Poems by J.R. (1850)
Description
Private Compilations of Ruskinʼs Poems before 1850
In March 1847, when John James Ruskin wrote to his friend, W. H. Harrison (ca. 1792–1878), to affirm his intention to have a collection of his sonʼs poems printed, he referred to having “had for a very long time a Volume of yours containing some light pieces of my son”. In other words, before the Poems (1850) was realized, the family and friends produced and made use of compilations of Ruskinʼs poems (Leeds, 8 March 1847, in Letters from John James Ruskin to W. H. Harrison, 1838–1853). The “volume” mentioned in this letter probably refers to a present from Harrison to John James for the holiday season of Christmas 1844 and New Yearʼs 1845.
On 4 January 1845, while spending a disagreeably unseasonal holiday at the seaside with his family in Hastings, John James Ruskin thanked Harrison for the “trouble you have taken to get me a Set of JR. F.O contributions”, referring to John by the pen name he used for most of his contributions to annuals (letter, in John James Ruskin to W. H. Harrison, 1838–1853). The current location of this volume, if extant, is unknown, so its contents cannot now be determined. If limited, as John James indicates, to contributions to Friendshipʼs Offering, the choice was logical as a gift from the former editor (1836–41) of that annual—and an editor who had grown particularly close to the Ruskin family during that tenure. Given the history of his relationship with the Ruskins, it seems no coincidence that the holiday season of Harrisonʼs gift also marked the end of Ruskinʼs regular appearances in the holiday gift annual that had brought them together, Friendshipʼs Offering. After having contributed annually to the volumes for 1835 through 1844, in New Yearʼs 1845 J.R. apppeared instead in two annuals edited by Lady Blessington for Longmans (see John James Ruskinʼs Reaction to Ruskinʼs Abandonment of a Poetʼs Vocation.
Possibly the “set” of poems described by John James in this letter was the same item as the collection of ʼproofs of Ruskinʼs contributions to Friendshipʼs Offeringʽ that, according to the editors of the Library Edition, Harrison ʼbound upʽ for John James to carry ʼon his toursʽ (Ruskin, Works, 2:xxxiv). So far, no provenance, description, or extant object can be connected with this statement, any more than with the “volume” in John Jamesʼs letter. If the same object, one can speculate that the volume would have been bound in a size convenient for transport, and it was also intended for ease of reference. As John James commented later in the year to Harrison, he was often frustrated by “the Scatterment” of his sonʼs poems published in annuals over several years; it was “the Looking for the needle in the Bundle of Hay I dislike—I know not how to have him or where to find him” (Liverpool, 1 July 1845, in Letters from John James Ruskin to W. H. Harrison; and see Dearden, “Production and Distribution of John Ruskinʼs Poems , 154).
Another compilation that may have anticipated John Jamesʼs project of printing Ruskinʼs poems for private circulation in 1850 was the bound holograph manuscript, J. Ruskin | Poems” (n.d.), or “Edmond manuscript”. This consists of transcriptions, in an unidentified hand, of poems by J.R. published in Friendshipʼs Offering. As a holograph manuscript, it does not answer to the Library Editionʼs description of Harrisonʼs bound proofs. Another possible indication of a provenance disconnected from Harrison is the omission of certain transcriptions—for example, the poem “Remembrance, which is not signed “J.R.” in Friendshipʼs Offering, but which Harrison would have known to be Ruskinʼs; and of poems that were published in another publication edited by Harrison in 1839, the London Monthly Miscellany (see Ruskin, Works, 38:5).
While the hand responsible for the “Edmond manuscript” has not been identified, the physical item does make a good fit with circumstances mentioned by John James in his 8 March 1847 letter quoted above, in which John James declares his intention to have Ruskinʼs poems printed. After thanking Harrison for his “volume”, John James goes on: “I have delayed having them [Johnʼs “verses”] penned because I want to get the best of all he has ever penned selected & printed in good Type”. The penning clearly refers to a copyistʼs work at the behest of John James, preliminary to publication. In 1845, John James followed a similar procedure in having Johnʼs letters from Italy copied, preparatory to publishing them as an epistolary travel narrative. As Harold Shapiro explains in his edition of the letters, John James “carefully preserved them, of course, and put them in order. More than that, the originals are full of his markings. He numbered them, supplied missing dates and places in the headings, made notations on them for a copyist, underlined the passages to be copied, cancelled details to be omitted, and even inserted a word here and there” (Shapiro, introduction to Ruskin in Italy, xx). While no such editorial markings by John James are evident in the “Edmond manuscript”, its very exacting transcriptions might represent a stage in the evolving plans toward a printed volume; and while the existence of this manuscript seems to conflict with John Jamesʼs statement that he had “delayed” transcription of Johnʼs poems, the manuscript may have been rejected as a false start, given John Jamesʼs requirements in 1847. As explained in the description of the manuscript, the transcriptions are not “selected”, as John James now wanted—starting, as they do, with “Saltzburg”, Ruskinʼs first poem published in Friendshipʼs Offering, which was not ultimately chosen for inclusion in the Poems (1850)—and the sequence of transcriptions is faulty, foundering on a mistake in transcription of the poems for 1842. Nonetheless, regardless of whether this manuscript is related directly to John Jamesʼs project of printing the Poems in 1850, the manuscript attests at the very least to the interest in collecting Ruskinʼs poems scattered throughout published annuals.
