THE LIFE OF JOHN RUSKIN
W. G. COLLINGWOOD M.A., F.S.A., Late Professor of Fine Art, University College, Reading
PREFACE TO THE SEVENTH EDITION
This book in its first form was written nearly twenty years ago with the intention of contributing a volume to a series of University Extension Manuals. For that purpose it included a sketch of Ruskin's "Work," with some attempt to describe the continuous development of his thought. It had the advantage—and the disadvantage—of being written under his eye; that is to say, he saw as much of it as his health allowed; and it received his general approval.
To explain my venturing upon the subject at all, I may perhaps be allowed to state that I became his pupil in 1872 (having seen him earlier), and continued to be in some relation to him—as visitor, resident assistant, or near neighbour—until his death.
After his death the biographical part of my book was enlarged at the expense of the description of his writings; and in revising once more I have thrown out much relating to his works, chiefly because they are now accessible as they were not formerly.
CONISTON, May 1911
THE BOY POET (1819-1842)
CHAPTER I. HIS ANCESTORS II. THE FATHER OF THE MAN (1819-1825) III. PERFERVIDUM INGENIUM (1826-1830) IV. MOUNTAIN-WORSHIP (1830-1835) V. THE GERM OF "MODERN PAINTERS" (1836) VI. A LOVE-STORY (1836-1839) VII. "KATA PHUSIN" (1837-1838) VIII. SIR ROGER NEWDIGATE'S PRIZE (1837-1839) IX. "THE BROKEN CHAIN" (1840-1841) X. THE GRADUATE OF OXFORD (1841-1842)
THE ART CRITIC (1842-1860)
I. "TURNER AND THE ANCIENTS" (1842-1844) II. CHRISTIAN ART (1845-1847) III. "THE SEVEN LAMPS" (1847-1849) IV. "STONES OF VENICE" (1849-1851) V. PRE-RAPHAELITISM (1851-1853) VI. THE EDINBURGH LECTURES (1853-1854) VII. THE WORKING MEN'S COLLEGE (1854-1855) VIII. "MODERN PAINTERS" CONTINUED (1855-1856) IX. "THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF ART" (1857-1858) X. "MODERN PAINTERS" CONCLUDED (1858-1860)
HERMIT AND HERETIC (1860-1870)
I. "UNTO THIS LAST" (1860-1861) II. "MUNERA PULVERIS" (1862) III. THE LIMESTONE ALPS (1863) IV. "SESAME AND LILIES" (1864) V. "ETHICS OF THE DUST" (1865) VI. "THE CROWN OF WILD OLIVE" (1865-1866) VII. "TIME AND TIDE" (1867) VIII. AGATES, AND ABBEVILLE (1868) IX. "THE QUEEN OF THE AIR" (1869) X. VERONA AND OXFORD (1869-1870)
PROFESSOR AND PROPHET (1870-1900)
I. FIRST OXFORD LECTURES (1870-1871) II. "FORS" BEGUN (1871-1872) III. OXFORD TEACHING (1872-1875) IV. ST. GEORGE AND ST. MARK (1875-1877) V. "DEUCALION" AND "PROSERPINA" (1877-1879) VI. THE DIVERSIONS OF BRANTWOOD (1879-1881) VII. "FORS" RESUMED (1880-1881) VIII. THE RECALL TO OXFORD (1882-1883) IX. THE STORM-CLOUD (1884-1888) X. DATUR HORA QUIETI (1889-1900)
THE LIFE OF JOHN RUSKIN
THE BOY POET (1819-1842)
THE LIFE OF JOHN RUSKIN
If origin, if early training and habits of life, if tastes, and character, and associations, fix a man's nationality, then John Ruskin must be reckoned a Scotsman. He was born in London, but his family was from Scotland. He was brought up in England, but the friends and teachers, the standards and influences of his early life, were chiefly Scottish. The writers who directed him into the main lines of his thought and work were Scotsmen—from Sir Walter and Lord Lindsay and Principal Forbes to the master of his later studies of men and the means of life, Thomas Carlyle. The religious instinct so conspicuous in him was a heritage from Scotland; thence the combination of shrewd common-sense and romantic sentiment; the oscillation between levity and dignity, from caustic jest to tender earnest; the restlessness, the fervour, the impetuosity—all these are the tokens of a Scotsman of parts, and were highly developed in John Ruskin.
In the days of auld lang syne the Rhynns of Galloway—that hammer-headed promontory of Scotland which looks towards Belfast Lough—was the home of two great families, the Agnews and the Adairs. The Agnews, of Norman race, occupied the northern half, centring about their island-fortress of Lochnaw, where they became celebrated for a long line of hereditary sheriffs and baronets who have played no inconsiderable part in public affairs. The southern half, from Portpatrick to the Mull of Galloway, was held by the Adairs (or, as formerly spelt, Edzears) who took their name from Edgar, son of Dovenald, one of the two Galloway leaders at the Battle of the Standard. Three hundred years later Robert Edzear—who does not know his descendant and namesake, Robin Adair?—settled at Gainoch, near the head of Luce Bay; and for another space of 300 years his children kept the same estate, in spite of private feud, and civil war, and religious persecution, of which they had more than their share.
At the beginning of the eighteenth century, John Adair, the laird of Little Genoch, was married to Mary Agnew, a near kinswoman of the celebrated Sir Andrew, colonel of the Scots Fusiliers at Dettingen. The exact relationship of Mary Agnew to "the bravest man in the British army" remains undecided, but letters still extant from the Lady Agnew of the day address her as "Dear Molly," and end, "Your affectionate cousin" or "kinswoman." Her son Thomas succeeded his father in 1721, and, retiring with his captaincy, settled on the estate. He married Jean, daughter of Andrew Ross of Balsarroch and Balkail, a lady noted for her beauty, her wit, and her Latin scholarship, and a member of a family which has given many distinguished men to the army and navy. Among them Admiral Sir John Ross, the Arctic explorer, Sir Hew Dalrymple, and Field-Marshal Sir Hew Dalrymple Ross, were all her great-nephews, and her son, Dr. John Adair, was the man in whose arms Wolfe died at the taking of Quebec; it is he who is shown in Benjamin West's picture supporting the General.
Dr. Adair's sister Catherine, the daughter of Thomas Adair and Jean Ross, married the Rev. James Tweddale, minister of Glenluce from 1758 to 1778, representative of an old Covenanting family, and holder of the original Covenant, which had been confided to the care of his great-aunt Catherine by Baillie of Jarviswood on his way to execution in the "killing time." The document was sold with his library at his death, his children being then under age, and is now in the Glasgow Museum. One of these children, Catherine, married a John Ruskin.
The origin of the name of Ruskin is English, dating from the middle ages. Soon after the dissolution of Furness Abbey, Richerde Ruskyn and his family were land-owners at Dalton-in-Furness. One branch, and that with which we are especially concerned, settled in Edinburgh.
John Ruskin—our subject's grandfather—when he ran away with Catherine Tweddale in 1781, was a handsome lad of twenty. His portrait as a child proves his looks, and he evidently had some charm of character or promise of power, for the escapade did not lose him the friendship of the lady's family. Major Ross, her uncle and guardian, remained a good friend to the young couple. She herself was only sixteen at her marriage—a bright and animated brunette, as her miniature shows, in later years ripening to a woman of uncommon strength, with old-fashioned piety of a robust, practical type, and a spirit which the trials of her after-life—and they were many—could not subdue. Her husband set up in the wine trade in Edinburgh. For many years they lived in the Old Town, then a respectable neighbourhood, among a cultivated and well-bred society, in which they moved as equals, entertaining, with others, such a man as Dr. Thomas Brown, the professor of philosophy, a great light in his own day, and still conspicuous in the constellation of Scotch metaphysicians.
JOHN ADAIR, = MARY, cousin of Sir Andrew Agnew, of Lochnaw, of Little Genoch. hereditary Sheriff of Wigtownshire. Capt. Thomas Adair, = Jean Ross, of Balsarroch, great-aunt of Sir of Little Genoch. John Ross, the Arctic explorer, of Sir Hew Dalrymple, and of Sir Hew Dalrymple Ross. + -+============+ Rev. = Isobel Dr. Mrs. Cath. = Rev. John Andrew McDouall, Adair, Maitland Adair James Ruskin Adair, of of grand- Twaddle, (1732- Minister Logan Quebec mother of 1780) of and of Glen- Whithorn London J.E. luce Maitland of Kenmure Castle + -+======+ +========+ + Cath. = James Cath. = John Margt. = Capt. Other Mactaggart Tweddale, Tweddale Ruskin Ruskin Cox issue (aunt of of (1765- of (b. 1756) of Sir John Glen- 181[?]) Edinburgh Yarmouth Joseph Mactaggart, laggan (1761- (1757- Severn Bart., M.P., 1812[?]) 1789[?]) of of Rome Ardwell) +-+ + + + ++ +==+ -+ George = Cath. Peter = Jessie J.J. = Margaret Bridget Mr. Agnew, Tweddale Richard- Ruskin Ruskin, Cox Cox Richard- hered- son, of (1781- son itary + + of Billiter 1871) of Sheriff- Bridgend, Street Market clerk Other Perth and Street, of isssue Denmark Croydon Wigtown Hill (1785- 1864) +-+ + + -+ + +-+-+-+-+-+-+ +-+-+-+-+ Other Arthur = Joan Other James John John (d. issue Severn, Ruskin issue (d. young), Ruskin in R.I., Agnew John, of (b. 1819) Australia), of Glasgow, William Hearne William, M.D., George (of Hill (Tunbridge Croydon) Wells), Charles +-+-+-+ Andrew (d. in (drowned Australia), 1834) Lily Catherine Margaret Arthur (d. young), Bridget Agnew Margaret and Violet Peter Herbert (d. young) Mary (1815-1849), Jessie (1818-1827)
Their son, John James Ruskin (born May 10, 1785), was sent to the famous High School of Edinburgh, under Dr. Adam, the most renowned of Scottish head-masters, and there he received the sound old-fashioned classical education. Before he was sixteen, his sister Jessie was already married at Perth to Peter Richardson, a tanner living at Bridge End, by the Tay; and so his cousin, Margaret Cox, was sent for to fill the vacant place.
