The Mystery of Charles Dickens: A Tale of Mesmerism and Murder by John Paulits

9781780921778Between 1844 an 1845, during the time of Dickens’ excursion with his family, he was acquainted with the de la Rues in Genoa. Emile de la Rue, a Swiss banker, confided to Dickens that his English wife Augusta was having troubles with facial tics and sleepless nights. Taught by Dr. Elliotson in London, Dickens returned to Genoa and underwent sessions of mesmerism to put Augusta into a trance-like state, so that she could be cured during the process of awakening and dreaming. However, the One and Only Dickens, the Great Original, the master that all men great and small who gravitated towards this resplendent being, was defeated in this one and only circumstance. During the trance, Augusta divulged to Dickens that she was actually haunted by a “phantom” in her subconscious mind, and little was known by Dickens that twenty-five years later, in doing the justice to the Swiss banker’s wife, and having a righteousness in mind to uncover the deepest depth of a gruesome truth in writing the Mystery of Edwin Drood (what excitement to find out this name is a play of anagram!), the inescapable jeopardy was awaiting Dickens to meet his accursed end.

“You have caused these attacks. You are the source of these attacks. Do not sit there and act as if your wife’s attacks are but a small price to pay to possess the likes of you! You talk as if you were some rare and precious prize. What you have done is to destroy the woman’s peace of mind, her health, and her stability.”(p. 122)

The Mystery of Charles Dickens is one of the most interesting books I have read. One of the aspects which makes this book unforgettable is that there is a great juxtaposition drawn between the nuptial/familial affections of Dickens’ and that of de la Rues. Some dialogues actually remind me of the biographies and fiction I read about Dickens with his wife Catherine.  In Girl in a Blue Dress by Gaynor Arnold, Catherine is also portrayed as an insecure wife, suffered from indisposition and stuck in a rotation of birth-giving confinement. In truth, before the separation in 1858, Dickens even made his instructions to set up a partition wall in the bedroom and accused of Catherine being suffered from mental disorder. In The Mystery of Charles Dickens, Catherine is more belligerent and acrimonious to Dickens, perhaps used to illustrate Dickens being the restless and unique character in search of the truth and justice in this mystery. But still, both Catherine Dickens and Augusta de la Rue were victims in a way that their misfortune was self-disguised as blessings that they believed the total darkness of their lives was illuminated by a rare and precious light like their husbands, but the truth is that the relationships were actually a deception, a psychological detriment, and they were only seen as impressionable beings.

“Dickens seemed now to control the very respiration of his audience. There were passages where taking a breath, making a disturbance, however slight, would have been a sacrilegious impossibility.” (p.138)

On the other aspect, Dickens, when put onto paper in fiction, biographies, and projected on screens as the protagonist of possessing restless and inquisitive mind, is a character who makes one very excitable to dissect, devour, and admire in words. “Dickens’ command over his audience amazed de la Rue. The Room no longer seemed a collection of individuals but had become one attentive thing, pushed, pulled, driven, frightened, amused, and entertained by the man in the small circle of light.” (p. 138) I really enjoy reading these kinds of enlivened passages in the book narrating Dickens with his reading desks, citing aloud his works during his farewell reading performances on stage, and every time he has read the murder scene of Nancy by Sikes in Oliver Twist, Dickens was described as being too exhausted and overwrought that he needed to stagger off from the stage being flanked by two men in assistance.

Vengeance plays a major part in the book. There is Dickens’s vengeance against Emile de la Rue’s immoral filth that he needed to make it come alive in The Mystery of Edwin Drood (admittedly I still haven’t read it), and on the other side, Emile de la Rue’s mistaken vengeance against Dickens for ruining his life and hopeful possibility to attain a high social status in London is ubquitious in the story. Emile de la Rue’s sinful tramps around Rochester is especially making one feel really tense while reading it, even better than the mesmerising chapters on Augusta (I find some dialogues quite humourous, especially the bits when Dickens was convinced he had a great pair of visual rays that could subdue Augusta). Emile was really one of a rogue in the book, and those chapters make me really want to explore Gad’s Hill once in a lifetime. (Although I think it has been turned to a school for a long time but I really hope someday I could visit this place).

By the way, Dr Elliotson is also another interesting person in the book, apart from him being an expert of mesmerist, little did I know he was also an eminent phrenologist. But most importantly, he actually underwent a successful operation of amputating a patient’s penis using mesmerism as an anesthetic. So, one must get hold of this book to dig more information!

