The Life of John Ruskin
W. G. Collingwood
Part 6 out of 6
At different dates he was elected to various societies--Geological,
Zoological, Architectural, Horticultural, Historical, Anthropological,
Metaphysical; and to the Athenaeum and Alpine Clubs. He was elected Hon.
Member of the Academy of Florence in 1862, of the Academy of Venice,
1877, of the Royal Academies of Antwerp and Brussels in 1892; and was
also an Hon. Member of the American Academy. But he did not seek
distinctions, and he even declined them, as in the case of the medal of
the Royal Institute of British Architects.
A more striking form of distinction than such titles is the fact that he
was the first writer whose contemporaries, during his lifetime, formed
societies to study his work. The first Ruskin Society was founded in
1879 at Manchester, and was followed by the Societies of London, Glasgow
and Liverpool. In 1887 the Ruskin Reading Guild was formed in Scotland,
with many local branches in England and Ireland, and a journal,
subsequently re-named _Igdrasil_, to promote study of literary and
social subjects in Ruskin, and in writers like Carlyle and Tolstoi
taking a standpoint similar to his. In 1896, Ruskin Societies were
formed at Birmingham and in the Isle of Man. Many classes and clubs for
the study of Ruskin were also in operation throughout America during his
His eightieth birthday was the signal for an outburst of congratulations
almost greater than even admirers had expected. The post came late and
loaded with flowers and letters, and all day long telegrams arrived from
all parts of the world, until they lay in heaps, unopened for the time
being. A great address had been prepared, with costly illumination on
vellum, and binding by Mr. Cobden Sanderson.
"Year by year," it said, "in ever widening extent, there is an
increasing trust in your teaching, an increasing desire to realize the
noble ideals you have set before mankind in words which we feel have
brought nearer to our hearts the kingdom of God upon earth. It is our
hope and prayer that the joy and peace you have brought to others may
return in full measure to your own heart filling it with the peace which
comes from the love of God and the knowledge of the love of your
Among those who subscribed to these sentiments were various people of
importance, such as Royal Academicians, the Royal Society of Painters in
Watercolours, the Trustees of the British Museum and of the National
Gallery, the St. George's Guild and Ruskin Societies, with many others;
and the address was presented by a deputation who reported that they had
found him looking well "and extremely happy."
A similar illuminated address from the University of Oxford ran thus:
"We venture to send you, as you begin your eighty-first year, these
few words of greeting and good-will, to make you sure that in
Oxford the gratitude and reverence with which men think of you is
ever fresh. You have helped many to find in life more happiness
than they thought it held; and we trust there is happiness in the
latter years of your long life. You have taught many to see the
wealth of beauty in nature and in art, prizing the remembrance of
it; and we trust that the sights you have best loved come back to
your memory with unfading beauty. You have encouraged many to keep
a good heart through dark days, and we trust that the courage of a
constant hope is yours."
The London Ruskin Society sent a separate address; and to show that if
not a prophet in his own country he was at any rate a valued friend, the
Coniston Parish Council resolved "and carried unanimously," says the
local journal, "with applause,"
"That the congratulations of this council be offered to Mr. John
Ruskin, on the occasion of his eightieth birthday, together with
the warm thanks which they and all their neighbours feel for the
kindness he has shown, and the many generous acts he has done to
them and theirs during twenty-seven years of residence at Coniston,
where his presence is most truly appreciated, and his name will
always be most gratefully remembered."
But as the year went on he did not regain his usual summer strength.
