Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning.
— T. S. Eliot, "Little Gidding"
uskin's study at Brantwood looks out upon a sheet of sky-blue water and a graceful series of peaks that retain even in summer months their streaks of cloud-white snow. The view might be a Turner sketch — of Como or Chamonix or Geneva — but a day's ramble takes the walker through Wordsworth's country, and a week's ramble would extend northward into the braes and lochs of Scott's home and the ancestral place Ruskin called the Land of the Leal. His move north reversed his parents' sojourn of a half century before, from the fatherland into the metropolis of the modern world. The home of his old age, filled with a lifetime's memorabilia — including John James's watercolor of Conway that afterward hung over his son's bed — focused into a single point his filial and cultural heritage. In some ways Ruskin entered old age early. The pictures of him in his sixties resemble a man already past his threescore and ten: the beard is full and white, the face withered and abstracted. His countrymen were also ready to inherit him as a monument. The audience that bought out edition after edition of Sesame and Lilies and savored the purple patches collected in Frondes Agrestes were ready also to accept the Sage of Brantwood, the persona that succeeded the "Master" and the "Professor."
Sagedom is prophecy in retirement, the embodiment of a wisdom broad because shallow, serene because withdrawn. At best it is the voice of the heritable past, at worst the infirmity of noble mind. But of course neither serenity nor completeness nor blandness was to be Ruskin's portion in his last years, any more than they had ever been. The Gothic restlessness, the hunger for unattainable objects of affection, above all the contradictory need to control and be indulged, recreated at Brantwood some of the psychic relationships of the past. The Severns, who had to nurse and control him in his psychotic episodes, also had a will [309/3110] of their own when he was well. As John Dixon Hunt has shown, Joan took it upon herself to censor some of his correspondence, to discourage certain visitors, and to impede some of his harmless afternoons with young girls in order to prevent scandal. Even before she took on this role, Ruskin had split her mentally into tender nurse and dragonlike tyrant: in his illness of 1878, she found herself the object of his rage, along with Queen Victoria, whom he suspected of trying to control him. (For the disturbances of Ruskin's final years, see Hunt, pp. 370-405.)
Erik Erikson has described the final crisis of life as Integration versus Despair, the choice of accepting the life that has been lived, along with its mortal term, or of giving way to regret for the past and an overwhelming fear of decline. No career shows this final struggle more dramatically than Ruskin's. Storms are of course his dominant metaphor of emotional torment. The Brantwood diaries are among other things an almost perpetual weather watch, but his obsession expresses more than a hapless alternation of moods. “The Storm-Cloud of the Nineteenth Century” (1885), his finale as a lecturer, is often described as a thunderous purgation analogous to one of his own attacks, a symptom converted into a rhetorical tour de force. But is is much more. By assembling a collage of scientific testimony, personal observations, quotations from the poets, old drawings, and excerpts from diaries past and present, Ruskin attempts in fact to stake out a map of the heavens in all their moods through many years, testing his own impressions against as many external points of reference as he can manage, and so to contain the storm that cannot be wholly repressed.
Praeterita is Ruskin's final struggle to find in art the integration he could not achieve in life. The first three chapters appeared as reminiscent episodes in the Fors letters, which he then reissued as the beginning of a connected series in 1885. The aim of this last public journal, as he wrote in his preface, was diversion: "I have written [it] therefore, frankly, garrulously, and at ease; speaking of what it gives me joy to remember, at any length I like . . . passing in total silence things which I have no pleasure in reviewing, and which the reader would find no help in the account of" (xxxv, 1 l). This garrulous ease became a heroic effort, broken and resumed between attacks of the storm cloud. It was still unfinished in 1889 when he attempted a trip to the Continent that ended in a collapse in Paris. Still he was determined to write one last chapter to record his gratitude to Joan Severn, who took down the phrases he dictated, and with its last words all thought and all writing came to an end. He carried the candle clear to the brink of night.
To what genre does Praeterita belong? The forms of autobiography [310/311] depend partly upon the time of life that is their vantage point, since this is the narrative genre least able to efface the present time of its writing. The nineteenth-century crisis autobiography, which includes the two greatest poems of the age, is classically the product of the mezzo del cammin or slightly later, which interprets the author's struggles during his twenties to become the person he "is" — a person whose claims on our attention depend on the resolution of that crisis (Newman's Apologia is a departure in the respect that its central event takes place about twenty years later than most). The pattern of the central turning point is religious conversion, the mode confessional. (For romantic crisis autobiography, see M. H. Abrams, p.2.) But Ruskin's temperament, "fretwork always," never defined itself from a single determinative moment, immersed as he typically was in a "to-day" that perpetually revised the todays before it. Fors is the closest thing to a Ruskinian confession, but its pilgrimage has no center. .
Praeterita, on the other hand, coming at the close of its author's lifework, presents itself as an episodic memorial to past joys and revered parents. Probably we should call this genre (after Carlyle's book, which may have suggested to Ruskin the project of his own) "reminiscences." These are the utterances, typically, of the Sage, revisitings by way of museum catalogs of the career laid out elsewhere. But despite its claim to be mere "sketches of effort and incident," Praeterita quickly develops into something more comprehensive and sufficient. This coherence required for Ruskin massive distortions. The two chief omissions, his marriage and his career as a social critic, bring in their train a multitude of other adjustments: Venice, for example, he relegates to the back lots of his labors (even the discovery of Tintoretto he calls a "luckless day"), to be supplanted by Rouen, Geneva, and Pisa, which he now calls the chief centers of his intellectual life. It has become a commonplace to notice what is nevertheless true, that Praeterita is the myth rather than the history of a life, an organic structure adapting itself to an old man's apparent needs for serenity.
Serenity is preserved by means of a dialectic between the unchanging self and time as bereavement. What the book indefinitely postpones, half-acknowledging and half-evading, is a permanent rupture within the family, which would disturb the memorial gesture Ruskin announces in his preface: "What would otherwise in the following pages have been little more than an old man's recreation in gathering visionary flowers in fields of youth, has taken, as I wrote, the nobler aspect of a dutiful offering at the grave of parents who trained my childhood to all the good it could attain." To preserve this spirit of recreation and re-creation, he erects the figure of a passive child, a kind of princeling [311/312] guided through a world of wonders. We see him now rejoicing during vacations, now back at home laboring in "serene and secure methods of life and motions," now in occasional fits of willfulness that are suppressed and repulsed. This evasion is clear even with relation to landscape. The boy surrenders himself to the powers inherent in an external world, which he experiences as the mark of his future work. Ultimately, the young man's progress is blocked at the point of his approaching marriage, with all the griefs and conflicts it embodied, so that he cannot achieve the independence toward which most life narratives move: reverting to a longing for the old world of shelter and nurture, he is scared back from the grim face of adulthood — until, that is, the third part of the book, when we find him in mid-life and old age recreating the lost past in the present.
