Tours of 1826–27

According to Ruskinʼs “Harry and Lucy”, Vol. 1, the family holidayed in Hastings, a journey from London to Sussex that presumably took place in 1826 prior to Ruskinʼs composing his “Harry and Lucy” narrative, although it is possible that the story refers to a previous season. Seaside resorts attracted the elder Ruskins from nearly the start of their marriage, probably for their salubriousness to health as well as for pleasure (see Seaside Resorts, and see also Tours of 1822–24).
Scotland, 1826, 1827, or both?
The destinations of the Ruskin family tours of 1826 and 1827 were established by W. G. Collingwood in Poems (1891); and while the dates of those tours were revised, and the destinations refined, by subsequent editors and biographers, the broad assumptions have not been challenged. Those assumptions rest, however, on confusing evidence in the Red Books, and it may be that evidence referring apparently to two separate northern journeys, of 1826 and of 1827, in fact refer to a single tour of 1827.
Collingwood took as his first point of reference the poems “On Scotland” in MS I, and “Glen of Glenfarg” (“Glen of Glenfarg thy beauteous rill”) in MS III. The former, he declared, “record[s Ruskinʼs] impressions received during a journey from Scotland with his parents, after visiting his aunt at Perth” in 1826. Specifically, he believed, the poem captured the return journey, given the poemʼs trope of changes: one line “is no doubt a reminiscence of the May sunshine in which they went northwards; for their start was usually made about the middle of May; and [Ruskin] contrasts the sunny anticipation of the arrival with the autumnal gloom of the departure” (Poems [4o, 1891], 1:xxii–xxiii; Poems [8o, 1891], 1:ix). On the strength of this interpretation, Collingwood renamed this poem “Farewell to Scotland” (see “To Scotland”: Title).
The latter portion of this interpretation, at the very least, has been disproved by Van Akin Burd, who points out that, in May 1826, John James Ruskin was on the road beyond his 10 May birthday, as attested by his dated letters to Margaret Ruskin extending through the end of the month. Business had been lean that year, thus delaying a family holiday (Burd, ed., Ruskin Family Letters, 137, 139 n. 1, 150 n. 5, 137).
Moreover, further upsetting the familyʼs routine, in April and May 1826 they coped with the consumptive decline and death of Ruskinʼs Perth cousin, James Richardson, who had been living at Herne Hill while working at Ruskin, Telford, and Domecq. By April, Jamesʼs health had declined so alarmingly that he returned to his family in Perth, possibly escorted on this journey by John James and Margaret. The youth died soon after his return, on 8 May, a few days before John Jamesʼs birthday. When John James learned of his nephewʼs death, he was traveling in the northwest, and he did not return home until the end of May at the earliest (see Burd, ed., Ruskin Family Letters, 139 n. 1, 149; see also James Richardson [1808–26]).
Burd states that “in April the Ruskins took . . . James back to Perth,” an inference that he presumably takes from Margaretʼs letter of 7–8 May, in which she reflects on Jamesʼs “journey up”. Margaret is reminding her husband that, on this journey, James “had none of that spirit which youths of his age usually have,” so that “both you & I had repeatedly asked him if he was quite sure he was happy and . . . he had assured us in the strongest terms he was”. While Margaretʼs comments leave some doubt about who made the trip with James, it seems unlikely that, even if both the elder Ruskins undertook this sad journey to Perth, they would have risked bringing John. Considering that Margaret warned Jamesʼs mother, Jessie Richardson, “that the children should not be much with . . . [James] for fear of infection” (referring to his brothers and sisters), it would be strange that she would have exposed her own son during a long journey. John would also have stood a good chance of having to witness Jamesʼs death, since Margaret believed that “worlds could not save him”. She concluded this much “when James was at Croydon”, referring to the house of her sister, Bridget Richardson. Thus, perhaps John was left with his Croydon aunt, uncle, and cousins, while his parents carried James to Perth (letter of 8 May 1826 [Burd, ed., Ruskin Family Letters, 134 n. 3, 142]).
