Years afterwards, by the intervention of friends, this breach was healed: but what suffering it cost can be learnt from the sequel. To Ruskin it was the beginning of the end. His Aberdeen correspondent asked just then for the usual Christmas message to the Bible class: and instead of the cheery words of bygone years, received the couplet from Horace:
"Inter spem curamque, timores inter et iras, Omnem crede diem tibi diluxisse supremum."
"Amid hope and sorrow, amid fear and wrath, believe every day that has dawned on thee to be thy last."
From Oxford, early in January, 1878, he went on a visit to Windsor Castle, whence he wrote: "I came to see Prince Leopold, who has been a prisoner to his sofa lately, but I trust he is better; he is very bright and gentle under severe and almost continual pain." No less gentle, in spite of the severe justice he was inflicting upon himself even more than upon his friend, was the author of "Fors," as the letters of the time to his invalid neighbour in "Hortus Inclusus" show. How ready to own himself in the wrong,—at that very moment when he was being pointed at as the most obstinate and egotistic of men—how placable he really was and open to rebuke, he showed, when, from Windsor, he went to Hawarden. Nearly three years before he had written roughly of Mr. Gladstone; as a Conservative, he was not predisposed in favour of the leader of the party to whom he attributed most of the evils he was combating. Mr. Gladstone and he had often met, and by no means agreed together in conversation. But this visit convinced him that he had misjudged Mr. Gladstone; and he promptly made the fullest apology in the current number of "Fors," saying that he had written under a complete misconception of his character. In reprinting the old pages he not only cancelled the offending passage, but he left the place blank, with a note in the middle of it, as "a memorial of rash judgment."
He went slowly northward, seeking rest at Ingleton; whence he wrote, January 17:—"I've got nothing done all the time I've been away but a few mathematical figures [crystallography, no doubt, for 'Deucalion,'] and the less I do the less I find I can do it; and yesterday, for the first time these twenty years, I hadn't so much as a 'plan' in my head all day." Arrived at Brantwood, as rest was useless, he tried work. Mr. Willett had asked him to reprint "The Two Paths," and he got that ready for press, and wrote a short preface. At Venice, Mr. J.R. Anderson had been working out for him the myths illustrated by Carpaccio in the Chapel of S. Giorgio de' Schiavoni; and the book had been waiting for Ruskin's introduction until he was surprised by the publication of an almost identical inquiry by M. Clermont-Ganneau. He tried to fulfil his duty to his pupil by writing the preface immediately; most sorrowfully feeling the inadequacy of his strength for the tasks he had laid upon it. He wrote:
"My own feeling, now, is that everything which has hitherto happened to me, and been done by me, whether well or ill, has been fitting me to take greater fortune more prudently, and to do better work more thoroughly. And just when I seem to be coming out of school,—very sorry to have been such a foolish boy, yet having taken a prize or two, and expecting now to enter upon some more serious business than cricket,—I am dismissed by the Master I hoped to serve, with a—'That's all I want of you, sir.'"
In such times he found relief by reverting to the past. He wrote in the beginning of February a paper for the University Magazine on "My First Editor," W.H. Harrison, and forgot himself—almost—in bright reminiscences of youthful days and early associations. Next, as Mr. Marcus Huish, who had shown great friendliness and generosity in providing prints for the Sheffield museum, was now proposing to hold an Exhibition of Mr. Ruskin's "Turners" at the Fine Art Galleries in New Bond Street, it was necessary to arrange the exhibits and to prepare the catalogue. For the next fortnight he struggled on with this labour, and with his last "Fors"—the last he was to write in the long series of more than seven years. How little the thousands who read the preface to his catalogue, with its sad sketch of Turner's fate, and what they supposed to be its "customary burst of terminal eloquence," understood that it was indeed the cry of one who had been wounded in the house of his friends, and was now believing every day that dawned on him to be his last. He told of Turner's youthful picture of the Coniston Fells and its invocation to the mists of morning, bidding them "in honour to the world's great Author, rise,"—and then how Turner's "health, and with it in great degree his mind, failed suddenly with a snap of some vital chord," after the sunset splendours of his last, dazzling efforts....
[Footnote 40: "Fors" was taken up again, at intervals, later on; but never with the same purpose and continuity.]
"Morning breaks, as I write, along those Coniston Fells, and the level mists, motionless and grey beneath the rose of the moorlands, veil the lower woods, and the sleeping village, and the long lawns by the lake-shore. Oh that some one had but told me, in my youth, when all my heart seemed to be set on these colours and clouds, that appear for a little while and then vanish away, how little my love of them would serve me, when the silence of lawn and wood in the dews of morning should be completed; and all my thoughts should be of those whom, by neither, I was to meet more!"
The catalogue was finished, and hurried off to the printers. A week of agitating suspense at home, and then it could no longer be concealed. Friends and foes alike were startled and saddened with the news of his "sudden and dangerous illness,"—some form of inflammation of the brain—the result of overwork, but still more immediately of the emotional strain from which he had been suffering.
On March 4th, the Turner Exhibition opened, and day by day the bulletins from Brantwood announcing his condition were read by multitudes of visitors with eager and sorrowful interest. Newspapers all the world over copied the daily reports: in the Far West of America the same telegrams were posted, and they say even a more demonstrative sympathy was shown. Nor was the feeling confined to the English speaking public. The Oxford Proctor in Convocation of April 24th, when the patient, after the first burst of the storm was slowly drifting back into calmer waters, thought it worth while, in the course of his speech, to mention that in Italy, where he had lately been on an Easter vacation tour, he had witnessed a widespread anxiety about Ruskin, and prayers put up for his recovery.
By May 10th he was so much better that he could complete the catalogue with some gossip about those Alpine drawings of 1842 which he regarded as the climax of Turner's work. The first—and best in some ways—of the series was the Spluegen. Without any word to him, the diligence of kind friends and the help of a wide circle of admirers traced the drawing, and subscribed its price—1,000 guineas, to which Mr. Agnew generously added his commission—and it was presented to Mr. Ruskin as a token of sympathy and respect. He was not insensible to the personal compliment implied, and by way of some answer he spent the first few days of his convalescence in arranging and annotating a series of drawings by himself, and engravings, illustrating the Turners, to add to his show during the remainder of the season. When they were sent off (early in June) to Bond Street, he left home with the Severns to complete his recovery at Malham.
There was another reason why that spontaneous testimonial was welcome at the moment, for a curious and unaccustomed ordeal was impending for his claims as an art critic. On his return from Venice after months of intercourse with the great Old Masters, he found the Grosvenor Gallery just opened for the first time, with its memorable exhibition of the different extra-academical schools. It placed before the public, in sharp contrast, the final outcome of the Pre-Raphaelitism for which he had fought many a year before, and samples of the last new fashion from Paris. The maturer works of Burne-Jones had been practically unseen by the public, and Ruskin took the opportunity of their exhibition to write his praise of the youngest of the Old Masters in the current numbers of "Fors," and afterwards in two papers on the "Three Colours of Pre-Raphaelitism" (Nineteenth Century Magazine, November and December, 1878). But in the same "Fors" he dismissed with half a paragraph of contempt Mr. Whistler's eccentric sketch of Fireworks at Cremorne. Long before, in 1863, when he was working with various artists connected with the Pre-Raphaelite circle, Mr. Whistler had made overtures to the great critic through Mr. Swinburne the poet; but he had not been taken seriously. Now he had become the missionary in England of the new French gospel of "impressionism," which to Ruskin was one of those half-truths which are ever the worst of heresies. Mr. Whistler appealed to the law. He brought an action for libel, which was tried on November 25th and 26th before Baron Huddleston, and recovered a farthing damages. Ruskin's costs—amounting to L386 12s. 4d.—were paid by a public subscription to which one hundred and twenty persons, including many strangers, contributed.
By that time he was fully recovering from his illness, back at Coniston, after a short visit to Liverpool. It was forbidden to him to attempt any exciting work. He had given up "Fors" and Oxford lecturing, and was devoting himself again to quiet studies for "Proserpina" and "Deucalion." On the first day of the trial the St. George's Guild was registered as a Company; on the second day he wrote to Miss Beever:
"I have entirely resigned all hope of ever thanking you rightly for bread, sweet odours, roses and pearls, and must just allow myself to be fed, scented, rose-garlanded and be-pearled, as if I were a poor little pet dog, or pet pig. But my cold is better, and I am getting on with this botany; but it is really too important a work to be pushed for a week or fortnight."
Early in 1879 his resignation of the Slade Professorship was announced; followed by what was virtually his election to an honorary doctor's degree; or, as officially worded—"the Hebdomadal Council resolved on June 9, 1879, to propose to Convocation to confer the degree of D.C.L. honoris causa upon John Ruskin, M.A., of Ch. Ch., at the enaenia of that year; but the proposal, though notified in the Gazette of June 10, was not submitted to vote owing to the inability of Mr. Ruskin to be present at the encaenia." The degree was conferred, in his absence, in 1893.
THE DIVERSIONS OF BRANTWOOD (1879-1881)
Sixty years of one of the busiest lives on record were beginning to tell upon Ruskin. He would not confess to old age, but his recent illness had shaken him severely. The next three years were spent chiefly at Coniston, in comparative retirement; but neither in despair, nor idleness, nor loneliness. He had always lived a sort of dual life, solitary in his thoughts, but social in his habits; liking company, especially of young people; ready, in the intervals of work, to enter into their employments and amusements, and curiously able to forget his cares in hours of relaxation. Sometimes, when earnest admirers made the pilgrimage to their Mecca—"holy Brantwood" as a scoffing poet called it—they were surprised and even shocked, to find the prophet of "Fors" at the head of a merry dinner-table, and the Professor of Art among surroundings which a London or a Boston "aesthete" would have ruled to be in very poor taste.
Shall I take you for a visit there,—to Brantwood as it was in those old times?
