The Ethics of the Dust, by John Ruskin

Lecture VII.

Home Virtues.

By the fireside, in the Drawing-room. Evening.

Dora. Now, the curtains are drawn, and the fire’s bright and here’s your arm-chair — and you’re to tell us all about what you promised.

L. All about what?

Dora. All about virtue.

Kathleen. Yes, and about the words that begin with V.

L. I heard you singing about a word that begins with V, in the playground, this morning, Miss Katie.

Kathleen. Me singing?

May. Oh tell us — tell us.

L. ‘Vilikens and his —— ’

Kathleen (stopping his mouth). Oh! please don’t. Where were you?

Isabel. I’m sure I wish I had known where he was! We lost him among the rhododendrons, and I don’t know where he got to; oh, you naughty — naughty — (climbs on his knee).

Dora. Now, Isabel, we really want to talk.

L. I don’t.

Dora. Oh, but you must. You promised, you know.

L. Yes, if all was well; but all’s ill. I’m tired, and cross; and I won’t.

Dora. You’re not a bit tired, and you’re not crosser than two sticks; and we’ll make you talk, if you were crosser than six. Come here, Egypt; and get on the other side of him.

(Egypt takes up a commanding position near the hearth-brush.)

Dora (reviewing her forces). Now, Lily, come and sit on the rug in front.

(Lily does as she is bid.)

L. (seeing he has no chance against the odds.) Well, well; but I’m really tired. Go and dance a little, first; and let me think.

Dora. No; you mustn’t think. You will be wanting to make us think next; that will be tiresome.

L. Well, go and dance first, to get quit of thinking; and then I’ll talk as long as you like.

Dora. Oh, but we can’t dance to-night. There isn’t time; and we want to hear about virtue.

L. Let me see a little of it first. Dancing is the first of girl’s virtues.

Egypt. Indeed! And the second?

L. Dressing.

Egypt. Now, you needn’t say that! I mended that tear the first thing before breakfast this morning.

L. I cannot otherwise express the ethical principle, Egypt; whether you have mended your gown or not.

Dora. Now don’t be tiresome. We really must hear about virtue, please; seriously.

L. Well. I’m telling you about it, as fast as I can.

Dora. What! the first of girls’ virtues is dancing?

L. More accurately, it is wishing to dance, and not wishing to tease, nor hear about virtue.

Dora (to Egypt). Isn’t he cross?

Egypt. How many balls must we go to in the season, to be perfectly virtuous?

L. As many as you can without losing your colour. But I did not say you should wish to go to balls. I said you should be always wanting to dance.

Egypt. So we do; but everybody says it is very wrong.

L. Why, Egypt, I thought —

‘There was a lady once,

That would not be a queen, — that would she not,

For all the mud in Egypt.’

You were complaining the other day of having to go out a great deal oftener than you liked.

Egypt. Yes, so I was; but then, it isn’t to dance. There’s no room to dance: it’s — (Pausing to consider what it is for).

L. It is only to be seen, I suppose. Well, there’s no harm in that. Girls ought to like to be seen.

Dora (her eyes flashing). Now, you don’t mean that; and you’re too provoking; and we won’t dance again, for a month.

L. It will answer every purpose of revenge, Dora, if you only banish me to the library; and dance by yourselves: but I don’t think Jessie and Lily will agree to that. You like me to see you dancing, don’t you Lily?

Lily. Yes, certainly, — when we do it rightly.

L. And besides, Miss Dora, if young ladies really do not want to be seen, they should take care not to let their eyes flash when they dislike what people say; and, more than that, it is all nonsense from beginning to end, about not wanting to be seen. I don’t know any more tiresome flower in the borders than your especially ‘modest’ snowdrop; which one always has to stoop down and take all sorts of tiresome trouble with, and nearly break its poor little head off, before you can see it; and then, half of it is not worth seeing. Girls should be like daisies; nice and white, with an edge of red, if you look close; making the ground bright wherever they are; knowing simply and quietly that they do it, and are meant to do it, and that it would be very wrong if they didn’t do it. Not want to be seen, indeed! How long were you in doing your back hair, this afternoon, Jessie?

(Jessie not immediately answering, Dora comes to her assistance.)

Dora. Not above three-quarters of an hour, I think, Jess?

Jessie (putting her finger up). Now, Dorothy, you needn’t talk, you know!

