Witnesses
Title
“Wales”
Ruskin wrote the title as “Wales” in a copy included in a May 1827 letter to his father (Burd, ed., Ruskin Family Letters, 158); and as “WALES” in MS III. See System of Title Citation for Works.
Genre
Although no stanzas are indicated in manuscript, the 9‐line poem appears to work as two quatrains (abab and ddee) turning on an intervening unrhymed line. The intervening line also shifts the meter from pentameter to quadrameter. Thus, the verse elements, like the landscape elements Ruskin describes “seem as if they all did lock / into each other”. Perhaps because he came to recognize this subtle invention, Charles Eliot Norton stepped back from his initial impulse to impose a clear division of stanzas on the poem (see 1 ).
Manuscripts
Contained in autograph letter, Ruskin to John James Ruskin, May 1827; also contained in MS III (pp. 65[a]–65[b]), a Red Book devoted primarily to “Harry and Lucy”, Vol. 2. “Wales” is the fifth poem in MS IIIʼs “Poetry Discriptive”.
Facsimile and transcript by permission of John Ruskin Collection, General Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.
Date
May 1827 or possibly somewhat earlier; see “Spring: Blank Verse”: Date.
Ruskin copied “Wales” and “Spring: Blank Verse” into a letter to his father of May 1827, presumably to show them off as recent compositions. This date thus provides a lower limit for the poemsʼ fair copies contained in the “Poetry Discriptive” section of MS III, in which these two poems are placed between “Nature” and “The Hill of Kinnoul” (and in reverse order from their appearance in the 1827 letter—that is, ordered in the anthology as first “Spring: Blank Verse” followed by “Wales”).
In the Library Edition, the editors attribute the entire anthology, “Poetry Discriptive”, to an earlier date, September 1826, assigned to just one of its poems, “Glen of Glenfarg” (“Glen of Glenfarg thy beauteous rill”); however, the earliest possible date of these poems (in their MS III witnesses, at any rate) is established by Ruskinʼs May 1827 letter to his father. Moreover, Ruskin printed the entire “Poetry Discriptive” anthology in ink, which he had first used only in late April 1827—evidence confirmed both by his motherʼs testimony in a letter of April 28 and by the fact that the pair of poems in Ruskinʼs May 1827 letter, “Wales” and “Spring: Blank Verse”, are printed in ink, while the letter itself is written in pencil (see Ruskinʼs Handwriting). Thus, while the composition of “Glen of Glenfarg” (“Glen of Glenfarg thy beauteous rill”) by itself may date from September 1826, this earlier date does not apply to the remaining poems in the anthology—some in fact relating to the summer tour of 1827, on which the family departed sometime after May (see Tours of 1826–27).
Composition and Publication
Ruskin gave the May 1827 letter containing the poem to Charles Eliot Norton, enclosing the letter inside a note to Norton dated February 1869, and quipping that, “while not a Washington autograph”, the boyhood manuscript represents “evidently the first sketch of the Moral Theory of his work by the great author of ‘Modern Painters’”. Norton included the letter and its covering note in a four‐part series, “Letters of John Ruskin”, published in volumes 93–94 (1904) of the Atlantic Monthly (“Letters of John Ruskin,” ed. Norton, 94:164). Simultaneously, the letter and covering note appeared in Norton, ed., Letters of John Ruskin to Charles Eliot Norton, 1:197–98. Published also in Ruskin, Works, 36:2; and re‐edited using original punctuation in Burd, ed., Ruskin Family Letters, 158.
Discussion
This poem is corroborated by other references to an 1827 Welsh journey, which occur in “Ragland Castle” and “Harry and Lucy”, Vol. 2. These works document the familyʼs visit to the Wye Valley, where they toured Tintern Abbey and Raglan Castle near Monmouth. The poem, “Wales”, cannot reflect impressions gathered during this journey, since it forms part of a series of letters addressed to John James Ruskin during his business travels extending from late April through mid‐May and possibly into early June 1827 (see Burd, ed., Ruskin Family Letters, 157 n. 1, 167). Rather, Ruskin must have meant the poem to anticipate this pleasure journey. By writing in May 1827, and pairing the poem with “Spring: Blank Verse”, he was remarking the slipping away of spring without the familyʼs usual departure on a holiday following John Jamesʼs May 10 birthday. The reference in “Wales” to “whitened land” perhaps suggests the chill of a long winter giving way to spring. See Tours of 1826–27.
The trip was delayed owing to toilsome business, which in 1826–27 had yielded scantier profits than usual, so that John James was kept traveling for orders until long after his birthday. He, too, was afflicted with wanderlust, looking to “Spring & Summer for new pleasures” (see letter of 21 February 1827 [Burd, ed., Ruskin Family Letters, 152]). Meanwhile, Margaret was perhaps too ill for travel, although she looked forward to “air and exercise” as “the best as well as the cheapest physicians”. She was also busied with making arrangements for Ruskinʼs Scottish cousin, Mary Richardson (1815–49), who was staying at Herne Hill for an extended visit, although not yet permanently settled in the household (see letter of 28 April 1827 [Burd, ed., Ruskin Family Letters, 156] ).
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