It is a weary way to Coniston, whatever road you choose. The inconvenience of the railway route was perhaps one reason of Ruskin's preference for driving on so many occasions. After changing and changing trains, and stopping at many a roadside station, at last you see, suddenly, over the wild undulating country, the Coniston Old Man and its crags, abrupt on the left, and the lake, long and narrow, on the right. Across the water, tiny in the distance and quite alone amongst forests and moors, there is Brantwood; and beyond it everything seems uncultivated, uninhabited, except for one grey farmhouse high on the fell, where gaps in the ragged larches show how bleak and storm-swept a spot it is.
To come out of the station after long travel is to find yourself face to face with magnificent rocks, and white cottages among the fir-trees. As you are whirled down through the straggling village, and along the shore round the head of the lake, the panorama, though not Alpine in magnitude, is almost Alpine in character. The valley, too, is not yet built up; it is still the old-fashioned lake country, almost as it was in the days of the "Iteriad." You drive up and down a narrow, hilly lane, catching peeps of mountains and sunset, through thick, overhanging trees; you turn sharp up through a gate under dark firs and larches, and the carriage stops in what seems in the twilight a sort of court,—a gravelled space, one side formed by a rough stone wall crowned with laurels and almost precipitous coppice, the brant (or steep) wood above, and the rest is Brantwood, with a capital B.
[Footnote 41: The archway supporting a great pile of new buildings did not exist in the time when this visit is supposed to be made. Since that time new stables and greenhouses also have been built; with other additions somewhat altering the cottage-like house of Ruskin's working days.]
You expect that Gothic porch you have read of in "Lectures on Architecture and Painting," and you are surprised to find a stucco classic portico in the corner, painted and grained, and heaped around with lucky horseshoes, brightly blackleaded, and mysterious rows of large blocks of slate and basalt and trap—a complete museum of local geology, if only you knew it—very unlike an ideal entrance; still more unlike an ordinary one. While you wait you can see through the glass door a roomy hall, lit with candles, and hung with large drawings by Burne-Jones and by the master of the house. His soft hat, and thick gloves, and chopper, lying on the marble table, show that he has come in from his afternoon's woodcutting.
But if you are expected you will hardly have time to look round, for Brantwood is nothing if not hospitable. The honoured guest—and all guests are honoured there—after welcome, is ushered up a narrow stair, which betrays the original cottage, into the "turret room." It had been "the Professor's" until after his illness, and he papered it with naturalistic pansies, to his own taste, and built out at one corner a projecting turret to command the view on all sides, with windows strongly latticed to resist the storms. There is old-fashioned solid comfort in the way of furniture; and pictures,—a Duerer engraving, some Prouts and Turners, a couple of old Venetian heads, and Meissonier's "Napoleon," over the fireplace—a picture which Ruskin bought for one thousand guineas, showed for a time at Oxford, and hung up here in a shabby little frame to be out of the way.
[Footnote 42: Sold in 1882 for 5,900 guineas.]
If you are a man, you are told not to dress; if you are a lady, you may put on your prettiest gown. They dine in the new room, for the old dining-room was so small that the waitress could not get round the table. The new room is spacious and lofty compared with the rest of the house; it has a long window with thick red sandstone mullions—there at last is a touch of Gothicism—to look down the lake, and a bay window open on the narrow lawn sloping steeply down to the road in front, and the view of the Old Man. The walls, painted "duck egg," are hung with old pictures; the Doge Gritti, a bit saved from the great Titian that was burnt in the fire at the Ducal Palace in 1574; a couple of Tintorets; Turner and Reynolds, each painted by himself in youth; Raphael by a pupil, so it is said; portraits of old Mr. and Mrs. Ruskin, and little John and his "boo hills." There he sits, no longer little, opposite: and you can trace the same curve and droop of the eyebrows prefigured in the young face and preserved in the old, and a certain family likeness to his handsome young father.
Since Mr. Ruskin's illness his cousin, Mrs. Arthur Severn, has become more and more indispensable to him: she sits at the head of the table and calls him "the coz." An eminent visitor was once put greatly out of countenance by this apparent irreverence. After obvious embarrassment, light dawned upon him towards the close of the meal. "Oh!" said he, "it's 'the coz' you call Mr. Ruskin. I thought you were saying' the cuss!'"
There are generally two or three young people staying in the house, salaried assistants or amateur, occasional helpers; but though there is a succession of visitors from a distance, there is not very frequent entertainment of neighbours.
[Footnote 43: The face most familiar at Brantwood in those times was "Laurie's." A strange, bright, gifted boy—admirable draughtsman, ingenious mechanician, marvellous actor; the imaginer of the quaintest and drollest humours that ever entered the head of man; devoted to boats and boating, but unselfishly ready to share all labours and contribute to all diversions; painstaking and perfect in his work, and brilliant in his wit,—Laurence Hilliard was dearly loved by his friends, and is still loved by them dearly. He was Ruskin's chief secretary at Brantwood from Jan., 1876 to 1882, when the death of his father, and ill-health, led him to resign the post, which was then filled by Miss Sara D. Anderson. Hilliard continued to live at Coniston, and was just beginning to succeed as a painter of still life and landscape when he died of pleurisy on board a friend's yacht in the Aegean, April 11th, 1887, aged thirty-two.]
A Brantwood dinner is always ample; there is no asceticism about the place; nor is there any affectation of "intensity" or of conversational cleverness. The neat things you meant to say are forgotten—you must be hardened indeed to say them to Mr. Ruskin's face; but if you were shy, you soon feel that there was no need for shyness; you have fallen among friends; and before dessert comes in, with fine old sherry—the pride of your host, as he explains—you feel that nobody understands you so well, and that all his books are nothing to himself.
They don't sit over their wine, and smoking is not allowed. Ruskin goes off to his study after dinner—it is believed for a nap, for he was at work early and has been out all the afternoon. In the drawing-room you see pictures—water-colours by Turner and Hunt, drawings by Prout and Ruskin, an early Burne-Jones, a sketch in oil by Gainsborough. The furniture is the old mahogany of Mr. Ruskin's childhood, with rare things interspersed—like the cloisonne vases on the mantelpiece.
Soon after nine Ruskin comes in with an armful of things that are going to the Sheffield museum, and while his cousin makes his tea and salted toast, he explains his last acquirements in minerals or missals, eager that you should see the interest of them; or displays the last studies of Mr. Rooke or Mr. Fairfax Murray, copies from Carpaccio or bits of Gothic architecture.
Then, sitting in the chair in which he preached his baby-sermon, he reads aloud a few chapters of Scott or Miss Edgeworth, or, with judicious omissions, one of the older novelists; or translates, with admirable facility, a scene of Scribe or George Sand. When his next work comes out you will recognise this evening's reading in his allusions and quotations, perhaps even in the subjects of his writing, for at this time he is busy on the articles of "Fiction, Fair and Foul."
After the reading, music; a bit of his own composition, "Old Aegina's Rock," or "Cockle-hat and Staff"; his cousin's Scotch ballads or Christy Minstrel songs; and if you can sing a new ditty, fresh from London, now is your chance. You are surprised to see the Prophet clapping his hands to "Camptown Races," or the "Hundred Pipers"—chorus given with the whole strength of the company; but you are in a house of strange meetings.
By about half-past ten his day is over; a busy day, that has left him tired out. You will not easily forget the way he lit his candle—no lamps allowed, and no gas—and gave a last look lovingly at a pet picture or two, slanting his candlestick and shading the light with his hand, before he went slowly upstairs to his own little room, literally lined with the Turner drawings you have read about in "Modern Painters."
You may be waked by a knock at the door, and "Are you looking out?" And pulling up the blind, there is one of our Coniston mornings, with the whole range of mountains in one quiet glow above the cool mist of the valley and lake. Going down at length on a voyage of exploration, and turning in perhaps at the first door, you intrude upon "the Professor" at work in his study, half sitting, half kneeling at his round table in the bay window, with the early cup of coffee, and the cat in his crimson arm-chair. There he has been working since dawn, perhaps, or on dark mornings by candlelight. And he does not seem to mind the interruption; after a welcome he asks you to look round while he finishes his paragraph, and writes away composedly.
A long, low room, evidently two old cottage-rooms thrown into one; papered with a pattern specially copied from Marco Marziale's "Circumcision" in the National Gallery; and hung with Turners. A great early Turner of the Lake of Geneva is over the fireplace. You are tempted to make a mental inventory. Polished steel fender, very unaesthetic; curious shovel—his design, he will stop to remark, and forged by the village smith. Red mahogany furniture, with startling shiny emerald leather chair-cushions; red carpet and green curtains. Most of the room crowded with bookcases and cabinets for minerals. Scales in a glass case; heaps of mineral specimens; books on the floor; rolls of diagrams; early Greek pots from Cyprus; a great litter of things and yet not disorderly nor dusty. "I don't understand," he once said, "why you ladies are always complaining about the dust; my bookcases are never dusty!" The truth being that, though he rose early, the housemaid rose earlier.
[Footnote 44: Since sold, and replaced by a della Robbia Madonna.]
Before you have finished your inventory he breaks off work to show you a drawer or two of minerals, fairy-land in a cupboard; or some of his missals, King Hakon's Bible, or the original MS. of the Scott he was reading last night; or, opening a door in a sort of secretaire, pulls out of their sliding cases frame after frame of Turners—the Bridge of Narni, the Falls of Terni, Florence, or Rome, and many more—to hold in your hand, and take to the light, and look into with a lens—quite a different thing from seeing pictures in a gallery.
At breakfast, when you see the post-bag brought in, you understand why he tries to get his bit of writing done early. The letters and parcels are piled in the study, and after breakfast, at which, as in old times, he reads his last-written passages—how much more interesting they will always look to you in print!—after breakfast he is closeted with an assistant, and they work through the heap. Private friends, known by handwriting, he puts aside; most of the morning will go in answering them. Business he talks over, and gives brief directions. But the bulk of the correspondence is from strangers in all parts of the world—admirers' flattery; students' questions; begging-letters for money, books, influence, advice, autographs, criticism on enclosed MS. or accompanying picture; remonstrance or abuse from dissatisfied readers, or people who object to his method of publication, or wish to convert him to their own religion. And so the heap is gradually cleared, with the help of the waste-paper basket; the secretary's work cut out, his own arranged; and by noon a long row of letters and envelopes have been set out to dry—Mr. Ruskin uses no blotting-paper, and, as he dislikes the vulgar method of fastening envelopes, the secretary's work will be to seal them all with red wax, and the seal with the motto "To-day" cut in the apex of a big specimen of chalcedony.
