in mosaic all the Campagna used to look to me as if its grass were
grown over a floor) ; and the very sense of despair which there is
about Rome must be helpful and balmy, after the over-hopefulness
and getting-on-ness of America; and the very sense that nobody about
you is taking account of anything, but that all is going on into an
unspelt, unsummed, undistinguished heap of helplessness, must be a
relief to you, coming out of that atmosphere of Calculation. I can't
otherwise account for your staying at Rome.
You may wonder at my impertinence in calling America an ugly
country. But I have just been seeing a number of landscapes by an
American painter of some repute ; and the ugliness of them is Wonder-
ful. I see that they are true studies, and that the ugliness of the
country must be Unfathomable. And a young American lady 1 has
been drawing under my directions in Wales this summer, and when
she came back I was entirely silenced and paralyzed by the sense of
a sort of helplessness in her that I couldn't get at; an entire want
of perception of what an English painter would mean by beauty or
interest in a subject; her eyes had been so accustomed to ugliness
elseif (getClientWidth() > 430)
that she caught it wherever she could find it, and in the midst of
beautiful stony cottages and rugged rocks and wild foliage, would take
this kind of thing 2 for her main subject; or, if she had to draw a
mountain pass, she would select this turn in the road, 2 just where
the liberally-minded proprietor had recently mended it and put a new
plantation on the hill opposite.
In her, the contrary instinct of deliverance is not yet awake, and
I don't know how to awake it. In you, it is in its fullest energy, and
so you like weeds, and the old, tumbled-to-pieces things at Rome. . . .
I shall be writing again soon, as I shall have to tell you either the
positive or negative result of some correspondence which the Trustees
of the National Gallery have done me the honour to open with me (of
their own accord), which, for the present, has arrived at a turn in the
Circumlocution road, 3 much resembling in its promising aspect that
1 [Possibly Mrs. Beecher Stowe's daughter : see Vol. XVII. p. 477.]
2 [See the facsimile, opposite.]
3 [A reference to Dickens' s satire on Government Departments ("The Circum-
locution Office") in Little Dorrit, published in the preceding year.]
252 LETTERS OF RUSKIN VOL. I [1856
delineated above, 1 but which may nevertheless lead to something, and
whether it does or not, I accept with too much pleasure the friendship
you give me, not to tell you what is uppermost in my own mind and
plans at the moment, even though it should come to nothing (and
lest it should, as it is too probable, don't speak of it to any one).
Meantime I am writing some notes on the Turner pictures already
exhibited,- of which I shall carefully keep a copy for you ; I think they
will amuse you, and I have got a copy of the first notes on the
Academy, 3 which you asked me for, and which I duly looked for, but
couldn't find, to my much surprise; the copy I have got is second-
hand. You haven't, of course, read Mrs. Browning's Aurora Leigh, or
you would have spoken in your letter of nothing else. I only speak of
it at the end of my letter, not to allow myself time to tell you any-
think about it except to get it ; and to get it while you are still in
This will not reach you in time for the New Year, but it will, I
hope, before Twelfth day ; not too late to wish you all happiness and
good leading by kindliest stars, in the year that is opening. My Father
and Mother send their sincerest regards to you, and do not cease to
congratulate me on having gained such a friend. Believe me, affec-
tionately yours, J. RUSKIN.
You never saw your vignette framed ; it looks lovely.
To ROBERT BROWNING
28th December, 1856.
DEAR MIL BROWNING, Out goes the Mr. for I love you, and you
know how much I honour you besides, so I needn't be respectful. I
do hope, however, you have got my letter about Aurora I sent one,
ever so long ago, declaring my entire faith in it as the greatest poem
in the English language. It has turned my head altogether and I
can't talk of anything else. Last week I chanced to be sitting at
dinner next Lord Byron's granddaughter, 4 and quite forgetting who
she was, I must needs come out with this energetic confession of faith
in Aurora Leigh the moment it was named to my great discomfiture
the moment after, when I recollected whom I was talking to. But
it's no use saying how magnificent it is, for you know, and the world
1 [See, again, the facsimile.]
[The Notes on the Turner Gallery at Marlbormigh Iloutst, 1856. See Vol. XIII.
pp. 1)1 teg.]
[Vol. XIV. pp. 5 *eq.]
4 [Lady Anne Milbanke (married, 1869, Wilfrid Scawen Blunt).]
1856] THE CIRCUMLOCUTION OFFICE 253
is acceptant to the best of its ability. I have not seen, nor heard,
a single bad word or sneer about it, and all the best people shout,
with me, rapturously.