She was a daughter of old Mr. Ruskin's sister, who had married a Captain Cox, sailing from Yarmouth for the herring fishery. He had died in 1789, or thereabouts, from the results of an accident while riding homewards to his family after one of his voyages, and his widow maintained herself in comfort by keeping the old King's Head Inn at Croydon Market-place. Of her two daughters the younger married another Mr. Richardson, a baker at Croydon, so that, by an odd coincidence, there were two families of Richardsons, unconnected with one another except through their relationship to the Ruskins.
Margaret, the elder daughter, who came to keep house for her uncle in Edinburgh, was then nearly twenty years of age. She had been the model pupil at her Croydon day-school; tall and handsome, pious and practical, she was just the girl to become the confidante and adviser of her dark-eyed, active, and romantic young cousin.
Some time before the beginning of 1807, John James, having finished his education at the High School, went to London, where a place had been found for him by his uncle's brother-in-law, Mr. MacTaggart. He was followed by a kind letter from Dr. Thomas Brown, who advised him to keep up his Latin, and to study political economy, for the Professor looked upon him as a young man of unusual promise and power. During some two years, he worked as a clerk in the house of Sir William Gordon, Murphy and Co., where he made friends, and laid the foundation of his prosperity; for along with him at the office there was a Mr. Peter Domecq, owner of the Spanish vineyards of Macharnudo, learning the commercial part of his business in London, the headquarters of the sherry trade. He admired his fellow-clerk's capacity so much as to offer him the London agency of his family business. Mr. MacTaggart found the capital in consideration of their taking his relative, Mr. Telford, into the concern. And so they entered into partnership, about 1809, as Ruskin, Telford and Domecq: Domecq contributing the sherry, Mr. Henry Telford the capital, and Ruskin the brains.
How he came by his business capacity may be understood—and in some measure, perhaps, how his son came by his flexible and forcible style—from a letter of Mrs. Catherine Ruskin, written about this time; in which, moreover, there are a few details of family circumstances and character, not without interest. John James Ruskin had been protesting that he was never going to marry, but meant to devote himself to his mother; she replied:
"... But my son an old Batchelor—believe me my beloved Child I feel the full force and value of that affection that could prompt to such a plan—dear as your society is to me it would then become the misery of my existence—could I see my Child so formed for domestick happiness deprived of every blessing on my account. No my Dr John I do not know a more unhappy being than an old Batchelor ... may God preserve my Child from realizing the dreary picture—as soon as you can keep a Wife you must Marry with all possible speed—that is as soon as you find a very Amiable woman. She must be a good daughter and fond of Domestick life—and pious, without ostentation, for remember no Woman without the fear of God, can either make a good Wife or a good Mother—freethinking Men are shocking to nature, but from an Infidel Woman Good Lord deliver us. I have thought more of it than you have done—for I have two or three presents carefully [laid] by for her, and I have also been so foresightly as to purchase two Dutch toys for your Children in case you might marry before we had free intercourse with that country.... Who can say what I can say 'here is my Son—a hansome accomplished young man of three and twenty—he will not Marry that he may take care of his Mother—here is my Dr Margaret, hansome, Amiable and good and she would not leave her Ant (I mean Aunt) for any Man on Earth.' Ah My Dear and valuable children, dear is your affection to my heart, but I will never make so base a use of it. I entreat my Dr John that you will not give yourself one moment's uneasiness about me—I will at all events have L86 a year for life that your Father cannot deprive me of, and tho' I could not live very splendidly in a Town on this, yet with a neat little House and Garden in the country, it would afford all the means of life in fullness to Meggy myself and our servant. You forget, my Dr how much a woman can do without in domestick affairs to save Money—a Woman that has any management at all can live with more comfort on L50 a year than a Man could do on two hundred. There was a year of my life that I maintained myself and two children on twenty pound, the bread too was 1/2 the loave that year: we did not indeed live very sumptuously nor shall I say our strength improved much but I did not contract one farthing of debt and that to me supplyed the want of luxuries. Now my Dr John let me never hear a fear expressed on my account; there is no fear of me; make yourself happy and all will be well, and for God sake my beloved Boy take care of your health, take a good drink of porter to dinner and supper and a little Wine now and then, and tell me particularly about yr new Lodgings," etc.
He returned home to Edinburgh on a visit and arranged a marriage with his cousin Margaret, if she would wait for him until he was safely established; and then he set to work at the responsibilities of creating a new business. It was a severer task than he had anticipated, for his father's brain and business, as the above letter hints, had both gone wrong; he left Edinburgh and settled at Bower's Well, Perth, ended tragically, and left a load of debt behind him, which the son, sensitive to the family honour, undertook to pay before laying by a penny for himself. It took nine years of assiduous labour and economy. He worked the business entirely by himself. The various departments that most men entrust to others he filled in person. He managed the correspondence, he travelled for orders, he arranged the importation, he directed the growers out in Spain, and gradually built up a great business, paid off his father's creditors, and secured his own competence.
This was not done without sacrifice of health, which he never recovered, nor without forming habits of over-anxiety and toilsome minuteness which lasted his life long. But his business cares were relieved by cultured tastes. He loved art, painted in water-colours in the old style, and knew a good picture when he saw it. He loved literature, and read aloud finely all the old standard authors, though he was not too old-fashioned to admire "Pickwick" and the "Noctes Ambrosianae" when they appeared. He loved the scenery and architecture among which he had travelled in Scotland and Spain; but he could find interest in almost any place and any subject; an alert man, in whom practical judgment was joined to a romantic temperament, strong feelings and opinions to extended sympathies. His letters, of which there are many preserved, bear witness to his character, taste, and intellect, curiously anticipating, on some points, those of his son. His portraits give the idea of an expressive face, sensitive, refined, every feature a gentleman's.
So, after those nine years of work and waiting, he went to Perth to claim his cousin's hand. She was for further delay; but with the minister's help he persuaded her one evening into a prompt marriage in the Scotch fashion, drove off with her next morning to Edinburgh, and on to the home he had prepared in London at 54, Hunter Street, Brunswick Square (February 27, 1818).
The heroine of this little drama was no ordinary bride. At Edinburgh she had found herself, though well brought up for Croydon, inferior to the society of the Modern Athens. As the affianced of a man of ability, she felt it her duty to make herself his match in mental culture, as she was already in her own department of practical matters. Under Dr. Brown's direction, and stimulated by his notice, she soon became—not a blue-stocking—but well-read, well-informed above the average. She was one of those persons who set themselves a very high standard, and resolve to drag both themselves and their neighbours up to it. But, as the process is difficult, so it is disappointing. People became rather shy of Mrs. Ruskin, and she of them, so that her life was solitary and her household quiet. It was not merely from narrow Puritanism that she made so few friends; her morality and her piety, strict as they were within their own lines, permitted her most of the enjoyments and amusements of life; still less was there any cynicism or misanthropy. But she devoted herself to her husband and son. She was too proud to court those above her in worldly rank, and she was not easily approached except by people fully equal to her in strength of character, of whom there could never be many. The few who made their way to her friendship found her a true and valuable friend.
THE FATHER OF THE MAN (1819-1825)
Into this family John Ruskin was born on February 8, 1819, at half-past seven in the morning. He was baptised on the twentieth by the Rev. Mr. Boyd.
The first account of him in writing is in a letter from his mother when he was six weeks old. She chronicles—not without a touch of superstition—the breaking of a looking-glass, and continues: "John grows finely; he is just now on my knees sleeping and looking so sweetly; I hope I shall not get proud of him." He was a fine healthy baby, and at four months was "beginning to give more decided proofs that he knows what he wants, and will have it if crying and passion will get it." At a year his mother resolves that "this will be cured by a good whipping when he can understand what it is," and we know that she carried out her Spartan resolve.
This, and the story in "Arachne," how she let him touch the tea-kettle; and the reminiscences in "Praeterita" of playthings locked up, and a lone little boy staring at the water-cart and the pattern on the carpet—all these give a gloomy impression of his mother, against which we must set the proofs of affection and kindliness shown in her letters. In these we can see her anxiously nursing him through childish ailments, taking him out for his daily walk to Duppas Hill with a captain's biscuit in her muff, for fear he should be hungry by the way; we hear her teaching him his first lessons, with astonishment at his wonderful memory, and glorying with Nurse Anne over his behaviour in church; and all these things she retails in gossiping letters to her husband, while Mr. Richard Gray gives two-year-old John "his first lesson on the flute, both sitting on the drawing-room floor, very deeply engaged." "I am sure," she says, "there is no other love, no other feeling, like a mother's towards her first boy when she loves his father;" and her pride in his looks, and precocity, and docility—"I never met with a child of his age so sensible to praise or blame"—found a justification in his passionate devotion to the man who was so dear to them both.
Though he was born in the thick of London, he was not City-bred. His first three summers were spent in lodgings in Hampstead or Dulwich, then "the country." So early as his fourth summer he was taken to Scotland by sea to stay with his aunt Jessie, Mrs. Richardson of Perth. There he found cousins to play with, especially one, little Jessie, of nearly his own age; he found a river with deep swirling pools, that impressed him more than the sea, and he found the mountains. Coming home in the autumn, he sat for his full-length portrait to James Northcote, R.A., and being asked what he would choose for background, he replied, "Blue hills."
Northcote had painted Mr. and Mrs. Ruskin, and, as they were fond of artistic company, remained their friend. A certain friendship too, was struck up between the old Academician, then in his seventy-seventh year, the acknowledged cynic and satirist, and the little wise boy who asked shrewd questions, and could sit still to be painted; who, moreover, had a face worth painting, not unlike the model from whom Northcote's master, the great Sir Joshua, had painted his famous cherubs. The painter asked him to come again, and sit as the hero of a fancy picture, bought at the Academy by the flattered parents. There is a grove, a flock of toy sheep, drapery in the grand style, a mahogany Satyr taking a thorn out of the little pink foot of a conventional nudity—poor survivals of the Titianesque. But the head is an obvious portrait, and a happy one; far more like the real boy, so tradition says, than the generalized chubbiness of the commissioned picture.
