Read MUNERA PULVERIS: APPENDICES of The Crown of Wild Olive, free online book, by John Ruskin, on

I have brought together in these last pages a few notes, which were not properly to be incorporated with the text, and which, at the bottom of pages, checked the reader’s attention to the main argument. They contain, however, several statements to which I wish to be able to refer, or have already referred, in other of my books, so that I think right to preserve them.


The greatest of all economists are those most opposed to the doctrine of “laissez faire,” namely, the fortifying virtues, which the wisest men of all time have arranged under the general heads of Prudence, or Discretion (the spirit which discerns and adopts rightly); Justice (the spirit which rules and divides rightly); Fortitude (the spirit which persists and endures rightly); and Temperance (the spirit which stops and refuses rightly). These cardinal and sentinel virtues are not only the means of protecting and prolonging life itself, but they are the chief guards, or sources, of the material means of life, and the governing powers and princes of economy. Thus, precisely according to the number of just men in a nation, is their power of avoiding either intestine or foreign war. All disputes may be peaceably settled, if a sufficient number of persons have been trained to submit to the principles of justice, while the necessity for war is in direct ratio to the number of unjust persons who are incapable of determining a quarrel but by violence. Whether the injustice take the form of the desire of dominion, or of refusal to submit to it, or of lust of territory, or lust of money, or of mere irregular passion and wanton will, the result is economically the same; loss of the quantity of power and life consumed in repressing the injustice, added to the material and moral destruction caused by the fact of war. The early civil wars of England, and the existing war in America, are curious examples these under monarchical, this under republican, institutions of the results on large masses of nations of the want of education in principles of justice. But the mere dread or distrust resulting from the want of the inner virtues of Faith and Charity prove often no less costly than war itself. The fear which France and England have of each other costs each nation about fifteen millions sterling annually, besides various paralyses of commerce; that sum being spent in the manufacture of means of destruction instead of means of production. There is no more reason in the nature of things that France and England should be hostile to each other than that England and Scotland should be, or Lancashire and Yorkshire; and the reciprocal terrors of the opposite sides of the English Channel are neither more necessary, more economical, nor more virtuous, than the old riding and reiving on the opposite flanks of the Cheviots, or than England’s own weaving for herself of crowns of thorn, from the stems of her Red and White roses.


Few passages of the book which at least some part of the nations at present most advanced in civilization accept as an expression of final truth, have been more distorted than those bearing on Idolatry. For the idolatry there denounced is neither sculpture, nor veneration of sculpture. It is simply the substitution of an “Eidolon,” phantasm, or imagination of Good, for that which is real and enduring; from the Highest Living Good, which gives life, to the lowest material good which ministers to it. The Creator, and the things created, which He is said to have “seen good” in creating, are in this their eternal goodness appointed always to be “worshipped,” i. e., to have goodness and worth ascribed to them from the heart; and the sweep and range of idolatry extend to the rejection of any or all of these, “calling evil good, and good evil, putting bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter." For in that rejection and substitution we betray the first of all Loyalties, to the fixed Law of life, and with resolute opposite loyalty serve our own imagination of good, which is the law, not of the House, but of the Grave, (otherwise called the law of “mark missing,” which we translate “law of Sin"); these “two masters,” between whose services we have to choose, being otherwise distinguished as God and Mammon, which Mammon, though we narrowly take it as the power of money only, is in truth the great evil Spirit of false and fond desire, or “Covetousness, which is Idolatry.” So that Iconoclasm image-breaking is easy; but an Idol cannot be broken it must be forsaken; and this is not so easy, either to do, or persuade to doing. For men may readily be convinced of the weakness of an image; but not of the emptiness of an imagination.


I have not attempted to support, by the authority of other writers, any of the statements made in these papers; indeed, if such authorities were rightly collected, there would be no occasion for my writing at all. Even in the scattered passages referring to this subject in three books of Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus, Past and Present, and the Latter Day Pamphlets, all has been said that needs to be said, and far better than I shall ever say it again. But the habit of the public mind at present is to require everything to be uttered diffusely, loudly, and a hundred times over, before it will listen; and it has revolted against these papers of mine as if they contained things daring and new, when there is not one assertion in them of which the truth has not been for ages known to the wisest, and proclaimed by the most eloquent of men. It would be [I had written will be; but have now reached a time of life for which there is but one mood the conditional,] a far greater pleasure to me hereafter, to collect their words than to add to mine; Horace’s clear rendering of the substance of the passages in the text may be found room for at once,

Si quis emat citharas, emptas comportet in unum
Nec studio citharae, nec Musae deditus ulli;
Si scalpra et formas non sutor, nautica vela
Aversus mercaturis, delirus et amens
Undique dicatur merito. Qui discrepat istis
Qui nummos aurumque recondit, nescius uti
Compositis; metuensque velut contingere sacrum?

[Which may be roughly thus translated:

“Were anybody to buy fiddles, and collect a number, being in no wise given to fiddling, nor fond of music: or if, being no cobbler, he collected awls and lasts, or, having no mind for sea-adventure, bought sails, every one would call him a madman, and deservedly. But what difference is there between such a man and one who lays by coins and gold, and does not know how to use, when he has got them?”]

With which it is perhaps desirable also to give Xenophon’s statement, it being clearer than any English one can be, owing to the power of the general Greek term for wealth, “useable things.”

[I have cut out the Greek because I can’t be troubled to correct the accents, and am always nervous about them; here it is in English, as well as I can do it:

“This being so, it follows that things are only property to the man who knows how to use them; as flutes, for instance, are property to the man who can pipe upon them respectably; but to one who knows not how to pipe, they are no property, unless he can get rid of them advantageously.... For if they are not sold, the flutes are no property (being serviceable for nothing); but, sold, they become property. To which Socrates made answer, ’and only then if he knows how to sell them, for if he sell them to another man who cannot play on them, still they are no property.’”]


