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Before long Paris itself became the scene of action, and in January 1871
was besieged and bombarded. So much of Ruskin's work and affection had
been given to French Gothic that he could not endure to think of his
beloved Sainte Chapelle as being actually under fire - to say nothing of
the horror of human suffering in a siege. He joined Cardinal (then
Archbishop) Manning, Professor Huxley, Sir John Lubbock and James
Knowles in forming a "Paris Food Fund," which shortly united with the
Lord Mayor's committee for the general relief of the besieged. The day
after writing on the Sainte Chapelle he attended the meeting of the
Mansion House, and gave a subscription of £50. He followed events
anxiously through the storm of the Commune and its fearful ending,
angered at the fratricide and anarchy which no Mansion House help could
avert or repair.

It was no time for talking on art, he felt: instead of the full course,
he could only manage three lectures on landscape, and these not so
completely prepared as to make them ready for printing. Before Christmas
he had been once more to Woolwich, where Colonel Brackenbury invited him
to address the cadets at the prize-giving of the Science and Art
Department, December 13, 1870, in which the Rev. W. Kingsley, an old
friend of Ruskin's and of Turner's, was one of the masters. Two of the
lectures of the "Crown of Wild Olive" had been given there, with more
than usual animation, and enthusiastically received by crowded and
distinguished audiences, among whom was Prince Arthur (the Duke of
Connaught), then at the Royal Military Academy. This time it was the
"Story of Arachne," an address on education and aims in life; opening
with reminiscences of his own childhood, and pleasantly telling the
Greek myths of the spider and the ant, with interpretations for the
times.

In the three lectures on landscape, given January 20, February 9 and 23,
1871, he dwelt on the necessity of human and historic interest in
scenery; and compared Greek "solidity and veracity" with Gothic
"spirituality and mendacity," Greek chiaroscuro and tranquil activity
with Gothic colour and "passionate rest." Botticelli's "Nativity" (now
in the National Gallery) was then being shown at the Old Master's
Exhibition, and Ruskin took it, along with the works of Cima, as a type
of one form of Greek Art.

In April, 1871, his cousin, Miss Agnew, who had been seven years at
Denmark Hill, was married to Mr. Arthur Severn. Ruskin, who had added to
his other work the additional labour of "Fors Clavigera," went for a
summer's change to Matlock. July opened with cold, dry, dark weather,
dangerous for out-of-door sketching. One morning early - for he was
always an early riser - he took a chill while painting a spray of wild
roses before breakfast (the drawing now in the Oxford Schools). He was
already overworked, and it ended in a severe attack of internal
inflammation, which nearly cost him his life. He was a difficult patient
to deal with. The local practitioner who attended him used to tell how
he refused remedies, and in the height of the disease asked what would
be _worst_ for him. He took it; and to everybody's surprise,
recovered.[24]

[Footnote 24: Mrs. Arthur Severn, in a note on the proof, says: "It was
a slice of cold roast beef he hungered for, at Matlock (to our horror,
and dear Lady Mount Temple's, who were nursing him): there was none in
the hotel, and it was late at night; and Albert Goodwin went off to get
some, somewhere, or anywhere. All the hotels were closed; but at last,
at an eating-house in Matlock Bath, he discovered some, and came back
triumphant with it, wrapped up in paper; and J.R. enjoyed his late
supper thoroughly; and though we all waited anxiously till the morning
for the result, it had done no harm! And when he was told pepper was bad
for him, he dredged it freely over his food in defiance! It was directly
after our return to Denmark Hill he got Linton's letter offering him
this place (Brantwood). There are, I believe, ten acres of moor
belonging to Brantwood." Mr. Albert Goodwin, R.W.S., the landscape
painter, travelled, about this time, in Italy with Ruskin.]

During the illness at Matlock his thoughts reverted to the old
"Iteriad" times of forty years before, when he had travelled with his
parents and cousin Mary from that same "New Bath Hotel," where he was
now lying, to the Lakes; and again he wearied for "the heights that look
adown upon the dale. The crags are lone on Coniston." If he could only
lie down there, he said, he should get well again.

