From Fors Clavigera
by John Ruskin

From Letter XXXVII.

1st January, 1874.

“Selon la lay, et ly prophetes,
Qui a charité parfaicte
Il ayme Dien sur toute rien,
De cueur, deforce, et d’ame nette;
Celui devons-nous tons de debte
Comme soy-mesmes, son prochain;
Qu’on dit qui m’ayme, ayme man chien
De tel pierre, et de tel merrien
Est ès cieulx nostre maison faicte
Car nulz ne pent dire, ‘c’est mien,’
Fors ce qu’il a mis en ce bien;
Tout le remenant est retraicte.”

According to the Law and the Prophets,
He who has perfect charity,
Loves God above everything,
With heart, with flesh, and with spirit pure.
Him also, our neighbour, we are all in debt
To love as ourselves.
For one says, Who loves me, loves my dog.
Of such stone, and of such crossbeam,
Is in the heavens our house made;
For no one can say, ‘It is mine,’
Beyond what he has put into that good.
All the rest is taken away.

ONE day last November, at Oxford, as I was going in at the private door of the University galleries, to give a lecture on the Fine Arts in Florence, I was hindered for a moment by a nice little girl, whipping a top on the pavement. She was a very nice little girl; and rejoiced wholly in her whip, and top; but could not inflict the reviving chastisement with all the activity that was in her, because she had on a large and dilapidated pair of woman’s shoes, which projected the full length of her own little foot behind it and before; and being securely fastened to her ancles in the manner of mocassins, admitted indeed, of dextrous glissades, and other modes of progress quite sufficient for ordinary purposes; but not conveniently of all the evolutions proper to the pursuit of a whipping-top.

There were some worthy people at my lecture, and I think the lecture was one of my best. It gave some really trustworthy information about art in Florence six hundred years ago. But all the time I was speaking, I knew that nothing spoken about art, either by myself or other people, could be of the least use to anybody there. For their primary business and mine, was with art in Oxford, now; not with art in Florence, then; and art in Oxford now was absolutely dependent on our power of solving the question which I knew that my audience would not even allow to be proposed for solution “Why have our little girls large shoes?”

Indeed, my great difficulty, of late, whether in lecturing or writing, is in the intensely practical and matter-of-fact character of my own mind as opposed to the loquacious and speculative disposition, not only of the British public, but of all my quondam friends. I am left utterly stranded, and alone, in life, and thought. Life and knowledge, I ought to say;— for I have done what thinking was needful for me long ago, and know enough to act upon, for the few days, or years, I may have yet to live. I find some of my friends greatly agitated in mind, for instance, about Responsibility, Free-will, and the like. I settled all those matters for myself, before I was ten years old, by jumping up and down an awkward turn of four steps in my nursery-stairs, and considering whether it was likely that God knew whether I should jump only three, or the whole four at a time. Having settled it in my mind that He knew quite well, though I didn’t, which I should do; and also whether I should fall or not in the course of the performance,— though I was altogether responsible for taking care not to,— I never troubled my head more on the matter, from that day to this. But my friends keep buzzing and puzzling about it, as if they had to order the course of the world themselves; and won’t attend to me for an instant, if I ask why little girls have large shoes.

I don’t suppose any man, with a tongue in his head, and zeal to use it, was ever left so entirely unattended to, as he grew old, by his early friends; and it is doubly and trebly strange to me, because I have lost none of my power of sympathy with them. Some are chemists; and I am always glad to hear of the last new thing in elements; some are palaeontologists, and I am no less happy to know of any lately un-buried beast peculiar in his bones; the lawyers and clergymen can always interest me with any story out of their courts or parishes;— but not one of them ever asks what I am about myself. If they chance to meet me in the streets of Oxford, they ask whether I am staying there. When I say, yes, they ask how I like it; and when I tell them I don’t like it at all, and don’t think little girls should have large shoes, they tell me I ought to read the “Cours de Philosophie Positive.” As if a man who had lived to be fifty-four, content with what philosophy was needful to assure him that salt was savoury, and pepper hot, could ever be made positive in his old age, in the impertinent manner of these youngsters. But positive in a pertinent and practical manner, I have been, and shall be; with such stern and steady wedge of fact and act as time may let me drive into the gnarled blockheadism of the British mob.

