THE ETHICS OF THE DUST
THE ETHICS OF THE DUST
HONORARY STUDENT OF CHRIST CHURCH AND SLADE PROFESSOR OF FINE ART
TO THE REAL LITTLE HOUSEWIVES WHOSE GENTLE LISTENING AND
THOUGHTFUL QUESTIONING ENABLED THE WRITER TO WRITE THIS BOOK IT
IS DEDICATED WITH HIS LOVE.
I. THE VALLEY OF DIAMONDS
II. THE PYRAMID BUILDERS
III. THE CRYSTAL LIFE
IV. THE CRYSTAL ORDERS
V. CRYSTAL VIRTUES
VI. CRYSTAL QUARRELS
VII. HOME VIRTUES
VIII. CRYSTAL CAPRICE
IX. CRYSTAL SORROWS
X. THE CRYSTAL REST
OLD LECTURER (of incalculable age).
on astronomical evidence presumed to be aged 9.
ISABEL ..................................... " 11.
MAY ........................................ " 11.
LILY ....................................... " 12.
KATHLEEN.................................... " 14.
LUCILLA..................................... " 15.
VIOLET ..................................... " 16.
DORA (who has the keys and is housekeeper)... " 17.
EGYPT (so called from her dark eyes) ....... " 17.
JESSIE (who somehow always makes the room
look brighter when she is in it) ........... " 18.
MARY (of whom everybody including the Old
Lecturer is in great awe) ................. " 20.
PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION.
I have seldom been more disappointed by the result of my best
pains given to any of my books than by the earnest request of my
publisher after the opinion of the public had been taken on the
"Ethics of the Dust" that I would "write no more in dialogue!"
However I bowed to public judgment in this matter at once
(knowing also my inventive powers to be of the feeblest); but in
reprinting the book (at the prevailing request of my kind friend
Mr. Henry Willett) I would pray the readers whom it may at first
offend by its disconnected method to examine nevertheless with
care the passages in which the principal speaker sums the
conclusions of any dialogue: for these summaries were written as
introductions for young people to all that I have said on the
same matters in my larger books; and on re-reading them they
satisfy me better and seem to me calculated to be more generally
useful than anything else I have done of the kind.
PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION.
The summary of the contents of the whole book beginning "You may
at least earnestly believe" at p. 215 is thus the clearest
exposition I have ever yet given of the general conditions under
which the Personal Creative Power manifests itself in the forms of
matter; and the analysis of heathen conceptions of Deity
beginning at p. 217 and closing at p. 229 not only prefaces but
very nearly supersedes all that in more lengthy terms I have
since asserted or pleaded for in "Aratra Pentelici" and the
"Queen of the Air."
And thus however the book may fail in its intention of suggesting
new occupations or interests to its younger readers I think it
worth reprinting in the way I have also reprinted "Unto this
Last"--page for page; that the students of my more advanced works
may be able to refer to these as the original documents of them;
of which the most essential in this book are these following.
I. The explanation of the baseness of the avaricious functions of
the Lower Pthah p. 54 with his beetle-gospel p. 59 "that a
nation can stand on its vices better than on its virtues"
explains the main motive of all my books on Political Economy.
II. The examination of the connection between stupidity and crime
pp. 87-96 anticipated all that I have had to urge in Fors
Clavigera against the commonly alleged excuse for public
wickedness--"They don't mean it--they don't know any better."
III. The examination of the roots of Moral Power pp. 145-149 is
a summary of what is afterwards developed with utmost care in my
inaugural lecture at Oxford on the relation of Art to Morals;
compare in that lecture sections 83-85 with the sentence in p.
147 of this book "Nothing is ever done so as really to please our
Father unless we would also have done it though we had had no
Father to know of it."
This sentence however it must be observed regards only the
general conditions of action in the children of God in
consequence of which it is foretold of them by Christ that they
will say at the Judgment "When saw we thee?" It does not refer to
the distinct cases in which virtue consists in faith given to
command appearing to foolish human judgment inconsistent with the
Moral Law as in the sacrifice of Isaac; nor to those in which any
directly-given command requires nothing more of virtue than
IV. The subsequent pages 149-158 were written especially to
check the dangerous impulses natural to the minds of many amiable
young women in the direction of narrow and selfish religious
sentiment: and they contain therefore nearly everything which I
believe it necessary that young people should be made to observe
respecting the errors of monastic life. But they in nowise enter
on the reverse or favorable side: of which indeed I did not and
as yet do not feel myself able to speak with any decisiveness;
the evidence on that side as stated in the text having "never
yet been dispassionately examined."
