Birthplace: London, England
Location of death: Brantwood, England
Cause of death: Influenza
Remains: Buried, St. Andrew Churchyard, Coniston, Cumbria, England
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Asexual
Occupation: Critic, Activist
Executive summary: Greatest Victorian art critic
English writer and critic, born in London, at Hunter Street, Brunswick Square, on the 8th of February 1819, being the only child of John James Ruskin and Margaret Cox. They were Scots, first cousins, the grandchildren of a certain John Ruskin of Edinburgh (1732-1780). In Praeterita the author professes small knowledge of his ancestry. But the memoirs published on the authority of the family trace their descent to the Adairs and Agnews of Galloway. In this family tree are men famous in arms and in the public service: Sir Andrew Agnew of Lochnaw, Admiral Sir John Ross, Field-Marshal Sir Hew Dalrymple Ross, Dr. John Adair, in whose arms James Wolfe died at Quebec, and the Rev. W. Tweddale of Glenluce, to whom the original Covenant, now in the Glasgow Museum, had been confided. The name Ruskin is said to be a variant of Erskine, or Roskeen, or Rogerkin, and even Roughskin. It is more probably Rusking, an Anglian family, which passed northwards and became Ruskyn, Rusken and Ruskin.
John Ruskin, the author's grandfather, a handsome lad of twenty, ran away with Catherine Tweddale, daughter of the Covenanting minister and of Catherine Adair, then a beautiful girl of sixteen. He settled in Edinburgh and engaged in the wine trade, lived liberally in the cultivated society of the city, lost his health and his fortune, and ended his days in debt. His son, John James Ruskin, father of the author, was sent to the High School at Edinburgh under Dr. A. Adam, received a sound classical education, and was well advised by his friend Dr. Thomas Brown, the eminent metaphysician. When of age, John James was sent to London to enter the wine trade. There, in 1809, he founded the sherry business of Ruskin, Telford & Domecq; Domecq being proprietor of a famous vineyard in Spain, Telford contributing the capital of the firm, and Ruskin having sole control of the business. John James Ruskin, a typical Scot, of remarkable energy, probity and foresight, built up a great business, paid off his father's debts, formed near London a most hospitable and cultured home, where he maintained his taste for literature and art, and lived and died, as his son proudly wrote upon his tomb, "an entirely honest merchant." He was also a man of strong brain, generous nature and fine taste. After a delay of nine years, having at last obtained an adequate income, he married his cousin, Margaret Cox, who had already lived for eighteen years with his mother, the widow of John Ruskin of Edinburgh. When this marriage of the two cousins, who had known each other all their lives, took place in 1818, neither of them was young. John James was thirty-three and Margaret was thirty-seven. In the following year (8th February 1819) their only child, John, was born in Hunter Street, London.
Margaret Ruskin, the author's mother, was a handsome, strong, stern, able, devoted woman of the old Puritan school, Calvinist in religion, unsparing of herself and others, rigid in her ideas of duty, proud, reserved and ungracious. She was the daughter of Captain Cox, of Yarmouth, master mariner in the herring fishery, who died young; whereupon his widow maintained herself as landlady of the King's Head Inn at Croydon. Her younger daughter married Mr. Richardson, a baker, of Croydon; the elder, Margaret, married John James Ruskin. Jessie, a sister of John James, married Peter Richardson, a tanner of Perth, so that the author had cousins of two Richardson families, unconnected with each other. In his own memoirs he speaks much more of these than of any Ruskins, Tweddales, Adairs or Agnews. The child was brought up under a rigid system of nursing, physical, moral and intellectual; kept without toys, not seldom whipped, watched day and night, but trained from infancy in music, drawing, reading aloud and observation of natural objects. When he was four the family removed to a house on Herne Hill, then a country village, with a garden and rural surroundings. The father, who made long tours on business, took his wife, child and nurse year after year across England as far as Cumberland and Scotland, visiting towns, cathedrals, castles, colleges, parks, mountains and lakes. At five the child was taken to Keswick; at six to Paris, Brussels and Waterloo; at seven to Perthshire. At fourteen he was taken through Flanders, along the Rhine, and through the Black Forest to Switzerland, where he first imbibed his dominant passion for the Alps. His youth was largely passed in systematic travelling in search of everything beautiful in nature or in art. And to one so precocious, stimulated by a parent of much culture, ample means and great ambition, this resulted in an almost unexampled aesthetic education. In childhood also he began a systematic practice of composition, both in prose and verse. His mother trained him in reading the Bible, of which he read through every chapter of every book year by year; and to this study he justly attributes his early command of language and his pure sense of style. His father read to him Shakespeare, Scott, Don Quixote, Pope and Byron, and most of the great English classics; and his attention was especially turned to the formation of sentences and to the rhythm of prose. He began to compose both in prose and verse as soon as he had learned to read and write, both of which arts he taught himself by the eye.
