Narrative poem, rendering in verse scenes from The Monastery by Walter Scott.
Facsimiles by permission of John Ruskin Collection, General Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Transcriptions of texts and commentary © David C. Hanson.
A range of 1827–29 is possible. “Book I” and “Book II” may have been composed as early as 1827–28, but more likely in 1828; “Book III” and “Book IV” may have been composed and fair‐copied (not completed) by March 1829.
W. G. Collingwood dated the work from the “early part of 1828” or “first half of 1828”, based on his analysis of the sequence in which Ruskin entered poetry selections in MS III (see Composition and Publication; and see Poems [4o, 1891], 1:262, 272; Poems [8o, 1891] 1:263, 273; Ruskin, Works, 2:530). E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn disagreed and ascribed the work to 1827, in the belief that the poem was “a result of [Ruskinʼs] visit to Scotland in that year” (Ruskin, Works 2:260 n. 1; and see 276 n. 1). Helen Viljoen was initially inclined to accept the earlier date, because she considered the hand in the IA draft to be “very childish”, but then she decided that Cook and Wedderburn had “no legitimate basis” for correcting Collingwoodʼs date of 1828 (“Helen Gill Viljoen Papers”, box F, transcription of “The Monastery”).
The reasoning by the editors of the Library Edition seems to stand on the most speculative evidence—namely, Ruskinʼs comment in Praeterita that he “used to read the Abbot at Kinross, and the Monastery in Glen Farg” (Ruskin, Works, 2:260 n. 1; 35:16). While Ruskin may well have associated Walter Scottʼs novels with landmarks along the Ruskinsʼ route to Scotland in the 1820s, the editors neglect to explain why these associations should be tied so specifically to the journey of 1827. It is not known when Ruskin first read Scottʼs Monastery or heard it read to him. The case is strengthened, however, by the contents of MS III, the manuscript containing the fair copy of “The Monastery”. Immediately preceding Ruskinʼs poem occurs the anthology, “poetry discriptive”, which includes poems describing Loch Leven Castle and Glen Farg—the points along the journey to Perth that, according to Praeterita, Ruskin connected with his reading of Scottʼs novels. (In fact, it may have been this evidence in MS III that originally prompted Ruskinʼs comment in the autobiography, rather than this evidence independently documenting his memory.) In using this statement in Praeterita to link “The Monastery” to the family journey to Perth in 1827, the editors of the Library Edition evidently did not base their conclusion on the juxtaposition of the poem with “poetry discriptive”, since they believed the latter to date from 1826 (see Ruskin, Works, 2:260 n. 1, and see 535). But the poems in “poetry discriptive” do in fact belong to the family tour of 1827, tending to confirm Cook and Wedderburnʼs speculations. Viljoenʼs qualms about a date this early can be resolved by evidence that this tour fell unusually late in 1827—primarily in September and October, with departure sometime in August, and return sometime in November (see Tours of 1826–27).
The evidence is more indirect regarding whether “The Monastery”—or at least its first one or two books—should be considered a contemporaneous with the 1827 “poetry discriptive” project, or, as Collingwood contends, an insertion in that place from a later time. As explained in Composition and Publication, the only documented record of Ruskinʼs labor on “The Monastery” dates from March 1829, and even that passing reference in a letter is somewhat ambiguous. The statement might mean that, at that time, he was returning to composition and/or fair copy of the poem itself, or that he was working on something in MS III, which he meant to simply identify by its contents—that is, the Red Book known in the family for its containing “The Monastery”. Based on the concatenation of evidence in Composition and Publication, it appears likely that, in March 1829, he did compose and/or fair‐copy some portion of “The Monastery”—probably, books 3–4 (which he left incomplete)—while books 1–2 date from an earlier period. This period may be as early as between September and December 1827, but more likely from some time in 1828. The poemʼs associations with travel to Scotland may not derive from the Tour of 1827, but from the sadder occasion of mourning the loss of Ruskinʼs Aunt Jessie, who died in Perth in May 1828.
The MS III fair copy of book 3 shares some handwriting features with Ruskinʼs New Yearʼs 1829 productions, “Harry and Lucy”, Vol. III, and “A Battle: Irregular Measure”. There are also similarities in presentation with a production probably meant for his his fatherʼs 10 May 1829 birthday, the pamphlet “Battle of Waterloo, A Play, in Two Acts, with Other Small Poems, Dedicated to His Father”. [More to come.]
Composition and Publication
Previously unpublished in entirety. Brief excerpts were printed in Poems [4o, 1891], 1:272; Poems [8o, 1891] 1:273; Ruskin, Works 2:260 n. 1, 276 n. 1.
In a 4 March 1829 letter to her husband, Margaret Ruskin referred to Johnʼs writing “a novel” (Burd, ed., Ruskin Family Letters, 185)—presumably referring to this versification of scenes from Walter Scottʼs novel, Monastery (1820). In a 10 March letter to his father, John confirmed: “I am trying to get that red book of mine which has the Monastery in it finished, by the time you come home” (Burd, ed., Ruskin Family Letters, 192). Of the surviving Red Books, only MS III contains any portion of this work; and while Ruskinʼs statement is ambiguous, as remarked in Date, respecting whether he was working on the poem or simply in the Red Book containing the poem, Margaret indicated to John James that she saw definite progress on “The Monastery” itself: “he has commenced writing a novel & a Sermon both as far as they have gone very tolerable I assure you” (letter of 4 March 1829 [Burd, ed., Ruskin Family Letters, 185]).
Margaretʼs term commenced is also ambiguous, suggesting that Ruskin began his “novel” at this time; however, in his 10 March 1829 letter to his father, Ruskin implies that John James was already familiar with some portion of the versified novel. Initial composition may therefore have significantly predated Ruskinʼs “finishing” of MS III. Physical evidence in the MS III fair copy can be interpreted as reflecting two distinct stages of labor on the poem—a first stage comprising books 1–2, and a second (uncompleted) stage comprising books 3–4.