He had not fully recovered before he heard that W.J. Linton, the poet
and wood-engraver, wished to sell a house and land at the very place:
£1,500, and it could be his. Without question asked he bought it at
once; and as it would be impossible to lecture at Oxford so soon after
his illness, he set off, before the middle of September, with his
friends the Hilliards to visit his new possession. They found a
rough-cast country cottage, old, damp, decayed; smoky chimneyed and
rat-riddled; but "five acres of rock and moor and streamlet; and," he
wrote, "I think the finest view I know in Cumberland or Lancashire, with
the sunset visible over the same."

The spot was not, even then, without its associations: Gerald Massey the
poet, Linton, and his wife Mrs. Lynn Linton the novelist, Dr. G.W.
Kitchin (Dean of Durham) had lived and worked there, and Linton had
adorned it outside with revolutionary mottoes - "God and the people," and
so on. It had been a favourite point of view of Wordsworth's; his "seat"
was pointed out in the grounds. Tennyson had lived for a while close by:
his "seat," too, was on the hill above Lanehead.

But the cottage needed thorough repair, and that cost more than
rebuilding, not to speak of the additions of later years, which have
ended by making it into a mansion surrounded by a hamlet. And there was
the furnishing; for Denmark Hill, where his mother lived, was still to
be headquarters. Ruskin gave carte-blanche to the London upholsterer
with whom he had been accustomed to deal; and such expensive articles
were sent that when he came down for a month next autumn, he reckoned
that, all included, his country cottage had cost him not less than
£4,000.

But he was not the man to spend on himself without sharing his wealth
with others. On November 22nd, Convocation accepted a gift from the
Slade Professor of £5,000 to endow a mastership of drawing at Oxford, in
addition to the pictures and "copies" placed in the schools; he had set
up a relative in business with £15,000, which was unfortunately lost;
and at Christmas he gave £7,000, the tithe of his remaining capital, to
the St. George's Fund; of which more hereafter.

On November 23rd he was elected Lord Rector of St. Andrew's University,
by 86 votes against 79 for Lord Lytton. After the election it was
discovered that, by the Scottish Universities Act of 1858, no one
holding a professorship at a British University was eligible. Professor
Ruskin was disqualified, and gave no address; and Lord Neaves was chosen
in his place.

Mrs. Ruskin was now ninety years of age; her sight was nearly gone, but
she still retained her powers of mind, and ruled with severe kindliness
her household and her son. Her old servant Anne had died in March. Anne
had nursed John Ruskin as a baby, and had lived with the family ever
since, devoted to them, and ready for any disagreeable task -

"So that she was never quite in her glory," "Præterita" says, "unless
some of us were ill. She had also some parallel speciality for _saying_
disagreeable things, and might be relied upon to give the extremely
darkest view of any subject, before proceeding to ameliorative action
upon it. And she had a very creditable and republican aversion to doing
immediately, or in set terms, as she was bid; so that when my mother and
she got old together, and my mother became very imperative and
particular about having her teacup set on one side of her little round
table, Anne would observantly and punctiliously put it always on the
other: which caused my mother to state to me, every morning after
breakfast, gravely, that if ever a woman in this world was possessed by
the Devil, Anne was that woman."

But this gloomy Calvinism was tempered with a benevolence quite as
uncommon. It was from his parents that Ruskin learned never to turn off
a servant, and the Denmark Hill household was as easy-going as the
legendary "baronial" retinue of the good old times. A young friend asked
Mrs. Ruskin, in a moment of indiscretion, what such a one of the ancient
maids did - for there were several without apparent occupation about the
house. Mrs. Ruskin drew herself up and said, "She, my dear, puts out the
dessert."

And yet, in her blindness, she could read character unhesitatingly. That
was, no doubt, why people feared her. When Mr. Secretary Howell, in the
days when he was still the oracle of the Ruskin-Rossetti circle, had
been regaling them with his wonderful tales, after dinner, she would
throw her netting down and say, "How _can you_ two sit there and listen
to such a pack of lies?" She objected strongly, in these later years, to
the theatre; and when sometimes her son would wish to take a party into
town to see the last new piece, her permission had to be asked, and was
not readily granted, unless to Miss Agnew, who was the ambassadress in
such affairs of diplomacy. But while disapproving of some of his worldly
ways, and convinced that she had too much indulged his childhood, the
old lady loved him with all the intensity of the strange fierce lioness
nature, which only one or two had ever had a glimpse of. And when
(December 5th, 1871) she died, trusting to see her husband again - not to
be near him, not to be so high in heaven but content if she might only
_see_ him, she said - her son was left "with a surprising sense of
loneliness." He had loved her truly, obeyed her strictly and tended her
faithfully; and even yet hardly realized how much she had been to him.
He buried her in his father's grave, and wrote upon it, "Here beside my
father's body I have laid my mother's: nor was dearer earth ever
returned to earth, nor purer life recorded in heaven."




CHAPTER II

"FORS" BEGUN (1871-1872)


On January 1st, 1871, was issued a small pamphlet, headed "Fors
Clavigera," in the form of a letter to the working men and labourers of
England, dated from Denmark Hill, and signed "John Ruskin." It was not
published in the usual way, but sold by the author's engraver, Mr.
George Allen, at Heathfield Cottage, Keston, Kent. It was not
advertised; press-copies were sent to the leading papers; and of course
the author's acquaintance knew of its publication. Strangers, who heard
of this curious proceeding, spread the report that in order to get
Ruskin's latest, you had to travel into the country, with your
sevenpence in your hand, and transact your business among Mr. Allen's
beehives. So you had, if you wanted to see what you were buying; for no
arrangements were made for its sale by the booksellers: sevenpence a
copy, carriage paid, no discount, and no abatement on taking a quantity.

By such pilgrimages, but more easily through the post, the new work
filtered out, in monthly instalments, to a limited number of buyers.
After three years the price was raised to tenpence. In 1875 the first
thousands of the earlier numbers were sold: "the public has a very long
nose," Mr. Ruskin once said, "and scents out what it wants, sooner or
later." A second edition was issued, bound up into yearly volumes, of
which eight were ultimately completed. Meanwhile the work went on,
something in the style of the old Addison _Spectator_; each part
containing twenty pages, more or less, by Ruskin, with added
contributions from various correspondents.

The charm of "Fors" is neither in epigram nor in anecdote, but in the
sustained vivacity that runs through the texture of the work; the
reappearance of golden threads of thought, glittering in new figures,
and among new colours; and throughout all the variety of subject a unity
of style unlike the style of his earlier works, where flowery rhetorical
passages are tagged to less interesting chapters, separately studied
sermonettes interposed among the geology, and Johnson, Locke, Hooker,
Carlyle - or whoever happened to be the author he was reading at the
time - frankly imitated. It was always clever, but often artificial; like
the composition of a Renaissance painter who inserts his _bel corpo
ignudo_ to catch the eye. In "Fors," however, the web is of a piece, all
sparkling with the same life; though as it is gradually unwound from the
loom it is hard to judge the design. That can only be done when it is
reviewed as a whole.

At the time, his mingling of jest and earnest was misunderstood even by
friends. The author learnt too painfully the danger of seeming to trifle
with cherished beliefs. He forswore levity, but soon relapsed into the
old style, out of sheer sincerity: for he was too much in earnest not to
be frankly himself in his utterances, without writing up to, or down to,
any other person's standard.

Ruskin did not wish to lead a colony or to head a revolution. He had
been pondering for fifteen years the cause of poverty and crime, and the
conviction had grown upon him that modern commercialism was at the root
of it all. But his attacks on commercialism - his analysis of its bad
influence on all sections of society - were too vigorous and
uncompromising for the newspaper editors who received "Fors," and even
for most of his private friends. There were, however, some who saw what
he was aiming at: and let it be remarked that his first encouragement
came from the highest quarters. Just as Sydney Smith, the chief critic
of earlier days, had been the first to praise "Modern Painters," in the
teeth of vulgar opinion, so now Carlyle spoke for "Fors."

"5, Cheyne Row, Chelsea, _April 30th_, 1871.

"Dear Ruskin,

"This 'Fors Clavigera,' Letter 5th, which I have just finished reading,
is incomparable; a quasi-sacred consolation to me, which almost brings
tears into my eyes! Every word of it is as if spoken, not out of my poor
heart only, but out of the eternal skies; words winged with Empyrean
wisdom, piercing as lightning, - and which I really do not remember to
have heard the like of. _Continue_, while you have such utterances in
you, to give them voice. They will find and force entrance into human
hearts, _whatever_ the 'angle of incidence' may be; that is to say,
whether, for the degraded and _in_ human Blockheadism we, so-called
'men,' have mostly now become, you come in upon them at the broadside,
at the top, or even at the bottom. Euge, Euge! - Yours ever,

"T. Carlyle."

Others, like Sir Arthur Helps, joined in this encouragement. But the old
struggle with the newspapers began over again.

They united in considering the whole business insane, though they did
not doubt his sincerity when Ruskin put down his own money, the tenth of
what he had, as he recommended his adherents to do. By the end of the
year he had set aside £7,000 toward establishing a company to be called
of "St. George," as representing at once England and agriculture. Sir
Thomas Dyke Acland and the Right Hon. W. Cowper-Temple (afterwards Lord
Mount Temple), though not pledging themselves to approval of the scheme,
undertook the trusteeship of the fund. A few friends subscribed; in
June, 1872, after a year and a half of "Fors," the first stranger sent
in his contribution, and at the end of three years £236 13s. were
collected, to add to his £7,000, and a few acres of land were given.

Meanwhile Ruskin practised what he preached. He did not preach
renunciation; he was not a Pessimist any more than an Optimist.
Sometimes he felt he was not doing enough; he knew very well that others
thought so. I remember his saying, in his rooms at Oxford in one of
those years: "Here I am, trying to reform the world, and I suppose I
ought to begin with myself, I am trying to do St. Benedict's work, and I
ought to be a saint. And yet I am living between a Turkey carpet and a
Titian, and drinking as much tea" - taking his second cup - "as I can
_swig_!"

That was the way he put it to an undergraduate; to a lady friend he
wrote later on, "I'm reading history of early saints, too, for my Amiens
book, and feel that I ought to be scratched, or starved, or boiled, or
something unpleasant; and I don't know if I'm a saint or a sinner in the
least, in mediæval language. How did the saints feel themselves, I
wonder, about their saintship!"

If he had forsaken all and followed the vocation of St. Francis, - he has
discussed the question candidly in "Fors" for May, 1874 - would not his
work have been more effectual, his example more inspiring? Conceivably:
but that was not his mission. His gospel was not one of asceticism; it
called upon no one for any sort of suicide, or even martyrdom. He
required of his followers that they should live their lives to the full
in "Admiration, Hope and Love": and not that they should sacrifice
themselves in fasting and wearing of camels'-hair coats. He wished them
to work, to be honest, and just, in all things immediately attainable.
He asked the tenth of their living - not the widow's two mites; and it
was deeply painful to him to find, sometimes, that they had so
interpreted his teaching: as when he wrote, later, to Miss Beever:


"One of my poor 'Companions of St. George' who has sent me, not a
widow's but a parlour-maid's (an old schoolmistress) 'all her
living,' and whom I found last night, dying, slowly and quietly, in
a damp room, just the size of your study (which her landlord won't
mend the roof of), by the light of a single tallow candle, - dying,
I say, _slowly_ of consumption, not yet near the end, but
contemplating it with sorrow, mixed partly with fear lest she
should not have done all she could for her children! The sight of
this and my own shameful comforts, three wax candles and blazing
fire and dry roof, and Susie and Joanie for friends! Oh me, Susie,
what _is_ to become of me in the next world, who have in this life
all my good things!"

After carrying on "Fors" for some time his attention was drawn by Mr.
W.C. Sillar to the question of "Usury." At first he had seen no crying
sin in Interest. He had held that the "rights of capital" were
visionary, and that the tools should belong to him that can handle them,
in a perfect state of society; but he thought that the existing system
was no worse in this respect than in others, and his expectation of
reform in the plan of investment went hand-in-hand with his hope of a
good time coming in everything else. So he quietly accepted his rents,
as he accepted his Professorship, for example, thinking it his business
to be a good landlord and spend his money generously, just as he thought
it his business to retain the existing South Kensington drawing school,
and the Oxford system of education - not at all his ideal - and to make
the best use of them.

A lady who was his pupil in drawing, and a believer in his ideals of
philanthropy, Miss Octavia Hill, undertook to help him in 1864 in
efforts to reclaim part - though a very small part - of the lower-class
dwellings of London. Half a dozen houses in Marylebone left by Ruskin's
father, to which he added three more in Paradise Place, as it was
euphemistically named, were the subjects of their experiment. They were
ridiculed at first; but by the noblest endeavour they succeeded, and set
an example which has been followed in many of our towns with great
results. They showed what a wise and kind landlord could do by caring
for tenants, by giving them habitable dwellings, recreation ground and
fixity of tenure, and requiring in return a reasonable and moderate
rent. He got five per cent. for his capital, instead of twelve or more,
which such property generally returns, or at that time returned.