Walking out had become a greater weariness to him, and he had to submit
to the humiliation of a bath-chair. To save himself even the labour of
creeping down to his study, he sat usually in the turret-room upstairs,
next to his bed-chamber, but still with the look of health in his face,
and the fire in his eyes quite unconquered. He would listen while Baxter
read the news to him, following public events with interest, or while
Mrs. Severn or Miss Severn read stories, novel after novel; but always
liking old favourities best, and never anything that was unhappy. Some
pet books he would pore over, or drowse over by the hour. The last of
these was one in which he had a double interest, for it was about ships
of war, and it was written by the kinsman of a dear friend. Some of the
artists he had loved and helped had failed him or left him, but
Burne-Jones was always true. One night, going up to bed, the old man
stopped long to look at the photograph from Philip Burne-Jones's
portrait of his father. "That's my dear brother, Ned," he said, nodding
good-bye to the picture as he went. Next night the great artist died,
and of all the many losses of these later years this one was the hardest
So when a little boy lent him "A Fleet in Being" he read and re-read it;
then got a copy for himself, and might have learnt it by heart, so long
he pored over it. But when the little boy or his sisters went to visit
the "Di Pa" (Dear Papa), as he liked children to call their old friend,
he had now scarcely anything to talk about. "He just looked at us, and
smiled," they would report; "and we couldn't think what to say."
He had his "bright days," when he would hear business discussed, though
a very little of it was wearisome. It was impossible to bring before him
half the wants and wishes of his correspondents, who could not yet
realise his weakness, and besought the notice they fancied so easily
given. Yet in that weakness one could trace no delusions, none of the
mental break-down which was taken for granted. If he gave an opinion it
was clear and sound enough; of course with the old Ruskinian waywardness
of idea which always puzzled his public. But he knew what he was about,
and knew what was going on. He was like the aged Queen Aud in the saga,
who "rose late and went to bed early, and if anyone asked after her
health she answered sharply."
But all the love and care spent on him could not keep him with us. There
came the Green Yule that makes a fat kirkyard, and in January of 1900
hardly a house in the neighbourhood was free from the plague of
influenza. In spite of strictest precautions it invaded Brantwood.
On the 18th of January he was remarkably well, as people often are
before an illness--"fey," as the old Northern folk-lore has it. Towards
evening, when Mrs. Severn went to him for the usual reading--it was Edna
Lyall's "In the Golden Days"--his throat was irritable and he "ached all
over." They put him to bed and sent for Dr. Parsons, his constant
medical attendant, who found his temperature as high as 102 deg., and
feared the consequences. But the patient, as he always did, refused to
be considered ill, and ate his dinner, and seemed next day to be really
better. There was no great cause for alarm, though naturally some for
anxiety; and in reasonable hopes of amendment, the slight attack was not
On Saturday morning, the 20th, all appeared to be going well until about
half-past ten. Suddenly he collapsed and became unconscious. It was the
dreaded failure of heart after influenza. His breathing weakened, and
through the morning and through the afternoon in that historic little
room, lined with his Turners, he lay, falling softly asleep. No efforts
could revive him. There was no struggle; there were no words. The
bitterness of death was spared him. And when it was all over, and those
who had watched through the day turned at last from his bedside, "sunset
and evening star" shone bright above the heavenly lake and the clear-cut
blue of Coniston fells.
Next morning brought messages of hurried condolence, and the Monday such
a chorus from the press as made all the praises of his lifetime seem
trifling and all its blame forgotten. If only, in his years of struggle
and despair, he had known the place he should win!
On the Tuesday came a telegram offering a grave in Westminster Abbey,
the highest honour our nation can give to its dead. But his own mind had
long since been made plain on that point, and his wishes had not been
forgotten. "If I die here," he used to say, "bury me at Coniston. I
should have liked, if it happened at Herne Hill, to lie with my father
and mother in Shirley churchyard, as I should have wished, if I died
among the Alps, to be buried in the snow."
We carried him on Monday night down from his bed-chamber and laid him in
the study. There was a pane of glass let into the coffin-lid, so that
the face might be kept in sight; and there it lay, among lilies of the
valley, and framed in the wreath sent by Mr. Watts, the great painter, a
wreath of the true Greek laurel, the victor's crown, from the tree
growing in his garden, cut only thrice before, for Tennyson and Leighton
and Burne-Jones. It would be too long to tell of all such tokens of
affection and respect that were heaped upon the coffin,--from the wreath
of the Princess Louise down to the tributes of humble dependants,--above
a hundred and twenty-five, we counted; some of them the costliest money
could buy, some valued no less for the feeling they expressed. I am not
sure that the most striking was not the village tailor's, with this on
its label--"There was a man sent from God, and his name was John."
