The more I read about Carlyle and Ruskin the less impressed I am about them. It is a shock to realise how deeply Gandhi was strongly influenced by them.
I’ve opened up the 100MB text file I had created of Gandhi’s complete writings (that I had created and published here), and will now spend a few blog posts studying Gandhi and these dangerous writers.
the gaol has a library which
lends books to prisoners. I borrowed some of Carlyle’s works and the
Bible. From a Chinese interpreter who used to visit the place I
borrowed a copy of the Koran in English, Huxley’s lectures, Carlyle’s
biographies of Burns, Johnson and Scott, and Bacon’s essays on civil
and moral counsel. I also had some books of my own; these included
an edition of the Gita with a commentary by Manilal Nabhubhai 2
some Tamil books, an Urdu book presented by Maulvi Saheb, the
writings of Tolstoy, Ruskin and Socrates 3
. Most of these books I either
read [for the first time] or re-read during my stay in gaol.
If I was going to serve
my full term of two months in gaol, I had intended to complete the
translation of one of Carlyle’s books and another 1
Carlyle, as cited in Gandhi’s writings
I read over 30 books during
this period, and reflected on some of them; among these, there were
books in English, Hindi, Gujarati, Sanskrit and Tamil. Notable among
the English books, I would say, were those by Tolstoy, Emerson and
Carlyle. The first two were on religious subjects. Along with these, I
also borrowed a copy of the Bible from the gaol. Tolstoy’s writings
are so good and simple that a man belonging to any religion can
profit by them. Moreover, he tries to put into practice what he
preaches, so that, by and large, they command greater confidence.
There is a forceful book by Carlyle on the French Revolution. I
realized after reading it that it is not from the white nations that India
can learn the way out of her present degradation. It is my belief that
the French people have gained nothing of value through the
Revolution. Mazzini also thought the same way. There is much
difference of opinion on this subject. We cannot enter into a
discussion on it here. I came across many instances of satyagraha even
in this history.
Christ’s Sermon on the Mount fills me with bliss
even today. Its sweet verses have even today the power to quench my
agony of soul. I can still read with love some of the writings of Carlyle
A friend recommended Carlyle’s Heroes and
Hero-warship. I read the chapter on the Hero as a prophet and learnt
of the Prophet’s greatness and bravery and austere living. [Sanjeev: This is where Gandhi formed his views about Mohammed. He did NOT read the Quran]
I read Washington Irving’s Life of
Mahomet and His Successors and Carlyle’s panegyric on the Prophet.
These books raised Muhammad in my estimation
I think there are complete sets of Carlyle’s and Ruskin’s works
in our library. If we have them send me a list of the volumes.
How many copies of the consolidated list of books do we have?
If we have more than one copy send one to me.
There are many books on the life of the Prophet. The first place
must be given to Amir Ali’s Spirit of Islam. Then there is
WashingtonIrving’s Mahomet and His Successors, a very well written
work. Carlyle’s Mahomet as Hero is also well worth reading.
I have read a good deal about
the French revolution. Carlyle’s works I read while in jail. I have great
admiration for the French people.
I read Carlyle’s History of the
French Revolution while I was in prison, and Pandit Jawaharlal has told me
something about the Russian revolution. But it is my conviction that
inasmuch as these struggles were fought with the weapon of violence they
failed to realize the democratic ideal.
EXTRACT FROM A WRITING OF THOMAS CARLYLE (from Gandhi-Kallenbach Correspondence.)
I was reading Carlyle yesturday. I copied the accompanying for
you. Is it not splendid? May you and I make it part of our lives!
M.K. G ANDHI
It is only with renunciation that life, properly speaking, can be said to begin.
What is this that thou hast been fretting and fuming on account of? Say in a word: Is it
not because thou art not happy? Because thee (who art a sweet gentleman) is not
sufficiently honoured, nourished, soft-bedded and lovingly cared for? Foolish soul!
What Act of Legislature was there thou shouldst be happy? A little while ago thou
hadst no right to be at all. What if thou weren’t born and predestined not to be happy,
but to be unhappy? Art thou nothing other than a vulture that flying through the
universe seeking after somewhat to eat and shrieking dolefully because carrion
enough is not given thee? Man can do without anything and instead find blessedness.
