y the middle of May there had been another farewell, another crossing, with Margaret and John James, both ill, again left in London to count the days. [JLS: To escape the situation at home and for the sake of concentrated work, Ruskin frequently traveled without his parents; he had made a prior excursion to Europe between October and late December the previous year.] Released until August, Ruskin was traveling toward Milan, in his luggage the first article for Fraser's, ready for final revision, by his side the Burne-Joneses. [JLS: Viljoen's pencil note indicates that she meant to specify that these "happy times" had been much earlier, during the family's first trips when Ruskin was in his teens.] They had been fairly smuggled out of London, to travel as his guests. Casually, at the end of a week, he sent his parents the bare announcement that they were with him: "I am taking care of the two Joneses as far as Milan; it is a pleasure to me; for the present I have little enough, and do not find my own thoughts or company helpful. They are happy, and it is pleasant to see them" [May 18; unpublished]. Not until eight months had passed did it seem wise to hint at what had really happened: "I think I must have mentioned in some of my letters that they were with me from London: in fact, it was mainly to take charge of them on the road and save them from damp beds and cold railroad stations (when Edward was just recovering from broken blood vessel), that I graciously consented to let them come with me at all. But I never dwelt much on their being with me for fear Mama and you should be jealous, and certainly did not say anything about them till some month or so after we started" [January 10, 1863; unpublished].
Once it was they who would have been his companions, in those other days when, just after his father's birthday, a postchaise came to Denmark Hill to carry them over England — or France and Switzerland — and all life stretched ahead, so endlessly bright, their return to the warm security of home a part of happiness. Soon he was writing from Dijon: "I came here . . . partly to see the old place again, but it makes me inexpressibly sad. The inn is as it used to be . . . the town, prettier if anything — but I am no more myself — and I think of the pleasure you and my mother used to have here, and now all is gone" [May 20; unpublished]. It was to be a journey haunted by memories of things past and by indecision about days to come — a journey characterized by pity, anger, and self-reproach.
Again he was gripped, in the aftermath of Denmark Hill, by terrible depression.1 "To England I shall seldom return," he had told [his American friend, Charles Eliot] Norton the day before he left [LE 36: 407]. "I must find a home — or at least the Shadow of a Roof of my own — somewhere — certainly not here [in London]." During the last weeks with his parents his enervation had been so complete that sometimes he seriously wondered whether he might not be "dying" [LE 36:408] — a thought that would often recur during the summer to come. And yet, at first, he found himself reasonably strong in body — able to row or walk eight miles and more without tiring when he reached the Alps. It was the emotional lethargy, the deadly despondency, which now alarmed him chiefly. "I have lost a great deal during these four months, somehow," he wrote John James from Switzerland. "[Before,] I was sorry to come away from these places — yet have no pleasure in coming back to them. If I can get once more into a healthy and quiet corner of work, I must really interrupt it no more for any cause avoidable by any sort of determination" [May 27; unpublished]. The Burne-Joneses never forgot an afternoon at Boulogne [where they had gone first] when he had taken them down to the shore, "where the tide was far out and only a great stretch of wet sand lay before us. Here a mood of melancholy came over him and he left us, striding away by himself towards the sea; his solitary figure looked the very emblem of loneliness as he went." But he found their companionship helpful, and it was not his habit to make those who were with him victims of his gloom. "As for that same Ruskin, what a dear he is," Burne-Jones commented to a friend when recollecting this time, "of his sweetness, his talk, his look, how debonair to everyone, of the nimbus round his head and the wings to match, [we must] consult some future occasions of talk" [Memorials 1: 248-49].
It was at least in part this thoughtful gentleness which, for a long time, made it seem unlikely that he would actually carry out his resolution to live at Denmark Hill no more. Merely to leave his parents was not to escape the haunting thought that they were very old, and ill, and that, since the they needed him, perhaps he should force himself to pay whatever might be the price which would make their last days happy. At first, he sent them the habitual reassurance: "I can come home again whenever you choose if you and mama get worse without me" [May 22; unpublished]. Out of their presence, he was no longer fully convinced that they, primarily, were responsible for his condition. Clearly there might be other causes, of which he would postulate first one and then another.
Before long he commented on his gums, bleeding as never before, on the thickened saliva, and the constant bitter taste.2 He announced a new experiment: "I am going to try nearly a vegetable and very spare diet, eating as little as I can. I know no other symptoms of dyspepsia than this mouth one — but I can trace this, I think, to redoubled and redoubled chagrin3 more than anything — for, whenever anything vexed me, it seemed always to bring on taste in the mouth" [May 30; unpublished]. Next day: "My mouth is better and seems to me to have been caused by my taking too much salt and wine. It is better with no wine." [June 1; unpublished] John James consulted a physician, who was no more helpful than the other doctors when, apparently, he said that the trouble must by caused by work. "I note what Ray [JLS: Unidentified; possibly a physician consulted by John James.] says about teeth," Ruskin replied, "which is precisely what I myself feel, and do not at all like. My whole pleasure is in work, and when I can't work, I had just as soon — or rather, much rather — be asleep — how profoundly, I don't care. But I hope yet to get some power of work again" [June 9; unpublished]. Then, however, he would revert to an earlier conviction that John James and Margaret — of course, primarily John James — were responsible for what he suffered: there had been "a perfect drive over St. Gothard, and Ij revived a little among the gentians and felt as if, could I only get peace — and get let alone — I could take slowly again to my old pursuits and come right . . . " [May 30; unpublished].
" . . . [C]ould I only get peace — and get let alone . . . " That was an observation which his father could never understand and which Ruskin could never manage to explain. Before, he had tried to demonstrate precisely what it meant, and soon he would try again. But, whenever they were specified, the causes of his dispeace would sound ridiculously petty. When ties are strained, it is usually the mounting trivialities of daily exasperation that become a crushing burden, while anger grows disproportionate to its immediate occasion. And when apparently unreasonable rage is forever smoldering, there is, in its endurance, a peculiarly infuriating helplessness. "I had written a longer letter," he accounted for a brief note posted from Milan (he had received, that day, a letter saying that John James liked the first article for Fraser's) "but it was explaining what can never be explained, and so I send this instead" [June 3; unpublished; JLS: Here — and after — Viljoen infers from Ruskin's comments what John James must have said in letters we do not have.].
Arriving in Paris, for example, he may have been fully aware that, in one sense, his black resentment at having to keep a dinner engagement with the Domecqs was utterly unreasonable, an engagement to please the father who, a few weeks before, in his unfailing generosity, would have been willing to build that home in Ireland4. Already, the story behind this meeting with the Domecqs had assumed the proportions of a minor saga. In the beginning, very long ago, there had been Adèle,5 and how could John James possibly consider this an adequate reason for now shunning her family? More recently — though months had passed — the Prince de Bethune [Adèle's brother-in-law] had sent his invitation to Boulogne [where Ruskin was], an invitation which, by now, merely headed a whole series of invitations from various members of his clan. And of course it was John James who had unloosed this hornet's nest of kindness. With his own friends, Ruskin had no difficulty in declining hospitality. But these were his father's connections, appealingly graced by an abundance of titles and of wealth, and John James had been quietly functioning as their delighted intermediary. So Ruskin had sent excuses postponing the visit until he feared that a group whom he should not offend must think his conduct "quite insolently strange" [December 22, 1861; unpublished]. Finally, in December, en route to Denmark Hill, he had gone through the minimum courtesy of calling on [Adèle's sister] Diane, now Madame de Maison. Fortunately, her sisters had been out of town, but she had asked him to dinner en famille — which, he reported, he had "declined as it would probably have bored them, and certainly would me, to have to talk bad French and make, or hear pretty speeches, all the evening. . . . Madame de Maison is unchanged; I would have told her so, but she would probably have answered that ugly women couldn't lose much and then I shouldn't have known what to answer" [December 29, 1861; unpublished]. Before long, another invitation had followed him to London: Élise, Caroline, and Clotilde [Adèle's second name] and all their respective husbands desired him to attend a family dinner when next he passed through Paris. Left to himself, he would have evaded the formidable engagement. But this invitation had found his father at his elbow, and so he had not escaped.
