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this world' gained upon me, faded gradually away, in the manner described by Wordsworth in his Intimations of Immortality."
It is of the emotions experienced amid mountain scenery that Mr. Ruskin here more expressly speaks. But the passage reveals a mental and physical organization, generally adapted to derive pleasure from the appearances of nature, altogether peculiar; and of mountains themselves it must be remembered, that every form of scenery, of the highest beauty or grandeur, excepting only the sublime solitude or majestic fury of the central ocean, belongs pre-eminently to them. It is from the mountain that you behold the sky above and the valley below, the cloud on the shoulders of the hill, the torrent thundering in its chasm, the forest climbing among the crags, the lake slumbering around its promontories. That "intense, superstitious, insatiable, and beatific perception" of the grandeur and loveliness of mountain scenery, which characterized Ruskin in childhood and youth, implied a perception of all that is grandest and loveliest in God's earthly creation.
The words in which Ruskin has consciously described his early passion for nature's beauty are brief and unpretentious, marked by a noble and manly modesty. But the attestation of that passion which he soon unconsciously made, the manifestation forced on him by the abounding of the gift, is as imposing as it is conclusive. At an age when most clever young men are bent on distinction in debating societies, or resting on their laurels as prize versifiers, he published the first volume of Modern Painters. Had it been the work of a life-time, it would have secured an immortality of renown: and if one or two works, produced at a similar age, have indicated a genius equally rare, it seems open to no dispute that no work ever published by a
very young man effected so profound and important a revolution. It at once took a separate and solitary place among works in English prose. In style and in matter, it was unique. It recalled what had passed entirely out of English composition, the stately march and long-drawn cadence of Hooker and Taylor; beside the richness of its descriptive detail, the Traveller was bare, the Lady of the Lake general and indefinite; while its clearness of conception, its vigor, and business-like tone, belonged distinctively to prose, and, if not distinctively, at least conspicuously, to the nineteenth century. Its matter was equally remarkable and as original. At a consideration of its doctrines, we have not yet arrived, but its principal contents were a series of descriptions of the aspects of nature, and to these the language could show no parallel. Nay, it was, perhaps, in the nature of things impossible, that at any previous time they could have been produced. A great invention is possible only at one period. The fact is proved by the circumstance that the history of invention is a history of controversy, that great discoveries have often, if not uniformly, been made by different minds about the same time. The production of the first volume of Modern Painters in the sixteenth century was equally impossible with the discovery of fluxions in the ninth. This assertion means simply that, at the date of the appearance of this volume, certain elements had entered into civilization, certain agencies had come to bear upon the general mind, absent in other centuries, whose presence was indispensable to its suggestion or accomplishment. Proof of this is necessary, but conclusive proof is at hand.
During the eighteenth century, and with accelerated speed during the early part of the present, a great process went on, by which the ideas of men, touching the realm of physical nature, were rectified and defined. The most
prominent intellectual characteristic of the epoch is scientific activity. The prospect embraced within the ken of science continued gradually to widen, until, before the middle of this century, it might be said to comprehend the whole sphere of terrestrial existence, and the material aspects of the astral heavens. From the frigid crags of Iceland to the cactus-hedges of the Cape, from the pebble at your foot to the nebula in the outer deeps of space, from the flower of yesterday to the tree-ferns of the carboniferous period, Science had extended her gaze. Fancy and imagination seemed about to be extinguished, or to become the mere eyes of science. No ocean was now supposed to hide Isles of the Blessed; no Atlantis could now rise before the eyes of the voyager. Geology told you the forms of the mountains. Meteorology guessed at the balancing of the clouds. The lightning went faster and further, as the slave of man, than it ever went from its own lone dwelling in the thunder-cloud. The beasts of the forest had been watched and classified; the flowers of the field were named and known; the very rainbows, with which, from time immemorial, the sun had wreathed the mist and foam of Orinoco, could not escape the eye of science.
It is plain that any mind of remarkable power and susceptibility, going through the stages of culture and development in a time thus characterized, could not escape the pervading influence. Ruskin did not escape it: but it is important to note the nature of the impress which his genius received. His capacity was not distinctively scientific. Taking Coleridge's antithesis between science and poetry, it was rather poetic. That emotion which played so important a part in his early history found satisfaction, not in analysis and classification, but in contemplation,
reverence, and wonder. So mighty, however, was that feeling, so earnest and perpetual its action, that its result was a knowledge of the external appearances of nature, poetic in its order but scientific in its accuracy: while it cannot be doubted that, at a certain stage of its early manifestation, the expressly scientific influence of the time came in to assist and define it. The first volume of Modern Painters reveals both influences. It gives express evidence of scientific knowledge: it is, from first to last, one tissue of evidence of that pure sensibility, which finds delight in simply looking on the face of nature, and which necessitates knowledge. This combination of science with poetry it is, which imparts essential originality to the volume of which we speak; and so closely allied is such a combination, with the general character of the age, that it may be confidently asserted that it could not have existed, as it certainly did not exist, in any other.
The critics have said things about Ruskin which are to us amazing, which only the evidence of sense could render credible. But we have not yet seen it asserted that he is ignorant of nature. Into this arena no critic has ventured deliberately and openly to step. The wildest fury of insolence, the utmost assurance of imbecility, has here confined itself to feeble innuendo or nursery flippancy. And when we contemplate, in all the comprehensiveness of its range, in all the correctness of its science, in all the glory of its poetry, that revelation of nature which he has made, this is perhaps, even considering what critics. Ruskin has had, not wonderful. One is apt, as he reads, to imagine that the whole capacities and the whole life of the author had been devoted to the study of that class of natural appearances with which he is at the moment concerned. Listen to Ruskin's description of the sea, and you
think he must have spent his days and years, in watching the beauty of its garlanded summer waves, and the tortured writhing of its wintry billows. Follow his eye as it ranges over the broad fields of the sky, and you are impressed with the idea, that it can never have been turned from observing the procession of the clouds across the blue, or tracing the faint streaks of the cirri, lying, like soft maiden's hair, along heaven's azure, or watching the sun as he touches the whole sky with gold and scarlet and vermilion, to be for him a regal tent at eventide. Go with him into the forest, and you believe that he has studied nothing else, but the forms of stem and branch, the arrangement of light and shade in the hollows of the foliage. Enter with him the cathedral of the mountains, mark attentively as he points out "their gates of rock, pavements of cloud, choirs of stream and stone, altars of snow, and vaults of purple traversed by the continual stars,” and you conclude that there he must always have worshipped. But when you have passed with him from province to province of nature's beauty, and have found that in each he is a seer and revealer, can you fail to acknowledge the justice and modesty of his claim, not to be accused of arrogance in asserting that he has walked with nature? Can you, moreover, turn from the loveliness and splendor of the successive visions which have risen before you, without knowing nature better, loving her more, and associating with her loftier, purer, mightier emotions, of reverence and wonder, than ever theretofore?
We have said that, in the sphere of simple description of nature's facts, Ruskin has not been directly and deliberately met. But among the many half-amusing, half-offensive exhibitions of tip-toe mediocrity, trying to see up to the height of this original genius, if haply it may discover that