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Charles Augustus Howell became known to Mr. Ruskin (in 1864 or 1865) through the circle of the Pre-Raphaelites; and, as the editor of the letters mildly puts it, "by his talents and assiduity" became the too-trusted friend and protégé of Mr. Ruskin, Mr. Gabriel Rossetti, and others of their acquaintance. It was he who proposed and carried out the exhumation, reluctantly consented to, of Rossetti's manuscript poems from his wife's grave, in October, 1869; for which curious service to literature let him have the thanks of posterity. But he was hardly the man to carry out Mr. Ruskin's secret charities, and long before he had lost Rossetti's confidence he had ceased to act as Mr. Ruskin's secretary. I should be glad enough to keep to the rule de mortuo nil nisi bonum if it were not more important to be just to the living than polite to the dead, and these letters in the "New Review" raise a point. Under the name of B a libellous allusion seems to be made to a young gentleman of considerable talent; though perhaps he had mistaken his vocation in studying art, and he had certainly shown a want of worldly wisdom in marrying contrary to the wishes of his family. Howell proposed to get him assistance from Mr. Ruskin, which, as Sam Weller said of Messrs. Dodson & Fogg, was "werry kind" of him. Mr. Ruskin, in September, 1866, was not only more than usually out of health, -on November 3d he writes to Howell, "You can't at all think what compli
cated and acute worry I've been living in the last two months. I'm getting a little less complex now, only steady headache instead of thorn fillet." But he was besieged with calls upon his purse; and wrote at last: "Tell B― it's absolutely of Bno use his trying to see me (I don't even see my best friends at present, as you know), and nothing is of the least influence with me but plain facts plainly told and right conduct." To which the editor adds: "How many impostors who may read this last letter will smile at the declaration which concludes it? For Mr. Ruskin's judgment has notoriously been victimized many a time and oft at the expense of his heart—and pocket." " Quite true; but it should be more explicitly stated that the impostor in this case was not Mr. B―, who was, equally with Mr. Ruskin and many other men of note, the victim of the "talents and assiduity" of the private secretary.
Pleasanter revelations are the anecdotes about the canary which was anonymously bought at the Crystal Palace Bird Show (February, 1866) for the owner's benefit—and bestowed by Mr. Howell on his cousin; about the shopboy whom Mr. Ruskin was going to train as an artist; and about the kindly proposal to employ the aged and impoverished Cruikshank upon a new book of fairy tales, and the struggle between admiration for the man and admission of his loss of power, ending in the free gift of the hundred pounds promised.
In April, 1866, after writing the Preface to "The Crown of Wild Olive," and preparing the book for publication, Mr. Ruskin was carried off to the Continent for a holiday with Sir Walter and Lady Trevelyan, her niece Miss Constance Hilliard (Mrs. Churchill), and Miss Agnew (Mrs. Severn), for a thorough rest and change after three years of unintermitting work in England. They intended to spend a couple of months in Italy. On the day of starting, Mr. Ruskin called at Cheyne Walk with the usual bouquet for Mrs. Carlyle, to learn that she had just met with her death, in trying to save her little dog, the gift of Lady Trevelyan. He rejoined his friends, and they crossed the Channel gayly, in spite of what they thought was a little cloud over him. At Paris they read the news. "Yes," he said, “I knew. But there was no reason why I should spoil your pleasure by telling you."
After the proper interval he wrote to Carlyle. The letter of condolence brought the following reply, addressed "Poste Restante, Milan: "—
CHELSEA, LONDON, 10 May, 1866.
DEAR RUSKIN, Yr kind words from Dijon were welcome to me thanks. I did not doubt yr sympathy in what has come; but it is better that I see it laid before me. y'self very unhappy, as I too well discern; heavy-laden, obstructed and dispirited; but you have a great work still ahead; and will gradually have to gird yrself up agst the heat of the day, whh is coming on for you, as the night too is coming. Think valiantly of these things.
After giving way to his grief,-"my life all laid in ruins, and the one light of it as if gone out," - he continues: "Come and see me when you get home; come oftener and see me, and · speak more frankly to me (for I am very true to y' highest interests and you) while I still remain here. You can do nothing for me in Italy; except come home improved," in health and spirits; and so on.
But before this letter reached Mr. Ruskin, he too had been in the presence of death, and had lost one of his most valued friends. Their journey to Italy had been stopped by the illness of Lady Trevelyan at Neuchatel. In a few days it was all over; and Mr. Ruskin, much more sensitive to such a loss than he permits himself to own, or wishes others to suspect, take this for the statement of one who has watched him in bereavement, -"lifted up his eyes to the hills," as he always did for help in trouble; and tried to fix his mind, as a relief and a resource, upon his old puzzle of Alpine geology. Howell was not the man for him to open his heart to in such an event. In a week he could write, with the stoicism he affects when he least feels it: "I've had a rather bad time of it at Neuchatel, what with death and the north wind; both devil's inventions as far as I can make out. But things are looking a little better now, and I had a lovely three hours' walk by the lake shore, in cloudless calm, from five to eight this morning, under hawthorn and chestnut, —
here just in full blossom, and among other pleasantnesses too good for mortals, as the north wind and the rest of it are too bad. We don't deserve either such blessing or cursing, it seems to poor moth me."
From Thun he went to Interlaken and the Giessbach, with his remaining friends; and he occupied himself closely in tracing Studer's sections across the great lake-furrow of central Switzerland, — “ something craggy for his mind to break upon," as Byron said when he was in trouble. At the Giessbach there was not only geology and divine scenery, enjoyable in lovely weather, but an interesting figure in the foreground, the widowed daughter of the hotel landlord, beautiful and consumptive, but brave as a Swiss girl should be. They all seem to have fallen in love with her, so to speak, the young English girls as much as the impressionable art critic; and the new human interest in her Alpine tragedy relieved, as such interests do, the painfulness of the circumstances through which they had been passing. Her sister Marie was like an Allegra to this Penserosa; bright and brilliant in native genius. She played piano-duets with the young ladies; taught Alpine botany to the savants, for Sir Walter, too, was a man of science; guided them to the secret dells and unknown points of view; and with a sympathy unexpected in a stranger, beguiled them out of their grief, and won their admiration and gratitude. Marie of the Giessbach was often referred