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The Pleasures Of England - Lecture 4. The Pleasures Of Fancy Post by :eLogo Category :Nonfictions Author :John Ruskin Date :May 2012 Read :2921

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The Pleasures Of England - Lecture 4. The Pleasures Of Fancy


(_NOV. 8, 1884._)



(1189 TO 1558).

In using the word "Fancy," for the mental faculties of which I am to speak to-day, I trust you, at your leisure, to read the Introductory Note to the second volume of 'Modern Painters' in the small new edition, which gives sufficient reason for practically including under the single term Fancy, or Fantasy, all the energies of the Imagination,--in the terms of the last sentence of that preface,--"the healthy, voluntary, and necessary,(22) action of the highest powers of the human mind, on subjects properly demanding and justifying their exertion."

(Footnote 22: Meaning that all healthy minds possess imagination, and use it at will, under fixed laws of truthful perception and memory.)

I must farther ask you to read, in the same volume, the close of the chapter 'Of Imagination Penetrative,' pp. 120 to 130, of which the gist, which I must give as the first principle from which we start in our to-day's inquiry, is that "Imagination, rightly so called, has no food, no delight, no care, no perception, except of truth; it is for ever looking under masks, and burning up mists; no fairness of form, no majesty of seeming, will satisfy it; the first condition of its existence is incapability of being deceived."(23) In that sentence, which is a part, and a very valuable part, of the original book, I still adopted and used unnecessarily the ordinary distinction between Fancy and Imagination--Fancy concerned with lighter things, creating fairies or centaurs, and Imagination creating men; and I was in the habit always of implying by the meaner word Fancy, a voluntary Fallacy, as Wordsworth does in those lines to his wife, making of her a mere lay figure for the drapery of his fancy--

Such if thou wert, in all men's view
An universal show,
What would my Fancy have to do,
My feelings to bestow.

But you will at once understand the higher and more universal power which I now wish you to understand by the Fancy, including all imaginative energy, correcting these lines of Wordsworth's to a more worthy description of a true lover's happiness. When a boy falls in love with a girl, you say he has taken a fancy for her; but if he love her rightly, that is to say for her noble qualities, you ought to say he has taken an imagination for her; for then he is endued with the new light of love which sees and tells of the mind in her,--and this neither falsely nor vainly. His love does not bestow, it discovers, what is indeed most precious in his mistress, and most needful for his own life and happiness. Day by day, as he loves her better, he discerns her more truly; and it is only the truth of his love that does so. Falsehood to her, would at once disenchant and blind him.

(Footnote 23: Vide pp. 124-5.)

In my first lecture of this year, I pointed out to you with what extreme simplicity and reality the Christian faith must have presented itself to the Northern Pagan's mind, in its distinction from his former confused and monstrous mythology. It was also in that simplicity and tangible reality of conception, that this Faith became to them, and to the other savage nations of Europe, Tutress of the real power of their imagination and it became so, only in so far as it indeed conveyed to them statements which, however in some respects mysterious, were yet most literally and brightly _true_, as compared with their former conceptions. So that while the blind cunning of the savage had produced only misshapen logs or scrawls; the _seeing imagination of the Christian painters created, for them and for all the world, the perfect types of the Virgin and of her Son; which became, indeed, Divine, by being, with the most affectionate truth, human.

And the association of this truth in loving conception, with the general honesty and truth of the character, is again conclusively shown in the feelings of the lover to his mistress; which we recognize as first reaching their height in the days of chivalry. The truth and faith of the lover, and his piety to Heaven, are the foundation, in his character, of all the joy in imagination which he can receive from the conception of his lady's--now no more mortal--beauty. She is indeed transfigured before him; but the truth of the transfiguration is greater than that of the lightless aspect she bears to others. When therefore, in my next lecture, I speak of the Pleasures of Truth, as distinct from those of the Imagination,--if either the limits or clearness of brief title had permitted me, I should have said, _untransfigured truth;--meaning on the one side, truth which we have not heart enough to transfigure, and on the other, truth of the lower kind which is incapable of transfiguration. One may look at a girl till one believes she is an angel; because, in the best of her, she _is one; but one can't look at a cockchafer till one believes it is a girl.

