According to Ruskin, that which a man endeavors to make permanent exemplifies both his true self and the world he resides in. In Ruskin’s piece “The Lamp of Memory,” he addresses how a man’s work, faith and hearth all extend from man himself, leaving a permanent mark in his wake. Ruskin witnesses the expression of man’s architectural accomplishments rapidly diverging from “sacred influence” to “lifeless imagery,” as a separation grows between what once defined man, his legacy, and what now, in the wake of the industrial revolution, has come to undermine such values. Ruskin writes that architecture, as the “protectress of this sacred influence” of past accomplishments, exists as one of “two strong conquerors of the forgetfulness of men,” arguing “we cannot remember without her.” Architecture simply put, allows man to connect past, present and future. Ruskin believes that order to truly move towards a future in which we think not only of ourselves, but of future generations as well, we must embrace what man’s “hands have handled, and their strength wrought, and their eyes beheld, all the days of their life.” Ruskin argues that this world, once shaped by the hands of our ancestors, has been thrust onto the path of rapid change, possibly resulting in the catastrophic loss of legacy.

It is as the centralization and protectress of this sacred influence, that Architecture is to be regarded by us with the most serious thought. We may live without her, and worship without her, but we cannot remember without her. How cold is all history, how lifeless all imagery, compared to that which the living nation writes, and the uncorrupted marble bears! how many pages of doubtful record might we not often spare, for a few stones left one upon another! The ambition of the old Babel builders was well directed for this world: there are but two strong conquerors of the forgetfulness of men, Poetry and Architecture; and the latter in some sort includes the former, and is mightier in its reality: it is well to have, not only what men have thought and felt, but what their hands have handled, and their strength wrought, and their eyes beheld, all the days of their life.

In the passage above, Ruskin argues a simple point, that man is that which he creates. He speaks to the importance of learning from the “few stones left upon another” as they are constant representations of that which continues to provide “sacred influence.” At the hands of true men, history does not fall “cold”, yet illuminates that which “is mightier in its reality.” Evident in the “ambition of the old Babel builders [which] was well directed for this world,” the ability to “conquer the forgetfulness of man” can be found literally within the palms of man’s own hands.

Questions

1. Why is Ruskin so concerned about “the centralization and protectress of this sacred influence?” In what ways does he feel as though it’s importance has been overlooked?

2. Does Ruskin’s relationship with his father, and drive for his approval, have to do with his belief that a man is exemplified by “what their hands have handled, and their strength wrought, and their eyes beheld, all the days of their life?”

3. Why do you think Ruskin limits the “strong conquerors’ of the forgetfulness of men” to solely poetry and architecture?

4. What is Ruskin hoping to achieve by writing this piece on the “Lamp of Memory”? Do you think he accurately describes why man must create in order to allow true remembrance?


Victorian Overview John Ruskin Political History

Last modified 1 March 2011