Sunday, February 10, 2013


A Mountain in Miniature

John Ruskin (1819-1900), Frondes Agrestes VI § 38:
There are no natural objects out of which more can be learned than out of stones. They seem to have been created especially to reward a patient observer. Nearly all other objects in nature can be seen to some extent without patience, and are pleasant even in being half seen. Trees, clouds, and rivers are enjoyable even by the careless; but the stone under his foot has, for carelessness, nothing in it but stumbling; no pleasure is languidly to be had out of it, nor food, nor good of any kind; nothing but symbolism of the hard heart, and the unfatherly gift. And yet, do but give it some reverence and watchfulness, and there is bread of thought in it, more than in any other lowly feature of all the landscape. For a stone, when it is examined, will be found a mountain in miniature. The fineness of Nature's work is so great, that into a single block, a foot or two in diameter, she can compress as many changes of form and structure, on a small scale, as she needs for her mountains on a large one; and taking moss for forests, and grains of crystal for crags, the surface of a stone in by far the plurality of instances is more interesting than the surface of an ordinary hill; more fantastic in form, and incomparably richer in colour.
Id. § 40:
When a rock of any kind has lain for some time exposed to the weather, Nature finishes it in her own way. First she takes wonderful pains about its forms, sculpturing it into exquisite variety of dent and dimple, and rounding or hollowing it into contours which for fineness no human hand can follow; then she colours it; and every one of her touches of colour, instead of being a powder mixed with oil, is a minute forest of living trees, glorious in strength and beauty, and concealing wonders of structure.
Readers in Ruskin's day would have needed no gloss for "symbolism of the hard heart, and the unfatherly gift," but for those (like me) insufficiently familiar with the Bible:
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.

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