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- The infinity of God is not mysterious, it is only unfathomable;
not concealed, but incomprehensible; it is a clear infinity, the darkness of the
pure unsearchable sea.
- Modern Painters, vol. II, part III,
chapter V (1846) - Ruskin
- It is the glistening
and softly spoken lie; the amiable fallacy; the patriotic lie of the historian,
the provident lie of the politician, the zealous lie of the partisan, the merciful
lie of the friend, and the careless lie of each man to himself, that cast that
black mystery over humanity, through which we thank any man who pierces, as we
would thank one who dug a well in a desert.
- The Seven Lamps of
Architecture, chapter II, paragraph 1 (1849) - Ruskin
- I do not believe that ever any building was truly great, unless it had mighty
masses, vigorous and deep, of shadow mingled with its surface.
Seven Lamps of Architecture, chapter III, paragraph 24 (1849) - Ruskin
- When we build, let us think that we build for ever.
Seven Lamps of Architecture, chapter VI (1849) - Ruskin
- No small misery is caused by overworked and unhappy people, in the dark
views which they necessarily take up themselves, and force upon others, of work
- Pre-Raphaelitism, paragraph 1 (1851) - Ruskin
- Remember that the most beautiful things in the world are the most useless:
peacocks and lilies, for instance.
- The Stones of Venice, vol.
I, chapter II, paragraph 17 (1853) - Ruskin
old times, men used their powers of painting to show the objects of faith; in
later times, they used the objects of faith that they might show their powers
- The Stones of Venice, vol. II, chapter IV, paragraph
103 (1853) - Ruskin
- Of all God's gifts to the
sight of man, colour is the holiest, the most divine, the most solemn.
Stones of Venice, vol. II, chapter V, paragraph 30 (1853) - Ruskin
- We have much studied and much perfected, of late, the great civilized invention
of the division of labour; only we give it a false name. It is not, truly speaking,
the labour that it divided; but the men:— Divided into mere segments of men— broken
into small fragments and crumbs of life; so that all the little piece of intelligence
that is left in a man is not enough to make a pin, or a nail, but exhausts itself
in making the point of a pin or the head of a nail. Now it is a good and desirable
thing, truly, to make many pins in a day; but if we could only see with what crystal
sand their points were polished,— sand of human soul, much to be magnified before
it can be discerned for what it is— we should think that there might be some loss
in it also. And the great cry that rises from our manufacturing cities, louder
than their furnace blast, is all in very deed for this,— that we manufacture everything
there except men; we blanch cotton, and strengthen steel, and refine sugar, and
shape pottery; but to brighten, to strengthen, to refine, or to form a single
living spirit, never enters into our estimate of advantages. And all the evil
to which that cry is urging our myriads can be met only in one way: not by teaching
nor preaching, for to teach them is but to show them their misery, and to preach
at them, if we do nothing more than preach, is to mock at it. It can only be met
by a right understanding, on the part of all classes, of what kinds of labour
are good for men, raising them, and making them happy; by a determined sacrifice
of such convenience or beauty, or cheapness as is to be got only by the degradation
of the workman; and by equally determined demand for the products and results
of healthy and ennobling labour.
- The Stones of Venice, vol. II,
chapter VI, paragraph 16 (1853) - Ruskin
are to remember, in the first place, that the arrangement of colours and lines
is an art analogous to the composition of music, and entirely independent of the
representation of facts. Good colouring does not necessarily convey the image
of anything but itself. It consists of certain proportions and arrangements of
rays of light, but not in likeness to anything. A few touches of certain greys
and purples laid by a master's hand on white paper will be good colouring; as
more touches are added beside them, we may find out that they were intended to
represent a dove's neck, and we may praise, as the drawing advances, the perfect
imitation of the dove's neck. But the good colouring does not consist in that
imitation, but in the abstract qualities and relations of the grey and purple.
- The Stones of Venice, vol. II, chapter VI, paragraph 42 (1853)
- The world is full of vulgar Purists, who
bring discredit on all selection by the silliness of their choice; and this the
more, because the very becoming a Purist is commonly indicative of some slight
degree of weakness, readiness to be offended, or narrowness of understanding of
the ends of things.
