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istorical consciousness plays a larger role in Ruskin's criticism than is usually acknowledged. Ruskin called The Stones of Venice a history, but as history it has had few defenders.1 The account of Venetian architecture in Stones is shaped throughout by an extrahistorical intention: to celebrate medieval art and values and to condemn, on moral as well as aesthetic grounds, Renaissance Italy and nineteenth-century England. Ruskin's history, even more than Carlyle's, seems to have few connections with nineteenth-century historicism, hence with the history of history. But this judgment is not itself sufficiently historical. Looking back at contemporary models and sources for The Stones of Venice, I find that Ruskin's term "history" had meanings for early Victorian readers with which his own work is in complete accord. In Stones and the large body of contemporary literature to which it is most closely related, history is approached through travel, and travel experienced as history. Ruskin's book, shaped to meet a traveler-reader's practical needs and formal expectations, belongs to a loose genre of travel histories that reflected and shaped the historical attitudes of a good many English readers in the first part of the nineteenth century. Common to all these works is an implicit identification between the activity of the reader exploring history and that of the tourist exploring landscapes: the facts of the history book are the artifacts encountered by the traveler. Ruskin calls the stones of Venice his archives; the metaphor reflects the experience of the traveler-reader for whom Stones and many popular history and travel books were intended.

But Stones is of course more than history presented as travel. Ruskin's readers, tourists in search of the picturesque, become his subjects [140/141] no less than Gothic workmen. His central chapter, "The Nature of Gothic," begins with an attack on contemporary modes of producing and consuming art. One can read this shift from past to present as a shift from history to criticism, a shift that thereby distorts the historical accuracy of the book. But in many respects this chapter is the book's greatest historical achievement. Ruskin's sharply critical attitude toward the Victorian manufacturer-consumer results in an idealization of the middle ages, but it also permits the historicization of contemporary attitudes toward history and art. The confrontation between a contemporary traveler and a foreign past becomes a means for presenting an historicized view of the present and, particularly, of the traveler's habits of perception, Ruskin was not the first Englishman to use the travel-as-history trope to explore the perceptual limitations of the traveler-reader; he recognized Byron, Turner, Prout, and Carlyle as his predecessors. But Stones is at once closer to the popular literature it resembles and more consistently critical of the perceptual liabits of the traveler-reader it addresses.

"The Nature of Gothic" has traditionally been cited as the beginning of Ruskin's social criticism,2 and so it is. It is the historical self-consciousness cultivated in that chapter as much as the economic and social analysis, however, which seems to mark the transformation of the amateur writer on art into the cultural critic. Ruskin's writing before Stones is remarkably ahistorical. The stones of Venice and the English travelers who see them are historical entities as the subjects of Ruskin's earlier books—the truths of nature and art or the lamps of architecture—are not. The full title of the first volume of Modern Painters (Their Superiority in the Art of Landscape Painting to the Ancient Masters) points to the discontinuity between Claude and Turner which Ruskin repeatedly asserts there. In the three volumes of Modern Painters that follow Stones, however, Ruskin takes a very different approach, tracing changes in perception, taste, and belief. Claude appears as one of Turner's teachers, not simply as the negative pole of a comparison between false and true landscape painting. Stones gave Ruskin experience with modes of historical thought prevalent in the early nineteenth century, and these continued to shape his work, even though he wrote no more histories.3 The book seems to have showed Ruskin that his proper work, though not history, was criticism based on historical self-consciousness. I take it that this view of the place of Stones in his work [141/142] became clear to Ruskin as he wrote. Volumes two and three, increasingly critical of the cultural attitudes of Victorian readers, explicitly point to a critical, historical treatment of the present as the proper approach to the subject of Turner and landscape art—a program carried out in Ruskin's next major books, Modern Painters III-V. The shift of focus from Gothic workman to Victorian reader is an exercise in historical perception as well as an act of criticism. With this shift in focus, Ruskin extends his historical perspective from art to contemporary attitudes to art; at that point, history becomes a necessary part of Ruskin's efforts to reform the perceptual habits and cultural attitudes of his readers.4 To understand this development in Ruskin we need to look more closely at the way in which Stones combines tourism with historical narrative and puts these to critical use.

But are either popular travel histories or critical juxtapositions of past and present very significant in the history of history? Neither of these Victorian versions of history makes historical explanation and reconstruction a primary goal. Although they may lead to a more historical consciousness of the present, they do not assume that all truths are historical and relative. They accept the possibility of absolute and ahistorical judgment that may transcend the limitations of the moment, and then proceed to make such judgments—like Ruskin's violent condemnation of the Renaissance—an integral part of their historical accounts. These procedures have long been regarded as completely opposed to the objectivizing tendency of nineteenth-century historicism. Recent critics, however, have suggested that the objectivity pursued by the historicists was born of the same assumptions as the nostalgia and the sweeping judgments expressed by romantic—and many Victorian—writers.5 The historicist's search for an objective, scientific method might be regarded as an impossible attempt to cancel the historicity of interpretation no less than the romantic's assumption of absolute moral or religious values as criteria for judgment. Such criticism calls into question the common distinction by which romantic history, like Carlyle's and Ruskin's, is seen as less central to the development of modern historical methods than scientific historicism. If one accepts this criticism as a (negative) correction to the current view, then the travel histories and cultural criticism of the English Victorians acquire a greater interest for the history of history. Though these Victorians, like the scientific historicists, were unwilling to historicize all truth, [142/143] they were often more concerned to explore the historical dimensions of contemporary perception and judgment. In this history of history, Ruskin's Stones occupies a modest but highly interesting position.

