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Unto This Last, and Other Essays on Political Economy

John Ruskin


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A collection of political and economical essays by John Ruskin. This ebook edition contains Ruskin's famous essay 'Unto This Last' - which includes four articles; The Roots of Honour; The Veins of Wealth; Qui Judicatis Terram; and, Ad Valorem. Also included are the following essays; 'Maintenance of Life: Wealth, Money and Riches'; 'Nature of Wealth, Variations of Value, The National Store, Nature of Labour, Value and Price, The Currency'; 'The Currency-holders and Store-holders, The Disease of Desire; Laws and Governments: Labour And Riches'; and two lectures under the title, 'The Political Economy of Art'.

This book has 208 pages in the PDF version, and was originally published in 1912.

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Excerpt from 'Unto This Last, and Other Essays on Political Economy'

Among the various characteristics of the age in which we live, as compared with other ages of this not yet very experienced world, one of the most notable appears to me to be the just and wholesome contempt in which we hold poverty. I repeat, the just and wholesome contempt; though I see that some of my hearers look surprised at the expression. I assure them, I use it in sincerity; and I should not have ventured to ask you to listen to me this evening, unless I had entertained a profound respect for wealth—true wealth, that is to say; for, of course, we ought to respect neither wealth nor anything else that is false of its kind: and the distinction between real and false wealth is one of the points on which I shall have a few words presently to say to you. But true wealth I hold, as I said, in great honour; and sympathize, for the most part, with that extraordinary feeling of the present age which publicly pays this honour to riches. I cannot, however, help noticing how extraordinary it is, and how this epoch of ours differs from all bygone epochs in having no philosophical nor religious worshippers of the ragged godship of poverty. In the classical ages, not only there were people who voluntarily lived in tubs, and who used gravely to maintain the superiority of tub-life to town-life, but the Greeks and Latins seem to have looked on these eccentric, and I do not scruple to say, absurd people, with as much respect as we do upon large capitalists and landed proprietors; so that really, in those days, no one could be described as purse proud, but only as empty-purse proud. And no less distinct than the honour which those curious Greek people pay to their conceited poor, is the disrespectful manner in which they speak of the rich; so that one cannot listen long either to them, or to the Roman writers who imitated them, without finding oneself entangled in all sorts of plausible absurdities; hard upon being convinced of the uselessness of collecting that heavy yellow substance which we call gold, and led generally to doubt all the most established maxims of political economy. Nor are matters much better in the middle ages. For the Greeks and Romans contented themselves with mocking at rich people, and constructing merry dialogues between Charon and Diogenes or Menippus, in which the ferryman and the cynic rejoiced together as they saw kings and rich men coming down to the shore of Acheron, in lamenting and lamentable crowds, casting their crowns into the dark waters, and searching, sometimes in vain, for the last coin out of all their treasures that could ever be of use to them. But these Pagan views of the matter were indulgent, compared with those which were held in the middle ages, when wealth seems to have been looked upon by the best men not only as contemptible, but as criminal. The purse round the neck is, then, one of the principal signs of condemnation in the pictured Inferno; and the Spirit of Poverty is reverenced with subjection of heart, and faithfulness of affection, like that of a loyal knight for his lady, or a loyal subject for his queen. And truly, it requires some boldness to quit ourselves of these feelings, and to confess their partiality or their error, which, nevertheless, we are certainly bound to do. For wealth is simply one of the greatest powers which can be entrusted to human hands: a power, not indeed to be envied, because it seldom makes us happy; but still less to be abdicated or despised; while, in these days, and in this country, it has become a power all the more notable, in that the possessions of a rich man are not represented, as they used to be, by wedges of gold or coffers of jewels, but by masses of men variously employed, over whose bodies and minds the wealth, according to its direction, exercises harmful or helpful influence, and becomes, in that alternative, Mammon either of Unrighteousness or of Righteousness.

Now, it seemed to me that since, in the name you have given to this great gathering of British pictures, you recognise them as Treasures—that is, I suppose, as part and parcel of the real wealth of the country—you might not be uninterested in tracing certain commercial questions connected with this particular form of wealth. Most persons express themselves as surprised at its quantity; not having known before to what an extent good art had been accumulated in England: and it will, therefore, I should think, be held a worthy subject of consideration, what are the political interests involved in such accumulations; what kind of labour they represent, and how this labour may in general be applied and economized, so as to produce the richest results.

Now, you must have patience with me, if in approaching the specialty of this subject, I dwell a little on certain points of general political science already known or established: for though thus, as I believe, established, some which I shall have occasion to rest arguments on are not yet by any means universally accepted; and therefore, though I will not lose time in any detailed defence of them, it is necessary that I should distinctly tell you in what form I receive, and wish to argue from them; and this the more, because there may perhaps be a part of my audience who have not interested themselves in political economy, as it bears on ordinary fields of labour, but may yet wish to hear in what way its principles can be applied to Art. I shall, therefore, take leave to trespass on your patience with a few elementary statements in the outset, and with, the expression of some general principles, here and there, in the course of our particular inquiry.

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