Did Margaretʼs fears prevent the family from journeying north in 1826 altogether, even later in the year? While Burd corrects Collingwoodʼs assumption that the Scottish journey occurred in May, he relies on the same evidence as does Collingwood to affirm that “the family probably went in September” 1826 to Scotland (Burd, ed., Ruskin Family Letters, 150 n. 5). Both conclusions go back to the evidence of Ruskinʼs poem, “Glen of Glenfarg” (“Glen of Glenfarg thy beauteous rill”), and to Collingwoodʼs belief that Ruskin wrote it, like “On Scotland”, either “during the journey home” from a spring tour to Scotland (which certainly did not occur), “or on his return [to London], in September” (Poems [4o, 1891], 1:xxiii; Poems [8o, 1891], 1:x).
The September 1826 date for “Glen of Glenfarg” (“Glen of Glenfarg thy beauteous rill”) (even though contained in MS III) comes from an annotation to that effect by Margaret Ruskin in the manuscript. (Burd, like Collingwood, attributes the gloss to John James, but the hand appears to be Margaretʼs.) It is possible that a September 1826 journey resulted in this poem along with the entirety of MS I (including the MS I Poetry Anthology, which contains “On Scotland”), since in MS I Margaret noted her son as having started MS I at about that time, in September or October 1826 (see “The Needless Alarm”: Date; and MS I: Date). The available evidence does fit together tidily enough.
Nonetheless, the evidence can also be read as supporting only a northern tour of 1827, and not tours of both 1826 and 1827. The problem is that the only evidence of a northern journey contained in MS I (the manuscript dated by Margaret as September or October 1826 through January 1827) is “On Scotland”—and that poem might be interpreted as Ruskinʼs elegy on his cousin, James, rather than as a topographical poem based on eyewitness travel. The contents of MS I are principally taken up by “Harry and Lucy,” Vol. 1, and that tale is set entirely at Herne Hill except for a holiday at Hastings. That the family actually sought such a holiday on the Sussex coast in summer 1826 is logical, given Margaretʼs concerns over her husbandʼs overwork and his distress about his sisterʼs children, and given Margaretʼs recommendation of summer sea bathing for health on previous occasions (see letter of 5 May 1826, letter of 7 May 1826, letter of 8 May 1826, and letter of 23 June 1819 [Burd, ed., Ruskin Family Letters, 138, 141, 95]). Ruskinʼs trope of “change” in “On Scotland,” might then be read in terms of a number of disorientations that he learned about, following that summer holiday on the coast, including his deceased cousin in Perth, and also the removal of his auntʼs family from Bridge End House on the east bank of the Tay River, a house that was sold in May 1826 in settling the estate of Johnʼs uncle, the late Patrick Richardson, leaving the family with Rose Terrace on the west side of the river, a house overlooking the North Inch (although this move may have occurred earlier, following Patrickʼs death in 1824; see Burd, ed., Ruskin Family Letters, 48 n. 1, 101 n. 2, and plates VIII, IX).
There is no question that the Scottish connections are strongest in MS III, belonging to 1827. In “Harry and Lucy,” Vol. 2, Ruskin describes a visit to Rose Terrace; and both of his poems about Glenfarg—the valley through which the family traveled to approach and/or depart from Perth—are contained in that Red Book. Both poems, albeit in separate anthologies in MS III, could date from late 1827 (see “Glen of Glenfarg” (“Glen of Glenfarg thy beauteous rill”) and “Glen of Glenfarg” (“Papa how pretty those icicles are”). In fact, “Glen of Glenfarg” (“Glen of Glenfarg thy beauteous rill”) seems remarkably sophisticated compared to poems of 1826–27 in MS I. It is only Margaretʼs dating of that poem as September 1826 that lends credence to a journey to that region in that year.
In the introduction to Burd and Dearden, eds., Tour of the Lakes, Burd rehearses the same set of poems not only as evidence for an 1826 Scotland journey, but also a visit to the Lake District annexed to the same trip (“by way of Coniston and Keswick”) on the evidence of “On Skiddaw and Derwentwater”. That poem, however, as Burd himself points out, was misdated as 1828 by Ruskinʼs earlier editors, belonging in fact to 1829. The poem may not even have derived from travel, but from the extensive print and visual culture associated with the Lake District. “On Skiddaw and Derwentwater” proves nothing, therefore, about the case for an 1826 northern tour; nor does the remark Burd quotes by John James in a 21 February 1827 letter to Margaret, referring to “our delightful Journey together,” which may refer—not to Scotland and the Lake District, as Burd assumes—but merely to the Hastings visit indicated in “Harry and Lucy,” Vol. 1 (although the remark does seem to refer to a journey taken in the previous year, 1826; see Burd, ed., Ruskin Family Letters, 152; and Burd and Dearden, eds., Tour to the Lakes, 7).
