John Ruskin - Definitions


  • Pathetic fallacy: Ruskin coined this term in Modern Painters III (1856) to describe the ascription of human emotions to inanimate objects and impersonal natural forces, as in "Nature must be gladsome when I was so happy" (Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre).
  • Fors Clavigera: Ruskin gave this title to a series of letters he wrote "to the workmen and labourers of Great Britain" (1871–84). The name was intended to signify three great powers which go to fashion human destiny, as Ruskin explained at length in Letter 2 (February 1871). These were: Force, symbolised by the club (clava) of Hercules; Fortitude, symbolised by the key (clavis) of Ulysses; and Fortune, symbolised by the nail (clavus) of Lycurgus. These three powers (the "fors") together represent human talents and abilities to choose the right moment and then to strike with energy. The concept is derived from Shakespeare's phrase "There is a tide in the affairs of men/ Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune" (Brutus in Julius Caesar). Ruskin believed that the letters were inspired by the Third Fors: striking out at the right moment.
  • Theoria: Ruskin's 'theoretic' faculty – theoretic, as opposed to aesthetic – enables a vision of the beautiful as intimating a reality deeper than the everyday, at least in terms of the kind of transcendence generally seen as immanent in things of this world. For an example of the influence of Ruskin's concept of theoria, see Peter Fuller.
  • Modern Atheism: Ruskin applied this label to the unfortunate persistence of the clergy in teaching children what they cannot understand, and in employing young consecrate persons to assert in pulpits what they do not know.
  • Illth: Used by Ruskin as the antithesis of wealth, which he defined as life itself; broadly, where wealth is ‘well-being’, illth is "ill-being".
  • Excrescence: Ruskin defined an "excrescence" as an outgrowth of the main body of a building that does not harmonize well with the main body. He originally used the term to describe certain Gothic Revival features also for later additions to cathedrals and various other public buildings, especially from the Gothic period.

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