The Life of John Ruskin
by W. G. Collingwood
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Science, too, progressed this year. We read of geological excursions to Shotover with Lord Carew and Lord Kildare—one carrying the hammer and another the umbrella—and actual discoveries of saurian remains; and many a merry meeting at Dr. Buckland's, in which, at intervals of scientific talk, John romped with the youngsters of the family. After a while the Dean took the opportunity of a walk through Oxford to the Clarendon to warn him not to spend too much time on science. It did not pay in the Schools nor in the Church, and he had too many irons in the fire.

Drawing, and science, and the prose essays mentioned in the last chapter, and poetry, all these were his by-play. Of the poetry, the Newdigate was but a little part. In "Friendship's Offering" this autumn he published "Remembrance," one of many poems to Adele, "Christ Church," and the "Scythian Grave." In this last he gave free rein to the morbid imaginations to which his unhappy affaire de coeur and the mental excitement of the period predisposed him. Harrison, his literary Mentor, approved these poems, and inserted them in "Friendship's Offering," along with love-songs and other exercises in verse. One had a great success and was freely copied—the sincerest flattery—and the preface to the annual for 1840 publicly thanked the "gifted writer" for his "valuable aid."

At the beginning of 1839 he went into new rooms vacated by Mr. Meux, and set to work finally on "Salsette and Elephanta." He ransacked all sources of information, coached himself in Eastern scenery and mythology, threw in the Aristotelian ingredients of terror and pity, and wound up with an appeal to the orthodoxy of the examiners, of whom Keble was the chief, by prophesying the prompt extermination of Brahminism under the teaching of the missionaries.

This third try won the prize. Keble sent for him, to make the usual emendations before the great work could be given to the world with the seal of Oxford upon it. John Ruskin seems to have been somewhat refractory under Keble's hands, though he would let his fellow-students, or his father, or Harrison, work their will on his MSS. or proofs; being always easier to lead than to drive. Somehow he came to terms with the Professor, and then the Dean, taking an unexpected interest, was at pains to see that his printed copy was flawless, and to coach him for the recitation of it at the great day in the Sheldonian (June 12, 1839).

And now that friends and strangers, publishers in London and professors in Oxford, concurred in their applause, it surely seemed that he had found his vocation, and was well on the high-road to fame as a poet.


THE BROKEN CHAIN (1840-1841)

That 8th of February, 1840, when John Ruskin came of age, it seemed as though all the gifts of fortune had been poured into his lap. What his father's wealth and influence could do for him had been supplemented by a personal charm, which found him friends among the best men of the best ranks. What his mother's care had done in fortifying his health and forming his character, native energy had turned to advantage. He had won a reputation already much wider and more appreciable, as an artist and student of science, and as a writer of prose and verse, than undergraduates are entitled to expect; and, for crowning mercy, his head was not turned. He was reading extremely hard—"in" for his degree examination next Easter term. His college tutor hoped he would get a First. From that it was an easy step to Holy Orders, and with his opportunities preferment was certain.

On his twenty-first birthday, his father, who had sympathized with his admiration for Turner enough to buy two pictures—the "Richmond Bridge" and the "Gosport"—for their Herne Hill drawing-room, now gave him a picture all to himself for his new rooms in St. Aldate's—the "Winchelsea," and settled on him a handsome allowance of pocket-money. The first use he made of his wealth was to buy another Turner. In the Easter vacation he met Mr. Griffith, the dealer, at the private view of the old Water-colour Society, and hearing that the "Harlech Castle" was for sale, he bought it there and then, with the characteristic disregard for money which has always made the vendors of pictures and books and minerals find him extremely pleasant to deal with. But as his love-affair had shown his mother how little he had taken to heart her chiefest care for him, so this first business transaction was a painful awakening to his father, the canny Scotch merchant, who had heaped up riches hoping that his son would gather them.

This "Harlech Castle" transaction, however, was not altogether unlucky. It brought him an introduction to the painter, whom he met when he was next in town, at Mr. Griffith's house. He knew well enough the popular idea of Turner as a morose and niggardly, inexplicable man. As he had seen faults in Turner's painting, so he was ready to acknowledge the faults in his character. But while the rest of the world, with a very few exceptions, dwelt upon the faults, Ruskin had penetration to discern the virtues which they hid. Few passages in his autobiography are more striking than the transcript from his journal of the same evening, recording his first impression:

"'I found in him a somewhat eccentric, keen-mannered, matter-of-fact, English-minded—gentleman; good-natured evidently, bad-tempered evidently, hating humbug of all sorts, shrewd, perhaps a little selfish, highly intellectual, the powers of the mind not brought out with any delight in their manifestation, or intention of display, but flashing out occasionally in a word or a look.' Pretty close that," he adds later, "and full, to be set down at the first glimpse, and set down the same evening."

Turner was not a man to make an intimate of, all at once; the acquaintanceship continued, and it ripened into as close a confidence as the eccentric painter's habits of life permitted. He seems to have been more at home with the father than with the son; but even when the young man took to writing books about him, he did not, as Carlyle is reported to have done in a parallel case, show his exponent to the door.

The occasion of John Ruskin's coming to town this time was not a pleasant one—nothing less than the complete breakdown of his health. It is true that he was working very hard during this spring; but hard reading does not of itself kill people, only when it is combined with real and prolonged mental distress, acting upon a sensitive temperament. The case was thought serious; reading was stopped, and the patient was ordered abroad for the winter.

For that summer there was no hurry to be gone; rest was more needed than change, at first. Late in September the same family-party crossed the sea to Calais. How different a voyage for them all from the merry departures of bygone Maytides! Which way should they turn? Not to Paris, for there was the cause of all these ills; so they went straight southwards, through Normandy to the Loire, and saw the chateaux and churches from Orleans to Tours, famous for their Renaissance architecture and for the romance of their chivalric history. Amboise especially made a strong impression upon the languid and unwilling invalid. It stirred him up to write, in easy verse, the tale of love and death that his own situation too readily suggested. In "The Broken Chain" he indulged his gloomy fancy, turning, as it was sure to do, into a morbid nightmare of mysterious horror, not without reminiscence of Coleridge's "Christabel." But through it all he preserved, so to speak, his dramatic incognito; his own disappointment and his own anticipated death were the motives of the tale, but treated in such a manner as not to betray his secret, nor even to wound the feelings of the lady who now was beyond appeal from an honourable lover—taking his punishment like a man.

This poem lasted him, for private writing, all through that journey—a fit emblem of the broken life which it records. A healthier source of distraction was his drawing, in which he had received a fresh impetus from the exhibition of David Roberts' sketches in the East. More delicate than Prout's work, entering into the detail of architectural form more thoroughly, and yet suggesting chiaroscuro with broad washes of quiet tone and touches of light, cleverly introduced—"that marvellous pop of light across the foreground," Harding said of the picture of the Great Pyramid—these drawings were a mean between the limited manner of Prout and the inimitable fulness of Turner Ruskin took up the fine pencil and the broad brush, and, with that blessed habit of industry which has helped so many a one through times of trial, made sketch after sketch on the half-imperial board, finished just so far as his strength and time allowed, as they passed from the Loire to the mountains of Auvergne; and to the valley of the Rhone, and thence slowly round the Riviera to Pisa and Florence and Rome.

He was not in a mood to sympathize readily with the enthusiasms of other people. They expected him to be delighted with the scenery, the buildings, the picture-galleries of Italy, and to forget himself in admiration. He did admire Michelangelo; and he was interested in the back-streets and slums of the cities. Something piquant was needed to arouse him; the mild ecstasies of common connoisseurship hardly appeal to a young man between life and death. He met the friends to whom he had brought introductions—Mr. Joseph Severn, who had been Keats' companion, and was afterwards to be the genial Consul at Rome, and the two Messrs. Richmond, then studying art in the regular professional way; one of them to become a celebrated portrait-painter, and the father of men of mark. But his views on art were not theirs; he was already too independent and outspoken in praise of his own heroes, and too sick in mind and body to be patient and to learn.

They had not been a month in Rome before he took the fever. As soon as he was recovered, they went still farther South, and loitered for a couple of months in the neighbourhood of Naples, visiting the various scenes of interest—Sorrento, Amalfi, Salerno. The adventures of this journey are partly told in letters to Mr. Dale, and in the "Letters addressed to a College Friend."

On the way to Naples he had noted and sketched the winter scene at La Riccia, which he afterwards used for a glowing passage in "Modern Painters"; and he had ventured into a village of brigands to draw such a castle as he had once imagined in his "Leoni." From Naples he wrote an account of a landslip near Giagnano, and sent it home to the Ashmolean Society. He seemed better; they turned homewards, when suddenly he was seized with all the old symptoms worse than ever. After another month at Rome, they travelled slowly northwards from town to town; spent ten days of May at Venice, and passed through Milan and Turin, and over the Mont Cenis to Geneva.

At last he was among the mountains again—the Alps that he loved. It was not only that the air of the Alps braced him, but the spirit of mountain-worship stirred him as nothing else could. At last he seemed himself, after more than a year of intense depression; and he records that one day, in church at Geneva, he resolved to do something, to be something useful. That he could make such a resolve was a sign of returning health; but if, as I find, he had just been reading Carlyle's lately-published lectures on "Heroes," though he did not then accept Carlyle's conclusions nor admire his style, might he not, in spite of his criticism, have been spurred the more into energy by that enthusiastic gospel of action?

They travelled home by Basle and Laon; but London in August, and the premature attempt to be energetic, brought on a recurrence of the symptoms of consumption, as it was called. He wished to try the mountain-cure again, and set out with his friend Richard Fall for a tour in Wales. But his father recalled him to Leamington to try iron and dieting under Dr. Jephson, who, if he was called a quack, was a sensible one, and successful in subduing for several years to come the more serious phases of the disease. The patient was not cured; he suffered from time to time from his chest, and still more from a weakness of the spine, which during all the period of his early manhood gave him trouble, and finished by bending his tall and lithe figure into something that, were it not for his face, would be deformity. In 1847 he was again at Leamington under Jephson, in consequence of a relapse into the consumptive symptoms, after which we hear no more of it. He outgrew the tendency, as so many do. But nevertheless the alarm had been justifiable, and the malady had left traces which, in one way and another, haunted him ever after; for one of the worst effects of illness is to be marked down as an invalid.

