is it possible to advance a step without
a fit of ague? The remedy the vulgar use is not to think on’t; but from
what brutish stupidity can they derive so gross a blindness? They must bridle
the ass by the tail:
ipse suo instituit vestigia retro,”
[”Who in his folly seeks to advance backwards”—Lucretius, iv. 474]
‘tis no wonder if he
be often trapped in the pitfall. They affright
people with the very mention of death, and many cross themselves, as it were the name of the devil. And because the making a man’s will is in reference to dying, not a man will be persuaded to take
a pen in hand to that purpose, till the physician has passed sentence upon and totally given him over, and then betwixt pain
and terror, God knows in how fit a condition of understanding he is to do it.
The Romans, by reason
that this poor syllable death sounded so harshly to their ears and seemed so ominous, found out a way to soften and spin it
out by a periphrasis, and instead of pronouncing such a one is dead, said, “Such a one has lived,” or “Such
a one has ceased to live”— [Plutarch, Life of Cicero, c. 22:]--for,
provided there was any mention of life in the case, though past, it carried yet some sound of consolation.
Where death waits for
us is uncertain; let us look for him everywhere. The premeditation of death is
the premeditation of liberty; he who has learned to die has unlearned to serve. There
is nothing evil in life for him who rightly comprehends that the privation of life is no evil: to know, how to die delivers
us from all subjection and constraint. Paulus Emilius answered him whom the miserable
King of Macedon, his prisoner, sent to entreat him that he would not lead him in his triumph, “Let him make that request
to himself.”--[ Plutarch, Life of Paulus Aemilius, c. 17; Cicero, Tusc., v. 40.]
“Quin etiam exhilarare
viris convivia caede
Mos olim, et miscere epulis spectacula dira Certantum ferro, saepe et super ipsa cadentum Pocula, respersis non parco
[”It was formerly the custom to enliven banquets with slaughter, and to combine with the repast the dire spectacle
of men contending with the sword, the dying in many cases falling upon the cups, and covering the tables with blood.”Silius
And as the Egyptians
after their feasts were wont to present the company with a great image of death, by one that cried out to them, “Drink
and be merry, for such shalt thou be when thou art dead”; so it is my custom to have death not only in my imagination,
but continually in my mouth.
manicis et Compedibus saevo te sub custode tenebo. Ipse Deus, simul atque volam,
me solvet. Opinor, Hoc sentit; moriar; mors ultima linea rerum est.”
[”I will keep thee in fetters and chains, in custody of a savage keeper.—A god will when I ask Him, set
me free. This god I think is death. Death
is the term of all things.” Hor., Ep., i.
Our very religion itself
has no surer human foundation than the contempt of death. Not only the argument
of reason invites us to it—for why should we fear to lose a thing, which being lost, cannot be lamented?-- but, also,
seeing we are threatened by so many sorts of death, is it not infinitely worse eternally to fear them all, than once to undergo
one of them? And what matters it, when it shall happen, since it is inevitable? To him that told Socrates, “The thirty tyrants have sentenced thee to death”;
“And nature them,” said he.--[Socrates was not condemned to death by the thirty tyrants, but by the Athenians.-Diogenes
What a ridiculous thing
it is to trouble ourselves about taking the only step that is to deliver us from all trouble!
As our birth brought us the birth of all things, so in our death is the death of all things included. And therefore to lament that we shall not be alive a hundred years hence, is the same folly as to be sorry
we were not alive a hundred years ago. Death is the beginning of another life. So did we weep, and so much it cost us to enter into this, and so did we put off our
former veil in entering into it. Nothing can be a grievance that is but once. Is it reasonable so long to fear a thing that will so soon be despatched? Long life, and short, are by death made all one; for there is no long, nor short, to things that are no
more. Aristotle tells us that there are certain little beasts upon the banks
of the river Hypanis, that never live above a day: they which die at eight of the clock in the morning, die in their youth,
and those that die at five in the evening, in their decrepitude: which of us would not laugh to see this moment of continuance
put into the consideration of weal or woe? The most and the least, of ours, in
comparison with eternity, or yet with the duration of mountains, rivers, stars, trees, and even of some animals, is no less
ridiculous.--[ Seneca, Consol. ad Marciam, c. 20.]