Stage One of Composition, circa 1828
In MS III, “The Monastery” immediately follows a group of poems entitled “poetry discriptive”, which Ruskin fair‐copied no earlier than May 1827, and probably sometime between September 1827 and New Yearʼs 1828 (see “Wales”: Date; and “poetry discriptive”: Date). There is no physical break between the anthology and the “novel” to indicate a change in genre or project, so it is possible that Ruskin considered “The Monastery” to be a continuation of the “poetry discriptive”. Given the inclusion in “poetry discriptive” of travel poems about Glenfarg and Loch Leven, and the juxtaposition of these poems with the verse novel, this portion of MS III bears witness to (and may even have inspired) Ruskinʼs autobiographical recollection that he “used to read the Abbot at Kinross, and the Monastery in Glen Farg, which I confused with ‘Glendearg’ [the fictional setting of the novel; see Discussion, and see also Glenfarg (place)]”. He “thought”, he goes on, “that the White Lady had as certainly lived by the streamlet [the Farg] in that glen of the Ochils, as the Queen of Scots in the island of Loch Leven” (Ruskin, Works, 35:16). As further evidence shows, however, while “poetry discriptive” establishes a lower limit in the time of composition for “The Monastery”, the two projects were distinct.
If “poetry discriptive” and the Tour of 1827 to Scotland form a terminus a quo for composition of “The Monastery”, how much time separated the verse novel from the tour poem anthology? For this question, the only evidence is handwriting. The hand for the verse novel uses print lettering similar to that for “poetry discriptive”, but generally smaller. Size of lettering in fact varies considerably within the anthology itself, the smallest being used for its first poem, “Ragland Castle”. Still, regardless of size, and despite the similarity in formation of letters, there is greater affinity between the lettering throughout the poems in “poetry discriptive” and the lettering used for the original versions of two of its poems, “Wales” and “Spring: Blank Verse” (as first fair‐copied in a May 1827 letter by Ruskin to his father), than between the respective hands for the poetry anthology and for “The Monastery”.
The orthography of “The Monastery” is distinctive for its studied attention to punctuation, which is largly neglected in the 1827 fair copies of “Wales”, “Spring: Blank Verse”, and the poems in “poetry discriptive”. In book 1 and the first eighty lines of book 2, almost every line of “The Monastery” ends with punctuation, most frequently a prominent comma formed to look like book print, with a dot and a curl, although the commas hover above the baseline like a swimming tadpole. There are also semicolons, which are almost consistently formed upside down, with the comma above the point. The eccentricity of the punctuation resembles the usage in “Eudosia” in MS IV. Here, too, the commas are typeface‐like, though they now fall on the baseline; and there are no upside‐down semicolons in “Eudosia”, although a new oddity turns up in the form of a two‐point ellipsis, like a colon on its side, its function unclear. (“The Monastery” is also punctuated with colons, but their rhetorical or grammatical function is obscure.) What most tellingly links the punctuation practice in “Eudosia” with that in “The Monastery” is that, in both cases, the dense but confusing marks abruptly give out altogether after several pages of fair‐copying, suggesting that Ruskin added the punctuation all at once, layering the marks over top of the already fair‐copied text. Evidently, he had not yet learned to integrate punctuation as a rhetorical and grammatical element of writing, but treated it effectively as a decorative feature in fair copy, as if to enhance the imitation of typeface. He used almost no punctuation when drafting the poem, as witnessed by the two draft fragments in MS IA, “now must we leave poor martin there” and “come on good horse and let us see”.
Since Ruskin himself dated “Eudosia” as 28 September 1828 (whether he meant the beginning or termination of that project), a timeline takes shape starting with Ruskinʼs first use of pen and ink, which his mother documented in April 1827 (see The Ruskin Family Handwriting). This is the period when Ruskin composed “Wales” and “Spring: Blank Verse”, and sent the poems in a May 1827 letter to his father, in anticipation of the tour of 1827. While that tour was delayed until August–November, its product in “poetry discriptive” is orthographically and thematically more akin to “Wales” and “Spring: Blank Verse” than to “The Monastery”, which shares a style of punctuation and other features with “Eudosia”. (The latter two works are also alike in being divided into “books”.) This suggests that, despite the lack of a physical separation between the poetry anthology and “The Monastery” in MS III, the projects were separated by a number of months, falling between the Ruskinsʼ return to Herne Hill from Scotland in November 1827 and the composition of “Eudosia” in September 1828.
This first stage of composition and fair‐copying appears clearly demarcated in MS III, with books 1–2 extending from the title, “THE MONASTERY”, to almost the end of the notebook (pp. 70–80). On p. 80, Ruskin concludes with a colophon, “END OF BOOK SECOND / HERNE HILL / DULWICH”. Inserted above the “END OF BOOK SECOND” is a direction to the reader to “go back to page 52” (since Ruskin had run out of available space at the end of the notebook), and on that earlier page the poem resumes with book 3, and extends through book 4, which breaks off incomplete on p. 58, after 52 lines of verse.
A hiatus in composition would not necessarily have corresponded with the end of fair‐copying book 2, given that, in any case, the fair‐copying was delimited by the physical end of the red book. Nonetheless, it seems probable that Ruskin signaled a significant break at the end of book 2 by adding the “publication” information “HERNE HILL / DULWICH”. No evidence proves when he inserted the direction to “go back to page 52”, but handwriting evidence in book 3 suggests that he took up that phase at a different time and under other circumstances. This division in the stages of composition is further supported by the two separate surviving witnesses of rough draft in MS IA, “now must we leave poor martin there” and “come on good horse and let us see”. The first, which is a draft of a portion of book 2, is written in cursive with pencil; the second, which is a draft of a portion of book 3, is written in cursive with pen and ink. When Ruskin first began to use pen and ink in 1827, he restricted his penmanship to fair‐copying in print letters, while continuing to rely on pencil for cursive script. Later, he transitioned to pen and ink for both draft in cursive and fair copy in print lettering (see The Ruskin Family Handwriting). An example of the former is Ruskinʼs May 1827 letter to his father, in which he fair‐copied the poems “Wales” and “Spring: Blank Verse”, in ink print lettering, but wrote the body text of the letter in pencil cursive. An example of the latter is the 1828–29 handmade pamphlet, MS II, which includes ink cursive draft of “Eudosia” and “On Skiddaw and Derwent Water”, which are fair‐copied in ink print lettering elsewhere.
