THE year 1860, in which the fifth and last volume of Modern Painters was published, was the exact middle year of Ruskin’s life. The great work of his youth which had been his main occupation for nearly twenty years was completed, but its completion brought no sense of relief at the ending of a long task, and was not succeeded by a period of repose. He had begun in the autumn of 1858 to question the correctness of convictions concerning the fine arts which he had hitherto held firmly and maintained with ardor; the religious teachings which he had received, and on which his faith had rested as on absolute truth, were proving false in the light of widening experience and deeper thought; his sense of the evil in the world was growing daily more intense and bitter, and, in view of the selfishness and wastefulness of the rich and the misery of the poor, he was rejecting with scorn the popular and accepted theories of social duties and political economy.
Mr. Frederic Harrison, in his excellent and sympathetic Life of Ruskin, in the English Men of Letters Series, cites with great felicity, as appropriate to this moment of Ruskin’s life, the opening words of the Divine Comedy,— “Midway upon the journey of our life I found myself in a dark wood where the straight way was lost.” But, unlike Dante, Ruskin found no guide to lead him from the wood; henceforth he was to wander through it alone with unremitting endeavor to recover the true path, and to show it to those who, like himself, were astray in the forest of this world.
Other trials also were making life hard for him. In 1858, he had had for a pet and pupil in drawing a girl of ten years old, who became, as time went on, the mistress of his heart, and ruled it till her death in 1875. Her scrupulous conscience, quickened by various sad influences into morbid susceptibility, wrought unhappiness for them both. She loved him, but refused to be his wife, because, holding a strict evangelical creed, she could not make up her mind to marry a skeptic. Thus, through many years, beginning from this period, there were alternate hopes and despairs, and a continual restlessness and trouble of spirit.
Copyrig-ht, 1904, by CHARLES ELIOT NORTON.
A trial of another sort was due to the gradual divergence from his father and mother, which resulted from the change in Ruskin’s opinions, and from his writings on the questions which were now chiefly engaging his attention. He spent a great part of 1860—61 abroad, without the companionship of his parents. His father, who had fully sympathized with his work on the fine arts, and had taken great pride in it, was at first vexed at his son’s excursions into a field with which he felt himself to be the better acquainted. He disliked the heretical doctrines, and he was deeply grieved that his son should expose himself by the manner, as well as by the substance, of his new essays to extremely hostile and bitter criticism which was plainly in part well-founded.
“In the summer of 1860,”wrote Ruskin eleven years later, “perceiving fully what distress was about to come on the populace of Europe through the errors of their teachers, I began to do the best I might to combat them, in the series of papers for the Cornhill Magazine, since published under the title of Unto this Last.” The outcry against them was such that the series was brought to an end with the fourth number, in November. It was an outcry of similar character to that with which the heresies of the first volume of Modern Painters had been greeted, and like that it has died away in the course of the years, while some, at least, of the heresies of 1860 have become the orthodox doctrine of 1900.
The following letters show the overwrought condition of Ruskin’s mind and its feverish activity. The lighter mood in which he had occasionally written in earlier years seldom recurs. The distress occasioned by the conflict between his traditional convictions and the truths to which he had of late attained affected the whole temper of his life. The evil results of his solitariness, self-confidence, and lack of self-restraint become more apparent, while the essential sweetness of his nature and his affectionate and generous disposition are as manifest as ever.
[DENMARK HILL, May 15, 1860.]
DEAR NORTON, — My hand is so tired that I cannot write straight but on this ugly paper. I have had much trouble in concluding my own work, owing to various perceptions of sorrowful things connected with the arts; and occurrences of all kinds of insuperable questions, as you will see in due time. I have still to put in a sentence or two in the last two chapters; else I had hoped to be able to tell you to-day it was done. But it is so to all intents and purposes, and I hope (the last sheet revised) to leave for Switzerland on the 22nd inst.
I pressed Rossetti hard about the portrait, till I got so pale and haggard-looking over my book that I was ashamed to be drawn so. I think your chief object in getting it done would not have been answered. I hope to get into a natural state of colour (red-nosed somewhat, by the way) among the Alps, and to send you the portrait for aNew Year’s gift, and to behave better in all ways than I’ve done.
I will tell you by letter from abroad all about myself and my life which can interest you, or be useful to any one. . . .
Ever gratefully and affectionately yours,
[P. S.] I’m going to have the portrait done: to-morrow R. begins.
