John Ruskin.

The works of John Ruskin (Volume 36) online

. (page 53 of 74)
Online LibraryJohn RuskinThe works of John Ruskin (Volume 36) → online text (page 53 of 74)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

only to sign her name at the bottom of her mother's notes (whence
the beginning of this). The trees having their " flounces " crushed is
very funny and Itose-aceous.

This note came with one from her mother, saying that Miss Bunnett
is not expected to live, and that she is very sad; but that Rosie her-
self is quite well, though not allowed to do anything. Hosiers illness
has assuredly nothing to do with any regard she may have for me.
She likes me to pet her, but it is no manner of trouble when I go
away ; her affection takes much more the form of a desire to please me
and make me happy in any way she can, than of any want for herself,
either of my letters or my company.

Miss Bunnett is, or was, a good girl, and Mrs. La Touche was
very fond of her, and so I am sorry for her.

There is no danger whatever in boating on this lake, provided one
does not sail. I know this perfectly, merely by their form of boat.
If ever the lake became seriously tempestuous, their ordinary service
boats for traffic would be swamped every fortnight ; no water can be
dangerous on which the regular traffic boats are tubs. All the stories
about it are romantic fables. I have indeed seen the wind much too
strong to be rowed against; in which case one simply rows with it,
landing wherever one likes. There is no place hereabouts for twenty
miles in any direction along the shores where one cannot land, and
even in the bay of Uri there are never two hundred yards of cliff
without a shingle beach at one end or the other. At Boulogne I was
often out in sea where with bad management of the boat there would
reallv have been some danger; but here, I should not be the least afraid
to go to sleep in the boat in the middle of the lake (not that I ever
do, for it's too cold) and let wind and wave do exactly what they
chose.



1861] MELODIOUS NONSENSE 387

To his FATHER l

LUCERNE, 2nd November, 1861.

I shall have pleasure in seeing the " Romance of a dull life " but not
if there are more of my verses in it. These are melodious enough but
alas, they are but nonsense, written in the loosest and most inaccurate
English. A sound and close criticism of them would be as follows.

1. "The couchant strength, etc., Of thoughts they keep, and throbs
they feel."

If a throb is felt, its strength cannot be " couchant "; if unfelt,
it cannot be a "throb." By "thoughts they keep," does the writer
mean " thoughts they keep thinking " ? or " thoughts they keep to
themselves""? In either case, the completed phrase is as ungraceful
as the contracted one is obscure.

2. " May need an answering music," etc.

It is difficult to see how anything can be answered, when nothing
has been said.

3. "Music to unseal."

" Couchant strength " is not usually " unsealed." You do not
" unseal a lion." In the use of objects which can be unsealed, such as
documents or old wine, music is not the instrument likely to be employed.

4. "What waves may stir the silent sea."

Waves do not stir the sea. They are a result of the sea's being
stirred.

5. "Beneath the low appeal . . . Of winds unfelt," etc.

This would have been rather a pretty image if, in the course of
the preceding five lines, the writer had not forgotten what he was
talking about. The rise of waves in consequence of the action of wind
at a distance might prettily illustrate the existence of emotion for
which there was no visible cause, but it cannot illustrate the absence
of emotion for which a cause is presumed to exist.

6. "Within the winding shell ... of those that touch it well."

Shells used for musical purposes were of two kinds. Spiral shells
were not " touched,"'' but blown like trumpets, and made loud and
disagreeable noises, for the tones of which, indeed, no one could be

1 [Who had been finding romance in a dull life, it seems, by re-reading his
son's early verses. The lines here dissected are stanza v. cf " The Hills ot Carrara "
(Vol. II. pp. 209, 210).]



388 LETTERS OF RUSKIN VOL. I [is6i

answerable but the performer. The shells which (or, more accurately,
the strings of which) were " touched " to produce sound, were originally
tortoise shells, and had no " windings."" The writer's fancy appears
to be as much at fault as his information, for we are much mistaken
if the whole passage is not merely a blundering reminiscence of two
others, one of which he has not understood, and the other he has
never appreciated namely, Shelley's beautiful " Up from beneath his
hand a tumult went 1 ' 1 of Mercury playing the first tortoise-shell lyre;
and Wordsworth's exquisitely accurate

" Applying to his ear,
The convolutions of a smooth-lipped shell." 2

I should not at the time have liked this criticism to appear in the
Times, but it would have done me "yeoman's service" if it had. 3

You may nearly always know in a moment whether poetry is good
and true, by writing it in prose form. If it then reads like strong and
sensible or tender and finished prose, and is perfectly simple, it is good :