At Leamington, then, in September, 1841, he was finding a new life under the doctor's dieting, and new aims in life, which were eventually to resolder for a while the broken chain. Among the Scotch friends of the Ruskins there was a family at Perth whose daughter came to visit at Herne Hill—the Effie Gray whom afterwards he married. She challenged the melancholy John, engrossed in his drawing and geology, to write a fairytale, as the least likely task for him to fulfil. Upon which he produced, at a couple of sittings, "The King of the Golden River," a pretty medley of Grimm's grotesque and Dickens' kindliness and the true Ruskinian ecstasy of the Alps.



Ready for work again, and in reasonable health of mind and body, John Ruskin sat down in his little study at Herne Hill in November, 1841, with his private tutor, Osborne Gordon. There was eighteen months' leeway to make up, and the dates of ancient history, the details of schematized Aristotelianism, soon slip out of mind when one is sketching in Italy. But he was more serious now about his work, and aware of his deficiencies. To be useful in the world, is it not necessary first to understand all possible Greek constructions? So said the voice of Oxford; but our undergraduate was saved, both now and afterwards, from this vain ambition. "I think it would hardly be worth your while," said Gordon.

He could not now go in for honours, for the lost year had superannuated him. So in April he went up for a pass. In those times, when a pass-man showed unusual powers, they could give him an honorary class; not a high class, because the range of the examination was less than in the honour-school. This candidate wrote a poor Latin prose, it seems; but his divinity, philosophy, and mathematics were so good that they gave him the best they could—an honorary double fourth—upon which he took his B.A. degree, and could describe himself as "A Graduate of Oxford."

The continued weakness of his health kept him from taking steps to enter the Church; and his real interest in art was not crowded out even by the last studies for his examination. While he was working with Gordon, in the autumn of 1841, he was also taking lessons from J.D. Harding; and the famous study of ivy, his first naturalistic sketching, to which we must revert, must have been done a week or two before going up for his examination.

The lessons from Harding were a useful counter-stroke to the excessive and exaggerated Turnerism in which he had been indulging through his illness. The drawings of Amboise, the coast of Genoa, and the Glacier des Bois, though published later, were made before he had exchanged fancy for fact; and they bear, on the face of them, the obvious marks of an unhealthy state of mind. Harding, whose robust common-sense and breezy mannerism endeared him to the British amateur of his generation, was just the man to correct any morbid tendency. He had religious views in sympathy with his pupil, and he soon inoculated Ruskin with his contempt for the minor Dutch school—those bituminous landscapes, so unlike the sparkling freshness that Harding's own water-colour illustrated, and those vulgar tavern scenes, painted, he declared, by sots who disgraced art alike in their works and in their lives.

Until this epoch, John Ruskin had found much that interested him in the Dutch and Flemish painters of the seventeenth century. He had classed them all together as the school of which Rubens, Vandyck and Rembrandt were the chief masters, and those as names to rank with Raphael and Michelangelo and Velasquez. He was a humorist, not without boyish delight in a good Sam-Wellerism, and so could be amused with the "drolls," until Harding appealed to his religion and morality against them. He was a chiaroscurist, and not naturally offended by their violent light and shade, until George Richmond showed him the more excellent way in colour, the glow of Venice, first hinting it at Rome in 1840, and then proving it in London in the spring of 1842 from Samuel Rogers' treasures, of which the chief (now in the National Gallery) was the "Christ appearing to the Magdalen."

Much as the author of "Modern Painters" owed to these friends and teachers, and to the advantages of his varied training, he would never have written his great work without a further inspiration. Harding's especial forte was his method of drawing trees. He looked at Nature with an eye which, for his period, was singularly fresh and unprejudiced; he had a strong feeling for truth of structure as well as for picturesque effect, and he taught his pupils to observe as well as to draw. But in his own practice he rested too much on having observed; formed a style, and copied himself if he did not copy the old masters; Hence he held to rules of composition and conscious graces of arrangement; and while he taught naturalism in study, he followed it up with teaching artifice in practice.

Turner, who was not a drawing-master, lay under no necessity to formulate his principles and stick to them. On the contrary, his style developed like a kaleidoscope. He had been in Switzerland and on the Rhine in 1841, "painting his impressions," making water-colour notes from memory of effects that had struck him. From one of these, "Spluegen," he had made a finished picture, and now wished to get commissions for more of the same class. Ruskin was greatly interested in this series, because they were not landscapes of the ordinary type, scenes from Nature squeezed into the mould of recognised artistic composition, nor, on the other hand, mere photographic transcripts; but dreams, as it were, of the mountains and sunsets, in which Turner's wealth of detail was suggested, and his knowledge of form expressed, together with the unity which comes of the faithful record of a single impression.

The lesson was soon enforced upon Ruskin's mind by example. One day, while taking his student's constitutional, he noticed a tree-stem with ivy upon it, which seemed not ungraceful, and invited a sketch. As he drew he fell into the spirit of its natural arrangement, and soon perceived how much finer it was as a piece of design than any conventional rearrangement would be. Harding had tried to show him how to generalize foliage; but in this example he saw that not generalization was needed to get its beauty, but truth.

At Fontainebleau soon after, in much the same circumstances, a study of an aspen-tree, idly begun, but carried out with interest and patience, confirmed the principle. At Geneva, once more in the church where he had formed such resolutions the year before, the desire came over him with renewed force; now not only to be definitely employed, but to be employed in the service of a definite mission, which was, in art, exactly what Carlyle had preached in every other sphere of life in that book of "Heroes": the gospel of sincerity.

The design took shape. At Chamouni he studied plants and rocks and clouds, not as an artist to make pictures out of them, nor as a scientist to class them and analyze them; but to learn their aspects and enter into the spirit of their growth and structure. And though on his way home through Switzerland and down the Rhine he made a few drawings in his old style for admiring friends, they were the last of the kind that he attempted. Thenceforward his path was marked out; he had found a new vocation. He was not to be a poet—that was too definitely bound up with the past which he wanted to forget, and with conventionalities which he wished to shake off; not to be an artist, strugging with the rest to please a public which he felt himself called upon to teach; not a man of science, for his botany and geology were to be the means, and not the ends, of his teaching; but the mission was laid upon him to tell the world that Art, no less than other spheres of life, had its Heroes; that the mainspring of their energy was Sincerity, and the burden of their utterance, Truth.






The neighbour, or the Oxonian friend, who climbed the steps of the Herne Hill house and called upon Mrs. Ruskin, in the autumn and winter of 1842, would learn that Mr. John was hard at work in his own study overhead. Those were its windows, on the second-floor, looking out upon the front-garden; the big dormer-window above was his bedroom, from which he had his grand view of lowland, and far horizon, and unconfined sky, comparatively clear of London smoke. In the study itself, screened from the road by russet foliage and thick evergreens, great things were going on. But Mr. John could be interrupted, would come running lightly downstairs, with both hands out to greet the visitor; would show the pictures, eagerly demonstrating the beauties of the last new Turners, "Ehrenbreitstein" and "Lucerne," just acquired, and anticipating the sunset glories and mountain gloom of the "Goldau" and "Dazio Grande," which the great artist was "realizing" for him from sketches he had chosen at Queen Anne Street. He was very busy—but never too busy to see his friends—writing a book. And, the visitor gone, he would run up to his room and his writing.

In the afternoon his careful mother would turn him out for a tramp round the Norwood lanes; he might look in at the Poussins and Claudes of the Dulwich Gallery, or, for a longer excursion, go over to Mr. Windus, and his roomful of Turner drawings, or sit to George Richmond for the portrait at full length with desk and portfolio, and Mont Blanc in the background. Dinner over, another hour or two's writing, and early to bed, after finishing his chapter with a flourish of eloquence, to be read next morning at breakfast to father and mother and Mary. The vivid descriptions of scenes yet fresh in their memory, or of pictures they treasured, the "thoughts" as they used to be called, allusions to sincere beliefs and cherished hopes, never failed to win the praise that pleased the young writer most, in happy tears of unrestrained emotion. These old-fashioned folk had not learnt the trick of nil admirari. Quite honestly they would say, with the German musician, "When I hear good music, then must I always weep."

We can look into the little study and see what this writing was that went on so busily and steadily. It was the long-meditated defence of Turner, provoked by Blackwood's Magazine six years before, encouraged by Carlyle's "Heroes," and necessitated by the silence, on this topic, of the more enlightened leaders of thought in an age of connoisseurship and cant.

And as the winter ran out, he was ending his work, happy in the applause of his little domestic circle, and conscious that he was preaching the crusade of Sincerity, the cause of justice for the greatest landscape artist of any age, and justice, at the hands of a heedless public, for the glorious works of the supreme Artist of the universe. Let our young painters, he concluded, go humbly to Nature, "rejecting nothing, selecting nothing, and scorning nothing," in spite of Academic theorists, and in time we should have a school of landscape worthy of the inspiration they would find.

There was his book; the title of it, "Turner and the Ancients." Before publishing, to get more experienced criticism than that of the breakfast-table, he submitted it to his friend, W.H. Harrison. The title, it seemed, was not explicit enough, and after debate they substituted "Modern Painters: their Superiority in the Art of Landscape Painting to all the Ancient Masters proved by Examples of the True, the Beautiful, and the Intellectual, from the Works of Modern Artists, especially from those of J.M.W. Turner, Esq., R.A." And as the severe tone of many remarks was felt to be hardly supported by the age and standing of so young an author, he was content to sign himself "A Graduate of Oxford." The book was spoken of, but no part of the copy shown, to John Murray, who said he would prefer something about German art. It found immediate acceptance with Messrs. Smith and Elder. Young Ruskin had been doing business for seven years past with that firm; he was well known to them as one of the most "rising" youths of the time, and their own literary editor, Mr. Harrison, was his private Mentor, who revised his proofs and inserted the punctuation, which he usually indicated only by dashes. His dealings with the publishers were generally conducted through his father, who made very fair terms for him, as things went then.

