30 July 2012

Ruskin on the Civil War

OK. I found the letter cited above. I am not a scholar of the Civil War, to agree or disagree - I don't have a good enough handle on popular thought in the 1800s - but Ruskin's critique is interesting.

John Ruskin was a 19th century English scholar of art and natural science, of whom I know very little.
Charles Norton writes that in person, Ruskin was a generous soul; but in his letters Ruskin is by turns melancholy and cutting. The best insult in his correspondence is reserved for certain political economists:
...the miserable wretches haven't brains enough to be prologue to an egg and butter.

This is Part II of the post on machlokes. Ruskin saw the same kind of self-deception in the Civil War:

Mornex, 10th February, 1863.
My Dear Norton---
. . . . It is no use talking about your war. . . . The miserablest idiocy of the whole has been your mixing up a fight for dominion. . . with a soi disant fight for liberty. If you want the slaves to go free, let their masters go free first, in God's name. If they don't like to be governed by you, let them govern themselves. Then, treating them as a stranger state, if you like to say, "You shall let that black fellow go, or" ---etc., as a brave boy would fight for another fag at Eton --- do so; but you know perfectly well no fight could be got up on those terms; and that this fight is partly for money, partly for vanity, partly. . . .for wild anarchy and the Devil's cause and crown, everywhere.

I should mention -- since one never knows how literate one's online audience is -- that certain words still in use meant something quite different in Victorian English.


It occurred to me when I posted about Chehalis that there is a curious contrast between Civil War reenactments, in which people assume the identities of historical figures to reenact historical events by way of recreation, and Tisha b'Av, which was yesterday, on which people sit down on the floor and weep over the disasters (which are still with us) of some 2000 years ago. Civil War reenactments are fairly impersonal, a day off from one's life as oneself. Jewish holidays are not -- we feel that we were there and still are, no reenactment necessary -- at least, not to the extent of Chehalis.

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