Life of Octavia Hill as told in her letters/Chapter 3
|←Early Work in London.||Life of Octavia Hill as told in her letters by
Working Women's Classes and Art Training.
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APRIL, 1856—DECEMBER, 1858
The appointment mentioned in the last letter of the previous chapter must have been surprising to some of those interested in the classes. It was certainly a most responsible position for a girl not much over seventeen. Not only had Octavia to superintend the business arrangements of the classes, but also to advise the women attending as to the subjects that would be most useful to them. And she was even expected to step into the place of any teacher who happened to be absent from her class. This was a sufficiently trying demand, even when the class dealt with subjects with which she was tolerably well acquainted; but on one occasion, at any rate, she found herself required to teach botany; and, us she explained to her sister Gertrude, “I knew nothing of botany, but a great deal about flowers; and as there happened to be a bunch of flowers in the room, I talked to the women about them, and I do not think the time was wasted.” When the Ladies’ Guild was broken up the toy work was continued by Mr. Neale for a time, in a room at Devonshire Street, which, being near the working women’s classes, was convenient for Octavia. She and her mother and sisters were in lodgings at Francis Street, and then moved back to 4, Russell Place, which was let out in furnished apartments, after the Guild left.
In 1857 a scholarship at Queen’s College, Harley Street, was founded in honour of Mr. Maurice, who was given the choice of the first scholar, in recognition of the time and money that he had devoted to the College. He knew that Emily was very anxious to become a teacher; and he offered the scholarship to her, partly out of sympathy with this wish, and partly out of regard to Octavia. Thus when, later on, the school was started, Emily was able to help Octavia in a way she could not possibly have done otherwise.
In 1868, Miranda's health began to fail. She had begun work very early, and had found the strain of so many hours' teaching, added to the long walk, and exposure to weather, more than she could bear. It was therefore arranged that she should join her aunt and Florence in Italy, and obtain teaching there, while Mrs. Hill took over her English pupils.
May 1st, 1856.
From one of the Toy-workers.
Dearest Miss Ockey,
I hope you arrived at Plaistow quite safely on Monday. Dear Miss Ockey I hope you are quite well and very happy; but I suppose that you are very happy with your dear friends.
Dear Miss Ockey we do miss you so dreadfully. I do so long to see you and hear your voice again. The place is so dull without you, and to me seems like a prison. I have been agoing to say so often—"Miss Ockey repeat some poetry (sic) or talk about birds, or do something."
Dear Miss Ockey, will you, if you please if it will not be too much trouble, get me a furn (sic); only gather it yourself, or else it will not do. Dear Miss Ockey I have thought so often of what you said on Saturday that two people could hardly work for one year without owing each other something; and I am ashamed and very very sorry to be obliged to come to the conclusion that all you owe me is the recollection of many unhappy days, and the great trouble and anxiety that I have been to you; for you said yourself that, when you were in bed of a night you used to think what could you do to me to alter me; while on my part I owe you that no one on earth can ever repay you. Dear Miss Ockey your Mama as been reading to us out of Hewitt's "Boys' Country Book," and teaching us poetry. I hope you are not working, for I am sure Mr. Ruskin would not wish you.
How is dear little Emma? I hope you have some fun with her, and you will be able to tell us of the fun which you had with her. How does the beautiful celandine and violets and primroses look? On Tuesday I saw Mr. Morris running so quickly. Dear Miss Ockey do you know that I knew a person who was afraid to speak to there (sic) friends, what do you think of them? Do please come home on Saturday, and if you write to anyone will you tell them at what time you will be there dear Miss Ockey. I do not mean this for a hint, but if you take it for one I shall be very glad indeed. Will you give my love to the flowers?
I am yours ever truly and affectionately,
No date (1856).
To Miss Margaret Harrison.Well! if I had power, I certainly would write or draw something very bitter, sad, and severe about people; but it ought to go hand in hand with something deep, pathetic, and reverent about them. I wish I could draw or write; for I believe that I feel people's characters to my very fingers. I long to draw them as I see them, both when my spirit mourns over them, and when it bows before them. I say I feel their characters; and so I do, just as one feels the beauty or harshness of a colour or line.
39, Devonshire Street, Queen's Square,
July 5th, 1856.
To the Mother of one of the Toy-makers.
Dear Mrs. J., I regret to have to tell Harriet not to return to work till Thursday next, as I have said that those children who do not earn five shillings in a week should lose three days' work. I am very sorry to be obliged to say this, but I hope it, or a sense of the necessity of being industrious, will soon render any such law unnecessary. I shall be as pleased as proud when the day arrives, when I see all the children steady, earnest, and eager to do all they can to help those near and dear to them. I am sure their idleness results more from want of thought than anything else; but they must try to overcome this; and if they fail to do this because it is right to do so, they must be taught to do so by other means.
However, I ought to say that Harriet has improved very much indeed lately; she has been so much more gentle and steady, and more earnest about her lessons. It is therefore with much pleasure that I give her Mr. Neale's invitation to spend a day at his house, and hope that she may grow more and more good, gentle, generous, and earnest, working for you, herself and all whom she can benefit, not only willingly but unceasingly; and I am sure she will find in quiet earnest work a happiness and peace which are far more joyous than giddiness. I ought to tell you how much I love her, and how much life and pleasure she gives to all here. I am pleased to see her take a deeper interest in things, because I am sure we all care too little, and not too much for things; and rightly directed, her love for all she cares for may be a constant source of joy to herself and others. I wish she would draw more. I am sure she would do it well.
With many thanks to you for all the pleasure she has given us, believe me, dear Mrs. J., yours very truly,
July 24th, 1856.
"Let earnest work for ever show
For dear little Harriet from her friend Octavia Hill, with earnest hope that neither summer drought nor winter frost may ever deprive her of the rain, and that her trust, like the roots of the flowers she loves, may ever take more firm hold of God, as their little fibres do of the strong nourishing dear old earth.
31, Red Lion Square,
August 19th, 1856.
To Miss Annie Harrison.