In May, 1843, "Modern Painters," vol. i., was published, and it was soon the talk of the art-world. It was meant to be audacious, and naturally created a storm. The free criticisms of public favourites made an impression, not because they were put into strong language, for the tone of the press was stronger then than it is now, as a whole, but because they were backed up by illustration and argument. It was evident that the author knew something of his subject, even if he were all wrong in his conclusions. He could not be neglected, though he might be protested against, decried, controverted. Artists especially, who do not usually see their works as others see them, and are not accustomed to think of themselves and their school as mere dots and spangles in a perspective of history, could not be entirely content to be classed as Turner's satellites. And while the book contained something that promised to suit every kind of reader everyone found something to shock him. Critics were scandalized at the depreciation of Claude; the religious were outraged at the comparison of Turner, in a passage omitted from later editions, to the Angel of the Sun in the Apocalypse.

But the descriptive passages were such as had never appeared before in prose; and the obvious usefulness of the analyses of natural form and effect made many an artist read on, while he shook his head. Some readily owned their obligation to the new teacher. Holland, for one, wrote to Harrison that he meant to paint the better for the snubbing he had got. Of such as reviewed the book adversely in Blackwood and the Athenaeum, not one undertook to refute it seriously. They merely attacked a detail here and there, which the author discussed in two or three replies, with a patience that showed how confident he was in his position.

He had the good word of some of the best judges of literature. "Modern Painters" lay on Rogers' table; and Tennyson, who a few years before had beaten young Ruskin out of the field of poetry, was so taken with it that he wrote to his publisher to borrow it for him, "as he longed very much to see it," but could not afford to buy it. Sir Henry Taylor wrote to Aubrey de Vere, the poet, begging him to read:

"A book which seems to me to be far more deeply founded in its criticism of art than any other that I have met with ... written with great power and eloquence, and a spirit of the most diligent investigation.... I am told that the author's name is Ruskin, and that he was considered at college as an odd sort of man who would never do anything."

A second edition appeared within 12 months. When the secret of the "Oxford Graduate" leaked out, as it did very soon, through the proud father, Mr. John was lionized. During the winter of 1843 he met celebrities at fashionable dinner-tables; and now that his parents were established in their grander house on Denmark Hill,[1] they could duly return the hospitalities of the great world.

[Footnote 1: To which they removed in October, 1842.]

It was one very satisfactory result of the success that the father was more or less converted to Turnerism, and lined his walls with Turner drawings, which became the great attraction of the house, far outshining its seven acres of garden and orchard and shrubbery, and the ampler air of cultured ease. For a gift to his son he bought "The Slave Ship," one of Turner's latest and most disputed works; and he was all eagerness to see the next volume in preparation.

It was intended to carry on the discussion of "Truth," with further illustrations of mountain-form, trees and skies. And so in May, 1844, they all went away again, that the artist-author might prepare drawings for his plates. He was going to begin with the geology and botany of Chamouni, and work through the Alps, eastward.

At Chamouni they had the good fortune to meet with Joseph Coutet, a superannuated guide, whom they engaged to accompany the eager but inexperienced mountaineer. Coutet was one of those men of natural ability and kindliness whose friendship is worth more than much intercourse with worldly celebrities, and for many years afterwards Ruskin had the advantage of his care—of something more than mere attendance. At any rate, under such guidance, he could climb where he pleased, free from the feeling that people at home were anxious about him.

He was not unadventurous in his scramblings, but with no ambition to get to the top of everything. He wanted to observe the aspects of mountain-form; and his careful outlines, slightly coloured, as his manner then was, and never aiming at picturesque treatment, record the structure of the rocks and the state of the snow with more than photographic accuracy. A photograph often confuses the eye with unnecessary detail; these drawings seized the leading lines, the important features, the interesting points. For example, in his Matterhorn (a drawing of 1849), as Whymper remarks in "Scrambles among the Alps," there are particulars noted which the mere sketcher neglects, but the climber finds out, on closer intercourse, to be the essential facts of the mountain's anatomy. All this is not picture-making, but it is a valuable contribution and preliminary to criticism.

From Chamouni this year they went to Simplon, and met J.D. Forbes, the geologist, whose "viscous theory" of glaciers Ruskin adopted and defended with warmth later on, and to the Bell' Alp, long before it had been made a place of popular resort by Professor Tyndall's notice. The "Panorama of the Simplon from the Bell' Alp" is to be found in the St. George's (Ruskin) Museum at Sheffield, as a record of his draughtsmanship in this period. Thence to Zermatt with Osborne Gordon; Zermatt, too, unknown to the fashionable tourist, and innocent of hotel luxuries. It is curious that, at first sight, he did not care for the Matterhorn. It was entirely unlike his ideal of mountains. It was not at all like Cumberland. But in a very few years he had come to love the Alps for their own sake, and we find him regretting at Ambleside the colour and light of Switzerland, the mountain glory which our humbler scenery cannot match. And yet he came back to it for a home, not ill-content.

After another visit to Chamouni, he crossed France to Paris, where something awaited him that upset all his plans, and turned his energies into an unexpected channel.


CHRISTIAN ART (1845-1847)

At Paris, on the way heme in 1844, he had spent some days in studying Titian and Bellini and Perugino. They were not new to him; but now that he was an art-critic, it behoved him to improve his acquaintance with the old masters. "To admire the works of Pietro Perugino" was one thing; but to understand them was another, a thing which was hardly attempted by "the Landscape Artists of England" to whom the author of "Modern Painters" had so far dedicated his services. He had been extolling modernism, and depreciating "the Ancients" because they could not draw rocks and clouds and trees; and he was fresh from his scientific sketching in the happy hunting-ground of the modern world. A few days in the Louvre made him the devotee of ancient art, and taught him to lay aside his geology for history.

In one way the development was easy. The patient attempt to copy mountain-form had made him sensitive to harmony of line; and in the great composers of Florence and Venice he found a quality of abstract design which tallied with his experience of what was beautiful in Nature. Aiguilles and glaciers, drawn as he drew them, and the figure-subjects of severe Italian draughtsmen, are beautiful by the same laws of composition, however different the associations they suggest.

But he had been learning these laws of beauty from Turner and from the Alps; how did the ancients come by them? This could be found only in a thorough study of their lives and times, to begin with, to which he devoted his winter, with Rio and Lord Lindsay and Mrs. Jameson for his authorities. He found that his foes, Caspar Poussin and Canaletto, and the Dutch landscapists, were not the real old masters; that there had been a great age of art before the era of Vandyck and Rubens—even before Michelangelo and Raphael; and that, towards setting up as a critic of the present, he must understand the past out of which it had grown. So he determined to go to Florence and Venice, and to study the religious painters at first hand.

Mountain-study and Turner were not to be dropped. For example, to explain the obvious and notorious licences which Turner took with topography, it was necessary to see in what these licences consisted. Of the later Swiss drawings, one of the wildest and most impressive was the "St. Gothard"; Ruskin wanted to find Turner's point of view, and to see what alterations he had made. He told Turner so, and the artist, who knew that his picture had been realized from a very slight sketch, was naturally rather opposed to this test, as being, from his point of view, merely a waste of time and trouble. He tried to persuade the Ruskins that the Swiss Sonderbund war, then going on, made travelling unsafe, and so forth. But in vain. Mr. John was allowed to go, for the first time alone, without his parents, taking only a servant, and meeting the trustworthy Coutet at Geneva.

With seven months at his own disposal, he did a vast amount of work, especially in drawing. The studies of mountain-form and Italian design, in the year before, had given him a greater interest in the "Liber Studiorum," Turner's early book of Essays in Composition. He found there that use of the pure line, about which he has since said so much, together with a thoughtfully devised scheme of light-and-shade in mezzotint, devoted to the treatment of landscape in the same spirit as that in which the Italian masters treated figure-subjects in their pen-and-bistre studies. And just as he had imitated the Rogers vignettes in his boyhood, now in his youth he tried to emulate the fine abstract flow and searching expressiveness of the etched line, and the studied breadth of shade, by using the quill-pen with washes. At first he kept pretty closely to monochrome. His object was form, and his special talent was for draughtsmanship rather than for colour. But it was this winter's study of the "Liber Studiorum" that started him on his own characteristic course; and while we have no pen-and-wash work of his before 1845 (except a few experiments after Prout), we find him now using the pen continually during the "Modern Painters" period.

On reaching the Lake of Geneva he wrote, or sketched, one of his best-known pieces of verse, "Mont Blanc Revisited," and a few other poems followed, the last of the long series which had once been his chief interest and aim in life. With this lonely journey there came new and deeper feelings; with his increased literary power, fresh resources of diction; and he was never so near being a poet as when he gave up writing verse. Too condensed to be easily understood, too solemn in their movement to be trippingly read, the lines on "The Arve at Cluse," on "Mont Blanc," and "The Glacier," should not be passed over as merely rhetorical. And the reflections on the loungers at Conflans ("Why Stand ye here all the Day Idle?") are full of the spirit in which he was gradually approaching the great problems of his life, to pass through art into the earnest study of human conduct and its final cause.

He was still deeply religious—more deeply so than before, and found the echo of his own thoughts in George Herbert, with whom he "communed in spirit" while he travelled through the Alps. But the forms of outward religion were losing their hold over him in proportion as his inward religion became more real and intense. It was only a few days after writing these lines that he "broke the Sabbath" for the first time in his life, by climbing a hill after church. That was the first shot fired in a war, in one of the strangest and saddest wars between conscience and reason that biography records; strange because the opposing forces were so nearly matched, and sad because the struggle lasted until their field of battle was desolated before either won a victory.

