Melton prior Institut


Linton- Life in the Collections

John Ruskin:

12) On the Nature of Gothic Architecture: and herein of the True Functions of the Workman in Art. Reprinted from the Sixth Chapter of the Second Volume of Mr. Ruskin's "Stones of Venice".

London 1854

50-page pamphlet with an inserted folding plate and wood engravings in text. This revised and supplemented second edition followed the first within three weeks.

The cheap working man’s edition was the first separate printing of Ruskin’s essay. It had been taken from the second volume of The Stone of Venice (1853) and would become the foundation charter of the arts & crafts movement, when it was reprinted decades later by William Morris’ Kelmscott Press. In the preface it is noted that the publication was issued for the benefit of the newly established Working Men's College, where Ruskin was engaged to teach ‘Elementary and Landscape Drawing’. The college had been founded by Frederick Maurice, an Anglican clergyman, in order “to make our working people understand that they are Persons and not Things.” Maurice was a follower of Robert Owen’s Cooperative-movement and inspired by Coleridge’s and Carlyle’s variations of German Romanticism. It was he who had coined the term Christian Socialism in 1848 in order to support the Chartist’s cause from the ecclesiastic side.


Linton rejected the idealization of the “savage” Gothic workshop, who in Ruskin’s view represented a state of free collaborative expression. Ruskin had assiduously tuned into Carlyle’s cultural pessimistic tirades, when he set the products of a fabulous medieval time against a rotten state of modern industrial artisanship, in whose drive for perfection he scrutinized “signs of a slavery (...) a thousand times more bitter and more degrading than that of a scourged African, or a helot Greek.” Using the example of woodcut, Linton sought to demonstrate that also medieval art represented only a spoiled and often very rude level of hierarchic mechanisation. When Linton, in his Practical Hints on Wood Engraving, referred to “the purists” that went “into ecstasies” over medieval woodcuts and “do but ignorantly rave and imagine a vain thing”, he in fact meant Ruskin and his followers.  


Although they barely met, there was a relation of mutual influence between Linton and Ruskin, seven years his junior. It is known that apprentices of Linton such as the Canadian engraver Frederick Brigden used to attend Ruskin’s classes at the Working Men´s College. His plea for artisan creativity helped Linton shape his assertiveness as an artist-engraver and equipped him with ammunition in his polemics against photoxylography; whereas Ruskin could find valuable inspiration in Linton’s political writings concerning his own conception of social economy. He was well aware of the fact that the editing of his Fors Clavigera, a journal addressed to “the Workmen and Labourers of Great Britain”, which he started in 1871 in Brantwood, had been a continuation of Linton’s radical pamphleteering in the same location.

Linton’s aloofness against Ruskin was quite comprehensible, as the prominent art historian, who had always persisted in his elitist Tory views, was going to popularize a range of former radical Chartist positions. Finally, Ruskin had not only shared Linton’s spatial positions, but also his ideological ones of being the modern Spartacus, the liberator of the contemporary artisan, who provides the workmen of the 19th century with fresh arguments and a new kind of rhetoric.