Wednesday, 26 March 2014

RUSKIN'S UTOPIA

It may interest your readers to learn that in the extraordinary, characteristic, and most interesting serial which Mr. Ruskin has been issuing for a great many months under the title " Fors Clavigera," he at length gives to the world a full statement of his design for the establishment of the working community to which he intends to devote his fortune. He has been long setting forth his views in this direction, but he now formulates his serious intentions, and defines the purpose of his letters to be "the highest possible education of English men and women living by agriculture in their native land." For the attainment of this purpose he means to buy the first pieces of ground offered to him at a fair 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. The whole scheme is so curious— nothing less than the planting of of a sort of Blitherdale community (without the religious eccentricities) in overcrowded, artificial England. The scheme is very interesting, not only on account of its merits, but as an illustration of one of the most obstinately original minds of the age. When the land is bought, as many families as it can support ( by their own labour ) are to be chosen for Mr. Ruskin by experienced landlords who know their people, and, as he adds with characteristic quaintness, "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." The children are to attend a training school, and every household is to have a sub-library chosen for it out of ahead library, consisting of permitted books, but no newspapers are to be allowed in any household ! No machines moved by artificial power are to be used on the estates of the society— wind, water, and animal force only are to be employed; 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." There are two passages in this wonderful pamphlet which really resume the whole of the writer's theory, and will, I think, interest your readers : " The first essential point in the education given to 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 disorganisation 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."
And now for these laws which to violate will be disgrace : "They 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  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." That the foundation this community will ever take place is very doubtful, but it is a very interesting fact that it should be even in contemplation to roll back the waves after such a fashion, to offer so organised an opposition to the spirit and the morale of the age, by two such men as Mr. Ruskin and Mr. Carlyle, who is his " backer" in the enterprise.— London Correspondent Argus.

 Evening News 27 March 1874,

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