Baron's Gate
Letter 10 by John Ruskin to the Workers of Britain

DENMARK HILL, 7th September, 1871

MY FRIENDS, — For the last two or three days, the papers have been full of articles on a speech of Lord Derby's, which, it seems, has set the public mind on considering the land question. My own mind having long ago been both set, and entirely made up, on that question, I have read neither the speech nor the articles on it; but my eye being caught this morning, fortunately, by the words 'Doomsday Book' in my Daily Telegraph, and presently looking up the column, by 'stalwart arms and heroic souls of free resolute Englishmen,' I glanced down the space between, and found this, to me, remarkable passage: —

'The upshot is, that, looking at the question from a purely mechanical point of view, we should seek the beau idéal in a landowner cultivating huge farms for himself, with abundant machinery and a few well-paid labourers to manage the mechanism, or delegating the task to the smallest possible number of tenants with capital. But when we bear in mind the origin of landlordism, of our national needs, and the real interests of the great body of English tenantry, we see how advisable it is to retain intelligent yeomen as part of our means of cultivating the soil.'

This is all, then, is it, that your Liberal paper ventures to say for you? It is advisable to retain a few intelligent yeomen in the island. I don't mean to find fault with the Daily Telegraph : I think it always means well on the whole, and deals fairly; which is more than can be said for its highly toned and delicately perfumed opponent, the Pall Mall Gazette . But I think a 'Liberal' paper might have said more for the 'stalwart arms and heroic souls' than this. I am going myself to say a great deal more for them, though I am not a Liberal — quite the polar contrary of that.

You, perhaps, have been provoked, in the course of these letters, by not being able to make out what I was. It is time you should know, and I will tell you plainly. I am, and my father was before me, a violent Tory of the old school (Walter Scott's school, that is to say, and Homer's). I name these two out of the numberless great Tory writers, because they were my own two masters. I had Walter Scott's novels, and the Iliad (Pope's translation), for my only reading when I was a child, on weekdays: on Sundays their effect was tempered by Robinson Crusoe and the Pilgrim's Progress ; my mother having it deeply in her heart to make an evangelical clergyman of me. Fortunately, I had an aunt more evangelical than my mother; and my aunt gave me cold mutton for Sunday's dinner, which — as I much preferred it hot — greatly diminished the influence of the Pilgrim's Progress ; and the end of the matter was, that I got all the noble imaginative teaching of Defoe and Bunyan, and yet — am not an evangelical clergyman.

I had, however, still better teaching than theirs, and that compulsorily, and every day of the week. (Have patience with me in this egotism; it is necessary for many reasons that you should know what influences have brought me into the temper in which I write to you.)

Walter Scott and Pope's Homer were reading of my own election, but my mother forced me, by steady daily toil, to learn long chapters of the Bible by heart; as well as to read it every syllable through, aloud, hard names and all, from Genesis to the Apocalypse, about once a year; and to that discipline — patient, accurate, and resolute — I owe not only a knowledge of the book, which I find occasionally serviceable, but much of my general power of taking pains, and the best part of my taste in literature. From Walter Scott's novels I might easily, as I grew older, have fallen to other people's novels; and Pope might, perhaps, have led me to take Johnson's English, or Gibbon's, as types of language; but, once knowing the 32nd of Deuteronomy, the 119th Psalm, the 15th of 1st Corinthians, the Sermon on the Mount, and most of the Apocalypse, every syllable by heart, and having always a way of thinking with myself what words meant, it was not possible for me, even in the foolishest times of youth, to write entirely superficial or formal English, and the affectation to write like Hooker and George Herbert, which I now with shame confess of having long tried , was the most innocent I could have fallen into.

From my own masters, then, Scott and Homer, I learned the Toryism which my best after-thought has only served to confirm.

That is to say a most sincere love of kings, and dislike of everybody who attempted to disobey them. Only, both by Homer and Scott, I was taught strange ideas about kings, which I find, for the present, much obsolete; for, I perceived that both the author of the Iliad and the author of Waverley made their kings, or king-loving persons, do harder work than anybody else. Tydides or Idomeneus always killed twenty Trojans to other people's one, and Redgauntlet speared more salmon than any of the Solway fishermen, and — which was particularly a subject of admiration to me, — I observed that they not only did more, but in proportion to their doings, got less, than other people — nay, that the best of them were even ready to govern for nothing, and let their followers divide any quantity of spoil or profit. Of late if has seemed to me that the idea of a king has become exactly the contrary of this, and that it has been supposed the duty of superior persons generally to do less, and to get more than anybody else; so that it was, perhaps, quite as well that in those early days my contemplation of existent kingship was a very distant one, and my childish eyes wholly unacquainted with the splendour of courts.

