‘Perfection, I should call it’: John Ruskin’s personalised guide to Switzerland, 1843.
In memory of Andrew Wyld (1949-2011)
The following offers an annotated transcript of a recently
discovered letter from John Ruskin to George Richmond.
The letter was exhibited by Andrew Wyld at W. S. Fine Art in
London, June-July 2011, no. 43. I am grateful to Andrew for having given
me permission to publish the letter in full, and for supplying images to
use here. Andrew gave me first sight of the letter almost a decade ago
in connection with a paper that I was preparing for the Ruskin seminar
at the University of Lancaster, (1) and the annotations given here were
compiled with Andrew’s continued encouragement and support. He was
always keen to share his finds with his friends and every time I called
in to see him he had something new, and most often
v. star·tled, star·tling, star·tles
1. To cause to make a quick involuntary movement or start.
2. To alarm, frighten, or surprise suddenly. See Synonyms at frighten.
impressive, to bring out from the back. This letter appeared in the last
exhibition that he lived to enjoy, and it is a shame that he did not
live to see it published. I am only one of a very wide circle of friends
who will particularly miss his infectious enthusiasm for British works
on paper, and the generosity with which he shared his expertise.
In the letter Ruskin sets out a tour with two variations through
the high Alps, entering Switzerland at Basel, taking in Chamonix and the
, Alpine massif, on the French-Italian border, SE of Geneva. One of its several peaks, also called Mont Blanc (15,771 ft/4,807 m), is the highest peak in France and the second highest in Europe.
area, and gradually working eastwards to the
, the Italian Lakes,
, and finishing at Innsbruck in
Austria. The text contains few internal clues to its exact date, but it
is evident at the time of writing that Richmond had never seen Chamonix.
Ruskin prescribes him four days there. In September 1843 Richmond went
via France to Italy, and wrote to his wife Julia from Chamonix. The
letter is at the
state in the SE United States. It is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean (E), South Carolina and Georgia (S), Tennessee (W), and Virginia (N).
Facts and Figures
Area, 52,586 sq mi (136,198 sq km). Pop.
University (one of a series of 54 items,
MSS 11023) and an extract shows how glad Richmond was to have taken
Ruskin’s recommendation: ‘I think that the last four days have
been the happiest that I ever spent abroad. I seem to have lived the
best part of my youth over again, the ages of faith seem come back upon
me and my breast overflows with joy: I could say the same to no one but
you, your letters speak the same language to me. Ruskin was quite right
in saying how much I should enjoy the air of Chamonix, the
adj. dew·i·er, dew·i·est
1. Moist with or as if with dew:
2. Accompanied by dew:
freshness of the mornings in it with the long sweeping shadows from the
mountains keeping all cool. The pinnacles of snow glittering in the sun,
and Mont Blanc with
, his high dome crowning all is something
of which I can give you no idea.’
That would suggest that the letter was written when Richmond was
preparing for his Italian trip of 1843, and he must have mentioned to
Ruskin that he might take in something of the Alps en route. He does not
seem to have taken Ruskin up on anything like the entire prescription,
and afterwards Ruskin repeatedly tried to get Richmond to immerse
himself more in Switzerland. On 30 August 1846 he wrote from
, Ger. Luzern , canton (1993 pop.
‘It is too late now for you to come here–to Switzerland, I mean,
for me, but it is the place you ought always to come to.’ The two
letters from Ruskin to Richmond referred to in Richmond’s note on
the cover sheet of the letter (of 18 April and 20 May 1849) express
similar hopes. In the first, written at the outset of a season in the
Alps in 1849, Ruskin holds out for the prospect of meeting up with
Richmond in Switzerland that year, and in the second written from Vevey
he renews the same hope, though by that time less optimistically.
The letter was most probably occasioned by conversation between the
two around the time that Ruskin sat to Richmond in February 1843 for a
portrait, exhibited at the Royal Academy of that year under
the title ‘John Ruskin, jun. Esq’ (Pl 1) and later issued as a
reproduction under the title ‘The Author of Modern Painters’.
(2) Ruskin described this later as ‘a charming watercolour of me
sitting at a picturesque desk in the open air, in a crimson waistcoat
and white trousers with a magnificent port-crayon in my hand, and Mont
Blanc, conventionalised to Raphaelesque grace in the distance’. (3)
Conventionalised as the peak may be, it is still almost certainly
derived from the drawing of Mont Blanc that Ruskin supplied with this
letter (numbered by him Fig. 2), and the whole
in literature, fanciful or unusual image in which apparently dissimilar things are shown to have a relationship. The Elizabethan poets were fond of Petrarchan conceits, which were conventional comparisons, imitated from the love songs of Petrarch, in which
of the portrait
is to present Ruskin as one who derived his literary and scholarly being
from proximity to and study of the Alps.
