Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!


John Ruskin
by [?]

The wife of a genius sometimes takes his fits of abstraction for stupidity, and having the man’s interests at heart she endeavors to arouse him from his lethargy by chiding him. Occasionally he arouses enough to chide back; and so it has become an axiom that genius is not domestic.

A short period of mismated life told the wife of Ruskin their mistake, and she told him. But Mrs. Grundy was at the keyhole, ready to tell the world, and so Mr. and Mrs. Ruskin sought to deceive society by pretending to live together. They kept up this appearance for six sorrowful years, and then the lady simplified the situation by packing her trunks and deliberately leaving her genius to his chimeras; her soul doubtless softened by the knowledge that she was bestowing a benefit on him by going away. The lady afterwards became the happy wife and helpmeet of a great artist.

Ruskin’s father was a prosperous importer of wines. He left his son a fortune equal to a little more than one million dollars. But that vast fortune has gone—principal and interest–gone in bequests, gifts and experiments; and today Mr. Ruskin has no income save that derived from the sale of his books. Talk about “Distribution of Wealth”! Here we have it.

The bread-and-butter question has never troubled John Ruskin except in his ever-ardent desire that others should be fed. His days have been given to study and writing from his very boyhood; he has made money, but he has had no time to save it.

He has expressed himself on every theme that interests mankind, except perhaps “housemaid’s knee.” He has written more letters to the newspapers than “Old Subscriber,” “Fiat Justitia,” “Indignant Reader” and “Veritas” combined. His opinions have carried much weight and directed attention into necessary lines; but perhaps his success as an inspirer of thought lies in the fact that his sense of humor exists only as a trace, as the chemist might say. Men who perceive the ridiculous would never have voiced many of the things which he has said.

Surely those Sioux Indians who stretched a hay lariat across the Union Pacific Railroad in order to stop the running of trains had small sense of the ridiculous. But it looks as if they were apostles of Ruskin, every one.

Some one has said that no man can appreciate the beautiful who has not a keen sense of humor. For the beautiful is the harmonious, and the laughable is the absence of fit adjustment.

Mr. Ruskin disproves the maxim.

But let no hasty soul imagine that John Ruskin’s opinions on practical themes are not useful. He brings to bear an energy on every subject he touches (and what subject has he not touched?) that is sure to make the sparks of thought fly. His independent and fearless attitude awakens from slumber a deal of dozing intellect, and out of this strife of opinion comes truth.

On account of Mr. Ruskin’s refusing at times to see visitors, reports have gone abroad that his mind was giving way. Not so, for although he is seventy-four he is as serenely stubborn as he ever was. His opposition to new inventions in machinery has not relaxed a single pulley’s turn. You grant his premises and in his conclusions you will find that his belt never slips, and that his logic never jumps a cog. His life is as regular and exact as the trains on the Great Western, and his days are more peaceful than ever before. He has regular hours for writing, study, walking, reading, eating, and working out of doors, superintending the cultivation of his hundred acres. He told me that he had not varied a half-hour in two years from a certain time of going to bed or getting up in the morning. Although his form is bowed, this regularity of life has borne fruit in the rich russet of his complexion, the mild, clear eye, and the pleasure in living in spite of occasional pain, which you know the man feels. His hair is thick and nearly white; the beard is now worn quite long and gives a patriarchal appearance to the fine face.

When we arose to take our leave, Mr. Ruskin took a white felt hat from the elk-antlers in the hallway and a stout stick from the corner, and offered to show us a nearer way back to the village. We walked down a footpath through the tall grass to the lake, where he called our attention to various varieties of ferns that he had transplanted there.

We shook hands with the old gentleman and thanked him for the pleasure he had given us. He was still examining the ferns when we lifted our hats and bade him good-day.

He evidently did not hear us, for I heard him mutter: “I verily believe those miserable Cook’s tourists that were down here yesterday picked some of my ferns.”