The preface to Praeterita informs the reader that Ruskin has composed the following sketches of his life to benefit his readers:
I have written the following sketches of effort and incident in former years for my friends; and for those of the public who have been pleased by my books. I have written them, therefore, frankly, garrulously, and at ease; speaking, of what it gives me joy to remember, at any length I like — sometimes very carefully of what I think it may be useful for others to know; and passing in total silence things which I have no pleasure in reviewing, and which the reader would find no help in the account of. [p. 460]
"The Springs of Wandel" follows the preface, outlining for the reader Ruskin's earliest influences as a reader and writer. Ruskin mentions how, though his mother had forced him to read and memorize the Bible, and that such knowledge had proved occasionally useful later in life, he never fulfilled his mother's dream of his becoming a clergyman. He confides that his mother, after the style of Hannah, had devoted her son to God before he was even born.
Very good women are remarkably apt to make away with their children prematurely, in this manner: the real meaning of the pious act being, that, as the sons of Zebedee are not (or at least they hope not), to sit on the right and left of Christ, in His Kingdom, their own sons may perhaps, they think, in time be advanced to that respectable position in eternal life; especially if they ask Christ very humbly for it every day: and they always forget in the most na•ve way that the position is not His to give!
"Devoting me to God," meant, as far as my mother herself knew what she meant, that she would try to send me to college, and make a clergyman of me: and I was accordingly bred for "the Church." My father, who — rest be to his soul — had the exceedingly bad habit of yielding to my mother in large things and taking his own way in little ones, allowed me, without saying a word, to be thus withdrawn from the sherry trade as an unclean thing; not without some pardonable participation in my mother's ultimate views for me. For, many and many a year afterwards, I remember, while he was speaking to one of our artist friends, who admired Raphael, and greatly regretted my endeavours to interfere with that popular taste, — while my father and he were condoling each other about my having been impudent enough to think I could tell the public about Turner and Raphael, — instead of contenting myself, as I ought, with explaining the way of their souls' salvation to them — and what an amiable clergyman was lost in me, — "Yes," said my father, with tears in his eyes — (true and tender tears, as ever father shed,) "he would have been a Bishop." [pp. 470-471]
Though this passage whispers ideas about clergymen and pious beliefs, Ruskin never dissects or expands on these ideas at length. Ruskin also never specifies what he hopes his readers will take away from these sketches, only saying that they may at times contain things that would be useful to know.
1. Does Ruskin's tone in "The Springs of Wandel" coincide with his description of the Praeterita sketches being garrulous and at ease?
2. What in this passage about clergymen "may be useful for others to know" (p. 460)? What kind of contrast does it establish?
3. How might this passage read if its essential message had been the subject of "Unto This Last"? Which rhetorical aspects would be different? Which would remain similar to their current form?
4. How does Praeterita, a conglomeration of sketches from Ruskin's life, differ from The White Album, which provides anecdotes from Joan Didion's life and experiences?
Rosenberg, John D., ed. The Genius of John Ruskin: Selections from his Writings. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1998.
Last modified 17 March 2005