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

He then goes on to lament the decay of Venice, the idleness and dissipation of the populace, the lottery gambling; and to forebode the "destruction of old buildings and erection of new" changing the place "into a modern town—a bad imitation of Paris." Better than that he thinks would be utter neglect; St. Mark's Place would again be, what it was in the early ages, a green field, and the front of the Ducal Palace and the marble shafts of St. Mark's would be rooted in wild violets and wreathed with vines:

"She will be beautiful again then, and I could almost wish that the time might come quickly, were it not that so many noble pictures must be destroyed first.... I love Venetian pictures more and more, and wonder at them every day with greater wonder; compared with all other paintings they are so easy, so instinctive, so natural; everything that the men of other schools did by rule and called composition, done here by instinct and only called truth.

"I don't know when I have envied anybody more than I did the other day the directors and clerks of the Zecca. There they sit at inky deal desks, counting out rolls of money, and curiously weighing the irregular and battered coinage of which Venice boasts; and just over their heads, occupying the place which in a London countinghouse would be occupied by a commercial almanack, a glorious Bonifazio—'Solomon and the Queen of Sheba'; and in a less honourable corner three old directors of the Zecca, very mercantile-looking men indeed, counting money also, like the living ones, only a little more living, painted by Tintoret; not to speak of the scattered Palma Vecchios, and a lovely Benedetto Diana which no one ever looks at. I wonder when the European mind will again awake to the great fact that a noble picture was not painted to be hung, but to be seen? I only saw these by accident, having been detained in Venice by soma obliging person who abstracted some [of his wife's jewels] and brought me thereby into various relations with the respectable body of people who live at the wrong end of the Bridge of Sighs—the police, whom, in spite of traditions of terror, I would very willingly have changed for some of those their predecessors whom you have honoured by a note in the 'Italy.' The present police appear to act on exactly contrary principles; yours found the purse and banished the loser; these don't find the jewels, and won't let me go away. I am afraid no punishment is appointed in Venetian law for people who steal time."

Mr. Ruskin returned to England in July, 1852, and settled next door to his old home on Herne Hill. He said he could not live any more in Park Street, with a dead brick wall opposite his windows. And so, under the roof where he wrote the first volume of "Modern Painters," he finished "Stones of Venice." These latter volumes give an account of St. Mark's and the Ducal Palace and other ancient buildings; a complete catalogue of Tintoret's pictures—the list he had begun in 1845; and a history of the successive styles of architecture, Byzantine, Gothic, and Renaissance, interweaving illustrations of the human life and character that made the art what it was.

The kernel of the work was the chapter on the Nature of Gothic; in which he showed, more distinctly than in the "Seven Lamps," and connected with a wider range of thought, suggested by Pre-Raphaelitism, the doctrine that art cannot be produced except by artists; that architecture, in so far as it is an art, does not mean mechanical execution, by unintelligent workmen, from the vapid working-drawings of an architect's office; and, just as Socrates postponed the day of justice until philosophers should be kings and kings philosophers, so Ruskin postponed the reign of art until workmen should be artists, and artists workmen.



CHAPTER VI

THE EDINBURGH LECTURES (1853-1854)

By the end of June, 1853, "Stones of Venice" was finished, as well as a description of Giotto's works at Padua, written for the Arundel Society. The social duties of the season were over; Ruskin and his wife went north to spend a well-earned holiday. At Wallington in Northumberland, staying with Sir Walter and Lady Trevelyan, he met Dr. John Brown at Edinburgh, author of "Pet Marjorie" and other well-known works, who became his lifelong friend. Ruskin invited Millais, by this time an intimate and heartily-admired friend,[4] to join them at Glenfinlas. Ruskin devoted himself first to foreground studies, and made careful drawings of rock-detail; and then, being asked to give a course of lectures before the Philosophical Society of Edinburgh, he was soon busy writing once more, and preparing the cartoon-sketches, "diagrams" as he called them, to illustrate his subjects. Dr. Acland had joined the party; and he asked Millais to sketch their host as he stood contemplatively on the rocks with the torrent thundering beside him. The picture with additional work in the following winter, became the well-known portrait in the possession of Sir Henry Acland, much the best likeness of this early period.

[Footnote 4: "What a beauty of a man he is!" wrote old Mr. Ruskin, "and high in intellect.... Millais' sketches are 'prodigious'! Millais is the painter of the age." "Capable, it seems to me, of almost everything, if his life and strength be spared," said the younger Ruskin to Miss Mitford.]

Another portrait was painted—in words—by one of his audience at Edinburgh on November 1, when he gave the opening lecture of his course, his first appearance on the platform. The account is extracted from the Edinburgh Guardian of November 19, 1853:

"Before you can see the lecturer, however, you must get into the hall, and that is not an easy matter, for, long before the doors are opened, the fortunate holders of season tickets begin to assemble, so that the crowd not only fills the passage, but occupies the pavement in front of the entrance and overflows into the road. At length the doors open, and you are carried through the passage into the hall, where you take up, of course, the best available position for seeing and hearing.... After waiting a weary time ... the door by the side of the platform opens, and a thin gentleman with light hair, a stiff white cravat, dark overcoat with velvet collar, walking, too with a slight stoop, goes up to the desk, and looking round with a self-possessed and somewhat formal air, proceeds to take off his great-coat, revealing thereby, in addition to the orthodox white cravat, the most orthodox of white waistcoats.... 'Dark hair, pale face, and massive marble brow—that is my ideal of Mr. Ruskin,' said a young lady near us. This proved to be quite a fancy portrait, as unlike the reality as could well be imagined, Mr. Ruskin has light sand-coloured hair; his face is more red than pale; the mouth well-cut, with a good deal of decision in its curve, though somewhat wanting in sustained dignity and strength; an aquiline nose; his forehead by no means broad or massive, but the brows full and well bound together; the eye we could not see, in consequence of the shadows that fell upon his countenance from the lights overhead, but we are sure it must be soft and luminous, and that the poetry and passion we looked for almost in vain in other features must be concentrated there.[5] After sitting for a moment or two, and glancing round at the sheets on the wall as he takes off his gloves, he rises, and leaning slightly over the desk, with his hands folded across, begins at once,—'You are proud of your good city of Edinburgh,' etc.

[Footnote 5: "Mary Russell Mitford found him as a young man 'very eloquent and distinguished-looking, tall, fair, and slender, with a gentle playfulness, and a sort of pretty waywardness that was quite charming.' Sydney Dobell, again, in 1852, discovered an earnestness pervading every feature, giving power to a face that otherwise would be merely lovable for its gentleness. And, finally, one who visited him at Denmark Hill characterized him as emotional and nervous, with a soft, genial eye, a mouth 'thin and severe,' and a voice that, though rich and sweet, yet had a tendency to sink into a plaintive and hopeless tone,"—Literary World, May 19, 1893.]

"And now for the style of the lecture.... Properly speaking, there were two styles essentially distinct, and not well blended,—a speaking and a writing style; the former colloquial and spoken off-hand; the latter rhetorical and carefully read in quite a different voice,—we had almost said intoned.... He has a difficulty in sounding the letter 'r'; [and there is a] peculiar tone in the rising and falling of his voice at measured intervals, in a way scarcely ever heard except in the public lection of the service appointed to be read in churches. These are the two things with which, perhaps you are most surprised,—his dress and manner of speaking—both of which (the white waistcoat notwithstanding) are eminently clerical. You naturally expect, in one so independent, a manner free from conventional restraint, and an utterance, whatever may be the power of voice, at least expressive of a strong individuality; and you find instead a Christ Church man of ten years' standing, who has not yet taken orders; his dress and manner derived from his college tutor, and his elocution from the chapel-reader."

The lectures were a summing up, in popular form, of the chief topics of Ruskin's thought during the last two years. The first (November 1) stated, with more decision and warmth than part of his audience approved, his plea for the Gothic Revival, for the use of Gothic as a domestic style. The next lecture, given three days later, went on to contrast the wealth of ornament in mediaeval buildings with the poor survivals of conventionalized patterns which did duty for decoration in nineteenth-century "Greek" architecture; and he raised a laugh by comparing a typical stonemason's lion with a real tiger's head, drawn in the Edinburgh zoological gardens by Mr. Millais.

The last two lectures, on November 15 and 18, were on Painting; briefly reviewing the history of landscape and the life and aims of Turner; and finally, Christian art and Sincerity in imagination, which was now put forth as the guiding principle of Pre-Raphaelitism.

Public opinion was violently divided over these lectures; and they were the cause of much trouble at home. The fact of his lecturing at all aroused strong opposition from his friends and remonstrances from his parents. Before the event his mother wrote: "I cannot reconcile myself to the thought of your bringing yourself personally before the world till you are somewhat older and stronger." Afterwards, his father, while apologizing for the word "degrading," is disgusted at his exposing himself to such an interruption as occurred, and to newspaper comments and personal references. The notion of an "itinerant lecturer" scandalizes him. He hears from Harrison and Holding that John is to lecture even at their very doors—in Camberwell. "I see small bills up," he writes, "with the lecturers' names; among them Mr. —— who gets your old clothes!" And he bids him write to the committee that his parents object to his fulfilling the engagement. He postponed his lecture—for ten years; but accepted the Presidency of the Camberwell Institute, which enabled him to appear at their meetings without offence to any.

