Time and Tide "To Make Your Children Capable Of Honesty Is The Beginning Of Education"

Edna O’Brien

"To Make Your Children Capable Of Honesty Is The Beginning Of Education"

Context: English painter, art critic, and essayist, John Ruskin devoted his long life and his boundless energies to a denunciation of the materialistic standards of Victorian life. In his early writings he proclaimed the means of perceiving beauty in art to a society which he believed to be faithless and dislocated. In his later life his interests turned to the social conditions which forced workers to slave for long hours in production lines that brought no satisfaction or sense of creativity with a finished product. He became convinced that the ultimate test of the value of work and whatever it produces was its effect upon the human soul and the dignity of the individual. Time and Tide was originally a series of letters written in the early spring of 1867 to Thomas Dixon, a working cork-cutter of Sunderland, in support of the local agitation for reform. His central thesis is that reform will come not merely from parliamentary influence but from a knowledgeable determination on the part of the people themselves to seek a higher standard of life. Until the people are able to articulate or to visualize such a life, no decrees of parliament will create it. In the eighth letter, he stresses the absolute necessity of a strong moral foundation, of good character, for the realization of a meaningful life:

. . . your honesty is not to be based either on religion or policy. Both your religion and policy must be based on it. Your honesty must be based, as the sun is, in vacant heaven; poised, as the lights in the firmament, which have rule over the day and over the night. If you ask why you are to be honest–you are, in the question itself, dishonored. "Because you are a man," is the only answer; and therefore I said in a former letter that to make your children "capable of honesty" is the beginning of education. Make them men first, and religious men afterwards, and all will be sound; but a knave's religion is always the rottenest thing about him.