With this warning of the connection which exists between the honest intellect and the healthy imagination; and using henceforward the shorter word 'Fancy' for all inventive vision, I proceed to consider with you the meaning and consequences of the frank and eager exertion of the fancy on Religious subjects, between the twelfth and sixteenth centuries.

Its first, and admittedly most questionable action, the promotion of the group of martyr saints of the third century to thrones of uncontested dominion in heaven, had better be distinctly understood, before we debate of it, either with the Iconoclast or the Rationalist. This apotheosis by the Imagination is the subject of my present lecture. To-day I only describe it,--in my next lecture I will discuss it.

Observe, however, that in giving such a history of the mental constitution of nascent Christianity, we have to deal with, and carefully to distinguish, two entirely different orders in its accepted hierarchy:--one, scarcely founded at all on personal characters or acts, but mythic or symbolic; often merely the revival, the baptized resuscitation of a Pagan deity, or the personified omnipresence of a Christian virtue;--the other, a senate of Patres Conscripti of real persons, great in genius, and perfect, humanly speaking, in holiness; who by their personal force and inspired wisdom, wrought the plastic body of the Church into such noble form as in each of their epochs it was able to receive; and on the right understanding of whose lives, nor less of the affectionate traditions which magnified and illumined their memories, must absolutely depend the value of every estimate we form, whether of the nature of the Christian Church herself, or of the directness of spiritual agency by which she was guided.(24)

(Footnote 24: If the reader believes in no spiritual agency, still his understanding of the first letters in the Alphabet of History depends on his comprehending rightly the tempers of the people who _did_.)

An important distinction, therefore, is to be noted at the outset, in the objects of this Apotheosis, according as they are, or are not, real persons.

Of these two great orders of Saints, the first; or mythic, belongs--speaking broadly--to the southern or Greek Church alone.

The Gothic Christians, once detached from the worship of Odin and Thor, abjure from their hearts all trust in the elements, and all worship of ideas. They will have their Saints in flesh and blood, their Angels in plume and armour; and nothing incorporeal or invisible. In all the Religious sculpture beside Loire and Seine, you will not find either of the great rivers personified; the dress of the highest seraph is of true steel or sound broadcloth, neither flecked by hail, nor fringed by thunder; and while the ideal Charity of Giotto at Padua presents her heart in her hand to God, and tramples at the same instant on bags of gold, the treasures of the world, and gives only corn and flowers; that on the west porch of Amiens is content to clothe a beggar with a piece of the staple manufacture of the town.

On the contrary, it is nearly impossible to find in the imagery of the Greek Church, under the former exercise of the Imagination, a representation either of man or beast which purports to represent _only the person, or the brute. Every mortal creature stands for an Immortal Intelligence or Influence: a Lamb means an Apostle, a Lion an Evangelist, an Angel the Eternal justice or benevolence; and the most historical and indubitable of Saints are compelled to set forth, in their vulgarly apparent persons, a Platonic myth or an Athanasian article.

I therefore take note first of the mythic saints in succession, whom this treatment of them by the Byzantine Church made afterwards the favourite idols of all Christendom.

I. The most mythic is of course St. Sophia; the shade of the Greek Athena, passing into the 'Wisdom' of the Jewish Proverbs and Psalms, and the Apocryphal 'Wisdom of Solomon.' She always remains understood as a personification only; and has no direct influence on the mind of the unlearned multitude of Western Christendom, except as a godmother,--in which kindly function she is more and more accepted as times go on; her healthy influence being perhaps greater over sweet vicars' daughters in Wakefield--when Wakefield _was_,--than over the prudentest of the rarely prudent Empresses of Byzantium.

II. Of St. Catharine of Egypt there are vestiges of personal tradition which may perhaps permit the supposition of her having really once existed, as a very lovely, witty, proud, and 'fanciful' girl. She afterwards becomes the Christian type of the Bride, in the 'Song of Solomon,' involved with an ideal of all that is purest in the life of a nun, and brightest in the death of a martyr. It is scarcely possible to overrate the influence of the conceptions formed of her, in ennobling the sentiments of Christian women of the higher orders;--to their practical common sense, as the mistresses of a household or a nation, her example may have been less conducive.