Since the first stage of composition probably comprised books 1–2 in 1828, what occasioned the work? A conjecture based on internal evidence, and in keeping with the physical evidence for dating and composition, is the death of Janet (“Jessie”) Richardson, the sister of John James Ruskin, in Perth on 18 May 1828. As internal evidence of this connection, Ruskin condensed and rearranged opening episodes of Scottʼs novel to emphasize its supernatural and spiritual aspects (see Ruskinʼs Arrangement of Episodes from Scottʼs Novel). In addition, as an internal reflection of the immediate consequence of Jessieʼs death—the Ruskinsʼ adoption of the only surviving Richardson daughter, Mary, into the Herne Hill household—Ruskinʼs book 2 is a detailed rendering of an episode that tangentially concerns adoption. In the novel, a benign captain of an English raiding party, Stawarth Bolton, confronts Elspet Glendinning and her two sons, and half‐jokingly offers to adopt either the “blue eyed” and reverential younger brother, Edward, or the “black eyed” and feisty older brother, Halbert. For Scott, the purpose of the episode was primarily to dramatize the English policy, following their victory at the Battle of Pinkie Cleuch, of balancing assurances of protection for compliant Scots, especially Protestants, with threats of destruction against defiant Scots patriots (see Discussion: The Historical Context of Scottʼs Novel).
Stage One of Composition: Surviving Draft
While the version of Ruskinʼs poem in the MS III fair copy does play out details connected these political and military themes, the text in the MS IA pencil draft, “now must we leave poor martin there”, consists solely of lines 29–62 of book 2, containing the portion of Captain Stawarth Boltonʼs visit to the Tower of Glendearg, in which he offers to Elspet Glendinning to adopt her two sons—first, Edward, the younger, and then Halbert, the elder. This manuscript is therefore focused on the theme of adoption, a topic that would have been on Ruskinʼs mind with the recent adoption of his cousin, Mary Richardson, into the Herne Hill household. For more conjecture about the family events underlying stage one of composition, see Discussion: The Family Context of Composition.
Stage Two of Composition, circa March 1829
To return to Margaret Ruskinʼs observation on 4 March 1829 that John had “commenced writing a novel & a Sermon” (Burd, ed., Ruskin Family Letters, 185)—a resumption, actually, of “The Monastery”, although Margaret could reasonably perceive it as a commencement, since perhaps a year had elapsed since the first stage of composition—the second stage of composition can be correlated with sermon materials composed between February–May 1829: the fragments, “A Theme” and Sermon Notes [“christs intercession”], are embedded in the midst of draft of “On Skiddaw and Derwent Water” (i.e., between installments of the latterʼs MS II draft witness, “description of skiddaw & lake derwent”). These writings are associated with Johnʼs infatuation with the Reverend Edward Andrews, a hero worship shared and perhaps instigated by his cousin Mary Richardson, who was now very much at home in Camberwell.
Physical evidence in MS III supports the hypothesis that the second stage of composition comprised books 3 and 4 of “The Monastery”. The pages occupied by these two books (pp. 52–58, plus three blanks, pp. 59–61) take up the available leaves in MS III that fall between pages containing a group of poems dated 9 March 1829, the MS III Third Poetry Anthology (pp. 36–50, plus a blank, p. 51), and the leaves containing the “poetry discriptive” (pp. 62–70). When Ruskin turned to these interstitial leaves to continue with books 3–4 (having used up the leaves at the end of the notebook to fair‐copy books 1–2), the space occupied by “poetry discriptive” unquestionably presented him with a terminus ad quem for available space, while a terminus a quo was likely already present in the form of the MS III Third Poetry Anthology, dated 9 March 1829 by Ruskin—or that group was at least underway.
The inference that the MS III Third Poetry Anthology must have been in place or underway cannot now be proven with physical evidence, but that scenario is more persuasive than Ruskin having decided in 1829 to resume book 3 on p. 52 arbitrarily, with nothing in particular framing that space. Rather, one can assume, when Ruskin reported to his father on 10 March 1829 that he was determined to “get that red book of mine [MS III] which has the Monastery in it finished, by the time you come home”, he had at least begun the MS III Third Poetry Anthology with its prominent and repeated datelines “March 1829” and “March 9th 1829” scattered throughout (letter of 10 March 1829 [Burd, ed., Ruskin Family Letters, 192]). By interspersing the date 9 March 1829 among that group of poems, Ruskin was evidently concerned to demonstrate his success in meeting this deadline (see the commentary on the first poem copied in the March 9 group, “Of rocks first and of caverns now i sing”).
But despite his promise, Ruskin left “The Monastery” unfinished, with marginal line numbering trailing into unfilled space on p. 58 and three available pages left blank. By this time, his attention must have been diverted from the narrative poem—which, in any case, conceptually presented an endless drudgery, with thirty chapters remaining in Scottʼs novel to be versified, not to mention the novelʼs sequel, The Abbot—and he was now absorbed in composing a major loco‐descriptive poem for his fatherʼs 10 May 1829 birthday, “On Skiddaw and Derwent Water”. Whether Ruskin achieved a form of emotional closure with “The Monastery” is another question. He turned aside from a gothic narrative, which for him was entangled with connections in Scotland that had been severed by death, in exchange for a poem in the picturesque mode for his fatherʼs birthday, a poem that reopened a desire for the Lake District that had been thwarted during the Tour of 1828.
Stage Two of Composition: Surviving Draft
There is no surviving draft from the second stage of composing “The Monastery” that Ruskin neglected to fair‐copy. A portion that was fair‐copied does survive, however, in MS IA, as a one‐sheet manuscript, “come on good horse and let us see”, containing lines from “Book Third” in MS III. This manuscript exhibits significant revision.
On the verso of this manuscript, a line group starts with “martin took his task as guide”, lines 20–21 as fair‐copied and numbered in the MS III version of book 3. In draft, this couplet is followed by a horizontal rule, and then by lines 14–19 and 22–25 of book 3 (as fair‐copied). The text continues onto the recto with line 26, “come on good horse and let us see”; and the text continues to the bottom of the recto, through line 59 as fair‐copied in MS III. The text continues onto the verso again, with lines 60–62 at the top of the verso, above the line group starting with lines 20–21. Thus, the text of lines 14–62 loop around the two sides of the manuscript.