The aunt who gave me cold mutton on Sundays was my father's sister: she lived at Bridge-end, in the town of Perth, and had a garden full of gooseberry-bushes, sloping down to the Tay, with a door opening to the water, which ran past it clear-brown over the pebbles three or four feet deep; an infinite thing for a child to look down into.

My father began business as a wine-merchant, with no capital, and a considerable amount of debts bequeathed him by my grandfather. He accepted the bequest, and paid them all before he began to lay by anything for himself, for which his best friends called him a fool, and I, without expressing any opinion as to his wisdom, which I knew in such matters to be at least equal to mine, have written on the granite slab over his grave that he was 'an entirely honest merchant.' As days went on he was able to take a house in Hunter Street, Brunswick Square, No. 54 (the windows of it, fortunately for me, commanded a view of a marvellous iron post, out of which the water-carts were filled through beautiful little trap-doors, by pipes like boa-constrictors; and I was never weary of contemplating that mystery, and the delicious dripping consequent): and as years went on, and I came to be four or five years old, he could command a post-chaise and pair for two months in the summer, by help of which, with my mother and me, he went the round of his country customers (who liked to see the principal of the house his own traveller); so that, at a jog-trot pace, and through the panoramic opening of the four windows of a post-chaise, made more panoramic still to me because my seat was a little bracket in front (for we used to hire the chaise regularly for the two months out of Long Acre, and so could have it bracketed and pocketed as we liked), I saw all the high-roads, and most of the cross ones, of England and Wales, and great part of lowland Scotland, as far as Perth, where every other year we spent the whole summer; and I used to read the Abbot at Kinross, and the Monastery in Glen Farg, which I confused with 'Glendearg,' and thought that the White Lady had as certainly lived by the streamlet in that glen of the Ochils, as the Queen of Scots in the island of Loch Leven.

It happened also, which was the real cause of the bias of my after life, that my father had a rare love of pictures. I use the word 'rare' advisedly, having never met with another instance of so innate a faculty for the discernment of true art, up to the point possible without actual practice. Accordingly, wherever there was a gallery to be seen, we stopped at the nearest town for the night and in reverentest manner I thus saw nearly all the noblemen's houses in England; not indeed myself at that age caring for the pictures, but much for castles and ruins, feeling more and more, as I grew older, the healthy delight of uncovetous admiration, and perceiving, as soon as I could perceive any political truth at all, that it was probably much happier to live in a small house, and have Warwick Castle to be astonished at, than to live in Warwick Castle, and have nothing to be astonished at; but that, at all events, it would not make Brunswick Square in the least more pleasantly habitable, to pull Warwick Castle down. And, at this day, though I have kind invitations enough to visit America, I could not, even for a couple of months, live in a country so miserable as to possess no castles.

Nevertheless, having formed my notion of kinghood chiefly from the Fitzjames of the Lady of the Lake , and of noblesse from the Douglas there, and the Douglas in Marmion , a painful wonder soon arose in my child-mind, why the castles should now be always empty. Tantallon was there; but no Archibald of Angus: — Stirling, but no Knight of Snowdoun. The galleries and gardens of England were beautiful to see — but his Lordship and her Ladyship were always in town, said the housekeepers and gardeners. Deep yearning took hold of me for a kind of 'Restoration,' which I began slowly to feel that Charles the Second had not altogether effected, though I always wore a gilded oak-apple very reverently in my button-hole on the 29th of May. It seemed to me that Charles the Second's Restoration had been, as compared with the Restoration I wanted, much as that gilded oak-apple to a real apple. And as I grew older, the desire for red pippins instead of brown ones, and Living Kings instead of dead ones, ap-peared to me rational as well as romantic; and gradually it has become the main purpose of my life to grow pippins, and its chief hope, to see Kings.

Hope, this last, for others much more than for myself. I can always behave as if I had a King, whether I have one or not; but it is otherwise with some unfortunate persons. Nothing has ever impressed me so much with the power of kingship, and the need of it, as the declamation of the French Republicans against the Emperor before his fall.

