EDITED BY LEONARD HUXLEY
I HAD now been a week under Kate’s roof, and the day came when I was to see the Master in his own beloved home. That Monday morning was clouded by a note from Mrs. Severn telling me that owing to pressure of visitors at Brantwood she would be obliged to cut down my promised week to five days, and that I should return to the cottage on Thursday night. This was a very bitter pill, not swallowed without tears, but it had to be swallowed.
The carriage was to fetch me at five o’clock. The day was very wet and stormy, so I attired myself in the navy serge costume in which I had traveled. But when Kate came to my room to offer her services in packing she exclaimed in dismay at my choice.
‘Oh, ma’am, are you not going to wear that beautiful peacock-blue afternoon dress?’
‘Why, Kate, I am sure this is much more suitable for such a day! And I shall go straight to my room and change it before the Professor sees me.’
‘Oh, no, ma’am, you won’t be able to do that. The Professor will come out to welcome you, and he will take you straight into his study. And I know he would so like that dress.’
So at the last minute I had to allow her to unpack the dress she so much admired, to satisfy her affectionate zeal.
Her prophecy proved quite correct. In spite of a heavy downpour, Mr. Ruskin came out bareheaded to help me from the carriage.
He led me by the hand into the drawing room, but said directly, ‘No! — this is a dreary, nasty room. Come into my study.’
He led me into that most delightful of all rooms, put me into the most comfortable chair beside the fire, sat. down himself, and looked at me for a minute without speaking.
Then he gently lifted his hand and said in his slow, sweet voice, ‘What a lovely gown you have on, Jessie! What an exquisite shade of blue!’
So Kate’s choice of my attire proved correct, and I felt grateful to her. I told him that I had put off my mourning for a brother-in-law because I felt sure he would not like it.
‘I object to mourning on principle,’ he answered. ‘The very essence of it is that you mean to put it off some day to show that you are consoled. Whereas a really noble grief is never put away, but abides with you for life. At my father’s death I wanted to put the servants into dark blue instead of black, but I had to give way to my mother’s wishes and bear the horrid black.’
Once during this first fireside talk he caught me looking earnestly at his face.
‘Well, Jessie?’ he asked with an interrogative smile.
I tried to get out of answering, but he insisted on knowing my thoughts.
‘I was only wondering why none of the photographs I have seen are the least bit like you,’ I blurted out at last.
This pleased him greatly.
‘I am so glad you think so, for I have always hoped they were not really like me, but people will say they are very good! And it is very humiliating! They always seem to me just caricatures of my face!’ And he added plaintively, ‘The sun seems to have a spite against me — and I’m sure I don’t know why! I have always spoken very respectfully of him!’
I wish it were possible to convey any adequate idea of the exquisite voice which lent an unforgettable charm to even the lightest speech — so musical that its memory rings in my ears to-day, ‘forty years on.’
Here I will give from my journal a little description of Brantwood as it was in those days.
It is a long, low, white house, facing the lake, and sheltered at the back by steep wooded hills. There is a narrow strip of sloping garden, and a little road between the house and the water’s edge. It stands some little height above the lake, and behind it rises abruptly the rocky hill covered with trees and shrubs which gives the house its name — ‘Brant’ being Cumberland for ‘steep.’ In the wood there are many paths and flights of steps, and a little stream which comes tumbling down from the moor above. Over this stream the Master has built with his own hands an arched stone bridge, built without mortar, of which he is frankly proud. He showed it to me during our first walk in the wood. ‘The only help I had in building it was a little assistance from Baxter in lifting some stones too heavy for my unaided strength. And it will last for generations!’ It was really a very pretty little bridge, planted with ferns and woodland plants in the crevices.
Near the house is a small level plot of grass which is sacred to the Master, and never invaded by gardening hands. Here he walks up and down in the sunshine when he wishes to be undisturbed, ‘and to think out something particularly nice!’
Above this little wood there is a wide stretch of moorland whose bracken and heather offer a feast of rich color to the eye as one issues from the sombre woodland.
The wild strawberry grows freely in the wood and is a great favorite with the Master. He called my attention to one plant which had thrown its runners right across the path. ‘So confiding of it. I do hope no one will be so cruel as to tread on it!’