Physical characteristics of the manuscript do not necessarily lend themselves, however, to a straightforward interpretation of the sequence of composition. The hand is Ruskinʼs cursive throughout, but on the verso, the medium is entirely pencil, including both the beginning of the passage, lines 20–21, 14–19, and 22–25, and the ending lines of the passage, 60–62. On the recto, the medium is entirely ink, lines 26–59. Moreover, the sheet has been sheared and torn at the edges, resulting in loss of portions of the versoʼs pencil text, where the writing had extended into the lost edges, whereas on the recto the ink text did not suffer from the tearing. Rather, on this side, Ruskin appears to have fitted his writing to the margins that were left following the mutilation. Based on the physical evidence, then, one interpretation of the sequence of composition suggests that Ruskin reused the sheet after it was torn—damage that partially obscured the penciled lines on the verso, but leaving him with a blank side, the recto, to compose the subsequent text in ink (see MS IA Apparatus).
This interpretation, which assumes straightforward continuity of composition—from verso, to recto, and back to verso, with intervening mutilation of the sheet—is not contradicted by the three lines (60–62) continued at the top of the verso, since those lines are complete, unaffected by the tearing. This reconstruction does fail to explain, however, why Ruskin would have switched from pen and ink back to pencil for the final three lines on the verso. It seems odd that he would have put down his pen at the bottom of the recto and returned to pencil.
As an alternative explanation, the ink text on the recto may be viewed as representing, not part of a continuous act of composition looping around both sides of the sheet, but a discontinuous intervention. The ink text might represent a copy or new version of a witness, now unknown, that had carried on with the text from the verso, starting from line 26, “come on good horse and let us see”. The ink text, moreover, contains significant revision in itself, in the form of complex substitutions. These changes are encoded in the MS IA witness and discussed in an accompanying textual gloss. If, in addition, the ink text represents an intervention prior to this revision, then the manuscript pays double witness to perplexity that Ruskin encountered in versifying this section of Scottʼs novel. See Anti‐Catholicism in the Ruskin Family
The Historical Context of Scottʼs Novel
The political context of Scottʼs The Monastery is set in motion prior to its opening by the “rough wooing” of 1544–45, whereby Henry VIII sought to force a union between his son and heir, Edward (1537–53), and the infant Mary Stewart (1542–87), daughter of the late James V of Scotland (1512–42) and Mary of Guise (1515–60). “They speak about the wedding of the Prince and our Queen”, observes Elspet Glendinning near the beginning of the novel. Henry hoped to break Scotlandʼs traditional alliance with France and annex the country as part of assuring the Tudor succession. In Scotland, a treaty to this effect was guided by James Hamilton, earl of Arran (1519–75), who had been appointed governor of Scotland and tutor to the child Mary upon the death of James V. As a Protestant, Arran had been the first to propose the future union of the two royal heirs. At home, however, an anti‐English faction quickly formed against him, composed of clergy and nobles. The Scottish parliament did prepare a treaty agreeing to the marriage, but preserving Scottish sovereignty, terms that Henry was unlikely to accept, as he pursued increasingly aggressive conditions for the agreement. The arrangement foundered, with the Scottish parliament now condemning the treaty; Mary was crowned queen of Scots; and the anti‐English, pro‐Catholic faction reaffirmed the Auld Alliance with France. Henry was incensed, determined to force the marriage, and to claim overlordship of Scotland with no allowance for separate sovereignty. Accordingly, he appointed troops under Edward Seymour, earl of Hertford (1500–52), to “put all to fyre and swoord”. In two campaigns, Hertford destroyed portions of Edinburgh, and he captured castles and monasteries around the Firth of Forth, including Melrose Abbey on which Scott loosely modeled his novelʼs eponymous fictional Monastery of Saint Mary at Kennaquhair (Mitchison, History of Scotland, 103–4, 105–6; King and Etty, England and Scotland, 109–12; Scott, The Monastery, ed. Fielding, 53 [vol. 1, chap. 4]; Fielding, “Historical Note”, 434–35).
After Henryʼs death in January 1547, Hertford, now duke of Somerset and lord protector under Edward VI, sought a new approach to Scotland. Temporary raids would give way to a campaign for permanent occupation, while compliant Scots would be offered assurances, with a view to establishing a Protestant Britain. Somerset marched an army north in September 1547 and won a decisive victory at the Battle of Pinkie Cleuch, near Edinburgh. This battle, along with the English raids surrounding it, forms the historical reference point at the start of Scottʼs The Monastery—the conflict that made widows of both Lady Avenel and her neighboring yeomanʼs wife, Elspet Glendinning. As dramatized by the novelʼs opening encounter between an occupying English soldier and Elspet and her two sons—the lads barely able to contain their defiance of the “heretic” Englishman—the military victory not only failed to quell Scottish resistance, but also helped to undermine the Scottish Protestant interests that Somerset hoped to enlist. Mary of Guise successfully concluded her daughterʼs betrothal to the French dauphin, later François II (1544–60); and hatred of the English invaders and the reaffirmation of the Auld Alliance put Scottish Protestants on the defensive, hesitant to look to England for support—a hope that soon turned even less tenable with the accession of the English Catholic queen, Mary I (ruled 1553–58). Somersetʼs program of winning over the Scots with assurances declined, with influence shifting back to France (Mitchison, History of Scotland, 107–8; King and Etty, England and Scotland, 113–17).
With the death of Mary I and succession of Elizabeth I in England, France and Spain joined in a program to suppress Protestantism, stirring conflict and resentment in Scotland, already restive under the Auld Alliance, which had saddled the country with the expensive presence of French troops. When Henri II of France declared that his daughter‐in‐law Mary, Queen of Scots, was Queen of England as well, Scottish Protestants were again emboldened to look to England for a common cause of resistance. Religious divisions in Scotland deepened, as John Knox preached fiery sermons that incited mob attacks on abbeys. Protestants were firmly in control by 1561, when Mary Stewart returned from France to Scotland, recently widowed by the death of the dauphin (Johnson, “Historical Note”, 464–65).
