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A collection of quotations from the Pre-Raphaelite writers:
JOHN RUSKIN

Dante Gabriel Rossetti
John Ruskin
Christina Rossetti
William Morris
Algernon Charles Swinburne

    The writings of this remarkable man fill 39 volumes. For more information on his life and work, check out The Ruskin Centre, and The Victorian Web. Aldems' Political Quotations includes a selection of Ruskin quotes on social and economic matters, the focus of the latter part of his life. See our Links page.

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JOHN RUSKIN  (1819--1900)


  "The artist has done nothing till he has concealed himself -- the art is imperfect which is visible,-the feelings are but feebly touched, if they permit us to reason on the methods of their excitement."
       --
Modern Painters I (1843)

    "In the reading of a great poem, in the hearing of a noble oration, it is the subject of the writer, and not his skill-his passion, not his power, on which our minds are fixed. We see as he sees, but we see not him."
       --
Modern Painters I (1843)

    "Do we think of Æschylus while we wait on the silence of Cassandra, or of Shakespeare, while we listen to the wailing of Lear ? Not so. The power of the masters is shown by their self-annihilation. It is commensurate with the degree in which they themselves appear not in their work. The harp of the minstrel is untruly touched, if his own glory is all that it records."
       --
Modern Painters I (1843)

    "Every great writer may be at once known by his guiding the mind far from himself, to the beauty which is not of his creation, and the knowledge which is past his finding out."
       --
Modern Painters I (1843)

    "The picture which has the nobler and more numerous ideas, however awkwardly expressed, is a greater and a better picture than that which has the less noble and less numerous ideas, however beautifully expressed."
       --
Modern Painters I (1843)

    "He who has learned what is commonly considered the whole art of painting, that is, the art of representing any natural object faithfully, has as yet only learned the language by which his thoughts are to be expressed."
       --
Modern Painters I (1843).

    "Nothing can be true which is either complete or vacant; every touch is false which does not suggest more than it represents, and every space is false which represents nothing."
       --
Modern Painters I (1843)

    "It is in this power of saying everything, and yet saying nothing too plainly, that the perfection of art ... consists."
       --
Modern Painters I (1843)

    "To know anything well involves a profound sensation of ignorance."
       --
Modern Painters I (1843)

    "It is not by the mode of representing and saying, but by what is represented and said, that the respective greatness either of the painter or the writer is to be finally determined."
       --
Modern Painters I (1843)

    "Now, then, we see the limits of an idea of imitation; it extends only to the sensation of trickery and deception occasioned by a thing being intentionally different from what it seems to be; and the degree of the pleasure depends on the degree of difference and the perfection of the resemblance, not on the nature of the thing resembled. The simple pleasure in the imitation is precisely of the same degree (if the accuracy be equal), whether the subject be a Madonna or a lemon peel."
       --
Modern Painters I (1843)

    "I love Coleridge ... and I am very willing to allow that he has more imagination than Wordsworth, and more of the real poet. But after all Coleridge is nothing more than an intellectual opium-eater -- a man of many crude though lovely thoughts -- of confused though brilliant imagination, liable to much error -- error even of the heart, very sensual in many of his ideas of pleasure -- indolent to a degree, and evidently and always thinking without discipline; letting the fine brains which God gave him work themselves irregularly and without end or object -- and carry him whither they will. Wordsworth has a grand, consistent, perfectly disciplined, all grasping intellect -- for which nothing is too small, nothing too great, arranging everything in due relations, divinely pure in its conventions of pleasure, majestic in the equanimity of its benevolence -- intense as white fire with chastened feeling. Coleridge may be the greater poet, but surely it admits of no question which is the greater man."
       --
letter to Rev. Walter Brown, 1843 

    "That which is required in order to the attainment of accurate conclusions respecting the essence of the Beautiful is nothing more than earnest, loving, and unselfish attention to our impressions of it."
       --
Modern Painters II (1846)

     "... though we cannot, while we feel deeply, reason shrewdly, yet I doubt if, except when we feel deeply, we can ever comprehend fully."
       --
Modern Painters II (1846)

