The whole system of modern society, politics, and religion seems to
me so exquisitely absurd that I know not where to begin about it
or to end. My father keeps me in order, or I should be continually
getting into scrapes. I have instanced myself, because I could dissect
myself. But look what has become of the most amiable men whom I
knew at Oxford half of them Roman Catholics, the others altogether
unsettled in purpose and principle.
I must really finish for to-day.
P.S. Too late for post yesterday ; I add a line, still about myself.
I forgot to speak of my fondness for mathematics, which was excessive
partly in vanity, but more in love of the employment. I laboured for
at least six months, three or four hours a day, at the trisection of the
angle for my own pleasure. This, of course, should have been culti-
vated. It was so but how ? By pushing me forward into class books,
and giving me so much more than I could carry, that I had to
forget it all. At this moment, I cannot solve a quadratic equation,
and don't know the equation to the parabola ! I ought never to have
been allowed but stop : I will tell you exactly what ought to have
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been done with me had the University been working on a healthy
I should have been first asked what I liked and had been in the
habit of studying. I should have answered Mineralogy, natural his-
tory, drawing, poetry, and mathematics: that I rather liked Greek.
" Good," you should have answered. " Show me your poetry ; write
me a prose essay on any subject that at present interests you. Go to
Dr. Buckland and ascertain how much time he can spare you, and to
15G LETTERS OF RUSKIN VOL. I [isss
Dr. Daubeny and Mr. Hill. 1 Let them examine you first closely, and
ascertain where you ought to begin."
When I gave you my poetry and essay, you would have seen in a
moment that the poetry was uninventive and valueless, but that the
prose writing had some thought in it, and that the talent of putting
words together was worth cultivating. You should then have con-
sulted with Buckland, Daubeny, and Hill, and on their report, have
addressed me next day as follows :
"Sir, you will not, of course, expect that our estimate of your powers
and of what is best to be done for you should altogether agree with
yours but if we are wrong, you will have plenty of time to show us
that we are so, in your after life; meantime, we hope for your diligence
in following out the plan of study we shall adopt for you. We think
that your prose writing is good. You will furnish us with a short
essay every week, on which we will make such remarks as we think
proper. We do not expect you to follow our advice, unless you see the
justice of it. Every iwiter, however young, must form his own style by
his own judgment.
" We do not think it advisable at present to cultivate your taste
for poetry, and we beg of you to give us your word of honour that you
will not occupy your time in writing so much as a single verse while
you are at the University. This is the only thing in which we wish
to put constraint upon you.
(You would not have hurt my vanity very dreadfully by this, and
have saved me much loss of time.)
" AVe will give you every advantage in our power in the study of
mineralogy, botany, and astronomy, but as we h'nd you are unacquainted
at present with the first laws of chemistry, you must begin with these.
" You will h'nd it not irksome to give an hour a day to the study
of Latin grammar an hour to Greek : and an hour or as much more
as you like to Mathematics.
"In all your studies, we have only one request to make you, and
that we expect you scrupulously to comply with : That you work with
patience as well as diligence, and take care to secure every step you take :
we do not care how much or how little you do but let what you do,
be done for crcr."
Then, when I began to work, my different tutors should all have
appointed a half-hour in each day when I could come to them to ask
questions; lectures are, I think, pure vanity. Every now and then, each
tutor should have examined me doom to the root in all that I was
learning, taking especial care to see that however little was learned,
1 [See abovo, pj>. 14, 13.]
1853] "PRACTICAL" PEOPLE 157
nothing was learned partially, and nothing forgotten ; watching also,
in my case, that I did not overwork myself either in vanity or in
With another boy, of course, another kind of treatment would have
been required. You will say, " But this would have needed totally
different machinery.' 1 '' Yes, verily, and totally different machinery I
trust we shall soon have. They have too long forgotten at Oxford the
exclamation of the old cavalier "By G , sir, men cannot be stuffed
as they stuff turkeys'" when his friend sent to him in his prison to
ask what he could do for him before his execution.
Well, I must really stop at last. Pardon me not my thus speak-
ing out, which I know you wished, but whatever has been added, by
egotism, to the length of this letter.