But when he began to write against rent and interest there were plenty
of critics ready to cite this and other investments as a damning
inconsistency. He was not the man to offer explanations at any time. It
was no defence to say that he took less and did more than other
landlords. And so he was glad to part with the whole to Miss Hill; nor
did he care to spend upon himself the £3,500, which I believe was the
price. It went right and left in gifts; till one day he cheerfully
remarked:

"It's a' gane awa'
Like snaw aff a wa'."

"Is there really nothing to show for it?" he was asked. "Nothing," he
said, "except this new silk umbrella."

He had talked so much of the possibility of carrying on honest and
honourable retail trade, that he felt bound to exemplify his principles.
He took a house No. 19, Paddington Street, with a corner shop, near his
Marylebone property, and set himself up in business as a teaman. Mr.
Arthur Severn painted the sign, in neat blue letters; the window was
decked with fine old china, bought from a Cavaliere near Siena, whose
unique collection had been introduced to notice by Professor Norton; and
Miss Harrie Tovey, an old servant of Denmark Hill, was established
there, like Miss Mattie in "Cranford," or rather like one of the
salaried officials of "Time and Tide," to dispense the unadulterated
leaf to all comers. No advertisements, no self-recommendation, no
catchpenny tricks of trade were allowed; and yet the business went on,
and, I am assured, prospered with legitimate profits. At first, various
kinds of the best tea only were sold; but it seemed to the tenant of the
shop that coffee and sugar ought to be included in the list. This was
not at all in Ruskin's programme, and there were great debates at home
about it. At last he gave way, on the understanding that the shop was to
be responsible for the proper roasting of the coffee according to the
best recipe. After some time Miss Tovey died. And when, in the autumn of
1876, Miss Octavia Hill proposed to take the house and business over and
work it with the rest of the Marylebone property, the offer was
thankfully accepted.

Another of his principles was cleanliness; "the speedy abolition of all
abolishable filth is the first process of education." He undertook to
keep certain streets, not crossings only, cleaner than the public seemed
to care for, between the British Museum and St. Giles'. He took the
broom himself, for a start, put on his gardener, Downes, as foreman of
the job, and engaged a small staff of helpers. The work began, as he
promised, in a humorous letter to the _Pall Matt Gazette_ upon New
Year's Day, 1872, and he kept his three sweepers at work for eight hours
daily "to show a bit of our London streets kept as clean as the deck of
a ship of the line."

There were some difficulties, too. One of the staff was an extremely
handsome and lively shoeblack, picked up in St. Giles'. It turned out
that he was not unknown to the world: he had sat to artists - to Mr.
Edward Clifford, to Mr. Severn; and went by the name of "Cheeky." Every
now and then Ruskin "and party" drove round to inspect the works.
Downes could not be everywhere at once: and Cheeky used to be caught at
pitch and toss or marbles in unswept Museum Street. Ruskin rarely, if
ever, dismissed a servant; but street sweeping was not good enough for
Cheeky, and so he enlisted. The army was not good enough, and so he
deserted; and was last seen disappearing into the darkness, after
calling a cab for his old friends one night at the Albert Hall.

One more escapade of this most unpractical man, as they called him.
Since his fortune was rapidly melting away, he had to look to his works
as an ultimate resource: they eventually became his only means of
livelihood. One might suppose that he would be anxious to put his
publishing business on the most secure and satisfactory footing; to
facilitate sale, and to ensure profit. But he had views. He objected to
advertising; though he thought that in his St. George's Scheme he would
have a yearly Book Gazette drawn up by responsible authorities,
indicating the best works. He distrusted the system of _unacknowledged_
profits and percentages, though he fully agreed that the retailer should
be paid for his work, and wished, in an ideal state, to see the
shopkeeper a salaried official. He disliked the bad print and paper of
the cheap literature of that day, and knew that people valued more
highly what they did not get so easily. He had changed his mind with
regard to one or two things - religion and glaciers chiefly - about which
he had written at length in earlier works.


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