To his amazement, however, the dreaded evening turned out to be remarkable for pleasure. In fact, it was so pleasant that its consequences were to shadow him — grotesquely — through the summer. He had set off to the party with a headache, probably as ill at ease as though he were veritably the gauche lad of long ago whose affections had been fair game until the fire became those hot coals of suffering when he knew he had lost Adèle. [After their return to London,] the Burne-Joneses were to spend an evening at Denmark Hill, during which John James appeared with a copy of Ruskin's [YOUTHFUL] Poems: "The old gentleman," Lady Burne-Jones recalled, "seemed to be far away in the past as he stood turning over the leaves of the book which contained so many references to a lost love, and tears coursed down his face while he told us how he should never forget the day when he and his son took Adèle to the ship that was to carry her from England, or the agony that the separation caused the youth . . . 'Yes,' was Margaret's comment, 'any trouble that has happened to him since then was nothing compared to that'" [Memorials 1: 271]. During the spring Ruskin had learned that [Charles Eliot] Norton was about to be married. Norton had urged him to come to America for this occasion, hoping that the complete change of scene might help. "You are a dear fellow," Ruskin had replied, "and your letters are the comfort of my life just now and I am glad with you and for you with all my heart. It used to be a sound heart enough, but has got shriveled and pinched somehow lately and is now not much to give — but what is left of it, or in it, you have...It is so nice of you to want me to come . . . .But there is little of good omen in me. . . . " Now, he would see Adèle with her husband, secure in her children and her home. And doubtless she would think him quite as absurd as in those other days when he had rejoiced to win even so much as her derision.
But when he met them — all five of the sisters and four of their husbands — they turned out to be friends who astonished him by the apparent warmth of their regard. "ネise," he told John James, came over to him "and chatted in her old gentle way" [May 25; unpublished] C残ile, always remembered with Adèle for beauty, had "surprised" him by her "courtesy" [May 19; LE 36: 409]. An elaborate dinner had been prepared: "a very finished French one — in which I neither knew the name nor nature of anything I ate — except the salmon, which was served whole, a yard long on a dish of proportionate length. The dinner was so long that ices came in the middle of it, by way of refreshment and encouragement to persevere" [May 25; unpublished]. "The Grandfather [JLS: likely Caroline's husband's grandfather, then 86] was the life of the whole circle Adèle shouts of laughter round him all the evening; it was very wonderful" [May 19; LE 36: 409]. Before long, he had forgotten his headache, while the effort to speak his French and to understand theirs actually left him "less wearied by far at the end of the evening than at the beginning . . . I never knew anything like the kindness of them all," he marveled. ". . . . I can't conceive how it is that people can be so affectionate after twenty years — and to me — of all people, it seems to me, the dullest and unlikest to them.6 . . . I suppose you had been putting them up to it, but they were all quite irresistible and I was forced to promise seriously and absolutely that I would visit Mme. de Maison, Mme. des Roys, and Mme. de Bethune in the course of the summer" [May 19; LE 36: 408-9]. As he was leaving, "Caroline, like lightning for quickness (as of old), came right out to the steps of the carriage with me, holding my hand close pressed to her breast" [May 25; unpublished].
Returning to the Burne-Joneses, Georgiana recalled, "he seemed in a dream of the past as he threw himself down on a couch and talked to us. 'They called me John,' he said . . . Then he went on to tell us how good a wife Adèle was, and the image of the lady was stamped on the minds of his hearers as he told them that, in her country home, she used to amuse her husband, who was a sportsman, by translating Punch to him" [Memorials 1: 242]. He told his father: "I must be back in the summer, having, as I told you, accepted three French invitations. Perhaps Clotilde may teach me a little farming . . . " [May 19; LE 36: 409]. Another week had to pass before, casually, he could bear to state the full truth: "Clotilde said she would teach me some farming. It is four invitations that I have accepted, not three, as I said" [May 20; unpublished]. It really looked as though John James had not been amiss in pressing him to renew these contacts.
But the exhilaration quickly passed. Before this reunion he had been rebelliously aware that his generation had outgrown its youth just as Rose was entering hers (two weeks before, she had reached thirteen). "Am I not in a curiously unnatural state of mind in this way," he had asked a friend [Dr. John Brown] in January, "that at forty-three, instead of being able to settle to my middle-aged life like a middle-aged creature, I have more instincts of youth about me than when I was young, and am miserable because I cannot climb, run, or wrestle, sing, or flirt — as I [should have done] when a youngster — because I [had to ] sit writing metaphysics all day long?7 Wrong at both ends of life" [January 16; LE 36: 404]. Now, objectively, he had seen his generation. True, Clotilde would teach him "a little farming and Élise will be very kind and nice (so will Caroline) but, alas, we are all old" [May 20; unpublished]. The evening had been delightful. "Nevertheless," he wrote from Lucerne some days later, "I am at present quite unsettled by it all. . . . [To meet these new obligations] I must learn a little French instead of Greek,8 and I can't settle to my drawing nor form any plans — and the despondency gains ground with every hour in which I seem to be losing life. I have no pleasure in this place now . . . " [May 25; unpublished].
Even the Burne-Joneses, with their joy in life, in each other, and their child — to whom he was godfather — could sharpen his regrets. "I usually call them 'children' now," he told John James in the middle of June, " . . . indeed, my conceit about looking young for my age was finally taken out of me by finding that the only question at the Inns respecting our relationship was not whether Georgie belonged to me or to Edward, but whether Edward was my son or Georgie my daughter" [June 18; unpublished]. He watched this "daughter" with her husband, thinking of their child. "What a funny thing a mother is!" he wrote Lady Trevelyan. "She had left her baby at home in her sister's charge and she seemed to see everything through a mist of baby. I took them to see the best ravine in Mont Pilate, and nothing would serve but her husband must draw her baby for her on the sand of the stream. I kept looking up [paintings of the] 'Massacre of the Innocents' and anything else in that way that I could to please her..." [July 20; LE 36: 414].
Meanwhile, as best he might, he must stifle the old discontentments — hopelessly unappeased — the old hungers that remained unsatisfied, occasionally emitting faint odors of decay. Before long, Élise and her husband went to London and the count sent him a message through John James: " . . . tell him, if he's cross at my being rude, I'll try if I can't make him jealous — so he had better be quiet," Ruskin jested in a half-distracted letter; then went on to say that he had heard from Burne-Jones, "who [was now] at home, better for his journey in all except his morals, which I corrupted to a fatal extent. His wife was shocked (not that he told her half the wickedness I taught him), but nevertheless gave me an embrace at parting and said 'you nice thing.' So the count had better look [out] . . . " [July 31; unpublished]. Once, receiving news that his father was very "weak," he answered briefly that he was "sorry . . . But I am sorry about nearly all things just now — I hope there may be a better world" [May 25; unpublished].
