In the opening paragraphs of “Traffic,” before the Yorkshire men who invited him, Ruskin demolishes the prospect of the topic they expected. He explains that he will not speak on their future Exchange, their reason for seeking him out, and that he does not care about the Exchange. He further suggests that they donŐt either. This bewildering introduction, despite being couched in words of apology and asking pardon, seems almost confrontational towards the audience by the third paragraph, claiming to know their thoughts when they would ordinarily express the exact opposite sentiment.

“My good Yorkshire friends, you asked me down here among your hills that I might talk to you about this Exchange you are going to build: but earnestly and seriously asking you to pardon me, I am going to do nothing of the kind. I cannot talk, or at least can say very little, about this same Exchange. I must talk of quite other things, though not willingly; — I could not deserve your pardon, if when you invited me to speak on one subject, I wilfully spoke on another. But I cannot speak, to purpose, of anything about which I do not care; and most simply and sorrowfully I have to tell you, in the outset, that I do not care about this Exchange of yours.

If, however, when you sent me your invitation, I had answered, 'I won't come, I don't care about the Exchange of Bradford,' you would have been justly offended with me, not knowing the reasons of so blunt a carelessness. So I have come down, hoping that you will patiently let me tell you why, on this, and many other such occasions, I now remain silent, when formerly I should have caught at the opportunity of speaking to a gracious audience.

In a word, then, I do not care about this Exchange, — because you don't; and because you know perfectly well I cannot make you.”

Ruskin leads from this into his discussion on morality, cultures, and architecture, but then unexpectedly turns back to the Exchange, despite this opening salvo. While doing so lends the lecture a polished feeling, the return to the topic of the Exchange invalidates his claim that he cannot speak of it. This is especially true as he hypothesizes — albeit scornfully — on architecture that would suit the Exchange and the statue of Britannia Agoraia in particular.

Questions

1. Although he claims not to care about the Exchange, does Ruskin's nonetheless narrowing in on it as he discusses architecture count as talking about it?

2. When Ruskin explains that a blunt refusal would have been offensive, and that instead he has come down to explain in person, but seemingly without warning his audience in advance of the lecture, how does it come across? As deceptive? As an unwanted lecture? As genuinely well-intentioned? How well does he convey the tone you think he intends?

3. Ruskin states, “I now remain silent, when formerly I should have caught at the opportunity of speaking to a gracious audience.” How does this establish his credentials as a speaker?

4. “I could not deserve your pardon, if when you invited me to speak on one subject, I wilfully spoke on another.” Does Ruskin deserve their pardon? Does he “wilfully” speak on another topic (keeping in mind his claim, “I cannot speak, to purpose, of anything about which I do not care,”) and if so, does he justify doing so sufficiently?


Victorian Overview John Ruskin Politicval History

Last modified 11 February 2011