A Portrait-Painter’s Story – a ghostly encounter unveiled to Dickens in 1861

HeaphyLast year I randomly downloaded an American podcast doing a Halloween special about the history of ghosts and supernatural writings in the nineteenth century. The hosts came across a ghost story which was published in a journal edited by Dickens, All the Year Round, in September 1861, entitled A Portrait-Painter’s Story.  I was intrigued by that time while I listened to the podcast and today I dug out some information regarding the curious anecdote of Dickens.

The story set against the backdrop during autumnal time in 1858. A portrait painter occasioned to get acquainted with a beautiful young lady who got in the carriage at the Doncaster stop and sat down opposite to him while he was travelling on a morning train from York to London.

The next few minutes were occupied in locating herself. There was the cloak to be spread under her, the skirts of the dress to be arranged, the gloves to be tightened, and such other trifling arrangements of plumage as ladies are wont to make before sitting themselves comfortably at church or elsewhere, the last and most important being the placing back over her hat the veil that concealed her features. I could then see that the lady was young, certainly pot more than two or three and twenty; but being moderately tall, rather robust in make and decided in expression, she might have been two or three years younger.

The protagonist was supposed to leave the lady to get on with his journey and interchanged at Retford Junction so as to meet up a Kirkbeck family in Lincolnshire. However, as soon as he arrived at the host’s house he against bumped into the mysterious young lady who stood near the chimney-place and warmed her feet. Since then several times did the mysterious young woman appear to him inadvertently and besought him to make some sketches of her with his own recollection. To ease the painter’s burden to his work, she also produced from her belongings an engraving of a woman  whom her family considered to be very much like her.

“Do you think you could paint my portrait?” the lady inquired.

“Yes, 1 think I could, if I had the opportunity.”

“Now, look at my face well; do you think you should recollect my features?”

“Yes, I am sure I should never forget your features.”

“Of course I might have expected you to say that; but do you think you could do me from recollection?”

“Well, if it be necessary, I will try; but can’t you give me any sittings?”

“No, quite impossible; it could not be. It is said that the print I showed you before dinner is like me; do you think so?”

“Not much.” I replied; “it has not your expression. If you can give me one sitting, it would be better than none.”

“No; I don’t see how it could be.”

Weeks later the portrait painter unexpectedly stayed with a family called Lute, which the story is brought to the climax in that the young lady, who actually named Caroline, “died near four months previously; that her father had never yet recovered from the shock of her death”. Through violent paroxysms, the father saw images of the deceased daughter engaging with the protagonist; and being taken care by the circumstance of fate and the portrait painter’s sketches, the once indisposed yet convalescing father could finally reunite with his beloved Caroline through the memories they shared with each other. “The portrait now hangs in his bedroom, with the print and the two sketches by the side, and written beneath is: “C. L., 13th September, 1858, aged twenty-two.”

Victorians those days were all obsessed with spiritual encounters, mesmerism, prophecies, premonitions, inexplicable fate and coincidences that befell upon them in life, just the same as we are today, which made supernatural and Gothic tales irresistible to the reading public (One example was that a young girl aged fifteen was suffered from fits and died horribly as she was much worried by Mother Shipton’s prophecy that the world would end in 1881). The publication of A Portrait-Painter’s Story soon aroused an incredulous response, especially from a miniature painter, Thomas Frank Heaphy (1813 – 1873). Heaphy wrote in a letter to Dickens attached with his own copy of the story  claiming that the incident, who Heaphy thought “originated” by Dickens, was more or less true – but he himself was the actually none other than the real “protagonist” who encountered this seemingly young and beautiful apparition. Dickens was much amazed and shocked by the coincidence displayed through the series of correspondence he had with Heaphy, especially as to the date that he himself inserted while revising the proof for the publication – “Why that date should have come into my head rather than any other I am profoundly unable to say.” The Story, according to Dickens’s account, was second handed to Sir Edward Lytton from a young writer named Edward Ward, and timely Mr Layard, a friend of his, also heard Sir Edward Lytton retold it in a gathering party.

Dickens thought the version of Heaphy’s was far more striking as well as superior and requested to procure Heaphy’s manuscript upon his approval to be published in the October issue of  All the Year Round. After Heaphy’s death several years later, his wife republished the later husband’s supernatural account enriched by the long-kept correspondences between Heaphy and Dickens.