Nevertheless, as they traveled, he had revised his first paper for Froude and dispatched it, automatically, to Denmark Hill.9 Then he began to "patch together" the second article, though he could write for no longer than an hour a day. As he did this uphill work, it may have helped, a little, to know that, for the moment, he did not have to labor against the disapproval of John James: "I have your letter of the first, and am very glad to know that you like the Fraser article so much — but I do not — nor ever did — think my powers of writing less than they were — but my physical power. I can write better sentences than ever I did10 — but, after writing them, I never used to have pains in my mouth — nor be giddy. I have good appetite and sleep well, but I can't do any work of any sort, and do nothing but think of the worry it will be to me to see people." A message cautioning him11 from his [father, received, in retort, this] warning: "You say: 'don't tell your state of mind' — but I can't answer people's letters and [not be] obliged to give some reason. However, I believe it has now come pretty nearly to this: that I shall get away from any place as soon as people find I am there, and answer no letters whatever and let them think and say what they choose" [June 4; unpublished]. A month later: "Reading over your yesterday's and some other letters, I can't help being a little amused by your sudden desire for my 'reticence' [in expressing] my feelings [to others] . . . You did not mind my proclaiming to all the world in print the foolish passions of a boy, but you are frightened at my telling my own few friends the difficulties in which the strong life of the man needs their help — or patience" [July 2; LE 36: 410].
They reached Milan, and his brooding found a further focus as, guiding Burne-Jones, he returned to the galleries and dim chapels, the like of which had stirred the passions of that boy. This was the world from which he had shrunk in recent years, when thoughts of [the] monumental "bosh" [he had written earlier] could SEAR his self-respect. Only eight months ago he had spoken of the "torment" he experienced in "that old world of art" [JLS: Uncharacteristically, Viljoen supplies no reference for these quotations; a search of the Library Edition CD-ROM suggests that they do not appear, as given, in Ruskin's works; I have been otherwise unable to locate them.] Chiefly, it may have been his desire to befriend Burne-Jones that had motivated his return to Italy, though, under the circumstances, he could scarcely have traveled with a more helpful companion. Burne-Jones had not yet lost his passionate admiration for Ruskin's books. Now, with their author by his side, he had occasion to discuss their rightness, while Ruskin, respecting him both as an artist and a man, could value his opinions. So, before long, the worshipful young disciple became a tender and devoted friend. "I wish I had lived with you always," Burne-Jones wrote Ruskin a quarter of a century later, "and that we had been monks, painting books and being always left off divine service because of our skill in said painting. My dear, there has been nothing in my life so sweet to look back upon as that journey to Milan twenty-five years ago" [LE 36: lv].
For Ruskin, too, there was in these days a most beneficent sweetness — fused with friendship but reaching far into other realms. When he left London, the frescoes he had been commissioned to examine were as little known to the English public and to him as, twenty years ago, had been the glories of the Arena Chapel or of many a church in Florence to which, through the decade past, his books had led the traveler. En route, he and Burne-Jones had had their day with the Luinis in Lugano. Reaching Milan, they had gone at once to the paintings in San Maurizio. All but immediately the miracle had happened: not loneliness, not sterile discontent, but an intensity of joyous discovery again had mastered him, that "temper" of twenty years ago which he had thought forever "changed," the identical emotions which had first impelled him to write about Turner, about Fra Angelico and his brethren, about the loveliness of crumbling stones in Venice, about Veronese, Tintoret. Once more, here before Luini, he had that rapt experience when a man feels himself a very nothing as his spirit bows before the wonder of great genius (as before his beloved, or his God). But, experiencing this, he also knew, once more, that whatever might be the faults of Modern Painters, with its interwoven threads of his Evangelicism past — of what it was essentially — a proclamation, an evangel of beauty — he need not be ashamed. Even paeans to the purity of Angelico — clashing in his consciousness of late with knowledge of strange depravities of Turner and the pagan might of Veronese — would resound, henceforth, with less insistent mockery. It was, significantly, Luini and Turner, Luini and Fra Angelico and Veronese, whom he would link when next he spoke of art. Old problems about body and spirit, Right and Wrong, were not resolved, perhaps never to be found by him. But, now, in front of him, was Luini, whose spirit could reach his across the centuries, bringing comfort, whispering that in "the passions of a boy" he may not have been completely wrong.
He considered his so-called "genius," about which he had read so much in mockery and praise; he thought of the floods of criticism that had come from writers on art — not from those who contrived aesthetic theory in intellectual detachment, but from those others who resembled him in desiring, primarily, to interpret art and, above all, to communicate what lay at the heart of beauty so that men could share its pulsing life, awakened in understanding, and judgment, insight, experiencing a joy that could come to the few who reached these far-horizons of the spirit. And more: he found that Luini brought him peace, that the first violence of his reaction against Modern Painters had been spent. Perhaps his books did not need to be torn to pieces with the contemplated vigor; perhaps they actually had their own legitimate value. " . . . [T]hough I think myself far the inferior of men like Tennyson — or Browning — or Rossetti — or Carlyle," he staunchly told John James, "I think of myself much farther the superior of most members 'delle belle Arti' of any academy in the world" [June 29; unpublished]. That might not be much, but it had given him a right to speak, and, having spoken, to retain his self-respect. He had been something more than an arrogant, pretentious fool, after all. "I had a quiet walk in the Louvre," he told his father some months later, "and was more satisfied, after an interval, with the general tone of Modern Painters as a body of criticism than I ever was before. It will need some comments and collation but it is very true and sound — I am thankful to say — in all but its fine religious passages — and even those, so far as they bear on nature and God simply, are not false" [November 10; unpublished].
The seeds of this reconciliation had been sown almost as soon as he entered Italy: "Perhaps I may get a little interested again in frescoes at Milan," he had written, deeply despondent, from Fluelen, "but at present I am quite dead to everything I used to care for" [May 27; unpublished]. But, four days later, from Milan, having seen the Luinis of Lugano, he wrote: "I am a good deal refreshed and cheered by getting into Italy, the beautiful art is life to me" [June 1; unpublished]. And, on the following day: "It is wet and dull here, but I feel at home and at peace among the beautiful things" [June 2; unpublished]. The process of recovery was to be slow, with despondency repeatedly returning in an irresistible, though gradually receding, tide.
At once he set himself to do some copying (a bit of Tintoretto) before he joined Burne-Jones, who had gone to work upon Luini from the first. Hunt Luini "out everywhere," the younger man advised a friend [Agnes Graham] a few years later . "Never were any faces so perfect; for they are perfect like Greek ones and have fourteen hundred years of tenderness and pity added" [Memorials 2: 66]. Concerning his own copying efforts, Burne-Jones reported at the time: "Ruskin, by treacherous smiles and winning courtesies and delicate tips, has wheedled the very candlesticks off the altar for my use . . . and I draw every day now by the light of eight altar candles; also, a fat man stands at the door and says the church is shut if anybody comes, and when the priest himself put his head in, the fat man said, 'Hush-sh-sh-sh!' and frightened the poor priest away!" [Memorials I: 248].
