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Appendix A: References and further readings

Editions of Ruskin's Unto This Last

Included with list of notable editions of Unto This Last is the Library Edition of all Ruskin's writing.

References for this edition

The scholarly and interpretation literature pertaining to Ruskin and Unto This Last is enormous and very varied, and so I do not attempt a list of recommended readings. I have certainly benefited greatly from reading within this body of literature, but here I cite only sources to which I am indebted for specific insights.

Appendix B: Gandhi's Paraphrase of Unto This Last

In 1906 Gandhi, already a committed activist in South Africa and India, was given a copy of Unto This Last on the platform of a railway station in Johannesburg to read on his train trip. Gandhi describes its impact:

  1. The book was impossible to lay aside, once I had begun it. It gripped me. Johannesburg to Durban was a twenty-four hours' journey. The train reached there in the evening. I could not get any sleep that night. I determined to change my life in accordance with the ideals of the book.

Gandhi tells us the main lessons he drew from the Ruskin:

  1. That the good of the individual is contained in the good of all.
  2. That a lawyer's work has the same value as the barber's inasmuch as all have the same right of earning their livehood from their work.
  3. That a life of labour, i.e., the life of the tiller of the soil and the handicraftsman, is the life worth living.

The first lesson Gandhi learned is what it means to live a successful life. People should not focus on individual gain but on the betterment of society. Or, as Ruskin says (Essay Four, Section 11, #7), “that man is richest who, having perfected the functions of his own life to the utmost, has also the widest helpful influence, both personal, and by means of his possessions, over the lives of others.”

The second lesson pertains to social justice. Regardless of occupation, everyone should earn enough to live a rewarding life. Therefore, we need to value individuals without regard to their occupation.

The third lesson is that working with one's hands is good work and that everyone should spend some time doing manual labor. Part of this lesson is to reject the poisoned fruits of industrialism and large-scale “mechanical agriculture” and instead to live a life of simplicity, relying as muc as possible on home-made garments and home-grown food. Ruskin, by the way, was very serious about the value of manual labor. For example, when he became a professor of art at Oxford, he required his very privileged students to join him in repairing local roads.

In 1908 Gandhi serialized a nine-part paraphrase of Ruskin’s book into Gujarati in Indian Opinion, a periodical he edited, and he later published it as a pamphlet under the title Sarvodaya (“The Welfare of All”). The purpose of the paraphrase was to make the book more meaningful and relevant to his audience in India, and for this same reason, Gandhi wrote a short, but highly significant, concluding section. Valji Govind Desai retranslated Gandhi’s paraphrase into English in 1951 under the title Unto This Last: A Paraphrase and revised it slightly in 1956. It is available here.

It is worthwhile to consider what is changed and omitted from Gandhi's paraphrase (as translated back into English). Gandhi's paraphrase is much shorter. In fact, Essay 4 (“Ad Valorem”), the longest essay in the book, is radically condensed to two pages. Also, Gandhi eliminated passages dealing with topical issues of Ruskin's day and eliminated many of Ruskin's literary and Biblical quotations and references. Finally, Gandhi consistently looks for ways to shorten and simplify Unto This Last.

For example, in this passage from the second paragraph of Essay 2, “The Veins of Wealth,” we see that Gandhi moves swiftly and smoothly, conveying admirably Ruskin's core idea:

Pardon me. Men of business do indeed make money, but they do not know if they make it by fair means or if their money-making contributes to national welfare. They rarely know the meaning of the word “rich”.  At least if they know, they do not allow for the fact that it is a relative word, implying its opposite “poor” as positively as the word “north” implies its opposite “south”.

However, looking at the original (below), we see that Gandhi omitted Ruskin's three striking metaphors of the card game, the gambling house, and the dark streets vs. lighted rooms and also Ruskin's key (though repeated) distinction between mercantile economy and political economy:

Pardon me. Men of business do indeed know how they themselves made their money, or how, on occasion, they lost it. Playing a long-practised game, they are familiar with the chances of its cards, and can rightly explain their losses and gains. But they neither know who keeps the bank of the gambling-house, nor what other games may be played with the same cards, nor what other losses and gains, far away among the dark streets, are essentially, though invisibly, dependent on theirs in the lighted rooms. They have learned a few, and only a few, of the laws of mercantile economy; but not one of those of political economy.   Primarily, which is very notable and curious, I observe that men of business rarely know the meaning of the word “rich.” At least, if they know, they do not in their reasonings allow for the fact, that it is a relative word, implying its opposite “poor” as positively as the word “north” implies its opposite “south.”

Gandhi's version and Ruskin's original were written for very different audiences and provide very different experiences.