Inspire A Friend—With John Ruskin

Genius is only a superior power of seeing.

People Who Kick Buts: John Ruskin

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Genius is only a superior power of seeing.

  • Born on February 8, 1819; Passed away on January 20, 1900
  • The leading English art critic of the Victorian era, also an art patron, draughtsman, watercolourist, a prominent social thinker and philanthropist.
  • He wrote on subjects ranging from geology to architecture, myth to ornithology, literature to education, and botany to political economy. His writing styles and literary forms were equally varied. Ruskin penned essays and treatises, poetry and lectures, travel guides and manuals, letters and even a fairy tale.
  • He was hugely influential in the latter half of the 19th century up to the First World War. After a period of relative decline, his reputation has steadily improved since the 1960s with the publication of numerous academic studies of his work. Today, his ideas and concerns are widely recognised as having anticipated interest in environmentalism, sustainability and craft.
  • His father, John James Ruskin (1785–1864), was a sherry and wine importer, a founding partner and de facto business manager of Ruskin, Telford and Domecq (see Allied Domecq). His mother, Margaret Cox, née Cock (1781–1871), was the daughter of a publican in Croydon. The Ruskins were English, but John James was brought up in Edinburgh, Scotland, and Margaret joined the household when she became companion to John James Ruskin’s mother, Catherine (Margaret’s aunt).
  • Ruskin was born at 54 Hunter Street, Brunswick Square, London (demolished 1969), just south of modern-day St Pancras railway station.[4] His childhood was characterised by the contrasting influences of his father and mother, both fiercely ambitious for him. John James Ruskin helped to develop his son’s Romanticism. They shared a passion for the works of Byron, Shakespeare and especially Walter Scott. They visited Scott’s home, Abbotsford in 1838, but Ruskin was disappointed by its appearance.[5] Margaret Ruskin, an Evangelical Christian, more cautious and restrained than her husband, taught young John to read the King James Bible from beginning to end, and then to start all over again, committing large portions to memory. Its language, imagery and stories had a profound and lasting effect on his writing.
  • He was educated at home by his parents and private tutors, and from 1834–35 he attended the school in Peckham run by the progressive Evangelical, Thomas Dale (1797–1870). Ruskin also heard Dale lecture in 1836 at King’s College London, where he was the first professor of English Literature.
  • In Michaelmas 1836, Ruskin matriculated at the University of Oxford, taking up residence at Christ Church in January of the following year. Enrolled as a “gentleman-commoner”, he enjoyed equal status with his aristocratic peers.
  • Ruskin’s sexuality has led to much speculation and critical comment. His one marriage, to Effie Gray, was annulled after six years because of non-consummation. Effie, in a letter to her parents, claimed that he found her “person” (i.e. her body) repugnant. “He alleged various reasons, hatred to children, religious motives, a desire to preserve my beauty, and finally this last year he told me his true reason… that he had imagined women were quite different to what he saw I was, and that the reason he did not make me his Wife was because he was disgusted with my person the first evening 10th April [1848].” Ruskin confirmed this in his statement to his lawyer during the annulment proceedings. “It may be thought strange that I could abstain from a woman who to most people was so attractive. But though her face was beautiful, her person was not formed to excite passion. On the contrary, there were certain circumstances in her person which completely checked it.”
  • Ruskin’s later relationship with Rose la Touche has led to claims that he was a paedophile, on the grounds that he stated that he fell in love with her when he met her at the age of nine. In fact he did not approach her as a suitor until on or near her eighteenth birthday. She asked him to wait for until she was 21. Receiving no answer, he repeated his proposal. Ruskin is not known to have had any sexually intimate relationships.

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