In his lecture, "Traffic," delivered in the Town Hall, Bradford on April 21, 1864, Ruskin eloquently reveals why he does "not care about this Exchange" that is being built and for which purpose he has been invited to lend advice upon its proposed architectural style. He opens by stating that, "All good architecture is the expression of national life and character." Then, he proceeds to discuss the "three distinct schools of European architecture," which are the Greek, the Medieval, and the Renaissance. He defines the state of Britain in his day as an environment in which the celebrated goddess is "the Goddess of Getting-on" or "Britannia of the Market." In the following passage, Ruskin satirically delineates the ideal conditions of this culture of commerce.

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-sized 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 his wife, and the beautiful ball dresses for the daughters, and hunters for the sons, 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. Is not that, broadly, and in the main features, the kind of thing you propose to yourselves? It is very pretty indeed, seen from above; not at all so pretty, seen from below. For, observe, while to one family this deity is indeed the Goddess of Getting-on, to a thousand families she is the Goddess of not Getting-on." — John Ruskin, "Traffic," p. 246

Discussion Questions

1. According to Ruskin, how does this age of the "Goddess of Getting-on" compare with the ages of the Greek, the Medieval, and the Renaissance?

2. Why is Ruskin so critical of British commerce? What does he feel is fundamentally lacking in this society, and how does this relate to the dark prophecy that he provides at the close of this speech?

3. How does this depiction of class distinctions and inequality, especially in relation to the increasingly industrial nature of society, relate to other novels we have read, such as North and South?

Last modified 30 April 2024