illiam James Linton, master of wood-engraving, poet, and radical republican [i.e. leftist], is today less well known than his anti-feminist ex-wife Eliza Lynn Linton. This friend of Mazzini and William Bell Scott, Carlyle and Whitman, seems to have been acquainted with most of the literary, artistic, and leftist political figures of the day. The owner of Brantwood, he sold it to Ruskin after moving to the United States, where he died near the century's end.
Brantwood on Lake Coniston from a Victorian postcard
One receives some idea of his versatility by the fact that before leaving England in 1866, this wood-engraver who did important work on the Moxon Tennyson had published a Life of Thomas Paine (1839), numerous political tracts and children's stories, The Ferns of the English Lake Country (1865), and Clairibel, and Other Poems (1865). After emigrating to the United States, where he became a member of the National Academy of Design in 1882, Linton published, among others, A History of Wood-Engraving in America (1883), Wood-Engraving: A Manual of Instruction (1882), The Life of John Greenleaf Whittier (1893), editions of English and American poetry including Rare Poems of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (1883), and many political pamphlets, such as The House that Tweed Built: Dedicated to Every True Reformer (1871) and a Hudibrastic satire on the corruptions of the Grant administration, The American Odyssey: Adventures of Ulysses Exposed (1876).
At the age of 66, he founded the Appledore Press in Hamden, Connecticut, and for many years turned out limited editions whose appeal was too limited -- or which were two politically controversial -- for the publishers who handled his better known writings. In Three-Score and Ten Years, 1820-1890, which provides tantalizing snippets of fascinating life, the old Chartist paints an attractive of the man to whom he sold his English home:
Ruskin I saw but once, then by appointment in the shop of Ellis, the book-seller, in King Street, Covent-Garden; a very pleasant meeting. The purchase of Brantwood was pleasantly arranged in a couple of letters. But I knew of him not only through my admiration for his writings (admired him as The Poet, beyond all verse-makers of his time, and for the keen political insight of his at first so much misunderstood book, Unto This Last), but farther as a man of the noblest nature. I knew from W. B. Scott . . . of his great life and generosities. [p. 166]
Little is known about the relations between these two fascinating men other than Ruskin purchased Brantwood from his admirer. After having a new roof put on the house, Ruskin settled in comfortably. As he wrote to his cousin, Mrs. Arthur Severn, two days after he had first seen his home alongside Coniston Water, he found a sign of fate that he and Linton had somewhat similar enterprises:
There certainly is a special fate in my getting this house. The man from whom I buy it — Linton — — wanted to found a "republic," printed a certain number of numbers of the Republic like my Fors Clavigera! and his printing press is still in one of the outhouses, and "God and the People" scratched deep in the whitewash outside. Well, it won't be a "republican centre" now, but whether the landed men round will like my Toryism better than his Republicanism, remains to be seen. [22.xxi-xxii]
One may add as an interesting note that when E.T. Cook, Ruskin's editor and biographer, quoted some of Linton's words in praise of the man to whom he sold Brantwood, he omitted the admiring comments about Unto This Last (text). Perhaps he feared that the admiration of the man he described as a "political agitator" would harm Ruskin's reputation. I do not believe Ruskin would have thought so.
Cook, E. T. Homes and Haunts of John Ruskin. London, 1912. Page 207.
Landow, George P. "John Ruskin and W. J. Linton: A New Letter." English Language Notes 10 (1972): 38-41. [This brief note, which also contains Ruskin letter to Linton, is the source of this lexia. GPL]
Linton, William James. Three-Score and Ten Years, 1820-1890. New York, 1894; published in London the following year as Memories.
Ruskin, John. Works. Ed. E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn. 39 vols. London: Allen, 1903-1912.
Last modified 20 December 2001