At the Giessbach they spent a fortnight, enjoying the July weather and glorious walks, in the middle of which war was suddenly declared between Germany and France. The summons of their German waiter to join his regiment brought the news home to them, as such personal examples do, more than columns of newspaper print; and as hostilities were rapidly beginning, Ruskin, with the gloomiest forebodings for the beautiful country he loved, took his party home straight across France, before the ways should be closed.
August was a month of feverish suspense to everybody; to no one more than to Ruskin, who watched the progress of the armies while he worked day by day at the British Museum preparing lectures for next term. This was the course on Greek relief-sculpture, published as "Aratra Pentelici." It was a happy thought to illustrate his subject from coins, rather than from disputed and mutilated fragments; and he worked into it his revised theory of the origin of art—not Schiller's nor Herbert Spencer's, and yet akin to theirs of the "Spieltrieb,"—involving the notion of doll-play;—man as a child, re-creating himself, in a double sense; imitating the creation of the world and really creating a sort of secondary life in his art, to play with, or to worship. In the last lecture of the series (published separately) the Professor compared—as the outcome of classic art in Renaissance times—Michelangelo and Tintoret, greatly to the disadvantage of Michelangelo. This heresy against a popular creed served as text for some severe criticism; but as he said in a prefatory note to the pamphlet, readers "must observe that its business is only to point out what is to be blamed in Michael Angelo, and that it assumes the fact of his power to be generally known," and he referred to Mr. Tyrwhitt's "Lectures on Christian Art" for the opposite side of the question.
[Footnote 23: Delivered Nov. 24, 26, Dec. 1, 3, 8 and 10, 1870.]
Meanwhile the war was raging. Ruskin was asked by his friends to raise his voice against the ravage of France; but he replied that it was inevitable. At last, in October, he read how Rosa Bonheur and Edouard Frere had been permitted to pass through the German lines, and next day came the news of the bombardment of Strasburg, with anticipations of the destruction of the Cathedral, library, and picture galleries, foretelling, as it seemed, the more terrible and irreparable ruin of the treasure-houses of art in Paris. His heart was with the French, and he broke silence in the bitterness of his spirit, upbraiding their disorder and showing how the German success was the victory of "one of the truest monarchies and schools of honour and obedience yet organised under heaven." He hoped that Germany, now that she had shown her power, would withdraw, and demand no indemnity. But that was too much to ask.
Before long Paris itself became the scene of action, and in January 1871 was besieged and bombarded. So much of Ruskin's work and affection had been given to French Gothic that he could not endure to think of his beloved Sainte Chapelle as being actually under fire—to say nothing of the horror of human suffering in a siege. He joined Cardinal (then Archbishop) Manning, Professor Huxley, Sir John Lubbock and James Knowles in forming a "Paris Food Fund," which shortly united with the Lord Mayor's committee for the general relief of the besieged. The day after writing on the Sainte Chapelle he attended the meeting of the Mansion House, and gave a subscription of L50. He followed events anxiously through the storm of the Commune and its fearful ending, angered at the fratricide and anarchy which no Mansion House help could avert or repair.
It was no time for talking on art, he felt: instead of the full course, he could only manage three lectures on landscape, and these not so completely prepared as to make them ready for printing. Before Christmas he had been once more to Woolwich, where Colonel Brackenbury invited him to address the cadets at the prize-giving of the Science and Art Department, December 13, 1870, in which the Rev. W. Kingsley, an old friend of Ruskin's and of Turner's, was one of the masters. Two of the lectures of the "Crown of Wild Olive" had been given there, with more than usual animation, and enthusiastically received by crowded and distinguished audiences, among whom was Prince Arthur (the Duke of Connaught), then at the Royal Military Academy. This time it was the "Story of Arachne," an address on education and aims in life; opening with reminiscences of his own childhood, and pleasantly telling the Greek myths of the spider and the ant, with interpretations for the times.
In the three lectures on landscape, given January 20, February 9 and 23, 1871, he dwelt on the necessity of human and historic interest in scenery; and compared Greek "solidity and veracity" with Gothic "spirituality and mendacity," Greek chiaroscuro and tranquil activity with Gothic colour and "passionate rest." Botticelli's "Nativity" (now in the National Gallery) was then being shown at the Old Master's Exhibition, and Ruskin took it, along with the works of Cima, as a type of one form of Greek Art.
In April, 1871, his cousin, Miss Agnew, who had been seven years at Denmark Hill, was married to Mr. Arthur Severn. Ruskin, who had added to his other work the additional labour of "Fors Clavigera," went for a summer's change to Matlock. July opened with cold, dry, dark weather, dangerous for out-of-door sketching. One morning early—for he was always an early riser—he took a chill while painting a spray of wild roses before breakfast (the drawing now in the Oxford Schools). He was already overworked, and it ended in a severe attack of internal inflammation, which nearly cost him his life. He was a difficult patient to deal with. The local practitioner who attended him used to tell how he refused remedies, and in the height of the disease asked what would be worst for him. He took it; and to everybody's surprise, recovered.
[Footnote 24: Mrs. Arthur Severn, in a note on the proof, says: "It was a slice of cold roast beef he hungered for, at Matlock (to our horror, and dear Lady Mount Temple's, who were nursing him): there was none in the hotel, and it was late at night; and Albert Goodwin went off to get some, somewhere, or anywhere. All the hotels were closed; but at last, at an eating-house in Matlock Bath, he discovered some, and came back triumphant with it, wrapped up in paper; and J.R. enjoyed his late supper thoroughly; and though we all waited anxiously till the morning for the result, it had done no harm! And when he was told pepper was bad for him, he dredged it freely over his food in defiance! It was directly after our return to Denmark Hill he got Linton's letter offering him this place (Brantwood). There are, I believe, ten acres of moor belonging to Brantwood." Mr. Albert Goodwin, R.W.S., the landscape painter, travelled, about this time, in Italy with Ruskin.]
During the illness at Matlock his thoughts reverted to the old "Iteriad" times of forty years before, when he had travelled with his parents and cousin Mary from that same "New Bath Hotel," where he was now lying, to the Lakes; and again he wearied for "the heights that look adown upon the dale. The crags are lone on Coniston." If he could only lie down there, he said, he should get well again.
He had not fully recovered before he heard that W.J. Linton, the poet and wood-engraver, wished to sell a house and land at the very place: L1,500, and it could be his. Without question asked he bought it at once; and as it would be impossible to lecture at Oxford so soon after his illness, he set off, before the middle of September, with his friends the Hilliards to visit his new possession. They found a rough-cast country cottage, old, damp, decayed; smoky chimneyed and rat-riddled; but "five acres of rock and moor and streamlet; and," he wrote, "I think the finest view I know in Cumberland or Lancashire, with the sunset visible over the same."
The spot was not, even then, without its associations: Gerald Massey the poet, Linton, and his wife Mrs. Lynn Linton the novelist, Dr. G.W. Kitchin (Dean of Durham) had lived and worked there, and Linton had adorned it outside with revolutionary mottoes—"God and the people," and so on. It had been a favourite point of view of Wordsworth's; his "seat" was pointed out in the grounds. Tennyson had lived for a while close by: his "seat," too, was on the hill above Lanehead.
But the cottage needed thorough repair, and that cost more than rebuilding, not to speak of the additions of later years, which have ended by making it into a mansion surrounded by a hamlet. And there was the furnishing; for Denmark Hill, where his mother lived, was still to be headquarters. Ruskin gave carte-blanche to the London upholsterer with whom he had been accustomed to deal; and such expensive articles were sent that when he came down for a month next autumn, he reckoned that, all included, his country cottage had cost him not less than L4,000.
But he was not the man to spend on himself without sharing his wealth with others. On November 22nd, Convocation accepted a gift from the Slade Professor of L5,000 to endow a mastership of drawing at Oxford, in addition to the pictures and "copies" placed in the schools; he had set up a relative in business with L15,000, which was unfortunately lost; and at Christmas he gave L7,000, the tithe of his remaining capital, to the St. George's Fund; of which more hereafter.
On November 23rd he was elected Lord Rector of St. Andrew's University, by 86 votes against 79 for Lord Lytton. After the election it was discovered that, by the Scottish Universities Act of 1858, no one holding a professorship at a British University was eligible. Professor Ruskin was disqualified, and gave no address; and Lord Neaves was chosen in his place.
Mrs. Ruskin was now ninety years of age; her sight was nearly gone, but she still retained her powers of mind, and ruled with severe kindliness her household and her son. Her old servant Anne had died in March. Anne had nursed John Ruskin as a baby, and had lived with the family ever since, devoted to them, and ready for any disagreeable task—
"So that she was never quite in her glory," "Praeterita" says, "unless some of us were ill. She had also some parallel speciality for saying disagreeable things, and might be relied upon to give the extremely darkest view of any subject, before proceeding to ameliorative action upon it. And she had a very creditable and republican aversion to doing immediately, or in set terms, as she was bid; so that when my mother and she got old together, and my mother became very imperative and particular about having her teacup set on one side of her little round table, Anne would observantly and punctiliously put it always on the other: which caused my mother to state to me, every morning after breakfast, gravely, that if ever a woman in this world was possessed by the Devil, Anne was that woman."
