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John Ruskin - 1894, Click To Enlarge

John Ruskin
(My complete GMD bio/commentary is here).
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John Ruskin was one of the most esteemed artists, poets, social commentators, and art critics, not only by his own generation, but even today his work is taken as seriously as ever. G.K. Chesterton quoted from him and made mention of his work in several of his own books and essays. Chesterton enjoyed Ruskin's poetry well enough, and he identified with his disdain toward the plainness of 19th century architecture, but it was Ruskin's skepticism regarding the machinery and working class situation of the industrial age that truly united both Chesterton and MacDonald with Ruskin. George MacDonald was brought up during the middle of the industrial revolution and saw the devastating effects it had on both rural areas and on those who peopled them. During his lifetime he watched as the poor became enslaved to this new machinery in order to make the rich become even wealthier.

From MacDonald's novel, Ronald Bannerman, concerning machinery:

There may be great pleasure in watching machine-operations, but surely none to equal the pleasure we had. If there had been a steam-engine to plough my father's fields, how could we have ridden home on it's back in the evening?... What more machines are there now? Strange, wild-looking mad-like machines, as the Scotch would call them, are growling and snapping, and clinking and clattering over our fields, so that it seems to an old boy as if all the sweet poetic twilight of things were vanishing from the country.

John Ruskin and George MacDonald shared a comfortable relationship despite the fact that they disagreed on nearly everything involving religion, at least until the latter part of Ruskin's life when he re-embraced the Christian faith of his childhood. Both men came at life from a different perspective though, one gauging mankind's participation and efficacy in creation by the work of his hands, the other by a more mystical approach involving man's thoughts, attitudes, and gestures. As Greville MacDonald put it, "Ruskin, the poet-artist, looked from without inwards; George MacDonald, the poet-novelist, looked from within outwards: that man's mission being the uplifting of work and its beauty, this man's the proving of the Divine Humanity. Ruskin's mind was the more scientific and aggressive, George MacDonald's imaginative and receptive...."

While people in the world of art and architecture still recognize Ruskin's influence, many of the everyday men and women in our era only remember Ruskin because of the many plays and movies based on his failed marriage to Effie Gray,Effie Ruskin, Click to Enlarge and his May-December romance with Rose la Touche, a girl thirty three years his younger that he asked to marry him when she was only seventeen. Recently, some critics have very unwisely tried to make assertions that the relationship between Ruskin and Rose la Touche was the impetus for Nabokov's novel--Lolita--a wild and unworthy accusation at best. Rose's parents were distrustful of Ruskin because of his atheism during the time of the proposed engagement, and also because of his annulled former marriage which according to Effie Gray was never consummated after five years. Gray suggested that Ruskin was impotent, but Ruskin denied it and insisted that the marriage was never consummated because almost from its outset he and Gray began to bicker. At any rate, the parents of la Touche did their best to keep their daughter away from from Ruskin, and so, George and Louisa MacDonald, along with Georgina Cowper, became a go between for Ruskin and Rose la Touche, trying to make sense of the situation and to soothe the relationship between Ruskin and the la Touche family. Most who knew Ruskin, including the MacDonalds, thought his motives were pure and his love honest.

However, even when Rose became of age and could marry Ruskin at her own consent, she refused because of their religious differences. Oddly, Rose la Touche, who as a young girl was already considered quite strange in her behavior, would go exceedingly mad and die in a nursing home at only twenty seven years of age while suffering from severe bouts ofRose la Touche, Click to Enlarge mania. Shortly after her death, Ruskin began to take part in the sťances held at Broadlands endeavoring to contact Rose. He had participated in sťances here before, but never trusted in their effectiveness. One particular sťance later in the year on December 20, 1875, began a change in him however, one that would eventually lead him back to the Anglicanism of his boyhood. A clairvoyant named by George MacDonald simply as "Mrs. A", apparently gave to John Ruskin a perfect description of Rose la Touche without ever having seen her. This meeting in itself didn't entirely convince Ruskin of the spirit world, but it proved to be a catalyst for further religious reflections. Eventually Ruskin would embrace a very relaxed form of the Christian faith (described in his book Praeterita) which didn't seem to include any elements of hell or damnation. But, beginning in 1878, Ruskin started to have visions of hellish elements including the Devil himself. These visions would torment him off and on for several years, but while he certainly believed in the dark forces of the world which Christians so often refer to as the Devil, he would never go so far as to say in what exact form that malicious force took, whether physical matter, spiritual, or, in some part, mental. Some Christians will maintain that Ruskin's visions were brought about by God as a useful agent to awaken the man's outlook to a real Satanic force in the flesh. We do not know for sure what George MacDonald thought of Ruskin's apparitions. Greville MacDonald, however, does indeed refer to this period in Ruskin's life (mainly 1878) as a "breakdown".

 

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