But nature compels
us to it. “Go out of this world,” says she, “as you entered
into it; the same pass you made from death to life, without passion or fear, the same, after the same manner, repeat from
life to death. Your death is a part of the order of the universe, ‘tis
a part of the life of the world.
mortales mutua vivunt
Et, quasi cursores, vitai lampada tradunt.”
[“Mortals, amongst themselves, live by turns, and, like the runners in the games, give up the lamp, when they
have won the race, to the next comer.—“Lucretius, ii.75, 78.]
“Shall I exchange
for you this beautiful contexture of things? ‘Tis the condition of your
creation; death is a part of you, and whilst you endeavour to evade it, you evade yourselves.
This very being of yours that you now enjoy is equally divided betwixt life and death.
The day of your birth is one day’s advance towards the grave:
“Prima, qux vitam dedit, hora carpsit.”
[“The first hour that gave us life took away also an hour.”Seneca, Her.Fur.,3Chor. 874.]
morimur, finisque ab origine pendet.”
we are born we die, and the end commences with the beginning.” Manilius,
Ast., iv. 16.]
“All the whole
time you live, you purloin from life and live at the expense of life itself. The
perpetual work of your life is but to lay the foundation of death. You are in
death, whilst you are in life, because you still are after death, when you are no more alive; or, if you had rather have it
so, you are dead after life, but dying all the while you live; and death handles the dying much more rudely than the dead,
and more sensibly and essentially. If you have made your profit of life, you
have had enough of it; go your way satisfied.
“Cur non ut plenus vita;
[”Why not depart from life as a sated guest from a feast?
“Lucretius, iii. 951.]
“If you have
not known how to make the best use of it, if it was unprofitable to you, what need you care to lose it, to what end would
you desire longer to keep it?
amplius addere quaeris,
quod pereat male, et ingratum occidat omne?’
seek to add longer life, merely to renew ill-spent time, and be again tormented?”—Lucretius, iii. 914.]
“Life in itself
is neither good nor evil; it is the scene of good or evil as you make it.’ And, if you have lived a day, you have seen
all: one day is equal and like to all other days. There is no other light, no
other shade; this very sun, this moon, these very stars, this very order and disposition of things, is the same your ancestors
enjoyed, and that shall also entertain your posterity:
alium videre patres, aliumve nepotes Aspicient.’
grandsires saw no other thing; nor will your posterity.” Manilius, i. 529.]
“And, come the
worst that can come, the distribution and variety of all the acts of my comedy are performed in a year. If you have observed the revolution of my four seasons, they comprehend the infancy, the youth, the virility,
and the old age of the world: the year has played his part, and knows no other art but to begin again; it will always be the
ibidem, atque insumus usque.’
are turning in the same circle, ever therein confined.” Lucretius, iii.
in se sua per vestigia volvitur annus.’
year is ever turning around in the same footsteps.” Virgil, Georg., ii.
“I am not prepared
to create for you any new recreations:
tibi prxterea quod machiner, inveniamque Quod placeat, nihil est; eadem sunt omnia semper.’
can devise, nor find anything else to please you: ‘tis the same thing over and over again.”—Lucretius iii.
“Give place to
others, as others have given place to you. Equality is the soul of equity. Who can complain of being comprehended in the same destiny, wherein all are involved? Besides, live as long as you can, you shall by that nothing shorten the space you
are to be dead; ‘tis all to no purpose; you shall be every whit as long in the condition you so much fear, as if you
had died at nurse:
quot vis vivendo vincere secla, Mors aeterna tamen nihilominus illa manebit.’
triumphing over as many ages as you will, death still will remain eternal.”—Lucretius, iii. 1103]
“And yet I will
place you in such a condition as you shall have no reason to be displeased.
“’In vera nescis nullum fore morte alium te, Qui possit vivus tibi to lugere peremptum, Stansque jacentem.’