But this gloomy Calvinism was tempered with a benevolence quite as uncommon. It was from his parents that Ruskin learned never to turn off a servant, and the Denmark Hill household was as easy-going as the legendary "baronial" retinue of the good old times. A young friend asked Mrs. Ruskin, in a moment of indiscretion, what such a one of the ancient maids did—for there were several without apparent occupation about the house. Mrs. Ruskin drew herself up and said, "She, my dear, puts out the dessert."
And yet, in her blindness, she could read character unhesitatingly. That was, no doubt, why people feared her. When Mr. Secretary Howell, in the days when he was still the oracle of the Ruskin-Rossetti circle, had been regaling them with his wonderful tales, after dinner, she would throw her netting down and say, "How can you two sit there and listen to such a pack of lies?" She objected strongly, in these later years, to the theatre; and when sometimes her son would wish to take a party into town to see the last new piece, her permission had to be asked, and was not readily granted, unless to Miss Agnew, who was the ambassadress in such affairs of diplomacy. But while disapproving of some of his worldly ways, and convinced that she had too much indulged his childhood, the old lady loved him with all the intensity of the strange fierce lioness nature, which only one or two had ever had a glimpse of. And when (December 5th, 1871) she died, trusting to see her husband again—not to be near him, not to be so high in heaven but content if she might only see him, she said—her son was left "with a surprising sense of loneliness." He had loved her truly, obeyed her strictly and tended her faithfully; and even yet hardly realized how much she had been to him. He buried her in his father's grave, and wrote upon it, "Here beside my father's body I have laid my mother's: nor was dearer earth ever returned to earth, nor purer life recorded in heaven."
"FORS" BEGUN (1871-1872)
On January 1st, 1871, was issued a small pamphlet, headed "Fors Clavigera," in the form of a letter to the working men and labourers of England, dated from Denmark Hill, and signed "John Ruskin." It was not published in the usual way, but sold by the author's engraver, Mr. George Allen, at Heathfield Cottage, Keston, Kent. It was not advertised; press-copies were sent to the leading papers; and of course the author's acquaintance knew of its publication. Strangers, who heard of this curious proceeding, spread the report that in order to get Ruskin's latest, you had to travel into the country, with your sevenpence in your hand, and transact your business among Mr. Allen's beehives. So you had, if you wanted to see what you were buying; for no arrangements were made for its sale by the booksellers: sevenpence a copy, carriage paid, no discount, and no abatement on taking a quantity.
By such pilgrimages, but more easily through the post, the new work filtered out, in monthly instalments, to a limited number of buyers. After three years the price was raised to tenpence. In 1875 the first thousands of the earlier numbers were sold: "the public has a very long nose," Mr. Ruskin once said, "and scents out what it wants, sooner or later." A second edition was issued, bound up into yearly volumes, of which eight were ultimately completed. Meanwhile the work went on, something in the style of the old Addison Spectator; each part containing twenty pages, more or less, by Ruskin, with added contributions from various correspondents.
The charm of "Fors" is neither in epigram nor in anecdote, but in the sustained vivacity that runs through the texture of the work; the reappearance of golden threads of thought, glittering in new figures, and among new colours; and throughout all the variety of subject a unity of style unlike the style of his earlier works, where flowery rhetorical passages are tagged to less interesting chapters, separately studied sermonettes interposed among the geology, and Johnson, Locke, Hooker, Carlyle—or whoever happened to be the author he was reading at the time—frankly imitated. It was always clever, but often artificial; like the composition of a Renaissance painter who inserts his bel corpo ignudo to catch the eye. In "Fors," however, the web is of a piece, all sparkling with the same life; though as it is gradually unwound from the loom it is hard to judge the design. That can only be done when it is reviewed as a whole.
At the time, his mingling of jest and earnest was misunderstood even by friends. The author learnt too painfully the danger of seeming to trifle with cherished beliefs. He forswore levity, but soon relapsed into the old style, out of sheer sincerity: for he was too much in earnest not to be frankly himself in his utterances, without writing up to, or down to, any other person's standard.
Ruskin did not wish to lead a colony or to head a revolution. He had been pondering for fifteen years the cause of poverty and crime, and the conviction had grown upon him that modern commercialism was at the root of it all. But his attacks on commercialism—his analysis of its bad influence on all sections of society—were too vigorous and uncompromising for the newspaper editors who received "Fors," and even for most of his private friends. There were, however, some who saw what he was aiming at: and let it be remarked that his first encouragement came from the highest quarters. Just as Sydney Smith, the chief critic of earlier days, had been the first to praise "Modern Painters," in the teeth of vulgar opinion, so now Carlyle spoke for "Fors."
"5, Cheyne Row, Chelsea, April 30th, 1871.
"This 'Fors Clavigera,' Letter 5th, which I have just finished reading, is incomparable; a quasi-sacred consolation to me, which almost brings tears into my eyes! Every word of it is as if spoken, not out of my poor heart only, but out of the eternal skies; words winged with Empyrean wisdom, piercing as lightning,—and which I really do not remember to have heard the like of. Continue, while you have such utterances in you, to give them voice. They will find and force entrance into human hearts, whatever the 'angle of incidence' may be; that is to say, whether, for the degraded and in human Blockheadism we, so-called 'men,' have mostly now become, you come in upon them at the broadside, at the top, or even at the bottom. Euge, Euge!—Yours ever,
Others, like Sir Arthur Helps, joined in this encouragement. But the old struggle with the newspapers began over again.
They united in considering the whole business insane, though they did not doubt his sincerity when Ruskin put down his own money, the tenth of what he had, as he recommended his adherents to do. By the end of the year he had set aside L7,000 toward establishing a company to be called of "St. George," as representing at once England and agriculture. Sir Thomas Dyke Acland and the Right Hon. W. Cowper-Temple (afterwards Lord Mount Temple), though not pledging themselves to approval of the scheme, undertook the trusteeship of the fund. A few friends subscribed; in June, 1872, after a year and a half of "Fors," the first stranger sent in his contribution, and at the end of three years L236 13s. were collected, to add to his L7,000, and a few acres of land were given.
Meanwhile Ruskin practised what he preached. He did not preach renunciation; he was not a Pessimist any more than an Optimist. Sometimes he felt he was not doing enough; he knew very well that others thought so. I remember his saying, in his rooms at Oxford in one of those years: "Here I am, trying to reform the world, and I suppose I ought to begin with myself, I am trying to do St. Benedict's work, and I ought to be a saint. And yet I am living between a Turkey carpet and a Titian, and drinking as much tea"—taking his second cup—"as I can swig!"
That was the way he put it to an undergraduate; to a lady friend he wrote later on, "I'm reading history of early saints, too, for my Amiens book, and feel that I ought to be scratched, or starved, or boiled, or something unpleasant; and I don't know if I'm a saint or a sinner in the least, in mediaeval language. How did the saints feel themselves, I wonder, about their saintship!"
If he had forsaken all and followed the vocation of St. Francis,—he has discussed the question candidly in "Fors" for May, 1874—would not his work have been more effectual, his example more inspiring? Conceivably: but that was not his mission. His gospel was not one of asceticism; it called upon no one for any sort of suicide, or even martyrdom. He required of his followers that they should live their lives to the full in "Admiration, Hope and Love": and not that they should sacrifice themselves in fasting and wearing of camels'-hair coats. He wished them to work, to be honest, and just, in all things immediately attainable. He asked the tenth of their living—not the widow's two mites; and it was deeply painful to him to find, sometimes, that they had so interpreted his teaching: as when he wrote, later, to Miss Beever:
"One of my poor 'Companions of St. George' who has sent me, not a widow's but a parlour-maid's (an old schoolmistress) 'all her living,' and whom I found last night, dying, slowly and quietly, in a damp room, just the size of your study (which her landlord won't mend the roof of), by the light of a single tallow candle,—dying, I say, slowly of consumption, not yet near the end, but contemplating it with sorrow, mixed partly with fear lest she should not have done all she could for her children! The sight of this and my own shameful comforts, three wax candles and blazing fire and dry roof, and Susie and Joanie for friends! Oh me, Susie, what is to become of me in the next world, who have in this life all my good things!"
After carrying on "Fors" for some time his attention was drawn by Mr. W.C. Sillar to the question of "Usury." At first he had seen no crying sin in Interest. He had held that the "rights of capital" were visionary, and that the tools should belong to him that can handle them, in a perfect state of society; but he thought that the existing system was no worse in this respect than in others, and his expectation of reform in the plan of investment went hand-in-hand with his hope of a good time coming in everything else. So he quietly accepted his rents, as he accepted his Professorship, for example, thinking it his business to be a good landlord and spend his money generously, just as he thought it his business to retain the existing South Kensington drawing school, and the Oxford system of education—not at all his ideal—and to make the best use of them.