NEUCHÂTEL, 12th July, ’60.
DEAR Norton,— I fear you have not received my last letter, sent, I think, just before I left England. Now, I have yours and Lowell’s, which I need not say give me more pleasure than any letters I have received or could receive on this subject. They are the more comforting to me because the changes in feeling which you both accept as wise, or conclusive, in me, are, to me, very painful pieces of new light, and the sunshine burns my head so that I long for the old shades with their dew again. That depreciation of the purist and elevation of the material school is connected with much loss of happiness to me, and (as it seems to me) of innocence; nor less of hope. I don’t say that this connection is essential, but at present it very distinctly exists. It may be much nobler to hope for the advance of the human race only, than for one’s own and their immortality; much less selfish to look upon one’s self merely as a leaf on a tree than as an independent spirit, but it is much less pleasant. I don’t say I have come to this — but all my work bears in that direction.
I have had great pleasure, and great advantage also, in Stillman’s1 society this last two months. We are, indeed, neither of us in a particularly cheerful humor, and very often I think succeed in making each other reciprocally miserable to an amazing extent — but we do each other more good than harm — at least he does me; for he knows much good of the part of the world of which I know nothing, He is a very noble fellow — if only he could see a crow without wanting to shoot it to pieces.
We made a great mistake in staying half our time at Chamouni, which is not a place for sulky people by any means. I hope you have got a letter which Stillman wrote to you from St. Martin’s, where we thought much of you — and I looked very wistfully often at the door of the room in which you introduced me to your Mother and Sisters, and at the ravine where we had our morning walk. . . .
[DENMABK HILL] 25 February, 1861.
MY DEAR Norton,— . . .Touching my plans, they are all simplified into one quiet and long:—to draw as well as I can without complaining or shrinking because that is ill, for ten years at least, if I live so long: in hopes of doing, or directing some few serviceable engraved copies from Turner and Titian. I am getting now into some little power of work again. My eyes serve me well, and as I have no joy in what I do (the utmost I can do being to keep myself from despair about it and do it as I would break stones), I am not tempted to overwork myself. I hope to finish my essay on Political Economy some day soon, then to write no more. I felt so strongly the need of clear physical health in order to do this, and that my present life so destroyed my health, that I was in terrible doubt as to what to do for a long time this last summer and winter. It seemed to me that to keep any clear-headedness, free from intellectual trouble and other pains, no life would do for me but one as like Veronese’s as might be, and I was seriously, and despairingly, thinking of going to Paris or Venice and breaking away from all modern society and opinion, and doing I don’t know what. Intense scorn of all I had hitherto done or thought, still intenser scorn of other people’s doings and thinkings, especially in religion ; — the perception of colossal power more and more in Titian and of weakness in purism, and almost unendurable solitude in my own home, only made more painful to me by parental love which did not and never could help me, and which was cruelly hurtful without knowing it; and terrible discoveries in the course of such investigation as I made into grounds of old faith — were all concerned in this: and it would have been, but for the pain which I could not resolve to give my parents. . . .
You have also done me no little good . . . and I don’t think there’s any chance now of my going all to pieces. . . .
So there’s a letter — about myself and nothing else. I wonder I have the face to send it, but you know you asked me once to write you a sort of account of the things that made me, as you were pleased to say, “what I am,” which is at present an entirely puzzled, helpless and disgusted old gentleman.
As for things that have influenced me, I believe hard work, love of justice and of beauty, good nature and great vanity, have done all of me that was worth doing. I ’ve had my heart broken, ages ago, when I was a boy — then mended, cracked, beaten in, kicked about old corridors, and finally, I think, flattened fairly out. I’ve picked up what education I’ve got in an irregular way — and it’s very little. I suppose that on the whole as little has been got into me and out of me as under any circumstances was probable; it is true, had my father made me his clerk I might have been in a fair way of becoming a respectable Political Economist in the manner of Ricardo or Mill — but granting liberty and power of travelling, and working as I chose, I suppose every thing I’ve chosen to have been about as wrong as wrong could be. I ought not to have written a word; but should have merely waited on Turner as much as he would have let me, putting in writing every word that fell from him, and drawing hard. By this time, I ought to have been an accomplished draughtsman, a fair musician, and a thoroughly good scholar in art, literature, and in good health besides. As it is, I’ve written a few second rate books, which nobody minds; I can’t draw, I can t play nor sing, I can’t ride, I walk worse and worse, I can’t digest, and I can’t help it — there. Good-by, love to your Mother and Sisters,
Ever affectionately yours,
HOLYHEAD, 20 August, 1861.