The reader is to include here in the idea of “Government,” any branch of the Executive, or even any body of private persons, entrusted with the practical management of public interests unconnected directly with their own personal ones. In theoretical discussions of legislative interference with political economy, it is usually, and of course unnecessarily, assumed that Government must be always of that form and force in which we have been accustomed to see it; that its abuses can never be less, nor its wisdom greater, nor its powers more numerous. But, practically, the custom in most civilized countries is, for every man to deprecate the interference of Government as long as things tell for his personal advantage, and to call for it when they cease to do so. The request of the Manchester Economists to be supplied with cotton by Government (the system of supply and demand having, for the time, fallen sorrowfully short of the expectations of scientific persons from it), is an interesting case in point. It were to be wished that less wide and bitter suffering, suffering, too, of the innocent, had been needed to force the nation, or some part of it, to ask itself why a body of men, already confessedly capable of managing matters both military and divine, should not be permitted, or even requested, at need, to provide in some wise for sustenance as well as for defence; and secure, if it might be, (and it might, I think, even the rather be), purity of bodily, as well as of spiritual, aliment? Why, having made many roads for the passage of armies, may they not make a few for the conveyance of food; and after organizing, with applause, various schemes of theological instruction for the Public, organize, moreover, some methods of bodily nourishment for them? Or is the soul so much less trustworthy in its instincts than the stomach, that legislation is necessary for the one, but inapplicable to the other.


I debated with myself whether to make the note on Homer longer by examining the typical meaning of the shipwreck of Ulysses, and his escape from Charybdis by help of her fig-tree; but as I should have had to go on to the lovely myth of Leucothea’s veil, and did not care to spoil this by a hurried account of it, I left it for future examination; and, three days after the paper was published, observed that the reviewers, with their customary helpfulness, were endeavouring to throw the whole subject back into confusion by dwelling on this single (as they imagined) oversight. I omitted also a note on the sense of the word [Greek: lygron], with respect to the pharmacy of Circe, and herb-fields of Helen, (compare its use in Odyssey, xvii., 473, &c.), which would farther have illustrated the nature of the Circean power. But, not to be led too far into the subtleties of these myths, observe respecting them all, that even in very simple parables, it is not always easy to attach indisputable meaning to every part of them. I recollect some years ago, throwing an assembly of learned persons who had met to delight themselves with interpretations of the parable of the prodigal son, (interpretations which had up to that moment gone very smoothly,) into mute indignation, by inadvertently asking who the unprodigal son was, and what was to be learned by his example. The leading divine of the company, Mr. Molyneux, at last explained to me that the unprodigal son was a lay figure, put in for dramatic effect, to make the story prettier, and that no note was to be taken of him. Without, however, admitting that Homer put in the last escape of Ulysses merely to make his story prettier, this is nevertheless true of all Greek myths, that they have many opposite lights and shades; they are as changeful as opal, and like opal, usually have one colour by reflected, and another by transmitted light. But they are true jewels for all that, and full of noble enchantment for those who can use them; for those who cannot, I am content to repeat the words I wrote four years ago, in the appendix to the Two Paths

“The entire purpose of a great thinker may be difficult to fathom, and we may be over and over again more or less mistaken in guessing at his meaning; but the real, profound, nay, quite bottomless and unredeemable mistake, is the fool’s thought, that he had no meaning.”


The derivation of words is like that of rivers: there is one real source, usually small, unlikely, and difficult to find, far up among the hills; then, as the word flows on and comes into service, it takes in the force of other words from other sources, and becomes quite another word often much more than one word, after the junction a word as it were of many waters, sometimes both sweet and bitter. Thus the whole force of our English “charity” depends on the guttural in “charis” getting confused with the c of the Latin “carus;” thenceforward throughout the middle ages, the two ideas ran on together, and both got confused with St. Paul’s [Greek: agape], which expresses a different idea in all sorts of ways; our “charity” having not only brought in the entirely foreign sense of alms-giving, but lost the essential sense of contentment, and lost much more in getting too far away from the “charis” of the final Gospel benedictions. For truly it is fine Christianity we have come to, which, professing to expect the perpetual grace or charity of its Founder, has not itself grace or charity enough to hinder it from overreaching its friends in sixpenny bargains; and which, supplicating evening and morning the forgiveness of its own debts, goes forth at noon to take its fellow-servants by the throat, saying, not merely “Pay me that thou owest,” but “Pay me that thou owest me not.”

It is true that we sometimes wear Ophelia’s rue with a difference, and call it “Herb o’ grace o’ Sundays,” taking consolation out of the offertory with “Look, what he layeth out; it shall be paid him again.” Comfortable words indeed, and good to set against the old royalty of Largesse

Whose moste joie was, I wis,
When that she gave, and said, “Have this.”

[I am glad to end, for this time, with these lovely words of Chaucer. We have heard only too much lately of “Indiscriminate charity,” with implied reproval, not of the Indiscrimination merely, but of the Charity also. We have partly succeeded in enforcing on the minds of the poor the idea that it is disgraceful to receive; and are likely, without much difficulty, to succeed in persuading not a few of the rich that it is disgraceful to give. But the political economy of a great state makes both giving and receiving graceful; and the political economy of true religion interprets the saying that “it is more blessed to give than to receive,” not as the promise of reward in another life for mortified selfishness in this, but as pledge of bestowal upon us of that sweet and better nature, which does not mortify itself in giving.]

Brantwood, Coniston,
5th October, 1871.