A lady who was his pupil in drawing, and a believer in his ideals of philanthropy, Miss Octavia Hill, undertook to help him in 1864 in efforts to reclaim part—though a very small part—of the lower-class dwellings of London. Half a dozen houses in Marylebone left by Ruskin's father, to which he added three more in Paradise Place, as it was euphemistically named, were the subjects of their experiment. They were ridiculed at first; but by the noblest endeavour they succeeded, and set an example which has been followed in many of our towns with great results. They showed what a wise and kind landlord could do by caring for tenants, by giving them habitable dwellings, recreation ground and fixity of tenure, and requiring in return a reasonable and moderate rent. He got five per cent. for his capital, instead of twelve or more, which such property generally returns, or at that time returned.
But when he began to write against rent and interest there were plenty of critics ready to cite this and other investments as a damning inconsistency. He was not the man to offer explanations at any time. It was no defence to say that he took less and did more than other landlords. And so he was glad to part with the whole to Miss Hill; nor did he care to spend upon himself the L3,500, which I believe was the price. It went right and left in gifts; till one day he cheerfully remarked:
"It's a' gane awa' Like snaw aff a wa'."
"Is there really nothing to show for it?" he was asked. "Nothing," he said, "except this new silk umbrella."
He had talked so much of the possibility of carrying on honest and honourable retail trade, that he felt bound to exemplify his principles. He took a house No. 19, Paddington Street, with a corner shop, near his Marylebone property, and set himself up in business as a teaman. Mr. Arthur Severn painted the sign, in neat blue letters; the window was decked with fine old china, bought from a Cavaliere near Siena, whose unique collection had been introduced to notice by Professor Norton; and Miss Harrie Tovey, an old servant of Denmark Hill, was established there, like Miss Mattie in "Cranford," or rather like one of the salaried officials of "Time and Tide," to dispense the unadulterated leaf to all comers. No advertisements, no self-recommendation, no catchpenny tricks of trade were allowed; and yet the business went on, and, I am assured, prospered with legitimate profits. At first, various kinds of the best tea only were sold; but it seemed to the tenant of the shop that coffee and sugar ought to be included in the list. This was not at all in Ruskin's programme, and there were great debates at home about it. At last he gave way, on the understanding that the shop was to be responsible for the proper roasting of the coffee according to the best recipe. After some time Miss Tovey died. And when, in the autumn of 1876, Miss Octavia Hill proposed to take the house and business over and work it with the rest of the Marylebone property, the offer was thankfully accepted.
Another of his principles was cleanliness; "the speedy abolition of all abolishable filth is the first process of education." He undertook to keep certain streets, not crossings only, cleaner than the public seemed to care for, between the British Museum and St. Giles'. He took the broom himself, for a start, put on his gardener, Downes, as foreman of the job, and engaged a small staff of helpers. The work began, as he promised, in a humorous letter to the Pall Matt Gazette upon New Year's Day, 1872, and he kept his three sweepers at work for eight hours daily "to show a bit of our London streets kept as clean as the deck of a ship of the line."
There were some difficulties, too. One of the staff was an extremely handsome and lively shoeblack, picked up in St. Giles'. It turned out that he was not unknown to the world: he had sat to artists—to Mr. Edward Clifford, to Mr. Severn; and went by the name of "Cheeky." Every now and then Ruskin "and party" drove round to inspect the works. Downes could not be everywhere at once: and Cheeky used to be caught at pitch and toss or marbles in unswept Museum Street. Ruskin rarely, if ever, dismissed a servant; but street sweeping was not good enough for Cheeky, and so he enlisted. The army was not good enough, and so he deserted; and was last seen disappearing into the darkness, after calling a cab for his old friends one night at the Albert Hall.
One more escapade of this most unpractical man, as they called him. Since his fortune was rapidly melting away, he had to look to his works as an ultimate resource: they eventually became his only means of livelihood. One might suppose that he would be anxious to put his publishing business on the most secure and satisfactory footing; to facilitate sale, and to ensure profit. But he had views. He objected to advertising; though he thought that in his St. George's Scheme he would have a yearly Book Gazette drawn up by responsible authorities, indicating the best works. He distrusted the system of unacknowledged profits and percentages, though he fully agreed that the retailer should be paid for his work, and wished, in an ideal state, to see the shopkeeper a salaried official. He disliked the bad print and paper of the cheap literature of that day, and knew that people valued more highly what they did not get so easily. He had changed his mind with regard to one or two things—religion and glaciers chiefly—about which he had written at length in earlier works.
So he withdrew his most popular books—"Modern Painters" and the rest—from circulation, though he was persuaded by the publisher to reprint "Modern Painters" and "Stones of Venice" once more—"positively for the last time," as they said the plates would give no more good impressions. He had his later writings printed in a rather expensive style; at first through Smith & Elder, after two years by Messrs. Watson & Hazell (later Hazell, Watson & Viney, Ltd.), and the method of publication is illustrated in the history of "Sesame and Lilies," the first volume of these "collected works." It was issued by Smith & Elder, May, 1871, at 7s., to the trade only, leaving the retailer to fix the price to the public. In September, 1872, the work was also supplied by Mr. George Allen, and the price raised to 9s.6d., (carriage paid) to trade and public alike, with the idea that an extra shilling, or nearly ten per cent., might be added by the bookseller for his trouble in ordering the work. If he did not add the commission, that was his own affair; though with postage of order and payment, when only one or two copies at a time were asked for, this did not leave much margin. So it was doubled, by the simple expedient of doubling the price!—or, to be accurate, raising it to 18s. (carriage paid) for 20s. over the counter. It was freely prophesied by business men that this would not do: however, at the end of fifteen years the sixth edition of this work in this form was being sold, in spite of the fact that, five years before, a smaller reprint of the same book had been brought out at 5s., and was then in its fourth edition of 3,000 copies each.
Compared with the enormous sale of sensational novels and school books, this is no great matter; but for a didactic work, offered to the public without advertisement, and in the face of the almost universal opposition of the book-selling trade, it means not only that, as an author, Ruskin had made a secure reputation, but also that he deserved the curious tribute once paid him by the journal of a big modern shop (Compton House, Liverpool) as a "great tradesman."
OXFORD TEACHING (1872-1875)
Early in 1872, after bringing out "Munera Pulveris," the essays he had written ten years before for Fraser on economy; after getting those street-sweepers to work near the British Museum where he was making studies of animals and Greek sculpture; and after once more addressing the Woolwich cadets, this time on the Bird of Calm (the mythology of the Halcyon), Professor Ruskin went to Oxford to give a course of ten lectures on the Relation of Natural Science to Art, afterwards published under the title of "The Eagle's Nest." He wrote to Professor Norton:
[Footnote 25: January 13, 1872.]
[Footnote 26: Feb. 8, 10, 15, 17, 22, 24. 29; March 2, 7, and 9.]
"I am, as usual, unusually busy. When I get fairly into my lecture work at Oxford I always find the lecture would come better some other way, just before it is given, and so work from hand to mouth. I am always unhappy, and see no good in saying so. But I am settling to my work here—recklessly—to do my best with it: feeling quite sure that it is talking at hazard for what chance good may come. But I attend regularly in the schools as mere drawing-master, and the men begin to come in one by one, about fifteen or twenty already; several worth having as pupils in any way, being of temper to make good growth of."
Why was he always unhappy? It was not that Mr. W.B. Scott criticised "Ruskin's influence" in that March; or that by Easter he had to say farewell to his old home on Denmark Hill, and settle "for good" at Brantwood. Nor that he could go abroad again for a long summer in Italy with Mr. and Mrs. Severn and the Hilliards and Mr. Albert Goodwin. They started about the middle of April, and on the journey out he wrote, beside his "Fors" which always went on, a preface to the Rev. R. St. John Tyrwhitt's "Christian Art and Symbolism." He drew the Apse at Pisa, half-amused and half-worried by the little ragamuffin who varied the tedium of watching his work by doing horizontal-bar tricks on the railings of the Cathedral green. Then to Lucca, where, to show his friends something of Italian landscape, he took them for rambles through the olive farms and chestnut woods, among which Miss Hilliard lost her jewelled cross. Greatly to Ruskin's delight, as a firm believer in Italian peasant-virtue, it was found and returned without hint of reward.
At Rome they visited old Mr. Severn, and then went homeward by way of Verona, where Ruskin wrote an account of the Cavalli monuments for the Arundel society, and Venice, where he returned to the study of Carpaccio. At Rome he had been once more to the Sistine, and found that on earlier visits the ceiling and the Last Judgment had taken his attention too exclusively. Now that he could look away from Michelangelo he become conscious of the claims of Botticelli's frescoes, which represent, in the Florentine school, somewhat the same kind of interest that he had found in Carpaccio. He became enamoured of Botticelli's Zipporah, and resolved to study the master more closely. On reaching home he had to prepare "The Eagle's Nest" for publication; in the preface he gave special importance to Botticelli, and amplified it in lectures on early engraving, that Autumn; in which I remember his quoting with appreciation the passage on the Venus Anadyomene from Pater's "Studies in the Renaissance" just published.