Later on we have to tell how he dwelt in Doubting Castle, and how he escaped. But the pilgrim had not yet met Giant Despair; and his progress was very pleasant in that spring of 1845, the year of fine weather, as he drove round the Riviera, and the cities of Tuscany opened out their treasures to him. There was Lucca, with San Frediano and the glories of Romanesque architecture; Fra Bartolommeo's picture of the Madonna with the Magdalen and St. Catherine of Siena, his initiation into the significance of early religious painting: and, taking hold of his imagination, in her marble sleep, more powerfully than any flesh and blood, the dead lady of St. Martin's Church, Ilaria di Caretto. There was Pisa, with the Campo Santo and the jewel shrine of Sta. Maria della Spina, then undestroyed; the excitement of street sketching among a sympathetic crowd of fraternizing Italians; the Abbe Rosini, Professor of Fine Arts, whom he made friends with, endured as lecturer, and persuaded into scaffold-building in the Campo Santo for study of the frescoes. And there was Florence, with Giotto's campanile and Santa Maria Novella, where the young Protestant frequented monasteries, made hay with monks, sketched with his new-found friends Rudolf Durheim of Berne and Dieudonne the French purist; and spent long days copying Angelico and annotating Ghirlandajo, fevered with the sun of Italy at its strongest, and with the rapture of discovery, "which turns the unaccustomed head like Chianti wine."

Coutet got him away, at last, to the Alps; worn out and in despondent reaction after all this excitement. He spent a month at Macugnaga, reading Shakespeare and trying to draw boulders; drifting gradually back into strength enough to attack the next piece of work, the study of Turner sites on the St. Gothard, where he made the drawings afterwards engraved in "Modern Painters." In August, J.D. Harding was going to Venice, and arranged for a meeting at Baveno, on the Lago Maggiore. Gossip had credited him with a share in "Modern Painters"; now the tables were turned, and Griffith, the picture-dealer, wanted to know if it was true that John Ruskin had helped Harding with his new book, just out. They sketched together, Ruskin perhaps emulating his friend's slap-dash style in the "Sunset" reproduced in his "Poems," and illustrating his own in the "Water-mill." And so they drove together to Verona and thence to Venice.

At Venice they stayed in Danieli's Hotel, on the Riva dei Schiavoni, and began by studying picturesque canal-life. Mr. Boxall, R.A., and Mrs. Jameson, the historian of Sacred and Legendary Art, were their companions. Another old friend, Joseph Severn, had in 1843 gained one of the prizes at the Westminster Hall Cartoons Competition; and a letter from Ruskin, referring to the work there, shows how he still pondered on the subject that had been haunting him in the Alps:

"With your hopes for the elevation of English art by means of fresco I cannot sympathize.... It is not the material nor the space that can give us thoughts, passions, or power. I see on our Academy walls nothing but what is ignoble in small pictures, and would be disgusting in large ones.... It is not the love of fresco that we want; it is the love of God and His creatures; it is humility, and charity, and self-denial, and fasting, and prayer; it is a total change of character. We want more faith and less reasoning, less strength and more trust. You want neither walls, nor plaster, nor colours—ca ne fait rien a l'affaire; it is Giotto, and Ghirlandajo, and Angelico that you want, and that you will and must want until this disgusting nineteenth century has—I can't say breathed, but steamed its last."

So early he had taken up and wrapped round him the mantle of Cassandra.

But he was suddenly to find the sincerity of Ghirlandajo and the religious significance of Angelico united with the matured power of art. Without knowing what they were to meet, Harding and he found themselves one day in the Scuola di S. Rocco, and face to face with Tintoret.

It was the fashion earlier, and it has been the fashion since, to undervalue Tintoret. He is not pious enough for the purists, nor decorative enough for the Pre-Raphaelites. The ruin or the restoration of almost all his pictures makes it impossible for the ordinary amateur to judge them; they need reconstruction in the mind's eye, and that is a dangerous process. Ruskin himself, as he grew older, found more interest in the playful industry of Carpaccio than in the laborious games, the stupendous Titan feats of Tintoret. But at this moment, solemnized before the problems of life, he found these problems hinted in the mystic symbolism of the School of S. Rocco; with eyes now opened to pre-Reformation Christianity, he found its completed outcome in Tintoret's interpretation of the life of Christ and the types of the Old Testament; fresh from the stormy grandeur of the St. Gothard, he found the lurid skies and looming giants of the Visitation, or the Baptism, or the Crucifixion, re-echoing the subjects of Turner as "deep answering to deep"; and, with Harding of the Broad Brush, he recognised the mastery of landscape execution in the Flight into Egypt, and the St. Mary in the Desert.

He devoted the rest of his time chiefly to cataloguing and copying Tintoret. The catalogue appeared in "Stones of Venice," which was suggested by this visit, and begun by some sketches of architectural detail, and the acquisition of daguerreotypes—a new invention which delighted him immensely, as it had delighted Turner, with trustworthy records of detail which sometimes eluded even his industry and accuracy.

At last his friends were gone; and, left alone, he overworked himself, as usual, before leaving Venice with crammed portfolios and closely-written notebooks. At Padua he was stopped by a fever; all through France he was pursued by what, from his account, appears to have been some form of diphtheria, averted only, as he believed, in direct answer to earnest prayer. At last his eventful pilgrimage was ended, and he was restored to his home and his parents. It was not long before he was at work again in his new study, looking out upon the quiet meadow and grazing cows of Denmark Hill, and rapidly throwing into form the fresh impressions of the summer. He was strongly influenced by the sermons of Canon Melvill—the same preacher whom Browning in his youth admired—a good orator and sound analytic expositor, though not a great or independent thinker. Osborne Gordon had recommended him to read Hooker, and he caught the tone and style of the "Ecclesiastical Polity" only too readily, so that much of his work of that winter, the more philosophical part of vol. ii., was damaged by inversions, and Elizabethan quaintness as of ruff and train, long epexegetical sentences, and far-sought pomposity of diction. It was only when he had waded through the chaos which he set himself to survey, that he could lay aside his borrowed stilts, and stand on his own feet in the Tintoret descriptions—rather stiff, yet, from foregone efforts.

This volume, like the first, was completed in the winter, in one long spell of hard work, broken only by a visit to Oxford in January as the guest of Dr. Greswell, Head of Worcester, at a conference for the promotion of art. Smith and Elder accepted the book on Mr. J.J. Ruskin's terms (so his wife wrote), for they had already reported it as called for by the public. The first volume was going into a third edition.

When his book came out he was away again in Italy, trying to show his father all that he had seen in the Campo Santo and Giotto's Tower, and to explain "why it more than startled him." The good man hardly felt the force of it all at once. And there were little passages of arms and some heart-quaking and head-shaking, until Mr. Dale, the old schoolmaster, wrote that he had heard no less a man than Sydney Smith mention the new book in public, in the presence of "distinguished literary characters," as a work of "transcendent talent, presenting the most original views, in the most elegant and powerful language, which would work a complete revolution in the world of taste." When he returned home it was to find a respectful welcome. His word on matters of Art was now really worth something, and before long it was called for. The National Gallery was comparatively in its infancy. It had been established less than twenty-five years, and its manager, Mr. Eastlake (afterwards Sir Charles), had his hands full, what with rascally dealers in forged old masters, and incompetent picture-cleaners; and an economical Government, and a public that neither knew its own mind nor trusted his judgment. A great outcry was set up against him for buying bad works, and spoiling the best by restoration. Ruskin wrote very temperately to The Times, pointing out that the damage had been slight compared with what was being done everywhere else, and suggesting that, prevention being better than cure, the pictures should be put under glass, for then they would not need the recurring attentions of the restorer. But he blamed the management for spending large sums on added examples of Guido and Rubens, while they had no Angelico, no Ghirlandajo, no good Perugino, only one Bellini, and, in a word, left his new friends, the early Christian artists, unrepresented. He suggested that pictures might be picked up for next to nothing in Italy; and he begged that the collection might be made historical and educational by being fully representative, and chronologically arranged.



"Have you read an Oxford Graduate's letters on art?" wrote Miss Mitford, of "Our Village," on January 27, 1847. "The author, Mr. Ruskin, was here last week, and is certainly the most charming person that I have ever known." The friendship thus begun lasted until her death. She encouraged him in his work; she delighted in his success; and, in the grave reverses which were to befall him, he found her his most faithful supporter and most sympathetic consoler. In return, "his kindness cheered her closing days; he sent her every book that would interest and every delicacy that would strengthen her, attentions which will not surprise those who have heard of his large and thoughtful generosity."[2]

[Footnote 2: "The Friendships of Mary Russell Mitford," edited by the Rev. A.G. L'Estrange.]

It was natural that a rising man, so closely connected with Scotland, should be welcomed by the leaders of the Scottish school of literature. Sydney Smith, a former Edinburgh professor, had praised the new volume. John Murray, as it seems from letters of the period, made overtures to secure the author as a contributor to his Italian guide-books. Lockhart employed him to write for the Quarterly Review.

Lockhart was a person of great interest for young Ruskin, who worshipped Scott; and Lockhart's daughter, even without her personal charm, would have attracted him as the actual grandchild of the great Sir Walter. It was for her sake, he says, rather than for the honour of writing in the famous Quarterly, that he undertook to review Lord Lindsay's "Christian Art."