It was a life-size Saint Catherine [of Luini's] that Ruskin set himself to copy in the old, painstaking way, measuring each brush stroke for every curl, each curve of every feature.12 It promised to be a good summer's work for a man who, for a while, could do no more than an hour a day (Burne-Jones, supposedly the invalid, did six by way of contrast). Displaying his sketch, together with a painting by Titian, to an audience of later years, Ruskin [surely with the thought of the "fallen" Turner in his mind] spoke of the original Luini as "a work in itself so beautiful that I do not fear but that you will find some reflex of its true character, even in this, its shadow. Stand for a few moments tonight before these pictures, and ask of yourselves whether men and women such as they represent were trained in a vicious or degraded element, and whether the painters who could understand them and rejoice in making their nobleness eternal, saw them with eyes warped by evil, or painted them with hands enfeebled by guilt" [LE 19: 248].
But while he worked and thought, he also grieved — wrathfully, as in his youth — because men still were vandals who wantonly destroyed this heritage. "I never saw anything so beautiful in sacred art as Luini's 'Christs' in St. Maurizio here," he wrote his father, "or the remnants of them at least — for, after the Battle of Magenta [JLS: June 4, 1859, when the French, siding with Italy, won a narrow victory over the invading Austrians.], the church was made a military hospital, and you can fancy what became of the frescoes. . . . Nails have been driven into the finest heads to fasten up bed-curtains for the wounded . . . Two rooms the size of our drawing-room would have done as well, but the Italians couldn't, it seems, provide so much" [June 13; LE 19: lxxiii]. The spirit, almost the words themselves, re-echoed from the past.
Now, however, he neither hoped nor desired to be a voice which would arouse men to an awareness of their responsibilities and loss: "I shall certainly write nothing for nine years (one of the ten I said I would wait14 is gone), and, as I am gaining knowledge every day, whatever I do then — if I live15 — will be very different from what I am now [June 28; unpublished]. As of old, however, he longed to have these paintings copied before they completely disappeared. "There are many plans in my thoughts — assuredly I can no more go on living as I have done," he wrote Rossetti. "Jones will tell you what an aspen-leaf and flying speck of dust in the wind my purposelessness makes me. . . . Among [my] shadowy plans, the one that looks most like light is one of spending [a] large part of every year in Italy, measuring and copying old frescoes. Perhaps sometime we might have happy days together — if there was any place in Italy where you cared to study, or be idle" [June 12; LE 36: 411-12]. Toward the end of June he asked John James to give a message to George Allen, whom he had trained as a copyist: it would "relieve Allen's mind if he is told that I am inclining back to my old art projects now, after various meditation over them during the last two years, and that I hope soon to be able to take command again more effectively than I have done yet" [June 26; unpublished].
As hope and power began, dimly, to reappear, he chafed against the thought that soon he must leave Milan. He had told the Arundel Society that he would make his report in person by the middle of August, when, naturally, he would give a few days to his parents. As well, before reaching London, he would have to meet his various engagements with the Domecqs — so only July was left for further recuperation and painting. But it was not until the middle of June had he begun to feel definitely better. At the end of the month, he warned John James: "I seem barely to have turned the corner" [June 28; unpublished]. By then, however, he was working more effectively at Saint Catherine and his writing. Soon he began to enjoy his walks, once more feeling alive. The Burne-Joneses had left him [on June 11], going on to Venice, thence to England and their child. John James apparently became solicitous because he was alone: "The 'company' I keep,"16 he answered with a touch of irony, "is chiefly Socrates' and Horace's — with occasional Dante's — and a call or two from Goethe" [June 28; unpublished].
It would all have been most encouraging and peaceful were it not such a bare beginning and that disruptive end already near. Of course, it would be possible to cancel his engagements in France and the post could carry to London a report on the frescoes. But no, for, in addition to these lesser impediments, there was still John James. Vainly, almost from the moment he had felt stability returning, he had tried to make his father understand his need, impotently underscoring in letter after letter the fact that he was seriously ill, inviting the obvious response that never came. John James wanted him — if only for a few days, or a week (which could become a precious month), and that, in turn, might be extended. Assuredly, the father thought, this illness could not be "real." Did not the doctors agree that there was nothing genuinely wrong? And the letters he received could often seem absurd in their shifting analyses of apparently fantastic suffering. Normal contacts with normal people — for example, the Domecqs — would surely do the invalid good. He was but a child too much indulged, a genius now the victim of mere temperament and "nerves." So John James remained patient and blandly unconvinced while Ruskin boxed with shadows at which his indulgent correspondent in London was inclined to smile. Nor did it help to make Ruskin more convincing that he must attempt to explain these "shadows" by talking around and about the basic problem which he believed existed between his home and whatever it was that ailed him, between that tortuous ailment (so dimly understood) and the complexities of love and selfishness in the man with whom he corresponded who could be cruelly wounded — the man from whom he must conceal the very thoughts he found imperative to state.
His letters to Denmark Hill to this point in the trip (consistently brief and seldom open-hearted) indicate the strains under which he suffered. The background is suggested by a comment sent at the beginning of June: "I should be so thankful if I hadn't to come back and see people — but I shall never have a quiet life till it's too late. So it is with everybody I suppose" [June 2; unpublished]. More than once he manifested the alarmed layman's fantastic ingenuity as he tried to trace effect to cause. There were times when he feared that it must be his mind which was diseased. He felt relief, for example, when he had satisfied himself that the symptoms in his mouth were more apparently connected with stomach than brain. "Have kidneys anything to do with saliva?" [June 18; unpublished]. But then the dread fear of insanity returned.17 Why, when he tried to write, could he no longer think with clarity? He was "at last decidedly better" (he marked the first definite advance) "having been able to write for more than an hour to-day at Polit[ical] Ec[onomy] without bringing on the feeling in the teeth. The great thing for me, I feel, is to let my head alone — not to think — but to let the thoughts come to me, if they will. All talk whatever hurts me — attending to what people say, and answering, is a far greater effort than drawing or dreaming out even the most difficult subjects in the calm morning light. I shall endeavor to finish my next Fraser paper and get what I can of Luini before the weather gets too warm" [June 15; unpublished]. A few days later, sufficiently improved to fret against the waste of his capacities: "I still sleep and feed well, but have no power of application — which is the chief element of the depression. Ennui is bad enough when people have 'nothing to do' but when they've everything to do and can't do it, it is frightful" [June 18, 1st letter; unpublished]. He had already announced: "If once I can get into a course of employment again I will let nothing interrupt it. If I break down but once again — as I've broken down just now — there will be an end of me. You see Buckle is dead18 — something of the same kind of work — with one half the sensation probably" [June 13; unpublished].
