In his lecture "Traffic", John Ruskin makes the rather audacious claim that "good taste is essentially a moral quality" (234). In fact, he takes his argument one step farther by asserting that "to teach taste is inevitably to form character" (235). He explains: "You get hold of a scavenger or a costermonger, who enjoyed the Newgate Calendar for literature, and 'Pop goes the Weasel' for music. You think you can make him like Dante and Beethoven? I wish you joy of your lessons; but if you do, you have made a gentleman of him: — he won't like to go back to his costermongering" (235). In other words, it is a man's hobbies and preferences that determine his (moral or immoral) lot in life — and 'good taste' furthermore is a moral force that has the power to transform a depraved man from a 'pop'-ular music fanatic to a Beethoven enthusiast.

Ruskin is using this argument in the larger context of national architectures and how they inform one upon the characters of the respective societies from which they spring.


Is Ruskin's elitism necessary for his argument?

Are we convinced by Ruskin's linking of morality and character to 'taste' (a term that is never defined)?

One of the criticisms leveled against Victorian sages like Carlyle and Ruskin was that no one really ever listens to their diagnoses, or at least, their disgnoses don't change anything. To what extent is this assessment accurate?

Did this particular lecture have any effect on the building of the Exchange, or the architecture of Bradford (I wonder)?

Was this Ruskin's real concern in delivering the lecture anyway?

[For an interesting response, see what Aldous Huxley had to say about Ruskin's influence on art, architecture, and govcernment policy in 1919. &emdash; GPL]

Last modified 1 May 2024