In "Traffic" John Ruskin argues that architecture is a reflection of culture, and that his listeners cannot improve their architecture without first changing themselves. Ruskin accuses his listeners of lacking an inherent set of morals — "a national religion." The only value Ruskin's listeners seem to partake in is cold, selfish utilitarianism; they bow down to the Goddess of Getting-On, a troubling fact since this Goddess in fact helps only a small few "Get-On" at the expense of very many. In a particularly descriptive paragraph, Ruskin scolds his listeners for basking in their own wealth while the vast majority of the nation toils (and supports the few) in their gritty, industrial work.

Your ideal of human life then is, I think, that it should be passed in a pleasant undulating world, with iron and coal everywhere underneath it. On each pleasant bank of this world is to be a beautiful mansion, with two wings; and stables, and coach-houses; a moderately-size park; a large garden and hot-houses; and pleasant carriage drives through the shrubberies. In this mansion are to live the favoured votaries of the Goddess; the English gentleman, with his gracious wife, and his beautiful family; he always able to have the boudoir and the jewels for the wife, and the beautiful ball dresses for the daughters, and hunters for the sounds, and a shooting in the Highlands for himself. At the bottom of the bank, is to be the mill; not less than a quarter of a mile long, with one steam engine at each end, and two in the middle, and a chimney three hundred feet high. In this mill are to be in constant employment from eight hundred to a thousand workers, who never drink, never strike, always go to church on Sunday, and always express themselves in respectful language.

Another writer or editor might have split this paragraph into two — at the point at which the paragraph moves from a discussion of the top of the bank to a discussion of the bottom of the bank. Why might Ruskin have kept this paragraph whole? How does the physical lay-out of this paragraph paint a picture of the point he describes? Ruskin wants architecture to grow out of the cultural mood — does the architecture of this paragraph reflect the culture which it describes?

In the previous paragraph Ruskin wrote in the past-tense. In this paragraph, though, he writes in something like the future imperative — "it should be passed," "on each bank is to be," "on this mill are to be." What is the purpose of this shift in tense?

Throughout the essay, Ruskin claims that he can restore language to a kind of ideal power. Knowing this, why might he put such an emphasis on the fact that (as he says in the final clause of the paragraph) the industrial workers "always express themselves in respectful language." How does Ruskin wish to incorporate these workers, who "always express themselves in respectful language," into his plan for improvement of culture?


Victorian Overview John Ruskin Leading Questions

Last modified 30 September 2003