DEAR NORTON, — Glad, and glad, and glad again have I been of your letters — though I do not answer them, because if I did, it would make you sorry. This last, however, I must — though but to say it is impossible for me to come to America. The one thing I need seems to be, for the present, rest; and the power of slowly following some branch of natural history or other peaceful knowledge; not that natural history is in one sense peaceful, but terrific; its abysses of life and pain; of diabolic ingenuity, merciless condemnation, irrevocable change, infinite scorn, endless advance, immeasurable scale of beings incomprehensible to each other, every one important in its own sight and a grain of dust in its Creator’s — it makes me giddy and desolate beyond all speaking: but it is better than the effort and misery of work for anything human. It is of no use for me to talk or hear talking as yet. What can be said for good, I have for the most part well heard and thought of — no one much comforts me but Socrates. Is not this a glorious bit of antimaterialism, summing nearly all that can be said: —
Eiδὼς οτι γης τϵ μικρον μϵρος ϵν τω σωμɑτι, πολλής ονσης, ϵχϵις, κɑi ʋγρου βρɑχù, πολλοû οντος, . . . υοûν δϵ μονον ɑρɑ οʋδɑμον οντɑ σϵ ϵντνχως πως δοκϵις συνɑρπɑσɑι κɑι τáδϵ υπϵρμϵγϵθη κɑι πληθος ɑπϵιρɑ δι’ áøροσúνην τινа οντως οιϵι ϵυτаκτως ϵχειν; 2 — (Memorabilium, i, 4.)
This is all well, but it is to me so fearful a discovery to find how God has allowed all who have variously sought him in the most earnest way, to be blinded — how Puritan — monk —Brahmin — church man — Turk — are all merely names for different madnesses and ignorances; how nothing prevails finally but a steady, worldly-wise labour — comfortable — resolute — fearless — full of animal life — affectionate — compassionate. — I think I see how one ought to live, now, but my own life is lost — gone by. I looked for another world, and find there is only this, and that is past for me: what message I have given is all wrong: has to be all re-said, in another way, and is, so said, almost too terrible to be serviceable. For the present I am dead-silent. Our preachers drive me mad with contempt if I ever read or listen to a word; our politicians, mad with indignation. I cannot speak to the first any more than I could to pantaloons in a bad pantomime, or to the last more than to lizards in a marsh. I am working at geology, at Greek — weakly — patiently — caring for neither; trying to learn to write, and hold my pen properly — reading comparative anatomy, and gathering molluscs, with disgust.
I have been staying at Boulogne nearly two months. I went out mackerel fishing, and saw the fish glitter and choke, and the sea foam by night. I learned to sail a French lugger, and a good pilot at last left me alone on deck at the helm in mid channel, with all sail set, and steady breeze. It felt rather grand; but in fact would have been a good deal grander if it had been nearer shore — but I am getting on, if I don’t get too weak to hold a helm, for I can’t digest anything I think. I tried Wales after that, but the moorland hills made me melancholy — utterly. I ve come on here to get some rougher sailing if I can — then I’m going over to Ireland for a day or two. . . . Then I’m going straight to Switzerland, for the fall of the leaf; and what next I don t know. There’s enough of myself for you. ... I’m so glad you think hopefully about the war. It interests me no more than a squabble between black and red ants. It does not matter whether people are free or not, as far as I can see, till when free they know how to choose a master. Write to me, please, poste restante, Interlachen, Switzerland. I’m hoping to find out something of the making of the Jungfrau, if the snows don’t come too soon, and my poor 42-vear-old feet still serve me a little. . . .
Ever your affectionate
DENMARK HILL, G January, ’62.
DEAR NORTON, — At home again at last, after six months’ rest. I have two letters of yours unanswered. But after six months of doing nothing — I feel wholly incapable of ever doing anything any more, so I can’t answer them. Only, so many thanks, for being nice and writing them. Thanks for Atlantic. Lowell is delicious in the bits. “The coppers ain’t all tails, 3 and such like; but I can’t make out how it bears on the business — that’s laziness too, I suppose. Also, for said business itself, I am too lazy to care anything about it, unless I hear there’s some chance of you or Lowell or Emerson’s being shot, in which case I should remonstrate. For the rest, if people want to fight, my opinion is that fighting will be good for them, and I suppose when they’re tired, they’ll stop. They’ve no Titians nor anything worth thinking about, to spoil — and the rest is all one to me.
