RUSKIN (JOHN) Nine autograph letters signed, seven to Libby Bell, a watercolour by Ruskin, and inscribed books
Lot 252
Sold for £23,750 (US$ 39,895) inc. premium
Lot Details
Nine autograph letters signed, seven to Libby Bell ("Darling Libbie") of Hawes Bank, Coniston, two to her elder sister Polly ("Dear Polly"), the first letter written in 1884 to the twenty-two-year-old Libby from Oxford [where Ruskin had been forced to break off his increasingly intemperate lectures by Vice-Chancellor Jowett], looking forward to an idyllic Christmas and renewing their drawing lessons ("...I hope you all – you especially, have been missing me very much! I have, you – and the old man [of Coniston], greatly too... I hope to be back the 15th for some Christmas drawing – only I mean to have a kiss or two before Xmas..."), others [after his fourth breakdown] complaining of ill-health ("...I've been very sick and weary my self – not fit to speak to any body...") and looking forward to seeing her when the weather mends ("...I never expected to see you – in that Lapland snow – but the moment any body can see either sky or ground again – shall look for you to tea and muffins: the new gown must not be risked – I like you all the same in any gown..."); the first letter to Polly, asking her to make a dress ("...I want you make a nice little dress for my little pet Janie to go to school in – strong & simple – but a little bit pretty too – her mother is coming to choose or talk it over with you either today or Monday. You might come & talk it over with me too – if you liked, and I shouldn't mind Libbie coming – to give us her opinion – if she liked..."), and on receipt of the dress breaking into verse ("...Ive been thrice across the lake to plead with Polly,/ And I promised her a silken gown, and an Irish shawl/ But she's wild as the heather bells, and hard as the holly/ And I couldn't get an answer,/ at all, – at all – !..."); plus an envelope addressed to Ruskin, forged by Miss Gladstone in imitation of her father, forwarded by Ruskin to Libby to pass on to her father; with seven autograph envelopes, 11 pages, minor stains and slight dust-staining, 8vo, Oxford and Brantwood, 1884-1886


  • The sisters were daughters of William and Jane Bell of Hawes Bank, Coniston, neighbours of Ruskin at Brantwood; William, who is described as a carpenter on Libby's baptismal entry, being a staunch member of the Liberal Party and later serving as Justice of the Peace. Included in the lot is a watercolour by Ruskin, inscribed in his hand "Thonn [Thun]/ a Berne/ Switzerland", a twin study of the castle, the left-hand in pencil, the right-hand with water and body-colour added, foxed, unexamined out of frame, image 115 x 170 mm., [?1882]. Also included in the lot is a copy of Ruskin's Praeterita (second edition, 1885), the first volume inscribed by him: "Libbie,/ With John Ruskin's love, -- (not a little)/ And all good wishes. Easter. 1886", foxed; volumes I and III of Maria Edgeworth's Moral Tales, both inscribed by him "Libbie/ With John Ruskin's love/ 28th May/ 1884"; The Works of Alfred Tennyson (1882), inscribed to Libby on her twenty-first birthday by Ruskin's secretary Laurence J. Hilliard; a printed hymn sheet for Ruskin's funeral at Coniston; photographs of Ruskin and Joan Ruskin Severn; and two letters by the latter to "Libbie" [by now Mrs Frederick Percival], rejoicing in the return of "your officer son" from the front in 1917.
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