You have the Pyrrhic dance as yet ; where is the Pyrrhic phalanx
gone ? of two such lessons, why forget the nobler and the manlier one ? 4

But, when the dawn came, dim, and sad, and chill with early
showers, her quiet eyelids closed. She had another morn than ours. 5

Mais elle etait du monde, ou les plus belles choses Ont le pire destin ;
Et, rose, elle a vecu ce que vivent les roses, L'espace d'un matin. 6

In some cases reversion is admissible or even desirable but it is
always a fault if it will not read as a vigorous prose form also. Intense
simplicity is the first characteristic of the greatest poetry. I wish I
could let you hear the melodious simplicity of the Greek epitaph on
the Slave, Zosima :

" Zosima, while she lived, was a slave in her body only,
Now, she has gained freedom for that, also."

[From the translation of Homer's Hymn to Mercury, ix. :

"and there went

Up from beneath his hand a tumult sweet
Of mighty sounds."
[The Excursion, book iv.]
1 [Hamlet, Act v. sc. 2.]

* [On these lines from Byron (Don Juan, iii. 80), compare Vol. XXXI. p. H48
Vol. XXXIII. p. ,321. Compare a letter to Coventry Patmore in Vol. XXXVII.
p. 253.]

[Hood's The Death lied: for another reference to the lines, see Vol. XVIII.
p. 7!) "],

1 [" Consolation a Monsieur du Perier, Gentilhomme d'Aix en Provence, sur la
morte de sa fille," in the Poesies of Malherbe, No. xi. 13-10 (vol. i. p. -W of
(Euvres de Malherbe, ed. 1802).]



1861] A DRAWING FIT 389

Or this, on Epictetus :

" I was Epictetus, a slave, and a cripple,
Penniless, and Beloved of the Gods." l

I had a beautiful walk yesterday on the flanks of Pilate. I've
written an account of it to liosie, which, when it is done, I shall send
to you to read first, and send on to her.

To Mrs. SIMON

LUCERNE, Wednesday, 6th November, '61.

DEAR MRS. SIMON, I have just heard from my father, to my
sorrow, that you are unwell; and I must just send you a line to say
that I am sorry, though perhaps you will not believe it, seeing that
in four days it will be a month since you left me on the road to
Geneva, and I have not written a line, which is horrid of me, and
that's the short and long of it.

I've had a drawing fit, and if the cold weather had not come on so
violently all at once, I really believe, for once, a drawing would have
been finished. I suppose now its fate will be like that of all the rest.

I change mind and plans and hopes I was going to say, but I
have no more of those from day to day. The sense of the extreme
absurdity of my writing what I feel or think, any morning or evening,
is a good deal the cause of my not writing. Some days I am utterly
gloomy and lifeless ; others occasionally a little cheerful ; sometimes
sanguine for ten minutes. What would be the use of my writing an
account of myself in any of these faces ? phases, I meant to write but
I'm tired to-day (sleepless with toothache last night) and the pen
slips. On the whole I am a little pleased with what IVe done, and
am coming in a thin crescent out of my interlunar cave ; if I ever get
on into something like moonlight I shall be thankful Sunlight there's
no chance of.

It would be only provoking if I were to tell you in those London
November fogs what glorious light I have here; and it would only
vex you to tell you how little use I make of it, or with what
apathetic eye I can look upon these Alps before my window covered
with radiant new-fallen snow I only wish the snow were up again
where it came from.

There was only one letter to be got out of the Brunnen Post
Office, and that did not look like one of BOD'S; was it the one you

1 [For these epitaphs, see Vol. XVII. p. 522.]



390



LETTERS OF RUSKIN VOL. I



[1861



expected ? John wrote me some nonsense about wine from Geneva,
which please sa'- I took due note of nevertheless, but the accounts had
been so made out by my orders, because I was answerable for the
Bonneville vintage and cellarage, good, or bad.

Couttet desires his respectful regards. I have been sketching out
of doors here as much as I could, but when I get to Altorf I hope
to draw Couttet. I shall be, if all remains well, still a week or ten
days here, and " Schweizer Hof, Lucerne " will find me even when I
go on to Altorf. I'm immensely vexed to lose Amsteg but it \vill be
too cold, Tin afraid (Q. llosine there during winter?), and cold will not
do for me now; it seems to take half the strength I have merely to
meet the wind, if it is frosty. Fve actually found a view of Lucerne
iu which the Sch\vei/er Hof comes in not disadvantageously. But
whether my views be bad or good, I will answer for one thing about
them. They won't get the like of them out of the place by photo-
graph. Let me see how many have I in hand ? There's




and about ten or a do/en more. Good-night. Love to John ami
Boo. Ever your affectionate J. R.



