In his essay "Traffic," Ruskin manages to capture the mind and heart of his audience even while stating in an extremely harsh tone that the audience has gone astray. By using pathos, or the appeal to sentiments, Ruskin can place himself in a higher position intellectually and physically than his audience — the essay was delivered as a speech at a town hall — where he can talk down at his audience and not appear arrogant.

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, I do not care about this Exchange — because you don't; and because you know perfectly well I cannot make you. Look at the essential conditions of the case, which you, as business men, know perfectly well, though perhaps you think I forget them . . . But you think you may as well have the right thing for your money. You know there are a great many odd styles of architecture about; you don't want to do anything ridiculous; you hear of me, among others, as a respectable architectural man-milliner; and you send for me, that I may tell you the leading fashion; and what is, in our shop, for the moment, the newest and sweetest thing in pinnacles. Now, pardon me for telling you frankly, you cannot have good architecture merely by asking people's advice on occasion. All good architecture is the expression of national life and character; and it is produced by a prevalent and eager national taste, or desire for beauty. [p. 273-274]

Ruskin appeals to the sentiments of his audience by addressing them informally using the pronoun "you" and telling them that they are "gracious" and "know perfectly well" the conditions of their case. In doing so, he can then tell these business men, "I do not care about this Exchange—because you don't." Ruskin is telling the audience what they do and do not care about, something they clearly cannot figure out for themselves, but he does not seem arrogant because he simultaneously exploits human ego with pathos.

Questions

How would the essay be different if Ruskin only used logos or rational argument to make his point? Would it still succeed?

Does Ruskin's use of pathos still work on a more educated audience that can identify his use of this technique? In other words, even though we know he is appealing to our emotions so that he can talk down to his audience, do we let him get away with it?

What is the effect of saying to the audience, "pardon me for telling you frankly?" How would Ruskin's speech sound without statements such as this? Is it another technique of pathos or something else?

How is Ruskin's pathos different than Joan Didion's in The White Album?


Victorian Overview John Ruskin Leading Questions

Last modified 14 March 2005