“Glen of Glenfarg” (“Glen of Glenfarg thy beauteous rill”)

Title
“Glen of Glenfarg” (“Glen of Glenfarg thy beauteous rill”)
Ruskin wrote the title as “glen of glenfarg”. He gave the same title to a poem of 1828: “Glenfarg” and “Glen of Glenfarg” (“Papa how pretty those icicles are”).
Genre
Poem; topographical poem. Four‐line stanza, tetrameter, rhyme abab.
See Discussion for possible connection with travel.
Manuscripts
MS III (pp. 66–68), a Red Book devoted primarily to “Harry and Lucy,” Vol. 2.
Facsimile and transcript by permission of John Ruskin Collection, General Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.
In MS III, “Glen of Glenfarg” (“Glen of Glenfarg thy beauteous rill”) is the seventh poem in “Poetry Discriptive”. Since this anthology was compiled in 1827, the MS III witness may represent a revision or copy of a witness, now lost, that was composed in or around September 1826 (see Date). The existence of a prior witness may be indicated by Ruskinʼs having dropped a rhyme word in the MS III witness (see Textual Note).
Date
September 1826 (or possibly sometime between about July and December 1827).
At the bottom of the first page in MS III containing this poem (it continues onto the next page), Margaret Ruskin wrote “Sept 1826” (in the Library Edition, the hand is incorrectly attributed to John James Ruskin [Ruskin, Works, 2:257n]). The date appears to refer to this poem in particular, rather than to the entire group of poems to which it belongs, “Poetry Discriptive”, a group that dates from a year later, the second half of 1827 (see “Wales”: Date; and Tours of 1826–27: Wales and Scotland, 1827; for another case in which Ruskinʼs parents probably dated a poem separately from the group to which it belongs, see “The Needless Alarm”: Date).
W. G. Collingwood believed that “Glen of Glenfarg” (“Glen of Glenfarg thy beauteous rill”) was inspired by the Ruskinsʼ passing through Glenfarg, in the course of a visit to the family of John Jamesʼs sister, Jessie Richardson, in Perth, Scotland. Collingwood assumed they would have started in mid‐May, as became usual in later years, and he reasoned, therefore, that Ruskin must have composed a poem dated September 1826 “during the journey home” from this visit (although Collingwood left open the possibility that the family also made an autumn visit, separate from and in addition to the spring journey [Poems (4o, 1891), 1:xxiii; Poems (8o, 1891), 1:x]). We now know that, in 1826, owing to a “barren year” in business, John James was kept away from Herne Hill by unusually lengthy business travel until well after his May birthday, and the family holiday was consequently delayed (Burd, ed., Ruskin Family Letters, 1:137, 149, 150 n. 5). Also, any such family journey would have been delayed, and even prevented, owing to the illness and death by consumption of Ruskinʼs cousin, James Richardson, which did cause Ruskinʼs parents to visit Scotland in April of that year, but it is unclear whether Ruskin accompanied them (see Discussion; and Tours of 1826–27). Of course, even if Ruskin himself did not travel to Scotland in 1826, nothing prevents his having written in September about Glenfarg.
There is always the possibility that Margaret was simply mistaken in dating the poem September 1826, and that it belongs to fall/winter 1827—along with the other poem in MS III about Glenfarg, “Glenfarg” and “Glen of Glenfarg” (“Papa how pretty those icicles are”), which exists in a firmly dated New Yearʼs 1828 witness. But no evidence shows that Margaret intended other than what she wrote.
Composition and Publication
Poems (4o, 1891),1:xxiv–xxv; Poems (8o, 1891), 1:xi–xii; and Ruskin, Works, 2:257.
Hand is ink, print; see Ruskinʼs Hand.
Discussion
One cannot assume that Ruskin based the poem on eyewitness experience of travel to Scotland, as the poem itself forms one of the very few scraps of evidence that he took such a journey to North Britain with his parents prior to 1827; see Tours of 1822–24, and Tours of 1826–27. Tending to support such an assumption, however, is the comparative obscurity of the valley of Glenfarg as a topic. Personal experience seems more likely to have sponsored the theme than cultural or historical interest.
For the characterization of the valley in the travel literature of the period, see Glenfarg (Place). In keeping with the georgic character of Ruskinʼs poem, the valley was associated with gentle and domestic hill scenery, in contrast with sublime experience of Highland Scotland. See also “Poetry Discriptive”: Discussion
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