“On Skiddaw and Derwent Water”

“On Skiddaw and Derwent Water”.
A draft in the handmade pamphlet, MS II, is entitled “description of skiddaw & lake derwent”. In another handmade manuscript, “Battle of Waterloo, A Play, in Two Acts, with Other Small Poems, Dedicated to His Father” (now found tipped into MS V), a fair copy is entitled “On Skiddaw and Derwent Water” (see Manuscripts).
In the first published versions, in the periodical, Spiritual Times, the original MS II draft poem was split into two separate poems, each with a separate title, “Lines Written at the Lakes in Cumberland. | Derwentwater and “On Skiddaw and Derwent‐Water.”
Six decades later, unaware of these Spiritual Times publications, and working from the MS II draft version, W. G. Collingwood likewise split the poem into two, each with a separate title—respectively, “Skiddaw” and “Derwentwater”. In terms of content, Collingwoodʼs two parts do not correspond with those published in the Spiritual Times, as the latterʼs “Lines Written at the Lakes in Cumberland” consists solely of the conclusion of the original MS II draft–lines that, in Collingwoodʼs texts, form part of “Derwentwater”.
Topographical poem.
W. G. Collingwood does not mention the the handmade booklet, “Battle of Waterloo, A Play, in Two Acts, with Other Small Poems, Dedicated to His Father” in his “Preliminary Note on the Original MSS. of the Poems” appended to Poems (1891), which explains why he did not use this fair copy as his copytext. At some point between 1891 and 1903, the pamphlet was discovered, since by 1903 its leaves were separated and tipped into blank pages remaining in MS V—a bound stationerʼs notebook with which the pamphlet has nothing to do, except that the contents of both items are miscellanies (as Ruskin declares in his title for the anthology contained in MS V, “Miscellaneous Poetry”).
Facsimile and transcript by permission of Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.
Composed between February and May 1829. The poem is misdated as belonging to the first half of 1828 along with the entirety of MS II, an error committed by W. G. Collingwood in Poems (1891) and perpetuated by the editors of the Library Edition (Poems [4o, 1891], 1:11–14, 262, and Poems [8o, 1891], 1:11–14, 263; Ruskin, Works, 2:536).
In his 10 May 1829 letter presenting the poem for his fatherʼs birthday, Ruskin says: “I think I began it about three months ago” (Ruskin Family Letters, 200)—that is, counting backwards from this letter, mid‐February. This estimate corresponds convincingly to the draft poemʼs physical position in MS II, in which the draft wraps around a fragment of a salutation to a letter, closely resembling the beginning of a 13 February 1829 fair‐copy letter in Burd, ed., Ruskin Family Letters, 174. The draft is also sandwiched among sermon notes, “A Theme”, and Sermon Notes [“christs intercession”], which may be identified with Ruskinʼs excited attention to the preaching of the clergyman, the Reverend Edward Andrews (1787–1841). In mid‐January, Ruskin remarked how he and his cousin, Mary Richardson (1815–49), were star‐struck by Andrewsʼs charisma, and in March Ruskin started being tutored by Andrews in classical languages (Burd, ed., Ruskin Family Letters, 173, 200).
By the day of his fatherʼs 10 May 1829 birthday celebration, Ruskin must have fair‐copied the poem, either as a presentation copy, now untraced, that probably accompanied the birthday ode, “May”, or as the fair‐copy surviving with other poems in “Battle of Waterloo, A Play, in Two Acts, with Other Small Poems, Dedicated to His Father”, (see Composition and Publication: Composition; and MS II: Date; see also Hanson, “Psychology of Fragmentation”, 242–47, 254; and Burd, “Introduction”, Burd and Dearden, eds., Tour to the Lakes in Cumberland, 20 n. 20).
Some revision of the poem for publication must have taken place between 10 May and August 1829, when “Lines Written at the Lakes in Cumberland. | Derwentwater was published. Further revision on the remaining unpublished portion of the poem could have taken place up until February 1830, when “On Skiddaw and Derwent‐Water” was published (see Composition and Publication: Revision and Publication).
Composition and Publication
The draft in MS II, “description of skiddaw & lake derwent”, was likely “that blank verse upon Lake Derwent” that Ruskin admitted he had “demurred at bringing” earlier to his father, as he recalled in the 10 May 1829 birthday letter (not a posted letter, by any external evidence, but a cover letter inscribed on the outside, in Ruskinʼs hand, as “Birthday Odes | To my dear Papa”). On that earlier occasion, Ruskin had temporized because the poem “was designed for your birthday and I did not wish you to see it beforehand”. He goes on to explain that there was even “a line [in the draft] saying something about this happy day and I was afraid you would ask me what happy day and then the whole secret would gradually have been hauled out of my unwilling mouth” (Burd, ed., Ruskin Family Letters, 199). The evasive maneuveur that Ruskin was recalling may have occurred about April 1829, when a gap in the surviving family letters possibly indicates that John James was at home and not traveling for wine orders.