L. I know she needn’t, Jessie; I shall ask her about those dark plaits presently. (Dora looks round to see if there is any way open for retreat.) But never mind; it was worth the time, whatever it was; and nobody will ever mistake that golden wreath for a chignon; but if you don’t want it to be seen, you had better wear a cap.

Jessie. Ah, now, are you really going to do nothing but play? And we all have been thinking, and thinking, all day; and hoping you would tell us things; and now —!

L. And now I am telling you things, and true things, and things good for you; and you won’t believe me. You might as well have let me go to sleep at once, as I wanted to.

(Endeavours again to make himself comfortable.)

Isabel. Oh, no, no, you sha’n’t go to sleep, you naughty — Kathleen, come here.

L. (knowing what he has to expect if Kathleen comes). Get away, Isabel, you’re too heavy. (Sitting up.) What have I been saying?

Dora. I do believe he has been asleep all the time! You never heard anything like the things you’ve been saying.

L. Perhaps not. If you have heard them, and anything like them, it is all I want.

Egypt. Yes, but we don’t understand, and you know we don’t; and we want to.

L. What did I say first?

Dora. That the first virtue of girls was wanting to go to balls.

L. I said nothing of the kind.

Jessie. ‘Always wanting to dance,’ you said.

L. Yes, and that’s true. Their first virtue is to be intensely happy; — so happy that they don’t know what to do with themselves for happiness, — and dance, instead of walking. Don’t you recollect ‘Louisa,’

‘No fountain from a rocky cave
E’er tripped with foot so free;

She seemed as happy as a wave
That dances on the sea.’

A girl is always like that, when everything’s right with her.

Violet. But, surely, one must be sad sometimes?

L. Yes, Violet; and dull sometimes, and stupid sometimes, and cross sometimes. What must be, must; but it is always either our own fault, or somebody else’s . The last and worst thing that can be said of a nation is, that it has made its young girls sad, and weary.

May. But I am sure I have heard a great many good people speak against dancing?

L. Yes, May; but it does not follow they were wise as well as good. I suppose they think Jeremiah liked better to have to write Lamentations for his people, than to have to write that promise for them, which everybody seems to hurry past, that they may get on quickly to the verse about Rachel weeping for her children; though the verse they pass is the counter-blessing to that one: ‘Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance; and both young men and old together; and I will turn their mourning into joy.’

(The children get very serious, but look at each other, as if pleased.)

Mary. They understand now: but, do you know what you said next?

L. Yes; I was not more than half asleep. I said their second virtue was dressing.

Mary. Well! what did you mean by that?

L. What do you mean by dressing?

Mary. Wearing fine clothes.

L. Ah! there’s the mistake. I mean wearing plain ones.

Mary. Yes, I daresay! but that’s not what girls understand by dressing, you know.

L. I can’t help that. If they understand by dressing, buying dresses, perhaps they also understand by drawing, buying pictures. But when I hear them say they can draw, I understand that they can make a drawing; and when I hear them say they can dress, I understand that they can make a dress and — which is quite as difficult — wear one.

Dora. I’m not sure about the making; for the wearing, we can all wear them — out, before anybody expects it.

Egypt (aside, to L., piteously). Indeed I have mended that torn flounce quite neatly; look if I haven’t!

L. (aside, to Egypt). All right; don’t be afraid. (Aloud to Dora.) Yes, doubtless; but you know that is only a slow way of undressing.

Dora. Then, we are all to learn dress-making, are we?

L. Yes; and always to dress yourselves beautifully — not finely, unless on occasion; but then very finely and beautifully too. Also, you are to dress as many other people as you can; and to teach them how to dress, if they don’t know; and to consider every ill-dressed woman or child whom you see anywhere, as a personal disgrace; and to get at them, somehow, until everybody is as beautifully dressed as birds.

(Silence; the children drawing their breaths hard, as if they had come from under a shower bath.)

L (seeing objections begin to express themselves in the eyes). Now you needn’t say you can’t; for you can: and it’s what you were meant to do, always; and to dress your houses, and your gardens, too; and to do very little else, I believe, except singing; and dancing, as we said, of course; and — one thing more.

Dora. Our third and last virtue, I suppose?

L. Yes; on Violet’s system of triplicities.

Dora. Well, we are prepared for anything now. What is it?

L. Cooking.

Dora. Cardinal, indeed! If only Beatrice were here with her seven handmaids, that she might see what a fine eighth we had found for her!

Mary. And the interpretation? What does ‘cooking’ mean?