    "That virtue of originality that men so strain after is not newness, as they vainly think (there is nothing new), it is only genuineness"
       --
Modern Painters II (1846)

    " … men in the present century understand the word Useful in a strange way … as if houses and lands, and food and raiment were alone useful, and as if Sight, Thought, and Admiration were all profitless, so that men insolently call themselves Utilitarians, who would turn, if they had their way, themselves and their race into vegetables."
       --
Modern Painters II (1846)

    "I believe the right question to ask, respecting all ornament, is simply this: was it done with enjoyment -- was the carver happy while he was about it?"
       --
The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849)

    "[Architects] ought not to live in our cities; there is that in their miserable walls which bricks up to death men's imaginations. ... An architect should live as little in cities as a painter. Send him to our hills, and let him study there what nature understands by a buttress, and what by a dome."
       --
The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849)

    "Therefore, when we build, let us think that we build for ever."
       --
The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849).

    " … every great man paints what he sees …. And thus Pre-Raphaelitism and Raphaelitism, and Turnerism, are all one and the same, so far as education can influence them."
       --
Pre-Raphaelitism (1851)

    "All great art is the work of the whole living creature, body and soul, and chiefly of the soul."
       --
The Stones of Venice I (1851)

    "I have not written in vain if I have heretofore done anything towards diminishing the reputation of the Renaissance landscape painting."
       --
The Stones of Venice I (1851)

    "The purest and most thoughtful minds are those which love colour the most."
       --
The Stones of Venice II (1853)

    "A picture or poem is often little more than a feeble utterance of man's admiration of something out of himself; but architecture approaches more to a creation of his own, born of his necessities, and expressive of his nature. It is also, in some sort, the work of the whole race, while the picture or statue is the work of one only."
       --
The Stones of Venice II (1853)

    "It is perhaps the principal admirableness of the Gothic schools of architecture, that they receive the results of the labour of inferior minds; and out of fragments full of imperfection ... raise up a stately and unaccusable whole."
       --
The Stones of Venice II (1853)

    "Men were not intended to work with the accuracy of tools, to be precise and perfect in all their actions."
       --
The Stones of Venice II (1853)

    "No architecture is so haughty as that which is simple."
       --
The Stones of Venice II (1853)

    "It seems a fantastic paradox, but it is nevertheless a most important truth, that no architecture can be truly noble which is not imperfect."
       --
The Stones of Venice II (1853)

    "Exactly in proportion to the degree of the pride of life expressed in any monument, would be also the fear of death; and therefore, as these tombs increase in splendour, in size, and beauty of workmanship, we perceive a gradual desire to take away from the definite character of the sarcophagus. In the earliest times, as we have seen, it was a gloomy mass of stone; gradually it became charged with religious sculpture; but never with the slightest desire to disguise its form, until towards the middle of the fifteenth century. It then becomes enriched with flower-work and hidden by the Virtues: and, finally, losing its four-square form, it is modeled on graceful types of ancient vases, made as little like a coffin as possible, and refined away in various elegances, till it becomes, at last, a mere pedestal or stage for the portrait statue. This statue, in the meantime, has been gradually coming back to life, through a curious series of transitions. The Vendramin monument is one of the last which shows, or pretends to show, the recumbent figure laid in death. A few years later, this idea became disagreeable to polite minds; and lo! the figures, which before had been laid at rest upon the tomb pillow, raised themselves on their elbows, and began to look round them. The soul of the sixteenth century dared not contemplate its body in death. ... The statue rose up, and presented itself in front of the tomb, like an actor upon a stage, surrounded now not merely, or not at all, by the Virtues, but by allegorical figures of Fame and Victory, by genii and muses, by personifications of humbled kingdoms and adoring nations, and by every circumstance of pomp, and symbol of adulation, that flattery could suggest, or insolence could claim."
       --
The Stones of Venice III, (1853)

