THE inevitable censure of the twentieth century upon the failures of the nineteenth has, in matters of art, focussed strikingly upon Ruskin. For a generation or more Ruskin's principal thesis that the meaning of art lay in its moral values has been ridiculed. But the thesis has also been misunderstood, and not without irony. Popular opinion has repudiated Ruskin as a theorist because of his supposed confusion of esthetics with morals. Yet his insistence upon the ethical value of art is historically Ruskin's most important contribution to his period. It is his "political economy of art" that leads to his penetrating criticism of economic value. The moral features of his esthetics cannot lightly be pushed aside; for an attempt to understand them inevitably illuminates the profound bias in the twentieth century glorification of abstract and non-moral appreciation.
As I have attempted to show in the previous chapters, Ruskin's trouble lay not in the confusion of esthetics with morals but of one sort of morality with another. Esthetic questions as such are not confused by him, but ethical and moral issues are. It is the restrictions which Victorian gentility, respectability and piety impose upon the content of art and the personality of the artist that irk the twentieth century enthusiast; it is the superficiality of the ethical foundation of morals or the failure