On the Wednesday we made our sad procession to the church, through storm
and flood. The village was in mourning, and round the churchyard gates
men, women, and children stood in throngs. The coffin was carried in by
eight of those who had been in his employ, and the church filled
noiselessly with neighbours and friends, who after a hymn, and the
Lord's prayer, and a long silence, passed up the aisles for their last
look, and to heap more offerings of wreaths and flowers around the bier.
At dusk tall candles were lit, and so through the winter's night watch
Thursday, the 25th, brought together a great assembly, great for the
remoteness of the place and the inclemency of the weather. The country
folk have a saying "Happy is the dead that the rain rains on;" and the
fells were darkly clouded and the beck roared by, swollen to a torrent.
The church was far too small to hold the congregation, which included
most of his personal friends and the representatives of many public
bodies. A crowd stood outside in the storm while the service went on.
It began with a hymn written for the occasion by Canon Rawnsley who with
the Vicar of Hawkshead, Brantwood's parish church, read the Psalms. A
hymn, "Comes at times a stillness as of even," was sung by his friend
Miss Wakefield; and the lesson read by Canon Richmond, arrived
officially to represent the Bishop of Carlisle, but to most of us
representing old times and the comradeships of his youth and early
manhood. The Vicar of Coniston and the Rev. Reginald Meister, on behalf
of the Dean of Christ Church, also took part in the service. When the
Dead March sounded the coffin was covered with a pall given by the
Ruskin Linen Industry of Keswick, lined with bright crimson silk, and
embroidered with the motto, "Unto This Last," and with his favourite
wild roses showered over the gray field, just as they fall in the
_Primavera_ of Botticelli. There was no black about his burying, except
what we wore for our own sorrow; it was remembered how he hated black,
so much that he would even have his mother's coffin painted blue; and
among the white and green and violet of the wreaths that filled the
chancel, none was more significant in its sympathy than Mrs. Severn's
great cross of red roses.
As we carried him down the churchyard path, a drop or two fell from the
boughs, but a gleam of sunshine, the first after many days, shot along
the crags from under the cloud, and the wind paused. Standing there by
the graveside, who could help being thankful that he had found so lovely
a resting-place after so tranquil a falling to sleep? At his feet,
parted only by the fence and the garden, is the village school; and who
does not know how he loved the children of Coniston? At his right hand
are the graves of the Beevers; his last old friend, Miss Susan Beever,
lies next to him. Over the spot hang the thick boughs of a fir-tree--who
does not know what he has written of his favourite mountain-pine? And
behind the church, shut in with its dark yews', rise the crags of
Coniston, those that he wearied for in his boyhood, beneath which he
prayed, in sickness, to lie down and rest. "The crags are lone on
Acland, Sir H.W., M.D.,
Acland, Sir T.D.,
Adairs and Agnews,
Agnew, Miss Joan Ruskin,
_and see_ Severn, Mrs. A.