Was it not to preach forth the same Higher [Truth] that sages and martyrs have spoken
and suffered, bearing testimony through life and through death of the God-like that is
in man and how in the God-like only he has strength and freedom? Oh, thank thy
destiny for afflictions. Thankfully bear what yet remain. Thou hadst need of them.
The self in thee needed to be annihilated. By benignant fever paroxysms is life
rooting out the deep-seated chronic disease and triumphs over death.
Ruskin as cited in Gandhi’s writings
Ruskin has somewhere said that man, as an economic factor, is not be
studied simply as a machine, but has to be taken with all his mental
Gandhiji met Henry S.L. Polak also at the Joannesburg vegetarian restau-
rant. It was Polak who gave Gandhiji a copy of Ruskin’s Unto This Last . Polak
qualified himself to be an attorney at Gandhiji’s instance and joined him in his work.
ere is a greater and a nobler
ideal to work for: that of producing, as John Ruskin puts it, “as many
as possible full-breathed, bright-eyed, and happy-hearted human
Mr. Gandhi is the real proprietor of
Indian Opinion from which no profits are made and to which he has
devoted the whole of his savings. There are two Englishmen associated
with him in that work and they and several Indians have, for the sake
of the paper, reduced themselves to voluntary pauperism. The paper is
being run on Tolstoy’s and Ruskin’s lines. Its publicly declared
mission is to bring the two communities together and become an
educative medium for the Indian community.
People in the West generally hold that it is man’s duty to
promote the happiness—prosperity, that is—of the greatest number. 3
~~~3) The reference is to Bentham’s maxim of “the greatest good of the greatest
number”. Gandhiji opposed it on moral grounds; vide “The Pietersburg Claptrap”,
13-8-1904. Ruskin, too, criticized the construction of a “science” of economics on
the Newtonain model from which “social affections” had been wholly abstracted.
Ruskin argued that the greatest art or science was that which aroused “the greatest
number of the greatest ideas”.
In fact, some thoughtful
persons in the West have pointed out that it is contrary to divine law to
ursue happiness in violation of moral principles. The late John
was foremost among these. He was an Englishman of great
learning. He has written numerous books on art and crafts. He has
also written a great deal on ethical questions. One of these books, a
small one, Ruskin himself believed to be his best. It is read widely
wherever English is spoken. In the book, he has effectively countered
these arguments and shown that the well-being of the people at large
consists in conforming to the moral law.
All religions presuppose the moral law, but even if we
disregard religion as such, its observance is necessary on grounds of
common sense also. Our happiness consists in observing it. This is
what John Ruskin has established. He has opened the eyes of the
western people to this, and today, we see a large number of Europeans
modelling their conduct on his teaching. In order that Indians may
profit by his ideas, we have decided to present extracts from his book,
in a manner intelligible to Indians who do not know English.
It can be argued that Ruskin’s ideas are an elaboration of
Socrates’s. Ruskin has described vividly how one who wants to live by
Socrates’s ideas should acquit himself in the different vocations. The
summary of his work which we offer here is not really a translation. If
we translated it, the common reader might be unable to follow some
of the Biblical allusions, etc. We present therefore only the substance
of Ruskin’s work. We do not even explain what the title of the book
means, for it be understood only by a person who has read the Bible
But since the object which the book works towards is the
welfare of all—that is, the advancement of all and not merely of the
greatest number we have entitled these articles “Sarvodaya”.
never can be that mere intellectual or mere physical strength can ever
supersede the heart-strength or, as Ruskin would say, social affections.
W HAT IS JUST?
We saw in the three preceding chapters that the generally accept-
ed principles of economics are invalid. If acted upon, they will make
individuals and nations unhappy. The poor will become poorer and
the rich richer; neither will be any the happier for it.
Economists do not take men’s conduct into account but
VOL. 8 : 14 DECEMBER, 1907 – 22 JULY, 1908 455
estimate prosperity from the amount of wealth accumulated and so
conclude that the happiness of nations depends upon their wealth
alone. Hence they advocate greater accumulation of wealth through
more and more work in factories. In England and elsewhere factories
have multiplied because of the spread of these ideas. Large numbers
of men leave their farms and concentrate in cities. They give up the
pure and fresh air of the countryside and feel happy breathing the
foul air of factories. As a result, the nation grows weaker, and avarice
and immorality increase, and if someone suggests measures for
eradicating vice, the so-called wise men argue that vice cannot be
eliminated, that the ignorant cannot be educated all at once and that it
is best to let things alone. While advancing this argument, they forget
that it is the rich who are responsible for the immorality of the poor.