[”Know you not that, when dead, there can be no other living self to lament you dead, standing on your grave.”—Idem.,
shall you so much as wish for the life you are so concerned about:
“’Nec sibi enim quisquam tum se vitamque requirit.
“’Nec desiderium nostri nos afficit ullum.’
is less to be feared than nothing, if there could be anything less than nothing.
“’Multo . . . mortem minus ad nos esse putandium,
Si minus esse potest, quam quod nihil esse videmus.’
can it any way concern you, whether you are living or dead:
by reason that you are still in being; dead, because you are no more. Moreover,
no one dies before his hour: the time you leave behind was no more yours than that was lapsed and gone before you came into
the world; nor does it any more concern you.
“’Respice enim, quam nil ad nos anteacta vetustas Temporis aeterni fuerit.’
[”Consider how as nothing to us is the old age of times past.” Lucretius
Wherever your life
ends, it is all there. The utility of living consists not in the length of days,
but in the use of time; a man may have lived long, and yet lived but a little. Make
use of time while it is present with you. It depends upon your will, and not
upon the number of days, to have a sufficient length of life. Is it possible
you can imagine never to arrive at the place towards which you are continually going? and yet there is no journey but hath
its end. And, if company will make it more pleasant or more easy to you, does
not all the world go the self-same way?
“’Omnia te, vita perfuncta, sequentur.’
[”All things, then, life over, must follow thee.” Lucretius,
“Does not all
the world dance the same brawl that you do? Is there anything that does not grow
old, as well as you? A thousand men, a thousand animals, a thousand other creatures,
die at the same moment that you die:
nox nulla diem, neque noctem aurora sequuta est,
audierit mistos vagitibus aegris Ploratus, mortis comites et funeris atri.’
night has followed day, no day has followed night, in which there has not been heard sobs and sorrowing cries, the companions
of death and funerals.”—Lucretius, v. 579.]
“To what end
should you endeavour to draw back, if there be no possibility to evade it? you have seen examples enough of those who have
been well pleased to die, as thereby delivered from heavy miseries; but have you ever found any who have been dissatisfied
with dying? It must, therefore, needs be very foolish to condemn a thing you
have neither experimented in your own person, nor by that of any other. Why dost
thou complain of me and of destiny? Do we do thee any wrong? Is it for thee to govern us, or for us to govern thee? Though,
peradventure, thy age may not be accomplished, yet thy life is: a man of low stature is as much a man as a giant; neither
men nor their lives are measured by the ell. Chiron refused to be immortal, when
he was acquainted with the conditions under which he was to enjoy it, by the god of time itself and its duration, his father
Saturn. Do but seriously consider how much more insupportable and painful an
immortal life would be to man than what I have already given him. If you had
not death, you would eternally curse me for having deprived you of it; I have mixed a little bitterness with it, to the end,
that seeing of what convenience it is, you might not too greedily and indiscreetly seek and embrace it: and that you might
be so established in this moderation, as neither to nauseate life, nor have any antipathy for dying, which I have decreed
you shall once do, I have tempered the one and the other betwixt pleasure and pain.
It was I that taught Thales, the most eminent of your sages, that to live and to die were indifferent; which made him,
very wisely, answer him, ‘Why then he did not die?’ ‘Because,’
said he, ‘it is indifferent.’--[Diogenes Laertius, i. 35.]--Water,
earth, air, and fire, and the other parts of this creation of mine, are no more instruments of thy life than they are of thy
death. Why dost thou fear thy last day? it contributes no more to thy dissolution,
than every one of the rest: the last step is not the cause of lassitude: it does but confess it. Every day travels towards death; the last only arrives at it.”
These are the good lessons our mother Nature teaches.