As a record of development, Praeterita is therefore a defeated and in many ways a depressing book. Fortunately, the genre it creates for itself permits another reading, one that transforms the conventions of selflhood, accuracy, narrative, and even pastness as these normally appear in autobiography. With characteristic penetration, Elizabeth Helsinger has noticed that the book's direction resists the progress it seems to narrate, comprising at the last a static pattern of imagery rather than the record of a pilgrimage, and that consequently the self of the book resists development or change3. We might equally well say that the world of Praeterita and the central personage in that world belong to romance. Like a romance hero, the self of Praeterita is not a developing personality but an essence confirmed again and again in each encounter with a world itself composed of essences, constituting the contentment which, as he wrote in 1860, was what men most needed to learn. The "look" of that world may be described most generally as clarity combined with radiance — clarity learned from Ruskin's detailed reading of paintings and landscapes; radiance described by Wordsworth as an apparel of "celestial light." Wherever the boy moves in the visionary past, beauty pitches her tent before him, effulgent with the divine energy he called purity. It is a crystalline world, as in a missal, without shadows or gradated hues or anything half-noticed or half-formed, but all in colors and outlines of the utmost distinctness. So intense is that clarity that the past itself seems present, viewed as it were [312/313] through a magnifying glass — another country indeed, yet close at hand.
The effect I have just described impressionistically comes close to an activity of imagination Ruskin analyzed some forty years earlier, in a book he reedited in 1883. As we have seen, Modern Painters II (containing the theory of Purity) concludes its three-part anatomy of the imagination with a chapter on "imagination contemplative." According to Ruskin, when the mind summons before it the indistinct products of memory and association, the fancy recombines ideas according to the quality they have in common, but then, it will be recalled, Ruskin uses the word "indistinctness" to shift to a subject its apparent opposite — the distinct and stylized abstractions of early Renaissance art. The chief features of that school, exemplified in Fra Angelico, he listed succinctly in an addendum of 1883: "serenely luminous sky,-full light on the faces; local colour the dominant power over a chiaroscuro more perfect because subordinate; absolute serenity of emotion and gesture; and rigid symmetry in composition" (IV, 347). In intuitive terms, these gaps in thought are Ruskin's attempt to trace out a deeply sensed relationship between memory and vision — in particular the relationship between Wordsworthian meditation and Dantean mysticism — which bears close analogy to the intuitive unity achieved by Praeterita.
At the beginning of the same chapter Ruskin defines the structure of nostalgic associative memory. The charm of memory, he writes, is "more sunny and spiritual" than possession of things present, partly because memory retains sublime and impressive images over those with "sensual offensiveness."
But of those parts of anything which are in themselves beautiful, I think the indistinctness no benefit, but that the brighter they are the better; and that the peculiar charm we feel in conception results from its grasp and blending of ideas, rather than from their obscurity; for we do not usually recall . . . one part at a time only of a pleasant scene, one moment only of a happy day; but together with each single object we summon up a kind of crowded and involved shadowing forth of all the other glories with which it was associated, and into every moment we concentrate an epitome of the day. . ., and so, with a kind of conceptive burning-glass, we bend the sunshine of all the day, and the fulness of all the scene upon every point that we successively seize. [IV, 290]
I have described a variant of this activity above as mythopoeic imagination, substituting for the dye image the schema of a magnetic center, an indefinite number of which would for Ruskin constitute the totality of the world as interpreted by the human imagination. In relation to Praeterita (which is the self-contained world of the visionary past), the image of the burning glass, which is to memory as the dye is to the [313/314] metaphorical faculty, provides the formula for converting Wordsworthian nostalgia into a narrative technique more nearly the converse of the greater romantic lyric. Instead of using remembered landscape — the farms and woods alongside the Wye, for example — as the stimulus for reveries that cluster around it, Ruskin reexperiences the past by fusing incidents and transposing effects onto new incidents and objects (as the imagination transposes the "shape" of certain qualities), so that the new object, as T. S. Eliot put it, becomes the "formula" for the particular emotion. A sequence of events translates itself into a pattern of objects redolent of new meanings, resembling in radiance and distinctness the art of Angelico. The technique of displacement and condensation is that of the dream, but the clarity and radiance are that of a vision. Moreover, like a vision but unlike many dreams, light and color are solid. The affect, that is to say, is intense and unambivalent: &q uot;bad" places absorb bad feelings, while "good" places focus and magnify good feelings, burning off or purging what gives "sensual offensiveness."
A signal difference between Praeterita and The Prelude is the completeness with which Ruskin suffuses landscape with self without the mediation of a separate imagination. This technique is different even from Wordsworthian spots of time, which appear as sudden interruptions of the normal and manifest their meaning through their strangeness and otherness. But Ruskin recreates in his visionary moments a world that is always simultaneously foreknown and discovered. This procedure grows naturally, of course, from the rhythm of his formative years: periods at home alternated with travels designed as recreative releases, which the boy then absorbed by converting them into objects of study at home. The "celestial light" of Wordsworthian childhood is structured crystallographically, so to speak, in Coleridgean symbols, which contain the translucence of the general in the particular and the eternal in the transient. Similarly, the unchanging self, in Ruskinian terms, is a type of divine energy and a set of organic relationships, like the translucent landscape it beholds — as he called it earlier, a purity of heart capable of receiving the light of divine revelation. To remember this self and this world-as-a-self is once again to become it. That experience is expressed in the most insistent leitmotif in a book built largely of leitmotifs. Hardly a chapter is without its rivers. Sometimes they surge and flow, sometimes go underground, sometimes trickle or dry up, only to burst forth elsewhere. They may be incidental, like the gush of the watercock in Hunter Street, or all embracing, like the Rhone at Geneva. The historical continuity of Being, the ecstatic possession of fullness that Ruskin called "Life," is the meaning of the river symbol in Praeterita. It is no doubt because Ruskin's sense of his own being was so discontinuous and because his [314/315] experience of gaps and losses and aimlessness and decline was so powerful, that he labored at the end of his career to construct a fiction of pure presence. As his Athena made the "broken diffusion of the elements" sacred, so the waters of Praeterita, always encountered with surprise and recognition, pervade and concentrate the broken diffusion ot time.
In his essay on distant objects, Hazlitt suggests in somewhat different terms a similar relationship between fullness and memory. In long views, he notes, "Passion is lord of infinite space, and distant objects please because they border on its confines, and are moulded by its touch." This imaginative effect he compares to the effect of memory: "The instant the pressure of unwelcome circumstances is removed, the mind recoils from their grasp, recovers its elasticity, and re-unites itself to that image of good, which is but a reflection and configuration of its own nature." ("Why Distant Objects Please", pp.148-149.) Nostalgia, in other words, projects an ideal ego into the past, and time, like space, becomes the solid occupancy of the imagination. Ruskin joins both ends of his life — his parents' hopes for him at the beginning and the fame of his achievements at the end — recreating himself as a youth at the perpetual confluence of memory and hope, his future fixed, himself and the objects about him moving through a medium of time that is substantial because remembered, or rather recreated in the presentness of writing. As the hero of romance meets himself in the world about him, so the self in Praeterita has a structure like the world. The beatified self is a condition of strength and joy figured in the will's harmony with an approving moral self and with the object of its desire, like a harmonious internal family. The narrative of Praeterita is more or less continuous as long as the internal family and the external family whose relationships it resembles remain in essential concord.