The wretched workers slave for them day and night so that they may
be kept supplied with their luxuries. They have not a moment to
themselves for self-improvement. Thinking about the rich, they also
want to be rich. When they fail in this, they become angry and
resentful. They then forget themselves [in their anger], and having
failed to gather wealth by honest means, turn in desperation to fraud.
Both wealth and labour are thus wasted, else they are utilized for
Labour, in the real sense of the term, is that which produces use-
ful articles. Useful articles are those which support human life. Suppo-
rting human life means provision of food, clothing, etc., so as to
enable men to live a moral life and to do good while they live. For this
purpose, large-scale industrial undertakings would appear to be use-
less. To seek to acquire wealth by establishing big factories is likely to
lead to sin. Many people amass wealth but few make good use of it. If
the making of money is likely to lead a nation to its destruction, that
money is useless. On the contrary, present-day capitalists are respon-
sible for widespread and unjust wars. Most of the wars of our times
spring from greed for money.
We hear people say that it is impossible to educate others so as
to improve them, and the best course would be to live as well as one
could and accumulate wealth. Those he hold these views show little
concern for ethical principles. For the person who values ethical prin-
ciples and does not yield to avarice has a disciplined mind; he does
not tray from the right path, and influences others merely by his exa-
mple. If the individuals who constitute a nation do not observe moral
principles of conduct how can the nation become moral? If we behave
as we choose and then point the accusing finger at an errant neigh-
bour, how can the result [of our actions] be good?
We thus see that money no more than a means which may make
456 THE COLLECTED WORKS OF MAHATMA GANDHI
for happiness or misery. In the hands of a good man, it can be used
for cultivating land and raising crops. Cultivators will find conten-
tment in innocent labour and the nation will be happy. In the hands of
bad men, it is used for the production, say, of gun-powder and brin-
ging utter ruin on the people. Both those who manufacture gun-
powder and those who fall victims to it suffer in consequence. We thus
see that there is no wealth besides life. That nation is wealthy Which is
moral. This not the time for self-indulgence. Everyone must work
according to his ability. As we saw in the illustrations earlier, if one
man remains idle another has to labour twice as hard. 1
This is at the
root of the starvation prevalent in England. There are men who do
little useful work themselves because of the wealth that has accumu-
lated in their hands, and so force others to labour for them. This kind
of labour, being unproductive, is not beneficial to the worker. In con-
sequence, the income suffers diminution. Though all men appear to
be employed, we find on closer scrutiny that a large number are idle
perforce. Moreover, envy is aroused, discontent takes root and, in the
end, the rich and the poor, the employer and the workman violate the
bounds of decency [in their mutual relations]. As the cat and the
mouse are always at variance with each other, so the rich and the poor,
the employer and the workman become hostile to one another, and
man, ceasing to be man, is reduced to the level of beasts.
Our summary of the great Ruskin’s book is now concluded.
Though some may have been bored by it, we advise those who have
read the articles once to read them again. It will be too much to expect
that all the readers of Indian Opinion will ponder over them and act
on them. But even if a law readers make a careful study of the sum-
mary and grasp the central idea, we shall deem our labour to have
been amply rewarded. Even if that does not happen, the reward [of
labour], as Ruskin says in the last chapter, consists in having done
one’s duty and that should satisfy one.
What Ruskin wrote for his countrymen, the British, is a thousand
times more applicable to Indians. New ideas are spreading in India.
The advent of a new spirit among the young who have received
western education is of course to be welcomed. But the outcome will
be beneficial only if that spirit is canalized properly; if it is not, it is
bound to be harmful. From one side we hear the cry for swarajya;
from another, for the quick accumulation of wealth by setting up
factories like those in Britain.
Vide “Sarvodaya [-VI]”, 20-6-1908
Just as we cannot achieve real swarajya, by following the path of
evil—that is by killing the British—so also will it not be possible for us
to achieve it by establishing big factories in India. Accumulation of
gold and silver will not bring swarajya. This has been convincingly
proved by Ruskin.