The exaltation, the sin, and the punishment of Tyre have been recorded for us, in perhaps the most touching words ever uttered by the Prophets of Israel against the cities of the stranger. But we read them as a lovely song; and close our ears to the sternness of their warning: for the very depth of the Fall of Tyre has blinded us to its reality, and we forget, as we watch the bleaching of the rocks between the sunshine and the sea, that they were once "as in Eden, the garden of God."
Her successor, like her in perfection of beauty, though less in endurance of dominion, is still left for our beholding in the final period of her decline: a ghost upon the sands of the sea, so weak—so quiet,—so bereft of all but her loveliness, that we might well doubt, as we watched her faint reflection in the mirage of the lagoon, which was the City, and which the Shadow.
While still in college, what seemed a chance incident gave occasion and direction to this mission. A certain English reviewer had ridiculed the work of the artist Turner. Now Ruskin held Turner to be the greatest landscape painter the world had seen, and he immediately wrote a notable article in his defense. Slowly this article grew into a pamphlet, and the pamphlet into a book, the first volume of "Modern Painters." The young man awoke to find himself famous. In the next few years four more volumes were added to "Modern Painters," and the other notable series upon art, "The Stones of Venice" and "The Seven Lamps of Architecture," were sent forth.
Then, in 1860, when Ruskin was about forty years old, there came a great change. His heaven-born genius for making the appreciation of beauty a common possession was deflected from its true field. He had been asking himself what are the conditions that produce great art, and the answer he found declared that art cannot be separated from life, nor life from industry and industrial conditions. A civilization founded upon unrestricted competition therefore seemed to him necessarily feeble in appreciation of the beautiful, and unequal to its creation. In this way loyalty to his mission bred apparent disloyalty. Delightful discourses upon art gave way to fervid pleas for humanity. For the rest of his life he became a very earnest, if not always very wise, social reformer and a passionate pleader for what he believed to be true economic ideals.
There is nothing of all this in "The King of the Golden River." Unlike his other works, it was written merely to entertain. Scarcely that, since it was not written for publication at all, but to meet a challenge set him by a young girl.
The circumstance is interesting. After taking his degree at Oxford, Ruskin was threatened with consumption and hurried away from the chill and damp of England to the south of Europe. After two years of fruitful travel and study he came back improved in health but not strong, and often depressed in spirit. It was at this time that the Guys, Scotch friends of his father and mother, came for a visit to his home near London, and with them their little daughter Euphemia. The coming of this beautiful, vivacious, light-hearted child opened a new chapter in Ruskin's life. Though but twelve years old, she sought to enliven the melancholy student, absorbed in art and geology, and bade him leave these and write for her a fairy tale. He accepted, and after but two sittings, presented her with this charming story. The incident proved to have awakened in him a greater interest than at first appeared, for a few years later "Effie" Grey became John Ruskin's wife. Meantime she had given the manuscript to a friend. Nine years after it was written, this friend, with John Ruskin's permission, gave the story to the world.
It was published in London in 1851, with illustrations by the celebrated Richard Doyle, and at once became a favorite. Three editions were printed the first year, and soon it had found its way into German, Italian, and Welsh. Since then countless children have had cause to be grateful for the young girl's challenge that won the story of Gluck's golden mug and the highly satisfactory handling of the Black Brothers by Southwest Wind, Esquire.
For this edition new drawings have been prepared by Mr. Hiram P. Barnes. They very successfully preserve the spirit of Doyle's illustrations, which unfortunately are not technically suitable for reproduction here.
In the original manuscript there was an epilogue bearing the heading "Charitie"—a morning hymn of Treasure Valley, whither Gluck had returned to dwell, and where the inheritance lost by cruelty was regained by love:
The beams of morning are renewed The valley laughs their light to see And earth is bright with gratitude And heaven with charitie.
As a memoir elevated to the level of fine art, John Ruskin’s Praeterita stands alongside The Education of Henry Adams and the confessions of Augustine, Rousseau, and Tolstoy. A luminous account of his childhood and youth, Praeterita is the last major work of the revolutionary nineteenth-century critic.
Written in the lucid intervals between the bouts of dementia that haunted his final years, Praeterita tells the story of Ruskin’s early life—the formation of his taste and intellect through education, travels in Europe, and encounters with great works of art and artists. In abandoning the traditional linear mode of autobiography, Ruskin opened up the form and was an important influence on Proust. He also provided a vivid, detailed portrait of pre-Victorian and Victorian England that is as indispensable an account of its era as Samuel Pepys’s diary is of England in the seventeenth century.
This edition of Praeterita is accompanied by Dilecta, Ruskin’s own selection from his letters, diaries, and other writings. In these more private writings we get a fascinating glimpse of genius as it flickers in and out of madness. Together these two works illuminate the life and mind of a towering intellect who left an extraordinary mark on the history of aesthetics and culture, and on the very course of autobiography. With a new Introduction by Tim Hilton