In the square entrance hall of the house there hung some large and very fine cartoons by Burne-Jones. The drawing room gave me a great shock of surprise. We were then at the height of the ‘ æsthetic ’ craze — the ‘ greenery-yallery, Grosvenor Gallery’ days, and I had pictured to myself an ultra-’artistic’ room, all sage green, peacock blue, and old gold, with Morris papers and hangings, and so forth. In place of which I found a typical Early Victorian room, old-fashioned, but not antique — in fact, just such a room as might have been found in the house of any wealthy couple of the upper middle class, fifty years before. And that was exactly what it was, for nothing had been altered since the days of the elder Ruskins. Had they returned to life, they would have felt absolutely at home in that drawing room at Brantwood.
The chief additions they would have noticed were the wonderful Turners adorning the walls. These were all water colors, and were protected from injury by sunshine by light wooden frames across which was stretched dark blue glazed calico. All the drawings were framed to the same size, so that any frame would fit any picture. These coverings were removed at sundown, and in the Master’s little bedroom, where many of the most exquisite hung, many candles were lighted when the room was prepared for the night, so that he might enjoy his treasures while dressing and undressing. Visitors were at full liberty to uncover any of the drawing-room pictures if they wished to examine them, but the covers must be replaced immediately you had finished looking at any of them, under penalties too dreadful to be faced!
The study was the room which faithfully reflected the tastes and character of the Master. It was a perfectly delightful apartment, but without a shadow of straining after effect. A long, low room, made by throwing two rooms together — books everywhere, the walls lined with library shelves, stands for portfolios, pictures and drawings on every side, cabinets full of minerals, tiers of drawers filled with sketches and engravings, a few comfortable chairs, and last, though by no means least, a small octagonal table by the fireplace.
I should think no famous author ever did his literary work with so little paraphernalia as did Mr. Ruskin. This small table not only served as his writing desk, but also served for the frugal meals which he took alone in the study when not inclined for society. His breakfast was always laid on it and also his afternoon tea. There was not much to be removed in order to ‘lay the cloth,’ for a large sheet of blotting paper laid flat on the table and a pile of foolscap were, with a small inkstand, all that was needed when writing. There was not so much as a penwiper to be seen. One day I said that I should make him one. He replied with comic solemnity, ‘Jessie — there is no penwiper to equal the left-hand coat tail!’
It was a genuine workroom, with a pleasant amount of tidy untidiness — books on chairs waiting to find their homes on the shelves, pictures leaning against the walls waiting till he should make up his mind where to hang them, and parcels of mineral specimens waiting to be disposed of in the cabinets.
Three large windows down one side, with deep window seats, gave perfect views over the lake and the hills.
It was in this charming study that most of the hours of my stay at Brantwood were passed.
The first evening, when bidding us good-night, the Master asked me whether I liked to rise early and at what hour I generally came down. When I answered that in summer I came down about seven, Mrs. Severn exclaimed in dismay: —
‘Oh, my dear lady, don’t do anything so awful in this house, I pray you! You would n’t find a place fit to sit down in before half past nine at the earliest!’
‘Yes, Joanie,’ said the Professor, ‘she would! My study is always ready long before that. Would half past six be too early for you to be called? No? And do you like coffee? Yes? Then I shall send you a cup of coffee at that time, and you will find a good fire in my study whenever you are ready to come down.’
And, with a parting glance at one or two of the Turners, Mr. Ruskin left us. Mrs. Severn was quite dismayed at this arrangement.
‘But this is contrary to all rules and regulations!’ she exclaimed as soon as the door was closed. ‘The study has always been sacred to the Master alone in the early morning! Nobody is ever allowed to be with him then.’ But here Mr. Severn interfered on my behalf. ‘Miss L. is the Professor’s visitor, not yours, Joan! She shall do just what he wants.’
So, on my giving a solemn promise that I would neither talk myself nor let the Master do so, Mrs. Severn gave way gracefully.
I was down first next morning and found a housemaid busy arranging the bright fire.
‘I have to be very careful, ma’am,’ she explained, ‘for the Master likes the room warm but the fire only just large enough to make it so. He says that getting the coal is such hard and dangerous work we must never waste a bit. Nothing makes him so vexed as to see a fire larger than is really needed.’
In a few minutes the Master came in, and after the morning greetings said, ‘Now you will have to amuse yourself till breakfast time, Jessie, for I must be busy. Here are two things for you to look at — an illuminated thirteenth-century Missal, and Woodstock.'
We sat down by the fire, on either side of his little table. After examining the lovely Missal for some time, I took up the Woodstock, and to my surprise and delight I found it was Scott’s original MS. The writing was beautifully clear and the corrections and interpolations very few. The Master broke silence for a minute to call my attention to a particular page — each page was dated.