    "Science deals exclusively with things as they are in themselves; and art exclusively with things as they affect the human sense and human soul. Her work is to portray the appearances of things, and to deepen the natural impressions which they produce upon living creatures. The work of science is to substitute facts for appearances, and demonstrations for impressions. Both, observe, are equally concerned with truth; the one with truth of aspect, the other with truth of essence."
       --
The Stones of Venice III, (1853)

    "All art is great, and good, and true, only so far as it is distinctively the work of manhood in its entire and highest sense; that is to say, not the work of limbs and fingers, but of the soul, aided, according to her necessities, by the inferior powers."
       --
The Stones of Venice III (1853) 

    "The higher a man stands, the more the word 'vulgar' becomes unintelligible to him."
       --
Modern Painters III (1856)

    "There is never vulgarity in a whole truth, however commonplace. It may be unimportant or painful. It cannot be vulgar. Vulgarity is only in concealment of truth, or in affectation."
       --
Modern Painters III (1856)

    "All violent feelings have the same effect. They produce in us a falseness in all our impressions of external things, which I would generally characterize as the 'pathetic fallacy'."
       --
Modern Painters III (1856)

    "Painting is properly to be opposed to speaking or writing, but not to poetry. Both painting and speaking are methods of expression. Poetry is the employment of either for the noblest purposes."
       -- Modern Painters III (1856)

    "All the great men see what they paint before they paint it -- see it in a perfectly passive manner -- cannot help seeing it if they would; whether in their mind's eye, or in bodily fact, does not matter; very often the mental vision is, I believe, in men of imagination, clearer than the bodily one; but vision it is, of one kind or another ...."
       --
Modern Painters III (1856)

    "To see clearly is poetry, prophecy and religion--all in one."
       --
Modern Painters III (1856)

    "They are good furniture pictures, unworthy of praise, and undeserving of blame."
       --
Modern Painters III (1856), on Dutch marine painting

    " … one of the worst diseases to which the human creature is liable is its disease of thinking. If it would only just look at a thing instead of thinking what it must be like … we should all get on far better."
       --
A Joy For Ever (1857}

    "'Manufacture' is, according to the etymology and right use of the word, 'the making of anything by hands' -- directly or indirectly, with or without the help of instruments or machines. ... 'Art' is the operation of the hand and the intelligence of man together. ... Then 'Fine Art' is that in which the hand, the head, and the heart of man go together."
       --
The Two Paths (1859)

    "All art which involves no reference to man is inferior or nugatory. And all art which involves misconception of man, or base thought of him, is in that degree false and base. Now the basest thought possible concerning him is, that he has no spiritual nature; and the foolishest misunderstanding of him possible is, that he has or should have, no animal nature. For his nature is nobly animal, nobly spiritual -- coherently and irrevocably so; neither part of it may, but at its peril, expel, despise, or defy the other. All great art confesses and worships both."
       -- Modern Painters V (1860)

    "The right faith of man is not intended to give him repose, but to enable him to do his work. It is not intended that he should look away from the place he lives in now, and cheer himself with thoughts of the place he is to live in next, but that he should look stoutly into this world."
       -- Modern Painters V (1860)

    "All great and beautiful work has come of first gazing without shrinking into the darkness."
       --
Modern Painters V (1860)

    "What we like determines what we are, and is the sign of what we are; and to teach taste is inevitably to form character."
       --
Traffic (1864)

    "… every nation's vice, or virtue, was written in its art: the soldiership of early Greece; the sensuality of late Italy; the visionary religion of Tuscany; the splendid human energy of Venice."
       --
Traffic (1864)

    "And all delight in fine art, and all love of it, resolve themselves into simple love of that which deserves love. That deserving is the quality which we call 'loveliness' ... and it is not an indifferent nor optional thing whether we love this or that; but it is just the vital function of all our being.''
       --
Traffic (1864)

    "All books are divisible into two classes: the books of the hour, and the books of all time."
       --
Sesame and Lilies (1865)

    "… a book is written, not to multiply the voice merely, not to carry it merely, but to perpetuate it."
       --
Sesame and Lilies (1865)

