There is no wealth but life: a sense of perspective for sport

There are some benefits of being trapped by volcanic ash in the North of England. I have been hoping to visit John Ruskin‘s home, Brantwood, at Coniston for some time. I manged to do so this week courtesy of Eyjafjallajokull.

Wandering around the house and grounds on a delightful Spring day gave me lots of opportunity to think about Ruskin’s work and how a visionary finds space in a culture to transform thinking and action.
I was struck by his affirmation in Unto This Last (1860) that there is no wealth but life:

Life including all its powers of love, of joy, and of admiration. That country is the richest which nourishes the greatest number of noble and happy human beings; 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 lives of others.

In Pre-Raphaelitism (1851) he makes some fascinating observations about work. Ruskin suggests that in order that people may be happy in their work:

  • They must be fit for it.
  • They must not do too much of it.
  • They must have a sense of success in it.

I liked his proposition that this sense of success is:

not a doubtful sense, such as needs some testimony of other people for its confirmation, but a sure sense, or rather knowledge, that so much work has been done well, and fruitfully done, whatever the world may say or think about it.

He adds that “in order that a man may be happy, it is necessary that he should not only be capable of his work, but a good judge of his work”.

In Volume 2 of The Stones of Venice he has some fascinating things to say about craft and skill. I am off to try to find these in context in the original. In doing so I am reminded how visionary nineteenth century writers were. Marcel Proust, for example, has been identified as a forerunner of neuroscience.
Ruskin and Proust would make fascinating primary source material for coaches and coach educators.
Photo Credits
Lakes 2006
Brantwood (2)


  1. […] There is a wonderful momentum growing around the aggregation of effort in many aspects of social and professional life. Following on from my presentation at the NESC Forum 2009 I am going to propose that a connected network of practice is essential for sport to flourish in Australia. This connected network will be open and through aggregation will ensure that we grow a research culture that has a cumulative approach to knowledge production. For this to be really effective it will require many institutions to transform their Internet presence. I will suggest there is no wealth but life. […]

  2. Keith,
    Glad you liked it !
    As they say, nothing happens by accident, you may like to listen, sometime, I think you can listen online, for 6 days, to this radio 3 drama about a poet…
    Poet, priest, birdwatcher, scourge of the English, the ogre of Wales … Who was R.S. Thomas, and why did his artist wife Elsi settle for a life of obscurity in increasingly remote Welsh parishes? A portrait of a curious marriage which captures that essence of all marriages – a sense of shared space but separate lives.
    Thomas was an unpublished poet when he met Elsi Eldridge, but she already had the makings of a successful artist. After winning the Royal College of Art’s Prix de Rome scholarship and selling several paintings at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, she abandoned this to retreat with him to a small cottage in a remote part of North Wales.
    btw, I found, unto this last, at the gandhi information centre, online
    hope you managed to visit dove cottage, in the lake district, I am back in Coniston, In august, for my stag do, may go a wandering and wild camp in the hills near brantwood and dove cottage 🙂
    us poets…. we wander 🙂


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