vol 3 paraphrase pg 204
I could trace how various other affinities came about in the lives of Ruskin and Wordsworth, but I don't have the space. All I can do is to show the joy of pursuing each new interest after being introduced to it, and then the resulting occupation in intense intimacy that never ends for the heart and soul. In these two geniuses, that intense intimacy became their vocation, or career.
Ruskin's career began when,
'On my thirteenth birthday, February 8th, 1832, my father's partner, Henry Telford, gave me Samuel Roger's book Italy, a Poem, and that determined the direction that my life took . . . as soon as I saw Turner's pictures, I decided that they would be my only masters, and I worked to imitate them as best I could with careful pen shading. . . .
'Finally my father gave me a copy of the Turner painting, 'Richmond Bridge, Surrey,' [possibly 'Richmond Hill and Bridge', or this one; Richmond Hill is in Surrey] not intending to start a collection, but just so I'd have one, assuming that one would be all I'd ever need or want to have.'
And here he talks about how he bought Turner's 'Harlech:'
'Any seeds of nobility that existed within me were all centered on my love for Turner. It wasn't just a piece of paper I bought for seventy pounds, It was a Welsh castle and village, and Mt. Snowdon in blue cloud.'
vol 3 paraphrase pg 205
It wasn't until he was 22 that he produced what he considered his first sincere drawing:
'One day, on my way to Norwood, I noticed a little bit of ivy winding around a thorny stem. Even to my critical judgment, it seemed to be a decent composition, so I decided to make a light/shade sketch in pencil in my gray pocket notebook. I worked carefully as if it was a piece of sculpture, and I liked it more and more as I drew. When it was done, I realized that I had been wasting my time ever since I was twelve years old, because nobody had ever told me to just draw what was really there!'
Later we hear the story of his real initiation:
'I took out my notebook and carefully began to draw a little aspen tree that was across the road. Casually, but not lazily, I started drawing, and as I drew, my casual air passed away. The beautiful lines of the tree insisted on being recorded diligently. They became more and more beautiful as each line rose among the others and took its place. With increasing wonder every instant, I saw that they were composing themselves using finer laws than any that men knew about. Finally the tree was there on my paper, and everything I thought I had known about trees before seemed to be nothing. From that point on, 'He has made everything beautiful in His time' became my interpretation of the bond between the human mind and the things it can see.'
Let's intrude on the bringing about of one more intimate interest. We've seen how already young Ruskin has been exposed to mountains. Now he's going to have his first view of the Alps. He, his parents and his cousin Mary went for a walk on the first Sunday evening after they arrived at the garden terrace of Schaffhausen.
'Suddenly--look! Over there! None of us had for a moment thought that they would be clouds. They were as clear as crystal, sharp against the pure horizon of sky, and already rose-tinted with the setting sun. It was infinitely beyond everything we'd ever
vol 3 paraphrase pg 206
thought or even dreamed. The walls of Eden, if we could have seen them, couldn't have been any more beautiful to us. Nothing could have been more powerful, like gazing around heaven, or at the sacred walls of death. For a child with my temperament, this was the most blessed entrance into life.'
What about Wordsworth? How shall we trace that pure, gracious, absorbing intimacy with Nature that was the master-light of all of Wordsworth's seeing? He reveals--
We can't trace every step of Wordworth's growing delicate passion. We can only look at a phase here and there. As a boy, he and some of his friends from school were boating on Lake Windermere late one evening. They decided that one of them, the 'Minstrel of the Troop,' would stay behind on a small island:
vol 3 paraphrase pg 207
We can take one more look at this amazing child who, after he grew up, believed that every child is born a poet in the same way that he was.
Before we leave the Prelude, I'd like to draw your attention to Wordsworth's description of the 'child-studied' little snob of his days. Those were days when there was a lot of soul searching and lots of theories about education.
vol 3 paraphrase pg 208
I can't take the time to stop and collect any more
vol 3 paraphrase pg 209
of the lessons and insight from these two wonderfully educational books, The Prelude and Praeterita. For now, it's enough if we've seen how children attach themselves to the affinities they're born with if they have the opportunity and proper freedom. Our role is to make sure plenty of opportunities are freely provided at home and at school. Children should have relationships with earth and water. They should run, jump, ride, swim, and establish the relationship that a maker has with material resources, and thy should do this with as many kinds of material resources as possible. They should have treasured intimate relationships with people, through face to face talking, through reading stories or poems, seeing pictures or sculpture, through finding flinthead arrows and being around cars. They should be familiar with animals, birds, plants and trees. Foreign people and their languages shouldn't be something unknown to them. And, most important of all, they should discover that the most intimate and highest of all relationships--the relationship to God--fulfills their entire being.
This kind of a plan isn't overwhelming because, in all of these things and even more, children have natural affinities. As human beings find their place in the universe, they put out feelers, trying to connect in every direction that's suitable for them. We need to get rid of the notion that the only way a child will ever know the 3 R's or Latin grammar is to focus his education on these and nothing else. The truth is, that for us as well as for our children, the broader our range of interests is, the more intelligently we'll understand each one of them.
