Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 133.djvu/384

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

378

MICROSCOPIC EXTRAVAGANCE.

man should lead a life of strenuous self-denial for others' sake, enjoying poverty and welcoming hardness of life in order that others may cease to suffer, is, fortunately, no rare spectacle in England. Nor is voluntary poverty, as a form of asceticism, a training of the whole nature, at all beyond the conception of our countrymen, or even, in some rare cases, their habitual practice; while instances of self-denial for a definite object, to perform a definite duty, are happily common enough, if only in the vulgar way of sparing in order to pay off debts owed by another. But that a man should be at once art-critic and philanthropist, virtuoso and fanatic for an inconvenient idea; that he should be sensitively alive to the sensuous luxury of art in all aspects, moved throughout his being by a glorious glimpse of color or of form, yet benevolent to extremity, that he should unite the qualities of collector and of ascetic, — this is as nearly inconceivable to them as that a man should be at once martyr and aristocrat, saint and sacerdotalist, proud to insanity of birth, fanatically haughty as to his priesthood, yet willing to lay down life in succoring the plague-stricken people whom in health he still held by some law of nature to be less than, as a cardinal and a noble, he himself was. Catholics only, and Catholics of the mystical sort, will quite appreciate the manner of man that Mr. Ruskin — if indeed his powers remain intact — must be, not Protestants of Islington. They reverence Christ as he does; but Christ in the manger, the child-Christ of Matthew Arnold and the Catholics, is not the one that they adore.

It is not worth while, perhaps, to offer a serious argument against Mr. Ruskin's conclusions. The temptation of Englishmen is not towards his views of property, his generosity, or his fanaticism for an unprofitable idea. The English world is not injured, is rather benefited, by a solitary example of a man who, keenly aware of all that wealth can give him in collecting the treasures he values, is still so utterly and yet not scornfully contemptuous, not only of accumulating, but even of preserving what he has. But as we have mentioned his statement, we may just say that we doubt whether mere abandonment of money is a virtue, whether it is not open to the objection which has always made reasoners think the self-mutilation of Hindoo ascetics morally wrong. What right have you to abandon a power which the very capacity of abandoning it shows that you can profitably use?




From The Spectator.

MICROSCOPIC EXTRAVAGANCE.

One of the most childlike and in its way amusing paragraphs in Mr. Ruskin's anticipatory will, is the one in which he announces that he intends for the future to live in his country-house on £360 a year. It is of course possible that he should do it, though he will find it more difficult than he expects. The taxes on his house — which cost with some rebuilding and much furniture £15,000 — the "regular repairs," which are always accidental and always recur, the renewal of carpets and the like, will cost him at least a fourth of his income, — probably much more; and a solitary gardener, to keep the place decent, will not be secured and provided with materials for less than another fourth; but still if Mr. Ruskin can put up with one servant, confine his journeys to his own feet, enjoy the simplest food, and go without good wine, the remaining half of his allowance to himself will suffice to keep him alive and in good health. The necessaries of life do not cost very much, or the poor could not live at all; if there are no servants, there is little waste; and to many a clergyman as cultivated as Mr. Ruskin, though not as sensitive to the beautiful, the position he says he is about to assume would seem to be too luxurious. The clergyman, however, has been trained to a virtue which Mr. Ruskin, we should fear, does not possess, which is most difficult for the rich to acquire, and which is in our day perhaps the most distinctive mark of the cultivated poor, — the economy of loose silver. There is no differentia between the well-to-do and the poor which is more marked than that between their habitual conduct as regards the minor expenditures of daily life. The one has acquired a second nature, an instinct of self-defence which the other never missed. The poor man has learned by hard experience the great truth that a shilling a day is £18 5s. a year, that ten shillings a day is more than a curate's salary, and that if he indulges himself in the least in the use of the "silver key," which makes all doors so easy and daily life so smooth, all the pinching economy in his home will go for nothing. The margin between his income and his necessary expenditure which be strives so hard to create will disappear at once in an endless outflow of money for which he has nothing to show. The rich man, on the contrary, unless frugal by nature to a degree unusual among his