As examples of Savoy mountains this lecture described in detail the Saleve, on which he had been living for two winters, and the Brezon, the top of which he had tried to buy from the commune of Bonneville—one of his many plans for settling among the Alps. The commune thought he had found a gold-mine up there, and raised the price out of all reason. Other attempts to make a home in the chateaux or chalets of Savoy were foiled, or abandoned, like his earlier idea to live in Venice. But his scrambles on the Saleve led him to hesitate in accepting the explanation given by Alphonse Favre of the curious north-west face of steeply inclined vertical slabs, which he suspected to be created by cleavage, on the analogy of other Jurassic precipices. The Brezon—brisant, breaking wave—he took as type of the billowy form of limestone Alps in general, and his analysis of it was serviceable and substantially correct.
This lecture was followed in 1864 by desultory correspondence with Mr. Jukes and others in The Reader, in which he merely restated his conclusions, too slightly to convince. Had he devoted himself to a thorough examination of the subject—but this is in the region of what might have been. He was more seriously engaged in other pursuits, of more immediate importance. Three days after his lecture he was being examined before the Royal Academy Commission, and after a short summer visit to various friends in the north of England, he set out again for the Alps, partly to study the geology of Chamouni and North Switzerland, partly to continue his drawings of Swiss towns at Baden and Lauffenburg, with his pupil John Bunney. But even there the burden of his real mission could not be shaken off, and though again seeking health and a quiet mind, he could not quite keep silence, but wrote letters to English newspapers on the depreciation of gold (repeating his theory of currency), and on the wrongs of Poland and Italy; and he put together more papers, not then published, in continuation of his "Munera Pulveris."
Since about 1850, Carlyle had been gradually becoming more and more friendly with John Ruskin; and now that this social and economical work had been taken up, he began to have a real esteem for him, though always with a patronizing tone, which the younger man's open and confessed discipleship accepted and encouraged. This letter especially shows both men in an unaccustomed light: Ruskin, hating tobacco, sends his "master" cigars; Carlyle, hating cant, replies rather in the tone of the temperance advocate, taking a little wine for his stomach's sake:
"CHELSEA, 22 Feby, 1865
"You have sent me a munificent Box of Cigars; for wh'h what can I say in ans'r? It makes me both sad and glad. Ay de mi.
"We are such stuff, Gone with a puff—Then think, and smoke Tobacco!'
"The Wife also has had her Flowers; and a letter wh'h has charmed the female mind. You forgot only the first chapter of 'Aglaia';—don't forget; and be a good boy for the future.
"The Geology Book wasn't Jukes; I found it again in the Magazine,—reviewed there: 'Phillips,' is there such a name? It has ag'n escaped me. I have a notion to come out actually some day soon; and take a serious Lecture from you on what you really know, and can give me some intelligible outline of, ab't the Rocks,—bones of our poor old Mother; wh'h have always been venerable and strange to me. Next to nothing of rational could I ever learn of the subject....
[Footnote 9: "Jukes,"—Mr. J.B. Jukes, F.R.S., with whom Ruskin had been discussing in The Reader. "Phillips," the Oxford Professor of Geology, and a friend of Ruskin's.]
"SESAME AND LILIES" (1864)
Wider aims and weaker health had not put an end to Ruskin's connection with the Working Men's College, though he did not now teach a drawing-class regularly. He had, as he said, "the satisfaction of knowing that they had very good masters in Messrs. Lowes Dickinson, Jeffery and Cave Thomas," and his work was elsewhere. He was to have lectured there on December 19th, 1863; but he did not reach home until about Christmas; better than he had been; and ready to give the promised address on January 30th, 1864. Beside which he used to visit the place occasionally of an evening to take note of progress, and some of his pupils were now more directly under his care.
It was from one of these visits to the College, on February 27th, that he returned, past midnight, and found his father waiting up for him, to read some letters he had written. Next morning the old man, close upon seventy-nine years of age, was struck with his last illness; and died on March 3rd. He was buried at Shirley Church, near Addington, in Surrey, not far from Croydon; and the legend on his tomb records: "He was an entirely honest merchant, and his memory is, to all who keep it, dear and helpful. His son, whom he loved to the uttermost, and taught to speak truth, says this of him."
Mr. John James Ruskin, like many other of our successful merchants, had been an open-handed patron of art, and a cheerful giver, not only to needy friends and relatives, but also to various charities. For example, as a kind of personal tribute to Osborne Gordon, his son's tutor, he gave L5,000 toward the augmentation of poor Christ-Church livings. His son's open-handed way with dependants and servants was learned from the old merchant, who, unlike many hard-working money-makers, was always ready to give, though he could not bear to lose. In spite of which he left a considerable fortune behind him,—considerable when it is understood to be the earnings of his single-handed industry and steady sagacity in legitimate business, without indulgence in speculation. He left L120,000 with various other property, to his son. To his wife he left his house and L37,000, and a void which it seemed at first nothing could fill. For of late years the son had drifted out of their horizon, with ideas on religion and the ordering of life so very different from theirs; and had been much away from home—he sometimes said, selfishly, but not without the greatest of all excuses, necessity. And so the two old people had been brought closer than ever together; and she had lived entirely for her husband. But, as Browning said,—"Put a stick in anywhere, and she will run up it"—so the brave old lady did not faint under the blow, and fade away, but transferred her affections and interests to her son. Before his father's death the difference of feeling between them, arising out of the heretical economy, had been healed. Old Mr. Ruskin's will treated his son with all confidence in spite of his unorthodox views and unbusiness-like ways. And for nearly eight years longer his mother lived on, to see him pass through his probation-period into such recognition as an Oxford Professorship implied, and to find in her last years his later books "becoming more and more what they always ought to have been" to her.
At the same time, her failing sight and strength needed a constant household companion. Her son, though he did not leave home yet awhile for any long journeys, could not be always with her. Only six weeks after the funeral he was called away for a time to fulfil a lecture-engagement at Bradford. Before going he brought his pretty young Scotch cousin. Miss Joanna Ruskin Agnew, to Denmark Hill for a week's visit. She recommended herself at once to the old lady, and to Carlyle, who happened to call, by her frank good-nature and unquenchable spirits; and her visit lasted seven years, until she was married to Arthur Severn, son of the Ruskins' old friend, Joseph Severn, British Consul at Rome. Even then she was not allowed far out of their sight, but settled in the old house at Herne Hill: "nor virtually," said Ruskin in the last chapter of "Praeterita," "have she and I ever parted since."
All through that year he remained at home, except for short necessary visits, and frequent evenings with Carlyle. And when, in December, he gave those lectures in Manchester which afterwards, as "Sesame and Lilies," became his most popular work, we can trace his better health of mind and body in the brighter tone of his thought. We can hear the echo of Carlyle's talk in the heroic, aristocratic, Stoic ideals, and in the insistence on the value of books and free public libraries,—Carlyle being the founder of the London Library. And we may suspect that his thoughts on women's influence and education had been not a little directed by those months in the company of "the dear old lady and ditto young" to whom Carlyle used to send his love.
[Footnote 10: The first lecture, "Of Kings' Treasuries," was given, December 6th, 1864, at Rusholme Town Hall, Manchester, in aid of a library fund for the Rusholme Institute. The second, "Queens' Gardens," was given December 14th, at the Town Hall, King Street, now the Free Reference Library, Manchester, in aid of schools for Ancoats.]
In 1864 a new series of papers on Art was begun, the only published work upon Art of all these ten years. The papers ran in The Art Journal from January to July, 1865, and from January to April. 1866, under the title of "The Cestus of Aglaia," by which was meant the Girdle, or restraining law, of Beauty, as personified in the wife of Hephaestus, "the Lord of Labour." Their intention was to suggest, and to evoke by correspondence, "some laws for present practice of art in our schools, which may be admitted, if not with absolute, at least with a sufficient consent, by leading artists." As a first step the author asked for the elementary rules of drawing. For his own contribution he showed the value of the "pure line," such as he had used in his own early drawings. Later on, he had adopted a looser and more picturesque style of handling the point; and in the "Elements of Drawing" he had taught his readers to take Rembrandt's etchings as exemplary. But now he felt that this "evasive" manner, as he called it, had its dangers. And so these papers attempted to supersede the amateurish object lesson of the earlier work by stricter rules for a severer style; prematurely, as it proved, for the chapters came to an end before the promised code was formulated. The same work was taken up again in "The Laws of Fesole"; but the use of the pure line, which Ruskin's precepts failed to enforce, was, in the end, taught to the public by the charming practice of Mr. Walter Crane and Miss Greenaway.
A lecture at the Camberwell Working Men's Institute on "Work and Play" was given on January 24th, 1865; which, as it was printed in "The Crown of Wild Olive," we will notice further on. Various letters and papers on political and social economy and other subjects hardly call for separate notice: with the exception of one very important address to the Royal Institution of British Architects, given May 15th, "On the Study of Architecture in our Schools."
"ETHICS OF THE DUST" (1865)
Writing to his father from Manchester about the lecture of February 22, 1859—"The Unity of Art"—Ruskin mentions, among various people of interest whom he was meeting, such as Sir Elkanah Armitage and Mrs. Gaskell, how "Miss Bell and four young ladies came from Chester to hear me, and I promised to pay them a visit on my way home, to their apparent great contentment."