All of this is to say that some skepticism is warranted about the dates and destinations of the Ruskin familyʼs earlier tours, evidence for which has, for more than a century, turned on the dating of a few poems. Ultimately, the case hinges on Margaretʼs gloss of “Glen of Glenfarg” (“Glen of Glenfarg thy beauteous rill”) as September 1826, and we cannot know precisely what she intended by that date. We also lack firm evidence about the itinerary: if John Jamesʼs remark to his wife about “our delightful Journey together” does refer to a northern journey in September 1826—and, writing in February 1827, he does seem to imply a recent journey—on what evidence do we conclude that this journey included the Lake District as well as Scotland?
Wales and Scotland, 1827
That the family did make a northern journey in 1827—whether in reality the same as the alleged 1826 journey, or a second one—is attested by Ruskinʼs detailed prose account in “Harry and Lucy,” Vol. 2, and by the complementary anthology of topographical poetry, “Poetry Discriptive”, contained in the same Red Book, MS III. The highlights of that journey included the Wye Valley in southern Wales, followed by the ride north to Perth in Scotland. Since Ruskinʼs cousin from Perth, Mary Richardson (1815–49), had been staying with the Ruskins at Herne Hill, and was still living in the house in May, it seems likely that she traveled with the family for a return visit home to Scotland (letter of 28 April 1827 [Burd, ed., Ruskin Family Letters, 156–57]).
As in the preceding year, John James Ruskin was occupied by his business travels for orders well beyond his 10 May birthday, so the family could not have departed on holiday at that time—Margaret advising her husband on May 15 against “coming home” too early only “to have to go away” again on business and thereby “increase your fatigue by bringing you twice over the same ground” before he could consider work completed (letter of 15 May 1827 [Burd, ed., Ruskin Family Letters, 157 n. 1, 166–67]). Meanwhile, John expressed his wanderlust with poems sent to his father in a letter of May 1827, prior to the holiday—the poems, “Wales” and “Spring: Blank Verse”, indicating that the itinerary was already planned.
In John Jamesʼs household accounts ledger, the “Sundries” for June 1827 include “Northcotes visit 25/”. If this means a visit to Herne Hill by the painter, James Northcote (1746–1831), then the family was at home during that month; and the entry for the following month, July, includes “Gown my sister £4.4”, presumably a gift for Jessie Richardson to be carried north. August has an entry “chaise Perth M.t[?] £2.18”, an expense related to arranging for the post‐chaise to carry the family to Perth (see Traveling Carriages). There are no entries for September and October, the accounts resuming in November with items suggesting a departure from Perth: “postage Perth £3.15/”; “Freights prest[?] 47/7”; “Servants Perth 5/ £6.6”; and “Travellers Oracle 12/”, a book comprising songs and other diversions for road travel by William Kitchiner, along with his revision of “Horse and Carriage Keeperʼs Oracle” by an “Old Coachman”, John Jervis. It appears, then, that the Perth visit in 1827 took place mainly in September and October, with departure from London probably in August and return in November. Confirming these parameters, the “House Expenses” (i.e., groceries and other household consumables) in John Jamesʼs accounts for that year skip from an entry for July to one for December, the latter including the items “At Perth Aug.t £5 Perth £12 £4”. The “Expenses Travelling” for the year lists an item under December, “To Scotland & back £215” (John James Ruskin, Account Book [1827–45], 2r, 2v, 5v).