"I will let nothing interrupt it." John James would read those words. Was it not a resolution which the father might consider sufficiently alarming to warrant linking it with talk of death? Hence, instantly, he must try to mitigate [in letters of his own] the alarm which could engender such a threat. It was apparently this father who really knew what suffering meant. "I am very sorry to see that you are again desponding about illness," Ruskin answered. "Yes, I know there are worse things to bear than ennui, but it does not make me happier that you should be in pain. Besides, it is not so much ennui as the shortness and weakness of life that plagues me — because it is of no use to try and do anything. Had I a chance of a thousand years to live, you would not hear of ennui" [June 18, 2nd letter; unpublished]. Two days later, he wrote: "I am much grieved at your account of prolonged suffering — it is wonderful and very good of you to write when so tormented. 19 You will be glad at all events to know that I am better" [June 20; unpublished]. But, after the next day brought its letter [from London]: "The 'breakdown' I speak of is no Royal Institution one — but failure of power in all directions (teeth, limbs, chest, head) all at once.20 But it is of no use to talk about it — whether it gets better (or worse) — in each case, the description will be unnecessary " [June 21; unpublished]. Ten days later, apropos of some paternal comment on the death of Buckle: "I don't think Buckle died of his nonfaith. Young clergymen die much faster than old infidels — and all the beginnings of my illness were in my old state, not in my present one. Nevertheless — whatever I am — if you and mama have faith, you ought not to be anxious about what is under God's management" [June 28; unpublished].
As July progressed, there seemed to be less reason for anxiety: "I think I am now gaining fast as well as steadily," he forwarded the good news (by now he had been almost two months abroad); "for the first time this year I stood to-day looking up at the leaves of the poplars against the blue sky with real pleasure. . . . I was up at four this morning, dressed at 5, wrote till _ past six, breakfasted — wrote another hour — and got to painting at 10 after a little sauntering walk — struck work at _ past 12 for the day — and shall be in bed at 9" [July 10; unpublished]. It was a dangerous acknowledgement. For, within a week, John James had suggested that he return at once to Denmark Hill. Providentially, his parent explained, Élise and her husband and father were arriving, and [he] was too ill to act as host; furthermore, the guests wished to see the Great Exhibition,21 through which, manifestly, Ruskin would make an ideal guide.47 Yet, even in the face of this suggestion, the son maintained his self-control22: "I have yours of Monday," he began on July 24: "I am very sorry not to be at home to receive M. Domecq and Madame des Roys, but I never supposed that I could. When I went away, I stated to you that I meant to keep myself quit of this exhibition — never to enter it. You seem not to have understood this, but it was so and must be so. I deeply regret the state of your own health — but I know that I should not make you better by making myself more seriously ill than I am. . . . I am determined now to do what is best for me as far as I know it — that is as much justice to you as to myself. I regret deeply that I cannot help you just now. But you must remember that if my mother's idea had been carried out — and I had been a clergyman instead of a painter — I should certainly have been as little available; perhaps I might have been in Africa or India, instead of Italy" [July 24; unpublished].
Simultaneously, out from the same pattern, another difficulty arose, with still others crowding at its heels. By the middle of July, the second paper for Fraser's had been indomitably completed and forwarded, in two installments, to Denmark Hill. John James, forthwith, had read it, with sinking heart. After Froude received the manuscript, he would return it with a check for fifteen pounds and a request that it be revised. "I am going to recast it entirely," Ruskin told John James, " . . . shorten parts and add the last two heads so as to get it into more symmetrical and comprehensible form, and I dare say I shall be glad it came back, though it worried me at the time, as I was sick of it" [July 29; unpublished]. John James may have had sound reasons for his misgivings — though clearly it was not revision he desired. Here, he seems to have warned, Ruskin was expressing opinions which in the future he would regret. Here, the father believed, was the type of writing that was the true cause of his depression. Here, on all scores, was danger. And so, apparently, John James once again suggested that his son forswear political economy. Let him turn, instead, to society and friends. If he would do this, he would soon get well — and then he could write books on other subjects. As for the essay just received, the father proposed to withhold it from publication, for the present at least.23
Ruskin let two days elapse. When next he wrote, his response was supremely quiet: "I have your letter stating receipt of second part of paper. I am quite content that you should do anything with it you like in your present state of health, but, as far as mine is concerned, the one only thing you can do for me is to let me follow out my work in my own way and in peace. All interference with me torments me and makes me quite as ill as any amount of work. That letter [I sent which was] written under the poplars was just at the time when I had got into my subject again with some interest and was taken by it from painful thoughts. Now, the putting off of this publication disheartens me — checks me in what I was next doing — and has very considerably spoiled my last two days. I don't mind this a bit if it does you any good to stop the paper — only don't think of me in such matters — the one only thing I can have is liberty. The depression on the German tour was not in writing the letters but in having them interfered with. It can only lessen as I accomplish what I intend and recover in some degree the lost ground of life. My opinions will never more change — they are now one with Bacon's and Goethe's — and I shall not live to become wiser than either of these men. (I trust I shall not change by becoming foolisher.)" [July 22; LE 36: 415]. A few days later: "Your letters have curiously changed in tone within the last three weeks about polit. econ. You were all for it at the beginning of the month. In my present state of health I am easily put off doing anything — but if I do anything — in book way — it will be this and nothing else" [July 25; unpublished].
And now the end of July was hard at hand, the end of all Milan had come to mean in work and peace. He could curse the round of sociability into which he must presently plunge, when his better judgment and every inclination counseled him to keep away from the Domecqs. But for his father there would have been no dinner in Paris to sweep him into rashly accepting this round of hospitality. Now, it had become merely a few visits that would please the aged man whom death might take before too long. Even to think of seeing the Domecqs could induce in him a kind of panic that had little to do with conscious reasoning — though, to his father, he tried to explain his dread: "There is no fellowship of thought now between me and any society — what you call my 'light' words — which shock you at dinner table — are deep words — but ought not to be so spoken — and I have no light words. What should I do among the French? When I can't ride — nor dance — nor play in words — when I disbelieve the religion of the serious ones — and when I have none of the habits of good or high society. Even with the La Touches, I never go near them on their great dinner days, knowing myself strange and inferior in all 'society ways.' I have lived too long out of the world to go into it now" [August 14; unpublished at the time of Viljoen's draft; letter now in Burd, Ruskin and Rose].
But he was not permitted to forward his excuses to the Domecqs: he had given his 'word,' he was reminded by John James. What [did it matter, he asked his father, if] he needed more time to finish his Saint Catherine, if [it meant that] he was not to spoil the summer's work? If he could only do what he desired, he would go to Switzerland during the August heat and then return to the frescoes of Luini. The occasions throughout his manhood when his father's will had thwarted his, forever threatening his work, reverberated through his memory.
Nevertheless, in his letters he still maintained the characteristic quiet. "Don't send me any letters that will require any sort of putting up with or patience, because I haven't got any," he wrote Norton, some years hence [recollecting this period in 1862]. "Only this I'll say: I've suffered so fearfully from Reticences all my life that I think sheer blurting out of all in one's head is better than silence."[Compare Cook and Wedderburn's editing of this letter (LE 36: 571-72) with Bradley and Ousby's exact rendering (141-43): Ruskin's editors have deleted, without ellipsis, a paragraph mentioning Rose, a story they were trying to suppress.] But, now, to his father, he merely observed imponderably: "I should be very glad if I could stay now at the roots of the hills till I could come back to my frescoes. But it is ordained otherwise. It seems strange that I should have lived to 43 and never yet got settled to any work that I liked without being interrupted in it" [July 2; unpublished].