III. St. Barbara, also an Egyptian, and St. Catharine's contemporary, though the most practical of the mythic saints, is also, after St. Sophia, the least corporeal: she vanishes far away into the 'Inclusa Danae,' and her "Tunis aenea" becomes a myth of Christian safety, of which the Scriptural significance may be enough felt by merely looking out the texts under the word "Tower," in your concordance; and whose effectual power, in the fortitudes alike of matter and spirit, was in all probability made impressive enough to all Christendom, both by the fortifications and persecutions of Diocletian. I have endeavoured to mark her general relations to St. Sophia in the little imaginary dialogue between them, given in the eighth lecture of the 'Ethics of the Dust.'

Afterwards, as Gothic architecture becomes dominant, and at last beyond question the most wonderful of all temple-building, St. Barbara's Tower is, of course, its perfected symbol and utmost achievement; and whether in the coronets of countless battlements worn on the brows of the noblest cities, or in the Lombard bell-tower on the mountains, and the English spire on Sarum plain, the geometric majesty of the Egyptian maid became glorious in harmony of defence, and sacred with precision of symbol.

As the buildings which showed her utmost skill were chiefly exposed to lightning, she is invoked in defence from it; and our petition in the Litany, against sudden death, was written originally to her. The blasphemous corruptions of her into a patroness of cannon and gunpowder, are among the most ludicrous, (because precisely contrary to the original tradition,) as well as the most deadly, insolences and stupidities of Renaissance Art.

IV. St. Margaret of Antioch was a shepherdess; the St. Geneviève of the East; the type of feminine gentleness and simplicity. Traditions of the resurrection of Alcestis perhaps mingle in those of her contest with the dragon; but at all events, she differs from the other three great mythic saints, in expressing the soul's victory over temptation or affliction, by Christ's miraculous help, and without any special power of its own. She is the saint of the meek and of the poor; her virtue and her victory are those of all gracious and lowly womanhood; and her memory is consecrated among the gentle households of Europe; no other name, except those of Jeanne and Jeanie, seems so gifted with a baptismal fairy power of giving grace and peace.

I must be forgiven for thinking, even on this canonical ground, not only of Jeanie Deans, and Margaret of Branksome; but of Meg--Merrilies. My readers will, I fear, choose rather to think of the more doubtful victory over the Dragon, won by the great Margaret of German literature.

V. With much more clearness and historic comfort we may approach the shrine of St. Cecilia; and even on the most prosaic and realistic minds--such as my own--a visit to her house in Rome has a comforting and establishing effect, which reminds one of the carter in 'Harry and Lucy,' who is convinced of the truth of a plaustral catastrophe at first incredible to him, as soon as he hears the name of the hill on which it happened. The ruling conception of her is deepened gradually by the enlarged study of Religious music; and is at its best and highest in the thirteenth century, when she rather resists than complies with the already tempting and distracting powers of sound; and we are told that "cantantibus organis, Cecilia virgo in corde suo soli Domino decantabat, dicens, 'Fiat, Domine, cor meum et corpus meum immaculatum, ut non confundar.'"

("While the instruments played, Cecilia the virgin sang in her heart only to the Lord, saying, Oh Lord, be my heart and body made stainless, that I be not confounded.")

This sentence occurs in my great Service-book of the convent of Beau-pré, written in 1290, and it is illustrated with a miniature of Cecilia sitting silent at a banquet, where all manner of musicians are playing. I need not point out to you how the law, not of sacred music only, so called, but of _all music, is determined by this sentence; which means in effect that unless music exalt and purify, it is not under St. Cecilia's ordinance, and it is not, virtually, music at all.

Her confessed power at last expires amidst a hubbub of odes and sonatas; and I suppose her presence at a Morning Popular is as little anticipated as desired. Unconfessed, she is of all the mythic saints for ever the greatest; and the child in its nurse's arms, and every tender and gentle spirit which resolves to purify in itself,--as the eye for seeing, so the ear for hearing,--may still, whether behind the Temple veil,(25) or at the fireside, and by the wayside, hear Cecilia sing.

(Footnote 25:"But, standing in the lowest place,
And mingled with the work-day crowd,
A poor man looks, with lifted face,
And hears the Angels cry aloud.

"He seeks not how each instant flies,
One moment is Eternity;
His spirit with the Angels cries
To Thee, to Thee, continually.