His first letter is dated 1823, when he was only four. In it he corrects his aunt, who had put up the wooden pillars of his Waterloo bridge "upside down." At five he was a bookworm. At seven he began a work in four volumes, with "copperplates printed and composed by a little boy, and also drawn." His first poem, correct in rhyme and form, was written before he was seven. At nine he began "Eudosia, a poem of the Universe." From that year until his Newdigate Prize, at the age of twenty, he wrote enormous quantities of verse, and began dramas, romances and imitations of Byron, Pope, Scott and Shelley. What remain of these effusions have no special quality except good sense, refined feeling, accuracy of phrase, and a curious correctness of accent and rhythm. Of true poetry in the higher sense there is hardly a single line.
His schooling was irregular and not successful. At the age of eleven he was taught Latin and Greek by Dr. Andrews, a scholar of Glasgow University. About the same time he had lessons in drawing and in oil painting from Runciman. French and Euclid were taught by Rowbotham. At fifteen he was sent for two years to the day-school of the Rev. T. Dale of Peckham, and at seventeen he attended some courses in literature at King's College, London. In painting he had lessons from Copley Fielding and afterwards from J. D. Harding. But in the incessant travelling, drawing, collecting specimens and composition in prose and verse he had gained but a very moderate classical and mathematical knowledge when he matriculated at Oxford; nor could be ever learn to write tolerable Latin. As a boy he was active, lively and docile; a good walker, but ignorant of all boyish games, as naïve and as innocent as a child; and he never could learn to dance or to ride. He was only saved by his intellect and his fine nature from turning out an arrant prig. He was regarded by his parents, and seems to have regarded himself, as a genius. As a child he had been a "savant in petticoats"; as a boy he was a poet in breeches. At the age of seventeen he saw Adèle, the French daughter of Monsieur Domecq, his father's business partner, a lovely girl of fifteen. John fell rapturously in love with her; and, it seems, the two fathers seriously contemplated their marriage. The young poet wooed the girl with poems, romances, dramas and mute worship, but received nothing except chilling indifference and lively ridicule. To the gay young beauty, familiar with Parisian society, the raw and serious youth was not a possible parti. She was sent to an English school, and he occasionally saw her. His unspoken passion lasted about three years, when she married the Baron Duquesne. Writing as an old man, long after her death, Ruskin speaks of his early love without any sort of rapture. But it is clear that it deeply colored his life, and led to the dangerous illness which for some two years interrupted his studies and made him a wanderer over Europe.
As the father was resolved that John should have everything that money and pains could give, and was one day to be a bishop at least, he entered him at Christ Church, Oxford, as a gentleman-commoner -- then an order reserved for men of wealth and rank. Ruskin's Oxford career, broken by the two years passed abroad, was not very full of incident or of usefulness. Though he never became either a scholar or a mathematician, he did enough accurate work to be placed in the honorary fourth class both in classics and in mathematics. By the young bloods of the "House" he was treated pleasantly as a raw outsider of genius. By some of the students and tutors, by Liddell, Newton, Acland and others, he was regarded as a youth of rare promise, and he made some lifelong friendships with men of mark and of power. Both he and his college took kindly the amazing proceeding of his mother, who left her husband and her home to reside in Oxford, that she might watch over her son's health. The one success of his Oxford career was the winning the Newdigate Prize by his poem "Salsette and Elephanta", which he recited in the Sheldonian Theatre (June 1839). Two years of ill-health and absence from home ensued. And he did not become "a Graduate of Oxford" until 1842, in his twenty-fourth year, five years after his first entrance at the university. In fact, his desultory school and college life had been little more than an interruption and hindrance to his real education -- the study of nature, of art and of literature. Long before Ruskin published books he had appeared in print. In March 1834, when he was but fifteen, Loudon's Magazine of Natural History published an essay of his on the strata of mountains and an inquiry as to the color of the Rhine. He then wrote for Loudon's Magazine of Architecture, and verses of his were inserted in Messrs. Smith & Elder's Friendship's Offering, by the editor, T. Pringle, who took the lad to see the poet Rogers. At seventeen he wrote for Blackwood a defense of J. M. W. Turner, which the painter, to whom it was first submitted, did not take the trouble to forward to the magazine. At eighteen he wrote a series of papers, signed Kata Phusin, i.e. "after Nature", for Loudon's Magazine, on "The Poetry of Architecture." In 1838 (he was then nineteen) Loudon wrote to the father, "Your son is the greatest natural genius that ever it has been my fortune to become acquainted with."
Having recovered his health and spirits by care and foreign travel, and having taken his degree and left Oxford, Ruskin set to work steadily at Herne Hill on the more elaborate defense of Turner, which was to become his first work. Modern Painters, vol. I, by "a Graduate of Oxford", was published May 1843, when the author was little more than twenty-four. It produced a great and immediate sensation. It was vehemently attacked by the critics, and coolly received by the painters. Even Turner was somewhat disconcerted; but the painter was now known to both Ruskins, and they freely bought his pictures. The family then went again to the Alps, that John might study mountain formation and "Truth" in landscape. In 1845 he was again abroad in Italy, working on his Modern Painters, the second volume of which appeared in 1846. He had now plunged into the study of Bellini and the Venetian school, Fra Angelico and the early Tuscans, and he visited Lucca, Pisa, Florence, Padua, Verona and Venice, passionately devoting himself to architecture, sculpture and painting in each city of north Italy. He wrote a few essays for the Quarterly Review and other periodicals, and in 1849 he published The Seven Lamps of Architecture, with his own etchings, which greatly increased the reputation acquired by his Modern Painters.
On the 10th of April 1848, a day famous in the history of Chartism, Ruskin was married at Perth to Euphemia Chalmers Gray, a lady of great beauty, of a family long intimate with the Ruskins. The marriage, we are told, was arranged by the parents of the pair, and was a somewhat hurried act. It was evidently ill-assorted, and brought no happiness to either. They travelled, lived in London, saw society, and attended a "Drawing-room" at Buckingham Palace. But Ruskin, immersed in various studies and projects, was no husband for a brilliant woman devoted to society. No particulars of their life have been made public. In 1854 his wife left him, obtained a nullification of the marriage under Scots law, and ultimately became the wife of John Everett Millais. John Ruskin returned to his parents, with whom he resided until their death; and neither his marriage nor the annulling of it seems to have affected seriously his literary career.
Ruskin's architectural studies, of which The Seven Lamps was the first fruit, turned him from Turner and Modern Painters. He planned a book about Venice in 1845, and The Stones of Venice was announced in 1849 as in preparation. After intense study in Italy and at home, early in 1851 (the year of the Great Exhibition in London) the first volume of The Stones of Venice appeared. It was by no means a mere antiquarian and artistic study. It was a concrete expansion of the ideas of The Seven Lamps -- that the buildings and art of a people are the expression of their religion, their morality, their national aspirations and social habits. It was, as Carlyle wrote to the author, "a sermon in stones", "a singular sign of the times", "a new Renaissance." It appeared in the same year with the Construction of Skeepfolds -- a plea for the reunion of Christian churches -- in the same year with the essay on Pre-Raphaelitism, the year of Turner's death (19th December). The Stones of Venice was illustrated with engravings by some of the most refined artists of his time. The author spent a world of pains in having these brought up to the highest perfection of the reproductive art, and began the system of exquisite illustration, and those facsimiles of his own and other sketches, which make his works rank so high in the catalogues and pricelists of collectors. This delicate art was carried even farther in the later volumes of Modern Painters by the school of engravers whom Ruskin inspired and gathered around him. And these now rare and coveted pieces remain to rebuke us for our modern preference for the mechanical and unnatural chiaroscuro of photogravure -- the successor and destroyer of the graver's art. Although Ruskin was practiced in drawing from the time that he could hold a pencil, and had lessons in painting from some eminent artists, he at no time attempted to paint pictures. He said himself that he was unable to compose a picture, and he never sought to produce anything that he would call a work of original art. His drawings, of which he produced an enormous quantity, were always intended by himself to be studies or memoranda of buildings or natural objects precisely as they appeared to his eye. Clouds, mountains, landscapes, towers, churches, trees, flowers and herbs were drawn with wonderful precision, minuteness of detail and delicacy of hand, solely to recall some specific aspect of nature or art, of which he wished to retain a record. In his gift for recording the most subtle characters of architectural carvings and details, Ruskin has hardly been surpassed by the most distinguished painters.
In 1853 The Stones of Venice was completed at Herne Hill, and he began a series of Letters and Notes on pictures and architecture. In this year he opened the long series of public lectures wherein he came forward as an oral teacher and preacher, not a little to the alarm of his parents and amidst a storm of controversy. The Edinburgh Lectures (November 1853) treated Architecture, Turner, and Pre-Raphaelitism. The Manchester Lectures (July 1857) treated the moral and social uses of art, now embodied in A Joy for Ever. Some other lectures are reprinted in On the Old Road and The Two Paths (1859). These lectures did not prevent the issue of various Notes on the Royal Academy pictures and the Turner collections; works on the Harbours of England (1856); on the Elements of Drawing (1857); the Elements of Perspective (1859); and at last, after prolonged labor, the fifth and final volume of Modern Painters was published in 1860. This marks an epoch in the career of John Ruskin; and the year 1860 closed the series, of his works on art strictly so called; indeed, this was the last of his regular works in substantial form. The last forty years of his life were devoted to expounding his views, or rather his doctrines, on social and industrial problems, on education, morals and religion, wherein art becomes an incidental and instrumental means to a higher and more spiritual life. And his teaching was embodied in an enormous series of Lectures, Letters, Articles, Selections and serial pamphlets. These are now collected in upwards of thirty volumes in the final edition. The entire set of Ruskin's publications amounts to more than fifty works having distinctive titles. For some years before 1860 Ruskin had been deeply stirred by reflecting on the condition of all industrial work and the evils of modern society. His lectures on art had dealt bitterly with the mode in which buildings and other works were produced. In 1854 he joined Mr. F. D. Maurice, Mr. T. Hughes, and several of the new school of painters, in teaching classes at the Working Men's College. But it was not until 1860 that he definitely began to propound a new social scheme, denouncing the dogmas of political economy. Four lectures on this topic appeared in the Cornhill Magazine until the public disapproval led the editor, then William Makepeace Thackeray, to close the series. They were published in 1862 as Unto this Last. In the same year he wrote four papers in the same sense in Fraser's Magazine, then edited by J. A. Froude; but he in turn was compelled to suspend the issue. They were completed and ultimately issued under the title Munera Pulveris. These two small books contain the earliest and most systematic of all Ruskin's efforts to depict a new social Utopia: they contain a vehement repudiation of the orthodox formulas of the economists; and they are for the most part written in a trenchant but simple style, in striking contrast to the florid and discursive form of his works on art.
In 1864 Ruskin's father died, at the age of 79, leaving his son a large fortune and a fine property at Denmark Hill. John still lived there with his mother, aged 83, infirm, and failing in sight, to whom came as a companion their cousin, Joanna Ruskin Agnew, afterwards Mrs. Arthur Severn. At the end of the year 1864 Ruskin delivered at Manchester a new series of lectures -- not on art, but on reading, education, woman's work and social morals -- the expansion of his earlier treatises on economic sophisms. This afterwards was included with a Dublin lecture of 1868 under the fantastic title of Sesame and Lilies (perhaps the most popular of his social essays), of which 44,000 copies were issued down to 1900. He made this, in 1871, the first volume of his collected lectures and essays, the more popular and didactic form of his new Utopia of human life. It contains, with Fors, the most complete sketch of his conception of the place of woman in modern society. In the very characteristic preface to the new edition of 1871 he proposes never to reprint his earlier works on art; disclaims many of the views they contained, and much in their literary form; and specially regrets the narrow Protestantism by which they were pervaded. In the year 1866 he published a little book about girls, and written for girls, a mixture of morals, theology, economics and geology, under the title of Ethics of the Dust; and this was followed by a more important and popular work, The Crown of Wild Olive. This in its ultimate form contained lectures on "Work", "Traffic", "War", and the "Future of England." It was one of his most trenchant utterances, full of fancy, wit, eloquence and elevated thought. But a more serious volume was Time and Tide (1867), a series of twenty-five letters to a workman of Sunderland, upon various points in the Ruskinian Utopia. This little collection of "Thoughts", written with wonderful vivacity, ingenuity and fervor, is the best summary of the author's social and economic program, and contains some of his wisest and finest thoughts in the purest and most masculine English that he had at his command. In 1869 he issued the Queen of the Air, lectures on Greek myths, a subject he now took up, with some aid from the late Sir C. Newton. It was followed by some other occasional pieces; and in the same year he was elected Slade professor of art in the University of Oxford. He now entered on his professorial career, which continued with some intervals down to 1884, and occupied a large part of his energies. His lectures began in February 1870, and were so crowded that they had to be given in the Sheldonian Theatre, and frequently were repeated to a second audience. He was made honorary fellow of Corpus Christi, and occupied rooms in the college. In 1871 his mother died, at the age of 90, and his cousin, Miss Agnew, married Mr. Arthur Severn. In that year he bought from Mr. Linton, Brantwood, an old cottage and property on Coniston Lake, a lovely spot facing the mountain named the Old Man. He added greatly to the house and property, and lived in it continuously until his death in 1900. In 1871, one of the most eventful years of his life, be began Fors Clavigera, a small serial addressed to the working men of England, and published only by George Allen, engraver at Keston in Kent, at 7d., and afterwards at 10d., but without discount, and not through the trade. This was a medley of social, moral and religious reflections interspersed with casual thoughts about persons, events and art. Fors means alternatively Fate, Force or Chance, bearing the Clavis, Club, Key or Nail, i.e. power, patience and law. It was a desultory exposition of the Ruskinian ideal of life, manners and society, full of wit, play, invective and sermons on things in general. It was continued with intervals down to 1884, and contained ninety-six letters or pamphlets, partly illustrated, which originally filled eight volumes and are now reduced to four.
The early years of his Oxford professorship were occupied by severe labor, sundry travels, attacks of illness and another cruel disappointment in love. In spite of this, he lectured, founded a museum of art, to which he gave pictures and drawings and £5000; he sought to form at Oxford a school of drawing; he started a model shop for the sale of tea, and model lodgings in Marylebone for poor tenants. At Oxford he set his pupils to work on making roads to improve the country. He now founded "St. George's Guild", himself contributing £7000, the object of which was to form a model industrial and social movement, to buy lands, mills and factories, and to start a model industry on cooperative or Socialist lines. In connection with this was a museum for the study of art and science at Sheffield. Ruskin himself endowed the museum with works of art and money; a full account of it has been given in E. T. Cook's Studies in Ruskin (1890), which contains the particulars of his university lectures and of his economic and social experiments. It is unnecessary to follow out the history of these somewhat unpromising attempts. None of them came to much good, except the Sheffield museum, which is an established success, and is now transferred to the town. In Fors, which was continued month by month for seven years, Ruskin poured out his thoughts, proposals and rebukes on society and persons with inexhaustible fancy, wit, eloquence and freedom, until he was attacked with a violent brain malady in the spring of 1878; and, although he recovered in a few months sufficiently to do some occasional work, he resigned his professorship early in 1879. The next three years he spent at Brantwood, mainly in retirement, and unhappy in finding nearly all his labors interrupted by his broken health. In 1880 he was able to travel in northern France, and began the Bible of Amiens, finished in 1885; and he issued occasional numbers of Fors, the last of which appeared at Christmas 1884. In 1882 he had another serious illness, with inflammation of the brain; but he recovered sufficiently to travel to his old haunts in France and Italy -- his last visit. And in the following year he was re-elected professor at Oxford and resumed his lectures; but increasing brain excitement, and indignation at the establishment of a laboratory to which vivisection was admitted, led him to resign his Oxford career, and he retired in 1884 to Brantwood, which he never left. He now suffered from frequent attacks of brain irritation and exhaustion, and had many causes of sorrow and disappointment. His lectures were published at intervals from 1870 to 1885 in Aratra Pentelici, The Eagle's Nest, Love's Meinie, Ariadne Florentina, Val d'Arno, Proserpina, Deucalion, The Laws of Fesolé, The Bible of Amiens, The Art of England and The Pleasures of England, together with a series of pamphlets, letters, articles, notes, catalogues and circulars.
In the retirement of Brantwood he began his last work, Praeterita, a desultory autobiography with personal anecdotes and reminiscences. He was again attacked with the same mental malady in 1885, which henceforth left him fit only for occasional letters and notes. In 1887 it was found that he had exhausted (spent, and given away) the whole of the fortune he had received from his father, amounting, it is said, to something like £200,000; and he was dependent on the vast and increasing sale of his works, which produced an average income of £4000 a year, and at times on the sale of his pictures and realizable property. In 1872 a correspondent had remonstrated with him in vain as to taking "usury", i.e. interest on capital lent to others for use. In 1874 Ruskin himself had begun to doubt its lawfulness. In 1876 he fiercely assailed the practice of receiving interest or rent, and he henceforth lived on his capital, which he gave freely to friends, dependants, public societies, charitable and social objects. The course of his opinions and his practice is fully explained in successive letters in Fors. Until 1889 he continued to write chapters of Praeterita, which was designed to record memories of his life down to the year 1875. It was, in fact, only completed in regular series down to 1858, with a separate chapter as to Mrs. Arthur Severn, and a fragment called Dilecta, containing letters and early recollections of friends, especially of Turner. These two books were published between 1885 and 1889; and except for occasional letters, notes and prefaces, they form the last writings of the author of Modern Painters. His literary career thus extends over fifty years. But he has left nothing more graceful, naïve and pathetic than his early memories in Praeterita -- a book which must rank with the most famous "Confessions" in any literature. The last ten years of his life were passed in complete retirement at Brantwood, in the loving care of the Severn family, to whom the estate was transferred, with occasional visits from friends, but with no sustained work beyond correspondence, the revision of his works, and a few notes and prefatory words to the books of others. He wished to withdraw his early art writings from circulation, but the public demand made this practically impossible.
The close of his life was one of entire peace and honor. He was loaded with the degrees of the universities and membership of numerous societies and academies. "Ruskin Societies" were founded in many parts of the kingdom. His works were translated and read abroad, and had an enormous circulation in Great Britain and the United States. Many volumes about his career and opinions were issued in his lifetime both at home and abroad. His 80th birthday, 8th February 1899, was celebrated by a burst of congratulations and addresses, both public and private. His strength failed gradually: his mind remained feeble but unclouded, and his spirit serene. An attack of influenza struck him down, and carried him off suddenly after only two days' illness, 20th January 1900. He was buried in Coniston churchyard by his own express wish, the family refusing the offer of a grave in Westminster Abbey.