[Footnote 27: "Ariadne Florentina," delivered on Nov. 2, 9, 16, 23, 30, and Dec. 7, and repeated on the following Thursdays. Ruskin's first mention of Botticelli was in the course on Landscape, Lent Term, 1871.]
This sudden enthusiasm about an unknown painter amused the Oxford public: and it became a standing joke among the profane to ask who was Ruskin's last great man. It was in answer to that, and in expression of a truer understanding than most Oxford pupils attained, that Bourdillon of Worcester wrote on "the Ethereal Ruskin,"—that was Carlyle's name for him:—
"To us this star or that seems bright, And oft some headlong meteor's flight Holds for awhile our raptured sight.
"But he discerns each noble star; The least is only the most far, Whose worlds, may be, the mightiest are."
The critical value of this course however, to a student of art-history, is impaired by his using as illustrations of Botticelli, and of the manner of engraving which he took for standard, certain plates which were erroneously attributed to the artist. "It is strange," he wrote in despair to Professor Norton, "that I hardly ever get anything stated without some grave mistake, however true in my main discourse." But in this case a fate stronger than he had taken him unawares. The circumstances do not extenuate the error of the Professor, but they explain the difficulties under which his work was done. The cloud that rested on his own life was the result of a strange and wholly unexpected tragedy in another's.
It was an open secret—his attachment to a lady, who had been his pupil, and was now generally understood to be his fiancee. She was far younger than he; but at fifty-three he was not an old man; and the friends who fully knew and understood the affair favoured his intentions and joined in the hope, and in auguries for the happiness for which he had been so long waiting. But now that it came to the point the lady finally decided that it was impossible. He was not at one with her in religious matters. He could speak lightly of her evangelical creed—it seemed he scoffed in "Fors" at her faith. She could not be unequally yoked with an unbeliever. To her, the alternative was plain; the choice was terrible: yet, having once seen her path, she turned resolutely away.
[Footnote 28: In former editions the following sentence was added: "Three years after, as she lay dying, he begged to see her once more. She sent to ask whether he could yet say that he loved God better than he loved her; and when he said 'No,' her door was closed upon him for ever." The statement was suggested by information from Ruskin in later days. I must, however, have misrepresented the facts, as the lady's mother has left it in writing that no such incident occurred.]
Meanwhile, in the bitterest despair he sought refuge as he had done before, in his work. He accepted the lesson, though he, too, could not recant; still he tried to correct his apparent levity in the renewed seriousness and more earnest tone of "Fors," speaking more plainly and more simply, but without concession. He wrote on the next Christmas Eve to an Aberdeen Bible-class teacher:
"If you care to give your class a word directly from me, say to them that they will find it well, throughout life, never to trouble themselves about what they ought not to do, but about what they ought to do. The condemnation given from the Judgment Throne—most solemnly described—is all for the undones and not for the dones. People are perpetually afraid of doing wrong; but unless they are doing its reverse energetically, they do it all day long, and the degree does not matter. Make your young hearers resolve to be honest in their work in this life. Heaven will take care of them for the other."
That was all he could say: he did not know there was another life: he hoped there was: and yet, if he were not a saint or a Christian, was there any man in the world who was nearer to the kingdom of Heaven than this stubborn heretic?
His heretical attitude was singular. He was just as far removed from adopting the easy antagonism of science to religion as from siding with religion against science. In a paper singularly interesting—and in his biography important—on the "Nature and Authority of Miracle," read to the Metaphysical Society (February 11, 1873), he tried to clear up his position and to state a qualified belief in the supernatural.
With that year expired the term for which he had been elected to the Slade Professorship, and in January 1873 he was re-elected. In his first three years he had given five courses of lectures designed to introduce an encyclopaedic review and reconstruction of all he had to say upon art. Beginning with general principles, he had proceeded to their application in history, by tracing certain phases of Greek sculpture, and by contrasting the Greek and the Gothic spirit as shown in the treatment of landscape, from which he went on to the study of early engraving. The application of his principles to theory was made in the course on Science and Art ("The Eagle's Nest"). Now, on his re-election, he proceeded to take up these two sides of his subject, and to illustrate this view of the right way to apply science to art, by a course on Birds, in Nature, Art and Mythology, and next year by a study of Alpine forms. The historical side was continued with lectures on Niccola Pisano and early Tuscan sculpture, and in 1874 with an important, though unpublished, course on Florentine Art.
It is to this cycle of lectures that we must look for that matured Ruskinian theory of art which his early works do not reach; and which his writings between 1860 and 1870 do not touch. Though the Oxford lectures are only a fragment of what he ought to have done, they should be sufficient to a careful reader; though their expression is sometimes obscured by diffuse treatment, they contain the root of the matter, thought out for fifteen years since the close of the more brilliant, but less profound, period of "Modern Painters."
The course on Birds was given in the drawing school at the University Galleries. The room was not large enough for the numbers that crowded to hear Professor Ruskin, and each of these lectures, like the previous and the following courses, had to be repeated to a second audience. Great pains had been given to their preparation—much greater than the easy utterance and free treatment of his theme led his hearers to believe. For these lectures and their sequel, published as "Love's Meinie," he collected an enormous number of skins—to compare the plumage and wings of different species; for his work was with the outside aspect and structure of birds, not with their anatomy. He had models made, as large as swords, of the different quill-feathers, to experiment on their action and resistance to the air. He got a valuable series of drawings by H.S. Marks, R.A., and made many careful and beautiful studies himself of feathers and of birds at the Zoological Gardens, and the British Museum; and after all, he had to conclude his work saying, "It has been throughout my trust that if death should write on these, 'What this man began to build, he was not able to finish,' God may also write on them, not in anger, but in aid, 'A stronger than he cometh.'"
[Footnote 29: March 15, May 2 and 9; repeated March 19, May 5, and 12, 1873.]
Two of the lectures on birds were repeated at Eton before the boys' Literary and Scientific Society and their friends; and between this and 1880 Ruskin often went to address the same audience, with the same interest in young people that had taken him in earlier years to Woolwich.
[Footnote 30: May 10 and 17.]
After a long vacation at Brantwood, the first spent there, he went up to give his course on Early Tuscan Art ("Val d'Arno"). The lectures were printed separately and sold at the conclusion and the first numbers were sent to Carlyle, whose unabated interest in his friend's work was shown in his letter of Oct. 31st: "Perge, perge;—and, as the Irish say, 'more power to your elbow!' I have yet read this 'Val d'Arno' only once. Froude snatched it away from me yesterday; and it has then to go to my brother at Dumfries. After that I shall have it back...."
[Footnote 31: On Mondays and Thursdays, Oct. 21, 23, 27, 30, Nov. 3, 6, 10, 13, 17, 20; repeated on the Wednesdays and Fridays following.]
During that summer and autumn Ruskin suffered from nights of sleeplessness or unnaturally vivid dreams and days of unrest and feverish energy, alternating with intense fatigue. The eighteen lectures in less than six weeks, a "combination of prophecy and play-acting," as Carlyle had called it in his own case, and the unfortunate discussion with an old-fashioned economist who undertook to demolish Ruskinism without understanding it, added to the causes of which we are already aware, brought him to New Year, 1874, in "failing strength, care, and hope." He sought quiet at the seaside, but found modern hotel-life intolerable; he went back to town and tried the pantomimes for distraction,—saw Kate Vaughan in Cinderella, and Violet Cameron in Jack in the Box, over and over again, and found himself:
"Now hopelessly a man of the world!—of that woeful outside one, I mean. It is now Sunday; half-past eleven in the morning. Everybody else is gone to church—and I am left alone with the cat, in the world of sin."
Thinking himself better, he went to Oxford, and announced a course on Alpine form; but after a week was obliged to retreat and go home to Coniston, still hoping to return and give his lectures. But it was no use. The gloom without deepened the gloom within; and he took the wisest course in trying Italy, alone this time with his old servant Crawley.
The greater part of 1874 was spent abroad—first travelling through Savoy and by the Riviera to Assisi, where he wrote to Miss S. Beever:
"The Sacristan gives me my coffee for lunch in his own little cell, looking out on the olive woods; then he tells me stories of conversions and miracles, and then perhaps we go into the sacristy and have a reverent little poke-out of relics. Fancy a great carved cupboard in a vaulted chamber full of most precious things (the box which the Holy Virgin's veil used to be kept in, to begin with), and leave to rummage in it at will! Things that are only shown twice in the year or so, with fumigation! all the congregation on their knees—and the sacristan and I having a great heap of them on the table at once, like a dinner service. I really looked with great respect on St. Francis's old camel-hair dress."