‘When he wrote that page Scott believed himself a wealthy man. When he wrote the following page next day he knew himself to be a ruined man. Can you find a trace of it in that clear, careful writing?’
And there was none. No more corrections than before — not a tremor in the script.
Each morning of my brief visit I was privileged in the same manner. Sometimes Mr. Ruskin would pass over to me the sheet of foolscap he had just finished writing and tell me to see if any correction was needed. Sometimes he would give me some proof reading to do, telling me to pay particular attention to the punctuation, as ‘stops’ always bothered him so.
At twelve o’clock he put away his writing and went out for a walk if it was fine, and, if not, to chop up firewood for the house.
The two young girls, Rosie and Peggy, and I were allowed to accompany him then, and also in his afternoon walk or boating on the lake.
More than one afternoon he took us all three to tea at the Waterhead Hotel, the recently widowed proprietress of which was an old friend of his. ‘I like her to have a nice big bill to send me at the quarter’s end,’ he explained one day. So we feasted gayly on buttered toast, raspberry jam, and real homemade cakes. None of the hotel visitors got a taste of the raspberry jam; the whole season’s making was religiously put away for ‘the Professor’ and the visitors he brought.
I cannot remember now how the subject was brought up, but I recall an interesting conversation at one of the Waterhead teas. I think it was mainly addressed to Rosie, and it was about marriage.
‘Remember this: there comes a time in every married life when one partner or the other is tempted to believe that some other person would have been a more congenial mate. There is only one course to pursue if two, or perhaps three, lives are not to be wrecked. You must resolutely turn your thoughts away from the idea. You must deliberately, and with the whole might of your soul, resolve to think only of the good points and the virtues of the mate you have chosen, and of the weak points in the character of the one you are tempted to prefer. It may be a hard struggle for a time, but in the end you will win your way to safe anchorage again. Never forget this, any of you.’
In one of our walks he stopped to gaze lovingly at a violet nestling in a bed of moss by the roadside.
‘How marvelously one’s capacity for assimilating beauty varies! There are days when a roadside violet holds more delight in its beauty than the soul can contain — and there are other days when the whole majesty of the Alps will not suffice to fill the craving for beauty in the human heart.’
One day he mentioned something which Turner had said to him once. Peggy opened her eyes in astonishment. ‘Did you know Turner?’ she asked.
‘I knew Turner, Peggy, my dear, as well as a young, foolish, conceited man could know an old, wise, and modest man.’
Sometimes the Master dined with the family and sometimes alone in his study. This was when he thought there would be too much noise and talking for him. But after dinner he always joined his guests and the Severns in the drawing room for an hour or two. If he felt so inclined he would offer to read to us. And then we had a treat indeed! I have never heard reading to approach his in beauty. The voice, naturally one of rare charm, was modulated and inflected in harmony with his subject with the skill of a great artist. I had the great good fortune to hear him on several evenings. He read us several chapters from Scott’s Monastery for one thing, and I well remember how vainly he struggled with the letter r in the verses beginning ‘Merrily swim we, the moon shines bright.’ No effort could prevent its becoming ‘mewwily,’ but it only added a piquancy to the charm of that lovely voice.
Another night he read us the whole of the story of ‘Hansli,’ which he had translated for Fors. There were several interpolations of his own, and when we came to one of these Mrs. Severn, sitting on the hearthrug against her husband’s knee, would whisper in a stage aside, ‘Arthur! Arthur! Are you listening? This is a bit of Ruskin’s own! And I do so love Ruskin, don’t you?’ The Master would shake his head at her with a loving smile. ‘Joanie! Joanie! Will you never grow up?’ But he had to stop reading until he had finished laughing every time. II
So the five happy days flew by and the sad Thursday came when my room was needed for another guest, and I must return to Kate’s little house. But the Master softened the parting by promising to come to tea with me the next day and by telling me I should often be summoned to Brantwood for a few hours with him.
Alas! the next day brought a disappointment, for a number of people called on him and detained him so late that he was unable to fulfill his promise of coming to tea with me.
One day the young barrister, Mr. W., and the other ‘boy,’ Dr. D., came to tea with me at Kate’s and we had a gay time. Mr. W. took far more liberties with the Master than anyone else would dare to do. I remember the latter complaining to me one day that ‘Aleck’ had made him put three whole sheets in the fire that morning.
Mr. W. told me one day how he first gained the Master’s affection, and it was a very delightful tale as he told it.