1861] "AFTER ALL, IT IS LIFE" 391



To Mr. and Mrs. CARLYLE

LUCERNE, 1th November, '61.

DEAR MR. AND MRS. CARLYLE, Two days before hearing from my
father of Mr. Carlyle's kind little visit, I had sent an underlined
charge of gravest character to let me know how you both were. I
should have written myself, but was, for a month after leaving home
this last time, in a state of stupid depression which there was no use
in giving any account of. I am now settled here, with a bright room
fire and view of lake. I draw and paint a little every day very
little, but what I do is now accumulative, and I hope will come to
something. I am gaining strength gradually ; and learning some Latin
and Greek. I do everything as quietly and mechanically as I can.
I have little pleasure, and no pain except toothache sometimes. I
forget, resolutely, all that human beings are doing of ridiculous, or
suffering of its consequences; try to regret nothing and to wish for
nothing. I am obliged to pass much time in mere quiet and standing
with one's hands behind one's back is tiresome. I make up my mind
to be tired and stand. The nights, if one wakes in them, are sadly
long one tries to think "after all it is life why should one wish
it shorter?" and one is thankful, in spite of such philosophy, when the
clock strikes. (I wonder if one would be or will be when it is a
passing bell that strikes which will be the same thing, once for all.)
When I've read Xenophon's Economist, and Plato's Republic, and one
or two more things carefully, I shall finish, if I can, my political
economy. Of other plans or hopes, I have none for the present. There
is enough, and a great deal too much, of myself. Mr. Carlyle will
be angry with me for not going on with German, but it is impossible
among Germans; the people make me (or would make me if I contem-
plated them) too angry to endure their language. Switzerland is degene-
rating at least its people are (and the lakes are not so clear as they
used to be). The peasantry seem still nearly what they were (that is
to say, little more than two-legged cattle). The townspeople imitate
and hate the French, having neither dignity enough to stand on their
own ground, nor beauty or modesty enough to respect those they borrow
from. By rifla practice, and much drinking and making disgusting
noises in the streets all night, they are preparing themselves against
French invasion. But what of silent and worthy is yet among them
I do not see, and have no business to abuse them in general terms.

I hope to get home before Christmas : but will write again as soon
as I know about the time. It would be a great delight to me if



392 LETTERS OF RUSKIN VOL. I

Mrs. Carlyle would send me just the merest line to Schweizer Hof,
Lucerne, saying how you are both and that you still believe me to
be affectionately yours, J. RUSKIN.

To ROBERT BROWNING

LUCKRNE, VJth November, 1861.

DEAR MR. BROWNING, I do not know what others of your friends
may have ventured to write or to say to you. I could say nothing
can say nothing but that I love you, and there are few people whom
I do and that when you care to see me, or hear from me, I shall
thankfully come if I can, or write if I cannot.

I think also I may venture to say this : that however enthusiastic
the love, or devoted the respect, borne by all, whose respect or love
was in any wise worthy of her, to Mrs. Browning, there was not one
among them who more entirely and reverently shared in aim and hope
with her than I : nor one who regards her loss with a more grave,
enduring bitterness and completeness of regret not the acute, consol-
able suffering of a little time, but the established sense of unredeem-
able, unparalleled loss, which will not pass away.

I have been ill not a little, neither; and am so still, more men-
tally than otherwise, however and am little fit to face sad thoughts
not that I have many others to face. But I cannot write to you
indeed, of what should I write to you ? every way my superior in
powers of thought, and of suffering. You might possibly have been in
some sort relieved if I could have asked you to forget yourself for a
moment, and to think of me or of things that interested me; but I
cannot even do this, for I am myself in a stats of sick apathy, or
dull resolution plodding on with work which "will probably be as
fruitless as it is pleasureless. I shall be here probably for three weeks
more. I stay here to get light and peace, neither of which I can have
in London ; but I must get home before the end of the year, for my
father and mother's sake. If you care to say anything to me, a letter
Poste Restante, Lucerne, or Denmark Hill after New Year's Day, would
find me. Ever, dear Mr. Browning, believe me affectionately yours,

J. HUSKIX.

To Dr. JOHN BROWN l ("18G1.1

DEAR DR. BROWN, I am so much obliged to you for that beautiful
book about your father. I like it better than anything I ever read

1 [This letter (without the P.S.) is No. 6 of " Letters from John Ruskin " in
Letters of Dr. John Brown, 1907, p. 293, where it is dated " N'ovr. 18(il," hut



1861] EVANGELICAL IDOLATRY 393

about religious people. The story about the old woman's " He'll lose
more than I'll do " is the most exquisite instance of the way strength
and pathos and humour may join I ever heard of human creature.
The Rabbit story is delicious. Ever affectionately yours, J. It.

The story about the whisky is very instructive as to the horrible
and inconceivable way in which the evangelical religion shuts up the
hearts of its miserable votaries, when even a man like that could have
lived to be old, and not known what the human heart was. No Bestial
idolatry of the Egyptian was ever so horrible as that Evangelicalism
in the essence of it.

To Mr. and Mrs. BURNE-JONES *

LUCERNE, Nov. 22nd, '61.

DEAR "EDWARD AND GEORGIE," I answer truly by return of post,
though you will be surprised and troubled at the length of time it
takes to hear from Switzerland. I can get you all the information
you want though I'm not a committee L.F. man, but the secretary
is one of my old friends. 2 You will receive, probably two days after
getting this letter, all that you waut, and I think it will be all nicely
manageable by 3rd December.

I'm delighted to hear of the woodcutting. It will not, I believe,
interfere with any motherly care or duty, and is far more useful and

"the book about your father" the Letters to John Cairns, D.D. appeared in
1860, separately issued and bound, but paged continuously with the Memoir of
John Brown, by John Cairns, D.D. The story about the old woman (p. 479) is
this: "A poor old woman was on her deathbed. Wishing to try her faith,
Mr. Brown said to her, 'Janet, what would you say if, after all He has done for
you, God should let you drop into Hell ? ' ' E'en as He likes ; if He does, He'll
lose mair than I'll do.'" The "rabbit story" is of Dr. John Brown himself as a
boy and two pet rabbits: "I had just kissed the two creatures, when my grand-
father met me. He took me by the chin, and kissed me, and then the rabbits.
Wonderful man, I thought, and still think ! doubtless lie had seen me in my private
fondness and wished to please me" (p. 480). The "whisky story" is of "Uncle
Ebenezer," who was helped in an accident at a ferry by some carters who were
bringing up whisky casks. " He was most polite and grateful, and one of these
cordial ruffians, having pierced a cask, brought him a horn of whisky, and said,
' Tak that, it'll hearten ye.' He took the horn, and bowing to them, said, ' Sirs,
let us give thanks ! ' and there by the roadside, in the drift and storm, with these
wild fellows, he asked a blessing on it, and for his kind deliverance, and took a
tasting of the horn " (p. 485). The P.S. explains a reference in the next letter
to Dr. Brown (see below, p. 396).]

1 [Part of this letter is printed in Memorials of Edward Burne-Jones, vol. i.
p. 233, where Lady Burne-Jones says that the scheme for her engraving her
husband's designs dropped through.]

! [W. H. Harrison, Secretary (or, rather, Registrar) of the Royal Literary
Fund : see Vol. XXXIV. p. 99.]



394 LETTERS OF RUSKIN VOL. I [1861

noble work than any other of which feminine fingers are capable
without too much disturbance of feminine thought and nature. I
can't imagine anything prettier or more wifely than cutting one's
husband's drawings on the wood block there is just the proper
quantity of echo in it, and you may put the spirit and affection and
fidelity into it, which no other person could. Only never work hard
at it. Keep your rooms tidy and baby happy, and then after that as
much wood work as you've time and liking for.

I am getting stronger gradually, I think. The winter suns and
scenes are very glorious here. If I can only work, I don't care about
anything else, and the work cut out for me, as far as I see it, is likely
to be none the worse done because I'm sulky, which I am, very but
always glad of your letters, and always affectionately yours,

J. RUSKIN.

To Mrs. CARLYLE

LUCERNE, 24th Nov., '61.

DEAR MRS. CARLYLE, Indeed I was just going to write again, and
did not expect any answer, for I knew you were ill ; but it's so good
of you, and I'm sure it made you worse. Doing nice, good things
always makes people worse. Only it's wicked of you to teaze me so
about that romantic thing so perhaps it wouldn't hurt you after all.

