RUSKIN (JOHN) Series of over forty autograph letters signed, to Jane, Lady Simon, and her husband Sir John Simon; Ruskin writes on Turner, his bouts of madness, the difficulties he has in loving others, his mission in life, the death of his old nurse and of his mother, relations with the mother of Rose La Touche, and the wonder of a woman's ability to sew on buttons, Herne Hill, Denmark Hill, Matlock, Inverness, Bridge of Allan, Glasgow, Corpus Christi College, and elsewhere, 1857-1871 where dated

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Lot 102
RUSKIN (JOHN)
Series of over forty autograph letters signed, to Jane, Lady Simon, and her husband Sir John Simon; Ruskin writes on Turner, his bouts of madness, the difficulties he has in loving others, his mission in life, the death of his old nurse and of his mother, relations with the mother of Rose La Touche, and the wonder of a woman's ability to sew on buttons, Herne Hill, Denmark Hill, Matlock, Inverness, Bridge of Allan, Glasgow, Corpus Christi College, and elsewhere, 1857-1871 where dated

Sold for £ 79,300 (US$ 101,023) inc. premium
RUSKIN (JOHN)
Series of over forty autograph letters signed, to Jane, Lady Simon, and her husband Sir John Simon; together with an autograph letter signed by Ruskin's father John James to the Simons, and a joint autograph letter signed by the Simons to Ruskin written during his dotage, nearly 100 pages, two letters stained, one engraved Corpus crest cut out, one or two seemingly blank areas trimmed down, mostly 8vo, Herne Hill, Denmark Hill, Matlock, Inverness, Bridge of Allan, Glasgow, Corpus Christi College, and elsewhere, 1857-1871 where dated

Footnotes

  • 'TURNER DISCERNS THE MOST EXQUISITE SUBTLETIES OF BEAUTY IN A FAWN... & YET NEVER DRAWS ONE BEAUTIFUL OR EVEN PRETTY HUMAN FACE OR FORM' – Ruskin writes on Turner, his bouts of madness, the difficulties he has in loving others, his mission in life, the death of his old nurse and of his mother, relations with the mother of Rose La Touche, and the wonder of a woman's ability to sew on buttons, to his intimate friends Sir John and Lady Simon.

    Ruskin met John, later Sir John, Simon, FRS, and his wife Jane in 1856 while he and his parents were visiting Savoy, and they soon became close friends. Simon had just been appointed Medical Officer to the Privy Council and was later to serve as President of the Royal College of Surgeons; as Ruskin's editors remark: 'Ruskin, intolerant (in print) of "men of science" in general, was always drawn to them individually... Two of his dearest and closest friends were Professor Acland, F.R.S., and Sir John Simon, F.R.S.' (Letters of John Ruskin 1827-1889, vols. xxxvi-vii of The Works of John Ruskin, Library Edition, edited by E.T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, p. lxxiii, 1909). Simon was to nurse Ruskin through his first breakdown and would go on to play 'a crucial role in the medical side of Ruskin's tormented private life' (John Dixon Hunt, The Wider Sea: A Life of John Ruskin, 1982, p. 254). His wife Jane was equally close, Ruskin remarking in Præterita that 'She, in my mother's old age, was her most deeply trusted friend'. Ruskin dubbed Simon, being his namesake, 'Brother John' and Jane 'PRS', standing for 'Pre-Raphaelite Sister and Sibyl', usually abbreviated to 'S'.

    Ruskin's correspondence with Jane Simon is well represented in the selection of letters published by Cook and Wedderburn, two of these being found in the present collection, including Ruskin's well-known meditation on his hero, Turner: "I think you are quite right in the main about Turner – But the odd thing is that there should have been plenty men of irregular or even wicked lives who could yet draw a pretty face sometimes, or a handsome one; and besides – they show degradation in all they do of animals or living creatures as much at least as in their human figures. But Turner discerns the most exquisite subtleties of beauty in a fawn – the utmost majesty in an eagle – the utmost naivety and innocence in a donkey – & yet never draws one beautiful or even pretty human face or form – I am so much the more struck with this at present that I see his hard tries to do it sometimes – to paint the landing of prince Regents – the opening of the Walhalla – or the parting of Romeo & Juliet – & it seems so amazing to me that he should be able to paint a fawn rightly – but not an Italian girl – & a pig, but not a prince regent – and a donkey, but not a German philosopher – I don't know when I have been so entirely puzzled about anything – I've got the toothache with thinking over it."

