In Traffic, Ruskin delivers a caustic speech to a group of unsuspecting businessmen in Yorkshire. The first thing that he says is that he will not address the subject of the new Exchange which was the reason behind his invitation to come and lecture. Instead, he proceeds to give the assembled audience his view on the existence of an undeniable connection between morality and taste in art. In the speech, Ruskin seems to be attacking his audience since he constantly uses the word you instead of the word we. However, he also makes an effort in concealing this effrontery by repeatedly telling his audience that he does not mean to be offensive towards them. This is a contradictory approach since he continually bombards them with various accusations while he also tries to pacify them by being supposedly polite. Exactly this approach can be observed in the following passage.
I hope, now, that there is no risk of misunderstanding me when I come to the gist of what I want to say to-night; — when I repeat, that every great national architecture has been the result and exponent of a great national religion. You can't have bits of it here, bits there — you must have it everywhere or nowhere. It is not the monopoly of a clerical company — it is of an initiated priesthood; it is the manly language of a people inspired by the resolute and common purpose, rendering resolute and common fidelity to the legible laws of an undoubted God.
What is the purpose of the severely patronizing tone that Ruskin uses? Is it as effective as Swift's satire?
By using the word you instead of we he is purposefully distancing himself from the audience and therefore reinforcing his insulting tone towards them.
Is his tone simply didactic or does move into the realm of being scathing? For example when he says "I hope, now, that there is no risk of misunderstanding me when I come to the gist of what I want to say to-night" he is insinuating that his audience is not equipped to readily understand his thesis without a lengthy explanation and therefore he is demeaning towards them.
In specifically criticizing his audience lack of knowledge and taste, does Ruskin make the mistake of going to far?
Last modified 28 February 2002