Still, perhaps he could spare himself a little by spending ten days or a fortnight with Diane instead of careering around from house to house. Diane's summer home was in Dieppe, where the good salt air might help him. By return mail, however, John James must have said that this plan would not do. At Denmark Hill, ネise had shown how she looked forward to entertaining him at Ville Testre — and, besides, he had already been extremely rude in having failed to answer a "pretty letter" she had posted to Milan. Ruskin was almost ready to leave for Dieppe when these observations arrived to add to his confusion. In reply, he attempted a counterstroke of whimsy, listing, as playful "firstlys," "secondlys," and "thirdlys," his apologies for having failed to write ネise. But, as he ended the letter, he stopped making these half-sickly jests: "4th- — and sixthly — I very seriously have been thinking I was dying — all this journey — and am not sure that I'm not. And dying is a more serious business to people who don't believe in the immortality of the soul than to those who expect an eternity without any toothache or bad dinners merely for saying they believe in Christ [and] I really have cared not much for fame — nor name — nor promises — nor countesses. Seventhly — and to conclude — am I to go to Ville Testre — or Dieppe? Let me know this by letter to Paris" [July 31; unpublished]. On August 2nd he started north, sardonically writing as he left Milan: "I hope to work in Paris and to be able to go any where on Saturday that I am ordered. I should like to go to Dieppe first for some sea air" [unpublished].
Four days later, in Geneva, he received letters which had been forwarded. There was one from Rose which said that, in a few weeks, she would be in London; another, from his father, responding positively to his earlier announcement that he would not remain in London beyond his mother's birthday [September 2]. "Rosie is very sorry I am so ill," he wrote that evening; "she says, 'If I could say anything — do anything — write anything — that would cheer you — or comfort you — to make things softer for you — or you for them — would not I do it? — but what can I do?' I have had beautiful weather to cross the Simplon but I am not well — and nothing gives me the least pleasure, except getting to my quiet drawing — if I feel any strength for it . . . I will write from Paris after I get any directions that may be there. Thank you for letting me go on 5th September — indeed, I feel that I shall not need it. This place looks intensely lovely, and if I could stay and begin work, a little at a time, I should be thankful — but I will try and get some strength on this month's going about and do the best I can for you and everybody" [August 6; unpublished].
He crossed the Simplon in brooding sadness, reviewing the endless trail of his self-sacrifice. Seventeen years had passed since that summer spent in Italy on the work which had made it possible to complete his second volume of Modern Painters. They had been months of intoxicating discovery coupled with feverish strain — always under the knowledge that he must return incredibly too soon to one who would only let him out on leash. Then — nearing this very Simplon — he had received that black letter of reproach because he had lingered on in Venice, seizing one more fiercely concentrated week in which to achieve some understanding of Tintoret.24 It was here, so long ago, that a blinding flash of rage had escaped into his consciousness, the quickly throttled wish to strike back at his tormentor — and, after that, had come the religious exaltation with which he felt that God had blessed his mastery over anger. Let us recall, in part, the record of that day, comparing "then" with "now."
"Then," he had written in his diary on January 4, 1846 (recalling the summer prior when he had been away): "a short letter from my Father [arrived] — full of the most unkind expression of impatience at my stay in Venice — I had been much vexed by his apparent want of sympathy throughout the journey, and — on receiving this letter — my first impulse was to write a complaining and perhaps bitter one in return. But, as I drove down the hill from Lausanne, there was something in the sweet sunshine between the tree trunks that made me think better of it. I considered that I should give my father the most dreadful pain if I did so — and that all this impatience was not unkindly meant but only the ungoverned expression of extreme — though selfish — affection. At last I resolved — though with no little effort — to throw the letter into the fire and say nothing of having received it, so that it might be thought to have been lost at Brieg, whence it had been forwarded. I had no sooner made this resolution than I felt a degree of happiness and elation totally different from all my ordinary states of mind, and this continued so strong and steady all the way north to Nyon that I could not but feel there was some spiritual government of the conscience; and I began to wonder how God should give me so much reward for so little self-denial, and to make all sorts of resolves for future conduct" [Evans 1: 321-22; Viljoen's planned addition].25
"Then," there was the time eleven years ago when he had been making a not dissimilar return after gathering material for the last volumes of The Stones of Venice. Again there had been months of work accomplished, always under pressure because his father — devoted, generous, yearning — had stood between him and the liberty known to other men, goading him to anger [which he had] balked at expressing because of his gratitude over his father's largesse — so that, once again, his fury turned inward to augment the festering well of resentment and regret.
And "now"? Once more he was "returning," with his capacity for writing almost gone, still entoiled in this unresolved conflict. Must he repeat the pattern interminably, less and less able to execute its motions, until, finally, it yielded him the release of death? How much more strength had he to give to this performance of his duty? What was the just solution for this problem? He reached Baveno, to loiter through a sultry summer day: " . . . thinking of happy days with Harding, seventeen years ago26 — the place looks to me more beautiful than ever — too late." Night came, with lightning, rain, thunder to break the heat. By candlelight, he sat at his table before the open window, still telling John James — beautifully — the story of yet another day: "The forked lightning is flying about in wild strings, above the Monte Monterone, showing the islands in blue fits of daylight — the lake dashing heavily. The room fills with night moths, driven out of the storm — poor things — the world — and this wild noise and fire in it — is a great mystery to them — which — with a flutter or two — they find solution of in dust. They have only time for astonishment. Our principal advantage over them seems to be that we have time also for regret — and find our fate in more slowly burning candles" [August 3; unpublished].
Merely to have started on this trip toward home had caused him to relapse into heaviest despondency. Too well he knew that "real things" caused him no "imaginary" illness. But his malady was strange — beyond physician's help — and, judged by his awareness, also beyond the experience of other men. Perhaps the disease was actually of the brain, so that, before he reached death, he would come to madness? But should he not do what he could to save himself from such extremity? And what kind of happiness would he render even to his father if, by staggering through another round of filial kindness, he should really kill himself?
And now he knew that the La Touches were soon to be in London — long before their usual time. There would be days with Rose, leading to another farewell, his knowledge of her sweetness fresh as he returned to aching loneliness. To be with her quickened his sense of woman's meaning, of all that he had dared to hope that she might mean to him when she had lived a few years more. But now at last, he told himself, he had quite finally realized how old he was, how broken. It would be easier not to see her than to go through another parting, with its aftermath of yearning pain and awareness that wife and children were never to be for him. But [would it be possible] to be in London and not see Rose when she was there?
The day after receiving her letter he sought the slopes of the Salève to walk and think. Even at this eleventh hour he could change his plans. Suppose he did not go either to the Domecqs or to his parents, but to the "home" that he could surely find somewhere in the Alps? It was an immense temptation which he tried to weigh dispassionately. On one hand, there would be bitter disappointment if he failed in kindness and duty by halting in his tracks — patiently awaited by a mother crippled and half-blind, happy that he would be with her on the eighty-first anniversary of her birth; by a father, seventy-seven, so far from well, so hungry for his presence. Against this score he balanced his health, his work, perhaps his life, the stress of either meeting or avoiding Rose, the conviction that everything he valued might depend upon his now finally denying his parents after all the years.
By noon he had decided to wire Couttet to come once more from Chamouni. He would not go to Denmark Hill before November, and then but briefly if he was reasonably well. By night his father had also received a telegram. Letters should not be sent to Paris but to Geneva. His next letter would give his reasons for the change of plan.