I have not said a word yet about your nice first letter. Most of
it is very valuable to me, but I must make you a request. When next
you are amusing yourself with turning, please turn a bit of wood into
the form of a circular disk an inch thick and four inches over. Gather
a bit of the smallest ivy you can find on your walls, and twist it and
tie it into a little circle small enough to lie on the disk, so [sketch] ; lay
this circle of ivy on a piece of paper beside you, and try to carve out
some resemblance of it on the disk of wood. I suppose a few different
tools will be required from those necessary for the lathe, but you will
find the work more amusing, and I should like much to know whether
you come to any new conclusions in the course of executing it.
P.&. No. 2. There is really nothing funnier among the various odd,
wild ways of the world, than the way the "practical" people turn
round upon Carlyle and Tennyson and Kingsley, and all Thinkers
whatsoever, who find fault with said " practical " persons, saying,
" You find fault with what is going on why don't you tell us what
would be right?"
Ay, just as if "what is Right," in the sway of a mighty nation,
were to be picked up from the ground, handy, and shown to all
comers at once in a neat box, like a diamond ring in a shop window.
You go up to a fellow in the street who is beating his child to
death, and you tell him, " Come, my fine fellow, this won't do ; that's
not the way to bring up your child."
" D n you," says the practical parent, or " D n the little wretch,
what is the way to bring him up ? "
Yes, that is a question, not to be settled on the pavement in the
sunshine, only assuredly not to give him black eyes every morning.
So what is Rigjht in the administration of a nation is not to
158 LETTERS OF RUSKIN VOL. I [isss
be said, nor seen, in a breath or a glimpse. You may have to see
your way to it through glasses stained red with blood, or fight your
way to it through the valley of the Shadow of Death. If you ask
what it is, sincerely, you will soon see where this first blow is to be
struck or not struck ; strike that or don't strike it and you will see
where to lay another no otherwise.
Yes, and another of the funny things in which, by the way, you
took your share when we had a chat last is the practical people's
way of saying, "That has been tried, and failed." Why, of course
it failed. Do you suppose everybody ever played off a piece of Right
on the Eternal Piano without striking false notes at first ? Failed !
yes and it ivill fail fifty times over, depend upon it, as long as your
fingers are baby's fingers; your business is not to mind your fingers,
but to look at the written notes.
When people first try to walk with an Alpine pole, they always
use it the wrong way. You show them the right way, which upon
proceeding to practise, they, as a matter of course, immediately get
a very awkward fall, and get up rubbing their shins. If they were
" practical people," they would immediately say in a grave manner,
"That has been tried, and failed."" But most Alpine prospective
walkers having some poetry in them, they say in an unpractical
manner, " Well, we'll try again," and thus " walking by faith," * after
a few more tumbles, come to be able to cross a glacier.
To F. J. FUHNIVALL-
[EDINBUBOH] November 14th, 1853.
DEAR FURNIVALL, In the mass of nonsense and foolishness, salted
with goodness of heart and honesty of intention, which you lent me
in the form of Ma/zini\s Italy, 3 I am as like to write you questions
at every sentence, as to what you think the poor, mouthing, good-
natured idiot really does mean. I happened to open it just now at
the 212th page, where he says the Regmim meum non est de hoc mwtdo 4
is incorrectly translated, and should be mine, not cxt. He says it is
wrong in the Vulgate. I looked first to the Greek and found it
perfectly right rj [laa-iXtia OVK to-nv, followed, of course, by the well-
known and always rightly given sentence, " But now is my kingdom
1 [See above, p. 11.5.]
: [No. (! in Fitrnirall, pp. 19-21.]
1 [Royalty and KepuMicanism in Ituli, ; or, Xotts and Documents relating to the
Lombard Insurrection, and to the Royal War of 18.' t 8, by Joseph Mazzini : London,
1H5O. lluskin afterwards came to know Ma//,ini better, and to ''"love" him (see
below, j). 47^).]
* [John xviii. ,"(j.]
1853] AUTUMN IN EDINBURGH 159
not from thence." I looked to the Vulgate instantly, my own thirteenth-
century MS., and found it perfectly right. Nunc autem for the Greek
vvv Se, only a little more in Mazzini's favour than the original, for
the Latin nunc might be by forced interpretation understood to refer
to the present time, while the Greek vvv Se means nothing more than
opposition to the former member of the sentence.
And in this sort of way the poor creature drivels on. I happen
to be kept from church by cold this Sunday, to which unaccustomed
leisure you must lay the charge of my inflicting this commentary
I shall still be a month or six weeks in Scotland, I believe, but
home, D. V., before Xmas.