If you take, as many do, an interest in the minutiae of portrait painting, and think the picture more finished for its details, you may notice that he writes on the flat table, not on a desk; that he uses a cork penholder and a fine steel pen, though he is not at all a slave to his tools, and differs from others rather in the absence of the sine qua non from his conditions. He can write anywhere, on anything, with anything; wants no pen-wiper, no special form of paper, or other "fad." Much of his work is written in bound notebooks, especially when he is abroad, to prevent the loss and disorder of multitudinous foolscap. He generally makes a rough syllabus of his subject, in addition to copious notes and extracts from authorities, and then writes straight off; not without a noticeable hesitation and revision, even in his letters. His rough copy is transcribed by an assistant, and he often does not see it again until it is in proof.
[Footnote 45: In later years he sometimes had his copy type-written.]
Printers' proofs are always a trial, and he is glad to shift the work on to an assistant's shoulders, such as Mr. Harrison was, who saw all his early works through the press. But he is extremely particular about certain matters, such as the choice of type and arrangements of the page; though his taste does not coincide with that of the leaders of recent fashions. Mr. Jowett (of Messrs. Hazell, Watson & Viney, Limited) said in Hazell's Magazine for September; 1892, that Ruskin made the size of the page a careful study, though he adopted many varieties. The "Fors" page is different from, and not so symmetrical as that of the octavo "Works Series," although both are printed on the same sized paper—medium 8vo. Then there is the "Knight's Faith" and "Ulric," in both of which the type (pica modern—"this delightful type," wrote Ruskin) and the size of the page are different from any other; yet both were his choice. The "Ulric" page was imitated from an old edition of Miss Edgeworth. The first proof he criticised thus: "Don't you think a quarter inch off this page, as enclosed, would look better? The type is very nice. How delicious a bit of Miss Edgeworth's is, like this!" "Ida" was another page of his choice, and greatly approved. His title pages, too, were arranged with great care; he used to draw them out in pen and ink, indicating the size and position of the lines and letters. He objected to ornaments and to anything like blackness and heaviness, but he was very particular about proportions and spacing, and about the division of words.
In the morning everybody is busy. There are drawings and diagrams to be made, MS. to copy, references to look up, parcels to pack and unpack. Someone is told off to take you round, and you visit the various rooms and see the treasures, inspect the outhouse with its workshop for carpentry, framing and mounting, casting leaves and modelling; one work or another is sure to be going on; perhaps one of the various sculptors who have made Ruskin's bust is busy there. Down at the Lodge, a miniature Brantwood, turret and all, the Severn children live when they are at Coniston. Then there are the gardens, terraced in the steep, rocky slope, and some small hot-houses, which Ruskin thinks a superfluity, except that they provide grapes for sick neighbours.
Below the gardens a path across a field takes you to the harbour, begun in play by the Xenophon translators and finished by the village mason, with its fleet of boats—chief of them the "Jumping Jenny" (called after Nanty Ewart's boat in "Redgauntlet"), Ruskin's own design and special private water-carriage. Outside the harbour the sail-boats are moored, Mr. Severn's Lily of Brantwood. Milliard's boat, and his Snail, an unfortunate craft brought from Morecambe Bay with great expectations that were never realized; though Ruskin always professed to believe in her, as a real sea-boat (see "Harbours of England") such as he used to steer with his friend Huret, the Boulogne fisherman, in the days when he, too, was smitten with sea-fever.
After luncheon, if letters are done, all hands are piped to the moor. With billhooks and choppers the party winds up the wood paths, "the Professor" first, walking slowly, and pointing out to you his pet bits of rock-cleavage, or ivied trunk, or nest of wild strawberry plants. You see, perhaps, the ice-house—tunnelled at vast expense into the rock and filled at more expense with the best ice; opened at last with great expectations and the most charitable intent—for it was planned to supply invalids in the neighbourhood with ice, as the, hothouses supplied them with grapes; and revealing, after all, nothing but a puddle of dirty water. You see more successful works—the Professor's little private garden, which he is supposed to cultivate with his own hands; various little wells and watercourses among the rocks, moss-grown and fern-embowered; and so you come out on the moor.
There great works go on. Juniper is being rooted up; boggy patches drained and cultivated cranberries are being planted, and oats grown; paths engineered to the best points of view; rocks bared to examine the geology—though you cannot get the Professor to agree that every inch of his territory has been glaciated. These diversions have their serious side, for he is really experimenting on the possibility of reclaiming waste land; perhaps too sanguine, you think, and not counting the cost. To which he replies that, as long as there are hands unemployed and misemployed, a government such as he would see need never be at a loss for labourers. If corn can be made to grow where juniper grew before, the benefit is a positive one, the expense only comparative. And so you take your pick with the rest, and are almost persuaded to become a companion of St. George.
Not to tire a new comer, he takes you away after a while to a fine heathery promontory, where you sit before a most glorious view of lake and mountains. This, he says, is his "Naboth's vineyard"; he would like to own so fine a point of vantage. But he is happy in his country retreat, far happier than you thought him; and the secret of his happiness is that he has sympathy with all around him, and hearty interest in everything, from the least to the greatest.
[Footnote 46: Since then become part of the Brantwood estate.]
Coming down from the moor after the round, when you reach the front door you must see the performance of the waterfall: everybody must see that. On the moor a reservoir has been dug and dammed, with ingenious flood-gates—Ruskin's device, of course—and a channel led down through the wood to a rustic bridge in the rock. Some one has stayed behind to let out the water, and down it comes; first a black stream and then a white one, as it gradually clears; and the rocky wall at the entrance becomes for ten minutes a cascade. This too has it uses; not only is there a supply of water in case of fire (the exact utilisation of which is yet undecided), but it illustrates one of his doctrines about the simplicity with which works of irrigation could be carried out among the hills of Italy.
And so you go in to tea and chess, for he loves a good game of chess with all his heart. He loves many things, you have found. He is different from other men you know, by the breadth and vividness of his sympathies, by power of living as few other men can live, in Admiration, Hope and Love.
"FORS" RESUMED (1880-1881)
Retirement at Brantwood was only partial. Ruskin's habits of life made it impossible for him to be idle, much as he acknowledged the need of thorough rest. He could not be wholly ignorant of the world outside Coniston; though sometimes for weeks together he tried to ignore it, and refused to read a newspaper. The time when General Gordon went out to Khartoum was one of these periods of abstraction, devoted to mediaeval study. Somebody talked one morning at breakfast about the Soudan. "And who is the Soudan?" he earnestly inquired, connecting the name, as it seemed, with the Soldan of Babylon, in crusading romance.
"Don't you know," he wrote to a friend (January 8th, 1880):
"That I am entirely with you in this Irish misery, and have been these thirty years?—only one can't speak plain without distinctly becoming a leader of Revolution? I know that Revolution must come in all the world—but I can't act with Dan ton or Robespierre, nor with the modern French Republican or Italian one. I could with you and your Irish, but you are only at the beginning of the end. I have spoken,—and plainly too,—for all who have ears, and hear."
The author of "Fors" had tried to show that the nineteenth-century commercialist spirit was not new; that the tyranny of capital was the old sin of usury over again; and he asked why preachers of religion did not denounce it—why, for example, the Bishop of Manchester did not, on simply religious grounds, oppose the teaching of the "Manchester School," who were the chief supporters of the commercialist economy. Not until the end of 1879 had Dr. Fraser been aware of the challenge; but at length he wrote, justifying his attitude. The popular and able bishop had much to say on the expediency of the commercial system and the error of taking the Bible literally; but he seemed unaware of the revolution in economical thought which "Unto this Last" and "Fors" had been pioneering.
"I'm not gone to Venice yet," wrote Ruskin to Miss Beever, "but thinking of it hourly. I'm very nearly done with toasting my bishop; he just wants another turn or two, and then a little butter." The toasting and the buttering appeared in the Contemporary Review for February 1880; and this incident led him to feel that the mission of "Fors" was not finished. If bishops were still unenlightened, there was yet work to do. He gave up Venice, and resumed his crusade.
Brantwood life was occasionally interrupted by short excursions to London or elsewhere. In the autumn he had heard Professor Huxley on the evolution of reptiles; and this suggested another treatment of the subject, from his own artistic and ethical point of view, in a lecture oddly called "A Caution to Snakes," given at the London Institution, March 17th, 1880 (repeated March 23rd, and printed in "Deucalion"). He was not merely an amateur zoologist and F.Z.S., but a devoted lover and keen observer of animals. It would take long to tell the story of all his dogs, from the spaniel Dash, commemorated in his earliest poems, and Wisie, whose sagacity is related in "Praeterita," down through the long line of bulldogs, St. Bernards, and collies, to Bramble, the reigning favourite; and all the cats who made his study their home, or were flirted with abroad. To Miss Beever, from Bolton Abbey (January 24th, 1875) he describes the Wharfe in flood, and then continues: "I came home (to the hotel) to quiet tea, and a black kitten called Sweep, who lapped half my cream-jugful (and yet I had plenty), sitting on my shoulder." Grip, the pet rook at Denmark Hill, is mentioned in "My First Editor," as celebrated in verse by Mr. W.H. Harrison.
Ruskin had not Thoreau's intimate acquaintance with the details of wild life, but his attitude towards animals and plants was the same; hating the science that murders to dissect; resigning his Professorship at Oxford, finally, because vivisection was introduced into the University; and supporting the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals with all his heart. But, as he said at the Annual Meeting in 1877, he objected to the sentimental fiction and exaggerated statements which some of its members circulated. "They had endeavoured to prevent cruelty to animals," he said, "but they had not enough endeavoured to promote affection for animals. He trusted to the pets of children for their education, just as much as to their tutors."
