[The following essay first appeared in The Victorian Newsletter 33 (1968): 12-16. In this web version of an essay that I published almost four decades ago, I have integrated footnotes into the body of the text and added links to other documents on this ste. GPL]

IN SEPTEMBER 1846, five months after the second volume of Modern Painters appeared, John Ruskin published a much revised edition of Volume I. His changes in the first volume are of particular interest to a student of Modern Painters, because they emphasize that Ruskin had a new conception of his work in which aesthetic speculation played a new, more important role. Furthermore, the revisions, by enabling the opening volume to lead smoothly toward the philosophy of beauty in Volume II, demonstrate that Ruskin had a new attitude toward the subject, methods, and audience of Modern Painters, In order to estimate the nature and importance of these revisions, I propose that we first look at Ruskin's conception of Modern Painters when he wrote the opening volume, next observe how the second volume differed from the first, and finally examine the implications of the changes Ruskin made in Volume I.

In the opening lines of the preface to the first edition of Volume I, Ruskin explained why he had begun Modern Painters and mentioned an important way his conception of the book had changed during its composition:

The work now laid before the public originated in indignation at the shallow and false criticisms oŁ the periodicals of the day on the works of the' great living artist to whom it principally refers. It was intended to be a short pamphlet, reprobating the manner and style of these critiques, and pointing out their perilor-s tendency/ as guides of public feeling. But, as point after point presented itself for demonstration, I found myself compelled to amplify what was at first a letter to the editor of a Review, into something very like a treatise on art. [3.3]

Modern Painters originated in Ruskin's indignation at the harsh treatment that the Literary Gazette, Blackwood's Magazine, and The Athenaeum had accorded J. M. W. Turner's later oil paintings on two specific occasions, first in 1836 and then in 1842. Ruskin's primary intention in the opening volume was therefore to defend the paintings of Turner and to discredit the writers who had criticized them. And, since the reviewers had claimed that Turner's works were not true to life, Ruskin replied with proof that [12/13] they were. Furthermore, since the reviewers had unfavorably compared Turner to Claude Lorrain and Salvator Rosa, Ruskin tried to demonstrate that Turner, and other English landscapists as well, were more accurate painters than their great continental predecessors. By concentrating on an exhaustive proof of Turner's accuracy, Ruskin easily won his case against the periodical critics, but he also produced a work that was often as contentious and arrogant as the reviews he had attacked. Moreover, although Ruskin had, in addition to his defense of Turner, written "something very like a treatise on art," his polemical tone, and his direction of his book at the hostile critics, had obscured from many readers the fact that he had begun to set forth a theory of art.

Soon after Ruskin published the first volume of Modern Painters, he appears to have become aware of its limitations and to have felt that *he would have to correct them. On December 7, 1843, Ruskin wrote a letter to the artist Samuel Prout in which he admitted the shortcomings of the work and seemed to suggest that he would revise as much of the work as had yet appeared. Volume I had been published anonymously, and in his letter Rusldn pretends that he is a friend of the author. Writing in this guise, he tells Prout that the style and purpose of the first volume had been dictated by the audience to which the work had been directed:

If . . . you refer not to the matter, but the style of the work, I will not justify it, nor, I think, would the author, It was the hurried writing of a man in a rage, and a man who considered himself addressing rather the newspaper critics than the high judges. The book is not intended for the reading of Mr. Rogers or Edwin Landseer; they know what Turner is. It was written for the class of people who admire Maclise; for the paid novices of the Times and Blackwood, not for you, or any like you. That it was illjudged to let it be so, cannot be disputed, but alas, the utter ignorance of the critics of the day is something which is at once so dangerous and so despicable, that it puts my friend in a double rage. . . . Many mistakes exist in it, much looseness and petulance of style, but I think that when the following parts appear, its real drift will be better seen, and that possibly hereafter, the Author will correct, soften and amalgamate all. [38.36]

Evidently, Ruskin soon decided that he had erred in directing the opening volume at the professional reviewers, and in the second and succeeding volumes he addressed his book to the general reading public, to the audience which he had hoped would have overheard Volume Is one-sided debate with the critics.