    The great majority, however, are not included in the Library Edition and are, as far as we are aware, unpublished. Among these is the longest letter of the series, comprising nine pages and written from Inverness on 2 August 1857. It sets out in great detail tours that the Simons could take in Switzerland, listing twenty locations, beginning with Lucerne and ending with Geneva "with excursion to Chamouni in conclusion" and is illustrated with two sketch-maps, one bearing the injunction: "N.B. Don't tell any body who is not a very nice body of that walk, mentioned below – along north shore of lake of Thun. I am horribly afraid of people building villa's there".

    Cook and Wedderburn remark that it was to the Simons that Ruskin 'often turned in times of distress' (c-ci). There are several very revealing letters to be found here. Such as one to John written soon after the first breakdown: "I saw when you spoke to me on the 20th that you had no idea of the present state of my mind; but I yielded to your strong wish, -- intending to conquer myself – But I should do you injustice if I did; and I will not... But my whole life is at present so infinitely sad that the effort of going on with my own work is the utmost strain on me – and that of speaking to other people – sometimes unendurable – I mean in the sense of the great separation between them & me – increasing". As one might expect, his letters to Jane are, if anything, even more revealing; as for example one written during his mother's last days: "My mother is failing very fast – her life is now almost a continuous dream... Our intercourse is very beautiful in some ways – it is that of a child with an old man. – reversed, in that the child is fading faster than the old man – In the various forms of decay, in brain & flesh – it is intensely dreadful to me. – yet being away from it is as a kind of murder"; or another describing the last days of his old nurse, Anne Strachan: "Yes, these closing hours are very precious: but the fine gold has become very dim, and the words are partly mechanical, partly strange signs of things unspeakable – and to me only sad and without any hope or help. To me, the prevalent feeling at all such times has never been that of personal loss – nor is it even now in this one time, – but of infinite pity".

    The letters, too, are filled with shafts of lyricism ("...I had some sense of life – myself to night – among the wood hyacinths – a blue light along the ground now – mixed with violets..."), and of humour ("...I'm as stupid as John Stuart Mill, with cold..."). Self-analysis is a frequent refrain, whether in reference to his public role ("...I feel the necessity of my work much more lately; the men are getting so confused and vulgarized by modern trade & science: my sentimental views of things will be precious to them, eventually..."), religious belief ("...I am not religious in the hopeful and dreamful way of many people. I cannot look forward to other life..."), his limited capacity for love ("...I think I shall love you both, in a little time: though I do not love easily – more's the shame for me; but I can't help it. I have loved; not as well as I ought, because not worthily; but still as much, I believe, as most men – and I have lost the persons I loved – in early life, & in later, had the love crushed out of me..."), relations with Rose's mother ("...I am glad you can be grieved about a canary bird... it is one of my chief quarrels with Mrs La Touche that while she professes to be sorry for me -- she can yet be interested in canary-birds. Mind I DON'T mean this for a bite at you..."), the curative effect of his breakdown at Matlock after rejection by Rose ("...This illness was very necessary to me, and had done me no end of good...") or, just occasionally, a sense of content, as in a letter to Jane on Christmas Day 1871: "I was walking up and down the garden before breakfast yesterday, trying to fancy myself a man just retired from business, with a moderate fortune – considerable literary reputation – many friends of finest quality, -- position of some authority – good eyes and ears – an unexampled knowledge of Political Economy! – and a, not unsuccessful (except on rare occasions --) manner of flirting – securing him pleasant young lady society, when he wants it, -- and I made up my mind that – under these conditions – one's life might be endured".

    One of the most brilliant letters can be taken as a droll exposition of the ethos underpinning the emerging Arts & Crafts movement while simultaneously taking a swipe at that other colossus of the age, the Grand Old Man himself: "I do entirely extend that belief of mine to women: who I think are on the whole, morally superior to men just because they almost always can do something. I look with great veneration upon the act of sewing on buttons for instance. The power of putting the button in a spot mathematically correspondent to the button hole – of getting a needle somehow through it or round it without pricking ones fingers on the other side – of putting a maximum number of strong stitches into a minimum compass at root of button – of finishing off without leaving any end of the thread – and securing all so firmly that it shall bear more pulling than the coat itself – this seems to me a great thing to do – quite enough to make any human being who had once achieved it understand the main laws of the Universe concerning work, and the meaning of Well and Ill doing. I do not speak of trimming bonnets, -- altering cuts of collars, and such other more imaginative & poetic exertions of mind & of practical knowledge: but taking into consideration merely plainwork and cookery, how few men there are who can do half as much as women! To calculate – or speculate, or receive and execute business orders, or make speeches in Parliament – is not Doing anything. Sewing & cooking is. If you could once teach Gladstone to sew on a button – you would make a man of him for ever, instead of a mere leaden spout of language".
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