In 1843 Ruskin was 24 and had made four trips to the Alps. The
family made an extended itinerary in the Alps on their Continental tour
of 1833, and again in 1835. They spent a little time in the Alps at the
end of a long
Relating to convalescence.
A person who is recovering from an illness, an injury, or a surgical operation.
1. pertaining to or characterized by convalescence.
tour to Italy 1840-41, and Ruskin made an
extended study in the
, Fr. Genève, canton (1990 pop. 373,019), 109 sq mi (282 sq km), SW Switzerland, surrounding the southwest tip of the Lake of Geneva.
and Chamonix area in 1842, when thinking
particularly about Turner and truth to nature. Drawing deeply on that
experience, Ruskin wrote the first volume of Modern Painters over the
winter of 1842-43 and the book appeared in May 1843. The prospective
appearance of Ruskin’s first book was
That can be presumed or taken for granted; reasonable as a supposition:
occasion of the portrait.
The Alps provided Ruskin with one of the major studies of his life.
His first sight of them from near Schaffhausen in 1833 was revelatory:
There was no thought in any of us for a moment of their being clouds. They were clear as crystal, sharp on the pure horizon sky., and already tinged with rose by the sinking sun. Infinitely beyond all that we had ever thought or dreamed,--the seen walls of lost Eden could not have been more beautiful to us; nor more awful, round heaven the walls of sacred Death. (4)
Ruskin had many topics, but none but the Alps gave him quite the
same sense of complete validation and
1. Conducive to good health; salutary.
occupation. A few lines
later in the same section of his autobiography Praeterita he said of
that first revelation ‘my heart and faith return to this day, in
every impulse that is yet nobly alive in them, and every thought that
has in it help or peace’. (5) In the letter Ruskin goes to great
pains to construct an itinerary that will impress Richmond with the same
force of first encounter. He sends Richmond on a lesser-known route
through the Jura in order to spring a surprise view of the Alps from
above Bienne, and then takes him to Chamonix via Martigny and the Col de
la Forclaz to deliver a surprise view of Mont Blanc as he comes to the
. The route is not by any means the most direct to
Chamonix, nor indeed that by which Ruskin most frequently approached
Mont Blanc up the Arve valley from Geneva, but he confessed to the use
of such stratagems in a passage in Sesame and Lilies (1871);
‘Sometimes one contrives, in taking a friend to see a favourite
piece of scenery … to hide what I wanted most to show, with such
imperfect cunning as I might, until we unexpectedly reached the best
point of view by winding paths.’ (6)
Although Ruskin had considerable familiarity with the Alps through
his earlier tours, at the time of writing he was still developing
towards the most serious phase of his engagement in the later 1840s,
1850s and 1860s. One particular interest of the letter is that it
reveals aspiration as much as actual experience. The letter is full of
1. Characterized by sudden and forceful energy or emotion; impulsive and passionate.
2. Having or marked by violent force:
and impatience, particularly with sites of
, or worse, relaxation. His first sentence sets the tone for
this, but he is equally dismissive of potentially
tr.v. en·er·vat·ed, en·er·vat·ing, en·er·vates
1. To weaken or destroy the strength or vitality of:
Geneva, Lausanne, Vevey, and Lucerne. Instead he concentrates on
inflicting work and exposure on Richmond. The whole route is contrived
to take in two passes in particular, the
(Pl 2) out of the
, and the
(Pl 3) at the head of the
Valais towards Domodossola and Italy. He praises both in the highest
terms, and in order to conduct Richmond over both passes the route is
forced to snake exaggeratedly north and south. The curious fact is that
there is no clear evidence that Ruskin had himself crossed either.
Rather it would appear that while he might have seen the precipitous
zig-zag path of the Gemmi above Leukerbad, he does not appear at this
stage to have been to the top, nor is there any evidence of his having
yet been on the Gries. Both, however, were somewhat off the most
regularly beaten paths in the Alps (the Gries especially so) and Ruskin
appears to have been putting Richmond into a place of extraordinary and
specialist encounter that he coveted for himself. The route finishes off
by meandering towards the
, alt. 9,048 ft (2,758 m), in the central Alps, N Italy, near the Swiss and Austrian borders. It is crossed by the highest road in the Alps, connecting the Valtellina with the upper Adige River valley.
, which at 2757m is one of the
highest and relatively lightly-used of the Alpine passes. Ruskin had
certainly been there, however, writing an extended description of the
crossing in his diary for 23 September 1835.