- The Stones of Venice, vol, II, chapter VI,
paragraph 62 (1853) - Ruskin
- 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
- Modern Painters, vol. III, part IV, chapter
VII (1856) - Ruskin
- The word "Blue" does not
mean the sensation caused by a gentian on the human eye; but it means the
power of producing that sensation: and this power is always there, in the
thing, whether we are there to experience it or not, and would remain there though
there were not a man left on the face of the earth.
- Modern Painters,
vol. III, part IV, chapter XII (1856) - Ruskin
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
- Modern Painters, vol.III, part IV, chapter XII (1856)
- And thus, in full, there are four classes:
the men who feel nothing, and therefore see truly; the men who feel strongly,
think weakly, and see untruly (second order of poets); the men who feel strongly,
think strongly, and see truly (first order of poets); and the men who, strong
as human creatures can be, are yet submitted to influences stronger than they,
and see in a sort untruly, because what they see is inconceivably above them.
This last is the usual condition of prophetic inspiration.
Painters, vol. III, part IV, chapter XII (1856) - Ruskin
- It is only the basest writer who cannot speak of the sea without talking of
"raging waves," "remorseless floods," "ravenous billows," etc.; and it is one
of the signs of the highest power in a writer to check all such habits of thought,
and to keep his eyes fixed firmly on the pure fact, out of which if any
feeling comes to him or his reader, he knows it must be a true one.
Painters, vol. III, part IV, chapter XII (1856) - Ruskin
- The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see
something, and tell what it saw in a plain way. Hundreds of people can
talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see. To see
clearly is poetry, prophecy, and religion,— all in one.
Painters, vol. III, part IV, chapter XVI (1856) - Ruskin
- To invent a story, or admirably and thoroughly tell any part of a story, it
is necessary to grasp the entire mind of every personage concerned in it, and
know precisely how they would be affected by what happens; which to do requires
a colossal intellect: but to describe a separate emotion delicately, it is only
needed that one should feel it oneself; and thousands of people are capable of
feeling this or that noble emotion, for one who is able to enter into all the
feelings of someone sitting on the other side of the table.
Painters, vol. III, part IV, chapter XVI (1856) - Ruskin
- In general, when the imagination is at all noble, it is irresistible, and
therefore those who can at all resist it ought to resist it. Be a plain
topographer if you possibly can; if Nature meant you to be anything else, she
will force you to it; but never try to be a prophet.
- Modern Painters,
vol. III, part V, chapter II (1856) - Ruskin
is not possible to find a landscape, which if painted precisely as it is, will
not make an impressive picture. No one knows, till he has tried, what strange
beauty and subtle composition is prepared to his hand by Nature.
Painters, vol. III, part V, chapter II (1856) - Ruskin
- You talk of the scythe of Time, and the tooth of Time: I tell you, Time
is scytheless and toothless; it is we who gnaw like the worm— we who smite like
the scythe. It is ourselves who abolish— ourselves who consume: we are the mildew,
and the flame.
- A Joy for Ever, lecture II, paragraph 74 (1857)
- All true opinions are living, and show
their life by being capable of nourishment; therefore of change. But their change
is that of a tree— not of a cloud.
- Modern Painters, vol. V,
Preface (1860) - Ruskin
- Expression, sentiment,
truth to nature, are essential: but all those are not enough. I never care to
look at a picture again, if it be ill composed; and if well composed I can hardly
leave off looking at it.
- Modern Painters, vol. V, part VIII, chapter
I, paragraph 2 (1860) - Ruskin
- The power which
causes the several portions of the plant to help each other, we call life. Much
more is this so in an animal. We may take away the branch of a tree without much
harm to it; but not the animal's limb. Thus, intensity of life is also intensity
of helpfulness— completeness of depending of each part on all the rest. The ceasing
of this help is what we call corruption; and in proportion to the perfectness
of the help, is the dreadfulness of the loss. The more intense the life has been,
the more terrible is its corruption.
