But this gloomy Calvinism was tempered with a benevolence quite as uncommon. It was from his parents that Ruskin learned never to turn off a servant, and the Denmark Hill household was as easy-going as the legendary “baronial” retinue of the good old times. A young friend asked Mrs. Ruskin, in a moment of indiscretion, what such a one of the ancient maids did—for there were several without apparent occupation about the house. Mrs. Ruskin drew herself up and said, “She, my dear, puts out the dessert.”
And yet, in her blindness, she could read character unhesitatingly. That was, no doubt, why people feared her. When Mr. Secretary Howell, in the days when he was still the oracle of the Ruskin-Rossetti circle, had been regaling them with his wonderful tales, after dinner, she would throw her netting down and say, “How can you two sit there and listen to such a pack of lies?” She objected strongly, in these later years, to the theatre; and when sometimes her son would wish to take a party into town to see the last new piece, her permission had to be asked, and was not readily granted, unless to Miss Agnew, who was the ambassadress in such affairs of diplomacy. But while disapproving of some of his worldly ways, and convinced that she had too much indulged his childhood, the old lady loved him with all the intensity of the strange fierce lioness nature, which only one or two had ever had a glimpse of. And when (December 5th, 1871) she died, trusting to see her husband again—not to be near him, not to be so high in heaven but content if she might only see him, she said—her son was left “with a surprising sense of loneliness.” He had loved her truly, obeyed her strictly and tended her faithfully; and even yet hardly realized how much she had been to him. He buried her in his father’s grave, and wrote upon it, “Here beside my father’s body I have laid my mother’s: nor was dearer earth ever returned to earth, nor purer life recorded in heaven.”
“FORS” BEGUN (1871-1872)
On January 1st, 1871, was issued a small pamphlet, headed “Fors Clavigera,” in the form of a letter to the working men and labourers of England, dated from Denmark Hill, and signed “John Ruskin.” It was not published in the usual way, but sold by the author’s engraver, Mr. George Allen, at Heathfield Cottage, Keston, Kent. It was not advertised; press-copies were sent to the leading papers; and of course the author’s acquaintance knew of its publication. Strangers, who heard of this curious proceeding, spread the report that in order to get Ruskin’s latest, you had to travel into the country, with your sevenpence in your hand, and transact your business among Mr. Allen’s beehives. So you had, if you wanted to see what you were buying; for no arrangements were made for its sale by the booksellers: sevenpence a copy, carriage paid, no discount, and no abatement on taking a quantity.