He was known to be a suitor for Miss Lockhart's hand. His father, in view of the success he desired, had been in February looking out for a house in the Lake District; hoping, no doubt, to see him settled there as a sort of successor to Wordsworth and Christopher North. In March, John Ruskin betook himself to the Salutation at Ambleside, with his constant attendant and amanuensis George, for quiet after a tiring winter in London society, and for his new labour of reviewing. But he did not find himself so fond of the Lakes as of old. He wrote to his mother (Sunday, March 28, 1847):

"I finished—and sealed up—and addressed—my last bit of work, last night by ten o'clock—ready to send by to-day's post—so that my father should receive it with this. I could not at all have done it had I stayed at home: for even with all the quiet here, I have had no more time than was necessary. For exercise, I find the rowing very useful, though it makes me melancholy with thinking of 1838,—and the lake, when it is quite calm, is wonderfully sad and quiet:—no bright colours—no snowy peaks. Black water—as still as death;—lonely, rocky islets—leafless woods,—or worse than leafless—the brown oak foliage hanging dead upon them; gray sky;—far-off, wild, dark, dismal moorlands; no sound except the rustling of the boat among the reeds.

"One o'clock.—I have your kind note and my father's, and am very thankful that you like what I have written, for I did not at all know myself whether it were good or bad."

In the early summer he went to Oxford, for a meeting of the British Association. He said (June 27, 1847):

"I am not able to write a full account of all I see, to amuse you, for I find it necessary to keep as quiet as I can, and I fear it would only annoy you to be told of all the invitations I refuse, and all the interesting matters in which I take no part. There is nothing for it but throwing one's self into the stream, and going down with one's arms under water, ready to be carried anywhere, or do anything. My friends are all busy, and tired to death. All the members of my section, but especially (Edward) Forbes, Sedgwick, Murchison, and Lord Northampton—and of course Buckland, are as kind to me as men can be; but I am tormented by the perpetual sense of my unmitigated ignorance, for I know no more now than I did when a boy, and I have only one perpetual feeling of being in everybody's way. The recollections of the place, too, and the being in my old rooms, make me very miserable. I have not one moment of profitably spent time to look back to while I was here, and much useless labour and disappointed hope; and I can neither bear the excitement of being in the society where the play of mind is constant, and rolls over me like heavy wheels, nor the pain of being alone. I get away in the evenings into the hayfields about Cumnor, and rest; but then my failing sight plagues me. I cannot look at anything as I used to do, and the evening sky is covered with swimming strings and eels. My best time is while I am in the Section room, for though it is hot, and sometimes wearisome, yet I have nothing to say,—little to do,—nothing to look at, and as much as I like to hear."

He had to undergo a second disappointment in love; his health broke down again, and he was sent to Leamington to his former doctor, Jephson, once more a "consumptive" patient. Dieted into health, he went to Scotland with a new-found friend, William Macdonald Macdonald of Crossmount. But he had no taste for sport, and could make little use of his opportunities for distraction and relaxation. One battue was enough for him, and the rest of the visit was spent in morbid despondency, digging thistles, and brooding over the significance of the curse of Eden, so strangely now interwoven with his own life—"Thorns a also and Thistles."

At Bower's Well, Perth, where his grandparents had spent their later years, and where his parents had been married, lived Mr. George Gray, a lawyer, and an old acquaintance of the Ruskin family. His daughter Euphemia used to visit at Denmark Hill. It was for her that, some years earlier, "The King of the Golden River" had been written. She had grown up into a perfect Scotch beauty, with every gift of health and spirits which would compensate—the old folk thought—for his retiring and morbid nature. They were anxious, now more than ever, to see him settled. They pressed him, in letters still extant, to propose. We have seen how he was situated, and can understand how he persuaded himself that fortune, after all, was about to smile upon him. Her family had their own reasons for promoting the match, and all united in hastening on the event.

In the Notes to Exhibitions added to a new edition of "Modern Painters," then in the Press, the author mentions a "hurried visit to Scotland in the spring" of 1848. This was the occasion of his marriage at Perth, on April 10. The young couple spent rather more than a fortnight on the way South, among Scotch and English lakes, intending to make a more extended tour in the summer to the cathedrals and abbeys.

The pilgrimage began with Salisbury, where a few days' sketching in the damp and draughts of the cathedral laid the bridegroom low, and brought the tour to an untimely end. In August, the young people were seen safely off to Normandy, where they went by easy stages from town to town, studying the remains of Gothic building. In October they returned and settled in a house of their own, at 31, Park Street, where during the winter he wrote "The Seven Lamps of Architecture," and, as a bit of by-work, a notice of Samuel Prout for the Art Journal.

This was Ruskin's first illustrated volume. The plates were engraved by himself in soft-ground etching, such as Prout had used, from drawings he had made in 1846 and 1848. Some are scrappy combinations of various detail, but others, such as the Byzantine capital, the window in Giotto's Campanile, the arches from St. Lo in Normandy, from St. Michele at Lucca, and from the Ca' Foscari at Venice, are effective studies of the actual look of old buildings, seen as they are shown us in Nature, with her light and the shade added to all the facts of form, and her own last touches in the way of weather-softening, and settling-faults, and tufted, nestling plants.

Revisiting the Hotel de la Cloche at Dijon in later years, Ruskin showed me the room where he had "bitten" the last plate in his wash-hand basin, as a careless makeshift for the regular etcher's bath. He was not dissatisfied with his work himself; the public of the day wanted something more finished. So the second edition appeared with the subjects elaborately popularized in fashionable engraving. More recently they have undergone reduction for a cheap issue. But any book lover knows the value of the original "Seven Lamps" with its San Miniato cover and autograph plates.

As to its reception, or at least the anticipation of it. Charlotte Bronte bears witness in a letter to the publishers.

"I congratulate you on the approaching publication of Mr. Ruskin's new work. If 'The Seven Lamps of Architecture' resemble their predecessor, 'Modern Painters,' they will be no lamps at all, but a new constellation,—seven bright stars, for whose rising the reading world ought to be anxiously agape."

The book was announced for his father's birthday, May 10, 1849, and it appeared while they were among the Alps. The earlier part of this tour is pretty fully described in "Praeterita," II. xi., and "Fors," letter xc., and so the visit of Richard Fall, the meeting with Sibylla Dowie, and the death of cousin Mary need not be dwelt on here. From the letters that passed between father and son we find that Mr. John had been given a month's leave from July 26 to explore the Higher Alps, with Coutet his guide and George his valet. The old people stayed at the Hotel des Bergues, and thought of little else but their son and his affairs, looking eagerly from day to day for the last news, both of him and of his book.

Mr. Ruskin, senior, writes from Geneva on July 29:

"Miss Tweddale says your book has made a great sensation." On August 4: "The Spectator, which Smith sets great value on, has an elaborate favourable notice on 'Seven Lamps,' only ascribing an infirmity of temper, quoting railroad passage in proof. Anne was told by American family servant that you were in American Paper, and got it for us, the New York Tribune of July 13; first article is your book. They say they are willing to be learners from, rather than critics of, such a book, etc. The Daily News (some of the Punch people's paper) has a capital notice. It begins: 'This is a masked battery of seven pieces, which blaze away to the total extinction of the small architectural lights we may boast of, etc., etc.'" On August 5: "I have, at a shameful charge of ten francs, got August magazine and Dickens, quite a prohibition for parcels from England. In British Quarterly, under aesthetics of Gothic architecture they take four works, you first.... As a critic they almost rank you with Goethe and Coleridge, and in style with Jeremy Taylor."

The qualified encouragement of these remarks was further qualified with detailed advice about health; and warnings against the perils of the way, to which Mr. John used to answer on this wise:

"CORMAYEUR, Sunday afternoon (July 29, 1849).


"(Put the three sheets in order first, 1, 2, 3, then read this, front and back, and then 2, and then 3, front and back.) You and my mother were doubtless very happy when you saw the day clear up as you left St. Martin's. Truly it was impossible that any day could be more perfect towards its close. We reached Nant Bourant at twelve o'clock, or a little before, and Coutet having given his sanction to my wish to get on, we started again soon after one—and reached the top of the Col de Bonhomme about five. You would have been delighted with that view—it is one upon those lovely seas of blue mountain, one behind the other, of which one never tires—this, fortunately, westward—so that all the blue ridges and ranges above Conflans and Beaufort were dark against the afternoon sky, though misty with its light; while eastward a range of snowy crests, of which the most important was the Mont Iseran, caught the sunlight full upon them. The sun was as warm, and the air as mild, on the place where the English travellers sank and perished, as in our garden at Denmark Hill on the summer evenings. There is, however, no small excuse for a man's losing courage on that pass, if the weather were foul. I never saw one so literally pathless—so void of all guide and help from the lie of the ground—so embarrassing from the distance which one has to wind round mere brows of craggy precipice without knowing the direction in which one is moving, while the path is perpetually lost in heaps of shale or among clusters of crags, even when it is free of snow. All, however, when I passed was serene, and even beautiful—owing to the glow which the red rocks had in the sun. We got down to Chapiu about seven—itself one of the most desolately-placed villages I ever saw in the Alps. Scotland is in no place that I have seen, so barren or so lonely. Ever since I passed Shapfells, when a child, I have had an excessive love for this kind of desolation, and I enjoyed my little square chalet window and my chalet supper exceedingly (mutton with garlic)."

He then confesses that he woke in the night with a sore throat, but struggled on next day down the Allee Blanche to Cormayeur.

"I never saw such a mighty heap of stones and dust. The glacier itself is quite invisible from the road (and I had no mind for extra work or scrambling), except just at the bottom, where the ice appears in one or two places, being exactly of the colour of the heaps of waste coal at the Newcastle pits, and admirably adapted therefore to realize one's brightest anticipations of the character and style of the Allee Blanche.

"The heap of its moraine conceals, for the two miles of its extent, the entire range of Mont Blanc from the eye. At last you weather the mighty promontory, cross the torrent which issues from its base, and find yourself suddenly at the very foot of the vast slope of torn granite, which from a point not 200 feet lower than the summit of Mont Blanc, sweeps down into the valley of Cormayeur.

