Unto This Last

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Unto This Last as it appeared in its original published form

Unto This Last is an essay and book on economy by John Ruskin.


Unto This Last was first published serially from August to November 1860 in the monthly journal Cornhill Magazine.[1] Ruskin says himself that these articles were "very violently criticized", forcing the publisher to stop the publication after four months. Subscribers sent protest letters. But Ruskin countered the attack and published the articles in book form in May 1862.


The title is a quotation from the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard.

I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.

— Matthew 20 (King James Version)

The "last" are the eleventh hour labourers, who are paid as if they had worked the entire day. Rather than discuss the religious meaning of the parable, whereby the eleventh hour labourers would be death-bed converts, or the peoples of the world who come late to religion, Ruskin looks at the social and economic implications, discussing issues such as who should receive a living wage. This essay is very critical of capitalist economists of the 18th and 19th centuries. In this sense, Ruskin is a precursor of social economy. Because the essay also attacks the destructive effects of industrialism upon the natural world, some historians have seen it as anticipating the Green Movement.[2]

The eleventh hour labourers, etching by Jan Luyken based on the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard

The essay begins with the following verse:[3]

“Friend, I do thee no wrong.
Didst not thou agree with me for a penny?
Take that thine is, and go thy way.
I will give unto this last even as unto thee.”
“If ye think good, give me my price;
And if not, forbear.
So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver.”

Gandhi's paraphrase

Unto This Last had a very important impact on Gandhi's philosophy.[4][5] He discovered the book in March 1904 through Henry Polak, whom he had met in a vegetarian restaurant in South Africa. Polak was sub-editor of the Johannesburg paper The Critic. Gandhi decided immediately not only to change his own life according to Ruskin's teaching,[6] but also to publish his own newspaper, Indian Opinion, from a farm where everybody would get the same salary, without distinction of function, race or nationality, which for that time, was quite revolutionary. Thus Gandhi created Phoenix Settlement.

Gandhi translated Unto This Last into Gujarati in 1908 under the title of Sarvodaya (Well Being of All). Valji Govindji Desai translated it back to English in 1951 under the title of Unto This Last: A Paraphrase.[7] This last essay can be considered his program on economics, as in Unto This Last, Gandhi found an important part of his social and economic ideas.


  1. O'Gorman, Francis (2000). "'Suppose It Were Your Own Father of Whom You Spoke': Ruskin's Unto This Last (1860)". The Review of English Studies. LI (202): 230.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Wall, Derek (1994), Green History: A Reader. London: Routledge, pp. 117, 122, 207.
  3. Ruskin, John (1905). "Unto This Last". The Works of John Ruskin. 17. London: George Allen. p. 13.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Dantwala, M.L. (1995). "Gandhiji and Ruskin's Unto This Last". Economic and Political Weekly. XXX (44): 2793–2795.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Brantlinger, Patrick (1996). "A Postindustrial Prelude to Postcolonialism: John Ruskin, William Morris, and Gandhism". Critical Inquiry. XXII (3): 466–85.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Mehta, Usha (1969). "Gandhi, Tolstoy and Ruskin". The Indian Journal of Political Science. XXX (4): 343–49.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Gandhi, M. K. Unto this Last: A Paraphrase (PDF) (in English; trans. from Gujarati). Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House. ISBN 81-7229-076-4. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • Cook, E.T. (1905). "Introduction to Vol. XVII". The Works of John Ruskin. 17. London: George Allen. pp. xiv–cxv.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Forbes, Linda D. (2000). "The Legacy of John Ruskin and a Introduction to Unto This Last". Organization & Environment. XIII (1): 86–88.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Harrison, Frederic (1895). "Until This Last". The Nineteenth Century. XXXVIII (226): 958–74.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Lee, Alan (1981). "Ruskin and Political Economy: Unto This Last". New Approaches to Ruskin. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. pp. 68–88.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links