I’ve been in Switzerland from the 20th September to day after Christmas. Got home on last day of year. It’s quite absurd to go to Switzerland in the summer. Mid-November is the time. I’ve seen a good deal — but nothing ever to come near it. The long, low light, — the floating frost cloud — the divine calm and melancholy — and the mountains all opal below and pearl above. There’s no talking about it — nor giving you any idea of it. The day before Christmas was a clear frost in dead-calm sunlight. All the pines of Pilate covered with hoar-frost — level golden sunbeams — purple shadows — and a mountain of virgin silver.
I’ve been drawing — painting — a little; with some self-approval. I’ve tired of benevolence and eloquence and everything that’s proper — and I’m going to cultivate myself and nobody else, and see what will come of that. I’m beginning to learn a little Latin and Greek for the first, time in my life, and find that Horace and I are quite of a mind about things in general. I never hurry nor worry, I don’t speak to anybody about anything ; if anybody talks to me, I go into the next room. I sometimes find the days very long — and the nights longer; then I try to think it is at the worst better than being dead; and so long as I can keep clear of toothache, I think I shall do pretty well.
Now this is quite an abnormally long and studied epistle, for me, so mind you make the most of it — and give my love to your Mother and Sisters, and believe me
Ever affectionately yours,
DENMARK HILL, 28th April, 1862.
DEAR Norton,— . . . Where one’s friends are, one’s home ought to be, I know — whenever they want us; but every day finds me, nevertheless, sickening more and more for perfect rest — less and less able for change of scene or thought, least of all for any collision with the energies of such a country and race as yours. Nay, you will say, it would not be collision, but communion — you could give me some of your life. I know you would if you could. But what could you do with a creature who actually does not mean to enter the doors of this Exhibition of all nations, within five miles of his own door ?
I have kept this hoping to be able to tell you some cheerful thing about myself, but few such occur to me. Tomorrow I leave England for Switzerland; and whether I stay in Switzerland or elsewhere, to England I shall seldom return. I must find a home — or at least the Shadow of a Roof of my own, somewhere; certainly not here.
May all good be with you and yours.
Ever your affectionate
Look in Fraser’s Magazine for next month 4 — June — please.
MOKKEX, HAUTE SAVOIE,
28th August, 1862.
DEAR NORTON, — During the summer I was at Milan, trying to copy some frescoes of Luini’s. I suppose it will be the last drawing work I shall ever try, for all my strength and heart is failing. All my work has been done hurriedly and with emotion, and now the reaction has come. I found myself utterly prostrated by the effort made at Milan — so gave in on my way hence, and have rented a house for a month on the slope of the Salève. I saunter about the rocks, and gather a bit of thistledown or chickweed — break a crystal — read a line or two of Horace or Xenophon—and try to feel that life is worth having — unsuccessfully enough for that. I have no power of resting — and I can’t work without bringing on giddiness, pains in the teeth, and at last, loss of all power of thought. The doctors all sing “rest, rest.” I sometimes wish I could see Medusa.
And you can’t help me. Ever so much love can’t help me — only time can, and patience. You say “does it give you no pleasure to have done people good?” No — for all seems just as little to me as if I were dying (it is by no means certain I’m not) —• and the vastness of the horror of this world’s blindness and misery opens upon me —as unto dying eyes the glimmering square (and I don’t hear the birds).
As for your American war, I still say as I said at first, if they want to fight, they deserve to fight, and to suffer. It is entirely horrible and abominable, but nothing else would do. Do you remember Mrs. Browning’s Curse of America ? I said at the time “she had no business to curse any country but her own.” But she, as it appeared afterwards, was dying — and knew better than I against whom her words were to be recorded. We have come in for a proper share of suffering — but the strange thing is how many innocent suffer, while the guiltiest — Derby and d’Israeli, and such like — are shooting grouse. . . .
Ever your affectionate
MORNEX, HAUTE SAVOIE, FRANCE, Shortest day, 1862.