Ruskin’s sympathies with the towns of the Alps increased
greatly in later years and a passage written for The Two Paths (1859),
is implicitly critical of his younger self: ‘Hasty tourists in
Switzerland, eager to explore her recesses of rock and glacier, are
Characterized by neglect; heedless: See Synonyms at negligent.
of the remains of her ancient cities; but after a
time the walls and pinnacles of the Alps themselves are hardly more dear
to the observant and thoughtful traveller than the noble towers and
ramparts of Fribourg and Basle, Schaffhausen and Lucerne, to which the
popular life and in that life the religion of Europe were trusted in the
first storms of the Middle Ages:–nor are the mountain solitudes of the
Simplon or St. Gothard independent in their appeal to the imagination of
the romantic excitement with which every sensitive mind is affected in
its approach to them by the ruins of Sion and Bellinzona.’ (7)
One typically offbeat recommendation that Ruskin makes to Richmond
is to visit the Gorges du Trient near Martigny (Pl 4). It is not clear
when Ruskin actually investigated the site, but his diary for 23 July
1835 suggests that such an investigation was a relatively fresh memory.
He knew of it from HB de Saussure’s Voyages dans les Alpes, 1786-7,
(8) which he was given as a birthday present in 1834, and which became
his principal source of reference for the Mont Blanc area in 1835.
found the ‘Grande
, large crack in the upper surface of a glacier, formed by tension acting upon the brittle ice. Transverse crevasses occur where the grade of the glacier bed becomes suddenly steeper; longitudinal crevasses, where the glacier
d’ou fort l’Eau
noire’ frustratingly inaccessible even though he observed that it
had at one time been equipped with a wooden plankway:
‘J’aurois cependent desire d’y entrer pour observer la
structure de l’interieur de cette montagne, mais les planches
avoient ete enterees.’ De Saussure managed none the less to make
some detailed geological observations, and to come to a dramatic
conclusion regarding its
study of the origin and evolution of the earth’s landforms, both on the continents and within the ocean basins. It is concerned with the internal geologic processes of the earth’s crust, such as tectonic activity and volcanism that constructs new
: ‘Une crevasse etroit et
profonde, causee indubitablement par une rupture spontanee de
.’ It is, however, puzzling that Ruskin should have so
particularly recommended it to Richmond. Murray’s Handbook does not
mention it at all, Ruskin himself appears to have made no notes or
memoranda, and he admits in the letter that it remained inaccessible.
Nevertheless it had lodged in his memory to the extent that he thought
it worth detaining Richmond here, instead of at Lausanne or Vevey or
other any such waste of his time. Perhaps it seemed a good opportunity
to demonstrate the kind of
that would mark out one
properly schooled and practiced in the inner workings of mountains.
The letter is remarkable for a few places that it does not mention.
Geneva is missing, and so are Fribourg and Baden, both of which became
important to him in the 1850s when he was seriously developing his
engagement with Swiss towns and architecture. Another striking omission
is Zermatt. At the time of writing the Matterhorn was completely unknown
to him. Had he been to the top of the Gemmi he would have seen it, but
as things turned out it was 1844 before he made his first acquaintance
and 1849 before he was able to study the mountain and its immediate
surroundings properly. The effect of that first acquaintance was
extraordinary. When Ruskin went there in 1849, Zermatt was merely a few
chalets in an alpine pasture at the foot of a remarkable mountain. The
local pastor had a few rooms that he let to the occasional geologists or
natural historians that were interested in the scenery round about. The
study that Ruskin made in 1849, the first proper drawings of the
Matterhorn and the first photograph, and the fascination with high
mountains that he communicated in the fourth volume of Modern Painters
in 1856, stimulated an avalanche of interest in exploring the Alps. In
many ways in this letter Ruskin was rehearsing the interest that was to
lead directly (but unimaginably) to modern tourism in the Alps, and to
the transformation of Zermatt into the world’s leading mountain
Ruskin devotes his most detailed treatment here to Mont Blanc and
the Aiguilles of Chamonix, and indeed Chamonix became his principal
resort in the Alps in subsequent years. He enjoyed extended stays there
in 1844, 1849 and 1854 working towards the fourth volume of Modern
Painters published in 1856. Later, he came to feel that all his most
important works had been begun under the snows of Mont Blanc at
Unto this Last
was written there in 1860). and that his
visits there were necessary to his healthful being and inspiration. In
the early 1860s he even bought a patch of land at Chamonix, and
seriously considered settling in the region for good.