- Modern Painters, vol. V,
part VIII, chapter 1, paragraph 4 (1860) - Ruskin
- In painting as in eloquence, the greater your strength, the quieter your
- Modern Painters, vol. V, part VIII, chapter III (1860)
- Other men used their effete faiths and mean
faculties with a high moral purpose. The Venetian gave the most earnest faith,
and the lordliest faculty, to gild the shadows of an antechamber, or heighten
the splendours of a holiday.
- Modern Painters, vol. V, part IX,
chapter III, paragraph 52 (1860) - Ruskin
monk of La Trappe, a French soldier of the Imperial Guard, and a thriving mill-owner,
supposing each a type, and no more than a type, of his class, are all interesting
specimens of humanity, but narrow ones, — so narrow that even all the three together
would not make up a perfect man.
- Modern Painters, vol. V, part
IX, chapter XI (1860)
- There are, indeed, two forms
of discontent: one laborious, the other indolent and complaining. We respect the
man of laborious desire, but let us not suppose that his restlessness is peace,
or his ambition meekness. It is because of the special connection of meekness
with contentment that it is promised that the meek shall "inherit the earth."
Neither covetous men, nor the Grave, can inherit anything; they can but
consume. Only contentment can possess.
- Modern Painters, vol.
V, part IX, chapter XI (1860) - Ruskin
- And with
respect to the mode in which these general principles affect the secure possession
of property, so far am I from invalidating such security, that the whole gist
of these papers will be found ultimately to aim at an extension in its range;
and whereas it has long been known and declared that the poor have no right
to the property of the rich, I wish it also to be known and declared that the
rich have no right to the property of the poor.
- Unto This Last,
essay III, paragraph 54 (1860) - Ruskin
is no wealth but life. Life, including all its powers of love, of joy, and
of admiration. That country is the richest which nourishes the greatest numbers
of noble and happy human beings; that man is richest, who, having perfected the
functions of his own life to the utmost, has also the widest helpful influence,
both personal, and by means of his possessions, over the lives of others.
- Unto This Last, essay IV, paragraph 77 (1860) - Ruskin
- There is but one question ultimately to be asked respecting every line you
draw, Is it right or wrong? If right, it most assuredly is not a "free" line,
but an intensely continent, restrained and considered line; and the action of
the hand in laying it is just as decisive, and just as "free" as the hand of a
first-rate surgeon in a critical incision.
- Cestus of Aglaia, chapter
VI, paragraph 72 (1865-66) - Ruskin
- Ask a great
money-maker what he wants to do with his money,— he never knows. He doesn't make
it to do anything with it. He gets it only that he may get it. "What will
you make of what you have got?" you ask. "Well, I'll get more," he says. Just
as at cricket, you get more runs. There's no use in the runs, but to get more
of them than other people is the game. So all that great foul city of London there,—
rattling, growling, smoking,stinking,— a ghastly heap of fermenting brickwork,
pouring out poison at every pore,— you fancy it is a city of work? Not a street
of it! It is a great city of play; very nasty play and very hard play, but still
- The Crown of Wild Olive, lecture I, paragraphs 23-24 (1866)
- For when we are interested in the beauty
of a thing, the oftener we can see it the better; but when we are interested only
by the story of a thing, we get tired of hearing the same tale told over and over
again, and stopping always at the same point— we want a new story presently, a
newer and better one— and the picture of the day, and novel of the day, become
as epheremal as the coiffure or the bonnet of the day. Now this spirit is wholly
adverse to the existence of any lovely art. If you mean to throw it aside to-morrow,
you can never have it to-day.
- On the Condition of Modern Art,
lecture (1867) - Ruskin
- Labour without joy
is base. Labour without sorrow is base. Sorrow without labour is base. Joy without
labour is base.
- Time and Tide, letter V (1867) - Ruskin
- Your honesty is not to be based either on religion or policy. Both
your religion and policy must be based on it. Your honesty must be based,
as the sun is, in vacant heaven; poised, as the lights in the firmament, which
have rule over the day and over the night.
