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DEUCALION AND PROSERPINA.
"Quam pæne furvæ regna Proserpinæ
HORACE, Odes, II. 13.
THROUGHOUT Mr. Ruskin's life, but never more than in this period, we have had to trace different interests and lines of work, running at cross purposes, like the “cleavage planes" he has described in the Alps.
To render the mere quantity of detail by which alone, as he says, the size of a subject can be suggested, and yet to keep the breadth of effect, and choose the leading lines that will give the whole truth in its proper relations and perspective, would need a Turner in literary art. But as the strict order of events is appended in the Chronology, we need not mind looking back, now and then, to retrace lines of work which have been perforce omitted.
In the summer of 1875, while his two pupils were harbor-digging and Xenophon-translating at Brantwood, Mr. Ruskin wrote:
“I begin to ask myself, with somewhat pressing arithmetic, how much time is likely to be left me, at the age of fifty-six, to complete the various designs for which, until past fifty, I was merely collecting material. Of these materials I have now enough by me for a most interesting (in my own opinion) history of fifteenth-century Florentine art, in six octavo volumes; an analysis of the Attic art of the fifth century B. C., in three volumes; an exhaustive history of northern thirteenth-century art, in ten volumes; a life of Sir Walter Scott, with analysis of modern epic art, in seven volumes; a life of Xenophon, with analysis of the general principles of education, in ten vol. umes; a commentary on Hesiod, with final analy. sis of the principles of political economy, in nine volumes; and a general description of the geology and botany of the Alps, in twenty-four volumes." The estimate of volumes was perhaps
- in jest; but the plans for harvesting his material were in earnest.
“ Proserpina - so named from the Flora of the Greeks, the daughter of Demeter, Mother Earth
had been already begun in 1874. It was little like an ordinary botany book, that was to be expected. It did
It did not dissect plants; it did not give chemical or histological analysis; but with bright and curious fancy, with the most ingenious diagrams and perfect drawings, beautifully engraved by Burgess and Allen, illustrated the mystery of growth in plants and the tender beauty of their form. Though this was not science, strictly so called, it was a field of work which no
one but Mr. Ruskin has cultivated. He was helped by a few scientific men like Professor Oliver, who saw a value in his line of thought, and showed a kindly interest in it.
“Deucalion ” — from the mythical creator of human life out of stones -- was begun as a companion work; to be published in parts, as the repertory of Oxford lectures on Alpine form, and notes on all kinds of kindred subjects. For instance, before that hasty journey to Sheffield he gave a lecture at the London Institution on “Precious Stones” (February 17th, repeated March 28, 1876. A lecture on a similar subject was given to the boys of Christ's Hospital on April 15th.) For this lecture, as usual, he sought help from his pupils, and sent a pressing note by the college-messenger one morning to ask one of his younger friends to run to various professors and make inquiries about various details: “What else are the professors there for ? ” he would say; and he would be greatly impressed if we could answer his questions without appeal to the higher powers. The day after the first lecture he wrote:
“ Those French derivations are like them. No authorities on heraldry are of the slightest value after the fifteenth century -- even Guillim is only good for something in the first edition, the rest nowhere. My pearl is all right, - I got it from the book of St. Albans, 1480, — but my shield is not absolutely in the old terms. I invent 'colombin,' for the old ‘plumby,' and use 'écarlate' for
'tenné'— mine is to be the norma for St. George's heraldry, not a merely historical summary. I hope to be back on Saturday evening. The lecture went well and pleased my audience — and pleased myself better than usual in that I really got everything said that I intended, of importance.”
This lecture, called “ The Iris of the Earth," stood first in Part III. of “Deucalion ; ” and the work went on, in studies of the forms of silica, on the lines marked out ten years before in the papers on banded and brecciated concretions, ried forward with much kind help from the Rev. J. Clifton Ward, of the Geological Survey, and Mr. Henry Willett, F. G. S., of Brighton.
On the way home over the Simplon in May and June, 1877, traveling first with Signor Alessandri, and then with Mr. G. Allen, Professor Ruskin continued his studies of Alpine flowers for “ Proserpina.” In the autumn he gave a lecture at Kendal (October ist, repeated at Eton College, December 8th) on “Yewdale and its Streamlets.'
This lecture, reprinted as Part V. of “Deucalion,” took an unusual importance in his own mind, not only because it was a great success as a lecture, — though I have heard a Kendalian complain that there was not enough “information in it, — but because it was the first given since that Christmas at Venice, when a new insight had been granted him, as he felt, into spiritual things, and a new burden laid on him, to withstand the rash conclusions of “science falsely so called,"
and to preach in their place the presence of God in nature and in man.
Writing to Miss Beever about his Oxford course of that autumn, “ Readings in Modern Painters," he said, on the 2d December: "I gave yesterday the twelfth and last of my course of lectures this term, to a room crowded by six hundred
people, two-thirds members of the university, and with its door wedged open by those who could not get in; this interest of theirs being granted to me, I doubt not, because for the first time in Oxford I have been able to speak to them boldly of immortal life. I intended when I began the course only to have read “Modern Painters' to them; but when I began, some of your favorite bits ? interested the men so much, and brought so much larger a proportion of undergraduates than usual, that I took pains to re-inforce and press them home; and people say I have never given so useful a course yet. But it has taken all my time and strength.”
He wrote again, on December 16th, from Herne Hill: “ It is a long while since I've felt so goodfor-nothing as I do this morning. My very wrist- . bands curl up in a dog's-eared and disconsolate manner; my little room is all a heap of disorder. I've got a hoarseness and wheezing and sneezing and coughing and choking. I can't speak and I
1 These lectures were never prepared for publication.
? Miss Beever had published early in 1875 the extracts from Modern Painters so widely knowr as Frondes Agrestes.