L. It means the knowledge of Medea, and of Circe, and of Calypso, and of Helen, and of Rebekah, and of the Queen of Sheba. It means the knowledge of all herbs, and fruits, and balms, and spices; and of all that is healing and sweet in fields and groves, and savoury in meats; it means carefulness, and inventiveness, and watchfulness, and willingness, and readiness of appliance; it means the economy of your great-grandmothers, and the science of modern chemists; it means much tasting, and no wasting; it means English thoroughness, and French art, and Arabian hospitality; and it means, in fine, that you are to be perfectly and always ‘ladies’ — ‘loaf-givers;’ and, as you are to see, imperatively that everybody has something pretty to put on, — so you are to see, yet more imperatively, that everybody has something nice to eat.

(Another pause, and long drawn breath.)

Dora (slowly recovering herself) to Egypt. We had better have let him go to sleep, I think, after all!

L. You had better let the younger ones go to sleep now: for I haven’t half done.

Isabel (panic-struck). Oh! please, please! just one quarter of an hour.

L. No, Isabel; I cannot say what I’ve got to say, in a quarter of an hour; and it is too hard for you, besides:— you would be lying awake, and trying to make it out, half the night. That will never do.

Isabel. Oh, please!

L. It would please me exceedingly, mousie: but there are times when we must both be displeased; more’s the pity. Lily may stay for half an hour, if she likes.

Lily. I can’t; because Isey never goes to sleep, if she is waiting for me to come.

Isabel. Oh, yes, Lily; I’ll go to sleep to-night, I will, indeed.

Lily. Yes, it’s very likely, Isey, with those fine round eyes! (To L.) You’ll tell me something of what you’ve been saying, to-morrow, won’t you?

L. No, I won’t, Lily. You must choose. It’s only in Miss Edgeworth’s novels that one can do right, and have one’s cake and sugar afterwards, as well (not that I consider the dilemma, to-night, so grave).

(Lily, sighing, takes Isabel’s hand.)

Yes, Lily dear, it will be better, in the outcome of it, so, than if you were to hear all the talks that ever were talked, and all the stories that ever were told. Good night.

(The door leading to the condemned cells of the Dormitory closes on Lily, Isabel, Florrie, and other diminutive and submissive victims.)

Jessie (after a pause). Why, I thought you were so fond of Miss Edgeworth!

L. So I am; and so you ought all to be. I can read her over and over again, without ever tiring; there’s no one whose every page is so full, and so delightful; no one who brings you into the company of pleasanter or wiser people; no one who tells you more truly how to do right. And it is very nice, in the midst of a wild world, to have the very ideal of poetical justice done always to one’s hand:— to have everybody found out, who tells lies; and everybody decorated with a red riband, who doesn’t; and to see the good Laura, who gave away her half sovereign, receiving a grand ovation from an entire dinner party disturbed for the purpose; and poor, dear, little Rosamond, who chooses purple jars instead of new shoes, left at last without either her shoes or her bottle. But it isn’t life: and, in the way children might easily understand it, it isn’t morals.

Jessie. How do you mean we might understand it?

L. You might think Miss Edgeworth meant that the right was to be done mainly because one was always rewarded for doing it. It is an injustice to her to say that: her heroines always do right simply for its own sake, as they should; and her examples of conduct and motive are wholly admirable. But her representation of events is false and misleading. Her good characters never are brought into the deadly trial of goodness, — the doing right, and suffering for it, quite finally. And that is life, as God arranges it. ‘Taking up one’s cross’ does not at all mean having ovations at dinner parties, and being put over everybody else’s head.

Dora. But what does it mean then? That is just what we couldn’t understand, when you were telling us about not sacrificing ourselves, yesterday.

L. My dear, it means simply that you are to go the road which you see to be the straight one; carrying whatever you find is given you to carry, as well and stoutly as you can; without making faces, or calling people to come and look at you. Above all, you are neither to load, nor unload, yourself; nor cut your cross to your own liking. Some people think it would be better for them to have it large; and many, that they could carry it much faster if it were small; and even those who like it largest are usually very particular about its being ornamental, and made of the best ebony. But all that you have really to do is to keep your back as straight as you can; and not think about what is upon it — above all, not to boast of what is upon it. The real and essential meaning of ‘virtue’ is in that straightness of back. Yes; you may laugh, children, but it is. You know I was to tell about the words that began with V. Sibyl, what does ‘virtue’ mean, literally?

Sibyl. Does it mean courage?