With its fixation on his "serene and secure" years, Praeterita is the evidence of Ruskin's failure to relinquish his narcissism, passing abruptly as it does from the years at home to the meetings with Rose and other substitutions for the past. It is the evidence but not the reenactment of that failure. For Praeterita is also the creative outcome of his final struggle for the idea of a self accepted and completed. Reading the book in this light, we can accept its fragmentation and defeat by time, in order also to accept its transcendence of time, achieved at the end with a landscape of integrated emblems that takes the place of the earlier, remembered landscapes. Ruskin escapes solipsism by that pure symbolization of selfhood that in one form we call mystical experience and in another the self-enclosed region of the aesthetic object — my word for it here has been "vision." The final stage of [315/316] Praetertta is not the completion of an aesthetic structure but the drama of Ruskin's conversion of memory into vision. Narrative time meanders and fragments as the heart of the book beats back, so to speak, beyond the personal past of Carlyle and Scott and the Borderland, until in a moment of rapture the breach between present and past — the breach also between the aged writer and his true self — is joined forever. Read in this way, Praeterita is no more incomplete than Michelangelo's slaves, struggling to realize themselves from the rough rock around them: in that ethereal suspension of marble, unreleased, unfinished, they find their freedom.
A look at some of the dominant patterns in Praeterita will conclude our consideration of some dominant themes in Ruskin's career. The emblematic titles of the first three chapters, "The Springs of Wandel," "Herne Hill Almond-Blossoms," and "The Banks of Tay," represent topoi or phases of early experience. The three paradisal elements of Edenic nature — water, garden, and distant hills — are perfectly realized near the aunt's house in Perth: "The idea of distant hills was connected in my mind with approach to the extreme felicities of life....she ... had a garden full of gooseberry bushes, sloping to the Tay." In childhood, mountains are distant, representing the enthrallment of possibilities waiting forever in reserve, but the other elements are near at hand. The aunt at Croydon also had a stream, the Wandel — a "spring of crystal water at the back door (long since let down into the modern sewer)," and Hunter Street had its watercock that "turned and turned till a fountain sprang up in the middle of the street" (xxxv, 15, 19, 21); but Herne Hill is the special preserve of the garden, described, we recall, as treasure, since it is for beholding instead of devouring: "magical splendor of abundant fruit: fresh green, soft amber, and roughbristled crimson bending the spinous branches; clustered pearl and pendant ruby joyfully discoverable under the large leaves" (xxxv, 36). The fruit exists for the sake of the flower because the flower may be incorporated symbolically, that is, as an aesthetic object. This conversion, as we also noticed above, is the basis of both the child's discipline and the adult's career. The child who could amuse himself in tracing out the pattern in the rug is father to the man who conceived of the entire world as an arabesque to be traced and deciphered. But the enclosed world of enchanted wealth and measured days is balanced by a boundless world of erotic exuberance. Scotland alone is the child's true Paradise: the streamlets are "a perpetual treasure of flowing diamond," the fields are "corn of heaven," the days are "perpetual watching of all the ways of running water." At the center of it all is dark-eyed cousin Jessie. On the day before his Scottish aunt was born, Ruskin tells us that a woman friend surprised his maternal grandmother by coming into her room and "dancing a threesome reel, with two chairs for her [316/317] partners; she having found at the moment no other way of adequately expressing the pleasure she took in this mortal life, and its gifts and promises" (xxxv, 62). "The latter," he adds laconically, "failed somewhat afterwards" — and both Jessie and her mother die in a few summers. The extreme felicities of life are foredoomed to fail, and that failure closes the first movement, so to say, of the book, the three phases of which will repeat themselves again: the phase of water, standing for the primal identification of energies within and without; the phase of the garden treasure, standing for the world beheld and symbolized; and the phase of the Tay, standing for the union of selfhood and treasure — the union achieved in love and in vision.
These first losses become also the loss of the child self, the time of frolicking in Wordsworthian shores. The next chapters turn, appropriately, to the period of tutorships, ushering in a new alternation between learning and Continental travels that succeeds to the older rhythm of Herne Hill and Scotland. But before reliving his first view of the Alps, Ruskin provides a variant of the treasure motif that introduces the theme of mountains. During a summer in Wales, he recalls, his attempt at athletic skill was thwarted by parental anxiety for his safety: if only they had given him a Welsh pony and a Welsh guide, they "would have made a man of me there and then . . . and probably the first geologist of my time in Europe." (He neglects to mention that he did own a pony, Shagram.) Elsewhere he complains that he had no chance to break the "bare-backed horse" of his will, and he once wrote to Norton that he had had no youth, but in the present telling, the failure to ride a horse symbolizes the boy's thwarted struggle for manly independence, a block he soon afterward internalizes (in contradiction to the sentence quoted above) as the wish not to grow up at all: "I already disliked growing older, — never expected to be wiser, and formed no more plans for the future than a little black silkworm does in the middle of its first mulberry leaf" (xxv, 96, 103). A compensation comes, however, in the gift of some Peruvian specimens brought by a noted geologist: the parlor table was "loaded with foliated silver and arborescent gold. Not only the man of science, but the latent miser in me, was developed largely in an hour or two!" (xxxv, 99). "Foliated" and "arborescent" recall the "clustered pearl and pendant ruby" of the jewellike garden and produce a new tapestry of association — manliness, mountains, science, precious stones. The world outside the garden can also be possessed as treasure.
The following chapter draws on the same strand in its account of the family's first Continental tour, reaching its climax in the first sight of the Alps. The famous set piece derives its power from its slow preparation, the suddenness of the revelation (it bursts forth like the visual equivalent of the watercock in Hunter Street), and a magnificence so [317/318]
intense it can only be rendered typologically: "They were clear as crystal, sharp on the pure horizon sky, and already tinged with rose by the sinking sun. Infinitely beyond all that we had ever thought or dreamed,-the seen walls of lost Eden could not have been more beautiful to us; not more awful, round heaven, the walls of sacred Death." Ruskin continues: "Thus, in perfect health of life and fire of heart, not wanting to be anything but the boy I was, not wanting to have anything more than I had . . ., I went down that evening. . . with my destiny fixed in all of it that was to be sacred and useful" (xxxv, 115- 116). In the time scheme of
Praeterita, imaginative seeing telescopes the future into an eternal, pristine present: "not wanting to be anything but the boy I was" and "my destiny fixed" parallel the historical juxtaposition of "lost Eden" and "sacred Death." The "work" prefigured here (Ruskin's mental development always takes the form of a "first" sight that fixes his purpose forever) is of course his reading of nature as Scripture, specifically his typological interpretation of the Turnerian sublime. The mountain fortress that is also a Heavenly City, imperishable (like the ideal Venice) in marble, apotheosizes the walled garden of home and inscribes the mother's teaching upon the face of the earth, as though the child world were but the momentary microcosm of which the biblical archetype was the eternal macrocosm. These "gates of the hills" transfigure human time, presenting in the awesome Otherness of their immensity and distance the image of the boy's own powers and ambitions, and of course this visual power compensates him for the loss of athletic prowess, further confirming his need not to grow up or away from his parents.