Do you remember a long time ago when you were at Marshals, taking a great interest in all that I told you of a little girl, called Elizabeth. I had not been able to find her house, and so had not seen or heard anything of her for many months—last night, however, as we were sitting expecting Mr. Simpson, some one came up and said, " Miss Ockey a little girl of the name of Elizabeth wants you." I ran down and led up the little girl. She is not much grown, has still a pale but pretty face; and her dark hair and eyelashes make her look quite southern; she speaks in a raised voice, and like a child; she is very small, but is, I believe, thirteen years old. She was so glad to see us. I asked her how she found us out. She had been first to the Guild, and was told, as she said, "That no such name lived there." She then determined to go to the other children's houses, to which she had been once last summer. She went to Clara's. She had moved; she went to Margaret's, she was out; but her mother directed her to Harriet's, and she is one of the girls who now works for us, so she told Elizabeth we now worked in Devonshire Street. "I told her she had better tell me your residence; for that Devonshire Street was such a long way. I thought so because of its name, but I must have come by the end of it, if it leads into Theobald's Road. I said the number of the house all the way for fear I forgot it." She said she has "been at service in a large gentleman's family at King's Cross where I did all the washing; I kep' it (meaning the situation) six months but I was forced to give it up, it was too hard, for I had all the work to do, they didn't keep no other servant." "Have you seen anything of the country lately?" I asked. "Oh no Miss, I haven't seen it since you took me; oh, don't I remember Romford!" I had seen her large bright eyes looking earnestly at a bunch of glorious purple flowers I had brought with me, and I could not help giving her one piece to carry back to the miserable home she had left. Her father has lost his work through drinking, her mother has but little washing to do, and has two children younger than Elizabeth, and a baby. The eldest boy has work at 4/6 a week but he has to walk an immense way to it. They lived in Clerkenwell, over a rag-shop, where this little girl used to sleep in a back-parlour, but could not go to bed till after eleven or later, because the girl she slept with always kept the key; "for there was lots of rags there." And this is a child who seems meant to live wherever beauty may be found, comparatively without affection, utterly indifferent to home. She is hardly touched by kindness; but at the sight of flowers her face lights up, her eyebrows rise, her whole being seems expanded. I never, never shall forget her in the fields at Hampstead. She is high-spirited; and I trust she may not be crushed by sorrow. Energetic and persevering to the extreme, I think she will make herself master of events by submitting to their laws. She, alone of all my children, worked beautifully when I doomed her to do anything. "It is no use, it must be done," said in an unsympathetic tone, acted like magic. Indeed, she was altogether indifferent to sympathy. When I had to go and help and teach and encourage others, Elizabeth struggled on alone. She is gloriously proud, can stand alone, and say candidly to us what she thinks. There is not one-half the feeling about equality in classes in any of the others, notwithstanding all their talk, that there is in her, with her free, independent spirit. Twice, and twice only, have I seen it broken, and then but for a short time; once because she came late and I ordered her to leave work. Her mother it seems would not let her come without breakfast; her father had been out all night drinking, and had not returned with the money. And again when she heard she was to leave, she cried as though her little strong heart would break;—still, unlike the others, not complaining, but passionately. When the last day of work came, and the others were all miserable, she was laughing, calling it the day of judgment, and hopping about like a little spirit of evil. And, when the last moment came, she only made a bow, and said good-bye like a little cockatoo, and left us. Left us; and went where no mother's love was strong enough to call forth love which ought to direct that strong will, and mighty energy,—to Clerkenwell, where no gleam of beauty should gladden, and so soften, her little heart; where the angel face, that I have seen smile forth from below wreaths of flowers instinctively arranged, and most beautifully so, should cease to be beautiful because children's faces are often like deep water, reflecting only the images of what they see. The strength of her nature will not leave her; but to what will it be applied? who will direct the strong will? who will cultivate the latent powers? who will call forth the spirit of love?
I have written more than I intended, I only meant to let you know we had seen Elizabeth as you seemed to take an interest in her. She is coming to me on Thursday at Devonshire Street.
September 10th, 1856.
Louisa to Emily.
It was such a pretty little cottage where I went. It has a thatched roof with pretty green creepers all over it, and the birds come and build their nests there, and bees and wasps make nests there. At the back of this house there are some beautiful fields, and into these I went, and all round was the garlands of bright nightshade. The field looked one glow of scarlet berries, and of course I gathered some for my dear Miss Ockey, and I put some nightshade and some of Miss Ockey's own thistles and some buttercups together. The buttercups always remind me of dear Miss Florence. I never see one without thinking of the day I first went with her in the fields, how she jumped up those banks! I think she sprang up them like the silvery-footed Antelope does about the rocks. Miss Ockey was at Miss Harris's on Sunday and Monday and she did some photographs of leaves, and Miss Harris is agoing to do us each one of our favourite leaves. Mr. Furnivall came on Saturday to see the drawing class given, was not that a gloriously beautiful thing? … Mr. Evans the toy dealer has gave us an order of a pound's worth of things, and when they were taken in, he gave another order for another nine shillings' worth of things. Is not that good news? I think we all go on better with our work. Last week I earned ten shillings at ring stands, which I think was wonderful, because I never did any before. … Please come back soon. You have got four weeks longer to stay now. It seems as if you had been away two years.
To Mary Harris.
Oh, about Tom Brown! No it is not by Arthur Hughes, the artist, but by Thos. Hughes, the barrister, the friend of Mr. Maurice, teacher of gymnastics at the College, co-worker with Mr. Furnivall in establishing social meetings, etc.; one of the brightest, best men in the world. I think the book one of the noblest works I have read, possessing the first element one looks for in n great book, namely progress—a book, too, opposed to the evil of the age, as I think, sadness. I know you may say, " Oh! that is the fault of the bit of the world you see as a worker, one who sees the poor, and who knows earnest people." There is a sorrow which I honour; and I believe Mr. Hughes would too; but I speak of that sorrow which eats into their warmest heart, and fights ever against their energy, urging them to hopelessness and despair, the selfish sadness that asks itself continually, "What have I of joy?" I speak of the sadness pervading all classes, which rushes with sickening force on the young lady who has danced most gaily at the ball, when she begins to unfasten her sash in her own room; which weighs heavily on the comfortable old lady as she sits in her drawing room, to receive guests; which makes the worker gaze in gloomy despondency on the long long wearying days of toil, and makes the poor man say, " Nothing but care and trouble, and hard work, and the workhouse at last,"—each and all saying, " What is the end and purpose of all this?"—I feel the book is a healthy blow at all this way of looking at things; and, as such, I hold it to possess the second element of a great book, namely fitness, for the age in which it is written. Then I feel that shadow of Dr. Arnold thro'out the book, the presence and work felt, the form so rarely seen, both beautiful and life-like. Then I think the instance of the ennobling influence of having someone depending on one is most valuable. Then see how the truly great nature gathers good from all things thro' life. And imagine how I delight in the athletic games, and try to feel how I prize the book. I know you will feel all the objections to it quite strongly enough; and I won't try to say anything about them except; Don't hastily believe that the author advocates all he paints. There are few things in the world (are there any?) from which a great nature won't glean some good.
4, Russell Place,
October 21st, 1856.
To Mary Harris.
Oh, Mary, money is very powerful. I have just came in from paying several people for some work done, for the execution of an order which we accepted to give them employment. Many of them are old Guild people, who arranged to wait till the things were paid for; the payment has been a little delayed, and so it was unexpected by them; and there they were, educated and uneducated, living in nice streets renting the whole house, or in little back attics in small streets,—all glad to see me; but still more so when I told my errand; and the relieved look that for a few moments lighted up their care-worn faces touched me very much. To think of the power of those small pieces of money, to think of the thankfulness they caused! But what struck me especially was that to one the shilling was of as much importance as the pound to another; and so it was; one set had learned by hard experience not to expect the little luxuries of eating. Butter, sugar, and even meat are rarely used by them; but, more than that, they have less of an appearance to keep up. Are they better for it? Does that effort to appear something not help to keep up self-respect? I rather think it does. But in all classes there is the same care; all thought bent upon that which must be paid for, whether to-morrow's dinner, or neat gloves in which to go to church next Sunday. But God be thanked for English home life! say I, whenever I come in from visiting anywhere. See how, if one is ill, all the calculations are gone and forgotten in a moment; and the full ardour of love is given with a depth of tenderness that withers in a moment all worldly considerations.—I saw Louisa to-night set out to walk about four miles home, after coming from Netting Hill this morning,—walking twice from here to Devonshire Street, and I do not know how many miles yesterday. I stood and watched her among the hurrying crowd. She was walking slowly, for her feet were terribly sore, and as she was lost to view, I noticed how the gas-light flared in the foggy night on the worn faces near me.
October 27th, 1856.
To Mary Harris.