He took another twenty-four hours in which to reconsider the decision. Then he began the promised letter in tone deliberate, casual, tense: "It was of no use to write yesterday — which I was very sorry for, as you must be anxious all Sunday. This is one of the beautiful results of the Judaical Sabbath — by keeping which people think to please God in our England and in other places, after disobeying Him all the week.
"Well (or ill, you will more likely think it), I have altered all my plans, at the last hour. I had much serious thought in crossing the Simplon — of the eleven years that have passed since I crossed it last — and more — in revisiting my old haunts here of twenty-five years ago [JLS: Two uncommon dating slips: he had last crossed the Simplon in July, 1852; and it had been twenty-nine years before that he and his family toured the area]. Also, I measured my strength and state accurately — and, walking up and down the Salève on Thursday morning and gathering a few Alpine flowers on its quiet grass, came finally to the conclusion that it would be mere madness, in my present state, to allow myself to be wearied or troubled more, and that I could not and would not at present come to London.
"I am now within six years and a half of fifty, and have no prospect of long life. I will not lose the remainder of this year; nor delay longer doing what I ought to have done there these eleven years ago, getting at last the Shadow — if not the Light — of some permanent home."
Gradually, he promised, "I will tell you all my reasons. . . . " It was a step that might have been less sudden had he not received that letter from Rose: "She said they were to be all in town in end of August. Now, I don't choose to have more goodbyes (though you thought that I ought, after saying goodbye, to be quite merry and able to amuse Mrs. Simon at tea) and it would worry me considerably to be under chance of meeting them every day and not to go and see them."
But the news from Rose, he said, had merely precipitated an inescapable decision, for which "one" reason, "the most immediate — is the perfectly definite connection of the (at present increasing) symptoms of brain weakness with any kind of various and sudden exertion or chagrin — and its equally definite diminution at Milan during the three weeks of undisturbed rest and unhurried employment. No doctor can deal with the thing unless he knows my temperament and mode of thought. I will give myself the fair chance of this autumn in peace. If then the symptoms increase, let the doctors do all they can for me (or for themselves — for I believe they will only be able to dissect me and obtain some new facts)." He would send his regrets to Caroline, Diane, ネise, Clotilde: "They must either forgive me or forget me; they will, I believe, do the first. The time was, I should have been enough glad to be near any of them."
Briefly, he spoke of immediate arrangements — his plan to meet Couttet and to "finish my Fraser paper." He would "dispatch [his manservant] Crawley home with that and "St. Catherine."27 You can then examine Crawley as to my health, and judge better if I have done right or wrong. I shall then, D. V., start with Couttet to ramble a little among the hills . . . and make every enquiry I can as to any available house of moderate size. I have no doubt, now that I am seriously setting about it, of finding one that will at least please me for a year or two — which, whether I get better or not, is all that is at present wanted. My report on fresco must be in writing, and can be done incomparably better here than in London." As to the future: "My plans respecting pictures are not changed. If I can really bring myself somewhat round this autumn, I think it very likely I shall just run home early in November to see you and my mother, then visit M. Domecq in Spain and see Madrid. Or perhaps that may be next year — but Madrid, if I recover health, I must soon see. . . . I have not the least doubt that I am now doing what is best for you and my mother — as well as for myself — though you may not think so. Perhaps the best may be little good. But at all events, I have — for the moment — recovered some peace of mind and power of enjoyment, and better days may come" [August 9; unpublished].
"I know my resolution to stay here must give you much pain," he resumed in his letter of the following day, "and I shall receive some painful letters in consequence. I am sorry, but it is unavoidable. I answer in advance some things I know you will say.
"That I have failed at the most provoking moment? It is true. The horse fails just at the leap, not as it crosses the ploughed field. If it is a good horse, the rider should know it has rightly measured its powers, and that he had better be shaken in his seat a little, than go down altogether.
"That I have broken my promises? My promise was — of course — made, and to be understood, on terms of health and life. [On material deleted by previous editors]28 Had I broken my legs, I should have gone to Ville Testre. But I will not with disease in my brain.
"My mother and you have much pain at present in thinking my character is deteriorating. Now, once for all, though this assertion may somewhat pain you on the one side, it should more pleasure you on the other. I could easily prove to you — if I chose, but take it on my word and do not force me to humiliate you by doing so — that I am an incomparably nobler and worthier person, now, when you disapprove of nearly all I say and do, than I was when I was everything you and my mother desired me. Permit me — respecting this breaking of my word — only to remind you that you have not the least objection to my breaking it to poor and vulgar persons;29 you only dislike me to break it to rich and well-bred ones. You had no objection — but seriously desired me — to break a written promise to lecture to a poor society of men among whom I might have founded an institution for enduring good61 — but you are shocked at my disappointing three pretty women of some walks in a park [JLS: Ruskin probably refers to the Domecq sisters during their London visits].
"You have of late often referred to 'your pride' — as if it were only an amiable weakness, to be indulged in almost meritoriously. It has been the torment of your life, and a bitter and continual injury to mine. It leads you into the strangest errors — I would to God they were always only strange or slight — as in this curious little instance of your being offended by the Oxford clergyman's 'Fishing town' [remark].30 I had written to him, "'I am going to some fishing town to get some sea-fishing,' and he merely innocently quoted my own words.
"Be assured, once for all, that whenever you can definitely trace a wish — or conclusion to your pride — that wish, or conclusion, is a wrong one. Pride, like lust, and anger, is implanted in us for a purpose. Pride is given us that we may be helped in our duty by the approval of good men. Lust, that we may beget strong and beautiful children. Anger, that we may execute God's true judgments on Vice without shrinking. But if a man deliberately says in almost every determination of his life v My pride — my lust — or my anger — are at the bottom of this — his life is not likely to be a noble one . . .
"If my mother and you are right in thinking my present ailments slight; they will be cured or in process of cure, by next year — and all will be well. If they are not slight — it will matter very little to you, or to anybody else (but somewhat to me) whether I spend my autumn here, or elsewhere.
"I think I have said enough in this serious tone, to answer, as speedily as possible any turn your thoughts may be taking respecting me. If, in the now coming letters, there is anything to provoke me — I shall not answer it — but put it aside — and write henceforward kindly, and as fully as I can" [August 10; unpublished].
But there was to be one more letter of "unkindness," though he began it by saying that he was "very deeply grateful [for] your kind letter written on receipt of telegraph, which I knew would make you anxious and sorry. I trust things will now go better with all of us. I have great comfort and peace of mind in the thought of staying among these old hills, and Couttet says I shall be all right in three months, if I will only rest" [August 12: LE 36: 419]. Already he had found a desirable house for rent, so near the city that he could get to the post office every day.