The latter part of the letter was rushed by his need to catch the
post. It is perhaps remarkable that he undertook to write down such a
statement in a single sitting, and the fact that his memories and
knowledge came, apparently, so readily to hand suggests that he was
consciously making an imaginative structure of his Alpine knowledge
ahead of the work to come. The sequence of places effectively deploys
the co-ordinates of his own intentions. The letter reveals a similar
concern with the structure of his knowledge in his drawings. The
drawings themselves are all carefully inscribed with the names of
mountains. There are mistakes, and one or two uncertainties, but it is
remarkable that he already knew the main ranges of the Alps so
thoroughly that he could reel off the main peaks in their more or less
correct relations so fluently. The drawings and letter also combine to
offer Richmond a
The use of two known coordinates to determine the location of a third. Used by ship captains for centuries to navigate on the high seas, triangulation is employed in GPS receivers to pinpoint their current location on earth.
on Mont Blanc from at least six different
points of view, from Geneva, from the Dole, from the shores of Lake
Neuchatel, from the Col des Montets, from the Plan d’Aiguille and
from the lower slopes of the Brevent. Furthermore, Ruskin carefully
elucidates the key features and their relations, so that Richmond, had
he been so concerned, could have worked out a detailed mental model of
the structure of the mountain from this information. (10) This might
very well have been rather more effort than Richmond was prepared to
invest, but in that respect the letter is perhaps more intended as a
review of the problem of conception that the mountains presented, and
the endless observation and effort with which he would be prepared to
mitigate that problem. The proper knowledge and right seeing of
mountains is, ultimately, the principal theme of the fourth volume of
Modern Painters, and the challenges and demands they made on
Ruskin’s perception, and the strain of conceptual apparatus they
entailed, its most fascinating aspect.
A blue envelope accompanying the letter is inscribed ‘Ruskin
on Alps 1849 or earlier/see letter from Folkstone/Pavilion Hotel
Switzerland/18 April 1849 [initialled] GR/ & from Vevay 20 May
Inns Trois Rois
Only one at Tavannes–Rustic–clean simple–very nice
Maison Rouge Faucon, Lausanne excellent. New inn has better view
Tour No. 1. Perfection–I should call it
BASLE. Don’t allow any time for stopping here. Stupidplace.
(11) The right pass of the Jura goes from Basle to Bienne, through a
little village called Tavannes (12) by the Pierre Pertuis, an arch cut
by the Romans, in itself interesting. (13) About 5 miles beyond this
arch, the road opens on the great plain of Switzerland bounded by the
. (14) It is most desirable that you should have clear
weather for this view–as it is the finest you will get
of these hills. If the afternoon is cloudy I would stop at Tavannes
& wait for the morning, if the afternoon is fine–push on–see the
sunset from the brow & of the Jura, & and descend and sleep at
Bienne. Of course I suppose your movement independent–if you are in the
claw of a diligence, there is no help for it–but take one, at
least–which reaches Bienne by daylight. Start very early from
Basle–not later than 6 morning. It is a good hard day to Bienne. The
inn at Tavannes (15) is far more comfortable than that at Bienne. Fig. 1
[Pl 5], will enable you to distinguish the peaks of the Alps as you see
them from the Jura. (16) BIENNE. (17) Hence I think you may get to
Yverdun in a day–there is nothing to detain you at Neuchatel. (18) The
two lakes of Bienne and Neuchatel which you see on this days journey,
are the least interesting in Switzerland, (19) the latter indeed is
actually ugly–so don’t be disappointed. As you advance towards
Yverdun you will see, if the day be clear–the chain of the central Alps
gradually rising on the south of the Bernese–and bounding the whole
horizon–at their farthest extremity you will at once distinguish Mont
Blanc as in fig 2 [Pl 5]. (20) YVERDUN. If you were independent, I
should tell you to sleep at Tavannes, Neuchatel & Lausanne (so
making four days to Villeneuve) because the Inns at all these places are
luxurious, while those at Bienne & Yverdun (21) are not–by no means
but as the diligence will probably carry you by force to Bienne it
would be absurd to lose a day by stopping at Neuchatel. From Yverdun you
may reach Villeneuve in a day–and so be in the mountains three days
after leaving Basle. I don’t know if there is a straight road from
Yverdun to Villeneuve without going to Lausanne (22)–if there be–you
needn’t mind missing Lausanne–it is a nasty ugly place, (23)
though perhaps it would be better to go through it–for the sake of the
drive along the banks of the Lake of Geneva
1. From that place; from there:
2. From that circumstance or source; therefrom.
3. Archaic From that time; thenceforth.
to Vevay. VILLENEUVE.
You can stop at Vevay if you like (24)–but I believe the hotel at
.sup.ve] is better (25)–& close to Chillon. (26) Hence–after
seeing Chillon–take boat & cross to St Gingoulph. It is important
to see a little of this side of the lake–far the loveliest. (27) From
St Gingoulph your road is the great Napoleon line straight to Martigny.
