In his speech “Traffic,” John Ruskin assumes much about his audience. This can be seen most clearly in the way he asks and answers questions as if he were participating in a highly-scripted question-and-answer session with his listeners:

“But what has all this to do with our Exchange?” you ask me, impatiently. My dear friends, it has just everything to do with it; on these inner and great questions depend on the outer ones; and if you have asked me down here to speak to you, because you had before been interested in anything I have written, you must know that all I have yet said about architecture was to show this. The book I called The Seven Lamps was to show that certain right states of temper and moral feeling were the magic powers by which all good architecture, without exception, had been produced. The Stones of Venice had, from beginning to end, no other aim than to show that the Gothic architecture of Venice had arisen out of, and indicated in all its features, a state of pure national faith, and of domestic corruption. And now, you ask me what style is best to build in, and how can I answer, knowing the meaning of the two styles, but by another question—do you mean to build as Christians or as infidels? And still more—do you mean to build as honest Christians or as honest Infidels? as thoroughly and confessedly either one or the other? You don’t like to be asked such rude questions. I cannot help it; they are of much more importance than this Exchange business; and if they can be at once answered, the Exchange business settles itself in a moment.

Questions

1. Ruskin does not even say, “you may ask,” but instead simply asserts, “you ask.” What is the purpose of putting words in the mouth of his audience? How is his argument made more effective by being framed as a response?

2. Ruskin later addresses his audience, saying, “you don’t like to be asked such rude questions.” How does this assumption differ from the initial assumption that his listeners would have that question?

3. Does Ruskin assume that the members of his audience have read his books? By summarizing the main points of his two books is Ruskin informing his listeners or simply reminding them of his arguments? How does the mention of his previously written books fit in with the rest of the speech? How does mentioning previous work help to build ethos?


Victorian Overview John Ruskin Leading Questions

Last modified 30 September 2003