In composing "Traffic," Ruskin was faced with an interesting problem: how to simultaneously woo and scold a live audience. This is a delicate task, and only skillful execution allows a speaker to deliver an entire address without being drowned out by hisses, pelted with whatever objects indignant audience members have at hand, or dragged from the stage and deprived of his or her hide! Looking at the opening paragraph will give us an impression of Ruskin's technique:

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. [231]

Here, in the space of less than a minute of talking, Ruskin disarms his audience with politeness, shocks them by taking his speech in an entirely unexpected direction, mollifies them for this transgression through apologies and protestations that his address' subject exists entirely against his will, and offends them by claiming not to care at all about the subject which they asked him to speak about in the first place. The likely result of this opening salvo is complete audience immobilization. Curiosity and surprise are enough to keep the audience in their seats at this point.

But we must consider how Ruskin maintains his hold over the audience throughout the lecture. What techniques does he use to keep his listeners engaged in his points, especially the ones that reflect painfully on their characters? For example, midway throughout his speech, Ruskin says, "Now, you feel as I say this to you — I know you feel — as if I were trying to take away the honour of your churches. Not so; I am trying to prove to you the honour of your houses and your hills . . ." (239). Here we can see that Ruskin keeps his audience in check by anticipating their possible objections, stating his knowledge of their feelings in a forceful, authoritative way ("I know you feel"), and finally giving his reply to the stated protests. In what other ways does Ruskin use rhetoric to hold his audience's attention for the excoriation they are receiving?

Last modified 26 February 2002

6 May 2019