Spiritual power and physical desire are the two awakenings of Ruskin's adolescence. The several mountain ecstasies of Praeterita resemble one another but focus different emotional stages and so never repeat themselves; thus the record of the family's second tour (following more chapters about home studies) prefigures the coming of Adele. The lessons of the youth's tutors (a kindly but inferior lot, whom Ruskin reduces by affectionate caricature) could not compare with the knowledge absorbed directly and visually, but this tour has as its true preceptor Byron, the "realistic" delineator of heroic loves. "The Col de la Faucille," the "gate" that connects the Jurassic Alps with Geneva, the castle of Chillon, and the Cluse beyond, opens up part of Byron's land and also Adele's — the chapter is in part a tribute to Rouen and Abbeville, where Ruskin was to discover in Gothic the perfect blend of aesthetic form and communal remembrance. The earlier view of the Alps presented the exaltation of the ego in the form of a clear and overwhelming object. The present chapter presents the blissful loss of self through immersion in immediate surroundings. What first struck Ruskin about the Jura was the way innumerable streamlets seep [318/319] through the mountains to water the valley, much as the Golden River does:
But no whisper, nor murmur, nor patter, nor song, of streamlet disturbs the enchanted silence of open Jura. The rain-cloud clasps her cliffs, and floats along her fields; it passes . . . but of rivulet, or brook,-no vestige, yesterday, or to-day, or tomorrow. Through unseen fissures and filmy crannies the waters of cliff and plain have alike vanished, only far down in the depths of the main valley glides the strong river, unconscious of change.
In this self-sufficient paradisal ecology, water seems the medium of an undifferentiated diffusion, the emblem also, perhaps, of the vital energy in its ceaseless, unconscious workings. The passage comes the closest of any in the book to evoking an almost prenatal continuum of self and world. The ego, it would seem, comes into existence as that part of the self that is seen — and Ruskin says he was most happy when "nobody was thinking of me," that is, his parents. "My entire delight was in observing without being myself noticed, — if I could have been invisible, all the better." Appropriately, the next sentence loses its syntax together with the discrete "I" that would normally control it: "The living inhabitation of the world — the grazing and nesting in it,-the spiritual power of the air, the rocks, the water, to be in the midst of it, and to rejoice and wonder at it, and help it if I could — happier if it needed no help of mine" (xxxv, 161, 166). The conclusion of the chapter reverses the visual perspective of the earlier Alpine description, for it is a Pisgah-sight, revealing not an emblem of divine Power but a "holy land" to be possessed and inherited: "to see and to possess royally such a kingdom! Far as the eye could reach — that land and its moving or pausing waters; Arve, and his gates of Cluse, and his glacier fountains; Rhone, and the infinitude of his sapphire lake" (xxv, 167-168).
The "holy Land of my future work and true home in this world" is a land of streams and a place of unsupervised freedom like the Tay. The new powers incorporated by reading Byron and beholding mountains prepare the way for a new-found power of affection as well. The French Jessie and her three sisters descend upon Herne Hill, subjecting John to an "Ash Wednesday" that lasts four years — a new, unrequited craving fiercer than that for the untasted fruit at Herne Hill. Once again, the rhythm of the book moves from release to restraint — in the chatty and rather even-toned chapter on Oxford — then back in the next to the final loss of Adele and, with her, the landscape feeling. To cure himself he plunges into his father's edition of the Idler and is "secured" by Johnson's "adamantine commonsense" from being misled by his own "sanguine and metaphysical temperament." [319/320]
At last, he says, Scott's country took him "well out of it all." In the symbolic geography of Praeterita, Scotland tends to stand for the ancestral land, where Ruskin reaffirms the union of his own desires and his parents' gifts; Savoy and Switzerland, the greater world of his intellectual heritage, for which his parents act as guides; and Italy, the place of temptation and dereliction. The burning glass of memory focuses Ruskin's truce with despair on the family's visit to Loch Katrine, with its nearby blaeberry bushes, "dark winding clear-brown pool," "entangled moss," and "arch of branches." This maternal river is the forest-darkened Lethe of Purgatorio, haunted like Dante's stream by a fair presence — Scott's Lady of the Lake. This Lethe, however, brings not forgetfulness but elegiac mourning; for the arch of branches metaphorphoses (by way of a phrase or two from the Immortality Ode) into Roslyn Chapel, the title emblem: "The blue of the mountains became deep to me with the purple of mourning, — the clouds that gather round the setting sun, not subdued, but raised in awe as the harmonies of a Miserere,-and all the strength and framework of my mind, lurid, like the vaults of Roslyn, when weird fire gleamed on its pillars, foliage-bound, and far in the depth of twilight, 'blazed every rose-carved buttress fair"' (xxxv, 233). The double allusion to Rose La Touche, the smoldering fires, the sunset, and elegy all attest to a desire unrelinquished, a rage and a grief inverted upon the suffering self, making it a memorial and a place of sacrifice to the parental will — an imperfect one, as Ruskin recalls, and therefore "polluted," like the sacrifice of the Black Brothers. The closing pages of part 1 show Ruskin walking with another female prospect, a Miss Wardell, in her garden at Hampstead — a dreamlike moment, like the opening of "Burnt Norton," in which the past and the might-have-been come together for a moment. There is, of course, no rational reason why Ruskin could not relinquish Adèle — his mourning, he insists, was foolish-but the fact of his lifelong failure in love permits the structure of Praeterita to posit this disappointment as irremediable, almost metaphysical, casting a kind of doom on the rest of his life. Characteristically, he describes love not as a relationship but as a precious gift to him. The three deaths that conclude part 1-those of Miss Wardell and two other beautiful young women — symbolize the death of his own youth (as Jessie's death had at an earlier stage), mingling also with the loss of the landscape feeling. Previously, nature in Praeterita was simply the landscape of the visionary past-experienced first by a Wordsworthian child and then by a kind of youthful Byronic prince as the extension of his own "untried faith" Afterward, the ecstasy comes as the expression of an earned position.
