John Ruskin Papers

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The collection, comprising English MSS 1161-1166, 1193, 1245-1267 and 1304, contains over 2,000 items relating to John Ruskin (1819-1900), his work and his contemporaries, complementing the Library's printed Ruskin Collection. The collection sheds light on Ruskin himself and his works, his personal affairs and his domestic and financial problems. There is also a section comprising some 500 items relating to Ruskin's cousin and heir, Joan Severn (née Askew), her husband Arthur, and Arthur's father Joseph, which include detailed accounts of Ruskin's illnesses and death, with correspondence between the Severns and the eminent pathologist, (Sir) John Simon.

Ruskin's own letters fall into three categories: those written to friends and relations; those dealing primarily with the Guild of St George; and those concerned with the arts and with Ruskin's books. Major correspondents include William Henry Harrison (his first editor), Henry Jowett (printer and manager of Hazell, Watson & Viney of Aylesbury), Peter Bayne (author and editor of the Edinburgh Witness and the Weekly Review), the booksellers F.S. Ellis and David White, Ralph Nicholson Wornum (Keeper of the National Gallery), his cousin George Richardson, Mrs Fanny Talbot (Ruskin's close friend and patron of the Guild), his god-daughter (Emma) Constance Oldham, and Miss Blanche Atkinson of Liverpool. In addition to letters there are manuscript fragments, photographs, business papers, and papers of Ruskin relating to Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832).

The collection constitutes a key source for Ruskin scholarship, and for wider studies of the literary, artistic and political movements of the second half of the nineteenth centuty.

Administrative / Biographical History

John Ruskin was the most influential art critic of the Victorian age. His literary output was enormous and he had a remarkable influence on public opinion.

John Ruskin was born in 1819, the only child of John James Ruskin, a wealthy wine merchant and his wife, Margaret. Ruskin remained close to his parents for the rest of their lives. He was much influenced by his mother's strong protestant beliefs, and his father's literary interests. His parents encouraged Ruskin's love of drawing and took him on numerous Continental holidays, which awoke his passionate interest in the natural landscape. He was educated at home, before going to Christ Church, Oxford, where he did not find the curriculum to his taste.

In 1843 he published the first volume of Modern Painters (5 volumes, 1843-60), which began as a defence of the artist J.M.W. Turner, but grew into an exposition of Ruskin's principles of art. He later made an equally passionate defence of the Pre-Raphaelites, who had been initially dismissed by most established critics. Ruskin also had a great interest in medieval architecture. His European travels had introduced him to the architecture of France and northern Italy and, aware of the threat to it from neglect, unsympathetic restoration and modernisation, he set out to describe it to his readers in great detail and aesthetic sensitivity. He was a champion of the gothic style, which he expounded in The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849) and The Stones of Venice (1851-3), believing it to be the expression of man's wonder at God's creation.

Ruskin was a critic in the broadest sense of the term. He believed that art, morality and politics were all inter-connected, and his musings ranged effortlessly across these subjects. From the late 1850s, his writings took on a more political tone, as he attempted to combat the influence of conventional economics and industrial capitalism. His belief in the natural dignity of labour and an economic system based on use rather than profit was summed up in Unto this Last (1860) and Essays on Political Economy (1862-3). Ruskin's ideals were Christian and feudal rather than socialist; nevertheless he influenced many later socialists and he shared their concern to improve the conditions of the working classes. He addressed a number of his works to working people, such as Time and Tide (1867) and the serial, Fors Clavigera (1871-8). He also founded a political group, the Guild of St George, which attempted to put some of his ideas into practice by setting up utopian communities. Inheriting a considerable fortune from his father, Ruskin was a generous patron, who subsidised many worthy causes. Many, however, found Ruskin's political views increasingly eccentric, and his influence waned from the later 1870s.

Ruskin continued to influence public taste, following his appointment as first Slade Professor of Art at Oxford University in 1870. He threw himself into this work with characteristic intensity, establishing a school of drawing, donating a number of works of art to the University, and attracting great crowds to his lectures. Several volumes of the lectures were later published. Disagreements with senior University figures saw him resign the professorship twice in 1878 and following a brief return in 1885.

Ruskin's private life was unhappy. He married Euphemia Chalmers Gray in 1847, but she left him for the artist John Everett Millais, and they were divorced in 1854 on grounds of non-consummation. Ruskin formed a number of passionate friendships with young women after this, the most important of which was with Rose La Touche, to whom he proposed marriage in 1866 when she was eighteen. Her parents opposed the match, and she died, after succumbing to madness, in 1875. By the late 1870s Ruskin was also showing signs of a mental illness, which was to become progressively worse in the following decade. Although he published an uncompleted autobiography, Praeterita (1885-1889), his literary output diminished greatly after 1880. He lived increasingly as a recluse and invalid at his home, Brantwood on Coniston Water, cared for by his cousin and heir, Joan Severn and her husband, Arthur, together with his secretary, W.G. Collingwood. Ruskin died on 20 January 1900 and was buried in Coniston churchyard.

