The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
St. George's Guild.
by Julia Firth. *
St. George's Guild is a society founded by Mr. Ruskin, and it aims at the establishment and encouragement of "agricultural life with as much refinement as possible." This involves the purchase of land, and the settlement upon it of persons willing to cultivate it under certain conditions of usefulness to the community and comfort to themselves, the reverent preservation of all that is beautiful in wild Nature, the easy access to selected specimens of what is excellent in Art, and the education of the children in such a manner that they shall know "the meaning of the words Beauty, Courtesy, Compassion, Gladness, and Religion."
It is becoming more and more generally recognised that refinement, which implies leisure and the power to use it rightly, is not at the present possible for the "lower orders" as a mass. People begin to ask whether the poor should not be a little richer, whether a life of excessive toil, without any culture except that of hardship, is exactly what is due to our fellow-men, and whether the "divided races," which touch only on pay-day, quite answer to the accepted ideal of Christianity.
John Ruskin, deploring the state of things some twenty years ago, felt that he could not stand aloof, that he could not have peace of heart, nor power of hand, unless he made some effort, aided by many or by few, to abate the misery which distressed him.
It is remarkable that the author of "Modern Painters," with his artistic genius, should be the one great writer of the present day who has himself stepped down into the arena to do battle with ignorance, cruelty, and injustice, and to set going a scheme of help. He felt that something radical should be done, that charity was useless unless justice satisfied the demand for right conditions of life. He began by the systematic extension of some of his own advantages, and the endeavour to induce others to do likewise. He gave £7,000 (the tenth of his whole property) for the forwarding of his aims, which aims he explained from time to time in "Fors Clavigera: Letters to the Workmen and Labourers of Great Britain" (1870--1878). He vehemently and unflinchingly denounced everything base and destructive, and, whether by reference to passing event, work of art, or ancient usage, illustrated and amplified his teaching to the Society which he was gradually forming.
In many of his writings he describes "noble and peaceful country life," and the pleasures of a competence acknowledged and laborious; and treats of the importance of work as a factor in education. To St. George's Guild he makes it a law [see vow and creed at the end of the paper] that the Companions shall work for their living. This has been a stumbling-block to some persons who are living on the interest of money procured by the labour of others. But those who understand the limiting clause, "as God gives me opportunity," as a sufficient sanction for pecuniosity, consider it their bounden duty to return to society by daily industry some of the benefits which they have received from it. Others rearrange their life conditions, and get their food out of the ground by their own labour, or continue some occupation in which they were already embarked, unless it be one which blackens the sky, defiles the waters, or involves cruelty or injustice to man or beast. The Master does not think machinery a boon to men. He says: "Out of so much ground only so much living thing is to be got, with or without machinery." . . . "No machines will increase the possibilities of life." . . . "Farm after farm I can show you in Bavaria, Switzerland, the Tyrol . . . where men and women are perfectly happy and good without any iron servants."
The whole of his teaching is stimulating to work--useful manual work. The first condition of Companionship is Honesty. Do good work, whether you live or die. Have no fellowship with works of darkness, half-done or ill-done things. Obey implicitly those whom you can trust. Be depended upon by as many as you can help. Be a band of delivering knights. [See Carlyle's "Be a Knight, not a Chactaw."] These are the marching orders of the Guild of St. George!
Though the Master directs the members to discipline themselves and others "in honourable knowledge and graceful art," he does not look upon teaching as work, but rather as the natural and wholesome result of the possession of any special wisdom or skill. The work he recognises is that required in feeding, lodging, and dressing people; he would secure for all pure air, water, earth, pleasant homes and gardens, and "three immaterial things," not only useful but essential to life. These are--Admiration, Hope, and Love.
"ADMIRATION.--The power of discerning and taking delight in what is beautiful in visible form and lovely in human character; and, necessarily, striving to produce what is beautiful in form, and to become what is lovely in character.
"HOPE.--The recognition, by true foresight, of better things to be reached hereafter, whether by ourselves or others; necessarily issuing in the straightforward and undisappointable effort to advance, according to our proper power, the gaining of them.
"LOVE.--Both of family and neighbour, faithful and satisfied."
Society expects young ladies to dance and sing, and wear jewels and pretty clothes, but as we descend the social scale, at some not very well defined point, the dancing is to cease, because it becomes low and romping and "leads to a great deal that is bad;" the singing must be chiefly of hymns (a girl who was scrubbing one of our floors the other day accompanied her work with repetitions of "Praise Him and magnify Him for ever"); the jewels are probably imitation--the clothes are dingy in hue, or fine and unserviceable.