Millais has gone home already in disgust at the weather. Very
little done, must come back. EffiVs best regards. She is pretty well.
Yours most truly, J. RUSKIN.
To LADY MATILDA MAX WELL 1
[EDINBURGH] 28 Nov. .
I have been detained in Edinburgh by Mr. Beveridge's orders, and
thought it was of little use to trouble you with a letter until I knew
when my Giant Hope (not Despair) would allow me to escape from
his dungeon. I find I cannot obtain my liberty for a fortnight yet,
and must go round by Perth, where my wife is staying with her
father and mother. ... I am delighted with the fresh air and beauti-
ful scenery of Edinburgh, and mean, if possible, always to spend the
autumn or part of it at Edinburgh or Perth : our London November
is terrible. I am amazed to hear people in the streets saying it is
cold, on days which appear to me, for the season, quite tropical. In
walking to Granton to-day, the sunshine obliged me to take my great-
coat off, even when the beautiful view of the Castle and the Pentlands
obliged me also to stand still.
To HENRY CoLE 2
PERTH, December I2th, 1853.
MY DEAR Sin, I have too long delayed my acknowledgment of
your favour of the 5th.
I am sincerely glad that you think what I have said about
1 [From -4 Catalogue of Book* . . . also a Collection of Important Autograph
Letters, No. CXXXI. (William Brown, Edinburgh, 1900), p. 39.]
- [Cole had recently been appointed joint-secretary of the Science and Art
Department, of which he was sole secretary from 1858 to 1873.]
160 LETTERS OF RUSKIN VOL. I [1854
education 1 just in itself and likely to be useful; and I would at once
adopt your suggestion as to reprinting it, but I am hampered by my
publisher, who has a most unaccountable dislike to join with me in
any measures of this kind. I think he does not know his own interest,
but for the present I am entirely in his hands. I trust, however, in
a very little while to be able to get out some cheap editions of those
parts of my books which have been judged likely to be useful.
Thank you for the paper on drawing. Very sensible, but I fear
very hopeless. I think it would be much more sensible to consider
drawing as in some degree teachable in concurrence with other branches
of education. Geography, for instance, ought to introduce drawing maps
and shapes of mountains. Botany, shapes of leaves. History, shapes of
domestic utensils, etc. I think I could teach a boy to draw without
setting any time apart for drawing, and I would make him at the same
time learn everything else quicker by putting the graphic element into
other studies. Faithfully yours, J. RUSKIN.
[The winter of 1853-1854 was spent at Herue Hill. Ruskin's wife left him in
April 18.54, and from May to October he was in Switzerland with his parents (see
Vol. V. p. xxxi.). The drawings of Thun (Plate VIII. p. 168) and Fribourg
(Plate IX. p. 172) were probably made during this tour. On his return, he re-
sumed life with them at Denmark Hill, and among other work took drawing-classes
at the Working Men's College, which was opened in October of this year.]
To C. T. NEWTOX
HKKNK HILL, 20th January, 1854.
DEAR NEWTOX, I only heard yesterday of your distress in the
loss of your father, or I should have written long ago to assure you
how sorry I am for you, and how sincerely I can sympathise with the
feeling which such a loss must excite when you are so far away, and
so completely alone. Mrs. Prinsep told me that you were very sorrow-
ful and that you had no one near you towards whom you could feel am
regard. I am afraid I must have added to this pain in some degree
by my own long silence, which, after sending me so kind a letter and
so cordial an invitation, you must have thought worse than heartless.
I put it off from day to day, always thinking I had not time to write
a letter worth sending to Mitylene,'- and always feeling that I had so
1 [In Appendix 7 to vol. iii. of The Stones of Venice (then recently published) :
Vol. XI. p. 258.]
2 [Where Newton was Vice-Consul.]