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uskin's own experience will illustrate the close connection between travel and history which existed for the early nineteenth-century reader. In the excursive literature on which Ruskin was raised, travelers were never allowed to forget the histories of the places they toured. Byron's Childe Harold and Rogers' Italy, for example, interweave historical narrative or meditations on the past with descriptive accounts of places visited; Wordsworth's The Excursion begins by stopping a traveler to make him listen to a tale, a piece of local history;

Prout's Sketches focuses on Gothic buildings; Brockedon's Passes of the Alps recounts historical crossings from Hannibal to Napoleon; Saussure's Voyages dans les Alps is a work of natural history presented as a travel narrative. When Ruskin made his first solo trip to Italy in 1845, he took along as guides not only Murray's Handbook for Travellers in Northern Italy but also Simonde de Sismondi's Histoire des Republiques Italiennes. And when he embarked on a serious course of historical reading preparatory to Stones, the book he found most valuable was a history of Venetian architecture specifically designed "per servire di Guida estetica"—arranged, illustrated, and intended, like Ruskin's own work, to guide the traveler.6 Finally, Ruskin's constant companion in Italy was, as Murray's Handbook recommended, Dante—whose poem, after all, is presented as a traveler's narrative and guide to both an extraterrestial geography and the contemporary history of Italy. the books that served Ruskin first as stimulus and then as preparation and companions for his continental tours ranged from prose travel narratives, books of engravings presented as travel records, and poems structured as tours to guidebooks and histories; what all these books had in common was the assumption that travel was a prirnary means of out the past. Sir Francis Palgrave, who wrote the first edition of Murray's guide to northern Italy, had specifically recommended that the traveler use both Sismondi's history and F. T. Kugler's history of Italian painting (the English edition, edited by Sir Charles Eastlake).7 When the latter book, [143/144] which had both "history" and "handbook" in its original title, was revised in 1874, Lady Eastlake referred to it as "the chief guide of the English traveller in Italy" for the last thirty years.8 Similarly, Alexis Rio's art history, which Ruskin used, was introduced by its English translator in 1854 as a work that would provide "interest and information to the traveller who makes it the companion of his wanderings through the Italian cities."9

The popular travel book of the eighteenth century was narrative in form, like the history, and like the history it deflected attention away from the narrator to an external subject.10 But the story was the traveler's, not that of the countries described. The book was organized according to the sequence of places visited by, or recommended to, the traveler. The narrator, though striving to maintain a universal rather than a strikingly personal identity, usually wrote in the first person and often addressed a specific contemporary audience. Within the narrative of the trip, of course, historical digressions might play a lesser or greater part. Trips to Italy for the English had long been travel in time as well as space, and the eighteenth-century English travel narratives amply recognized this. Italy displayed the visible reminders of a classical past—reminders that the English gentleman of the time incorporated as allusions and objects of meditation into the gardens or poems that served as small-scale equivalents to travel.11 The trip to Italy, as presented in the travel literature, was, like the poetic landscape garden or the long descriptive poem, a planned tour in the course of which unexpected vistas into past time as well as distant space surprised the traveler with a constant variety of imaginative excursions. And just as the gardens, in the latter part of the century, began to place less emphasis on classical allusions and more on the suggestive power of the landscape itself, so the later travel narratives are less concerned with invoking historical associations through the artifacts encountered than with evoking, through description and engraving, the sublime or picturesque pleasures of the landscapes in which those artifacts are set.

After Waterloo, changes in the identity of the English traveler altered the character of travel literature. Picturesque views were still essential, but there was a renewed recognition that travel, especially to Italy, was also travel to the past.12 The new English audience for travel books seems to have included a much higher percentage of readers[144/145] like the newly wealthy Ruskins—who could afford more than vicarious travel. These new travelers wanted precise information not only about routes and moneys and hotels but also about the historical significance of what they were seeing. A demand for hard facts spawned a new kind of travel writing. The guidebooks of Murray and Baedeker, begun in the late l830s, aimed at the middle-class traveler through a systematic presentation of practical and historical information,

The same demand also led would-be travelers to use histories as travel reading, and it stimulated attempts, of which The Stones of Venice was one of the most successful, to combine the history and the travel book. Rogers introduces his poem Italy as not only describing a beautiful country but also appealing "to those who have learned to live in Past Times as well as Present"; in a note he added his wish to "furnish my countrymen on their travels with a pocket-companion" to the monuments of Italy's past and present history.13 In his poem sections of description alternate with sections of narrative relating either historical and legendary events or encounters with contemporary customs and inhabitants. The same interweaving of past and present, narrative and description, characterizes the text of the popular landscape annual published in the l830s by Robert Jennings. One model for both Rogers and the landscape annuals—a model that Ruskin knew well enough to imitate in 1835—was Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage.14

The past to which the nineteenth-century traveler was directed in the '30s and '40s was not, however, the classical past but the middle ages. This shift from one past to another partly accounts for the new interest on the part of traveler-readers in factual historical information. As Anna Jameson— whose Sacred and Legendary Art sold well despite what Ruskin regarded as its author's lack of aesthetic judgment — pointed out in her introduction, the subject matter of medieval art was unintelligible to the average English traveler: "We find no such ignorance with regard to the subjects of Classical Art, because the associations connected with them form a part of every liberal education."15 The nineteenth-century traveler to medieval Italy lacked the education to interpret its monuments, as the eighteenth-century gentleman taking the classical grand tour had not. The travel narratives in prose, poetry, or engraving include expanded, more informational historical digressions. But they also acknowledge a greater need for facts than can be supplied within the limits of the genre. Byron adds notes, [145/146] Heath's Picturesque Annual refers the reader to guidebooks, Murray's sends the traveler off with histories in his pocket, and Ruskin writes a three-volume history to guide the new middle-class English tourist to a more than picturesque view of medieval Venice.