Strictly, these latest events of 1558–61 belong to the context of Scottʼs sequel to The Monastery, The Abbot; however, as Penny Fielding explains, Scott deliberately avoided specifying dates and treated chronology loosely in The Monastery. Toward the end of the novel, Elizabeth has already come to the throne in England, and the widowed Mary Stewart has returned to Scotland—events that historically would have fallen after the years comprised by the novelʼs chronology, as based on a strict reckoning of the charactersʼ ages (Fielding, “Historical Note”, 434). This warped chronology has no effect on Ruskinʼs project of versifying the novel, which never extended beyond the opening chapters set in the aftermath of the Battle of Pinkie. As novels about the rise of the Scottish Reformation, however, The Monastery and The Abbot—the latter of which Ruskin had also read by March 1829 (Burd, ed., Ruskin Family Letters, 193–94, 195 n. 5)—must be viewed as significant choices for Ruskinʼs decision to compose a “novel” in 1828–29. At that time, and particularly during Stage Two of Composition, the Catholic Emancipation Bill was being hotly debated (see Discussion: Anti‐Catholicism in the Ruskin Family).
Ruskinʼs Arrangement of Episodes from Scottʼs Novel
In his selection of episodes, Ruskin lifts events out of Scottʼs narrative sequence, and begins with an episode centered on the White Lady. The apparition is the spectral protector of the Avenel family, and she is particularly watchful over Lady Avenelʼs vernacular bible—the novelʼs recurring metonymic sign of forbidden Protestant worship within the monasteryʼs sacred sphere, its “halidome”. Overall, Ruskinʼs selections de‐emphasize the novelʼs staging of complex political conflict surrounding the Scottish Reformation, and instead favor the storyʼs supernatural elements.
The focus seems chosen in part for the sake of the supernaturalism in itself, although the choice also bears the effect of favoring Scottish Protestantism at the cost of Scottʼs purposes, which are more latitudinarian respecting religion. As summarized in Scottʼs introduction to the Magnum Opus edition of the novel, the novelʼs aim is “to conjoin two characters [i.e., the monastery Sub‐Prior Eustace and the Reform preacher Henry Warden] in that bustling and contentious age who, thrown into situations which gave them different views on the subject of the Reformation, should, with the same sincerity and purity of intention, dedicate themselves, the one to the support of the sinking fabric of the Catholic Church, the other to the establishment of the Reformed doctrines” (Scott, Works, Caledonian Edition, 17:ix). As commented in ERMʼs contextual glosses on the text, Ruskin tips the scales of Scottʼs ecumenical aim by coloring particular passages with Protestant discourse and by foregrounding in the overall arrangement the supernatural interventions of White Lady in defense of the Protestant vernacular bible.
Ruskin omits the names of the monastery fathers, with the exception of Eustace, referring to them only (and sometimes confusingly) as “the monk”, “the abbot”, and so on. The neglect may suggest that he avoided personalizing the Roman Catholic characters, given that he does name each of the Scottish characters. Confusion may also have arisen, however, from his unfamiliarity with monastic titles, which he gets wrong in places. He also mistakes the military rank of the English soldier, Stawarth Bolton.
Ruskinʼs episodes correspond to Scottʼs chapters as follows:
- Book 1, based on The Monastery, chapters 5, 7.
- Ruskin establishes a context by inventing a brief invocation to the White Lady. The action begins with a monk (Father Philip, the sacristan of the Monastery of Saint Mary) being denied passage over the Tweed by the warder of the drawbridge. Preparing to ford the river on his mule, he encounters the White Lady. Supposing her to be a woman stranded on the bank by the churlish bridge‐ward, he offers to carry her across the stream, only to be thrown from his mount by the spirit, when they reach deep water. While Ruskinʼs poem mentions that the monk grasps “a black volume”—Lady Avenelʼs vernacular bible, which Father Philip has confiscated—the poem omits explanation of Philipʼs discovery of the forbidden book on a pastoral visit to the Tower of Glendearg, where Lady Avenel and her daughter are residing. The poem also passes over the monksʼ expressions of zeal (in Scottʼs chapters 5, 6, and 7) to crush heretical Reform ideas infiltrating the halidome. Cutting to the end of Scottʼs chapter 7, Ruskin follows Philip home to the monastery, where, still amazed and gibbering snatches of the White Ladyʼs song, he is interviewed by Abbot Boniface and Father Eustace, who resolve that Eustace shall visit Glendearg to investigate for himself.
- Book 2, based on The Monastery, chapters 2, 3.
- Ruskin efficiently condenses the introduction of the main Scottish characters. He touches on the Battle of Pinkie to explain conditions at the Tower of Glendearg, which is bereft of its master, the yeoman Simon Glendinning; and (skipping to the opening of Scottʼs chapter 3), he draws a parallel with the estate of Avenel, likewise absent of its baron, Walter Avenel, who has been killed “for the good of his country in battle”. Still continuing with Scottʼs chapter 3, Ruskin introduces the widow, Alice, Lady Avenel and her daughter, Mary Avenel. Thus, he reverses the order in which characters are introduced in the novel, which begins in Scottʼs chapter two with the yeomanʼs widow, Elspet Glendinning, and her two sons—Halbert, the elder; and Edward, the younger. By beginning with the knighted class of characters, Ruskin maintains a connection with the “avenel haunt” that he introduces in book 1, though at the cost of some confusion over what “foe” drives Lady Avenel and Mary to seek refuge in the farmerʼs cottage of Martin and Tibb Tacket, whom Ruskin introduces here, as does Scott in chapter 3. The threat that alarms them, of “english barbarians that plunder the land”, refers to Somersetʼs occupation of the Border after Pinkie Cleuch, and his attempt to win over Scottish Protestants by combining the coercion of raids with the persuasion of assurances. This context is supplied as Ruskin swings back to Scottʼs chapter two, and the confrontation between the English captain, Stawarth Bolton, and Dame Glendinning and her two sons. Ruskin dwells on this episode in considerable detail, clearly finding great interest in the boysʼ contrasting personalities and their respective responses to Boltonʼs bestowal of his protection and his half‐joking offer to adopt either of the boys.
- Book 3, based on The Monastery, chapters 3, 4.
- Ruskin returns the focus to the White Lady and the Avenels, by narrating the journey to the Tower of Glendearg by Lady Avenel and Mary, led by Martin and Tibb Tacket. Losing their way, the party is stranded in a dangerous bog. As the pony Shagram, who is carrying Mary, shies from moving forward, the girl observes a fair lady, whom no one else can see—the White Lady—signaling to the party to follow her on a path to safety. Tibb and Martin exchange apprehensions about fairies. The narrator draws briefly on an exchange between Dame Glendinning and Tibb Tacket in chapter 4 to explain the haunting of the House of Avenel by the White Lady.
- Book 4, based on The Monastery, chapter 4.