"I am quite unable to speak with justice—or think with clearness—of this marvellous view. One is so unused to see a mass like that of Mont Blanc without any snow that all my ideas and modes of estimating size were at fault. I only felt overpowered by it, and that—as with the porch of Rouen Cathedral—look as I would, I could not see it. I had not mind enough to grasp it or meet it. I tried in vain to fix some of its main features on my memory; then set the mules to graze again, and took my sketch-book, and marked the outlines—but where is the use of marking contours of a mass of endless—countless—fantastic rock—12,000 feet sheer above the valley? Besides, one cannot have sharp sore-throat for twelve hours without its bringing on some slight feverishness; and the scorching Alpine sun to which we had been exposed without an instant's cessation from the height of the col till now—i.e., from half-past ten to three—had not mended the matter; my pulse was now beginning slightly to quicken and my head slightly to ache—and my impression of the scene is feverish and somewhat painful; I should think like yours of the valley of Sixt."

So he finished his drawing, tramped down the valley after his mule, in dutiful fear of increasing his cold, and found Cormayeur crowded, only an attic au quatrieme to be had. After trying to doctor himself with gray pill, kali, and senna, Coutet cured his throat with an alum gargle, and they went over the Col Ferret.

The courier Pfister had been sent to meet him at Martigny, and bring latest news and personal report, on the strength of which several days passed without letters, but not without a remonstrance from headquarters. On August 8 he writes from Zermatt:

"I have your three letters, with pleasant accounts of critiques, etc., and painful accounts of your anxieties. I certainly never thought of putting in a letter at Sion, as I arrived there about three hours after Fister left me, it being only two stages from Martigny; and besides, I had enough to do that morning in thinking what I should want at Zermatt, and was engaged at Sion, while we changed horses, in buying wax candles and rice. It was unlucky that I lost post at Visp," etc.

A few days later he says:

"On Friday I had such a day as I have only once or twice had the like of among the Alps. I got up to a promontory projecting from the foot of the Matterhorn, and lay on the rocks and drew it at my ease. I was about three hours at work as quietly as if in my study at Denmark Hill, though on a peak of barren crag above a glacier, and at least 9,000 feet above sea. But the Matterhorn, after all, is not so fine a thing as the aiguille Dru, nor as any one of the aiguilles of Chamouni: for one thing, it is all of secondary rock in horizontal beds, quite rotten and shaly; but there are other causes of difference in impressiveness which I am endeavouring to analyze, but find considerable embarrassment in doing so. There seems no sufficient reason why an isolated obelisk, one-fourth higher than any of them, should not be at least as sublime as they in their dependent grouping; but it assuredly is not. For this reason, as well as because I have not found here the near studies of primitive rock I expected,—for to my great surprise, I find the whole group of mountains, mighty as they are, except the inaccessible Monte Rosa, of secondary limestones or slates,—I should like, if it were possible, to spend a couple of days more on the Montanvert, and at the bases of the Chamouni aiguilles, sleeping at the Montanvert."

And so on, apologetically begging (as other sons beg money) for time, to gather the material of "Modern Painters," volume iv.

"I hope you will think whether the objects you are after are worth risks of sore throats or lungs," replied his father, for he had "personified a perpetual influenza" until they got him to Switzerland, and they were very anxious; indeed, Pfister's news from Martigny had scared his mother—not very well herself—into wild plans for recapturing him. However, Osborne Gordon was going to Chamouni with Mr. Pritchard, and so they gave him a little longer; and he made the best use of his time:

"Monday evening (August 20, 1849).


"I have to-night a packet of back letters from Viege ... but I have really hardly time to read them to-night, I had so many notes to secure when I came from the hills. I walk up every day to the base of the aiguilles without the slightest sense of fatigue; work there all day hammering and sketching; and down in the evening. As far as days by myself can be happy they are so, for I love the place with all my heart. I have no over-fatigue or labour, and plenty of time. By-the-by, though in most respects they are incapable of improvement, I recollect that I thought to-day, as I was breaking last night's ice away from the rocks of which I wanted a specimen, with a sharpish wind and small pepper and salt-like sleet beating in my face, that a hot chop and a glass of sherry, if they were to be had round the corner, would make the thing more perfect. There was however nothing to be had round the corner but some Iceland moss, which belonged to the chamois, and an extra allowance of north wind."

This next is scribbled on a tiny scrap of paper:

"GLACIER or GREPPOND, August 21.


"I am sitting on a gray stone in the middle of the glacier, waiting till the fog goes away. I believe I may wait. I write this line in my pocket-book to thank my mother for hers which I did not acknowledge last night. I am glad and sorry that she depends so much on my letters for her comfort. I am sending them now every day by the people who go down, for the diligence is stopped. You may run the chance of missing one or two therefore. I am quite well, and very comfortable—sitting on Joseph's knapsack laid on the stone. The fog is about as thick as that of London in November,—only white; and I see nothing near me but fields of dampish snow with black stones in it."

And then:

"MONTANVERT, August 22.

"I cannot say that on the whole the aiguilles have treated me well. I went up Saturday, Monday and Tuesday to their feet, and never obtained audience until to-day, and then they retired at twelve o'clock; but I have got a most valuable memorandum."

The parental view was put thus:

GENEVA, Monday, August 20, 1849.


"I do not know if you have got all my letters, fully explaining to you in what way the want of a single letter, on two occasions, did so much mischief—made such havoc in our peace. I think my last Thursday's letter entered on it. We are grateful for many letters—that have come. It was merely the accident of the moment when first by illness and then by precipices we were most anxious—being exactly the moment the letters took it into their heads to be not forthcoming. Not writing so often would only keep us more in the dark, with little less anxiety. Please say if you get a letter every day...."

Space can hardly be afforded for more than samples of this voluminous correspondence, or interesting quotations might be given about the "ghost-hunt yesterday and a crystal-hunt to-day," and life at the Montanvert, until at last (August 28):

"I have taken my place in diligence for Thursday, and hope to be with you in good time. But I quite feel as if I were leaving home to go on a journey. I shall not be melancholy, however, for I have really had a good spell of it.... Dearest love to my mother. I don't intend to write again.

"Ever, my dearest father,

"Your most affectionate son,



"STONES OF VENICE" (1849-1851)

A book about Venice had been planned in 1845, during Ruskin's first long working visit. He had made so many notes and sketches both of architecture and painting that the material seemed ready to hand; another visit would fill up the gaps in his information; and two or three months' hard writing would work the subject off, and set him free to continue "Modern Painters." So before leaving home in 1849, he had made up his mind that the next work would be "The Stones of Venice," which, on the appearance of "The Seven Lamps," was announced by the publishers as in preparation.

He left home again early in October; by the end of November he was settled with his wife at Hotel Danieli, Venice, for the winter. He expected to find without much trouble all the information he wanted as to the dates, styles and history of Venetian buildings; but after consulting and comparing all the native writers, it appeared that the questions he asked of them were just the questions they were unprepared to answer, and that he must go into the whole matter afresh. So he laid himself out that winter for a thorough examination of St. Mark's and the Ducal Palace and the other remains—drawing, and measuring, and comparing their details.

His father had gone back to England in September out of health, and the letters from home did not report improvement. His mother, too, was beginning to fear the loss of her sight; and he could not stay away from them any longer. In February, 1850, he broke off his work in the middle of it, and returned to London. The rest of the year he spent in writing the first volume of "Stones of Venice," and in preparing the illustrations, together with "Examples of the Architecture of Venice," a portfolio of large lithographs and engravings in mezzotint and line, to accompany the work. It was most fortunate for Ruskin that his drawings could be interpreted by such men as Armytage and Cousen, Cuff and Le Keux, Boys and Lupton, and not without advantage to them that their masterpieces should be preserved in his works, and praised as they deserved in his prefaces. But these plates for "Stones of Venice" were in advance of the times. The publisher thought them "caviare to the general," so Mr. J.J. Ruskin told his son; but gave it as his own belief that "some dealers in Ruskins and Turners in 1890 will get great prices for what at present will not sell."

Early in 1850, his father, at his mother's desire, and with the help of W.H. Harrison, collected and printed his poems, with a number of pieces that still remained in MS., the author taking no part in this revival of bygones, which, for the sake of their associations, he was not anxious to recall—though his father still believed that he might have been a poet, and ought to have been one. This is the volume of "Poems J.R., 1850," so highly valued by collectors.

Another resurrection was "The King of the Golden River," which had lain hidden for the nine years of the Ars Poetica. He allowed it to be published, with woodcuts by the famous "Dicky" Doyle. The little book ran through three editions that year. The first issue must have been torn to rags in the nurseries of the last generation, since copies are so rare as to have brought ten guineas apiece instead of the six shillings at which they were advertised in 1850.

A couple of extracts from letters of 1850 will give some idea of Ruskin's impressions of London society and the Drawing Room:


"Horrible party last night—stiff—large—dull—fidgety—strange, —run-against-everybody-know-nobody sort of party. Naval people. Young lady claims acquaintance with me—I know as much of her as of Queen Pomare—Talk: get away as soon as I can—ask who she is—Lady (——);—as wise as I was before. Introduced to a black man with chin in collar. Black man condescending—I abuse different things to black man: chiefly the House of Lords. Black man says he lives in it—asks where I live—don't want to tell him—obliged—go away and ask who he is—(——); as wise as I was before. Introduced to a young lady—young lady asks if I like drawing—so away and ask who she is—Lady(——). Keep away, with back to wall and look at watch. Get away at last. Very sulky this morning—hope my father better—dearest love to you both."

"PARK STREET, 4 o'clock, (May, 1850).


"We got through gloriously, though at one place there was the most awkward crush I ever saw in my life—the pit at the Surrey, which I never saw, may perhaps show the like—nothing else. The floor was covered with the ruins of ladies' dresses, torn lace and fallen flowers. But Effie was luckily out of it, and got through unscathed—and heard people saying 'What a beautiful dress!' just as she got up to the Queen. It was fatiguing enough but not so awkward as I expected....