We can see the influence on Stones of this conjunction of history with travel both in the structure of Ruskin's volumes and in the identities he assigns to his readers. The titles of the three volumes, as Ruskin pointed out to his father,16 recognize and play upon the doubled function of his work. The sequence of "The Foundations," "The Sea Stories," and "The Fall" suggests an historically ordered narrative of the rise and decline of Venice. At the same time, both the foundations and the sea stories also refer to the physical divisions of the buildings. ("Sea Stories" was Ruskin's term for the first floors of the old palaces.) Ruskin is describing the architecture of Venice from the ground up, as it could be found by the present-day traveler. The double meaning of the titles is an accurate index to the narrative structure: the sequence of buildings considered in volumes two and three is intended to work both as an order of visit for the traveler and as a chronology of styles. Ruskin specifies that the order is historical in his introductory chapter. His instructions to the reader in the course of volumes two and three, however, are directed to the traveler who should "visit in succession, if possible" the particular buildings he describes (11.149). He also included more detailed descriptions of particular buildings in special appendices for travelers and, in 1879, issued an abbreviated "Traveller's Edition."

Though the general organization of these two volumes is that of the narrative which is both travel and history, the conjunction of the two is actually achieved through a series of small juxtapositions of the traveler's present with the historical past. We are, at one moment, invited to look at what we could see now in Venice; at the next, we are listening to an account of past events or of legends about these events; a few pages later we are back in a traveler's present, this time to compare Venice, past or present, with contemporary London. Still later, we are imagining what Venice would have looked like, were we the very different spectators for whom the buildings were originally intended. Rogers' Italy and Jennings' landscape annual use a similar interweaving of present description and historical narrative, but in Ruskin's travel history the alternation between present and past is much [146/147] more frequent and unexpected. The traveler-reader is constantly surprised to be returned to the present. This pattern accomplishes something different from the aims of the travel history, as Ruskin makes clear in "The Nature of Gothic" and his conclusion.

The structure of volume one, however, differs from that of volumes two and three in ways that complicate a description of Ruskin's travel history. "Foundations" in fact refers not just to the founding of the Venetian empire or to the stone foundations of the buildings the traveler examines, but also to the "canons of judgment" (9.8) on which Ruskin's subsequent historical and aesthetic interpretations of' Venetian architecture are founded. Volume one is arranged as a systematic presentation of principles of construction and decoration illustrated by the history of Western architecture from Greece to nineteenth-century England. There are precedents for this kind of preliminary essay in eighteenth-century travel literature and in the histories Ruskin read. Though the first-person narrative was the indispensable heart of an eighteenth-century travel book, a separate section of "General Reflections" was not uncommon17 —as, for example, in Arthur Young's Travels in France or James Boswell's Account of Corsica. Gibbon, too, supplements his historical narrative with a section of General Reflections.18 This two-part structure continues into the nineteenth century in Murray's guidebooks (where, however, the general comments were usually rather brief). [147/148] whose authority does not depend on historical facts. Thus Lindsay opens his book:

The perfection of Human Nature implies the union of beauty and strength in the Body, the balance of Imagination and Reason in the Intellect, and the submission of animal passions and intellectual pride to the will of God, in the Spirit.

Man was created in this perfection, but Adam fell . . .

Nevertheless the Moral Sense . . . still survives . . . and the struggle between Imagination and Reason . . . still reveals . . . the Ideal . . .

So long as we keep the Ideal in view, we rise—from Sense to Intellect, from Intellect to Spirit . . .

This is an universal law of humanity . . . the history of Man . . . affords the most striking and instructive illustration of it.19

Ruskin's movement from conviction to its illustration in "The Quarry" is far subtler, but the procedure is similar. As Ruskin himself explained in the preface to the first edition: "In many cases, the conclusions are those which men of quick feeling would arrive at instinctively; and I then sought to discover the reasons of what so strongly recommended itself as truth. Though these reasons could every one of them, from the beginning to the end of the book, be proved insufficient, the truth of its conclusions would remain the same" (9.7). The preliminary statement of extrahistorical truths serves an important methodological and rhetorical function for this kind of history. It sets up the historical (or the travel) narrative that follows as illustration or example of truths it need not prove. Putting the conclusions before the evidence informs the reader that for the author history is serving figuratively and literally as an illustrated guide to a way of seeing.

But the rest of Ruskin's first volume, though it continues to set forth introductory principles, is presented as a narrative—separate from but related to the travel-history narrative that follows. Here another travel history is the probable model. Saussure's Voyages dans les Alpes was Ruskin's introduction, and remained his primary guide, to the geological exploration of the Alps. Saussure's book, like Ruskin's, narrates simultaneously a history (the natural history of the mountains) and a tour (complete with maps, first-person narration, and illustrated views). When Ruskin traveled in Italy, he spoke of his study of Gothic architecture there as an alternative to his prior study of [148/149] natural history in the Alps.20 The title of his volumes on Venice seems similarly to evoke that other study of "the historical language of stones" (11.41) in which Saussure was his guide. The ghost of the geologist hovers over the preface, too, where Ruskin uses analogies drawn from natural science to describe his methods.21 Near the end of his volumes, the analogy appears again, but this time the terms are reversed. . Reminding his readers that there is also a natural history of stones, he describes that history in terms drawn from the procedures of the political historian:

[The colours of marble] record the means by which that marble has been produced, and the successive changes through which it has passed. And in all their veins and zones, and flame-like stainings, or broken and disconnected lines, they write various legends, never untrue, of the former political state of the mountain kingdom to which they belonged, of its infirmities and fortitudes, convulsions and consolidations, from the beginning of time. [11.38]

In Saussure's book the narrative proper (tour and natural history) is preceded by an introductory section on the composition and formation of stones in the Geneva area, the traveler's presumed point of departure. Saussure indicates that this section will provide the traveler-geologist with the necessary analytical tools.22 This first section is an exercise in practical analysis through which some fundamental principles can be established. It does not violate the identity of traveler assigned to the reader even though it does not actually form a part of the narrative. After a first chapter laying out convictions and an historical schema, Ruskin, like Saussure, lays his analytical foundations by taking the reader through an imaginary practical application of them in the twenty-nine chapters on construction and decoration which form the remainder of the first volume. In this case, the reader is invited to participate in a fictive exercise in building:

I shall endeavour so to lead the reader forward from the foundation upwards, as that he may find out for himself the best way of doing everything, and having so discovered it, never forget it. I shall give him stones, and bricks, and straw, chisels and trowels, and the ground, and then ask him to build . . . And when he has built his house or church, I shall ask him to ornament it. (9.73) [149/150]

This presentation of the preliminary "Reflections" as a narrative of the reader's fictive experience is not a common feature of travel narratives, travel histories, or guidebooks, and here it seems likely that Ruskin was thinking of Saussure. In both books the effect is a more complete assimilation of the reader of history into some identity proposed by the book. Once the reader becomes a character in the book, the book can dramatize the conditions under which perceptions and judgments are made.

For Saussure this self-consciousness never becomes an end in itself. Ruskin, however, uses the identity he creates for readers to involve them, as both travelers and readers of history, in new responsibilities toward their own culture. When Ruskin identifies his audience, its attitudes and assumptions become the explicit focus of attention. He never loses sight of the fact that he is addressing readers; "the reader" is a recurring figure throughout the three volumes. Ruskin's reader is more specifically described in his preface as a "general reader," probably "little versed in the subject" and including "the most desultory" (9.9). In the same preface, however, Ruskin ascribes to this general reader some knowledge of recent developments in historical method. He offers his stones as facts and his observations of them as a return to original sources, a return that will correct the inaccuracies of earlier histories. The stones have the status of historical documents. Thus Ruskin makes it clear that both he and his reader are modern readers of history in primary sources: Niebuhrs in Venice.

As early as the end of his first chapter, though, Ruskin offers the fiction of another identity to his readers. His "Come . . . come, and let us know, before we enter the streets of the Sea city" (9.59) holds out the promise of history as travel. The promise is fulfilled at the end of the "Foundations" volume: "And now come with me, for I have kept you too long from your gondola: come with me, on an autumnal morning, through the dark gates of Padua, and let us take the broad road leading towards the East" (9.412). In this fiction, the stones of Venice are physical objects to be experienced, not documents to be read. The reader is in their presence, with Ruskin as guide. The fiction of travel is maintained in long passages of description in the second volume and in briefer passages in the third. It is also supported in some of the illustrations. Although the majority of the plates are simplified line drawings, two-dimensional analyses of the actual [150-51] stones arranged to reveal a chronology of style, some are picturesque versions of actual buildings. These drawings imply not only a particular spatial point of view but also, through details like crumbling stone or stray tufts of grass, a specific temporal perspective in the present (see immediately below). Picturesque details support the fiction that the reader is not just following the analysis of the critical historian but also sharing the experience of the traveler.

Illustration 10: Top and bottom portions of Windows of the Fifth Order by John Ruskin. Left image not in print edition. [Click on these images to enlarge them.]

Fiction is implicitly recognized as fact, too. When Ruskin refers to the traveler, he means more than the fictional experience he has created. He assumes that his reader has traveled and will travel— belongs, as a comfortably middle-class Victorian, to a class that travels. From the beginning of the second volume Ruskin begins to dby upon this cultural fact in such a way as to make his readers critically self-conscious of the ways in which their reading and their traveling are related. The first volume ends with a present-tense description of travel to Venice; the second opens with an immediate historical distancing from the travel experience: "In the olden days of travelling, now to return no more" (10.3). The effect of this distancing is not simply to evoke nostalgia for a pre-railroad Venice, as Ruskin first does, but also to make the traveler's experience of Venice itself a subject with a history. In those olden days—before the mid-i840s—"it was no marvel that the mind should be so deeply entranced by the visionary charm of a scene so beautiful and so strange, as to forget the darker truths of its history and its being" (10.6). This romantic view of Venice is still what the English tourist sees, but both the physical aspect of Venice and the historical understanding of its stones have changed:

although the last few eventful years . . . have been more fatal in their influence on Venice than the five hundred that preceded them . . . there is still so much of magic in her aspect, that the hurried traveller, who must leave her before the wonder of that first aspect has been worn away, may still be led to forget the humility other origin, and to shut his eyes to the depth other desolation . . . But for this work of the imagination there must be no permission during the task which is before us. The impotent feelings of romance, so singularly characteristic of this century, may indeed gild, but never save, the remains of those mightier ages to which they are attached like climbing flowers; and they must be torn away from the magnificent fragments, if we Would see them as they stood in their own strength. Those feelings [arel always as fruitless as they are fond . . . The Venice of modern fiction and [151-52] drama is a thing of yesterday, a mere efflorescence of decay, a stage dream which the first ray of daylight must dissipate into dust. No prisoner, whose name is worth remembering . . . ever crossed that "Bridge of Sighs," which is the centre of the Byronic ideal of Venice. [10.7-8]

The "Venice of modern fiction and drama" is the Venice that Ruskin and his traveler-readers, thanks to Byron, saw when they visited the city: the product of a particular time and culture. Not the city but the perception of it—as beautiful but corrupt, an enchanted city appearing from nowhere in the high Renaissance, Byron's "fairy city of the heart," Rogers' dreamlike "City in the Sea," risen "like an exhalation from the deep."23 The coming of the railroad makes such a view of Venice visually anachronistic, as recent historical research makes it conceptually out of date.

