Ruskin changed lives.
Some of those so altered wrote wonderful tributes in the wake of reading his works attesting to their alteration, detailing what he and his pages had meant to them (see, as instances, Post 112, Post 54). Others, unable to restrain their own enthusiasm, published books filled with what they thought to be his best words, phrases, and paragraphs. This post, which references what I believe to be the majority of such collations, is intended to both draw your attention to and, at the same time, pay tribute to these works.
I suppose some of those who compiled the compendia mentioned below did so fueled by some hope that, in time, they might make some money. I don’t think many of them did. But most gathered their selections together because of their reverence for Ruskin, because they wanted to thank him by sharing with others those passages which had inspired them, which had taught them things invaluable, things which, previously, for whatever reason, they had known not and, now knowing, felt a duty to disperse. Feeling thus, independently, and on both sides of the Atlantic, they set to work, trying to convince publishers to put the paragraphs they venerated into print. Some were so enthusiastic about what Ruskin had set to page, they published their tributes while he yet lived. Others, once they learned that he was forever gone, collated their passages toi praise hm in absentia, their desire being that, as others came to his words, they would be awed and transformed as they had been awed and transformed. In the truest sense of the phrase, these books are labors of love, are oblations.
In which context, thinking back to our last post (Post 114), where Ruskin explained what it was that he had been trying to accomplish as he wrote his books, it seemed fitting to present a list of these wonderful compendia.
If anyone is interested in locating any of the books which will be mentioned, virtually all can still be found on the web. For searching, I recommend addall.com, particularly that site’s “used books” option. Addall searches (in seconds!) all major used book establishments in the US and UK—Alibris, Biblio, Abebooks, the various Amazon locations, and, not infrequently, used book sites in other countries. It provides comparison prices and descriptions of any particular book’s condition. Almost always there is a way to contact a seller with a question before making a purchase. (I’ve never had to return a purchase.)
As might be imagined with such compilations, some of Ruskin’s greatest passages will be repeated. That’s never bothered me, as reading these wonderful paragraphs at later times is always a “new reading,” a moment when, much more often than not, you grasp things missed before. And it is always the case that different editors, their own favorites and sensibilities varying, find different passages to include.
One of the great advantages of the compendia is that, if they have the effect intended, they will inspire you to find and read the original from whence their selections come. Perhaps not surprisingly, some who read Ruskin seriously do not look favorably on such collections, thinking them distortive of Ruskin’s context and deeper meanings, as “quick-and-easy” ways to not read the originals. These criticisms are perfectly accurate, “selections,” however well-chosen or inspiring, are no substitute for the originals. However, as long as some “Ruskin in the original” is on your reading table, this pitfall can be dodged.
Another, not insignificant, reward of the compendia is an effect we could call “serendipitous convergence.” While you are reading something of Ruskin’s in the original—say, in Unto this Last–you might be reading in a compendium what he had to say about why Gothic architecture is great, or his description of the glories in a Turner painting, or a report on his wonderment as he watches a rose opening in springtime, such juxtapositions being an instance par excellence of what John Rosenberg labels, in the title of his own marvelous compendium, “the genius of John Ruskin.”
As noted, what follows is a listing of the compendia of which I am aware. There are, as you shall see, more than a few, that fact alone being testimony to the powerful and salubrious effect our subject’s writings had on those who, once they had perused the majority of his works (no simple task that!), determined to devote considerably more of their life’s energies to collecting what they saw as his best passages for presentation to wider audiences. Such tributes were no unimportant contribution to keeping Ruskin and his work “alive” after his passing, because it was not until 1912 that a complete edition of his works was available and that fine version, The Library Edition of the Works of John Ruskin, had the disadvantages of being both limited in number and very expensive. In other words, the only way prior to 1912 to get a sense of what Ruskin had thought and written “overall” was either to make a concerted effort to collect and read all his works (a difficult task as many were regularly going in and out of print), or by reading the selections included in the compendia.
