“Poetry” [MS I Poetry Anthology]

Title
Above the first poem, Ruskin entitled the anthology “Poetry”; and following the final poem, he added a colophon: “The end / hernhill / fountain street / end of the poems / juvenile library fountain street.” The deletion suggests that Ruskin initially intended the colophon to close specifically the poetry anthology, but that he reconsidered and made it serve to conclude MS I in its entirety (see also MS I: Discussion).
Contents
The anthology consists of six poems, appended to the end of “Harry and Lucy,” Vol. 1. Ruskin numbered the poems with roman numerals, as follows:
Date
Ruskin compiled the anthology probably largely in January 1827, although at least one poem may have predated the anthology in some form by a year; see “The Needless Alarm”: Date; and MS I: Date.
Discussion
Anthologies and the Edgeworthsʼ Program for Learning
It is not evident specifically where Ruskin found the idea of appending a poetry anthology to his “Harry and Lucy” volumes. No such anthology exists in the Edgeworthsʼ Harry and Lucy Concluded, which is the model for MS I. He might have encountered anthologies in numerous ways. One anthology possibly connected with MS I was James Enfieldʼs anthology for instructing elocution, The Speaker; or, Miscellaneous Pieces, Selected from the Best English Writers, and Disposed under Proper Heads, with a View to Facilitate the Improvement of Youth in Reading and Speaking, which may have served as a source for Ruskinʼs poem, “The Needless Alarm”.
Another source of which Ruskin may have been aware—a source not only of a printed model of an anthology, but also of the serendipidous mode of reading afforded by anthologies—occurs in Evenings at Home (1792–96) by John Aikin (1747–1822) and Anna Letitia Barbauld (1743–1825). In the introduction to this “miscellaneous collection of tales, fables, and dialogues, interspersed with some short pieces of verse”—gathered, as Aikinʼs daughter and biographer, Lucy Aikin, remarks, with “no arrangement or classification of the pieces” and presented with “apparent desultoriness” (Aikin, Memoir of John Aikin, 1:157)—the narrator tells a story explaining the collectionʼs subtitle, The Juvenile Budget Opened. A budget can refer to both a collection and its container; and to open oneʼs budget can mean both to tap into such a container and figuratively to speak oneʼs mind (“budget, n.,” OED Online). According to the story, the “juvenile budget,” Evenings at Home, came to be collected and opened to view as the result of a “domestic plan” that was followed by the Fairborne family of Beechgrove for “varying . . . [the] amusements” and “promoting the instruction and entertainment of the younger part” of the “numerous progeny of children of both sexes.” Friends and relations of the family, “who were entertained with cheerfulness and hospitality, free from ceremony and parade,” “would frequently produce a fable, a story, or dialogue, adapted to the age and understanding of the young people.” These compositions were “always considered as a high favour,” so that, “when the pieces were once read over, they were carefully deposited by Mrs. Fairborne in a box, of which she kept the key: None of these [writings] were allowed to be taken out again till all the children were assembled in the holidays. It was then made one of the evening amusements of the family to rummage the budget, as their phrase was. One of the least children was sent to the box, who putting in its little hand, drew out the paper that came next, and brought it into the parlour. This was then read distinctly by one of the older ones; and after it had undergone sufficient consideration, another little messenger was dispatched for a fresh supply; and so on. . . . Other children were admitted to tbese readings, and as the Budget of Beechgrove Hall became somewhat celebrated in the neighbourhood, its proprietors were at length urged to lay it open to the public. They were induced to comply; and have presented its contents in the promiscuous order in which they came to hand, which they think will prove more agreeable than a methodical arrangement. (Aikin and Barbauld, Evenings at Home, 1:1–3)
This preference for “pomiscuous” ordering is a reminder of the flexibility that was advocated by educationists and their system of “practical” education. In the “Address to Mothers” by Richard Lovell Edgeworth, which prefaces some editions of Early Lessons, the writer insists on allowing even greater authority to the childʼs “little hand”—not just to sift at random and convey a reading, as in the case of the Fairborne child, but deliberately to select what reading is best “adapted to [its] age and understanding.” “Well educated children,” Edgeworth writes, “are . . . the best judges of what is fit for children”; and parents should “select what they find upon trial to be the best for their immediate purpose, and to lay aside the rest for another opportunity.” Whereas on the one hand the Edgeworths took care to arrange their books for children as a succession of age‐appropriate “lessons” pitched to the abilities of their readers—from the most accessible dialogues in Frank, to the first part of Harry and Lucy, to Rosamond, and finally to the later parts of Harry and Lucy—on the other hand, the Edgeworths emphasized that “different parts of . . . [these books] are suited to the tastes of different children, as well as to children of different ages” (R. L. Edgeworth, “Address to Mothers”, 5–6).
