Margaret Ruskinʼs Gloss on the Dating of MS I
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MS I (p. 103), a Red Book devoted primarily to “Harry and Lucy,” Vol. 1. The gloss is inserted in the MS I Poetry Anthology between the fourth poem in the anthology, “The Needless Alarm,” and the fifth poem, “On Papaʼs Leaving Home.”
Facsimile and transcript by permission of John Ruskin Collection, General Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.
January 1826–January 1827.
At the end of “The Needless Alarm,” Margaret Ruskin wrote “Jany 1826.” Immediately below this, she drew a horizontal rule, followed by “this book begun about Sept or Oct 1826 / finished about Jany 1827.”
Clearly, “this book” refers to the whole of MS I; and, therefore, W. G. Collingwood took the preceding date, “Jany 1826,” as applying to “The Needless Alarm” in particular and thus as identifying Ruskinʼs earliest dated verse known to that editor (Poems [4o, 1891], 1:xxii; Poems [8o, 1891], 1:viii).
In the Library Edition, E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn disagreed with Collingwoodʼs interpretation, ascribing the status of the earliest dated verse possibly to “When furious up from mines the water pours” [“The Steam Engine”], which is “poem I” in the MS I Poetry Anthology: “there is nothing to show,” they wrote, “that [Margaretʼs date] does not apply equally to all four pieces, composed presumably in the order in which they are placed in the book.” (They also pointed to another possible contendor, besides “When furious up from mines the water pours” [“The Steam Engine”], for the distinction of earliest poem—“Ragland Castle,” which is the first poem in another anthology, Poetry Descriptive, in MS III, and which they date “as early as these” poems in MS I [Ruskin, Works, 2:255 n. 1; see “Wales”: Date].)
Putting aside Cook and Wedderburnʼs faulty assumptions about the composition of the poems in the anthology (i.e., that Margaretʼs note necessarily refers to all four poems preceding the note, not just to “The Needless Alarm”; and that the first poem of this group to be fair‐copied, “When furious up from mines the water pours” [“The Steam Engine”] or “poem I,” must necessarily have been the first composed), their interpretation of what Margaretʼs date, “Jany 1826,” does signify seems hardly credible: the date, according to the editors, “seems to be the date of the note, and not of any one of the verses in particular.” That is, in their view, “Jan 1826” applies to the note that follows, “this book begun about Sept or Oct 1826 / finished about Jany 1827.” The obvious discrepancy between the alleged date of the note and the date in the note is explained, further, as the writerʼs mistake: “perhaps, writing at the beginning of a new year, Mrs. Ruskin made the common error of not altering the old yearʼs date”—writing, that is, “Jany 1826,” but intending “Jany 1827” (Ruskin, Works, 2:255 n. 1).
Since Cook and Wedderburnʼs reasoning depends on overruling what Margaret actually wrote, Collingwoodʼs interpretation seems certainly more straightforward and surely at least as convincing—namely, that her first date applies to “The Needless Alarm,” but not necessarily to all four of the poems preceding the note. While “The Needless Alarm” must have been fair‐copied “about Jany 1827” along with the other verse at the end of MS I, Margaret would have known if Ruskin had composed the poem a year earlier than the others. There is, moreover, another instance of Margaretʼs glossing a poem with a date earlier than surrounding poems—“Glen of Glenfarg” (“Glen of Glenfarg thy beauteous rill”), in MS III—and, in that case, Cook and Wedderburn do accept Margaretʼs authority at face value. Finally, it seems implausible that Margaret would have written 1826 for 1827 without noticing the error, since her note about the date of the whole of MS I (which is unquestioned) is placed immediately below.
Without following Cook and Wedderburn in their argument for dating “The Needless Alarm” some time after “When furious up from mines the water pours” [“The Steam Engine”], one might, however, accept their suggestion that Margaret intends “Jany 1826” to refer to all four poems preceding her note. This possibility is entertained in dating these poems.