I am so much disappointed not to finish the illumination. But what a day I have had! One continual whirl of doing and remembering, taking addresses, examining pupils, covering books, sorting copy-books, but (most tiring of all) trying to attend to fifty people at once, with the knowledge that at least five of them will be offended if they think themselves the least in the world slighted, and that they think I have no right to be indifferent to what they think. I am so glad to-morrow night I shall see Mr. Maurice. Oh! Mary, think of that!
I don't know what there is in the word "lady" which will connect itself with all kinds of things I despise and hate; first and most universally it suggests a want of perseverance, and bending before small obstacles, a continual "I would if———"
October 29th, 1856.
To Mary Harris.
I can scarcely see because of the terrible fog, but I must tell you what I know you will be very glad to hear;—all my immediate fear about the toys is over, as I have this morning received an order from the same wholesale house to which we had furnished specimens of the toys some time ago. This will not, I think, necessitate my taking an additional worker, as the Bazaar gets on so very badly just now; but only fancy how delightful it would be to have the business steadily increase. These wholesale dealers, too, are so delightful to do business with, as they always pay ready money, order things in large quantities, and never change their minds when things are half done.
4, Russell Place,
November 4th, 1856.
To Mary Harris.
I have left off learning my Latin as I walk to Devonshire Street, and get a little time to think. I wish the children were better. They have not at all gone back, but I should like to be able to try them by a higher standard. I think they grow mentally and morally lazy. They care about history, natural history, geography and many other things, if once I begin to talk till they are thoroughly interested, and go on without giving them trouble; and I—yes the fault always finds its way home—I get lazy and would rather dream and think, rather be silent than sing or talk; and so we very often stagnate, except as far as our hands are concerned. I must study something for them but when? … Andy says she is quite as ignorant about dress as you can possibly be. She thanks you very much for the lace, which she thinks beautiful. I say she because I know nothing about it, but do thank you very heartily, as far as I am capable of thinking on the subject.
November 9th, 1856.
To Mary Harris, who was visiting in Newgate.
If you knew or could imagine what effect the presence of a noble soul can have on those usually surrounded by a hurrying struggling crowd; what it is to be taught to look at spiritual beauty; what to a much worn care-pressed being it is to know at last that, shut out tho' she has seemed from all the best and most honourable around her, borne downwards as she has been by the weight of many sorrows, much anguish and inward evil, there is yet left, even on this earth, one who will take her as she is, and love her because she has that in her which is God given. This last she will learn afterwards, and I know that, deep in those hearts hardened by crime and degraded, there yet is human feeling to be called out by nothing so much as trust and love.
39, Devonshire Street,
November 9th, 1856.
To Mary Harris.
I thank God for work, and for so blessing our work. I believe I might often say with Ruskin the first clause of the sentence, certainly always the last, "I am happy while I work; when I play I am miserable."
Is it not strange that tho' I have an unusually clear idea of the sermon, the only impression last Sunday afternoon is one of complete quiet? It was no effort to understand, nor was I, as usual, dreadfully tired in church; but I had the consciousness, not of peace nor of rest, but of quiet, such as when one sits out of doors in the country, not thinking, only seeing.
4, Russell Place,
January 17th, 1857.
To Mary Harris.
On Wednesday evening we went to hear Ruskin give a lecture on the occasion of the presentation of some money offered by him as a prize; but, owing to the imperfection of the work, the money was divided between the competitors, as some compensation for their loss of time. Their failure, he explained, was mainly owing to his having set them to work which was not possible for them to do well;—the carving of a panel, the subject to be taken from some historical event of the year. Apparently both parties took it for granted that it was to be about the Crimean War; for Ruskin said that he had overlooked the fact that no one could represent that which he had never seen; and, when the old builders lived, happily for art, but unhappily for the nations, wars were continually fought within sight, their scenes were present with the workman; they haunted him; he dreamed of them by night, and could not help carving them. Ruskin had expected better things of the workmen, because he saw with what spirit cheap periodicals were illustrated; really we see quite wonderful things in them. He had expected, too, that there would have been many competitors, and there were only two. He felt sorry for the failure; but not so sorry as he would have been, had he not noticed that things which begin too swimmingly do not always succeed so well as those which fail at first. The workmen would not be altogether pleased that instead of a prize, he gave them a lecture. "Last year," he said, "while travelling in the North of Scotland I was very painfully impressed by the absence of any art—amongst grand natural scenery; the inhabitants seem to be utterly without any art-expression of their perception of it; no buildings rise, no pictures are painted; truly the huts of grey stone are roofed with the peat, set picturesquely in oblique lines, which seem to have been marked by the stroke of some gigantic claymore. The only evidence of any power of design among them is the arrangement of the lines of colour in the tartan. And in Inverness, a city built on the shore of the most beautiful estuary in the world, at the foot of the Grampians, set as it were like a jewel to clasp the folds of the mountains to the blue zone of the sea the only building which has evidence of any recognition of art is the modern decorated prison."
4, Russell Place,
March 19th, 1857.
To Mary Harris.
Some time ago Miss Sterling had a very long conversation with me on the way I am ruining my health, but especially about Sunday work; and I told her just what I have felt about it—that to leave off working was a privilege, to continue a duty—that I dared not claim any time as my own; that I had sometimes felt as if I had earned a time to rest or enjoy leisure; and then had been convinced that all time was God's and to be used for Him.
Miss Sterling mentioned it to Mr. Maurice, and in consequence he asked me to go to his house this evening, to talk to him about it. He spoke very beautifully indeed about it, and of course very kindly to me. He thought that rest was as much a part of God's order as work was; that we have no right to put ourselves out of that order, as if we were above it. He told me that the division of things into duties and privileges was an arbitrary one; there is no such broad distinction, every privilege involves a duty; our highest privilege is to perform our duty; rest is as much a duty as work; it is very self-willed to try to do without it; it is really hopeless to try to exist, if one is for ever giving out, and never receiving; nor does he think that the doing of actions rightly, brings with it enough of this receiving. He also advised that I should go to church every Sunday morning with Mama, as he believed it would be a great bond of union.
And, Mary, I could not help the tears coming into my eyes, and my voice being choked at feeling so cared for by one so noble, so infinitely strong, so perfectly calm; and a strange sense of perfect peace, such as I have not felt since I saw you, stole over me. And yet I was so hard, so unconvinced, and so strangely bitter; bitter, with myself in feeling how much of pride had made me think I could stand without help; and we sat quite silent for a few moments. At last Mr. Maurice spoke in a deep full voice, you felt what a depth of human sympathy was in it: " Will you think about it then, Miss Hill?"
I felt how I trusted him; and told him that I did not see clearly about it, but would do what he advised, and then perhaps all would be plainer to me. "I am quite sure it will," he said; and wishing him good-bye I came away.
45, Great Ormond St.,
July 1st, 1857.
I did not go to Mr. Neale's and the children made a horrid mess of it. Miss C. forgot the name of the station; and they went to Beddington and had to walk eight miles, and other absurdities. I saw Rossetti last night, and learned that Ruskin is not going abroad, but to Manchester, Oxford, etc., to lecture. He starts to-day. He was at Russell Place, to see the pictures; but did not see any of us. Rossetti was so friendly, I could not hate him, with his bright bright eyes, and recalling, as he did, dear people; and le was so kind too. … Miss R. has heard of our being confirmed. … Mr. Maurice has been lecturing on [ilton before the Royal Society.
45, Great Ormond St.,
July 8th, 1857.