Ruskin's literary life may be arranged in three divisions. From 1837 to 1860 he was occupied mainly with the arts. From 1860 to 1871 he was principally occupied with social problems. From 1871 to 1885 he was again drawn back largely to art by his lectures as professor, while prosecuting his social Utopia by speech, pen, example and purse. But the essential break in his life was in 1860, which marks the close of his main works on art and the opening of his attempt to found a new social gospel. With regard to his views of art, he himself modified and revised them from time to time; and it is admitted that some of his judgments are founded on imperfect study and personal bias. But the essence of his teaching has triumphed in effect, and has profoundly modified the views of artists, critics and the public, although it is but rarely accepted as complete or final. The moral of his teaching -- that all living art requires truth, nature, purity, earnestness -- has now become the axiom of all aesthetic work or judgment. John Ruskin founded the Reformation in Art.
With regard to his economic and social ideas there is far less general concurrence, though the years that have passed since Unto this Last appeared have seen the practical overthrow of the rigid plutonomy which he denounced. So, too, the vague and sentimental socialism, which pervades Munera Pulveris, Time and Tide and Fors is now very much in the air, and represents the aspirations of many energetic reformers. But the negative part of Ruskin's teaching on economics, social and political problems, has been much more effective than the positive part of his teaching. It must be admitted that nearly the whole of his practical experiments to realize his dreams came to nothing, which is not unnatural, seeing his defiance of the ordinary habits and standards of the world. A more serious defect was his practice of violently assailing philosophers, economists and men of science, of whom he knew almost nothing, and whom he perversely misunderstood men such as Adam Smith, Comte, Mill, Spencer, Darwin and all who followed them. In art, Ruskin had enjoyed an unexampled training, which made him a consummate expert. In philosophy and science he was an amateur, seeking to found a new sociology and a Utopian polity out of his own inner consciousness and study of nature, of poetry and the Bible. It is not wonderful if, in doing this, he poured forth a quantity of crude conceits and some glaring blunders. But in the most Quixotic of his schemes, and the most Laputan of his theories, his pure and chivalrous nature, his marvellous insight into the heart of things and men, and his genius to seize on all that is true, real and noble in life, made his most startling proposals pregnant with meaning, and even his casual play full of fascination and moral suggestion.
In mastery of prose language he has never been surpassed, when he chose to curb his florid imagination and his discursive eagerness of soul. The beauty and gorgeous imagery of his art works bore away the public from the first, in spite of their heretical dogmatism and their too frequent extravagance of rhetoric. But his later economic and social pieces, such as Unto this Last, Time and Tide, Sesame and Lilies, are composed in the purest and most lucid of English styles. And many of his simply technical and explanatory notes have the same quality. Towards the close of his life, in Fors and in Praeterita, will be found passages of tenderness, charm and subtlety which have never been surpassed in our language.
Father: John James Ruskin (wine merchant, b. 1785, d. 1864)
Mother: Margaret Cox (d. 1871)
Wife: Euphemia "Effie" Chalmers Gray (m. 10-Apr-1848, div. 1854 for non-consummation)
Girlfriend: Rose La Touche (proposed marriage in 1866 when she was 18)
University: Christ Church, Oxford University (1842)
Professor: Slade Professor of Art, Oxford University (1869-79)
Libel sued by James Whistler (1877)
Is the subject of books:
The Genius of John Ruskin, Selections from his Writings, 1963, BY: John D. Rosenberg
The Darkening Glass, A Portrait of Ruskin's Genius, 1961, BY: John D. Rosenberg
Author of books:
Modern Painters I (1843)
Modern Painters II (1846)
The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849)
The Stones of Venice (1853)
Architecture and Painting (1854)
Modern Painters III (1856)
Political Economy of Art (1857)
Modern Painters IV (1860)
Unto this Last (1862)
Essays on Political Economy (1862)
Time and Tide (1867)
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