- Time and Tide, letter
VIII (1867) - Ruskin
- Punishment is the last
and least effective instrument in the hands of the legislator for the prevention
- Notes on the General Principles of Employment for the Destitute
and Criminal Classes (1868) - Ruskin
without industry is guilt, and industry without art is brutality.
on Art, lecture III (1870) - Ruskin
secret of language is the secret of sympathy and its full charm is possible only
to the gentle.
- Lectures on Art, lecture III (1870) - Ruskin
- The entire vitality of art depends upon its being either full of truth, or
full of use; and that, however pleasant, wonderful, or impressive it may be in
itself, it must yet be of inferior kind, and tend to deeper inferiority, unless
it has clearly one of these main objects,— either to state a true thing, or to
adorn a serviceable one.
- Lectures on Art, lecture IV (1870)
- In all base schools of art, the craftsman
is dependent for his bread on originality; that is to say, on finding in himself
some fragment of isolated faculty, by which his work may be distinct from that
of other men. We are ready enough to take delight in our little doings, without
any such stimulus;— what must be the effect of the popular applause which continually
suggests that the little thing we can separately do is as excellent as it is singular;
and what the effect of the bribe, held out to us through the whole of life, to
produce— it being also in our peril not to produce— something different
from the work of our neighbors?
- The Eagle's Nest, lecture II,
paragraph 32 (1872) - Ruskin
- We shall be remembered
in history as the most cruel, and therefore the most unwise, generation of men
that ever yet troubled the earth:— the most cruel in proportion to their sensibility,—
the most unwise in proportion to their science. No people, understanding pain,
ever inflicted so much: no people, understanding facts, ever acted on them so
- The Eagle's Nest, lecture II, paragraph 35 (1872)
- What do you suppose makes all men look back
to the time of childhood with so much regret (if their childhood has been, in
any moderate degree, healthy or peaceful)? That rich charm, which the least possession
had for us, was in consequence of the poorness of our treasures.
Eagle's Nest, chapter V, paragraph 82 (1872) - Ruskin
- Ignorance, which is contented and clumsy, will produce what is imperfect,
but not offensive. But ignorance discontented and dexterous, learning what
it cannot understand, and imitating what it cannot enjoy, produces the most loathsome
forms of manufacture that can disgrace or mislead humanity.
Eagle's Nest, chapter V, paragraph 88 (1872) - Ruskin
- An unimaginative person can neither be reverent nor kind.
Clavigera, letter xxxiv, October 1873 - Ruskin
- I am far more provoked at being thought foolish by foolish people, than pleased
at being thought sensible by sensible people; and the average proportion of the
numbers of each is not to my advantage.
- Fors Clavigera, letter
xxxvii, January 1, 1874 - Ruskin
- In great
states, children are always trying to remain children, and the parents wanting
to make men and women of them. In vile states, the children are always wanting
to be men and women, and the parents to keep them children.
in Florence, part III, paragraph 49 (1875) - Ruskin
- Human work must be done thoroughly and honourably because we are now men;
whether we ever expect to be angels, or were ever slugs, being practically no
- Fors Clavigera, letter lxxvi (1877) - Ruskin
- My entire delight was in observing without being myself noticed,— if I
could have been invisible, all the better. I was absolutely interested in
men and their ways, as I was interested in marmots and chamois, in tomtits and
trout. If only they would stay still and let me look at them, and not get into
their holes and up their heights! The living inhabitation of the world— the
grazing and nesting in it,— the spiritual power of the air, the rocks, the waters,
to be in the midst of it, and rejoice and wonder at it, and help it if I could,—
happier if it needed no help of mine,— this was the essential love of Nature
in me, this the root of all that I have usefully become, and the light of all
that I have rightly learned.
- Praeterita, vol. I, chapter IX
(1885-1889) - Ruskin
- There is really no such
thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.
- Quoted by
John Lubbock, Lord Avebury, The Use of Life, chapter IV: "Recreation" (1894)
Other Ruskin quotes that are not sourced:
- Say all you have to say in the fewest possible words, or your reader will
be sure to skip them; and in the plainest possible words or he will certainly
- The highest reward for a person's toil is not what
they get for it, but what they become by it.
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