John Ruskin.

The works of John Ruskin (Volume 36) online

. (page 68 of 74)
Online LibraryJohn RuskinThe works of John Ruskin (Volume 36) → online text (page 68 of 74)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

tion, and live a useless, though pecuniarily successful, life ; but even
that would be little likely. Whereas, in rendering Turner, you will
live a useful life; and, I think very probably, a highly prosperous one. 2
Always faithfully yours, J. Hi SKIN.

1 [No. .MB in \\'artf ; vol. i. pp. 73-7.5.]

- [For the importance of thi.s copying work, as a means of spreading the know-
ledge of Turner, see Vol. XIII. pp. 529-531. "The work," writes Mr. Ward, "was



KKSWICK, August 15th, 1867. Evening.

MY DEAR WARD, I am very glad that you feel disposed to work
a little during your holiday ; it will be best so every way.

The reason copying has been (justly) despised is that people have
never done it but for money only, and have never therefore given
their hearts to it. I have known one or two exceptions (and those
have been generally ladies) happy and useful in their work, see note
at end.

To copy Turner, and any one else rightly, you must always know
what he means; and this requires constant looking at nature from his
point of view. There is no degradation in doing this, any more than
in letting him, if he were alive, teach you. For instance, your own
point of view, or De Winfs, or Constable's, of a tree might relate only
to the green of its leaves, their quantity. Turner might disregard the
colour, and imagine half the leaves gone from the branches in autumn,
in order to express the grace and anatomy of the limbs. All these
views are natural, but in looking at nature with a view to illustrate
the work of any given Master, you must look at her not " with his
eyes " (which you cannot, and should not) but from his place, and to his
purpose. It will do you great good to see more clearly what Turner
means by those old touches and scratches in his outlines of French
towns and fortresses, and to see the character of the scenes he tried
to render.

You and Allen are on good enough terms, are you not ? I should
like to send you together ; for I want him to engrave your drawings,
and I should like you both to make memoranda on the spot of the
important features in scenes of Turner's views. 2

For instance, in that " Dinant " with yellow sun. 3 I should like you
to outline the two churches and bridge, and any of the more interest-
ing houses in the towns, from the Turner point, as near as you could
guess it.

Luxemburg I believe you can do nothing at ; the sentinels would

both close and trying, and the copies produced were minutely examined by Ruskin
with lens and compasses. But 1 learned more of the marvellous subtleties of
Turner, and of nature, than would have been possible by any other means."]

1 [No. 39 in Ward; vol. i. pp. 76-79.]

1 [This suggestion resulted in a knapsack tour taken by Mr. George Allen and
Mr. Ward up the valley of the Meuse, from Liege to Givet. Mr. Ward refers to
it as being ' ' a most delightful month of walking and sketching."]

3 [Here lluskin drew a rough "thumb-nail" sketch of Turner's " Dinant."]


stop you instantly. Turner could draw with his hands in his coat-
tails, or while the sentinel walked the other way ; but you cannot, and
need not go out of your way to see it ; but if it comes easily into
plan of tour, take it.

I hope to be at home by the 24th, and I should like to see Allen
and you, and that you should start in the following week. IVe no
letter from Allen yet in answer to one I wrote on the subject. As
soon as I receive it, I will think over the best plan of tour, and write
to you again. Ever faithfully yours, J. RUSKIN.

If I had to make my own bread, I should at once endeavour to
get employment in copying the great Italian frescoes while at least
half my time would then be spent in anatomical and other studies from
nature; and I should feel myself quite usefully and rightly employed
putting my whole energy into the business. I should do so, even now,
with far more satisfaction to myself than my present desultory work,
of teaching in various ways, gives me; but I do not feel justified
in abandoning intellectual labour altogether, or giving up the rudder
which is in my hand.


KESWICK, 15th August. Evening.

... I thought I should like a long, quiet day on Skiddaw by
myself, so I gave Crawley some work at home, in packing stones, and
took my hammer and compass, and sauntered up leisurely. It was
threatening rain, in its very beauty of stillness, no sunshine only dead
calm under grey sky. I sate down for a while on the highest shoulder
of the hill under the summit in perfect calm of air as if in a room !
Then, suddenly in a space of not more than ten minutes vast volumes
of white cloud formed in the west. When I first sate down, all the
Cumberland mountains, from Scawfell to the Penrith hills, lay round
me like a clear model, cut in wood I never saw anything so ridicu-
lously clear great masses 2000 feet high looking like little green
bosses under one's hand. Then as I said, in ten minutes, the white
clouds formed, and came foaming from the west towards Skiddaw ;
then answering white fleeces started into being on Scawfell and
Helvellyn and the moment they were formed, the unnatural clearness
passed away, and the mountains, where still visible, resumed their
proper distances. I rose and went on along the stately ridge towards
the summit, hammering and poking about for fibrous quart/ when I
met people an elderly English gentleman and his wife (the riirht sort


of thing not vulgar, but homely) coming down in a great hurry,
frightened at the masses of approaching cloud. They asked me if they
" should be lost in the fog " ? I told them there was no fear, the
path was plain enough, and they would soon be out of the cloud as
they went down. " Well but are you going to stop up here all
night ? " asked the lady. " No, not quite, 1 ' I answered, laughing " but
IVe my compass in my pocket, and I don't care what happens." So
they went down as fast as they could, and I went on, rejoicing in
having all Skiddaw summit "hale o' mine ain"; for this couple were
the only people who had come up to-day it looked so threatening.
It was very beautiful, with the white cloud filling all the western
valley and the air still calm and the desolate peak and moors,
motionless for many a league, but for the spots of white which were
sheep, one knew and were sometimes to be seen to move.

I always even in my naughtiest times had a way of praying on
hill summits, when I could get quiet on them; so I knelt on a bit of
rock to pray and there came suddenly into my mind the clause of the
Litany, " for all that travel by land or water," etc. So I prayed it,
and you can't think what a strange, intense meaning it had up there
one felt so much more the feebleness of the feeble there, where all
was wild and strong, and there " Show thy pity on all prisoners and
captives" came so wonderfully where I had the feeling of absolutely
boundless liberty. I could rise from kneeling and dash away to any
quarter of heaven east or west or south or north with leagues of
moorland tossed one after another like sea waves.

Then I got up, and set to my hammering in earnest: hiding the
bits I wanted to carry down in various nest-holes and heaps, and
putting signal stones by them, for I'm going to take a pony up with
panniers to-morrow, to bring all down. Presently the clouds came
down to purpose as dark as some of our London fogs and it began
to rain too ; but the air still so mild that I went on with my work
for about two hours; and then sauntered clown as leisurely as I had
come up. I did not get back to the inn till seven.

To his MOTHER l

KESWICK, 16th August, 1867.

The letter I have sent to Joanna to-day will seem a strange answer
to your hope " that I have always some one with me on my mountain
rambles " but that would be quite impossible. If I have a definite
point to reach, and common work to do at it I take people anybody

1 [From W. G. Collingwood's Life and Work of John Raskin, pp. 200-201.]


with me ; but all my best mental work is necessarily done alone ;
whenever I wanted to think, in Savoy, I used to leave Couttet at
home. Constantly I have been alone on the Glacier des Bois and far
among the loneliest aiguille recesses. I found the path up the Brezon
above Bonneville in a lonely walk one Sunday ; I saw the grandest
view of the Alps of Savoy I ever gained, on the 2nd of January
1862, 1 alone among the snow wreaths on the summit of the Saleve.
You need :i~l; fear for me on "Langdale Pikes'" after that; humanly
speaking, I have never the least fear on these lonely walks I always
think them the safest for as I never do anything foolhardy, nor
without careful examination of what I am about, I have always, even
in my naughtiest times, felt that I should be taken care of, and that
though if I was to suffer any accident, it might come, of course, at
any time yet it was more likely to come when I had people with me,
than when I was alone.

And, in mere paltry and arithmetical calculation of danger, I
assure you there is more, nowadays, in a walk in and out of London
from possible explosion of all sorts of diabolical machines and
compositions, with which its shops and back streets are filled than in
twenty climbings of the craggiest peaks in Cumberland.

I have, however, been very shy of the bogs, which are a new
acquaintance to me, and of which I had heard awful stories usually
I have gone a good way round, to avoid them. But that hot day,
whether I would or no, I couldn't get from one pike of Langdale to
the other without crossing one. I examined it carefully and I am
sure all the bog-stories about these mountain bogs are nonsense : it was
as sound brown earth under the squashy grass as anybody need wish to
walk on though, of course, in a dark night, one might have tumbled
into pools, as one might on Clapham Common into a horsepond.


KESWICK, Sunday Morning, 18th Aug. [1867]-
It's very odd, I always feel so much better after these wet days

than after dry ones. Fm as fresh as a daisy this morning. Not

much inclined to go to church, though but I shall, and see what is

said to me. . . .

I notice in one of your late letters some notion that I am coining

to think the Bible the "Word of (iod" 1 because I use it ... for daily

1 [A slip for l!{<;.'5. Kuskin's diary for January '2 in that year records: "To top
of Saleve in snow : the purest and most perfect view I ever had of the Alps." See
also the letter above, p. 4'}0.]

1867] "GOD'S WORD" 539

teaching. But I never was farther from thinking, and never can be
nearer to thinking, anything of the sort. Nothing could ever persuade
me that God writes vulgar Greek. If an angel all over peacock's
feathers were to appear in the bit of blue sky now over Castle Crag,
and to write on it in star letters, " God writes vulgar Greek," I should
say, " You are the Devil, peacock's feathers and all."

If there is any divine truth at all in the mixed collection of books
which we call a Bible, that truth is, that the Word of God comes
directly to different people in different ways; and may to you or
me, to-day, and has nothing whatever to do with printed books, and
that, on the contrary, people may read that same collection of printed
books all day long all their lives, and never, through all their lives,
hear or receive one syllable of " God's word." That cross in the sky
was the word of God to you, as far as I can at present suppose
anything, in such matters at all events it may have been. And in
the clouds of 19th July, and the calm sky of last Monday morning,
there may have been the Word of God to me. And continually, by
and through the words of any book in which we reverently expect
divine teaching, the word of God may come to us. ... But one must
above all things be cautious of allowing one's vanity to meddle in the
matter or of expecting a perpetual Divine help and interference.
Most people's religion is so inwoven with their vanity that it, their
religion, becomes the worst thing about them.

Well, I've been to church, and have made up my mind that I
shall continue to go. First, you see, the psalms for the day seemed
to go straight at what was troubling me in numbering the days (90th,
12th and 15th 1 ), and the 91st had many things in it for me, and the
92nd, 4th, 2 was always an old standard verse of mine. Well, then
came the Obadiah and Elijah chapter, 3 which fell in with much that
I had been thinking about the fight I should have with the clergy-
men, showing how priests of Baal really believe their own mission, and
have to be exposed and kicked out of it can't be put to shame in
their own hearts. I got a great deal, too, out of all the chapter
the rainy bits especially. Then in the second lesson, the bit about
Timotheus' father being Greek, and Paul's giving way to the useless
matter of form, was very useful to me, and other things, too many to
speak of. ... I came away on the whole much helped and taught,
and satisfied that ... I was meant to go to church again.

1 [That is, verses 12 arid 15 : " So teach us to number our days," etc., and
" Make us glad according to the days wherein thou hast afflicted us."]

3 [" For thou, Lord, hast made me glad through thy work ; I will triumph in
the work of thy hands."]

3 [For the two lessons, see 1 Kings xviii., and Acts xvi.]



LANQDAIJ?, 21*2 August [1867].

MY DEAK ALLEN, You must have been anxious about your drawing,
but I must tell you about it by talk. Your great fault is taking
tremendous pains in a random, desperate way, not knowing what is
wanted. You must always hereafter solemnly obey this precept

" When you don't know what to do, Don't do it." l

All that stippling on this brown drawing is simply so much mischief
making it look like bare moss or lichens instead of air.

You should have attended to the placing of the dark touches,
determined your depths of shade, and washed all in with the clearest
possible tint, in a quarter of an hour. Now the brown drawing is of
no consequence, but you must not throw away your strength and time
on plates in this way, nor spend them at all, unless you are sure
they'll tell.

I've done it myself on drawings, often enough, but then I had no
one to tell me not. I couldn't send the drawing as you can to me
at any time saying, what next?

Direct your whole attention now to Turner work, and try to get,
first, a rapid, easy way of gradating from pure mezzotint. And on
the whole I should say Get your whole plate always covered well with
black to begin with and work fiercely and with a mighty hand into
it and take what God sends you of luck. I don't like these nibbling
and dibbling ways that Lupton has been teaching you I know that
Turner always dashed straight into the black devil of it, and let light
through him.