According to the prose account of the journey in “Harry and Lucy,” Vol. 2, the itinerary took the Ruskins first to Salt Hill, a major stage west of London, opening to the Great West Road; however, rather than heading west toward Bristol, the Ruskins turned northwest to Oxford, where they stayed briefly to view the colleges. They proceeded through Gloucester, presumably on a straight path to Ross‐on‐Wye, an established launching place for a tour of the Wye Valley, but Ruskinʼs account next mentions Monmouth. It is not clear, therefore, whether the prose account accurately describes the sequence of the itinerary. Ruskin describes Tintern Abbey at length, followed by a reference to Windcliff–one of the eminences surrounding the dramatic bend in the river that encloses the peninsula of Lancaut–but the narrative neglects to mention Raglan Castle, which figures prominently as the subject of Ruskinʼs poem in “Poetry Discriptive”. Thus, it seems likely that the travel narrative and poetry anthology are governed less by concerns for accuracy, like a memoir, than by the high points of picturesque viewing (indeed, Ruskinʼs “Harry and Lucy” purports to be a fictionalized lesson in the manner the Edgeworthsʼ series of lessons, and not autobiographical; see MS III: Discussion). Windcliff, for example, was known primarily as a picturesque spot–one of the elevated views over the river from the Piercefield estate, famous for its picturesque walks developed during the age of Capability Brown (1716–83) (Andrews, Search for the Picturesque, 105–7).
Wearied with another challenging year for his business, John James perhaps welcomed an excursion through the Wye Valley which offered provisions for easy travel that had been honed to commercial efficiency by three‐quarters of a century of popular picturesque viewing. From the 1760s through the turn of the century, the preferred modes for experiencing the dramatic features along the craggy banks of the river were by water or by foot (Andrews, Search for the Picturesque, 84–107). By the 1820s, however, the Ruskins would have benefited from easier carriage access owing to road improvements, including a new turnpike from Chepstow and a carriageway from Monmouth to Raglan Castle; and in the year of their journey, the Ruskins could have observed an industrial‐age iron bridge under construction at Bigsweir, midway between Tintern and Monmouth. If they left their carriage for a water excursion, they could have embarked on one of the steam packets that had been operating throughout the 1820s (Matheson, Charles Heath and the Historical and Descriptive Accounts of the Ancient and Present State of Tintern Abbey, 141).
Insofar as the sequence of landmarks in “Harry and Lucy,” Vol. 2, can be trusted, the family took the length of the Wye Valley excursion at least from Monmouth to Tintern Abbey (the tour normally departing from Ross‐on‐Wye and ending at Chepstow). At Monmouth, a short ride would have brought the visitors to Raglan Castle, prompting Ruskinʼs poem of that name. MS III includes a drawing entitled “Picture of the Bristol Channel”, showing open water crowded with both large ships under full sail and smoking steamboats, so it appears likely that the Ruskins continued to Chepstow and even beyond into the Bristol Channel.
To guide them on the Wye tour, the Ruskins are likely to have used an edition of the guidebook, Historical and Descriptive Accounts of the Ancient and Present State of Ragland Castle by the Monmouth printer, Charles Heath (1761–1830), and possibly also his Historical and Descriptive Accounts of the Ancient and Present State of Tintern Abbey. Not only were these guidebooks popular and widely available, but there is also evidence of Ruskinʼs close attention to Heathʼs approach to interpreting the castle and abbey ruins. A drawing in MS III is entitled “Ragland Castle When Newly Built”, an idea that Ruskin may have borrowed from Historical and Descriptive Accounts of the Ancient and Present State of Ragland Castle, in which Heath organizes information under the two heads, “The Castle in Its Present State, as It Is Now Shewn” and “The Castle in Its Splendor”—the latter reconstructing the castleʼs past state, “when newly built”, as Ruskin puts it.
The travel narrative in “Harry and Lucy,” Vol. 2, next jumps to Perth in Scotland, without explaining how the Ruskins traveled there from Wales—except, “Harry” says, that they went by sea on a steamboat. Unless the sea voyage is entirely fanciful, this crossing or coastal sailing presumably occurred on the eastern side of Britain, Ruskin omitting an account of the northeastern journey from Wales. This missing leg of the tour might have presented an opportunity to visit some portion of the Lake District before heading east to the opposite coast.
Places mentioned in Scotland are Kinross, Lochleven, and Perth. Returning south, the Ruskins crossed at Queensferry for Edinburgh; and they continued south along the Great North Road to Haddington, Berwick‐upon‐Tweed, Alnwick, Newcastle upon Tyne, Durham, Darlington, Boroughbridge, Ferrybridge, and Doncaster. There the narrative is sliced off, with the promise: “But I will put them on to scarthing moor [near Newark‐on‐Trent] in another chapter”.
Back to top