While staying at Edinburgh, Mr. Ruskin met the various celebrities of modern Athens, some of them at the table of his former fellow-traveller in Venice, Mrs. Jameson. He then returned home to prepare the lectures for printing.

These lectures as published in April, 1854 were fiercely assailed by the old school; but a more serious blow fell on him before that month was out. His wife returned to her parents and instituted a suit against him, to which he made no answer. The marriage was annulled in July. A year later she married Millais.

In May (1854) the Pre-Raphaelites again needed his defence. Mr. Holman Hunt exhibited the "Light of the World" and the "Awakening Conscience." Ruskin made them the theme of two more letters to The Times; mentioning, by the way, the "spurious imitations of Pre-Raphaelite work" which were already becoming common. Starting for his summer tour on the Continent, in the Simmenthal he wrote a pamphlet on the opening of the Crystal Palace. There had been much rejoicing over the "new style of architecture" in glass and iron, and its purpose as a palace of art. Ruskin who had declined, in the last chapter of the "Seven Lamps," to join in the cry for a new style, was not at all ready to accept this as any real artistic advance; and took the opportunity to plead again for the great buildings of the past, which were being destroyed or neglected, while the British public was glorifying its gigantic greenhouse. The pamphlet practically suggested the establishment of the Society for the preservation of ancient buildings, which has since come into operation.

This summer of 1854 he projected a study of Swiss history: to tell the tale of six chief towns—Geneva, Fribourg, Basle, Thun, Baden and Schaffhausen, to which in 1858 he added Rheinfelden and Bellinzona. He intended to illustrate the work with pictures of the places described. He began with his drawing of Thun, a large bird's-eye view of the town with its river and bridges, roofs and towers, all exquisitely defined with the pen, and broadly coloured in fluctuating tints that seem to melt always into the same aerial blue; the blue, high up the picture, beyond the plain, deepening into distant mountains.

But his father wanted to see "Modern Painters" completed, and so he began his third volume at Vevey, with the discussion of the grand style, in which he at last broke loose from Reynolds, as was inevitable, after his study of Pre-Raphaelitism, and all the varied experiences of the last ten years. The lesson of the Tulse Hill ivy had been brought home to him in many ways: he had found it to be more and more true that Nature is, after all, the criterion of art, and that the greatest painters were always those whose aim, so far as they were conscious of an aim, was to take fact for their starting-point. Idealism, beauty, imagination, and the rest, though necessary to art, could not, he felt, be made the object of study; they were the gift of heredity, of circumstances, of national aspirations and virtues; not to be produced by the best of rules, or achieved by the best of intentions.

What his own view of his own work was can be gathered from a letter to an Edinburgh student, written on August 6, 1854:

"I am sure I never said anything to dissuade you from trying to excel or to do great things. I only wanted you to be sure that your efforts were made with a substantial basis, so that just in the moment of push your footing might not give way beneath you; and also I wanted you to feel that long and steady effort made in a contented way does more than violent effort made from some strong motive and under some enthusiastic impulse. And I repeat—for of this I am perfectly sure—that the best things are only to be done in this way. It is very difficult thoroughly to understand the difference between indolence and reserve of strength, between apathy and severity, between palsy and patience; but there is all the difference in the world; and nearly as many men are ruined by inconsiderate exertions as by idleness itself. To do as much as you can heartily and happily do each day in a well-determined direction, with a view to far-off results, with present enjoyment of one's work, is the only proper, the only essentially profitable way."



CHAPTER VII

THE WORKING MEN'S COLLEGE (1854-1855)

Philanthropic instincts, and a growing sense of the necessity for social reform, had led Ruskin for some years past towards a group of liberal thinkers with whom he had little otherwise in common. At Venice, in 1852, he had written several articles on education, taxation, and so forth, with which he intended to plunge into active politics. His father, like a cautious man of business who knew his son's powers and thought he knew their limitations, was strongly opposed to this attempt, and used every argument against it. He appealed to his son's sensitiveness, and assured him that he would be "flayed" unless he wrapped himself in the hide of a rhinoceros. He assured him that, without being on the spot to follow the discussions of politicians, it was useless to offer them any opinions whatsoever. And he ended by declaring that it would be the ruin of his business and of his peace of mind if the name of Ruskin were mixed up with Radical electioneering: not that he was unwilling to suffer martyrdom for a cause in which he believed, but he did not believe in the movements afoot—neither the Tailors' Cooperative Society, in which their friend F.J. Furnivall was interested, nor in any outcome of Chartism or Chartist principles. And so for a time the matter dropped.

In 1854, the Rev. F.D. Maurice founded the Working Men's College. Mr. Furnivall sent the circulars to John Ruskin; who thereupon wrote to Maurice, and offered his services. At the opening lecture on October 31, 1854, at St. Martin's Hall, Long Acre, Furnivall distributed to all comers a reprint of the chapter "On the Nature of Gothic," which we have already noticed as a statement of the conclusions drawn from the study of art respecting the conditions under which the life of the workman should be regulated. Ruskin thus appeared as contributing, so to say, the manifesto of the movement.

He took charge from the commencement of the drawing-classes—first at 31 Red Lion Square, and afterwards at Great Ormond Street; also super-intending classes taught by Messrs. Jeffery and E. Cooke at the Working Women's (afterwards the Working Men and Women's) College, Queen Square.

In this labour he had two allies; one a friend of Maurice's, Lowes Dickinson, the well-known artist, whose portrait of Maurice was mentioned with honour in the "Notes on the Academy"; his portrait of Kingsley hangs in the hall of the novelist-professor's college at Cambridge. The other helper was new friend.

To people who know him only as the elegant theorist of art, sentimental and egotistic, as they will have it, there must be something strange, almost irreconcilable, in his devotion, week after week and year after year, to these night-classes. Still more must it astonish them to find the mystic author of the "Blessed Damozel," the passionate painter of the "Venus Verticordia," working by Ruskin's side in this rough navvy-labour of philanthropy.

It was early in 1854 that a drawing of D.G. Rossetti was sent to Ruskin by a friend of the painter's. The critic already knew Millais and Hunt personally, but not Rossetti. He wrote kindly, signing himself "yours respectfully," which amused the young painter. He made acquaintance, and in the appendix to his Edinburgh Lectures placed Rossetti's name with those of Millais and Hunt, especially praising their imaginative power, as rivalling that of the greatest of the old masters.

He did more than this. He agreed to buy, up to a certain sum every year, any drawings that Rossetti brought him, at their market price; and his standard of money-value for works of art has never been niggardly. This sort of help, the encouragement to work, is exactly what makes progress possible to a young and independent artist; it is better for him than fortuitous exhibition triumphs—much better than the hack-work which many have to undertake, to eke out their livelihood. And the mere fact of being bought by the eminent art-critic was enough to encourage other patrons.

"He seems in a mood to make my fortune," said Rossetti in the spring of 1854; and early in 1855 Ruskin wrote:

"It seems to me that, of all the painters I know, you on the whole have the greatest genius; and you appear to me also to be—as far as I can make out—a very good sort of person, I see that you are unhappy, and that you can't bring out your genius as you should. It seems to me then the proper and necessary thing, if I can, to make you more happy; and that I shall be more really useful in enabling you to paint properly, and keep your room in order, than in any other way."

He did his best to keep that room in order in every sense. Anxious to promote the painter's marriage with Miss Siddal—"Princess Ida," as Ruskin called her—he offered a similar arrangement to that which he had made with Rossetti; and began in 1855 to give her L150 a year in exchange for drawings up to that value. Rossetti's poems also found a warm admirer and advocate. In 1856, "The Burden of Nineveh" was published anonymously in the Oxford and Cambridge Magazine; Ruskin wrote to Rossetti that it was "glorious" and that he wanted to know who was the author,—perhaps not without a suspicion that he was addressing the man who could tell. In 1861 he guaranteed, or advanced, the cost of "The Early Italian Poets," up to L100, with Smith and Elder; and endeavoured, but unsuccessfully, to induce Thackeray to find a place for other poems in The Cornhill Magazine.

Mr. W.M. Rossetti, in his book on his brother "as Designer and Writer" and in his "Family Letters," draws a pleasant picture of the intimacy between the artist and the critic. "At one time," he says, "I am sure they even loved one another." But in 1865 Rossetti, never very tolerant of criticism and patronage, took in bad part his friend's remonstrances about the details of "Venus Verticordia." Eighteen months later, Ruskin tried to renew the old acquaintance. Rossetti did not return his call; and further efforts on Ruskin's part, up to 1870, met with little response. But the lecture on Rossetti in "The Art of England" shows that on one side at least "their parting," as Mr. W.M. Rossetti says, "was not in anger;" and the portrait of 1861, now in the Oxford University Galleries, will remain as a memorial of the ten years' friendship of the two famous men.

At Red Lion Square, during Lent term, 1855, the three teachers worked together every Thursday evening. With the beginning of the third term, March 29, the increase of the class made it more convenient to divide their forces. Rossetti thenceforward taught the figure on another night of the week; while the elementary and landscape class continued to meet on Thursdays under Ruskin and Lowes Dickinson. In 1856 the elementary and landscape class was further divided, Mr. Dickinson taking Tuesday evenings, and Ruskin continuing the Thursday class, with the help of William Ward as under-master. Later on, G. Allen, J. Bunney, and W. Jeffrey were teachers. Burne-Jones, met in 1856 at Rossetti's studio, was also pressed into the service for a time.