Reverence for the profundity embedded in Ruskin’s words began almost immediately after he began publishing in the early 1840s. The first compendium, Mrs. L. C. Tuthill’s, True and Beautiful, appeared in 1854, the year Ruskin turned 35 . Other collections appeared at intervals during the decades that followed. After his death in 1900, as will be apparent as one scans publication dates, many new collections made their appearance.§
In most cases, following a given entry, I have included a paragraph which offers some remarks about that collection, my intent being to explain why, at least to me, this editor’s efforts have proved especially enjoyable, useful, or both. When entries have no such comments, this merely means that I haven’t read them yet. In other words, if no comment attaches to a compendium, that should not be taken as a negative assessment of the collection.
Some entries, it will be seen, begin with an asterisk (*). These have publication data missing. If anyone can supply such information, I’d be delighted! Send an email to email@example.com.
Regarding the list below, my heartfelt thanks go to Ray Haslam, one of the great collectors of Ruskin’s works. A number of the editions described below, previously unknown to me, are on his shelves.
The list can also be found on The Victorian Web: The Victorian Web–The Ruskin Compendia. If you are interested in Ruskin (as, hopefully, as a reader of this site you are), the VW is the premier site for finding in-depth information about him, or, for that matter, about any of the other great figures from that remarkable era: Dickens, Disraeli, Hardy, Carlyle, Eliot, Gladstone, many more. In addition, the VW overflows with informative material on the political, economic, and religious concerns of the time (the Industrial Revolution, Chartism, science, music and theater, many more). Here’s a link to its home page: The Victorian Web and a second link to its Ruskin section: The Victorian Web–Ruskin.
Finally, although I did not set out to be a collector of Ruskin compendia, there is no doubt that I am one now. And so, if you know of a title not listed here, please let me know about it. I’ll hunt it up, have a read, and then add some notes about it to this post.
All that said, here are
The Ruskin Compendia
*Atwell, Henry, Thoughts from Ruskin (1901),
Ball, A. H. R., Ruskin as Literary Critic: Selections (London: Cambridge Univ., 1928).
Exactly what it purports to be, a concentration of Ruskin’s literary remarks (on Dickens, Sir Walter Scott, George Eliot, others) as well as his comments about what constitutes great literature and its lamentable opposite. Ball’s choices span Ruskin’s writing life and, for that reason, are much worth your time.
Bateman, M. A. and Grace Allen, The Ruskin Birthday Book (London: George Allen, 1883),
A wonderful collection. Not really “selections,” but, rather, “aphorisms” extracted from throughout his works. One (sometimes two!) for every day of the year! (Marvelous for daily inspiration!) There is a story that, when the editors gave an early copy of their collection to Ruskin, he, convinced at the time that all his work had failed, was moved to tears. One can understand why, for, considering the title page alone, it is easy to see that it has been created with his deepest empathies in mind: surrounded by a gothic frame, the principal letters of the book’s title are presented using beautiful medieval-style illuminated letters. At the bottom of the page the editors have included, as a frame for their entries, one of Ruskin’s finest quotes–from St. Mark’s Rest (1880). Such loving framing is emblematic of the 365 daily quotations inside (plus twelve longer passages “introducing” each month!). I’ve reproduced those framing lines below.
“[T]he only doctrine or system peculiar to me is the abhorrence of all that is doctrinal instead of demonstrable and of all that is systematic instead of useful, so that no true disciple of mine will ever be a “Ruskinian.” He will follow not me but the instincts of his own soul, and the guidance of its Creator.”
Beever, Susanna, Frondes Agrestes: Readings in Modern Painters (London: George Allen, 1884).
A selection of her favorite passages taken from the five volumes of that remarkable series. One of the great friends of Ruskin’s life, Beever showed him her choices before publishing. He changed nothing, but, in various places, added his thoughts about the importance of this or that passage in footnotes. An important read as it affords access to much of the best of Modern Painters without requiring the commitment of many dozens of additional hours to read the entire set. (Which is, at one and the same time, a good and a bad thing.)
Beever, Susanna, Hortus Inclusus: Messages from the Wood to the Garden (London: George Allen, 1887–various later editions).
