17 January 2018

Welfare Housing

John Ruskin, "The Story of the Halcyon," The Eagle's Nest (New York: Maynard, Merrill, & Co., 1893), pp. 219-221:
I was infinitely struck, only the other day, by the saying of a large landed proprietor (a good man, who was doing all he could for his tenantry, and building new cottages for them), that the best he could do for them, under present conditions of wages, and the like, was, to give them good drainage and bare walls.

"I am obliged," he said to me, "to give up all thought of anything artistic, and even then, I must lose a considerable sum on every cottage I build."

Now, there is no end to the confused states of wrong and misery which that landlord's experience signifies. In the first place, no landlord has any business with building cottages for his people. Every peasant should be able to build his own cottage, — to build it to his mind; and to have a mind to build it too. In the second place, note the unhappy notion which has grown up in the modern English mind, that wholesome and necessary delight in what is pleasant to the eye, is artistic affectation...

[I]f cottages are ever to be wisely built again, the peasant must enjoy his cottage, and be himself its artist, as a bird is. Shall cock-robins and yellow-hammers have wit enough to make themselves comfortable, and bullfinches peck a Gothic tracery out of dead clematis, — and your English yeoman be fitted by his landlord with four dead walls and a drainpipe? That is the result of your spending 300,000£ a year at Kensington in science and art, then?

You have made beautiful machines, too, wherewith you save the peasant the trouble of ploughing and reaping, and threshing; and after being saved all that time and toil, and getting, one would think, leisure enough for his education, you have to lodge him also, as you drop a puppet into a deal box, and you lose money in doing it! and two hundred years ago, without steam, without electricity, almost without books, and altogether without help from "Cassell's Educator" or the morning newspapers, the Swiss shepherd could build himself a chalet, daintily carved, and with flourished inscriptions, and with red and blue and white ποικιλία [tapestries]; and the burgess of Strasburg could build himself a house like this I showed you, and a spire such as all men know; and keep a precious book or two in his public library, and praise God for all: while we, — what are we good for, but to damage the spire, knock down half the houses, and burn the library, — and declare there is no God but Chemistry?