There were four terms in the Working Men's College year, the only vacation, except for the fortnight at Christmas, being from the beginning of August to the end of October. Ruskin did not always attend throughout the summer term, though sometimes his class came down to him into the country to sketch. He kept up the work without other intermission until May, 1858, after which the completion of "Modern Painters" and many lecture-engagements took him away for a time. In the spring of 1860 he was back at his old post for a term; but after that he discontinued regular attendance, and went to the Working Men's College only at intervals, to give addresses or informal lectures to students and friends. On such occasions the "drawing-room" or first floor of the house in which the College was held would be always crowded, with an audience who heard the lecturer at his best; speaking freely among friends out of a full treasure-house "things new and old"—accounts of recent travel, lately-discovered glories of art, and the growing burden of the prophecy that in those years was beginning to take more definite shape in his mind.

As a teacher, Ruskin spared no pains to make the work interesting. He provided—Mr. E. Cooke informs me that he was the first to provide—casts from natural leaves and fruit in place of the ordinary conventional ornament; and he sent a tree to be fixed in a corner of the class-room for light and shade studies. Mr. W. Ward in the preface to the volume of letters already quoted says that he used to bring his minerals and shells, and rare engravings and drawings, to show them.

"His delightful way of talking about these things afforded us most valuable lessons. To give an example: he one evening took for his subject a cap, and with pen and ink showed us how Rembrandt would have etched, and Albert Duerer engraved it. This at once explained to us the different ideas and methods of the two masters. On another evening he would take a subject from Turner's 'Liber Studiorum,' and with a large sheet of paper and some charcoal, gradually block in the subject, explaining at the same time the value and effect of the lines and masses."

And for sketching from nature he would take his class out into the country, and wind up with tea and talk. "It was a treat to hear and see him with his men," writes Dr. Furnivall.

His object in the work, as he said before the Royal Commission on National Institutions, was not to make artists, but to make the workmen better men, to develop their powers and feelings,—to educate them, in short. He always has urged young people intending to study art as a profession to enter the Academy Schools, as Turner and the Pre-Raphaelites did, or to take up whatever other serious course of practical discipline was open to them. But he held very strongly that everybody could learn drawing, that their eyes could be brightened and their hands steadied, and that they could be taught to appreciate the great works of nature and of art, without wanting to make pictures or to exhibit and sell them.

It was with this intention that he wrote the "Elements of Drawing" in 1856, supplemented by the "Elements of Perspective" in 1859; the illustrations for the book were characteristic sketches by the author, beautifully cut by his pupil, W.H. Hooper, who was one of a band of engravers and copyists formed by these classes at the Working Men's College. In spite of the intention not to make artists by his teaching, Ruskin could not prevent some of his pupils from taking up art as a profession; and those who did so became, in their way, first-rate men. George Allen as a mezzotint engraver, Arthur Burgess as a draughtsman and wood-cutter, John Bunney as a painter of architectural detail, W. Jeffery as an artistic photographer, E. Cooke as a teacher, William Ward as a facsimile copyist, have all done work whose value deserves acknowledgment, all the more because it was not aimed at popular effect, but at the severe standard of the greater schools. But these men were only the side issue of the Working Men's College enterprise. Its real result was in the proof that the labouring classes could be interested in Art; and that the capacity shown by the Gothic workman had not entirely died out of the nation, in spite of the interregnum, for a full century, of manufacture. And the experience led Ruskin forward to wider views on the nature of the arts, and on the duties of philanthropic effort and social economy.



CHAPTER VIII

"MODERN PAINTERS" CONTINUED (1855-1856)

It was in the year 1855 that Ruskin first published "Notes on the Royal Academy and other Exhibitions." He had been so often called upon to write his opinion of Pre-Raphaelite pictures, either privately or to the newspapers, or to mark his friends' catalogues, that he found at last less trouble in printing his notes once for all. The new plan was immediately popular; three editions of the pamphlet were called for between June 1 and July 1. Next year he repeated the "Notes" and six editions were sold.

In spite of a dissentient voice here and there, he was really by that time recognised as the leading authority upon taste in painting. He was trusted by a great section of the public, who had not failed to notice how completely he and his friends were winning the day. The proof of it was in the fact that they were being imitated on all sides; Ruskinism in writing and Pre-Raphaelitism in painting were becoming fashionable.

But at the same time the movement gave rise to the Naturalist-landscape school, a group of painters who threw overboard the traditions of Turner and Prout, Constable and Harding, and the rest, just as the Pre-Raphaelite Brethren threw over the Academical masters. For such men their study was their picture; they devised tents and huts in wild glens and upon waste moors, and spent weeks in elaborating their details directly from nature, instead of painting at home from sketches on the spot.

This was the fulfilment of his advice to young artists; and so far as young artists worked in this way, for purposes of study, he encouraged them. But he did not fail to point out that this was not all that could be required of them. Even such a work as Brett's "Val d'Aosta," marvellous as it was in observation and finish, was only the beginning of a new era, not its consummation. It was not the painting of detail that could make a great artist; but the knowledge of it, and the masterly use of such knowledge. A great landscapist would know the facts and effects of nature, just as Tintoret knew the form of the human figure; and he would treat them with the same freedom, as the means of expressing great ideas, of affording by the imagination noble grounds for noble emotion, which, as Ruskin had been writing at Vevey in 1854, was poetry. Meanwhile the public and the critic ought to become familiar with the aspects of nature, in order to recognise the difference between the true poetry of painting, and the mere empty sentimentalism which was only the rant and bombast of landscape art.

With such feelings as these he wrote the third and fourth volumes of "Modern Painters," (published respectively January 15 and April 14, 1856). The work was afterwards interrupted only by a recurrence of his old cough, in the exceptionally cold summer of 1855. He went down to Tunbridge Wells, where his cousin, William Richardson of Perth, was practising as a doctor; it was not long before the cough gave way to treatment, and he was as busy as ever. About October of that year he wrote to Mrs. Carlyle as follows, in a letter printed by Professor C.E. Norton, conveniently summing up his year:

"Not that I have not been busy—and very busy, too. I have written, since May, good six hundred pages, had them rewritten, cut up, corrected, and got fairly ready for press—and am going to press with the first of them on Gunpowder Plot day, with a great hope of disturbing the Public Peace in various directions. Also, I have prepared above thirty drawings for engravers this year, retouched the engravings (generally the worst part of the business), and etched some on steel myself. In the course of the six hundred pages I have had to make various remarks on German Metaphysics, on Poetry, Political Economy, Cookery, Music, Geology, Dress, Agriculture, Horticulture, and Navigation,[6] all of which subjects I have had to 'read up' accordingly, and this takes time. Moreover, I have had my class of workmen out sketching every week in the fields during the summer; and have been studying Spanish proverbs with my father's partner, who came over from Spain to see the Great Exhibition. I have also designed and drawn a window for the Museum at Oxford; and have every now and then had to look over a parcel of five or six new designs for fronts and backs to the said Museum.

[Footnote 6: Most of these subjects will be easily recognised in "Modern Painters," Vols. III. and IV. The "Navigation" refers to the "Harbours of England."]

"During my above-mentioned studies of horticulture, I became dissatisfied with the Linnaean, Jussieuan, and Everybody-elseian arrangement of plants, and have accordingly arranged a system of my own; and unbound my botanical book, and rebound it in brighter green, with all the pages through-other, and backside foremost—so as to cut off all the old paging numerals; and am now printing my new arrangement in a legible manner, on interleaved foolscap. I consider this arrangement one of my great achievements of the year. My studies of political economy have induced me to think also that nobody knows anything about that; and I am at present engaged in an investigation, on independent principles, of the natures of money, rent, and taxes, in an abstract form, which sometimes keeps me awake all night. My studies of German metaphysics have also induced me to think that the Germans don't know anything about them; and to engage in a serious enquiry into the meaning of Bunsen's great sentence in the beginning of the second volume of the 'Hippolytus,' about the Finite realization of Infinity; which has given me some trouble.

"The course of my studies of Navigation necessitated my going to Deal to look at the Deal boats; and those of geology to rearrange all my minerals (and wash a good many, which, I am sorry to say, I found wanted it). I have also several pupils, far and near, in the art of illumination; an American young lady to direct in the study of landscape painting, and a Yorkshire young lady to direct in the purchase of Turners,—and various little bye things besides. But I am coming to see you."

The tone of humorous exaggeration of his discoveries and occupations was very characteristic. But he was then growing into the habit of leaving the matter in hand, as he often did afterwards, to follow side issues, and to take up new studies with a hasty and divided attention; the result of which was seen in his sub-title for the third volume of "Modern Painters"—"Of Many Things"; which amused his readers not a little. But that he still had time for his friends is seen in the account of a visit to Denmark Hill, written this year by James Smetham.