But I'm not preaching to lazy people and claiming that education is casual and aimless. Many great authors have written at least one book about education. Sir Walter Scott's contribution seems to be Waverley.
vol 3 paraphrase pg 210
We're told that Edward Waverley 'was pretty much allowed to learn whatever he wanted, when he wanted, if he wanted.' He seemed to want to learn, and he was able to grasp things unusually quickly, so this kind of approach to education seems justified. But he was allowed to grow up wavering, so he remained like his name: Waverley. His life was marked with instability and ineffectiveness. The way he was educated and the results of that educated are described:
'Edward would throw himself eagerly into the books of whatever classic author his tutor suggested. He would master the style enough to understand the story. If he liked it or found it interesting, he'd finish the volume of that author's books. But it was useless to try to get him to focus on serious literary study, differences in idioms, the beauty of well-chosen phrases, or artificial grammatical combinations. 'I can read and understand Latin authors,' young Edward protested, with the self-confident and impulsive reasoning of a fifteen year old. 'Even Scaliger or Bentley couldn't do much better than that.' Unfortunately, while he was allowed to read only for entertainment, he didn't realize that he was losing the opportunity forever to form good habits of determination, hard work, control, self-direction, and the ability to make himself focus his attention. And that's an art that's even more essential than being intimately familiar with the classics, which are the main object of studying.'
Waverley illustrates what Ruskin says plainly: no matter what we do with our youth, it stays with us forever:
'The laws of prescription are so stubborn and so unchangeable that now, looking back over my life from now at 1886, to my youth by the side of a brook in 1837, viewing my entire youth, I discover that nothing about me has really changed. Some parts of me have died away, and some of me is stronger. I've learned some new things, and forgotten lots of things. But I'm still the same me, disappointed and rheumatic.'
vol 3 paraphrase pg 211
We've seen that both Ruskin and Wordsworth had the ability to work hard at focusing their attention, which is necessary in order for a person to be receptive. It made each of them productive in his own area. Anyone who wants to do a thing, whether it's baseball or portrait painting, has to learn the rules diligently and gain skill with practice and effort. It's true that work we love will override pain, but it's also true that we won't be able to enjoy any of the affinities that are waiting for us without strenuous effort and respect. You might think that a bird-watcher has chosen an easy hobby. But that's not true. A true bird lover is outside by 4 am to assist with the birds' uprising, or even out at Hyde Park at 2:30 am to try and catch a glimpse of a kingfisher! He lies in wait, hiding in secret places to watch the birds in their natural habitat. He travels to far locations to see new birds in other places in the world. He gives his attention, labor, love and reverence to the study of birds. He gains joy in this, so maybe his effort is unconscious, but the effort is still there.
Here's another example of an affinity: sociability. Most of us have serious thoughts about what it means to be a true friend. But we tend to take the social comraderie of our buddies too casually. We think it's maintained sufficiently if we meet at parties, games, picnics, etc. Boarding school boys usually know better. They've learned that having buddies takes some good-natured give and take, teasing, help, honest criticism, serious correcting when it's needed, loyalty, confident and trustworthy leadership, reliable following, speaking the truth, the ability to let others be first with no hard feelings, and the ability to be first without being conceited. This
vol 3 paraphrase pg 212
calls for attention, effort, love and respect. But the effort is overshadowed by the enjoyment of the relationship.
I'd like to make one more point. We remain faithful to whatever affinities captivate us until death, or even longer. I'd like to say a word about the 'advantages' of special instructors and classes that a big city like London offers. [Too many activities aren't a good idea.] I suspect that it's most often the still pool that the angel comes down to stir. A steady, unruffled routine of work without privileged extras lends itself best to the angel's 'stirring'--which takes the form of what Coleridge calls a 'Captain Idea,' striking our mind, and initiating contact with an affinity.
Neither The Prelude nor Praeterita has much to say about the study of the highest relationship of all--the most profound intimacy that man's soul can have. I think the best way I can close is with a quote from a little book called The Practice of the Presence of God which tells about the spiritual life of Brother Lawrence, a barefooted Carmelite lay Brother in 1600's Paris.
'The first time I saw Brother Lawrence was on Aug. 3, 1666. He told me that God had done him a personal favor when he was converted at age eighteen. It was winter, and he saw a tree that didn't have any leaves. He reflected on the thought that, in just a little while, the tree would have leaves, and then it would have flowers and fruit. This gave him a higher perspective of God's power and providence, and that impression never left him. This thought set him free from the world and kindled such a love for God inside him, that he couldn't even tell whether his love for God had grown in the forty years that he'd been a Christian. He said that he had been a footman working for the treasurer M. Fieubert, but that he was clumsy and kept breaking things. He wanted to be
vol 3 paraphrase pg 213
allowed to go into a monastery because he thought that, there, he would be punished for his clumsiness and other faults. In that way, he'd be able to sacrifice his life and all its pleasures to God. But God disappointed him. He had been perfectly content in that situation . . . He said that, for him, scheduled times of prayer were no different from other times. He retired to a secluded place to pray as his superior dictated, but he didn't really need to do that because even his most important duties didn't take his mind off God . . . He said that the greatest pains and the greatest pleasures that this world has are nothing compared with what he'd experienced of spiritual pain and pleasure, so he didn't worry about anything and he feared nothing. The only thing he wanted of God was to not offend him . . . He said that he had experienced God's help so often on various occasions that, any time he had business to do, he never thought about it beforehand. When it was time to do it, he found all that he needed to do in God, just like in a clear mirror. Lately he had acted like this, not worrying about his affaiirs, but before, he had often been anxious in his duties. When some outward business distracted him a bit from thinking of God, a fresh remembrance from God would come into his soul, and he'd be so inspired and transported that it would be difficult for him to contain himself. He was more united with God in his outward business than he was when he separated himself for devotion in a retired place.'