6 February 2012

'Samuel Thomas (1835-1912), and Ruskin' by Robert Hughes

This quotation from Ruskin is said to be in Samuel Thomas' own hand, and I am grateful to my cousin Maurice for bringing it to our attention as it could tell us a great deal about Samuel's character and beliefs.

The text reads: "The constant duty of every man to his fellows is to ascertain his own powers and special gifts; and to strengthen them for the help of others", and is from The Ethics of the Dust.

Ruskin is of course John Ruskin (1819-1910), one of the best known of Victorian poets, social commentators, and architectural critics. He became latterly a prominent exponent of radical social reform.

Maurice also has a dictionary of Classics, dated 1807, which Samuel had given to Ernest Augustus Thomas, Maurice's grandfather. (Is it a co-incidence that 1807 was also the year Samuel Thomas Senior was born?)

Lionel Britton, (of whom there is so much more on Dr Shaw's blog), had hard things to say of trade and the men who perpetrated it. Samuel, his grandfather, was undoubtedly a man of trade, but not necessarily seen by Lionel in that light.

Samuel, having been cut out of his needle manufacturer father Samuel Thomas' will, spent the rest of his life eking out a living as best he could. Although this undoubtedly included many years as a commercial traveller, and at least one attempt at manufacturing needles in his own right, was it so far different from Lionel's own travails as a ragged-trousered bookseller's assistant?

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