The liberal churchman, Frederick W. Robertson, who clearly knew well works of the now-canonical Victorian authors, such as Charlotte Brontë, Carlyle, Tennyson, and Gaskell, exemplifies how widely and seriously influential contemporaries read Ruskin. When a friend sent him one of Ruskin's works in the year of its appearance, Robertson responded, "Thank you most gratefully for "The Stones of Venice." There are no writings which, at the present moment, offer such interest to me as Ruskin's. They give a truth to repose on which is real, whatever else is unreal" (Letter 138, p. 201). Other mentions of Ruskin in his correspondence show that the clergyman was not just an eager reader but one who believed his works had such importance that one should not just read them for entertainment and information but study them for real enlightenment, — which meant in practice that they should be read intensively like the Bible and other crucial texts. As he told a correspondent,
I rejoice that you have taken up Ruskin; only let me ask you to read it very slowly, to resolve not to finish more than a few pages each day. One or two of the smaller chapters are quite enough — a long chapter is enough for two days, except where it is chiefly made up of illustration from pictures; those can only be read with minute attention when you have the print or picture to which he refers before you; and those which you can so see, in the National Gallery, Dulwich, &c., you should study, with the book, one or two at a time. The book is worth reading in this way: study it — think over each chapter and examine yourself mentally, with shut eyes, upon its principles, putting down briefly on paper the heads, and getting up each day the principles that you gained the day before. This is not the way to read many books, but it is the way to read much; and one read in this way, carefully, would do you more good, and remain longer fructifying, than twenty skimmed. Do not read it, however, with slavish acquiescence; with deference, for it deserves it, but not more. And when you have got its principles woven into the memory, hereafter, by comparison and consideration, you will be able to correct and modify for yourself. [Letter 90, Life and Letters, 203]
Robertson tells his correspondent to read Ruskin essentially the way Ruskin tells the young artist at the close of the first volume of Modern Painters to study nature: study it carefully and respectfully and once you know it well then you can step back and modify it.
As a letter written on 8 March 1852 demonstrates, he took his own advice to mind and Ruskin's text, a passage either from the first two volumes of Modern Painters or the first volume of The Stones of Venice, comes to him when visiting Cheltenham:
The day was lovely in the extreme. We went over the hills, one of my favourite walks. The more I see f this place and the environs, the more I am struck by its beauty, as if I had never seen it before; yet in all probability part of the beauty of scenery depends upon your knowing all the points far and near, so that imagination assists the eye very much, and you supply what you know to what you see. Ruskin, I recollect, has sme good remarks on the this.
Brooke, Stopford A. Life and Letters of Fred[erick]. W. Robertson, M. A., Incumbent of Trinity Chapel, Brighton, 1847-53. People's Edition. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner, & Co., 1902.
Last modified 8 December 2007