Such a line about a “happy day” is indeed contained in the MS II draft, “description of skiddaw & lake derwent”, at the end of the first strophe, which describes Skiddaw (“but no more . . . / on this sad subject on this happy day” [line 36]). The line recurs in the fair‐copy version, “On Skiddaw and Derwent Water”, which is found in “Battle of Waterloo, A Play, in Two Acts, with Other Small Poems, Dedicated to His Father”. On the occasion prior to John Jamesʼs birthday, to which Ruskin refers, he apparently copied or recited a version that is not represented by extant copies, since Ruskin writes that he “found a way of evading this line as I found that when it was missed the poem sounded quite well without it” (Ruskin Family Letters, 200).
As Van Akin Burd remarks, “the poem ‘Derwentwater’, which was apparently sent to [John James] as an enclosure with [Ruskinʼs 10 May 1829] letter is no longer with it” (Ruskin Family Letters, 200 n. 2). However, since Ruskin inscribed the letter as “Birthday Odes”—using the plural—the presentation copy may not have been devoted solely to the topographical poem. Rather, the enclosure may have been the handmade booklet, “Battle of Waterloo, A Play, in Two Acts, with Other Small Poems, Dedicated to His Father”, which contains the only surviving fair copy in Ruskinʼs hand. The description of the enclosure in Ruskinʼs letter matches this booklet more convincingly if one omits Burdʼs bracketed editorial insertion: “On Newyearsday I prepared a small poem for you”, and therefore “on your birthday it becomes me to have a much larger [one] for you” (Burd, ed., Ruskin Family Letters, 199). That is, by a “larger”, Ruskin may have meant, not just a single larger poem, but a larger project—the handmade booklet, which he dated 1829 on its cover, and which contains along with “On Skiddaw and Derwent Water” several other poems and a play. The pamphlet also precisely meets the inscription on the letter, “Birthday Odes”, since it includes a fair copy of another 1829 birthday poem, “May”. As a final scrap of evidence tying the pamphlet to the presentation letter, the rough draft, “description of skiddaw & lake derwent”, wraps around a fragment of text that may represent a brief idea for the play. Despite all this, one cannot entirely discount the possibility that Ruskinʼs 10 May 1829 letter once accompanied a fair‐copy version, presently unknown, which contained the topographical poem, perhaps paired with the second birthday ode, “May”.
The poem is composed in blank verse, except for the final ten lines, given the heading “conclusion” in the rough draft, which are formed from rhymed octosyllabic couplets. Structurally, the rough draft works by strophes being added one to the next, using explicit transitions, such as “Ive treated of the clouds. now skiddaw come” and “Now derwent water come”. Writing the the poem in stages, Ruskin changed from pencil to pen, and from one color of ink to another. Twice, he interrupted composition of the poem with other texts. Given this structure of built‐up units over time, Ruskin perceived the draft as easily expandable, yet also as contractible—as suggested by a deleted ninth line, seemingly a relic of a premature ending, “Now hear my boyish moral.” Yet the poemʼs title indicates that, from the start, Ruskin projected a complex poem. There is no evidence that he arrived seriatim at his compound subject of mountain and lake; rather, since the title shows no cramping on the page, as if “& lake derwent” had been added as an afterthought, he appears to have conceptualized the “description” of mountain and of lake as “reechoed” and “reflected” in one another, as the final lines state the relation. Overall, the poem represents a sustained and ambitious effort.
Revision and First Publication
In 1829–30, Ruskinʼs original poem was revised and split into two poems for publication in the Spiritual Times: A Monthly Magazine. Thus, Ruskinʼs first poem to appear in print, and his first publication of any kind, was “Lines Written at the Lakes in Cumberland. | Derwentwater, which was signed “R—”, and which appeared in the 1 August 1829 (vol. 1, no. 4) issue. Ruskinʼs second publication was “On Skiddaw and Derwent‐Water”, which likewise was signed “R.”, and which appeared in the February 1830 (vol. 1, no. 10) issue. The responsibility and authority for the splitting and revision of the poem are unknown. As the editors of the Library Edition speculate, the revision presumably was guided either by the magazineʼs editor, the Reverend Edward Andrews (1787–1841), or by Ruskinʼs father, John James Ruskin, or by both of them. Subsequent scholars have weighted the responsibility on the fatherʼs side (see, e.g., Maidment, “‘Only Print’”, 196), but in fact no evidence survives to document the process of revision.