Thence he went to visit Colonel and Mrs. Yule at Palermo, deeply interested in Scylla and Charybdis, Etna and the metopes of Selinus. His interest in Greek art had been shown, not only in a course of lectures, but in active support to archaeological explorations. He said once, "I believe heartily in diggings, of all sorts." Meeting General L.P. di Cesnola and hearing of the wealth of ancient remains in Cyprus then newly discovered, Mr. Ruskin placed L1,000 at his disposal. General di Cesnola was able, in April, 1875, to announce that in spite of the confiscation of half the treasure-trove by the local Government, he had shipped a cargo of antiquities, including many vases, terra-cottas, and fragments of sculpture. Whence, precisely, these relics came is now doubtful.
The landscape of Theocritus and the remains of ancient glories roused him to energetic sketching—a sign of returning strength, which continued when he reached Rome, and enabled him to make a very fine copy of Botticelli's Zipporah, and other details of the Sistine frescoes.
Late in October he reached England, just able to give the promised Lectures on Alpine forms,—I remember his curious attempt to illustrate the neve-masses by pouring flour on a model;—and a second course on the AEsthetic and Mathematic schools of Florence; and a lecture on Botticelli at Eton, of which the Literary and Scientific Society's minute-book contains the following report:
[Footnote 32: Oct. 27, 30; Nov. 3 and 6, 1874.]
[Footnote 33: Nov. 10, 13, 17, 20, 24, 27; Dec. 1 and 4, 1874.]
"On Saturday, Dec. 12th (1874), Professor Ruskin lectured before a crowded, influential and excited audience, which comprised our noble Society and a hundred and thirty gentlemen and ladies, who eagerly accepted an invitation to hear Professor Ruskin 'talk' to us on Botticelli. It is utterly impossible for the unfortunate secretary of the Society to transmit to writing even an abstract of this address; and it is some apology for him when beauty of expression, sweetness of voice, and elegance in imagery defy the utmost efforts of the pen."
Just before leaving for Italy he had been told that the Royal Institute of British Architects intended to present him with their Gold Medal in acknowledgment of his services to the cause of architecture; and during his journey official announcement of the award reached him. He dictated from Assisi (June 12, 1874) a letter to Sir Gilbert Scott, explaining why he declined the honour intended him. He said in effect that if it had been offered at a time when he had been writing on architecture it would have been welcome; but it was not so now that he felt all his efforts to have been in vain and the profession as a body engaged in work—such as the "restoration" of ancient buildings—with which he had no sympathy. It had been represented to him that his refusal to accept a Royal Medal would be a reflection upon the Royal donor. To which he replied:
"Having entirely loyal feelings towards the Queen, I will trust to her Majesty's true interpretation of my conduct; but if formal justification of it be necessary for the public, would plead that if a Peerage or Knighthood may without disloyalty be refused, surely much more the minor grace proceeding from the monarch may be without impropriety declined by any of her Majesty's subjects who wish to serve her without reward, under the exigency of peculiar circumstances."
It was only the term before that Prince Leopold had been at Oxford, a constant attendant on Ruskin's lectures, and a visitor to his drawing school. The gentle prince, with his instinct for philanthropy, was not to be deterred by the utterances of "Fors" from respecting the genius of the Professor; and the Professor, with his old-world, cavalier loyalty, readily returned the esteem and affection of his new pupil. A sincere friendship was formed, lasting until the Prince's death.
In June, 1875, Princess Alice and her husband, with Prince Arthur and Prince Leopold, were at Oxford. Ruskin had just made arrangements completing his gifts to the University galleries and schools. The Royal party showed great interest in the Professor and his work. The Princess, the Grand Duke of Hesse, and Prince Leopold acted as witnesses to the deed of gift, and Prince Arthur and Prince Leopold accepted the trusteeship.
With all the Slade Professor's generosity, the Ruskin drawing school, founded in these fine galleries to which he had so largely contributed, in a palatial hall handsomely furnished, and hung with Tintoret and Luini, Burne-Jones and Rossetti, and other rare masters, ancient and modern; with the most interesting examples to copy—at the most convenient of desks, we may add—yet in spite of it all, the drawing school was not a popular institution. When the Professor was personally teaching, he got some fifteen or twenty—if not to attend, at any rate to join. But whenever the chief attraction could not be counted on, the attendance sank to an average of two or three. The cause was simple. An undergraduate is supposed to spend his morning in lectures, his afternoon in taking exercise, and his evening in college. There is simply no time in his scheme for going to a drawing school. If it were recognised as part of the curriculum, if it counted in any way along with other studies, or contributed to a "school" akin to that of music, practical art might become teachable at Oxford; and Professor Ruskin's gifts and endowments—to say nothing of his hopes and plans—would not be wholly in vain.
As he could not make the undergraduates draw, he made them dig. He had noticed a very bad bit of road on the Hinksey side, and heard that it was nobody's business to mend it: meanwhile the farmers' carts and casual pedestrians were bemired. He sent for his gardener Downes, who had been foreman of the street-sweepers; laid in a stock of picks and shovels; took lessons in stone-breaking himself, and called on his friends to spend their recreation times in doing something useful.
Many of the disciples met at the weekly open breakfasts at the Professor's rooms in Corpus; and he was glad of a talk to them on other things beside drawing and digging. Some were attracted chiefly by the celebrity of the man, or by the curiosity of his humorous discourse; but there were a few who partly grasped one side or other of his mission and character. The most brilliant undergraduate of the time, seen at this breakfast table, but not one of the diggers, was W.H. Mallock, afterwards widely known as the author of "Is Life Worth Living?" He was the only man. Professor Ruskin said, who really understood him—referring to "The New Republic." But while Mallock saw the reactionary and pessimistic side of his Oxford teacher, there was a progressist and optimistic side which does not appear in his "Mr. Herbert." That was discovered by another man whose career, short as it was, proved even more influential. Arnold Toynbee was one of the Professor's warmest admirers and ablest pupils: and in his philanthropic work the teaching of "Unto this Last" and "Fors" was illustrated—not exclusively—but truly. "No true disciple of mine will ever be a Ruskinian" (to quote "St. Mark's Rest"); "he will follow, not me, but the instincts of his own soul, and the guidance of its Creator."
Like all energetic men, Ruskin was fond of setting other people to work. One of his plans was to form a little library of standard books ("Bibliotheca Pastorum") suitable for the kind of people who, he hoped, would join or work under his St. George's Company. The first book he chose was the "Economist" of Xenophon, which he asked two of his young friends to translate. To them and their work he would give his afternoons in the rooms at Corpus, with curious patience in the midst of pre-occupying labour and severest trial; for just then he was lecturing at the London Institution on the Alps—reading a paper to the Metaphysical Society—writing the Academy Notes of 1875, and "Proserpina," etc.—as well as his regular work at "Fors," and the St. George's Company was then taking definite form;—and all the while the lady of his love was dying under the most tragic circumstances, and he forbidden to approach her.
[Footnote 34: "The Simple Dynamic Conditions of Glacial Action among the Alps," March 11, 1875.]
[Footnote 35: "Social Policy based on Natural Selection," May 11.]
At the end of May she died. On the 1st of June the Royal party honoured the Slade Professor with their visit—little knowing how valueless to him such honours had become. He went north and met his translators at Brantwood to finish the Xenophon,—and to help dig his harbour and cut coppice in his wood. He prepared a preface; but the next term was one of greater pressure, with the twelve lectures on Sir Joshua Reynolds to deliver. He wrote, after Christmas:
[Footnote 36: "On a posting tour through Yorkshire". He made three such tours in 1875—southward in January, northward in June and July, and southward in September: and another northward in April and May, 1876.]
"Now that I have got my head fairly into this Xenophon business, it has expanded into a new light altogether; and I think it would be absurd in me to slur over the life in one paragraph. A hundred things have come into my head as I arrange the dates, and I think I can make a much better thing of it—with a couple of days' work. My head would not work in town—merely turned from side to side—never nodded (except sleepily). I send you the proofs just to show you I'm at work. I'm going to translate all the story of Delphic answer before Anabasis: and his speech after the sleepless night."
Delphic answers—for he was then again brought into contact with "spiritualism"; and sleepless nights—for the excitement of overwork was telling upon him—were becoming too frequent in his own experience; and yet the lectures on Reynolds went off with success. The magic of his oratory transmuted the scribbled jottings of his MS. into a magnificent flow of rolling paragraph and rounded argument that thrilled a captious audience with unwonted emotion, and almost persuaded many a hearer to accept the gospel of "the Ethereal Ruskin." In spite of a sense of antagonism to his surroundings, he did useful work which none other could do in the University. That this was acknowledged was proved by his re-election, early in 1876: but his third term of three years was a time of weakened health. Repeated absence from his post and inability to fulfil his duties made it obviously his wisest course, at the end of that term, to resign the Slade Professorship.
