Praeterita: Outlines of Scenes and Thoughts, Perhaps Worthy of Memory in My Past Life
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As a memoir elevated to the level of fine art, John Ruskin’s Praeterita stands alongside The Education of Henry Adams and the confessions of Augustine, Rousseau, and Tolstoy. A luminous account of his childhood and youth, Praeterita is the last major work of the revolutionary nineteenth-century critic.
Written in the lucid intervals between the bouts of dementia that haunted his final years, Praeterita tells the story of Ruskin’s early life—the formation of his taste and intellect through education, travels in Europe, and encounters with great works of art and artists. In abandoning the traditional linear mode of autobiography, Ruskin opened up the form and was an important influence on Proust. He also provided a vivid, detailed portrait of pre-Victorian and Victorian England that is as indispensable an account of its era as Samuel Pepys’s diary is of England in the seventeenth century.
This edition of Praeterita is accompanied by Dilecta, Ruskin’s own selection from his letters, diaries, and other writings. In these more private writings we get a fascinating glimpse of genius as it flickers in and out of madness. Together these two works illuminate the life and mind of a towering intellect who left an extraordinary mark on the history of aesthetics and culture, and on the very course of autobiography. With a new Introduction by Tim Hilton
(Book Jacket Status: Jacketed)
little person; Raphael’s St John, a piece of black bombast; and the Uffizi collection in general, an unbecoming medley, got together by people who knew nothing, and cared less than nothing,1 about the arts. On the whole, when I last walked through the Uffizi in 1882 I was precisely of the same opinion, and proud of having arrived at it so quickly. It was not to be expected of me at that time to like either Angelico or Botticelli; and if I had, the upper corridor of the Uffizi was an entirely vile
drawing of the loose lashed jib of one of them, as late as 1854.* The immeasurable delight to me of being able to loiter and swing about just over the bowsprit and watch the plunge of the bows, if there was the least swell or broken sea to lift them, with the hope of Calais at breakfast, and the horses’ heads set straight for Mont Blanc to-morrow, is one of the few pleasures I look back to as quite unmixed. In getting a Turner drawing I always wanted another; but I didn’t want to be in more boats
the impressions received in my father’s native Edinburgh, and on the northern coast, from Queen’s Ferry round by Prestonpans to Dunbar and Berwick. Dr Brown goes on: – “A year ago, I found an elderly countrywoman, a widow, waiting for me. Rising up, she said, ‘D’ ye mind me?’ I looked at her, but could get nothing from her face; but the voice remained in my ear, as if coming from the ‘fields of sleep,’ and I said by a sort of instinct, ‘Tibbie Meek!’ I had not seen her or heard her voice for
be heard during a narrow space of those young days. 201. I too carelessly left without explanation the casual sentence about “fatal dinner at Mr Domecq’s” when I was fourteen, above, Chap. IV., § 94. My father’s Spanish partner was at that time living in the Champs Élysées, with his English wife and his five daughters; the eldest, Diana, on the eve of her marriage with one of Napoleon’s officers, Count Maison; the four others, much younger, chanced to be at home on vacation from their convent
remonstrance to be taken to the theatre by my father, had the strictest Puritan prejudice against the stage; yet enjoyed it so much that I think she felt the sacrifice she made in not going with us to be a sort of price accepted by the laws of virtue for what was sinful in her concession to my father and me. She went, however, to hear and see this group of players, renowned, without any rivals, through all the cities of Europe; – and, strange and pretty to say, her instinct of the innocence,