"I walked there through the wintry weather, and got in about dusk. One or two gossiping details will interest you before I give you what I care for; and so I will tell you that he has a large house with a lodge, and a valet and footman and coachman, and grand rooms glittering with pictures, chiefly Turner's, and that his father and mother live with him, or he with them.... His father is a fine old gentleman, who has a lot of bushy gray hair, and eyebrows sticking up all rough and knowing, with a comfortable way of coming up to you with his hands in his pockets, and making you comfortable, and saying, in answer to your remark, that 'John's' prose works are pretty good. His mother is a ruddy, dignified, richly dressed old gentlewoman of seventy-five, who knows Chamonix better than Camberwell; evidently a good old lady, with the 'Christian Treasury'tossing about on the table. She puts 'John' down, and holds her own opinions, and flatly contradicts him; and he receives all her opinions with a soft reverence and gentleness that is pleasant to witness....

"I wish I could reproduce a good impression of 'John' for you, to give you the notion of his 'perfect gentleness and lowlihood.' He certainly bursts out with a remark, and in a contradictious way, but only because he believes it, with no air of dogmatism or conceit. He is different at home from that which he is in a lecture before a mixed audience, and there is a spiritual sweetness in the half-timid expression of his eyes; and in bowing to you, as in taking wine, with (if I heard aright) 'I drink to thee,' he had a look that has followed me, a look bordering on tearful.

"He spent some time in this way. Unhanging a Turner from the wall of a distant room, he brought it to the table and put it in my hands; then we talked; then he went up into his study to fetch down some illustrative print or drawing; in one case, a literal view which he had travelled fifty miles to make, in order to compare with the picture. And so he kept on gliding all over the house, hanging and unhanging, and stopping a few minutes to talk."

And yet there were many with whom he had to deal who did not look at things in his light; who took his criticism as personal attack, and resented it with bitterness. There is a story told (but not by himself) about one of the "Notes on the Academy," which he was then publishing—how he wrote to an artist therein mentioned that he regretted he could not speak more favourably of his picture, but he hoped it would make no difference in their friendship. The artist replied (so they say) in these terms: "Dear Ruskin,—Next time I meet you, I shall knock you down; but I hope it will make no difference in our friendship." "Damn the fellow! why doesn't he stand up for his friends?" said another disappointed acquaintance. Perhaps Ruskin, secure in his "house with a lodge, and a valet and footman and coachman," hardly realized that a cold word from his pen sometimes meant the failure of an important Academy picture, and serious loss of income—that there was bitter truth underlying Punch's complaint of the Academician:

"I paints and paints. Hears no complaints, And sells before I'm dry; Till savage Ruskin Sticks his tusk in, And nobody will buy."

Against these incidents should be set such an anecdote as the following, told by Mr. J.J. Ruskin in a letter of June 3, 1858:

"Vokins wished me to name to you that Carrick, when he read your criticism on 'Weary Life,' came to him with the cheque Vokins had given, and said your remarks were all right, and that he could not take the price paid by Vokins the buyer; he would alter the picture. Vokins took back the money, only agreeing to see the picture when it was done."

John Ruskin in reply said he did not see why Carrick should have returned the cheque.

A letter from Mrs. Browning describes a visit to Denmark Hill, and ends,—"I like Mr. Ruskin very much, and so does Robert; very gentle, yet earnest—refined and truthful. I like him very much. We count him one among the valuable acquaintances made this year in England." This has been dated 1855; but Ruskin, writing to Miss Mitford from Glenfinlas, 17th August, 1853, says, "I had the pleasure this spring, of being made acquainted with your dear Elizabeth Browning, as well as with her husband. I was of course prepared to like her, but I did not expect to like him as much as I did. I think he is really a very fine fellow, and she is the only sensible woman I have yet met with on the subject of Italian politics. Evidently a noble creature in all things." In June, 1850, he had met Robert Browning, on the invitation of Coventry Patmore, and said: "He is the only person whom I have ever heard talk ration-ally about the Italians, though on the Liberal side."

In these volumes of "Modern Painters" he had to discuss the Mediaeval and Renaissance spirit in its relation to art, and to illustrate from Browning's poetry, "unerring in every sentence he writes of the Middle Ages, always vital and right and profound; so that in the matter of art there is hardly a principle connected with the mediaeval temper that he has not struck upon in those seemingly careless and too rugged lines of his." This was written twenty-five years before the Browning Society was heard of, and at a time when the style of Browning was an offence to most people. To Ruskin, also, it had been some, thing of a puzzle; and he wrote to the poet, asking him to explain himself; which the poet accordingly did.

That Ruskin was open to conviction and conversion could be shown from the difference in his tone of thought about poetry before and after this period; that he was the best of friends with the man who took him to task for narrowness, may be seen from the following letter, written on the next Christmas Eve:

"MY DEAR MR. RUSKIN,

"Your note having just arrived, Robert deputes me to write for him while he dresses to go out on an engagement. It is the evening. All the hours are wasted, since the morning, through our not being found at the Rue de Grenelle, but here—and our instinct of self-preservation or self-satisfaction insists on our not losing a moment more by our own fault.

"Thank you, thank you for sending us your book, and also for writing my husband's name in it. It will be the same thing as if you had written mine—except for the pleasure, as you say, which is greater so. How good and kind you are!

"And not well. That is worst. Surely you would be better if you had the summer in winter we have here. But I was to write only a word—Let it say how affectionately we regard you.

"ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING

"3, RUE DU COLYSEE,

"Thursday Evening, 24th" (December, 1855).



CHAPTER IX

"THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF ART" (1857-1858)

The humble work of the drawing-classes at Great Ormond Street was teaching Ruskin even more than he taught his pupils. It was showing him how far his plans were practicable; how they should be modified; how they might be improved; and especially what more, beside drawing-classes, was needed to realize his ideal. He was anxiously willing to co-operate with every movement, to join hands with any kind of man, to go anywhere, do anything that might promote the cause he had at heart.

Already at the end of 1854 he had given three lectures, his second course, at the Architectural Museum, specially addressed to workmen in the decorative trades. His subjects were design and colour, and his illustrations were chiefly drawn from mediaeval illumination, which he had long been studying. These were informal, quasi-private affairs, which nevertheless attracted notice owing to the celebrity of the speaker. It would have been better if his addresses had been carefully prepared and authentically published; for a chance word here and there raised replies about matters of detail in which his critics thought they had gained a technical advantage, adding weight to his father's desire not to see him "expose himself" in this way. There were no more lectures until the beginning of 1857.

On January 23rd, 1857, he spoke before the Architectural Association upon "The Influence of Imagination in Architecture," repeating and amplifying what he had said at Edinburgh about the subordinate value of proportion, and the importance of sculptured ornament based on natural forms. This of course would involve the creation of a class of stone-carvers who could be trusted with the execution of such work. Once grant the value of it, and public demand would encourage the supply, and the workmen would raise themselves in the effort.

A louder note was sounded in an address at the St. Martin's School of Art, Castle Street, Long Acre (April 3rd, 1857), where, speaking after George Cruikshank, his old friend—practically his first master—and an enthusiastic philanthropist and temperance advocate, Ruskin gave his audience a wider view of art than they had known before: "the kind of painting they most wanted in London was painting cheeks red with health." This was anticipating the standpoint of the Oxford Lectures, and showed how the inquiry was beginning to take a much broader aspect.

Another work in a similar spirit, the North London School of Design, had been prosperously started by a circle of men under Pre-Raphaelite influence, and led by Thomas Seddon. He had given up historical and poetic painting for naturalistic landscape, and had returned from the East with the most valuable studies completed, only to break down and die prematurely. His friends, among them Holman Hunt, were collecting money to buy from the widow his picture of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, to present it to the National Gallery as a memorial of him; and at a meeting for the purpose, Ruskin spoke warmly of his labours in the cause of the working classes.

In the summer of 1857 the Art Treasures Exhibition was held at Manchester, and Ruskin was invited to lecture. The theme he chose was "The Political Economy of Art." He had been studying political economy for some time back, but, as we saw from his letter to Carlyle, he had found no answer in the ordinary text-books for the questions he tried to put. He wanted to know what Bentham and Ricardo and Mill, the great authorities, would advise him as to the best way of employing artists, of educating workmen, of elevating public taste, of regulating patronage; but these subjects were not in their programme. And so he put together his own thoughts into two lectures upon Art considered as Wealth: first, how to get it; next, how to use it.[7]

[Footnote 7: July 10 and 13, 1857. He went to Manchester from Oxford, where he had been staying with the Liddells, writing enthusiastically of the beauty of their children and the charm of their domestic life.]

There were very few points in these lectures that were not vigorously contested at the moment, and conceded in the sequel—in some form or other. The paternal function of government, the right of the state to interfere in matters beyond its traditional range, its duty with regard to education—all this was quite contrary to the prevailing habits of thought of the time, especially at Manchester, the headquarters of the laissez faire school; but to Ruskin, who, curiously enough, had just then been referring sarcastically to German philosophy, knowing it only at second-hand, and unaware of Hegel's political work—to him this Platonic conception of the state was the only possible one, as it is to most people nowadays. In the same way, his practical advice has been accepted, perhaps unwittingly, by our times. We do now understand the difference between artistic decoration and machine-made wares; we do now try to preserve ancient monuments, and to use art as a means of education. And we are in a fair way, it seems, of lowering the price of modern pictures, as he bids us, to "not more than L500 for an oil picture and L100 for a water-colour."