Whoever was responsible, the “Lines Written at the Lakes in Cumberland” was formed by isolating the final strophe of the original poem, which in the MS II draft was designated by Ruskin as the “conclusion” (beginning “sweet derwent on thy winding shore”), and which is distinct from main body of the poem for its rhymed couplets. (In the fair copy, contained in “Battle of Waterloo, A Play, in Two Acts, with Other Small Poems, Dedicated to His Father”, this concluding section is not subtitled, but it is marked by a horizontal bar above its first line.) The choice of these ten concluding lines as the first, separate publication can be explained by the revised dating of the poem. The Ruskins engaged Andrews to tutor Ruskin starting in April 1829, only about five months prior to the August publication of “Lines” (Burd, ed., Ruskin Family Letters, 200); and presumably Andrews would not have seen Ruskinʼs original poem prior to its presentation to John James on his 10 May birthday. Thus, only a few months elapsed between when Andrews likely first read the poem and when he would have needed to oversee its revision and printing. There was not enough time for revision of Ruskinʼs entire original poem for the August publication date, although Andrews apparently was so struck by the work that he decided to hurry the brief “Lines” into the soonest available issue—or was persuaded to do so by John James.
There was time enough, however, for several minor revisions and one major development of the text as found in both the MS II draft and the fair copy presented in the “Battle of Waterloo” pamphlet. The major change lies in the elaborated conclusion of the “Lines”, which transfers the reflection of lightning over Mount Helvellyn from the outer surface of a “mountain rill” to an internalized play “oeʼr the Poetʼs eye” and warming of his “heart”. Yet despite this added Romantic, picturesque turn, an additional moralizing couplet, which has no basis at all in the original, deprives the Poet of solace in nature: “Though such thy glories Earth, thy proudest whole, / Can never satiate the grasping soul!”
The addition of such pieties was appropriate to the venue of Andrewsʼs journal (see Discussion). The process of revision that arrived at these pious sentiments may not have been easy, however, as reflected in a debate over the respective claims of worldly beauty and religious austerity, which appears carried out in fragments that, in MS II, occur amid draft of “Eudosia”—the fragments, namely, “These worldly things are fair and beauteous too”, and “We say that this world is unhappy”. The debate—if debate it is, and not two statements in a related apologia for this‐worldly beauty—seems to culminate in MS II with another fragment, “If such the beauties of an earthly shore”, which is an almost illegible, scrawled draft that may directly represent Ruskinʼs attempts at composing the new concluding couplet for “Lines”—or for the conclusion of the first strophe of the published “On Skiddaw and Derwent‐Water”, which similarly acquired an ending that “scorns the dust” of the “general grave”. If these fragments represent that revision process, they must date from between 10 May 1829, when Ruskin wrote his letter presenting a fair copy of the poem to his father, and either August 1829, when “Lines” was published, or February 1830, when the revised main body of the poem was published (thus placing compostion and revision a full year or more after 1828, when Collingwood believed that Ruskin composed the poem; see Hanson, “Psychology of Fragmentation”, 254–55).
Subsequent Editing and Publication
John James Ruskin and W. H. Harrison did not include the poem—either in the manuscript version or in the split and revised versions as published in Spiritual Times—in the privately printed Poems by J.R. (1850). The likely reason for this omission is indicated by the List of Ruskinʼs Published Poems, 1830–46, which John James compiled sometime in the 1840s—probably during or after 1846—using blank pages remaining in MS IV, one of Ruskinʼs boyhood Red Books. The list begins with the entry, “on Skiddaw & Derwent Water | page 72 Spiritual Times | Feby 1830 age 11 years”, but omits mention of the “Lines Written at the Lakes in Cumberland. | Derwentwater, published in the earlier, August 1829 issue of the magazine. Moreover, John Jamesʼs first item in the list is scored through in pencil, perhaps an indication that someone—not necessarily John James—spotted the inaccuracy of awarding priority to the February 1830 poem, or perhaps a reflection of John Jamesʼs decision to exclude his sonʼs first poetry publication (that is, what he then believed to be the first, “On Skiddaw and Derwent‐Water”) from the 1850 collection. While it seems surprising that the admiring father could have forgotten even the slightest detail about Ruskinʼs first appearance in print, the story of how John James developed the project for collecting and printing the Poems (1850) reveals that he experienced increasing difficulty over time keeping track of his sonʼs verse publications, which were scattered throughout many issues of magazines and annuals, and that he felt strongly about preserving only the “best” of those publications—and the “best” seems by definition to have precluded early, much less first, publications. The book collectorʼ fascination with what were called “firsts” or “early editions” became a phenomenon only at the end of the century (see Collecting of Modern Authors in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries).