The visit was paid on his way back from Yorkshire. He wrote:
"WINNINGTON, NORTHWICH, CHESHIRE.
"12 March, 1859.
"This is such a nice place that I am going to stay till Monday: an enormous old-fashioned house—full of galleries and up and down stairs—but with magnificently large rooms where wanted: the drawing-room is a huge octagon—I suppose at least forty feet high—like the tower of a castle (hung half way up all round with large and beautiful Turner and Raphael engravings) and with a baronial fireplace:—and in the evening, brightly lighted, with the groups of girls scattered round it, it is a quite beautiful scene in its way. Their morning chapel, too, is very interesting:—though only a large room, it is nicely fitted with reading desk and seats like a college chapel, and two pretty and rich stained-glass windows—and well-toned organ. They have morning prayers with only one of the lessons—and without the psalms: but singing the Te Deum or the other hymn—and other choral parts: and as out of the thirty-five or forty girls perhaps twenty-five or thirty have really available voices, well trained and divided, it was infinitely more beautiful than any ordinary church service—like the Trinita di Monte Convent service more than anything else, and must be very good for them, quite different in its effect on their minds from our wretched penance of college chapel.
"The house stands in a superb park, full of old trees and sloping down to the river; with a steep bank of trees on the other side; just the kind of thing Mrs. Sherwood likes to describe;—and the girls look all healthy and happy as can be, down to the little six-years-old ones, who I find know me by the fairy tale as the others do by my large books:—so I am quite at home.
"They have my portrait in the library with three others—Maurice, the Bp. of Oxford, and Archdeacon Hare,—so that I can't but stay with them over the Sunday."
The principles of Winnington were advanced; the theology—Bishop Colenso's daughter was among the pupils; the Bishop of Oxford had introduced Ruskin to the managers, who were pleased to invite the celebrated art-critic to visit whenever he travelled that way, whether to lecture at provincial towns, or to see his friends in the north, as he often used. And so between March 1859 and May 1868, after which the school was removed, he was a frequent visitor; and not only he, but other lions whom the ladies entrapped:—mention has been made in print (in "The Queen of the Air") of Charles Halle, whom Ruskin met there in 1863, and greatly admired.
"I like Mr. and Mrs. Halle so very much," he wrote home, "and am entirely glad to know so great a musician and evidently so good and wise a man. He was very happy yesterday evening, and actually sat down and played quadrilles for us to dance to—which is, in its way, something like Titian sketching patterns for ball-dresses. But afterwards he played Home, sweet Home, with three variations—quite the most wonderful thing I have ever heard in music. Though I was close to the piano, the motion of the fingers was entirely invisible—a mere mist of rapidity; the hands moving slowly and softly, and the variation, in the ear, like a murmur of a light fountain, far away. It was beautiful too to see the girls' faces round, the eyes all wet with feeling, and the little coral mouths fixed into little half open gaps with utter intensity of astonishment."
Ruskin could not be idle on his visits; and as he was never so happy as when he was teaching somebody, he improved the opportunity by experiments in education permitted there for his sake. Among other things, he devised singing dances for a select dozen of the girls, with verses of his own writing; one, a maze to the theme of "Twist ye, twine ye," based upon the song in "Guy Mannering," but going far beyond the original motive in its variations weighted with allegoric thought. Deep as the feeling of this little poem is, there is a nobler chord struck in the Song of Peace, the battle-cry of the good time coming; in the faith—who else has found it?—that looks forward to no selfish victory of narrow aims, but to the full reconciliation of hostile interests and the blind internecine struggle of this perverse world, in the clearer light of the millennial morning.
Ruskin's method of teaching, as illustrated in "Ethics of the Dust," has been variously pooh-poohed by his critics. It has seemed to some absurd to mix up Theology, and Crystallography, and Political Economy, and Mythology, and Moral Philosophy, with the chatter of school-girls and the romps of the playground. But it should be understood, before reading this book, which is practically the report of these Wilmington talks, that it is printed as an illustration of a method. It showed that play-lessons need not want either depth or accuracy; and that the requirement was simply capacity on the part of the teacher.
The following letter from Carlyle was written in acknowledgment of an early copy of the book, of which the preface is dated Christmas, 1865.
"20 Decr, 1865.
"The 'Ethics of the Dust,' wh'h I devoured with't pause, and intend to look at ag'n, is a most shining Performance! Not for a long while have I read anything tenth-part so radiant with talent, ingenuity, lambent fire (sheet—and other lightnings) of all commendable kinds! Never was such a lecture on Crystallography before, had there been nothing else in it,—and there are all manner of things. In power of expression I pronounce it to be supreme; never did anybody who had such things to explain explain them better. And the bit of Egypt'n mythology, the cunning Dreams ab't Pthah, Neith, etc., apart from their elucidative quality, wh'h is exquisite, have in them a poetry that might fill any Tennyson with despair. You are very dramatic too; nothing wanting in the stage-direct'ns, in the pretty little indicat'ns: a very pretty stage and dramatis personae altogeth'r. Such is my first feeling ab't y'r Book, dear R.—Come soon, and I will tell you all the faults of it, if I gradually discover a great many. In fact, come at any rate!
The Real Little Housewives, to whom the book was dedicated, were not quite delighted—at least, they said they were not—at the portraits drawn of them, in their pinafores, so to speak, with some little hints at failings and faults which they recognised through the mask of dramatis personae. Miss "Kathleen" disclaimed the singing of "Vilikins and his Dinah," and so on. It is difficult to please everybody. The public did not care about the book; the publisher hoped Mr. Ruskin would write no more dialogues: and so it remained, little noticed, for twelve years. In 1877 it was republished and found to be interesting, and in 1905 the 31st thousand (authorised English edition) had been issued. At that time, however, Sesame and Lilies had run to 160,000 copies.
Winnington Hall, the scene of these pastimes, is now, I understand, used by Messrs. Brunner, Mond & Co. as a commonroom or clubhouse for the staff in their great scientific industry.
"THE CROWN OF WILD OLIVE" (1865-1866)
Mention has been made of an address to working men at the Camberwell Institute, January 24th, 1865. This lecture was published in 1866, together with two others, under the title of "The Crown of Wild Olive"—that is to say, the reward of human work, a reward "which should have been of gold, had not Jupiter been so poor," as Aristophanes said.
[Footnote 11: Republished in 1873, with a fourth lecture added, and a Preface and notes on the political growth of Prussia, from Carlyle's "Frederick."]
True work, he said, meant the production (taking the word production in a broad sense) of the means of life; every one ought to take some share in it, according to his powers: some working with the head, some with the hands; but all acknowledging idleness and slavery to be alike immoral. And, as to the remuneration, he said, as he had said before in "Unto this Last," Justice demands that equal energy expended should bring equal reward. He did not consider it justice to cry out for the equalization of incomes, for some are sure to be more diligent and saving than others; some work involves a great preliminary expenditure of energy in qualifying the worker, as contrasted with unskilled labour. But he did not allow that the possession of capital entitled a man to unearned increment; and he thought that, in a community where a truly civilized morality was highly developed, the general sense of society would recognise an average standard of work and an average standard of pay for each class.
In the next two lectures he spoke of the two great forms of Play, the great Games of Money-making and War. He had been invited to lecture at Bradford, in the hope that he would give some useful advice towards the design of a new Exchange which was to be built; in curious forgetfulness, it would appear, of his work during the past ten years and more. Indeed, the picture he drew them of an ideal "Temple to the Goddess of Getting-on" was as daring a sermon as ever prophet preached. But when he came to tell them that the employers of labour might be true captains and kings, the leaders and the helpers of their fellow-men, and that the function of commerce was not to prey upon society but to provide for it, there were many of his hearers whose hearts told them that he was right, and whose lives have shown, in some measure, that he did not speak in vain.
Still stranger, to hearers who had not noted the conclusion of his third volume of "Modern Painters," was his view of war, in the address to the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, in December 1865. The common view of war as destroyer of arts and enemy of morality, the easy acceptance of the doctrine that peace is an unqualified blessing, the obvious evils of battle and rapine and the waste of resources and life throughout so many ages, have blinded less clear-sighted and less widely-experienced thinkers to another side of the teaching of history, which Ruskin dwelt upon with unexpected emphasis.
But modern war, horrible, not from its scale, but from the spirit in which the upper classes set the lower to fight like gladiators in the arena, he denounced; and called upon the women of England, with whom, he said, the real power of life and death lay, to mend it into some semblance of antique chivalry, or to end it in the name of religion and humanity.
In the New Review for March 1892, there appeared a series of "Letters of John Ruskin to his Secretary," which, as the anonymous contributor remarked, illustrate "Ruskin the worker, as he acts away from the eyes of the world; Ruskin the epistolographer, when the eventuality of the printing-press is not for the moment before him Ruskin the good Samaritan, ever gentle and open-handed when true need and a good cause make appeal to his tender heart; Ruskin the employer, considerate, generous—an ideal master."
Charles Augustus Howell became known to Ruskin (in 1864 or 1865) through the circle of the Pre-Raphaelites; and, as the editor of the letters puts it, "by his talents and assiduity" became the too-trusted friend and protege of Ruskin, Rossetti and others of their acquaintance. It was he who proposed and carried out the exhumation, reluctantly consented to, of Rossetti's manuscript poems from his wife's grave, in October, 1869; for which curious service to literature let him have the thanks of posterity. But he was hardly the man to carry out Ruskin's secret charities, and long before he had lost Rossetti's confidence he had ceased to act as Ruskin's secretary.