(28) This you have seen before29:- but perhaps you have not
noticed–half a mile beyond the Pisse-Vache, (30) the chasm on the
right, out of which comes the torrent from the Tete Noire [Pl 4]–it is
very grand–but totally inaccessible–you can just get to the edge of
the water by going through a little cave or tunnel in the rock on the
left side. (31)
MARTIGNY Note here the rushing of the river Drance–it is
singularly impressive–and get away early in the morning, the place is
unhealthy. (32) Don’t let people persuade you to go by the Col de
Balme–it is a bad view–and terrible hard work to get at it (33)–I
could not endure your being introduced to Chamonix but by the Tete
Noire. The road to the two passes [is] one and the same for about 4
miles of a very unpleasant strong ascent–from which however–looking
back, you have a noble view of the Valais. (34) The mountain rising high
at its extremity is the Jung Frau–its southern side has little snow on
it. At the top, (35) you come in sight of the glacier du Trient–on the
left–the last of the glaciers of Mont Blanc. Very beautiful. As you
Hotel de Londres
you have the ascent of the Col du Balme opposite–the most
abominably steep bit I know in the Alps.–You will turn to the right
however, and then the beauty of the Tete Noire begins. Take it
slowly–and look well back and round at every turn of the road. There is
some glorious torrent scenery at the bottom–after passing the gallery,
of the Tete Noire. You should walk. I sit
In this general vicinity; around here.
in this region
. (36) No need to
hurry. After resting–make your guide take you to the fall of the Eau
Noire which is about a mile up the hills on the right, and must not be
missed–it is very splendid and there is pretty torrent scenery on the
road to it. (37) After leaving it, as you proceed through Valorsine, you
will see the Mont Blanc before you stopping up the valley with a
symmetrical pyramid la quick sketch here] so. It will disappear to the
right as you go on–and its aiguilles will pass in procession before the
gap. Then you will ascend to the highest point of the pass-very desolate
(38)–and at the top of this, and as you descend, you will have a noble
view of the
1. A sharp, pointed mountain peak.
2. A needle-shaped drill for boring holes in rock or masonry.
[French, needle, from Old French; see aglet.
Verte–the highest Alp of this district after Mont
Blanc. Its relative elevation is shown in view No.3 [Pl 7]. (39) On its
right side you will see a dark point, the Aiguille Dru. Note
particularly their relative heights, or else when you get to the
Montanvert nobody will be able to persuade you that the Dru is not the
highest. You ought to reach this point of the pass half an hour before
sunset–perhaps earlier as it will be well to have the red light as you
go down the valley.
CHAMONIX. We were at the Hotel de l’Union–but I think the
Londres has a better view. Both are about the same, as inns. (40)
1st day Montanvert (41) 2nd day Tapia (42) 3rd Breven (43)
If the first day you are at Chamonix is cloudless and
, take the Tapia because there is a shelter on the Montanvert (44)
and none on the Tapia–& you can see a good deal on the Montanvert
in bad weather–but nothing on the Tapia. Sun & blue sky are
indispensable for the latter. But if it be average weather–cloudy or
variable–take the Montanvert–it is
[Page 4] (45)
the easiest and will prepare you for the harder work. Take the
Breven for the third day in either case–as it is the most difficult. I
have scrawled down a rude sort of outline of the mountains to the south
of the valley of Chamonix, No.4 [Pls 6, 8] which will enable you just to
know the names (46) and the two sketches Nos 3 & 5 [Pl 7] (47) will
give you some idea of the real position and elevation of the peaks which
you see from Chamonix foreshortened & disguised. Note particularly
the changes of form in the two lateral masses, Mont Blanc de Tacul &
Aiguille Sans Nom (48) which seem one mountain, higher than Mont Blanc,
seen from Chamonix, but from Geneva (49) you find that there is two good
miles between them and that they are grand masses–far higher than the
and again looking from the Dole (50) you find these
huge mountains are nothing more than excrescences on the flanks of Mont
Blanc. The latter view gives you the real relations. Again in the little
view from the Tapia, No.6 [Pls. 7, 9], the small subordinate point B of
the Aiguille du Plan has become the principal mountain and all the
higher and really principal points are concealed behind A. (51) The
forked rock marked A on the aiguille de Blatiere you will easily
recognise in the view from the Tapia. (52)
The Geant & Grandes Jorasses which appear in No.3 & No.5
will be shown you from the Montanvert, they are not visible from
On the fourth day you may see both my Mill place (53) & the
Cascade des Pelerins (54)–& Glaciers des Bossons (55) & Bois
& source of the Arveiron (56)–& then you will know Chamonix
thoroughly. You cannot go to the top of the Breven–nasty precipice but
you can go within 500 ft of it without the slightest annoyance–& it
is very–very grand. Mind you don’t go up Flegere, wasted time,
(57) unless indeed from
my mill place, you climbed up among the rocks till you came to it,
but then you would not see the Cascade des Pelerins for want of time–
Well, I must be shorter now–or I shall be too late for post. On
the fifth day you cross the Forclaz58 to Contamines. In leaving
Chamonix–about a mile and a half from the Village–you come to come
fine rocks on the right with an exquisite fountain at the bottom of
them–a favourite haunt of mine. (59) This fountain probably is the
outflowing of the lake on the top of the Breven.