Ruskin and Susie–for so he always addressed her–were soul mates of the friendly sort. Their sweet correspondence–hundreds of letters!–stretches from 1873 until Susie’s death in 1893. This little book contains Susie’s selection of those she felt to be the best of the whole–JR’s letters to her, from Brantwood (only two miles away), London, elsewhere in the UK, and the Continent. It is both delightful and insightful; the former because of its gentle and intimate nature, the latter because, loving and trusting Susie as he did, Ruskin never shied from telling her of his immediate frame of mind (often depressed in these later years) or of what he thought about this or that public issue. As was the case with Frondes Agrestes (above), all the profits of the book went to Susie who promptly distributed them them to people in need or charities.
*Bennett, G. R., The Ruskin Reader (London: J. M. Dent, n.d.),
Benson, A. C. Selections from John Ruskin (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ., 1927),
One of the very best collections: from a editor who thoroughly understands his author.
Birch, Dinah, Fors Clavigera: Letters to the Workmen and Labourers of Great Britain: A Selection. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University, 2000).
Fors is a long and varied, late Ruskin work, 96 letters written to the workers and laborers of Britain, he having given up (reluctantly) on the idea that the elites of his time (many of them his dear friends) would help him in his efforts to reform the country and island he loved. At one time or another, the Fors letters touch on every subject he ever thought or wrote about–art, religion, flowers, his plan for The Guild of St. George, politics, himself (bits of autobiography), the greatness of the novels of Sir Walter Scott, how to create a happier world. Birch has chosen 43 of the letters, including a terrific introduction to the whole, and exceptional notes for comprehending Ruskin’s sometimes arcane and elusive references. As well and delightfully, she has included reproductions of Ruskin’s original illustrations for these letters, crucial for understanding his messages. A treasure rare, and if you find it, expensive.
Birch, Dinah, Ruskin on Turner (London: Cassell, 1990).
A terrific collection, both for its erudition and status as the only compendium that collects the best of Ruskin’s writings about the landscape painter he frequently called his “earthly master,” J. M. W. Turner; with these coupled with high quality reproductions of the Turner paintings or watercolors being discussed. A feast for both mind and eye. Not to be missed, and fairly plentiful on used book internet sites.
Birch, Dinah, editor, Ruskin: Selected Writings (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009).
A “first approach” to the entirety of Ruskin’s writings. Professor Birch knows her Ruskin and these selections (as well as her excellent introduction and notes), read to the end, give a reader a sense of the wisdom, breadth, and genius that is Ruskin. A collection which should inspire a desire to read the originals in their full length.
Bragg, Melvyn, John Ruskin On Genius (London: Hesperus, 2011).
Cardwell, Mary E., Cameos from Ruskin (New York: Charles Merrill, 1890).
A jaunty little collection. More aphoristic even than the aphoristic Ruskin Birthday Book. Some of its entries, arranged under various heads–e.g., “Great Art Accepts Nature as She Is,” are a bit too brief for my taste, but others are perfectly apt and powerful.
Clark, Sir Kenneth, Ruskin Today (London: John Murray, 1967).
Sir Kenneth, host of the much applauded BBC TV series of the late 1960s, “Civilization” (still very much worth viewing; streaming on YouTube in the US), was a life-long admirer of Ruskin. This is a terrific collection of Ruskin “passages,” the second I ever read (in 1990; the first being John Rosenberg’s; see below); I recall being enthralled with each selection, realizing for the first time, as Sir Kenneth’s pages turned, that Ruskin was not just a great social critic (my original attraction), but a brilliant observer of almost everything that matters in life. Note: Clive Wilmer tells me that this edition is still available from Penguin as John Ruskin: Selected Writings–that’s good but one wishes they had kept the original title! 🙂
Clark, Thomas A., A Ruskin Sketchbook (London: Coracle, 1879).
[Collingwood, W. G.] Selections from the Writings of John Ruskin: First Series: 1843-1861 (London: George Allen, 1893).
[Collingwood, W. G.] Selections from the Writings of John Ruskin: Second Series: 1862-1888 (London: George Allen, 1893).