The second volume of Modern Painters had a style and subject commensurate with his new conception of its audience. We have already seen that Ruskin soon became dissatisfied with the style of the first volume, and in a letter to Rev. H. G. Liddell of Christ Church, Oxford, in answer to his older friend's criticism of Modern Painters, he described his style in even harsher terms than he had used in writing to Prout: "The pamphleteer manner. .. is ingrained throughout. There is a nasty, snappish, impatient, half-familiar, half-claptrap web of young-mannishness everywhere. This was, perhaps, to be expected from the haste in which I wrote. I am going to try for better things; for a serious, quiet, earnest, and simple manner, like the execution I want in art" (3.668). Ruskin's attempt at a quiet, dignified manner in the second volume was appropriate to his new emphasis on aesthetics. Another change between the first and second volumes was that Ruskin, in emphasizing his theories of beauty and imagination, exemplified and explained them not by Turner but by examples from Italian art. Consequently, Ruskin's new interest in European painting, as well as his new approach to the style and subject of Modern Painters, changed his work from a defense of the superiority of English landscape to a treatise on painting in which the English played a subordinate role.

If we look at the changes that Ruskin made in the third edition of Modern Painters, Volume I, we shall see that, influenced by the criticism of both reviewers and friends, he also. modified his opening volume in an attempt to make its style, tone, and scope better introduce the newly published Volume II. A very large number of the many changes, for example, were attempts to create what he had called, in his letter to Liddell, "a serious, quiet, earnest, and simple manner." For example, he removed many rhetorical flourishes such as this one which The Athenaeum had ridiculed on 3 February 1844:

And Turner — glorious in conception — unfathomable in knowledge — solitary in power — with the elements waiting upon his will, and the night and the morning obedient to his call, sent as a prophet of God to reveal to men the mysteries of His universe, standing, like the great angel of the Apocalypse, clothed with a cloud, and with a rainbow upon his head, and with the sun and stars given into his hand. (3.254)

Ruskin's editors note that the passage was also "quoted by Blackwood [October 1843] as 'somewhat blaspheming the Divine attributes'" (3.254n). [13/14] The fact that Ruskin removed passages specifically condemned by reviews would seem to reveal that he was more sensitive to periodical criticism than has been realized. Ruskin was, in fact, quite sensitive to criticism of his early works, and when, for example, a critic objected to the arguments of his chapter "Of Water, as Painted by the Ancients," Ruskin revised the chapter almost completely. I. H. Maw, a correspondent for The Art-Union Journal, which had not given the first volume of Modern Painters a particularly favorable review, had written a letter to the more receptive Artist's and Amateur's Magazine attacking Ruskin's statement that "the horizontal lines cast by clouds on the sea, are not shadows, but reflections" (3.521-22). Ruskin replied to Maw's objections with additional proof which the Artist's and Amateur's Magazine published in February 1844, and which Cook and Wedderburn, editors of the Library Edition, included in an appendix to the first volume of Modern Painters (3.655-61). (E. V. Ripingale's review in the Artist's and Amateur's Magazine, I (1843), 257-64, had praised Ruskin's method and attacked The Art Union Journal's criticism of the first volume of Modern Painters. Maw, correspondent for The Art-Union Journal, then wrote a letter to the Artist's and Amateur's Magazine which was printed with Ruskin's reply.) When Ruskin published his revised edition in 1846, he included a new, more elaborate discussion of the points that Maw had criticized.

Although this sensitivity to criticism is typical of many of Ruskin's revisions, his manner of revision here was not: usually he was most concerned, not to clarify a point, but to remove rhetorical flourishes, unnecessarily harsh criticism, and arrogant advice. For example, he deleted this attack on Claude, and more than a dozen similar passages criticizing continental artists:

No there is no doubt nor capability of dispute about such painting as this; it is the work of a mere tyro, and a weak and childish tyro, ignorant of the common laws of light and shadow; it is what beginners always do and always have done, but what, if they have either sense or feeling, they soon cease to do. (3.466n)

In addition to removing such passages, Ruskin improved the manner of the work by altering some of his images. Thus, he changed his remark that "The simple pleasure in the imitation would be precisely of the same degree (if the accuracy could be equal), whether the subject of it be a Madonna or a lemon-peel" to read "whether the subject of it were the hero or his horse" (3.101n).

Furthermore, as Ruskin departed from his pamphleteering manner and as he found it necessary to create a less arrogant work, he tried for a more moderate, more reasoning tone. This new attitude toward his readers and his material is pointed out by his removal of sections in which he had emphasized his superiority as a critic of Turner. The third edition appeared without this passage from the section on mountains: "It will only be when we can feel as well as think, and rejoice as well as reason, that I shall be able to lead you with Turner to his favourite haunts" (3.468n). Ruskin's less arrogant attitude is to be observed in many revisions of this kind. In some cases the modification was simply the exchange of a few words. The first two editions contain the following praise of Turner: "Beyond dispute, the noblest sea that Turner ever painted, and, if so, the noblest certainly ever painted by man, is that of the Slave Ship" (3.571). In the third and subsequent editions, "Beyond dispute" is replaced by "I think."

