As a memoir elevated to the level of fine art, John Ruskins 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 Ruskins early lifethe 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 Pepyss diary is of England in the seventeenth century.
This edition of Praeterita is accompanied by Dilecta, Ruskins 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
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John Ruskin was born in London in 1819, of Scottish descent. His father was a succesful wine-merchant and art lover; his mother a strict Evangelical whose religious instruction affected him deeply. He entered Christ Church, Oxford, in 1836 and graduated in 1842. In 1843, the first of the five volumes of Modern Painters was published, a work written in defense of J.M.W. Turner. The other volumes survey the main traditions of European painting from Giotto to the nineteenth century. Ruskin was also passionately interested in Gothic architecture and published two books on the subject before the completion of Modern Painters: The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849) and the three volumes of The Stones of Venice in 1851 and 1853. He married Effie Gray in 1848, but seven years later the marriage was annulled on grounds of non-consummation. In 1858 he met Rose la Toche, a girl of nine, with whom he fell in love and became increasingly obsessed, and in that year he finally lost his Evangelical faith. In 1860, disillusioned with a society in which poverty was rampant and the poor exploited, he began the first of four essays attacking the science of Political Economy. They were published in book form in 1862, uner the title, Unto this Last. This was followed in 1863 by Munera Pulveris, which puts forward some positive proposals for economic change and reform. In 1869 he became the first Slade Professor of Fine Art at Oxford and in 1871 began writing Fors Clavigera, a series of open letters which draw connections between diverse subjects. He also took part in many practical projects, many of which he directed by way of his Utopian pressure-group, the Guild of St. George. When Rose la Touche died insanse in 1875, however, he began to show signs of mental disturbance and suffered the first of seven mental breakdowns in 1878. In 1885 he began publishing his autobiography, Praeterita. This moving and lyrical book was brought to a premature conclusion by his last and most violent breakdown in 1889. He lived on, withdrawn and inactive, until 1900.
“No autobiographer surpasses [Ruskin] in freshness and fullness of memory, nor in the power of giving interest to the apparently commonplace . . . The story fascinates.”—SIR LESLIE STEPHEN“[Praeterita] is certainly the most charming thing that he ever gave to the world, and is one of the most . . . exquisite Confessions in the language.”—FREDERIC HARRISON“[Ruskin] has written nothing better, it seems to me, than some pages of this book, whether of description or reflection.”—CHARLES ELIOT NORTON