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John Ruskin to Charles Eliot Norton, January 8, 1876


8th Jan. 1876.

Dearest Charles

In case of missing a steamer, I answer your Kindest letter by return post, though only a word. I am most thankful for its warning: and truly I need it, for the forms of disturbance that present themselves to me, not at Broadlands only, are terrific in difficulty of dealing with.—because—you know the middle ages are to me the only ages. and what Angelico believed, did produce the best work. That I hold to as demonstrated fact. All modern science and philosophy produced abortion.—That miracle believing faith produced good fruit—the best yet in the world

Meantime Im going to dine with John Simon to night! and will put all enquiries to him.—But nobody but Botticelli or Giotto could really answer me.

I’ve been drawing a snail shell or could say more—

How thankful I am for that Carlyle permission and Emerson gift

Ever your loving JR


The great Victorian critic of art and society John Ruskin and the Harvard art professor Charles Eliot Norton became good friends in Switzerland between 1855 and 1857. They remained confidants and correspondents for the next several decades, until Ruskin’s death in 1900. Ruskin made Norton his literary executor, and it was he who somewhat reluctantly decided to publish Ruskin’s letters to him in 1904. Out of loyalty to Ruskin and a rigid sense of propriety, Norton edited and often bowdlerized the letters and burned many of them. In the end, however, he published two volumes of Ruskin’s correspondence: “No other series of his letters extended unbroken over so long a term of years, or was likely to possess so much autobiographical interest—comparatively little, indeed, as a record of events, but much as a record of moods and mental conditions.”

When Norton published the letter that now resides at Dumbarton Oaks, he cut out everything between “Meantime” and the signature, thereby omitting one of the most delightful flashes of personality in the letter: “I’ve been drawing a snail shell or could say more.” Unlike nearly all the other correspondence in the collection, how this letter made its way from Ruskin’s desk to Mildred Bliss’s hands is known precisely. Ruskin’s letter is accompanied by two later letters that record its provenance. The first, from Norton to James Loeb (founder of the Loeb Classical Library) three years after Ruskin’s death in 1900, gives Loeb the letter and offers some watercolors as well to please an unnamed friend of Loeb’s. That friend was Mildred Barnes, before her marriage to Robert Bliss; Loeb wrote to Mildred a little over a month after Norton wrote to Loeb to offer her the letter along with a lunch invitation. (Pictures and transcripts of both letters follow below.)

Presumably, Norton had finished editing the second volume of Ruskin’s letters to him by the time that he gave this particular letter to Loeb. The letter, though brief, is suffused with Ruskin’s great love of the art of the late Middle Ages. Indeed, the letter serves almost as a capsule summary of the views that had defined Ruskin’s writing since working on the series Modern Painters in the 1840s, and it was perhaps with this in mind that Norton decided the letter would make a good addition to the autograph collection of a young enthusiast like Mildred Barnes.

Ruskin makes several references to friends and fellow writers in this letter. Broadlands was the Hampshire residence of William and Egeria Cowper-Temple, who were old friends of Ruskin’s; William, the stepson of the former Prime Minister Lord Palmerston, bore the title Baron Mount Temple and served as a prominent Liberal Member of Parliament. John Simon was a prominent doctor, formerly medical officer of the Privy Council, whose interests in issues of housing and public health overlapped with Ruskin’s; Ruskin was close friends with him and his family. It is unclear from this letter alone what Ruskin means by thanking Norton for that “Carlyle permission and Emerson gift,” but Norton had been named the literary executor of social critic Thomas Carlyle upon his death in 1881. Ralph Waldo Emerson was a friend and correspondent of Carlyle’s from the 1830s on, so it is possible that Ruskin was requesting something from Carlyle’s estate that Emerson had given to him.

Charles Eliot Norton to James Loeb

Shady Hill, Cambridge, Mass.,

6, November, 1903

My dear Loeb,

I am sorry that in writing to you yesterday I forgot to send you an autograph of Ruskin’s To-day I have pleasure in making up for my yesterday’s oversight. I am sorry that the letter of his which I send is not signed with his full name, but a great majority of the letters which I received from him were signed as this one is,—with his initials. I shall be glad if it gives pleasure to your friend. I have still two or three of his water color drawings to dispose of, and I shall be much obliged to you if, at any time, you know of someone who would like to become the possessor of one of these drawings, you will be so good as to put me into communication with him.

With pleasant anticipations for your visit next week,

I am

Very sincerely yours

C. E. Norton

P.S. 3 hours later. The little Cipriani has just arrived. In its kind it is excellent;—of excellence similar to a pretty piece of Old Dresden china,—an ornament for an exquisite boudoir.

James Loeb, Esq.

James Loeb to Mildred Bliss

December 11th, 1903

Sycamore Farm

Shrewsbury, New Jersey

Dear Miss Mildred,

A very busy evening yesterday made it impossible for me to write to you, as Thad said I would and now I have only a minute before the close of true evening mail. But time enough to send you the promised letter of John Ruskin, to Professor Charles Eliot Norton and the latter’s letter which accompanied it. This is my welcome home to you!

I was disappointed at hearing from Charlie Warner that he and Miss Bliss cannot arrange to come out to luncheon on Monday next. Will you tell them that I still hope to have them out here [ ] as January sixth?

Mr. & Mrs. George Leighton are going to be out here on Monday—the 14th—Will you ask your parents and Miss Barnes to join you and then give us the great—the rare pleasure of welcoming you and our St. Louis friends at the Farm?

Hoping to hear “Yes” very soon I am with sincerest regards to you all

Yours faithfully

James Loeb

P.S. The 11.30 train Central R.R. of New Jersey, [ ] of Liberty Street will bring you to Little Silver Station at 12.57.

In Mr. Norton’s letter you will find a reference to some of Ruskin’s water color Drawings. I have found the fellow who wants them!


Ruskin Letter 1

Ruskin Letter 2