Not one but two different kinds of traveler-readers are invoked in Ruskin's second volume: one, the distracted and hurried traveler who reads Byron and turns "impotent feelings of romance, so characteristic of our century" on the now incompatible visual and historical facts of Venice; the other, the reader of history as Ruskin would create him, the traveler he guides, as he does at the end of the first volume, past rows of crumbling stucco Renaissance villas and the intrusive railroad bridge, through clouds of smoke, to the all but invisible remains of medieval Venice. The first kind of reader-traveler Ruskin presents as historical fact—a portrait of his audience and their habits (which are, or were, his own). The second kind of traveler-reader is an identity Ruskin would like to create in fact through his fictions. Both the actual and the created audience, however, are in one respect the same, and this is a point that Ruskin's book tries to drive home: for both, traveling, reading, and seeing are nearly synonymous terms for a way of consuming cultural artifacts. That coincidence of roles is, as Ruskin later makes clear, itself an historical phenomenon rooted in specific beliefs and forms of social organization.

General readers who turn to Ruskin's book for history and use it as a guide to actual or vicarious travel discover very early that Ruskin has in mind a more onerous identity for them. The concluding words of the preface direct his book "to the men of London," as members of a mercantile community like Venice, men who have "influence on the design of some public building," or buy or build their own houses [152/153] (9.10,9). It is not only as consumer but also as patron of art and architecture that Ruskin addresses his traveler-reader. And that identity carries with it the responsibility not just to be pleased wisely, but to employ the powerful influence of the consumer toward the production of architecture that will wisely please. "And it is assuredly intended that all of us should have knowledge, and act upon our knowledge, in matters with which we are daily concerned, and not be left to the caprice of architects, or mercy of contractors" (9.10). Toward this larger identity, the reader as patron, the fiction of Ruskin's first volume directly contributes. The imaginary experience of building and decorating—and, unlike the experience of travel, it is never more than a fiction—is less relevant to travelers or students of history than to those who will influence, as patrons, the civil or domestic architecture of their own cities. Travel in space or time, though they are modes of consumption, are also modes of education which will prepare Ruskin's readers, for good or ill, to influence the art they are most likely to patronize. In the "Conclusion" to Stones, Ruskin returns wholly from Italy to England and from the past to the present—and returns to lay the responsibility for "the revival of a healthy school of architecture in England" (11.226) before his readers. He does not ask them to become, literally, builders or artists. His readers remain modern spectators, travelers and consumers, not artists. But as consumers they are no less the creators of historical documents, of stones that can be read. The historically new power of the consumer—a power Ruskin recognizes but does not praise—is one subject of the central chapter of his history, "The Nature of Gothic."

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hat chapter draws not only on the double function of the narrative and the double identity of the audience in the travel history, but also on the increasingly self-conscious confrontation of present with past which an experience of history through tourism implied. For Ruskin the most important models for this double focus on past and present come not from travel histories but from writers and artists who, like him, drew on contemporary travel experience as a general modern mode of perception and judgment. Ruskin found turner, Byron, and Carlyle each using the picturesque tour of ruins to deepen consciousness of modern cultural perspectives.24 [153/154]

Turner and Byron are of obvious importance for Stones since they take Venice as their subject; they provide influential perceptions of Venice and—especially in the case of Byron—reflect on the process of perception in the contemporary traveler. Carlyle, though his subject is never Venice, was evidently no less important in drawing Ruskin's attention to the problems a contemporary reader-traveler faced in adequately responding to a distant past. I focus here on Carlyle's Past and Present because that book, like Ruskin's, employs the trope of the reader as traveler in a work that is primarily not travel but history. And, like Ruskin's book, Carlyle's is both history and criticism—criticism not of the observing individual (as in Byron's poem) but of culture and society.

Past and Present begins with the familiar situation of the traveler visiting ruins. "The picturesque Tourist [Carlyle himself, collecting material for his Cromwell], in a sunny autumn day, through this bounteous realm of England, descries the Union Workhouse on his path."25 These ruins are, ironically, not dead stones but discarded humans, the inhabitants of St. Ives Workhouse. With this cruelly inadequate instance of touristic looking, Carlyle juxtaposes an apparently more appropriate example:

The Burg, Bury, or "Berry" as they call it, of St. Edmund is still a prosperous brisk Town . . . Here stranger or townsman, sauntering at his leisure amid these vast grim venerable ruins, may persuade himself that an Abbey of St. Edmundsbury did once exist; nay there is no doubt of it: see here the ancient massive Gateway, of architecture interesting to the eye of Dilettantism . . . And yet these grim old walls are not a dilettantism and dubiety; they are an earnest fact . . . Gauge not, with thy dilettante compasses, with that placid dilettante simper, the Heaven's-Watchtower of our Fathers, the fallen God's-Houses, the Golgotha of true Souls departed! ([46-48]

The picturesque traveler, who fails to perceive the spiritual facts about present or past, is equated from the beginning of tins section with the modern reader of historical documents. Carlyle dwells on the utter foreignness of the Jocelini Chronica — despite its English subject—implying related failures of perception in traveler and reader. The chronicle is "exotic, extraneous; in all ways, coming from far abroad" (40). Carlyle's historical enterprise is introduced both as an act of proper reading and as an act of proper seeing — seeing within an assumed context [154/155] of travel. His invitation to the reader is very much like the one Ruskin was to use seven years later: "But it is time we were in St. Edmundsbury Monastery and Seven good Centuries off" (46). "Readers who please to go along with us ... shall wander inconveniently enough" but at last come face to face with "some real human figure" (50).