V. The dialogue with Lucilla beginning at p. 96 is to my own
fancy the best bit of conversation in the book; and the issue of
it at p. 103 the most practically and immediately useful. For on
the idea of the inevitable weakness and corruption of human
nature has logically followed in our daily life the horrible
creed of modern "Social science" that all social action must be
scientifically founded on vicious impulses. But on the habit of
measuring and reverencing our powers and talents that we may
kindly use them will be founded a true Social science
developing by the employment of them all the real powers and
honorable feelings of the race.
VI. Finally the account given in the second and third lectures
of the real nature and marvelousness of the laws of
crystallization is necessary to the understanding of what farther
teaching of the beauty of inorganic form I may be able to give
either in "Deucalion" or in my "Elements of Drawing." I wish
however that the second lecture had been made the beginning of the
book; and would fain now cancel the first altogether which I
perceive to be both obscure and dull. It was meant for a
metaphorical description of the pleasures and dangers in the
kingdom of Mammon or of worldly wealth; its waters mixed with
blood its fruits entangled in thickets of trouble and poisonous
when gathered; and the final captivity of its inhabitants within
frozen walls of cruelty and disdain. But the imagery is stupid and
ineffective throughout; and I retain this chapter only because I
am resolved to leave no room for any one to say that I have
withdrawn as erroneous in principle so much as a single sentence
of any of my books written since 1860.
One license taken in this book however though often permitted to
essay-writers for the relief of their dullness I never mean to
take more--the relation of composed metaphor as of actual dream
pp. 27 and 171. I assumed it is true that in these places the
supposed dream would be easily seen to be an invention; but must
not any more even under so transparent disguise pretend to any
share in the real powers of Vision possessed by great poets and
10th October 1877.
The following lectures were really given in substance at a
girls' school (far in the country); which in the course of
various experiments on the possibility of introducing some better
practice of drawing into the modern scheme of female education I
visited frequently enough to enable the children to regard me as a
friend. The Lectures always fell more or less into the form of
fragmentary answers to questions; and they are allowed to retain
that form as on the whole likely to be more interesting than
the symmetries of a continuous treatise. Many children (for the
school was large) took part at different times in the
conversations; but I have endeavored without confusedly
multiplying the number of imaginary speakers to represent as far
as I could the general tone of comment and inquiry among young
[Footnote: I do not mean in saying "imaginary" that I have not
permitted to myself in several instances the affectionate
discourtesy of some reminiscence of personal character; for which
I must hope to be forgiven by my old pupils and their friends as
I could not otherwise have written the book at all. But only two
sentences in all the dialogues and the anecdote of "Dotty" are
It will be at once seen that these Lectures were not intended for
an introduction to mineralogy. Their purpose was merely to awaken
in the minds of young girls who were ready to work earnestly and
systematically a vital interest in the subject of their study. No
science can be learned in play; but it is often possible in play
to bring good fruit out of past labor or show sufficient reasons
for the labor of the future.
The narrowness of this aim does not indeed justify the absence
of all reference to many important principles of structure and
many of the most interesting orders of minerals; but I felt it
impossible to go far into detail without illustrations; and if
readers find this book useful I may perhaps endeavor to
supplement it by illustrated notes of the more interesting
phenomena in separate groups of familiar minerals;--flints of the
chalk;--agates of the basalts;--and the fantastic and exquisitely
beautiful varieties of the vein-ores of the two commonest metals
lead and iron. But I have always found that the less we speak of
our intentions the more chance there is of our realizing them;
and this poor little book will sufficiently have done its work
for the present if it engages any of its young readers in study
which may enable them to despise it for its shortcomings.
DENMARK HILL: Christmas 1865.
THE VALLEY OF DIAMONDS
A very idle talk by the dining-room fire after raisin-and-almond
OLD LECTURER; FLORRIE ISABEL MAY LILY and SIBYL.
OLD LECTURER (L.). Come here Isabel and tell me what the make-
believe was this afternoon.