‘I’m almost the only person who dares to contradict the Professor, or to find fault with him, and that is the real reason of his fondness for me. I always tell him exactly what I think without fear or favor. That was how I first won his notice. One day he was showing some Oxford men — myself among them — a drawing he had just made of an angel. They all went into raptures over it. When it came to me I only said, “What made you draw one wing so much better than the other?” It was the first thing that struck me, so I said it. And the Professor was delighted. “Because I was tired and lazy and impatient. I did the first wing as well as I possibly could and then did the other anyhow because I was in a hurry to finish it. But you are the first person who has noticed it, or at least spoken of it.”’
Early in the following week Mr. and Mrs. Severn left home to pay a visit to friends. And twice at least during that week I had the great pleasure of dining at Brantwood with the little party there assembled. A carriage was sent to fetch me and take me back at night. It was a long and hilly drive, but had it been four times as long the evenings would have more than repaid it. We were rather a small party — Rosie (the Sylphide of the letters) and I were the only ladies. Three of the Master’s old Oxford pupils and present favorites, Mr. W., Dr. D., and Mr. C., were the others. I went in to dinner on the Master’s arm each time; he took the head of the table and was the most genial and delightful host imaginable. He had not dined with us during my five days in the previous week, so I had not till then seen him act in that capacity.
I remember that on the first night the Master turned to his personal attendant, Baxter, and said, smiling at me: —
‘Now, Baxter, this is a festive occasion, you know. It is the first time this lady has dined with me, so I think you must give us a little champagne in her honor.’
He sipped one glass of the champagne with much apparent enjoyment, but put his hand peremptorily over his glass when Baxter attempted to refill it.
When the carriage was announced for me at eleven o’clock, Mr. Ruskin said, as he bade me good-night, ‘And if I send the carriage again for you to-morrow night, Jessie, do you think you would come again?’
At the next night’s dinner the talk turned on the new æsthetic school and the Master said: —
‘I can’t quite make out what is meant by the term. If they mean that they are all followers of Burne-Jones, and mean to be led and taught by him, then they are on the right road and may get and do much good. But if they mean that they are each going to set up for Burne-Joneses themselves — and try and rival and outdo him — then it is all a pernicious blunder.’
Mr. C., who was an intimate friend of Burne-Jones, here remarked to Mr. Ruskin that that great artist felt a little sore at the Master’s failing to speak more openly and publicly as to the high honor he held him in.
‘But, my dear boy,’ exclaimed the Master, ‘Burne-Jones is much too far above me to want any aid from my words! I’m a mere dictionary maker, while he is a Heaven-sent poet! I have n’t a spark of imagination in me, while he is nothing else. I can never see one iota beyond what is actually before my eyes. Whatever I can see, a telescope or a field glass could see. Nothing I ever wrote or painted would equal a square foot of one of BurneJones’s pictures.’
‘Well, all I know is that he told me not a fortnight ago that he owed everything he was, or could do, to you.’
‘Oh, that’s nonsense! I may have taught him a little years ago perhaps, but he has been beyond and above me for ages now, and I am only too thankful to get a chance of learning from him whenever I can. The only quarrel I have with Burne-Jones is that he likes girls with green-and-gray faces, and I like them with pink-and-white faces. And old gentlemen’s faces, too, ought to be red, like a rosy-cheeked apple, not paperor tallow-colored, like this!’ — smiling at Rosie and me, as he touched his own pale cheek.
We enjoyed more reading aloud on these evenings. Over some bits from Hood’s Life the Master laughed till he cried, and his reading made us do the same.
These delightful evenings marked the zenith of my happiness in those memorable three weeks at Coniston. They were not to be my last, however. The dear Master had already issued a royally gracious ‘command’ to return there at Christmas — ‘for the whole of the Christmas holidays, remember, Jessie.’
But both Mr. Severn and Mr. W. had most kindly given me gentle warnings that all those who came into intimate relations with the Professor, since his sad illnesses, must prepare themselves for sudden inexplicable fluctuations in his favor toward them, and for startling rebuffs at times, and they had begged me not to take these things too much to heart when my turn should come.
The sequel proved the wisdom and kindness of their advice. The next letter from him, received at Kate’s only two or three days after these perfect evenings, came on me like a clap of thunder out of a clear blue sky, and nearly broke my heart in spite of their friendly warnings. Of course the fact that the main accusation it contained was wholly without foundation ought to have told me that the overtasked brain was once more on the point of breaking down, and had I known him better I should have realized this and been less overcome with grief and shame.