Although the typically self-effacing Collingwood would not allow his name to be placed on this pair of volumes, they are indeed his and, because his love and understanding of Ruskin and of what Ruskin was trying to accomplish were without par, of all the compendia, these are most comprehensive and, in my view, best. The “Second Series” is uniquely his own; the “First Series” is his adaptation of the much earlier (1862) compendium published by Ruskin’s publishers, Smith/Elder.
[Collingwood, W. G.] The Ruskin Treasuries (London: George Allen, 1906).
A series of tiny books (each fits nicely in a shirt pocket or purse), all of which are dedicated to a central theme in Ruskin’s work. Edited by Collingwood (who again goes unnoticed in the role), they are quite marvelous, a goodly step above the aphoristic efforts noted above, but not as extended in entry length as the volumes containing “selections.” Very hard to find. Here are some titles: Ruskin on Liberty and Government; Ruskin on Religion; Ruskin on Wealth; Ruskin on Art.
Collingwood, W. G., The Ruskin Reader (London: George Allen, 1907).
A small collection of W. G. C.’s favorites, a distinction that makes them worth reading from the get-go. Also, for the only time, we have a collection to which he was willing to affix his name. Easy to carry when traveling.
Davis, Philip, John Ruskin: Selected Writings (London: Everyman, 1995).
Evans, Joan, The Lamp of Beauty (London: Phaidon, 1959).
Most of the compendia are, as books, unimposing; their casings plain, their colors pallid, even if, happily, inside, the prose entrances. As a book, Evans’ is the cream of the crop: artfully presented on the outside and laden with wonderful passages within, with, in attendance in many instances (one of the few instances in the compendia “world” where this happens), fine illustrations of the pictures or places Ruskin is describing. In short, an aesthetic as well as a literary gem.
Gardner, Rose, The Pocket Ruskin (London: Routledge, 1907).
One of my all-time favorites. Like Benson, Kenneth Clark, and the various Collingwoods, Gardner really knows her Ruskin. The choices are glorious.
Gibbs, Mary and Ellen, The Bible References of John Ruskin (London: George Allen, 1898).
As advertised. Ruskin was one of the world’s great Biblical scholars. As a result, references or allusions to this sacred text are found in virtually every one of his books, lectures, or essays, sometimes many at once! On more than a few occasions, he would reflect at some length on the deeper meaning of the Bible’s stories, themes, or principal arguments. This is a collection of such comments.
Ginn, Edward, Selections from Ruskin (Boston: Ginn Publishers, 1888).
Herbert, Robert L., The Art Criticism of John Ruskin (New York: Doubleday Anchor, 1964).
Hewetson, E. M., A Book of Ruskin (London and New York: Thomas Nelson, 1927).
A special member of the tribe. Hewetson takes a “biographical” approach, presenting his selections only after he has first given his reader a sampling of passages Ruskin wrote about his own life. The result is entrancing and, for anyone interested in seeing how Ruskin’s works reflected his passing decades, this is a good way to begin. The picture of the spine of Hewetson’s book opens this post.
Hufford, Mrs. Lois G., Essays and Letters Selected from the Writings of John Ruskin (Boston: Ginn, 1894).
As described and very nice for that. A nice way to become familiar with a number of Ruskin’s most important works in one place. The editor has included both of the Sesame and Lilies lectures, three (of four) Unto this Last essays, the first six Fors Clavigera letters, and three parts of The Queen of the Air, each preceded by short and knowledgeable “introductions.” Another advantage is that, at the end of each essay or letter, she has included brief notes intended to help readers understand Ruskin’s (sometimes obscure) allusions. Given the date, she may have been the first editor to do this. Highly recommended.
Osborn, Frederick W., Moral and Religious Selections from the Works of John Ruskin with Notes and Comments (Boston: Richard Badger, 1917).
