John Ruskin (1819)
It was on this date, February 8, 1819, that the English author and art critic John Ruskin was born in London. Few other writers of the Victorian-Edwardian era in Britain were as influential as Ruskin with his writings. He was early known for his support for the work of English Romantic painter J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851) and his defense of naturalism in art. His major works included Modern Painters (9 parts, 1843-46), and also The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849) and The Stones of Venice (3 vols., 1851-53), both of which argued that architecture and morality are inextricably intertwined.
In addition to his passion for architecture and art, Ruskin had a passion for social justice and progress. He subscribed to a thin theism that was practically agnosticism during his most productive years. Although never a Christian, Ruskin’s musings on the interconnection of cultural, social and moral issues were influential on the development of Christian Socialism, which is a political movement that is both Christian and socialist.
Ruskin’s literary influence was felt by author Leo Tolstoy, who described him as, “one of those rare men who think with their heart”; by Marcel Proust, who helped translate his works into French; by Mahatma Gandhi, who translated Ruskin’s Unto This Last (1860), in which he expounded his ideas of social justice, into Gujarati; and even by Oscar Wilde.
In later years Ruskin called himself “a Christian Catholic” to distinguish himself from the pagan Roman Catholics. He never went to church, but he gave away most of his wealth in founding a charity called the Guild of St. George in the 1870s. After 1875, through a number of causes including the death of a young woman he loved, Ruskin lost his mental balance.
Ruskin coined the term “Modern Atheism,” meaning “the unfortunate persistence of the clergy in teaching children what they cannot understand, and in employing young consecrate persons to assert in pulpits what they do not know.” John Ruskin died of influenza on 20 January 1900 at Brantwood, on the shore of Coniston Water in Cumbria. It was John Ruskin who told English writer and raconteur Augustus Hare (1834-1903) that “he believed nothing.”
Originally published February 2011 by Ronald Bruce Meyer.