Thus, the next subsequent publication after 1829–30 was left to W. G. Collingwood in Poems (1891). Collingwood was aware that some version of the poem had been printed in the Spiritual Times, for when describing MS IV in his “Preliminary Note on the Original MSS. of the Poems”, he singled out for quotation John James Ruskinʼs listing of “on Skiddaw & Derwent Water / page 72 Spiritual Times / Feby 1830 age 11 years” from the List of Published Poems, 1830–46, that John James inserted in the notebook. However, Collingwood mistranscribed the date in John Jamesʼs entry as “Feby. 1831” rather than as “1830” (Poems [4o, 1891], 1:262; Poems [8o, 1891], 1:264). Whether this error or another cause led him off the trail, Collingwood ignored John Jamesʼs record of the publication. (The scarce periodical may have been unavailable to Collingwood even at Brantwood. In The Library of John Ruskin, James S. Dearden lists no copies of either the August 1829 or the February 1830 issues of the Spiritual Times; see also Dearden, “The Ruskin Galleries at Bembridge School”, 334. While the family surely owned copies at one time, the issues may have gone missing by Collingwoodʼs time, and perhaps the August 1829 issue was missing even by the 1840s, when John James compiled his faulty list in MS IV; see below, The Rediscovery of Ruskinʼs First Publication.) Thus, lacking copytext from a published source, Collingwood appears to have ignored or forgotten John Jamesʼs entry in List of Published Poems, 1830–46; instead, he always insisted on honoring a later publication as Ruskinʼs first.
Meanwhile, Collingwood edited the poem using for copytext the MS II draft version, “description of skiddaw & lake derwent” (Poems [4o, 1891], and Poems [8o, 1891], 1:11–14). Apparently, by 1891, Collingwood had not seen the booklet, “Battle of Waterloo, A Play, in Two Acts, with Other Small Poems, Dedicated to His Father”, which contains the fair copy; otherwise, he surely would not have troubled to “decipher” his copytext from the “childish and almost illegible scribble” in MS II (Poems [4o, 1891], 1:269; Poems [8o, 1891], 1:270). By 1893, however, he had made up for this oversight, describing both the poem and the “Waterloo” booklet in Life and Work of John Ruskin, 1:37–38.
It is a coincidence that Collingwood decided, like the Reverend Andrews, to divide Ruskinʼs original poem into two, separately titled parts, although he did not divide the poem the same way. Collingwood probably got the idea to divide the poem from an accidental feature of the MS II draft: the section that he separated out and entitled “Skiddaw” happens to precede the prose fragment, Sermon Notes [“christs intercession“], which interrupts the sequential composition of the poem; and the section that Collingwood entitled “Derwentwater” follows the prose fragment, with the resumption of composition declared by a short form of the poemʼs title, “skiddaw derwent water.” In this segmenting of the draft, there is no indication that Ruskin intended separate poems, although the interruption the prose fragment does occur at a clear point of transition, signaled by the line, “Now derwent water come a looking glass”.
With the recovery of “Battle of Waterloo, A Play, in Two Acts, with Other Small Poems, Dedicated to His Father”, which was apparently unavailable to Collingwood when editing Poems (1891), the editors of the Library Edition were able to publish Ruskinʼs fair‐copy version, “On Skiddaw and Derwent Water”. As copytext for the main reading version of the poem, however, the editors, Cook and Wedderburn, adopted the February 1830 Spiritual Times version, “On Skiddaw and Derwent‐Water”, presumably having followed up on the evidence that Collingwood provided and yet himself neglected from John James Ruskinʼs List of Published Poems, 1830–46. The editors did not print “Lines Written at the Lakes in Cumberland” from the Spiritual Times, showing like John James no awareness of the existence of that earlier publication. The editors also printed the complete text of the fair‐copy version from the “Waterloo” booklet, but they dropped this text into a note; moreover, they annotated this text of the fair‐copy version with a comparison to Collingwoodʼs versions, “Skiddaw” and “Derwentwater”. The editors remark that Collingwood based his versions on “the somewhat illegible draft” in MS II, but, when noting variants, the editors fail to make clear to the reader that the variants included some of the numerous omissions and editorial interventions introduced by Collingwood and not necessarily true variants between the draft and fair‐copy texts (see Ruskin, Works, 2:265–68).
Thus, while Cook and Wedderburn brought the publishing history of “On Skiddaw and Derwent Water” partially into view for the first time since 1830, they added confusion to the compositional history, even as they presented new materials for that history. In addition to their conflation of the texts of Collingwoodʼs versions and of the MS II version, as if they were discussing the same text, Cook and Wedderburn introduced numerous silent editorial changes of their own into their texts of the Spiritual Times version, “On Skiddaw and Derwent‐Water”, and of the “Waterloo” booklet version, “On Skiddaw and Derwent Water”.
As a final contribution to these representations of textual history, E. T. Cook saw fit to cobble together yet another version, using copytext from both the February 1830 Spiritual Times version, and Collingwoodʼs editing of the draft version (, 23).