I have often considered
with myself whence it should proceed, that in war the image of death, whether we look upon it in ourselves or in others, should,
without comparison, appear less dreadful than at home in our own houses (for if it were not so, it would be an army of doctors
and whining milksops), and that being still in all places the same, there should be, notwithstanding, much more assurance
in peasants and the meaner sort of people, than in others of better quality. I
believe, in truth, that it is those terrible ceremonies and preparations wherewith we set it out, that more terrify us than
the thing itself; a new, quite contrary way of living; the cries of mothers, wives, and children; the visits of astounded
and afflicted friends; the attendance of pale and blubbering servants; a dark room, set round with burning tapers; our beds
environed with physicians and divines; in sum, nothing but ghostliness and horror round about us; we seem dead and buried
already. Children are afraid even of those they are best acquainted with, when
disguised in a visor; and so ‘tis with us; the visor must be removed as well from things as from persons, that being
taken away, we shall find nothing underneath but the very same death that a mean servant or a poor chambermaid died a day
or two ago, without any manner of apprehension. Happy is the death that deprives
us of leisure for preparing such ceremonials.
… … … …
As is our custom here at New Ruskin College the Ludi Magistor
shall preside over the Ceremonies Magnifica in the Great Hall of the Moynihan Library to mark the beginning of Spring Term. Let all students in attendance complete
the readings for the Ruskin Lecture.
Isaiah, chapter 23
The burden of Tyre. Howl, ye ships of Tarshish; for it is laid waste, so that there is no house, no entering in: from
the land of Chittim it is revealed to them.
"2": Be still, ye inhabitants of the isle; thou whom the merchants of
Zidon, that pass over the sea, have replenished.
"3": And by great waters the seed of Sihor, the harvest of the river,
is her revenue; and she is a mart of nations.
"4": Be thou ashamed, O Zidon: for the sea hath spoken, even the strength
of the sea, saying, I travail not, nor bring forth children, neither do I nourish up young men, nor bring up virgins.
As at the report concerning Egypt, so shall they be sorely pained at the report of Tyre.
"6": Pass ye over
to Tarshish; howl, ye inhabitants of the isle.
"7": Is this your joyous city, whose antiquity is of ancient days?
her own feet shall carry her afar off to sojourn.
"8": Who hath taken this counsel against Tyre, the crowning
city, whose merchants are princes, whose traffickers are the honourable of the earth?
"9": The LORD of hosts hath
purposed it, to stain the pride of all glory, and to bring into contempt all the honourable of the earth.
through thy land as a river, O daughter of Tarshish: there is no more strength.
"11": He stretched out his hand over
the sea, he shook the kingdoms: the LORD hath given a commandment against the merchant city, to destroy the strong holds thereof.
"12": And he said, Thou shalt no more rejoice, O thou oppressed virgin, daughter of Zidon: arise, pass over to Chittim;
there also shalt thou have no rest.
"13": Behold the land of the Chaldeans; this people was not, till the Assyrian
founded it for them that dwell in the wilderness: they set up the towers thereof, they raised up the palaces thereof; and
he brought it to ruin.
"14": Howl, ye ships of Tarshish: for your strength is laid waste.
"15": And it shall
come to pass in that day, that Tyre shall be forgotten seventy years, according to the days of one king: after the
end of seventy years shall Tyre sing as an harlot.
"16": Take an harp, go about the city, thou harlot that
hast been forgotten; make sweet melody, sing many songs, that thou mayest be remembered.
"17": And it shall come to
pass after the end of seventy years, that the LORD will visit Tyre, and she shall turn to her hire, and
shall commit fornication with all the kingdoms of the world upon the face of the earth.
"18": And her merchandise
and her hire shall be holiness to the LORD: it shall not be treasured nor laid up; for her merchandise shall be for them that
dwell before the LORD, to eat sufficiently, and for durable clothing.
Ruskin Lecture 2004
Since the first dominion of men was asserted over the ocean,three thrones, of mark beyond all others, have been set
upon its sands: the thrones of Tyre, Venice, and England. Of the First of these
great powers only the memory remains; of the Second, the ruin; the Third, which inherits their greatness, if it forget their
example, may be led through prouder eminence to less pitied destruction.
