“Ragland Castle”
Ruskin wrote the title as “ragland castle”.
While today the preferred spelling of the name of this castle and village in Wales is Raglan or the Welsh Rhaglan, Ruskinʼs spelling, Ragland, would have seemed correct to nineteenth‐century English tourists. For example, the spelling Ragland appears in two important maps of the period: the Map of the County of Monmouth, from an Actual Survey Made in the Years 1829 & 1830 (London, 1831) by the Greenwood brothers, Christopher (1786–1855) and John (1791–1867); and the Ordinance Survey “Old Series” maps (sheet 43 [London, 1831]). In tourism literature, the spelling was used by the Monmouth printer, Charles Heath (1761–1830), in his Historical and Descriptive Accounts of the Ancient and Present State of Ragland Castle (1792), a publication that preceded Heathʼs popular guidebook to Tintern Abbey, Descriptive Account of Tintern Abbey (1793). Heathʼs guidebooks to these monuments lasted through many editions from the 1790s through the 1820s (see “‘The Picture of the Mind’: Tintern and Vicinity through Images” and “‘Gleams of Past Existence’: Charles Heathʼs Guide to Tintern Abbey” in Matheson, Enchanting Ruin; see also Hebron, Romantics and the British Landscape, 10–11). In his guidebook to the castle, Heath traced the Welsh etymology of the name and remarked that, in the process of “Englishiz[ing]” the name, “within these very few years . . . the letter D has been added to it” (“Etymology” in Heath, Historical and Descriptive Accounts of the Ancient and Present State of Ragland Castle [11th ed., 1829], n.p.).
MS III (p. 62), a Red Book devoted primarily to “Harry and Lucy”, Vol. 2. “Ragland Castle” is the first poem in “Poetry Discriptive”.
Facsimile and transcript by permission of John Ruskin Collection, General Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.
1827, after June.
The editors of the Library Edition were mistaken in calling this “possibly the authorʼs earliest poem” (Ruskin, Works, 2:255–56 n. 1; and see “The Needless Alarm”: Date for the case for Ruskinʼs earliest extant poem). There is no reason to believe that “Ragland Castle” is earlier than the anthology containing it, “Poetry Discriptive”.
Helen Gill Viljoen believed that, because the hand for this poem is smaller than for that characterizing other poems in “Poetry Discriptive”, Ruskin may have added it later to the front of the anthology (Viljoen Papers). The argument is not convincing, since no crowding of lines suggests a later insertion, and the hypothesis creates a new problem of explaining why the following poem, “Lochleven” would have begun so far down on the page. In fact, the size of the lettering varies even within this fair copy of “Ragland Castle”, and its smallest printing is no smaller than for some other portions of “Poetry Discriptive”.
Composition and Publication
Ruskin, Works, 2:255–56 n. 1.
The poem reflects a visit to Raglan Castle near Monmouth, constructed largely in the fifteenth century and significantly damaged during the Civil War. The poem, along with references in “Harry and Lucy”, Vol. 2 to Monmouth and Tintern Abbey, confirms that the Ruskins visited the Wye Valley in 1827. The family could have departed no earlier than when John James Ruskin completed his business travel, a trip prolonged beyond his 10 May birthday through at least the week of 14–20 May 1827 (see Burd, ed., Ruskin Family Letters, 157 n. 1; see also “Wales” and “Spring: Blank Verse”).
By 1827, the Wye tour had sponsored a tourism industry of nearly three‐quarters of a centuryʼs standing, and in the 1820s the comforts and efficiency of the tour were augmented by steam transport on the river and by improved roads on land (see Tours of 1826–27). For the excursion from Monmouth to Raglan in particular, the local guidebook author and printer, Charles Heath, highlighted the commodiousness of the “new road from Monmouth to Ragland, a pleasant drive of eight miles”, in his eleventh (1829) edition of Historical and Descriptive Accounts of the Ancient and Present State of Ragland Castle (n.p.), although further research is required to determine in what year Heath first printed this notice.
As indicated by other poems in the anthology, “Poetry Discriptive”, the Ruskins probably traveled on from southern Wales to visit family in Perth, Scotland (see Tours of 1826–27).
With its trope of a mouseʼs house reflecting in miniature a human scale of awareness of and provision for danger, the poem is related to Ruskinʼs adaptation of poems, tales, and lessons by William Cowper, Anna Letitia Barbauld, and John Aikin in “The Needless Alarm” (see especially, for that poem, Discussion: Sources). Also, contextualizing both the poem and the anthology that the poem heads, “Poetry Discriptive”, is the tradition of picturesque travel, writing, and art. Comically, however, Ruskinʼs narrator reduces the elements of the picturesque to a mere catalogue of the castleʼs architectural features, while the most picturesque effect seems achieved by the mice, which patch their “falling dwellings” with vegetation contrasting pleasingly with the stone of the “spiral towers”.
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