Ruskin was a remarkably successful critic, who influenced by the style as well as the substance of his writings. One of the best-selling writers of his age, Ruskin had few peers as a prose stylist. He was a compelling public speaker and an active man of affairs. His appreciation of art was heightened by his gifts as a draughtsman and artist (many of his works contained his own illustrations). A talented geologist, he had a remarkable talent for observation and description of natural phenomena.

Source: Robert Hewison, 'Ruskin, John (1819-1900)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press - http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/24291.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is available for consultation by any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

The collection is an artificial one, acquired by the John Rylands Library through donations and purchases from several sources. English MSS 1161-1166 were presented to the Library by the Mrs Eleanor Rawnsley (d. 1959) of Allan Bank, Grasmere, Westmorland, in March 1953. She was the widow of Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley (1851-1920), friend of Ruskin and co-founder of the National Trust.

Note

Description compiled by Jo Klett, project archivist, with reference to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article on John Ruskin.

Other Finding Aids

Catalogued in the Hand-List of the Collection of English Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library, 1952-1970 (English MS 1161-1166, 1193, 1245-1267, 1304).

Alternative Form Available

Published microfilm: John Ruskin, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and Arts and Crafts Movement: the Ruskin, Holman Hunt, Fairfax Murray, Spielmann and Related Collections from the John Rylands University Library, Manchester (Woodbridge: Research Publications, 1990).

Separated Material

Ruskin's papers have been widely dispersed. The following repositories have custody of his papers:

  • Cambridge University, Fitzwilliam Museum: letters to Edward and Georgina Burne-Jones, 1861-87;
  • Cumbria Record Office, Kendal: correspondence and papers, 1828-88 (ref.: WDSo/106); correspondence with H. Fletcher and H.D. Rawnsley, 1875-85;
  • Hull University, Brynmor Jones Library: 65 letters received, 1863-89 (ref. DP/7);
  • Lancaster University, Ruskin Library: correspondence, literary manuscripts and family papers, 1814-1900;
  • Oxford University, Bodleian Library, Department of Western Manuscripts: correspondence and literary papers (ref.: MSS Eng lett c 32-52; Eng misc c 269-70; 652-53); letters to Henry Acland and family, 1840-1900; letters to George Allen, 1872-88 (ref.: MS Eng lett d 4); letters to John and Rawdon Brown, 1846-82 (ref.: MS Eng lett d 1);
  • Ruskin Gallery Collection of the Guild of St George, Sheffield: papers relating to the Guild of St George;
  • Ruskin Museum, Coniston: miscellaneous papers (ref.: Con RM);
  • Strathclyde University Archives: miscellaneous manuscripts;
  • Boston Public Library: 327 letters;
  • Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library: letters to George Allen, 1859-89; letters and literary manuscripts;
  • Cornell University Libraries: letters to Alfred William Hunt and Margaret Raine Hunt, 1856-86;
  • Harvard University, Houghton Library: letters mainly to Charles Eliot Norton, 1854-88;
  • Huntington Library, San Marino, California: letters and literary manuscripts, 1839-88;
  • Library of Congress, Manuscript Division: literary papers;
  • New York Public Library, Manuscripts and Archives Division: literary papers;
  • Princeton University Library: letters and literary manuscripts;
  • Rosenbach Museum and Library, Philadelphia: literary papers;
  • University of Texas at Austin, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Centre Library: correspondence and literary manuscripts.

Related Material

The JRUL holds related material in the Fairfax Murray Papers, the Holman Hunt Papers, the Spielmann Collection and the John Ruskin Book Collection.

Bibliography

The following brief notices on the Ruskin papers have appeared in the Bulletin of the John Rylands Library: 'Letters of John Ruskin', vol. 36 (1953-4), pp. 3-14; 'Ruskin letters', vol. 41 (1958-9), pp. 271-3; 'Ruskin letters and papers', vol. 42 (1959-60), pp. 1-3 and 263-4.

The Ruskin papers have also been used extensively in the following articles by Margaret E. Spence in the Bulletin of the John Rylands Library: 'The Guild of St George: Ruskin's attempt to translate his ideas into practice', BJRL, vol. 40 (1957-8), pp. 147-201 (Eng MS 1164); 'Ruskin's friendship with Mrs Fanny Talbot', BJRL, vol. 42 (1959-60), pp. 453-80; 'Ruskin's correspondence with Miss Blanche Atkinson', BJRL, vol. 42 (1959-60), pp. 194-219; 'Ruskin's correspondence with his god-daughter Constance Oldham', BJRL, vol. 43 (1960-1), pp. 520-37. Dr Spence also supplied information for a note on the Ruskin correspondence and papers, BJRL, vol. 44 (1961-2), pp. 273-8.

See also Robin Skelton, 'John Ruskin, the final years: a survey of the Ruskin correspondence in the John Rylands Library', Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, vol. 37 (1954-5), pp. 562-86  (English MSS 1161-1166 only).

Corporate Names