John Ruskin ends his essay "Traffic" with a paragraph combining many of the literary moves he makes throughout his work, referring to Hamlet and the Bible, and addressing the audience in both a critical and understanding way. As both a sage and social critic, Ruskin uses this final paragraph to put the audience down while simultaneously offering a positive twist that leaves the readers with a good taste in our mouths. He writes:

The rest is silence. Last words of the chief wisdom of the heathen, spoken of this idol of riches; this idol of yours; this golden image, high by measureless cubits, set up where your green fields of England are furnace- burnt into the likeness of the plain of Dura; this idol, forbidden to us, first of all idols, by our own Master and faith; forbidden to us also by every human lip that has ever, in any age or people, been accounted of as able to speek according to the purposes of God. Continue to make that forbidden deity your principal one, and soon no more art, no more science, no more pleasure will be possible. Catastrophe will come; or, worse than catastrophe, slow mouldering and withering into Hades. But if you can fix some conception of a true human state of life to be striven for — life, good for all men, as for yourselves; if you can determine some honest and simple order of existence; following those trodden ways of wisdom, which are pleasantness, and seeking her quiet and withdrawn paths, which are peace; — then, and so sanctifying wealth into 'commonwealth,' all your art, your literature, your daily labours, your domestic affection, and citizen's duty, will join and increase into one magnificent harmony. You will know then how to build, well enough; you will build with stone well, but with flesh better; temples not made with hands, but riveted of hearts; and that kind of marble, crimson-veined, is indeed eternal.

Questions

What is the effect of quoting Hamlet's final words "the rest is silence?" How does the story of Hamlet inform the reader and what is Ruskin attempting to tell or show us by using this quotation?

Throughout this final paragraph Ruskin uses the word "forbidden" and "catastrophe" to warn the reader of possible destruction. What exactly is Ruskin warning the reader about? How does the story of the plain of Dura in Daniel inform this warning? What kind of language does Ruskin use to get his warning across?

Ruskin repeats many words in this final paragraph as a way of pushing his concluding remarks on the audience. Which words or phrases stick with the audience at the end and is this repetition effective?

Ruskin combines the body and architecture throughout his essay and does so in this last paragraph. What is the effect of this? What does his final sentence, "You will know then how to build, well enough; you will build with stone well, but with flesh better; temples not made with hands, but riveted of hearts; and that kind of marble, crimson-veined, is indeed eternal." tell us about this relationship between the body and architecture? What is the effect of ending the essay with the word "eternal?"

Ruskin begins his essay with specific details about a stock exchange and financial issues and ends with a commentary on destruction and the possibility of redemption. How does Ruskin make this transition and how does this final paragraph complete this linguistic and thematic turn?


Victorian Overview John Ruskin Leading Questions

Last modified 3 October 2003