He did not, indeed, meet my old Tory notion of a King; and in my own business of architecture he was doing, I saw, nothing but mischief; pulling down lovely buildings, and putting up frightful ones carved all over with L. N.'s: but the intense need of France for a governor of some kind was made chiefly evident to me by the way the Republicans confessed them-selves paralyzed by him. Nothing could be done in France, it seemed, because of the Emperor: they could not drive an honest trade; they could not keep their houses in order; they could not study the sun and moon; they could not eat a comfortable déjeûner à la fourchette; they could not sail in the Gulf of Lyons, nor climb on the Mont d'Or; they could not, in fine (so they said), so much as walk straight, nor speak plain, because of the Emperor. On this side of the water, moreover, the Republicans were all in the same tale. Their opinions, it appeared, were not printed to their minds in the Paris journals, and the world must come to an end therefore. So that, in fact, here was all the Republican force of France and England, confessing itself paralyzed, not so much by a real King, as by the shadow of one. All the harm the extant and visible King did was, to encourage the dressmakers and stone-masons in Paris, — to pay some idle people very large salaries, — and to make some, perhaps agreeably talkative, people, hold their tongues. That, I repeat, was all the harm he did, or could do; he corrupted nothing but what was voluntarily corruptible, — crushed nothing but what was essentially not solid: and it remained open to these Republican gentlemen to do anything they chose that was useful to France, or honourable to themselves, between earth and heaven, except only — print violent abuse of this shortish man, with a long nose, who stood, as they would have it, between them and heaven. But there they stood, spell-bound; the one thing suggesting itself to their frantic impotence as feasible, being to get this one shortish man assassinated. Their children would not grow, their corn would not ripen, and the stars would not roll, till they had got this one short man blown into shorter pieces.

If the shadow of a King can thus hold (how many?) millions of men, by their own confession, helpless for terror of it, what power must there be in the substance of one?

But this mass of republicans — vociferous, terrified, and mischievous — is the least part, as it is the vilest, of the great European populace who are lost for want of true kings. It is not these who stand idle, gibbering at a shadow, whom we have to mourn over; — they would have been good for little, even governed; — but those who work and do not gibber, — the quiet peasants in the fields of Europe, sad-browed, honest-hearted, full of natural tenderness and courtesy, who have none to help them, and none to teach; who have no kings, except those who rob them while they live, no tutors, except those who teach them — how to die.

I had an impatient remonstrance sent me the other day, by a country clergyman's wife, against that saying in my former letter, 'Dying has been more expensive to you than living.' Did I know, she asked, what a country clergyman's life was, and that he was the poor man's only friend?

Alas, I know it, and too well. What can be said of more deadly and ghastly blame against the clergy of England, or any other country, than that they are the poor man's only friends?

Have they, then, so betrayed their Master's charge and mind, in their preaching to the rich; so smoothed their words, and so sold their authority, — that, after twelve hundred years' entrusting of the gospel to them, there is no man in England (this is their chief plea for themselves forsooth) who will have mercy on the poor, but they; and so they must leave the word of God, and serve tables?

I would not myself have said so much against English clergymen, whether of country or town. Three — and one dead makes four — of my dear friends (and I have not many dear friends) are country clergymen; and I know the ways of every sort of them; my architectural tastes necessarily bringing me into near relations with the sort who like pointed arches and painted glass; and my old religious breeding having given me an uncon-querable habit of taking up with any travelling tinker of evangelical principles I may come across; and even of reading, not without awe, the prophetic warnings of any persons belonging to that peculiarly well-informed 'persuasion,' such, for instance, as those of Mr Zion Ward 'concerning the fall of Lucifer, in a letter to a friend, Mr William Dick, of Glasgow, price twopence,' in which I read (as aforesaid, with unfeigned feelings of concern) that 'the slain of the Lord shall be MAN-Y; that is, man, in whom death is, with all the works of carnality, shall be burnt up!'