[Footnote 12: In the manner described by Mr. W.M. Rossetti at p. 351, Vol. I., of "D.G. Rossetti, his family letters," to which the reader is referred.]
From these letters, however, several interesting traits and incidents may be gleaned, such as anecdotes about the canary which was anonymously bought at the Crystal Palace Bird Show (February 1866) for the owner's benefit: about the shopboy whom Ruskin was going to train as an artist; and about the kindly proposal to employ the aged and impoverished Cruikshank upon a new book of fairy tales, and the struggle between admiration for the man and admission of his loss of power, ending in the free gift of the hundred pounds promised.
In April, 1866, after writing the Preface to "The Crown of Wild Olive," and preparing the book for publication, Ruskin was carried off to the Continent for a holiday with Sir Walter and Lady Trevelyan, her niece Miss Constance Hilliard (Mrs. Churchill), and Miss Agnew (Mrs. Severn), for a thorough rest and change after three years of unintermitting work in England. They intended to spend a couple of months in Italy. On the day of starting, Ruskin called at Cheyne Walk with the usual bouquet for Mrs. Carlyle, to learn that she had just met with her death, in trying to save her little dog, the gift of Lady Trevelyan. He rejoined his friends, and they crossed the Channel gaily, in spite of what they thought was rather a cloud over him. At Paris they read the news. "Yes," he said, "I knew. But there was no reason why I should spoil your pleasure by telling you."
On his arrival at Dijon he wrote to Carlyle, who in answer after giving way to his grief—"my life all laid in ruins, and the one light of it as if gone out,"—continued:—"Come and see me when you get home; come oftener and see me, and speak more frankly to me (for I am very true to y'r highest interests and you) while I still remain here. You can do nothing for me in Italy; except come home improved."
But before this letter reached Ruskin, he too had been in the presence of death, and had lost one of his most valued friends. Their journey to Italy had been undertaken chiefly for the sake of Lady Trevelyan's health, as the following extracts indicate:
"PARIS, 2nd May, 1866.
"Lady Trevelyan is much better to-day, but it is not safe to move her yet—till to-morrow. So I'm going to take the children to look at Chartres cathedral—we can get three hours there, and be back to seven o'clock dinner. We drove round by St. Cloud and Sevres yesterday; the blossomed trees being glorious by the Seine,—the children in high spirits. It reminds me always too much of Turner—every bend of these rivers is haunted by him."
"DIJON, Sunday, 6th May, 1866.
"Lady Trevelyan is much better, and we hope all to get on to Neufchatel to-morrow. The weather is quite fine again though not warm; and yesterday I took the children for a drive up the little valley which we used to drive through on leaving Dijon for Paris. There are wooded hills on each side, and we got into a sweet valley, as full of nightingales as our garden is of thrushes, and with slopes of broken rocky ground above, covered with the lovely blue milk-wort, and purple columbines, and geranium, and wild strawberry-flowers. The children were intensely delighted, and I took great care that Constance should not run about so as to heat herself, and we got up a considerable bit of hill quite nicely, and with greatly increased appetite for tea, and general mischief. They have such appetites that I generally call them 'my two little pigs.' There is a delightful French waiting-maid at dinner here—who says they are both 'charmantes,' but highly approves of my title for them nevertheless."
"NEUFCHATEL, 10th May, 1866.
"Lady Trevelyan is still too weak to move. We had (the children and I) a delightful day yesterday at the Pierre a Bot, gathering vetches and lilies of the valley in the woods, and picnic afterwards on the lovely mossy grass, in view of all the Alps—Jungfrau, Eiger, Blumlis Alp, Altels, and the rest, with intermediate lake and farmsteads and apple-blossom—very heavenly."
Here, within a few days, Lady Trevelyan died. Throughout her illness she had been following the progress of the new notes on wild-flowers (afterwards to be "Proserpina") with keen interest, and Sir Walter lent the help of botanical science to Ruskin's more poetical and artistic observations. For the sake of this work, and for the "children," and with a wise purpose of bearing up under the heavy blow that had fallen, the two friends continued their journey for a while among the mountains.
From Thun they went to Interlachen and the Giessbach. Ruskin occupied himself closely in tracing Studer's sections across the great lake-furrow of central Switzerland—"something craggy for his mind to break upon," as Byron said when he was in trouble. At the Giessbach there was not only geology and divine scenery, enjoyable in lovely weather, but an interesting figure in the foreground, the widowed daughter of the hotel landlord, beautiful and consumptive, but brave as a Swiss girl should be. They all seem to have fallen in love with her, so to speak the young English girls as much as the impressionable art-critic: and the new human interest in her Alpine tragedy relieved, as such interests do, the painfulness of the circumstances through which they had been passing. Her sister Marie was like an Allegra to this Penserosa; bright and brilliant in native genius. She played piano-duets with the young ladies; taught Alpine botany to the savants; guided them to the secret dells and unknown points of view; and with a sympathy unexpected in a stranger, beguiled them out of their grief, and won their admiration and gratitude. Marie of the Giessbach was often referred to in letters of the time, and for many years after, with warmly affectionate remembrances.
A few bits from his letters to his mother, which I have been permitted to copy, will indicate the impressions of this summer's tour.
"HOTEL DU GIESBACH, 6th June, 1866,
"MY DEAREST MOTHER,
"Can you at all fancy walking out in the morning in a garden full of lilacs just in rich bloom, and pink hawthorn in masses; and along a little terrace with lovely pinks coming into cluster of colour all over the low wall beside it; and a sloping bank of green sward from it—and below that, the Giesbach! Fancy having a real Alpine waterfall in one's garden,—seven hundred feet high. You see, we are just in time for the spring, here, and the strawberries are ripening on the rocks. Joan and Constance have been just scrambling about and gathering them for me. Then there's the blue-green lake below, and Interlaken and the lake of Thun in the distance. I think I never saw anything so beautiful. Joan will write to you about the people, whom she has made great friends with, already."
"7th June, 1866.
"I cannot tell you how much I am struck with the beauty of this fall: it is different from everything I have ever seen in torrents. There are so many places where one gets near it without being wet, for one thing; for the falls are, mostly, not vertical so as to fly into mere spray, but over broken rock, which crushes the water into a kind of sugar-candy-like foam, white as snow, yet glittering; and composed, not of bubbles, but of broken-up water. Then I had forgotten that it plunged straight into the lake; I got down to the lake shore on the other side of it yesterday, and to see it plunge clear into the blue water, with the lovely mossy rocks for its flank, and for the lake edge, was an unbelievable kind of thing; it is all as one would fancy cascades in fairyland. I do not often endure with patience any cockneyisms or showings off at these lovely places. But they do one thing here so interesting that I can forgive it. One of the chief cascades (about midway up the hill) falls over a projecting rock, so that one can walk under the torrent as it comes over. It leaps so clear that one is hardly splashed, except at one place. Well, when it gets dark, they burn, for five minutes, one of the strongest steady fireworks of a crimson colour, behind the fall. The red light shines right through, turning the whole waterfall into a torrent of fire."
"11th June, 1866.
"We leave, according to our programme, for Interlachen to-day,—with great regret, for the peace and sweetness of this place are wonderful and the people are good; and though there is much drinking and quarrelling among the younger men, there appears to be neither distressful poverty, nor deliberate crime: so that there is more of the sense I need, and long for, of fellowship with human creatures, than in any place I have been at for years. I believe they don't so much as lock the house-doors at night; and the faces of the older peasantry are really very beautiful. I have done a good deal of botany, and find that wild-flower botany is more or less inexhaustible, but the cultivated flowers are infinite in their caprice. The forget-me-nots and milkworts are singularly beautiful here, but there is quite as much variety in English fields as in these, as long as one does not climb much—and I'm very lazy, compared to what I used to be,"
"LAUTERBRUNNEN, 13th June, 1866.
"We had a lovely evening here yesterday, and the children enjoyed and understood it better than anything they have yet seen among the Alps. Constance was in great glory in a little walk I took her in the twilight through the upper meadows: the Staubbach seen only as a grey veil suspended from its rock, and the great Alps pale above on the dark sky. She condescended nevertheless to gather a great bunch of the white catchfly,—to make 'pops' with,—her friend Marie at the Giesbach having shown her how a startling detonation may be obtained, by skilful management, out of its globular calyx.
"This morning is not so promising,—one of the provoking ones which will neither let you stay at home with resignation, nor go anywhere with pleasure. I'm going to take the children for a little quiet exploration of the Wengern path, to see how they like it, and if the weather betters—we may go on. At all events I hope to find an Alpine rose or two."
In June, 1866, the Professorship of Poetry at Oxford was vacant; and Ruskin's friends were anxious to see him take the post. He, however, felt no especial fitness or inclination for it, and did not stand. Three years later he was elected to a Professorship that at this time had not been founded.
After spending June in the Oberland, he went homewards through Berne, Vevey and Geneva, to find his private secretary with a bundle of begging letters, and his friend Carlyle busy with the defence of Governor Eyre.