No, I can't come home yet. There's a difference, I assure you
not small between dead leaves in London fog, and living rocks, and
waters, and clouds. I never saw anything so entirely and solemnly
divine as the calm winter days are here. Dead or living calm, which-
ever you choose to feel or call it. Intense sunshine the fields green,
as in summer, on the slopes sunward but sparkling with clear dew,
frost, and the white hoarfrost on their shadowy sides mounded and
mounded up and far to the pines. They all lost in avenues of light,
and the great Alps clear sharp all strength and splendour far round
the horizon the clear streams, still unchained, ringing about the rocks
and eddying into green pools and the lake, taking all deep into its
heart under the hills. It is like the loveliest summer's morning at five
o'clock all day long. Then in ordinary weather, the colour of the
beech woods and pine on the cliffs and of the rocks in the midst of
the frost clouds ! I never saw such things didn't know what winter
was made or meant for, before. I walked through the Reuss the day
before yesterday, just for delight in its clear green water not many
people can say they've done that, for it is the fourth river of the Alps
(Rhine, Rhone, Aar, Reuss): and it would have given a good account
of me if I had tried it in the summer time even as it was, it ran
like a mill race in the middle, and needed steady walking. No, I can't



1861] WINTER SNOWS 395

come home yet ; must manage it by New Year's Day, though, I believe.
Yes, it is quite true that I not only don't know that people care for
me, but never can believe it somehow. I know I shouldn't care for
myself if I were anybody else. Yes, we'll bring home a Lion * and
I think we shall have some satisfaction in looking at it.

I'm just away to-morrow deeper into the Alps to Altorf to see
how the Grimmest of them look in their snow. I'm better than I
was, a good deal. Still very sulky and reading Latin and Greek, or
rather beginning to learn them but a little comforted in feeling that
I am really learning something and in the entire peace and rest
and being able to swear at people and know they're out of hearing.

There's more cracking of whips and barking of dogs than I like
than Slender would have liked, and there are no Anne Pages. 2 The
Swiss are frightfully ugly ; but when I get tired of it, I can always
get away into the pine woods where it is quiet as the night or row
into the middle of the lake where there is often not a ripple. It
would be good for both of you to come here to finish Frederick you
would have no influenza, and Mr. Carlyle might enjoy his pipe in peace.

I'll write again from among the deeper Alps. Mind and get the
head and the martyrs all right. Ever affectionately Mr. C.'s and yours,

J. RUSKIN.

To Dr. JOHN BROWN 3

LUCERNE, 3rd December, '61.

MY DEAR DR. BROWN, I have been this last year somewhat seriously
ill, though no one knows it but myself. I am now better, but nothing
else than illness could have prevented my telling you of the great
admiration, and what, if pleasure had been possible to me, would have
been pleasure, in and with which I looked over your Horae. It is very
noble writing and feeling and thinking, and will help and heal and
cheer, in all ways, among all people. To me, at the time, the most
available part was that dedicated to poor dear old Sulky Peter 4 monu-
mentum aere, etc. ; but I will read all carofully when I get home.

It was actually pleasure to me to see in your note to my father that

1 [An engraving, or other representation, of the "Lion of Lucerne" : see below,
p. 401.]

2 \Merry Wives of Windsor, Act i. sc. 1 : "Slender (to Anne Page). 'Why do
your dogs bark so ? ' " etc.]

3 [No. 7 of "Letters from John Ruskin " in Letters of Dr. John Brown, 1907,
pp. 293-294.]

* [The paper on "Our Dogs" (Horce Subseciva", Second Series, 1861) was
dedicated to Sir Walter and Lady Trevelyan's glum and faithful Peter thus
immortalised in Horace's way (Odes, iii. 30, 1). The whole volume was dedicated
to Gladstone, A. C. Dick, Thackeray, and Ruskin.]



396 LETTERS OF RUSKIN VOL. I [is6i

you were busy in your profession. I have been reading to-day the
account of the successful trial of the metal plates of the Warrwr. Has
progress as definite yet been made in human Defences against Death,
or worse than death decrepitude? I cannot fancy any study or work
in this age so noble as that of a physician.

I don't know to whom I wrote, but it was not to you, some word
of an impression made on me by part of the Horce. 1 Did it never
strike you what a marvellous, what a frightful fact it was that the
tenets of a sect should prevent a great, good, and loving man from
knowing that there was Humanity out of and apart from that sect,
until he was lifted by strangers from a snow-drift into which he had
sunk in his old age? You say you have heard of me from Lady
Trevelyan that I am busy and well. I suppose she knows. But I
have been busier and better, and hope to be so again.

I am seriously annoyed by my father's sending you those effete and
vile verses of mine, in which the good which they do me by humiliation
is neutralised by the unhealthiness of the discouragement and disgust
which seize me whenever I see or hear of them.

To his FATHER

LUCERNE, Friday, 13th [December, 1861].

I'm very glad you like Emerson. Mamma has a horror of these



Online LibraryJohn RuskinThe works of John Ruskin (Volume 36) → online text (page 53 of 74)