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"Good mother is bad mother unto me."
And yet it is not to be inferred that she was over-indulgent. She was a strict Sabbatarian, a most orderly housekeeper, a strict disciplinarian. When Ruskin tells us that he has seen his mother traveling all a summer's day from sunrise to sunset without ever leaning back in the carriage, we have an illuminating light on her character. When she died in 1871, aged ninety, her son inscribed on the east side of the granite slab erected in honor of his parents :
“Nor was dearer earth ever returned to earth, nor purer life recorded in Heaven.”
Early Education. In Praeterita, that most charming though incomplete autobiography, we have Ruskin's own story of his education. It is noteworthy that he himself thinks his "methods of study and general principles of work” to be of such value that he feels justified in recommending them to others. Walter Scott's novels, the Iliad (Pope's translation), Robinson Crusoe, and Pilgrim's Progress were the books he read in his childhood. To this must be added the Bible, that invaluable Hebrew classic that has molded and influenced the style of so many men of genius.
“My mother forced me by steady daily toil, to learn long chapters of the Bible by heart; as well as to read its every syllable through, aloud, hard names and all from Genesis to the Apocalypse, about once a year: and to that discipline — patient, accurate, and resolute, I owe not only a knowledge of the book, which I find occasionally serviceable, but much of my general power of taking pains, and the best part of my taste in literature.”
He taught himself to read, and at five years of age was sending to the circulating libraries for his "second volumes." After tea his father would read to the mother, and John listened, or read, if he preferred.
“ Thus I heard all the Shakspere comedies and historical plays again and again — all Scott, and all Don Quixote. (At seven Latin was begun; arithmetic later.] Geography I taught myself fast enough in my own way.
History was never thought of beyond what I chose to read of Scott's Tales of o Grandfather."
The law was that John should find his own amusement. He had at first a bunch of keys, later a cart, a ball, “two boxes of well-cut wooden bricks," and finally the model of a two-arched bridge. On Sundays no toys were allowed, but he was permitted as a special concession to hold his mother's vinaigrette while he sat through the tedium of the service in Beresford Chapel.
“With these modest, but I still think, entirely sufficient possessions, and being always summarily whipped if I cried, did not do as I was bid, or stumbled on the stairs, I soon attained serene and secure methods of life and motion.”
At twelve he had a drawing teacher; at thirteen Telford gave him a copy of Roger's Italy, and this “ determined the main tenor of my life.” Books and nature rather than teachers influenced him. Of one of his teachers he pours this withering sarcasm: "a more wretched, innocent, patient, insensible, unadmirable, uncomfortable, intolerable being never was produced in this era of England by the culture characteristic of her metropolis."
Out-of-Doors. His best formative influence was God's outof-doors. The elder Ruskin became the leading sherry merchant. Combining business with pleasure, he traveled with his family in a large carriage over much of England, Scotland, and the familiar parts of the Continent, taking orders but also visiting picture galleries, cathedrals, castles, places of historic and romantic interest, and the most picturesque spots of Europe. At an age when most boys are studying colored maps on which rivers are waving lines and cities only dots of printer's ink, little John was seeing Swiss mountains and Scotch lakes.
We cannot estimate the influence of this ministry of inanimate nature upon this sensitive child. He soon learned "it was probably much happier to live in a small house, and have Warwick Castle to be astonished at, than to live in Warwick Castle and have nothing to be astonished at.” When about fourteen hę visited
Schauffhausen, and there fell under the spell that shaped his after life:
“ Thus in perfect wealth of life and fire of heart ... I went down that evening from the garden terrace of Schauffhausen with my destiny fixed in all of it that was to be sacred and useful. To that terrace and the shores of the Lake of Geneva, my heart and faith return to this day, in every impulse that is yet nobly alive in them, and every thought that has in it help or peace.”
At Oxford. - In October, 1836, he matriculated at Oxford, entering Christ Church as a gentleman-commoner, thus escaping the rigors of an entrance examination, and enjoying the privilege of wearing a velvet cap and a flowing silk gown, but having the disadvantage of associating with a group of "young lords and squires who rode races, betted, shirked all work and got into scrapes.” But John was not contaminated by the "bloods" who, strange to say, never ridiculed the shy youth whose mother had taken residence in Oxford that she might keep watch over her son. “None of the men,” he writes, “ through my whole college career, ever said one word in depreciation of vintner papa and his old-fashioned wife, or in sarcasm at my habitually spending my evenings with my mother." He won the esteem of his classmates by innocently asking a question which "floored" the lecturer, but he scandalized the gentleman-commoners by preparing and reading a fifteen minute essay before the class, thus violating a worthy tradition of those work-shirking gentlemen.
With the exception of winning the Newdigate prize in poetry, Ruskin did not especially distinguish himself at Oxford, although his own derogatory statements of the little that Oxford gave him must be taken with a grain of salt. The whole time I was there," he writes, “my mind was simply in the state of a squash before it is a peascod.” He was studious, read widely, and must have fallen under the spell of Oxford. Among his best acquisitions was the friendship of men like Acland, Liddell, Newton, and Buckland. In the winter of 1839-40, while preparing for his final examinations, his health failed; he was permitted to
postpone degree-taking, and with his parents he started in search of health. Two years later he returned, and in the summer term of 1842 took his degree.
Blessings and Banes of His Education. - Ruskin himself has told us what he thought the blessings and calamities of his early education. The blessings were peace, for he never heard the serenity of the home life broken by an angry word from father or mother, never heard a servant scolded, and did not know what anxiety and disorder were; an understanding of faith and obedience -"nothing was ever promised me that was not given and nothing ever told me that was not true"; the habit of fixed attention; and lastly "an extreme perfection in palate and all other bodily senses." These were the blessings; what were the calamities? “I had nothing to love ... my parents were no more loved than the sun and moon." He lacked companionship. He needed the rough-and-tumble experience that comes from fellowship with boys. Naturally of a sensitive disposition, he did not have the home training to counteract this weakness. “The evil consequence, not that I grew up selfish or unaffectionate, but that when affection did come, it came with violence utterly rampant and unmanageable, at least by me, who never before had anything to manage." Second, “I had nothing to endure”; third, there was no "precision or etiquette of manners," and he
was never able to acquire bodily dexterity;" lastly and chief of ills, “my judgment of right and wrong and power of independent action were left entirely undeveloped." The boy suffered from excess of parental solicitude.
The lack of companionship, which one is tempted to call the most serious defect in Ruskin's education, may have had a partial compensation. Having no one to love, he loved nature; not as an abstraction, but as an individual personality:
“The first joy of the year being its snowdrops, the second, and cardinal one, was in the almond blossom, . . . and for many a year to come — until indeed the whole of life became autumn to me — my chief prayer for the kindness of heaven to me, in its flowerful seasons, was that the frost might not touch the almond blossom.”
Modern Painters. — Declining to enter the church, where his parents had hoped he might attain to the dignity of a bishopric, and having no inclination to enter the sherry business, Ruskin, upon his return from Chamouni in 1842, began the writing of Modern Painters. For years he had been interested in art; he had drawn and sketched with most patient persistence under the direction of good teachers; he had written and published essays like The Poetry of Architecture. Working with the enthusiasm of youth, he wrote the first volume of Modern Painters in eight months. It was published in May, 1843, as the work of “A Graduate of Oxford." As the author was but a youth of twenty-four, it was deemed best to publish the book anonymously. The book was immediately successful. Sidney Smith is reported to have said that it was “a work of transcendent talent," and that it “would work a complete revolution in the world of taste."
The purpose of the first volume is expressed in the cumbersome sub-title: Their Superiority in the Art of Landscape Painting to all the Ancient Masters proved, by Examples of the True, the Beautiful, and the Intellectual, from the Works of Modern Artists, especially from those of J. M.W. Turner, Esq., R. A. Though Ruskin must not be thought of as having discovered Turner, for Turner had become a member of the Royal Academy nearly twenty years before Ruskin was born, he interpreted and popularized the great landscape painter. In his enthusiastic defense of Turner's genius he sometimes unduly disparaged the work of others. “Ruskin," said George Richmond, when the critic was indulging in a tirade of Claude, “when your criticism is constructive you talk like an angel; when it is destructive you declaim like a demon." Ruskin's vindication of Turner, in the language of Leslie Stephen, was “the most triumphant” ever published. Among those who were attracted by the criticism and impassioned style of the “Oxford Graduate" were Wordsworth, Tennyson, Miss Mitford, Miss Brontë, the Brownings, Dean Liddell, Jowett, and George Eliot. Holman Hunt, the young artist, records the effect the book had on him: "To get through the book I sat up most of the night. None