As a side-note, we might not know what Dickens first reaction was while reading Heaphy’s letter. Enraged? Annoyed? Surprised? Shocked? He might be irritated that his dear fellows implicated him to his being accused of “stealing people’s ideas” again as he was not only once beset by these similar cases before. And never did he know that around four years later, he would incur a railway incident yet again, this time, which was actually a matter of life and death.

The Magic Fish-Bone (1868) by Charles Dickens

IMG_20150720_010004I’m participating in a short course about myths, legends, and fairytales. This is what I intend to do for my 5-minute presentation for the last lesson this weekend…:) I hope it goes well.

Main Characters: King Watkins the First (manliest), Queen (loveliest and the only housekeeper of the house), Queen’s father (medical man), nineteen children (including eldest daughter, Princess Alicia, 7), Mr. Pickles (fishmonger), Picker’s errand boy, Good Fairy Grandmarina, Peggy (the Lord Chamberlain), a doll (the Duchess)

Heroine: Princess Alicia (Princess and fairy story)

Setting (Time, Place): There was once a King, and he had a Queen…/ ordinary home

Magic Object(s): Fish-Bone

Purpose: The Magic Fish-Bone was especially written and intended for Victorian children (more moralistic-based)

Fairytales (Maslow’s/ Archetype)

Magic Fish-Bone

Analysis / Author & Historical Background / Author

(1)   Physical Well-Being “The King was, in his private profession, Under Government.”

-“The King went on towards the Office in a melancholy mood, for Quarter-Day was such a long way off, and several of the dear children were growing out of their clothes.”

– Heroine not mistreated, but lived in ordinary home rather than a royal palace. Straitened circumstances, fed on inexpensive items; e.g., stopped at the fishmonger’s to buy salmon for the household.

– Royals were stripped off inborn aristocracy and lived like plebeians.

Magical Tool(s) / Repetitions “Tell the Princess Alicia, with my love, that the fish-bone is a magic present which can only be used once, but that it will bring, her, that once, whatever she wishes for, PROVIDED SHE WISHES FOR IT AT THE RIGHT TIME…” Fish-bone only used as an act of emergency.
(2)   Safety Needs / Scenario(s) (a)   The Queen fainted away when she got up in the morning:

“The Princess Alicia kept the seventeen young princes and princesses quiet, and dressed and undressed and danced the baby, and made the kettle boil, and heated the soup, and swept the hearth, and poured out the medicine, and nursed the queen, and did all that ever she could, and was as busy, busy, busy as busy could be…”

“But on the morning when the queen fainted away, where was the magic fish-bone? Why, there it was in the Princess Alicia’s pocket! She had almost taken it out to bring the queen to life again, when she put it back, and looked for the smelling-bottle.”

(b)   Little snapping pug-dog making a rush advance towards one of the young Princes, who then crushed his arm towards the window pane with fright and caused an injury:

[S]he put the wounded prince’s hand in a basin of fresh cold water…and then she looked in the hand for bits of glass, and there were fortunately no bits of glass there. And then she said to two chubby-legged princes, who were sturdy though small, ‘Bring me in the royal rag-bag: I must snip and stitch and cut and contrive.”

(c)    Baby sibling fell under the grate:

“I am afraid to let him down yet, lest he should wake and feel pain; be good, and you shall all be cooks.’ They jumped for joy when they heard that, and began making themselves cooks’ caps out of old newspapers.”

Princess Alicia overcame various threats and didn’t produce the fish-bone out of her pocket, which were seen as temptations her ultimate reward.

(a)   Smelling-bottle (smelling salts) – widely used in the 19th century to arouse ladies’ consciousness from frights and tightness of corsets and crinolines (medical advance functioned as limiting the power of the magical tools seen in fairytales).

(b)   The first-aid knowledge and resourcefulness of a seven-year-old Alicia was exceptionable.

(c)    Abundance of newspapers and publishing companies. As well as mentioning points (a), (b), and (c), Dickens used the heroine as means of instilling particularities into the fairytale (responsibilities and duties in the household).

(3)   Belonging & love needs The doll (the duchess) was Princess Alicia’s sole comfort and substitution for social belonging and friendship when her motives and resourcefulness were not understood by her father.