"What if, Isaiah-like, he know
His heart be weak, his lips unclean,
His nature vile, his office low,
His dwelling and his people mean?

"To such the Angels spake of old--
To such of yore, the glory came;
These altar fires can ne'er grow cold:
Then be it his, that cleansing flame."

These verses, part of a very lovely poem, "To Thee all Angels cry aloud," in the 'Monthly Packet' for September 1873, are only signed 'Veritas.' The volume for that year (the 16th) is well worth getting, for the sake of the admirable papers in it by Miss Sewell, on questions of the day; by Miss A.C. Owen, on Christian Art; and the unsigned Cameos from English History.)

It would delay me too long just now to trace in specialty farther the functions of the mythic, or, as in another sense they may be truly called, the universal, Saints: the next greatest of them, St. Ursula, is essentially British,--and you will find enough about her in 'Fors Clavigera'; the others, I will simply give you in entirely authoritative order from the St. Louis' Psalter, as he read and thought of them.

The proper Service-book of the thirteenth century consists first of the pure Psalter; then of certain essential passages of the Old Testament--invariably the Song of Miriam at the Red Sea and the last song of Moses;--ordinarily also the 12th of Isaiah and the prayer of Habakkuk; while St. Louis' Psalter has also the prayer of Hannah, and that of Hezekiah (Isaiah xxxviii. 10-20); the Song of the Three Children; then the Benedictus, the Magnificat, and the Nunc Dimittis. Then follows the Athanasian Creed; and then, as in all Psalters after their chosen Scripture passages, the collects to the Virgin, the Te Deum, and Service to Christ, beginning with the Psalm 'The Lord reigneth'; and then the collects to the greater individual saints, closing with the Litany, or constant prayer for mercy to Christ, and all saints; of whom the order is,--Archangels, Patriarchs, Apostles, Disciples, Innocents, Martyrs, Confessors, Monks, and Virgins. Of women the Magdalen _always leads; St. Mary of Egypt usually follows, but _may be the last. Then the order varies in every place, and prayer-book, no recognizable supremacy being traceable; except in relation to the place, or person, for whom the book was written. In St. Louis', St. Geneviève (the last saint to whom he prayed on his death-bed) follows the two Maries; then come--memorable for you best, as easiest, in this six-foil group,--Saints Catharine, Margaret, and Scolastica, Agatha, Cecilia, and Agnes; and then ten more, whom you may learn or not as you like: I note them now only for future reference,--more lively and easy for your learning,--by their French names,




* * * * *

Aurée, Honorine,

* * * * *




* * * * *

Bathilde, Eugénie.

Such was the system of Theology into which the Imaginative Religion of Europe was crystallized, by the growth of its own best faculties, and the influence of all accessible and credible authorities, during the period between the eleventh and fifteenth centuries inclusive. Its spiritual power is completely represented by the angelic and apostolic dynasties, and the women-saints in Paradise; for of the men-saints, beneath the apostles and prophets, none but St. Christopher, St. Nicholas, St. Anthony, St. James, and St. George, attained anything like the influence of Catharine or Cecilia; for the very curious reason, that the men-saints were much more true, real, and numerous. St. Martin was reverenced all over Europe, but definitely, as a man, and the Bishop of Tours. So St. Ambrose at Milan, and St. Gregory at Rome, and hundreds of good men more, all over the world; while the really good women remained, though not rare, inconspicuous. The virtues of French Clotilde, and Swiss Berthe, were painfully borne down in the balance of visible judgment, by the guilt of the Gonerils, Regans, and Lady Macbeths, whose spectral procession closes only with the figure of Eleanor in Woodstock maze; and in dearth of nearer objects, the daily brighter powers of fancy dwelt with more concentrated devotion on the stainless ideals of the earlier maid-martyrs. And observe, even the loftier fame of the men-saints above named, as compared with the rest, depends on precisely the same character of indefinite personality; and on the representation, by each of them, of a moral idea which may be embodied and painted in a miraculous legend; credible, as history, even then, only to the vulgar; but powerful over them, nevertheless, exactly in proportion to the degree in which it can be pictured and fancied as a living creature. Consider even yet in these days of mechanism, how the dullest John Bull cannot with perfect complacency adore _himself_, except under the figure of Britannia or the British Lion; and how the existence of the popular jest-book, which might have seemed secure in its necessity to our weekly recreation, is yet virtually centred on the imaginary animation of a puppet, and the imaginary elevation to reason of a dog. But in the Middle Ages, this action of the Fancy, now distorted and despised, was the happy and sacred tutress of every faculty of the body and soul; and the works and thoughts of art, the joys and toils of men, rose and flowed on in the bright air of it, with the aspiration of a flame, and the beneficence of a fountain.