I merely send this line to bid you Good New Year, and to say
how thankful I was to see a statement in the Athenaeum the other
day, 1 and that you can now buy a Giotto or two when they come
in your way and I am sure Giotto's Spirit will send them. Though
I doubt not, you are both of you sorrier for your friend's loss than
glad of anything else.
I am well, thank God, and getting into work. The trustees of the
National Gallery have opened a Circumlocution Office correspondence
with me, 2 and we are just in the first whorl of the shell. Whether any
Blue is at the Murex bottom I know not yet the Pudding Pause of
Xmas has stopped us for the present.
Please send me a single line to say how you are, both.
If Mrs. Browning wants to know what I like best, I like the mice
on the scarlet thread, and the dog watching Aurora (when, my mother
says, she only wanted a good shaking), and the aunt's death, and the
child's life of Marian, and the madness (the Christ wading through
the corn), and all the Italian part, but chiefly " peak pushing peak
they stood,' 1 etc. and the bats, and the Frogs and the lizards: and
the prayer about the lottery, and Marian crying (the leaping back
bit), and Aurora's confession.
and Aurora's scolding letter to Lady W., which made me cry and
laugh till I had to give up, for that day. 3 Ever affectionately yours
and hers, J. RUSKIN.
1 [A paragraph in the issue of December 20 (No. 1521, p. 1573), stating that
Mr. John Kenyon had bequeathed 10,000 to Mr. and Mrs. Browning.]
2 [See above, p. 251 n.J
3 [The passages indicated are (1) in the description of the English country in
book i. :
". . . the sheep run
Along the fine clear outline, small as mice
That run along a witch's scarlet thread."
(2) In book ii. "The very dog Would watch me from his sun-patch on the floor" ;
(3) just after which passage comes the death of Aurora's aunt. (4) The description
of Marian Earle's madness is at the end of book vi. :
" While every roadside Christ upon his cross
Hung reddening through his gory wounds at me,
And shook his nails in anger, and came down
To follow a mile after, wading up
The low vines and green wheat, crying ( Take the girl ! ' "
(5) Aurora's " scolding letter to Lady Waldemar" is towards the beginning
254 LETTERS OF RUSKIN VOL. I [IBM
[Raskin was much engaged during this year in arranging and describing various
exhibitions of Turner's works at the National Gallery (Vol. XIII. pp. xxxii.-xxxviii.).
He also delivered several lectures, including those at Manchester on The. Political
Economy of Art (Vol. XVI. p. xviii.). In July he went with his parents to Scot-
land ; returning thence to continue his work at the National Gallery (Vol. VII.
To C. T. NEWTON-
DENMARK HIM,, \Mh January, '57.
MY DEAR NEWTON, You oughtn't to have been so long in writing
to me; but I am glad to know of your being well, and having so
much in your power; 1 and I sincerely trust you may do all that you
hope, and encourage the Government in this sending of ships to pick up
what they can get yes, and even to entice fulfilment of the old nursery
rhyme, " Five six Picking up sticks," or, as we might read it in your
case, " bricks." I should think this must reward you for a dull year
or two at the British Museum. I don't much care for adventures,
myself, but I had always a turn for digging and for the sea, and the
idea of a digging cruise would be very pleasant to me, if I were in
your place; in fact, I suppose the idea wouldn't be unpleasant to any-
body; but there are dark sides to digging, as to every other pleasure
of book vii. (6) The approach to Italy from the Riviera is described in book
" Peak pushing peak
They stood : 1 watched, beyond that Tyrian belt
Of intense sea," etc.
(7) Later, in the same book, come the "bats, frogs, and lizards":
"... the silent swirl
Of bats that seem to follow in the air
Some grand circumference of a shadowy dome
To which we are blind . . .
. . . the large-mouthed frogs
(Those noisy vaunters of their shallow streams) ;
And lizards, the green lightnings of the wall."
(8) A little later still, in the description of the faces in a Florentine crowd, comes
the old woman who prays to the Madonna for a prize "in Thursday's lottery." (!))
"Marian crying (leaping back)" is the passage towards the end of the poem where
she renounces Ilomney ; (10) soon after which comes Aurora's confession of her
love for him.]
1 [Newton, through the good offices at Constantinople of Lord Stratford, the
British Ambassador, had procured a firman to enable him to undertake excavations
1857] THE TURNER BEQUEST 255
in this world. I began digging under the Mont Blanc this last summer,
and went on till my back ached not a little and till my arms wouldn't
lift pickaxe. I made no very serious impression on Mont Blanc, but
a little on some geological theories 1 and a great deal on myself in
giving me acuter sympathies with those who have to dig all day long.
