A good idea from ... Ruskin
Alain de Botton
Alain de Botton is a philosopher, writer and television presenter. His books include Essays in Love (published when he was only 23), How Proust Can Change Your Life (1997), Status Anxiety (2004) and Religion for Atheists (2012)
Sunday 12 September 1999
Then I discovered the works of John Ruskin (1819-1900) and nothing has been the same since. I've taken walks in the countryside, I look at trees and study clouds. Last weekend, I sat on a rock and listened intently to a stream for 20 minutes.
No one reads Ruskin now. About the only thing people seem to know about him is the story that he refused to sleep with his wife after seeing her naked for the first time on their wedding night, because the only women he had known until then had been sculptures in art galleries. But in the 19th century he was renowned for his writings on Venice, Turner, the Italian Renaissance and Gothic architecture, and most appreciated for his writings on nature.
His books contain extraordinary meditations on everyday nature: grass, apple trees, clouds, beaches, rainfalls and lakes. I've become devoted to his essay "On the Sound of Scottish Streams"; "I know no other waters to be compared with them," he writes, "such streams can only exist under very subtle concurrence of rock and climate. There must be much soft rain, not tearing the hills down with floods, and the rocks must break irregularly and jaggedly. Our Yorkshire shales and limestones merely form tables and shelves for the rivers to drip and leap from; while the Cumberland and Welsh rocks break too boldly, and lose the multiplied chords of musical sound..."
Ruskin doesn't just describe nature's physical appearance (which can get dull), he talks about its psychological and emotional resonances. Rather than saying that a pine tree is tall and green, he says that it is the most self-contained of trees, and that it is timid, possessing the quiet strength of many timid people. He believed that we should look to nature to find our emotions and struggles expressed in more dramatic terms, and should "read" it for moral instruction and consolation.
In his work we find, beautifully assembled in language, sensations about nature of which we had never been more than semi-conscious. His work offers an example of what all good writers can do for their readers; namely, bring back to life, from the deadness caused by habit and inattention, valuable but neglected aspects of experience.
A The film has amassed an estimated $28.7 million in its opening weekend
A statement was published on his fansite, True To You, following release of new album
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Michael Brown shooting: Amnesty International sends team within US for first time as National Guard deployed
- 2 Greggs Google fail: bakery falls afoul of search engine's algorithms with 'unofficial' logo
- 3 Is this the end of apps? New research says a third of us don't bother to download
- 4 Here’s the damning letter Robin Williams wrote to his Mrs Doubtfire co-star's principal after they expelled her
- 5 Ferguson protests: 90-year-old Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein ‘arrested’ by police during St Louis demonstrations
Isis threat: Cameron wants an alliance with Iran
Crisis? What crisis? A visiting US doctor gives the NHS a rave review
Ukip MEP calls for reintroduction of death penalty on fiftieth anniversary of last deaths
Russell Brand calls for Israel boycott: Comedian urges big businesses that 'facilitate the oppression of people in Gaza' to pull funding
Michael Brown shooting: Chaos erupts on the streets of Ferguson after autopsy shows teenager was shot six times – twice in the head
World peace? These are the only 11 countries in the world that are actually free from conflict