In the next year (1823) they quitted the town for a suburban home. The spot they chose was in rural Dulwich, on Herne Hill, a long offshoot of the Surrey downs; low, and yet commanding green fields and scattered houses in the foreground, with rich undulating country to the south, and looking across London toward Windsor and Harrow. It is all built up now; but their house (later No. 28) must have been as secluded as any in a country village. There were ample gardens front and rear, well stocked with fruit and flowers—quite an Eden for a little boy, and all the more that the fruit of it was forbidden. It was here that all his years of youth were spent. Here, under his parents' roof, he wrote his earlier works, as far as vol. i. of "Modern Painters." To the adjoining house, as his own separate home, he returned for a period of his middle life; and in the old home, handed over to his adopted daughter, he still used to find his own rooms ready when he cared to visit London.
So he was brought up almost as a country boy, though near enough to town to get the benefit of it, and far enough from the more exciting scenes of landscape nature to find them ever fresh, when summer after summer he revisited the river scenery of the West or the mountains of the North. For by a neat arrangement, and one fortunate for his education, the summer tours were continued yearly. Mr. John James Ruskin still travelled for the business, then greatly extending. "Strange," he writes on one occasion, "that Watson [his right-hand man] went this journey without getting one order, and everyone gives me an order directly." In return for these services to the firm, Mr. Telford, the capitalist partner, took the vacant chair at the office, and even lent his carriage for the journeys. There was room for two, so Mrs. Ruskin accompanied her husband, whose indifferent health gave her and his friends constant anxiety during long separations. And the boy could easily be packed in, sitting on his little portmanteau, and playing horses with his father's knees; the nurse riding on the dickey behind.
They started usually after the great family anniversary, the father's birthday, on May 10, and journeyed by easy stages through the South of England, working up the west to the north, and then home by the east-central route, zigzagging from one provincial town to another, calling at the great country seats, to leave no customer or possible customer unvisited; and in the intervals of business seeing all the sights of the places they passed through—colleges and churches, galleries and parks, ruins, castles, caves, lakes, and mountains—and seeing them all, not listlessly, but with keen interest, noting everything, inquiring for local information, looking up books of reference, setting down the results, as if they had been meaning to write a guide-book and gazetteer of Great Britain. They, I say, did all this, for as soon as the boy could write, he was only imitating his father in keeping his little journal of the tours, so that all he learned stayed by him, and the habit of descriptive writing was formed.
In 1823 they seem to have travelled only through the south and south-west; in 1824 they pushed north to the lakes, stayed awhile at Keswick, and while the father went about his business, the child was rambling with his nurse on Friar's Crag, among the steep rocks and gnarled roots, which suggested, even at that age, the feelings expressed in one of the notable passages in "Modern Painters." Thence they went on to Scotland, and revisited their relatives at Perth. In 1825 they took a more extended tour, and spent a few weeks in Paris, partly for the festivities at the coronation of Charles X., partly for business conference with Mr. Domecq, who had just been appointed wine-merchant to the King of Spain. Thence they went to Brussels and the field of Waterloo, of greater interest than the sights of Paris to six-year-old John, who often during his boyhood celebrated the battle, and the heroes of the battle, in verse.
Before he was quite three he used to climb into a chair and preach. There is nothing so uncommon in that. Of Robert Browning, his neighbour and seven-years-older contemporary, the same tale is told. But while the incident that marks the baby Browning is the aside, a propos of a whimpering sister, "Pew-opener, remove that child," the baby Ruskin is seen in his sermon: "People, be dood. If you are dood, Dod will love you; if you are not dood, Dod will not love you. People, be dood."
At the age of four he had begun to read and write, refusing to be taught in the orthodox way—this is so accurately characteristic—by syllabic spelling and copy-book pothooks. He preferred to find a method out for himself, and he found out how to read whole words at a time by the look of them, and to write in vertical characters like book-print, just as the latest improved theories of education suggest. His first letter may be quoted as illustrating his own account of his childhood, and as proving how entirely Scotch was the atmosphere in which he was brought up. The postmark gives the date March 15, 1823. Mrs. Ruskin premises that John was scribbling on a paper from which he proceeded to read what she writes down (I omit certain details about the whip):
"MY DEAR PAPA,
"I love you. I have got new things. Waterloo Bridge—Aunt Bridget brought me it. John and Aunt helped to put it up, but the pillars they did not put right, upside down. Instead of a book bring me a whip, coloured red and black.... To-morrow is Sabbath. Tuesday I go to Croydon. I am going to take my boats and my ship to Croydon. I'll sail them on the pond near the burn which the bridge is over. I will be very glad to see my cousins. I was very happy when I saw Aunt come from Croydon. I love Mrs. Gray and I love Mr. Gray. I would like you to come home, and my kiss and my love."
[First autograph in straggling capitals]
When once he could read, thenceforward his mother gave him regular morning lessons in Bible-reading and in reciting the Scotch paraphrases of the Psalms and other verse, which for his good memory was an easy task. He made rhymes before he could write them, of course.
At five he was a bookworm, and the books he read fixed him in certain grooves of thought, or, rather, say they were chosen as favourites from an especial interest in their subjects—an interest which arose from his character of mind, and displayed it. But with all this precocity, he was no milksop or weakling; he was a bright, active lad, full of fun and pranks, not without companions, though solitary when at home, and kept precisely, in the hope of guarding him from every danger. He was so little afraid of animals—a great test of a child's nerves—that about this time he must needs meddle with their fierce Newfoundland dog, Lion, which bit him in the mouth, and spoiled his looks. Another time he showed some address in extricating himself from the water-butt—a common child-trap. He did not fear ghosts or thunder; instead of that, his early-developed landscape feeling showed itself in dread of foxglove dells and dark pools of water, in coiling roots of trees—things that to the average English fancy have no significance whatever.
At seven he began to imitate the books he was reading, to write books himself. He had found out how to print, as children do; and it was his ambition to make real books, with title-pages and illustrations, not only books, indeed, but sets of volumes, a complete library of his whole works. But in a letter of March 4, 1829, his mother says to his father: "If you think of writing John, would you impress on him the propriety of not beginning too eagerly and becoming careless towards the end of his works, as he calls them? I think in a letter from you it would have great weight. He is never idle, and he is even uncommonly persevering for a child of his age; but he often spoils a good beginning by not taking the trouble to think, and concluding in a hurry."
The first of these sets was imitated in style from Miss Edgeworth; he called it, "Harry and Lucy Concluded; or, Early Lessons." Didactic he was from the beginning. It was to be in four volumes, uniform in red leather, with proper title, frontispiece, and "copper-plates," "printed and composed by a little boy, and also drawn." It was begun in 1826, and continued at intervals until 1829. It was all done laboriously in imitation of print, and, to complete the illusion, contained a page of errata. This great work was, of course, never completed, though he laboured through three volumes; but when he tired of it, he would turn his book upside down, and begin at the other end with other matters; so that the red books contain all sorts of notes on his minerals and travels, reports of sermons, and miscellaneous information, besides their professed contents; in this respect also being very like his later works.
There you have our author ready made, with his ever-fresh interest in everything, and all-attempting eagerness, out of which the first thing that crystallizes into any definite shape is the verse-writing.
PERFERVIDUM INGENIUM (1826-1830)
The first dated "poem" was written a month before little John Ruskin reached the age of seven. It is a tale of a mouse, in seven octosyllabic couplets, "The Needless Alarm," remarkable only for an unexpected correctness in rhyme, rhythm, and reason.
His early verse owes much to the summer tours, which were prolific in notes; everything was observed and turned into verse. The other inspiring source was his father—the household deity of both wife and child, whose chief delight was in his daily return from the city, and in his reading to them in the drawing-room at Herne Hill. John was packed into a recess, where he was out of the way and the draught; he was barricaded by a little table that held his own materials for amusement, and if he liked to listen to the reading, he had the chance of hearing good literature, the chance sometimes of hearing passages from Byron and Christopher North and Cervantes, rather beyond his comprehension, for his parents were not of the shockable sort: with all their religion and strict Scotch morality, they could laugh at a broad jest, as old-fashioned people could.
So he associated his father and his father's readings with the poetry of reflection, as he associated the regular summer round with the poetry of description. As every summer brought its crop of description, so against the New Year (for, being Scotch, they did not then keep our Christmas) and against his father's birthday in May he used always to prepare some little drama or story or "address" of a reflective nature, beginning with the verses on "Time," written for New Year's Day, 1827.
That year they were again at Perth, and on their way home some early morning frost suggested the not ungraceful verses on the icicles at Glenfarg. By a childish misconception, the little boy seems to have confused the real valley that interested him so with Scott's ideal Glendearg, and, partly for this reason, to have found a greater pleasure in "The Monastery," which he thereupon undertook to paraphrase in verse. There remain some hundreds of doggerel rhymes; but his affection for that particular novel survived the fatal facility of his octosyllabics, and reappears time after time in his later writings.
Next year, 1828, their tour was stopped at Plymouth by the painful news of the death of his aunt Jessie, to whom they were on their way. It was hardly a year since the bright little cousin, Jessie of Perth, had died of water on the brain. She had been John's especial pet and playfellow, clever, like him, and precocious; and her death must have come to his parents as a warning, if they needed it, to keep their own child's brain from over-pressure. It is evident that they did their best to "keep him back"; they did not send him to school for fear of the excitement of competitive study. His mother put him through the Latin grammar herself, using the old Adam's manual which his father had used at Edinburgh High School. Even this old grammar became a sort of sacred book to him; and when at last he went to school, and his English master threw the book back to him, saying, "that's a Scotch thing," the boy was shocked and affronted, as which of us would be at a criticism on our first instrument of torture? He remembered the incident all his life, and pilloried the want of tact with acerbity in his reminiscences.
They could keep him from school, but they did not keep him from study. The year 1828 saw the beginning of another great work, "Eudosia, a Poem on the Universe"; it was "printed" with even greater neatness and labour; but this, too, after being toiled at during the winter months, was dropped in the middle of its second "book." It was not idleness that made him break off such plans, but just the reverse—a too great activity of brain. His parents seem to have thought that there was no harm in this apparently quiet reading and writing. They were extremely energetic themselves, and hated idleness. They appear to have held a theory that their little boy was safe so long as he was not obviously excited; and to have thought that the proper way of giving children pocket-money was to let them earn it. So they used to pay him for his literary labours; "Homer" was one shilling a page; "Composition," one penny for twenty lines; "Mineralogy," one penny an article.
The death of his aunt Jessie left a large family of boys and one girl to the care of their widowed father, and the Ruskins felt it their duty to help. They fetched Mary Richardson away, and brought her up as a sister to their solitary son. She was not so beloved as Jessie had been, but a good girl and a nice girl, four years older than John, and able to be a companion to him in his lessons and travels. There was no sentimentality about his attachment to her, but a steady fraternal relationship, he, of course, being the little lord and master; but she was not without spirit, which enabled her to hold her own, and perseverance, which sometimes helped her to eclipse, for the moment, his brilliancy. They learnt together, wrote their journals together, and shared alike with the scrupulous fairness which Mrs. Ruskin's sensible nature felt called on to show. And so she remained his sister, and not quite his sister, until she married, and after a very short married life died.
Another accession to the family took place in the same year (1828); the Croydon aunt, too, had died, and left a dear dog, Dash, a brown and white spaniel, which at first refused to leave her coffin, but was coaxed away, and found a happy home at Herne Hill, and frequent celebration in his young master's verses. So the family was now complete—papa and mamma, Mary and John and Dash. One other figure must not be forgotten, Nurse Anne, who had come from the Edinburgh home, and remained always with them, John's nurse and then Mrs. Ruskin's attendant, as devoted and as censorious as any old-style Scotch servant in a story-book.
The year 1829 marked an advance in poetical composition. For his father's birthday he made a book more elaborate than any, sixteen pages in a red cover, with a title-page quite like print: "Battle of Waterloo a play in two acts with other small Poems dedicated to his father by John Ruskin 1829 Hernhill (sic) Dulwich."
To this are appended, among other pieces, fair copies of "Skiddaw," and "Derwentwater." A recast of these, touched up by some older hand, and printed in The Spiritual Times for February, 1830, may be called his first appearance in type.
An illness of his postponed their tour for 1829, until it was too late for more than a little journey in Kent. He has referred his earliest sketching to this occasion, but it seems likely that the drawings attributed to this year were done in 1831. He was, however, busy writing poetry. At Tunbridge, for example, he wrote that fragment "On Happiness" which catches so cleverly the tones of Young—a writer whose orthodox moralizing suited with the creed in which John Ruskin was brought up, alternating, be it remembered, with "Don Quixote."
Coming home, he began a new edition of his verses, on a more pretentious scale than the old red books, in a fine bound volume, exquisitely "printed," with the poems dated. This new energy seems to have been roused by the gift from his Croydon cousin Charles, a clerk in the publishing house of Smith, Elder, and Co., of their annual "Friendship's Offering." Mrs. Ruskin, in a letter of October 31, 1829, finds "the poetry very so-so"; but John evidently made the book his model.
He was now growing out of his mother's tutorship, and during this autumn he was put under the care of Dr. Andrews for his Latin. He relates the introduction in "Praeterita," and, more circumstantially, in a letter of the time, to Mrs. Monro, the mother of his charming Mrs. Richard Gray, the indulgent neighbour who used to pamper the little gourmand with delicacies unknown in severe Mrs. Ruskin's dining-room. He says in the letter—this is at ten years old: "Well, papa, seeing how fond I was of the doctor, and knowing him to be an excellent Latin scholar, got him for me as a tutor, and every lesson I get I like him better and better, for he makes me laugh 'almost, if not quite'—to use one of his own expressions—the whole time. He is so funny, comparing Neptune's lifting up the wrecked ships of AEneas with his trident to my lifting up a potato with a fork, or taking a piece of bread out of a bowl of milk with a spoon! And as he is always saying [things] of that kind, or relating some droll anecdote, or explaining the part of Virgil (the book which I am in) very nicely, I am always delighted when Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays are come."
Dr. Andrews was no doubt a genial teacher, and had been a scholar of some distinction in his University of Glasgow; but Mrs. Ruskin thought him "flighty," as well she might, when, after six months' Greek, he proposed (in March, 1831) to begin Hebrew with John. It was a great misfortune for the young genius that he was not more sternly drilled at the outset, and he suffered for it through many a long year of struggles with deficient scholarship.
The Doctor had a large family and pretty daughters. One, who wrote verses in John's note-book, and sang "Tambourgi," Mrs. Orme, lived until 1892 in Bedford Park; the other lives in Coventry Patmore's "Angel in the House." When Ruskin, thirty years later, wrote of that doubtfully-received poem, that it was the "sweetest analysis we possess of quiet, modern, domestic feeling," few of his readers could have known all the grounds of his appreciation, or suspected the weight of meaning in the words.
Critics who are least disposed to give Ruskin credit for his artistic doctrines or economical theories unite in allowing that he taught his generation to look at Nature, and especially at the sublime in Nature—at storms and sunrises, and the forests and snows of the Alps. This mission of mountain-worship was the outcome of a passion beside which the other interests and occupations of his youth were only toys. He could take up his mineralogy and his moralizing and lay them down, but the love of mountain scenery was something beyond his control. We have seen him leave his heart in the Highlands at three years old; we have now to follow his passionate pilgrimages to Skiddaw and Snowdon, to the Jungfrau and Mont Blanc.
They had planned a great tour through the Lakes and the North two years before, but were stopped at Plymouth by the news of Mrs. Richardson's death. At last the plan was carried out. A prose diary was written alternately by John and Mary, one carrying it on when the other tired, with rather curious effect of unequally-yoked collaboration. We read how they "set off from London at seven o'clock on Tuesday morning, the 18th May," and thenceforward we are spared no detail: the furniture of the inns; the bills of fare; when they got out of the carriage and walked; how they lost their luggage; what they thought of colleges and chapels, music and May races at Oxford, of Shakespeare's tomb, and the pin-factory at Birmingham; we have a complete guide-book to Blenheim and Warwick Castle, to Haddon and Chatsworth, and the full itinerary of Derbyshire. "Matlock Bath," we read, "is a most delightful place"; but after an enthusiastic description of High Tor, John reacts into bathos with a minute description of wetting their shoes in a puddle. The cavern with a Bengal light was fairyland to him, and among the minerals he was quite at home.
Then they hurried north to Windermere. Once at Lowwood, the excitement thickens, with storms and rainbows, mountains and waterfalls, boats on the lake and coaching on the steep roads. This journey through Lakeland is described in the galloping anapaests of the "Iteriad," which was simply the prose journal versified on his return, one of the few enterprises of the sort which were really completed.
To readers who know the country it is interesting as giving a detailed account in the days when this "nook of English ground" was "secure from rash assault." One learns that, even then, there were jarring sights at Bowness Bay and along Derwentwater shore, elements unkind and bills exorbitant. Coniston especially was dreary with rain, and its inn—the old Waterhead, now destroyed—extravagantly dear; "but," says John, with his eye for mineral specimens, "it contains several rich coppermines." An interesting touch is the hero-worship with which they went reverently to peep at Southey and Wordsworth in church; too humble to dream of an introduction, and too polite to besiege the poets in their homes, but independent enough to form their own opinions on the personality of the heroes. They did not like the look of Wordsworth at all; Southey they adored. The dominant note of the tour is, however, an ecstatic delight in the mountain scenery; on Skiddaw and Helvellyn all the gamut of admiration is lavished.
On returning home, John began Greek under Dr. Andrews, and was soon versifying Anacreontics in his notebooks. He began to read Byron for himself, with what result we shall see before long; but the most important new departure was the attempt to copy Cruikshank's etchings to Grimm's fairy tales, his real beginning at art. From this practice he learnt the value of the pure, clean line that expresses form. It is a good instance of the authority of these early years over Ruskin's whole life and teaching that in his "Elements of Drawing" he advised young artists to begin with Cruikshank, as he began, and that he wrote appreciatively both of the stories and the etchings so many decades afterwards in the preface to a reprint by J.C. Hotten.
His cousin-sister Mary had been sent to a day-school when Mrs. Ruskin's lessons were superseded by Dr. Andrews, and she had learnt enough drawing to attempt a view of the hotel at Matlock, a thing which John could not do. So, now that he too showed some power of neat draughtsmanship, it was felt that he ought to have her advantages. They got Mr. Runciman the drawing-master, chosen, it may be, as a relative of the well-known Edinburgh artist of the same name, to give him lessons, in the early part of 1831. His teaching was of the kind which preceded the Hardingesque: it aimed at a bold use of the soft pencil, with a certain roundness of composition and richness of texture, a conventional "right way" of drawing anything. This was hardly what John wanted; but, not to be beaten, he facsimiled the master's freehand in a sort of engraver's stipple, which his habitual neatness helped him to do in perfection. Runciman soon put a stop to that, and took pains with a pupil who took such pains with himself—taught him, at any rate, the principles of perspective, and remained his only drawing-master for several years.
A sample of John Ruskin's early lessons in drawing, described by him in letters to his father, may be not without interest. On February 20, 1832, he writes:
"... You saw the two models that were last sent, before you went away. Well, I took my paper, and I fixed my points, and I drew my perspective, and then, as Mr. Runciman told me, I began to invent a scene. You remember the cottage that we saw as we went to Rhaidyr Dhu (sic), near Maentwrog, where the old woman lived whose grandson went with us to the fall, so very silently? I thought my model resembled that; so I drew a tree—such a tree, such an enormous fellow—and I sketched the waterfall, with its dark rocks, and its luxuriant wood, and its high mountains; and then I examined one of Mary's pictures to see how the rocks were done, and another to see how the woods were done, and another to see how the mountains were done, and another to see how the cottages were done, and I patched them all together, and I made such a lovely scene—oh, I should get such a scold from Mr. Runciman (that is, if he ever scolded)!"
After the next lesson he wrote, February 27, 1832:
"You know the beautiful model drawing that I gave you an account of in my last. I showed it to Mr. Runciman. He contemplated it for a moment in silence, and then, turning, asked me if I had copied. I told him how I had patched it up; but he said that that was not copying, and although he was not satisfied with the picture, he said there was something in it that would make him totally change the method he had hitherto pursued with me. He then asked Mary for some gray paper, which was produced; then inquired if I had a colour-box; I produced the one you gave me, and he then told me he should begin with a few of the simplest colours, in order to teach me better the effects of light and shade. He should then proceed to teach me water-colour painting, but the latter only as a basis for oil; this last, however, to use his own words, all in due time.... Oh, if I could paint well before we went to Dover! I should have such sea-pieces...."
In March 1834, Runciman was encouraging him in his oil-painting; but a year later he wrote to his father:
"I cannot bear to paint in oil, C. Fielding's tints alone for me! The other costs me double toil, And wants some fifty coats to be Splashed on each spot successively. Faugh, wie es stinckt! I can't bring out, With all, a picture fit to see. My bladders burst; my oils are out— And then, what's all the work about?"
After a few lessons he could rival Mary when they went for their summer excursion. He set to work at once at Sevenoaks to draw cottages; at Dover and Battle he attempted castles. It may be that these first sketches are of the pre-Runciman period; but the Ruskins made the round of Kent in 1831, and though the drawings are by no means in the master's style, they show some practice in using the pencil.
The journey was extended by the old route, conditioned by business as before, round the South Coast to the West of England, and then into Wales. There his powers of drawing failed him; moonlight on Snowdon was too vague a subject for the blacklead point but a hint of it could be conveyed in rhyme:
"Folding like an airy vest, The very clouds had sunk to rest; Light gilds the rugged mountain's breast, Calmly as they lay below; Every hill seemed topped with snow, As the flowing tide of light Broke the slumbers of the night."
Harlech Castle was too sublime for a sketch, but it was painted with the pen:
"So mighty, so majestic, and so lone; And all thy music, now, the ocean's murmuring."
And the enthusiasm of mountain glory, a sort of ecstacy of uncontrollable passion, strives for articulate deliverance in the climbing song, "I love ye, ye eternal hills."
It was hard to come back to the daily round, the common task, especially when, in this autumn of 1831, to Dr. Andrews' Latin and Greek, the French grammar and Euclid were added, under Mr. Rowbotham. And the new tutor had no funny stories to tell; he was not so engaging a man as the "dear Doctor," and his memory was not sweet to his wayward pupil. But the parents had chosen for the work one who was favourably known by his manuals, and capable of interesting even a budding poet in the mathematics; for our author tells that at Oxford, and ever after, he knew his Euclid without the figures, and that he spent all his spare time in trying to trisect an angle. An old letter from Rowbotham informs Mr. J.J. Ruskin that an eminent mathematician had seen John's attempt, and had said that it was the cleverest he knew. In French, too, he progressed enough to be able to find his way alone in Paris two years later. And however the saucy boy may have satirized his tutor in the droll verses on "Bedtime," Mr. Rowbotham always remembered him with affection, and spoke of him with respect.
In spite of these tedious tutorships, he managed to scribble energetically all this winter, writing with amazing rapidity, as his mother notes: attempts at Waverley novels, which never got beyond the first chapter, imitations of "Childe Harold" and "Don Juan" and scraps in the style of everybody in turn. No wonder his mother sent him to bed at nine punctually, and kept him from school, in vain efforts to quiet his brain. The lack of companions was made up to him in the friendship of Richard Fall, son of a neighbour on "the Hill," a boy without affectation or morbidity of disposition whose complementary character suited him well. An affectionate comradeship sprang up between the two lads, and lasted, until in middle life they drifted apart, in no ill-will, but each going on his own course to his own destiny.
Some real advance was made this winter (1831-32) with his Shelleyan "Sonnet to a Cloud" and his imitations of Byron's "Hebrew Melodies," from which he learnt how to concentrate expression, and to use rich vowel-sounds and liquid consonants with rolling effect. A deeper and more serious turn of thought, that gradually usurped the place of the first boyish effervescence, has been traced by him to the influence of Byron, in whom, while others saw nothing more than wit and passion, Ruskin perceived an earnest mind and a sound judgment.
But the most sincere poem—if sincerity be marked by unstudied phrase and neglected rhyme—the most genuine "lyrical cry" of this period, is that song in which our boy-poet poured forth his longing for the "blue hills" he had loved as a baby, and for those Coniston crags over which, when he became old and sorely stricken, he was still to see the morning break. When he wrote these verses he was nearly fourteen, or just past his birthday. It had been eighteen months since he had been in Wales, and all the weary while he had seen no mountains; but in his regrets he goes back a year farther still, to fix upon the Lakeland hills, less majestic than Snowdon, but more endeared, and he describes his sensations on approaching the beloved objects in the very terms that Dante uses for his first sight of Beatrice:
"I weary for the fountain foaming, For shady holm and hill; My mind is on the mountain roaming, My spirit's voice is still.
"The crags are lone on Coniston And Glaramara's dell; And dreary on the mighty one, The cloud-enwreathed Sea-fell...."
"There is a thrill of strange delight That passes quivering o'er me, When blue hills rise upon the sight, Like summer clouds before me."
Judge, then, of the delight with which he turned over the pages of a new book, given him this birthday by the kind Mr. Telford, in whose carriage he had first seen those blue hills—a book in which all his mountain ideals, and more, were caught and kept enshrined—visions still, and of mightier peaks and ampler valleys, romantically "tost" and sublimely "lost," as he had so often written in his favourite rhymes. In the vignettes to Rogers' "Italy," Turner had touched the chord for which John Ruskin had been feeling all these years. No wonder that he took Turner for his leader and master, and fondly tried to copy the wonderful "Alps at Daybreak" to begin with, and then to imitate this new-found magic art with his own subjects and finally to come boldly before the world in passionate defence of a man who had done such great things for him.
This mountain-worship was not inherited from his father, who never was enthusiastic about peaks and clouds and glaciers, though he was interested in all travelling in a general way. So that it was not Rogers' "Italy" that sent the family off to the Alps that summer; but, fortunately for John, his father's eye was caught by the romantic architecture of Prout's "Sketches in Flanders and Germany," when it came out in April, 1853, and his mother proposed to make both of them happy in a tour on the Continent. The business-round was abandoned, but they could see Mr. Domecq on their way back through Paris, and not wholly lose the time.
They waited to keep papa's birthday on May 10, and early next morning drove off—father and mother, John and Mary, Nurse Anne, and the courier Salvador. They crossed to Calais, and posted, as people did in the old times, slowly from point to point; starting betimes, halting at the roadside inns, where John tried to snatch a sketch, reaching their destination early enough to investigate the cathedral or the citadel, monuments of antiquity or achievements of modern civilisation, with impartial eagerness; and before bedtime John would write up his journal and work up his sketches just as if he were at home.
So they went through Flanders and Germany, following Prout's lead by the castles of the Rhine; but at last, at Schaffhausen one Sunday evening—"suddenly—behold—beyond!"—they had seen the Alps. Thenceforward Turner was their guide as they crossed the Spluegen, sailed the Italian lakes, wondered at Milan Cathedral, and the Mediterranean at Genoa, and then roamed through the Oberland and back to Chamouni. All this while a great plan shaped itself in the boy's head, no less than to make a Rogers' "Italy" for himself, just as he tried to make a "Harry and Lucy" or a "Dictionary of Minerals." On every place they passed he would write verses and prose sketches, to give respectively the romance and the reality or ridicule; for he saw the comic side of it all, keenly; and he would illustrate the series with Turneresque vignettes, drawn with the finest crowquill pen, to imitate the delicate engravings. By this he learnt more drawing in two or three years than most amateur students do in seven. For the first year he had the "Watchtower of Andernach" and the "Jungfrau from Interlaken" to show, with others of similar style, and thenceforward alternated between Turner and Prout, until he settled into something different from either.
But Turner and Prout were not the only artists he knew; at Paris he found his way into the Louvre, and got leave from the directors, though he was under the age required, to copy. The picture he chose was a Rembrandt.
Between this foreign tour and the next, his amusement was to draw these vignettes, and to write the poems suggested by the scenes he had visited. He had outgrown the evening lessons with Dr. Andrews, and as he was fifteen, it was time to think more seriously of preparing him for Oxford, where his name was put down at Christ Church. His father hoped he would go into the Church, and eventually turn out a combination of a Byron and a bishop—something like Dean Milman, only better. For this, college was a necessary preliminary; for college, some little schooling. So they picked the best day-school in the neighbourhood, that of the Rev. Thomas Dale (afterwards Dean of Rochester), in Grove Lane, Peckham. John Ruskin worked there rather less than two years. In 1835 he was taken from school in consequence of an attack of pleurisy, and lost the rest of that year from regular studies.
More interesting to him than school was the British Museum collection of minerals, where he worked occasionally with his Jamieson's Dictionary. By this time he had a fair student's collection of his own, and he increased it by picking up specimens at Matlock, or Clifton, or in the Alps, wherever he went, for he was not short of pocket-money. He took the greatest pains over his catalogues, and wrote elaborate accounts of the various minerals in a shorthand he invented out of Greek letters and crystal forms.
Grafted on this mineralogy, and stimulated by the Swiss tour, was a new interest in physical geology, which his father so far approved as to give him Saussure's "Voyages dans les Alpes" for his birthday in 1834. In this book he found the complement of Turner's vignettes, something like a key to the "reason why" of all the wonderful forms and marvellous mountain-architecture of the Alps. He soon wrote a short essay on the subject, and had the pleasure of seeing it in print, in Loudon's Magazine of Natural History for March, 1834, along with another bit of his writing, asking for information on the cause of the colour of the Rhine-water.
He had already some acquaintance with J.C. Loudon, F.L.S., H.S., etc., and he was on the staff of that versatile editor not long afterwards, and took a lion's share of the writing in the Magazine of Architecture. Meanwhile he had been introduced to another editor, and to the publishers with whom he did business for many a year to come. The acquaintance was made in a curious, accidental manner. His cousin Charles Richardson, clerk to Smith, Elder, and Co., had the opportunity of mentioning the young poet's name to Thomas Pringle, editor of the "Friendship's Offering" which John had admired and imitated. Mr. Pringle came out to Herne Hill, and was hospitably entertained as a brother Scot, as not only an editor, but a poet himself—not only a poet, but a man of respectability and piety, who had been a missionary in South Africa. In return for this hospitality he gave a good report of John's verses, and, after getting him to re-write two of the best passages in the last tour, carried them off for insertion in his forthcoming number. He did more: he carried John to see the actual Samuel Rogers, whose verses had been adorned by the great Turner's vignettes.
After the pleurisy of April, 1835, his parents took him abroad again, and he made great preparations to use the opportunity to the utmost. He would study geology in the field, and took Saussure in his trunk he would note meteorology: he made a cyanometer—a scale of blue to measure the depth of tone, the colour whether of Rhine-water or of Alpine skies. He would sketch. By now he had abandoned the desire to make MS. albums, after seeing himself in print, and so chose rather to imitate the imitable, and to follow Prout, this time with careful outlines on the spot, than to idealize his notes in mimic Turnerism. He kept a prose journal, chiefly of geology and scenery, as well as a versified description, written in a metre imitated from "Don Juan," but more elaborate, and somewhat of a tour de force in rhyming. But that poetical journal was dropped after he had carried it through France, across the Jura, and to Chamouni. The drawing crowded it out, and for the first time he found himself as ready with his pencil as he had been with his pen.
His route is marked by the drawings of that year, from Chamouni to the St. Bernard and Aosta, back to the Oberland and up the St. Gothard; then back again to Lucerne and round by the Stelvio to Venice and Verona, and finally through the Tyrol and Germany homewards. The ascent of the St. Bernard was told in a dramatic sketch of great humour and power of characterization, and a letter to Richard Fall records the night on the Rigi, when he saw the splendid sequence of storm, sunset, moonlight, and daybreak, which forms the subject of one of the most impressive passages of "Modern Painters."
It happened that Pringle had a plate of Salzburg which he wanted to print in order to make up the volume of "Friendship's Offering" for the next Christmas. He seems to have asked John Ruskin to furnish a copy of verses for the picture, and at Salzburg, accordingly, a bit of rhymed description was written and re-written, and sent home to the editor. Early in December the Ruskins returned, and at Christmas there came to Herne Hill a gorgeous gilt morocco volume, "To John Ruskin, from the Publishers." On opening it there were his "Andernach" and "St. Goar," and his "Salzburg" opposite a beautifully-engraved plate, all hills, towers, boats, and figures moving picturesquely under the sunset, in Turner's manner more or less, "Engraved by E. Goodall from a drawing by W. Purser." It was almost like being Mr. Rogers himself.
THE GERM OF "MODERN PAINTERS" (1836)
He was now close upon seventeen, and it was time to think seriously of his future. His father went to Oxford early in the year to consult the authorities about matriculation. Meantime they sent him to Mr. Dale for some private lessons, and for the lectures on logic, English literature, and translation, which were given on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays at King's College, London. John enjoyed his new circumstances heartily. From voluminous letters, it is evident that he was in high spirits and in pleasant company. He was a thorough boy among boys—Matson, Willoughby, Tom Dale and the rest. He joined in their pranks, and contributed to their amusement with his ready good-humour and unflagging drollery.
Mr. Dale told him there was plenty of time before October, and no fear about his passing, if he worked hard. He found the work easy, except epigram-writing, which he thought "excessively stupid and laborious," but helped himself out, when scholarship failed, with native wit. Some of his exercises remain, not very brilliant Latinity; some he saucily evaded, thus:
"Subject: Non sapere maximum est malum.
"Non sapere est grave; sed, cum dura epigrammata oportet Scribere, tunc sentis praecipue esse malum."
In Switzerland and Italy, during the autumn of 1835, he had made a great many drawings, carefully outlined in pencil or pen on gray paper, and sparsely touched with body colour, in direct imitation of the Prout lithographs. Prout's original coloured sketches he had seen, no doubt, in the exhibition; but he does not seem to have thought of imitating them, for his work in this kind was all intended to be for illustration and not for framing. The "Italy" vignettes likewise, with all their inspiration, suggested to him only pen-etching; he was hardly conscious that somewhere there existed the tiny, coloured pictures that Turner had made for the engraver. Still, now that he could draw really well, his father, who painted in water-colours himself, complied with the demand for better teaching than Runciman's, went straight to the President of the Old Water-Colour Society, and engaged him for the usual course of half a dozen lessons at a guinea a piece. Copley Fielding could draw mountains as nobody else but Turner could, in water-colour; he had enough mystery and poetry to interest the younger Ruskin, and enough resemblance to ordinary views of Nature to please the elder. So they both went to Newman Street to his painting-room, and John worked through the course, and a few extra lessons, but, after all, found Fielding's art was not what he wanted. Some sketches exist, showing the influence of the spongy style; but his characteristic way of work remained for him to devise for himself.
At the Royal Academy Exhibition of 1836 Turner showed the first striking examples of his later style in "Juliet and her Nurse," "Mercury and Argus," and "Rome from Mount Aventine." The strange idealism, the unusualness, the mystery, of these pictures, united with evidence of intense significance and subtle observation, appealed to young Ruskin as it appealed to few other spectators. Public opinion regretted this change in its old favourite, the draughtsman of Oxford colleges, the painter of shipwrecks and castles. And Blackwood's Magazine, which the Ruskins, as Edinburgh people and admirers of Christopher North, read with respect, spoke about Turner, in a review of the picture-season, with that freedom of speech which Scotch reviewers claim as a heritage from the days of Jeffrey. Young Ruskin at once dashed off an answer.
The critic had found that Turner was "out of nature"; Ruskin tried to show that the pictures were full of facts, but treated with poetical license. The critic pronounced Turner's colour bad, his execution neglected, and his chiaroscuro childish; in answer to which Ruskin explained that Turner's reasoned system was to represent light and shade by the contrast of warm and cold colour, rather than by the opposition of white and black which other painters used. He denied that his execution was other than his aims necessitated, and maintained that the critic had no right to force his cut-and-dried academic rules of composition on a great genius; at the same time admitting that:
"The faults of Turner are numerous, and perhaps more egregious than those of any other great existing artist; but if he has greater faults, he has also greater beauties.
"His imagination is Shakespearian in its mightiness. Had the scene of 'Juliet and her Nurse' risen up before the mind of a poet, and been described in 'words that burn,' it had been the admiration of the world.... Many-coloured mists are floating above the distant city, but such mists as you might imagine to be ethereal spirits, souls of the mighty dead breathed out of the tombs of Italy into the blue of her bright heaven, and wandering in vague and infinite glory around the earth that they have loved. Instinct with the beauty of uncertain light, they move and mingle among the pale stars, and rise up into the brightness of the illimitable heaven, whose soft, sad blue eye gazes down into the deep waters of the sea for ever—that sea whose motionless and silent transparency is beaming with phosphor light, that emanates out of its sapphire serenity like bright dreams breathed into the spirit of a deep sleep. And the spires of the glorious city rise indistinctly bright into those living mists, like pyramids of pale fire from some vast altar; and amidst the glory of the dream there is, as it were, the voice of a multitude entering by the eye, arising from the stillness of the city like the summer wind passing over the leaves of the forest, when a murmur is heard amidst their multitudes.
"This, O Maga, is the picture which your critic has pronounced to be 'like models of different parts of Venice, streaked blue and white, and thrown into a flour-tub'!"
Before sending his reply to the editor of Blackwood, as had been intended, it was thought only right that Turner should be consulted. The MS. was enclosed to his address in London, with a courteous note from Mr. John James Ruskin, asking his permission to publish. Turner replied, expressing the scorn he felt for anonymous attacks, and jestingly hinting that the art-critics of the old Scotch school found their "meal-tub" in danger from his "flour-tub"; but "he never moved in such matters," so he sent on the MS. to Mr. Munro of Novar, who had bought the picture.
Ten days or so after this episode John Ruskin was matriculated at Oxford (October 18, 1836). He told the story of his first appearance as a gownsman in one of his gossiping letters in verse:
"A night, a day past o'er—the time drew near— The morning came—I felt a little queer; Came to the push; paid some tremendous fees; Past; and was capped and gowned with marvellous ease. Then went to the Vice-Chancellor to swear Not to wear boots, nor cut or comb my hair Fantastically—to shun all such sins As playing marbles or frequenting inns; Always to walk with breeches black or brown on; When I go out, to put my cap and gown on; With other regulations of the sort, meant For the just ordering of my comportment. Which done, in less time than I can rehearse it, I Found myself member of the University!"
In pursuance of his plan for getting the best of everything, his father had chosen the best college, as far as he knew, that in which social and scholastic advantages were believed to be found in pre-eminent combination, and he had chosen what was thought to be the best position in the college; so that it was as gentleman-commoner of Christ Church that John Ruskin made his entrance into the academic world.
After matriculation, the Ruskins made a fortnight's tour to Southampton and the coast, and returned to Herne Hill. John went back to King's College, and in December was examined in the subjects of his lectures. He wrote to his father on Christmas Eve about the examination in English literature:
"The students were numerous, and so were the questions; the room was hot, the papers long, the pens bad, the ink pale, and the interrogations difficult. It lasted only three hours. I wrote answers in very magnificent style to all the questions except three or four; gave in my paper and heard no more of the matter: sic transeunt bore-ia mundi."
He went on to mention his "very longitudinal essay," which, since no other essays are reported in his letters about King's College, must be the paper published in 1893, in answer to the question. "Does the perusal of works of fiction act favourably or unfavourably on the moral character?"
At his farewell interview with Mr. Dale he was asked, as he writes to his father, what books he had read, and replied with a pretty long list, including Quintilian and Grotius. Mr. Dale inquired what "light books" he was taking to Oxford: "Saussure, Humboldt, and other works on natural philosophy and geology," he answered. "Then he asked if I ever read any of the modern fashionable novels; on this point I thought he began to look positive, so I gave him a negative, with the exception of Bulwer's, and now and then a laughable one of the Theodore Hook's or Captain Marryat's." And so, with much excellent advice about exercise and sleep, and the way to win the Newdigate, he parted from Mr. Dale.
This Christmas was marked by his first introduction to the scientific world. Mr. Charlesworth, of the British Museum, invited him to a meeting of the Geological Society (January 4, 1837), with promise of introduction to Buckland and Lyell. The meeting, as he wrote, was "amusing and interesting, and very comfortable for frosty weather, as Mr. Murchison got warm and Mr. Greenau (sic) witty. The warmth, however, got the better of the wit."
The Meteorological Society also claimed his attention, and in this month he contributed a paper which "Richard [Fall] says will frighten them out of their meteorological wits, containing six close-written folio pages, and having, at its conclusion, a sting in its tail, the very agreeable announcement that it only commences the subject."
A LOVE-STORY (1836-1839)
Early in 1836 the quiet of Herne Hill was fluttered by a long-promised, long-postponed visit. Mr. Domecq at last brought his four younger daughters to make the acquaintance of their English friends. The eldest sister had lately been married to a Count Maison, heir to a peer of France; for Mr. Domecq, thanks in great measure to his partner's energy and talents, was prosperous and wealthy, and moved in the enchanted circles of Parisian society.
To a romantic schoolboy in a London suburb the apparition was dazzling. Any of the sisters would have charmed him, but the eldest of the four, Adele Clotilde, bewitched him at once with her graceful figure and that oval face which was so admired in those times. She was fair, too—another recommendation. He was on the brink of seventeen, at the ripe moment, and he fell passionately in love with her. She was only fifteen, and did not understand this adoration, unspoken and unexpressed except by intensified shyness; for he was a very shy boy in the drawing-room, though brimming over with life and fun among his schoolfellows. His mother's ideals of education did not include French gallantry; he felt at a loss before these Paris-bred, Paris-dressed young ladies, and encumbered by the very strength of his new-found passion.
And yet he possessed advantages, if he had known how to use them. He was tall and active, light and lithe in gesture, not a clumsy hobbledehoy. He had the face that caught the eye, in Rome a few years later, of Keats' Severn, no mean judge, surely, of faces and poet's faces. He was undeniably clever; he knew all about minerals and mountains; he was quite an artist, and a printed poet. But these things weigh little with a girl of fifteen who wants to be amused; and so she only laughed at John.
He tried to amuse her, but he tried too seriously. He wrote a story to read her, "Leoni, a Legend of Italy," for of course she understood enough English to be read to, no doubt to be wooed in, seeing her mother was English. The story was of brigands and true lovers, the thing that was popular in the romantic period. The costumery and mannerisms of the little romance are out of date now, and seem ridiculous, though Mr. Pringle and the public were pleased with it then, when it was printed in "Friendship's Offering." But the girl of fifteen only laughed the more.
When they left, he had no interest in his tour-book; even the mountains, for the time, had lost their power, and all his plans of great works were dropped for a new style of verse—the love-poems of 1836.
His father, from whom he kept nothing, approved the verses, and did not disapprove his views on the young lady. Indeed, it is quite plain, from the correspondence of the two gentlemen, that Mr. Domecq intended his friend and partner's son to become his own son-in-law. He had the greatest respect for the Ruskins, and every reason for desiring to link their fortunes still more closely with those of his own family. But to Mrs. Ruskin, with her religious feelings, it was intolerable, unbelievable, that the son whom she had brought up in the nurture and admonition of the strictest Protestantism should fix his heart on an alien in race and creed. The wonder is that their relations were not more strained; there are few young men who would have kept unbroken allegiance to a mother whose sympathy failed them at such a crisis.
As the year went on his passion seemed to grow in the absence of the beloved object. His only plan of winning her was to win his spurs first; but as what? Clearly his forte, it seemed, was in writing. If he could be a successful writer of romances, of songs, of plays, surely she would not refuse him. And so he began another romantic story, "Velasquez, the Novice," opening with the Monks of St. Bernard, among whom had been, so the tale ran, a mysterious member, whose papers, when discovered, made him out the hero of adventures in Venice. He began a play, which was to be another great work, "Marcolini." He had no playwright's eye for situations, but the conversation is animated, and the characters finely drawn, with more discrimination than one would expect from so young an author.
This work was interrupted at the end of Act III. by pressing calls to other studies. But it was not that he had forgotten Adele. From time to time he wrote verses to her or about her; and as in 1838 she was sent to school with her sisters at Newhall, near Chelmsford, to "finish" her in English, in that August he saw her again. She had lost some of her first girlish prettiness, but that made no difference. And when the Domecqs came to Herne Hill at Christmas, he was as deeply in love as ever. But she still laughed at him.
His father was fond of her, liked all the sisters, and thought much of them as girls of fine character, but he liked Adele best. He seems to have been fond of his partner, too, worked very hard in his interests, and behaved very well to his heirs afterwards through many years of responsible and difficult management of their business. And at this time, when he went down to the convent school in Essex, as he often did, he must have had opportunities for seeing how hopeless the case was. Mr. Domecq recognised it, too, but thought, it seems (they manage these things differently in France), that any of his daughters would do as well, and early in 1839 entertained an offer from Baron Duquesne, a rich and handsome young Frenchman. They kept this from John, fearing he would break down at the news, so fully did they recognise the importance of the affair. They even threw other girls in his way. It was not difficult, for by now he had made some mark in magazine literature, and was a steady, rising young man, with considerable expectations. But he could not think of any other girl.
In February or March, 1839, Mr. Domecq died. The Maisons came to England, and the marriage was proposed. Adele stayed at Chelmsford until September, when he wrote the long poem of "Farewell," dated the eve of their last meeting and parting.
At twenty young men do not die of love; but I find that a fortnight after writing this he was taken seriously ill. During the winter of 1839-40 the negotiations for the marriage in Paris went on. It took place in March. They kept the news from him as long as they could, for he was in the schools next Easter term, and Mr. Brown (his college tutor) had seemed to hope he would get a First, so his mother wrote to her husband. In May he was pronounced consumptive, and had to give up Oxford, and all hope of the distinction for which he had laboured, and with that any plans that might have been entertained for his distinction in the Church. And his parents' letters of the period put it beyond a doubt that this first great calamity of his life was the direct consequence of that unfortunate matchmaking.
For nearly two years he was dragged about from place to place, and from doctor to doctor, in search of health. Thanks partly to wise treatment, more to new faces, and most to a plucky determination to employ himself usefully with his pen and his pencil, he gradually freed himself from the spell, and fifty years afterwards could look back upon the story as a pretty comedy of his youthful days.
"KATA PHUSIN" (1837-1838)
Devoted as she was to her husband, Mrs. Ruskin felt bound to watch over her son at Oxford. It was his health she was always anxious about; doctoring was her forte. He had suffered from pleurisy; caught cold easily; was feared to be weak in the lungs; and nobody but his mother understood him. So taking Mary Richardson, she went up with him (January, 1837), and settled in lodgings at Adams' in the High. Her plan was to make no intrusion on his college life, but to require him to report himself every day to her. She would not be dull; she could drive about and see the country, and to that end took her own carriage to Oxford, the "fly" which had been set up two years before. John had been rather sarcastic about its genteel appearance. "No one," he said, "would sit down to draw the form of it." However, she and Mary drove to Oxford, and reckoned that it would only mean fifteen months' absence from home altogether, great part of which deserted papa would spend in travelling.
John went into residence in Peckwater. At first he spent every evening with his mother and went to bed, as Mr. Dale had told him, at ten. After a few days Professor Powell asked him to a musical evening; he excused himself, and explained why. The Professor asked to be introduced, whereupon says his mother, "I shall return the call, but make no visiting acquaintances."
The "early-to-bed" plan was also impracticable. It was not long before somebody came hammering at his "oak" just as he was getting to sleep, and next morning he told his mother that he really ought to have a glass of wine to give. So she sent him a couple of bottles over, and that very night "Mr. Liddell and Mr. Gaisford" (junior) turned up. "John was glad he had wine to offer, but they would not take any; they had come to see sketches. John says Mr. Liddell looked at them with the eye of a judge and the delight of an artist, and swore they were the best sketches he had ever seen. John accused him of quizzing, but he answered that he really thought them excellent." John said that it was the scenes which made the pictures; Mr. Liddell knew better, and spread the fame of them over the college. Next morning "Lord Emlyn and Lord Ward called to look at the sketches," and when the undergraduates had dropped in one after another, the Dean himself, even the terrible Gaisford, sent for the portfolio, and returned it with august approval.
Liddell, afterwards Dean of Christ Church; Newton, afterwards Sir Charles, of the British Museum; Acland, afterwards Sir Henry, the Professor of Medicine, thus became John Ruskin's friends: the first disputing with him on the burning question of Raphael's art, but from the outset an admirer of "Modern Painters," and always an advocate of its author; the second differing from him on the claims of Greek archaeology, but nevertheless a close acquaintance through many long years; and the third for half a century the best of friends and counsellors.
The dons of his college he was less likely to attract. Dr. Buckland, the famous geologist, and still more famous lecturer and talker, took notice of him and employed him in drawing diagrams for lectures. The Rev. Walter Brown, his college tutor, afterwards Rector of Wendlebury, won his good-will and remained his friend. His private tutor, the Rev. Osborne Gordon, was always regarded with affectionate respect. But the rest seem to have looked upon him as a somewhat desultory and erratic young genius, who might or might not turn out well. For their immediate purpose, the Schools, and Church or State preferment, he seemed hardly the fittest man.
The gentlemen-commoners of Christ Church were a puzzle to Mrs. Ruskin; noblemen of sporting tastes, who rode and betted and drank, and got their impositions written "by men attached to the University for the purpose, at 1s.6d. to 2s.6d., so you have only to reckon how much you will give to avoid chapel." And yet they were very nice fellows. If they began by riding on John's back round the quad, they did not give him the cold shoulder—quite the reverse. He was asked everywhere to wine; he beat them all at chess; and they invaded him at all hours. "It does little good sporting his oak," wrote his mother, describing how Lord Desart and Grimston climbed in through his window while he was hard at work. "They say midshipmen and Oxonians have more lives than a cat, and they have need of them if they run such risks."
Once, but once only, he was guilty, as an innocent freshman, of a breach of the laws of his order. He wrote too good an essay. He tells his father:
"OXFORD, February, 1837.
"Yesterday (Saturday) forenoon the Sub-dean sent for me, took me up into his study, sat down with me, and read over my essay, pointing out a few verbal alterations and suggesting improvements; I, of course, expressed myself highly grateful for his condescension. Going out, I met Strangeways. 'So you're going to read out to-day, Ruskin. Do go it at a good rate, my good fellow. Why do you write such devilish good ones?' Went a little farther and met March. 'Mind you stand on the top of the desk, Ruskin; gentlemen-commoners never stand on the steps.' I asked him whether it would look more dignified to stand head or heels uppermost. He advised heels. Then met Desart. 'We must have a grand supper after this, Ruskin; gentlemen-commoners always have a flare-up after reading their themes.' I told him I supposed he wanted to 'pison my rum-and-water.'"
And though they teased him unmercifully, he seems to have given as good as he got. At a big wine after the event, they asked him whether his essay cost 2s.6d. or 5s. What he answered is not reported; but they proceeded to make a bonfire in Peckwater, while he judiciously escaped to bed.
So for a home-bred boy, thrown into rather difficult surroundings, his first appearance at Christ Church was distinctly a success. "Collections" in March, 1837, went off creditably for him. Hussey, Kynaston and the Dean said he had taken great pains with his work, and had been a pattern of regularity; and he ended his first term very well pleased with his college and with himself.
In his second term he had the honour of being elected to the Christ Church Club, a very small and very exclusive society of the best men in the college: "Simeon, Acland, and Mr. Denison proposed him; Lord Carew and Broadhurst supported." And he had the opportunity of meeting men of mark, as the following letter recounts. He writes on April 22, 1837:
"My Dearest Father,
"When I returned from hall yesterday—where a servitor read, or pretended to read, and Decanus growled at him, 'Speak out!'—I found a note on my table from Dr. Buckland, requesting the pleasure of my company to dinner, at six, to meet two celebrated geologists, Lord Cole and Sir Philip Egerton. I immediately sent a note of thanks and acceptance, dressed, and was there a minute after the last stroke of Tom. Alone for five minutes in Dr. B.'s drawing-room, who soon afterwards came in with Lord Cole, introduced me, and said that as we were both geologists he did not hesitate to leave us together while he did what he certainly very much required—brushed up a little. Lord Cole and I were talking about some fossils newly arrived from India. He remarked in the course of conversation that his friend Dr. B.'s room was cleaner and in better order than he remembered ever to have seen it. There was not a chair fit to sit upon, all covered with dust, broken alabaster candlesticks, withered flower-leaves, frogs cut out of serpentine, broken models of fallen temples, torn papers, old manuscripts, stuffed reptiles, deal boxes, brown paper, wool, tow and cotton, and a considerable variety of other articles. In came Mrs. Buckland, then Sir Philip Egerton and his brother, whom I had seen at Dr. B.'s lecture, though he is not an undergraduate. I was talking to him till dinner-time. While we were sitting over our wine after dinner, in came Dr. Daubeny, one of the most celebrated geologists of the day—a curious little animal, looking through its spectacles with an air very distinguee—and Mr. Darwin, whom I had heard read a paper at the Geological Society. He and I got together, and talked all the evening."
The long vacation of 1837 was passed in a tour through the North, during which his advanced knowledge of art was shown in a series of admirable drawings. Their subjects are chiefly architectural, though a few mountain drawings are found in his sketch-book for that summer.
The interest in ancient and picturesque buildings was no new thing, and it seems to have been the branch of art-study which was chiefly encouraged by his father. During this tour among Cumberland cottages and Yorkshire abbeys, a plan was formed for a series of papers on architecture, perhaps in answer to an invitation from his friend Mr. Loudon, who had started an architectural magazine. In the summer he began to write "The Poetry of Architecture; or, The Architecture of the Nations of Europe considered in its Association with Natural Scenery and National Character," and the papers were worked off month by month from Oxford, or wherever he might be, only terminating with the termination of the magazine in January, 1839. They parade a good deal of classical learning and travelled experience; readers of the magazine took their author for some dilettante Don at Oxford. The editor did not wish the illusion to be dispelled, so John Ruskin had to choose a nom de plume. He called himself "Kata Phusin" ("according to nature"), for he had begun to read some Aristotle. No phrase would have better expressed his point of view, that of commonsense extended by experience, and confirmed by the appeal to matters of fact, rather than to any authority, or tradition, or committee of taste, or abstract principles.
While these papers were in process of publication "Kata Phusin" plunged into his first controversy, as an opponent of "Parsey's Convergence of Perpendiculars," according to which vertical lines should have a vanishing point, even though they are assumed to be parallel to the plane of the picture.
During this controversy, and just before the summer tour of 1838 to Scotland, John Ruskin was introduced to Miss Charlotte Withers, a young lady who was as fond of music as he was of drawing. They discussed their favourite studies with eagerness, and, to settle the matter, he wrote a long essay on "The Comparative Advantages of the Studies of Music and Painting," in which he set painting as a means of recreation and of education far above music.
Already at nineteen, then, we see him a writer on art, not full-fledged, but attracting some notice. Towards the end of 1838 a question arose as to the best site for the proposed Scott memorial at Edinburgh, and a writer in the Architectural Magazine quoted "Kata Phusin" as the authority in such matters, saying that it was obvious, after those papers of his, that design and site should be simultaneously considered; on which the editor "begs the favour of 'Kata Phusin' to let our readers have his opinion on the subject, which we certainly think of considerable importance."
So he discussed the question of monuments in general, and of this one in particular, in a long paper, coming to no very decided opinion, but preferring, on the whole, a statue group with a colossal Scott on a rough pedestal, to be placed on Salisbury Crags, "where the range gets low and broken towards the north at about the height of St. Anthony's Chapel." His paper did not influence the Edinburgh Committee, but it was not without effect, as the following extract shows.
"BAYSWATER, November 30, 1838.
"DEAR SIR,—... Your son is certainly the greatest natural genius that ever it has been my fortune to become acquainted with, and I cannot but feel proud to think that at some future period, when both you and I are under the turf, it will be stated in the literary history of your son's life that the first article of his which was published was in London's Magazine of Natural History.—Yours very sincerely,
SIR ROGER NEWDIGATE'S PRIZE (1837-1839)
Of all the prizes which Oxford could bestow, the Newdigate used to be the most popular. Its fortunate winner was an admitted poet in an age when poetry was read, and he appeared in his glory at Commemoration, speaking what the ladies could understand and admire. The honour was attainable without skill in Greek particles or in logarithms; and yet it had a real value to an intending preacher, for the successful reciter might be felt to have put his foot on the pulpit stairs. John Ruskin was definitely meant for the Church, and he went to Oxford in the avowed hope of getting the Newdigate, if nothing else. His last talk with Mr. Dale was chiefly about ways and means to this end; and before he went up he had begun "The Gipsies" for March, 1837.
The prize was won that year by Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, afterwards Dean of Westminster. Our candidate and his old schoolfellow, Henry Dart, of Exeter College, set to work on the next subject, "The Exile of St. Helena," and after the long vacation read their work to each other, accepting the hints and corrections of a friendly rivalry.
Meantime his old nurse Anne (it is trivial, but a touch of nature), being at Oxford in attendance on the ladies, and keen, as she always was, for Master John's success, heard from the keeper of the Reading-room of criticisms on his published verses. She brought the news to his delighted mother. "He was pleased," she writes, "but says that he forms his own estimate of his poems, and reviews don't alter it; but 'How my father will be delighted! How he will crow!'" Which historiette repeated itself many a time in the family annals.
In Lent term, 1838, he was hard at work on the new poem. He wrote:
"I must give an immense time every day to the Newdigate, which I must have, if study will get it. I have much to revise. You find many faults, but there are hundreds which have escaped your notice, and many lines must go out altogether which you and I should wish to stay in. The thing must be remodelled, and I must finish it while it has a freshness on it, otherwise it will not be written well. The old lines are hackneyed in my ears, even as a very soft Orleans plum, which your Jewess has wiped and re-wiped with the corner of her apron, till its polish is perfect, and its temperature elevated."
In this March he got through his "Smalls."
"Nice thing to get over; quite a joke, as everybody says when they've got through with the feathers on. It's a kind of emancipation from freshness—a thing unpleasant in an egg, but dignified in an Oxonian—very. Lowe very kind; Kynaston ditto—nice fellows—urbane. How they do frighten people! There was one man all but crying with mere fear. Kynaston had to coax him like a child. Poor fellow! he had some reason to be afraid; did his logic shockingly. People always take up logic because they fancy it doesn't require a good memory, and there is nothing half so productive of pluck; they never know it. I was very cool when I got into it; found the degree of excitement agreeable; nibbled the end of my pen and grinned at Kynaston over the table as if I had been going to pluck him. They always smile when they mean pluck."
The Newdigate for 1838, for all his care and pains, was won by Dart. He was, at any rate, beaten by a friend, and with a poem which his own honourable sympathy and assistance had helped to perfect.
Another trifling incident lets us get a glimpse of the family life of our young poet. The Queen's coronation in June, 1838, was a great event to all the world, and Mr. Ruskin was anxious for his son to see it. Much correspondence ensued between the parents, arranging everything for him, as they always did—which of the available tickets should be accepted, and whether he could stand the fatigue of the long waiting, and so forth. Mrs. Ruskin did not like the notion of her boy sitting perched on rickety scaffolding at dizzy altitudes in the Abbey. Mr. Ruskin, evidently determined to carry his point, went to Westminster, bribed the carpenters, climbed the structure, and reported all safe to stand a century, "though," said he, "the gold and scarlet of the decorations appeared very paltry compared with the Wengern Alp." But he could not find No. 447, and wrote to the Heralds' Office to know if it was a place from which a good view could be got. Blue-mantle replied that it was a very good place, and Lord Brownlow had just taken tickets for his sons close by. Then there was the great question of dress. He went to Owen's and ordered a white satin waistcoat with gold sprigs, and a high dress-coat with bright buttons, and asked his wife to see about white gloves at Oxford—a Court white neck-cloth or a black satin would do.
Picture, then, the young Ruskin in those dressy days. A portrait was once sent to Brantwood of a dandy in a green coat of wonderful cut, supposed to represent him in his youth, but suggesting Lord Lytton's "Pelham" rather than the homespun-suited seer of Coniston. "Did you ever wear a coat like that?" I asked. "I'm not so sure that I didn't," said he.
After that, they went to Scotland and the North of England for the summer, and more fine sketches were made, some of which hang now in his drawing-room, and compare not unfavourably with the Prouts beside them. In firmness of line and fulness of insight they are masterly, and mark a rapid progress, all the more astonishing when it is recollected how little time could have been spared for practice. The subjects are chiefly architectural—castles and churches and Gothic details—and one is not surprised to find him soon concerned with the Oxford Society for Promoting the Study of Gothic Architecture. "They were all reverends," says a letter of the time, "and wanted somebody to rouse them."