And now, in the rest of my lecture, I had intended to give you a broad summary of the rise and fall of English art, born under this code of theology, and this enthusiasm of duty;--of its rise, from the rude vaults of Westminster, to the finished majesty of Wells;--and of its fall, from that brief hour of the thirteenth century, through the wars of the Bolingbroke, and the pride of the Tudor, and the lust of the Stewart, to expire under the mocking snarl and ruthless blow of the Puritan. But you know that I have always, in my most serious work, allowed myself to be influenced by those Chances, as they are now called,--but to my own feeling and belief, guidances, and even, if rightly understood, commands,--which, as far as I have read history, the best and sincerest men think providential. Had this lecture been on common principles of art, I should have finished it as I intended, without fear of its being the worse for my consistency. But it deals, on the contrary, with a subject, respecting which every sentence I write, or speak, is of importance in its issue; and I allowed, as you heard, the momentary observation of a friend, to give an entirely new cast to the close of my last lecture. Much more, I feel it incumbent upon me in this one, to take advantage of the most opportune help, though in an unexpected direction, given me by my constant tutor, Professor Westwood. I went to dine with him, a day or two ago, mainly--being neither of us, I am thankful to say, blue-ribanded--to drink his health on his recovery from his recent accident. Whereupon he gave me a feast of good talk, old wine, and purple manuscripts. And having had as much of all as I could well carry, just as it came to the good-night, out he brings, for a finish, this leaf of manuscript in my hand, which he has lent me to show you,--a leaf of the Bible of Charles the Bald!

A leaf of it, at least, as far as you or I could tell, for Professor Westwood's copy is just as good, in all the parts finished, as the original: and, for all practical purpose, I show you here in my hand a leaf of the Bible which your own King Alfred saw with his own bright eyes, and from which he learned his child-faith in the days of dawning thought!

There are few English children who do not know the story of Alfred, the king, letting the cakes burn, and being chidden by his peasant hostess. How few English children--nay, how few perhaps of their educated, not to say learned, elders--reflect upon, if even they know, the far different scenes through which he had passed when a child!

Concerning his father, his mother, and his own childhood, suppose you were to teach your children first these following main facts, before you come to the toasting of the muffin?

His father, educated by Helmstan, Bishop of Winchester, had been offered the throne of the great Saxon kingdom of Mercia in his early youth; had refused it, and entered, as a novice under St. Swithin the monastery at Winchester. From St. Swithin, he received the monastic habit, and was appointed by Bishop Helmstan one of his sub-deacons!

"The quiet seclusion which Ethelwulph's slow(26) capacity and meek temper coveted" was not permitted to him by fate. The death of his elder brother left him the only living representative of the line of the West Saxon princes. His accession to the throne became the desire of the people. He obtained a dispensation from the Pope to leave the cloister; assumed the crown of Egbert; and retained Egbert's prime minister, Alstan, Bishop of Sherborne, who was the Minister in peace and war, the Treasurer, and the Counsellor, of the kings of England, over a space, from first to last, of fifty years.

(Footnote 26: Turner, quoting William of Malmesbury, "Crassioris et hebetis ingenii,"--meaning that he had neither ardour for war, nor ambition for kinghood.)

Alfred's mother, Osburga, must have been married for love. She was the daughter of Oslac, the king's cup-bearer. Extolled for her piety and understanding, she bore the king four sons; dying before the last, Alfred, was five years old, but leaving him St. Swithin for his tutor. How little do any of us think, in idle talk of rain or no rain on St. Swithin's day, that we speak of the man whom Alfred's father obeyed as a monk, and whom his mother chose for his guardian!