… What fine efforts you are making about the toys! They quite put me to shame. How nice it is tho', that we can work together, tho' we are so far apart, is it not? … I hope you will get to know Mrs. Browning some day. How glorious that thunder-storm must have been! Do you know I am to teach all the classes this autumn, except singing, (all is not many reading, writing and arithmetic). The ladies are all going oat of town … Do you know I so enjoyed my visit to Weybridge last April. I have never enjoyed a visit there so much. I enjoyed the riding so, and how beautiful the country is! … (Of a visit to Buckinghamshire she writes): You know there are acres and acres and acres of beech woods, valleys and hills clothed and covered with them, and there are rounded hills with most beautiful slopes; and from little cleared spaces in the woods one catches a glimpse of far off purple hills, and nearer hills covered with wood, and farm-houses with their great barns golden-roofed, with lichen lying in a sheltered hollow; and the great bare head of some uncovered hill, cut with clear outline against the sky; and then perhaps we plunged into the depths of the woods again, where the sunlight fell between the fan-like branches of the beeches and thro' their leaves like a green mist, on to the silver stems, and on to the ground russet with last year's fallen leaves, perhaps upon the crest of some tall fern, or upon a sheet of blue speedwells, or on some little wood sorrel plant, or a grey tree stump, touched with golden lichen, or gold- green moss. And then the larks, cuckoos, and nightingales seemed hardly to stop by night or day, but kept up a glad sweet chorus.—The classes will be over in a minute, and then I must go. Forgive this short letter. I will try to write more next time. I often think of you, dear dear little Flo, and love to see "Loke" at the beginning of a letter. It is your own name, and no one else uses it, so it always reminds me of you.
4, Russell Place, Fitzroy Square,
July 17th, 1857.
If you could bring me anything at any time to draw I should be so glad. I am so tired of privet, and dusty hornbeam, especially when I have drawn one piece several times, and don't the least know when I shall get a fresh one; and if, moreover, the things you brought told me a little about far, fair places, where they grew, they would help me.
The following letter refers to the building of a school at All Saints', Suffolk.
4, Russell Place, Fitzroy Square, W.,
August 14th, 1857.
I return the tracings. I decidedly prefer No. 3 to any which you can choose. I mean I approve of your choice entirely, under the circumstances. At the same time, I enclose a small extract from Ruskin, bearing on the subject. Now I should not propose altering any but the entirely square windows. But, if that were possible, they would be much more beautiful. I am afraid they would have to be a little lower down, to make room for the shield, as they call it (namely, you understand, the solid block of stone), which need not, I think, necessarily be carved at all, though it would be more beautiful, of course. One or two words, or even letters, that were appropriate, might perhaps be found and placed on the shields. At any rate the Committee could hardly object, could they? The opening, you understand, would be square as ever. I suppose each window would require three little shields. I think you will quite understand about them from the drawing I send you. It is the window Ruskin refers to (thirteenth century, Oakham Castle). I could not resist doing a little towards beginning to shade it; but, in spite of that, I think you'll understand it. I leave it entirely to you to apply the suggestion, if practicable. Tell Mr. Durrant I admire the arrangement of large square panes very much. I think I even prefer it to the quarries. I am very glad indeed to have influenced, in the least degree, his wish to have Gothic windows. I'll make a finished drawing, or clear tracing of this window, if you want it; but yours will be so simple that this will not be of any use, I think, except to explain the plan, which my rough sketch will do.
I have seen Ruskin's manager to-day, and had a long talk about Ruskin, which I enjoyed much. …
P.S.—There is not the smallest necessity for the aperture of the window being of a pointed shape. Make the uppermost arch pointed only, and make the top of the window square, filling the interval with a stone shield, and you may have a perfect school of architecture, not only consistent with, but eminently conducive to every comfort of your daily life. The window in Oakham Castle is an example of such a form actually employed in the thirteenth century.
4, Russell Place, W.,
September 22nd, 1857.
Mrs. Hill to Emily.
Amelia has taken the toys, and in a rather different spirit from Mr. P. She said to Miranda, "Well, Miss Miranda, I shall expect of course to be paid for my time bye and bye; but more than that I don't want for myself. If I fail, I shall think others have failed before me; and I may perhaps have done a little good." This being her tone, I am proud of her, and look upon her as a fellow-worker in the cause, who has come in by God's providence to relieve Ockey of a burden, and so setting her free to work her higher influence all the more. I am to go and teach as usual; and Ockey will keep the accounts for Amelia. Amelia said to M., " You know, Miss M., I shall want your Mamma to come and give the spirit." The debt on the toys is £25, which Amelia is to repay, as she can—half to us and half to Mr. Neale. He did not wish to take any, and entered with zeal into the new plan. Ockey seemed quite touched. … He seemed most anxious that the teaching should go on. The children are quite in love with his Geography lessons, and won't hear a word against him. On the morning of the day it was all settled, Ockey received the sweetest letter from Miss Harris, asking what sum it would require to carry on the toys for another year; but dear 0. very properly, I believe, was firm to carry out the change. We must give all our influence now to the new phase of things, since the spirit is the same. … Ockey begins to-morrow to work at home. I mean to read some nice book to her, and do all I can to make her happy. She is my own brave, beautiful, good tender Ockey; and it's a hard trial to lose one's post in a Cause; but the Cause itself (that being God's) can never be lost.
November 22nd, 1857.
I don't know whether you will receive this letter, or the box that was despatched yesterday, first. So I must tell you that in it you will find a very few drawings of mine. I will tell you a little about them. I have selected them from a great many that I have done, for I have been at work at that kind of drawing all the summer. I am speaking of the flowers. You will see we chose to send you the water forget-me-not, cranes-bill and lady's-finger, all of which were old favourites of yours. There is one page of virginian creeper and creeping jenny which I send, partly because they are of London growth; and when I had no fresh bright wild country things, day after day did I persevere in drawing the dirty little fellows from the black wall and dirty earth; so they seem to me rather characteristic of my work. The dear buglos is one of my friends; the bramble you know I always loved; and so I have sent you a little piece shaded. I am rather proud of the stalk of the highest leaf; indeed I like it all. Then those drawings on note-paper are copies from Albert Dürer. Is not that a beautiful little piece with the thistle and grass, and stones? How do you like my old donkey's head? It is nearly the first animal I have ever drawn. In the picture, which is one of Joseph and Mary taking Christ, when a little child, down into Egypt, the donkey is being led by Joseph, and he is just looking out of the corner of his eye in that odd way at the thistle, evidently thinking if his rein is long enough for him to snatch at it; but he is nearly past it, and clearly will have to go without the treat. Down below two little lizards are at play; on a log a little bird is perched. I hope you will receive the drawings on my birthday. They are the only things I have to give you, dear one; but I like to think you know what I have been doing.—I had not seen Ruskin all the summer and autumn, but he just came, on Friday, in time to see my work; so that I could send it to you. He is busy in town every day, so that he could not see me at Denmark Hill; but he came here. You do not know how pleased he was with all I had done, or how happy I was that he was pleased. He said I had done an immense quantity of work, and that I was far more accurate than any of his men at the College, whom, you know, he teaches every week. He said of one of my drawings, "This is quite a marvellous piece of drawing, Octavia." And when I showed him one of my Albert Dürers he exclaimed, "Is that yours? I was going to say you had been cutting up my print."