‘Alicia.’ ‘Yes, papa.’ ‘What have you been doing?’ ‘Snipping, stitching, cutting, and contriving, papa.’ ‘Where is the magic fish-bone?’ ‘In my pocket, papa.’ ‘I thought you had lost it?’ ‘O, no, papa.’ ‘Or forgotten it?’ ‘No, indeed, papa.’ After that, she ran up-stairs to the duchess, and told her what had passed, and told her the secret over again; and the duchess shook her flaxen curls, and laughed with her rosy lips.

Ultimate Threat / Reward Escaped from poverty. The King’s quarter-day salary had not arrived. Fish-bone was used and the fairy announced there’d be eight quarter-days in every year. Poverty was reflected as a grave issue at the time.
(4&5) Esteem Needs from Potential Fulfillment and Self-Actualization Compliments from Grandmarina for her endurance and domesticity. Transformation and Romance: married to Prince Certainpersonio (not rich). Fairy Grandmarina promised that Prince Certainopersonio and Princess Alicia were to have thirty-five children, would never have measles and recovered from whooping-cough before being born. Living happily ever after (also a rag-to-riches story). Actualization: Financial safety for the family. – (Health and high mortality rate in children)

– Fertility (Catherine Dickens’s ten children)

– This created a dimension and previous hardship were rewarded with beauty and order. The self-actualization seen as a fulfilment towards good deeds for family (different from ordinary fairytales).

Moralistic/ Didactic Messages Conveyed “When we have done our very very best, papa, and that is not enough, then I think the right time must have come for asking help of others.”

(1)   Grown-ups ground of reasoning and ignorance.

(2)   Contrivance and endurance against temptations and hardship for the ultimate reward (Christian values?)

(3)   Realistic yet without being deprived of imagination.

(4)   Social conditions of the Victorian period.

Hard Times (1854) – fact and fancy

Morals served as the secondary element in the fairytale for sake of entertainment.

Villain(s) and Punishment “It only remains,” said Grandmarina in conclusion, “to make an end of the fish-bone.” So she took it from the hand of the Princess Alicia, and it instantly flew down the throat of the dreadful little snapping pug-dog, next door, and choked him, and he expired in convulsions. -Pugs were popular pets among European aristocrats. Queen Victoria kept a herd at the Palace.

– An attack on dowagers?

Other Elements (Feminism) Matrilineal descent (Fairy Godmother, Princess Alicia, Peggy the Lord Chamberlain), uncharismatic king

– Queen Victoria’s reign and stipulations

– Women’s virtue and wifely duties.

Death and Mr Pickwick (2) Murder, Dream, and Execution

1 7 maria martenReaders of Death and Mr Pickwick can devour bits and bobs of nineteenth-century anecdotes. Around page 200 of the Novel, we are briefly introduced Thomas Kelly, the publisher of Paternoster Row, London, and his sensational installments including An Authentic and Faithful History of the Mysterious Murder of Maria Marten. Many publishing companies had also benefitted greatly from this murder. (Not without mentioning Robert Seymour, of course!)

Talking of the Mysterious Murder of Maria Marten, aka Red Barn Mystery in Polstead, Suffolk, it was the highly speculative murder case committed by William Corder, and Maria was often victimised in melodramatic and picturesque accounts as an ingenuous and country girl version of Amelia Sedley killed by an impoverished man with worst attributes and suchlike. On the contrary, Maria Marten was two years Corder’s senior and infamous for her lecherous affairs with other countrymen of the area with Corder as an impressionable but sparrow-framed young man. Ironically enough, Corder’s aspiration was to be a gentleman-farmer of letters and longing to reside in the literary circles in London.



But that’s not it – the psychic portent was at the time seen as a matter of fact and unimaginable around the nineteenth century court case. Ann Marten, the stepmother (much younger than Old Marten) of Maria’s,  recounted her dream of witnessing a corpse (Maria Marten) being buried in the floor of the red barn by William Corder, and demanded the ground to be excavated immediately. Maria’s rotten body was really exhumed at the red barn and produced an arrest warrant against William Corder (who, at that time, had already married an well-educated schoolmistress named Kathleen Moore in London and together they set up a school in Ealing). In 1828, the noose was finally tightened at his neck in Bury St Edmunds and nothing in the least heroically about his death in the eyes of thousands of spectators who attended the execution.