Alfred, both to father and mother, was the best beloved of their children. On his mother's death, his father sent him, being then five years old, with a great retinue through France and across the Alps to Rome; and there the Pope anointed him King, (heir-apparent to the English throne), at the request of his father.

Think of it, you travellers through the Alps by tunnels, that you may go to balls at Rome or hells at Monaco. Here is another manner of journey, another goal for it, appointed for your little king. At twelve, he was already the best hunter among the Saxon youths. Be sure he could sit his horse at five. Fancy the child, with his keen genius, and holy heart, riding with his Saxon chiefs beside him, by the Alpine flowers under Velan or Sempione, and down among the olives to Pavia, to Perugia, to Rome; there, like the little fabled Virgin, ascending the Temple steps, and consecrated to be King of England by the great Leo, Leo of the Leonine city, the saviour of Rome from the Saracen.

Two years afterwards, he rode again to Rome beside his father; the West Saxon king bringing presents to the Pope, a crown of pure gold weighing four pounds, a sword adorned with pure gold, two golden images,(27) four Saxon silver dishes; and giving a gift of gold to all the Roman clergy and nobles,(28) and of silver to the people.

(Footnote 27: Turner, Book IV.,--not a vestige of hint from the stupid Englishman, what the Pope wanted with crown, sword, or image! My own guess would be, that it meant an offering of the entire household strength, in war and peace, of the Saxon nation,--their crown, their sword, their household gods, Irminsul and Irminsula, their feasting, and their robes.)

(Footnote 28: Again, what does this mean? Gifts of honour to the Pope's immediate attendants--silver to all Rome? Does the modern reader think this is buying little Alfred's consecration too dear, or that Leo is selling the Holy Ghost?)

No idle sacrifices or symbols, these gifts of courtesy! The Saxon King rebuilt on the highest hill that is bathed by Tiber, the Saxon street and school, the Borgo,(29) of whose miraculously arrested burning Raphael's fresco preserves the story to this day. And further he obtained from Leo the liberty of all Saxon men from bonds in penance;--a first phase this of Magna Charta, obtained more honourably, from a more honourable person, than that document, by which Englishmen of this day, suppose they live, move, and have being.

(Footnote 29: "Quæ in eorum lingua Burgus dicitur,--the place where it was situated was called the Saxon street, Saxonum vicum" (Anastasius, quoted by Turner). There seems to me some evidence in the scattered passages I have not time to collate, that at this time the Saxon Burg, or tower, of a village, included the idea of its school.)

How far into Alfred's soul, at seven years old, sank any true image of what Rome was, and had been; of what her Lion Lord was, who had saved her from the Saracen, and her Lion Lord had been, who had saved her from the Hun; and what this Spiritual Dominion was, and was to be, which could make and unmake kings, and save nations, and put armies to flight; I leave those to say, who have learned to reverence childhood. This, at least, is sure, that the days of Alfred were bound each to each, not only by their natural piety, but by the actual presence and appeal to his heart, of all that was then in the world most noble, beautiful, and strong against Death.

In this living Book of God he had learned to read, thus early; and with perhaps nobler ambition than of getting the prize of a gilded psalm-book at his mother's knee, as you are commonly told of him. What sort of psalm-book it was, however, you may see from this leaf in my hand. For, as his father and he returned from Rome that year, they stayed again at the Court of Charlemagne's grandson, whose daughter, the Princess Judith, Ethelwolf was wooing for Queen of England, (not queen-consort, merely, but crowned queen, of authority equal to his own.) From whom Alfred was like enough to have had a reading lesson or two out of her father's Bible; and like enough, the little prince, to have stayed her hand at this bright leaf of it, the Lion-leaf, bearing the symbol of the Lion of the tribe of Judah.

You cannot, of course, see anything but the glittering from where you sit; nor even if you afterwards look at it near, will you find a figure the least admirable or impressive to you. It is not like Landseer's Lions in Trafalgar Square; nor like Tenniel's in 'Punch'; still less like the real ones in Regent's Park. Neither do I show it you as admirable in any respect of art, other than that of skilfullest illumination. I show it you, as the most interesting Gothic type of the imagination of Lion; which, after the Roman Eagle, possessed the minds of all European warriors; until, as they themselves grew selfish and cruel, the symbols which at first meant heaven-sent victory, or the strength and presence of some Divine spirit, became to them only the signs of their own pride or rage: the victor raven of Corvus sinks into the shamed falcon of Marmion, and the lion-heartedness which gave the glory and the peace of the gods to Leonidas, casts the glory and the might of kinghood to the dust before Chalus.(30)

(Footnote 30: 'Fors Clavigera,' March, 1871, p. 19. Yet read the preceding pages, and learn the truth of the lion heart, while you mourn its pride. Note especially his absolute law against usury.)