Next day over Col de la Seigne. I have never taken this route–but
I know it is magnificent–only desperately hard work (61)–but you will
be well repaid by the Allee Blanche.
CORMAYEUR. (62) Not a very pleasant place but in noble scenery. It
will be worth while to walk back a little way towards the Allee
Blanche–as you will be too tired to enjoy it the evening before. (63) I
went up the Cramont but I believe it is nearly as fine from below. (64)
Then descend to Aosta–must have some conveyance–too hot to walk.
Scenery surpassing but keep looking back. Have your sketchbook
ready–& colours here–useless in Chamonix, but you won’t be
able to get along without them here. (65)
AOSTA. You will be glad to get out of, yet see the Roman ruins.
(66) A tolerably easy clay up to great St Bernard. Scenery uninteresting
after what you will have seen.
HOSPICE St BERNARD. (67) Don’t go to the dead house, or you
may catch an awkward nightmare. (68)
MARTIGNY or Sion (69) if you are not tired & can go so far.
Baths of LOESCHE (70)
Lion d’Or Capital Inn was
KANDERSTEG. Over the Gemmi, the most wonderful pass in Switzerland
(Pl 2). (71)
THUN (72) Steamer up the lake to)
INTERLAKKEN (73) (I shall underline the sleeping places it takes
time to print them)
Grindelwald I think after the easy clay to Interlakken you may get
to Lauterbrunnen–see Staubbach & cross Wengern Alp in a clay. If
bad weather however, sleep at Lauterbrunnen–& cross Wengern in the
Meyringen Over the Lesser Sheideck. (74) Don’t let people
persuade you to go by Lake of Brientz–the Giesbach which is the only
object–is a paltry dribbling thing (75)–and the lesser Sheideck is
magnificent. See Reichenbach as you descend to Meyringen. (76) Next day
a noble mule ride seeing the finest & most awful fall in the Alps at
Hendek. (77) Up to
Hospice. Grimsel (78) Next day down by Glacier of Rhone and over
the Gries Pass [P; 3]. (79) You have to cross a glacier but it is quite
safe & the scenery unique. A hard day.
Varese. (81) Or Como if you can get so far.
Como. (82) Hence by water up the whole length of the lake–seeing
Villas on each side to
Bormio. A nasty, place (84)–but must stop at it then–[Mals
deleted here–see below] over the Stelvio, (85) which you must have fine
weather for or you will see nothing & perhaps run some risk to
Mals. (86) Next clay to Landeck. (87) Next to Innsbruck (88)
Hospital Bellinzona (95)
Follow first route to Meyringen
Zug climbing Righi between
This first tour includes almost everything interesting in
Switzerland except Lake Lucerne & St Gothard. I would infinitely
rather myself see the Grimsel and Gries Pass (89)–but if you want to
see the St Gothard go thus from
Over the Brunig (90) to
If you don’t care about Lucerne it will save time to sleep at
Alpnacht. Then ascend Righi from Weggis, clescend to Goldau (92)–go
round by Schwytz–embark at Brmmen, sleep at Fluelen or Altorf. If you
set off very early from Meyringen you may get to the top of Righi that
night & so see sunrise & divide matters better–if you
don’t care about Righi, a boat from Alpnacht to Fluelen will show
you all the lake & save a day.
Pass of St Gothard (94)
Vide first tour. It will take you altogether two days more than
going by the Gries Pass.
II Tour to Innsbruck missing the Italian Lakes & Stelvio. Very
Feldkirch. (99) then two Tyrolese places on the pass of the
Varalberg–I forget their names–but all names here are pretty much
alike. It is a two clays journey to Landeck vide first tour. Good
carriage mad all the way.
The first tour–allowing for stoppages–bad weather &c &
four days for Chamonix, will take a full month from Basle to Innsbruck.