It was to carry out this idea (to anticipate a little) that he founded the Society of Friends of Living Creatures, which he addressed, May 23rd, 1885, at the club, Bedford Park, in his capacity of—not president—but "papa." The members, boys and girls from seven to fifteen, promised not to kill nor hurt any animal for sport, nor tease creatures; but to make friends of their pets and watch their habits, and collect facts about natural history.
I remember, on one of the rambles at Coniston in the early days, how we found a wounded buzzard—one of the few creatures of the eagle kind that our English mountains still breed. The rest of us were not very ready to go near the beak and talons of the fierce-looking, and, as we supposed, desperate bird. Ruskin quietly took it up in his arms, felt it over to find the hurt, and carried it, quite unresistingly, out of the way of dogs and passers-by, to a place where it might die in solitude or recover in safety. He often told his Oxford hearers that he would rather they learned to love birds than to shoot them; and his wood and moor were harbours of refuge for hunted game or "vermin;" and his windows the rendezvous of the little birds.
He had not been abroad since the spring of 1877, and in August 1880 felt able to travel again. He went for a tour among the northern French cathedrals, staying at old haunts,—Abbeville, Amiens, Beauvais, Chartres, Rouen,—and then returned with Mr. A. Severn and Mr. Brabazon to Amiens, where he spent the greater part of October. He was writing a new book—the "Bible of Amiens"—which was to be to the "Seven Lamps" what "St. Mark's Rest" was to "Stones of Venice."
Before he returned, the secretary of the Chesterfield Art School had written to ask him to address the students. Mr. Ruskin, travelling without a secretary, and in the flush of new work and thronging ideas, put the letter aside; he carried his letters about in bundles in his portmanteau, as he said in his apology, "and looked at them as Ulysses at the bags of Aeolus." Some wag had the impudence to forge a reply, which was actually read at the meeting in spite of its obviously fictitious style and statements:
"HARLESDEN(!), LONDON, Friday.
"MY DEAR SIR,
"Your letter reaches me here. Have just returned [commercial English, not Ruskin] from Venice [where he had meant to go, but did not go] where I have ruminated(!) in the pasturages of the home of art(!); the loveliest and holiest of lovely and holy cities, where the very stones cry out, eloquent in the elegancies of iambics" (!!)—and so forth.
However, it deceived the newspapers, and there was a fine storm, which Mr. Ruskin rather enjoyed. For though the forgery was clumsy enough, it embodied some apt plagiarism from a letter to the Mansfield Art School on a similar occasion.
Not long before, a forgery of a more serious kind had been committed by one of the people connected with St. George's Guild, who had put Mr. Ruskin's name to cheques. The bank authorities were long in tracing the crime. They even sent a detective to Brantwood to watch one of the assistants, who never knew—nor will ever know—that he was honoured with such attentions; and none of his friends for a moment believed him guilty. He had sometimes imitated Mr. Ruskin's hand; a dangerous jest. The real culprit was discovered at last, and Mr. Ruskin had to go to London as a witness for the prosecution. "Being in very weak health," the Times report said (April 1st, 1879), "he was allowed to give evidence from the bench." He had told the Sheffield communists that "he thought so strongly on the subject of the repression of crime that he dare not give expression to his ideas for fear of being charged with cruelty"; but no sooner was the prisoner released than he gave the help needed to start him again in a better career.
Though he did not feel able to lecture to strangers at Chesterfield, he visited old friends at Eton, on November 6th, 1880, to give an address on Amiens. For once he forgot his MS., but the lecture was no less brilliant and interesting. It was practically the first chapter of his new work, the "Bible of Amiens,"—itself intended as the first volume of "Our Fathers have Told us: Sketches of the History of Christendom, for Boys and Girls who have been held at its Fonts." The distinctly religious tone of the work was noticed as marking, if not a change, a strong development of a tendency which had been strengthening for some time past.
Early in 1879 the Rev. F.A. Malleson, vicar of Broughton, near Coniston, had asked him to write, for the Furness Clerical Society's Meetings, a series of letters on the Lord's Prayer. In them he dwelt upon the need of living faith in the Fatherhood of God, and childlike obedience to the commands of old-fashioned religion and morality. He criticised the English liturgy as compared with mediaeval forms of prayer; and pressed upon his hearers the strongest warnings against evasion, or explaining away of stern duties and simple faiths. He concluded:
"No man more than I has ever loved the place where God's honour dwells, or yielded truer allegiance to the teaching of His evident servants. No man at this time grieves more for the damage of the Church which supposes him her enemy, while she whispers procrastinating pax vobiscum in answer to the spurious kiss of those who would fain toll curfew over the last fires of English faith, and watch the sparrows find nest where she may lay her young, around the altars of the Lord."
But if the Anglican Church refused him, the Roman Church was eager to claim him. His interest in mediaevalism seemed to point him out as ripe for conversion. Cardinal Manning, an old acquaintance, showed him special attention, and invited him to charming tete-a-tete luncheons. It was commonly reported that he had gone over, or was going. But two letters (of a later date) show that he was not to be caught. To a Glasgow correspondent he wrote in 1887:
"I shall be entirely grateful to you if you will take the trouble to contradict any news gossip of this kind, which may be disturbing the minds of any of my Scottish friends. I was, am, and can be, only a Christian Catholic in the wide and eternal sense. I have been that these five-and-twenty years at least. Heaven keep me from being less as I grow older! But I am no more likely to become a Roman Catholic than a Quaker, Evangelical, or Turk."
To another, next year, he wrote:
"I fear you have scarcely read enough of 'Fors' to know the breadth of my own creed or communion. I gladly take the bread, water, wine, or meat of the Lord's Supper with members of my own family or nation who obey Him, and should be equally sure it was His giving, if I were myself worthy to receive it, whether the intermediate mortal hand were the Pope's, the Queen's, or a hedge-side gipsy's."
At Coniston he was on friendly terms with Father Gibson, the Roman Catholic priest, and gave a window to the chapel, which several of the Brantwood household attended. But though he did not go to Church, he contributed largely to the increase of the poorly-endowed curacy, and to the charities of the parish. The religious society of the neighbourhood was hardly of a kind to attract him, unless among the religious society should be included the Thwaite, where lived the survivors of a family long settled at Coniston—Miss Mary Beever, scientific and political; and Miss Susanna, who won Mr. Ruskin's admiration and affection by an interest akin to his own in nature and in poetry, and by her love for animals, and bright, unfailing wit. Both ladies were examples of sincerely religious life, "at once sources and loadstones of all good to the village," as he wrote in the preface to "Hortus Inclusus," the collection of his letters to them since first acquaintance in the autumn of 1873. The elder Miss Beever died at an advanced age on the last day of 1883; Miss Susanna survived until October, 29, 1893.
In children he took a warm and openly-expressed interest. He used to visit the school often, and delighted to give them a treat. On January 13th, 1881, he gave a dinner to 315 Coniston youngsters, and the tone of his address to his young guests is noteworthy as taken in connection with the drift of his religious tendency during this period. He dwelt on a verse of the Sunday School hymn they had been singing: "Jesu, here from sin deliver." "That is what we want," he said; "to be delivered from our sins. We must look to the Saviour to deliver us from our sin. It is right we should be punished for the sins which we have done; but God loves us, and wishes to be kind to us, and to help us, that we may not wilfully sin."
At this time he used to take the family prayers himself at Brantwood: preparing careful notes for a Bible-reading, which sometimes, indeed, lasted longer than was convenient to the household; and writing collects for the occasion, still existing in manuscript, and deeply interesting as the prayers of a man who had passed through so many wildernesses of thought and doubt, and had returned at last—not to the fold of the Church, but to the footstool of the Father.
THE RECALL TO OXFORD (1882-1883)
This Brantwood life came to an end with the end of 1881. Early in the next year he went for change of scene to stay with the Severns at his old home on Herne Hill. He seemed much better, and ventured to reappear in public. On March 3rd he went to the National Gallery to sketch Turner's Python. On the unfinished drawing is written: "Bothered away from it, and never went again. No light to work by in the next month." An artist in the Gallery had been taking notes of him for a surreptitious portrait—an embarrassing form of flattery.
He wrote: "No—I won't believe any stories about overwork. It's impossible, when one's in good heart and at really pleasant things. I've a lot of nice things to do, but the heart fails—after lunch, particularly!" Heart and head did, however, fail again; and another attack of brain fever followed. Sir William Gull brought him through, and won his praise as a doctor and esteem as a friend. Ruskin took it as a great compliment when Sir William, in acknowledging his fee, wrote that he should keep the cheque as an autograph.
By Easter Monday the patient was better again, and plunging into work in spite of everybody. He wrote:
"I was not at all sure, myself, till yesterday, whether I would go abroad; also I should have told you before. But as you have had the (sorrowful?) news broken to you—and as I find Sir William Gull perfectly fixed in his opinion, I obey him, and reserve only some liberty of choice to myself—respecting, not only climate,—but the general appearance of the—inhabitants, of the localities, where for antiquarian or scientific research I may be induced to prolong my sojourn.—Meantime I send you—to show you I haven't come to town for nothing, my last bargain in beryls, with a little topaz besides...."
But the journey was put off week after week. There was so much to do, buying diamonds for Sheffield museum, and planning a collection of models to show the normal forms of crystals, and to illustrate a subject which he thought many people would find interesting, if they could be got over its first difficulties. Not only Sheffield was to receive these gifts and helps: Ruskin had become acquainted with the Rev. J.P. Faunthorpe, Principal of Whitelands College for Pupil Teachers, and had given various books and collections to illustrate the artistic side of education. Now he instituted there the May Queen Festival, in some sort carrying out his old suggestion in "Time and Tide." Mr. A. Severn designed a gold cross, and it was presented, with a set of volumes of Ruskin's works, sumptuously bound, to the May Queen and her maidens. The pretty festival became a popular feature of the school, "patronised by royalty," and Ruskin continued his annual gift to Whitelands, and kept up a similar institution at the High School at Cork.