But I was not thinking either of English clergy, or of any other group of clergy, specially, when I wrote that sentence; but of the entire Clerkly or Learned Company, from the first priest of Egypt to the last ordained Belgravian curate, and of all the talk they have talked, and all the quarrel-ling they have caused, and all the gold they have had given them, to this day, when still 'they are the poor man's only friends' [. . . ]

A year or two ago, a man who had at the time, and has still, important official authority over much of the business of the country, was speaking anxiously to me of the misery increasing in the suburbs and back streets of London, and debating, with the good help of the Oxford Regius Professor of Medicine 59 — who was second in council — what sanitary or moral remedy could be found. The debate languished, however, because of the strong conviction in the minds of all three of us that the misery was inevitable in the suburbs of so vast a city. At last, either the minister or physician, I forget which, expressed the conviction.

'Well,' I answered, 'then you must not have large cities.' 'That,' answered the minister, 'is an unpractical saying-you know we must have them, under existing circumstances.'

I made no reply, feeling that it was vain to assure any man actively concerned in modern parliamentary business, that no measures were 'practical' except those which touched the source of the evil opposed. All systems of government — all efforts of benevolence, are vain to repress the natural consequences of radical error. But any man of influence who had the sense and courage to refuse himself and his family one London season — to stay on his estate, and employ the shopkeepers in his own village, instead of those in Bond Street — would be 'practically' dealing with, and conquering, this evil, so far as in him lay; and contributing with his whole might to the thorough and final conquest of it.

Not but that I know how to meet it directly also, if any London landlords choose so to attack it. You are beginning to hear something of what Miss Hill has done in Marylebone, and of the change brought about by her energy and good sense in the centre of one of the worst districts of London. It is difficult enough, I admit, to find a woman of average sense and tenderness enough to be able for such work; but there are, indeed, other such in the world, only three-fourths of them now get lost in pious lecturing, or altar-cloth sewing; and the wisest remaining fourth stay at home as quiet house-wives, not seeing their way to wider action; nevertheless, any London landlord who will content himself with moderate and fixed rent (I get five per cent. from Miss Hill, which is surely enough!), assuring his tenants of secure possession if that is paid, so that they need not fear having their rent raised, if they improve their houses; and who will secure also a quiet bit of ground for their children to play in, instead of the street, — has established all the necessary conditions of success; and I doubt not that Miss Hill herself could find co-workers able to extend the system of management she has originated, and shown to be so effective.

But the best that can be done in this way will be useless ultimately, unless the deep source of the misery be cut off. While Miss Hill, with intense effort and noble power, has partially moralized a couple of acres in Marylebone, at least fifty square miles of lovely country have been Demoralized outside London, by the increasing itch of the upper classes to live where they can get some gossip in their idleness, and show each other their dresses.

That life of theirs must come to an end soon, both here and in Paris, but to what end, it is, I trust, in their own power still to decide. If they resolve to maintain to the last the present system of spending the rent taken from the rural districts in the dissipation of the capitals, they will not always find they can secure a quiet time, as the other day in Dublin, by withdrawing the police, nor that park-railings are the only thing which (police being duly withdrawn) will go down. Those favourite castle battlements of mine, their internal 'police' withdrawn, will go down also; and I should be sorry to see it; — the lords and ladies, houseless at least in shooting season, perhaps sorrier, though they did find the grey turrets dismal in winter time. If they would yet have them for autumn, they must have them for winter. Consider, fair lords and ladies, by the time you marry, and choose your dwelling-places, there are for you but forty or fifty winters more in whose dark days you may see the snow fall and wreathe. There will be no snow in Heaven, I presume — still less elsewhere (if lords and ladies ever miss of Heaven).

And that some may, is perhaps conceivable, for there are more than a few things to be managed on an English estate, and to be 'faithful' in those few cannot be interpreted as merely abstracting the rent of them..Nay, even the Telegraph's beau-ideal of the landowner, from a mechanical point of view, may come short, somewhat. 'Cultivating huge farms for himself with abundant machinery; —' Is that Lord Derby's ideal also, may it be asked? The Scott-reading of my youth haunts me, and I seem still listening to the (perhaps a little too long) speeches of the Black Countess who appears terrifically through the sliding panel in Peveril of the Peak , about 'her sainted Derby.' Would Saint Derby's ideal, or his Black Countess's, of due ordinance for their castle and estate of Man, have been a minimum of Man therein, and an abundance of machinery? In fact, only the Trinacrian Legs of Man, transposed into many spokes of wheels — no use for 'stalwart arms' any more — and less than none for inconveniently 'heroic' souls?