After a visit to the Trevelyans at Wallington he went with his parents to Scotland; for his mother, now beginning to grow old, wanted to revisit the scenes of her youth. They went to the Highlands and as far north as the Bay of Cromarty, and then returned by way of the Abbeys of the Lowlands, to look up Turner sites, as he had done in 1845 on the St. Gothard. From the enjoyment of this holiday he was recalled to London by a letter from Mr. Wornum saying that he could arrange the Turner drawings at the National Gallery.

His first letter on the National Gallery, in 1847, has been noticed. He had written again to The Times (December 29th, 1852), pressing the same point—namely, that if the pictures were put under glass no cleaning nor restoring would be needed; and that the Gallery ought not to be considered as a grand hall, decorated with pictures, but as a convenient museum, with a chronological sequence of the best works of all schools,—every picture hung on the line and accompanied by studies for it, if procurable, and engravings from it.

Now—in 1857—question was raised of removing the National Gallery from Trafalgar Square. The South Kensington Museum was being formed, and the whole business of arranging the national art treasures was gone into by a Royal Commission, consisting of Lord Broughton (in the chair), Dean Milman, Prof. Faraday, Prof. Cockerell, and George Richmond. Ruskin was examined before them on April 6th, and re-stated the opinions he had written to The Times, adding that he would like to see two National Galleries—one of popular interest, containing such works as would catch the public eye and enlist the sympathy of the untaught; and another containing only the cream of the collections, in pictures, sculpture and the decorative crafts, arranged for purposes of study. This was suggested as an ideal; of course, it would involve more outlay, and less display, than any Parliamentary vote would sanction, or party leader risk.

Another question of importance was the disposal of the pictures and sketches which Turner had left to the nation. Ruskin was one of the executors under the will; but, on finding that, though Turner's intention was plain, there were technical informalities which would make the administration anything but easy, he declined to act. It was not until 1856 that the litigation was concluded, and Turner's pictures and sketches were handed to the Trustees of the National Gallery. Ruskin, whose want of legal knowledge had made his services useless before, now felt that he could carry out the spirit of Turner's will by offering to arrange the sketches; which were in such a state of confusion that only some person with knowledge of the artist's habits of work and subjects could, so to speak, edit them; and the editor would need no ordinary skill, patience and judgment, into the bargain.

Meanwhile, for that winter (1856-7) a preliminary exhibition was held of Turner's oil-paintings, with a few water-colours, at Marlborough House, then the headquarters of the Department of Science and Art, soon afterwards removed to South Kensington. Ruskin wrote a catalogue, with analysis of Turner's periods of development and characteristics; which made the collection intelligible and interesting to curious sight-seers. They showed their appreciation by taking up five editions in rapid succession.

Just before lecturing at Manchester, he wrote again on the subject to The Times; and in September his friend R.N. Wornum, Director of the National Gallery in succession to Eastlake and Uwins, wrote—as we saw—that he might arrange the sketches as he pleased. He returned from Scotland, and set to work on October 7th.

It was strange employment for a man of his powers; almost as removed from the Epicurean Olympus of "cultured ease" popularly assigned to him, as night-school teaching and lecturing to workmen. But, beside that it was the carrying out of Turner's wishes, he always had a certain love for experimenting in manual toil; and this was work in which his extreme neatness and deftness of hand was needed, no less than his knowledge and judgment. During the winter for full six months, he and his two assistants worked, all day and every day, among the masses of precious rubbish that had been removed from Queen Anne Street to the National Gallery.

Mr. J.J. Ruskin wrote, on February 19 and 21, 1852:

"I have just been through Turner's house with Griffith. His labour is more astonishing than his genius. There are L80,000 of oil pictures done and undone—Boxes half as big as your Study Table, filled with Drawings and Sketches. There are Copies of Liber Studiorum to fill all your Drawers and more, and House Walls of proof plates in Reams—they may go at 1/-each....

"Nothing since Pompeii so impressed me as the interior of Turner's house; the accumulated dust of 40 years partially cleared off; Daylight for the first time admitted by opening a window on the finest productions of art buried for 40 years. The Drawing Room has, it is reckoned, L25,000 worth of proofs, and sketches, and Drawings, and Prints. It is amusing to hear Dealers saying there can be no Liber Studiorums—when I saw neatly packed and well labelled as many Bundles of Liber Studiorum as would fill your entire Bookcase, and England and Wales proofs in packed and labelled Bundles like Reams of paper, as I told you, piled nearly to Ceiling ...

"The house must be dry as a Bone—the parcels were apparently quite uninjured. The very large pictures were spotted, but not much. They stood leaning against another in the large low Rooms. Some finished go to Nation, many unfinished not: no frames. Two are given unconditional of Gallery Building—very fine: if (and this is a condition) placed beside Claude. The style much like the laying on in Windmill Lock in Dealer's hands, which, now it is cleaned, comes out a real Beauty. I believe Turner loved it. The will desires all to be framed and repaired and put into the best showing state; as if he could not release his money to do this till he was dead. The Top of his Gallery is one ruin of Glass and patches of paper, now only just made weather-proof ...

"I saw in Turner's Rooms, Geo. Morlands and Wilsons and Claudes and portraits in various stiles all by Turner. He copied every man, was every man first, and took up his own style, casting all others away. It seems to me you may keep your money and revel for ever and for nothing among Turner's Works."

Among the quantities so recklessly thrown aside for dust, damp, soot, mice and worms to destroy—some 15,000 Ruskin reckoned at first, 19,000 later on—there were many fine drawings, which had been used by the engravers, and vast numbers of interesting and valuable studies in colour and in pencil. Four hundred of these were extricated from the chaos, and with infinite pains cleaned, flattened, mounted, dated and described, and placed in sliding frames in cabinets devised by Ruskin, or else in swivel frames, to let both sides of the paper be seen. The first results of the work were shown in an Exhibition at Marlborough House during the winter, for which he wrote another catalogue. Of the whole collection he began a more complete account, which was too elaborate to be finished in that form; but in 1881 he published a "Catalogue of the Drawings and Sketches of J M.W. Turner, R.A., at present exhibited in the National Gallery," so that his plan was practically fulfilled.

During 1858 Ruskin continued to lecture at various places on subjects connected with his Manchester addresses—the relation of art to manufacture, and especially the dependence of all great architectural design upon sculpture or painting of organic form. The first of the series was given at the opening of the Architectural Museum at South Kensington, January 13th, 1858, entitled "The Deteriorative Power of Conventional Art over Nations;" in which he showed that naturalism, as opposed to meaningless pattern-making, was always a sign of life. For example, the strength of the Greek, Florentine and Venetian art arose out of the search for truth, not, as it is often supposed, out of striving after an ideal of beauty; and as soon as nature was superseded by recipe, the greatest schools hastened to their fall. From which he concluded that modern design should always be founded on natural form, rather than upon the traditional patterns of the east or of the mediaevals.

On February 16th he spoke on "The Work of Iron, in Nature, Art and Policy," at Tunbridge Wells; a subject similar to that of his address to the St. Martin's School of the year before, but amplified into a plea for the use of wrought-iron ornament, as in the new Oxford Museum, then building, and on April 25th he again addressed St. Martin's School.

The Oxford Museum was an experiment in the true Gothic revival. The architects, Sir Thomas Deane and Benjamin Woodward, had allowed their workmen to design parts of the detail, such as capitals and spandrils, quite in the spirit of Ruskin's teaching, and the work was accordingly of deep interest to him. So far back as April, 1856, he had given an address to the men employed at the Museum, whom he met, on Dr. Acland's invitation, at the Workmen's Reading Rooms. He said that his object was not to give some labouring men the chance of becoming masters of other labouring men, and to help the few at the expense of the many, but to lead them to those sources of pleasure, and power over their own minds and hands, that more educated people possess. He did not sympathize with the socialism that had been creeping into vogue since 1848. He thought existing social arrangements good, and he agreed with his friends, the Carlyles, who had found that it was only the incapable who could not get work. But it was the fault of the wealthy and educated that working people were not better trained; it was not the working-men's fault, at bottom. The modern architect used his workman as a mere tool; while the Gothic spirit set him free as an original designer, to gain—not more wages and higher social rank, but pleasure and instruction, the true happiness that lies in good work well done.

To explain the design of the Oxford Museum and to enlist support, he wrote two letters to Dr. Acland (May 25th, 1858, and January 20th, 1859), which formed part of a small book, reporting its aims and progress, illustrated with an engraving of one of the workmen's capitals. Ruskin himself contributed both time and money to the work, and his assistance was not unrecognised. In 1858 "Honorary Studentships" (i.e., fellowships) were created at Christ Church by the Commissioners' ordinances. At the first election held, December 6th, 1858, there were chosen for the compliment Ruskin, Gladstone, Sir G. Cornewall Lewis, Dr. (Sir) H.W. Acland, and Sir F.H. Gore Ouseley. At the second, December 15th, 1858, were elected Henry Hallam, the Earl of Stanhope, the Earl of Elgin, the Marquis of Dalhousie and Viscount Canning.

