One of the many memorable talks with the Professor in old Oxford and Hinksey digging days, turned on the question of how to add happiness to the country labourer’s lot. His eyes flashed and his voice rose with its earnest sing-song as he urged that it was the simple duty of every squire and every clergyman to see that idle hands should have something found for them to do by other than the Devil; and that it was a scandal that the church had neither rest homes or recreation rooms nor public houses where the poor might find cheer and solace without the necessity of drink on the long winter evenings. “I know,” he said, “that a certain number of wholly good and earnest evangelical lords and ladies do erect mission rooms on their estates, but though a good Bible Lesson is interesting enough, a bad one is very poor stuff, and the poor need to be taught how to enjoy themselves and not to be preached at. The gospel that needs preaching is not how to get to heaven by swallowing wholesale certain church or chapel doctrines, but how to make earth heaven by doing certain fair deeds. And it has always seemed to me,” he added, “that your most earnest preachers of to-day have deliberately refused to tell the people that God did not make their misery nor does He desire they should continue in it, that what He desires is their health and utmost happiness here and hereafter. And that it is possible, if people will be content with the gifts an all-loving Father gives them, to find here and now in the humblest life an abundance of both. Why don’t the bishops admonish their clergy to see to it that side by side with parish church and parish mission room there shall be a parish workshop, where the blacksmith and the village carpenter shall of a winter evening teach all the children who will be diligent and will learn, the nature of iron and wood, and the use of their eyes and hands. (pp. 115-116)
I would have the decoration of metal and wood brought in later, and these children as they grow shall feel the joy of adding ornament to simple surfaces of metal or wood; but always they shall be taught the use of the pencil, and the delight of close observation of flower in the field and bird in the hedgerow and animal in the wild wood. We must bring joy, the joy of eye and hand-skill to our cottage homes.” (pp. 116-117)….
And what really is the worth of the School [KSIA] work? It cannot be estimated in pounds. Go to the homes of any of the workers. Ask their wives or their brothers and you shall learn. Go to any of the workers themselves and you shall learn that the good of the School to them has been that they now have always something to turn to on a dull evening and something that has opened their eyes to see what they used to pass by without notice in flower life and bird life, and beauty of light and shade, of cloud and sunshine, upon the fellside of their native vale. (pp. 127-128)
But if you were to ask the Art Director, I think he would say that he is astounded at the natural refinement that has come upon the men; a coarse word, a vulgar suggestion is not known in the School. He would say further that he realises here in this little School at Keswick, something of the guild camaraderie of the olden time. If a man finds out any secret in working metal he does not care to keep it to himself, it is at once at the service of all his fellow-workers. It is this spirit that is better than rubies, whose price is above silver and gold. (p. 128)
And if you were to enquire of the townsmen what they thought of the institution, I believe the more thoughtful would answer, “We know nothing of the ideal before the mind of the promoters, this we know, that it is the grandest temperance agent in the place.” Now to whom is this owed? Whose is the spirit that inspired it? There is only one answer possible, it is the mind and spirit of John Ruskin. (pp. 128-129)
(Ruskin and the English Lakes, pp. 115-148)