In 1971, James S. Dearden hand‐printed from copytext based on the fair copy in “Battle of Waterloo, A Play, in Two Acts, with Other Small Poems, Dedicated to His Father”, but without the silent alterations in Library Edition. This version is included in the pamphlet, Three Lakeland Poems.
The Rediscovery of Ruskinʼs First Publication
As the textual history of Ruskinʼs first appearance in print gained clarity with the recovery of forgotten textual witnesses, only to be further muddled by editorsʼ new confusions and textual interventions, the most confounding aspect of the story proved to be the disappearance, for a half‐century, of witnesses to Ruskinʼs first two publications; followed by the discovery, around the turn of the twentieth century, of both of these witnesses; followed by the renewed obscurity, for another century, of one of these witnesses—the “Lines Written at the Lakes in Cumberland”.
To summarize the hapless bibliographical history thus far recounted about the Spiritual Times publications, their first known mention occurs when, sometime in the 1840s, John James Ruskin compiled his List of Published Poems, 1830–46, in blank pages remaining in MS IV, but he listed only the second of the two: “on Skiddaw & Derwent Water | page 72 Spiritual Times | Feby 1830 age 11 years”. W. G. Collingwood picked up on John Jamesʼs citation, quoting it in his description of MS IV in the “Preliminary Note on the Original MSS. of the Poems”, but he mistranscribed the date as 1831 rather than 1830, and for all appearances he ignored even this distorted clue in his editing of Ruskinʼs holograph poem (Poems [4o, 1891], 1:262; Poems [8o, 1891], 1:264). In his biography of Ruskin, Collingwoodʼs carelessness comes to seem more like intransigence when constructing a narrative about Ruskinʼs first publication, which he also persistently identified as a March 1834 prose piece for the Magazine of Natural History, the “Enquiries on the Causes of the Colour of the Water of the Rhine”. In spite of holding the clue to the prior magazine publication of poetry in the Spiritual Times, Collingwood awarded the crown to the prose piece in his 1893 biography of Ruskin, and he stood by that account in his revised edition of the biography, published in 1900—five years after the earlier publications finally came to light (Collingwood, Life and Work of John Ruskin, 1:57, and see vol. 1, app., p. iv; Collingwood, Life of John Ruskin, 41, 409).
The recovery of the text of the Spiritual Times texts—both the “Lines”, and “On Skiddaw and Derwent‐Water”—must be credited to the journalist and book collector, H. Robertson Nicoll (1851–1923), who in June 1895 published an article, “First Published Writings of Mr. Ruskin”, in a journal that he founded and edited, the Bookman. Yet no mention of this discovery was made by the editors of the Library Edition, who, seven years later, printed from (altered) copytext of the second of the two poems, “On Skiddaw and Derwent‐Water”, heralding this recovery as “the earliest printed work of Ruskin” (Ruskin, Works, 2:265). Thus, Cook and Wedderburn perpetuated the seemingly fatalistic neglect of the “Lines”, which awaited a second rediscovery by James S. Dearden, who corrected the record in a 1994 note,“John Ruskinʼs First Published Work”. Publishing his note almost exactly a century following the appearance of Nicollʼs article, Dearden, like Cook and Wedderburn, failed to record the 1895 recovery—in his case, clearly unaware of the prior discovery.
Presumably, in re‐publishing at least the 1830 poem, Cook and Wedderburn were following up Collingwoodʼs neglected citation in his “Preliminary Note”. They do not credit Nicollʼs article anywhere in the Library Edition, despite quoting from another article by him on Ruskin that was published in the same journal (see Ruskin, Works, 38:381). Cook and Wedderburn must have obtained the 1830 Spiritual Times text independently. Their bibliographical note on the poem (Ruskin, Works, 2:265 n.1) contains details about the Spiritual Times that are lacking in Nicollʼs article, and vice versa. On Nicollʼs part, it seems equally and oddly coincidental—or culpably neglectful—that he fails cite Collingwoodʼs “Preliminary Note”, since it seems scarcely credible that he could have been led to the Spiritual Times apart from Collingwoodʼs quotation from John Jamesʼs citation, however faulty in mistranscription. Nicoll implies, however, that he found the Spiritual Times by following his own clue—namely, the Ruskin familyʼs connections with Edward Andrews: “I have before me a volume containing ten numbers, all that were published, of the Spiritual Times. . . . The editor was the Rev. Dr. Andrews, minister of Beresford Chapel, Walworth, one of the most distinguished dissenting ministers of his time. . . . The distinction of the periodical is that it contains the first published writings of Mr. Ruskin. Mr. Ruskin, it will be remembered [from Praeterita], was at one time a pupil of Dr. Andrews, and was occasionally present in his chapel, where he remembers seeing Dr. Andrewsʼs daughter [Emily Augusta Andrews, 1824–62], afterwards Mrs. Conventry Patmore” (“First Published Writings of Mr. Ruskin”).