Parallel with this movement for educating the "working-class," there was the scheme for the improvement of middle-class education, which was then going on at Oxford—the beginning of University Extension—supported by the Rev. F. Temple (later Archbishop of Canterbury), and Mr. (afterwards Sir) Thomas Dyke Acland. Ruskin was heartily for them; and in a letter on the subject, he tried to show how the teaching of Art might be made to work in with the scheme. He did not think that in this plan, any more than at the Working Men's College, there need be an attempt to teach drawing with a view to forming artists; but there were three objects they might hold in view: the first, to give every student the advantage of the happiness and knowledge which the study of Art conveys; the next, to enforce some knowledge of Art amongst those who were likely to become patrons or critics; and the last, to leave no Giotto lost among hill shepherds.



CHAPTER X

"MODERN PAINTERS" CONCLUDED (1838-1860)

Oxford and old friends did not monopolise Ruskin's attention: he was soon seen at Cambridge—on the same platform with Richard Redgrave, R.A., the representative of Academicism and officialism—at the opening of the School of Art for workmen on October 29th, 1858. His Inaugural Address struck a deeper note, a wider chord, than previous essays; it was the forecast of the last volume of "Modern Painters," and it sketched the train of thought into which he had been led during his tour abroad, that summer.

The battles between faith and criticism, between the historical and the scientific attitudes, which had been going on in his mind, were taking a new form. At the outset, we saw, naturalism overpowered respect for tradition—in the first volume of "Modern Painters;" then the historical tendency won the day, in the second volume. Since that time, the critical side had been gathering strength, by his alliance with liberal movements and by his gradual detachment from associations that held him to the older order of thought. As in his lonely journey of 1845 he first took independent ground upon questions of religion and social life, so in 1858, once more travelling alone, he was led by his meditations,—freed from the restraining presence of his parents—to conclusions which he had been all these years evading, yet finding at last inevitable.

He went abroad for a third attempt to write and illustrate his History of Swiss Towns. He spent part of May on the Upper Rhine between Basle and Schaffhausen, June and half of July on the St. Gothard route and at Bellinzona. In reflecting over the sources of Swiss character, as connected with the question of the nature of art and its origin in morality, he was struck with the fact that all the virtues of the Swiss did not make them artistic. Compared with most nations they were as children in painting, music and poetry. And, indeed, they ranked with the early phases of many great nations—the period of pristine simplicity "uncorrupted by the arts."

From Bellinzona he went to Turin on his way to the Vaudois Valleys, where he meant to compare the Waldensian Protestants with the Swiss. Accidentally he saw Paul Veronese's "Queen of Sheba" and other Venetian pictures; and so fell to comparing a period of fully ripened art with one of artlessness; discovering that the mature art, while it appeared at the same time with decay in morals, did not spring from that decay, but was rooted in the virtues of the earlier age. He grasped a clue to the puzzle, in the generalisation that Art is the product of human happiness; it is contrary to asceticism; it is the expression of pleasure. But when the turning point of national progress is once reached, and art is regarded as the laborious incitement to pleasure,—no longer the spontaneous blossom and fruit of it,—the decay sets in for art as for morality. Art, in short, is created by pleasure, not for pleasure. The standard of thought, the attitude of mind, of the Waldensians, he now perceived to be quite impossible for himself. He could not look upon every one outside their fold as heathens and publicans; he could not believe that the pictures of Paul Veronese were works of iniquity, nor that the motives of great deeds in earlier ages were lying superstitions. He took courage to own to himself and others that it was no longer any use trying to identify his point of view with that of Protestantism. He saw both Protestants and Roman Catholics, in the perspective of history, converging into a primitive, far distant, ideal unity of Christianity, in which he still believed; but he could take neither side, after this.

The first statement of the new point of view was, as we said, the Inaugural Lecture of the Cambridge School of Art. The next important utterance was at Manchester, February 22nd, 1859, where he spoke on the "Unity of Art," by which he meant—not the fraternity of handicrafts with painting, as the term is used nowadays—but that, in whatever branch of Art, the spirit of Truth or Sincerity is the same. In this lecture there is a very important passage showing how he had at last got upon firm ground in the question of art and morality: "I do NOT say in the least that in order to be a good painter you must be a good man; but I do say that in order to be a good natural painter there must be strong elements of good in the mind, however warped by other parts of the character." So emphatic a statement deserves more attention than it has received from readers and writers who assume to judge Ruskin's views after a slight acquaintance with his earlier works. He was well aware himself that his mind had been gradually enlarging, and his thoughts changing; and he soon saw as great a difference between himself at forty and at twenty-five, as he had formerly seen between the Boy poet and the Art critic. He became as anxious to forget his earlier books, as he had been to forget his verse-writing; and when he came to collect his "Works," these lectures, under the title of "The Two Paths," were (with "The Political Economy of Art") the earliest admitted into the library.

After this Manchester lecture he took a driving tour in Yorkshire—posting in the old-fashioned way—halting at Bradford for the lecture on "Modern Manufacture and Design" (March 1st), and ending with a visit to the school at Winnington, of which more in a later chapter.

In 1859 the last Academy Notes, for the time being, were published. The Pre-Raphaelite cause had been fully successful, and the new school of naturalist landscape was rapidly asserting itself. Old friends were failing, such as Stanfield, Lewis, and Roberts: but new men were growing up, among whom Ruskin welcomed G.D. Leslie, F. Goodall, J.C. Hook,—who had come out of his "Pre-Raphaelite measles" into the healthy naturalism of "Luff Boy!"—Clarence Whaite, Henry Holiday, and John Brett, who showed the "Val d'Aosta." Millais' "Vale of Rest" was the picture which attracted most notice: something of the old rancour against the school was revived in the Morning Herald, which called his works "impertinences," "contemptible," "indelible disgrace," and so on. It was the beginning of a transition from the delicacy of the Pre-Raphaelite Millais to his later style; and as such the preacher of "All great art is delicate" could not entirely defend it. But the serious strength of the imagination and the power of the execution he praised with unexpected warmth.

He then started on the last tour abroad with his parents. He had been asked, rather pointedly, by the National Gallery Commission, whether he had seen the great German museums, and had been obliged to reply that he had not. Perhaps it occurred to him or to his father that he ought to see the pictures at Berlin and Dresden and Munich, even though he heartily disliked the Germans with their art and their language and everything that belonged to them,—except Holbein and Duerer. By the end of July the travellers were in North Switzerland; and they spent September in Savoy, returning home by October 7th.

Old Mr. Ruskin was now in his seventy-fifth year and his desire was to see the great work finished before he died. There had been some attempt to write this last volume of "Modern Painters" in the previous winter, but it had been put off until after the visit to Germany had completed a study of the great Venetian painters—especially Titian and Veronese. Now at last, in the autumn of 1859, he finally set to work on the writing.

The assertion of Turner's genius had been necessary in 1843, but Turner was long since dead; his fame was thoroughly vindicated; his bequest to the nation dealt with, so far as possible. Early Christian Art was recognised—almost beyond its claims. The Pre-Raphaelites and naturalistic landscapists no longer needed the hand which "Modern Painters" had held out to them by the way. Of the great triad of Venice, Tintoret had been expounded, Veronese and Titian were now taken up and treated with tardy, but ample recognition.

And now, after twenty years of labour, Ruskin had established himself as the recognised leader of criticism and the exponent of painting and architecture. He had created a department of literature all his own. He had enriched the art of England with examples of a new and beautiful draughtsmanship, and the language with passages of poetic description and eloquent declamation, quite, in their way, unrivalled. He had built up a theory of art, so far uncontested; and thrown new light on the Middle Ages and Renaissance, illustrating, in a way then novel, their chronicles by their remains. He had beaten down opposition, risen above detraction, and won the prize of honour—only to realise, as he received it, that the fight had been but a pastime tournament, after all; and to hear, through the applause, the enemy's trumpet sounding to battle. For now, without the camp, there were realities to face; as to Art—"the best in this kind are but shadows."



BOOK III

HERMIT AND HERETIC

(1860-1870)



CHAPTER I

"UNTO THIS LAST" (1860-1861)

At forty years of age Ruskin finished "Modern Painters." From that time art was sometimes his text, rarely his theme. He used it as the opportunity, the vehicle, so to say, for teachings of wider range and deeper import; teachings about life as a whole, conclusions in ethics and economics and religion, to which he sought to lead others, as he was led, by the way of art.

During the time when he was preaching his later doctrines, he wished to suppress the interfering evidences of the earlier. He let his works on art run out of print, not for the benefit of second-hand booksellers, but in the hope that he could fix his audience upon the burden of his prophecy for the time being. But the youthful works were still read; high prices were paid for them, or they were smuggled in from America. And when the epoch of "Fors" had passed, he agreed to the reprinting of all that early material. He called it obsolete and trivial; others find it interestingly biographical—perhaps even classical.

This year, then, 1860, the year of the Italian Kingdom, of Garibaldi, and of the beginning of the American war, marks his turning point, from the early work, summed up in the old "Selections," to the later work.

Until he was forty, Mr. Ruskin was a writer on art; after that his art was secondary to ethics. Until he was forty he was a believer in English Protestantism; afterwards he could not reconcile current beliefs with the facts of life as he saw them, and had to reconstruct his creed from the foundations. Until he was forty he was a philanthropist, working heartily with others in a definite cause, and hoping for the amendment of wrongs, without a social upheaval. Even in the beginning of 1860, in his evidence before the House of Commons Select Committee on Public Institutions, he was ready with plans for amusing and instructing the labouring classes, and noting in them a "thirsty desire" for improvement. But while his readiness to make any personal sacrifice, in the way of social and philanthropic experiment, and his interest in the question were increasing, he became less and less sanguine about the value of such efforts as the Working Men's College, and less and less ready to co-operate with others in their schemes. He began to see that no tinkering at social breakages was really worth while; that far more extensive repairs were needed to make the old ship seaworthy.

