The great Victorian-era writer and art critic John Ruskin explores the change in mindset that marked contemporary painters apart from their classical, medieval forbears, and that would later give birth to modern painting. “It is evident that there are both evil and good in this change; but how much evil, or how much good, we can only estimate by considering, as in the former divisions of our inquiry, what are the real roots of the habits of mind which have caused them.”
“The prospect of passing a night in the back woods of Indiana was by no means agreeable, but I screwed my courage to the proper pitch, and set forth determined to see with my own eyes, and hear with my own ears, what a camp-meeting really was.”
The dialect may be a bit off-putting but the narrative is accessible and clear enough. Here is the story of a wheedling, heartless, hustling hair peddler named Jock Macleod who is trying to buy the hair of young women at a fair in Devon. His tactics seem a combination of seduction, intimidation, ruse, and sales pressure that would make today’s used car salesman seem a rank amateur in comparison.
Of all forms of literature, however, the essay is the one which least calls for the use of long words. The principle which controls it is simply that it should give pleasure; the desire which impels us when we take it from the shelf is simply to receive pleasure. Everything in an essay must be subdued to that end.
“The standing apology for women who become writers without any special qualification is that society shuts them out from other spheres of occupation. Society is a very culpable entity, and has to answer for the manufacture of many unwholesome commodities, from bad pickles to bad poetry.”
“It is a mistake to suppose that a man must be either a cynic or an idealist. Both of them have as a common basis of belief the conviction that mankind as it really is is hateful.”
“Our span of life is divided into parts; it consists of large circles enclosing smaller. One circle embraces and bounds the rest; it reaches from birth to the last day of existence.”
I cannot allow of our way of establishing the duration of life. I see that the wise shorten it very much in comparison of the common opinion. “What,” said the younger Cato to those who would prevent him from killing himself, “am I now of an age to be reproached that I go out of […]
“The peculiar form of an essay implies a peculiar substance; you can say in this shape what you cannot with equal fitness say in any other.”