uskin's "Traffic" is an exceptional exercise in persuasion. One of Ruskin's many strengths lies in his ability to anticipate the audience's counterarguments and respond with unwavering confidence. He lectures his audience in a conversational tone, speaking as if he were directly addressing individual rebuttals. This style of argument also lends Ruskin the power to direct the audience's thinking in a prophet-like manner; he supplants whatever questions may be going through the minds of his listeners by providing his own questions.

Good architecture is the work of good and believing men; therefore, you say, at least some people say, 'Good architecture must essentially have been the work of the clergy, not of the laity.' No — a thousand times no; good architecture has always been the work of the commonalty, not of the clergy. What, you say, those glorious cathedrals — the pride of Europe — did their builders not form Gothic architecture? No; they corrupted Gothic architecture.

At the same time, Ruskin explains how architecture derives from historical context and national identity, and how — as a result — Britain should avoid centering their civilization around commerce. By providing a sermon-like, impassioned account of the rise and fall of Gothic architecture, Ruskin enhances his credibility as a sage to his contemporaries. Using poignant phrases such as "a beautiful madness," Ruskin argues:

Gothic [architecture] was formed in the baron's castle, and the burgher's street. It was formed by the thoughts, and hands, and powers of free citizens and soldier kings. By the monk it was used as an instrument for the aid of his superstition; when that superstition became a beautiful madness, and the best hearts of Europe vainly dreamed and pined in the cloister, and vainly raged and perished in the crusade — through that fury of perverted faith and wasted war, the Gothic rose also to its loveliest, most fantastic, and, finally, most foolish dreams; and, in those dreams, was lost.


1. In the second passage provided above, Ruskin uses a particular mode of speaking that momentarily stands out from the rest of his lecture. What persuasive style does Ruskin use here? How does diction play into his argument?

2. Why else does Ruskin speak so colloquially and conversationally with his audience? What other effects does his particular sage-writing strategy have upon his audience?

3. The themes of mechanization and machine abound in Carlyle's "Signs of the Times." Similarly, one can argue that Ruskin is criticizing his audience for transforming the church into a machine that provides weekly doses of spirituality.

[A]m I to understand that you consider Gothic a pre-eminently sacred and beautiful mode of building, which you think, like the fine frankincense, should be mixed for the tabernacle only, and reserved for your religious services? For if this be the feeling, though it may seem at first as if it were graceful and reverent, you will find that, at the root of the matter, it signifies neither more nor less than that you have separated your religion from your life.

Does the machine model fit with the Victorian era church? Why or why not? What historical evidence supports this interpretation?

4. Like many other Victorian sages, Ruskin "offered no essentially new message" and, instead, offered his interpretations of contemporary trends (Landow, 1986). To what extent do you agree or disagree with this statement, and why?


Landow, George P. "Introduction."Elegant Jeremiahs: The Sage from Carlyle to Mailer. Cornell University Press. 1986. 2 April 2009.

Victorian Overview John Ruskin Leading Questions

Last modified 3 April 2009