I am occupied at present chiefly in my old way concerning Turner
and most likely shall continue to be so, as the adjudgment of all his
sketches to the nation puts it in my power to study him far more
fully and easily than formerly. I offered to arrange and catalogue
them all (and they are some twenty thousand in number according to
Wornum's statement), and have had some official communication with
the Trustees about it. I believe, in the end, whatever they may
determine upon just now, I shall have to do it for them, for the simple
reason that they cannot do it themselves; nor get it done, there being
literally nobody, except myself, who knows where Turner's subjects were
taken, or their sequence, chronologically. I have written a catalogue
of the oil pictures, explaining them as well as I can, by way of speci-
men of what may be done in this way, and if the public like it, they
will perhaps want the drawings catalogued too.
I'm sorry you don't like my rambling book 2 so well as my old one,
and surprised too; for you rightly criticised my old writing as show-
ing no reserve ; arid this book is all full of reserve less said always
than I could say. Besides, though it seems to ramble, and does so as
far as arrangement goes, it doesn't touch on anything, except the war,
that it could (according to my first plan of it) have let alone.
Can you send me any informing sort of sketch of the ways of Mr.
Wornum he seems to have a good deal on his hands ; and I want to
know how he is likely to manage it how, also, he ought himself to be
I hope to hear something of you, at Little H[olland] H[ouse], on
Tuesday, but at present I know not where this line is likely to find
you in fact, I suppose you very often don't know, at present, where
you are likely to find yourself. You rather remind me of the Count of
Monte Christo in search of his treasure, if he had taken his friend with
him I forget his name Watts may stand for him 3 on his first voyage.
Don't trouble yourself to write long letters I never do, myself
but send me a line now and then saying what you are doing and how
Watts is, and believe me, sincerely yours, J. RUSKIN.
1 [See above, p. 245.]
2 [The third volume of Modern Painters, entitled "Of Many Things"; for the
passage on the Crimean War, see pp. 410-417 (Vol. V.).]
3 [G. F. Watts was with Newton during part of the excavations at Halicarnassus.l
256 LETTERS OF RUSKIN VOL. I [1857
To DANTE GABRIEL RossETTi 1
[DENMARK HILL. ? 1857.]
DEAR ROSSETTI, I have the drawing safe, and enclose cheque, which
you have nothing to do but to present at Union Bank (close to Royal
Exchange). Please send me word you have received the cheque, as
anybody might present it if it were lost.
I see that you are unwell, and must rest. You shall make me a
sketch instead of this some day; and just remember, as a general
principle, never put raw green into light flesh. No great colourists
ever did, or ever wisely will. This drawing by candlelight is all over
black spots in the high lights. The thought is very beautiful the
colour and male heads by no means up to your mark. I will write
more to-morrow. Ever affectionately yours, J. RUSKIN.
To WILLIAM WARD 2
[DENMARK HILL, 1857.]
DEAR WARD, I have no doubt that you will draw landscape very
beautifully ; both because I know your carefulness and feeling, and
because you so entirely understand the Turnerian character; very few
people perceive it in that way. You are quite right about the char-
acter of inimitable, unattainable inspiration. There is nothing quite
like it, that I know of, in Art.
My book for beginners actually goes in to the publishers to-morrow,
and will not take long to print. Don't be discouraged. I have tried
your patience sadly, but hold out for two months more. The beasts
won't do you much good, I think. 3 I must have a talk with you some
day soon, before term opens. 4 I will write to you when I can see
you. Truly yours, J. RUSKIX.
To Mrs. JOHN SIMON
DEAR MRS. SIMON, I did not answer your kind note, because the
threatened dissolution of Parliament might have sent Mr. Pritchard 5
and his wife, whom we wanted you to meet, into the country again,
1 [From Raskin, Rossetti, and Pre-liuphuelitixm, p. 1.57, where the letter is dated
as above. Possibly, however, it belongs to 1855, and the allusion in the "green"
is to the "Nativity" : see above, p. 227.]
a [No. y in Ward; vol. i. pp. 20-21. The " book for beginners" was The, Element*
1 [*' This was in reply to a proposal of Mr. Ward's that he should make sonic
studies of animals at the Zoological Society's Gardens, Regent's Park" (W. W.)."]