The exaltation, the sin, and the punishment of Tyre have been recorded for us, in perhaps the most touching words ever
uttered by the Prophets of Israel against the cities of the stranger. But we read them as a lovely song; and close our ears
to the sternness of their warning: for the very depth of the Fall of Tyre has blinded us to its reality, and we forget, as
we watch the bleaching of the rocks between the sunshine and the sea, that they were once “as in Eden, the garden of
God.” . . I would endeavor to trace the lines of this image before it be for ever lost, and to record, as far as I may,
the warning which seems to me to be uttered by every one of the fast-gaining waves, that beat, like passing bells, against
the STONES OF VENICE.
Venice is usually conceived as an oligarchy: She was so during a period less than the half of her existence, and that
including the days of her decline; and it is one of the first questions needing severe examination, whether that decline was
owing in any wise to the change in the form of her government, or altogether as assuredly in great part, to changes, in the
character of the persons of whom it was composed. . .
Let the reader therefore conceive the existence of the Venetian state
as broadly divided into two periods: the first of nine hundred, the second of five hundred years, the separation being marked
by what was called the "Serrar del Consiglio;" that is to say, the final and absolute distinction of the nobles from the commonalty,
and the establishment of the government in their hands to the exclusion alike of the influence of the people on the one side,
and the authority of the doge on the other. . .
The second period opens with a hundred and twenty years, the most eventful
in the career of Venice--the central struggle of her life--stained with her darkest crime, the murder of Carrara, —
disturbed by her most dangerous internal sedition, the conspiracy of Falier, -- oppressed by her most fatal war, the war of
Chiozza, — and distinguished by the glory of her two noblest citizens (for in this period the heroism of her citizens
replaces that of her monarchs), Vittor Pisani and Carlo Zeno.
I date the commencement of the Fall of Venice from the death of Carlo Zeno, 8th May, 1418; . . . In 1454, Venice, the
first of the states of Christendom, humiliated herself to the Turk in the same year was established the Inquisition of State,
. . . and from this period her government takes the perfidious and mysterious form under which it is usually conceived. In
1477, the great Turkish invasion spread terror to the shores of the lagoons; and in 1508 the league of Cambrai marks the period
usually assigned as the commencement of the decline of the Venetian power; . . . the commercial prosperity of Venice in the
close of the fifteenth century blinding her historians to the previous evidence of the diminution of her internal strength.
Now there is apparently a significative coincidence between the establishment
of the aristocratic and oligarchical powers, and the diminution of the prosperity
of the state. But this is the very question at issue; and it appears to me quite undetermined by any historian, or determined
by each in accordance with his own prejudices. It is a triple question: first, whether the oligarchy established by the efforts
of individual ambition was the cause, in its subsequent operation, of the Fall of Venice; or (secondly) whether the establishment
of the oligarchy itself be not the sign and evidence, rather than the cause, of national enervation; or (lastly) whether,
as I rather think, the history of Venice might not be written almost without reference to the construction of her senate or
the prerogatives of her Doge. It is the history of a people eminently at unity in itself, descendants of Roman race, long
disciplined by adversity, and compelled by its position either to live nobly or to perish:--for a thousand years they fought
for life; for three hundred they invited death: their battle was rewarded, and their call was heard.
Throughout her career, the victories of Venice, and, at many periods of it, her safety, were purchased by individual
heroism; and the man who exalted or saved her was sometimes (oftenest) her king, sometimes a noble, sometimes a citizen. To
him no matter, nor to her: the real question is, not so much what names they bore, or with what powers they were entrusted,
as how they were trained; how they were made masters of themselves, servants of their country, patient of distress, impatient
of dishonor; and what was the true reason of the change from the time when she could find saviours among those whom she had
cast into prison, to that when the voices of her own children commanded her to sign covenant with Death. [Footnote: The senate
voted the abdication of their authority by a majority of 512 to 14. (Alison, ch. xxiii.)]
On this collateral question I wish the reader's mind to be fixed throughout all our subsequent inquiries. It will give
double interest to every detail: nor will the interest be profitless; for the evidence which I shall be able to deduce from
the arts of Venice will be both frequent and irrefragable, that the decline of her political prosperity was exactly coincident
with that of domestic and individual religion.
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