- To establish the occasion of this episode as All‐Hallowʼs Eve (an evening that, in Scottʼs novel, also marks the anniversary of the All‐Hallowʼs Eve three years earlier, when the party crossed the bog to the Tower of Glendearg), Ruskin prefaces the action with original verses, cataloguing a variety of Scottish spirits. On this evening, Dame Glendinning and the servants work by the fire, as Lady Avenel reads from her bible. The children—Halbert, Edward, and Mary—have been playing in adjacent rooms, when the boys rush to the elders to report sighting a “ghost like fame”, an armed man. All return to the room but find no one, and Dame Glendinning upbraids the boys for their fright. The episode breaks off, unfinished, just short of explaining that, on Halloween night, Mary Avenel has witnessed the apparition of her dead father.
The Critical Context of Scottʼs Novel versus Ruskinʼs Supernatural Emphasis
Ruskinʼs favoring the supernatural episodes, and the White Lady in particular, reversed the majority opinion in the critical reception of the novel. In the introduction to the Magnum Opus edition (published in 1830, after the date of Ruskinʼs poem [Millgate, Scottʼs Last Edition, 24]), Scott admitted that the White Lady “was far from being popular” (Works, Caledonian Edition, 17:xx). Reviewersʼ objections centered on the “machinery” of the White Ladyʼs interventions. In the view of Nassau Senior (1790–1864), writing in 1821 for the Quarterly Review, Scott neglected to explain “what he intends to represent” by the White Lady. Senior could discern “no motives” for the character, except to carry forward a poorly “digested plan” for the novel—a mechanism reflected in the novelʼs “disproportion of parts” (Review of Rob Roy [etc.] by the Author of Waverley, 137; see also Senior, Essays on Fiction, 55). Similarly, in 1820, the reviewer for the Edinburgh Magazine considered the White Lady merely “opportune”, her “insufferable” manifestations ludicrously suggesting the meddling of a “female Puck or Robin Goodfellow” (Unsigned review of The Monastery: A Romance, 302, 303). Such “machinery is introduced to no ultimate purpose”, chimed in the Edinburgh Monthly Review, “and every thing [the White Lady] does, is absurd almost to childishness” (Unsigned review of The Monastery: A Romance; and The Abbot, 694).
For the high‐spirited young Ruskin, episodes that struck sober reviewers as childish, such as the White Ladyʼs dunking Father Philip in the Tweed, may well have seemed just good fun. At the same time, Ruskin felt the mystery of the White Lady, as suggested by the incantation with which he begins his poem. In capturing this mood of the novel, Ruskinʼs response might be compared to that of the reviewer for Blackwoodʼs Edinburgh Magazine, who was untroubled by the other reviewersʼ standard for a credible plot, instead finding merit in “the reading of the Monastery” as “a calm enjoyment” (emphasis in original): “Nothing can be more delightful; but nothing at the same time can be more quiet. The different scenes spread themselves out in a fine variegated and easy succession”. The reviewer relates this unfolding of varying scenes and moods to what he or she imagines Scottʼs experience to have been when composing the novel. In the aftermath of the authorʼs previous “extraordinary exertions” over Ivanhoe, the reviewer believes, Scott was “induced . . . to linger so very near home” in the novelʼs Border setting, and “to luxuriate over the silence of his own pastoral glens, the music of his own haunted mountain‐brooks—and the calm domestic magnificence of that unrivalled landscape” and “stately beauty of Melrose” (Unsigned review of The Monastery: A Romance, 693).
The Family Context of Composition
Recent Family Deaths
As proposed in Stage One of Composition, circa 1828, Ruskinʼs composition of “The Monastery” may have been prompted by the death of his Aunt Jessie in May 1828, and the adoption of his cousin, Mary Richardson (1815–49), into the household in July 1828. (John James also committed to financial support of the three surviving sons; see Jessie Richardson [1783–1828].) These events can be seen reflected in the outcome of stage one of composition, books 1 and 2 of “The Monastery”, especially if these two books are considered as constituting a work in itself, finished off with a colophon on p. 80. Book 1 narrates a haunting by a supernatural spirit of Scottish lore, followed by book 2 and its banter about possible adoption—the latter being almost the sole theme represented in the MS IA draft fragment of book 2. Even the comedy in book 1, the White Ladyʼs fording the river with Father Philip after he was denied passage across the bridge, suggests uncanny connections with family history. The Richardsons lived at Bridge End on the east end of Perth Bridge, before moving across the river to Rose Terrace, on the North Inch. In Praeterita, Aunt Jessie is credited with a “foresight dream” of river crossings, foreboding her own death as well as the deaths of Ruskinʼs younger cousin, Jessie (1820–27), and an old servant, Mause (Ruskin, Works, 35:70–71; for more on the thematic resonance of Scottʼs Monastery throughout Ruskinʼs career, see Sawyer, Ruskinʼs Poetic Argument, 17–19).
Aunt Jessieʼs death interrupted a family tour to the west country and the Lake District. The family was in Plymouth when the news reached them on 24 May 1828 (see Tour of 1828; and Travel Itinerary and Tour Notes ; “The Sound of the Sea”). Ruskin recalls in Praeterita returning from a walk with his nurse, Anne Strachan, “on the hill east of the town [Plymouth Hoe], looking out on the bay and breakwater, and came in to find my father, for the first time I had ever seen him, in deep distress of sobbing tears” (Ruskin, Works, 35:71). The Ruskins abbreviated but did not immediately terminate their tour, continuing to visit sites in the southwest. There is no evidence that they traveled to Scotland, but Ruskin may have begun stage one of composition of “The Monastery” soon after the return home. Cousin Mary came to Herne Hill in July 1828 (see Burd, introduction to A Tour to the Lakes in Cumberland, 7), an event that may well have put Ruskin in mind of the two families, the Avenels and the Glendinnings, coming together in a single household in The Monastery. Ruskin may even have been conscious of some class tension surrounding the adoption of his northern cousin—just as, in the novel, the two widows, Lady Avenel and Dame Glendinning, form an amiable relationship, while maintaining class differences that the servant Tibb Tacket continuously observes in order to secure her own status.