"Ah," I said, "you won't find it so accurate when you look nearer." He then said that it was as accurate as it was possible to be without absolutely tracing it. He told me he saw with what spirit I had worked. He is going to take me to Marlboro' House on Friday, and give me a student's ticket; for he wants me to copy some Turners for him in outline. He says he must give me more teaching, which he can do when I am working at Marlboro' House, where he will come and superintend me, when he has time. I felt altogether so delighted. Ruskin is so kind and beautiful. You know he is coming to keep my birthday with us. … He has been very busy, so that his looking over my work has been delayed. He sent me the Albert Dürer four weeks ago, saying, "Copy this, bit by bit, till I see you." At last I had done it so long that I was sure he could not want me to go on longer. So I hit on this odd plan. I wrote to him something in this style: "My dear Mr. Ruskin, there was once a shepherd's dog, who was ordered by his master to watch a flock of sheep. His master forgot to call him away, and went home. Surprised at the dog's absence, he returned after two days, and found the poor fellow still watching his sheep. And the dog, who now addresses you, would be very glad to be thus patient and obedient, if she were sure that she was really doing the work her master most wanted done; but a great doubt has arisen in her mind as to it. She would not venture to set up her ideas of what is best or most necessary above her master's. If he does want her to go on with the work, well and good. If not, can he write? If he cannot, she has done all she could, and will remain obedient to his words." Was it not fun? He answered by return of post beginning, "My poor little doggie, I really will come to-morrow." We are going to Lincoln's Inn to-morrow, and then I am going to hear Spurgeon. Do you know who he is?
4, Russell Place,
November 22nd, 1857.
Emily to Florence.
I told you that Ruskin had promised to come the evening before Ockey's birthday. She wanted to give him some present, so this is what we have thought of. Do you remember a little stand Ockey was going to paint for a chamois with the words:—
"We see our skies thro' clouds of smoke.
We have just thought that she might finish that for him. But we were at a loss how to get a Swiss chamois. Well! you remember you had one given to you by Joanna, and they appealed to me as to whether I thought you would like to give it to Ruskin; and, as it is only ten days before the time, we could not hear from you; so I have ventured to take the responsibility of Ockey's giving it, feeling sure what you would say if you were here. I hope I have done right, but I cannot bear that you should not join us in doing nice things of the kind, because you are at a distance. I know that your heart is in them. If she has an opportunity, Ockey means to say that it is your chamois. Ruskin will be pleased at its coming from you too. He always asks so kindly and sympathetically about you. When he was here . on Friday he asked about you, before he looked at any of Ockey's work. … Our reading in the evenings goes on delightfully. We have finished that beautiful book of Myers, "Lives of Great Men," and are reading Mr. Maurice's "Philosophy."
4, Russell Place,
November 27th, 1857.
I have been to Marlboro' House to-day with Ruskin, and of course greatly enjoyed it. He showed me the work he wants done; but he wishes me to copy, this week, an etching of Turner's, that he may see if I can do the work. It is not what you would call high art, I think. I do not yet at all know if he still means me for an illuminator or not. He does not say; but wishes me to copy these sketches in pen and ink, because they will be of use to him too. He wants me, after that, to copy some pencil drawings of Turner's, but says it may possibly be six months before I can do them. I don't think he still does mean me for an illuminator; but I feel, as Dawie says, it is altogether his doing, and I have no responsibility. He was so kind to-day. We are looking forward to his visit with great delight. He has lent me 3rd and 4th vols. of "Modern Painters" to read aloud in the evenings, at my request.
December 10th, 1857.
Emily to Florence.
Ruskin came a little before his time. Mama, Ockey and I were in the room ready to receive him. He came in, looking kind and bright; and the first thing he asked, before he sat down, was, how you were. Mama read him Aunt Emily's letter about you, and one of your letters. Andy soon came in, and we had a great deal of most interesting conversation—on the respective influences of town and country—on French, English, and Americans on animals, of which Ruskin is very fond—on Reserve and Cordelia. When Ruskin said something about reserve, Andy and Ockey exclaimed, laughing, "Oh you should ask Minnie," which made me feel very hot and blush. Ruskin took my part and was very kind. He agrees with me in thinking it so much more easy to write than to speak about anything one feels. Andy and Ockey disagreed about it. He agreed very much with all Mama's remarks. After tea we sang to Ruskin, which he liked, I think; and it was very interesting to hear his remarks on the different songs. He always chose out some point which he liked and which he could praise, which was very pretty of him.
After that we spoke about poetry. He does not think anyone but a great poet, who gives up his life to it, should attempt to write any. He says there is always a good deal of vanity in it; and it spoils one's ear for good poetry to compose bad. Mama had been speaking of our poetry; Ruskin asked Andy to repeat some, saying it would be very pretty of her to do so, after all he had been saying against it. She did so, and I think he was pleased with it, and the more so when he heard it had taken a long time to write. He said that he could not judge of it by hearing it in that way, and he should like a copy.
Ockey is drawing at Marlboro' House, and Ruskin is at work in another room; so he comes up once or twice to look at her work.
January 5th, 1858.
Ruskin to Octavia.
My dear Octavia,
I am very glad you and your sisters and friend enjoyed the pictures, and that you see how beautiful they are. They are quite infinite. I cannot understand how any human work can possess so much of the inexhaustibleness of nature.
Do not be sorry that you cannot see beautiful places at present. The first sensation is a thing to look forward to with hope. It cannot be had twice—it does not not much matter whether it comes sooner or later.
My lecture is at Kensington on the 13th of this month. If you find difficulties in getting admission, write to me, and I will get you a ticket or two.
I send you a new etching, and the print finished.
I only want the etching copied, but thought you would like to see how Turner prepares in it for his light and shade.
Yours always most truly,
Kind regards to Mama, Miranda, and Minnie.
That story about the Fisherman always puzzled me sadly to know who the Fish was. How could he do so many things for the Fisherman?
January 9th, 1858.
Florence to Octavia.
I have spent an evening with Mrs. Browning. I will tell you all about it; but first I must say how delighted I am with her. I felt from the first minute how simpatica she was to me, a woman one could love dearly and admire. Last Tuesday B. met Browning (who is always very friendly), and he said "Will you come and take tea with us to-morrow night?" Of course she accepted, and I was most delighted. Accordingly the next evening we went. As we went in, I felt so excited; it is so long that I have wanted to see her, and I said to myself that I should be disappointed. Mr. Browning came forward cordially to welcome us; and then came Mrs. Browning. She is very short indeed; but one does not observe the shortness. She has long black curls, and large eyes; one can hardly say what colour; in some lights they look a beautiful brown; in others a dark grey; as for the other features they are not pretty; in fact I suppose she would not be considered at all pretty; but to me she is a great deal more. She shook hands very kindly and made me sit on the sofa by her. There was also Mrs. Jameson. She is quite an old lady with mild blue eyes. There was also Mr. Tennyson, Alfred Tennyson's brother. There was a good deal of small talk, and there was a discussion about places. Mrs. Jameson asked a good deal about Viareggio. At last the conversation turned towards England. It is evident neither Mrs. Browning nor her husband like England much.