Credit: Wellcome Library, London. By George Cruikshank
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. By George Cruikshank

After the execution, Corder’s skull was used in phrenological examination (incidentally, phrenology was pseudoscience that Anne Brontë ridiculed in comparison with physiognomy; and Edinburgh Phrenological Society was founded by George Combe, who was Cecilia Siddons’s husband). It was found that the prominent areas which the killer greatly exercised in his lifetime were “secretiveness, acquisitiveness, destructiveness, and imitativeness”; but with little evidence of “benevolence or veneration”.

George Combe lecturing on phrenology to a large mixed audience Credit: Wellcome Library, London. (by George Cruikshank)
George Combe lecturing on phrenology to a large mixed audience. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. (by George Cruikshank)

James Lea was the police constable who investigated the red barn murder and later another notorious and nerve-shredding case of “Spring-heeled Jack”.

Death and Mr Pickwick (1) Anne Siggs

9780199537242I am awakened by the rich details and vast spectrum of topics covered in Death and Mr. Pickwick by Stephen Jarvis a robust catapult of knowledge enrichment. During the reading, I had come across an interesting conversation between Joseph Severn and Robert Seymour at the gates of Hoxton House, discussing passion for portraitures and anecdotes of Mrs. Siddons, a famous Georgian tragedian. After a while, the name of “Anne Siggs” came alive on the paper,

But when I am in the drawing office at Vaughan’s, every morning there is a tall, ugly beggar-woman on crutches who passes by in the street. You always hear her, scraping the ground and calling for alms, and if you look out the window, there she is. Everyone in the area knows her – she is called Anne Siggs. But she has two unusual qualities. First, she is spotlessly clean, which is mystifying. Second, she tells everyone her sister is Mrs. Siddons, and that the actress refuses to acknowledge her own flesh and blood.

This unusual attributes seemed to be all the more intriguing; I wanted to gain more information on this eccentric but scrupulous beggar. She was mentioned in many sources, including The Streets of London: Anecdotes of Their More Celebrated Residents; and Vagabondiana, or Anecdotes of Mendicant Wanderers through the Streets of London, both by John Thomas Smith (1766–1833), an English painter, engraver and antiquarian (inspiration of Henry Mayhew’s later works).

Anne_Siggs,_an_eccentric_crippled_beggar._Engraving,_1804._Wellcome_V0007230Anne Siggs was born in May (year unknown) into a respectable family, whose father Moses Siggs was an industrious breeches-maker in Dorking, Surrey. However, an accident befallen on him resulting in deformity and early death. Anne Siggs was the second eldest. Moses’s expertise in astrology once portended his daughter would constantly encounter “a variety of wretchedness”. Death of Moses Siggs left the family in destitution; Anne was received into several families until she was around 20 years of age. She resided in various areas in London, by Swallow Street for thirty years; Upper John Street and Golden Square around the Piccadilly. Rheumatism begrudged her to get up at nine and wandered around till two. In her life she had been “knocked down, pinched, horsewhipped” and incurred all sorts of maltreatment, which enfeebled her senses and ended up using crutches. Unable to be a seamstress and striped off her personalty, Anne received life allowances from churchwarden due to her religious devotion (she was purported to have written few religious writing in life). Before her indisposition she was measured five feet seven, as tall as her father. Living at the back garret, not only her clothes but apartment was remarkably clean. Anne Siggs was often visited by doves and magpies at home, and kept an owl by herself.


Mrs. Salmon Waxwork had exhibited a wax figure of Anne Siggs in 1812 on 17 Fleet Street (Prince Henry’s Room) at the door entrance in alternated turns, but not as popular as Mother Shipton, that the hidden treadle at the step would all in a sudden “incensed” Mother Shipton to kick and snap patrons with her broom!

“Traffic” and “The Roots of Honour” by John Ruskin

IMG_20150828_203533-1John Ruskin (1819 – 1900). Artist. Writer. Lecturer. Teacher. Critic. Scholar. Social Reformer. Philanthropist. Before reading this pamphlet, little I knew about John Ruskin. To me, he was the antagonist who was infamously embroiled himself in the love triangle between Effie Gray, his wife, and one of the founders and associated members of Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood whom he once gave infallible support and high accolade – John Everett Millais. There’s a movie adapted from the biography by Suzanne Fagence Cooper I watched some months ago, about the cold feud and annulment of their unconsummated marriage in 1854. He afterwards in 1858 encountered an innocuous teenager and student named Rose La Touche whom he might be endlessly swooning over, and which love became a source of inspiration for Nabokov’s Lolita (1955).