1854] GOTHIC AND GREEK 161
much to say it was no use to try to put it into a letter. Much to
say, yet perhaps little that would interest you now the whole current
of your mind having been necessarily turned in other directions and
mine, since we parted in Milan, 1 having become still more rigidly fixed
in its old ones ; to a degree which would make you very angry if you
were much with me ; I having come to look upon the Elgin marbles as
a public nuisance, and to find no pleasure but in Turner, Tintoret,
and Gothic of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries whether I find
said Gothic in stone work or in missal painting. I do not mean to
say I have become blind to the merit of the Greek work, but that it
is a kind of merit for which I do not care. I therefore think I shall
interest you more by asking you questions than by talking about
myself you may easily imagine me going on in my old way copying
Turner clouds to be engraved, and talking and writing all I can in
defence of Gothic against Greek, and now producing impression enough
to provoke the architects, as a body, into very nrulent abuse of me,
which is a considerable point gained; at all events it shows I am
One of the principal things, however, which I want you to tell me
is the general impression you have arrived at respecting the point of
pause in Byzantine art. I believe that modern Greek painting and
fresco are precisely the same as those of the twelfth century, but was
the twelfth century work like that of the ninth ? When did the
petrifaction take place when were the types of the Byzantine artist
fixed for ever and what work have you found that interested you of
Greek artists anterior to the tenth century ? I ask this with the more
curiosity, because I have lately been looking over some Greek manu-
scripts of the tenth century, which appear to me full of life, and
far more like Italian art of the early fourteenth century, than the
intermediate Byzantine mosaics in Italy out of which that art arose.
I have not written to you merely to ask this question, as you
will perhaps think, but I put it to you that you may know what to
tell me about if you happen to have leisure for a chat, and to show
you that I have some interest in the things which now surround
you, though I cannot come so far to see them. I have now to thank
you for some beautiful calotypes of Rhodes just delivered to me by
Edmund Oldfield, 2 who had kindly taken charge of them at the Museum
till I returned from the country ; they are indeed very interesting, but
I can't leave my old beats. Thank you also for the offer about manu-
scripts will you tell me how I may send you some cash to pay for the
1 [See Praterita, Vol. XXXV. p. 386.]
2 [For whom, see ibid., p. 384.]
162 LETTERS OF RUSKINVoL. I [1854
tracings ? I should at once have asked you to buy some manuscripts
for me, but in general I do not like the Byzantine missal painting,
and I do not like to trouble myself with exchanges, or else I daresay
I might exchange Greek manuscripts very advantageously with the
dealers here against Norman French ones, which are what I want.
But if you come across any very interesting MS. interesting I mean
in r/, for I don't care about old texts and can secure it for me,
I will instantly reimburse you to the extent of fifty pounds ; only I
should expect a great deal for that price out of those old convent
lumber-rooms. I don't mean only to buy one, you may buy half a dozen
small or one large, as you think best I had rather indeed have
several smaller, as they are more conveniently managed. Advise me
of anything sent, if of value, in time to let me effect insurance on it.
What a horribly selfish letter you will think this, and yet I certainly
did not intend it to be so when I began, but thought you would be
glad to hear from an old friend and a very sincere friend still,
though you might think he had forgotten you ; but no one would
more rejoice in having you back here again.
Eftie joins me in sincerest regards. Believe me ever, my dear
Newton, affectionately yours, J. RUSKIN.
To RAW DON BROWN l
HHRNK HIM., fttnday Evening [April 2, 18.54].
DEAR M. BROWN, I have been thinking over what you said to
me as you were going r.way last night, and am going into town to see
Mr. Smith about it to-morrow. I believe there is no chance of their
being disposed to bind and bring out the book as the first of an
extended series, proposed ; but I think they would be glad if I would
write them a short preface, and in such preface I could introduce a
proper mention of the materials in your hands, and so describe the
present letters as that, if the work succeeds, it would be easy, by
referring to its preface, to constitute it the first of a series to be
called Anglo- Venetian Memorials.
The result of my talk I will let you know to-morrow evening and
in the meantime, it might not be amiss to show the Cromwell
papers to some other publisher, and ask him his opinion of their
1 [For the book referred to iu this letter, see above, p. 148. The Preface pro-
posed by Iluskin was not written ; but it was the publication of this work which
procured Ilrown his appointment to edit the Venetian Archives : see the Introduction
(above). He called further attention to the historical importance of the Venetian
Despatches (including " the Cromwell I'uners") in a paper (" Avisi di Londra") which
appeared in the volume of tracts issued by the Phiiohihlion Society in 18/>4.]