DEAR NORTON, — It is of no use writing till I’m better; though till I am, I can’t write a pleasant word, even to you. I’ve had a weary time of it since last I wrote, and have been quite finally worried and hurt, and the upshot of it is that I’ve come away here to live among the hills, and get what sober remnant of life I can, in peace, where there are no machines, yet, nor people, nor talk, nor trouble, but of the winds.
I’ve become a Pagan, too; and am trying hard to get some substantial hope of seeing Diana in the pure glades; or Mercury in the clouds (Hermes, I mean, not that rascally Jew-God of the Latins). Only I can’t understand what they want one to sacrifice to them for. I can’t kill one of my beasts for any God of them all —unless they’ll come and dine with me, and I’ve such a bad cook that I’m afraid there’s no chance of that.
I’m bitterly sorry to leave my father and mother, but my health was failing altogether and I had no choice.
I’m only in lodgings yet — seven miles north of Geneva, nearer the Alps; but I’m going to build myself a nest, high on the hills, where they are green. Meantime, I’ve a little garden with a spring in it, and a gray rough granite wall, and a vine or two, and then a dingle about 300 feet deep, and a sweet chestnut and pine wood opposite; and then Mont du Reposoir, and Mont Blanc, and the aiguilles of Chamouni, which I can see from my pillow, against the dawn. And behind me, the slope of the Saleve, up 2000 feet. I can get to the top and be among the gentians any day after my morning reading and before four o’clock dinner. Then I’ve quiet sunset on the aiguilles, and a little dreaming by the fire, and so to sleep. Your horrid war troubles me sometimes — the roar of it seeming to clang in the blue sky. You poor mad things — what will become of you ?
Send me a line just to say if you get this. After saying nothing so long, I want this to go quickly.
Ever affectionately yours,
MORNEX, 10th February, 1863.
MY DEAR Norton,— Glad was I of your letter, for I had been anxious about you, fearing illness, or disturbance of your happiness by this war. It is a shame that you are so comfortable—but I’m glad of it.
It is no use talking about your war. There is a religious phrensy on such of you as are good for anything, just as wild, foolish, and fearful as St. Dominic’s and as obstinate as de Montfort’s. Mahomet’s was mild, Christian-like and rational, in comparison. I have not, however, seen a single word, spoken or written, by any American since the war began, which would justify me in assuming that there was any such noble phrensy in the matter; but as Lowell and you are in it, I am obliged to own the nobility, and only wish I could put you both in straight waistcoats. The miserablest idiocy of the whole has been your mixing up a fight for dominion (the most insolent and tyrannical, and the worst conducted, in all history) with a soi disant fight for liberty. If you want the slaves to be free, let their masters go free first, in God’s name. If they don’t like to be governed by you, let them govern themselves. Then, treating them as a stranger state, if you like to say, “You shall let that black fellow go, or ”— etc., as a brave boy would fight another for a fag at Eton — do so; but you know perfectly well no fight could be got up on those terms; and that this fight is partly for money, partly for vanity, partly (as those wretched Irish whom you have inveigled into it show) for wild anarchy and the Devil’s cause and crown, everywhere. As for your precious proclamation —
By all the assembled powers of earth and heaven ” —
if I had it here — there’s a fine north wind blowing, and I would give it to the first boy I met to fly it at his kite’s tail. Not but that it may do mischief enough, as idle words have done and will do, to end of time. . . .
I am resting, and mean to rest, drawing, chiefly, and sauntering and scrambling. The only thing I shall keep doing — a sentence of, sometimes — only when I can’t help it — is political economy. Look at the next Fraser’s Magazine (for March); there are, or I hope will be, some nice little bits about slavery in it. . . .
Affectionate regards to your mother and sisters.
Ever affectionately yours,
As soon as I ’ve got a house, I ’ll ask you to send me something American —a slave, perhaps. I’ve a great notion of a black boy in a green jacket and purple cap — in Paul Veronese’s manner. As for concentrated wisdom, if I have n’t enough to make me hold my tongue, I have n’t enough to put on the end of it.
MOKNEX, 10th March, 1803.
MY DEAR-EST NORTON, — I shall give you the dissyllable — henceforward. . . .