She began abusing it, saying she always felt so downcast when there, that the sky felt as if it was falling down, and the rooms were so small; she finished by saying, "I do not sympathise with those who have yearnings after England." Then she turned to me and said, "Perhaps you can tell me something about yearnings after England. Do you yearn after it?" "Oh yes," I said, "very much indeed; I love England, and would not live out of it for long for anything." "Why not?" said Mrs. Jameson in her quiet yet energetic way. So I said, "Firstly Mama and all my sisters are there," and I was going to say more, when other visitors were announced and there was a general stir. Mrs. Browning said to me, with a very sweet smile, "I am sure it is a very good reason." … There was a great deal of very interesting conversation about women, with regard to their right to property when married. Mrs. Jameson was very energetic about it, though I did not think her reasoning was good; also Mrs. Browning talked very nicely about it; but I could not hear all that she said, because I had changed places, and was not near her; and she has such a small voice, that it is difficult to hear what she says. They wanted to get Mr. Browning to sign a petition to Parliament, showing the injustice done to women, according to the present law, about their property. I liked what he said very much. He has very liberal ideas about it, and was quite willing to sign; only he did not know how the law could be altered without entailing other greater injustices. However, at the end, he said he would sign. I think he does everything that his wife wishes. It is so nice to see them together; they are so exceedingly fond of one another, and he is so attentive to her. There was a great deal of merry conversation. When we were leaving Mrs. Browning said, "This is the first time you have spent the evening here; but I hope it won't be the last."
April 21st, 1858.
To Mrs. Howitt.
My dearest Mrs. Howitt,
How glorious this weather is! To-day I saw, in a little back street near Soho, two little golden-haired children, leaning out of a window in the early sunlight, gazing intently into a bird's cage, hanging on the wall;—the poor little prisoner singing as if his little heart would break. Just so, I thought, the children here may want us; but we must break our hearts in longing for the distant glories of hill and wood. In a moment, one felt that it ought rather to teach that even here Spring brought joys that we have visions and witnesses of brighter lands and fairer lives than we can see around us.
July 4th, 1858.
To a Friend.
To me the whole world is so full of things crying out to be done, each one of which would be sufficient for a lifetime's heart and thought, I think. In fact each work seems to be interesting in almost exact proportion to the amount I can devote to it, capable of infinite expansion in breadth or depth. For my part I would always rather choose the latter, would rather take up wholly a few individuals or pictures or books, and love and know and study them deeply, than have any more superficial (though wider) sympathies; and my trial is, and has always been, that I have to tear myself away from this intense grasp and absorbing interest, to love and know and help in fresh and fresh directions. I have often felt like a perpetually uprooted plant. Only somehow in looking back, I find continuity and deep inner relation between the various works and times of my life, and always find the past a possession because in memory I have it still. …
I am so glad you will not turn the ignorant ones out of the class, at any rate yet. I know well one weakens one's hands by not keeping one distinct aim before one; but then one never likes not to meet any effort, however small, on the part of people under one's charge. I have not always the courage to give myself pain of that kind, I believe.
How very beautiful the lines on the Supper are!
4, Russell Place,
August 1st, 1858.
To Miranda and Emily.
Take dearest Mama under your special care, for she will not take care of herself under her own. Send her back stronger, I charge you. Also think of your old sister here, and how she loves you both, and thinks of you. You won't think her unkind not to come, knowing what prevents her, and she hopes her previous consent proves to you that work and whims wouldn't have detained her. Be merry, be happy, be free; send for anything conveyable that you want, and trust to Aladdin's lamp. See what grand things it has done already, and have faith.
August 8th, 1858.1em
If we were all less self-occupied, what a depth of beauty and order we should see in the influence of persons and things on people, traced in the momentary lighting up of an eye, or the slight quiver of a lip, which we lose perhaps in a fit of self-contemplation; and that revelation of God's purpose and way of work passes unnoticed, a cause of praise and power lost to us. And then I would wish most lovingly to grasp the whole purpose of each life, and influence of details on it, to see all the strong impulses leading to selfishness or pride, or any form of evil; to watch, not unaiding, the struggle with them; to contemplate with intense sympathy and reverence every purifying affection, stimulating hope, earnest purpose, self-control, and every form of good; to look at all, not as one standing aloof or above; but as fellow-worker, fellow-sufferer; to trace the same tendency to evil and good in myself; to find the point or points, as one always does, in which everyone is so much greater than oneself, that one bows before it in joy and cries, "Thank God for it."
4, Russell Place,
August 15th, 1858.
To Mrs. Hill.
R. went on Wednesday. Her mother was much nicer at the last. I hear from Brighton that the child is very happy. It would have done you good to see her delight at her new clothes, and the care with which she went to a clean crossing, tho' the roads were not very muddy. Her indifference about leaving home was, of course, very sad. But just as we were going away, one of those immense Irish women one sometimes sees, who was selling apples in the Old Bailey, called her back, and giving her a kiss said, "God bless you, child. Be a good girl."
I have wished Mary good-bye. … We spoke about my going back with her, which is a relief. I don't like a thing which both people know the other is thinking of not spoken of and explained, and so I was very glad she mentioned it. … Private. Would you ferret out for me whether A. is looking forward to her half holiday for going to see people? and if she is, say nothing; but, if she isn't, ask her not to make any engagements to go away, at first, out of charity or acquiescence, as I shall like very much to have her at home. Public again. I have some more flowers which are a great pleasure. Everyone is very kind, that is to say everyone I hear of or see; there are not many.
It seems so strange to feel the piano had not been opened for so long. This morning I sang all our sacred music,—some that I am fond of and did not know, I spelt out on the piano. It reminded me, by contrast more than by likeness, of the Sunday music we sometimes used to have. I have invitations from Margaret and Gertrude which I shall accept, if I can, after I know that Mary is gone; but next week my College opens. However, considering that I have Wednesday free, I hope to get away. I do not seem of any use to anyone, but I hope I shall do all the better when work begins … Thank you for all your long, most welcome, letters. … In constant thought of you, Yours Octavia.
August 19th, 1858.
(Tho' this is for all of you.) It is but right and nice that, having known of my long waiting, you should know now that I am quite satisfied. Dear Mary has been here; and really, I don't know how to be thankful enough for having seen her so long and so delightfully. I waited all the morning, getting more distracted and disappointed every quarter of an hour; for I knew she must be back at Elmhurst at 6.30, and leave Camden Road at 4.30; and 1, 2, 3 o'clock came. Before 3, however, I had quite made up my mind to it. I did this the more easily, because I was sure that, when she did come, if I had been repining and longing before, I should be selfish and covetous then. Well, at 3.10 she arrived with such a headache she could hardly stand. … In a very few minutes her head grew better, and she resolved to go by the 5.50 train. And oh! we had such an afternoon! It is worth more than many weeks with her in society. … She asked to hear Andy's song " Wilt Thou not visit me?" … She promises that if she comes to London next year she will come to stay here, if we still want her! At last we parted, not at all sadly. She is so sweet and good. … Her heart was open as usual to hear all about everyone, Ruskin, Mr. Maurice and the children, in fact every person and thing we care for.
August 17th, 1858.
Tell Minnie I have just finished Maurice's "Ecclesiastical History." I am so very much interested in it, and think she would be even more so, knowing so much about all the people. I should very much like to have a talk with her about them, especially Polycarp, Clemens of Alexandria, Irenaeus and Ignatius. I should like to know if she has been taught to like Tertullian or not. … Ruskin's work seems to take nearly all day. My own needlework has hardly been touched since Mama left. Certainly I have despatched R. I think singing and reading have flourished most. I can't consider Ruskin's work has got on, because I was not at Marlboro' House last week, tho' in other respects it's all right. I think, most of my time seems spent in putting the room neat.
4, Russell Place,
August 26th, 1858.
To Miss Harris.
Margaret  has been kindness itself. … She urges that Andy should take a resident situation on account of her health. But Andy's heart is so clinging, id wound so fast round her home, her health even would suffer. … Her influence on the children is the fruit of three years' work. … Andy is the sunshine of her home.
4, Russell Place,
December 3rd, 1858.
