USKIN liked to say that his works were like a tree. The image is apt, for they have their roots in several different kinds of soil, and their branches end up pointing in different and sometimes opposite directions. He used the image to explain the alterations of direction as natural developments: 'All true opinions are living, and show their life by being capable of nourishment; therefore of change.' (7.9) To trace these changes I have followed certain themes as they spiral upwards around each other. The result is a chronological account of Ruskin's development, through a series of overlays, as each chapter returns to pick up the beginnings of a new theme enfolded in the old.
The common element is the visual dimension in Ruskin's work. In a sketch of autobiography Ruskin once marked the moments of change in his life as each taking place in front of, or as a result of, the work of a great painter. I have chosen these moments of visual persuasion as a motif. No one could put the case for a visual approach to Ruskin more strongly than he did himself; 'the greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something, and tell what it saw in a plain way. Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see. To see dearly is poetry, prophecy, and religion, — all in one.' (5.333)
This then is a study of Ruskin's visual imagination. It is not exactly art history, literary criticism, aesthetics, economics, or philo- sophy. Instead it tries to show how these formal disciplines found their relations within Ruskin's mind. I have not attempted to state definitively where Ruskin stands in terms of any 'tradition', either looking forward or looking back. Of course this study could not exist without the help of the specialized studies which do try to fit Ruskin into the formal categories I have mentioned. I have tried to show my obligations in mv notes and bibliography, but I would acknowledge especially the work of Patricia Ball, Paul Walton, George Landow, and Francis Townsend. Above all, I must stress that this is not the first attempt to see Ruskin's work in terms of the mind that made it, and John Rosenberg's study The Darkening Class suggested many ideas to me.
My personal debts are numerous. To Leslie Megahey, who com- missioned the television documentary which first fired my enthusiasm for Ruskin; to Mary Luryens, who first introduced me to the Ruskin circle, and to James Dearden, who welcomed me to it. As curator of the Ruskin Galleries at Bembridge and secretary of the Ruskin Association James Dearden is a key figure for all students of Ruskin, and I thank him for his generosity in time and knowledge. I owe a particular debt to Rachel Trickett, who supervised my belated attempt to turn enthusiasm into academic seriousness, and guided me through my B.Litt. thesi.* My college tutor, Eric Collieu, has given me much welcome advice and encouragement. I would also like to thank Sam Brown and Van Akin Burd, both eminent Ruskinians, for the interest they have shown in my work.
To Catherine Williams I owe first of all a formal acknowledgement of her permission to quote from her unpublished thesis; but I have also learnt a great deal from our many discussions, and I look forward to the publication of her own study. Finally, I must thank my sister, Anthea Ridett, for all her efficient help and practical criticism; and I would also like to thank, in my various ways, Katharine Crouan, Gwyneth Henderson and my editor.
- Chapter One: Ruskin and Nature
- Chapter Two: Ruskin and the Picturesque
- Chapter Three: Ruskin and Beauty
- Chapter Four: Ruskin and the Imagination
- Chapter Five: The Artist and Society
- The Queen of the Air
- On Seeing What Ruskin Meant
Last modified 10 September 2014