Well, I will do as you say, and write a little word daily — or other daily — for you. I shall like it — for the loneliness is very great, if the peace in which I am at present — and the peace is as if I had buried myself in a tuft of grass on a battlefield wet with blood — for the cry of the earth about me is in my ears continually if I do not lay my head to the very ground — the folly and horror of humanity enlarge to my eyes daily. But I will not write you melancholy letters. I will tell you of what I do and think, that may give you pleasure. I should do myself no good and you, sometimes, perhaps harm, if I wrote what was in my heart — or out of it. The surface thought and work I will tell you.
I wrote you a letter the other day — you either have it by this time and are very angry with me for once, or have it not, and are forgiving me for supposed neglect of your kind last letter. . . .
Do letters come pretty regularly in these pleasant times of yours ? . . .
Ever affectionately and gratefully yours,
I’ll get that book of Jean Paul’s.
I know well that happiness is in little things — if anywhere — but it is essentially within one, and being within, seems to fasten on little things. When I have been unhappy, I have heard an opera from end to end, and it seemed the shrieking of winds, when I am happy, a sparrow’s chirp is delicious to me. But it is not the chirp that makes me happy, but I that make it sweet.
I received one or two letters from Ruskin in the summer and autumn of 1863, but there followed a long interval without a word. His feeling in regard to our war, and his want of sympathy with those whose hearts were engaged in it, cheeked for the time the desire for the interchange of letters. It was a period in which a great change took place in his own life, to which,indeed,he madeno reference when, after a ten months’ silence, he sent to me the brief and bitter letter which follows.
[DENMARK HILL] 6th August, 1864.
MY DEAR NORTON, — The truth is I am quite too lazy, with a deathful sort of laziness, to write — I hate the feeling of having to drive pen up and down lines, quite unconquerably, and I have really nothing to say. I am busy with Greek and Egyptian mythology, and all sorts of problems in life and death — and your American business is so entirely horrible to me that, somehow, it cuts you off from all possibility of my telling you any of my thoughts. It is just as if I saw you washing your hands in blood, and whistling — and sentimentalizing to me. I know you don’t know what you are about and are just as good and dear as ever you were — but I simply can’t write to you while you are living peaceably in Bedlam. I am getting my house in order, and perhaps shall die as soon as I’ve done it — but I’m a little better. When I’m quite settled, I will write to you with some general facts.
Ever, with faithful regards to your Mother and Sisters,
On the 3d of March, 1864, his father had died, an old man in his seventyninth year, but with his faculties clear and strong to the end. “By his father’s death,” says Mr. Harrison in his Life of Ruskin, “Ruskin inherited a fortune of £ 157,000,5 in addition to a considerable property in houses and land, the whole of which estate the elder had accumulated by industry and sagacity in legitimate business. He was not only an entirely honest merchant, but a man of great generosity, of shrewd judgment, and of persevering culture in poetry and art. His erratic genius of a son, on whom he had lavished his wealth and his anxieties, had long parted from him in ideas of religion as well as economics. But the affection between them remained unimpaired.”
The loss of his father was a graver calamity to Ruskin than a similar loss is to most men of forty-five years old. Although of late he had lived much apart from his parents, and had followed his own ways of conduct and of thought, yet his father’s good judgment and restraining counsel still had weight with him, and exercised an influence which, though limited, was wholesome.
Ruskin’s education and pursuits had not fitted him for the charge of a large property. But his now independent wealth gave him full opportunity for the satisfaction of his lavish impulses and the gratification of his tastes. The immediate duties which fell upon him in connection with the winding up of his father’s affairs, and in the attendance upon his mother, now more than eighty years old, kept him in England during 1864 and 1865, and the winter of 1866.
He was not idle, his mind was incessantly active; he wrote much on a great variety of subjects. In 1865 he published, under the enigmatic title of Sesame and Lilies, two lectures, one on the worth and use of books, the other on the ideals and duties of women; in 1866 came a series of lectures on “Work,” “Traffic,” “War,” and “The Future of England,” gathered into a volume called the Crown of Wild Olive; in the same year appeared the Ethics of the Dust, lectures given to a girls’ school in the country, professedly on the elements of Crystallization, but with “the purpose of awaking in the minds of young girls a vital interest in the subject of their study.” Nor were these by any means all his writings.
A year passed from the date of the last letter before I received another from him.
DENMARK HILL, 15th August, 1865.
MY DEAR NORTON, — I have just received your book on the portraits, which is very right and satisfactory, and pleasant to have done.6 There won’t be many old walls left, frescoed or whitewashed either — in Florence now. I should have liked to have seen it once again — before they build iron bridges over Arno — but it is no matter.
