In a speech given in 1864, John Ruskin explains to the town of Bradford the logic behind his refusal to advise on the architecture of an Exchange that was to be built there. Although he was specifically specifically invited to give a lecture on this topic, Ruskin declines on a moral basis, stating that his design would not and could not accurately represent the sentiments of the town, especially those having to do with the Exchange, the market, and ultimately capitalism. He argues that the vices, virtues, and especially the dominant religion of a community during a particular time will invariably shape the art and architecture of that place, and therefore a foreigner acting as a guest architectural adviser could not appropriately design the new Exchange.

And so completely and unexceptionally is this so, that, if I had time to-night, I could show you that a nation cannot be affected by any vice, or weakness, without expressing it, legibly, and for ever, either in bad art, or by want of art; and that there is no national virtue, small or great, which is not manifestly expressed in all the art which circumstances enable the people possessing that virtue to produce. Take, for instance, your great English virtue of enduring and patient courage. You have at present in England only one art of any consequence — that is, iron-working. You know thoroughly well how to cast and hammer iron. Now, do you think, in those masses of lava which you build volcanic cones to melt, and which you forge at the mouths of the Infernos you have created; do you think, on those iron plates, your courage and endurance are not written for ever, — not merely with an iron pen, but on iron parchment? And take also your great English vice — European vice — vice of all the world — vice of all worlds that roll or shine in heaven, bearing with them yet the atmosphere of hell — the vice of jealousy, which brings competition into your commerce, treachery into your councils, and dishonour into your wars — that vice which has rendered for you, and for your neighboring nation, the daily occupations of existence no longer possible, but with the mail upon your breasts and the sword loose in its sheath; so that at last, you have realised for all the multitudes of the two great peoples who lead the so-called civilization of the earth, — you have realised for them all, I say, in person and in policy, what was once true only of the rough Border riders of your Cheviot hills - "They carved at the meal With gloves of steel, And they drank the red wine through the helmet barr'd;" — do you think that this national shame and dastardliness of heart are not written as legibly on every rivet of your iron armour as the strength of the right hands that forged it? [276-77]

Throughout the speech, which he published under the title of "Traffic", Ruskin moves between several different sentence structures, utilizing couplets and a number of clauses separated by commas as we have seen in the work of Johnson and Carlyle, and also shorter, declarative statements that are closer to the style of Wolfe.

Questions

1. Ruskin begins his speech in relatively succinct statements, moves on to longer sentences with a rhythm similar to Johnson's, and proceeds to ask hypothetical questions, aggressively, in the same Johnsonian style. What is the effect of using an ostensibly older style of prose when stating and underlining a key part of his argument? Does this tactic give him more credibility?

2. In the excerpt above, Ruskin essentially says that although he is able to convincingly present his argument to the audience, he does not have the time. He then presents his argument, despite his previous statement. Why does he do this?

3. During the second half of the excerpt, Ruskin addresses the audience as "you", begins phrases with "your" ("your English vice"), and stacks his sentences into longer sentences through the use of commas and hyphens, which increases the speed of the passage. What effect does this have on the tone of this part of the speech?

References

Ruskin, John. The Genius of John Ruskin. Ed. John Rosenberg. Charlottesville: U of Virginia Pres, 1998.


Victorian Overview John Ruskin Leading Questions

Last modified 16 October 2006