In 1865 an insurrection of negroes at Morant Bay, Jamaica, had threatened to take the most serious shape, when it was stamped out by the high-handed measures of Mr. Eyre. After the first congratulations were over another side to the question called for a hearing. The Baptist missionaries declared that among the negroes who were shot and hanged in terrorem were peaceable subjects, respectable members of their own native congregations, for whose character they could vouch; they added that the gravity of the situation had been exaggerated by private enmity and jealousy of their work and creed. A strong committee was formed under Liberal auspices, supported by such men as John Stuart Mill and Thomas Hughes, the author of "Tom Brown's Schooldays"—men whose motive was above suspicion—to bring Mr. Eyre to account.
Carlyle, who admired the strong hand, and had no interest in Baptist missionaries, accepted Mr. Eyre as the saviour of society in his West Indian sphere; and there were many, both in Jamaica and at home, who believed that, but for his prompt action, the white population would have been massacred with all the horrors of a savage rebellion. Ruskin had been for many years the ally of the Broad Church and Liberal party. But he was now coming more and more under the personal influence of Carlyle; and when it came to the point of choosing sides, declared himself, in a letter to the Daily Telegraph (December 20th, 1865), a Conservative and a supporter of order; and joined the Eyre Defence Committee with a subscription of L100. The prominent part he took, for example, in the meeting of September, 1866, was no doubt forced upon him by his desire to save Carlyle, whose recent loss and shaken nerves made such business especially trying to him. Letters of this period remain, in which Carlyle begs Ruskin to "be diligent, I bid you!"—and so on, adding, "I must absolutely shut up in that direction, to save my sanity." And so it fell to the younger man to work through piles of pamphlets and newspaper correspondence, to interview politicians and men of business, and—what was so very foreign to his habits—to take a leading share in a party agitation.
But in all this he was true to his Jacobite instincts. He had been brought up a Tory; and though he had drifted into an alliance with the Broad Church and philosophical Liberals, he was never one of them. Now that his father was gone, perhaps he felt a sort of duty to own himself his father's son; and the failure of liberal philanthropy to realise his ideals, and of liberal philosophy to rise to his economic standards, combined with Carlyle to induce him to label himself Conservative. But his conservatism could not be accepted by the party so called. Fortunately, he did not need or ask their recognition. He took no interest in party politics, and never in his life voted at a Parliamentary election. He only meant to state in the shortest terms that he stood for loyalty and order.
"TIME AND TIDE" (1867)
The series of letters published as "Time and Tide by Weare and Tyne" were addressed to Thomas Dixon, a working cork-cutter of Sunderland, whose portrait by Professor Legros is familiar to visitors at the South Kensington Museum. He was one of those thoughtful, self-educated working men in whom, as a class, Ruskin had been taking a deep interest for the past twelve years, an interest which had purchased him a practical insight into their various capacities and aims, and the right to speak without fear or favour. At this time there was an agitation for Parliamentary reform, and the better representation of the working classes; and it was on this topic that the letters were begun, though the writer went on to criticise the various social ideals then popular, and to propose his own. He had already done something of the sort in "Unto this Last"; but "Time and Tide" is much more complete, and the result of seven years' further thought and experience. His "Fors Clavigera" is a continuation of these letters, but written at a time when other work and ill health broke in upon his strength. "Time and Tide" is not only the statement of his social scheme as he saw it in his central period, but, written as these letters were—at a stroke, so to speak—condensed in exposition and simple in language, they deserve the most careful reading by the student of Ruskin.
[Footnote 13: During February, March and April, 1867, and published in the Manchester Examiner and Leeds Mercury.]
Before this work was ended, Carlyle had come back from Mentone to Chelsea, and was begging his friend, in the warmest terms, to come and see him. Shortly afterward, a passage which Ruskin would not retract gave offence to Carlyle. But the difference was healed, and later years reveal the sage of Chelsea as kindly and affectionate as ever. This friendship between the two greatest writers of their age, between two men of vigorous individuality, outspoken opinions, and widely different tastes and sympathies, is a fine episode in the history of both.
In May, Ruskin was invited to Cambridge to receive the honorary degree of LL.D., and to deliver the Rede Lecture. The Cambridge Chronicle of May 24th, 1867, says: "The body of the Senate House was quite filled with M.A.'s and ladies, principally the latter, whilst there was a large attendance of undergraduates in the galleries, who gave the lecturer a most enthusiastic reception." A brief report of the lecture was printed in the newspaper; but it was not otherwise published, and the manuscript seems to have been mislaid for thirty years. I take the liberty of copying the opening sentences as a specimen of that Academical oratory which Mr. Ruskin then adopted, and used habitually in his earlier lectures at Oxford.
The title of the discourse was "The Relation of National Ethics to National Arts."
"In entering on the duty to-day entrusted to me, I should hold it little respectful to my audience if I disturbed them by expression of the diffidence which they know that I must feel in first speaking in this Senate House; diffidence which might well have prevented me from accepting such duty, but ought not to interfere with my endeavour simply to fulfil it. Nevertheless, lest the direction which I have been led to give to my discourse, and the narrow limits within which I am compelled to confine the treatment of its subject may seem in anywise inconsistent with the purpose of the founder of this Lecture—or with the expectations of those by whose authority I am appointed to deliver it, let me at once say that I obeyed their command, not thinking myself able to teach any dogma in the philosophy of the arts, which could be of any new interest to the members of this University: but only that I might obtain the sanction of their audience, for the enforcement upon other minds of the truth, which—after thirty years spent in the study of art, not dishonestly, however feebly—is manifest to me as the clearest of all that I have learned, and urged upon me as the most vital of all I have to declare."
He then distinguished between true and false art, the true depending upon sincerity, whether in literature, music or the formative arts: he reinforced his old doctrine of the dignity of true imagination as the attribute of healthy and earnest minds; and energetically attacked the commercial art-world of the day, and the notion that drawing-schools were to be supported for the sake of the gain they would bring to our manufacturers.
In this lecture we see the germ of the ideas, as well as the beginning of the style, of the Oxford Inaugural course, and the "Eagle's Nest"; something quite different in type from the style and teaching of the addresses to working men, or to mixed popular audiences at Edinburgh or Manchester, or even at the Royal Institution. At this latter place, on June 4th, Sir Henry Holland in the chair, he lectured on "The Present State of Modern Art, with reference to advisable arrangement of the National Gallery," repeating much of what he had said in "Time and Tide" about the taste for the horrible and absence of true feeling for pure and dignified art in the theatrical shows of the day, and in the admiration for Gustave Dore, then a new fashion. Mr. Ruskin could never endure that the man who had illustrated Balzac's "Contes Drolatiques" should be chosen by the religious public of England as the exponent of their sacred ideals.
In July after a short visit to Huntly Burn near Abbotsford, he went to Keswick for a few weeks, from whence he wrote the rhymed letters to his cousin at home, quoted (with the date wrongly given as 1857) in "Praeterita" to illustrate his "heraldic character" of "Little Pigs" and to shock exoteric admirers. Like, for example, Rossetti and Carlyle, Ruskin was fond of playful nicknames and grotesque terms of endearment. He never stood upon his dignity with intimates; and was ready to allow the liberties he took, much to the surprise of strangers.
He reached Keswick by July 4, and spent his time chiefly in walks upon the hills, staying at the Derwentwater Hotel. He wrote:
"Keswick, 19th July, '67, Afternoon, 1/2 past 3.
"My dearest Mother,
"As this is the last post before Sunday I send one more line to say I've had a delightful forenoon's walk—since 1/2 past ten—by St. John's Vale, and had pleasant thoughts, and found one of the most variedly beautiful torrent beds I ever saw in my life; and I feel that I gain strength, slowly but certainly, every day. The great good of the place is that I can be content without going on great excursions which fatigue and do me harm (or else worry me with problems;)—I am content here with the roadside hedges and streams; and this contentment is the great thing for health,—and there is hardly anything to annoy me of absurd or calamitous human doing; but still this ancient cottage life—very rude and miserable enough in its torpor—but clean, and calm, not a vile cholera and plague of bestirred pollution, like back streets in London. There is also much more real and deep beauty than I expected to find, in some of the minor pieces of scenery, and in the cloud effects."
"I have the secret of extracting sadness from all things, instead of joy, which is no enviable talisman. Forgive me if I ever write in a way that may pain you. It is best that you should know, when I write cheerfully, it is no pretended cheerfulness; so when I am sad—I think it right to confess it."
"Downes arrived yesterday quite comfortably and in fine weather. It is not bad this morning, and I hope to take him for a walk up Saddleback, which, after all, is the finest, to my mind, of all the Cumberland hills—though that is not saying much; for they are much lower in effect, in proportion to their real height, than I had expected. The beauty of the country is in its quiet roadside bits, and rusticity of cottage life and shepherd labour. Its mountains are sorrowfully melted away from my old dreams of them."
[Footnote 14: The gardener at Denmark Hill.]
Next day he "went straight up the steep front of Saddleback by the central ridge to the summit. It is the finest thing I've yet seen, there being several bits of real crag-work, and a fine view at the top over the great plains of Penrith on one side, and the Cumberland hills, as a chain, on the other. Fine fresh wind blowing, and plenty of crows. Do you remember poor papa's favourite story about the Quaker whom the crows ate on Saddleback? There were some of the biggest and hoarsest-voiced ones about the cliff that I've ever had sympathetic croaks from;—and one on the top, or near it, so big that Downes and Crawley, having Austrian tendencies in politics, took it for a 'black eagle.' Downes went up capitally, though I couldn't get him down again, because he would stop to gather ferns. However, we did it all and came down to Threlkeld—of the Bridal of Triermain,
"'The King his way pursued By lonely Threlkeld's waste and wood,'
"in good time for me to dress and, for a wonder, go out to dinner with Acland's friends the Butlers."