Now you’ve done fighting, I can talk to you a little again —but I’ve nothing to say. I keep the house pretty fairly in order, and keep my garden weeded — and the gardeners never disturb the birds; but the cats eat them. I am taking up mineralogy again as a pacific and unexciting study; only I can’t do the confounded mathematics of their new books. I am at work on some botany of weeds, too, and such like, and am better on the whole than I was two years ago. My mother is pretty well, too — sometimes I get her out to take a drive, and she enjoys it, but always has to be teased into going. Carlyle has got through the first calamity of rest, after Frederick, among his Scotch Hills — and I hope will give us something worthier of him before he dies. Rossetti and the rest I never see now — they go their way and I mine; so you see I’ve no news — but I’m always
DENMARK HILL, 11th September, 1805.
MY DEAR NORTON, —. . . I should have written to you some news of myself, though the war has put a gulph between all Americans and me in that I do not care to hear what they think, or tell them what I think, on any matter; and Lowell’s work and Longfellow’s is all now quite useless to me. But I shall send you an edition of my last lectures, however, with a new bit of preface in it, and anything else I may get done in the course of the winter, and I am always glad to hear of you. I am somewhat better in health, and busy in several quiet ways, of which, if anything prosper in them, you will hear in their issue — and nobody need hear until then. Ever affectionately yours,
DENMARK HILL, 27 March, 1866.
MY DEAR NORTON, — . . . First, please be assured, as I think you must have been without my telling you,that when I would not write to you during the American war, it was not because I loved you less, but because I could no otherwise than by silence express the intensity of my adverse feeling to the things you were countenancing — and causing; for of course the good men in America were the real cause and strength of the war. Now, it is past, I have put in my protest, and we are the same full friends as always, except only that I can’t read American sentiment any more — in its popular form — and so can’t sympathize with you in all things as before. . . .
Ever your affectionate
The portrait has been a little checked, but is going on well. In about three weeks I am going to try to get as far as Venice, for change of thought. I want to see a Titian once more before I die —and I’m not quite sure when that may not be (as if anybody was), yet, on the whole, my health is better. I’ve some work in hand which you will like, I think, also. Affectionate regards to your mother and sisters.
DENMARK HILL, 23rd January, 1867.
DEAR NORTON, — I have just got your New Year’s letter (for which a thousand thanks and thoughts). ... I am painting birds, and shells, and like like, to amuse myself and keep from sulking, but I sulk much.
Yes, it is indeed time we should meet — but it will be to exchange glances and hearts — not thoughts, for I have no thoughts — I am so puzzled about everything that I’ve given up thinking altogether. It seems to me likely that I shall draw into a very stern, lonely life, if life at all, doing perhaps some small work of hand with what gift I have, peacefully, and in the next world — if there is any— I hope to begin a little better and get on farther. I want to send this by “return of post” and must close.
Ever your affectionate
My mother’s love. She is well — but her sight is failing fast now. She may revive a little in spring: — perhaps may only last long enough to let her see my father’s tomb. I have made it quite simple, with a granite slab on the top — so7 — supported by a pure and delicate moulding from my favorite tomb of Ilaria di Caretto, at Lucca (a slender green serpentine shaft at each corner) and on the granite slab,—this,
From Day’s well-sustained burden,
JOHN JAMBS RUSKIN.
He died in his home in London March 3rd, 1804.
And his memory
Is, to all who keep it,
Dear, and helpful.
Whom he loved to the uttermost,
And taught to speak truth,
Says this of him.
AMBLESIDE, 8 August, 1867.