1854] VENETIAN ARCHIVES 163
availableness. As far as regards the present publication, I have no
doubt of being able to get them to adopt good-looking type, etc.,
but I am anxious about the typographical difficulties. I have faith
enough to expect you to receive a sheet on Wednesday but I fear
the promised month may stretch into six weeks in the course of
printing; even if it do not, I fear I shall hardly be able to read the
proofs with the care I had hoped, just in the course of preparations
for leaving town ; and even if I could, my knowledge of the eighteenth
century is very contemptible, and not at all such as to secure you
from awkward mistakes on my part. Now EffiVs friend, Miss Boswell.
leaves us on Friday. On Saturday next, a comfortable room here
would be ready for you and my study, a large and light room, at
your service all day long, as I have another at Denmark Hill. We
should leave you on the 9th of May, master of the house with two
servants, not together perhaps equal to Joan, 1 but enough to boil
your kettle and warm your soup. Mr. Rich would see the sheets
through all the mess and confusion of the first proofs, and the last
clean proofs would be sent out to you daily, so that you might see
them clear of mistakes. If you could spare five or six weeks and
bear the dulness of the place, this would be the safest way. I would
write the preface immediately, and the publishers would let you and
me together pretty nearly do what we liked.
I trust you will believe my very grave assurance that you will
give me heartfelt pleasure if you will adopt this plan, and with EffiVs
best regards, both to yourself and to our kind friends with whom
you are staying, believe me affectionately yours, J. RUSKIN.
P.S. If you cannot afford the time, I will have the sheets sent
after me to Switzerland, as I at first intended, and read them there;
but this will involve another ten days' 1 delay, and your own supervision
would be better.
TO F. J. FUKNIVALL 2
DENMARK HILL, April 2lst, 1854.
DEAR FURNIVALL, My behaviour is disgraceful. But I had been
reading your books 3 with great delight and sorrow, both. That paper
on the poor is indeed wonderful, and most touching; and the Mackay
1 [Brown's servant at Venice ; Ruskin in later letters often asks to be remem-
bered to her, as also to Panno, a gondolier : see below, pp. 440, 480.]
2 [No. 9 in FurnivaU, pp. 28-29.]
3 [Books, not by Dr. FurnivaU, but lent to Ruskin by him. The "Mackay
poetry" was by Charles Mackay (1814-1889). For other references to Lowell's
Big low Papers, see Vol. XVII. p. '477, and Vol. XXVIII. p. 404.]
164 LETTERS OF RUSKIN VOL. I [1854
poetry is very pleasant poison much the same, in relation to good
poetry, as hemlock to celery. The Bigloiv Papers gain on me; they
are very wonderful. I have much to thank you for in many ways.
What are the rules about boys getting into the Wilson candle place,
can you tell me? My servant has a brother, who is a heavy load on
him, and who wants to get into the Wilson establishment, if he could.
I have to apologise to you for my father's unkindness to one of your
social cork-cutters the other day ; I am truly sorry he is so violently
prejudiced. Ever most affectionately yours, J. RUSKIN.
(Thursday Evening.) This was written three days ago, and not
posted. I have not only a good deal to do, but have had a good
deal of annoyance lately, into the particulars of which I cannot enter,
and I am more confused than usual, which is saying much. I shall
be delighted to see you and all your friends on Tuesday afternoon.
I wish I could say Monday, but I have an engagement, already once
put off, for that day.
To MARY RUSSELL MITFORD l
ifaturday Evening, April '2'2, 1854.
DEAR Miss MITFORD, I have just finished "Atherton," to my great
regret, thinking it one of the sweetest things you have ever written,
and receiving from it the same kind of refreshment which I do from
lying on the grass in spring. My father and mother, and an old
friend and I, were talking it over to-day at dinner, and we were
agreed that there was an indescribable character about it, in common
with all your works an indescribable perfume and sweetness, as of lily
of the valley and honey, utterly unattainable by any other writer,
be it who he or she may.
I perhaps feel it the more from having read very little lately,
except of old books, hardly any poetry even among them, but much of
dry history. I do not mean dull by drv, but dry in the sense of
faded leaves, the scent and taste of it being as of frankincense instead
of the fresh honey. I am sure that your writings will remain the
type of this peculiar character of thought. They have the playfulness
and purity of The Vicar of Wake field, without the naughtiness of its
occasional wit, or the dust of the world's great road on the other side
1 [From The f-'riendfhipx of Mary Itussell Mil ford, vol. ii. p. 111). Reprinted in
Igdrnsil, April 1800, vol. i. pp. 122-123, and thence in Itunkimanu, part i., 181)0,