As an episode in this visit to Keswick, ten days were given to the neighbourhood of Ambleside, "to show Downes Windermere."
"10th August, 1867, Evening.
"I was at Coniston to-day. Our old Waterhead Inn, where I was so happy playing in the boats, exists no more.—Its place is grown over with smooth Park grass—the very site of it forgotten! and, a quarter of a mile down the lake, a vast hotel built in the railroad station style—making up, I suppose, its fifty or eighty beds, with coffee-room—smoking-room—and every pestilent and devilish Yankeeism that money can buy, or speculation plan.
"The depression, whatever its cause, does not affect my strength. I walked up a long hill on the road to Coniston to-day (gathering wild raspberries)—then from this new Inn, two miles to the foot of Coniston Old Man; up it; down again—(necessarily!)—and back to dinner, without so much as warming myself—not that there was much danger of doing that at the top; for a keen west wind was blowing drifts of cloud by at a great pace, and one was glad of the shelter of the pile of stones, the largest and oldest I ever saw on a mountain top. I suppose the whole mountain is named from it. It is of the shape of a beehive, strongly built, about 15 feet high (so that I made Downes follow me up it before I would allow he had been at the top of the Old Man) and covered with lichen and short moss. Lancaster sands and the Irish sea were very beautiful, and so also the two lakes of Coniston and Windermere, lying in the vastest space of sweet cultivated country I have ever looked over,—a great part of the view from the Rigi being merely over black pine forest, even on the plains. Well, after dinner, the evening was very beautiful, and I walked up the long hill on the road back from Coniston—and kept ahead of the carriage for two miles: I was sadly vexed when I had to get in: and now—I don't feel as if I had been walking at all—and shall probably lie awake for an hour or two—and feeling as if I had not had exercise enough to send me to sleep."
"LANGDALE, 13th August, Evening.
"It is perfectly calm to-night, not painfully hot—and the full moon shining over the mountains, opposite my window, which are the scene of Wordsworth's 'Excursion.' It was terribly hot in the earlier day, and I did not leave the house till five o'clock. Then I went out, and in the heart of Langdale Pikes found the loveliest rock-scenery, chased with silver waterfalls, that I ever set foot or heart upon. The Swiss torrent-beds are always more or less savage, and ruinous, with a terrible sense of overpowering strength and danger, lulled. But here, the sweet heather and ferns and star mosses nestled in close to the dashing of the narrow streams;—while every cranny of crag held its own little placid lake of amber, trembling with falling drops—but quietly trembling—not troubled into ridgy wave or foam—the rocks themselves, ideal rock, as hard as iron—no—not quite that, but so hard that after breaking some of it, breaking solid white quartz seemed like smashing brittle loaf sugar, in comparison—and cloven into the most noble masses; not grotesque, but majestic and full of harmony with the larger mountain mass of which they formed a part. Fancy what a place! for a hot afternoon after five, with no wind—and absolute solitude; no creature—except a lamb or two—to mix any ruder sound or voice with the plash of the innumerable streamlets."
It was during this tour that he looked at a site on the hill above Bowness-on-Windermere, where Mr. T. Richmond, the owner, proposed building him a house. He liked the view, but found it too near the railway station.
After spending September with his mother at Norwood under the care of Dr. Powell, he was able to return home, prepare "Time and Tide" for publication, and write the preface on Dec. 14th. On the 19th the book was out, and immediately bought up. A month later the second edition was issued.
AGATES, AND ABBEVILLE (1868)
Of less interest to the general reader, though too important a part of Ruskin's life and work to be passed over without mention, are his studies in Mineralogy. We have heard of his early interest in spars and ores; of his juvenile dictionary in forgotten hieroglyphics; and of his studies in the field and at the British Museum. He had made a splendid collection, and knew the various museums of Europe as familiarly as he knew the picture-galleries. In the "Ethics of the Dust" he had chosen Crystallography as the subject in which to exemplify his method of education; and in 1867, after finishing the letters to Thomas Dixon, he took refuge, as before, among the stones, from the stress of more agitating problems.
In the lecture on the Savoy Alps in 1863 he had referred to a hint of Saussure's that the contorted beds of the limestones might possibly be due to some sort of internal action, resembling on a large scale that separation into concentric or curved bands which is seen in calcareous deposits. The contortions of gneiss were similarly analogous, it was suggested, to those of the various forms of silica. Ruskin did not adopt the theory, but put it by for examination in contrast with the usual explanation of these phenomena, as the simple mechanical thrust of the contracting surface of the earth.
In 1863 and 1866 he had been among the Nagelflueh of Northern Switzerland, studying the puddingstones and breccias. He saw that the difference between these formations, in their structural aspect, and the hand-specimens in his collection of pisolitic and brecciated minerals was chiefly a matter of size; and that the resemblances in form were very close. And so he concluded that if the structure of the minerals could be fully understood a clue might be found to the very puzzling question of the origin of mountain structure.
Hence his attempt to analyze the structure of agates and similar banded and brecciated minerals, in the series of papers in the Geological Magazine; an attempt which though it was never properly completed, and fails to come to any general conclusion, is extremely interesting as an account of beautiful and curious natural forms till then little noticed by mineralogists.
[Footnote 15: August and November, 1867, January, April and May, 1868, December, 1869, and January, 1870, illustrated with very fine mezzotint plates and woodcuts.]
A characteristic anecdote of this period is preserved in "Arrows of the Chace."
"The Daily Telegraph of January 21st, 1868, contained a leading article upon the following facts. It appeared that a girl, named Matilda Griggs, had been nearly murdered by her seducer, who, after stabbing her in no less than thirteen places, had then left her for dead. She had, however, still strength enough to crawl into a field close by, and there swooned. The assistance she met with in this plight was of a rare kind. Two calves came up to her, and disposing themselves on either side of her bleeding body, thus kept her warm and partly sheltered from cold and rain. Temporarily preserved, the girl eventually recovered, and entered into recognizances, under a sum of forty pounds, to prosecute her murderous lover. But 'she loved much,' and failing to prosecute, forfeited her recognizances, and was imprisoned by the Chancellor of the Exchequer for her debt. 'Pity the poor debtor,' wrote the Daily Telegraph, and in the next day's issue appeared the following letter, probably not intended for the publication accorded to it. 'Sir,—Except in 'Gil Blas,' I never read of anything Astraean on the earth so perfect as the story in your fourth article to-day. I send you a cheque for the Chancellor. If forty, in legal terms, means four hundred, you must explain the farther requirements to your impulsive public.
"'I am, Sir, your faithful servant, 'J. RUSKIN.'"
The writer of letters like this naturally had a large correspondence, beside that which a circle of private friends and numberless admirers and readers elicited. About this time it grew to such a pitch that he was obliged to print a form excusing him from letter-writing on the ground of stress of work. And indeed, this year, though he did not publish his annual volume, as usual, he was fully occupied with frequent letters to newspapers, several lectures and addresses, a preface to the reprint of his old friend Cruikshank's "Grimm," and the beginning of a new botanical work, "Proserpina," in addition to the mineralogy, and a renewed interest in classical studies. Of the public addresses the most important was that on "The Mystery of Life and its Arts," delivered in the theatre of the Royal College of Science, Dublin (May 13th), and printed in "Sesame and Lilies."
After this visit to Ireland he spent a few days at Winnington; and late in August crossed the Channel, for rest and change at Abbeville. For the past five years he had found too little time for drawing; it was twenty years since his last sketching of French Gothic, except for a study (now at Oxford), of the porch at Amiens, in 1856. He took up the old work where he had left it, after writing the "Seven Lamps," with fresh interest and more advanced powers of draughtsmanship as shown in the pencil study of the Place Amiral Courbet, now in the drawing school at Oxford.
The following are extracts from the usual budget of home letters; readers of "Fors" will need no further introduction to their old acquaintance, the tallow-chandler.
"ABBEVILLE, Friday, 18th Sept., 1868
"You seem to have a most uncomfortable time of it, with the disturbance of the house. However, I can only leave you to manage these things as you think best—or feel pleasantest to yourself. I am saddened by another kind of disorder, France is in everything so fallen back, so desolate and comfortless, compared to what it was twenty years ago—the people so much rougher, clumsier, more uncivil—everything they do, vulgar and base. Remnants of the old nature come out when they begin to know you. I am drawing at a nice tallow-chandler's door, and to-day, for the first time had to go inside for rain. He was very courteous and nice, and warned me against running against the candle-ends—or bottoms, as they were piled on the shelves, saying—'You must take care, you see, not to steal any of my candles'—or 'steal from my candles,' meaning not to rub them off on my coat. He has a beautiful family of cats—papa and mamma and two superb kittens—half Angora."
"I am going to my cats and tallow-chandler.... I was very much struck by the superiority of manner both in him and in his two daughters who serve at the counter, to persons of the same class in England. When the girls have weighed out their candles, or written down the orders that are sent in, they instantly sit down to their needlework behind the counter, and are always busy, yet always quiet; and their father, though of course there may be vulgar idioms in his language which I do not recognize, has entirely the manners of a gentleman."