I have hesitated long before transcribing this letter, but without it much that follows would be meaningless. So I have decided to give it, heavy as is the blow to my pride, and that after forty years!
The ‘Frederic (Ulric)’ mentioned in it was a German story of Swiss peasant life which he had asked me to translate for Fors.
I send you the paper and the Frederic, and I hope you will have had some pleasure in the hills to-day. I was surprised to see, when you were here, how little you had really understood that I wanted you to come to SEE the hills and Brantwood and me — but not at all to talk! You had not, I found, the least idea how much as a rule I dislike talking — how necessary it is for me that my friends should be able to amuse themselves without me. Think — for instance — in going over the lake yesterday — when my proper state would have been merely to watch the thunder-clouds and the wide waters — and let my thoughts go where they chose — what a sudden crash into the brain it is to be asked such a question as ‘whether I would tell children how much I believed the Bible! ’
I tell you this that you may not think me unkind in not allowing you to come whenever you like. I never do that with anybody — and I’m sadly afraid that in general those who want most of me see least, because I find the sense of responsibility too heavy. You must be content to learn from my books, not from me.
But I shall be more accessible, much, at Christmas — for the summer is always — rightly — a time of rest for me — and it is more liable also to casual interruption.
Ever affectly yours
Now I had never asked him such a question about the Bible, either on the lake or anywhere else. Of that I was perfectly certain. The nearest approach to it was as follows: —
On the preceding day I had been fetched early to lunch at Brantwood, and I remembered that as I sat quietly talking with the Master before lunch the conversation turned on the Bible, and I told him that the father of my two pupils had requested me not to enter with them on the question of Bible Inspiration. ‘Let them read and study the Bible as they do any other book, without prejudice. I wish their minds left free from any bias on the matter, so that when they are of an age to use their own judgment they may do so untrammeled by any inculcated dogmas.’
Very likely I may have asked Mr. Ruskin how far he agreed with this attitude, but if I did so it was in a quiet Sunday-morning talk by the study fire, not in the middle of the lake!
He rowed me about for some time that afternoon in his own particular boat, the Lily of Brantwood, and the talk turned mainly on the difference in color between the Highland lochs and streams, with their cairngorm hues, and the colder gray slate color of the Cumberland waters.
And as to my resenting not being allowed to go to Brantwood except when summoned — well, I should just as soon have thought of resenting not being allowed to present myself at Buckingham Palace whenever I liked.
But I did not dare to attempt any denial or justification. I just wrote the humblest and most contrite letter of apology that I could compass, begging him to forgive my thoughtless chattering on the ground of the wild excitement and joy into which the wonderful visit had thrown me. I told him I knew I had not been myself all the time, but had felt as if I were living in Fairyland. Next day brought the reply, and the old signature told me that my apology had been accepted.
So I worked away diligently at the translation from the German with all my might. I sent him the first chapter when ready, and his next note gave further proof of forgiveness.
Aug. 23rd, ’81.
MY DEAR JESSIE, —
I knew quite well that you were not yourself — and allowed for that; only I wanted you, even out of yourself, to feel more distinctly the reasons which prevented me from being all that I could have been to you. I could easily have put you into heart and comfort by taking up anything with you seriously that interested us both — but the late summer is just the time of all the year when I am most languid — and wholly dependent on open air and play. When you come at Christmas I shall D.V. be actively busy with the hoarfrost and icicles, and you will share the interest and be at ease.
You shall come before it comes to good-bye — and then I ’ll come to say good-bye.
Meantime think only of your Carlyle and Ulric.
Ever your loving
Aug. 24, 1881.
MY DEAR JESSIE, —
The Ulric seems excellently done — and the quantity — marvellous — you will find, to do it as well as you can do it — it must be slower!
If I order the carriage for you at Kate’s at ½past six, can you come and dine to-day, and hear some reading in the evening, and the carriage shall be put up here and take you home at ½past ten?
Ever affectly yours
The time of my departure from Coniston was now close at hand, for although Mr. Ruskin, in spite of my chatterbox propensities, most kindly pressed me to remain at Kate’s as long as possible, I had to be in London by a fixed date to attend the marriage of my only brother. I was to leave early on the Monday morning, and the Master had promised to come to tea with me on the last afternoon. He was, however, unavoidably detained, but a tiny note reached me about tea time.
Sunday, Aug. 28th, 1881.