So he set himself, by himself, to sketch the plans for the repairs. Naturally sociable, and accustomed to the friendly give-and-take of a wide acquaintance, he withdrew from the busy world into a busier solitude. During the next few years he lived much alone among the Alps, or at home, thinking out the problem; sometimes feeling, far more acutely than was good for clear thought, the burden of the mission that was laid upon him. In March, 1863, he wrote from his retreat at Mornex to Norton:

"The loneliness is very great, and the peace in which I am at present is only as if I had buried myself in a tuft of grass on a battlefield wet with blood—for the cry of the earth about me is in my ears continually, if I do not lay my head to the very ground."

And a few months later:

"I am still very unwell, and tormented between the longing for rest and lovely life, and the sense of this terrific call of human crime for resistance and of human misery for help, though it seems to me as the voice of a river of blood which can but sweep me down in the midst of its black clots, helpless."

Sentences like these, passages here and there in the last volume of "Modern Painters," and still more, certain passages omitted from that volume, show that about 1860 something of a cloud had been settling over him,—a sense of the evil of the world, a horror of great darkness. In his earlier years, his intense emotion and vivid imagination had enabled him to read into pictures of Tintoret or Turner, into scenes of nature and sayings of great books, a meaning or a moral which he so vividly communicated to the reader as to make it thenceforward part and parcel of the subject, however it came there to begin with. It is useless to wonder whether Turner, for instance, consciously meant what Ruskin found in his works. A great painter does not paint without thought, and such thought is apt to show itself whether he will or no. But it needs imaginative sympathy to detect and describe the thought. And when that sympathy was given to suffering, to widespread misery, to crying wrongs; joined also with an intense passion for justice, which had already shown itself in the defence of slighted genius and neglected art; and to the Celtic temperament of some highstrung seer and trance-prophesying bard; it was no wonder that Ruskin became like one of the hermits of old, who retreated from the world to return upon it with stormy messages of awakening and flashes of truth more impressive, more illuminating than the logic of schoolmen and the state-craft of the wise.

And then he began to take up an attitude of antagonism to the world, he who had been the kindly helper and minister of delightful art. He began to call upon those who had ears to hear to come out and be separate from the ease and hypocrisy of Vanity Fair. Its respectabilities, its orthodoxies, he could no longer abide. Orthodox religion, orthodox morals and politics, orthodox art and science, alike he rejected; and was rejected by each of them as a brawler, a babbler, a fanatic, a heretic. And even when kindly Oxford gave him a quasi-academical position, it did not bring him, as it brings many a heretic, back to the fold.

In this period of storm and stress he stood alone. The old friends of his youth were one by one passing away, if not from intercourse, still from full sympathy with him in his new mood. His parents were no longer the guides and companions they had been; they did not understand the business he was about. And so he was left to new associates, for he could not live without some one to love,—that was the nature of the man, however lonely in his work and wanderings.

The new friends of this period were, at first, Americans; as the chief new friends of his latest period (the Alexanders) were American, too. Charles Eliot Norton, after being introduced to him in London in 1855, met him again by accident on the Lake of Geneva—the story is prettily told in "Praeterita." Ruskin adds:

"Norton saw all my weaknesses, measured all my narrownesses, and, from the first, took serenely, and as it seemed of necessity, a kind of paternal authority over me, and a right of guidance.... I was entirely conscious of his rectorial power, and affectionately submissive to it, so that he might have done anything with me, but for the unhappy difference in our innate, and unchangeable, political faiths."

So, after all, he stood alone.

Another friend about this time was Mrs. H. Beecher Stowe, to whom he wrote on June 18th, 1860, from Geneva:

"It takes a great deal, when I am at Geneva, to make me wish myself anywhere else, and, of all places else, in London; nevertheless, I very heartily wish at this moment that I were looking out on the Norwood Hills, and were expecting you and the children to breakfast to-morrow.

"I had very serious thoughts, when I received your note, of running home; but I expected that very day an American friend, Mr. Stillman, who, I thought, would miss me more here than you in London, so I stayed.

"What a dreadful thing it is that people should have to go to America again, after coming to Europe! It seems to me an inversion of the order of nature. I think America is a sort of 'United' States of Probation, out of which all wise people, being once delivered, and having obtained entrance into this better world, should never be expected to return (sentence irremediably ungrammatical), particularly when they have been making themselves cruelly pleasant to friends here. My friend Norton, whom I met first on this very blue lake water, had no business to go back to Boston again, any more than you....

"So you have been seeing the Pope and all his Easter performances! I congratulate you, for I suppose it is something like 'Positively the last appearance on any stage.' What was the use of thinking about him? You should have had your own thoughts about what was to come after him. I don't mean that Roman Catholicism will die out so quickly. It will last pretty nearly as long as Protestantism, which keeps it up; but I wonder what is to come next. That is the main question just now for everybody."

W.J. Stillman had been a correspondent about 1851,—"involved in mystical speculations, partly growing out of the second volume of 'Modern Painters,'" as he said of himself in an article on "John Ruskin" in the Century Magazine (January, 1888). With him Ruskin spent July and August of 1860 at Chamouni. He did but little drawing, and in the few sketches that remain of that summer there is evidence that his mind was far away from its old love of mountains and of streamlets. His lonely walks in the pinewoods of the Arveron were given to meditation on a great problem which had been set, as it seemed, for him to solve, ever since he had written that chapter on "The Nature of Gothic." Now at last, in the solitude of the Alps, he could grapple with the questions he had raised; and the outcome of the struggle was "Unto this Last."

The year before, from Thun and Bonneville and Lausanne (August and September, 1859) he had written letters to E.S. Dallas, suggested by the strikes in the London building trade. In these he appears to have sketched the outline of a new conception of social science, which he was now elaborating with more attempt at system and brevity than he had been accustomed to use.

These new papers, painfully thought out and carefully set down in his room at the Hotel de l'Union, he used—as long before he read his daily chapter to the breakfast party at Herne Hill—to read to Stillman: and he sent them to the Cornhill Magazine, started the year before by Smith and Elder. Ruskin had already contributed to it a paper on "Sir Joshua and Holbein," a stray chapter from Vol. V., "Modern Painters." His reputation as a writer and philanthropist, together with the friendliness of editor and publisher, secured the insertion of the first three,—from August to October. The editor then wrote to say that they were so unanimously condemned and disliked, that, with all apologies, he could only admit one more. The series was brought hastily to a conclusion in November: and the author, beaten back as he had never been beaten before, dropped the subject, and "sulked," so he called it, all the winter.

It is pleasant to notice that neither Thackeray, the editor nor Smith, the publisher quarrelled with the author who had laid them open to the censure of their public,—nor he with them. On December 21st, he wrote to Thackeray, in answer apparently, to a letter about lecturing for a charitable purpose: and continued:

"The mode in which you direct your charity puts me in mind of a matter that has lain long on my mind, though I never have had the time or face to talk to you of it. In somebody's drawing-room, ages ago, you were speaking accidentally of M. de Marvy.[8] I expressed my great obligation to him; on which you said that I could prove my gratitude, if I chose, to his widow,—which choice I then not accepting, have ever since remembered the circumstance as one peculiarly likely to add, so far as it went, to the general impression on your mind of the hollowness of people's sayings and hardness of their hearts. The fact is, I give what I give almost in an opposite way to yours. I think there are many people who will relieve hopeless distress for one who will help at a hopeful pinch; and when I have the choice I nearly always give where I think the money will be fruitful rather than merely helpful. I would lecture for a school when I would not for a distressed author; and would have helped De Marvy to perfect his invention, but not—unless I had no other object—his widow after he was gone. In a word, I like to prop the falling more than to feed the fallen."

[Footnote 8: Louis Marvy, an engraver, and political refugee after the French Revolution of 1848. He produced the plates, and Thackeray the text, of "Landscape Painters of England, in a series of steel engravings, with short Notices."]

The winter passed without any great undertaking. G.F. Watts proposed to add Ruskin's portrait to his gallery of celebrities; but he was in no mood to sit. Rossetti did, however, sketch him this year. In March he presented eighty-three Turner drawings to Oxford, and twenty-five to Cambridge. The address of thanks with the great seal of Oxford University is dated March 23rd, 1861; the Catalogue of the Cambridge collection is dated May 28th.

On April 2nd he addressed the St. George's Mission Working Men's Institute, and shortly afterwards, though at this time in a much enfeebled state of health, gave a lecture before "a most brilliant audience," as the London Review reported, at the Royal Institution (April 19th, 1861). Carlyle wrote to his brother John:

"Friday last I was persuaded—in fact had inwardly compelled myself as it were—to a lecture of Ruskin's at the Institution, Albemarle Street, Lecture on Tree Leaves as physiological, pictorial, moral, symbolical objects. A crammed house, but tolerable even to me in the gallery. The lecture was thought to 'break down,' and indeed it quite did 'as a lecture'; but only did from embarras de richesses—a rare case. Ruskin did blow asunder as by gunpowder explosions his leaf notions, which were manifold, curious, genial; and in fact, I do not recollect to have heard in that place any neatest thing I liked so well as this chaotic one."

