From his words and his writings, John Ruskin appears to have been a fiery soul. In his essay "Traffic," which was delivered in the form of a speech to a group of business men in Bradford England in 1864, Ruskin critiques the materialistic values of the nation. As he mentions is his speech, he was invited to speak to the men about an Exchange that they were going to build, but rather opted to speak, quite candidly about architecture, and the deteriorating value placed upon piety, morality, and knowledge.
In the sixth paragraph of the essay, Ruskin eloquently rambles about the importance of truly loving that which is good, stating:
"Nay," perhaps you answer; "we need rather to ask what these people and children do, than what they like. If they do right, it is no matter that they like what is wrong; and if they do wrong, it is no matter that they like what is right. Doing is the great thing; and it does not matter that the man likes drinking, so that he does not drink; nor that the little girl likes to be kind to her canary, if she will not learn her lessons; nor that the little girl likes to be kind to her canary, if she will not learn her lessons; nor that the little boy likes throwing stones at the sparrows, if he goes to Sunday school." Indeed for a short time, and in a provisional sense, this is true. For if, resolutely, people do what is right, in time to come, they like doing it. But they only are in a right moral state when they have come to like doing it; and as long as they donŐt like it, they are still in a vicious state.
Ruskin further goes on the say that "the entire object of true education is to make people not merely do the right things, but enjoy the right things."
In the passage, Ruskin discusses the profound question of action versus thought. He explains quite well his idealistic view that doing is simply not enough, and later goes on to expound that building beautiful and humbling structures is also simply not enough if there is no beauty in the heart of a nation.
1. In his speech Ruskin uses beautifully crafted language. Was "Traffic" originally intended as a speech or an essay? Does the flowery nature of some of his prose take away from the serious point which tries to make?
2. In this excerpt, does RuskinŐs sentiment that we should not only act but love the action as well, appear to be too idealistic? Does this idealism inspire or simply seem empty? Does Ruskin ask more of us morally then does the church?
3. Just as a curios aside, later in his essay (the eighth paragraph), Ruskin mentions ideas that he has heard about the diffusion of taste among all classes. In todayŐs society, what becomes of those whose tastes are outside of their class?
Last modified 29 September 2003