With the childhood paradise lost, part 2 presents a new dialectic, the elements of which appear early in the chapter entitled "Of Age" (ambiguously [320/321] connoting "coming of age" and "on the subject of agedness"). In recalling the landscape feeling in its pure form, Ruskin writes, "I took stones for bread, but not certainly at the Devil's bidding" (xxxv, 219) — no, at his father's bidding, but the original meaning of the phrase allows the reproach to stand even as it is denied. In the condition of age, "stones" are first of all purchases — of precious minerals and of paintings. While preparations proceed for Adele's marriage in Paris — a catastrophe that occurs offstage, as in Greek tragedy, or rather, in the back of the young man's mind — Ruskin turns twenty-one and receives the gift from his father of Turner's Winchelsea — "a curious choice, and an unlucky one. The thundrous sky and broken white light of storm round the distant gate and scarcely visible church, were but too true symbols of the time that was coming upon us." But the boy also receives his first annual allowance of 200 pounds, seventy of which he spends on the Harlech — a sum his father considered extravagant: "My respect for his judgment was at this time . . . gradually diminished; and my confidence in my own painfully manifested to him." And so Harlech (the picture of a Welsh castle and village) was "safely installed in the drawing-room on the other side of the fire place from my idol-niche: and I went triumphantly back to [Oxford] and 'Winchelsea'" (xxxv, 255-257, 259). The triumph is ambiguous: the mutual love for Turner brings father and son together as peers, also providing ground for rivalry, but the triumph of Ruskin's superior judgment is self-defeating, since in the symbolic exchange he himself makes, the childhood home remains his domain, while the future is "installed" with an ill omen, the mark of his submission (through studies) and his independence. The task of the coming years is to work out more successful compromises between obedience and will, between his career and his parents' wishes.
But as we know that task is beset by a near-catastrophe: Ruskin suffers a hemorrhage of the lungs and is ordered to Italy by his doctor. In Provence the family encounters some swollen rivers — an obscure episode, judging from the diary of 1840 — now converted by memory into a ruined landscape of raging waters, burst banks, and vast, muddy plains. (At one point, Mrs. Ruskin insists on being carried across a stream in her carriage, an act by which she appears symbolically as a mistress governing the waters.) Italy, swamped in dirt and sensuality, is like the upper circles of Hell; at the far point of the descent, outside Naples, the sulphur pits spew and bubble diabolically, and the black sands of ancient volcanic eruptions seem to pollute the serene blue of the Mediterranean. Having exorcised his rage and his desires for Adele by excoriating the country of her religion, Ruskin recovers his spirits not in Venice (the "Paradise of Cities" where, according to the diary of 1840, he reconstructed her as an Ideal) but in Protestant Switzerland: [321/322] "I had found my life again" — that is, his internal harmony and the harmony of the family.
Following the exorcism comes the penance: six weeks at Leamington taking the water cure. The flats of Warwickshire suggest the flats of resignation — what Ruskin usually calls "humility"-figured in the placidity of the landscape: "a space of perfect England, not hill and dale . . . but hill and flat, through which the streams linger, and where the canals wind without lock" (xxxv, 3o3). This frame of mind provides the discovery, which he says made possible Modern Painters, of the need in great art for absolute submission to the tutelage of Nature, which for him is also a reaffirmation of Protestant piety. Ruskin does not seem to have derived this famous episode from memory, yet once again Praeterita speaks an emotional if not a literal truth. The scene he chooses is, of all places, Fontainebleau, where he deliberately flouts the monuments to Catholic despotism: "I missed rocks, palace, and fountain all alike, and found myself lying on the bank of a cart-road in the sand, with no prospect whatever but that small aspen tree against the blue sky." Lying literally in the dirt, he is "abased in that final manner" by tracing the exquisite beauty of line and composition in the humble leaves and twigs. The reward of submission is an "insight into a new sylvan world" (xxxv, 314). And so he achieves peace, as Carlyle advised, by lowering the denominator of desire: wilderness is reduced to the order of pattern, the pattern, essentially, of the carpet at Herne Hill, where the child was also able to "secure" himself by loss of self. His first book, The Poetry of Architecture, he published under the pseudonym "Kataphusin," "according to Nature," as though to assert (with a touch of arrogance) a relationship to the Deity that was unmediated by Princes and Popes. But self-abasement does not represent the whole impulse, as he half-admits in a suggestive aside: "In my savage dislike of palaces and strait gravel walks, I never found out the spring which was the soul of the place." Both fountains and palace reappear under a new guise when Ruskin's parents sell Herne Hill for the larger establishment at Denmark Hill, a move he views as a temptation in the "hour of all our weaknesses." As though to purify the new house, Ruskin decides to build a canal with locks, but it is not done after all, and the family is never more "at home"; twenty years later, "some water-works, on the model of Fontainebleau, were verily set aflowing" (xxxv, 314, 318). By symbolic action, Ruskin begins to take responsibility for his moral condition and his parents' as well.
The family's progress in the world soon receives a more dramatic fulfillment: the publication in 1843 of Modern Painters I and its triumphant reception. The Continental tour of 1844, which partly celebrated John's success, provides the occasion, in "The Simplon," for the most famous of all the set pieces in the book. The action of Ruskin's [322/323] burning glass is dramatic indeed, for the chapter focuses the meanings of the young man's achievement on a scene that seems truly timeless, a gathering of symbols rather than of specific memories. As Geneva is the high point of the book's geography, the publication of Modern Painters I iS the high point of the family's fortunes, so that "The Simplon" becomes the central episode of Praeterita — occupying the place the Earthly Paradise occupies in Dante's Comedy. Ruskin first pictures himself entering the shop of the jeweler Bautte, dark, awesome, and difficult of access ("You told what you wanted: it was necessary to know your mind, and to be sure you did want it; there was no showing of things for temptation at Bautte's"), then emerging into the light of the open street with his parcel and a "sense of duty fulfilled, treasure possessed, and a new foundation to the respectability of your family." Next, as in a dream, the magical purchase is metamorphosed into the Rhone itself, flowing at the end of the street only a block away, like "one lambent jewel":
its surface is nowhere, its ethereal self is everywhere, the iridescent rush and translucent strength of it blue to the shore, and radiant to the depth.
Fifteen feet thick, of not flowing but flying water . . . the force of the ice is with it, and the wreathing of the clouds, the gladness of the sky, and the continuance of Time.
Waves of clear sea are, indeed, lovely to watch, but they are always coming or gone, never in any taken shape to be seen for a second. But here was one mighty wave that was always itself, and every fluted swirl of it, constant as the wreathing of a shell. No wasting away of the fallen foam, no pause for gathering of power, no helpless ebb of discouraged recoil; but alike through bright day and lulling night, the never-pausing plunge, and never-fading flash, and never-hushing whisper . . ., glass of a painted window melted in the sun and the witch of the Alps flinging the spun tresses of it for ever from her snow....
There were pieces of wave that danced all day as if Perdita were looking on to learn; there were little streams that skipped like lambs and leaped like chamois; there-were pools that shook the sunshine all through them, and were rippled in layers of over-laid ripples, like crystal sand . . ., and in the midst of all the gay glittering and eddied lingering, the noble bearing by of the midmost depth, so mighty, yet so terrorless and harmless, with its swallows skimming instead of petrels, and the dear old decrepit town as safe in the embracing sweep of it as if it were set in a brooch of sapphire.