Papers on "Illuminated Manuscripts" (read before the Society of Antiquaries on June 6th) and on "The Preservation of Ancient Buildings" (read to the Ecclesiological Society a fortnight later) show that old interests were not wholly forgotten, even in the stress of new pursuits, by this man of many-sided activity.

During May, 1861, he paid a visit to the school girls at Winnington, in June and July he took a holiday at Boulogne with the fisher folk, in August he went to Ireland as guest of the Latouches of Harristown, County Kildare, and in September he returned to the Alps, spending the rest of the year at Bonneville and Lucerne.



CHAPTER II

"MUNERA PULVERIS" (1862)

After an autumn among the Alps, hearing that the Turner drawings in the National Gallery had been mildewed, he ran home to see about them in January 1862; and was kept until the end of May. He found that his political economy work was not such a total failure as it had seemed. Froude, then editor of Fraser's Magazine, thought there was something in it, and would give him another chance. So, by way of a fresh start, he had his four Cornhill articles published in book form; and almost simultaneously, in June 1862 the first of the new series appeared.

The author had then returned to Lucerne with Mr. and Mrs. Burne-Jones, with whom he crossed the St. Gothard to Milan, where he tried to forget the harrowing of hell in a close study of Luini, and in copying the "St. Catherine" now at Oxford. Ruskin has never said so much about Luini as, perhaps, he intended. A short notice in the "Cestus of Aglaia," and occasional references scattered up and down his later works, hardly give the prominence in his writings that the painter held in his thoughts. It was about this time that he was made an Hon. Member of the Florentine Academy.

He re-crossed the Alps, and settled to his work on political economy at Mornex, where he spent the winter except for a short run home, which gave him the opportunity of addressing the Working Men's College on November 29.

His retreat is described in one of his letters home:

"MORNEX, August 31 (1862).

"MY DEAREST MOTHER,

"This ought to arrive on the evening before your birthday: it is not possible to reach you in the morning, not even by telegraph as I once did from Mont Cenis, for—(may Heaven be devoutly thanked therefore)—there are yet on Mont Saleve neither rails nor wires....

"The place I have got to is at the end of all carriage-roads, and I am not yet strong enough to get farther, on foot, than a five or six miles' circle, within which is assuredly no house to my mind. I cast, at first, somewhat longing eyes on a true Savoyard chateau—notable for its lovely garden and orchard—and its unspoiled, unrestored, arched gateway between two round turrets, and Gothic-windowed keep. But on examination of the interior—finding the walls, though six feet thick, rent to the foundation—and as cold as rocks, and the floors all sodden through with walnut oil and rotten-apple juice—heaps of the farm stores having been left to decay in the ci-devant drawing room, I gave up all medieval ideas, for which the long-legged black pigs who lived like gentlemen at ease in the passage, and the bats and spiders who divided between them the corners of the turret-stair, have reason—if they knew it—to be thankful.

"The worst of it is that I never had the gift, nor have I now the energy, to make anything of a place; so that I shall have to put up with almost anything I can find that is healthily habitable in a good situation. Meantime, the air here being delicious and the rooms good enough for use and comfort, I am not troubling myself much, but trying to put myself into better health and humour; in which I have already a little succeeded."

After describing the flowers of the Saleve he continues:

"My Father would be quite wild at the 'view' from the garden terrace—but he would be disgusted at the shut in feeling of the house, which is in fact as much shut in as our old Herne Hill one; only to get the 'view' I have but to go as far down the garden as to our old 'mulberry tree.' By the way there's a magnificent mulberry tree, as big as a common walnut, covered with black and red fruit on the other side of the road. Coutet and Allen are very anxious to do all they can now that Crawley is away; and I don't think I shall manage very badly," etc.

A little later he took in addition a cottage in which the Empress of Russia had once stayed: it commanded a finer view than the larger house, which has since been turned into a hotel (Hotel et Pension des Glycines). This place was for some time the hermitage in which he wrote his political economy. Of his lonely rambles he wrote later on:

"If I have a definite point to reach, and common work to do at it—I take people—anybody—with me; but all my best mental work is necessarily done alone; whenever I wanted to think, in Savoy, I used to leave Coutet at home. Constantly I have been alone on the Glacier des Bois—and far among the loneliest aiguille recesses. I found the path up the Brezon above Bonneville in a lonely walk one Sunday; I saw the grandest view of the Alps of Savoy I ever gained, on the 2nd of January, 1862, alone among the snow wreaths on the summit of the Saleve. You need not fear for me on 'Langdale Pikes' after that."

In September the second article appeared in Fraser. "Only a genius like Mr. Ruskin could have produced such hopeless rubbish," says a newspaper of the period. Far worse than any newspaper criticism was the condemnation of Denmark Hill. His father, whose eyes had glistened over early poems and prose eloquence, strongly disapproved of this heretical economy. It was a bitter thing that his son should become prodigal of a hardly earned reputation, and be pointed at for a fool. And it was intensely painful for a son "who had never given his father a pang that could be avoided," as old Mr. Ruskin had once written, to find his father, with one foot in the grave, turning against him. In December the third paper appeared. History repeated itself, and with the fourth paper the heretic was gagged. A year after, his father died; and these Fraser articles were laid aside until the end of 1871, when they were taken up again, and published on New Year's Day 1872, as "Munera Pulveris."

From the outset, however, he was not without supporters. Carlyle wrote on June 30, 1862:

"I have read, a month ago, your First in Fraser, and ever since have had a wish to say to it and you, Euge macte nova virtute. I approved in every particular; calm, definite, clear; rising into the sphere of Plato (our almost best), wh'h in exchange for the sphere of Macculloch, Mill and Co. is a mighty improvement! Since that, I have seen the little green book, too; reprint of your Cornhill operations,—about 2/3 of wh'h was read to me (known only from what the contradict'n of sinners had told me of it);—in every part of wh'h I find a high and noble sort of truth, not one doctrine that I can intrinsically dissent from, or count other than salutary in the extreme, and pressingly needed in Engl'd above all."

Erskine of Linlathen wrote to Carlyle, August 7th, 1862:

"I am thankful for any unveiling of the so-called science of political economy, according to which, avowed selfishness is the Rule of the World. It is indeed most important preaching—to preach that there is not one God for religion and another God for human fellowship—and another God for buying and selling—that pestilent polytheism has been largely and confidently preached in our time, and blessed are those who can detect its mendacities, and help to disenchant the brethren of their power...."

J.A. Froude, then editor of Fraser, and to his dying day Mr. Ruskin's intimate and affectionate friend, wrote to him on October 24 (1862?):

"The world talks of the article in its usual way. I was at Carlyle's last night.... He said that in writing to your father as to subject he had told him that when Solomon's temple was building it was credibly reported that at least 10,000 sparrows sitting on the trees round declared that it was entirely wrong—quite contrary to received opinion—hopelessly condemned by public opinion, etc. Nevertheless it got finished and the sparrows flew away and began to chirp in the same note about something else."



CHAPTER III

THE LIMESTONE ALPS (1863)

Our hermit among the Alps of Savoy differed in one respect from his predecessors. They, for the most part, saw nothing in the rocks and stones around them except the prison walls of their seclusion; he could not be within constant sight of the mountains without thinking over the wonders of their scenery and structure. And it was well for him that it could be so. The terrible depression of mind which his social and philanthropic work had brought on, found a relief in the renewal of his old mountain-worship. After sending off the last of his Fraser papers, in which, when the verdict had twice gone against him, he tried to show cause why sentence should not be passed, the strain was at its severest. He felt, as few others not directly interested felt, the sufferings of the outcast in English slums and Savoyard hovels; and heard the cry of the oppressed in Poland and in Italy: and he had been silenced. What could he do but, as he said in the letters to Norton, "lay his head to the very ground," and try to forget it all among the stones and the snows?

He wandered about geologizing, and spent a while at Talloires on the Lake of Annecy, where the old Abbey had been turned into an inn, and one slept in a monk's cell and meditated in the cloister of the monastery, St. Bernard of Menthon's memory haunting the place, and St. Germain's cave close by in the rocks above. At the end of May he came back to England, and was invited to lecture again at the Royal Institution. The subject he chose was "The Stratified Alps of Savoy."

At that time many distinguished foreign geologists were working at the Alps; but little of conclusive importance had been published, except in papers embedded in Transactions of various societies. Professor Alphonse Favre's great work did not appear until 1867, and the "Mechanismus der Gebirgsbildung" of Professor Heim not till 1878; so that for an English public the subject was a fresh one. To Ruskin it was familiar: he had been elected a Fellow of the Geological Society in 1840, at the age of twenty-one; he had worked through Savoy with his Saussure in hand nearly thirty years before, and, many a time since that, had spent the intervals of literary business in rambling and climbing with the hammer and note-book. In the field he had compared Studer's meagre sections, and consulted the available authorities on physical geology, though he had never entered upon the more popular sister-science of palaeontology. He left the determination of strata to specialists: his interest was fixed on the structure of mountains—the relation of geology to scenery; a question upon which he had some right to be heard, as knowing more about scenery than most geologists, and more about geology than most artists.

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