    "Be sure that you go to the author to get at his meaning, not to find yours."
       --
Sesame and Lilies, (1865)

    "Is there anything impious in the thought that the same agency might have been expressed to a Greek king, or a Greek seer, by similar visions?"
       --
The Ethics of the Dust (1866)

    "Now observe -- I leave you to call this deceiving spirit what you like -- or to theorise about it as you like. All that I desire you to recognise is the fact of its being here, and the need of its being fought with. If you take the Bible's account of it, or Dante's, or Milton's, you will receive the image of it as a mighty spiritual creature; if you take Aeschylus's or Hesiod's account of it, you will hold it for a partly elementary and unconscious adversity of fate, and partly for a group of monstrous spiritual agencies connected with death, and begotten out of the dust; if you take a modern rationalist's, you will accept it for a mere treachery and want of vitality in our own moral nature exposing it to loathsomeness or moral disease, as the body is capable of mortification or leprosy. I do not care what you call it, -- whose history you believe of it -- nor what you yourself can imagine about it; the origin, or nature, or name may be as you will, but the deadly reality of the thing is with us, and warring against us, and on our true war with it depends whatever life we can win."
       --
Time and Tide ... Twenty-five Letters to a Working Man of Sunderland on the Laws of Work (1867)

    "All previous art contemplated men in their public aspect, and expressed only their public Thought. But our art paints their home aspect, and reveals their home thoughts. Old art waited reverently in the Forum. Ours plays happily in the Nursery."
       --
Modern Art (lecture)

    "And thus while the pictures of the Middle Ages are full of intellectual matter and meaning -- schools of philosophy and theology, and solemn exponents of the faiths and fears of earnest religion -- we may pass furlongs of exhibition wall without receiving any idea or sentiment, other than that home-made ginger is hot in the mouth, and that it is pleasant to be out on the lawn in fine weather."
       --
Modern Art (lecture)

    "The difficulty of consistent teaching multiplies with our multitudes, and the sense of every word we utter is lost in the hubbub of voices. Hence we have of late learned the little we could, each of us by our own weary gleaning or collision with contingent teachers, none of whom we recognize as wise, or listen to with any honest reverence. If we like what they say, we adopt it and over-act it; if we dislike, we refuse and contradict it. And therefore our art is a chaos of small personal powers and preferences, of originality corrupted by isolation or of borrowed merit appropriated by autograph of private folly. It is full of impertinent insistence upon contrary aims and competitive display of diverse dexterities, most of them ignorant, all of them partial, pitifully excellent, and deplorably admirable."
       --
Modern Art (lecture)

    "Whatever the origin of species may be ... the groups into which birth or accident reduce them have distinct relation to the spirit of man. It is perfectly possible, and ultimately conceivable, that the crocodile and the lamb may have descended from the same ancestral atom of protoplasm; ... but the practically important fact for us is the existence of a power which creates ... crocodiles and lambs, ... the one repellent to the spirit of man, the other attractive to it, in a quite inevitable way, representing to him states of moral evil and good, and becoming myths to him of destruction or redemption, and, in the most literal sense, 'Words' of God."
       -- The Queen of the Air (1869)

    "We cannot justly interpret the religion of any people, unless we are prepared to admit that we ourselves, as well as they, are liable to error in matters of faith; and that the convictions of others, however singular, may in some points have been well founded, while our own, however reasonable, may in some particulars be mistaken."
       -- The Queen of the Air (1869)

    "Every increased possession loads us with a new weariness."
       --
The Eagle's Nest (1872)

    "The real reason of it is this -- that for more than a couple of centuries we have been studiously surrounding ourselves with every form of vapidness and monotony in architecture. It has been our aim to make all our houses and churches, alike; we have squared our windows -- smoothed our walls; straightened our roofs -- put away nearly all ornament, inequality, evidence of effort, and ambiguity, and all variety of colour. It has been our aim to make every house look as if it had been built yesterday; and to make all the parts of it symmetrical, similar and colourless. ... All this is done directly in opposition to the laws of nature and truth."
               --
Bodleian Library notebooks

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