And then something induced him to pursue another tack: "I sent what you would feel an unkind letter about pride, etc., but I wanted to prevent your writing things to me just now which would have done me harm — all the more if I did not answer them. And I wrote that letter under the immediate sorrow caused to me by your being deprived of the pleasure and the real good which a man such as Jones would be to both you and my mother, could you understand him.31 In nothing is that same 'pride' more hurtful than in the way it has destroyed through life your power of judging noble character." By way of example, he gave his portrait of the young aristocrats whom his parents were once delighted to have as his associates at Oxford — those men who amused themselves "with pictures of naked bawds" and "walked openly with their harlots . . . who swore — who diced — who drank — who knew nothing except the names of race-horses — who had no feelings but those of brutes — whose conversation at the very hall dinner table would have made prostitutes blush for them — and villains rebuke them — men who, if they could, would have robbed me of my money at the gambling table — and laughed at me if I had fallen into their vices and died of them. And you are grieved, and you try all you can to withdraw me from the company of a man like Jones, whose life is as pure as an archangel's — whose genius is as strange and high as that of Albrecht Dürer or Hans Memling, who loves me with a love as of a brother and — far more — of a devoted friend, whose knowledge of history and poetry is as rich and varied, nay, far more rich and varied, and incomparably more scholarly than Walter Scott's was at his age.32 And into this intensity of mistake you fall, because you look to manner — of which you are only a judge so far as it is connected with wealth — not with character. For the habit which you have formed in business — of looking at the Solvency of a man instead of to his disposition — gives you an acute insight into forms of manner which indicate stability of non-affection — but blinds you to those which indicate the affections. You are just as wrong about [W. J.] Stillman as about Jones — but there is much more cause for the error in this last case. I have seen you pay the greatest respect to people at your own dinner table who were such utter knaves that they did not even know what honor meant — but they were Safe Knaves — men who were too proud and who knew their own interest too well to fail in a mercantile engagement — and who were rich, and decently conducted. You have perfectly true and right instinct also (which my mother has not) for breeding. You know a well-bred person from an ill-bred one in a moment — and you know the signs of a man's having kept 'low' company — but you have not the slightest perception whether this lowness was an honest and virtuous — or a degraded — one. I am forced to speak openly at last of this matter because I cannot possibly bear the injustice you do my noble friends in thinking they do me harm — and it is also very bad for both my mother and you to have the gnawing feeling of continual disagreement with me in such matters. Try and correct yourself at least in this one mistake — ask Jones out to any quiet dinner — ask him about me — ask him about anything you want to know about medieval history — and try to forget that he is poor. I wish you to do this, observe, entirely for your own sake — that you may have the pleasure of knowing one of your son's real friends, and one of the most richly gifted, naturally, of modern painters' . . . " [an editorial addition to Viljoen's typescript33] [August 12; cf. Spates, "Dark Star," 167-68].
At this point, the startled father — who would never have been deliberately unkind — had reached him with another letter of most unselfish acquiescence. "Yes," the son responded the next day, "there is a necessity for this — and I am deeply sorry — but you and mama will see just as much of me or more if I have a house here, as you would if I was traveling, or in a house in London . . . " [August 13; 1st letter; unpublished]. In a second letter that day, he wrote: "Even now I am, of course, nearly as sorry to be forced to do this as I am glad — in some ways — to be able to do it. I am very sorry for my mother and you — and anxious — and should be deeply thankful if I had strength to go on as I used to do, and lecture, and see people — and so on. But there's no doubt about the thing — the gums have started from the teeth so as to lay some of them bare nearly to the jawbone — and the incapacity for mental labor was increasing daily — and as for seeing the Great Exhibition — half an hour in the quiet Brera Gallery [in Milan] — with no noise, no bad work about me, and no one to talk to — was yet as much as I could bear" [unpublished].
The following day he offered an explanation that would help heal the wounds his harshness must have dealt: "I was driven half wild by the oppression of different things a week ago — first, I was a great deal troubled by the immense complexity of the investigation required for [my] fresco report,34 and by having to leave my 'St. Catherine' after all my work — so that I'm afraid almost to show it to the commissioners —and then the having to do the perspective papers . . . would have been a fortnight's work of the severest and most irksome kind — then the polit[ical] econ[omy] paper re-casting got me into all sorts of laborious thought and writing — and the sense of failing brain — failing teeth — stomach — and heart — through it all — and having to go and see people of whom I was frightened besides . . . I get giddy when I try to think how it will be best — and only know that I have a sick longing for peace of any sort — when I can command my day — and gather a flower when I want — in pure air — and not have to talk" [August 14; unpublished].
The battle won, he dared express more fully the sympathy he had never lost [for his parents]. "The indecision of my late conduct is indeed partly a sign of disease," he replied to one of John James's comments, "but it results more from the increasing impossibility of doing what I want to do for you and my mother — and for myself — and the still greater impossibility of deciding what is right. When, however, it comes to the point of entire incapacity for work — the thing is settled for us all — beyond question. But I am bitterly sorry for my mother and you, and the strange thing is that what conscience I have seems always to say that I ought rather to kill myself, if it so turned out, in trying to help you, than leave you when you are ill. Nevertheless, I believe this in some way to be a habit of conscience — not a clear judgment of conscience — and I hope you will both of you be far happier when you see me in November than you would be seeing me just now. My teeth are a little better — but I am very weak — entirely exhausted the other day with only a 4 _ hours' walk — but I believe many of the worst symptoms are nothing but biliousness and indigestion caused by various chagrin — of which it is of no use to talk — but which I can only keep clear of at present by keeping out of the world's way [August 16; unpublished].
John James's capitulation apparently was gallant: "If you write such nice letters in answer, it is enough to make me go on writing half cruel letters — but I hope they are over now. I can hardly account for the instinct which forced them from me just at that time, unless it was, by showing you how sulky I was, to make you less regret my visiting nowhere. But there was a very bitter feeling of distress, both for you and for myself, in my mind as I came over the Simplon, thinking how much otherwise it might have been for both of us if we had understood and managed each other better, of which it is needless to speak more . . . " [August 17: LE 36: 420].
Meanwhile, since the day on which he had resolved to remain abroad, his health had been improving: "I feel already some little bettering since I have entirely made up my mind," he had concluded the letter which marked the breaking of the storm: "that is to say the depression and feverishness [are] less, though the teeth were sore this morning, but the stomach — as well as brain — is terribly deranged and will take time to come into any working order" [August 9; unpublished]. Two days later: "A great part of the depression has vanished since I have settled this and have no longer the sense of leaving the hills and getting involved again in London life" [August 11; unpublished]. In another three days he wrote the further reassurance: "I have not been so despondent — by any means — since I formed this plan — but I can't get — by exercise or anything else — the bitter taste out of my mouth. The settled chagrin and anxiety of these last two years seem to have destroyed my whole system" [August 13; unpublished]. To have vented one's indignation by word and act will not alone remove the bitter taste of long-accumulated bile, but for the moment it assuredly can help to make one relatively blithe.
Within a week, he had rented the house in Mornex. "There is no need for your being put about by people's questions," he advised his father. "For years I have intended this — and though I am now forced to do it by my health — the only wonder is I have not done it before." And now he could safely lapse into giving more conventional reasons by which to explain the revolution, reasons over which John James once more could shake his head: "There was no room at Denmark Hill for any increase of [my] geological collection," he suggested. There "was not even a room of sufficient size for any real convenience of arrangement of study — and there was no possibility of peace, at any rate — and those who consider how English Society and the English press have treated me will not wonder that I choose rather to live in France than England" [August 15; unpublished]. Perhaps even he himself already half-credited what he wrote.35 But to Lady Trevelyan he said: "I've lain down to take my rest at last, having rented, experimentally, a month or two of house — preparatory to fastening down post and stake — but, except as I used to come abroad, I come home no more" [August 17; LE 36: 421].
Last modified 10 July 2007