It cannot be done in less. If this is too long for you–you should do
Chamonix thoroughly and Courmayeur thoroughly–and then–either Hold
down the Val’d’Aosta to Novara & Milan–& so up to
Como, or Cross the St Bernard–go up the Valais to Brig and take the
Simplon to Domo d’Ossola–or the Gries if you are sufficiently
tr.v. in·ured, in·ur·ing, in·ures
To habituate to something undesirable, especially by prolonged subjection; accustom:
to hill walking at Chamonix not to be afraid of ice &
precipices. The Simplon is not a striking pass. On the first tour I am
afraid you won’t much like the Gemmi–there is no other road–it is
nearly as bad as the
[for Sixtus IV], private chapel of the popes in Rome, one of the principal glories of the Vatican. Built (1473) under Pope Sixtus IV, it is famous for its decorations.
in one place–but I think you will
be used to it by the time you get there. If you want to see the St
Gothard without the Gemmi, go up to Brig from Martigny & cross the
n 1. the bone that separates the distal and mesial roots of molars.
n 2. the area where a tooth root divides.
to Andermat [deleted] Hospital–& so to Bellinzona–& a
pleasant journey to you–Remember me to Mrs Richmond. Ever Yours
affectionately [signed] J Ruskin.
I can’t write better in a hurry–I’m afraid this will be
mere lumber to you–but the outlines may be of some use
The text is followed by two further folios containing drawings
numbered by Ruskin Fig. 1 to Fig. 6: [Folio 1] [two sketches] Fig. 1
Panorama of the Bernese Alps from above Bienne (or Biel), Switzerland,
including the Wetterhorn, Schreckhorn, Finsteraarhorn, Eiger, Monch and
Jungfrau; Fig. 2 Mont Blanc from the north, from the shores of Lake
Neuchatel [Folio 2] [Drawn on both sides]
No. 4 [ie Fig. 4] The
Mont Blanc massif
; French: ) is a mountain range in the western part of the Alps.
from the lower slopes of the Brevent, above Chamonix;
n. pl. ver·sos
1. A left-hand page of a book or the reverse side of a leaf, as opposed to the recto.
2. The back of a coin or medal.
[three drawings] [top] No. 6 [ie Fig. 6] The Aiguliles du Charmoz,
de Blaitiere and du Plan from the Tapia above Chamonix; [middle] No. 5
[ie Fig. 5] The Mont Blanc range from Geneva; [below] No. 3 [ie Fig. 3]
The Mont Blanc range from the
, north-east of Geneva
Works: The Works of John Ruskin, ed. ET Cook and A Wedderburn, 39
vols, London, 1903-12 Murray: Murray’s Handbook for Travellers in
Switzerland, Savoy and
, Ital. Piemonte, region (1991 pop. 4,302,565), 9,807 sq mi (25,400 sq km), NW Italy, bordering on France in the west and on Switzerland in the north.
, London, 1838
(1) The letter previously appeared in the salesroom at Bloomsbury
Book Auctions 15 June 2000, lot 84. I am also grateful to Professor
Stephen Wildman at the
, University of Lancaster, for
reading the draft and making several valuable corrections.
(2) The watercolour is lost, presumed destroyed by free. Its
original dimensions were 698 x 444 mm.
(3) Works, 35/398.
(4) Works, 35/115.
(5) Works, 35/116.
(6) Works, 18/53-4.
(7) Works, 16/260.
(8) Vol IV, p366ff.
(9) It is perhaps something of a surprise that the displays of the
Zermatt Museum (at least as of July 2011) do not even acknowledge
(10) Ruskin began this particular aspect of his work early in his
Alpine experience. The diary for 8 July 1835 is particularly interesting
for the care with which Ruskin fixes his three-dimensional knowledge of
the form of Mont Blanc, and its appearance from various angles, Geneva,
Sallanches and the Col de La Balme.
(11) The family by-passed Basle on the outward journey of John
Ruskin’s first visit to Switzerland in 1833 (Works, 35/112) but
stopped at the Trois Rois on the return journey 5-6 August at a time of
some military unrest (Works, 35/342, 588 ff.). He visited in 1835, when
he made favourable notes in his Diary for 1 August (Works, 1/198) and
returned in 1841 and 1842. His views at the time of the letter echo
those in his diary for 14 June 1841: ‘Stupid place this after our
past haunts, and a stupid ten days we shall have through France. Nasty
Germans here, brutal and spitting. Protestant church of them–shutting
pews in your face, and laying back expecting you to hold their
prayerbooks for them.’ His impression on arriving in Basle two days
earlier had been good. A similar sentiment informs a dismissive comment
in Modern Painters I (Works, 3/236) on Turner’s Liber Stndiorum
engraving of Basle, but in later years the city, and the Turner print,
came to be invested with all the nostalgia of a Switzerland and a
medieval world lost (Works, 16/260, 21/86, 220, 35/635, 636). The
river-fronting hotel, the Trois Rois was a favourite of Ruskin’s
parents (Works, 35/635); a venerable coaching inn that had done service
to Napoleon, heads of state, and the great and good for two centuries.