The cul de sac of Nicollʼs scholarship is striking in view of the phenomenon of the Collecting of Modern Authors in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries, which prompted keen rivalries for obtaining “early editions” of modern authors at high prices on the rare book market. Two circumstances may have blunted Nicollʼs coup from causing its due sensation. First, two years earlier, in 1893, James P. Smart and Thomas J. Wise had already completed their Complete Bibliography of . . . Ruskin (1889–93), which supported Collingwoodʼs contention that Ruskinʼs first publication was March 1834 prose piece for the Magazine of Natural History, the “Enquiries on the Causes of the Colour of the Water of the Rhine”; and the bibliography identified Ruskinʼs first published poem as “Saltzburg” in Friendshipʼs Offering (Wise and Smart, Bibliography of Ruskin, 2:123, 111). Second, Nicollʼs correction to the bibliography perhaps never gained traction owing to the excessive rarity of the Spiritual Times. Probably, no copy ever appeared on the rare book market. To document his find, Nicoll had to seek help from the Andrews family: “Through the kindness of Dr. Andrewsʼs granddaughter, [the lawyer and social activist] Miss Eliza Orme [1848–1937], I have been able to identify Mr. Ruskinʼs contributions” (“First Published Writings of Mr. Ruskin”). Curiously, when James S. Dearden repeated Nicollʼs discovery a century later, he repeated history by in a sense relying on the Andrews family: his research was prompted by a bound copy of the Spiritual Times that had originally belonged to the Reverend Andrews> himself, “one of the rarest pieces of Ruskiniana,” Dearden comments, and one of the last additions to the Ruskin Galleries at Bembridge (Dearden, Ruskin, Bembridge, and Brantwood, 214).
In “On Skiddaw and Derwent Water”, Ruskin made his most ambitious effort to date to engage with the conventions of the picturesque, which first appears in the juvenilia of 1827, when he gathered poems into a small anthology that he entitled “Poetry Discriptive”. That he was consciously writing the present poem in the same mode is implicit in his original title, “description of skiddaw & lake derwent”. It is less clear, however, whether he derived materials for the poem from the picturesque journeying. The poems in “Poetry Discriptive” originated from a family tour in 1827 to Wales and Scotland, whereas the editors of the Library Edition believed that “On Skiddaw and Derwent Water” “must have been based on memories of the visit to the Lakes in 1826 (Ruskin, Works, 2:265 n. 1; and see Ruskin, Works, 1:xxv, and Burd, “Introduction” to Tour to the Lakes in Cumberland, 6–7, for possible earlier journeys to the Lake District). Evidence of such an 1826 visit is elusive. Arguments for dating and mapping the early family journeys have tended to work in circles, with Ruskinʼs dateable poems about locales cited as evidence for the journeys that are used to contextualize those very poems. In the present instance, as argued in Tours of 1826–27, while the Lakes was a possible destination in both 1826 and 1827, no direct evidence attests to a visit. (As also argued, it is possible that an alleged 1826 northern journey might not have occurred at all, but may be a mistaken reference to an 1827 journey that included Wales and Scotland but not necessarily the Lake District.)
Biographically, perhaps the most significant influence on Ruskinʼs composition of his poem was a journey that definitely failed to materialize. In 1828, the family embarked on a “great tour” destined for the Lakes, but they cut the trip short when they had gotten only so far as Cornwall, owing to the death of John James Ruskinʼs sister, Jessie (1783–1828). Ruskin may have been moved to write about these scenes for his fatherʼs 1829 birthday as a compensation for the lost tour, and as an anticipation of the grand tour to come, the Lake District Tour of 1830, which the family was probably already planning in 1829. “On Skiddaw and Derwent Water” is a distinctly joyous poem, but its point was to dispel memories of grief rather than to record them. (For another topographical poem that may have been connected therapeutically with grief, see “On Scotland”.)
In light of the association of “On Skiddaw and Derwent Water” with the aborted Tour of 1828 owing to the death of Ruskinʼs Aunt Jessie, the poemʼs publication in a religious journal, the Spiritual Times, owned and edited by the Reverend Andrews, is understandable. Not that a secular poem was wholly out of place in Andrewsʼs periodical, which was only one among several testimonials of the Andrews familyʼs cultivated tastes and social ambition, such as the fine organ installed in , a building that Andrews also owned (see Reverend Edward Andrews [1787–1841]). Like Ruskin, the Andrews children participated in these middle‐class ambitions, including making their own books by editing a family magazine, “The Beresford Spy” (Anstruther, Coventry Patmoreʼs Angel, 16–18).