I am free to confess I did not quite know the sort of creature I had to deal with, when I began, fifteen years ago, nor the quantity of ingenious resistance to practical reform which could be offered by theoretical reformers. Look, for instance, at this report of a speech of Mr. Bright’s in the Times, on the subject of adulteration of food.*

“The noble lord has taken great pains upon this question, and has brought before the House a great amount of detail in connection with it. As I listened to his observations I hoped and believed that there was, unintentional, no little exaggeration in them. Although there may be particular cases in which great barm to health and great fraud may possibly be shown, yet I think that general statements of this kind, implicating to a large extent the traders of this country, are dangerous, and are almost certain to be unjust. Now, my hon. friend (Mr. Pochin) who has just addressed the House in a speech showing his entire mastery of the question has confirmed my opinion, for he has shown and I dare say he knows as much of the matter as any present that there is a great deal of exaggeration in the opinions which have prevailed in many parts of the country, and which have even been found to prevail upon the matter in this House. Now, I am prepared to show that the exaggeration of the noble lord I do not say intentionally, of course; I am sure he is incapable of that is just as great in the matter of weights and measures as in that of adulteration. Probably he is not aware that in the list of persons employing weights that are inaccurate I do not say fraudulent no distinction is drawn between those who are intentionally fraudulent and those who are accidentally inaccurate, and that the penalty is precisely the same, and the offence is just as eagerly detected, whether there be a fraud or merely an accident. Now, the noble lord will probably be surprised when I tell him that many persons are fined annually, not because their weights are too small, but because they are too large. In fact, when the weights are inaccurate, but are in favour of the customer, still the owner and user of the weight is liable to the penalty, and is fined. .... My own impression with regard to this adulteration is that it arises from the very great, and perhaps inevitable, competition in business; and that to a great extent it is promoted by the ignorance of customers. As the ignorance of customers generally is diminishing, we may hope that before long the adulteration of food may also diminish. The noble lord appears to ask that something much more extensive and stringent should be done by Parliament. The fact is, it is vain to attempt by the power of Parliament to penetrate into and to track out evils such as those on which the noble lord has dwelt at such length. It is quite impossible that you should have the oversight of the shops of the country by inspectors, and that you should have persons going into shops to buy sugar, pickles, and Cayenne pepper, to get them analyzed, and then raise complaints against shopkeepers, and bring them before the magistrates. If men in their private businesses were to be tracked by Government officers and inspectors every hour of the day, life would not be worth having, and I recommend them to remove to another country, where they would not be subject to such annoyance.”

Now, I neither know, nor does it matter to the public, what Mr. Bright actually said; but the report in the Times is the permanent and universally influential form of his sayings; and observe what the substance is, of these three or four hundred Parliamentary words, so reported.

First. That an evil which has been exaggerated ought not to be prevented.

Secondly. That at present we punish honest men as much as rogues; and must always continue to do so if we punish anybody.

Thirdly. That life would not be worth having if one’s weights and measures were liable to inspection.

I can assure Mr. Bright that people who know what life means, can sustain the calamity of the inspection of their weights and measures with fortitude. I myself keep a tea-and-sugar shop. I have had my scales and weights inspected more than once or twice, and am not in the least disposed to bid my native land good night on that account. That I could bid it nothing but good night never good morning, the smoke of it quenching the sun, and its parliamentary talk, of such quality as the above, having become darkness voluble, and some of it worse even than that, a mere watchman’s rattle, sprung by alarmed constituencies of rascals when an honest man conies in sight,— these are things indeed which should make any man’s life little worth having, unless he separate himself from the scandalous crowd; but it must not be in exile from his country.

I have not hitherto stated, except in general terms, the design to which these letters point, though it has been again and again defined, and it seems to me explicitly enough the highest possible education, namely, of English men and women living by agriculture in their native land. Indeed, during these three past years I have not hoped to do more than make my readers feel what mischiefs they have to conquer. It is time now to say more clearly what I want them to do.

The substantial wealth of man consists in the earth he cultivates, with its pleasant or serviceable animals and plants, and in the rightly produced work of his own hands. I mean to buy, for the St. George’s Company, the first pieces of ground offered to me at fair price, (when the subscriptions enable me to give any price),— to put them as rapidly as possible into order, and to settle upon them as many families as they can support, of young and healthy persons, on the condition that they do the best they can for their livelihood with their own hands, and submit themselves and their children to the rules written for them.

I do not care where the land is, nor of what quality, I would rather it should be poor, for I want space more than food. I will make the best of it that I can, at once, by wage-labour under the best agricultural advice. It is easy now to obtain good counsel, and many of our landlords would willingly undertake such operations occasionally, but for the fixed notion that every improvement of land should at once pay, whereas the St. George’s Company is to be consistently monastic in its principles of labour, and to work for the redemption of any desert land, without other idea of gain than the certainty of future good to others. I should best like a bit of marsh land of small value, which I would trench into alternate ridge and canal, changing it all into solid land, and deep water, to be farmed in fish. If, instead, I get a rocky piece, I shall first arrange reservoirs for rain, then put what earth is sprinkled on it into workable masses; and ascertaining, in either case, how many mouths the gained spaces of ground will easily feed, put upon them families chosen for me by old landlords, who know their people, and can send me cheerful and honest ones, accustomed to obey orders, and live in the fear of God. Whether the fear be Catholic, or Church-of-England, or Presbyterian, I do not in the least care, so that the family be capable of any kind of sincere devotion; and conscious of the sacredness of order. If any young couples of the higher classes choose to accept such rough life, I would rather have them for tenants than any others.