Alexander, Mrs. and Miss Francesca,
Allen, Mr. George,
"Amiens, The Bible of,"
Anderson, Mr. J.R.,
Anderson, Miss S.D.,
Andrews, Dr. and family,
Animals, Ruskin and,
Architects, Royal Institute,
Architectural Association, lecture to,
"Architecture, the Poetry of,"
"Architecture, the Seven Lamps of,"
Baker, Mr. George,
Baxter, Mr. Peter,
Beever, Miss Mary,
Miss Susanna, 2
Bishop, Mrs. W.H.,
Blow, Mr. Detmar J.,
Boehm, Sir Edgar,
Boni, Commendatore G.,
Bourdillon, Mr. F.W.,
Brown, Dr. John,
Browning, Robert and Mrs.,
Burne-Jones, Sir Edward,
Carrick and Vokins,
Cesnola, General L.P. di,
"Cestus of Aglaia,"
Chamberlain, John Henry,
Christ's Hospital lecture,
Cooke, Mr. E.,
Cowper-Temple, Mr. and Mrs. (Lord and Lady Mount Temple),
"Crown of Wild Olive,"
Dale, Rev. T.,
Edwardes, Sir Herbert,
"Elements of Drawing,"
"Ethics of the Dust,"
Faunthorpe, Rev. J.P.,
Fleming, Mr. A.,
Forbes, Principal J.D.,
Forgeries of Ruskin,
Friends of Living Creatures, Society of,
_and see_ Deucalion, Minerals
Goodwin, Mr. Albert, R.W.S.,
Gordon, Rev. Osborne,
Mr. George, of Perth,
Mr. and Mrs. Richard,
Gull, Sir Wm., M.D.,
Halle, Sir Charles,
"Harry and Lucy Concluded,"
Helps, Sir Arthur,
Hill, Miss Octavia,
Howell, Charles Augustus,
Hunt, W. Holman,
Hunt, "Old" William,
Ilaria di Caretto,
Jephson, Dr., of Leamington,
Jowett, H. (of Hazell, Watson and Viney),
"King of the Golden River,"
King's College, London,
Kingsley, Rev. W.,
Langdale Linen Industry,
"Laws of Fesole,"
Le Keux, J.H.,
Lewis, J.F., R.A.,
London Institution lectures,
"Lord's Prayer, Letters on the,"
W.M., of Crossmount,
Mallock, Mr. W.H.,
Marks, H.S., R.A.,
Maurice, Rev. F.D.,
Millais, Sir J.E.,
Minerals and Crystals,
Moore, Prof. C.H.,
"Mornings in Florence,"
Munro of Novar,
Murray, Mr. C. Fairfax,
Newman, Mr. H.R.,
Newton, Sir Charles,
Northcote, James, R.A.,
Norton, Prof. C.E.,
Ruskin as under graduate,
his drawing school,
his Hinksey diggings,
Pedigree of Ruskin,
Photography, Ruskin's early use of,
"Political Economy of Art,"
Politics, Ruskin's attitude,
Portraits of Ruskin, by
"Queen of the Air,"
Railways, Ruskin's attitude toward,
Randal, Mr. Frank,
Religion, Ruskin's development,
Reynolds, lectures on,
Mary (Mrs. Bolding),
_and see_ pedigree,
Richmond, George, R.A.,
Sir William B., R.A.,
Roberts, David, R.A.,
Robson, Mr. E.R.,
Rooke, Mr. T.M., R.W.S.,
"Royal Academy, Notes on the,"
Royal Institution lectures,
Mrs. (Margaret Cox, John
St. Andrews Rectorship,
St. George's Guild,
St. Mark's Rest,
"Sesame and Lilies,"
Mr. Arthur, R.I.
_and see_ Agnew, Miss
"Sheepfolds, Notes on the Construction of,"
Museum (St. George's now "Ruskin"),
Smith, Elder & Co.,
Socialism, Ruskin's attitude,
Somervell, Mr. R.,
South Kensington Museum lecture,
Stanfield, C., R.A.,
"Stones of Venice,"
Stowe, Mrs. H.B.,
Swiss towns, intended history,
Talbot, Mrs., and Mr. Q.,
Taylor, Sir Henry,
Thomson, Mr. George,
"Time and Tide,"
Trevelyan, Sir Walter and Lady,
Tyrwhitt, Rev. R, St. J.
University College, London,
"Unto this last,"
Vere, Aubrey de,
Ward, Rev. J. Clifton,
Watts, G.F., R.A.,
Wedderburn, Mr. A., K.C.,
Whistler, J. McN.,
Willett, Henry, F.G.S.,
Working Men's College,
"Yewdale and its streamlets,"
Yule, Colonel and Mrs.,
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