From Fors Clavigera
by John Ruskin

From Letter LV.

[... after finishing serial translation of a story about a virtuous broommaker ...]

I have no time, this month, to debate any of the debateable matters in this story, though I have translated it that we may together think of them as occasion serves. In the meantime, note that the heads of question are these:—

I. (Already suggested in p. 38 of my letter for March, 1874.) What are the relative dignities and felicities of affection, in simple and gentle loves? How far do you think the regard existing between Hansli and his wife may be compared, for nobleness and delight, to Sir Philip Sidney’s regard for —— his neighbour’s wife; or the relations between Hausli and his sister, terminating in the brief ‘was not able to say much to her,’ comparable to those between Sidney and his sister, terminating in the completion of the brother’s Psalter by the sister’s indistinguishably perfect song?

II. If there be any difference, and you think the gentle hearts have in anywise the better how far do you think this separation between gentle and simple inevitable? Suppose Sir Philip, for instance among his many accomplishments had been also taught the art of making brooms,— (as indeed I doubt not but his sister knew how to use them),— and time had thus been lost to the broom-makers of his day for the fashioning of sonnets? or the reading of more literature than a ‘chapitre’ on the Sunday afternoons? Might such not ‘division’ but ‘collation’— of labour have bettered both their lives?

III. Or shall we rather be content with the apparent law of Nature that there shall be divine Astrophels in the intellectual heaven, and peaceful earthly glowworms on the banks below; or even on the Evangelical theory of human nature worms without any glow? And shall we be content to see our broom-makers’ children, at the best, growing up, as willows by the brook or in the simplest and innumerablest crowd, as rushes in a marsh;— so long as they have wholesome pith and sufficing strength to be securely sat upon in rush-bottomed chairs; while their masters’ and lords’ children grow as roses on the mount of Sharon, and untoiling lilies in the vales of Lebanon?

IV. And even if we admit that the lives at Penshurst, and by the woods of Muri, though thus to be kept separate, are yet, each in their manner, good, how far is the good of either of them dependent merely, as our reverend Novelist tells us, on “work” (with lance or willow wand) and “religion,” or how far on the particular circumstances and landscape of Kent and Canton Berne,— while, in other parts of England and Switzerland, less favourably conditioned, the ministration of Mr. Septimus Hansard and Mr. Felix Neff will be always required, for the mitigation of the deeper human misery,— meditation on which is to make our sweet English ladies comfortable in nursing their cats?

Leaving the first two of these questions to the reader’s thoughts, I will answer the last two for him;— The extremities of human degradation are not owing to natural causes; but to the habitual preying upon the labour of the poor by the luxury of the rich; and they are only encouraged and increased by the local efforts of religious charity. The clergy can neither absolve the rich from their sins for money nor release them from their duties, for love. Their business is not to soothe, by their saintly and distant example, the soft moments of cat-nursing; but sternly to forbid cat-nursing, till no child is left unnursed. And if this true discipline of the Church were carried out, and the larger body of less saintly clerical gentlemen, and Infelix Neffs, who now dine with the rich and preach to the poor, were accustomed, on the contrary, to dine with the poor and preach to the rich; though still the various passions and powers of the several orders would reman where the providence of Heaven placed them and the useful reed and useless rose would still bind the wintry waters with their border, and brighten the May sunshine with their bloom,— for each, their happy being would be fulfilled in peace in the garden of the world; and the glow, if not of immortal, at least of sacredly bequeathed, life, and endlessly cherished memory, abide even within its chambers of the tomb.