4 [i.e. , at the Working Men's College.]
s [M.P. for Hridgenorth. The dissolution, which seemed imminent at the be-
ginning of the session, came in March.]
1857] CHARLES KINGSLEY 257
but as matters are now arranged, they are coming, and if you can
come too, it will give us all very great pleasure; and so it will not
be selfish of you ; and John will come some day, when you have any
kind of work to do that needs staying at home, by himself, to make
it all fair always provided you come both together very soon. I am
not well pleased with Kingsley myself. This is his second sneer at
me, 1 the first being in his book on the sea shore, which I only
answered by praising and quoting Alton Locke. And whatever he may
or may not think of me, he ought not to shorten my hands when I
am working precisely in the way he wants people to work, with the
lower classes. I don't understand it for not long ago he sent to me a
mightily polite letter, which makes the matter rather worse. I have
half a mind to let him see a little bit of tusk-point one of these days.
All is settled at National Gallery, and I do my hundred draw-
ings, 2 thanks to John and you, I believe, chiefly for which and other
matters new bread especially I am always gratefully yours,
To a CORRESPONDENT 3
DEAR , Would you be so very kind as to write down for me
the titles in English of those illustrated works by Richter, with the
place where you got them so that I can send the same to Printers,
in my catalogue of works to be studied at the end of my book for
beginners? 4 Ever affectionately yours, J. RUSKIN.
Tell Jones his glass won't quite do. I want to talk to him about
1 [The lines (quoted in Vol. X. pp. lv., xxxiv., 609) introduced in the poem
called The Invitation (August 185(3). For the first "sneer," see Glaucus ; or, The
Wonders of the Shore, 1855, p. 57 : " What a variety of forms and colours are there,
amid the purple and olive wreaths of wrack . . . and the delicate green ribbons of
the Zostera, . . . surely contradicting, as do several other forms, that somewhat
hasty assertion of Mr. Ruskin, that nature makes no ribbons, unless with a midrib,
and I know not what other limitations, which seem to me to exist only in Mr.
Ruskin's fertile, but fastidious fancy." (The reference is to Seven Lamps, Vol. VIII.
pp. 148-149.) The praise of Alton Locke was in Modern Painters, vol. iii. (Vol. V.
p. 238). Kingsley had been to see Ruskin at Denmark Hill (see above, p. 190).
Ruskin was afterwards sore at what he considered Kingsley's lack of staunchness
in the Eyre affair, and gave him a large " bit of tusk-point" : see Vol. XXXIV.
2 [See Vol. XIII. pp. xxxiii., 183-226.]
3 [From p. 28 of George Birkbeck Hill's Talks about Autographs, 1896, where
the date is given as ' ' about 1858 " ; but for bibliographical reasons (see Vol. XV.
p. 224) it must be 1857. Burne-Jones, Dr. Hill explained, "has no doubt, he
sends me word, the criticism was entirely just, but no one had the hardihood to
tell him of it, so he has never heard it till now."]
4 [See The Elements of Drawing: Vol. XV. p. 224.]
258 LETTERS OF RUSKIN VOL. I [1857
it, but can't find a day but he ought to get a bit of pure thirteenth-
century glass dune, and put beside his; then he would feel what is
wanted, I fancy namely, greater grace in the interlacing forms and
more distinctness in the figures as emergent from ground.
To Mrs. HUGH MILLER l
DENMARK HIM^ April ( Jth, 1857.
MY DEAR MADAM. I received yesterday evening the book which
I owe to the kindness of your late husband, and which I receive as
from his hand ; with mingled feelings, not altogether to be set down
in a letter, even if I could tell you them without giving some new
power of hurt, if that be possible, to your own sorrow. But there are
one or two things which I want to say to you. Humanly speaking,
I cannot imagine a greater grief than yours, or one which a stranger
should more reverently or more hopelessly leave unspoken of, attempt-
ing no word of consolation ; and yet I can fancy that there is one
point in which you may not yet have enough regarded it. To all
of us, who knew your late husband's genius at all, to you, above
all, who knew it best, it seems to me that the bitterest cruelty of
the trial must lie in the sense of his work being so unaccomplished,
of all that he might have done, had he lived ; and of the littleness
of the thing that brought about his illness and death. It seems so
hard that a little overwork, a few more commas to be put into a
page of type, a paragraph to be shortened or added, in the lust
moment, should make the difference between life and death. Perhaps
your friends have dwelt too much if they have attempted to help
you at all on ordinary beaten topics of religious consolation, not,
it seems to me, applying to the worst part of this sorrow, and they
mav not have dwelt enough on what does fully bear upon it, namely,
the general law of Providence in God's "strange work."- We rarely
see how small the things are which bring about what He has appointed,
nor do we see, generally, the strange loss, which takes place con-
tinually, of the powers He gives. If you contd see this, you would
not feel that He had set you up as a mark, and spared no arrows.