In context of MS II, the “description of skiddaw & lake derwent” is linked to Andrewsʼs laughter. Ruskin did not write the poem for the clergyman, of course, but its composition was contemporaneous with the advent of Andrewsʼs tutelage, a “most important aera of my life,” Ruskin felt (Ruskin Family Letters, 200); and the teaching was delightfully entertaining. As Ruskin characterizes Andrews in MS II, he “makes me laugh almost but not quite to use one of his own expressions . . . he is so funny comparing Neptunes lifting up the wrecked ships of eenaes with his trident to my lifting up a potato with a fork or taking a piece of bread out of a bowl of milk with a spoon” (Letter to Mrs. Monro). In Ruskinʼs birthday letter to his father accompanying “On Skiddaw and Derwent Water”, he devotes a quarter of the space to celebrating the “coming of the tutor”—“What a nice face he has. . . . I do think to use one of his own expressions he looks best when he frowns next when he laughs and next when he neither frowns nor laughs Every thing he does is nice” (Ruskin Family Letters, 200).
As both proprietor and editor of the Spiritual Times, Andrews could do as he liked, including publish writing by his own children—so why not include verse by his merry and precocious new student, as well? (Reciprocally, John James Ruskin would later copy verses entitled “The Brave Hussar” by Andrewsʼs daughter, Eliza, in MS VI.) However, the writing for the journal by Andrewʼs eldest son, Edward, while not solemn, was religious (Anstruther, Coventry Patmoreʼs Angel, 17); and it was appropriate, accordingly, that Ruskinʼs contributions likewise be given a sober coloring, with the addition of conventional pieties (see Revision and First Publication). In the couplets added to Ruskinʼs poem that avert the gaze from earthʼs beauties, the poem was made consistent with a work by another juvenile writer, “Lines by a Youth | Not Alone”, which was published in the Spiritual Times in the month following Ruskinʼs “Lines”. The poem by the anonymous youth holds out comfort to “favourʼd souls” that “better know / The causes of terrestrial woe”:
When earth‐born toils perplex the soul,
And cares like a wild deluge roll;
When hopes all fail and friends are gone,
ʼTis sweet to feel we are not alone.
We are not alone for Jesus guides,
For all our wants his love provides;
To him each hour for life we come,
Till brought at last to heaven our home.
And while we count the sorrows past,
Ourselves beyond the stormy blast;
ʼTwill be a theme of wonder there
That favourʼd souls could eʼer despair;
Or rather say they better know
The causes of terrestrial woe;
Removʼd from sorrowʼs funeral reign
They recognize the source of pain.
ʼTis sin, ʼtis sin abhorred sprite,
That never haunts those walks of light.
Ah! when shall we to glories rise,—
And endless sabbath in the skies.
But while, O Lord, we dwell below,
While yet our hearts temptation know,
In love forgive our numerous fears,
Let mercyʼs hand remove our tears.
In troubles more than we can bear,
A refuge let us find in prayer;
When here before thy face we groan,
Convince us, Lord, we are not alone.
Thus, in wrapping Ruskinʼs playful topographical poem in a casing, as it were, of conventionally otherworldly piety, the revised “Lines Written at the Lakes in Cumberland. | Derwentwater and “On Skiddaw and Derwent‐Water”, as published in the Spiritual Times, only called to mind what a closely knit circle of suburban evangelical households already knew about the deep mourning that had thwarted the Ruskinsʼ anticipated picturesque pleasures of Mount Skiddaw and Derwent Water—a mournfulness that should not be lost even in the anticipation of recouping that pleasure. This understanding nonetheless did not lighten Ruskinʼs struggle with revising the poem.
What was the status of Andrewsʼs short‐lived Spiritual Times? In its first issue, the journal announced itself as a “sprightly and elegant” production that would “break out of the trammels in which other religious periodicals seem proud to confine themselves, and show that even piety may be connected with high talent, and that vulgarity of style is not inseparable with what are foolishly called high doctrines, and dulness from what more sober persons call Evangelical” (quoted in Nicoll, “First Published Writings of Mr. Ruskin). The tone matches what Ruskin remarked as Andrewsʼs signature “expressions” of “almost but not quite” and of appearing “best when he frowns next when he laughs and next when he neither frowns nor laughs.” The characterization suggests the phenomenon of miscellaneity that David Stewart has remarked in the London magazine culture of the 1820s, as a conviction of knowledge as “contained within a single intellectual structure” was relinquished for an idea of knowledge as “divided between a large number of distinct divisions” (Stewart, Romantic Magazines and Metropolitan Literary Culture, 5). It is possible that Ruskin intended the handmade pamphlet, MS II, to reflect this eclectic magazine culture, combining, as it does, poems and sermons, an Edgeworthian lesson and a religious piece entitled "a theme", a start on a play, and letters to family and friends as if corresponding with a subscribership.