L. Yes; but a particular kind of courage. It means courage of the nerve; vital courage. That first syllable of it, if you look in Max Müller, you will find really means ‘nerve,’ and from it come ‘vis,’ and ‘vir,’ and ‘virgin’ (through vireo), and the connected word ‘virga’ — ‘a rod;’ — the green rod, or springing bough of a tree, being the type of perfect human strength, both in the use of it in the Mosaic story, when it becomes a serpent, or strikes the rock; or when Aaron’s bears its almonds; and in the metaphorical expressions, the ‘Rod out of the stem of Jesse,’ and the ‘Man whose name is the Branch,’ and so on. And the essential idea of real virtue is that of a vital human strength, which instinctively, constantly, and without motive, does what is right. You must train men to this by habit, as you would the branch of a tree; and give them instincts and manners (or morals) of purity, justice, kindness, and courage. Once rightly trained, they act as they should, irrespectively of all motive, of fear, or of reward. It is the blackest sign of putrescence in a national religion, when men speak as if it were the only safeguard of conduct; and assume that, but for the fear of being burned, or for the hope of being rewarded, everybody would pass their lives in lying, stealing, and murdering. I think quite one of the notablest historical events of this century (perhaps the very notablest), was that council of clergymen, horror-struck at the idea of any diminution in our dread of hell, at which the last of English clergymen whom one would have expected to see in such a function, rose as the devil’s advocate; to tell us how impossible it was we could get on without him.

Violet (after a pause). But, surely, if people weren’t afraid — (hesitates again).

L. They should be afraid of doing wrong, and of that only, my dear. Otherwise, if they only don’t do wrong for fear of being punished, they have done wrong in their hearts, already.

Violet. Well, but surely, at least one ought to be afraid of displeasing God; and one’s desire to please Him should be one’s first motive?

L. He never would be pleased with us, if it were, my dear. When a father sends his son out into the world — suppose as an apprentice — fancy the boy’s coming home at night, and saying, ‘Father, I could have robbed the till to-day; but I didn’t, because I thought you wouldn’t like it.’ Do you think the father would be particularly pleased?

(Violet is silent.)

He would answer, would he not, if he were wise and good, ‘My boy, though you had no father, you must not rob tills’? And nothing is ever done so as really to please our Great Father, unless we would also have done it, though we had had no Father to know of it.

Violet (after long pause). But, then, what continual threatenings, and promises of reward there are!

L. And how vain both! with the Jews, and with all of us. But the fact is, that the threat and promise are simply statements of the Divine law, and of its consequences. The fact is truly told you, — make what use you may of it: and as collateral warning, or encouragement, or comfort, the knowledge of future consequences may often be helpful to us; but helpful chiefly to the better state when we can act without reference to them. And there’s no measuring the poisoned influence of that notion of future reward on the mind of Christian Europe, in the early ages. Half the monastic system rose out of that, acting on the occult pride and ambition of good people (as the other half of it came of their follies and misfortunes). There is always a considerable quantity of pride, to begin with, in what is called ‘giving one’s self to God.’ As if one had ever belonged to anybody else!

Dora. But, surely, great good has come out of the monastic system — our books, — our sciences — all saved by the monks?

L. Saved from what, my dear? From the abyss of misery and ruin which that false Christianity allowed the whole active world to live in. When it had become the principal amusement, and the most admired art, of Christian men, to cut one another’s throats, and burn one another’s towns; of course the few feeble or reasonable persons left, who desired quiet, safety, and kind fellowship, got into cloisters; and the gentlest, thoughtfullest, noblest men and women shut themselves up, precisely where they could be of least use. They are very fine things, for us painters, now, — the towers and white arches upon the tops of the rocks; always in places where it takes a day’s climbing to get at them; but the intense tragi-comedy of the thing, when one thinks of it, is unspeakable. All the good people of the world getting themselves hung up out of the way of mischief, like Bailie Nicol Jarvie; — poor little lambs, as it were, dangling there for the sign of the Golden Fleece; or like Socrates in his basket in the ‘Clouds’! (I must read you that bit of Aristophanes again, by the way.) And believe me, children, I am no warped witness, as far as regards monasteries; or if I am, it is in their favour. I have always had a strong leaning that way; and have pensively shivered with Augustines at St. Bernard; and happily made hay with Franciscans at Fesolé; and sat silent with Carthusians in their little gardens, south of Florence; and mourned through many a day-dream, at Melrose and Bolton. But the wonder is always to me, not how much, but how little, the monks have, on the whole, done, with all that leisure, and all that goodwill! What nonsense monks characteristically wrote; — what little progress they made in the sciences to which they devoted themselves as a duty, — medicine especially; — and, last and worst, what depths of degradation they can sometimes see one another, and the population round them, sink into; without either doubting their system, or reforming it!

