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JOHN RUSKIN was an English writer who has puzzled some people because, becoming famous as a critic of art, ho concerned himself more earnestly as he grew older with the question how men and women should live so as to make the world in which they lived beautiful. He was born February 8, 1819, the year in which James Russell Lowell was born. His father was a rich wine-merchant who lived in London, but both he and his wife were of Scotch descent. John Ruskin was their only child, and they not only gave him the best education they could find, his mother especially making him thoroughly acquainted with the Bible, but from early years they treated him as their companion, took him on long journeys in the family chaise, and when he had been graduated at Oxford, carried him to the continent and showed him Switzerland and Italy. When he was twelve years
old a friend
gave of Samuel Rogers's poem, Italy, illustrated by Turner, an English artist, who was a friend of his father. His love of art was stimulated by the pictures and with all that he saw of Turner's work, and though when a boy and youth he seemed to care more about writing poetry than anything else, he was really feeding all the time his love of beauty. He studied painting, and began himself to paint. One day he read, in Blackwood's Magazine, a harsh criticism of Turner. He sprang indignantly to the defence of the great painter, but as he plunged into his task, be found himself
him a copy
grappling with fundamental questions of art; his work grew, and in 1843, when he was twenty-four years old, he published the first volume of Modern Painters, a famous examination of art, especially landscape art, and only incidentally, though emphatically, a defence of Turner.
For twenty years Ruskin devoted himself mainly to writing on art. His books had a very great influence both on painters and architects in calling their attention to great principles in art, and on public taste. But by and by, his readers noticed that as he insisted on purity and truthfulness of ideas as essential to right drawing and color, he began also to inquire into the failure of great art, and to ask if great art and good art did not depend upon the right living of people. In a word, just as before he started to defend Turner and found he must go to the bottom and study the whole meaning of modern art, so now he could not satisfy himself short of an examination of the whole structure of human society.
He was a painter when he undertook to write about painting, and his own work in water-color was a guide to his criticism in art. When he was possessed with the belief that the world was going wrong in its industry, and its common life, he set about making a new world in a small way.
He formed a society, called St. George's Company, started a farm, set up a shop, and in various ways tried to show how men and women might begin a new order of things by obedience to certain great laws. He tried a great many experiments, and they formed the basis of the books he now wrote in which he sought to get at the sound principles of right living. He made himself very unhappy, but he must needs keep on, like an old prophet who uttered his cries and lamentations and warnings, though few seemed to heed him. Now and then he would return to his thoughts about art, but they were mingled with these new, more pressing thoughts. He addressed a long series of letters to workingmen, and finally he began a beautiful narrative of his own