And the day went on, as the river; but I never felt that I wasted time in watching the Rhone. [xxxv, 326-328]
The whole scene could be an allegorical painting by Turner, with the sagelike jeweler at one side, the young man, river, and sporting maidens in the center, and the Alps and their Sybilline witch in the distance overhead. Yet it is also the book in epitome and in some sense telescopes [323/324] Ruskin's career. In the city nestling like a sapphire or brooch we recognize a northern Venice, spared the curse that fell upon her predecessor; in the flow of wealth and life, like a living vein through the Commonwealth, we recognize the climactic aphorism of Unto This Last. In the spun tresses of the Shelleyan witch, we recognize Athena, whose spinning is the creative principle in nature, here united with the tremendous force of ice, cloud, gladness, and time. In the unmoved depths and skimming surface, we recognize the mind of genius (like the mind of God, whose circumference is nowhere and whose center is everywhere). And in the crystal sand, sunlit pools, rivulets leaping like lambs and chamois, and Perdita, the lost one, watching, we have Praeterita, a book whose emblem would be a jewel or river as the type of Divine Energy: time without aging, power without wasting, the fullness of being and the fullness of time.
We must compress as many of these meanings as possible in a short space. By 1844 the family has passed through a number of changes, mostly deleterious. The parents have forfeited the home place in the interests of a doubtful respectability. The son, bereft of his adolescent love, has entered into a competition with his father over the purchase of paintings and consequently into an adulthood fraught with ominous choices — an adulthood stamped, however, with the success of a book conceived, he tells us, in the spirit of abasement before the laws of nature, though in reading it we are apt to have the opposite impression of a protracted paean to the will. We know from other sources that Ruskin focused his regret for the past on the loss of some drawings his father had been too timid to buy, a regret that burst out in one of the most poignant phrases of The Stones of Venice ("I do not wonder at what men Suffer, but I wonder often at what they Lose"). The boy who was to accomplish his parents' fondest dreams became also the man longing for a gift never given him, a lack that led him to fictionalize the mystery of life as a mystery of desolation and mischance. "The Simplon" draws together these elements and redeems them. Geneva becomes the family's spiritual home, a "point of patience" and a "mother-city" that parallels the quiet but all-powerful moral influence of Margaret Ruskin in her son's life yet remains pure of the family's temptation to riches — it is her "Paradise of Cities" as Venice had been Adèle's. It is also the center of Protestant Europe, the unacknowledged ruler of an ideal republic but without the narrowness and fanaticism of modern Puritanism. The jeweler Bautte, on the other hand (his name sounds like both "bought" and "boat"), springs from the mythopoeic consciousness:5 stern, [324/325] quaint, and decisive, he has about him something of the little King of the Golden River, something also, perhaps, of the enigmatic Turner, reclusive and difficult to please; in function, he is the perfection of the ambiguous art dealer Mr. Griffin, whom the elder Ruskin so distrusted; more generally he is a figure for the infallible guide. (He seems to predict Joseph Couttet, the mountaineer, whom Ruskin meets soon after and who murmured that the boy "ne sait pas vivre." "Had he been my drawing-master also, it would have been better for me: if my work pleased Couttet, I found afterwards it was always good" [xxxv, 329].) As Ruskin purchases the jewel from Bautte, so also he wrote the book that was his parents' fulfillment, becoming himself their best jewel, like the children of Cordelia. Yet in giving he also possesses, and in buying the gift for his family, he becomes them as well. The power of the jewel in other words is the power to incorporate the good parents as a unity of approving conscience and lovable ego. The gift bestowed when a person has "earned" a good conscience is the pearl of great price. The river, as emblem of the integrated self, contains all selves within it, strength with possession, wealth that is life. We have seen a similar pattern before — a passage, actually, from a later chapter, "The Grande Chartreuse," in which the missal in the pocket (with feminine rather than masculine associations) becomes the shower of wealth, the charity dispensed by the "miser." In both cases, possession of the symbol of selfhood is transformed into the self-as-a-world, which is also the power of affirming the otherness of the world-as-a-self. Needless to say, the book that truly achieves this miracle — the book that braids the flowers of the past into a memorial for the future, joining the parents within with the parents that have died — is Praeterita itself.
But Paradise regained is soon relinquished. Although the scene appears timeless, in part 2 of Praeterita ecstatic moments have two dimensions of meaning: a transtemporal meaning, in which they stand for permanent affirmations and emblems of felicity, and historical meaning, in which they repeat the structure imposed by the loss of Adele. As the chapter follows the family in its long descent into Italy, the skies slowly darken with disillusion. The Lago Maggiore district, for example, is the "Eden of Italy," yet the peasants are left "to die, like the green lizards, in the blind clefts of their rocks, whence they see no God" (xxxv, 331-332). The lizards in their clefts, like the Serpent and furrow [325/326] in Fors and the recurrent images, in books and diaries, of fearful glacial cracks and folds, have no fecundity or vitality but are embodiments of neglect, sterility, and lingering, withering death. Adult sexuality is fallen in Praeterita, and the symbol of it is Italy. Other powers than Turner's, Ruskin says, were on him "even beyond his, not in delight, but in vital strength," by which he means the celebration of earthly pleasure and the human form in the Venetian painters. The closing sentence is from a diary entry written after the young man's first visit to the Louvre: "I shall try to paint a Madona some day, I believe" (xxxv, 339).
The Madonna is in this chapter a mother city, but in Switzerland, not Italy. How is Ruskin now to describe the Italian journey of 1845, with its momentous discovery of Tintoretto — in the very place he had made sacred to Adèle? Venice, combining in his memory the figure of the ideal beloved and the disaster of his marriage, stood for intolerable emotional ambivalences — the attraction of sexuality and the dread surrounding it, of defilement, separation, and death, all figured in the image of the virgin who is also a whore. But in the romance world of Praeterita, the hero, to be true to himself is true also to the symbols of his first object of love, like a chaste knight or priest of nature. In the book's purist structure, then, the heat and full-bloodedness of Venice is replaced by the austere and virginal beauty of Geneva — or of Lucca and Pisa as they appear in "The Campo Santo." These crystalline, moon-lit cities never fell from the innocence of faith: at the Campo Santo of Pisa, for example, Ruskin discovers the "entire doctrine of Christianity, painted so that a child could understand it. And what a child cannot understand of Christianity, no one need try to" (xxxv, 351). The inhabitants are also, predictably, childlike. They cluster around Ruskin as he draws and are innocently delighted to discover the beauty of the old frescoes, which they had taken for granted. Entering the unchanged cities of childhood, Ruskin takes the place of his own mother, giving Bible lessons to others in the form of a Good Shepherd. But this too passes; in Macugnaga he finds himself afflicted by paradox and futility, a sensation only exacerbated by the reading of Shakespeare, in whom he finds good and evil mixed "so inextricably and mysteriously, that not only the writer himself is unknowable, but inconceivable." And so on this trip "I had only discovered wants that any number of years could not satisfy; and weaknesses, which no ardor of effort or patience of practice could overcome" (xxxv, 376).