DEAR JESSIE, —
I’m so very sorry I could n’t come — but I can’t do the twentieth part of the things I want to — Don’t have tea for me — but if its fair I’ll try to come after tea this afternoon — just for a little chat — I won’t say goodbye — I’m sure we can talk by letter just as well as words,
ever affcctly yours
About six o’clock I saw him come up the garden path accompanied by Sylphide, whom he promptly sent to the kitchen to chat with Kate. He came into my little parlor and sat down by the fire — for the evenings were chilly, though it was August. He sat in the same low rocking-chair as on his memorable first visit, and leaned back, looking very tired.
And then for nearly an hour he talked as only he could talk — mainly about myself, my prospects, the conditions and conduct of my life, and all so kindly, tenderly, and sympathetically that the very words seem graven on my heart. I am thankful that I wrote down much of what he said in my journal that night, for I would not willingly forget any of it. Very strongly he impressed on me that the chief part of all true happiness for all noble people lay in their power of giving sympathy, not in any sympathy they ever received themselves.
‘For myself,’ he went on, ‘you know my life now, and you know that for me all possibility of personal joy is over forever. And yet I am able to find the truest and deepest happiness in seeing those around me happy. Just before I started to come here this afternoon I went to the Lodge to see Joan presiding over the nursery tea table. It is the baby’s birthday, and Joanie and all of them looked so happy and peaceful and merry together that my heart was filled with the most exquisite pleasure in looking at them, and in knowing that to some extent they owed their happiness to me. Try to look at life in the same way. If you are denied great joys of your own, make joys for yourself by adding to the happiness of others. And then — you are still young — it is not likely that your life will always be what it is now. All sorts of possibilities lie before you. Have faith in the future. But make the present happy while waiting. I myself will do all in my power to give you happiness. I hope you will often be here with us again. And I shall send you whatever I write, and if you want books at any time you have only to write and tell me, and I will either lend or give them to you. Are there any you want now? Have you Wordsworth?’
I showed him a miniature copy in two volumes which I had brought with me. He examined it, and said it would do very nicely for me. As he gave it back, he took my hand and held it for a minute in a kind, fatherly way, while he talked on about books. Seeing how near I was to tears at the parting, he smiled. ‘Whatever girls can find to like in a cross old man like me I can never understand!’ Then he added more seriously, ‘It certainly has been one of the greatest happinesses of my life that so many good women have found in me something to like, and I hope I am as thankful for it as I ought to be.’
Trying to cheer me, he spoke several times about the promised Christmas visit, and how quickly the time would pass until I saw them all again. Almost his last words were ‘Remember, Jessie, you are promised to me for the whole of the Christmas holidays! Don’t go making any other arrangements ! ’
I tried to stammer out poor thanks for all his goodness to me, but he hurried off in the midst of my blundering attempt. At the door of the room he turned round to say, rather sadly: —
‘I wish I could have given you more pleasure, my dear, but I am a poor old dry stick now! Good-bye!’
And he closed the door gently and went to seek Sylphide in the kitchen. A minute later I saw him walk down the path with her and all was over.
Soon afterward Kate Raven came into the room — to find me broken down in a storm of weeping which I could no longer repress.
‘Oh, ma’am, what is the matter?’ she exclaimed.
‘I have said good-bye to the Master,’ I gasped out between sobs, ‘and I shall never see him again! ’
’Oh, don’t say that, ma’am! He’s just been telling me that you will be with us again for Christmas!’
‘No, Kate. He thinks so, but I know that I have heard him talk for the last time. Something tells me so, and I know that the warning is a true one.’
Nothing she could urge could shake the woeful premonition — a true one, as events proved.
Three days later I received the following letter:—
Sept. 1, 1881.
MY DEAR LITTLE JESSIE, —
I feel every word you say about my kindness as in reality a reproach — for indeed I was very unkind to you — only I thought myself really treating you with more honour by showing you exactly what I was, and how you could — and how you could not help me — than if I had set myself to make you as happy as I could. You will not find that any sylph can make me forget you and I trust that your next visit will be every way pleasanter to you. Meantime I shall have little work to give you, because I am bound to take as little as I can for myself— but I am sure of your power and will — and shall send you many a proof when they are coming again here.
We all send you true and loving remembrances. Joan has a charming baby present to thank you for, but lets me do it to-day, for she’s going to the sea with the children and has more to do than she is able for. Forgive the shortness of mine — it is not coldness — and believe me ever
gratefully and affectly yours
Alas! The brain excitement of which I had had a warning during my Brantwood visit returned in the course of the autumn, and for some long time after this letters were few and far between and not always pleasant to receive when they did come. I wrote seldom and very cautiously, but even so did not always escape sharp rebuke.