"The Queen looked much younger and prettier than I expected—very like her pictures, even like those which are thought to flatter most—but I only saw the profile—I could not see the front face as I knelt to her, at least without an upturning of the eyes which I thought would be unseemly—and there were but some two or three seconds allowed for the whole affair....

"The Queen gave her hand very graciously: but looked bored; poor thing, well she might be, with about a quarter of a mile square of people to bow to.

"I met two people whom I have not seen for many a day, Kildare and Scott Murray—had a chat with the former and a word with Murray, but nothing of interest...."

As one of the chief literary figures of the day, Ruskin could not avoid society, and, as he tells in "Praeterita," he was rewarded for the reluctant performance of his duties by meeting with several who became his lifelong friends. Chief among these he mentions Mr. and Mrs. Cowper-Temple, afterwards Lord and Lady Mount Temple. The acquaintance with Samuel Rogers, inauspiciously begun many years before, now ripened into something like friendship; Monckton Milnes (Lord Houghton) and other men of letters were met at Rogers' breakfasts. A little later a visit to the Master of Trinity, Whewell, at Cambridge, brought him into contact with Professer Willis, the authority on Gothic architecture, and other notabilities of the sister University. There also he met Mr. and Mrs. Marshall of Leeds (and Coniston); and he pursued his journey to Lincoln, with Mr. Simpson, whom he had met at Lady Davy's, and to Farnley for a visit to Mr. F.H. Fawkes, the owner of the celebrated collection of Turners (April, 1851).

In London he was acquainted with many of the leading artists and persons interested in art. Of the "teachers" of the day he was known to men so diverse as Carlyle—and Maurice, with whom he corresponded in 1815 about his "Notes on Sheepfolds"—and C.H. Spurgeon, to whom his mother was devoted. He was as yet neither a hermit, nor a heretic: but mixed freely with all sorts and conditions, with one exception, for Puseyites and Romanists were yet as heathen men and publicans to him; and he noted with interest, while writing his review of Venetian history, that the strength of Venice was distinctly Anti-Papal, and her virtues Christian but not Roman. Reflections on this subject were to have formed part of his great work, but the first volume was taken up with the a priori development of architectural forms; and the treatment in especial of Venetian matters had to be indefinitely postponed, until another visit had given him the opportunity of gathering his material.

Meanwhile, his wide sympathy had turned his mind toward a subject which then had received little attention, though since then loudly discussed—the reunion of (Protestant) Christians.

He put together his thoughts in a pamphlet on the text "There shall be one fold and one Shepherd," calling it, in allusion to his architectural studies, "Notes on the Construction of Sheepfolds." He proposed a compromise, trying to prove that the pretensions to priesthood on the high Anglican side, and the objections to episcopacy on the Presbyterian, were alike untenable; and hoped that, when once these differences—such little things he thought them—were arranged, a united Church of England might become the nucleus of a world-wide federation of Protestants, a civitas Dei, a New Jerusalem.

There were many who agreed with his aspirations: he received shoals of letters from sympathizing readers, most of them praising his aims and criticising his means. Others objected rather to his manner than to his matter; the title savoured of levity, and an art-critic writing on theology was supposed to be wandering out of his province. Tradition says that the "Notes" were freely bought by Border farmers under a rather laughable mistake; but surely it was no new thing for a Scotch reader to find a religious tract under a catching title. There were a few replies; one by Mr. Dyce, who defended the Anglican view with mild persiflage and the usual commonplaces. And there the matter ended, for the public. For Ruskin, it was the beginning of a train of thought which led him far. He gradually learnt that his error was not in asking too much, but in asking too little. He wished for a union of Protestants, forgetting the sheep that are not of that fold, and little dreaming of the answer he got, after many days, in "Christ's Folk in the Apennine."

Meanwhile the first volume of "Stones of Venice" had appeared, March, 1851. Its reception was indirectly described in a pamphlet entitled "Something on Ruskinism, with a 'Vestibule' in Rhyme, by an Architect" complaining bitterly of the "ecstasies of rapture" into which the newspapers had been thrown by the new work:

"Your book—since reviewers so swear—may be rational, Still, 'tis certainly not either loyal or national;"

for it did not join in the chorus of congratulation to Prince Albert and the British public on the Great Exhibition of 1851, the apotheosis of trade and machinery. The "Architect" finds also—what may surprise the modern reader who has not noticed that many an able work has been thought unreadable on its first appearance—that he cannot understand the language and ideas:

"Your style is so soaring—and some it makes sore— That plain folks can't make out your strange mystical lore."

He will allow the author to be quite right, when he finds something to agree upon; but the moment a sore point is touched, then Ruskin is "insane." In one respect the "Architect" hit the nail on the head: "Readers who are not reviewers by profession can hardly fail to perceive that Ruskinism is violently inimical to sundry existing interests."

The best men, we said, were the first to recognise Ruskin's genius. Let us throw into the opposite scale an opinion of more weight than the "Architect's," in a transcript of the original letter from Carlyle.

"CHELSEA, March 9, 1851.


"I did not know yesterday till your servant was gone that there was any note in the parcel; nor at all what a feat you had done! A loan of the gallant young man's Memoirs was what I expected; and here, in the most chivalrous style, comes a gift of them. This, I think, must be in the style prior to the Renaissance! What can I do but accept your kindness with pleasure and gratitude, though it is far beyond my deserts? Perhaps the next man I meet will use me as much below them; and so bring matters straight again! Truly I am much obliged, and return you many hearty thanks.

"I was already deep in the 'Stones'; and clearly purpose to hold on there. A strange, unexpected, and I believe, most true and excellent Sermon in Stones—as well as the best piece of schoolmastering in Architectonics; from which I hope to learn much in a great many ways. The spirit and purport of these critical studies of yours are a singular sign of the times to me, and a very gratifying one. Right good speed to you, and victorious arrival on the farther shore! It is a quite new 'Renaissance,' I believe, we are getting into just now: either towards new, wider manhood, high again as the eternal stars; or else into final death, and the (marsh?) of Gehenna for evermore! A dreadful process, but a needful and inevitable one; nor do I doubt at all which way the issue will be, though which of the extant nations are to get included in it, and which is to be trampled out and abolished in the process, may be very doubtful. God is great: and sure enough, the changes in the 'Construction of Sheepfolds' as well as in other things, will require to be very considerable.

"We are still labouring under the foul kind of influenza here, I not far from emancipated, my poor wife still deep in the business, though I hope past the deepest. Am I to understand that you too are seized? In a day or two I hope to ascertain that you are well again. Adieu; here is an interruption, here also is the end of the paper.

"With many thanks and regards."

[Signature cut away.]

As soon as the first volume of "Stones of Venice" and the "Notes on the Construction of Sheepfolds" were published, Ruskin took a short Easter holiday at Matlock, and set to work at a new edition of "Modern Painters." This was the fifth reprint of the first volume, and the third of vol. ii. They were carefully and conscientiously revised, and the Postscript indulged in a little triumph at the changed tone of public criticism upon Turner.

But it was too late to have been much service to the great artist himself. In 1845—after saying good-bye and "Why will you go to Switzerland? there will be such a fidge about you when you're gone"—Turner lost his health, and was never himself again. The last drawings he did for Ruskin (January, 1848), the "Bruenig" and the "Descent from the St. Gothard to Airolo," showed his condition unmistakably; and the lonely restlessness of the last, disappointing years were, for all his friends, a melancholy ending to a brilliant career. Ruskin wrote:

"This year (1851) he has no picture on the walls of the Academy; and the Times of May 3 says: 'We miss those works of INSPIRATION'!"

"We miss! Who misses? The populace of England rolls by to weary itself in the great bazaar of Kensington,[3] little thinking that a day will come when those veiled vestals and prancing amazons, and goodly merchandise of precious stones and gold, will all be forgotten as though they had not been; but that the light which has faded from the walls of the Academy is one which a million Koh-i-noors could not rekindle; and that the year 1851 will, in the far future, be remembered less for what it has displayed, than for what it has withdrawn."

[Footnote 3: The Great Exhibition in Hyde Park.]



The Times, in May 1851, missed "those works of inspiration," as Ruskin had at last taught people to call Turner's pictures. But the acknowledged mouthpiece of public opinion found consolation in castigating a school of young artists who had "unfortunately become notorious by addicting themselves to an antiquated style and an affected simplicity in painting.... We can extend no toleration to a mere servile imitation of the cramped style, false perspective, and crude colour of remote antiquity. We want not to see what Fuseli termed drapery 'snapped instead of folded'; faces bloated into apoplexy, or extenuated into skeletons; colour borrowed from the jars in a druggist's shop, and expression forced into caricature.... That morbid infatuation which sacrifices truth, beauty, and genuine feeling to mere eccentricity deserves no quarter at the hands of the public."

Ruskin knew nothing personally of these young innovators, and had not at first sight wholly approved of the apparently Puseyite tendency of Rossetti's "Ecce Ancilla Domini," Millais' "Carpenter's Shop," and Holman Hunt's "Early Christian Missionary," exhibited the year before. All these months he had been closely kept to his "Sheepfolds" and "Stones of Venice"; but now he was correcting the proofs of "Modern Painters," vol. i., as thus:

"Chapter the last, section 21: The duty and after privileges of all students.... Go to Nature in all singleness of heart, and walk with her laboriously and trustingly, having no other thoughts but how best to penetrate her meaning, and remember her instruction; rejecting nothing, selecting nothing, and scorning nothing; believing all things to be right and good, and rejoicing always in the truth."