A small collection. Most editors of a compendium open with a short preface and, often, include an introductory chapter covering Ruskin’s career, complete with some paragraphs explaining why he is so vital to read. Then, however thematically arranged their passages may be, the editors disappear, leaving their selections to speak for themselves. For contrast, Osborn makes substantive comments either before or after his selections, placing all in a “modern” (1917) cultural context. A unique approach–and, though few, his selections are very good.
Porter, Rose, Nature Studies from Ruskin (Boston: Dana Estes, 1900).
A stupendous collection, a delight for anyone interested in Ruskin’s breath-taking descriptions of nature, of streams, flowers, clouds, moss, fields, mountains, and much more! The collection to immerse yourself in every year as spring comes around. As you read, and having read, look about, you will see nature in ways you never did before. A true and enduring delight.
Porter, Rose, Bits of Burnished Gold (New York: Randolph, 1888).
Exactly as described. Small (3.5″ x 4″). Short (128 pp.) A pocketbook before there were pocketbooks. Wonderful brief choices. Aphorisms to be sure, but aphorisms chosen not merely because they are Ruskin Profound, but because our editor has read him deeply and loves him as a result. If you can find it, not to be missed!
Quennell, Peter, Selected Writings of John Ruskin (London: Falcon, 1952).
*Rhys, Ernest, The Two Boyhoods and Other Selections on Life and Art by John Ruskin (1914).
Quite different from the rest: many of the selections here are not to be found in other collations and all are presented more or less whole, so that the reader gets a good sense of what Ruskin wants his reader to think about. (For instance, Rhys includes many of Ruskin’s brief chapters on drawing, originally included in Ruskin’s The Elements of Drawing, in recognition of his subject’s argument that talking about drawing is one thing, which actually doing it is quite another! Another difference is that this editor (unlike many Ruskin collectors) has read all of JR’s poems, written early in his life, and has included, at appropriate points a number of these–example: his poems on Chamouni in the section where he reproduces Ruskin’s great paeans to mountains. A drawback (shared with other compilations): Rhys does not tell us where his lovely passages can be located in the original Ruskin works, but you can find them by typing a few unique words into your browser.
Roe, Frederick R., Selections and Essays by John Ruskin (New York: Scribner’s, 1918).
Rosenberg, John, The Genius of John Ruskin (New York: Columbia Univ., 1964).
Along with Van Akin Burd, Rosenberg was the scholar most responsible for reigniting the just barely smouldering embers of Ruskin’s reputation in the 1960s. This collection of longer passages—often entire lectures or chapters from books—was the first “Ruskin” I read, the book that showed me that, in Ruskin, I had at last found the moral sociologist for whom I had long been looking–included, for example, are three of Unto this Last’s four essays. It was the hunt for and discovery of the “missing” Unto this Last essay that led me to the “life of Ruskin” I’ve been enjoying ever since. Rosenberg’s respect for his subject is clearly evident in his title and remains evident in every selection and introduction. An essential collection. For anyone not enthused with devoting some dozens of hours to one of Ruskin’s four hundred page books, this is a fine starting point, because the selections—on nature, architecture, art, society—are drawn from all periods of Ruskin’s writing life.
Scudder, Vida, An Introduction to the Writings of John Ruskin (Boston: BIbley, 1890).
Another wonderful collection from one who thoroughly understood Ruskin and his work. Indeed, Scudder heard Ruskin lecture during his last teaching term at Oxford during the mid-1880s. It was that experience that made her into an advocate of his thought, and which, just a few years after her return to the US, led to this edition, a selection published while he still lived. Like Osburn and Rosenberg, Scudder writes most helpful “Introductions” for each of her themed sections. Not to be missed.
Sims, Albert E., A Ruskin Calendar (New York: Crowell, 1911).
This short collection is of the “aphoristic” variety; its selections have been chosen, however, with less deep knowledge of Ruskin than, say, Bateman and Allen’s Ruskin Birthday Book. Still, for a daily bit of inspiration–literally, “breathing the spirit of life into”–it has good value, even if its daily entries often leave you wondering and hungering for what else he said in the passages presented.
Sinclair, William, Selections from the Writings of John Ruskin (Edinburgh: Nimmo, Hay, and Mitchell, 1907).