Tenants, I say, and at long lease, if they behave well: with power eventually to purchase the piece of land they live on for , themselves, if they can save the price of it; the rent they pay, meanwhile, being the tithe of the annual produce, to St. George’s fund. The modes of the cultivation of the land are to be under the control of the overseer of the whole estate, appointed by the Trustees of the fund; but the tenants shall build their own houses to their own minds, under certain conditions as to materials and strength; and have for themselves the entire produce of the land, except the tithe aforesaid.

The children will be required to attend training schools for bodily exercise, and music, with such other education as I have already described. Every household will have its library, given it from the fund, and consisting of a fixed number of volumes,— some constant, the others chosen by each family out of a list of permitted books, from which they afterwards may increase their library if they choose. The formation of this library for choice, by a republication of classical authors in standard forms, has long been a main object with me. No newspapers, nor any books but those named in the annually renewed lists, are to be allowed in any household. In time I hope to get a journal published, containing notice of any really important matters taking place in this or other countries, in the closely sifted truth of them.

The first essential point in the education given to the children will be the habit of instant, finely accurate, and totally unreasoning, obedience to their fathers, mothers, and tutors; the same precise and unquestioning submission being required from heads of families to the officers set over them. The second essential will be the understanding of the nature of honour, making the obedience solemn and constant; so that the slightest wilful violation of the laws of the society may be regarded as a grave breach of trust, and no less disgraceful than a soldier’s recoiling from his place in a battle.

In our present state of utter moral disorganization, it might indeed seem as if it would be impossible either to secure obedience, or explain the sensation of honour; but the instincts of both are native in man, and the roots of them cannot wither, even under the dust-heap of modern liberal opinions. My settlers, you observe, are to be young people, bred on old estates; my commandants will be veteran soldiers; and it will be soon perceived that pride based on servitude to the will of another is far loftier and happier than pride based on servitude to humour of one’s own.

Each family will at first be put on its trial for a year, without any lease of the land: if they behave well, they shall have a lease for three years; if through that time they satisfy their officers, a life-long lease, with power to purchase.

I have already stated that no machines moved by artificial power are to be used on the estates of the society; wind, water, and animal force are to be the only motive powers employed, and there is to be as little trade or importation as possible; the utmost simplicity of life, and restriction of possession, being combined with the highest attainable refinement of temper and thought. Everything that the members of any household can sufficiently make for themselves, they are so to make, however clumsily; but the carpenter and smith, trained to perfectest work in wood and iron, are to be employed on the parts of houses and implements in which finish is essential to strength. The ploughshare and spade must be made by the smith, and the roof and floors by a carpenter; but the boys of the house must be able to make either a horseshoe or a table.

Simplicity of life without coarseness, and delight in life without lasciviousness, are, under such conditions, not only possible to human creatures, but natural to them. I do not pretend to tell you straightforwardly all laws of nature respecting the conduct of men; but some of those laws I know, and will endeavour to get obeyed; others, as they are needful, will be in the sequel of such obedience ascertained. What final relations may take place between masters and servants, labourers and employers, old people and young, useful people and useless, in such a society, only experience can conclude; nor is there any reason to anticipate the conclusion. Some few things the most obstinate will admit, and the least credulous believe: that washed faces are healthier than dirty ones, whole clothes decenter than ragged ones, kind behaviour more serviceable than malicious, and pure air pleasanter than foul. Upon that much of “philosophic positive” I mean to act; and, little by little, to define in these letters the processes of action. That it should be left to me to begin such a work, with only one man in England Thomas Carlyle to whom I can look for steady guidance, is alike wonderful and sorrowful to me; but as the thing is so, I can only do what seems to me necessary, none else coming forward to do it. For my own part, I entirely hate the whole business: I dislike having either power or responsibility; am ashamed to ask for money, and plagued in spending it. I don’t want to talk, nor to write, nor to advise or direct anybody. I am far more provoked at being thought foolish by foolish people, than pleased at being thought sensible by sensible people; and the average proportion of the numbers of each is not to my advantage. If I could find any one able to carry on the plan instead of me, I never should trouble myself about it more; and even now, it is only with extreme effort and chastisement of my indolence that I go on: but, unless I am struck with palsy, I do not seriously doubt my perseverance, until I find somebody able to take up the matter in the same mind, and with a better heart.

The laws required to be obeyed by the families living on the land will be,— with some relaxation and modification, so as to fit them for English people,— those of Florence in the fourteenth century. In what additional rules may be adopted, I shall follow, for the most part, Bacon, or Sir Thomas More, under sanction always of the higher authority which of late the English nation has wholly set its strength to defy that of the Founder of its Religion; nor without due acceptance of what teaching was given to the children of God by their Father, before the day of Christ, of which, for present ending, read and attend to these following quiet words.

“‘In what point of view, then, and on what ground shall a man be profited by injustice or intemperance or other baseness, even though he acquire money or power?’

‘There is no ground on which this can be maintained.’

‘What shall he profit if his injustice be undetected? for he who is undetected only gets worse, whereas he who is detected and punished has the brutal part of his nature silenced....’

* Of 6th March, not long ago, but I have lost note of the year.