(Seeing questions rising to lips.) Hold your little tongues, children; it’s very late, and you’ll make me forget what I’ve to say. Fancy yourselves in pews, for five minutes. There’s one point of possible good in the conventual system, which is always attractive to young girls; and the idea is a very dangerous one; — the notion of a merit, or exalting virtue, consisting in a habit of meditation on the ‘things above,’ or things of the next world. Now it is quite true, that a person of beautiful mind, dwelling on whatever appears to them most desirable and lovely in a possible future will not only pass their time pleasantly, but will even acquire, at last, a vague and wildly gentle charm of manner and feature, which will give them an air of peculiar sanctity in the eyes of others. Whatever real or apparent good there may be in this result, I want you to observe, children, that we have no real authority for the reveries to which it is owing. We are told nothing distinctly of the heavenly world; except that it will be free from sorrow, and pure from sin. What is said of pearl gates, golden floors, and the like, is accepted as merely figurative by religious enthusiasts themselves; and whatever they pass their time in conceiving, whether of the happiness of risen souls, of their intercourse, or of the appearance and employment of the heavenly powers, is entirely the product of their own imagination; and as completely and distinctly a work of fiction, or romantic invention, as any novel of Sir Walter Scott’s . That the romance is founded on religious theory or doctrine; — that no disagreeable or wicked persons are admitted into the story; — and that the inventor fervently hopes that some portion of it may hereafter come true, does not in the least alter the real nature of the effort or enjoyment.

Now, whatever indulgence may be granted to amiable people for pleasing themselves in this innocent way, it is beyond question, that to seclude themselves from the rough duties of life, merely to write religious romances, or, as in most cases, merely to dream them, without taking so much trouble as is implied in writing, ought not to be received as an act of heroic virtue. But, observe, even in admitting thus much, I have assumed that the fancies are just and beautiful, though fictitious. Now, what right have any of us to assume that our own fancies will assuredly be either the one or the other? That they delight us, and appear lovely to us, is no real proof of its not being wasted time to form them: and we may surely be led somewhat to distrust our judgment of them by observing what ignoble imaginations have sometimes sufficiently, or even enthusiastically, occupied the hearts of others. The principal source of the spirit of religious contemplation is the East; now I have here in my hand a Byzantine image of Christ, which, if you will look at it seriously, may, I think, at once and for ever render you cautious in the indulgence of a merely contemplative habit of mind. Observe, it is the fashion to look at such a thing only as a piece of barbarous art; that is the smallest part of its interest. What I want you to see, is the baseness and falseness of a religious state of enthusiasm, in which such a work could be dwelt upon with pious pleasure. That a figure, with two small round black beads for eyes; a gilded face, deep cut into horrible wrinkles; an open gash for a mouth, and a distorted skeleton for a body, wrapped about, to make it fine, with striped enamel of blue and gold; — that such a figure, I say, should ever have been thought helpful towards the conception of a Redeeming Deity, may make you, I think, very doubtful, even of the Divine approval, — much more of the Divine inspiration, — of religious reverie in general. You feel, doubtless, that your own idea of Christ would be something very different from this; but in what does the difference consist? Not in any more divine authority in your imagination; but in the intellectual work of six intervening centuries; which, simply, by artistic discipline, has refined this crude conception for you, and filled you, partly with an innate sensation, partly with an acquired knowledge, of higher forms, — which render this Byzantine crucifix as horrible to you, as it was pleasing to its maker. More is required to excite your fancy; but your fancy is of no more authority than his was: and a point of national art-skill is quite conceivable, in which the best we can do now will be as offensive to the religious dreamers of the more highly cultivated time, as this Byzantine crucifix is to you.

Mary. But surely, Angelico will always retain his power over everybody?

L. Yes, I should think, always; as the gentle words of a child will: but you would be much surprised, Mary, if you thoroughly took the pains to analyse, and had the perfect means of analysing, that power of Angelico, — to discover its real sources. Of course it is natural, at first, to attribute it to the pure religious fervour by which he was inspired; but do you suppose Angelico was really the only monk, in all the Christian world of the middle ages, who laboured, in art, with a sincere religious enthusiasm?

Mary. No, certainly not.

