Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

The Life of John Ruskin by W. G. Collingwood

Part 2 out of 6

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.6 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

to betray his secret, nor even to wound the feelings of the lady who now
was beyond appeal from an honourable lover--taking his punishment like a

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


CHRISTIAN ART (1845-1847)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"CORMAYEUR, _Sunday afternoon (July_ 29, 1849).


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few days later he says:

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

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

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

"_Monday evening (August_ 20, 1849).


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

This next is scribbled on a tiny scrap of paper:

"GLACIER or GREPPOND, _August_ 21.


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

And then:

"MONTANVERT, _August_ 22.

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

The parental view was put thus:

GENEVA, _Monday, August_ 20, 1849.


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

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

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

"Ever, my dearest father,

"Your most affectionate son,



"STONES OF VENICE" (1849-1851)

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

"PARK STREET, _4 o'clock, (May, 1850)_.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"CHELSEA, _March_ 9, 1851.


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

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

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

"With many thanks and regards."

[Signature cut away.]

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The most serious news, threatening complete interruption of the work
rapidly progressing in spite of all, was of Turner's death (December 19,
1851). Old Mr. Ruskin heard of it on the 21st, a "dismal day" to him,
spent in sad contemplation of the pictures his son had taught him to
love. Soon it came out that John Ruskin was one of the executors named
in the will, with a legacy of _L20_ for a mourning ring:--"Nobody can
say you were paid to praise," says his father. It was gossipped that he
was expected to write Turner's biography--"five years' work for you,"
says the old man, full of plans for gathering material. But when one
scandal after another reached his ears, he changed his tone, and
suggested dropping personal details, and giving a "Life of his Art," in
the intended third and final volume of "Modern Painters." Something of
the sort was done in the Edinburgh Lectures and at the close of vol. v.
of "Modern Painters": and the official life was left to Walter
Thornbury, with which Mr. Ruskin perhaps did not wish to interfere. But
he collected a mass of then unpublished material about Turner, which
goes far to prove that the kindly view he took of the strange man's
morbid and unhappy life was not without justification. At the time, so
many legal complications developed that Ruskin was advised to resign his
executorship; later on he was able to fulfil its duties as he conceived
them, in arranging Turner's sketches for the National Gallery.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book of the day:
Facebook Google Reddit StumbleUpon Twitter Pinterest