One of my great favorites. A collection which uses the same format and many of the same selections as W. G. Collingwood’s “First Series” (see above). Some of these selections are different however. Moreover, some are longer, some shorter, and, at the back, there’s a series of “Miscellaneous” passages that are not included in the Collingwood volume. A very good choice if the Collingwood volumes can’t be found. As becomes obvious as you make your way through this volume, Sinclair not only knew his Ruskin, he loved him. Additional Note, 2019: I’ve recently learned of another collection that contains the same selections as Sinclair: Choice Selections from the Writings of John Ruskin, published by John Wiley in New York in 1876, hence the first (and only?) American edition. If you can’t find Sinclair, this would substitute nicely. I’ve learned, too, that all these similar collections, however they may have modified their content, are based on a volume entitled Selections from the Writings of John Ruskin (no editor specified), printed in 1862 by Smith, Elder, Ruskin’s London publisher. It is interesting to speculate regarding this original version that, by the time 1862 arrived, Ruskin was then the target of virulent denunciation for having written Unto this Last–which first printed in 1860. Perhaps Smith, Elder, certainly sensitive to the lambastings, put out this collection to remind their readers that Ruskin had previously done much of literary and artistic merit before he voiced his scathing criticisms of society.
Tinker, Chauncey, Selections from the Works of John Ruskin (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1908).
Tuthill, (Mrs.) L. C., True and Beautiful (Boston: Merrill, 1854; with subsequent editions).
One, if not the very first, of the compendia, consisting entirely of selections from Ruskin’s earliest writings: the five Modern Painters volumes, The Seven Lamps of Architecture, and The Stones of Venice. Tuthill’s book proved so successful, a number of updated editions appeared over the course of ensuing decades. All, as her title tells, focus on Ruskin’s nature and aesthetic writings. Good.
Wilmer, Clive, Unto this Last and Other Writings by John Ruskin (London and New York: Penguin, 1985).
It is hard to describe this collection properly. It has been one of my Ruskin “bibles” since I first read it in the late 1980s. Indeed–given that it is only available in paperback–some years ago I had to have my copy rebound so that I could keep reading it! Wilmer has given us the best–something that is very much still the case–selection of Ruskin’s sociological (what he would have called “political economic”) writings in print, and has augmented each with detailed and impeccable interpretive notes that make Ruskin’s classical, Biblical, poetic, etc., allusions understandable–an illumining which makes the essays come alive. Included are all four essays of Unto this Last; the famous “Nature of Gothic” chapter from The Stones of Venice; an early masterpiece of social criticism, “The Work of Iron”; two Fors Clavigera letters; his delightful (and only) children’s story, “The King of the Golden River”; and two more of Ruskin’s best lectures, “Traffic,” and the greatest talk ever given (very much wish I could have been there for it) on the vital and moral importance of reading great literature, “Of Kings’ Treasuries.” Invaluable.
Wurtzberg, Caroline A., Readings in John Ruskin’s Fors Clavigera: 1871-1884 (London: George Allen, 1899).
Like Dinah Birch’s Fors collection (see above), this selection–the first ever I believe–takes as its source Ruskin’s discursive, critical, instructive, brilliant letters to the workers and laborers of Great Britain. The passages chosen all focus on his propositions for how we can create a more humane society, a place where we can live more harmoniously and joyously together. As a selection, it is far shorter, of course, than the original letters (which run close to 2000 pp.!); a good thing! On the other hand, as with all excerptings which purport to give us “the best” of the thoughts of writers of consummate genius, the originals are better.
*Wurtzberg, Caroline A., Pen Pictures from Ruskin (1901),
No editor or date is supplied in the following editions:
Master Painters: Titian: Selections from John Ruskin (Toronto: Mission Books, n.d.).
Master Painters: Turner: Selections from John Ruskin (Toronto: Mission Books, n.d.).
Lastly, considering all of the above, you can rest assured, as with all works of literary genius, that Mr. Ruskin’s marvelous words will generate new insights and deeper emotions when you read them again a few years on!
Until next time!
Happy searching and reading!