If Frank was Education Minister he would make the works of John Ruskin absolutely central to the education of our tinies. To this end, he has been hard at work devising Tales Of Little Ruskin, suitable for reading aloud to infants.
I. Little Ruskin In The Garden
“I was extremely fond of digging holes, but that form of gardening was not allowed.” – John Ruskin, Praeterita, Volume I (1885/6)
Look, children, there goes little Ruskin, marching up the path with his spade over his shoulder! But who is this come a-lolloping towards him? It is Mr Snippage, the kindly old gardener, Mr Snippage who leaves ants’-nests undisturbed so little Ruskin can investigate them with his already piercing observational skills.
“What ho!” says Mr Snippage, “Now what would you be about, little Ruskin, with that spade over your shoulder?”
“I am going to dig holes here in our Herne Hill garden, Mr Snippage. I am extremely fond of digging holes,” replies the infant.
“Ho ho ho,” laughs Mr Snippage, “I knows you are, little Ruskin. But I don’t think your Ma takes too kindly to all your hole-digging, does she now?”
Little Ruskin blushes. Last summer he had dug so many holes the house on the hill had been at risk of subsidence. That is why he plans to dig this year’s holes at the farthest end of the garden. But he can find no words to say in reply to Mr Snippage.
“I know your Ma gets you a-Bible reading every morning,” continues the gardener, “And I know she added an eleventh commandment, didn’t she?”
Little Ruskin nods.
“Thou shalt not dig holes in the garden,” quotes Mr Snippage, “And she didn’t mean the garden of Eden, did she now?”
Little Ruskin tosses his spade aside and begins to sob.
“There, there,” says Mr Snippage, mussing little Ruskin’s carefully-combed hair, “Let’s you and me see if we can’t find an ants’-nest to study.”
And he takes little Ruskin by the hand and leads him off towards where he knows there will be an ants’-nest or two.
Ma Ruskin looks on at the scene from the drawing-room window. She clutches her doctored Bible to her bosom and offers up a prayer of thanks that the kindly old gardener has turned little Ruskin away from the path of sin.
II. Little Ruskin And The Cripple With Ringlets
“Margaret, in early youth, met with some mischance that twisted her spine, and hopelessly deformed her…I never liked invalids, and don’t to this day; and Margaret used to wear her hair in ringlets, which I couldn’t bear the sight of.” – John Ruskin, Praeterita, Volume I (1885/6)
See, children, this couple walking along the road. One is a tall, handsome, and very finely made woman, with a beautiful mild firmness of expression, the other a conceited little boy. Why, of course, it is Ma Ruskin taking a stroll with Little Ruskin. They walk straight past the toyshop window without a glance. Little Ruskin knows he will never be allowed the temptation of toys. But Ma Ruskin has promised to take him to a spot, somewhere between Herne Hill and Camberwell, where he may pick a pebble to take home with him. Little Ruskin loves his pebbles.
As they turn a corner, Little Ruskin’s buoyant mood changes, however, for ahead of them loom the great granite walls of the Charitable Mercy Home For Crippled Tinies.
“Can we increase the speed of our strolling, Ma, the quicker to be past this benighted cripplehaven?” pleads Little Ruskin.
“We shall stroll at the pace the Lord intends,” replies Ma Ruskin, not unkindly, but with her usual mild firmness.
Little Ruskin begins to tremble.
And then, children, out of the gates of the Mercy Home comes Little Ruskin’s worst nightmare! It is a diminutive girlie with a twisted, deformed spine, and her hair is in ringlets!
“Aaaghh!” screeches Little Ruskin, shielding his eyes from the horrible sight and trying to hide himself in the folds of Ma Ruskin’s skirts.
Ma Ruskin scolds her son for making such a din and a spectacle, and she turns him about and marches him home.
“There will be no pebble for you today, Little Ruskin!” she says, mildly firm.
And so, quaking with a mixture of disgust and horror, Little Ruskin ends up back at the house on the hill, forbidden even to jump off his favourite box.
Next Episode : Little Ruskin is given three raisins as a special treat!