Judging by the evidence of “Harry and Lucy,” Vol. 1, and the poetry anthology appended to it, Ruskin took advantage of both the graduated progression of the educationistsʼ books and the permission to range at will. For youngest children, the “Address to Mothers” recommends works by Aikin and Barbauld—first, Barbauldʼs Lessons for Children and Hymns in Prose, and then Aikin and Barbauldʼs Evenings at Home. While pesumably Ruskinʼs explosure to some of the works for the nursery in these collections predated his project in MS I, his poem, “The Needless Alarm”, retains vestiges of that earliest reading. At the same time, Ruskin ranged freely, often imitating texts beyond his years. The “Address to Mothers” recommends acquainting young children with natural history, but it advises delaying books that “teach particular sciences, or distinct branches of knowledge” (R. L. Edgeworth, “Address to Mothers”, 7). In the MS I Poetry Anthology, Ruskin reverses this recommended order, by starting with the ambitious “When furious up from mines the water pours” [“The Steam Engine”], an imitation of a poem by Erasmus Darwin (1731–1802). Similarly, whereas the “Address to Mothers” warns that “there is still wanting a series of little books, preparatory to” Scientific Dialogues (1807) by Jeremiah Joyce (1763–1816) (R. L. Edgeworth, “Address to Mothers”, 10), Ruskin forged ahead undaunted to copy Joyceʼs complicated experiments verbatim in “Harry and Lucy,” Vol. 1.
British Identity in the Anthology
The anthology brings to the surface Ruskinʼs identity as a British subject with family ties to North Britain. “The Defiance of War” may be most persuasively understood as a poem, not about an actual threat of military invasion, but about the coalescence of British identity, North and South, in defiance of the European Other (see “The Defiance of War”: Discussion). Patriotism is supported by pride in late‐Enlightenment invention and entrepreneurship epitomized by “When furious up from mines the water pours” [“The Steam Engine”].
Ruskin must have realized that industrial progress could be credited to Scotland no less than to England. In Perth, where his relations lived, businessmen vied with Dundee to uphold local dignity by establishing the townʼs own steam packet company by 1822, just in time to join the considerable steamer activity involved in the state visit by George IV to Scotland (Bain, “Perth Steam Packet Company”, 412, 414). At the same time, Ruskin imagines North Britain as a preserve of preindustrial nature and history, as suggested by “On Scotland”, and by poems in his second poetry anthology, “Poetry Discriptive”. In fact, as scholars have remarked, tourists in Scotland accommodated impressions of both improvement and untampered nature, while Walter Scott wrapped such contradictions in a haze of romance (see Grenier, Tourism and Identity in Scotland, 28, 53).
Anxieties in the Anthology
An undercurrent of loss and threat to security courses through this anthology. The poem, “On Papaʼs Leaving Home”, poignantly reveals both Ruskinʼs longings for his father, whose business kept him away from home for long periods, and the boyʼs joy in his fatherʼs return. Two poems, “The Needless Alarm” and “The Defiance of War”, strikingly probe the uncertainties of safety in a home. A particular threat to security and happiness may lie behind an elegiac note in “On Scotland”—the threat, namely, of the death of Ruskinʼs cousin, James Richardson. At the same time, if these poems reveal anxieties, the poems also work to resolve such tensions.
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