'Cultivating huge farms for himself!' I don't even see, after the sincerest efforts to put myself into a mechanical point of view, how it is to be done. For himself? Is he to eat the corn-ricks then? Surely such a beau-ideal is more Utopian than any of mine? Indeed, whether it be praise- or blame-worthy, it is not so easy to cultivate anything wholly for oneself, nor to consume, oneself, the products of cultivation. I have, indeed, before now, hinted to you that perhaps the 'consumer' was not so necessary a person economically, as has been supposed; nevertheless, it is not in his own mere eating and drinking, or even his picture-collecting, that a false lord injures the poor. It is in his bidding and forbidding — or worse still, in ceasing to do either. I have given you another of Giotto's pictures, this month, his imagination of Injustice, which he has seen done in his time, as we in ours; and I am sorry to observe that his Injustice lives in a battlemented castle and in a mountain country, it appears; the gates of it between rocks, and in the midst of a wood; but in Giotto's time, woods were too many, and towns too few. Also, Injustice has indeed very ugly talons to his fingers, like Envy; and an ugly quadruple hook to his lance, and other ominous resemblances to the 'hooked bird,' the falcon, which both knights and ladies too much delighted in. Nevertheless Giotto's main idea about him is, clearly, that he 'sits in the gate pacifically, with a cloak thrown over his chain-armour (you can just see the links of it appear at his throat), and a plain citizen's cap for a helmet, and his sword sheathed, while all robbery and violence have way in the wild places round him, — he heedless.

Which is, indeed, the depth of Injustice; not the harm you do, but that you permit to be done, — hooking perhaps here and there something to you with your clawed weapon meanwhile. The baronial type exists still, I fear, in such manner, here and there, in spite of improving centuries.

My friends, we have been thinking, perhaps, to-day, more than we ought of our masters' faults, — scarcely enough of our own. If you would have the upper classes do their duty, see that you also do yours. See that you can obey good laws, and good lords, or law-wards, if you once get them — that you believe in goodness enough to know what a good law is. A good law is one that holds, whether you recognize and pronounce it or not; a bad law is one that cannot hold, however much you ordain and pronounce it. That is the mighty truth which Carlyle has been telling you for a quarter of a century — once for all he told it you, and the landowners, and all whom it concerns, in the third book of Past and Present (1845, buy Chapman and Hall's second edition if you can, it is good print, and read it till you know it by heart), and from that day to this, whatever there is in England of dullest and insolentest may be always known by the natural instinct it has to howl against Carlyle. Of late, matters coming more and more to crisis, the liberty men seeing their way, as they think, more and more broad and bright before them, and still this too legible and steady old signpost saying, That it is not the way, lovely as it looks, the outcry against it becomes deafening. Now, I tell you once for all, Carlyle is the only living writer who has spoken the absolute and perpetual truth about yourselves and your business; and exactly in proportion to the inherent weakness of brain in your lying guides, will be their animosity against Carlyle. Your lying guides, observe, I say — not meaning that they lie wilfully — but that their nature is to do nothing else. For in the modern Liberal there is a new and wonderful form of misguidance. Of old, it was bad enough that the blind should lead the blind ; still, with dog and stick, or even timid walking with recognized need of dog and stick, if not to be had, such leadership might come to good end enough; but now a worse disorder has come upon you, that the squinting should lead the squinting. Now the nature of bat, or mole, or owl, may be undesirable, at least in the day-time, but worse may be imagined. The modern Liberal politico-economist of the Stuart Mill school is essentially of the type of a flat-fish — one eyeless side of him always in the mud, and one eye, on the side that has eyes, down in the corner of his mouth, — not a desirable guide for man or beast [. . . ]

Read your Carlyle, then, with all your heart, and with the best of brain you can give; and you will learn from him first, the eternity of good law, and the need of obedience to it: then, concerning your own immediate business, you will learn farther this, that the beginning of all good law, and nearly the end of it, is in these two ordinances, — That every man shall do good work for his bread: and secondly, that every man shall have good bread for his work. But the first of these is the only one you have to think of. If you are resolved that the work shall be good, the bread will be sure; if not, — believe me, there is neither steam plough nor steam mill, go they never so glibly, that will win it from the earth long, either for you, or the ideal Landed Proprietor.

Faithfully yours,
JOHN RUSKIN.

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