Emily to Miranda.
Mr. Maurice talked to Ockey a good deal about the Bible Class at the College. He wanted to know who some of the pupils were; and Ockey said it was so interesting to hear his descriptions of the people, and see the kinds of things he had noticed. One woman he said he met very often; he fancied she was a milliner; and then he was so distressed lest this little theory of his should have misled Ockey in any way; and he said he was sure he did not know why he thought so.
45, Great Ormond Street,
December 8th, 1858.
To Miranda, who was in Italy.
I am doing some work for "Modern Painters." Ruskin is coming on Friday to spend the evening with us. Dearest thing, I wish you knew how much I feel your sweetness. Now I must tell you some news. Ruskin is most kind. He called the Prouts "quite admirable," the tones so even and pure; "some of them," he continued, "I like better than the originals. But I think you might make your work more accurate!" Is not the last an odd remark? He was so delighted with the progress of my Portman Hall pupils, quite astonished. He writes: "I wish I had seen Miranda before she went. But I can't do a tenth of the things I want to do."
4, Russell Place,
December 12th, 1858.
Emily to Florence.
When Ockey saw Ruskin, he said that he should be sure to come, unless his father should propose for them to go to the play that night, in which case, he must put off almost any engagement.
On Friday we got all the room beautifully neat, and decorated with sprays and leaves that dear Gertrude had sent us from Weybridge. Ockey and I were in white with black ribbons, and dear Mama looked very nice in her black dress with white collar and sleeves. There was a splendid fire, and tea very prettily set out, and all looked cheerful and nice. When we were all ready and seven o'clock came, Ockey and I began to get very anxious lest he should not come; listening most intently to all the carriages, and sitting with the door open, and candle ready to light him upstairs. A quarter past seven came, and Ockey said, "Well at half-past I shall give up all hope and begin to cry. The only thing that makes me think he is coming is, that the lamp burns so remarkably well." A carriage stopped; a knock at the door came. Ockey, much to my surprise, would run down to meet him. Mama and I sat demurely on the sofa, and waited till he came in. He had brought a number of sketches to show us—all his summer's work. Was it not kind? When we were all seated, he asked directly about Andy. How she had got on, on her journey, and how she had found you. When Mama began talking about you both, he said so sweetly and sympathetically, "I hope it does not pain you to talk about these things."
He explained to Ockey, one of the first things, that he had not brought her any birthday present; that it must be a Christmas present, as he had wanted to know what books she had. Ockey said something about "Oh no! he did so much"; and Mama said that when we were children, she had introduced the practice of our giving presents on our birthdays, rather than receiving them, because she had wished to impress on us that we were born to give, rather than to receive. Ruskin said that he thought it was very ungracious that friends should come to a person, and expect them to give them presents, because it was their birthday, as much as to say, "You came into the world to give to us. Prove to us that you are of some good."
Then Ruskin made a remark about the cream and said that the difficulty people had in getting cream in London was a proof that it was growing too large. Ockey said that so much milk and cream came from the country, and asked Mama if she remembered the cans they had seen the morning they came from Cambridge. This led to their speaking of the pleasure of their visit, and, among other things, Ockey spoke of the sunlight dying away from the stained glass windows in King's College chapel, when they were at the service there. Ruskin said there was hardly anything more solemnly impressive than the death of a stained glass window; and then he said how very little influence the beauty of the Universities had on the men. He says they are proud of them, but nothing more; that when he first went to College he thought it very grand and fine; but soon lost all the impression of solemnity, and looked on the gowns as so many black rags, and the service in the chapel as a daily punishment; and he found that it was the case with all the young men he met. Only perhaps Tennyson or other poets care for it. Ockey said, "Well! people don't feel it at the time, I think they do afterwards. I know many people who speak with such great pleasure of their University. I am sure it is quite beautiful to hear Mr. Maurice speak of it." Ruskin said, "Well! but Mr. Maurice is a poet." At which Mama and Ockey said they thought him anything but that. Mama said how very seldom he made any similes; Ruskin said, "But I do not look upon it that a poet's work is to make similes; but to make things." He said he did not know much about Mr. Maurice; he had not read much of his, he found it such hard work. He could not follow him. He seemed like a man who did not see clearly, and was always stretching out, moving on in the right direction, but in a fog.
Ockey said, "No! I don't believe it is so at all. Mr. Maurice quite understands what he means himself; and the difficulty which people find in understanding him, arises partly from his style, and partly that people require to understand his way of putting things." Ruskin said, "I'm very glad to hear you say that you think Mr. Maurice knows what he means himself; but I had always thought that the very greatest men were essentially simple. The only great man I know who is not, Dante, throws out a word or two quite knowing what he means, and says, 'Think out that,' and people do not know which end of the thing they have got, and so quarrel over what he does mean. But when he says anything directly, it is very clear and simple. And so with all really great men."
I said that Mr. Maurice had a wonderful power of understanding his pupils' answers, of finding out what they meant by confused answers, of getting at the truth they wished to bring out, and of putting it so clearly to them. Ruskin replied that that was a very great thing. Ockey said yes it was very beautiful; and that she could not understand how it was he had such a knowledge of human nature, when he had no knowledge of individuals. I said, "Perhaps he has more than you think." Ockey said, "Of course you would solve the matter in that way." Ruskin asked why, and 0. said, "Because Minnie has such an admiration for Mr. Maurice."—Ruskin said, " Well, Minnie, as you admire Mr. Maurice so much, can you explain why it is that he is so pained at being misunderstood?" Ockey answered for me, to my relief and said, "Oh, you refer to the Preface of the 'Doctrine of Sacrifice.' I think it is because he longs so much for Union." Ruskin said that was a very good answer. He repeated again that he was glad we thought Mr. Maurice knew what he meant. O. said, "O yes, and I would engage to make anyone who took the trouble to read a small piece of his writing carefully, master the style and understand him, in three-quarters of an hour." Ruskin said he would take her at her word; for he wished to understand Mr. Maurice, and that he would make out clearly, as his tutor used to say, what he did and what he did not understand, and ask her about any difficulty he had. So O. said, would he read the sermon on Mr. Mansfield's death? And he said he did not want to read anything about death; it made him so very sad. O. said she did not think it would make him sad to read what Mr. Maurice said about death, and explained who Mr. Mansfield was. When Ruskin remembered, he was interested, and took the sermon. They were talking about the want of music in Mr. Maurice's writings; and O. asked Ruskin what he thought of Kingsley's poems. Ruskin had not read them; but he did not like hexameters, he could not read them, even for the sake of a fine thought; for perhaps the thought would make him remember the hexameter, which would be too great a punishment. O. said she thought the ballads very beautiful,—R. said he only knew the poems in "Alton Locke," and he liked those very much. Mama asked if he knew the "Three Fishers," and asked us to sing it, which we did, without the music of course. Ruskin was pleased both with words and music. But he said that in general he thought Kingsley too sad, and that he injured the purpose for which he wrote by being exaggerated and not correct in his facts. We were talking about happiness, and Kingsley's suffering so much when he came to town. Ruskin said for his part he was never happy except when he was selfish, when he shut himself up, and read only the books he liked, or enjoyed the sunshine and nature. He did not know how it was that, whenever he did what he believed to be right, he suffered for it; that it seemed like his unlucky star. O. said, "Don't talk about stars. What do you mean by it?" R. said, "Well, I will give you a small crumb of an instance. When I was travelling a great many years ago, at a time my father was ill, I met with a picture of Turner's, one of the finest he ever did. I did not quite know the value of it myself; and I knew that it would vex my father if I bought it without his leave; so I wrote back to him. Meanwhile the picture was bought by some one, who utterly destroyed it. Now if I had bought it, it might have made my father lose his appetite for a day, but nothing more. And this is only one small instance. It is always the way when I do right. Miss Edgeworth would have made the picture go to a round of people, converting them to Turner, and come back to me crowned with laurel. I was brought up on Miss Edgeworth's principles; but I have not found them at all true in my case." Mama said there was a truth in them, but that in some respects they were very false; that she believed that every one had to suffer very much in doing right; that she had felt it so particularly about Ruskin himself; that the brave and true things he said were often misunderstood; but that she always felt her heart warm towards him, and she thought to herself,—if only people would receive them as they were meant. "But," she said, "I think you may be very happy that you do excite the kind of admiration that you do, in many people; and that you have the power of exciting the noble and beautiful emotions which your words and writings do." Ruskin said that he would wish his word about art to be taken just in the same way that a physician's or lawyer's would be about medicine or law. O. said she was sure it was so, more than he thought; and that it was a growing thing. That a lady had said to her the other day, that a word from him would be enough to ruin her; and O. added, "At which I felt very proud." She said that she thought when people did right, the good they expected very often did not come, because they were not perfectly wise, as well as perfectly right; but that, tho' they had to suffer for want of judgment, in the end they were always blessed; but in different ways from those they had expected; that, as long as people calculated results, they could not do right; they must do right for right's sake.
