The Victorian Morality of Art: An Analysis of Ruskin's Esthetic, by Henry Ladd

By Henry Ladd | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
THE MORAL CONFLICT

COMPLEX INFLUENCES

THE design of Ruskin's esthetics is, as I have shown, conditioned very largely by the nature of his moral philosophy; but this moral matter itself is far less systematic than the esthetic propositions that apply to the fine arts. It is a most unsubstantial mixture of the sands of doctrine and the cement of faith. It is interesting mainly because it is so representative of the period in which Ruskin lived, so characteristic of the material from which Victorian temples of the spirit were built. Changes in religious faith and variety in moral concepts in the years from 1830 to 1880 are legion; contradiction and inconsistency were, as always, the result of powerful traditions struggling for supremacy not only in the attitude of groups or schools, but within the behavior and thought of individuals.

The "high seriousness" toward God, nature and moral law, characteristic of Ruskin's period, rises from three general traditions which are roughly parallel to the esthetic traditions reviewed at the beginning of this essay. For instance, the tradition of moral fear with its roots in Pauline doctrine dominated the minds not only of Evangelicals but of many prominent "Noetics," such as Thomas Arnold and Richard Whately. To a greater or less degree it exploited the sense of sin, objectified evil, and rejoiced in affliction; the theology behind it was

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