Ruskin not only made many such stylistic revisions to allow the first volume to lead more smoothly toward the more dignified, less polemical .style of the second, he also removed many statements that made the first volume primarily a defense of Turner and English landscape art. First of all, he omitted many passages commending Turner. There are, for example, at least ten occasions in which the third edition did not have the previously inevitable conclusion that "no artist, dead or living, except Turner, has ever attained" (3.295n) this or that truth of nature. Some of the omitted passages that referred to Turner contained lists of examples (3.266n) while others were but brief phrases (Vol. 3, pp. 351n, 366n), and in all these instances Ruskin felt it necessary to prune them from a volume that was now, in the third edition, more than a defense of one artist.

And, since Modern Painters was also more than the defense of one school, Ruskin found it necessary to remove much of the emphasis he had previously granted lesser English painters. Thus, although he did remove jpraise of Michelangelo (3.n/n), an early favorite with whom he became disenchanted, most of the passages of commendation that he omitted refer to English landscape painters. For example, all editions contain the sentence that "Three penstrokes of Raffaelle are a greater and a better picture than the most finished work that ever Carlo Doici polished into inanity" (3.91), but the first two editions continue with another parallel: "A pencil scratch of Wilkie's on the back of a letter is a great and a better picture — and I use the term picture in its full sense — than the most laboured and luminous canvas that ever left the easel of Gerard Dow" (3.91n). This particular comparison, it is interesting to note, had been attacked by The Athenaeum on 3 February: "With what justice," they conclude, "might the Modern Painters cry out on reading [14/15] these ludicrous exaggerations — Heaven defend us from such a defender as this!"(p. 206) Ruskin's attempt both to improve the tone of his work and to remove undue emphasis upon the moderns appears to have been prompted by this notice in a review. He omitted other similar contrasts of ancients and modems, such as this one, which, as far as I can discover, was not specifically attacked: "There are few of our landscape painters, who though they may not possess the intimate and scientific geological knowledge of Stanfield and Harding, are not incomparably superior in every quality of drawing to every one of the old masters" (3.479n). Ruskin deleted other commendations of English landscapists, among which was an extended praise of Copley Fielding (3.482n), but the most important indication of his changed estimate of English art appears in the extensive revisions he made in the chapter "General Application of the Foregoing Principles," which ends the section on the sources of pleasure in art. The first four parts of this chapter, which remain unaltered, examine the works of Claude, Cuyp, Caspar Poussin, and Salvator Rosa. In the first and second editions, sections six through thirteen, which discussed David Cox, Copley Fielding, J. D. Harding, Clarkson Stanfield, Turner, Canaletto, and Samuel Prout, were mainly a comparison of the manner in which the last four artists painted Venice. Ruskin removed the emphasis from English painters in the new concluding sections that discussed an additional forty-five painters, most of whom were European. Thus, while retaining the artists he had discussed previously, Ruskin widened the scope of his chapter to make it prepare for the second volume, which, with its examples from Italian art, had recently appeared.

In addition to the revisions made in the main text of Volume I, Ruskin also removed, changed, and added many notes. In one case the omission of a note can be traced to the harsh criticism of a review. The first and second editions contained the following note on Maclise's Hamlet, a work which had been exhibited at the Academy in 1842:

We have a very great respect for Mr. Maclise's power as a draughtsman, and if we thought that his errors proceeded from weakness, we should not allude to them, but we most devoutly wish that he would let Shakespeare alone. If the Irish ruffian who appeared in 'Hamlet' last year had been gifted with a stout shillelagh, and if his state of prostration had been rationally accounted for by distinct evidence of a recent 'compliment' on the crown; or if the maudlin expression of the young lady christened 'Ophelia' had been properly explained by an empty gin bottle on her lap, we should have thanked him for his powerful delineation both of character and circumstance. But we cannot permit him thus to mislead the English public (unhappily too easily led by any grinning and glittering fantasy) in all their conceptions of the intention of Shakespeare. (3.619n)

The Art-Union Journal based its unfavorable review of Modern Painters on Ruskin's arrogance and unfairness to artists other than Turner, using this note as its major example:

