Ruskin wrote the title as “lochleven”. See System of Title Citation for Works.
MS III (pp. 62–63), a Red Book devoted primarily to “Harry and Lucy,” Vol. 2. “Lochleven” is the second poem in “Poetry Discriptive”.
Facsimile and transcript by permission of Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.
1827, after June. For the journey with which this poem is probably connected, see Tours of 1826–27: Wales and Scotland, 1827; see also “Wales”: Date, “Harry and Lucy,” Vol. 2: Date, and Ruskin, Works, 2:262n.
Composition and Publication
Previously unpublished.
The poem refers to the ruins of Loch Leven Castle, which stand on one of the lakeʼs islands, opposite Kinross. The Ruskins regularly passed near Loch Leven, journeying north from Edinburgh to Perth, the home of Ruskinʼs Aunt Jesse Richardson and his Scottish cousins (as opposed to his English cousins by the same last name, Richardson, who lived in Croydon). Between Loch Leven and Perth, the family passed through Glenfarg.
This historic setting had recently been made famous by Walter Scottʼs novel, The Abbot (1820), which used the events surrounding the imprisonment of Mary, Queen of Scots, in Loch Leven Castle in 1567, and her forced abdication to her infant son, the future James VI, followed by the queenʼs dramatic escape from the castle in 1568. According to Scottʼs annotation for the magnum opus edition of the novel, Mary escaped in May 1568, aided by a young man, William Douglas, who was probably related to the lords of the castle. Douglas stole the keys and freed the queen and a waiting woman, escorting them “out of the tower itself, [and] embarked with them in a small skiff, and rowed them to the shore” (Scott, Works, Caledonian Edition, 20:325). In the novel, the role of Douglas is taken by the young page, Roland Graeme. A touristʼs guide book of the period pictures the historical scene more melodramatically: “under a load of misery which might have subdued a mind more masculine than herʼs [sic], Mary exerted the potent witchery of her charms upon the heart of young Douglas, who, intoxicated with a romantic passion and ambitious hopes, sacrificed his duty and family interests at the shrine of all‐powerful love” (The Scottish Tourist, and Itinerary, 126).
If Ruskinʼs poem reflects the familyʼs engagement with Scottʼs novel, the allusion predates Ruskinʼs versification of Scottʼs The Monastery (1820), the novel to which The Abbot forms a sequel (see “The Monastery”). John James Ruskin first recorded a purchase of The Abbot in 1829 (too early for the version of the novel for the magnum opus edition [Burd, ed., Ruskin Family Letters, 188 n. 4; Millgate, Scottʼs Last Edition, 24]), but this proves nothing about the familyʼs first reading of the story. Together, the novels rest on a historiography pointing favorably to the Union of Scotland and England under a Protestant king. Kindred British sentiment is perhaps expressed in Ruskinʼs poem, “The Defiance of War”.
For a Romantic view of the castle taken near the time of Ruskinʼs poem, see the engraving Loch Leven Castle by Joseph Swan after John Fleming for ([1839], 207 opp.), which shows, according to the letterpress by John Leighton (pp. 207–12), the great square keep, adjoined by the entrance to the courtyard and the ruins of the chapel. In the distance, the sun sets over the shore of the lake and the Ochil Hills, perhaps suggestive of Maryʼs escape.
Leighton also comments on the lakeʼs celebrated trout, which accounts for Ruskinʼs interest in fishing boats in his poem, an attraction almost as great as the legends about Queen Mary.