RUSKIN, JOHN (1819-1900, art critic, author, poet, artist and social reformer)
COLERIDGE: '...What can possibly be simpler than every word of the ancient Mariner - It is a short - difficult stanza - & sometimes the poet is compelled to allow himself so much transposition as - "out of the sea came he" - a simple & every day structure...I think nothing can be more perfect than all the versification of this poem - for the very reason that it is absolute - pure common English...I love Coleridge - and I believe I know nearly every line of both the ancient mariner & Christabel - not to speak of the "three graves" - and the hymn in Chamouni [i.e. 'Chamouny'] - and the "Dejection" - and I am willing to allow that he has more imagination than Wordsworth - and more of the real poet. But after all - Coleridge is nothing more than an intellectual opium eater a man of many crude - though lovely - thoughts - of confused though brilliant imagination - liable to much error - error even of the heart - very sensual in many of his ideas of pleasure - indolent to a degree - and evidently & always thinking without discipline - letting the fine brains which God gave him work themselves irregularly and without end or object - & carry him whither they will...I believe Coleridge has very little moral influence on the world - his writings are those of a benevolent man in a fever...Coleridge's finest poem - to me - is the Three Graves - the first stanzas of its fourth part are I think entirely the consequence of Coleridges acquaintance with Wordsworth. they are very exquisite and indeed nothing can be finer than the whole poem. But what impression does it leave - The miserable sense that profit may be reduced to the utmost limit of agony - without cause while the Holiness of the Mother is shown - not by the influence of her love - but of her hatred...Coleridge may be the greater poet...'
WORDSWORTH: '...has a grand - consistent - perfectly disciplined - all grasping intellect - for which nothing is too small - nothing too great - arranging everything in due relations - divinely pure in its conceptions of pleasure - majestic in the equanimity of its benevolence - intense as white fire, with chastised feeling...Wordsworth often appears to want energy - because he has so much judgment - and because he never enunciates any truth but with full view of many points which diminish the extent of its application...Wordsworth may be trusted as a guide in everything [-] he feels nothing but what we ought all to feel - what every mind in pure moral health must feel - he says nothing but what we all ought to believe - what all strong intellects must believe. He has written some things trifling - some verses which might be omitted - but none to be regretted ...Wordsworth's "white doe of Rylstone"...how pure - how just [-] how chaste in its truth - how high in its end - showing "how anguish - wild as dreams of restless sleep, is tempered and allayed by sympathies aloft ascending - and descending deep"...the noble notion of potential love which is given by the story of "Michael"...a true real every day character of tragedy and teaching us throughout the noble lesson that "there is a comfort in the strength of love T'will make a thing endurable which else would overset the brain - or break the heart. Or if you want fine pathos - take "the brother" - the most really affecting most perfect piece of natural feeling in the English language. The two last lines of it are - to my mind - the most exquisite close that ever poet wrote. And then read the "Affliction of Margret" - and "the female vagrant" and "Lucie Gray" and "She dwelt among the untrodden ways" - & then with the magnificent comprehension - faultless majesty of the Excursion to crown all...'
The passages in 'Hart-Leap Well' and 'The White Doe of Rylstone' mentioned in this letter are quoted in Modern Painters (E.T. Cook and A. Wedderburn, The Library Edition of The Works of John Ruskin, 39 volumes, 1903-1912, volume III, p. 149).
On the address page are written in pencil, presumably by Brown, many lines from the 'Ancient Mariner', beginning with the line Ruskin quotes in the letter 'Eftsoons his hand dropped he'. In 1839 when Ruskin won the Newdigate Prize it was awarded to him by Wordsworth. As Turner was Ruskin's Romantic ideal in Art, Wordsworth was his parallel in Literature. The first volume of Modern Painters had been published in April of the same year as this letter. Other than Turner, Wordsworth is recognised as the greatest influence in that volume: 'In accordance with his espousal of the ancient theory that saw painting and poetry as "sister arts", Ruskin draws on Wordsworth for examples of good landscape "painting"; but his debt to Wordsworth extends also to the theoretical level. The basic argument of Volume I is closely analogous to that proposed by Wordsworth in the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads...[which] marked the birth of English Romantic poetics. Just as Wordsworth rejected the artifice of classical poetic diction in favour of "the real language of men", so Ruskin, more than forty years later, attacked the attempts by classical landscape painters to "improve" or idealise nature, contrasting their distortions of reality with the "truthfulness" of Turner' (David Barrie, Introduction to his abridgement of Modern Painters, 1987).
This letter was published from a transcript by E.T. Cook and A. Wedderburn, The Library Edition of The Works of John Ruskin, volume II, pp. 390-393.