[Footnote 37: Nov. 2, 4, 6, 9, 11, 13, 16, 18, 20, 23, 25, and 27; 1875.]
ST. GEORGE AND ST. MARK (1875-1877)
In the book his Bertha of Canterbury was reading at twilight on the Eve of St. Mark, Keats might have been describing "Fors." Among its pages, fascinating with their golden broideries of romance and wit, perplexing with mystic vials of wrath as well as all the Seven Lamps and Shekinah of old and new Covenants commingled, there was gradually unfolded the plan of "St. George's Work."
The scheme was not easy to apprehend; it was essentially different from anything then known, though superficially like several bankrupt Utopias. Ruskin did not want to found a phalanstery, or to imitate Robert Owen or the Shakers. That would have been practicable—and useless.
He wanted much more. He aimed at the gradual introduction of higher aims into ordinary life: it giving true refinement to the lower classes, true simplicity to the upper. He proposed that idle hands should reclaim waste lands; that healthy work and country homes should be offered to townsfolk who would "come out of the gutter." He asked land-owners and employers to furnish opportunities for such reforms;—which would involve no elaborate organization nor unelastic rules;—simply the one thing needful, the refusal of Commercialism.
As before, he scorned the idea that real good could be done by political agitation. Any government would work, he said, if it were an efficient government. No government was efficient unless it saw that every one had the necessaries of life, for body and soul; and that every one earned them by some work or other. Capital—that is, the means and material of labour, should therefore be in the hands of the Government, not in the hands of individuals: this reform would result easily and necessarily from the forbidding of loans on interest. Personal property would still be in private hands; but as it could not be invested and turned into capital, it would necessarily be restricted to its actual use, and great accumulation would be valueless.
This is, of course, a very sketchy statement of the ground-work of "Fors," but to most readers nowadays as comprehensible as, at the time of its publication, it was incomprehensible. For when, long after "Fors" had been written, Ruskin found other writers advocating the same principles and calling themselves Socialists, he said that he too was a Socialist.
But the Socialists of various sects have complicated, and sometimes confused, their simple fundamental principles with various ways and means; to which he could not agree. He had his own ways and means. He had his private ideals of life, which he expounded, along with his main doctrine. He thought, justifiably, that theory was useless without practical example; and so he founded St. George's Company (in 1877 called St. George's Guild) as his illustration.
The Guild grew out of his call, in 1871, for adherents: and by 1875 began to take definite form. Its objects were to set the example of a common capital as opposed to a National debt, and of co-operative labour as opposed to competitive struggle for life. Each member was required to do some work for his living—without too strict limits as to the kind—and to practice certain precepts of religion and morality, broad enough for general acceptance. He was also required to obey the authority of the Guild, and to contribute a tithe of his income to a common fund, for various objects. These objects were—first: to buy land for the agricultural members to cultivate, paying their rent, not to the other members, but to the company; not refusing machinery, but preferring manual labour. Next, to buy mills and factories, to be likewise owned by the Guild and worked by members—using water power in preference to steam (steam at first not forbidden)—and making the lives of the people employed as well spent as might be, with a fair wage, healthy work, and so forth. The loss on starting was to be made up from the Guild store, but it was anticipated that the honesty of the goods turned out would ultimately make such enterprises pay, even in a commercial world. Then, for the people employed and their families, there would be places of recreation and instruction, supplied by the Guild, and intended to give the agricultural labourer or mill-hand, trained from infancy in Guild schools, some insight into Literature, Science and Art—and tastes which his easy position would leave him free to cultivate.
So far the plan was simple. It was not a colony—but merely the working of existing industries in a certain way. Anticipating further development of the scheme, Ruskin looked forward to a guild coinage, as pretty as the Florentines had; a costume as becoming as the Swiss: and other Platonically devised details, which were not the essentials of the proposal, and never came into operation. But some of his plans were actually realised.
The chief objects of "St. George" come under three heads, as we have just noticed: agricultural, industrial, and educational. The actual schools would not be needed until the farms and mills had been so far established as to secure a permanent attendance. But meanwhile provision was being made for them, both in literature and in art. The "Bibliotheca Pastorum," was to be a comprehensive little library—far less than the 100 books of the Pall Mall Gazette—and yet bringing before the St. George's workman standard and serious writing of all times. It was to include, in separate volumes, the Books of Moses and the Psalms of David and the Revelation of St. John. Of Greek, the Economist of Xenophon, and Hesiod, which Ruskin undertook to translate into prose. Of Latin the first two Georgics and sixth AEneid of Virgil, in Gawain Douglas' translation. Dante; Chaucer, excluding the "Canterbury Tales"—but including the "Romance of the Rose"; Gotthelf's "Ulric the Farmer," from the French version which Ruskin had loved ever since his father used to read it him on their first tours in Switzerland; and an early English history by an Oxford friend. Later were published Sir Philip Sidney's psalter, and Ruskin's own biography of Sir Herbert Edwardes, under the title of "A Knight's Faith."
These books were for the home library; reference works were bought to be deposited in central libraries, along with objects of art and science. It was not intended to keep the Guild property centralised; but rather to spread it, as its other work was spread, broad-cast. A number of books and other objects were bought with the Guild money, and lent or given to various schools and colleges and institutions where work akin to the objects of the Guild was being done. But for the time Ruskin fixed upon Sheffield as the place of his first Guild Museum—being the home of the typical English industry—central to all parts of England, near beautiful hill-country, and yet not far from a number of manufacturing towns in which, if St. George's work went on, supporters and recruits might be found.
The people of Sheffield were already, in 1875, building a museum of their own, and naturally thought that the two might be conveniently worked together. But that was not at all what Ruskin wished. Not only was his museum to be primarily the storehouse of the Guild, rather than one among many means of popular education; but the objects which he intended to place there were not such as the public expected to see. He had no interest in a vast accumulation of articles of all kinds. He wanted to provide for his friends' common treasury a few definitely valuable and interesting examples—interesting to the sort of people that he hoped would join the Guild or be bred up in it; and valuable according to his own standard and experience.
In September 1875, Ruskin stayed a couple of days at Sheffield to inspect a cottage at Walkley, in the outskirts of the town, and to make arrangements for founding the museum—humbly to begin with, but hoping for speedy increase. He engaged as curator, at a salary of L40 a year and free lodging on the premises, his former pupil at the Working Men's College, Henry Swan, who had done occasional work for him in drawing and engraving. Swan was a Quaker, and a remarkable man in his way; enthusiastic in his new vocation, and interested in the social questions which were being discussed in "Fors." Under his care the Museum remained at Walkley, accumulating material in the tiny and hardly accessible cottage—being so to speak in embryo, until the way should be clear for its removal or enlargement, which took place in 1890.
When Ruskin came back on his posting tour of April 1876, he stayed again at Sheffield, to meet a few friends of Swan's—Secularists, Unitarians, and Quakers, who professed Communism. They had an interview (reported in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph, April 28th, 1876), which brought out rather curiously the points of difference between their opinions and his. They refused to join the Guild because they would not promise obedience, and help in its objects. Ruskin, however, was willing to advance theirs. A few weeks afterwards he invited them to choose a piece of ground for their Communist experiment. They chose a farm of over thirteen acres at Abbeydale, which the Guild bought in 1877 at a cost of L2,287 16s.6d. for their use—the communists agreeing to pay the money back in instalments, without interest, by the end of seven years: when the farm should be their own.
When it was actually in their hands they found that they knew nothing of farming—and besides, were making money at trades they did not really care to abandon. They engaged a man to work the farm for them: and then another. They were told that the land they had chosen was—for farming purposes—worthless. Their capital ran short; and they tried to make money by keeping a tea-garden. The original proposer of the scheme wrote to Ruskin, who sent L100:—the others returned the money. Ruskin declined to take it back, and began to perceive that the Communists were trifling. They had made no attempt to found the sort of community they had talked about; neither their plans nor his were being carried out. So when the original proposer and a friend of his named Riley approached Ruskin again, they found little difficulty in persuading him to try them as managers. The rest, finding themselves turned out by Riley, vainly demanded "explanations" from Ruskin, who then was drifting into his first attack of brain fever. So they declined further connection with the farm; the Guild accepted their resignation, and undertook for the time nothing more than to get the land into good condition again.
This was not the only land held by the St. George's Guild. It acquired the acre of ground on which the Sheffield Museum stood, and a cottage with a couple of acres near Scarborough. Two acres of rock and moor at Barmouth had been given by Mrs. Talbot in 1872; and in 1877 Mr. George Baker, then Mayor of Birmingham, gave twenty acres of woodland at Bewdley in Worcestershire, to which at one time Mr. Ruskin thought of moving the museum, before the present building was found for it by the Sheffield Corporation at Meersbrook Park. On the resignation of the original Trustees, in 1877, Mr. Q. Talbot and Mr. Baker were offered the trust: and on the death of Mr. Talbot the trust was accepted by Mr. John Henry Chamberlain. After he died it was taken by Mr. George Thomson of Huddersfield, whose woollen mills, transformed into a co-operative concern, though not directly in connection with the Guild, have given a widely known example of the working of principles advocated in "Fors."