In avoiding the pitfalls of sectarianism and the reputaton of Nonconformists for stiff‐necked resistence to the worldliness of learning and cultivation, the journalʼs mission appears comparable to that of the more successful Congregational magazine, the Eclectic Review (1805–68), which likewise stood for a broad cultivation of literature combined with evangelical seriousness. In the Eclecticʼs first years, regular contributors included the essayist, John Foster (1770–1843), and the poet, James Montgomery (1771–1854). Theologically and politically, the Eclectic sought to bridge the gap between Dissent and Establishment—an “eclectic” stance that the journal itself proved unable to maintain, driven eventually to promoting more decisively Nonconformist interests of civic and religious liberty (Hiller, “Eclectic Review, 179–86). David Stewart proposes that Romantic magazines, rather than becoming trapped in bunkered positions as culture fissured into competing disciplines and positions, sought a heterogeneous audience who in turn positioned itself in relation to a magazine culture and not just a single organ of opinion (Stewart, Romantic Magazines and Metropolitan Literary Culture, 7–8). The growing predicament of the Eclectic illustrates how precarious an “almost but not quite” demeanor could prove in the turbulent period of reform. The Patriot (1832–66), another heterogeneous periodical operated jointly by interests of Congregationalists and Baptists, struggled to build adequate support on a nationwide subscriber base of Dissenters who upheld loyalty to voluntaryism on the question of Church Establishment, but who shrank from identifying with radical Dissent. The newspaperʼs trustees turned to the experienced journalist, Josiah Conder (1789–1855), already editor of the Eclectic Review, to increase subscription, but the Patriot nonetheless almost foundered along with its editor because Conder was perceived as too soft on the question of Establishment even in the view of moderates, must less of the radical voluntaryists (Cooper, “Dissenters and National Journalism”). Given that the weekly Patriot and monthly Eclectic survived only by virtue of deft political and theological positioning, not to mention the hugely energetic labors of professional journalists like Conder, no wonder that the modest Spiritual Times failed to summon adequate support. Add to this the scale of the competition, with four thousand journal titles estimated to have been founded in Britain between 1790 and 1832, and Andrews was soon forced to shut down the costly venture within the first year of his magazineʼs publication (Anstruther, Coventry Patmoreʼs Angel, 16; Klancher, Making of English Reading Audiences, ix).
The ephemerality of Andrewsʼs journal may account for the relative unimportance that the Ruskins appear to have attached to Johnʼs first publication. Yet, while the Ruskins would seek loftier venues for Johnʼs subsequent boyhood publications, a feature of this first effort persisted in the familyʼs tendency to gravitate to publishers with whom they could establish a personal connection such as a shared Scottish heritage. In about four years, Ruskinʼs two poems in the Spiritual Times would be almost forgotten, dimmed by the splendor surrounding the appearance of his poems, “Fragments from a Metrical Journal” and “Saltzburg” (the latter complemented by a vedute of the city, engraved in steel), in the highly popular annual Friendshipʼs Offering; and the contribution of his prose piece, “Enquiries on the Causes of the Colour of the Water of the Rhine”, to J. C. Loudonʼs Magazine of Natural History. Nonetheless, leading up to these publications, the Ruskins sought the mentorship of men of letters who, while more celebrated than Andrews, had like him visited the Ruskinsʼ suburban home, Herne Hill—the poet and editor, Thomas Pringle (1789–1834); the author, James Hogg (ca. 1770–1835); and the publisher, Alexander Elder (1790–1876). All were Scotsmen; and Elderʼs publishing firm, Smith, Elder, even employed Ruskinʼs cousin, Charles Thomas Richardson (1811–34), as a shop boy. These professional yet also personal acquaintances would help to shape the literary persona known as , which had already gotten his start as in the Spiritual Times.
In 1829, not only could the Ruskins claim personal connections with Andrews, but the Walworth preacher could impress them with his own share of fame. He was a rising star in the metropolitan pulpit, an eloquent and popular clergyman whose dashing appearance commanded no fewer than a dozen painted, engraved, and sculpted portraits in his lifetime (Anstruther, Coventry Patmoreʼs Angel, 123–24). “What a nice face he has,“ commented the young John Ruskin. Yet, unlike the distinguished Scotsmen who ushered into the limelight in 1834–35, Andrews fell from grace. Perhaps the main discouragement to giving Ruskinʼs first publication its full due was the pronouncement by the elder Ruskins in 1831 that, while “the Dr. has wonderful talents . . . he is certainly fighty” and on his way to compromising “his respectability and fortune and prevent[ing] his filling that place in society his talents entitle him to” (Ruskin Family Letters, 200, 243; and see Reverend Edward Andrews [1787–1841]). It must have seemed intolerable that the literary birth of could have been attended by anything less than the most solid assurances of success, much less the want of respectability.