Counting Cats in Zanzibar Rotating Header Image


Not long since I had the pleasure of the company of Paul Marks of Samizdata (it’s blog-rolled) fame in the Lake District. Naturally the conversation turned to Ruskin – I mean we could see his house from there. Now Ruskin was a nutter. We all know about the pubic hair incident but there is something I never said to Paul that I’m gonna say to you.

OK Ruskin was totally mental over Effie’s pubic hair. We’ll take that as Gospel. But whilst that is sad for the lady in question to have to have to her marriage annulled for non-consummation after six years it is a personal tragedy and not a grand one. But I shall quote on the anullment from wikipedia.

Their marriage was notoriously unhappy, eventually being annulled in 1854 on grounds of his “incurable impotency,” a charge Ruskin later disputed, even going so far as to offer to prove his virility at the court’s request. In court, the Ruskin family counter-attacked Effie as being mentally unbalanced. Effie later married the artist John Everett Millais, who had been Ruskin’s protegé, in July 1855, and bore eight children.

Apparently despite the bias of Victorian era divorce courts in favour of men over women I suspect that demonstrates quite abundantly which of the two could most obviously be deemed “sexually dysfunctional”.

But that is not really my point – I mention it purely because everyone does. Ruskin was also a sort of socialist of the peculiarly British breed that essentially pre-date Karl Marx’s musings. He was a pioneer of “Christian socialism” and a sort of Luddite-ism that wanted us all back on the farm. It’s still going strong and it’s chief champion is currently Prince Charles who oddly enough also found an attractive woman not to his taste either. I’m not holding a candle (in the wind?) for Diana but for fuck’s sake Chuckles she beat Camilla into a cocked hat! Oh, right but he loved Camilla. Then he should have married her! It really isn’t that hard. (or maybe it wasn’t in the case of John Ruskin – he never got that day in court to demonstrate).

No, my point is about Ruskin’s second infamous court case. This was a libel case involving the painter James Whistler. Now Ruskin had written nasty things about Whistler including accusing him of “flinging a pot of paint in the face of the public” by charging 200 Guineas for a picture.

There are a couple of ways to look at that and both come round to the same thing. Both are essentially about socialism. The first is that Whistler clearly wasn’t “slinging a pot of paint in the public’s face” because he was a private artist and if you wanted one of his paintings you knew who to call and if you didn’t then you just didn’t. This links neatly into Ruskin’s other beef against Whistler. He hated him because he was charging 200 Guineas for a painting that (and this was Whistler’s technique) was executed rapidly. That is also very socialist. It is a total denial of the market. The market values something for it’s real or perceived utility and not how much pointless effort went into it. The market is about the product and not the toiling. That is why socialism inevitably leads to slavery because it always concentrates on the effort and not the result.

I have sometimes taken a long time to sort computer issues. The faster I sort it the better for everyone. Trust me. You don’t want me crawling under your desk for three hours when I can do it in 20 minutes. Which fix would you pay more for? The one that looked like work or the one that worked and worked quickly?

Ruskin would have loved the Fairtrade movement and it’s love of women toiling away to make or grow stuff like serfs. Well as long as they found additional time to wax anyway.


  1. Ruskin was, as you say, a very particular kind of socialist/conservative: hater of industry and the modern world (although he no doubt made use of its products, such as decent dentistry, if given half a chance); a crashing snob; a sort of faux fogey in his delight in old things; a hatred of finance and the market. Think of folk like AN Wilson, Moonbat, some of the Fabians. However, it is not clear if Ruskin favoured massive taxation, or central planning, or that sort of thing.

    In general, though, he comes across as a bit of a shit. His star has definitely fallen as far as I can tell.

  2. RAB says:

    An interesting but tricky one this, Nick.

    Let’s get Ruskin out of the way first, yes a complete nutter who’s ideas can be traced back to Blake, Rousseau and Wordsworths romantic movement. Then forward through him to the pre Raphaelites and on to the Arts and Craft movement.

    What all these guys had in common (apart from being Barking) was they despised any kind of industrialisation and mass production. For them a thing only had worth if a craftsman or artisan had produced it, if a factory had produced it it had no worth and worse, no soul.