In the middle of 1876, Egbert Rydings, the auditor of the accounts which, in accordance with his principles of "glass pockets," Ruskin published in "Fors," proposed to start a homespun woollen industry at Laxey, in the Isle of Man, where the old women who formerly spun with the wheel had been driven by failure of custom to work in the mines. The Guild built him a water mill, and in a few years the demand for a pure, rough, durable cloth, created by this and kindred attempts, justified the enterprise. Ruskin set the example, and had his own grey clothes made of Laxey stuffs—whose chief drawback was that they never wore out. A little later a similar work was done, with even greater success, by Mr. Albert Fleming, another member of the Guild; who introduced old-fashioned spinning and hand-loom weaving at Langdale.
The story of Ruskin's posting tour was told many years afterwards, at the opening of the new Sheffield museum, by Mr. Arthur Severn, a famous raconteur, whose description of the adventures of their cruise upon wheels includes so bright a picture of Ruskin, that I must use his words as they were reported on the occasion in the magazine Igdrasil:
"... With the Professor, who dislikes railways very much, it was not a question of travelling by rail. He said, 'I will take you in a carriage and with horses, and we will drive the whole way from London to the North of England. And I will not only do that, but I will do the best in my power to get a postilion to ride, and we will go quite in the old-fashioned way ...' The Professor went so far that he actually built a carriage for this drive. It was a regular posting carriage, with good strong wheels, a place behind for the luggage, and cunning drawers inside it for all kinds of things that we might require on the journey. We started off one fine morning from London—I must say without a postilion—but when we arrived at the next town, about twenty miles off, having telegraphed beforehand that we were coming, there was a gorgeous postilion ready with the fresh horses, and we started off in a right style, according to the Professor's wishes.
"After many pleasant days of travelling, we at last arrived at Sheffield, and I well remember that we created no small sensation as we clattered up to the old posting inn. I think it was the King's Head. We stayed a few days, and visited the old Museum at Walkley; and I remember the look of regret on the Professor's face when he saw how cramped the space was there for the things he had to show. However, with his usual kindliness, he did not say much about it at the time, and he did not complain of the considerable amount of room it was necessary for the curator and his family to take up in that place. We stayed about two days looking at the beautiful country,—and I am glad to say there was a good deal still left,—and then the Professor gave orders that the carriage should be got ready to take us on our journey, and that a postilion should be forthcoming, if possible. I remember leaving the luncheon table and going outside to see if the necessary arrangements were complete. Sure enough, there was the carriage at the door, and a still more gorgeous postilion than any we had had so far on our journey. His riding breeches were of the tightest and whitest I ever saw; his horses were an admirable pair, and looked like going. A very large crowd had assembled outside the inn, to see what extraordinary kind of mortals could be going to travel in such a way.
"I went to the room where the Professor was still at luncheon, and told him that everything was ready, but that there was a very large crowd at the door. He seemed rather amused; and I said, 'You know, Professor, I really don't know what the people expect—whether it is a bride and bridegroom, or what.' He said, 'Well, Arthur, you and Joan shall play at being bride and bridegroom inside the carriage, and I will get on the box.' He got Mrs. Severn on his arm, and had to hold her pretty tightly as he left the door, because when she saw the crowd outside she tried to beat a retreat. At last he got her into the carriage, I was put in afterwards, and he jumped up on the box. The crowd closed in, and looked at us as if we were a sort of menagerie. I was much amused when I thought how little these eager people knew that the real attraction was on the box; I felt inclined to put my head out of the window, and say, 'My good people, there is the man you should look at,—not us.' I did not like to do so; and the Professor gave the word to be off, the postilion cracked his whip, and we went off in grand style, amidst the cheers of the crowd...."
On one of these posting excursions, they came to Hardraw; Mrs. Alfred Hunt tells the story in her edition of Turner's "Richmondshire"; Mr. Severn's account is somewhat different. After examining the Fall, Mrs. Severn and Mr. Ruskin left Mr. Severn to sketch, and went away to Hawes to order their tea. When they were gone, a man who had been standing by came up and asked if that were Professor Ruskin. "Yes," said Mr. Severn, "it was; he is very fond of the Fall, and much puzzled to know why the edge of the cliff is not worn away by the water, as he expected to find it after so many years." "Oh," said the other, "there are twelve feet of masonry up there to protect the rock. I'm a native of the place, and know all about it." "I wish," said Mr. Severn, absently, as he went on drawing, "Mr. Ruskin knew that; he would be so interested." And the stranger ran off. When the sketcher came in to tea he felt there was something wrong. "You're in for it!" said his wife. "Let us look at his sketch first," said Mr. Ruskin; and luckily it was a very good one. By and by it all came out;—how the Yorkshireman had caught the Professor, and eagerly described the horrible Vandalism, receiving in reply some very emphatic language. Upon which he took off his hat and bowed low: "But, sir," he faltered, "the gentleman up there said I was to tell you, and you would be so interested!" The Professor, suddenly mollified, took off his hat in turn, and apologised for his reception of the news: "but," said he, "I shall never care for Hardraw Waterfall again."
"The Professor," said Mr. Severn, "dislikes railways very much:" and on his arrival at Brantwood after that posting journey he wrote a preface to "A Protest against the Extension of Railways in the Lake District," by Mr. Robert Somervell. Ruskin's dislike of railways has been the text of a great deal of misrepresentation, and his use of them, at all, has been often quoted as an inconsistency. As a matter of fact, he never objected to main lines of railway communication; but he strongly objected, in common with a vast number of people, to the introduction of railways into districts whose chief interest is in their scenery; especially where, as in the English Lake district, the scenery is in miniature, easily spoiled by embankments and viaducts, and by the rows of ugly buildings which usually grow up round a station; and where the beauty of the landscape can only be felt in quiet walks or drives through it. Many years later, after he had said all he had to say on the subject again and again, and was on the brink of one of his illnesses, he wrote in violent language to a correspondent who tried to "draw" him on the subject of another proposed railway to Ambleside. But his real opinions were simple enough, and consistent with a practicable scheme of life.
In August 1876 he left England for Italy. He travelled alone, accompanied only by his new servant Baxter, who had lately taken the place vacated by Crawley, Mr. Ruskin's former valet of twenty years' service. He crossed the Simplon to Venice, where he was welcomed by an old friend, Rawdon Brown, and a new friend, Prof. C.H. Moore, of Harvard. He met two Oxford pupils, Mr. J. Reddie Anderson, whom he set to work on Carpaccio; and Mr. Whitehead—"So much nicer they all are," he wrote in a private letter, "than I was at their age;"—also his pupil Mr. Bunney, at work on copies of pictures and records of architecture, the legacy of St. Mark to St. George. Two young artists were brought into his circle, during that winter—both Venetians, and both singularly interesting men: Giacomo Boni, now a celebrated antiquary, then capo d'opera of the Ducal Palace, and doing his best to preserve, instead of "restoring," the ancient sculptures; and Angelo Alessandri, a painter of more than usual seriousness of aim and sympathy with the fine qualities of the old masters.
Ruskin had been engaged on a manual of drawing for his Oxford schools, which he now meant to complete in two parts: "The Laws of Fesole"—teaching the principles of Florentine draughtsmanship; and "The Laws of Rivo Alto"—about Venetian colour. Passages for this second part were written. But he found himself so deeply interested in the evolution of Venetian art, and in tracing the spirit of the people as shown by the mythology illustrated in the pictures and sculptures, that his practical manual became a sketch of art history, "St. Mark's Rest"—as a sort of companion to "Mornings in Florence," which he had been working at during his last visit to Italy. His intention was to supersede "Stones of Venice" by a smaller book, giving more prominence to the ethical side of history, which should illustrate Carpaccio as the most important figure of the transition period, and do away with the exclusive Protestantism of his earlier work.
He set himself to this task, with Tintoret's motto—Sempre si fa il mare maggiore, and worked with feverish energy, recording his progress in letters home.
"13 Nov.—I never was yet, in my life, in such a state of hopeless confusion of letters, drawings, and work: chiefly because, of course, when one is old, one's done work seems all to tumble in upon one, and want rearranging, and everything brings a thousand old as well as new thoughts. My head seems less capable of accounts every year. I can't fix my mind on a sum in addition—it goes off, between seven and nine, into a speculation on the seven deadly sins or the nine muses. My table is heaped with unanswered letters,—MS. of four or five different books at six or seven different parts of each,—sketches getting rubbed out,—others getting smudged in,—parcels from Mr. Brown unopened, parcels for Mr. Moore unsent; my inkstand in one place,—too probably upset,—my pen in another; my paper under a pile of books, and my last carefully written note thrown into the waste-paper basket.