That death, 6th April, 1199, ended the advance of England begun by Alfred, under the pure law of Religious Imagination. She began, already, in the thirteenth century, to be decoratively, instead of vitally, religious. The history of the Religious Imagination expressed between Alfred's time and that of Cœur de Lion, in this symbol of the Lion only, has material in it rather for all my seven lectures than for the closing section of one; but I must briefly specify to you the main sections of it. I will keep clear of my favourite number seven, and ask you to recollect the meaning of only Five, Mythic Lions.

First of all, in Greek art, remember to keep yourselves clear about the difference between the Lion and the Gorgon.

The Gorgon is the power of evil in heaven, conquered by Athena, and thenceforward becoming her ægis, when she is herself the inflictor of evil. Her helmet is then the helmet of Orcus.

But the Lion is the power of death on earth, conquered by Heracles, and becoming thenceforward both his helmet and ægis. All ordinary architectural lion sculpture is derived from the Heraclean.

Then the Christian Lions are, first, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah--Christ Himself as Captain and Judge: "He shall rule the nations with a rod of iron," (the opposite power of His adversary, is rarely intended in sculpture unless in association with the serpent--"inculcabis supra leonem et aspidem"); secondly, the Lion of St. Mark, the power of the Gospel going out to conquest; thirdly, the Lion of St. Jerome, the wrath of the brute creation changed into love by the kindness of man; and, fourthly, the Lion of the Zodiac, which is the Lion of Egypt and of the Lombardic pillar-supports in Italy; these four, if you remember, with the Nemean Greek one, five altogether, will give you, broadly, interpretation of nearly all Lion symbolism in great art. How they degenerate into the British door knocker, I leave you to determine for yourselves, with such assistances as I may be able to suggest to you in my next lecture; but, as the grotesqueness of human history plans it, there is actually a connection between that last degradation of the Leonine symbol, and its first and noblest significance.

You see there are letters round this golden Lion of Alfred's spelling-book, which his princess friend was likely enough to spell for him. They are two Latin hexameters:--

Hic Leo, surgendo, portas confregit Averni
Qui nunquam dormit, nusquam dormitat, in ævum.
(This Lion, rising, burst the gates of Death:
This, who sleeps not, nor shall sleep, for ever.)

Now here is the Christian change of the Heraclean conquest of Death into Christ's Resurrection. Samson's bearing away the gates of Gaza is another like symbol, and to the mind of Alfred, taught, whether by the Pope Leo for his schoolmaster, or by the great-granddaughter of Charlemagne for his schoolmistress, it represented, as it did to all the intelligence of Christendom, Christ in His own first and last, Alpha and Omega, description of Himself,--

"I am He that liveth and was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore, and _have the keys of Hell and of Death." And in His servant St. John's description of Him--

"Who is the Faithful Witness and the First-begotten of the dead, and the Prince of the kings of the earth."

All this assuredly, so far as the young child, consecrated like David, the youngest of his brethren, conceived his own new life in Earth and Heaven,--he understood already in the Lion symbol. But of all this I had no thought(31) when I chose the prayer of Alfred as the type of the Religion of his era, in its dwelling, not on the deliverance from the punishment of sin, but from the poisonous sleep and death of it. Will you ever learn that prayer again,--youths who are to be priests, and knights, and kings of England, in these the latter days? when the gospel of Eternal Death is preached here in Oxford to you for the Pride of Truth? and "the mountain of the Lord's House" has become a Golgotha, and the "new song before the throne" sunk into the rolling thunder of the death rattle of the Nations, crying, "O Christ, where is Thy Victory!"

(Footnote 31: The reference to the Bible of Charles le Chauve was added to my second lecture (page 54), in correcting the press, mistakenly put into the text instead of the notes.)

John Ruskin's Book: Pleasures of England

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