The "weaknesses" Ruskin had described to his father from Macugnaga centered, we recall, on the loss of childhood strength and the growing suspicion that pleasure in landscape depends on nostalgic associations superadded by the viewer. These worries he resolved symbolically by new discoveries about Venetian art — the beauty of the human form in Tintoretto, Angelico, and others and the presence within him of a "correspondent power" of response — both of which [326/327]
seemed to lay the grounds for a mature vocation and probably also for marriage. From the perspective of
Praeterita, such hopes could only seem futile and disturbing — and so also would the theory of mental association, which Ruskin affirms with joy in "The Lamp of Power." For after a lifetime of learning the limits of the merely human will, he reconceives nature in Praeterita as the embodiment of spiritual powers, capable of nourishing the heart — the childlike heart — that loves her.
But can purity of heart be indefinitely maintained? Ruskin returns home stricken with the guilt of all that was to come; like Newman in the Apologia, he falls ill just as his haven is in sight. "That happy sense of direct relation with Heaven is . . . in all cases, dependent on resolution, patience, self-denial, prudence, obedience.... Whether I was capable of holding it or not, I cannot tell; but little by little, and for little, yet it seemed invincible, causes, it passed away from me. I had scarcely reached home in safety, before I had sunk back into the faintness and darkness of the Under-World" (xxxv, 378). Even obedience to his parents' wishes is no solution, because the guilt has descended upon them as well. The next chapter titles are succinctly revealing. "The State of Denmark," alluding to Denmark Hill and to Horatio's suspicion of rottenness, requires no comment in the text; "The Feasts of the Vandals" refers to the endless round of dinner parties for London celebrities, a luxury that depends upon desperate poverty. Behind the winetrade stands the Treasure Valley of "Vandalusia," an Eden whose golden fruit is ravished again and again, yet Ruskin was equally impressed by the "poverty, and captivity, or, as it seemed to chance always, fatal issue of any efforts to escape from these [luxuries], in which my cousins . . . were each and all spending, or ending, their laborious youth" (xxxv, 409). There is no wonder that the "direct relations of Heaven" are lost: to escape the father's house is to risk one death, yet to dwell in it is to risk another, spiritual kind, the guilt of identifying with him or of repudiating him. In "Crossmount," Ruskin atones for a thoughtlessly wounding remark (about his father's penuriousness) by clearing a Scottish field of thistles. The emotional truth of these confused chapters is remarkable and convincing, revealing as they do the complex personal impulses behind Ruskin's radical economics: the need at once to repudiate his father and to exorcise the guilt of that repudiation by identifying with suffering and by "clearing out" the wilderness — in this case, significantly, the land of his father's birth. And with the approach of his marriage to Effie, we find a familiar emblem focusing all forms of domestic corruption. No one, he writes, could
explain to me what Turner meant by the contest of Apollo with the Python, or by the repose of the great dragon above the Garden of the Hesperides. [327/328] < For such nearer Python, as might wreathe itself against my own now gathering strength, — for such serpent of eternity as might reveal its awe to me amidst the sands even of Forest Hill or Addington Heath, I was yet wholly unprepared. [xxxv, 430-431]
The serpent of eternity is the enemy of visionary time, as it is the enemy of the garden; the chronology of Praeterita breaks down into digressive chatter — but not before one more ecstatic experience, this one, unlike the others, frankly regressive. Like "The Simplon," "L'Hotel du Mont Blanc" belongs to a generalized past and also to a specific moment — the family's journey to Switzerland without Effie, the year after John's marriage. For the last time Ruskin pictures himself in that moment at which he would like to have lived all his life, the brink of adulthood. As he wrote at the time, "I repeated 'I am in Switzerland' over and over again till the name brought back the true group of associations, and I felt I had a soul, like my boy's soul, once again" — a soul unweakened by the Python. As though to resist the tightening coil of days, Ruskin interpolates his recollections with descriptive passages from his old diary, retarding the narrative pace. Slowly, ponderously, the family makes its way, page by page, from Folkestone to France to Geneva and then the Cluse, the valley of lost time: "A way is opened at last by the Arve, which, rushing furiously through a cleft affording room only for road and river, grants entrance, when the strait is passed, to a valley without the like of it among the Alps." Unlike the trains, which in their speed blot out the landscape they despoil, the carriage reveals everything in circumspect, its movements entering the languid movements of the prose, until time becomes entirely place. We are not surprised when the present tense of description becomes the present tense of narration as well: "The old people's carriage dips into the trough of the dry bed, descends the gentle embankment on the other side, and turns into the courtyard of the inn." The "old people" — a mythic race almost, rather than parents — take possession of a region composed of concentric spheres, the inner ones more sacred than the outer: the Alpine range; the valley; the town; the inn; the suite; John's room; and at last, John's (the boy's, presumably) window, commanding the whole range of the animate creation, from trees, fruits, and buildings, to the "creamy, curdling, overflowing seas of snow of Mont Blanc de St. Gervais." The garden is walled, like Herne Hill, but sown under the principle of "plant everything, and let what can, grow":
the undercrops of unkempt pease, potatoes, cabbage, hemp, and maize, content with what sun can get down to them.... the roofs and balconies, the vines seem to think, have been constructed for their pleasure only, and climb, wreathe, and swing themselves about accordingly wherever they choose, tossing their young tendrils far up into the blue sky of spring, and [328/329] festooning the balconies in autumn with Correggian fresco of purple, relieved against the pendent gold of the harvested maize. [xxxv, 44y, 445, 447-448]
This ecstatic passage flanks "The Simplon" on one side as the distant view of the Alps in part z flanks it on the other, each of the three moments apotheosizing in succession three elements of the childhood paradise — mountains, rivers, gardens. The earliest of these is prospective, the last retrospective, the most Edenic and domestic. The churning, surging, striving movement of vines compresses imagery from both "The Nature of Gothic" and "St. Mark's," displacing it northward in space and backward in time onto an eternal boyhood home, a final protest against the years of sterility and weakness to come.
