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.
Game of Thrones
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 If you're not already angry about the migrant crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
- 2 David De Gea: Manchester United goalkeeper's £29m move to Real Madrid off - because paperwork 'not done in time'
- 3 Pansexual: What is it - and when did the term gain popularity?
- 4 Netherlands to withdraw food and shelter from failed asylum-seekers after just 'a few weeks'
- 5 Blood Moon and Supermoon: September to bring brightest – and dimmest – full Moon of the year on same night
X Factor hopeful Mason Noise: 'How is Cheryl Fernandez-Versini in the music business, let alone a judge on the show?'
Wes Craven dead: Why Johnny Depp owes his career to director’s 13-year-old daughter
Trevor Noah, Edinburgh Fringe review: New Daily Show host warms up in inspired style
VMAs 2015: You can already buy ‘Kanye West for president’ t-shirts
VMAs 2015: Taylor Swift and her buddy Kendrick Lamar clean-up at awards - full list of winners
Climate change: 2015 will be the hottest year on record 'by a mile', experts say
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
Tony Blair attacks Jeremy Corbyn's 'Alice In Wonderland' politics
Theresa May says migrants should be banned from entering the UK unless they have jobs lined up
Iain Duncan Smith 'should resign over disability benefit death figures', says Jeremy Corbyn
UN investigating British Government over human rights abuses caused by IDS welfare reforms