At last he was among the mountains again—the Alps that he loved. It was not only that the air of the Alps braced him, but the spirit of mountain-worship stirred him as nothing else could. At last he seemed himself, after more than a year of intense depression; and he records that one day, in church at Geneva, he resolved to do something, to be something useful. That he could make such a resolve was a sign of returning health; but if, as I find, he had just been reading Carlyle’s lately-published lectures on “Heroes,” though he did not then accept Carlyle’s conclusions nor admire his style, might he not, in spite of his criticism, have been spurred the more into energy by that enthusiastic gospel of action?
They travelled home by Basle and Laon; but London in August, and the premature attempt to be energetic, brought on a recurrence of the symptoms of consumption, as it was called. He wished to try the mountain-cure again, and set out with his friend Richard Fall for a tour in Wales. But his father recalled him to Leamington to try iron and dieting under Dr. Jephson, who, if he was called a quack, was a sensible one, and successful in subduing for several years to come the more serious phases of the disease. The patient was not cured; he suffered from time to time from his chest, and still more from a weakness of the spine, which during all the period of his early manhood gave him trouble, and finished by bending his tall and lithe figure into something that, were it not for his face, would be deformity. In 1847 he was again at Leamington under Jephson, in consequence of a relapse into the consumptive symptoms, after which we hear no more of it. He outgrew the tendency, as so many do. But nevertheless the alarm had been justifiable, and the malady had left traces which, in one way and another, haunted him ever after; for one of the worst effects of illness is to be marked down as an invalid.
At Leamington, then, in September, 1841, he was finding a new life under the doctor’s dieting, and new aims in life, which were eventually to resolder for a while the broken chain. Among the Scotch friends of the Ruskins there was a family at Perth whose daughter came to visit at Herne Hill—the Effie Gray whom afterwards he married. She challenged the melancholy John, engrossed in his drawing and geology, to write a fairytale, as the least likely task for him to fulfil. Upon which he produced, at a couple of sittings, “The King of the Golden River,” a pretty medley of Grimm’s grotesque and Dickens’ kindliness and the true Ruskinian ecstasy of the Alps.
THE GRADUATE OF OXFORD (1841-1842)