At last, in August, he started for the Continent and stayed a while at Avallon in central France, a district new to him. There he met Mr. Frank Randal, one of the artists working for St. George's Guild, and explored the scenery and antiquities of a most interesting neighbourhood. He drove over the Jura in the old style, revisited Savoy, and after weeks of bitter bise and dark weather, a splendid sunset cleared the hills. He wrote to Miss Beever:—"I saw Mont Blanc again to-day, unseen since 1877; and was very thankful. It is a sight that always redeems me to what I am capable of at my poor little best, and to what loves and memories are most precious to me."
At Annecy he was pleased to find the waiter at the Hotel Verdun remembered his visit twenty years before;—everywhere he met old friends, and saw old scenes that he had feared he never would revisit. After crossing the Cenis and hastening through Turin and Genoa, he reached Lucca, to be awaited at the Albergo Reale dell' Universo by a crowd, every one anxious to shake hands with Signor Ruskin. No wonder!—for instead of allowing himself to be a mere Number-so-and-so in a hotel, wherever he felt comfortable—and that was everywhere except at pretentious modern hotels—he made friends with the waiter, chatted with the landlord, found his way into the kitchen to compliment the cook, and forgot nobody in the establishment—not only in "tips," but in a frank and sympathetic address which must have contrasted curiously, in their minds, with the reserve and indifference of other English tourists.
At Florence he met Mr. Henry Roderick Newman, an American artist who had been at Coniston and was working for the Guild. He introduced Ruskin to Mrs. and Miss Alexander. In these ladies' home he found his own aims, in religion, philanthropy, and art, realised in an unexpected way. Miss Alexander's drawing at first struck him by its sincerity. Not only did she draw beautifully, but she also wrote a beautiful hand; and it had been one of his old sayings that missal-writing, rather than missal-painting, was the admirable thing in mediaeval art. The legends illustrated by her drawings were collected by herself, through an intimate acquaintance with Italians of all classes, from the nobles to the peasantry, whom she understood and loved, and by whom she was loved and understood. By such intercourse she had learned to look beneath the surface. In religious matters her American common-sense saw through her neighbours—saw the good in them as well as the weakness—and she was as friendly, not only in social intercourse, but in spiritual things, with the worthy village priest as with T.P. Rossetti, the leader of the Protestant "Brethren," whom she called her pastor. And Ruskin, who had been driven away from Protestantism by the poor Waldensian at Turin, and had wandered through many realms of doubt and voyaged through strange seas of thought, alone, found harbour at last with the disciple of a modern evangelist, the frequenter of the little meeting-house of outcast Italian Protestants.
[Footnote 47: A cousin of the artist, and in his way no less remarkable a man. A short account of his life is given in "D.G. Rossetti, his family letters," Vol. I., p. 34. The circumstances of his death are touchingly related by Miss Alexander in "Christ's Folk; in the Apennine."]
One evening before dinner he brought back to the hotel at Florence a drawing of a lovely girl lying dead in the sunset; and a little note-book. "I want you to look over this," he said, in the way, but not quite in the tone, with which the usual MS. "submitted for criticism" was tossed to a secretary to taste. It was "The True Story of Ida; written by her Friend."
An appointment to meet Mr. E.R. Robson, who was making plans for an intended Sheffield museum, took him back to Lucca, to discuss Romanesque mouldings and marble facings. Mr. Charles Fairfax Murray also came to Lucca with drawings commissioned for St. George's Guild. But Ruskin soon returned to his new friends, and did not leave Florence finally until he had purchased the wonderful collection of 110 drawings, with beautifully written text, in which Miss Alexander had enshrined "The Roadside Songs of Tuscany."
Returning homewards by the Mont Cenis he stayed a while at Talloires, a favourite haunt, extremely content to be among romantic scenery, and able to work steadily at a new edition of his books in a much cheaper form, of which the first volumes were at this time in hand. He had been making further studies also, in history and Alpine geology; but at last the snow drove him away from the mountains. So he handed over the geology to his assistant, who compiled "The Limestone Alps of Savoy" (supplementary to "Deucalion") "as he could, not as he would," while Ruskin wrote out the new ideas suggested by his visit to Citeaux and St. Bernard's birthplace. These notes he completed on the journey home, and gave as a lecture on "Cistercian Architecture" (London Institution, December 4th, 1882), in place of the previously advertised lecture on crystallography.
He seemed now to have quite recovered his health, and to be ready for re-entry into public life. What was more, he had many new things to say. The attacks of brain fever had passed over him like passing storms, leaving a clear sky.
After his retirement from the Oxford Professorship, a subscription had been opened for a bust by Sir Edgar Boehm, in memorial of a University benefactor; and the model (now in the Sheffield Museum) was placed in the Drawing School pending the collection of the necessary L220. The Oxford University Herald, in its article of June 5th, 1880, no doubt expressed the general feeling in reciting his benefactions to the University with becoming appreciation.
It was natural, therefore, that on recovering his health he should resume his post. Professor (now Sir) W.B. Richmond, the son of his old friend Mr. George Richmond, gracefully retired, and the Oxford University Gazette of January 16th, 1883, announced the re-election. On March 2nd he wrote that he was "up the Old Man yesterday"; as much as to say that he defied catechism, now, about his health; and a week later he gave his first lecture. The St. James's Budget of March 16th gave an account of it in these terms:
"Mr. Ruskin's first lecture at Oxford attracted so large an audience that, half-an-hour before the time fixed for its delivery, a greater number of persons were collected about the doors than the lecture-room could hold. Immediately after the doors were opened the room was so densely packed that some undergraduates found it convenient to climb into the windows and on to the cupboards. The audience was composed almost equally of undergraduates and ladies; with the exception of the vice-chancellor, heads of houses, fellows, and tutors were chiefly conspicuous by their absence."
I omit an abstract of the lecture, which can be read in full in the "Art of England." The reporter continued:
"He had made some discoveries: two lads and two lasses, who ... could draw in a way to please even him. He used to say that, except in a pretty graceful way, no woman can draw; he had now almost come to think that no one else can. (This statement the undergraduates received with gallant, if undiscriminating, applause.) To many of his prejudices, Mr. Ruskin said, in the last few years the axe had been laid. He had positively found an American, a young lady, whose life and drawing were in every way admirable. (Again great and generous applause on the part of the undergraduates, stimulated, no doubt, by the knowledge that there were then in the room two fair Americans, who have lately graced Oxford by their presence.) At the end of his lecture Mr. Ruskin committed himself to a somewhat perilous statement. He had found two young Italian artists in whom the true spirit of old Italian art had yet lived. No hand like theirs had been put to paper since Lippi and Leonardo."
[Footnote 48: Referring to Misses Alexander and Greenaway, and Messrs. Boni and Alessandri.]
Three more lectures of the course were given in May, and each repeated to a second audience. Coming to London, he gave a private lecture on June 5th to some two hundred hearers at the house of Mrs. W.H. Bishop, in Kensington, on Miss Kate Greenaway and Miss Alexander. The Spectator shared his enthusiasm for the pen and ink drawings of Miss Alexander's "Roadside Songs of Tuscany," and concluded a glowing account of the lecture by saying: "All Professor Ruskin's friends must be glad to see how well his Oxford work has agreed with him. He has gifts of insight and power of reaching the best feelings and highest hopes of our too indifferent generation which are very rare."
With much encouragement in his work, he returned to Brantwood for the summer, and resolved upon another visit to Savoy for more geology, and another breath of health-giving Alpine air. But he found time only for a short tour in Scotland before returning to Oxford to complete the series of lectures on recent English Art. During this term he was prevailed upon to allow himself to be nominated as a candidate for the Rectorship of the University of Glasgow. He had been asked to stand in the Conservative interest in 1880, and he had been worried into a rather rough reply to the Liberal party, when after some correspondence they asked him whether he sympathised with Lord Beaconsfield or Mr. Gladstone. "What, in the devil's name," he exclaimed, "have you to do with either Mr. D'Israeli or Mr. Gladstone? You are students at the University, and have no more business with politics than you have with rat-catching. Had you ever read ten words of mine with understanding, you would have known that I care no more either for Mr. D'Israeli or Mr. Gladstone than for two old bagpipes with the drones going by steam, but that I hate all Liberalism as I do Beelzebub, and that, with Carlyle, I stand, we two alone now in England, for God and the Queen." After that, though he might explain that he never under any conditions of provocation or haste, would have said that he hated Liberalism as he did Mammon, or Belial, or Moloch; that he "chose the milder fiend of Ekron as the true exponent and patron of Liberty, the God of Flies," still the matter-of-fact Glaswegians were minded to give the scoffer a wide berth. He was put up as an independent candidate in the three-cornered duel; and, as such candidates usually fare, he fared badly. The only wonder is that three hundred and nineteen students were found to vote for him, instead of siding, in political orthodoxy, with Mr. Fawcett or the Marquis of Bute.
[Footnote 49: Epilogue to "Arrows of the Chace."]
At last a busy and eventful year came to a close at Coniston, with a lecture at the village Institute on his old friend Sir Herbert Edwardes (December 22nd). His interest in the school and the schoolchildren was unabated, and he was always planning new treats for them, or new helps to their lessons. He had set one of the assistants to make a large hollow globe, inside of which one could sit and see the stars as luminous points pricked through the mimic "vault of heaven," painted blue and figured with the constellations. By a simple arrangement of cogs and rollers the globe revolved, the stars rose and set, and the position of any star at any hour of the year could be roughly fixed. But the inclement climate of Coniston, and the natural roughness of children, soon wrecked the new toy.