1 [From the Life and Letters of Iluah Millet; by 1'cter Baync, 1871, vol. ">
pp. 48(5-488. Reprinted in /</r/;m/7, April 18i)0, vol. i. pp. 1U5- \'1(\, and thence in
Knskiniana, part i., 1800, pp. 13-14. Ruskin had met Hugh .Miller (18(2-18. r ><;),
geologist and editor of the \Yitnets, at Edinburgh in 1853. The hook referred to
was probably The Testimony of the Itoclcs, finished just before, and published soon
after, hi:- death.]
- [Isaiah xxviii. lil.]
1857] THE COMMON LOT 259
That which has befallen you, though you do not think it, is yet
the common lot of man. The earth is full of lost powers; no human
soul perishes, but, if you could only read its true history, you would
find that not the thousandth part of its possible work had been done ;
that even when the result seemed greatest the man either was or
ought to have been conscious of irreparable failure and shortcoming ;
that, in the plurality of cases, the whole end and use of life had been
more or less lost, and, in many cases, in the cruellest way, by accident
or adversity. And in like manner, if you could only see the origin
of all diseases, you would see that what we called a natural disease
and received as an inevitable dispensation, did in reality depend on
some pettiest of petty chances (I speak humanly) : on the man's having
untied his neckerchief near a window, when he should not; on his
having stopped at the street-corner in an east wind to talk to a friend
for half a minute; on his having worried himself uselessly about an
overcharge in a bill : nothing is so trivial but it may be the Appointed
Death-Angel to the man. And when once you feel this fully (my
own work has taught me this more than most men's, for no wreck is
so frequent, no waste so wild, as the wreck and waste of the minds of
men devoted to the arts), when once you feel it, and understand that
this waste, which seems so wonderful to us, is intended by the Deity
to be a part of His dealing with men (just as the rivers are poured
out to run into their swallowing Death-sea, only a lip here and there
tasting them), and that this law of chance, which seems so trivial to
us, is as entirely in His hand as the lightning and the plague-spot :
then, while to all of us who are still counting the hours, the truth is
a solemn one, to those who mourn for their dead, it ought not to
be a distressing one. It is only to our narrow human view that any-
thing is lost or wasted. God gave the mind to do a certain work, and
withdrew it when that work was done; we, poor innocents, may fancy
that something else should have been done; so, assuredly, in all cases,
it should ; but in no special and separate instance can we say, here
is a destiny peculiarly broken, here a work peculiarly unfulfilled. I
read that God will say to His good servants, " Well done ! " * but not,
''Enough done." It is only He who judges of and appoints that
Pardon me if I pain you by dwelling on this, but I know that
many persons do not feel this generabiess in human shortcoming ; we
are all too apt to think everything has been right if a man lives to
be old, and everything lost if he dies young.
1 [Matthew xxv. 21.]
260 LETTERS OF RUSKIN VOL. I [1857
I have not been able to look much at the book yet, but it seems
a noble bequest to us.
Believe me, my dear Madam, always respectfully and faithfully
yours, J. RUSKIN.
To Sir JOHN MURRAY NAESMYTH, Bart. 1
DENMARK HILL, Saturday, llth April, '57.
MY i) BAR SIR, I was so sincerely obliged by your letter that
I wished to write at some length to thank you, when a sharp fit of
a contemptible, but troublesome, illness, toothache, put me out of
humour for writing to anybody, and now in recovering the lost ground
of work (lost water of work would be a better metaphor, for work is
worse than uphill where one misses it at the right time, and comes
to be against stream as well), I can only send you this word of thanks
to-day. I am grateful for encouragement, especially from people who
can see the sort of work there is in the last things I have done ; for
nearly all people who care about me at all keep telling me there is
nothing I do now like the first volume of Modern Painter. 1 } and I,
who know that the first volume is hasty and ignorant, and the second
spoiled by a well-meant but childish affectation, 2 and that there is five
times the knowledge and twice the sincerity in the work I do now,
am wearied at this, and sometimes feel as if it were no use to know
things better than boys do or to say them in plain English since
people like short sight and vapouring so much better.
I hope this shabby little letter will find you I only send it lest,