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What did John Ruskin mean when he said "They are the weakest-minded and the hardest-hearted men that most love change"?

Cannot decipher that one at all...

Edit: Apparently its from a poem -

Love of Change

It will be found that they are the weakest minded and the hardest hearted men that most love variety and change: For the weakest minded are those who both wonder most at things new, and digest worst things old; in so far that everything they have lies rusty, and loses lustre for want of use, neither do they make any stir among their possessions, nor look over them to see what may be made of them, nor keep any great store, nor are householders with storehouses of things new and old; but they catch at the new fashioned garments, and let the moth and thief look after the rest: and the hardest hearted men are those that least feel the endearing and binding power of custom, and hold on by no cords of affection to any shore but drive with the waves that cast up mire and dirt.

And certainly it is not to be held that the perception of beauty, and desire of it, are greatest in the hardest heart and weakest brain; but the love of variety is so, and therefore variety can be no cause of the beautiful, except, as I have said, when it is necessary for the perception of unity.

Neither is there any better test of beauty than its surviving or annihilating the love of change; a test which the best judges of art have need frequently to use; for there is much that surprises by its brilliancy, or attracts by its singularity, that can hardly but by course of time, though assuredly it will by course of time, be winnowed away from the right and real beauty whose retentive power is for ever on the increase, a bread of the soul for which the hunger is continual.

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    Maybe it helps to read the paragraph/chapter of the book containing it. Sep 7, 2018 at 13:27
  • its a 'famous quote'. I am not sure to which book it came from.
    – Jonathan
    Sep 7, 2018 at 13:46

2 Answers 2

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Multiple thanks to Mario for the reference : Modern Painters (1843–60) in five-volume, Vol.II, part III, ch.vi, para.7. With this help we can move on.

Here's the text :

Quote

§6. Change, and its influence on beauty

Of the love of change as a principle of human nature, and the pleasantness of variety resulting from it, something has already been .said, (Ch. IV. § 4,) only as there I was opposing the idea that our being familiar with objects was the cause of our delight in them, so here, I have to oppose the contrary position, that their strangeness is the cause of it. For neither familiarity nor strangeness have more operation on, or connection with, impressions of one sense than of another, and they have less power over the impressions of sense generally, than over the intellect in its joyful accepting of fresh knowledge, and dull contemplation of that it has long possessed. Only in their operation on the senses they act contrarily at different times, as for instance the newness of a dress or of some kind of unaccustomed food may make it for a time delightful, but as the novelty passes away, so also may the delight, yielding to disgust or indifference, which in their turn, as custom begins to operate, may pass into affection and craving, and that which was first a luxury, and then a matter of indifference, becomes a necessity: whereas in subjects of the intellect, the chief delight they convey is dependent upon their being newly and vividly comprehended, and as they become subjects of contemplation they lose their value, and become tasteless and unregarded, except as instruments for the reaching of others, only that though they sink down into the shadowy, effectless, heap of things indifferent, which we pack, and crush down, and stand upon, to reach things new, they sparkle afresh at intervals as we stir them by throwing a new stone into the heap, and letting the newly admitted lights play upon them. And both in subjects of the intellect and the senses it is to be remembered, that the love of change is a weakness and imperfection of our nature, and implies in it the state of probation, and that it is to teach us that things about us here are not meant for our continual possession or satisfaction, that ever such passion of change was put in us as that "custom lies upon us with a weight, heavy as frost, and deep almost as life," and only such weak back and baby grasp given to our intellect as that "the best things we do are painful, and the exercise of them grievous, being continued without intermission, so as in those very actions whereby we are especially perfected in this life we are not able to persist."

§7. The love of change. How morbid and evil.

And so it will be found that they are the weakest-minded and the hardest-hearted men that most love variety and change, for the weakest-minded are those who both wonder most at things new, and digest worst things old, in so far that everything they have lies rusty, and loses lustre for want of use; neither do they make any stir among their possessions, nor look over them to see what may be made of them, nor keep any great store, nor are householders with storehouses of things new and old, but they catch at the new-fashioned garments, and let the moth and thief look after the rest; and the hardest-hearted men are those that least feel the endearing and binding power of custom, and hold on by no cords of affection to any shore, but drive with the waves that cast up mire and dirt. And certainly it is not to be held that the perception of beauty and desire of it, are greatest in the hardest heart and weakest brain; but the love of variety is so, and therefore variety can be no cause of the beautiful, except, as I have said, when it is necessary for the perception of unity, neither is there any better test of that which is indeed beautiful than its surviving or annihilating the love of change; and this is a test which the best judges of art have need frequently to use; and the wisest of them will use it always, for there is much in art that surprises by its brilliancy, or attracts by its singularity, that can hardly but by course of time, though assuredly it will by course of time, be winnowed away from the right and real beauty whose retentive power is forever on the increase, a bread of the soul for which the hunger is continual.

Interpretation

The weakest-minded in Ruskin's view are those who never probe, examine and draw depth from what they already have or know. Instead of extracting the full (or any) value from what they have, they pass quickly to the next novelty, be it book, painting, architecture. They are like children, passing from any toy they have to a new one. Novelty is the endlessly exciting thing, and nothing they have can compete with the new merely by virtue of its novelty.

The hardest-hearted are those who innovate, induce and embrace change because to them custom, tradition, 'roots' personal or cultural, are lumber - impediments to their autonomy, as we might call it now, in deciding what to believe, what options to consider, and how to weigh competing reasons for action. Get in their way, and they will lift you out of it without compunction.

This is a brief account of what I think the weakest-mind and hardest-hearted respectively are. It's the best sense I can make of the text within the limits of an answer.

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    I think the change management consultants in my company would not like to hear this.......
    – Jonathan
    Sep 7, 2018 at 14:57
  • And I dread to think what Ruskin would have made of them ! Thanks for response. Best - Geoffrey
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Sep 7, 2018 at 15:39
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The quote is from Modern Painters (1843–60) in five-volume, Vol.II, part III, ch.vi, para.7.

See page 53-54 : Ruskin is speaking about

"the love of change as a principle of human nature",

and he is argumenting against the idea that the source of "pleasantness" is the "strangeness" of objects.

He asserts that :

"love of change is a weakness and imperfection of our nature".

The context of the quote is :

And so it will be found that they [who most love variety and change] are the weakest-minded and the hardest-hearted men, for the weakest-minded are those who both wonder most at things new, and digest worst things old.

weakest-minded : lacking in judgment or good sense.

and the hardest-hearted men are those that least feel the endearing and binding power of custom, and hold on by no cords of affection to any shore, but drive with the waves that cast up mire and dirt.

hardest-hearted : stubborn.

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  • +1. Thanks for the reference. I've spun off a few reflections of my own but could not have done this without your pinpointing of the Ruskin text. Best - Geoffrey
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Sep 7, 2018 at 14:40
  • And you are irreplaceable ! Best - Geoffrey
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Sep 7, 2018 at 15:34

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