9780199538300Apart from Ruskin’s personal life and sexual encounters, he was often mentioned as sources of conversations and arguments between the characters in George Gissing’s The Odd Women (1893). Essay entitled Sesame and Lilies and Ruskin’s School of Thought were often controverted and affronted by Rhoda’s idea of women’s independence, as being one of the singletons and partner in Miss Barfoot’s office situated on Great Portland Street – possibly based on the Society for Promoting the Employment of Women between 1858 and 1860,

 I have much more sympathy with the new idea that women should think of marriage only as men do – I mean, not to grow up in the thought that they must marry or be blighted creatures. My own views are rather extreme, perhaps; strictly, I don’t believe in marriage at all. And I haven’t anything like the respect for women, as women, that you have. You belong to the Ruskin school.

John Ruskin was also recited in Mr. Widdowson’s lecture to his wife,

Woman’s sphere is the home, Monica. Unfortunately girls are often obliged to go out and earn their living, but this is unnatural, a necessity which advanced civilization will altogether abolish. You shall read John Ruskin; every word he says about women is good and precious. If a woman can neither have a home of her own, nor find occupation in any one else’s she is deeply to be pitied; her life is bound to be unhappy. I sincerely believe that an educated woman had better become a domestic servant than try to imitate the life of a man.

Wool Exchange, Bradford. Built between 1864 and 1867. (from

All these kinds of negativity make me want to delve into something which might do him justice (in my opinion). Well! Reading John Ruskin’s two essays is delightful as well as an enlightenment. It’s by far my favourite Little Black Classics among the other 4 that I bought (well, for Henry Mayhew’s one, better get yourself London Labour and the London Poor instead!). In the essay entitled Traffic (trafficking and goodies exchange), he stated that stakeholders wished to consult him, a “respectable architectural man-milliner”, regarding the guidance of construction of the Wool Exchange in Bradford; but he got them in preparation by trenchantly saying that, no, although he wouldn’t wilfully offend them by declining this invitation to deliver a talk in the Town Hall in 1864, he simply would not care less about the Exchange of theirs, because “they don’t”; but what his thoughts to eclipse all other issues were that “all good architecture is the expression of national life, and character; and it is produced by a prevalent and eager national taste, or desire for beauty”; that “Taste is the ONLY morality”. What someone liked basically would be telling who they were. Means of critique also ncluded outside ornaments like the love of pictures, statues, furniture, and architecture. In this case, if one is engrossed with entities which “proposes delight in perpetual contemplation”, he is considered as having a good taste (that included devouring a Turner’s picturesque pictures). Of course it’s misery to binge into Newgate Calendar as a literary pastime. This concept is quite inspiring.

Ruskin1There’s so much to talk about, so many examples and analogies. What he then said was that England, apart from its iron-working industries and competition against other European vice, there’s the fourth religion of Christianity practicing there, and it was the worship of “Goddess of Getting-on”, or “Britannia of the Market”. “Architectures are principally built to her: railroad-piers, warehouses, exchanges!” This Getting-on and gathering place had a motto and heroism attached to it, which he should regard it as absolutely a preposterous ridicule, it’s rather selling than supplying, “quartering one’s self upon them for food, stripping them of their clothes”, to put the this trait simply, it’s merely but gravely a competition for the “bravest”, “wittiest”, and strongest” in the commerce marketing with doing businesses dishonestly. In this case, CHANGE was needed.

Following those trodden ways of wisdom, which are pleasantness, and seeking her quiet and withdrawn paths, which are peace; — then, and so sanctifying wealth into ‘commonwealth’, all your art, your literature, your daily labours, your domestic affection, and citizen’s duty, will join and increase into one magnificent harmony.

In the end, the Wool Exchange was constructed in the style of Gothic Revival and that was advocated and supported by Ruskin accordingly.

The Roots of Honour is another essay included in the Little Black Classics, which examines the flaws of modernity and system of political economy in mercantile businesses that defied the inborn quality of social affections and empathy. The piece is great as well, especially pleasant to mention Dickens’s works in order to observe master-servant relationships, for example, Esther and Charlie in Bleak House and Miss Brass and the Marchioness in Master Humphrey’s Clock; and Ruskin’s favourite, Hard Times.