More enigmatic is how the spirit of that deceased cousin, Jessie, may also hover over Ruskinʼs adaptation of the novel. In Praeterita, Ruskin memorializes Jessie as an inseperable playmate, both in their exhibitions of precocious infant piety and in their unhindered romps among streams and fields on the North Inch of Perth (Ruskin, Works, 35:63, 66, 69). Three years passed after her death in 1827, before Ruskin directly acknowledged her passing in “On the Death of My Cousin Jessy”. The exact date of her death at age eight is not recorded by Viljoen in Ruskinʼs Scottish Heritage, presumably because the date is not discoverable (pp. 157, 182, 185), but one wonders if this loss contributed to delaying the Ruskinsʼ Scotland journey in 1827, and then solemnized the long two‐month visit in September and October (see Tours of 1826–27). This death too, then, would have contributed to Ruskinʼs feelings when choosing to summarize Scottʼs novel in the next year.
Most engimatic of all, perhaps, is Ruskinʼs abandonment of his project (in fair copy, and so far as we know, also in draft) just short of bearing witness to the death, not of a mother or daughter, but of a father—Mary Avenelʼs haunting by the spirit of Sir Walter Avenel. One might speculate that the omission was related to Ruskinʼs alarm over his fatherʼs vulnerability, exposed to him when witnessing John James in “distress of sobbing tears” over his sister Jessieʼs death—“the first time I had ever seen him” so, Ruskin adds, when recalling this powerful image in Praeterita (Ruskin, Works, 35:71).
Beyond reflecting the impact of immediate family losses, the mystery of the White Lady seems to have been further deepened for Ruskin by association with Byronʼs Witch of the Alps. Francis Jeffrey, as well, noticed the derivation from Manfred. Reviewing The Monastery for the Edinburgh Review in 1822, he considered “the first apparition of the spirit [the White Lady] by her lonely fountain (though borrowed from Lord Byronʼs Witch of the Alps in Manfred)” to be “very beautifully imagined”, justifying the powerful “effect of the interview on the mind of the young aspirant to whom she reveals herself [Halbert Glendinning]”. While Jeffrey draws the line, like other reviewers, at the White Ladyʼs bizarre “descent” with Halbert “into an alabaster cavern, and the seizure of a stolen Bible from an altar blazing with cold flames”, which he compares to “an unlucky combination of a French fairy tale and a dull German romance”, he did not consider the Romantic‐inspired image of the White Lady “the worst blemish of ‘the Monastery’” (Review of The Fortunes of Nigel, by the Author of Waverley, 205; see also Jeffrey, Contributions to the Edinburgh Review, 3:483). For Ruskin, the White Lady seems to resonate with a fascination deeply rooted in the juvenila, starting with “Harry and Lucy”, Vol. 1 (1826–27), in which Harry “observed a rainbow and a rising mist under it which his fancy soon transformed into a female form”, and he “remembered the witch of the waters at the Alps” who in Byronʼs Manfred “was raised from them by takeing some water in the hand and throwing it into the air pronouncing some unintelligable words”. In book 3 of Ruskinʼs “The Monastery”, the White Lady is a “form appearing like a fog” (see “The Monastery”).
Anti‐Catholicism in the Ruskin Family
On 14 February 1829, shortly before Ruskin started the second phase of composing “The Monastery”, Margaret flashed out in a postscript to a letter to John James, “I may be prejudiced but it seems to me that all that is urged by the R Catholics and their favourers is weak equivocal underhand equally devoid of sincerity or honesty & integrity[. I]n short they appear to me not to care what they do or say to gain their end[.] I believe they would take Satan himself into their cabals to further their purposes to bring every thing under their subjection” (Burd, ed., Ruskin Family Letters, 177). Such hostility and suspicion would not have been shared by Scott, who as a Scottish Episcopalian approved of moderation and compromise, and “in his expression of his personal religious views” George Marshall remarks, “consistently placed a high value on common sense and civic, as well as individual, virtue” (Marshall, “Scott and the Reformation of Religion”, 83).
Knowing that his even‐handed treatment of the Scottish Reformation in The Monastery would not be popular with many readers, Scott prefaced the novel with fictitious epistles that “raise the question of partiality and impartiality, in a jocular, self-deprecating, and sometimes slightly ironic, way” (Marshall, “Scott and the Reformation of Religion”, 84). The first epistle, by a local antiquarian of Kennaquhair, Captain Clutterbuck, relates how he was entrusted with the manuscript of The Monastery by a stranger, a Benedictine monk—“‘a gentleman every inch of him’”, and a scholar—who traveled to the abbey ruin to disinter the entombed heart of his ancestor (Abbot Ambrose, Edward Glendinning). The Captain is respectful toward the monk and assists him, but scrupulously declines, as “a sound protestant”, “to implicate myself in any recruiting . . . for the advancement of popery”. In a reply to Clutterbuck, the Author of Waverley undertakes publication of the manuscript on condition of “alter[ing] whatever seemed too favourable to the Church of Rome, which I abominate, were it but for her fasts and penance”. Thus, with this urbane joke, Scott deflates what Margaret Ruskin considered a national crisis (Scott, The Monastery, ed. Fielding, 9, 15, 30 [“Introductory Epistle from Captain Clutterbuck . . . to the Author of ‘Waverley’”, “Answer by ‘the Author of Waverley’ to the Foregoing Letter from Captain Clutterbuck”]).
Ruskin likely heard heated opinions about Roman Catholicism expressed in the household while he was engaged with the second phase of composing “The Monastery”, during which Catholic Emancipation was being debated. Since Margaret commented approvingly on his “writing a novel & a Sermon both as far as they have gone very tolerable I assure you”, she may have perceived these compositions as exercises in anti‐Catholicism (Burd, ed., Ruskin Family Letters, 185). While Ruskin was perhaps not equal to or interested in versifying the more polemical passages of the novel—passages that, in any case, conveyed a more judicious view of the Protestant‐Catholic divide during the Reformation than his mother would have approved—he did, as previously suggested, implicitly favor the Protestant cause through his arrangement of episodes (Ruskinʼs Arrangement of Episodes from Scottʼs Novel). That a ten‐year‐old achieved this emphasis by concentrating on episodes involving the White Ladyʼs interventions on behalf of the Avenels would, in the view of most reviewers of Scottʼs novel, have only confirmed what they regarded as the “childishness” of those episodes (The Critical Context of Scottʼs Novel versus Ruskinʼs Supernatural Emphasis). Yet Ruskinʼs fixation on the White Lady may not be adequately explained as a means to appease his motherʼs anti‐Catholicism combined with Gothic excitement; arguably, his response was an authentically spiritual expression, reacting positively to the supernaturalism in Scottʼs novel that critics found jarring.