About this time he was anxious to get the village children taught music with more accuracy of tune and time than the ordinary singing-lessons enforced. He made many experiments with different simple instruments, and fixed at last upon a set of bells, which he wanted to introduce into the school. But it was difficult to interfere with the routine of studies prescribed by the Code. Considering that he scorned "the three R's," a school after his own heart would have been a very different place from any that earns the Government grant; and he very strongly believed that if a village child learnt the rudiments of religion and morality, sound rules of health and manners, and a habit of using its eyes and ears in the practice of some good handicraft or art and simple music, and in natural philosophy, taught by object lessons—then book-learning would either come of itself, or be passed aside as unnecessary or superfluous. This was his motive in a well-known incident which has sometimes puzzled his public. Once, when new buildings were going on, the mason wanted an advance of money, which Mr. Ruskin gave him, and then held out the paper for him to sign the receipt. "A great deal of hesitation and embarrassment ensued, somewhat to Mr. Ruskin's surprise, as he knows a north-country-man a great deal too well to expect embarrassment from him. At last the man said, in dialect: 'Ah mun put ma mark!' He could not write. Mr. Ruskin rose at once, stretched out both hands to the astonished rustic, with the words: 'I am proud to know you. Now I understand why you are such an entirely good workman.'"
THE STORM-CLOUD (1884-1888)
The sky had been a favourite subject of study with the author of "Modern Painters." His journals for fifty years past had kept careful account of the weather, and effects of cloud. He had noticed since 1871 a prevalence of chilly, dark bise, as it would be called in France; but different in its phenomena from anything of his earlier days. The "plague wind," so he named it—tremulous, intermittent, blighting grass and trees—blew from no fixed point of the compass, but always brought the same dirty sky in place of the healthy rain-cloud of normal summers; and the very thunder-storms seemed to be altered by its influence into foul and powerless abortions of tempest. We should now be disposed to call this simply "the smoke nuisance," but feeling as he did the weight of human wrong against which it was his mission to prophesy, believing in a Divine government of the world in all its literalness, he had the courage to appear before a London audience, like any seer of old, and to tell them that this eclipse of heaven was—if not a judgment—at all events a symbol of the moral darkness of a nation that had "blasphemed the name of God deliberately and openly; and had done iniquity by proclamation, every man doing as much injustice to his brother as it was in his power to do."
[Footnote 50: "The Storm-Cloud of the Nineteenth Century," London Institution, February 4th, 1884; repeated with variations and additions a week later.]
In the autumn, at Oxford, he took up his parable again. His lectures on "The Pleasures of England" he intended as a sketch of the main stream of history from his own religious standpoint. It was a noble theme, and one which his breadth of outlook and detailed experience would have fitted him to handle; but he was already nearing the limit of his vital powers. He had been suffering from depression throughout the summer, unrelieved by the energetic work for St. George's Museum, which in other days might have been a relaxation from more serious thought. He had been editing Miss Alexander's "Roadside Songs of Tuscany," and recasting earlier works of his own, incessantly busy; presuming upon the health he had enjoyed, and taking no hints nor advice from anxious friends, who would have been glad to have seen the summer spent in change of scene and holiday-making.
At Oxford he was watched with concern—restless and excited, too absorbed in his crusade against the tendencies of the modern scientific party, too vehement and unguarded in his denunciations of colleagues, too bitter against the new order of things which, to his horror, was introducing vivisection in the place of the old-fashioned natural history he loved, and speculative criticism instead of "religious and useful learning."
He was persuaded to cancel his last three attacks on modern life and thought—"The Pleasures of Truth," of "Sense," and of "Nonsense"—and to substitute readings from earlier works, hastily arranged and re-written; and his friends breathed more freely when he left Oxford without another serious attack of brain-disease. He wrote on December 1st, 1884, to Miss Beever:
"I gave my fourteenth, and last for this year, lecture with vigour and effect, and am safe and well (D.G.) after such a spell of work as I never did before."
To another correspondent, a few days later:
"Here are two lovely little songs for you to put tunes to, and sing to me. You'll have both to be ever so good to me, for I've been dreadfully bothered and battered here. I've bothered other people a little, too,—which is some comfort!"
But in spite of everything, the vote was passed to establish a physiological laboratory at the museum; to endow vivisection—which to him meant not only cruelty to animals, but a complete misunderstanding of the purpose of science, and defiance of the moral law. He resigned his Professorship, with the sense that all his work had been in vain, that he was completely out of touch with the age, and that he had best give up the unequal fight.
In former times when he had found himself beaten in his struggles with the world, he had turned to geology for a resource and a relief; but geology, too, was part of the field of battle now. The memories of his early youth and the bright days of his boyhood came back to him as the only antidote to the distress and disappointments of his age, and he strove to forget everything in "bygones"—"Praeterita."
It was Professor Norton who had suggested that he should write his own life. He had begun to tell the story, bit by bit, in "Fors." On the journey of 1882 he made a point of revisiting most of the scenes of youthful work and travel, to revive his impressions; but the meeting with Miss Alexander gave him new interests, and his return to Oxford put the autobiography into the background.
Now, at last he collected the scattered notes, and completed his first volume, which brings the account up to the time of his coming of age. It is not a connected and systematic biography; it omits many points of interest, especially the steps of his early successes and mental development; but it is the brightest conceivable picture of himself and his surroundings—"scenes and thoughts perhaps worthy of memory," as the title modestly puts it—told with inimitable ease and graphic power.
We have traced a life which was—even more than might be gathered from "Praeterita"—a battle with adversities from the beginning. Not to discuss the influences of heredity, there was over-stimulus in childhood; intense application to work in youth and middle-age, under conditions of discouragement, both public and private, which would have been fatal to many another man; and this, too, not merely hard work, but work of an intense emotional nature, involving—in his view at least—wide issues of life and death, in which he was another Jacob wrestling with the angel in the wilderness, another Savonarola imploring reconciliation between God and man.
Without a life of singular temperance, without unusual moral principle and self-command, he would long ago have fallen like other men of genius of his passionate type. He outlived "consumptive" tendencies in youth; and the repeated indications of over-strain in later life, up to the time of his first serious break-down in 1878, had issued in nothing more than the depression and fatigue with which most busy men are familiar. He had been accustomed to hear himself called mad—the defence of Turner was thought by the dilettanti of the time to be possible only to a lunatic; the author of "Stones of Venice," we saw, was insane in the eyes of his critic, the architect; it was seriously whispered when he wrote on Political Economy that Ruskin was out of his mind; and so on. Every new thing he put forward "made Quintilian stare and gasp," and soi-disant friends shake their heads, until a still newer nine-days' wonder appeared from his pen. The break-down of 1878, so difficult to explain to his public, made it appear that the common reproach might after all be coming true. The recurrence of a similar illness in 1881 and 1882 made it still more to be feared. It seemed as though his life's work was to be invalidated by his age's failure; it seemed that the stale, shallow reproach might only too easily be justifiable.
These attacks of mental disease, which at his recall to Oxford seemed to have been safely distanced, after his resignation began again at more and more frequent intervals. Crash after crash of tempest fell upon him—clearing away for a while only to return with fiercer fury, until they left him beaten down and helpless at last, to learn that he must accept the lesson and bow before the storm. Like another prophet who had been very jealous for the Lord God of Hosts, he was to feel tempest and earthquake and fire pass over him, before hearing the still small voice that bade him once more take courage, and live in quietness and in confidence, for the sake of those whom he had forgotten, when he cried, "I, even I only, am left."
From one who has been out in the storm the reader will not expect a cool recital of its effects. The delirium of brain-fever brings strange things to pass; and, no doubt, afforded ground for the painful gossip, of which there has been more than enough—much of it absurdly untrue, the romancing of ingenious newspaper-correspondents; some of it, the lie that is half a truth. For in these times there were not wanting parasites such as always prey upon creatures in disease, as well as weak admirers who misunderstood their hero's natural character, and entirely failed to grasp his situation.
Let such troubles of the past be forgotten: all that I now remember of many a weary night and day is the vision of a great soul in torment, and through purgatorial fires the ineffable tenderness of the real man emerging, with his passionate appeal to justice and baffled desire for truth. To those who could not follow the wanderings of the wearied brain it was nothing but a horrible or a grotesque nightmare. Some, in those trials, learnt as they could not otherwise have learnt to know him, and to love him as never before.
There were many periods of health, or comparative health, even in those years. While convalescent from the illness of 1885 he continued "Praeterita" and "Dilecta," the series of notes and letters illustrating his life. In connection with early reminiscences, he amused himself by reproducing his favourite old nursery book, "Dame Wiggins of Lee." He edited the works of one or two friends, wrote occasionally to newspapers—notably on books and reading, to the Pall Mall Gazette, in the "Symposium" on the best hundred books. He continued his arrangements for the Museum, and held an exhibition (June, 1886) of the drawings made under his direction for the Guild.
He was already drifting into another illness when he sent the famous reply to an appeal for help to pay off the debt on a chapel at Richmond. The letter is often misquoted for the sake of raising a laugh, so that it is not out of place to reprint it as a specimen of the more vehement expressions of this period. The reader of his life must surely see, through the violence of the wording, a perfectly consistent and reasonable expression of Mr. Ruskin's views:—
"BRANTWOOD, CONISTON, LANCASHIRE.
"May 19th, 1886.
"I am scornfully amused at your appeal to me, of all people in the world the precisely least likely to give you a farthing! My first word to all men and boys who care to hear me is 'Don't get into debt. Starve and go to heaven—but don't borrow. Try first begging,—I don't mind, if it's really needful, stealing! But don't buy things you can't pay for!'
"And of all manner of debtors, pious people building churches they can't pay for are the most detestable nonsense to me. Can't you preach and pray behind the hedges—or in a sandpit—or a coal-hole—first?
"And of all manner of churches thus idiotically built iron churches are the damnablest to me.
"And of all the sects of believers in any ruling spirit—Hindoos, Turks, Feather Idolaters, and Mumbo Jumbo, Log and Fire worshippers, who want churches, your modern English Evangelical sect is the most absurd, and entirely objectionable and unendurable to me! All which they might very easily have found out from my books—any other sort of sect would!—before bothering me to write it to them.