For the ten years apparently spent in vain be sure I am more
disappointed with myself than with you. But they ought not (as
human life on the whole is cast for human creatures) to have been
unhappy years to you and when we have lived ten happy or moderately
happy years (of course a wife and children are nuisances, but they
were your fault, not mine), and had one's existence, as far as bread
and cheese go, safe and some dexterity in one's hand there's nothing
to grumble about.

Write to Ward, and tell him I want you both to start for the
Meuse next week. I can see you both on Tuesday but can't tell
where, yet. Ever affectionately yours, J. RUSKIN.

1 [The converse of Mulready's saying, cited at the beginning of Seren Lamps
of Architect ure (Vol. VIII. p. H)).]



MATLOCK, 23rd August, 1867.

I do not know when I have had a more pleasing or pathetic walk
than this morning before breakfast. It was sweet, quiet sunshine, with
dew on the grass, and the rocks beginning to emerge from the mist
in the valley. I am at the old Inn, which Mary l drew in the old times.
It is added to a little, but what was of it remains and looks much as
it did. The grass plot in front, and the tree, are just the same the
garden where I used to play, and gather bits of lead ore, is still there
and the walks still sprinkled with spar and to my great delight the
old fishpond, with superb water-lilies and goldfish, and above, the green,
fresh, dewy fields still untouched and pure.

And I've had your nice letter and a nice walk since breakfast
and Fve seen a cavern, and examined some strange rocks, and got a
mineral or two, and had a chat with the old woman in Mr. Smedley's
shop, who has been there fifty-three years ; and to-morrow by about
this time I hope to be very near home, and shall be very glad to
be so.


DENMARK HILL, September 8th, 1867- Sunday.

MY DEAR WARD, I got both your letters yesterday ; they gave me
much pleasure. I was sure you would enjoy the Meuse, and the Flemish
architecture; and, for my own part, I can assure you that though for
general enjoyment in natural beauty, and for exercise, I go to Switzer-
land, for purposes of art, I should rarely go beyond the French and
Flemish landscape and buildings. A river is, in most of its circum-
stances, far more picturesque than any lake. You get two shores dove-
tailed together, instead of a single independent one with an horizon
line ; and the motion of the water, and traffic, furnish endless incident.

You will be much struck with Huy. But it has been often drawn,
and need not long detain vou. Give me a good account of the river
above Dinant, if it is interesting ; it is little known.

I am very glad you get on so nicely together. I will give what
strength I have this winter to giving you both fair start in this
Turner work.

1 [See Prasterita, i. 83 (Vol. XXXV. p. 75).]

2 [No. 40 in Ward; vol. i. pp. 81-83.]


Details of windows, roofs, boats, and the like, will not bother you
like whole landscape; and will explain much of Turner's obscure work.

Write to me often, but it need not be more than a word or two,
telling me how you get on. Of course, when a wet day comes, I should
like to have more. Allen's letter also highly pleasing. With regards
to you both, faithfully yours, J. RUSKIN.


DENMARK Hiu^ September 18th, 1867.

DEAR WARD, I sent you a line yesterday to post office, Dinant;
and to-day I had yours from Dinant, which gives me great pleasure
(you could not have had answer on 9th to yours of 6th). IVe sent
the cheque to your wife, and, if you find the work is doing you both
good, you need not watch the decline of your funds anxiously, as I
am quite ready to prolong your stay somewhat, if you feel it would
be right that I should.

You cannot enjoy Turner's "fairy" work too much. Thai is divine
to the very day of his death.

But haste weariness Death, in its widest sense, as it begins to
seize on what is called old age all the effects of solitude, of absence
of all human sympathy and understanding; and finally sensuality pro-
ceeding clearly from physical disease of the brain, are manifest to me in
those later works in a degree Avhich is proportionate to my increasing
reverence and worship of the divine fact of them.

Allen is not to be jealous of my writing to you instead of him ; if
he has any geological or other questions to answer he shall have his turn.

I have no idea what that Dinant Rock is. Chalk, I imagined, but
am not sure.

You have two important views to analyze, then ; one mine in which
I imagine the houses and the cliff are fine in detail, and the other the
amber sunset. 2 Truly yours, J. RUSKIN.


20th Sept. '(>7.

MY DEAR ACLAND, Nothing is below my mark ; and this is not
below any man's. But I sorrowfully assure you of one of the few

1 [No. 41 in Ward; vol. i. pp. 84-80.]

2 [Here Ruskiu drew two rough pen-sketches of Turner's " Dinant on the

3 [Who had written to Ruskin, suggesting his acceptance of the office of a
curator of the Oxford University Galleries. For another letter by Raskin on the
subject, see Vol. XIX. p. xxxiv.]


things which I myself know assuredly that all art whatsoever rises
spontaneously out of the heart and hands of any nation honestly
occupied with graven human and divine interests. It cannot be taught
from without; and you and Tyrwhitt are merely directing artificial
inspiration in a dead body. Anything deader cannot be ; and its
resurrection must be otherwise if ever attained.

I utterly disdain to speak a word about art in the hearing of any
English creature at present.

Let us make our Religion true, and our Trade honest. Then and
not till then will there be even so much as ground for casting seed of
the Arts. Of course, with diligent sowing you may get a blade here
and there on the housetops now. But of such the mower fills not his
hand. 1

The first thing to look after is religion. If the nation can heartily
believe even that the Sun is God (like poor Turner 2 ) and act on such
belief and make Sun-Bishops, with eyes it may see its way to better
things. With its present guttered candle-ends of Bishops it may per-
haps explode some fire-damp, which will be beneficial in the end (how-
ever for the present unexpected and unpleasant), but it needn't talk
about "art. 1 " Ever affectionately yours, J. RUSKIN.

Believe nothing that you ever hear of me or my health, except
what I tell you. I am neither better nor worse than I have been
these seven years. I can still walk up Skiddaw after dinner, as a
digestive saunter, and come down it in an hour. And I can't be
bored, and that's pretty nearly all about it.


DENMARK HILL, October 2>\st, 1867.

MY DEAR WARD, I have only time to-day to say that the house
in the square, with its beautifully well-judged omission of detail in
shadow ; and the tall street-view, with the balcony on left, splendidly
swept in, in white, delighted me most. But all are good.

Try for a little more definiteness in outline : they are a little too
vague. Don't be afraid of a falsely-strong line or two to express form,
as long as they are lines only. The eye always forgives a well-meant
outline, but not a false colour, or a careless form. Keep such outlines
in colour harmonious with their place.

1 I Psalms cxxix. 7.]

2 [See Vol. XXII. p. 490, V 7 ol. XXVIII. p. 147.]

3 [No. 45 in Ward; vol. i. pp. 91-93.]


You may write me whatever you like to talk about, provided you
write large and clear. You may trust to the truth of my sympathy ;
but you must remember that I am engaged in the investigation of
enormous religious and moral questions, in the history of nations; and
that your feelings, or my own, or anybody else's, at any particular
moment, are of very little interest to me, not from want of sympathy,
but from the small proportion the individuality bears to the whole
subject of my inquiry.

I have no affections, having had them, three times over, torn out
of me by the roots, most fatally the last time, within the last year.
I hope to be kind and just to all persons, and of course I like and
dislike; but my word "affectionately" means only that I should have
loved people, if I were not dead.

As a matter of practical fact, you may always trust to my kind-
ness in a due proportion, as you stand among other people who require
it ; and to my understanding sympathy in proportion also. But I
have no pleasure myself, now, in any human relation. Knowing this,
you will be able to understand a good deal in my ways of going on,
otherwise inexplicable. Faithfully yours, J. RUSKIN.


DENMARK HILL, November 14th, 1867.

DEAR MR. WILLIAMS, I am very much obliged to the printer for
his correction the word should be u treble," not " double." It gives
me great pleasure to have a little word from you again, and I take
the occasion to ask a question respecting Messrs. Routledge.

They have been teazing me to write for the Broadway. I posi-
tively refuse at present to write anything for anything. But I find
my books, so far as read, are so wholly ram-eacl, and I won't say mis-
understood (for there is no understanding to miss), but mis-swallowed
in America, that they do no end of mischief. So I offered to Messrs.
Routledge, if they could make their peace with Messrs. Smith and
Elder, to extract for them the facts of my books about Art which I
wished chiefly to be read, with a comment or two to prevent indiges-

Online LibraryJohn RuskinThe works of John Ruskin (Volume 36) → online text (page 68 of 74)