The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Ruskin, John (1819–1900)

  • Lawrence Goldman
Reference work entry


Ruskin was born in London in 1819 and died at Brantwood, his house by Coniston Water in Cumberland, in 1900. In the 1840s and 1850s he rose to eminence in Victorian Britain as a critic of painting and architecture. A developing concern with the social relations of art and the influence of Thomas Carlyle led him to outspoken social criticism and from the 1860s he assumed a position as one of the most virulent opponents of 19th-century industrial capitalism. His lectures in Manchester in 1857 on The Political Economy of Art were followed by a series of works that castigated Victorian society in general and political economy in particular for sanctioning commercial immorality. Of these, the most important were Unto This Last (1862) – so controversial that its original publication as essays in the Cornhill Magazine in 1860 was stopped by the proprietor; a series of lectures and letters published in the mid-1860s including Sesame and Lilies (1865), Ethics of the Dust (1866), Crown of Wild Olive (1866) and Time and Tide (1867); Munera Pulveris (1872), which first appeared as four articles in Fraser’s Magazine in 1862–3 and was to have formed the preface to a larger treatise on political economy that was never written; and the enigmatic and highly individual monthly letters ‘to the workmen and labourers of Great Britain’ issued by Ruskin between 1871–1884 as Fors Clavigera.

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  1. J.A. Hobson’s sympathetic biography (Hobson, 1898), which examines Ruskin’s social and economic ideas in detail, is testimony to his influence over advanced liberals and socialists at the turn of the century. Other biographical studies include Leon (1949), Hunt (1982), and Hilton (1985). For modern studies of Ruskin’s social and economic thought see Sherburne (1972) and Anthony (1983).Google Scholar
  2. Anthony, P.D. 1983. John Ruskin’s labour. A study of Ruskin’s social theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Hilton, T. 1985. John Ruskin: The early years. New Haven/London: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Hobson, J.A. 1898. John Ruskin, social reformer. London: J. Nisbet & Co.Google Scholar
  5. Hunt, J.D. 1982. The wider sea: A life of John Ruskin. London: Dent.Google Scholar
  6. Leon, D. 1949. Ruskin, the great Victorian. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  7. Sherburne, J.S. 1972. John Ruskin or the ambiguities of abundance. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lawrence Goldman
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  1. 1.