From this point, however, Carlyle's and Ruskin's histories diverge. The identities of the reader as traveler and of the historian as guide drop out of sight in Past and Present as they never do in Stones. The travel analogy works against Carlyle's rhetorical aims, whereas it is essential to Ruskin's. The divergence in rhetorical aims needs tracing with some care, because at first sight Carlyle's and Ruskin's conceptions of history as criticism seem extremely close (Ruskin himself, in later years, repeatedly asserted his debt to Carlyle).26 One might say that for both men history is presentational and didactic. Both seem to aim first at reviving the temporally and culturally distant past for the reader by giving it the immediacy of present experience. Causal explanation and sequential narration are of secondary importance to the lively presentation of multiple aspects of a given moment or action. According to Carlyle's dictum, "Narrative is linear, Action is solid".27 Adequate history, Carlyle goes on to indicate, is pictorial and scientific in the rather old-fashioned sense that Ruskin understood: the observation and description of natural phenomena as they appear to the unaided eye. At the same time, both Carlyle and Ruskin acknowledge that the historian works not just to describe but also to reform the perceptions of contemporary readers so that this living past will be intelligible to them. Carlyle is explicit about his didactic or reforming aim in the introduction to Cromwell: "We have wandered far away from the ideas which guided us in that Century . . . we have wandered very far; and must endeavour to return, and connect ourselves there witli again! . . . The Age of the Puritans is not extinct only and gone away from us, but it is as if fallen beyond the capabilities of Memory herself; it is grown unintelligible, what we may call incredible" (Works, VI, I, 9). The historian must operate not only on the past but also on his readers. His presentation must be persuasive as well as factual and lively.

This dual aim may sometimes lead to deliberate distortion, as when Carlyle manipulates his historical source to present Abbot Samson as the hero he needs. Persuasion may also mean a variety of fictive exercises [155/156] into which the reader is led. Sometimes these are announced, like that of travel in Carlyle, or of travel or imaginary construction in Ruskin; at other times they are unannounced. In Past and Present, for example, Carlyle first introduces Jocelin as a total stranger, a dim and hardly understandable figure, then calls him a Boswell, and shortly after begins simply to refer to him in that familiar guise: Bozzy. At the same time, it becomes increasingly difficult to tell when we are listening to the Editor's translation of Bozzy-Jocelin and when to the Editor's own voice paraphrasing and interpreting him. The reader has been led by some tricky transitions to experience Jocelin's report as if it were contemporary, as believable as the familiar present. (Of course the Editor also repeatedly interrupts this process to point out the illusion. The present is still extremely different from that past which has come to seem so credible and comprehensible.) Insofar as both Carlyle and Ruskin accept this dual historical aim, to present and to reform, history is inseparable from cultural criticism. The historian tries to make readers conscious of the difference between their own values and beliefs and those of the past they are confronting, by leading them to experience a past judged differently from the way they normally conceive it, but repeatedly jolting them back to a recognition of the distance between past and present. Ruskin's descriptions of Torcello [passage] or St. Mark's work in a similar fashion.29 Travelers, securely located by Ruskin in a diminished present, find that they have insensibly come to share the perspective of the original readers of the stones of Venice—but find that out only at the moment when they are reminded by Ruskin that contemporary Venice and, worse, contemporary London do not look the same as medieval Venice. For Carlyle and Ruskin, the fictive exercises and the destruction of those fictions together work to develop an historical self-consciousness and to persuade readers to alter their beliefs.

For Carlyle, however, persuasive description depends on the voice, whereas for Ruskin it depends on the eye. This difference in style means that they have quite different attitudes toward the modes of perception that their readers normally exercise. Carlyle asks his readers to listen to the "authentic utterances" (Works, VI, 12), the lively speech of Jocelin (or Cromwell or the women of Paris). Where much of the verbal energy of Ruskin's Stones comes in his visual descriptions, that of Past and Present, like most of Carlyle's books, comes in passages of simulated [156/157] speech, distinctive voices he creates or assumes. And for Carlyle this amounts to an explicit rejection of modern modes of confronting the past. He opposes history as living voice to both reading and picturesque seeing. Carlyle repeatedly attacks a history that overvalues mere scholarly reading of printed documents ("dry rubbish," "Dryasdust," "The Paper Age"31); the picturesque tourist, as we have seen, is closely linked with the modern historical reader. Reading and picturesque seeing obstruct the memory of a culture. To these modern historical modes Carlyle contrasts the truer memory of oral cultures. "Truer memory, I say: for at least the voice of their Past Heroisms, if indistinct, and all awry as to dates and statistics, was still melodious to those Nations . . . the Greeks had their living Iliad" (Works, VI, 5).

There are several consequences of Carlyle's opposition of history as living voice to reading and picturesque seeing. First, the fiction of history as travel, like the identification of the reader as a reader, is not useful to Carlyle in his efforts to persuade his audience to respond more adequately to the past. Quite the reverse: he would rather have them throw out the dilettante eye altogether. Though Carlyle does continue to use visual metaphors to describe, the relation of present to past that he is trying to effect (the "eye of the Dilettante" should become "the true eye for Talent"; the historian is, in his most exalted form, an Artist and a Seer), these metaphors have no connection, as they do for Ruskin, with the ways in which contemporary middleclass Englishmen literally see the past by looking at ruins and reading books. There is thus a major difference of emphasis in the strictly critical parts of Past and Present and The Stones of Venice. The historical self-consciousness both men cultivate as a means to contemporary social reform always and indeed primarily includes, for Ruskin, contemporary habits of seeing and reading. Carlyle, though he initially recognizes those habits as modern, rejects them outright.

Carlyle's preference for voice over sight also suggests a curiously antihistorical bias, which occasionally surfaces in his history-as-criticism. A history that aspires to the condition of oral traditional poetry is, at some fundamental level, nostalgic for a culture where historical consciousness has not yet arrived. And indeed Carlyle, in The French Revolution, allows some truth to the proposition that historical unconsciousness is a state of blessedness, and history a record of "some disruption, some solution of continuity ... an irregularity, a disease. [157/158] Stillest perseverance were our blessedness; not dislocation and alteration,—could they be avoided" (Works, II, 27). The last phrase is, of course, a crucial reservation. Carlye sees quite clearly that the traditionalist society is gone, as it was not for Burke. The attempt to reestablish a sense of continuity so that events will not disrupt it would be a truly heroic undertaking. And it is in such terms that Carlyle does in fact envision the historian's role: as Artist, Poet, Seer, Hero. His own identity is the more modest one of Editor; yet one understands that the persuasive editor must in fact already be something of a poet and seer, too. Whether an effective seer is another problem. Will he really abolish the distance between past and present, turn the confrontation of present readers with past heroes into that face-to-face meeting Carlyle envisions at the beginning of Past and Present, where "we look into a pair of eyes deep as our own, imaging our own" (50)—because we too have acquired heroic minds? Carlyle does not claim so much for his Editor:

"Certainly, could the present Editor instruct men how to know Wisdom, Heroism, when they see it, that they might do reverence to it only, and loyally make it ruler over them,—yes, he were the living epitome of all Editors, Teachers, Prophets, that now teach and prophesy; he were an ... effective Cassandra. Let no Able Editor hope such things." [38]

If in Carlyle we sometimes glimpse a vision of history that will make history irrelevant, in Ruskin we do not. Ruskin draws back both from abolishing the distance between past and present and from efforts to convert us all to one heroic, poetic mind. He does not suggest—as, in one way or another, Byron, Turner, and Carlyle all do—that the ideal solution to the problem of adequately perceiving the past may lie in acquiring a poetic imagination as an avenue to an extratemporal perspective. We remain quite firmly, as Carlyle in his role as editor is always reminding us, where we still are: in the prosaic present. From this perspective, which Ruskin identifies very concretely with that of the modern English traveler and reader, cultural criticism is closely tied to an historical self-consciousness.

"The Nature of Gothic" is the crucial chapter for any argument about the relation of history to cultural criticism in Stones. Ruskin criticizes contemporary England more directly and extensively there than in any other chapter of his book. As has long been recognized, "The Nature of Gothic" is not primarily about Venetian Gothic as an [158/159] historical style. Ruskin's subject is "the universal or perfect type of Gothic," which insofar as it is drawn from real buildings refers to northern, not Italian, architecture. On the face of it, then, this is simply not an historical chapter. In fact it has tended to be read as an independent critical essay ever since Furnivall had it separately reprinted for the Working Men's College in 1854. If, however, we read Stones as travel history, keeping in mind how Byron and Carlyle, especially, turned the traveler-reader's confrontation with history into a critical consideration of both past and present, "The Nature of Gothic" takes on a different relation to the rest of Ruskin's book. Gothic architecture is not an historical entity in this chapter, but the reader is.

As Ruskin himself points out, his subject is the reader's image of Gothic: "the idea which I suppose already to exist in the reader's mind . . . this grey, shadowy, many-pinnacled image of the Gothic spirit within us" (10.182). Reader-travelers who have been frequently referred to and even portrayed in Ruskin's history tour are quite clearly told that their guide will now take them through an examination of their perceptions of Gothic. These perceptions are quite probably based on English and French examples. The "grey, shadowy, many-pinnacled image"is recognizably that of much romantic literature, landscape painting, and picturesque drawing—not at all like the brightly colored and highly detailed buildings Ruskin has been describing. At first Ruskin builds on the image he has attributed to his reader-travelers in quite comforting, even flattering fashion. In two pages of elaborate description he approves the reader's image as an accurate expression of northern and Christian (Protestant) character—the reader's own. He also ties that image of Gothic to a political system the English reader would be glad to recognize: Gothic ornament expresses a constitutional, not a servile (Greek) or revolutionary (Renaissance) organization of labor. His readers' pleasure in a picturesque Gothic, then, seems to be quite harmonious with national, political, and religious characteristics they can be proud to claim.

At this point, however, there is a major shift in the rhetoric: "But the modern English mind has this much in common with that of the Greek" (10.190). For the next fifteen pages all sense of comfort is dispelled. Ruskin brings up, one after another, aspects of modern taste I and attitudes—recognizably "ours" too—which seem to contradict [159/160] this pleasure in a picturesque Gothic. He ties modern English preferences for order and for finished workmanship to contemporary social and economic organization: the division of labor in mass production and the social distinctions between manual and nonmanual laborers. The reader's own image of Gothic now serves to condemn contemporary attitudes. After Ruskin's first seductive presentation of that "grey, shadowy, many-pinnacled Gothic" and the kind of person who loves it, how can we possibly "esteem smooth minuteness above shattered majesty" (10.191)—and go on buying glass beads or erecting neoclassical buildings? We must convict ourselves on the evidence of our own perceptions, that view of Gothic we were glad to own.