    Of course in the main, the whole pack of them were Upper or Upper middle class types, who had a bob or two, and so the realities of everyday economics and public wellbeing didn’t really impinge.

    And this is basically an Economics question. How do you measure worth?

    The market will fix price but it does not fix cost, because cost often needs to be speculative. You may produce a very fine product that costs a lot to produce and then find that nobody wants to buy it (think Betamax) or a cheaper but inferior product usurps it.

    But your costs have to be paid before the market decides on worth and viability. Get it wrong and you go broke of course.

    So what is the easiest way of calculating your production costs? Well discounting slavery, you have your piece rates or your time rates method, and generally speaking it is time rates that are generally favoured to get the best results, because you are not exactly measuring output and productivity, but time displacement. You are in effect compensating your workers for the time they spend on your premises or in your mines etc for all the more pleasurable activities they could be getting up to if left to themselves.

    And I am already floundering. It’s forty years since I got my head around this sort of stuff for A level Economics, and boy am I rusty. So hopefully Paul Marks will be along in a minute to put it more precisely and clearly for us all. But here’s this to be going on with…

    And of course the big mistake Ruskin made with Whistler with his spiteful Christian Socialism is, it all depends how many pictures Whistler produces. If he produces 2 a year (however quickly) that’s £400 to live on. If he produces 500 a year, well that may very well not add up to £100,000 as straight maths dictates, because Whistler may have depressed the market through overproduction, and everyone who wants one already has two. But like I said Ruskin knew fuck all about Economics.

  3. Sam Duncan says:

    Whistler vs. Ruskin contains one of the most famous courtroom exchanges in history:

    Holker (Ruskin’s counsel): Did it take you much time to paint the Nocturne in Black and Gold? How soon did you knock it off?

    Whistler: Oh, I “knock one off” possibly in a couple of days – one day to do the work and another to finish it…

    Holker: The labour of two days is that for which you ask two hundred guineas?

    Whistler: No, I ask it for the knowledge I have gained in the work of a lifetime.

    Ha! That’s tellin’ ‘em, Jimmy boy!

  4. Pavlov's Cat says:

    We are all serfs now.

    We now have the Blu-Soviet have you not yet heard about the Zil-Lanes for Londongrad London drivers will have to give way to Olympic traffic in 2012

  5. Sam Duncan says:

    Frankly, PC, I blame the IOC for that. They think they’re Lord God Al-bloody-mighty, rather than the crowd of jumped-up Don Kings and Barry Hearns they actually are. But Boris could’ve told them to fuck off; a telling long overdue, if you ask me.

  6. Paul Marks says:

    Prince Philip could not understand his son’s taste in women either.

    Nor his hostility to technology (whilst still using jet aircraft and so on).

    Prince Philip is not the man the media people make him out to be (read his Preface to “Parkinson’s Law”, Philip gets to the heart of the matter in a few words and expresses it directly and without fear).

    Sadly his son may not be the sharpest tool in the box.

  7. NickM says:

    The Duke of Edinburgh is a bright fellow. He is well known for his love of technology. As indeed is Her Majesty. Charles hates it. And yes you are right Paul about Charles and women. Now I have done some questionable things but I have never, ever been the sort of cad that has sex with their mistress the night before their wedding to a naive 19 year old virgin who believes she is in a fairytale. There are sins I can forgive but that is appalling.

    The problem with Charles is that he is thick but doesn’t know it. Andrew is thick and does know it so mainly just plays golf and does no harm. Charles thinks he’s some sort of renaissance man and is very sadly deluded on that score.

  8. Sam Duncan says:

    I’ve been saying for a while now that Andrew would be the best bet if we had a choice. Originally it was just a flippant remark, but the more I think about it the more I like the idea. An affable, outdoorsey sort of bloke who’s done a bit of time in the military and enjoyed it is exactly what you want in a King. Sure, he had trouble with his missus too, but not so much that they aren’t on speaking terms. He built a whacking great country house that offended the arbiters of taste. Excellent. And I’d go further than you: I think he’s less thick than he does himself. Flying helicopters is hardly an intellectual pursuit, but it’s tricky. I wouldn’t trust Charles with a shopping trolley.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: