he subject of water is a demanding one. It intrigued numerous modern painters and it inspired many writers of the nineteenth century, where it appeared, more or less evidently, as a leitmotif, as the only principle capable of giving life to the dead land and to a sterile spirit. Wateriness was seen as a good theme for artistic and literary experimentation, the effects of which are still being felt today in the modern literary and art world, and Ruskin was certainly one of the most powerful voices to use his expertise in terms of water theories to create works of high effect.
Ruskin's notion of water has to be understood in the light of its multifarious meanings: he writes of "this universal element' (my italics) which appears to us in forms of "clouds' and "snow'; it lives in "the foam of the torrent' and in "the iris' which traverses it; in "the mist' at daylight as well as in the abysmal and transparent "pools'; in a vast "lake' and in the glittering "river'; to finally complement itself in the "tameless unity of the sea' (III. 494). The language of water leaves us between eclectic worlds: "the multitudinous sea' of Ruskin's analysis of Turner's the Slave Ship, for example, is altogether an apotheosis of light and water. Between literature and art, music, science and philosophy, the study of water greatly contributed to the most influential cultural products of the nineteenth century. Aquatic definitions imply some relation between subjects — it is not only physics but also metaphysics: both lie at the heart of nineteenth-century consciousness and they also contribute to the development of Ruskin's aesthetics and art.
Ruskin's fascination with water is integral to the language of greater part of his literary production and it is a passion which extends from his youth until his mature age. This is not to say that Ruskin had been thinking of water constantly; or rather that there are premeditated connections about his thoughts on water. He, in fact, approaches his subject from different perspectives. For example scientifically (Deucalion (1875-1883); Fors Clavigera (1871-1884)); and socially (Unto this Last (1862), Lectures on Art (1870), Val D'Arno (1873)); and religiously (The Bible of Amiens (1880-1885)); and artistically (Academy Notes (1857), Giotto and his Works in Padua (1853-1860), Modern Painters V (1860)). I will here discuss Ruskin's childhood fascination with water and present his early writings on water while suggesting the importance of science within them.
The significance of water to Ruskin, as well as to the nineteenth century, can be understood by revisiting his childhood days. In his autobiography Praeterita, Ruskin remembered: "but before everything, at this time, came my pleasure in merely watching the sea" and "I spent four or five hours every day in simply staring and wondering' at "its tumbling and creaming strength" — "an occupation which never failed me till I was forty' (XXXV. 78). Watery thoughts and insights go back at least as far as the time Ruskin spent with the Richardsons by the Tay, where he could see the swift and sparkling river as "an infinite thing for a child to look into" (XXXV. 63). Yet, Ruskin's approach to water varies when compared to other children who look at rivers, lakes and seas. Already he could feel wateriness in terms of poetry, art and science; an initial attraction this, which he will recast in later writings. His approach to this disparate theme often leaves the audience astonished.
In 1826, Ruskin wrote his very first verses on the aquatic theme in the poem "The Steam Engine". He was enthralled by the steam, which he would later appreciate in Turner's paintings of boats and trains; The Fighting Téméraire (1838) and Rain, Steam and Speed - The Great Western Railway (1844) are only two of the many turnings which Ruskin took into the painter's art of water and steam (fig. 1 and 2). The verses describe the products of the new age: clouds produced by steam from the new trains. But if one thinks of clouds as masses of condensed watery vapour moving gracefully in the air, we might expect references to water and steamboats to be very significant here:
When furious up from the mines the water pours,
[...]. The water from the engine might be formed a phrase,
When as it drags the weight of fragments large,
It also drags the weight of smokey barge,
Called by us steamboat, and a steamboat saves
The beings scattered on the furious waters
By boilers bursting, but a steamboat can
be the most useful engine brought to man. [II. 254]
It is with so much vigour and fervent imagination that Ruskin contributed to a greater understanding of the new mechanised era. Ruskin was at pace with his time. And he also hoped to bring his ambivalent vision of the “modern” world into his later works. Indeed, these early verses anticipate and suggest the argument of Ruskin's major book about ships and shipping, The Harbours of England of 1856. The seeds of his understanding of Turner's composite aquatic images were already being sown.Fig. 1 J. M. W. Turner, The Fighting Téméraire, tugged to her last berth to be broken up, oil on canvas, 90.8 x 122 cm. National Gallery, London. Fig. 2 J. M. W. Turner, Rain, Steam and Speed — The Great Western Railway, oil on canvas, 1844, 91 x 12 cm. The National Gallery, London.
However, Ruskin's best known early poem, based on Ruskin's memories of a trip to the Lakes in 1826, is "Lines on Skiddaw and Derwent Water," which he wrote at the age of nine and published at eleven. It can be read as two separate lyrics. "Skiddaw" offers a view of Ruskin's thinking about clouds and the sky, whereas "Derwent Water" shows how water was a great source of inspiration to the writer's creative mind. Nonetheless, both subjects, as is common with Ruskin, are part of the same whole.
Now Derwent Water come! — a looking-glass
Wherein reflected at the mountain's heights;
As in a mirror, framed in rocks and woods;
So upon thee there is a seeming mount,
A seeming tree, a seeming rivulet.
All upon thee are painted by a hand,
Which not a critic can well criticise.
But to disturb thee oft, bluff Eolus
Descends upon thy heath-top with his breath. [II. 266; My emphasis]
In this quotation, which is from the poem's original state, not as it was published in 1830, the water and the sky, clouds and rivulets show the physical importance of natural elements to Ruskin. Here, he sees the outside world with the fresh eyes of a young, passionate connoisseur of the natural environment. "Derwent Water" is an early work reminiscent of his author's Romantic origins. John Batchelor reads it as "a confident handling of Wordsworthian diction for a Wordsworthian subject' (18). This interpretation is interesting, but limited. Certainly, Ruskin was profoundly influenced by the Lake poet, particularly in his love and reverence for nature, but his talent, here, is much deeper. The child poet views the aquatic element as a haven for mountains; a place from which rivers arise and flow into it. He focuses on the representation of water in a picture, an early passion that he will foster in his later analyses of Turner's works. Some of the most salient lines are the sixth and the seventh of the poem:
All upon thee are painted by a hand,
Which not a critic can well criticise.
The lyric becomes a painting; one can read Ruskin's description of "Derwent Water" but one can also see water as if it was "made a picture." With these juvenile verses the author tells his readers of his fascination with art; what is particularly significant is that he is already a word-painter and this poem is certainly his first published work on how to represent water on canvas. Significantly, Derwent Water, & Skiddaw is also the title of a sketch drawn by Turner in 1831 on his way to Scotland, which Ruskin came to know after the composition of his own poem. Remarkably, then, the young writer with these early lines was also prefiguring Turner; his verses reveal signs of his later acute fascination with the painter. More specifically, they anticipate one of Ruskin's main concerns in his section on water in Modern Painters I .
Also, the poem tells us that water acts as a mirror, which reflects the nearby landscape and the poet takes this as his source of interest. Ruskin realises, at the age of nine, that water acts like a reflecting surface.
Wherein reflected are the mountains's heights,
As in a mirror, framed in rocks and woods.
Palpably, the young poet's interest goes far beyond mere observation. He interrogates himself on the scientific causes of the phenomena and makes an effort to interpret them. The effect of the reflection, as the poet sees it, is to make us see life in water. It is water which readjusts shapes and dimension of the landscape. In this context, the eye starts to piece together mountains, trees and rivers as in a picture; all complemented by the gust of wind of Eolus.
In this respect, John Dixon Hunt provides a different reading of the poem. He believes that Ruskin's attention to the mountain's water draws in an aspect of the Picturesque (for mirroring the landscape in Claude glasses or in lakes) but also a reaction against it. The scholar feels that, again like Wordsworth, Ruskin is proposing a new relationship with Nature, whose reflected images upon our retinas are the image of a creative mind. In essence, Hunt's argument suggests the everlasting dichotomy between nature and science within Ruskin (53). The writer's art, as we shall see, is indeed characterised by similarities and contradictions: the heaven and the earth, air and water, science and religion often coexist in his mind's eye and are part of a balanced and regulated system of thoughts. Fundamentally, then, "Derwent Water" expresses a preoccupation which emerges as a characteristic of Ruskin's early age, and which he would develop throughout the rest of his career: namely, an inclination towards science. As we will see later in the chapter, his lifetime's observation of water shows that while he may have been discouraged by the complexity of such a difficult topic, his theoretical acknowledgement of the subject was always there.
The aquatic theme is one of Ruskin's most extraordinary passions, and it needs to be interpreted in the light of his childhood interests, especially in terms of science. The writer's assiduous reading of geography, mineralogy and geology books certainly formed his beliefs of art, life, and nature, and it is to them that we must turn our attention to perceive the sources and reasoning of Ruskin's interpretation. He read the three volumes of Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology (1830-1833), a famous nineteenth-century work, and he also started a mineralogical dictionary at the age of twelve. Moreover, he was given a copy of Rogers' Italy in 1832, and the following year one of Prout's Sketches in Flanders and Germany, whose designs and images contained in those books he was also trying to imitate. The four volumes of De Saussure's Voyages dans les Alpes (1779-1796) accompanied Ruskin's trips through the Continent and it was with "so much science mixed with feeling as to make the sight of the Alps not only the revelation of the beauty of the Earth, but the opening of the first page of its volume" (XXXV. 116). This is an early indicator of his complex relationship with the science of nature which will be a constant preoccupation in his works.
That Ruskin had been fascinated by water since an early age has thus been noted. In keeping with this approach, Praeterita also records that "as a child [he] cared more for a beach on which the waves broke, or sands in which [he] could dig, than for wide sea' (XXXV. 105) and it was in 1872, in The Eagle's Nest, that he will keep repeating to his audience and to himself:
It is the widest, as the clearest experience I have to give you; for the beginning of all my own right art work in life [. . . . ] depended not on my love of art, but of mountains and the sea. [XXII. 153]
All in all, then, Ruskin was intrigued by water, as confirmed by his acute observation of the effect of the landscape on it, and the effect of its reflection, and the way the eye reads this. Surely, this is revealed in the poem "Skiddaw and Derwent Water". Moreover, the writings presented above also show the extent to which Ruskin's aesthetic was informed by new discoveries, in an age which was rapidly becoming scientific. Science in the nineteenth century had become almost exclusively the kernel of interest for artists and writers alike. Throughout the century Ruskin continued to study, observe and analyse the world around him, which thrilled and encouraged his theoretical thinking.
With age, he began to build up a more conscious attention to some of the aspects of the nineteenth-century science which had fascinated him as a child. His systematic and methodical awareness was consolidated by his attendance at the Meteorological and Geological Societies as an undergraduate. His membership would have a significant weight in the years to come. Water emerges from very early on in Ruskin's spiritual, artistic and scientific development as a prevalent symbol of his time, occupying a status and carrying a significance typical of Victorian intellect and imagination. In particular, his fascination with the study of water and its effects before the publication of Modern Painters would hold a lifelong significance for him and for his understanding of the aquatic theme, as the following section will show.
Ruskin's Early Writings on Water
Ruskin's earliest published scientific prose on the subject of water, "Enquiries on the Causes of the Colour of the Water of the Rhine," appeared in Loudon's Magazine of Natural History in September 1834, when Ruskin was fifteen, and it was reprinted in On the Old Road in 1885 and 1889. The young writer produced this article after his Continental tour of 1833, during which he had the opportunity to visit those places he could only have read about. The impact of his trip and the vistas of the landscape especially of lakes, rivers and of the sea opened his imagination and must have been of great value for a child living in the urban atmosphere of London. Furthermore, these journeys were complemented by an intense devotion to geography books which he used in preparation for his writings. It was certainly this fervent intellectual and cosmopolitan climate (whether his travelling or his attendance to both the Meteorological and the Geological Societies) which inspired his scientific thoughts, especially those concerning water.
Ruskin was, throughout his life, also an excellent watercolourist and draughtsman. His attention to water had a great effect on him for he sketched lakes and rivers extensively, particularly in Switzerland and Italy, often by imitating steel engravings after Turner. However, it is worth noting that Ruskin's early sketches are dated 1829, when he was only ten years old, and did not yet know of Turner's works. Nonetheless, this could certainly be read as another attempt on the part of the young artist to suggest his favourite painter's art form. Indeed, many of his earliest landscape drawings from this period feature Turner's best subjects, a specific interest which he would foster in his adulthood. For Ruskin, both art and nature were testimonies to a greater objective truth and sketching the landscape around him meant the rediscovery of his "boy's soul'. The 1849 diary entry at Blonay reads: "— it was poetry while it lasted "— and I felt that it was only while under it that one could draw or invent or give glory to any part of such landscape. [...] and I felt I had a soul, like my boy's soul, once again' (The Diaries of John Ruskin, II. 381). Ultimately, when he went back home he tried to keep the remembrances of the continental landscapes alive.
"Enquiries on the Causes of the Colour of the Water of the Rhine" shows the level of significance that Ruskin attributed to the aquatic phenomena and its colour(s) from an early age. This initial approach as well as his knowledge (and interest) in the foreign landscape was to determine, at the outset, both his understanding of the beauty of nature and the role that beauty plays in art, particularly the art of Turner. Having said that, this early piece of writing nonetheless illustrates the vividness and prismatic character of its author's scientific mind. This can be easily illustrated by quoting lines concerned with the nature of fact: "I do not think the causes of the colour of transparent water have been sufficiently ascertained' and neither is "the settled colour of transparent water, which has, when analysed, been found pure," he wrote with assurance (I. 191). What is significant here is that the writer has tried to give, at the age of fifteen, an explanation of the scientific characteristics of the phenomena. Yet not only does he refer to the physical process of sedimentation but he also discusses the presence of particular chemical substances like copper in the water.
From a twentieth-first century reader's perspective Ruskin's early observations fail in exhaustively providing a theoretical explanation of the phenomenon (he terminates the article by asking his correspondent for information on the colour of the ice). Nonetheless, his overall degree of knowledge is relevant as it unveils the acuteness of his eye and his efforts to understand modern scientific issues. Furthermore, Ruskin's final statement, by suggesting an attention to optical phenomena, foresees those analyses on water which he will later deepen in Modern Painters I. With time, he tried more and more to provide greater context to each observation; Ruskin expected his studies on the causes of the colour of water to become a serious scientific debate and in order to do so he needed to come to terms with the underlying rules of the outside world. To deal with the laws of nature in their entirety (its forms, motions and colours) was the job of both the artist and the scientist. Ruskin was particularly interested in colour theories: these hold a significant importance for his cultural development, especially in an age in which the nuances of colour-effects were of great fascination.
The decade in which Modern Painters I was written saw the publication of Goethe's critique of Newton's Opticks (1704) in Farbenlehre (1810). Charles Lock Eastlake's English translation of Goethe's text, Theory of Colours, came out in 1840 and was read at the time as an essential guide to the study of colour phenomena. Ruskin was familiar with some of these cultural debates as his account on colour (‘Of Truth of Colour') in Modern Painters I clearly shows. He read and was certainly influenced by Aristotle, Leon Battista Alberti as well as Newton and Goethe's works, from which he then departed. Indeed, his views on colour, like his views on water, changed through the years. Ruskin's colour was held by him to be primarily a gift of God's benevolence and our ability to perceive it had to be a sign of an outstanding openness to the divine Truth. The nuances of Venice, for example, were for the writer an exemplification of this system of thought. "The perception of colour is a gift just as definitely granted to one person, and denied to another," he exhorted in the second volume of his Venetian work; and it was colour, he continued, "the very first requisite for true judgement of St. Mark's' (X. 97-98). Generally, "colour, as stated in the text, is the purifying or sanctifying element of material beauty' (VII. 417n).
There is no doubt that Ruskin took a moral interest in the subject: colour is a feeling, a way of being, a state of mind. Colour for him represents the light of a divine inspiration and it is to colour that he refers in his most original and emblematic works. In Modern Painters IV, for example, he declared that:
all men, completely organised and justly tempered, enjoy colour; it is meant for the perpetual comfort and delight of the human heart; it is richly bestowed on the highest works of creation and the eminent sign and seal of perfection in them; being associated with life in the human body, with light in the sky, with purity and hardness of the earth — death, night and pollution of all kinds being colourless. [VI. 71]
There is here something more than a simple spiritual concern; Ruskin's appreciation of colour embraces the formative part of a person's human development. In essence, he states that colour informs both our bodies and our minds and is a truly illuminating occurrence, an utterly necessary faculty. As Stephen Bann has shown, for Ruskin colour very often was nothing more than a totalizing experience. The scholar effectively states that he "writes of the 'colour-faculty' and places the issue squarely on the ground of "perception of colour'" (123). And this is the case with many of his greatest works.
Colour emerges mainly in Modern Painters (1843-1860), The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849), The Stones of Venice (1851-1853), The Elements of Drawings (1857), Fors Clavigera (1871-1884) and Praeterita (1885), but it also represents an enlightening experience in many other works such as his books on science and political economy. Colour also defines the shape of Ruskin's own drawings and watercolours. Like water, colour represents the wide realm of the mind and heart which reflect feelings and concerns. In other words, it is life. Ruskin's colour vocabulary is deep in symbols and characterisations. Purity, truth, justice, beauty and light build his most elaborate designs. His writing style becomes the literary equivalent of so many painterly techniques, which he knew as an art critic and which he particularly related to Turner's art. The variety of his artistic knowledge extends from the imprimatura of terms that characterise much of Modern Painters (his principal work on colour), to the sfumato of Lectures on Architecture and Painting (1854); then there is the sponging of Academy Notes (1855-1859) and The Harbours of England (1856); the stippling of Val d'Arno (1874) and The Laws of Fésole (1877); and finally the impasto of The Storm-Cloud of the Nineteenth-Century (1880-1884). Ruskin was a man who literally had to see and sense before he could write and judge other artists' works. He was himself the painter of light and its tints. If we wish to become enlightened in matters of colours it is to art that we need to turn our attention. Indeed, Ruskin to a great extent learned to write by looking at multi-coloured pictures, and Turner's ones were those he liked most. Ruskin's pieces are no more than striking images conceived and executed with all the gusto of a painter. They complement the way in which Turner paints.
Turner himself was also educated in colour matters. He had learned much about colour from Charles Eastlake's translation of Goethe's text, a book which suggested to him the study of the primary colours. In the same year as Modern Painters I (1843) was published, Turner exhibited Shade and Darkness — the Evening after the Deluge and Light and Colour — (Goethe's Theory) — The Morning after the Deluge — Moses Writing the Book of Genesis (figs. 3 and 4). Here the painter experimented with colour theory. Ruskin would write in the first volume of Modern Painters that Turner's works were distinguished from those of other colourists "by dazzling intensity . . . of the light which he sheds through every hue, and which, far more than brilliant colour, is the real source of their overpowering effect upon the eye' (III. 290). What intrigued Ruskin about Turner, then, was his art of water as well as his art of colour.
Fig. 3 J. M. W. Turner, Shade and Darkness — the Evening of the Deluge. 1843. Tate Gallery, London.
Fig. 4 J. M. W. Turner, Light and Colour (Goethe's Theory) — The Morning after the Deluge — Moses writing the Book of Genesis. 1843. Tate Gallery, London
Looking back at Ruskin's early writings it is of no surprise to see that he kept contributing scientific articles to Loudon's Magazine of Natural History. Two years after his first printed scientific work he published "Observations on the Causes which occasion the Variation of Temperature between Spring and River Water" in answer to an article that appeared in the Indigena Magazine a few months earlier ("An Enquiry for the Cause of the Difference in Temperature of River Water and Spring Water, both in Summer and Winter"). Ruskin's piece, which was also reprinted in On The Old Road in 1885, continues the young writer's interest in science and more specifically in the debates surrounding the difference of water temperature. Ruskin here believes that the melting of the ice is due to the heat of the earth. "It is this melting which loosens the ice from the ground' (I. 202), he writes with self-assurance. Ruskin is imprecise here. Yet, it is known that, in the summer, the melting is caused by the external temperature and that the motion of the ice downhill (as well as its melting) is due to the weight of the ice itself. Notwithstanding his inaccurate statements, Ruskin sets great store by his scientific researches; and, from a young man's perspective he did so in tones of absolute authority.
As we have seen, Ruskin's attentive documentation, matured over a tenacious period of reading, was enhanced by his frequent sojourns abroad. The notebooks he kept during his time on the Continent reveal his competence as a geologist, botanist and meteorologist. He would maintain this habit for the rest of his life. The possibility for recording the overwhelming scenery of a foreign landscape can only belong to an artist of genius like him. In this respect Tim Hilton revisits the writer's summer tour to the Alps in 1849, when he started to make notes "on the angles of various peaks, examined the flora, analysed the geology, ascertained the movements of glaciers, watched the streams and clouds" (69). It seems that Ruskin places the landscape at the heart of his system of thought, but it is also significant to remember that his participation in the Meteorological and the Geological Societies played a significant role in his cultural formation and growth. It is an attempt by Ruskin to integrate his knowledge into a system wholly dependent on scientific reality. To sum up, then, Ruskin, with his articles, was hoping to engage with the cultural debates of those years and he strongly felt that such an aim could be fulfilled.
Ruskin began to be interested in geology and his fascination with meteorology grew out of it. However, the writer's attention to the phenomena of the earth will soon take over his interest in the phenomena of the air. "No subsequent passion had had so much influence on my life" (XXVI. 294 n), he wrote in Deucalion, his collection of geological studies. The author's attention to the earth is complemented by his aquatic passions through the 1830s, when his appearance in the geological circles was in connection with the scientific debates surrounding the colour and temperature of water and the theory of glacier motion. We should remember that hydrology in the nineteenth century became a new and exciting science, which Ruskin would have been aware of through his attendance to the meetings of the Geological Society, but perhaps, at an early age, he could not have anticipated how meaningful the study of water would be to the epoch. Later writings, such as Unto this Last and Deucalion, return to the significance of hydrology (and geology), when Ruskin had consolidated a very strong interest in them. Although his attention to these two sciences may not initially appear vital to his maturation as an artist, one direct consequence of this is that his later works on the subject are nothing less than the final result of an early (and everlasting) fascination with wateriness.
There is no doubt that water would remain a constant leitmotif in Ruskin's writings as we can read in his early song "To the Ocean-Spirits" published in 1891:
Mingle your voices with the sea,
Sing me a joyous melody.
Let the waves from your breath rebounding
Dash on the vocal rocks resounding. [II. 322]
Furthermore, we should remember that, in 1838, he composed a poem, "aq Wreck," whose stanzas close with the following lines: "In the lull/ Of the waves/ On a low lee shore" (II. 73). This passion for water matured over the years is so evidently fostered throughout his youth. Yet, science is not the only reason for Ruskin's early enthusiasm for water. Water would also provide ground for his lyrics, which often suggest the poet's interest in marine devices and shipping. This is the case, for example, of Iteriad; or, Three Weeks Among the Lakes (1830), "The Old Water Wheel" (1840), the children's tale The King of the Golden River (1841) and "La Madonna dell'Acqua" (1844)). The poem of 1844 is an account of the Venetian gondolier and of his devotion to the shrine of the Virgin, which shines in the centre of the lagoon. This is particularly significant as it shows Ruskin's fascination with Venice: the city which he loved and admired so much since his first tour to the Continent. Venice has certainly suggested to the author an appeal to the sea. Praeterita records the writer's impressions after his first visit to the city in 1836: "there was also still the pure childish passion of pleasure in seeing boats float in clear water" (XXXV. 295). If water was held by Ruskin to be his principal preoccupation, it was in Venice that his favourite theme found the sensual harbinger of his watery passion.
For Ruskin, the appreciation of the water theme is a formative part of his life. At the age of twenty-five he wrote a poem to commemorate his father's fifty-ninth birthday. It was published in 1845 with the title of "The Old Seaman" in both The Keepsake and The Athenaeum reviews. The specific significance of this lyric lies in Ruskin's attention to the dichotomy between the sea and the land from stanza five to stanza eight, a theme which anticipates one of the main issues of The Harbours of England, his book on marine art and shipping of 1856.
For more than gale, or gulf, or sand,
I've proved that there may be
Worse treachery on the steadfast land
Than variable sea.
A danger worse than bay or beach —
A falsehood more unkind —
The treachery of a governed speech,
And an ungoverned mind.
The treachery of the deadly mart
Where human souls are sold;
The treachery of the hollow heart
That crumbles as we hold.
Those holy hills and quiet lakes —
Ah! Wherefore should I find
This weary fever-fit, that shakes
Their image in my mind? [II. 230]
Specifically, in these verses, Ruskin tells us about the dangers of a "false," "treacherous" though "steadfast land" when compared to a more secure "variable sea" and to the "quiet lakes." Yet, the land is generally associated with ideas of stability, attachment and roots whereas the sea's connotations are those of unpredictability, menacity, uncertainty and destruction. Ruskin's poem is an interesting variation of this traditional motif. His treatment of water (and land) in his early works may not be definitive; but it is suggestive, and provides indicators of the writer's critical approaches towards his later works. Yet, by introducing the complex relationship between the sea and the land, it appears as if Ruskin's The Harbours has been meditated, as it certainly was, at an early stage. This is often the case with his works. Other than that, the interest of this passage is the physical importance of water to a young poet.
You ask me why mine eyes are bent
So darkly on the sea,
While others watch the azure hills
Than lengthen on the lee
Ruskin writes in the first stanza. As a result, then, much of his fascination with water was founded on his belief in the necessity of not just observing natural phenomena, but also of incorporating them into artistic craft.
The patriotic element of his early writings is also significant. Simply, it seems that this element of water, in all its multifarious meanings, was already contributing to a debate which would have culminated in Ruskin's water text of 1856. He brings English history into his early poems, as he will later do in The Harbours of England. There is no doubt that his juvenile works anticipate those themes that a mature and discerned writer would amplify later in the years. In 1830 Ruskin writes "Trafalgar," a poem based on the 1805 battle that established Britain's naval superiority during th enpaoleonic wars and afterwards, at the time when both Turner's pictures on the same subject were already been exhibited at the Royal Academy (but which Ruskin will only have marvelled at later on in 1833). At the age of eleven the poet, by meditating on people's memory of this event, registers the spectacular and authentic scenario of the battle. Attention here is drawn to the thematic of his verses, specifically in the light of its similarities with The Harbours of England. The writer now sees instinctively what would later become a more serious debate. From the very beginning we perceive him as a seer: he could anticipate and deal with the most interesting subjects and wished to complement his views with a sharpened degree of insight.
Yet, although each piece of writing has its suggestive characteristics, what is striking about Ruskin's thinking about water is the interaction between the physical and metaphysical, the material and the spiritual; the way in which his language and thoughts move from one state to another. In Giotto and his Works in Padua, whilst discussing the ancient master's painting The Baptism of Christ, he reflected that "Water, in its various forms of streamlet, rain or river, is felt as a universal gift of Heaven, not as an inheritance of a particular spot of earth" (XXIV. 85). In effect, he was stating that water informs both our bodies and our minds and if we truly wish to become enlightened in matters of science and art then we should understand the importance of its multifarious aspects. This is distinctly the voice of Modern Painters I, the book that Ruskin was soon to publish.
Bann, Stephen. "The Colour in the Text: Ruskin's Basket of Strawberries'. The Ruskin Polygon: Essays on the Imagination of John Ruskin. Ed. John Dixon Hunt and Faith M. Holland. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1982, pp. 122-136. Rpt. John Ruskin: Modern Critical Views. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York and New Haven: Chelsea House, 1986, pp. 105-116.
Dixon Hunt, John. The Wider Sea: A Life of John Ruskin. London: J. M. Dent and Sons, 1982.
_____. and Faith M. Holland, eds. The Ruskin Polygon: Essays on the Imagination of John Ruskin. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1982.
Gage, John. "Turner's Annotated Books: “Goethe's Theory of Colours”'. Turner Studies. Vol. 4, No. 2 (1984), pp. 34-52.
Hilton, Tim. John Ruskin: The Early Years, 1819-1859. New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 1985.
Ruskin, John. Works. 39 vols. Eds. E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn. London: Allen and Unwin, 1903-12.
_____. The Diaries of John Ruskin. Selected and edited by Joan Evans and John Howard Whitehouse. 3 vols., with continuous pagination. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1956-9.
_____. The Ruskin Family Letters. The Correspondence of John James Ruskin, his Wife and their Son John, 1801-1843. Ed. Van Akin Burd. 2 vols. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1973.
Turner, J.M.W. Collected Correspondence of J. M. W. Turner with an Early Diary and Memoir by George Jones. Ed. John Gage. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980.
Ward, Roy Charles. Principles of Hydrology. London; New York: McGraw-Hill, 1975.
Last modified 10 June 2005