The self-awareness and reflection that Ruskin's rhetorical strategy in this chapter seems meant to provoke do not stop there. Though these condemnations of an English taste for mechanical perfection may make readers squirm, they do at least seem to applaud an original attraction to Gothic. At one point Ruskin specifically appeals to the evidence of this taste against the stress on order and finish that the English allow to guide their buying habits:

All the pleasure which the people of the nineteenth century take in art, is in pictures, sculpture, minor objects of virtu, or medieval architecture, which we enjoy under the term picturesque: no pleasure is taken anywhere in modern buildings, and we find all men of true feeling delighting to escape out of modern cities into natural scenery: hence, as I shall hereafter show, that peculiar love of landscape, which is characteristic of the age. [10.207]

Yet if the reader has followed Ruskin's analysis carefully, this pleasure in the picturesque will seem by no means a wholly trustworthy guide. Pleasure, in Ruskin's analysis, takes on a peculiar meaning. In Victorian society it has been artificially separated from work and equated wholly with leisure—leisure and money. "It is not that men are ill fed, but that they have no pleasure in the work by which they make their bread, and therefore look to wealth as the only means of pleasure" (10.194). The attitudes of workmen are, Ruskin goes on to point out, fully shared by their middle-class employers—who, like them, consider manual labor degrading and unpleasant, surround themselves in their own work with objects and buildings in which they take no pleasure, and escape to find their pleasure as travelers and spectators of [160/161] natural scenery and medieval ruins, as distant as possible in both place and time from the modern cities where they normally live and work. From this perspective, the English pleasure in Gothic—that shadowy image—is as closely tied to particular modern social and economic arrangements as the contrary demand for finish and order we have just agreed to condemn. If we follow Ruskin this far, we should be very uncomfortable indeed. For not just "The Nature of Gothic" but all of Stones is addressed to the traveler-reader with a love of picturesque ruins. What does Ruskin do with the unpleasant self-consciousness into which he has led us?

Quite remarkably, he does not ask us to reject our picturesque pleasures. Indeed, the rest of Ruskin's chapter continues to define a Gothic that is not inconsistent with the many-pinnacled image with which he began. Picturesque Gothic is imperceptibly universalized until it comes to express universal human attitudes and aspirations. At the same time, the spectator's pleasure in picturesque Gothic is appealed to not as a specialized and suspect form of modern consumption, but as an instinctive recognition of self-evident truths. In this part of the chapter, then, neither Gothic nor modern perception of Gothic is treated as historical fact. But the reader reassumes an historical identity in the chapter's closing pages. Ruskin draws up a list of guidelines for "the general reader," assumed to be a spectator examining an Italian or French or English building. The reader is once again a modern traveler, for whom looking is leisure activity. Ruskin instructs us to judge the building for its success at conveying an adequate conception of the whole through views that are partial and changing because we are travelers, in both space and time. Yet what we as spectators see and do may also have changed.

First, See if it looks as if it had been built by strong men . . .

Second, Observe if it be irregular, its different parts fitting themselves to different purposes, no one caring what becomes of them, so that they do their work ...

Thirdly, Observe if all the traceries, capitals, and other ornaments are of perpetually varied design . . .

Lastly Read the sculpture . . . Thenceforward the criticism of the building is to conducted precisely on the same principles as that of a book; and it must depend on the knowledge, feeling, and not a little on the industry [161/162] and perseverance of the reader, whether, even in the case of the best works, he either perceive them to be great, or feel them to be entertaining. [10.268-69]

The looking enjoined on us here is much more difficult. It is active and imposes responsibilities: to know, to feel, to work, to persevere—and to judge. Ruskin's readers have not been asked to abandon a touristic way of seeing; indeed, like Ruskin himself, we cannot. Seeing is an expensive form of consumption for us, and travel is the manner in which we indulge it. We can condemn but cannot simply put off our mode of experiencing gothic buildings, or the social and economic relationships determining that mode. But we can nonetheless improve our perceptions. There is one kind of picturesque travel that produces only vague, shadowy images of either visual or historical facts, and there is another that offers, despite necessary limitations in perception, the possibility of real insight into art or the past. Indeed—and this is Ruskin's final, perhaps too comforting conclusion—the limitations of picturesque travel, that peculiarly modern mode of seeing and reading the past, are themselves an image of natural human limitations in seeing and understanding. Travelers have very little chance of seeing something "whole." They must infer from the present state of a building what it was intended to look like and mean. They must also—especially with Gothic buildings—infer a visual whole by walking around and through something that is irregularly complex in shape and decoration and can never be completely seen from any one point of view. So, Ruskin suggests, our understanding of history or of the providential design of the world is, like the traveler's, necessarily partial and progressive. In this sense picturesque perception, like the Gothic architecture that seems specially suited to it, is more than just a modern way of seeing.

But this is not the only truth the modern reader must keep in mind. The paradox of picturesque perception which Ruskin sets up (and the paradox is that of historical perception in general) is that it transcends historical relativity to become a natural, human, representative way of understanding and seeing only when we remember the specific historical conditions that limit our perception. Ruskin's cultural criticism, though it appeals to extrahistorical truths self-evident to any reader, at the same time insists that we keep ourselves constantly aware of how [160/161] bound to our culture and -society our perceptions are. Ruskin himself became acutely aware of how closely his readers' habits of seeing and reading about the past were connected to the consumerism of the picturesque tourist—a product of a particular historical development in social and economic relations. Unfortunately, as he was later to conclude, such a difficult kind of awareness does not necessarily lead to changing the society he so vigorously criticized.

Last modified 7 April 2024