"I have the advantage here I had not counted on. I see by the papers that the weather in England is very stormy and bad. Now, though it is showery here, and breezy, it has always allowed me at some time of the day to draw. The air is tender and soft, invariably—even when blowing with force; and to-day, I have seen quite the loveliest sunset I ever yet saw,—one at Boulogne in '61 was richer; but for delicacy and loveliness nothing of past sight ever came near this."
Earlier on the same day he had written:
"I am well satisfied with the work I am doing, and even with my own power of doing it, if only I can keep myself from avariciously trying to do too much, and working hurriedly. But I can do very little quite well, each day: with that however it is my bounden duty to be content.
"And now I have a little piece of news for you. Our old Herne Hill house being now tenantless, and requiring some repairs before I can get a tenant, I have resolved to keep it for myself, for my rougher mineral work and mass of collection; keeping only my finest specimens at Denmark Hill. My first reason for this, is affection for the old house:—my second, want of room;—my third, the incompatibility of hammering, washing, and experimenting on stones with cleanliness in my stores of drawings. And my fourth is the power I shall have, when I want to do anything very quietly, of going up the hill and thinking it out in the old garden, where your greenhouse still stands, and the aviary—without fear of interruption from callers.
"It may perhaps amuse you, in hours which otherwise would be listless, to think over what may be done with the old house. I have ordered it at once to be put in proper repair by Mr. Snell; but for the furnishing, I can give no directions at present: it is to be very simple, at all events, and calculated chiefly for museum work and for stores of stones and books: and you really must not set your heart on having it furnished like Buckingham Palace.
"I have bought to-day, for five pounds, the front of the porch of the Church of St. James. It was going to be entirely destroyed. It is worn away, and has little of its old beauty; but as a remnant of the Gothic of Abbeville—as I happen to be here—and as the church was dedicated to my father's patron saint (as distinct from mine) I'm glad to have got it. It is a low arch—with tracery and niches, which ivy, and the Erba della Madonna, will grow over beautifully, wherever I rebuild it."
At Abbeville he had with him as usual his valet Crawley; and as before he sent for Downes the gardener, to give him a holiday, and to enjoy his raptures over every new sight. C.E. Norton came on a short visit, and Ruskin followed him to Paris, where he met the poet Longfellow (October 7). At last on Monday, 19th October, he wrote:
"Only a line to-day, for I am getting things together, and am a little tired, but very well, and glad to come home, though much mortified at having failed in half my plans, and done nothing compared to what I expected. But it is better than if I were displeased with all I had done. It isn't Turner—and it isn't Correggio—it isn't even Prout—but it isn't bad."
Returning home, he gave an account of his autumn's work in the lecture at the Royal Institution, January 29th, 1869, on the "Flamboyant Architecture of the Valley of the Somme." This lecture was not then published in full: but part of the original text is printed in the third chapter of the work we have next to notice, "The Queen of the Air."
"THE QUEEN OF THE AIR" (1869)
In spite of a "classical education" and the influence of Aristotle upon the immature art-theories of his earlier works, Ruskin was known, in his younger days, as a Goth, and the enemy of the Greeks. When he began life, his sense of justice made him take the side of Modern Painters against classical tradition. Later on, when considering the great questions of education and the aims of life, he entirely set aside the common routine of Greek and Latin grammar as the all-in-all of culture. But this was not because he shared Carlyle's contempt for classical studies.
In "Modern Painters," Vol. III., he had followed out the indications of nature-worship, and tried to analyse in general terms the attitude of the Greek spirit towards landscape scenery, as betrayed in Homer and Aristophanes and the poets usually read. Since that time his interest in Greek literature had been gradually increasing. He had made efforts to improve his knowledge of the language; and he had spent many days in sketching and studying the terra-cottas and vases and coins at the British Museum. He had also taken up some study of Egyptology, through Champollion, Bunsen and Birch, in the hope of tracing the origin of Greek decorative art. Comparative mythology, at that time, was a department of philology, introduced to the English public chiefly by Max Mueller. Under his influence Ruskin entered step by step upon an inquiry which afterwards became of singular importance in his life and thought.
In 1865 he had told his hearers at Bradford that Greek Religion was not, as commonly supposed, the worship of Beauty, but of Wisdom and Power. They did not, in their great age, worship "Venus," but Apollo and Athena. And he regarded their mythology as a sincere tradition, effective in forming a high moral type, and a great school of art. In the "Ethics of the Dust" he had explained the myth of Athena as parallel to that of Neith in Egypt; and in his fable of Neith and St. Barbara he had hinted at a comparison, on equal terms, of Ancient and Mediaeval mythology. He ended by saying that, though he would not have his young hearers believe "that the Greeks were better than we, and that their gods were real angels," yet their art and morals were in some respects greater, and their beliefs were worth respectful and sympathetic study. The "Queen of the Air" is his contribution to this study.
On March 9th, 1869, his lecture at University College, London, on "Greek Myths of Cloud and Storm," began with an attempt to explain in popular terms how a myth differs from mere fiction on the one hand and from allegory on the other, being "not conceived didactically, but didactic in its essence, as all good art is." He showed that Greek poetry dealt with the series of Nature-myths with which were interwoven ethical suggestions; that these were connected with Egyptian beliefs, but that the full force of them was only developed in the central period of Greek history, and their interpretation was to be read in a sympathetic analysis of the spirit of men like Pindar and AEschylus. "The great question," he said, "in reading a story is, always, not what wild hunter dreamed, or what childish race first dreaded it; but what wise man first perfectly told, and what strong people first perfectly lived by it. And the real meaning of any myth is that which it has at the noblest age of the nation among whom it was current."
In the next chapter he worked out, as a sequel to his lecture, two groups of Animal-myths; those connected with birds, and especially the dove, as type of Spirit, and those connected with the serpent in its various significances. These two studies were continued, more or less, in "Love's Meinie" and in the lecture printed in "Deucalion," as the third group, that of Plant-myths, was carried on in "Proserpina." The volume contained also extracts from the lecture on the Architecture of the Valley of the Somme, and two numbers of the "Cestus of Aglaia," and closed with a paper on The Hercules of Camarina, read to the South Lambeth Art School on March 15th. This study of a Greek coin had already formed the subject of an address at the Working Men's College, and anticipated the second course of Oxford Lectures. For the rest, "The Queen of the Air" is marked by its statement, more clearly than before in Ruskin's writing, of the dependence of moral upon physical life, and of physical upon moral science. He speaks with respect of the work of Darwin and Tyndall; but as formerly in the Rede Lecture, and afterwards in the "Eagle's Nest," he claims that natural science should not be pursued as an end in itself, paramount to all other conclusions and considerations; but as a department of study subordinate to ethics, with a view to utility and instruction.
Before this book was quite ready for publication, and after a sale of some of his less treasured pictures at Christie's he left home for a journey to Italy, to revisit the subjects of "Stones of Venice," as in 1868 he had revisited those of the "Seven Lamps." At Vevey, on the way, he wrote his preface (May 1st).
By quiet stages he passed the Simplon, writing from Domo d'Ossola, 5th May, 1869:
"I never yet had so beautiful a day for the Simplon as this has been; though the skin of my face is burning now all over—to keep me well in mind of its sunshine. I left Brieg at 6 exactly—light clouds breaking away into perfect calm of blue. Heavy snow on the col—about a league—with the wreaths in many places higher than the carriage. Then, white crocus all over the fields, with Soldanelle and Primula farinosa. I walked about three miles up, and seven down, with great contentment; the waterfalls being all in rainbows, and one beyond anything I ever yet saw; for it fell in a pillar of spray against shadow behind, and became rainbow altogether. I was just near enough to get the belt broad, and the down part of the arch: and the whole fall became orange and violet against deep shade. To-morrow I hope to get news of you all, at Baveno."
"BAVENO, Thursday, 6th May, 1869.
"It is wet this morning, and very dismal, for we are in a ghastly new Inn, the old one being shut up; and there is always a re-action after a strong excitement like the beauty of the Simplon yesterday, which leaves one very dull. But it is of no use growling or mewing. I hope to be at Milan to-morrow—at Verona for Sunday. I have been reading Dean Swift's life, and 'Gulliver's Travels' again. Putting the delight in dirt, which is a mere disease, aside, Swift is very like me, in most things:—in opinions exactly the same."
At Milan, next day, he went to see the St. Catherine of Luini which he had copied, and found it wantonly damaged by the carelessness of masons who put their ladders up against it, just as if it were a bit of common whitewashed wall.
On the 8th he reached Verona after seventeen years' absence, and on the 10th he was in Venice. There, looking at the works of the old painters with a fresh eye, and with feelings and thoughts far different from those with which he had viewed them as a young man, in 1845, he saw beauties he had passed over before, in the works of a painter till then little regarded by connoisseurs, and entirely neglected by the public. Historians of art like Crowe and Cavalcaselle had indeed examined Carpaccio's works and investigated his life, along with the lives and works of many another obscure master: artists like Hook and Burne-Jones had admired his pictures; Ruskin had mentioned his backgrounds twice or thrice in "Stones of Venice." But no writer had noticed his extraordinary interest as an exponent of the mythology of the Middle Ages, as the illustrator of poetical folk-lore derived from those antique myths of Greece, and newly presented by the genius of Christianity.
