John Ruskin: A Letter to an Unknown Correspondent
John Ruskin (1819-1900) was one of the most important art critics who lived during the Victorian period, though he is also known for his writings on and contributions to the fields of social criticism and architecture as well. Oxford educated, Ruskin’s views on art - particularly his acceptance of the fledgling Pre-Raphaelite Movement in 1848 and his ideas about the Gothic - made him one of the most important critical figures in 19th-century England. Ruskin was the author of important works as diverse as Unto This Last, The Stones of Venice, Modern Painters, and his controversial autobiography, Praeterita.
An Explanation of the Letter
This undated letter from John Ruskin is just one of the more than 20,000 letters it is estimated that he wrote in his lifetime. According to Professor Stephen Wildman, Director of the Ruskin Library and Research Centre at Lancaster University in England, the letter is written in Ruskin’s “mature hand,” and was therefore probably written during the “1850s to 1880s.”
The main identifier in the letter can be found in the words “college documents,” as Ruskin was a Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and was the Slade Lecturer in the 1870s. However, Wildman discounts Corpus Christi at Oxford as the college in question because “I would expect him to use a capital C for that (or C C C), and don’t see what business he would have had with their documents.” Ruskin taught a drawing class at the Working Men’s College in London between 1854 and 1860, and Wildman believes this is perhaps a more likely reference. Without an envelope or even a suggestion of a date on the letter, the full context of the letter will probably remain elusive.
The letter can be viewed in special collections in the Frellsen Fletcher Smith Collection on the 4th floor of the Prescott Memorial Library.
- Dr. Rick Simmons, Department of English, Louisiana Tech University