"Ever, nevertheless, and in all this saying, your faithful servant,
The recipient of the letter promptly sold it. Only three days later, Ruskin was writing one of the most striking passages in "Praeterita" (vol. ii., chap. 5)—indeed, one of the daintiest landscape pieces in all his works, describing the blue Rhone as it flows under the bridges of Geneva.
This energetic letter-writing made people stare; but a more serious result of these periods between strength and helplessness was the tendency to misunderstanding with old friends. Ruskin had spoiled many of them, if I may say so, by too uniform forbearance and unselfishness: and now that he was not always strong enough to be patient, difficulties ensued which they had not always the tact to avert. "The moment I have to scold people they say I'm crazy," he said, piteously, one day. And so, one hardly knows how, he found himself at strife on all sides. Before he was fully recovered from the attack of 1886 there were troubles about the Oxford drawing school; and he withdrew most of the pictures he had there on loan. How little animosity he really felt against Oxford is shown from the fact that early in the next year (February, 1887) he was planning with his cousin, Wm. Richardson, to give L5,000 to the drawing school, as a joint gift in memory of their two mothers. Mr. Richardson's death, and Ruskin's want of means—for he had already spent all his capital—put an end to the scheme. But the remaining loans, including important and valuable drawings by himself, he did not withdraw, and it is to be hoped they may stay there to show not only the artist's hand but the friendly heart of the founder and benefactor.
In April, 1887, came the news of Laurence Hilliard's death in the Aegean, with a shock that intensified the tendency to another recurrence of illness. For months the situation caused great anxiety. In August he posted with Mrs. A. Severn towards the south, and took up his quarters at Folkestone, moving soon after to Sandgate, where he remained, with short visits to town, until the following summer—better, or worse, from week to week—sometimes writing a little for "Praeterita," or preparing material for the continuation of unfinished books; but bringing on his malady with each new effort. In June, 1888, he went with Mr. Arthur Severn to Abbeville, and made his headquarters for nearly a month at the Tete de Boeuf. Here he was arrested for sketching the fortifications and examined at the police station, much to his amusement. At Abbeville, too, he met Mr. Detmar Blow, a young architect, whom he asked to accompany him to Italy. They stayed awhile at Paris,—drove, as in 1882, over the Jura, and up to Chamouni, where Ruskin wrote the epilogue to the reprint of "Modern Painters"; then, by Martigny and the Simplon, they went to visit Mrs. and Miss Alexander at Bassano; and thence to Venice. They returned by the St. Gothard, reaching Herne Hill early in December.
But this journey did not, as it had been hoped, put him in possession of his strength like the journey of 1882. Then, he had returned to public life with new vigour; now, his best hours were hours of feebleness and depression; and he came home to Brantwood in the last days of the year, wearied to death, to wait for the end.
DATUR HORA QUIETI (1889-1900)
In the summer of 1889, at Seascale, on the Cumberland coast, Ruskin was still busy upon "Praeterita." He had his task planned out to the finish: in nine more chapters he meant to conclude his third volume with a review of the leading memories of his life, down to the year 1875, when the story was to close. Passages here and there were written, material collected from old letters and journals, and the contents and titles of the chapters arranged; but the intervals of strength had become fewer and shorter, and at last, in spite of all his courage and energy, he was brought face to face with the fact that his powers were ebbing away, and that head and hand would do their work no more.
He could not finish "Praeterita"; but he could not leave it without record of one companionship of his life, which was, it seemed, all that was left to him of the old times and the old folks at home. And so, setting aside the plans he had made, he devoted the last chapter, as his forebodings told him it must be, to his cousin, Mrs. Arthur Severn, and wrote the story of "Joanna's Care."
In his bedroom at Seascale, morning after morning, he still worked, or tried to work, as he had been used to do on journeys farther afield in brighter days. But now he seemed lost among the papers scattered on his table; he could not fix his mind upon them, and turned from one subject to another in despair; and yet patient, and kindly to those with him whose help he could no longer use, and who dared not show—though he could not but guess—how heart-breaking it was.
They put the best face upon it, of course: drove in the afternoons about the country—to Muncaster Castle, to Calder Abbey, where he tried to sketch once more; and when the proofs of "Joanna's Care" were finally revised, to Wastwater. But travelling now was no longer restorative.
It added not a little to the misfortunes of the time that two of his best friends in the outside world were disputing over a third. By nobody was Carlyle's reputation more valued, and yet he acknowledged that Froude was but telling the truth in the revelations which so surprised the public; and much as he admired Norton, he deprecated the attack on Carlyle's literary executor, whose motives he understood and approved.
In August, after his return to Coniston, the storm-cloud came down upon him once more. It was only in the summer of 1890 that he was able to get about. But firmly convinced that his one chance lay in absolute rest and quiet, he wisely refused any sort of exertion, and was rewarded by a temporary improvement in health and strength.
In the meantime he was obliged to hand over to others such parts of his work as others could do. The St. George's Guild still continued in existence, though it naturally lost much of its interest, and the whole of its distinctive mission, when he ceased to be able to direct it. The Museum had quite outgrown its cottage at Walkley, never intended for more than temporary premises; and for ten years there had been talk of new buildings, at first on the spot, then on the Guild's ground at Bewdley, where, at one time, Ruskin planned a fairy palace in the woods, with cloistered hostelries for the wandering student. Such schemes were stopped less by his illness than by want of means.
Sheffield, however, did not wish to lose the Museum, and offered to house it if the Guild would present it to the town. That was, of course, out of the question. But a new offer to take over the collection on loan, the Guild paying a curator, was another matter, and was thankfully accepted. The Corporation fulfilled their share of the bargain with generosity. An admirable site was assigned at Meersbrook Park, in a fine old hall surrounded with trees, and overlooking a broad view of the town and country. On April 15th, 1890, the Museum was opened by the Earl of Carlisle, in presence of the Corporation, the Trustees of the Guild, and a large assembly of friends and Sheffield townspeople. Since then the attendance of visitors and students shows that the collection is appreciated by the public; and it is to be hoped that though nominally a loan it will remain there in perpetuity, and that it will be maintained and used with due regard to the intentions of the founder.
Many other plans had to be modified, as he found himself less able to work, and was obliged to hand over his business to others. With his early books he had been dissatisfied, as expressing immature views. "The Stones of Venice" had been recast into two small volumes, and "St. Mark's Rest" written in the attempt to supplement and correct it. But the original book was obviously in demand, and a new edition was brought out in 1886.
"Modern Painters" had been also on the condemned list. The aggressive Protestantism and the geological theories involved in his description of mountains he condemned as errors; moreover, at the time of the last edition published by Messrs. Smith & Elder (1873), he had been told that the plates, which he considered a very important part of the work, would not stand another impression; and so he destroyed nine of them, in order that no subsequent edition might be brought out in the original form. He reprinted vol. ii. in a cheap edition, and began to recast the rest, with annotations and additions, as "In Montibus Sanctis," and "Coeli Enarrant", while Miss S. Beever's selections ("Frondes Agrestes") found a ready sale. But this did not satisfy the public, and there was a continual cry for a reprint, to which, at last, he yielded. Early in 1889 the "Complete Edition" appeared; with the cancelled plates reproduced.
He had always felt it a grievance that the enormous popularity of his works in America meant an enormous piracy. Towards the end of the "Fifties," Mr. Wiley of New York had begun to print cheap Ruskins; not, indeed, illegally, but without proper acknowledgment to the author, and without any reference to the author's wishes as to form and style of production. An artist and writer on art, insisting on delicacy and refinement as the first necessity of draughtsmanship, and himself sparing no trouble or expense in the illustrations of his own works, was naturally dissatisfied with the wretched "Artotypes" with which the American editions caricatured his beautiful plates. Not only that, but it was a common practice to smuggle these editions, recommended by their cheapness, into other countries. Mr. Wiley sent, on an average, five hundred sets of "Modern Painters" to Europe every year, the greater number to England. His example was followed by other American publishers, so that in New York alone there came to be half a dozen houses advertising Ruskin's works, and many more throughout the cities of the States. Mr. Wiley, the first in the field, proposed to pay up a royalty upon all the copies he had sold if Ruskin would recognise him as accredited publisher in America. The offer of so large a sum would have been tempting, had it not meant that Ruskin must condone what he had for years denounced, and sanction what he strongly disapproved. The case would have been different if proposals had been made to reproduce his books in his own style, under competent supervision. This was done in 1890, when arrangements were made with Messrs. Charles E. Merrill & Co., of New York, to bring out the "Brantwood" edition of Ruskin, under the editorship of Professor C.E. Norton.
Though the sale of Ruskin's books in America had never, until so recently, brought him any profit, his own business in England, started in 1871 with the monthly pamphlet of "Fors," and in 1872 with the volume of "Sesame and Lilies," prospered singularly. Mr. George Allen, who, while building up an independent connection, still remained the sole publisher of Mr. Ruskin's works, said that the venture was successful from its earliest years. It was found that the booksellers were not indispensable, and that business could be done through the post as well as over the counter. In spite of occasional difficulties, such as the bringing out of works in parts, appearing irregularly or stopping outright at the author's illnesses, there was a steady increase of profit, rising in the author's later years (according to Mr. Allen) to an average of L4,000.
Fortunate it was that this bold attempt succeeded. The L200,000 he inherited from his parents had gone,—chiefly in gifts and in attempts to do good. The interest he used to spend on himself; the capital he gave away until it totally disappeared, except what is represented by the house he lived in and its contents. The sale of his books was his only income, and a great part of that went to pensioners to whom in the days of his wealth he pledged himself, to relatives and friends, discharged servants, institutions in which he took an interest at one time or other. But he had sufficient for his wants, and no need to fear poverty in his old age.