[Footnote 16: Their "History of Painting in North Italy," containing a detailed account of Carpaccio, was published in 1871.]
This was a discovery for which Ruskin was now ripe, He saw at once that he had found a treasure-house of things new and old. He fell in love with St. Ursula as, twenty-four years earlier, he had fallen in love with the statue of Ilaria at Lucca; and she became, as time after time he revisited Venice for her sake, a personality, a spiritual presence, a living ideal, exactly as the Queen of the Air might have been to the sincere Athenian in the pagan age of faith. The story of her life and death became an example, the conception of her character, as read in Carpaccio's picture, became a standard for his own life and action in many a time of distress and discouragement. The thought of "What would St. Ursula say?" led him—not always, but far more often than his correspondents knew—to burn the letter of sharp retort upon stupidity and impertinence, and to force the wearied brain and overstrung nerves into patience and a kindly answer. And later on, the playful credence which he accorded to the myth deepened into a renewed sense of the possibility of spiritual realities, when he learnt to look, with those mediaeval believers; once more as a little child upon the unfathomable mysteries of life.
But this anticipates the story; at the time, he found in Carpaccio the man who had touched the full chord of his feelings and his thoughts, just as, in his boyhood, Turner had led him, marvelling, through the fire and cloud to the mountain-altar; and as, in his youth, Tintoret had interpreted the storm and stress of a mind awakening to the terrible realities of the world. It was no caprice of a changeful taste, nor love of startling paradox, that brought him to "discover Carpaccio;" it was the logical sequence of his studies, and widening interests, and a view of art embracing far broader issues than the connoisseurship of "Modern Painters," or the didacticism of "Seven Lamps," or the historical research of "Stones of Venice."
Soon after the "Queen of the Air" was published Carlyle wrote:
"Last week I got y'r 'Queen of the Air,' and read it. Euge, Ettge. No such Book have I met with for long years past. The one soul now in the world who seems to feel as I do on the highest matters, and speaks mir aus dem Herzen, exactly what I wanted to hear!-As to the natural history of those old myths I remained here and there a little uncert'n; but as to the meanings you put into them, never anywhere. All these things I not only 'agree' with, but w'd use Thor's Hammer, if I had it, to enforce and put in action on this rotten world. Well done, well done!—and pluck up a heart, and continue ag'n and ag'n. And don't say 'most g't tho'ts are dressed in shrouds': many, many are the Phoebus Apollo celestial arrows you still have to shoot into the foul Pythons, and poisonous abominable Megatheriums and Plesiosaurians that go staggering ab't, large as cathedrals, in our sunk Epoch ag'n...."
VERONA AND OXFORD (1869-1870)
The main object of this journey was, however, not to study mythology, but to continue the revision of old estimates of architecture, and after seventeen years to look with a fresh eye at the subjects of "Stones of Venice."
The churches and monuments of Verona had been less thoroughly studied than those of Venice, and now they were threatened with imminent restoration. On May 25th he wrote:—"It is very strange that I have just been in time—after 17 years' delay—to get the remainder of what I wanted from the red tomb of which my old drawing hangs in the passage"—(the Castelbarco monument). "To-morrow they put up scaffolding to retouch, and I doubt not, spoil it for evermore." He succeeded in getting a delay of ten days, to enable him to paint the tomb in its original state; but before he went home it "had its new white cap on and looked like a Venetian gentleman in a pantaloon's mask." He brought away one of the actual stones of the old roof.
On June 3 he wrote:
"I am getting on well with all my own work; and much pleased with some that Mr. Bunney is doing for me; so that really I expect to carry off a great deal of Verona.... The only mischief of the place is its being too rich. Stones, flowers, mountains—all equally asking one to look at them; a history to every foot of ground, and a picture on every foot of wall; frescoes fading away in the neglected streets—like the colours of the dolphin."
As assistants in this enterprise of recording the monuments of Venice and Verona, and of recording them more fully and in a more interesting way than by photography, he took with him Arthur Burgess and John Bunney, his former pupils. Mr. Burgess was the subject of a memoir by Ruskin in the Century Guild Hobby Horse (April, 1887), appreciating his talents and lamenting his loss. Mr. Bunney, who had travelled with Ruskin in Switzerland in 1863, and had lately lived near Florence, thenceforward settled in Venice, where he died in 1882, after completing his great work, the St. Mark's now in the Ruskin Museum at Sheffield. A memoir of him by Mr. Wedderburn appeared in the catalogue of the Venice Exhibition, at the Fine Art Society's Gallery in November, 1882.
At Venice Ruskin had met his old friend Rawdon Brown, and Count Giberto Borromeo, whom he visited at Milan on his way home, with deep interest in the Luinis and in the authentic bust of St. Carlo; so closely resembling Ruskin himself. Another noteworthy encounter is recorded in a letter of May 4th.
[Footnote 17: Whose book on the English in Italy (from Venetian documents) was shortly to be published, with funds supplied by Ruskin.]
[Footnote 18: This date ought to be "June 4th," as Mr. E.T. Cook notices (Library Edn. XIX., p. liv.).]
"As I was drawing in the square this morning, in a lovely, quiet, Italian, light, there came up the poet Longfellow with his little daughter—a girl of 12, or 13, with springy-curled flaxen hair,—curls, or waves, that wouldn't come out in damp, I mean. They stayed talking beside me some time. I don't think it was a very vain thought that came over me, that if a photograph could have been taken of the beautiful square of Verona, in that soft light, with Longfellow and his daughter talking to me at my work—some people both in England and America would have liked copies of it."
Readers of "Fors" will recognise an incident noted on the 18th of June.
"Yesterday, it being quite cool, I went for a walk; and as I came down from a rather quiet hillside, a mile or two out of town, I past a house where the women were at work spinning the silk off the cocoons. There was a sort of whirring sound as in an English mill; but at intervals they sang a long sweet chant, all together, lasting about two minutes—then pausing a minute and then beginning again. It was good and tender music, and the multitude of voices prevented any sense of failure, so that it was very lovely and sweet, and like the things that I mean to try to bring to pass."
For he was already meditating on the thoughts that issued in the proposals of St. George's Guild, and the daily letters of this summer are full of allusions to a scheme for a great social movement, as well as to his plans for the control of Alpine torrents and the better irrigation of their valleys. On the 2nd of June he wrote:—"I see more and more clearly every day my power of showing how the Alpine torrents may be—not subdued—but 'educated.' A torrent is just like a human creature. Left to gain full strength in wantonness and rage, no power can any more redeem it: but watch the channels of every early impulse, and fence them, and your torrent becomes the gentlest and most blessing of servants."
His mother was anxious for him to come home, being persuaded that he was overworking himself in the continued heat which his letters reported. But he was loath to leave Italy, in which, he said, his work for the future lay. He made two more visits to Venice, to draw some of the sculptured details, now quickly perishing, and to make studies of Tintoret and Carpaccio. Among other friends who met him there was Mr. Holman Hunt, with whom he went round his favourite Scuola di San Rocco (1st July). Two days later he wrote:
"You will never believe it; but I have actually been trying to draw—a baby. The baby which the priest is holding in the little copy of Tintoret by Edward Jones which my father liked so much, over the basin stand in his bedroom. All the knowledge I have gained in these 17 years only makes me more full of awe and wonder at Tintoret. But it is so sad—so sad;—no one to care for him but me, and all going so fast to ruin. He has done that infant Christ in about five minutes—and I worked for two hours in vain, and could not tell why in vain—the mystery of his touch is so great."
[Footnote 19: Mr. and Mrs Burne-Jones had been in Venice in June, 1862; the artist, then young and comparatively unknown, with a commission to copy for Ruskin.]
Final farewell was said to Verona on the 10th August, for the homeward journey by the St. Gothard, and Giessbach, where he found the young friend of 1866 now near her end—and Thun, where he met Professor C.E. Norton. On the way he wrote:
"Lugano, Saturday, 14th August, 1869.
"My Dearest Mother,
"Yesterday—exactly three months from the day on which I entered Verona to begin work, I made a concluding sketch of the old Broletto of Como, which I drew first for the 7 lamps—I know not how many years ago,—and left Italy, for this time—having been entirely well and strong every day of my quarter of a year's sojourn there.
[Footnote 20: "Stones of Venice," Vol. I., plate 5.]
"This morning, before breakfast, I was sitting for the first time before Luini's Crucifixion: for all religious-art qualities the greatest picture south of the Alps—or rather, in Europe.
"And just after breakfast I got a telegram from my cousin George announcing that I am Professor of Art—the first—at the University of Oxford.
"Which will give me as much power as I can well use—and would have given pleasure to my poor father—and therefore to me—once.... It will make no difference in my general plans, about travel, etc. I shall think quietly of it as I drive up towards St. Gothard to-day.