Praeterita rejects the three-part pattern of the romantic myth of imagination — paradise, loss, and recapture — since the romantic self, centered in a power of will or imagination distinct from nature, accepts the loss of the child's self-as-a-world in order to reconstitute that world as a creative dialectic between the world and the mature ego. But Praeterita rejects the romantic imagination, presenting in its place a self composed of pristine, essential energy that is also a natural principle, the survival of which assures the potential recapture in toto of the self-as-a-world. Its movement is not tripartite, then, but a gradual, if interrupted, voyage of decline that returns full circle only at the end of life. In this regard it resembles, in painting, a series like Cole's The Voyage of Life and, in literature, Peer Gynt and, of course, the great novel it helped inspire, A la recherche du temps perdu. Praeterita importantly differs from these works in being written as a series, so that the writing, like the life, is capable of occasional recaptures and fresh starts. We see such writing in part 3, a fragment composed of four chapters that though marred by mental strain, nevertheless represent a new and final phase of Ruskin's indomitable inventiveness. More freely than before, these chapters mingle discursive talk with reminiscence, organizing disparate episodes according to problems or themes to be worked through. "The Grande Chartreuse," for example, opens with a dialogue in the mountain hermitage, where a monk tells Ruskin that the Carthusians did not come there to look at landscape, and concludes with the unconversion at Turin in 1858, when Ruskin chooses to affirm the life of the senses. The pivotal image — in which he pictures himself spewing jewels to a crowd while carrying a missal in his pocket — creates a pattern of meaning far richer, obviously, than any brief account can convey. The next chapter is a mirror image of the first that reverses geographical directions. It begins with apostasy in Turin, where Ruskin went to the ballet and brought home, "to my father's extreme amazement and disgust," sketches from Veronese's Solomon and the Queen of Sheba — petticoats, [329/330] parrots, and blackamoors — and concludes in a wondrous moment of joy, when he first met Charles Eliot Norton on the Lake of Geneva. The space between is occupied by sketches of the history of Switzerland, as though Ruskin were possessing it as his heritage, in all its sensuousness and communality of life, in opposition to the isolation and asceticism of the Carthusians. In the third chapter, Rose appears, and Norton's most recent communication is reproduced alongside Rose's first — the wonderfully high-spirited and precocious letter from southern France that Ruskin carried for years in his breast pocket, like a missal. In the midst of other matters, the elder Ruskin dies offstage, and Joan Severn enters to take his place as Mrs. Ruskin's companion: "And so it chanced, providentially, that at this moment, when my mother's thoughts dwelt constantly on the past, there should be this child near us, — still truly a child in her powers of innocent pleasure" (xxxv, 537-538). The last element of the childhood paradise begins to take her rightful place; for other people are important in these final episodes in a way they have not been before. Norton, a younger version of Ruskin who will carry on his work, is also his "first tutor"; Joan, appearing first as a new child in Denmark Hill, begins to care for him as a mother. (It even turns out that Carlyle had once received hospitality at the hands of Joan's grandfather.) As Scotland and Switzerland begin to center on Brantwood, new people appear to take the place of those who have gone, as though Ruskin were establishing an apostolical succession or pattern of symbolic inheritance. In the last chapter we are aware of Joan's presence in the room as he dictates, herself a treasure that this time will not be taken away. Like the fairy tale of fifty years before, Ruskin's last utterance is a gift to a young girl, written this time not for her but with her.
These givings and identifications prepare the final consummation of "Joanna's Care." The great circle of Praeterita seems to be closing by degrees, but Ruskin, digressing again and unconscious of time and reader and audience, does not seem to know it at first. All at once, he strikes upon an old theme, and the landscape of Scott and of the personal past are completely confounded: "but I may forget, unless I speak of it here, a walk in Scott's own haunt of Rhymer's Glen, where the brook is narrowest in its sandstone bed, and Mary Ker stopped to gather a wild rose for me." The mention of "rose," like an evil charm, sends him into a helpless harangue upon dancing — old "right" Scottish dancing and the debased fashions of the present. The whirling images of moving girls rise up without warning, like pure and impure desires contending feverishly for control of the old man's mind, and the ancient fury is upon him once again.
Then, as his mind is about to give way once more, something breaks [330/331] clear; without interruption and without pause, everything is luminous and calm. We are in the last paragraphs of the book:
I draw back to my own home, twenty years ago, permitted to thank Heaven once more for the peace, and hope, and loveliness of it, and the Elysian walks with Joanie, and Paradisiacal with Rosie, under the peach-blossom branches by the little glittering stream which I had paved with crystal for them.... There used to be always a corncrake or two in it. Twilight after twilight I have hunted that bird, and never once got glimpse of it; the voice was always at the other side of the field, or in the inscrutable air or earth.... Happiest times, for all of us, that ever were to be; not but that Joanie and her Arthur . . . have been sorely anxious about me, and I have been sorrowful enough for myself, since ever I lost sight of that peach blossom avenue. "Eden-land" Rosie calls it sometimes in her letters. Whether its tiny river were of the waters of Abana, or Euphrates, or Thamesis, I know not, but they were sweeter to my thirst than the fountains of Trevi or Branda.
"'Eden-land' Rosie calls it." Time is conquered; the restless, hungering spirit that animates Praeterita has found peace.
The last words Ruskin wrote, serene and unconscious as a mystical revelation, seem to float motionless on a glimmering surface, for no movement disturbs their ethereal hush. Like an old man on his deathbed, he murmurs a vision of the country he is about to enter; his words are what Lear would have said to Cordelia in heaven.
"How things bind and blend themselves together!" he continues, ever more softly. The crystal stream at Denmark Hill recalls the Fountain of Trevi and old Joseph Severn, Joanie's father: "he himself then eager in finishing his last picture of the Marriage in Cana... and delighted himself by painting the crystal and ruby glittering of the changing rivulet of water out of the Greek vase, glowing into wine." Severn had appeared much earlier in the book as a fountain of benevolence amid the corruptions of modern Rome. The wine of Cana was a symbol for Ruskin of the "sanctifying element" of love in its color of rose, so that old Severn seems to bless his daughter's marriage in spirit to his old friend, repeating the lesson of Veronese's painting that had enraptured Ruskin so many years before. Then Ruskin recalls visiting the Fonte Branda with Norton: "We drank of it together, and walked together that evening on the hills above, where the fireflies among the scented thickets shone fitfully in the still undarkened air. How they shone!"
Still the words seem to fade and fade, like the song of Ruskin's elusive bird. Having drunk the water of Cana from the Branda, Ruskin beholds yet another city: "How they shone! through the sunset that [331/332] faded into thunderous night as I entered Siena three days before, the white edges of the mountainous clouds still lighted from the west, and the openly golden sky calm before the Gate of Siena's heart, with its still golden words, 'Cor magis tibi Sena pandit."' The gate and water and fireflies bring us back to the walled garden of Herne Hill, the springs of Wandel, and the dancing sand and darting minnows, but we recognize them from elsewhere: they are the waters of life, the angelic light, the City of God. This is Ruskin's final crossing. But although he makes his last word the same as Dante's, his lights are not the stars, nor are they any more the delusions of vanity; instead, they bring things together — the day and the night, the twinkling of skies and waters, binding and blending. They make the broken diffusion of the elements sacred, and they triumph like the light of his own spirit over the shadow of his madness and the endless night beyond: "and the fireflies everywhere in the sky and cloud rising and falling, mixed with the lightning, and more intense than the stars" (xxxv, 560-562).
Last updated: December 2000