John James Ruskinʼs Reaction to Ruskinʼs Abandonment of a Poetʼs Vocation
In 1845, John Jamesʼs need “to have these trifles [of poems] more comeatable—less scattered” came to seem more pressing as four new poems by John were sent to Lady Blessington, who divided them between two annuals under her editorship, The Keepsake, 1846 and Heathʼs Book of Beauty, 1846—as she had done with three poems by Ruskin in the previous year. “You know we centred all in F. O.”, John James reminded Harrison, referring to the long run of poems by J.R. published in the Smith, Elder annual. John James pointed out that it would be “no joke” having now to present two annuals as holiday remembrances to people connected with the family—and those two publications no less than the grand and expensive annuals superintended for Longmans by the daring entrepreneur, Charles Heath (1785–1848), as compared with the familiar and less imposing annual produced by the Ruskinsʼ friends at Smith, Elder (Liverpool, 29 June 1845, in Letters from John James Ruskin to W. H. Harrison, 1838–1853; and see Hunnisett, Steel‐Engraved Book Illustration in England, 142–43).
A more worrying prospect to John James than the expense of holiday gifts, however, and a more emotional cause for collecting the poems for publication in 1850, was the wrenching fact that the poems were becoming less important to Ruskin himself. Already, Harrisonʼs gift of the 1845 collection had apparently prompted some affectation of indifference by John, his father reporting that “some in this House had no recollection of having before seen” certain poems, although considerably connected with the Author” (Denmark Hill, 31 January 1845, in Letters from John James Ruskin to W. H. Harrison, 1838–1853). Now, when Ruskin departed for Italy in April 1845, his first Continental tour without his parentsʼ direct supervision, Ruskin grew more outspoken about losing interest in verse composition. Although continuing to oblige his father by sending home new poems for publication, Ruskin paraded his indifference and even contempt: “Of course do all that you like with poems. Lady B[lessington] just as good as any one. I have neither pride nor pleasure in them”. On his fatherʼ birthday, he wrote less flippantly, but more decisively, explaining that his poetical impulse was dulled by a critical temper, which he regarded as superior: “I almost always see two sides of a thing at once, now—in matters poetical—& I never get strongly excited without perceiving drawbacks & imperfections which somehow one lost sight of when one was younger” (Florence, 13 June 1845, and Lucca, 10 May 1845, in Shapiro, ed., Ruskin in Italy, 112–13, 57).
John James himself was unimpressed—or pretended so—by Johnʼs recently composed poems and prayed that “his Mother may not be right after all & our Son prove but a poet in prose” (Kendal, 16 July 1845, in Letters from John James Ruskin to W. H. Harrison, 1838–1853). After temporizing with the hope that it was only “at present” that Johnʼs “poetry . . . has got among [his] prose”, and admitting to John that it may have been “cruel in me to ask you to write for me—you should never write Poetry but when you cannot help it”—by the following year, in 1846, John James was ready to “put an end to doubt as to annuals” and confirm to Harrison that “my Son seems disposed to shake hands & part from” such publications altogether. By 1847, therefore, John James was resolved that the time had arrived to collect the poems formally as “a family Record” for private distribution (John James Ruskin to John Ruskin, 26 June 1845, in Shapiro, ed., Ruskin in Italy, 142 n. 2; and John James Ruskin to W. H. Harrison, Florence, 20 June 1846, and Leeds, 8 March 1847, in Letters from John James Ruskin to W. H. Harrison, 1838–1853, in and see Dearden, “Production and Distribution of John Ruskinʼs Poems 1850, 155).
The Selection of Poetry for the 1850 Collection
Returning again to the 8 March 1847 letter quoted above, one notes that John James was emphatic that the collection would not be comprehensive but “selected &, representative of “the best of all [John] has ever penned” in verse. Besides the focus on Friendshipʼs Offering poems—which do predominate in Poems by J.R. (1850), albeit not exclusively—another decision weighing against inclusion of “On Skiddaw and Derwent Water” was a preference for more mature poetry. At first, in an 1850 letter to his son, who was working in Venice, John James proposed opening the volume with some poems composed at age twelve, which were family favorites; and he pressed his son to decide also if he wanted “any few lines in the under 10 Little Book to put in.” By a “Little Book,” John James must refer to one of the Red Books composed prior to age ten. Then on the next day (Ruskinʼs birthday), before Ruskin could have replied to this previous letter, his father all but overruled the inclusion of early juvenilia, informing his son that “[w]e shall not print your 12 year [i.e., age twelve] poems which tho marvellous are better in your own printed written [i.e., hand‐lettered] little Book—We shall begin with [the poem] Months age 16 [i.e., 1835–36] I believe unless you desire earlier pieces” (London, 1 February 1850 [MSL 002/003/096], and London, 2 February 1850 [MSL 002/003/097], in Letters from John James Ruskin to John Ruskin, 1829–1862, both letters quoted in Dearden, “Production and Distribution of John Ruskinʼs Poems 1850”, 156–57). (For “The Months” see “As I was walking round by Peckham rye”, from which this poem was derived and published in Friendshipʼs Offering for 1836 [i.e., in late 1835]. While “The Months” did not finally head the contents of Poems by J.R. (1850), the volume did start with poems largely from 1835–36, with the exception of “Song”, based on a previously unpublished poem of 1833, “Song” (“I weary for the torrent leaping”). The latter little poem opens the volume.)
See “Poems, J.R., 1850,” Ruskin Newsletter 23 (autumn 1980): 5, for Effie Ruskinʼs and Joan Severnʼs copies.
Wise thought it was Margaretʼs idea: (13 Sept 92 letter to Wise, Rutgers).