F1430All in all, I really like this pamphlet, full of metaphors and examples. Though he might not be right on gender issues, but there’s something in his views to look at in relation to art and society. In the end, I would like to include some passages of “the fatal lecture” in The Fallen Leaves by Wilkie Collins. It’s a lecture delivered by Amelius Goldenheart in the hall of Hampden Institution. Goldenheart’s devout belief in Christian Socialism is distinctive in the novel and controversial. Some might think it’s one of the reasons credited with the unsatisfactory reception in public and critics of the time. Moreover, I would like to include it because John Ruskin was one of the supporters of Christian Socialism among the Pre-Raphaelite circle, and a teaching fellow of the Working Men’s College. Enjoy! 🙂

  • “Ladies and gentlemen, thoughtful people accustomed to watch the signs of the times in this country, and among the other nations of Europe, are (so far as I know) agreed in the conclusion, that serious changes are likely to take place in present forms of government, and in existing systems of society, before the century in which we live has reached its end.
  • All that I can now attempt to do is (first) to point out some of the causes which are paving the way for a coming change in the social and political condition of this country; and (secondly) to satisfy you that the only trustworthy remedy for existing abuses is to be found in the system which Christian Socialism extracts from this little book on my table—the book which you all know under the name of The New Testament.
  • Look at our Commerce. What is its social aspect, judged by the morality which is in this book in my hand? Let those organised systems of imposture, masquerading under the disguise of banks and companies, answer the question—there is no need for me to answer it. You know what respectable names are associated, year after year, with the shameless falsification of accounts, and the merciless ruin of thousands on thousands of victims. You know how our poor Indian customer finds his cotton-print dress a sham that falls to pieces; how the savage who deals honestly with us for his weapon finds his gun a delusion that bursts; how the half-starved needlewoman who buys her reel of thread finds printed on the label a false statement of the number of yards that she buys; you know that, in the markets of Europe, foreign goods are fast taking the place of English goods, because the foreigner is the most honest manufacturer of the two—and, lastly, you know, what is worse than all, that these cruel and wicked deceptions, and many more like them, are regarded, on the highest commercial authority, as ‘forms of competition’ and justifiable proceedings in trade. Do you believe in the honourable accumulation of wealth by men who hold such opinions and perpetrate such impostures as these? I don’t! Do you find any brighter and purer prospect when you look down from the man who deceives you and me on the great scale, to the man who deceives us on the small? I don’t! Everything we eat, drink, and wear is a more or less adulterated commodity; and that very adulteration is sold to us by the tradesmen at such outrageous prices, that we are obliged to protect ourselves on the Socialist principle, by setting up cooperative shops of our own.
  • …that aspect presents one wide field of corruption and abuse, and reveals a callous and shocking insensibility on the part of the nation at large to the spectacle of its own demoralisation and disgrace.”“I am sorry I have made you angry with me,” he said, smiling. “The blame for this little disturbance really rests with the public speakers who are afraid of you and who flatter you—especially if you belong to the working classes. You are not accustomed to have the truth told you to your faces. Why, my good friends, the people in this country, who are unworthy of the great trust which the wise and generous English constitution places in their hands, are so numerous that they can be divided into distinct classes! There is the highly-educated class which despairs, and holds aloof. There is the class beneath—without self-respect, and therefore without public spirit—which can be bribed indirectly, by the gift of a place, by the concession of a lease, even by an invitation to a party at a great house which includes the wives and the daughters. And there is the lower class still—mercenary, corrupt, shameless to the marrow of its bones—which sells itself and its liberties for money and drink.
  • Do not, I entreat you, suffer yourselves to be persuaded by those purblind philosophers who assert that the divine virtue of Christianity is a virtue which is wearing out with the lapse of time. It is the abuse and corruption of Christianity that is wearing out—as all falsities and all impostures must and do wear out. Never, since Christ and his apostles first showed men the way to be better and happier, have the nations stood in sorer need of a return to that teaching, in its pristine purity and simplicity, than now! Never, more certainly than at this critical time, was it the interest as well as the duty of mankind to turn a deaf ear to the turmoil of false teachers, and to trust in that all-wise and all-merciful Voice which only ceased to exalt, console, and purify humanity, when it expired in darkness under the torture of the cross! Are these the wild words of an enthusiast? Is this the dream of an earthly Paradise in which it is sheer folly to believe? I can tell you of one existing community (one among others) which numbers some hundreds of persons; and which has found prosperity and happiness, by reducing the whole art and mystery of government to the simple solution set forth in the New Testament—fear God, and love thy neighbour as thyself.”