From this new teacher the public may hope nothing — the beginning, end, and middle of his career is Turner, in whose praise he is vehement and indiscriminate; when speaking of other artists not in the vein of his own taste, he hesitates not at indulgence in scurrilities, such as have not disgraced the columns of any newspaper. In allusion to Maclise's 'Hamlet' of last year, he speaks of the ruffian who appeared in Hamlet; and after adding that "a stout shillelagh" would have been a fitting accompaniment to the figure, continues "and if his state of prostration had been rationally accounted for by distinct evidence of a recent compliment [sic] on the crown; or if the maudling [sic] expression of the young lady christened Ophelia [sic] had been properly explained by an empty gin-bottle on her lap," &c. &c. Is this criticism? We humbly opine that a tone so coarse is not to be found in any of the newspaper notices, which we agree with him in condemning.

Ruskin evidently took heed of this criticism, for he removed the note from the third edition.

Ruskin's usual method, however, was not to delete but to add notes, and his additions indicate the changes in his attitudes and interests that we have already observed. Throughout his career he continued to add notes to earlier works until, like a medieval palimpsest, a particular work, such as Modern Painters, would contain layers, occasionally contradictory, that-had been deposited at different times. In the third edition he frequently supplied new notes, clarifying his earlier statements, qualifying them, or adding later commentary or praise. For example, in the section on truth of tone where he had first remarked that "truths of form and distance . .. are more important than truths of tone" (3.270), Ruskin added the note:

"More important, observe, as matters of truth or fact. It may often chance that, as a matter of feeling, the tone is the more important of the two; but with this we have here no concern" (3.270n). He qualified his earlier criticism of engraving (3.299n) and his discussion of tree form (3.57911). He also added a remark that a [15/16] group of trees in Turner's Marly resembled a group in Tintoretto's Cain and Abel (3.J93n). In one case Ruskin removed a criticism of Fielding's cloud drawing from the text and replaced it by a generally complimentary footnote (3.399n). There is, however, one instance when he added, rather than removed, a critical note, and this addition was apparently prompted by the second review of Modern Painters, Volume I, in The Athenaeum . The Athenaeum reviewer had wondered "How such a grand-tourist as he proclaims himself should not say one word of the sublime Pitti Salvatorss" (10 Feb, 1844, p. 232). Ruskin gave his answer in a note: "I have above exhausted all terms of vituperation, and probably disgusted the reader; and yet I have not spoken with enough severity: I know not any terms of blame that are bitter enough to chastise justly the mountain drawing of Salvator in the pictures of the Pitti Palace" (3.456n). This note was not, however, characteristic of those notes added to the 1846 edition of Volume I, for the usual note adds praise or explanation, not censure. Perhaps the most important note of explanation is that with which Ruskin closed his revised edition of the first volume. Answering the reviews of Volume II, which had, he says, suggested that he had lost his respect for Turner, Ruskin states that his first view and valuation of Turner has not changed, and that any change of method was necessitated b}/ a new subject that demanded "a. more general view of the scope and operation of art. . . . The reader will therefore find, not that lower rank is attributed to Turner, but that he is henceforward compared with the greatest men, and occupies his true position among the most noble of all time" (3.630n). In other words, although Ruskin had not changed in his belief that Turner was one of the greatest of painters, he had decided that Modern Painters was to demonstrate this greatness, not by polemical sorties against the reviewers, but by a more dignified elucidation of a theory of art.

In the third edition Ruskin removed much of his earlier emphasis on English painters, because as long as he had been concerned solely with defending a master of landscape painting, such an emphasis on native art and artists had been appropriate, but once he began to treat other aspects of art, he had to remove much of both his earlier praise and earlier censure. If we look at the effect of deleting passages praising Turner, we shall see that their removal tends to place the importance, not on Turner himself, but on the points Ruskin is making about art; and this is appropriate because he had realized that his work would be, not merely a defense of Turner that used a the^ ory of art and beauty, but a theory of art and beauty that included Turner as one of the greatest of all painters. In many cases Ruskin improved his style, ridding the first volume of unclear constructions and repetitious concluding remarks, but most of the deletions, as well as his other changes, were the result of a new conception of Modern Painters. And, although one of the most important changes Ruskin made was to shift his attention from the periodical reviewers to a more general audience, the re viewers were responsible for many of the specific revisions of the first volume.

Victorian Overview John Ruskin Critical Theory

Last modified 14 February 2007