“On Papaʼs Leaving Home”

Title
“On Papaʼs Leaving Home”
Ruskin wrote the title as “on papas leaveing home”. He also designated the poem as “poem V” in “Poetry” [MS I Poetry Anthology].
Genre
Poem.
Manuscripts
MS I (pp. 103–4), a Red Book devoted primarily to “Harry and Lucy,” Vol. 1. “On Papaʼs Leaving Home” is the fifth poem in “Poetry” [MS I Poetry Anthology].
Facsimile and transcript by permission of John Ruskin Collection, General Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.
Date
January–February 1827, most likely after 21 February 1827. Possibly earlier, however, in the first half of 1826; or later, through spring 1827.
This poem, as well as “On the Rainbow: In Blank Verse” which follows it in “Poetry” [MS I Poetry Anthology], most likely belong to January or February 1827. The two poems follow Margaret Ruskinʼs note dating the whole of MS I as finished “about Jany 1827” (see “The Needless Alarm”: Date). Following “On the Rainbow: In Blank Verse”, Ruskin wrote “The end / hernhill / fountain street / end of the poems / juvenile library fountain street.” This colophon seems to correspond with Margaretʼs note, “this book. . . finished,” especially since Ruskin (or a parent?) struck through “end of the poems,” perhaps to emphasize the conclusion of the volume, not just of “Poetry” [MS I Poetry Anthology].
The apparent correspondence between the colophon and Margaretʼs note nonetheless leaves an opening on the question of dating. On the one hand, one can imagine Ruskin writing the colophon before his mother entered her date for the manuscript. (She might have jotted her note where she did, between “On Papaʼs Leaving Home” and the preceding poem, “The Needless Alarm”, because that was the only space available.) On the other hand, one can imagine Ruskin returning to MS I to add two more poems along with the colophon, after his mother had notated the booklet as being finished.
If the latter is the case—and one notices that Margaretʼs note takes up a significant amount of space without crowding, as if nothing at the time obstructed her in writing the note—then Ruskin may have composed “On Papaʼs Leaving Home” around 21 February 1827, when John James Ruskin sent a letter as despondent with homesickness as his sonʼs poem is filled with longing (Burd, ed., Ruskin Family Letters, 151–52). About a week earlier, this same journey may also have prompted Johnʼs composition of “The Ship” and “Look at That Ship” [1827].
This interpretation of the final two poems of MS I “On Papaʼs Leaving Home” and “On the Rainbow: In Blank Verse”, seems supported not only by what precedes them in the anthology but also by what probably immediately followed them chronologically—Ruskinʼs “febuary [sic] or march 1827” dating of the MS XI fair copy of “The Ship” and “Look at that Ship” [1827] (see “The Ship” and “Look at that Ship”[1827]: Date). It is worth noting, too, that, if “On Papaʼs Leaving Home” and “On the Rainbow: In Blank Verse” are regarded as fair‐copied in MS I at about the same time in late February or March 1827, it is logical that “On the Rainbow: In Blank Verse” shares its subtitle with “Time: Blank Verse”, composed for New Yearʼs Day 1827. There is also a convergence of these items with the drawing on the inside of the back endboard of MS I, “Heights of Wisdom, Depth of Fools”, which Ruskin dated 21 March (provided that date refers to 1827, and not 1826).
Despite this strong concatenation of evidence, one must acknowledge the possibilities of both earlier and later dates for “On Papaʼs Leaving Home”. As a case for a later date, if Ruskin added the final two poems in the anthology following when his mother wrote her note dating MS I, then nothing prevents his having done so considerably later in 1827 than within the first two months. However, by April 28, he was writing with pen and ink, and it seems unlikely that he would return to a pencil manuscript (see “Wales”: Date, “Spring: Blank Verse” Date, and Ruskinʼs Handwriting). Moreover, by the second half of 1827, he was working on a new Red Book, MS III, and it seems likely the new project would have deflected his attention from MS I.
An earlier date for “On Papaʼs Leaving Home” must be kept open as a possibility for the same reason that all the poems in “Poetry” [MS I Poetry Anthology] must be viewed as having possibly been composed as much as year prior to their fair‐copying (see “The Needless Alarm”: Date). If “On Papaʼs Leaving Home” belongs to early 1826, it might be read as expressing regret over John James Ruskinʼs protracted absence during the first half of that year (see “Glen of Glenfarg” (“Glen of Glenfarg thy beauteous rill”): Date).
But it is not difficult to find episodes of despondency in John Jamesʼs letters at any time. The most persuasive date remains around 21 February 1827 for the completion of “Poetry” [MS I Poetry Anthology] with the addition of these two, final poems, followed by the “febuary [sic] or march 1827MS XI fair copy of “The Ship” and “Look at that Ship” [1827], and followed in in the second half of the year by compilation of “Poetry Discriptive” in MS III.
Composition and Publication
Previously unpublished.
Hand is pencil, print; see Ruskinʼs Handwriting.
Discussion
The family letters contain frequent references to John James Ruskin bringing or sending presents home from his business travels—for example, in May 1826, a book, possibly a Robinson Crusoe, the costliness of which Margaret impressed on her son (letter of 25 May 1826 [Burd, ed., Ruskin Family Letters, 146, and see 149]).
By rhyming “pictures and presents” with “peasants,” Ruskin perhaps refers to the subject of pictures that John James may have brought home—prints of peasants, for example, in colorful costumes in foreign lands that genre painters like David Wilkie (1785–1841) and picturesque architectural and landscape artists like Samuel Prout (1783–1852) were depicting from their Continental travels in the 1820s.
That Ruskinʼs poem ends by focusing more on the despondency of Papa than on the longing of the boy for his father may refer to John Jamesʼs “sombre evenings” when he was away, times when he wrote to Margaret about “a real sadness & sigh[ing] like a child after the Joys of my home” (letter of 9 March 1826 [Burd, ed., Ruskin Family Letters, 134]). In 1826, John James was particularly prone to depression over slow business and the consequent necessity for protracted travel for orders. At home, owing to his long absences, “every thing” was “unsettled and uncomfortable”; and painful longing afflicted even the servants, according to Margaret (letter of 25 May 1826 [Burd, ed., Ruskin Family Letters, 148]).
At this time, John James was distraught also over the death of his nephew, James Richardson, whom he had employed in his firm, and he confessed to being troubled by guilt that his stewardship might even have had something “to do with this disorder” (letter of 8 May 1826 [Burd, ed., Ruskin Family Letters, 140]). In fact, if Ruskin composed this poem as late as April–May 1826, its tone may refer specifically both to his fatherʼs solemn letters and to his own “forsaken” feeling of “No papa no James” (letter of 7 May 1826 [Burd, ed., Ruskin Family Letters, 141]).
For two other poems in the “Poetry” [MS I Poetry Anthology] that express unease over possible insecurities of home, but that also resolve these anxieties, see “The Needless Alarm” and “The Defiance of War”.
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