"Ever, my dearest mother, ever your loving son,
Six years earlier, while being examined before the Royal Academy commission, he had been asked: "Has it ever struck you that it would be advantageous to art if there were at the universities professors of art who might give lectures and give instruction to young men who might desire to avail themselves of it, as you have lectures on geology and botany?" To which he had replied: "Yes, assuredly. The want of interest on the part of the upper classes in art has been very much at the bottom of the abuses which have crept into all systems of education connected with it. If the upper classes could only be interested in it by being led into it when young, a great improvement might be looked for, therefore I feel the expediency of such an addition to the education of our universities." His interest in the first phase of University Extension, and his gifts of Turners to Oxford and Cambridge, had shown that he was ready to go out of his way to help in the cause he had promoted. His former works on art, and reputation as a critic, pointed to him as the best qualified man in the country for such a post. He had been asked by his Oxford friends, who were many and influential, to stand for the Professorship of Poetry, three years earlier. There was no doubt that the election would be a popular one, and creditable to the University. On the other hand, Ruskin as Professor would have a certain sanction for his teaching, he believed; the title and the salary of L358 a year were hardly an object to him; but the position, as accredited lecturer and authorised instructor of youth, opened up new vistas of usefulness, new worlds of work to conquer; and he accepted the invitation. On August 10th he was elected Slade Professor.
He returned home by the end of August to prepare himself for his new duties. During the last period he had been giving, on an average, half a dozen lectures a year, which amply filled his annual volume. Twelve lectures were required of the professor. Many another man would have read his twelve lectures and gone his way; but he was not going to work in that perfunctory manner. He undertook to revise his whole teaching; to write for his hearers a completely new series of treatises on art, beginning with first principles and broad generalisations, and proceeding to the different departments of sculpture, engraving, landscape-painting and so on; then taking up the history of art:—an encyclopaedic scheme. He took this Oxford work not as a substitute for other occupation, exonerating him from further claims upon his energy and time; nor as a bye-play that could be slurred. He tried to do it thoroughly, and to do it in addition to the various work already in hand, under which, as it was, he used to break down, yearly, after each climax of effort.
This autumn and winter, with his first and most important course in preparation, he was still writing letters to the Daily Telegraph; being begged by Carlyle to come—"the sight of your face will be a comfort," says the poor old man—and undertaking lectures at the Royal Artillery Institution, Woolwich, and at the Royal Institution, London. The Woolwich lecture, given on December 14th, was that added to later editions of the "Crown of Wild Olive," under the title of "The Future of England." The other, February 4th, 1870, on "Verona and its Rivers," involved not only a lecture on art and history and contemporary political economy, but an exhibition of the drawings which he and his assistants had made during the preceding summer.
Four days later he opened a new period in his career with his inaugural Lecture in the Sheldonian Theatre at Oxford.
PROFESSOR AND PROPHET (1870-1900)
FIRST OXFORD LECTURES (1870-1871)
On Tuesday, 8th February, 1870, the Slade Professor's lecture-room was crowded to over-flowing with members of the University, old and young, and their friends, who flocked to hear, and to see, the author of "Modern Painters." The place was densely packed long before the time; the ante-rooms were filled with personal friends, hoping for some corner to be found them at the eleventh hour; the doors were blocked open, and besieged outside by a disappointed multitude.
Professorial lectures are not usually matters of great excitement: it does not often happen that the accommodation is found inadequate. After some hasty arrangements Sir Henry Acland pushed his way to the table, announced that it was impossible for the lecture to be held in that place, and begged the audience to adjourn to the Sheldonian Theatre. At last, welcomed by all Oxford, the Slade Professor appeared, to deliver his inaugural address.
[Footnote 21: The inaugural course was given Feb. 8, 16, 23; March 3, 9, 16 and 23, 1870.]
It was not strictly academic, the way he used to come in, with a little following of familiars and assistants,—exchange recognition with friends in the audience, arrange the objects he had brought to show,—fling off his long sleeved Master's gown, and plunge into his discourse. His manner of delivery had not altered much since the time of the Edinburgh Lectures. He used to begin by reading, in his curious intonation, the carefully-written passages of rhetoric, which usually occupied only about the half of his hour. By-and-by he would break off, and with quite another air extemporise the liveliest interpolations, describing his diagrams or specimens, restating his arguments, re-enforcing his appeal. His voice, till then artificially cadenced, suddenly became vivacious; his gestures, at first constrained, became dramatic. He used to act his subject, apparently without premeditated art, in the liveliest pantomime. He had no power of voice-mimicry, and none of the ordinary gifts of the actor. A tall and slim figure, not yet shortened from its five feet ten or eleven by the habitual stoop, which ten years later brought him down to less than middle height; a stiff, blue frock-coat; prominent, half-starched wristbands, and tall collars of the Gladstonian type; and the bright blue stock which every one knows for his heraldic bearing: no rings or gewgaws, but a long thin gold chain to his watch:—plain old-English gentleman, neither fashionable bourgeois nor artistic mountebank.
But he gave himself over to his subject with such unreserved intensity of imaginative power, he felt so vividly and spoke so from the heart, that he became whatever he talked about, never heeding his professorial dignity, and never doubting the sympathy of his audience. Lecturing on birds, he strutted like the chough, made himself wings like the swallow; he was for the moment a cat, when he explained (not "in scorn") that engraving was the "art of scratch." If it had been an affectation of theatric display, we "emancipated school-boys," as the Master of University used to call us, would have seen through it at once, and scorned him. But it was so evidently the expression of his intense eagerness for his subject, so palpably true to his purpose, and he so carried his hearers with him, that one saw in the grotesque of the performance only the guarantee of sincerity.
If one wanted more proof of that, there was his face, still young-looking and beardless; made for expression, and sensitive to every change of emotion. A long head, with enormous capacity of brain, veiled by thick wavy hair, not affectedly lengthy but as abundant as ever, and darkened into a deep brown, without a trace of grey; and short, light whiskers growing high over his cheeks. A forehead not on the model of the heroic type, but as if the sculptor had heaped his clay in handfuls over the eyebrows, and then heaped more. A big nose, aquiline, and broad at the base, with great thoroughbred nostrils and the "septum" between them thin and deeply depressed; and there was a turn down at the corners of the mouth, and a breadth of lower lip, that reminded one of his Verona griffin, half eagle, half lion; Scotch in original type, and suggesting a side to his character not all milk and roses. And under shaggy eyebrows, ever so far behind, the fieriest blue eyes, that changed with changing expression, from grave to gay, from lively to severe; that riveted you, magnetised you, seemed to look through you and read your soul; and indeed, when they lighted on you, you felt you had a soul of a sort. What they really saw is a mystery. Some who had not persuaded them to see as others see, maintained that they only saw what they looked for; others, who had successfully deceived them, that they saw nothing. No doubt they might be deceived; but I know now that they often took far shrewder measurements of men—I do not say of women—than anybody suspected.
For the Inaugural Course, he was, so to speak, on his best behaviour, guarding against too hasty expression of individuality. He read careful orations, stating his maturest views on the general theory of art, in picked language, suited to the academic position. The little volume is not discursive or entertaining, like "Modern Painters," and contains no pictures either with pen or pencil; but it is crammed full of thought, and of the results of thought.
The Slade Professor was also expected to organise and superintend the teaching of drawing; and his first words in the first lecture expressed the hope that he would be able to introduce some serious study of Art into the University, which, he thought, would be a step towards realising some of his ideals of education. He had long felt that mere talking about Art was a makeshift, and that no real insight could be got into the subject without actual and practical dealing with it. He found a South Kensington School in existence at Oxford, with an able master, Mr. Alexander Macdonald; and though he did not entirely approve of the methods in use, tried to make the best of the materials to his hand, accepting but enlarging the scope of the system. The South Kensington method had been devised for industrial designing, primarily; Ruskin's desire was to get undergraduates to take up a wider subject, to familiarise themselves with the technical excellences of the great masters, to study nature, and the different processes of art,—drawing, painting and some forms of decorative work, such as, in especial, goldsmiths' work, out of which the Florentine school had sprung. He did not wish to train artists, but, as before in the Working Men's College, to cultivate the habit of mind that looks at nature and life, not analytically, as science does, but for the sake of external aspect and expression. By these means he hoped to breed a race of judicious patrons and critics, the best service any man can render to the cause of art.
And so he got together a mass of examples in addition to the Turners which he had already given to the University galleries. He placed in the school a few pictures by Tintoret, some drawings by Rossetti, Holman Hunt, and Burne-Jones, and a great number of fine casts and engravings. He arranged a series of studies by himself and others, as "copies," fitted, like the Turners in the National Gallery, with sliding frames in cabinets for convenient reference and removal. After spending most of his first Lent Term in this work, he went home for a month to prepare a catalogue, which was published the same year: the school not being finally opened until October, 1871. During these first visits to Oxford he was the guest of Sir Henry Acland; on April 29, 1871, Professor Ruskin, already honorary student of Christ Church, was elected to an honorary fellowship at Corpus, and enabled to occupy rooms, vacated by the Rev. Henry Furneaux, who gave up his fellowship on marrying Mr. Arthur Severn's twin-sister.
[Footnote 22: His rooms were in Fellows' buildings, No. 2 staircase, first floor right.]
After this work well begun, he went abroad for a vacation tour with a party of friends—as in 1866; Lady Trevelyan's sister, Mrs. Hilliard, to chaperone the same young ladies, and three servants with them. They started on April 27th; stayed awhile at Meurice's to see Paris; and at Geneva, to go up the Saleve, twice, in bitter black east wind. Then across the Simplon to Milan. After a month at Venice and Verona, where he recurred to his scheme against inundation, then ridiculed by Punch, but afterwards taken up seriously by the Italians, they went to Florence, and met Professor Norton. In the end of June they turned homewards, by Pisa and Lucca, Milan and Como, and went to visit their friend Marie of the Giessbach.