According to the introduction to the first volume of letters in the Library Edition of Ruskin's works, he became acquainted with the poet
through his early tutor Dr. Andrews, whose fifth daughter, Emily Augusta (1824-1862), was Patmore's first wife — "by whom and for whom," he said in the dedication to The Angel in the House, "I became a poet." For that poem, of which the first part appeared in 1854, Ruskin had a great admiration. "A most finished piece of writing," he called it in The Elements of Drawing, "and th sweetest analysis we possess of quiet modern domestic feeling" [Works, 15.227]. He quotes from it in Sesame and Lilies, and speaks of Patmore as "the only living poet who strengthens and purifies" [18.120]. His defence of Patmore's simplicity of diction, contained in a letter to The Critic in 1860, is one of Ruskin's most interesting pieces of literary criticism [34.488-90]. [Works, 36.xxxi]
Although he long had a personal relationship with Patmore, his admiration for the poem began before he knew his friend had written it. The Angel in the House appeared anonymously, and someone (Patmore himself?) sent Ruskin a copy.
The great art and social critic long had a close relationship with Patmore, and Ruskin's editors point out that
Ruskin's letters to the poet reveal alike admiration for the work and affection for the man. He was godfather to one of the poet's sons, and presented another with a nomination to Christ's Hospital [School, which Coleridge and Lamb attended]. . . . He was not fond of dining out, but he seems, if we are to judge from one the letters (36.546), to have made an exception in favour of Patmore's parties. At one of these, it is interesting to hear, the guests were Browning, Ruskin, and Tennyson only. Conversation between Ruskin and Patmore — Ruskin ever courteous and deferential, yet paradoxical and not to be gainsayed, Patmore imperious and disdainful (as Mr. Sargent has depicted him) — must have been anything but dull. [36.xxxii]
In fact, the editors point out, the two friends seemed to have had some real arguments, particularly after Patmore converted to Catholicism. "'On one occasion,' Patmore writes, 'I praised a little book of old Catholic devotion, called The Spiritual Combat, which I saw among his books. 'Oh, do you think so much of it? Now, it seems to me to be drivel'" (36.xxxii). And Patmore took the bait. Despite their occasionally spirited disagreements, the two men long remained friends, and Patmore visited Ruskin at Brantwood as late as 1879.
- Letters from Carlyle, Ruskin, and Tennyson on The Angel in the House
- Patmore's Poetic Vision: Patmore, Ruskin, Carlyle, The Romantics, and The Search for an Ideal Poetry
Champneys, Basil. Memoir and Correspondence of Coventry Patmore. 2 vols. London: G. Bell & sons, 1900.
Ruskin, John. The Works. "The Library Edition." Ed. E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn. 39 vols. London: George Allen, 1903-12.
Last updated 14 June 2004