But I can honestly say that never for a single hour did the writer cease to be to me the honored Master, who had wrecked his own health in the lifelong struggle to warn and uplift his countrymen — often in the face of bitter opposition and cruel ridicule. I treasured every word of kindness and strove to forget the rest, well knowing how foreign to his own sweet nature was such passing irritability.
The following came to me just a year after my visit to Brantwood.
DEAR JESSIE, —
You don’t give me Mr. Lovejoy’s address — so you must take charge of enclosed letter for him.
Is it really a year? How dreadful! I was only 62 then — and now I’m 63.
Ever your loving
Mr. Lovejoy was a widely known Reading bookseller and librarian — an intimate friend of Miss Mitford’s (author of Our Village). He was quite a ‘character,’and one of his eccentricities took the form of refusing all payment for the loan from his circulating library of any books by Mr. Ruskin, of whom he was a devoted disciple. He said their value was so great that no money payment would be adequate. There were no cheap editions of Ruskin in those days, and many of the volumes were first editions, whose money value no one knew better than Mr. Lovejoy. But no matter — they were lent ‘for love’ just the same. I ventured to suggest to the Master that a few lines of acknowledgment from him would give his old disciple intense pleasure, and he immediately wrote him a charming letter. And the dear old man’s joy and pride in its possession were delightful to witness.
During the course of this summer, against my better judgment, I was overpersuaded into accepting an offer of marriage from a man of my own age for whom I felt the highest respect and esteem, but not the same strong affection which he undoubtedly entertained for me. He, however, urged so strongly that love would certainly follow the intimacy of an open engagement that I weakly yielded, but with the proviso that no blame should attach to me if, after some months of probation, I should withdraw from the engagement.
In writing to tell Mr. Ruskin of this arrangement I confessed that I was not ‘in love’ with my suitor, but was attracted by the prospect of a happy home with a good man who loved me sincerely and strongly, and whom I knew to be of high principles and sterling worth.
Three plans for our future life were laid before me, and the choice was to be left to me — either for him to continue his present employment of farming land in Yorkshire, or for him to take up a partnership in a cutlery firm in Sheffield, or for us to try our fortune in Australia or New Zealand. I asked the Master’s advice in the matter, and here is his reply.
13th Oct., ’82.
MY DEAR JESSIE, —
I don’t understand why you should have felt so guilty! — do you? I certainly never advised you to determine to be an old maid — and — so long as you did n’t marry a bishop or a banker — what had you to fear in telling me about it.
I certainly anticipate great reforms in the matter of Dress, but I have not the least objection to the Sheffield — or any other — Yorkshire accent — and still less to the soupçon of brogue: and am on the whole only inclined to demur to the notion of ‘polishing him up considerably’ — the expression sounds to me more Sheffieldian than the subject of it. I am very glad, personally, that you marry into this family, for which I have great regard and respect: and I am quite sure it is good for you to be married. — As for not caring enough for your husband, it’s all nonsense. All women care a great deal too much for their husbands — unless they hate them! they always think there’s nobody else in the world like them. But men, as a rule, take a much more modest and rational view of their wives.
I should think of the three alternatives of means proposed, the cutlery was clearly the right one, but I don’t see why you should n’t get your husband to realise my vision in ‘Fors’ of the Holy Tapster. I think that part of the old book commends itself to me, more when I’m travelling, than any other.
I’m just going to send a case of flasks of Italian wine to Brantwood (— nominally because the flasks are so picturesque!).
Anyhow don’t go colonizing — I expect lots of work from you when you’re ‘settled,’ in Sheffield. — It’s quite a providential call to you, I think! I’m here just now on Sheffield business, you know, — not that I’m doing any — but anyhow I came to do it. — Write again as soon as you are minded to — Hotel de l’Univers here will be safe for a week after you get this.
With sincere congratulations to you both, I am, my dear Jessie,
Ever your affectionate
The few months’ probation for which I had stipulated proved to us both that the engagement was a mistake, and just before Christmas it was broken off by mutual consent. The news did not displease the Master, as his next letter shows.
(LONDON, S E.)
20th — no— Shortest day, ’82.