And at Coventry Patmore's request he went to the Academy to look at the pictures in question. Yes; the faces were ugly: Millais' "Mariana" was a piece of idolatrous Papistry, and there was a mistake in the perspective. Collins' "Convent Thoughts"—more Popery; but very careful—"the tadpole too small for its age"; but what studies of plants! And there was his own "Alisma Plantago," which he had been drawing for "Stones of Venice" (vol. i., plate 7) and describing: "The lines through its body, which are of peculiar beauty, mark the different expansions of its fibres, and are, I think, exactly the same as those which would be traced by the currents of a river entering a lake of the shape of the leaf, at the end where the stalk is, and passing out at its point." Curvature was one of the special subjects of Ruskin, the one he found most neglected by ordinary artists. The "Alisma" was a test of observation and draughtsmanship. He had never seen it so thoroughly or so well drawn, and heartily wished the study were his.

Looking again at the other works of the school, he found that the one mistake in the "Mariana" was the only error in perspective in the whole series of pictures; which could not be said of any twelve works, containing architecture, by popular artists in the exhibition; and that, as studies both of drapery and of every other minor detail, there had been nothing in art so earnest or so complete as these pictures since the days of Albert Duerer.

He went home, and wrote his verdict in a letter to The Times (May 9, 1851). Next day he asked the price of Hunt's "Two Gentlemen of Verona," and Millais' "Return of the Dove." On the 13th his letter appeared in The Times, and on the 26th he wrote again, pointing out beauties, and indications of power in conception, and observation of Nature, and handling, where at first he, like the rest of the public, had been repelled by the wilful ugliness of the faces. Meanwhile the Pre-Raphaelites wrote to tell him that they were neither Papists nor Puseyites. The day after his second letter was published he received an ill-spelt missive, anonymously abusing them. This was the sort of thing to interest his love of poetical justice. He made the acquaintance of several of the Brethren. "Charley" Collins, as his friends affectionately called him, was the son of a respected R.A., and the brother of Wilkie Collins; himself afterwards the author of a delightful book of travel in France, "A Cruise upon Wheels." Millais turned out to be the most gifted, charming and handsome of young artists. Holman Hunt was already a Ruskin-reader, and a seeker after truth, serious and earnest in his religious nature as in his painting.

The Pre-Raphaelites were not, originally, Ruskin's pupils, nor was their movement, directly, of his creation. But it was the outcome of a general tendency which he, more than any man, had helped to set in motion; and it was the fulfilment, though in a way he had not expected, of his wishes.

His attraction to Pre-Raphaelitism was none the less real because it was sudden, and brought about partly by personal influence. And in re-arranging his art-theory to take them in, he had before his mind rather what he hoped they would become than what they were. For a time, his influence over them was great; their first three years were their own; their next three years were practically his; and some of them, the weaker brethren, leaned upon him until they lost the command of their own powers. No artist can afford to use another man's eyes; still less, another man's brain and heart. Ruskin, great as an exponent, was in no sense a master of artists; and if he cheered on the men, who, he believed, were the best of the time, it did not follow that he should be saddled with the responsibility of directing them.

The famous pamphlet on "Pre-Raphaelitism" of August, 1851, showed that the same motives of Sincerity impelled both the Pre-Raphaelite Brethren and Turner and, in a degree, men so different as Prout, old Hunt, and Lewis. All these were opposed to the Academical School who worked by rule of thumb; and they differed among one another only in differences of physical power and moral aim. Which was all perfectly true, and much truer than the cheap criticism which could not see beyond superficial differences, or the fossil theories of the old school. But Pre-Raphaelitism was an unstable compound, liable to explode upon the experimenter, and its component parts to return to their old antithesis of crude naturalism on the one hand, and affectation of piety or poetry or antiquarianism, on the other. And that their new champion did not then foresee. All he knew was that, just when he was sadly leaving the scene, Turner gone and night coming on, new lights arose. It was really far more noteworthy that Millais and Rossetti and Hunt were men of genius, than that the "principles" they tried to illustrate were sound, and that Ruskin divined their power, and generously applauded them.

Immediately after finishing the pamphlet on "Pre-Raphaelitism," he left for the Continent with his wife and friends, the Rev. and Mrs. Daniel Moore; spent a fortnight in his beloved Savoy, with the Pritchards; and then crossed the Alps with Charles Newton. On the 1st of September he was at Venice, for a final spell of labour on the palaces and churches. After spending a week with Rawdon Brown he settled at Casa Wetzler, Campo Sta. Maria Zobenigo, and during the autumn and winter not only worked extremely hard at his architecture, but went with his wife into Austrian and Italian society and saw many distinguished visitors. One of them, whom he lectured on the shortcomings of the Renaissance, was Dean Milman. "I am amused at your mode of ciceronizing the Dean of St. Paul's," wrote his father, who kept up the usual close correspondence, and made himself useful in looking up books of reference and consulting authorities like Mr. James Fergusson—for these chapters of easy eloquence were not written without a world of pains. The engravers and the business department of the new publications also required his co-operation, for they were now becoming large ventures. During the three and a half years preceding the summer of 1851 Ruskin seems to have spent L1,680 of profits from his books, making by his writings at this period only about a third of his annual outlay; so that the estimated cost of these great illustrated volumes, some L1,200, was a matter of anxiety to his father, who, together with the publisher, deprecated large plates and technical details, and expressed some impatience to see results from this visit to Venice. He looked eagerly for every new chapter or drawing as it was sent home for criticism. Some passages, such as the description of the Calle San Moise ("Stones of Venice," II. iv,) were unfavourably received by him. Another time he says, "You have a very great difficulty now in writing any more, which is to write up to yourself": or again,—"Smith reports slow sale of 'Stones of Venice' (vol. I.) and 'Pre-Raphaelitism.' The times are sorely against you. The Exhibition has impoverished the country, and literature of a saleable character seems chiefly confined to shilling books in green paper, to be had at railway stations. Smith will have an account against us." He always sent adverse press-notices, on the principle that it was good for John: and every little discouragement or annoyance was discussed in full.

The most serious news, threatening complete interruption of the work rapidly progressing in spite of all, was of Turner's death (December 19, 1851). Old Mr. Ruskin heard of it on the 21st, a "dismal day" to him, spent in sad contemplation of the pictures his son had taught him to love. Soon it came out that John Ruskin was one of the executors named in the will, with a legacy of L20 for a mourning ring:—"Nobody can say you were paid to praise," says his father. It was gossipped that he was expected to write Turner's biography—"five years' work for you," says the old man, full of plans for gathering material. But when one scandal after another reached his ears, he changed his tone, and suggested dropping personal details, and giving a "Life of his Art," in the intended third and final volume of "Modern Painters." Something of the sort was done in the Edinburgh Lectures and at the close of vol. v. of "Modern Painters": and the official life was left to Walter Thornbury, with which Mr. Ruskin perhaps did not wish to interfere. But he collected a mass of then unpublished material about Turner, which goes far to prove that the kindly view he took of the strange man's morbid and unhappy life was not without justification. At the time, so many legal complications developed that Ruskin was advised to resign his executorship; later on he was able to fulfil its duties as he conceived them, in arranging Turner's sketches for the National Gallery.

Others of his old artist-friends were now passing away. Early in January Mr. J.J. Ruskin called on William Hunt and found him feeble: "I like the little Elshie," he says, nicknaming him after the Black Dwarf, for Hunt was somewhat deformed:

"He is softened and humanized. There is a gentleness and a greater bonhomie—less reserve. I had sent him 'Pre-Raphaelitism.' He had marked it very much with pencil. He greatly likes your notice of people not keeping to their last. So many clever artists, he says, have been ruined by not acting on your principles. I got a piece of advice from Hunt,—never to commission a picture. He could not have done my pigeon so well had he felt he was doing it for anybody."

The pigeon was a drawing he had just bought; in later years at Brantwood.

In February 1852 a dinner-party was given to celebrate in his absence John Ruskin's thirty-third birthday.

"On Monday, 9th, we had Oldfield (Newton was in Wales), Harrison, George Richmond, Tom, Dr. Grant, and Samuel Prout. The latter I never saw in such spirits, and he went away much satisfied. Yesterday at church we were told that he came home very happy, ascended to his painting-room, and in a quarter of an hour from his leaving our cheerful house was a corpse, from apoplexy. He never spoke after the fit came on. He had always wished for a sudden death."

Next year, in November, 1853, he tells of a visit paid, by John's request, to W.H. Deverell, the young Pre-Raphaelite, whom he found "in squalor and sickness—with his Bible open—and not long to live—while Howard abuses his picture at Liverpool."

Early in 1852 Charles Newton was going to Greece on a voyage of discovery, and wanted John Ruskin to go with him. But the parents would not hear of his adventuring himself at sea "in those engine-vessels." So Newton went alone, and "dug up loads of Phoenician antiquities." One cannot help regretting that Ruskin lost this opportunity of familiarizing himself with the early Greek art which, twenty years later he tried to expound. For the time he was well enough employed on the "Stones of Venice." He tells the story of this ten months' stay in a letter to his venerable friend Rogers the poet, dated June 23 (1852).

"I was out of health and out of heart when I first got here. There came much painful news from home, and then such a determined course of bad weather, and every other kind of annoyance, that I never was in a temper fit to write to anyone: the worst of it was that I lost all feeling of Venice, and this was the reason both of my not writing to you and of my thinking of you so often. For whenever I found myself getting utterly hard and indifferent I used to read over a little bit of the 'Venice' in the 'Italy' and it put me always into the right tone of thought again, and for this I cannot be enough grateful to you. For though I believe that in the summer, when Venice is indeed lovely, when pomegranate blossoms hang over every garden-wall, and green sunlight shoots through every wave, custom will not destroy, or even weaken, the impression conveyed at first; it is far otherwise in the length and bitterness of the Venetian winters. Fighting with frosty winds at every turn of the canals takes away all the old feelings of peace and stillness; the protracted cold makes the dash of the water on the walls a sound of simple discomfort, and some wild and dark day in February one starts to find oneself actually balancing in one's mind the relative advantages of land and water carriage, comparing the Canal with Piccadilly, and even hesitating whether for the rest of one's life one would rather have a gondola within call or a hansom."

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse