Letters of John Ruskin


IN October, 1855, I was on the way to Europe. One of my fellow passengers was Mr. James Jackson Jarves of Boston, then well known as a writer upon art and as the owner of a highly interesting collection of pictures made by him during a residence of several years in Italy. He was acquainted with Mr. Ruskin, and kindly offered me a letter of introduction to him. I declined a letter that should make any personal claim, but gratefully accepted a note asking Mr. Ruskin to allow me at his convenience the privilege of seeing the pictures and drawings by Turner which might be open to inspection on his walls. On my arrival in London I inclosed this note to Mr. Ruskin, and received the following gracious reply : —

DENMARK HILL, 31 October, 1855.
MY DEAR SIR, — On Friday, Monday or Tuesday next, I should be most happy to see you at any hour after one, and before four. I do not know what work I may have to do, and I may not be able to have more than a little chat. But the pictures should be at your command.
Very truly yours,

When, in accordance with this note, I went to Denmark Hill, he received me with unaffected kindliness, as if eager to give pleasure, took me through dining-room and drawing-room, and upstairs into his workroom, to show me his pictures, talking about them with lively animation, and when I thanked him in taking my leave, he assured me that I should be welcome to repeat my visit. He had not given to me (I doubt if he gave it to any one) any indication of his sense of " the infinite waste of time,” noted in his Præterita, “in saying the same things over and over to the people who came to see our Turners.”

He was at this time thirty-six years old. The second volume of Modern Painters had been published ten years before ; he had meanwhile published the Seven Lamps of Architecture and the Stones of Venice, and he was busy this year in writing the third and fourth volumes of Modern Painters. His abundant lightbrown hair, his blue eyes, and his fresh complexion gave him a young look for his age ; he was a little above middle height, his figure was slight, his movements were quick and alert, and his whole air and manner had a definite and attractive individuality. There was nothing in him of the common English reserve and stiffness, and no self-consciousness or sign of consideration of himself as a man of distinction, but rather, on the contrary, a seeming self-forgetfulness and an almost feminine sensitiveness and readiness of sympathy. His features were irregular, but the lack of beauty in his countenance was made up for by the kindness of his look, and the expressiveness of his full and mobile lips.

I did not expect to see Mr. Ruskin again, but it happened on a beautiful morning in the next July that we met in the cabin of the steamer going down the Lake of Geneva from Vevay to Geneva. Ruskin was there, reading aloud, but in a low tone, to his mother, one of Marmontel’s tales. My mother and two sisters were with me. He glanced at us, but I saw that he did not recognize me. In a pause of his reading I ventured to recall myself to his memory. He begged my pardon pleasantly for having failed to recognize me, and then we fell into conversation which lasted till we reached Geneva. When we parted at the quay it was with a promise that I would come in the evening to see him and his parents. Ruskin has recorded this meeting in Præterita, with a friendly exaggeration which is thoroughly characteristic of his generous disposition to exalt the merits of his friends, and of his instinctive habit, manifest as well in personal relations as in his writings, of magnifying the interest, the importance, or the charm of whatever might for the moment engage his attention and regard.2

In the evening I carried with me a volume of the poems of Lowell, concerning whom we had spoken, and I left the volume with him. He was going on the next day to Chamouni. In the morning I received the following note from him : —

[GENEVA, 18 July, 1856.]
I am truly obliged to you for showing me this book. Lowell must be a noble fellow. The Fable for Critics in animal spirit and fervor is almost beyond anything I know, and it is very interesting to see, in the rest, the stern seriousness of a man so little soured — so fresh and young at heart.
I hope you have enjoyed yourselves. Can you send me a line to Union Hotel, Chamouni, to say you have ?
Pray come to see me if you can before leaving England.
Truly yours,

Two or three days later we met again, at the little inn 3 at St. Martin. He has told of our early morning walk.4 The friendship had begun which was to last till the end of life.

In the autumn, my mother and sisters having returned to America, I was in London, staying at Fenton’s Hotel in St. James’s Street, much out of health. I had promised to let Ruskin know of my coming to London, and on hearing of it, he at once came to see me, and while I remained there, few days passed in which he did not send me a note like the following, or come to my parlor, laden with books and drawings for my amusement, or carry me off in his brougham for an hour or two at Denmark Hill.

Saturday Morning [October, 1856].
DEAR MR. NORTON, — In case I don’t find you to-day (and I can’t be at home this afternoon), could you dine with us to-morrow at ½ past four — or if not able to do that, come in at any hour you like to tea in the evening ?
Yours affectionately,

Of course you will only find my father and mother and me, and perhaps an old family friend.

DENMARK HILL [October, 1856].
DEAR NORTON, — Most unwillingly I am forced — I ’ll tell you how when we meet —to give up my walk this afternoon, but I ’ll come and take tea with you at eight if I may.
Ever affectionately yours,
J. R.

Wednesday, 28th [October, 1856].
DEAR NORTON, — I do hope you have faith enough in me to understand how much I am vexed at not being able to come and see you. Of course I could run upstairs and down again at Fenton’s sometimes, but what would be the use of that. Could you come out to see me tomorrow, Thursday, about ½ past two; if not, I can come into town on Friday, about two.
Please, if you can’t come to-morrow, send me a line to say if you can be at home on Friday.
Yours affectionately,

Denmark Hill is on the Surrey side of the Thames, in the Camberwell district of London, and in those days had a pleasant suburban character. The house in which Ruskin lived with his father and mother stood not far from the top of the hill, walled from the street, and set back in grounds of its own of some six or seven acres, with space enough for old trees and large gardens, and with a meadow, rather than lawn, behind it, over which, so open was the region then, lay a pleasant vista toward the east. There was a lodge at the gate, from which a short avenue led to the house. The house itself was of brick, ample, solid, of no architectural pretensions, but not without a modest suburban and somewhat heavy dignity of aspect which gave the assurance of a home of comfort and of tranquil ease. “ The house itself,” says Mr. Ruskin, “ had no specialty, either of comfort or inconvenience, to endear it; the breakfast-room, opening on the lawn and the farther field, was extremely pretty when its walls were mostly covered with lakes by Turner and doves by William Hunt ; the dining and drawingrooms were spacious enough for our grandest receptions . . . and had decoration enough in our Northcote portraits, Turner’s Slave-ship and, in later years, his Rialto, with our John Lewis, two Copley Fieldings, and every now and then a new Turner drawing.” 5

Ruskin’s father and mother received me at Denmark Hill, as their son’s new acquaintance, with unquestioning kindness. Of both of them Ruskin has written much in delightful pages of Fors and of Præterita.

His father was now a man of seventy years of age, looking perhaps younger than his years, somewhat reserved in manner, of rugged Scotch features, but of refined and pleasant expression. His mother, some years older, was plainly the ruling influence in their domestic life. She was a personage who seemed rather a contemporary of Miss Austen’s characters than of the actual generation. Her air was that of one accustomed to deference from those about her. Her eyes were keen, and her speech decisive. She was one of those English matrons, now become rare, of an individuality independent of changes in fashion and convention, not bending to others, but expecting others to accept her ways and adapt themselves to them. Her image, as I recall it, was that of a vigorous old lady of somewhat commanding aspect, whose dress betokened her feminine taste for softcolored silks, for abundance of old lace, and for the heavy ornaments of English jewelry. The manners toward her of her husband and son were always deferential, though her son ventured occasionally to be playful with her with a lively humor which occasionally ruffled her, but which, on the whole, she did not dislike. Her regard for him seemed to be still that of a watchful mother for a child who, though he has escaped her control in matters outside of an immediate personal relation, has not yet reached the years of discretion. There was less intimacy of sympathy between them than between Ruskin and his father. But even with his father, sympathies were limited on both sides, not so much by incompatibilities of taste and judgment, for in many respects these were much alike in both, as by the peculiar manner in which Ruskin had been brought up and been taught to regard his parents, and by the separation wrought by the position in the world which his genius had created for him. The feeling of his parents for him was a compound of pride with affection, and his feeling for them was one in which the sense of duty, reverence, and obedience was perhaps a larger element than natural affection.

In describing his early years, he says : 6 “I had nothing to love. My parents were — in a sort —visible powers of nature to me, no more loved than the sun and the moon. ... I had no companions to quarrel with, neither; nobody to assist, and nobody to thank. . . . I had nothing to endure. . . . Lastly, and chief of evils, my judgment of right and wrong and powers of independent action were left entirely undeveloped ; because the bridle and blinkers were never taken off me. . . . The ceaseless authority exercised over my youth left me, when cast out at last into the world, unable for some time to do more than drift with its vortices.”

The results of these conditions were all the more disastrous because of the exceptional sensitiveness of his nature, his extreme susceptibility to immediate impressions, the affectionateness and generosity of his disposition, and the peculiar constitution of his genius. No child ever needed more a discipline which should develop his power of self-control, and no child ever was more trained to depend on external authority. This authority he was taught to obey without question, but the lesson of self-restraint was omitted. before this time, he said of himself, “ I am exceedingly fond of making people happy,” and of this I soon had full experience. He was unwearied in his kindnesses and generosities. But in the same letter he said : “ It is a very great, in the long-run the greatest, misfortune of my life that, on the whole, my relations, cousins and so forth, are persons with whom I can have no sympathy, and that circumstances have always somehow or another kept me out of the way of people of whom I could have made friends. So that I have no friendships and no loves.”7 The barrenness of his life in this respect, and the greatness of the misfortune to him, soon became plain to me. Of all men he needed friends, and in their place he had admirers and dependents. The manner of his education, his genius, and his early acquired celebrity had all contributed to prevent him in his youth from associating on even terms with his fellows, while the circumstances and occupations of his life since leaving Oxford had tended to limit his intercourse with the world. He had little knowledge of men, little keenness of discernment of character, and little practical acquaintance with affairs. Experience had not taught him the lesson, which it compels the common run of men to learn, of reconciling into a general if imperfect harmony the conflicting traits of his own disposition ; and he consequently often was, and still oftener seemed, inconsistent in conduct and in conviction. From his earliest childhood he had been unhappily trained to selfoccupation and self-interest, and with a nature of extreme generosity and capable of self-forgetful sacrifice, the gratification of his generous impulses became often a form of self-indulgence.

It was, of course, only gradually and slowly that I came to a knowledge of the peculiar influences by which his life had been shaped and his character formed. When I first knew him, he had a most engaging personality. He was in the very heyday of distinction. But his reputation sat lightly on him; his manners were marked by absence of all pretension, and by a sweet gentleness and exceptional consideration for the feelings of others. The tone of dogmatism and of arbitrary assertion too often manifest in his writing was entirely absent from his talk. In spite of all that he had gone through of suffering, in spite of the burden of his thought, and the weight of his renown, he had often an almost boyish gayety of spirit and liveliness of humor, and always a quick interest in whatever might be the subject of the moment. He never quarreled with a difference of opinion, and was apt to attribute only too much value to a judgment that did not coincide with his own. I have not a memory of these days in which I recall him except as one of the pleasantest, gentlest, kindest, and most interesting of men. He seemed to me cheerful rather than happy. The deepest currents of his life ran out of sight, but it was plain that they did not run calmly, and their troubled course became manifest now and then in extravagances of action and paradoxes of opinion.

In a letter to Rossetti written not long

Ruskin’s father, as one saw him at his own house, had not much of the air of a man of business, but rather that of a cultivated English gentleman, with an excellent acquaintance with the masters of English literature and a genuine fondness for them, and with unusual interest and taste in matters pertaining to the arts. He was an agreeable host, unaffected and considerate in manner, and well able to bear his part in good talk. The intimate friend of the house, and the one most often found at the modest dinners, to which three or four guests might be invited, was Mr. W. H. Harrison, of whom Ruskin has given a genial sketch in an autobiographical reminiscence called My First Editor.8 He had, indeed, good reason for gratitude to this mild, goodhumored, secondary man of letters, editor of Friendship’s Offering and the like, and for many years registrar of the Literary Fund. Mr. Harrison had practical sense and kindly discretion, he was skilled in the technical elements of literature, and he devoted unwearied pains to the revision of his friend’s hasty literary work. “Not a book of mine for good thirty years,” wrote Ruskin, “ but went every word of it under his careful eyes twice over.” “ The friendship between Mr. Harrison, my father, and mother and me attained almost the character of a family relationship which remained faithful and loving, more and more conducive to every sort of happiness among us, to the day of my father’s death.”

One evening at dinner, when the cloth was drawn, Mr. Ruskin, senior, in special honor of the occasion, had set before him a decanter of sherry from the cask which had been on board the Victory for Nelson’s use in the last months of his life. Mr. Ruskin was always proud of his sherry, but this wine, of supreme excellence in itself, not only pleased his fine palate, but touched his romantic fancy. It had been ripened on a fateful voyage, it had rocked to the thunder of the guns of Trafalgar, a glass of it might have moistened Nelson’s dying lips. The old wine-merchant’s appreciation of the associations which it evoked was a pleasant exhibition of his suppressed poetic sensibilities. The talk suggested by the wine ran back to the early years of the century, and the two elder men recalled some of the incidents of the time when they were youths beginning their way in London, and especially of its literary interests. Both of them had been members of the scanty audience which had gathered in the winter of 1811-12 in a big ugly room, in a court off Fleet Street, to listen to Coleridge’s lectures on Shakespeare and Milton. Mr. J. P. Collier’s reports of these lectures had just been published, and Mr. Harrison was able to set right from memory Collier’s account of Coleridge’s classification of readers.9

They both had been greatly interested in the lectures, and had found in them a general intellectual stimulus of a high order, as well as specific criticisms which they had learned to value as years went on. Ruskin thought Coleridge had been vastly overrated as a philosopher, and that his best poems were feverish. Another topic of the after-dinner talk was Emerson’s English Traits, which was then a new book. All praised it. “ How did he come to find out so much about us ? ” said the elder Mr. Ruskin, “ especially as regards matters on which we keep quiet and reserved among ourselves.” That was the voice of the generation to which Mr. Ruskin belonged. His son, speaking for himself and for his generation, would hardly have used the like terms. One of the great changes in England during the nineteenth century was the breaking down of many of the old style walls within which the shy Englishman was wont to entrench himself, and no English writer ever opened himself and his life to the public with more complete and indiscreet unreserve than Ruskin. His father would have been horrified could he in the days of which I am writing have foreseen the revelations of Fors and Præterita. They do, indeed, form a contrast which is both humorous and pathetic to the close reserves of Denmark Hill, and to the strict Anglican conventions, at their best so pleasant and so worthy of respect, in accordance to which life there was conducted.

The difference in age between Ruskin and myself (I was nine years the younger), no less than other greater differences between us, which might well have prevented our intercourse from becoming anything more than a passing acquaintance, seemed not to present themselves to Ruskin’s mind. His kindness had its roots in the essential sweetness of his nature. Everything in life had conspired to spoil him. He was often willful and wayward and extravagant, but the better elements of his being prevailed over those which, to his harm, were to gain power when he was released from the controlling influence of his father’s good sense and his mother’s authority. The extraordinary keenness of his perceptions of external things, the vivacity of his intelligence, the ardor of his temperament, the immense variety of his interests and occupations, and the restless energy and industry with which he pursued them, made him one of the most interesting of men. And combined as they were with deep poetic and deeper moral sentiment, as well as with a native desire to give pleasure, they gave to intercourse with him a charm which increased as acquaintance grew into affectionate friendship. His mind was, indeed, at this time in a state of ferment. He was still mainly busy with those topics of art and nature to which his writings had hitherto been devoted. But his work in that field had led him into other regions of inquiry, which stretched wide and dark before him, through which no clear paths were visible, and into which he was entering not without hope of opening a way. Henceforth his chief mission was that, not of the guide in matters of art, but of the social reformer. And it was at the moment — a moment of perplexity and trouble — when he was becoming conscious of the new direction to be given to his life that our acquaintance began.

When, after a month in which our relations grew constantly more familiar, and in our long talks he had instructed me in many things, I left England to spend the winter of 1856-57 in Rome, I felt myself already under a lifelong debt of gratitude to him. His first letter to me after my departure was the following : —

[LONDON] 28th December, 1856.
DEAR NORTON, — Railways are good for letters, assuredly ; it seems very wonderful, and is very pleasant, to hear from you in Rome only a week ago ; for I got your letter yesterday, and should have had it the day before, but that I was staying in town for a few days. And I hope the enjoyment of that damp and discordant city; and that desolate and diseaseful Campagna, of which your letter assures me, may be received as a proof of your own improved health, and brightness of heart and imagination.
I think, perhaps, I abuse Rome more because it is as sour grapes to me. When I was there 10 I was a sickly and very ignorant youth; and I should be very glad, now, if I could revisit what I passed in weariness or contempt; and I do envy you (sitting as I am just now in the Great Western hotel at Paddington, looking out upon a large number of panes of gray glass, some iron spikes, and a brick wall) that walk in sight of Sabine hills. Still, reasoning with myself in the severest way, and checking whatever malice against the things I have injured, or envy of you, there may be in the feelings with which I now think of Rome, these appear to me incontrovertible and accurate conclusions, — that the streets are damp and mouldy where they are not burning ; that the modern architecture is fit only to put on a Twelfth cake in sugar (e. g. the churches at the Quattro Fontane) ; that the old architecture consists chiefly of heaps of tufo and bricks; that the Tiber is muddy ; that the Fountains are Fantastic; that the Castle of St. Angelo is too round ; that the Capitol is too square ; that St. Peter’s is too big ; that all the other churches are too little ; that the Jews’ quarter is uncomfortable ; that the English quarter is unpicturesque; that Michael Angelo’s Moses is a monster; that his Last Judgment is a mistake ; that Raphael’s Transfiguration is a failure; that the Apollo Belvidere is a public nuisance; that the bills are high; the malaria strong; the dissipation shameful; the bad company numerous ; the Sirocco depressing; the Tramontana chilling ; the Levante parching ; the Ponente pelting; the ground unsafe; the politics perilous, and the religion pernicious. I do think, that in all candour and reflective charity, I may assert this much.
Still, I can quite understand how, coming from a fresh, pure and very ugly country like America, there may be a kind of thirst upon you for ruins and shadows which nothing can easily assuage ; that after the scraped cleanliness and business and fussiness of it (America), mildew and mould may be meat and drink to you, and languor the best sort of life, and weeds a bewitchment (I mean the unnatural sort of weed that only grows on old bricks and mortar and out of cracks in mosaic; all the Campagna used to look to me as if its grass were grown over a floor) ; and the very sense of despair which there is about Rome must be helpful and balmy, after the over-hopefulness and getting-on-ness of America ; and the very sense that nobody about you is taking account of anything, but that all is going on into an unspelt, unsummed, undistinguished heap of helplessness, must be a relief to you, coming out of that atmosphere of Calculation. I can’t otherwise account for your staying at Rome.
You may wonder at my impertinence in calling America an ugly country. But I have just been seeing a number of landscapes by an American painter of some repute; and the ugliness of them is Wonderful. I see that they are true studies, and that the ugliness of the country must be Unfathomable. And a young American lady has been drawing under my directions in Wales this summer, and when she came back I was entirely silenced and paralyzed by the sense of a sort of helplessness in her that I could n’t get at; an entire want of perception of what an English painter would mean by beauty or interest in a subject; her eyes had been so accustomed to ugliness that she caught at it wherever she could find it, and in the midst of beautiful stony cottages and rugged rocks and wild foliage, would take this kind of thing11 for her main subject; or, if she had to draw a mountain pass, she would select this turn in the road,12 just where the liberally-minded proprietor had recently mended it and put a new plantation on the hill opposite.
In her, the contrary instinct of deliverance is not yet awake, and I don’t know how to awake it. In you, it is in its fullest energy, and so you like weeds, and the old, tumbled-to-pieces things at Rome. . . .
I shall be writing again soon, as I shall have to tell you either the positive or negative result of some correspondence which the Trustees of the National Gallery have done me the honour to open with me (of their own accord) which, for the present, has arrived at a turn in the Circumlocution road, much resembling in its promising aspect that delineated above, — but which may nevertheless lead to something, and whether it does or not, I accept with too much pleasure the friendship you give me, not to tell you what is uppermost in my own mind and plans at the moment, even though it should come to nothing (and lest it should, as is too probable, don’t speak of it to any one). Meantime I am writing some notes on the Turner pictures already exhibited, of which I shall carefully keep a copy for you; I think they will amuse you, and I have got a copy of the first notes on the Academy, which you asked me for, and which I duly looked for, but could n’t find to my much surprise; the copy I have got is second-hand. You have n’t, of course, read Mrs. Browning’s Aurora Leigh, or you would have spoken in your letter of nothing else. I only speak of it at the end of my letter, not to allow myself time to tell you anything about it except to get it; and to get it while you are still in Italy.
This will not reach you in time for the New Year, but it will, I hope, before Twelfth day; not too late to wish you all happiness and good leading by kindliest stars, in the year that is opening. My Father and Mother send their sincerest regards to you, and do not cease to congratulate me on having gained such a friend. Believe me,
Affectionately yours,

You never saw your vignette13 framed ; it looks lovely.

After the winter in Rome I went to Venice, and there received the following letter: —

[Undated, but May, 1857.]
DEAR NORTON,14 — Very good it is of you to write to me again; and to think of me before the snowy mountains, in spite of my unsympathizing answer to your first letter, and my no answer to your second ; which, nevertheless, I was grateful for. And so you are going to Venice, and this letter will, I hope, be read by you by the little square sliding pane of the gondola window. For I hope you hold to the true Gondola, with Black Felze, eschewing all French and English substitutions of pleasure-boat and awning. I have no doubt, one day, that the gondolas will be white instead of black, at the rate they carry on their reforms at Venice.
I went through so much hard-dry, mechanical toil there, that I quite lost, before I left it, the charm of the place. Analysis is an abominable business; I am quite sure that people who work out subjects thoroughly are disagreeable wretches. One only feels as one should when one does n’t know much about the matter. If I could give you, for a few minutes, just as you are floating up the canal just now, the kind of feeling I had when I had just done my work, when Venice presented itself to me merely as so many “mouldings, " and I had few associations with any building but those of more or less pain and puzzle and provocation. Pain of frost-bitten fingers and chilled throat as I examined or drew the window - sills in the wintry air; puzzlement from said window-sills which did n’t agree with the doorsteps — or back of house, which would n’t agree with front; and provocation, from every sort of soul or thing in Venice at once; from my gondoliers, who were always wanting to go home, and thought it stupid to be tied to a post in the Grand Canal all day long, and disagreeable to have to row to Lido afterwards; from my cook, who was always trying to catch lobsters on the doorsteps, and never caught any; from my valet de place, who was always taking me to see nothing; and waiting by appointment — at the wrong place ; from my English servant, whom I caught smoking genteelly on St. Mark’s Place, and expected to bring home to his mother quite an abandoned character; from my tame fish, who splashed the water all over my room, and spoiled my drawings ; from my little sea-horses, who would n’t coil their tails about sticks when I asked them; from a fisherman outside my window, who used to pound his crabs alive for bait every morning just when I wanted to study morning light on the Madonna della Salute; from the sacristans of all the churches, who used never to be at home when I wanted them ; from the bells of all the churches, which used always to ring most when I was at work in the steeples ; from the tides, which never were up, or down, at the hour they ought to have been; from the wind, which used to blow my sketches into the canal, and one day blew my gondolier after them; from the rain, which came through the roof of the Scuola di San Rocco ; from the sun, which blistered Tintoret’s Bacchus and Ariadne every afternoon, at the Ducal palace, — and from the Ducal palace itself, worst of all, which would n’t be found out, nor tell me how it was built (I believe this sentence had a beginning somewhere, which wants an end some other where, but I have n’t any end for it, so it must go as it is;) but apropos of fish, mind you get a fisherman to bring you two or three cavalli di mare, and put them in a basin in your room, and see them swim. But don’t keep them more than a day, or they ’ll die ; put them into the canal again.
There was only one place in Venice which I never lost the feeling of joy in ; at least the pleasure which is better than joy ; and that was just halfway between the end of the Giudecca and St. George of the Seaweed at sunset. If you tie your boat to one of the posts there, you can see at once the Euganeans, where the sun goes down, and all the Alps, and Venice behind you by this rosy sunlight; there is no other spot so beautiful. Near the Armenian convent is however very good also ; the city is handsomer, but the place is not so simple and lonely.
I have got all the right feeling back, now, however; and hope to write a word or two about Venice yet, when I have got the mouldings well out of my head — and the mud; for the fact is, with reverence be it spoken, that whereas Rogers says, “ there is a glorious city in the Sea,” a truthful person must say, “ There is a glorious city in the Mud.” It is startling at first to say so, but it goes well enough with marble — “ Oh Queen, of marble and of Mud.”
Well, I suppose that you will look at my Venetian index in the Stones of Venice, which is in St. Mark’s library, so that I need not tell you what pictures I should like you to see, — so now I will tell you a little about myself here. First, I am not quite sure I shall be at home at the middle of June — but I shall not be on the Continent. You will, of course, see the exhibition of Manchester, and if not at home, I shall be somewhere in the North, and my father and mother will certainly be at home and know where I am, in case we could plan a meeting. And I shall leave your vignette in my father’s care. Secondly, you will be glad to hear that the National Gallery people have entrusted me to frame a hundred Turners at their expense in my own way ; leaving it wholly in my hands. This has given me much thought, for had I done the thing at my own cost, I could have mended it afterward if it had gone wrong in any way ; but now I must, if possible, get it all perfect at first, or the Trustees won’t be pleased. It will all be done by the time you come. Thirdly, I have been very well all the winter, and have not overworked in any way, and I am angry with you for not saying how you are. Fourthly, my drawingschool goes on nicely, and the Marlborough House people are fraternizing with me. Fifthly, I have written a nice little book for beginners in drawing, which I intend to be mightily useful; and so that is all my news about myself, but I hope to tell you more, and hear a great deal more when you come.
My father and mother beg their sincere regards to you. Mine, if you please, to your mother and sisters when you write.
Please write me a line from Venice, if you are not, as I used to be, out so late in St. Mark’s Place or on the lagoons, that you can’t do anything when you come in. I used to be very fond of night rowings between Venice and Murano — and then the crossing back through the town at midnight — we used to come out always at the Bridge of Sighs, because I lived either at Danieli’s or at a house nearly opposite the Church of the Salute.
Well, good-bye, I can’t write more tonight, though I want to. Ever, my dear Norton, affectionately yours,

Monday morning. I was half asleep when I wrote that last page, or I would n’t have said anything about night excursions, which are n’t good for you. Go to bed. Moonlight’s quite a mistake ; it is nothing when you are used to it. The moon is really very like a silver salver, no, — more like a plated one half worn out and coppery at the edges. It is of no use to sit up to see that.

If you know Mr. Brown, please give him my kind love ; and say I shall have written to him by the time you get this.

Mind you leave yourself time enough for Verona. People always give too little time to Verona; it is my dearest place in Italy. If you are vindictive, and want to take vengeance on me for despising Rome, write me a letter of abuse of Verona. But be sure to do it before you have seen it; you can’t afterwards. You have seen it, I believe, but give it time and quiet walks, now.

The evening school referred to in the preceding letter was that which Ruskin had now for three years conducted at the Workingmen’s College in Great Ormond Street. This college was founded by Frederick Denison Maurice, with the aid of such men as Dr. Furnivall, Tom Hughes, and Charles Kingsley, with the intention of offering “ to workingmen and others, who could not take advantage of the higher education open to the wealthy as much of the best academic training as could be given in evening classes, and to combine this teaching with a real esprit de corps, based on the fellowship of citizens and the union of social orders.” Ruskin enlisted readily in this effort, for already his thoughts were turned to those social questions which were gradually to become the chief objects of his interest during his later years. The classes at the drawingschool, to which he gave instruction on Thursday evenings through a great part of the year, were mainly composed of young men who were earning their living, but were not in the ranks of the very poor. He gained from acquaintance with them a knowledge of actual social conditions which tested his theories and stood him in good stead in later years His sympathy, his patience, his concern for their interests quickened into affection the admiration which his varied powers, exerted for the benefit of his pupils, naturally excited in them, and the indirect lessons which they received from him were perhaps of even more importance to them than his direct instruction. His interest and enthusiasm in the work were contagious, and in the course of the four or five years in which he gave regular instruction at the school, he enlisted, as his associates in teaching, Rossetti, and for a time William Morris and Burne-Jones. The work was one to engage the sympathies of young idealists desirous to elevate and beautify the life of England. Marlborough House, to which Ruskin refers in his letter, was then the headquarters of the government Department of Science and Art, removed not long afterwards to South Kensington.

It was not for students under his direction or that of his assistants at the Workingmen’s College that he wrote the “ nice little book ” referred to in the letter, — The Elements of Drawing, — but for the many who might wish to learn to draw and had no master to instruct them. The chief aim and bent of its system was discipline of the hand and the eye by a patient and delicate method of work, such as to insure a true sight and a correct representation of the object seen. The little book did good service, and though Ruskin became dissatisfied with some portions of it, and intended to supersede it by the Laws of Fésole, it still remains in many respects an excellent manual for the solitary student of drawing dependent on his own efforts.

The “ Mr. Brown ” mentioned near the end of this letter was Raskin’s “ old and tried friend,” Mr. Rawdon Brown. I did not then know this admirable and unique man. More than ten years later I had the good fortune of coming into friendly relations with him. He had lived in Venice since, as a youth, just out of Oxford, in 1833, he went there on a romantic quest.15 To the fine qualities of a high-bred Englishman and oldfashioned Tory he added a passionate love of Venice, and an acquaintance with her historic life in all its aspects, such as few of her own sons ever possessed. His days were given to the study of her records and to the rescue of precious scraps from Time’s wallet. He died in 1884 where he had lived for more than fifty years, and where he desired to die.

I spent the month of July in England, and was again at Denmark Hill, where I was more than ever impressed with Ruskin’s submissiveness to his mother, who took manifest pride in “John,” but combated his opinions and lectured him publicly, in spite of which he preserved unruffled sweetness of manner toward her. She had lived in a narrow circle of strong interests, and knew little of the world outside of it. Accustomed as I have said to deference from her husband and her son, she had acquired conviction of her own infallibility, and her opinions were expressed with decision and as if admitting of no question. Ruskin himself was delightful. His heart had not yet become overburdened, nor his mind overstrained. I wrote at the time : “ He is quite unspoiled by praise and by abuse, of both of which he has received enough to ruin a common man. His heart is still fresh. It is pleasant to hear his friends speak of him, — the Brownings, Rossetti, Mrs. Gaskell: they all are warm in speaking of his kindness, generosity and faithfulness. Few men are so lovable.”

The summer of 1857 was that of the great Fine Arts Exhibition at Manchester. Ruskin had undertaken to give two lectures there in the course of the month of July. In order to secure uninterrupted quiet for writing them he proposed to spend a week or two at a farmhouse near the picturesque little village of Cowley, not far from Oxford, and as I was to visit friends at Oxford it was arranged that we should be there at the same time. We were much together. He read to me from his lectures as he wrote them, and the reading led to long discussion. The lectures were the first clear manifesto of the change in the main interests of his life. They were soon published under the title of The Political Economy of Art, and when reprinted, more than twenty years afterward, Ruskin gave them the name of “ A Joy Forever16 (and its price in the market).” In the preface to this edition of 1880, he wrote, “ The exposition of the truths to which I have given the chief elegy of my life will be found in the following pages, first undertaken systematically and then in logical sequence.” It will easily be understood how interesting and how fruitful to me were the talks we had while he was writing this introduction to the thought and life of his later years.

Before the end of the summer I returned to America.

Charles Eliot Norton.

  1. Copyright, 1904, by CHARLES ELIOT NORTON.
  2. Prœterita, iii. ch. 2.
  3. This vas the Hotel du Mont Blanc of which Ruskin has written: — “to me, certainly, of all my inn homes, the most eventful, pathetic, and sacred.” Prœterita, ii. ch. 11.
  4. Prœterita, iii. ch. 3.
  5. Prœterita, ii. ch. 8.
  6. Prœterita, i. ch. 2.
  7. Ruskin: Rossetti: PreRaphaelitism. By W. M. ROSSETTI. London, 1899. Pp. 71, 72.
  8. To be found in the first volume of On the Old Road.
  9. Mr. Harrison was good enough to write down for me the next day what he had told at dinner, and since Collier’s is the only known report of this course of lectures, Mr. Harrison’s correction of it has perhaps interest enough to justify its preservation. “ Coleridge gave four types of readers, one of which I have forgotten : — 1st, Those whose minds are like an hour-glass ; what they read runs in and runs out like the sand and not a grain is retained. 2nd, Those who are like sponges, which suck up everything and give it out again in much the same state, but a little dirtied. 3rd,” [Forgotten. According to Collier, “ Strain bags who retain merely the dregs.”] “ 4th, The readers who are like the slaves in the mines of Golconda, they cast aside the dirt and dross, and preserve only the jewels.” Collier’s plainly incorrect report of this fourth class is as follows: “ Mogul diamonds, equally rare and valuable, who profit by what they read, and enable others to profit by it also.”
  10. He was there in bad health in the winter of 1840-41. See Prœterita, ii. ch. 2, for the account of his stay there.
  11. Ruskin here inserts a playful sketch of a wooden tenement house.
  12. This sentence is also illustrated by a whimsical drawing of the pass and the road.
  13. Turner’s water-color drawing of Scott’s house, Castle Street, Edinburgh.
  14. The greater part of this letter was printed in my introduction to the Brantwood edition of the Stones of Venice, 1886.
  15. The story may be found in an article in the Atlantic Monthly for June, 1889, entitled Rawdon Brown and the Gravestone of “ Banished Norfolk.”
  16. These words had been written in gold on the cornice of the great exhibition.