In this quiet retreat at Brantwood the echoes of the outer world did not sound very loudly. Ruskin had been too highly praised and too roundly abused, during fifty years of public life, to care what magazine critics and journalists said of him. Other men of his standing could solace themselves, if it be solace, in the consciousness that a grateful country has recognised their talents or their services. But civic and academic honours were not likely to be showered on a man who had spent his life in strenuous opposition to academicism in art and letters, and in vigorous attacks upon both political parties, and upon the established order of things.
And yet Oxford and Cambridge awarded him the highest honours in their gift. In 1873 the Royal Society of Painters in Watercolours voted him honorary member, a recognition which gave him great pleasure at the time. At different dates he was elected to various societies—Geological, Zoological, Architectural, Horticultural, Historical, Anthropological, Metaphysical; and to the Athenaeum and Alpine Clubs. He was elected Hon. Member of the Academy of Florence in 1862, of the Academy of Venice, 1877, of the Royal Academies of Antwerp and Brussels in 1892; and was also an Hon. Member of the American Academy. But he did not seek distinctions, and he even declined them, as in the case of the medal of the Royal Institute of British Architects.
A more striking form of distinction than such titles is the fact that he was the first writer whose contemporaries, during his lifetime, formed societies to study his work. The first Ruskin Society was founded in 1879 at Manchester, and was followed by the Societies of London, Glasgow and Liverpool. In 1887 the Ruskin Reading Guild was formed in Scotland, with many local branches in England and Ireland, and a journal, subsequently re-named Igdrasil, to promote study of literary and social subjects in Ruskin, and in writers like Carlyle and Tolstoi taking a standpoint similar to his. In 1896, Ruskin Societies were formed at Birmingham and in the Isle of Man. Many classes and clubs for the study of Ruskin were also in operation throughout America during his lifetime.
His eightieth birthday was the signal for an outburst of congratulations almost greater than even admirers had expected. The post came late and loaded with flowers and letters, and all day long telegrams arrived from all parts of the world, until they lay in heaps, unopened for the time being. A great address had been prepared, with costly illumination on vellum, and binding by Mr. Cobden Sanderson.
"Year by year," it said, "in ever widening extent, there is an increasing trust in your teaching, an increasing desire to realize the noble ideals you have set before mankind in words which we feel have brought nearer to our hearts the kingdom of God upon earth. It is our hope and prayer that the joy and peace you have brought to others may return in full measure to your own heart filling it with the peace which comes from the love of God and the knowledge of the love of your fellow-men."
Among those who subscribed to these sentiments were various people of importance, such as Royal Academicians, the Royal Society of Painters in Watercolours, the Trustees of the British Museum and of the National Gallery, the St. George's Guild and Ruskin Societies, with many others; and the address was presented by a deputation who reported that they had found him looking well "and extremely happy."
A similar illuminated address from the University of Oxford ran thus:
"We venture to send you, as you begin your eighty-first year, these few words of greeting and good-will, to make you sure that in Oxford the gratitude and reverence with which men think of you is ever fresh. You have helped many to find in life more happiness than they thought it held; and we trust there is happiness in the latter years of your long life. You have taught many to see the wealth of beauty in nature and in art, prizing the remembrance of it; and we trust that the sights you have best loved come back to your memory with unfading beauty. You have encouraged many to keep a good heart through dark days, and we trust that the courage of a constant hope is yours."
The London Ruskin Society sent a separate address; and to show that if not a prophet in his own country he was at any rate a valued friend, the Coniston Parish Council resolved "and carried unanimously," says the local journal, "with applause,"
"That the congratulations of this council be offered to Mr. John Ruskin, on the occasion of his eightieth birthday, together with the warm thanks which they and all their neighbours feel for the kindness he has shown, and the many generous acts he has done to them and theirs during twenty-seven years of residence at Coniston, where his presence is most truly appreciated, and his name will always be most gratefully remembered."
But as the year went on he did not regain his usual summer strength. Walking out had become a greater weariness to him, and he had to submit to the humiliation of a bath-chair. To save himself even the labour of creeping down to his study, he sat usually in the turret-room upstairs, next to his bed-chamber, but still with the look of health in his face, and the fire in his eyes quite unconquered. He would listen while Baxter read the news to him, following public events with interest, or while Mrs. Severn or Miss Severn read stories, novel after novel; but always liking old favourities best, and never anything that was unhappy. Some pet books he would pore over, or drowse over by the hour. The last of these was one in which he had a double interest, for it was about ships of war, and it was written by the kinsman of a dear friend. Some of the artists he had loved and helped had failed him or left him, but Burne-Jones was always true. One night, going up to bed, the old man stopped long to look at the photograph from Philip Burne-Jones's portrait of his father. "That's my dear brother, Ned," he said, nodding good-bye to the picture as he went. Next night the great artist died, and of all the many losses of these later years this one was the hardest to bear.
So when a little boy lent him "A Fleet in Being" he read and re-read it; then got a copy for himself, and might have learnt it by heart, so long he pored over it. But when the little boy or his sisters went to visit the "Di Pa" (Dear Papa), as he liked children to call their old friend, he had now scarcely anything to talk about. "He just looked at us, and smiled," they would report; "and we couldn't think what to say."
He had his "bright days," when he would hear business discussed, though a very little of it was wearisome. It was impossible to bring before him half the wants and wishes of his correspondents, who could not yet realise his weakness, and besought the notice they fancied so easily given. Yet in that weakness one could trace no delusions, none of the mental break-down which was taken for granted. If he gave an opinion it was clear and sound enough; of course with the old Ruskinian waywardness of idea which always puzzled his public. But he knew what he was about, and knew what was going on. He was like the aged Queen Aud in the saga, who "rose late and went to bed early, and if anyone asked after her health she answered sharply."
But all the love and care spent on him could not keep him with us. There came the Green Yule that makes a fat kirkyard, and in January of 1900 hardly a house in the neighbourhood was free from the plague of influenza. In spite of strictest precautions it invaded Brantwood.
On the 18th of January he was remarkably well, as people often are before an illness—"fey," as the old Northern folk-lore has it. Towards evening, when Mrs. Severn went to him for the usual reading—it was Edna Lyall's "In the Golden Days"—his throat was irritable and he "ached all over." They put him to bed and sent for Dr. Parsons, his constant medical attendant, who found his temperature as high as 102 deg., and feared the consequences. But the patient, as he always did, refused to be considered ill, and ate his dinner, and seemed next day to be really better. There was no great cause for alarm, though naturally some for anxiety; and in reasonable hopes of amendment, the slight attack was not made public.
On Saturday morning, the 20th, all appeared to be going well until about half-past ten. Suddenly he collapsed and became unconscious. It was the dreaded failure of heart after influenza. His breathing weakened, and through the morning and through the afternoon in that historic little room, lined with his Turners, he lay, falling softly asleep. No efforts could revive him. There was no struggle; there were no words. The bitterness of death was spared him. And when it was all over, and those who had watched through the day turned at last from his bedside, "sunset and evening star" shone bright above the heavenly lake and the clear-cut blue of Coniston fells.
Next morning brought messages of hurried condolence, and the Monday such a chorus from the press as made all the praises of his lifetime seem trifling and all its blame forgotten. If only, in his years of struggle and despair, he had known the place he should win!
On the Tuesday came a telegram offering a grave in Westminster Abbey, the highest honour our nation can give to its dead. But his own mind had long since been made plain on that point, and his wishes had not been forgotten. "If I die here," he used to say, "bury me at Coniston. I should have liked, if it happened at Herne Hill, to lie with my father and mother in Shirley churchyard, as I should have wished, if I died among the Alps, to be buried in the snow."
We carried him on Monday night down from his bed-chamber and laid him in the study. There was a pane of glass let into the coffin-lid, so that the face might be kept in sight; and there it lay, among lilies of the valley, and framed in the wreath sent by Mr. Watts, the great painter, a wreath of the true Greek laurel, the victor's crown, from the tree growing in his garden, cut only thrice before, for Tennyson and Leighton and Burne-Jones. It would be too long to tell of all such tokens of affection and respect that were heaped upon the coffin,—from the wreath of the Princess Louise down to the tributes of humble dependants,—above a hundred and twenty-five, we counted; some of them the costliest money could buy, some valued no less for the feeling they expressed. I am not sure that the most striking was not the village tailor's, with this on its label—"There was a man sent from God, and his name was John."
On the Wednesday we made our sad procession to the church, through storm and flood. The village was in mourning, and round the churchyard gates men, women, and children stood in throngs. The coffin was carried in by eight of those who had been in his employ, and the church filled noiselessly with neighbours and friends, who after a hymn, and the Lord's prayer, and a long silence, passed up the aisles for their last look, and to heap more offerings of wreaths and flowers around the bier. At dusk tall candles were lit, and so through the winter's night watch was kept.
Thursday, the 25th, brought together a great assembly, great for the remoteness of the place and the inclemency of the weather. The country folk have a saying "Happy is the dead that the rain rains on;" and the fells were darkly clouded and the beck roared by, swollen to a torrent. The church was far too small to hold the congregation, which included most of his personal friends and the representatives of many public bodies. A crowd stood outside in the storm while the service went on.
It began with a hymn written for the occasion by Canon Rawnsley who with the Vicar of Hawkshead, Brantwood's parish church, read the Psalms. A hymn, "Comes at times a stillness as of even," was sung by his friend Miss Wakefield; and the lesson read by Canon Richmond, arrived officially to represent the Bishop of Carlisle, but to most of us representing old times and the comradeships of his youth and early manhood. The Vicar of Coniston and the Rev. Reginald Meister, on behalf of the Dean of Christ Church, also took part in the service. When the Dead March sounded the coffin was covered with a pall given by the Ruskin Linen Industry of Keswick, lined with bright crimson silk, and embroidered with the motto, "Unto This Last," and with his favourite wild roses showered over the gray field, just as they fall in the Primavera of Botticelli. There was no black about his burying, except what we wore for our own sorrow; it was remembered how he hated black, so much that he would even have his mother's coffin painted blue; and among the white and green and violet of the wreaths that filled the chancel, none was more significant in its sympathy than Mrs. Severn's great cross of red roses.