uskin’s essays in Unto this Last do not allow the reader to get lost. They take his readers by the hand and direct them forcibly with phrases like “Observe, I am here considering” or “I wish the reader clearly and deeply to understand,” ensuring that the reader grasps every important point. In the preface to Unto this Last, Ruskin even points out “the real gist of these papers, their central meaning and aim” to an apparently highly critical audience.

The sense of being guided is furthered by the essays’ distinctly clear and self-aware structure. Ruskin often establishes his line of reasoning explicitly, orienting the reader at various points, such as in the following example from “Qui Judicatis Terram:” “I will examine these two points of injustice in succession; but first I wish the reader to clearly understand the central principle, lying between the two, of right or just payment” (195). The reader therefore is always aware of exactly where the argument is heading and the purpose that whatever they’re currently reading serves. In “The Roots of Honour,” Ruskin sets up examples of different master-servant relationships in regard to their helpfulness:

We shall find the best and simplest illustration of the relations of master and operative in the position of domestic servants. [169]

The next clearest and simplest example of the relation between master and operative is that which exists between the commander of a regiment and his men [172].

The reader is not only informed what they are about to receive an example of, but also to what degree Ruskin feels the example illustrates his intended point. This guidance increases the essays’ effectiveness by making their arguments easy to follow and by ensuring that the correct conclusions are being drawn.

Questions

1. While this technique makes the essays easier to understand, does the tone risk losing readers by coming off as overbearing or condescending? Is it a characteristic of sage writing?

2.In some of the essays in Unto this Last, Ruskin responds directly to criticisms of the previously published essays in the series. How many of the other self-conscious elements discussed above do you think are due to the form in which they were originally published? Does Ruskin display similar guiding techniques in other essays?

3. In “The Roots of Honour,” Ruskin criticizes contemporary political economics theories of envisioning the worker as “an engine of which the motive power [is] steam, magnetism, gravitation, or any other agent of calculable force” instead of “an engine whose motive power is a Soul” (170). Compare Ruskin’s condemnation of the science of political economy as not accounting for the actual variations of the human soul to Carlyle’s vision of mechanized society in “Signs of the Times.” How are their understandings of contemporary society (or it theories) similar? What are their respective proposed solutions?


Victorian Overview John Ruskin Political History

Last modified 28 February 2011