Not so, teaches John Ruskin; he pleads for merriment, dancing and singing for the poor ("put melody into the souls of these, or you are no Christians"), suggests that the young English ladies who attend costly operas might teach girl peasants to join in "costless choirs of innocent song," that gentlemen might teach their peasantry some science and art, and that with the money spent--say in adulteration of beer--lovely little museums and perfect libraries might be founded in every village. He would have the family jewels of gold or uncut gems hereditary in the peasant home, worn by the daughter with grace inherited from the mother; he would have us decorate "some very undecorated shrines" by giving to the poor clothes which may be worn with dignity, which are pretty and suitable to their employment. To all women of rank and wealth he says, "Till you can dress your poor beautifully, dress yourselves plainly; till you can feed all your poor healthily, live yourselves like the Monks of Vallis Rosina." [See Fors C.; Letter XCVI.]
Secrecy as to means of livelihood, and as to amount of income, would be ended by "glass pockets;" in other words by the open avowal of both by the Companions of the Guild. Its coinage, with the motto "Sit splendor," and its regulations of all kinds, can be found in the eight volumes of the unique series of letters whose cessation caused a sensation of blankness to many learners and workers.
The number of Companions was few to begin with. Those who might have given noble help held aloof. And still the number is comparatively small. Though some persons deride the poor amount of what is accomplished, and point to a little land and a few cottages at Barmouth, some twenty acres in Worcestershire, and some farms not very successfully managed, it would be superficial indeed to regard these as the sole result of the action of the Master. He gave treasures to St. George's Museum of Walkley which he founded, and through the beneficent efforts of the very worthy and practical trustees of the guild and their happy negotiations with the liberal Town Council of Sheffield, those treasures were removed to a more fitting place, and the town has now at Meersbrook Hall a centre of wholesome delight and instruction which is largely attended both by residents and strangers.
And is the gift of a beautiful ideal nothing? of a scheme which others may work out more fully in that spirit of true gratitude which is faithful to the wishes of the originator? of words which touch the heart with sorrow for the desolate and oppressed, or sting it into self-reproach, or rouse it into vital and remedial activity?
The system of education of the children of the Guild of St. George will form the subject of a separate paper, which would not have been intelligible without this preliminary one.
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"Statement of creed and resolution to be signed with the solemnity of a vow by every person received into the St. George's Company.
I. I trust in the Living God, Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things and creatures visible and invisible.
I trust in the kindness of His law, and the goodness of His work.
And I will strive to love Him, and keep His law, and see His work, while I live.
II. I trust int he nobleness of human nature, in the majesty of its faculties, the fulness of its mercy, and the joy of its love.
And I will strive to love my neighbour as myself, and, even when I cannot, will act as if I did.
III. I will labour, with such strength and opportunity as God gives me, for my own daily bread; and all that my hand finds to do, I will do with my might.
IV. I will not deceive, or cause to be deceived, any human being for my gain or pleasure; nor hurt, or cause to be hurt, any human being for my gain or pleasure; nor rob, or caused to be robbed, any human being for my gain or pleasure.
V. I will not kill nor hurt any living creature needlessly, nor destroy any beautiful thing, but will strive to save and comfort all gentle life, and guard and perfect all natural beauty, upon the earth.
VI. I will strive to raise my own body and soul daily into higher powers of duty and happiness; not in rivalship or contention with others, but for the help, delight, and honour of others, and for the joy and peace of my own life.
VII. I will obey all the laws of my country faithfully; and the orders of its monarch, and of all persons appointed to be in authority under its monarch, so far as such laws or commands are consistent with what I suppose to be the law of God; and when they are not, or seem in any wise to need change, I will oppose them loyally and deliberately, not with malicious, concealed, or disorderly violence.
VIII. And with the same faithfulness, and under the limits of the same obedience, which I render to the laws of my country, and the commands of its rulers, I will obey the laws of the Society called of St. George, into which I am this day received; and the orders of its masters, and of all persons appointed to be in authority under its masters, so long as I remain a Companion, called of St. George."
* "Mrs. Firth and Mr. Ruskin are friends of long standing. She translated 'Ulric' for him, and I know of no woman in all his circle so deeply read in his ethical and educational teaching."--A. F.
Typed by Susan Flowers, Mar 2013