MY DEAR JESSIE, —
I could not answer till to-day, and I am a little shy of answering now, for I am not quite as sympathetic in the whole matter as you would like me to be, and on the whole am better pleased at its close than its opening. I did not think your letters were at all indicative of a mind prepared for marriage — nor — as far as I knew the G.’s, did I think the match suitable for you. My impression is that you may be much more useful and tranquilly happy, single, than in a marriage which left you much to wish for in your husband’s ways or gifts. And you would probably at first bore him extremely with Fors Clavigera — and in the end — throw it out of the window—which I should feel sorry for.
I write however to-day only to wish you a quietly re-establishing and comforting Christmas, and to say that I am always your affectionate and grateful
I asked in one of my letters whether the Master would not allow that steam was legitimately used when applied to the steam roller, as it saved so much distress to horses by crushing the cruel and dangerous stones in the roads they had to use. This brought a very interesting and amusing reply.
Sunday, 18th March,’8:3.
MY DEAR JESSIE, —
I have not been able to read your last letter till to-day, but carefully kept it to be read and answered.
Yes, all that you have learned — as to the truth of Romance, is extremely right and true itself—and never any more to be dubitated about.
Yes, — it is entirely ridiculous and entirely Unchristian that libraries should be shut on Sunday. They had infinitely better shut their Sunday Schools — which imply Manner of Work I suppose — and of the unpleasantest!
No — the Steam-Roller is one of the wrongest and harmfullest applications of Steam that ever was. Rolling, after breaking stone is precisely the work for Men who are fit for no other. All the Bond Street Loungers should be harnessed to the Roller in Bond Street — I’ll undertake myself—in times of lounging — with Athletic Tourists who come to do the Hills to Time — to roll the roads of Coniston.
Yes — That is a quite natural consequence of Strikes. And a ‘Liberal ’ Government means — Everlasting Striking. There never was, never will be — any other Law possible for labour than that which Carlyle and I have taught from the Beginning — Just Wages. Compulsory Work. If the Compulsion be of Honour and affection — it is well — If not, it must be, of lead or leather.
No — there’s no new number of Our Fathers out, yet — but there will soon be two—probably three, if I keep well, which at present I have good hope of doing.
Ever affect. yours
Another most serious and prolonged breakdown in health incapacitated Mr. Ruskin for all correspondence, and the only news I had of my friend and Master I owed to the kindness of Mrs. Severn. This break in the letters lasted from July 4, 1885, till September 27, 1887. Mr. Ruskin was then staying at Folkestone. I myself was on a visit to friends at Hythe, where my host was then mayor. One Sunday morning I was prevented from attending morning service at Hythe Church and learned afterward that I had thereby missed a chance of seeing my old friend once more. He had walked over to the service, and after its close was introduced to my host. They walked together some part of the road to Folkestone, and my name came up in the course of conversation. So, knowing that things were so much better, I ventured to write a few lines of greeting and congratulation, but without entering on any personal matters. This brought a prompt though brief reply.
PARIS HOTEL, FOLKESTONE
27th Sept., ’87.
MY DEAR JESSIE, —
I am only ‘well’ — and that in very qualified sense — on condition of never writing a word I can help to friend — (or against foe) — but I am glad to hear you are so well and happy—I suppose it was the Mayor of Hythe who spoke or wrote of me to you? I like his face —and if it was his daughter sate before me in church — I like her’s and should think she must be a nice friend for you.
Tell me of your present surroundings and work — keeping your letters from flying or growing too high — your hand is a little too sprawly— for easy reading.
Ever affectly yrs
Next and last letter.
3rd Oct., ’87.
MY DEAR JESSIE, —
Your letter is beautifully written — give me the sequel of it at your leisure — but do not think of seeing me — I absolutely decline all seeings — and being without my own people only makes me more savage.
You have borne much —I hope happier life is before you — what life remains to me depends wholly on my being left at rest.
Ever faithfully yrs
In 1893 circumstances led to my taking up my residence on the Italian Riviera, where I remained till 1914, only returning to England each year for the summer months. For years it was one of my greatest pleasures to send off to Brantwood at frequent intervals boxes of the choicest rosebuds and violets from my garden, and to hear from Mrs. Severn how much pleasure their arrival gave the Master. For his eightieth birthday I sent a large basket of fruit and flowers, and it gave me joy to hear from her that ‘of all the costly and beautiful gifts he received nothing gave him more pleasure than your beautiful basket of roses and oranges; he has a bunch of the roses still on his table, and they are still fresh.’
But even this slight link was suddenly snapped when a young girl staying with me, looking over the newly arrived English papers, remarked with an abruptness which told how little she knew what the tidings would mean to me, ‘I see that Ruskin is dead.’
And the world was a poorer place to me from that day onward.