ISABEL (arranging herself very primly on the foot-stool). Such a
dreadful one! Florrie and I were lost in the Valley of Diamonds.
L. What! Sindbad's which nobody could get out of? ISABEL. Yes;
but Florrie and I got out of it.
L. So I see. At least I see you did; but are you sure Florrie
ISABEL. Quite sure.
FLORRIE (putting her head round from behind L.'s sofa-cushion).
Quite sure. (Disappears again.)
L. I think I could be made to feel surer about it.
(FLORRIE reappears gives L. a kiss and again exit.)
L. I suppose it's all right; but how did you manage it?
ISABEL. Well you know the eagle that took up Sindbad was very
large--very very large--the largest of all the eagles.
L. How large were the others?
ISABEL. I don't quite know--they were so far off. But this one
was oh so big! and it had great wings as wide as--twice over
the ceiling. So when it was picking up Sindbad Florrie and I
thought it wouldn't know if we got on its back too: so I got up
first and then I pulled up Florrie and we put our arms round its
neck and away it flew.
L. But why did you want to get out of the valley? and why haven't
you brought me some diamonds?
ISABEL. It was because of the serpents. I couldn't pick up even
the least little bit of a diamond I was so frightened.
L. You should not have minded the serpents.
ISABEL. Oh but suppose that they had minded me?
L. We all of us mind you a little too much Isabel I'm afraid.
ISABEL. No--no--no indeed.
L. I tell you what Isabel--I don't believe either Sindbad or
Florrie or you ever were in the Valley of Diamonds.
ISABEL. You naughty! when I tell you we were!
L. Because you say you were frightened at the serpents.
ISABEL. And wouldn't you have been?
L. Not at those serpents. Nobody who really goes into the valley
is ever frightened at them--they are so beautiful.
ISABEL (suddenly serious). But there's no real Valley of Diamonds
L. Yes Isabel; very real indeed.
FLORRIE (reappearing). Oh where? Tell me about it.
L. I cannot tell you a great deal about it; only I know it is very
different from Sindbad's. In his valley there was only a diamond
lying here and there; but in the real valley there are diamonds
covering the grass in showers every morning instead of dew: and
there are clusters of trees which look like lilac trees; but in
spring all their blossoms are of amethyst.
FLORRIE. But there can't be any serpents there then?
L. Why not?
FLORRIE. Because they don't come into such beautiful places.
L. I never said it was a beautiful place.
FLORRIE. What! not with diamonds strewed about it like dew?
L. That's according to your fancy Florrie. For myself I like dew
ISABEL. Oh but the dew won't stay; it all dries!
L. Yes; and it would be much nicer if the diamonds dried too for
the people in the valley have to sweep them off the grass in
heaps whenever they want to walk on it; and then the heaps
glitter so they hurt one's eyes.
FLORRIE. Now you're just playing you know.
L. So are you you know.
FLORRIE. Yes but you mustn't play.
L. That's very hard Florrie; why mustn't I if you may?
FLORRIE. Oh I may because I'm little but you mustn't because
you're--(hesitates for a delicate expression of magnitude).
L. (rudely taking the first that comes). Because I'm big? No;
that's not the way of it at all Florrie. Because you're little
you should have very little play; and because I'm big I should
have a great deal.
ISABEL and FLORRIE (both). No--no--no--no. That isn't it at all.
(ISABEL sola quoting Miss Ingelow.) "The lambs play always--they
know no better." (Putting her head very much on one side.) Ah now
--please--please--tell us true; we want to know.
L. But why do you want me to tell you true any more than the man
who wrote the "Arabian Nights"?
ISABEL. Because--because we like to know about real things; and
you can tell us and we can't ask the man who wrote the stories.
L. What do you call real things?
ISABEL. Now you know! Things that really are.
L. Whether you can see them or not?
ISABEL. Yes if somebody else saw them.
L. But if nobody has ever seen them?
ISABEL. (evading the point). Well but you know if there were a
real Valley of Diamonds somebody MUST have seen it.
L. You cannot be so sure of that Isabel. Many people go to real
places and never see them; and many people pass through this
valley and never see it.
FLORRIE. What stupid people they must be!
L. No Florrie. They are much wiser than the people who do see it.
MAY. I think I know where it is.