Proofs of "The Nature of Gothic" by John Ruskin

Scope and Content

Proofs of part of the Kelmscott Press edition of Ruskin's The Nature of Gothic. The pages are from the section on 'naturalism' as a characteristic of the Gothic style and from the definition of the outward form of the style which defines the Gothic arch. The proofs have been annotated with corrections; according to a note on the flyleaf some of these annotations are by William Morris.

Administrative / Biographical History

In 1851 the first volume of art critic John Ruskin's The Stones of Venice was published, followed in 1853 by two more volumes. The work included a technical description of Venetian art and architecture and an analysis of the social and cultural conditions which had brought about the particular Venetian style. The work praised the Gothic and Byzantine forms, influencing Victorian architects who began to introduce these elements into their work. The Nature of Gothic was a chapter within the Stones which outlined the six key characteristics of the Gothic style: savageness, changefulness, naturalism, grotesqueness, rigidity and redundance. Having thus defined the "inner spirit" of Gothic Ruskin went on to define its outward forms through diagrams of arches and ornamentation. The chapter was most notable for the way Ruskin contrasted the Gothic craftsman to the labourers of his own time. He argued that social unrest was caused by industrialization and divided labour because the craftsman was reduced to the status of a machine. The chapter proved immensely influential and was published separately as an essay, once in 1854 and once in 1892 by the Kelmscott Press belonging to William Morris, who acknowledged the importance of the chapter in his introduction.

The volume includes the bookplate of Robert George Collier Proctor and an inscription that it was donated by his mother in his memory. Robert Proctor (1868-1903) worked at the British Museum as an assistant in the Printed Books Department. He published a ground-breaking catalogue of incunabula, An Index to the Early Printed Books in the British Museum, and his method of cataloguing is still used in major collections worldwide, known as the "Proctor Order". Proctor had met William Morris in 1894 and was a great admirer of his works and political views. He is known to have collected books and ephemera from the Kelmscott Press, explaining how he got these proofs. In 1903 Proctor went on a walking tour in the Austrian Alps. He set out to cross a glacier without a guide and never returned - his body was not found. He was 35 years old. Some of his friends considered that he had committed suicide in despair at his failing eyesight.

It seems that Robert's mother distributed some of his collection to various libraries, including sending this volume to the Leicester School of Art. Proctor is known to have met Ernest Gimson, an alumnus of the School, at meetings of the Society for Protection of Ancient Buildings; and it is possible that awareness of the School came from this quarter.

Access Information

Available for general access. External researchers are advised to contact the Archivist for an appointment.

Acquisition Information

The volume was donated to Leicester School of Art by Mrs Anne Proctor in 1904 in memory of William Morris and her son Robert Proctor.


Source of information: Dennis E. Rhodes, ‘Proctor, Robert George Collier (1868–1903)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; and Robert Hewison, ‘Ruskin, John (1819–1900)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2010.

Archivist's Note

Catalogued in April 2013 by Katharine Short, Archivist.


The main DMU Library holds copies of Ruskin's works, including copies of The Stones of Venice.