MY DEAR NORTON, —I was very glad of your letter. . . . I want to say a word about the Turners,8 which I am very thankful for all your kind thoughts about — but indeed the only “kindness” of mine is in putting you, as it were ten years back, on fair terms of purchase — I wish I had the pleasure of giving — all my art treasures are now useless to me, except for reference; the whole subject of art is so painful to me, and the history of Turner and all my own lost opportunities of saving his work, are a perpetual torment to me, if I begin thinking of them. But this was what I wanted to say — Your American friends, even those who know not of art — may be much disappointed with the Liber Studiorum, for the nobleness of those designs is not so much in what is done, as in what is not done in them. Any tyro — looking at them first—would say, Why, I can do trees better than that — figures better —rocks better—everything better. “Yes — and the daguerreotype — similarly —better than you,” is the answer, first; but the final answer — the showing how every touch in these plates is related to every other, and has no permission of withdrawn, monastic virtue, but is only good in its connection with the rest, and in that connection infinitely and inimitably good — and the showing how each of the designs is connected by all manner of strange intellectual chords and nerves with the pathos and history of this old English country of ours; and on the other side, with the history of European mind from earliest mythology down to modern rationalism and ir-rationalism — all this showing — which was what I meant to try for in my closing work — I felt, long before the closing, to be impossible; and the mystery of it all — the God’s making of the great mind, and the martyrdom of it, and the uselessness of it all forever, as far as human eyes can see or thoughts travel — All these things it is of no use talking about. 1 am here among the lakes resting, and entirely deny having lost tone of mind (in spite of all pain) —yet. And yesterday I walked up Helvellyn, and the day before up Skiddaw (and walked twelve miles besides the hill work yesterday) — both of them 3000 feet of lift — so I think there may be some life in the old dog yet. . . .
All you say of religion is true and right — but the deadly question with me is — What next ? or if anything is next ? so that I’ve no help, but rather increase of wonder and horror from that.
One word more about Turner. You see every great man’s work (his pre-eminently) is a digestion of nature, which makes glorious HUMAN FLESH of it. All my first work in Modern Painters was to show that one must have nature to digest — not chalk and water for milk. . . .
Ever lovingly yours,
20th November, 1807.
DEAR NORTON. — ... I am putting my old work together, that had been wasted, and drawing a little — not ill, and variously getting myself together, what is left of me.
In the meantime your letters have given to me continual pleasure. . . . Also, your various presents. Longfellow’s excellent Dante; and your own VitaNuova, with all their good help to me, came to hand, one by one — they are all in my special own shelf of bookcase, and will take me back again to long ceased Dante studies — though in returning to him, the terrible “What do you mean, or believe of all this?” fronts me with appalling strangeness. Longfellow’s translation is excellent and most helpful. The Vita Nuova falls in much with my own mind — but when death or life depends on such things — suppose it should be morte nuova day by day ? I am also working at Greek myths and art, and the like, and hope to give you some account of myself one day, and of my time.
Of the Turners I can tell you nothing, except that I wholly concur in your judgment of their relative merits, and that the subjects you enquire about are, I think, all on the Rhine, but none of them absolutely known to me. I shall try and find one or two more for you, and give you some better account of them.
I am thankful that you believe such things can be of service in America. My own impression is that they are useless, everywhere — but better times may come.
I wish you would come here once again — I need you now. I only enjoyed you before.
Ever your affectionate
(To be continued.)
Why, up an’ try agin, thet ’s all, — the coppers ain’t all tails,”
Birdofredum Sawin, Esq., to Mr. Hosea Biglow.
- The late W. J. Stillman, who, in chapter xvii of his extraordinarily interesting Autobiography of a Journalist (Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1891), gives an account of this summer with Ruskin in Switzerland. “More princely hospitality than his,” he wrote, “ no man ever received, or more kindly companionship ; but as might have been expected, we agreed neither in temperament nor in method. . . . Apart from questions of art, he always remains to me one of the largest and noblest of all the men I have known, liberal and generous beyond limit, with a fineness of sympathy in certain directions and delicacy of organization quite womanly. Nothing could shake my admiration for his moral character, or abate my reverence for him as a humanist.”↩
- “ Knowing that yon have in your body but a small bit of the earth which is vast, and a little of the water which is vast . . . do you think that you alone have by some good fortune seized for yourself intelligence which exists nowhere else ? and that this immense and countless assemblage of things is maintained in order by something devoid of reason ? ”↩
- It was to look for the first of the four essays, afterward collected in a volume under the title of Munera Pulveris, essays intended as a preface to an exhaustive treatise on Political Economy, which “ I resolved,” wrote Ruskin, “ to make the central work of my life.” They were written in the autumn of 1861, partly at Milan, partly at the pretty village of Mornex on the southeastern slope of the Mont Salève, not far from Geneva.↩
- His father left to Ruskin outright £ 120,000, and to his mother £37,000.↩
- The Original Portraits of Dante, a privately printed volume on occasion of the celebration in Florence of the sixth centenary of Dante’s birth.↩
- Here was a slight drawing.↩
- Some plates from the Liber Studiorum, and some pencil drawings.↩