L. Anything more frightful, more destructive of all religious faith whatever, than such a supposition, could not be. And yet, what other monk ever produced such work? I have myself examined carefully upwards of two thousand illuminated missals, with especial view to the discovery of any evidence of a similar result upon the art, from the monkish devotion; and utterly in vain.

Mary. But then, was not Fra Angelico a man of entirely separate and exalted genius?

L. Unquestionably; and granting him to be that, the peculiar phenomenon in his art is, to me, not its loveliness, but its weakness. The effect of ‘inspiration,’ had it been real, on a man of consummate genius, should have been, one would have thought, to make everything that he did faultless and strong, no less than lovely. But of all men, deserving to be called ‘great,’ Fra Angelico permits to himself the least pardonable faults, and the most palpable follies. There is evidently within him a sense of grace, and power of invention, as great as Ghiberti’s:— we are in the habit of attributing those high qualities to his religious enthusiasm; but, if they were produced by that enthusiasm in him, they ought to be produced by the same feelings in others; and we see they are not. Whereas, comparing him with contemporary great artists, of equal grace and invention, one peculiar character remains notable in him — which, logically, we ought therefore to attribute to the religious fervour; — and that distinctive character is, the contented indulgence of his own weaknesses, and perseverance in his own ignorances.

Mary. But that’s dreadful! And what is the source of the peculiar charm which we all feel in his work?

L. There are many sources of it, Mary; united and seeming like one. You would never feel that charm but in the work of an entirely good man; be sure of that; but the goodness is only the recipient and modifying element, not the creative one. Consider carefully what delights you in any original picture of Angelico’s . You will find, for one minor thing, an exquisite variety and brightness of ornamental work. That is not Angelico’s inspiration. It is the final result of the labour and thought of millions of artists, of all nations; from the earliest Egyptian potters downwards — Greeks, Byzantines, Hindoos, Arabs, Gauls, and Northmen — all joining in the toil; and consummating it in Florence, in that century, with such embroidery of robe and inlaying of armour as had never been seen till then; nor, probably, ever will be seen more. Angelico merely takes his share of this inheritance, and applies it in the tenderest way to subjects which are peculiarly acceptant of it. But the inspiration, if it exist anywhere, flashes on the knight’s shield quite as radiantly as on the monk’s picture. Examining farther into the sources of your emotion in the Angelico work, you will find much of the impression of sanctity dependent on a singular repose and grace of gesture, consummating itself in the floating, flying, and above all, in the dancing groups. That is not Angelico’s inspiration. It is only a peculiarly tender use of systems of grouping which had been long before developed by Giotto, Memmi, and Orcagna; and the real root of it all is simply — What do you think, children? The beautiful dancing of the Florentine maidens!

Dora (indignant again). Now, I wonder what next! Why not say it all depended on Herodias’ daughter, at once?

L. Yes; it is certainly a great argument against singing, that there were once sirens.

Dora. Well, it may be all very fine and philosophical, but shouldn’t I just like to read you the end of the second volume of ‘Modern Painters’!

L. My dear, do you think any teacher could be worth your listening to, or anybody else’s listening to, who had learned nothing, and altered his mind in nothing, from seven and twenty to seven and forty? But that second volume is very good for you as far as it goes. It is a great advance, and a thoroughly straight and swift one, to be led, as it is the main business of that second volume to lead you, from Dutch cattle pieces, and ruffian-pieces, to Fra Angelico. And it is right for you also, as you grow older, to be strengthened in the general sense and judgment which may enable you to distinguish the weaknesses from the virtues of what you love: else you might come to love both alike; or even the weaknesses without the virtues. You might end by liking Overbeck and Cornelius as well as Angelico. However, I have perhaps been leaning a little too much to the merely practical side of things, in to-night’s talk; and you are always to remember, children, that I do not deny, though I cannot affirm, the spiritual advantages resulting, in certain cases, from enthusiastic religious reverie, and from the other practices of saints and anchorites. The evidence respecting them has never yet been honestly collected, much less dispassionately examined: but assuredly, there is in that direction a probability, and more than a probability, of dangerous error, while there is none whatever in the practice of an active, cheerful, and benevolent life. The hope of attaining a higher religious position, which induces us to encounter, for its exalted alternative, the risk of unhealthy error, is often, as I said, founded more on pride than piety; and those who, in modest usefulness, have accepted what seemed to them here the lowliest place in the kingdom of their Father, are not, I believe, the least likely to receive hereafter the command, then unmistakable, ‘Friend, go up higher.’

Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 15:33