"3 Dec.—I'm having nasty foggy weather just now,—but it's better than fog in London,—and I'm really resting a little, and trying not to be so jealous of the flying days. I've a most cumfy room [at the Grand Hotel]—I've gone out of the very expensive one, and only pay twelve francs a day; and I've two windows, one with open balcony and the other covered in with glass. It spoils the look of the window dreadfully, but gives me a view right away to Lido, and of the whole sunrise. Then the bed is curtained off from rest of room like that [sketch of window and room] with fine flourishing white and gold pillars—and the black place is where one goes out of the room beside the bed.
"9 Dec.—I hope to send home a sketch or two which will show I'm not quite losing my head yet.... I must show at Oxford some reason for my staying so long in Venice."
Beside studies in the Chapel of St. George, he copied Carpaccio's "Dream of St. Ursula" which was taken down—it had been "skied" at the Academy until then—and placed in the sculpture gallery; and be laboured to produce a facsimile.
"24 Dec.—I do think St. Ursula's lips are coming pretty—and her eyelids—but oh me, her hair. Toni, Mr. Brown's gondolier, says she's all right—and he's a grave and close looking judge, you know."
Christmas Day was a crisis in his life. He was attacked by illness; severe pain, followed by a dreamy state in which the vividly realized presence of St. Ursula mingled with memories of his dead lady, whose "spirit" had been shown him a year before by a "medium" met at a country house. Since then he had watched eagerly for evidences of another life: and the sense of its conceivability grew upon him, in spite of the doubts which he had entertained of the immortality of the soul. At last, after a year's earnest desire for some such assurance, it seemed to come to him. What others call coincidences, and accidents, and states of mind flashed, for him, into importance; times and seasons, names and symbols, took a vivid meaning. His intense despondency changed for a while into a singular happiness—it seemed a renewed health and strength: and instead of despair, he rejoiced in the conviction of guarding Providences and helpful influences.
Readers of "Fors" had traced for some years back the re-awakening of a religious tone, now culminating in a pronounced mysticism which they could not understand, and in a recantation of the sceptical judgments of his middle period. He found, now, new excellences in the early Christian painting; he depreciated Turner and Tintoret, and denounced the frivolous art of the day. He searched the Bible more diligently than ever for its hidden meanings; and in proportion as he felt its inspiration, he recoiled from the conclusions of modern science, and wrapped the prophet's mantle more closely round him, as he denounced with growing fervour the crimes of our unbelieving age.
DEUCALION AND PROSERPINA (1877-1879)
In the summer of 1875, Ruskin had written:
"I begin to ask myself, with somewhat pressing arithmetic, how much time is likely to be left me, at the age of fifty-six, to complete the various designs for which, until past fifty, I was merely collecting material. Of these materials I have now enough by me for a most interesting (in my own opinion) history of fifteenth century Florentine Art, in six octavo volumes; an analysis of the Attic art of the fifth century B.C. in three volumes; an exhaustive history of northern thirteenth-century art, in ten volumes; a life of Sir Walter Scott, with analysis of modern epic art, in seven volumes; a life of Xenophon, with analysis of the general principles of education, in ten volumes; a commentary on Hesiod, with final analysis of the principles of Political Economy, in nine volumes; and a general description of the geology and botany of the Alps, in twenty-four volumes."
The estimate of volumes was—perhaps—in jest; but the plans for harvesting his material were in earnest.
"Proserpina"—so named from the Flora of the Greeks, the daughter of Demeter, Mother Earth—grew out of notes already begun in 1866. It was little like an ordinary botany book;—that was to be expected. It did not dissect plants; it did not give chemical or histological analysis: but with bright and curious fancy, with the most ingenious diagrams and perfect drawings—beautifully engraved by Burgess and Allen—illustrated the mystery of growth in plants and the tender beauty of their form. Though this was not science, in strict terms it was a field of work which no one but Ruskin had cultivated. He was helped by a few scientific men like Professor Oliver, who saw a value in his line of thought, and showed a kindly interest in it.
"Deucalion"—from the mythical creator of human life out of stones—was begun as a companion work: to be published in parts, as the repertory of Oxford lectures on Alpine form, and notes on all kinds of kindred subjects. For instance, before that hasty journey to Sheffield he gave a lecture at the London Institution on "Precious Stones" (February 17th, repeated March 28th, 1876. A lecture on a similar subject was given to the boys of Christ's Hospital on April 15th). This lecture, called "The Iris of the Earth," stood first in Part III. of "Deucalion": and the work went on, in studies of the forms of silica, on the lines marked out ten years before in the papers on Banded and Brecciated Concretions; now carried forward with much kind help from the Rev. J. Clifton Ward, of the Geological Survey, and Mr. Henry Willett, F.G.S., of Brighton.
On the way home over the Simplon in May and June, 1877, travelling first with Signor Alessandri, and then with Mr. G. Allen, Professor Ruskin continued his studies of Alpine flowers for "Proserpina." In the autumn he gave a lecture at Kendal (Oct. 1st, repeated at Eton College Dec. 8th) on "Yewdale and its Streamlets."
"Yewdale"—reprinted as Part V. of "Deucalion"—took an unusual importance in his own mind, not only because it was a great success as a lecture—though some Kendalians complained that there was not enough "information" in it:—but because it was the first given since that Christmas at Venice, when a new insight had been granted him, as he felt, into spiritual things, and a new burden laid on him, to withstand the rash conclusions of "science falsely so called," and to preach in their place the presence of God in nature and in man.
Writing to Miss Beever about his Oxford course of that autumn, "Readings in Modern Painters,"  he said, on the 2nd December:
[Footnote 38: Nov. 6, 8, 10, 13, 15, 17, 20, 22, 24, 27, 29 and Dec. 1, 1877. These lectures were never prepared for publication as a course; the last lecture was printed in the Nineteenth Century for January, 1878.]
"I gave yesterday the twelfth and last of my course of lectures this term, to a room crowded by six hundred people, two-thirds members of the University, and with its door wedged open by those who could not get in; this interest of theirs being granted to me, I doubt not, because for the first time in Oxford I have been able to speak to them boldly of immortal life. I intended when I began the course only to have read 'Modern Painters' to them; but when I began, some of your favourite bits interested the men so much, and brought so much larger a proportion of undergraduates than usual, that I took pains to re-inforce and press them home; and people say I have never given so useful a course yet. But it has taken all my time and strength."
[Footnote 39: Miss Beever had published early in 1875 the extracts from "Modern Painters," so widely known as "Frondes Agrestes."]
He wrote again, on Dec. 16th, from Herne Hill:
"It is a long while since I've felt so good-for-nothing as I do this morning. My very wristbands curl up in a dog's-eared and disconsolate manner; my little room is all a heap of disorder. I've got a hoarseness and wheezing and sneezing and coughing and choking. I can't speak and I can't think; I'm miserable in bed and useless out of it; and it seems to me as if I could never venture to open a window or go out of a door any more. I have the dimmest sort of diabolical pleasure in thinking how miserable I shall make Susie by telling her all this; but in other respects I seem entirely devoid of all moral sentiments. I have arrived at this state of things, first by catching cold, and since trying to 'amuse myself' for three days."
He goes on to give a list of his amusements—Pickwick, chivalric romances, the Daily Telegraph, Staunton's games of chess, and finally analysis of the Dock Company's bill of charges on a box from Venice.
Ten days after he wrote from Oxford, in his whimsical style:
"Yesterday I had two lovely services in my own cathedral. You know the Cathedral of Oxford is the chapel of Christ Church College, and I have my high seat in the chancel, as an honorary student, besides being bred there, and so one is ever so proud and ever so pious all at once, which is ever so nice you know: and my own dean, that's the Dean of Christ Church, who is as big as any bishop, read the services, and the psalms and anthems were lovely; and then I dined with Henry Acland and his family ... but I do wish I could be at Brantwood too." Next day it was "Cold quite gone."
But he was not to be quit so easily this time of the results of overwork and worry.
He had been passing through the unpleasant experience of a misunderstanding with one of his most trusted friends and helpers. His work on behalf of the St. George's Guild had been energetic and sincere: and he had received the support of a number of strangers, among whom were people of responsible station and position. But he was surprised to find that many of his personal friends held aloof. He was still more surprised to learn, on returning from Venice, full of new hope and stronger convictions in his mission, that the caution of one upon whom he had counted as a firm ally had dissuaded an intending adherent from joining in the work. A man of the world, accustomed to overreach and to be overreached, would have taken the discovery coolly, and accepted an explanation. But Ruskin was never a man of the world; and now, much less than ever. He took it as treason to the great work of which he felt himself to be the missionary. Throughout the autumn and winter the discovery rankled, and preyed on his mind. As for the sake of absolute candour he had published in "Fors" everything that related to the Guild work,—even his own private affairs and confessions, whatever they risked,—he felt that this too must out; in order that his supporters might judge of his conduct and that nothing affecting the enterprise might be kept back. And so, at Christmas, he sent the correspondence to his printers.