Ruskin said, "Do you mean to say that a man, who had been very selfish, and thought he would make himself happy by going out and giving to all the beggars he met, would not succeed?" O. said, "No! he might at first, but he would find afterwards that he had gathered around him many people who only cared for his money. Whereas, if a man did the same thing from a sincere love for his fellow creatures, he would not have the pain of suspecting the motives of all around him, and he would have the sympathy of those engaged in the same good work." They were speaking of the blessing of having the sympathy of people, and R. said he had some people who understood him. O. said, with a very bright smile, "Oh have you?" R. said, "Yes. I think you do pretty well."
Then Mama read Miranda's letter about her voyage from Marseilles, with which R. was much pleased, and said it recalled all the scenery to him; and when she came to the part about the red sail, he told O. to remind him to show her a small Turner in the National Gallery which showed the wonderful beauty of a red sail. He asked if there were part of another letter he might hear, and anything about Florence. I brought Andy's to me, and while it was being read I turned my face away for fear of its telling too much, as I could hardly bear it; but when the thought of you both changed into joy, I lifted my face and met such a look of tenderness and sympathy. When the letter was finished, R. said to Mama, "How happy you must be in them all!" "Thank you. It is very beautiful."
Then he showed us the sketches. I don't think I shall ever forget them. I see them constantly at night when I shut my eyes. They have given me most beautiful visions of lovely scenery. One of the things which gave me the most pleasure was to hear R. talk about them with such perfect humility, condemning or praising them, just as if they had been another person's work, no false shame in admiring them, and entering with such hearty sympathy into our pleasure in them. Then came a quiet talk, which I think R. quite enjoyed. I felt as if we had come nearer to him than ever; as if he were opening something of his heart, and asking for help. He said once, "I do not say any of these things to make you sad, but because I think you may say something to make me happier." He was regretting that the colours of a sunset faded; and I said I thought the changefulness of nature was one of its greatest beauties. At first he agreed; and then he said, "No, it reminded him how all things must pass away." Then we had a very solemn talk about good being continued in another world, and the purpose of sorrow. I said that it was most comforting to me to look back, and see how things which had seemed so sad turned out as blessings. R. said, "It may be so with you good people; but if I look back it is to find blunders. To remember the past is like Purgatory." O. said that the past interpreted the present, and made her hopeful for the future. I think some of the things we said (especially what Mama said) may have made him happier. When he heard that his carriage had come, he said something about its being sad that evenings went so fast. Indeed he stayed long after his carriage had come, and when he was half down stairs, returned to look at O.'s pupils' drawings of his own accord, and said he was in no hurry if she had anything else to tell him. When we thanked him for coming, he said that he ought not to be thanked, as he had so much enjoyed himself.
December 19th, 1858.
Emily to Miranda.
Dear Ockey has had rather a disappointment lately about her work,—that is to say she has been awakened to the sense of its not being as accurate as she had hoped it was. She wrote to Ruskin to ask about his employing a young artist. He wrote back very kindly saying he could employ two or three girls, supposing they could copy accurately; but accuracy meant so much. "Even you are nothing near the mark yet, tho' the Claude foreground is a step in advance." Of course O. knew that the things she had done in water colour were very far from right; but she had thought that her pencil and pen work was very nearly so. In the same letter he said that he always had a chivalrous desire to help women, but he began to think his old lady friends were right when they cautioned him against it, as he had found all his girl protegées, with the exception of Ockey, "very sufficiently troublesome." She met him the same day at Dulwich, and he was very kind; and if she can have a little bright weather, so as to get on with her Dulwich work, she will be in good spirits again, I think.
4, Russell Place,
December 19th, 1858.
Now for Ruskin. Minnie has told you something about the evening; but nothing about the sketches. The first we saw was one of an old walled and fortified town in Switzerland, with little arched gateway guarded by towers and wall; the moat is dried up and filled up; long grass and buttercups grow there. Then he showed us a view of the cliffs which form the banks of Lake Lucerne; their tops are for the most part inaccessible, quite lonely, haunted only by the eagle. "Fancy, Octavia," Ruskin said, "walking up there, where one can get among chestnut glades, along winding paths, bringing you suddenly to the edge, and looking down on the blue water." He showed us two sketches of Morgarten. Then he showed us exquisite sketches of Bellinzona, where the three Forest Cantons had each a castle built on a high rock. He has done the whole thing in the loveliest way, making a kind of plan of the whole, and sketching large and carefully in colour each bit of it, even the little rows of leaves on a bank. But nothing can explain to you the sense of size and space and grandeur conveyed by the drawing of hundreds of pines, chestnuts and poplars, yet each seen as part of an enormous whole. The sketch of Bellinzona Ruskin had drawn from the priest's garden, a lovely spot on a rock near the chapel and house, on the side of a steep craggy cliff, the little posts carefully bricked up to support a patch of mould here and there, on one of which was planted corn. Among it grew white lilies seen against a further piece of brightest green grass; beyond lay the ravine of the Ticino, and beyond again the mountains. … Miss B. has been offered the Secretaryship of the Children's Hospital; but her father and mother say that no daughter ought to leave home except to be married, or to earn her own living, witness Florence Nightingale, who has returned a mere wreck. Why if ever there was an example fitted to stir up heroism it might be hers! I wonder if her mother were asked whether she was prouder and fonder of her before her work or after? or whether she grudged the health which she herself has sacrificed so willingly? I am going daily to Dulwich. It is a long walk even if I take omnibus between Charing Cross and Camberwell Gate.
- Presumably Miss Emma Cons.
- She went every afternoon to Lincoln's Inn.
- Octavia was confirmed at Christ Church, Marylebone, by Tait, then Bishop of London.
- Formerly nurse to Octavia and her elder sisters at Wisbeach, then married to a tailor in London.
- Composed by Octavia.
- Miss Margaret Gillies.
- Miss Emily Smith.
- The little toy-worker who had cared so much for the cat.
- Octavia's half-sister, Mrs. Whelpdale.