Ruskin, John

Ruskin, John, art-critic and social reformer, born in London, son of an honourable and a successful wine-merchant; educated with some severity at home under the eye of his parents, and particularly his mother, who trained him well into familiarity with the Bible, and did not object to his study of “Robinson Crusoe” along with the “Pilgrim's Progress” on Sundays, while, left to his own choice he read Homer, Scott, and Byron on week days; entered Christ's Church, Oxford, as a gentleman Commoner in 1837, gained the Newdigate Prize in 1839, produced in 1843, under the name of “A Graduate of Oxford,” the first volume of “Modern Painters,” mainly in defence of the painter Turner and his art, which soon extended to five considerable volumes, and in 1849 “The Seven Lamps of Architecture,” in definition of the qualities of good art in that line, under the heads of the Lamps of Sacrifice, of Truth, of Power, of Beauty, of Life, of Memory, and Obedience, pleading in particular for the Gothic style; these were followed in 1851 by “Pre-Raphaelitism” (q.v.), and 1851-53 by the “Stones of Venice,” in further exposition of his views in the “Seven Lamps,” and others on the same and kindred arts. Not till 1862 did he appear in the rôle of social reformer, and that was by the publication of “Unto this Last,” in the Cornhill Magazine, on the first principles of political economy, the doctrines in which were further expounded in “Munera Pulveris,” “Time and Tide,” and “Fors Clavigera” (q.v.), the principles in which he endeavoured to give practical effect to by the Institution of St. George's Guild, with the view of commending “the rational organisation of country life independent of that of cities.” His writings are numerous, several of them originally lectures, and nearly all on matters of vital account, besides many others on subjects equally so which he began, but has had, to the grief of his admirers, to leave unfinished from failing health, among these his “Præterita,” or memories from his past life. The most popular of his recent writings is “Sesame and Lilies,” with perhaps the “Crown of Wild Olive,” and the most useful that of the series beginning with “Unto this Last,” and culminating in “Time and Tide.” He began his career as an admirer of Turner, and finished as a disciple of Thomas Carlyle, but neither slavishly nor with the surrender of his own sense of justice and truth; Justice is the goddess he worships, and except in her return to the earth as sovereign he bodes nothing but disaster to the fortunes of the race; his despair of seeing this seems to have unhinged him, and he is now in a state of fatal collapse; his contemporaries praised his style of writing, but to his disgust they did not believe a word he said; he sits sadly in these days at Brantwood, in utter apathy to everything of passing interest, and if he thinks or speaks at all it would seem his sense of the injustice in things, and the doom it is under, is not yet utterly dead—his sun has not even yet gone down upon his wrath; the keynote of his wrath was, Men do the work of this world and rogues take the pay, selling for money what God has given for nothing, or what others have purchased by their life's blood; b. 1819. He died 20th January 1900.

Definition taken from The Nuttall Encyclopædia, edited by the Reverend James Wood (1907)

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