Chad T. May argues that The Monastery is “unlike any other novel Scott wrote” in the directness with which he represented religious mystery. Whereas “supernatural elements are incorporated throughout Scottʼs novels”, May argues, these elements are “always presented within a rational framework that allows readers to see them as simply the product of a prior belief system”. In The Monastery, however, “the White Ladyʼs presence and actions . . . exceed the skeptical frame of the narrator”. Scott licensed this excess, May believes, in order to employ “the White Lady as a figure to represent the mysteries of religious faith”:
In other words, instead of offering an account of the psychological or emotional conflicts that must surely precede any type of religious conversion, the text offers a symbolic account that alludes to instances of religious transformation throughout the Christian tradition as well as the central theological disputes that animated the Protestant reformers. . . . The White Lady may have been a failure from the perspective of Scottʼs critics, but she stands as a marker for that which lies outside historical explanation, in this case faith. Without the dominant rational or skeptical framework present in his other novels, Scott makes it clear that what is at stake is not simply representing a belief system of the past, but giving voice to those qualities of human existence which remain, even in the present day, beyond the purview of reason.
(May, “Sir Walter Scottʼs The Monastery and the Representation of Religious Belief”, 191, 197, 203, 206–7)
As a comparatively naive, but intensive reader, Ruskin perhaps held an advantage over Scottʼs critics in responding emotionally and without embarrassment to this representation of religious mystery. Textual evidence exists that Ruskin specifically rejected a rational, historicized explanation of spiritual phenomena in the novel. In the the draft fragment, “come on good horse and let us see”, Ruskin initially wrote that it was the family “avenels fate / to see things that nobody saw / except themselves, and would say pshaw”. Ruskin deleted this gruff expression of skepticism and, in an intricate substitution, replaced the couplet with “but it was great avenels fate / to have a spirit in their line / and so it was this odd time”. Ruskinʼs source passage in the novel contained a cue that would have allowed for the “pshaw”, or at least for a more politely noncommital expression, by relegating the White Ladyʼs manifestations to an “old time” rather than an “odd time”. In an exchange between Tibb Tacket and Elspet Glendinning on the Halloween night when Mary Avenel allegedly saw the ghost of her father, Tibb defends the Avenelsʼ privileged connection with the spirit world: “‘Mony braw services’” the White Lady “‘has dune’” for the Avenels “‘in the auld histories’”, Tibb proudly declares, although she admits that “‘I mind oʼ naething in my day, except it was her that the bairn saw in the bog’” (Scott, The Monastery, ed. Fielding, 56 [vol. 1, chap. 4]). Restricting the White Ladyʼs actions to the “auld histories” of the novelʼs pre‐history or even its sixteenth‐century setting would have served as a typical disclaimer in any other Scott novel. In draft revision, Ruskin specifically rejected this choice, however, supplanting a scornful “pshaw”, not with a tolerance for beliefs of an “old” time, but with wonder over the mystery of an “odd” time (see also Stage Two of Composition: Surviving Draft).
At the same time, other religious aspects of the novel presented Ruskin with choices about which he may have felt more ambivalent. As already suggested, the projectʼs connection with Recent Family Deaths is enigmatic; and the point at which Ruskin abandoned the project, at least in fair copy, suggests that he may have felt a particular challenge assimilating an episode that raises the spectre of a fatherʼs death. The novel may also have challenged Ruskin by presenting conflicts in his identification with the protagonists. Halbert Glendinning grows into the Protestant hero, a journey that begins with his summoning the White Lady by pronouncing “mystical rhymes”, as does Ruskinʼs Harry at the end of “Harry and Lucy”, Vol. 1, when invoking the Witch of the Alps. According to the narrator, Halbert “‘came hither a boy’” to confront the White Lady but means to “‘return a man’”, determined to gain the the spiritʼs aid in “learn[ing] the contents of that mysterious volume”, Alice Avenelʼs vernacular bible, and to understand “why the Lady of Avenel loved it—why the priests feared, and would have stolen it”. Compared to this scene, Edward Glendinning exhibits no less resolution than his brother, when defending Mary Avenelʼs possession of her motherʼs bible against the pressure by Sub‐Prior Eustace to “borrow” it. Yet, for a Protestant reader, Edwardʼs independence is ominously compromised by his acceptance of a pledge that Eustace offers in place of the plain “black book”—a “gay missal”, filled with images that excite his “eager curiosity” (Scott, The Monastery, ed. Fielding, 113, 115 [vol. 2, chap. 1]; 91 [vol. 1, chap. 9]).
Ultimately, tbe novel palliates Protestant anxiety about idolatry. Although Eustaceʼs distraction succeeds in gaining him temporary possession of the bible, Edward is not so “lost in wonder” over the missalʼs pictures that he forgets that “‘Mary may like that [black book] best which was her motherʼs’”. Terrors do not lie in Eustaceʼs parting promise to Edward—to “‘teach you to write and read such beautiful letters as you see there written, and to paint them blue, green, and yellow, and to blazon them with gold’”. The greatest temptation raised in Edwardʼs mind by the prospect of making graven images is merely to learn to “paint Maryʼs picture”—Mary Avenelʼs, not the Virginʼs—a fancy that reminds him to exact a parting promise from Eustace to return the bible. Even at the end of the novel, when Edward, now a novitiate, learns that he has lost Mary to both his brother and the Protestant faith, and the Earl of Morayʼs army is closing on Kennaquhair and threatening destruction of the abbey, Scott brings the preacher, Henry Warden, on the scene for little purpose other than to have even this most fanatical of the Protestant characters deliver “‘testimony’” against “‘wanton devastation’” of the building and its treasures: “‘I would have these stately shrines deprived of the idols which, no longer simply regarded as the effigies of the good and the wise, have become the objects of foul idolatry. I would otherwise have its ornaments subsist, unless as they are, or may be, a snare to the souls of men; and especially do I condemn those ravages which have been made by the heady fury of the people’” (Scott, The Monastery, ed. Fielding, 91 [vol. 1, chap. 9]; 339 [vol. 3, chap. 12]).