Murray, p1, describes it as ‘well situated, overlooking the Rhine,
which washes its walls–a good inn, but expensive’. The hotel was
completely rebuilt with a dazzling balconied atrium in 1842-4, and
lavishly restored to its 1844 appearance in 2004-6. Now one of the most
stately of the grand hotels of Europe. In its reinvented form perhaps
not altogether in accord with Ruskin’s general preference for the
old world, but used by him nonetheless on later visits to the city
(12) Ruskin made this crossing of the Jura in reverse when heading
home from Italy in 1841. He stopped at Tavannes on the night of 11 June,
en route from Neuchatel to Basle.
(13) Cf Murray, p6, ‘probably a natural opening, enlarged by
art. It existed in the time of the Romans, as is proved by a
tr.v. de·faced, de·fac·ing, de·fac·es
1. To mar or spoil the appearance or surface of; disfigure.
2. To impair the usefulness, value, or influence of.
inscription on the N. side. The archway is about 40 ft high and 10 or 12
thick. The pass was
adj containing additives more potent than the principal ingredient.
by the Austrians in 18132
(14) Murray, p7: ‘The view from the last slopes of the Jura,
over Bienne, and its lake, backed in clear weather by the snowy range of
the Alps, is exceedingly beautiful.’ This view of the Alps is not
the best known of those available from the Jura and it is certain only
that Ruskin travelled this route in 1841.
(15) Murray, p6, gives two inns at Tavannes, the Couronne and the
Croix, both described as being good.
(16) It is not clear what was Ruskin’s source for this
drawing, but he knew the area from visits of 1833 and 1835. He retained
the first impression of the Alps bursting upon his sight in 1833 as he
came out down from Balsthal to Solothurn from Basel decades later when
he came to write Praeterita (Works, 35/116) and in 1835 he enthused
about the views towards the high Alps when journeying from Neuchatel via
Bienne to Solothurn (here named in its French form Soleure); cf Diaries,
29-31 July 1835: ‘very beautiful, alps in sight all the way; though
their range decreases in extent (you lose sight of Mont Blanc mad the
High Alps), it increases in size and beauty of Form. There cannot be
imagined a more splendid range of crags than the Jungfrau, Blumis Alp,
Breithorn, Eigers, Wetterhorn, Shreckhorn and Finster-aar horn, seen by
a good setting sun from Soleure.’ He did not see the views at all
when actually making the crossing from Bienne to Tavannes in 1841 for
the diary for that year (11 June 1841) records that the weather was
bitterly cold and wet: Ascent of Jura immediately after leaving Bienne
would in fine weather be one of the noblest things in Switzerland,
commanding half the cantons, and all the Alps. A few fragments of the
fresh snow all that was visible.’ From a viewpoint above Bienne on
a clear day the summit of the Jungfrau stands 90 km south east, and the
panorama takes in the chain of the Bernese Oberland from the Wetterhorn
to the left, via the Schreckhorn, Finsteraarhorn, with its distinctively
sharp profile, to the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau and beyond.
Ruskin’s drawing was presumably derived from a study made in 1835.
It would have been of dubious help to Richmond in identifying the peaks,
for it appears to have been made somewhat further north of Bienne
(possibly near Solothurn, given the specific mention of that view in the
1835 diary, above), since the Wetterhorn and Shreckhorn at the left
appear contiguous. Ruskin’s inscriptions are also partly mistaken.
The Wetterhorn stands to the left, but the Shreckhorn stands between it
and the sharp peak of the Finsteraarhorn. The latter is correctly
labelled, but the label for the Scheckhorn is mistakenly put to the
right. The labels of the Monch and Eiger are reversed, and the view
closes at the right with the Jungfrau correctly named.
(17) Ruskin visited Bienne (or Biel) in 1833 and 1835 and a drawing
from the latter visit is in the Ruskin Library,
1152). He also passed through on 11 June 1841 when returning to England
from Italy, en route to the Pierre Pertuis and Tavannes (see above).
(18) Ruskin visited Neuchatel in 1833, 1835, and 1841, and on
several occasions thereafter. The appraisal here is much in line with
the first impression described by Murray, pp119ff, although that account
goes on to suggest that Neuchatel might be found charming by those not
v. fix·at·ed, fix·at·ing, fix·ates
1. To make fixed, stable, or stationary.
2. To focus one’s eyes or attention on:
on speeding towards the higher Alps. The town became a regular
resort for Ruskin during later visits to the Alps, and he came to revise
his feelings entirely, On 10 May 1866 he wrote to his mother from
Neuchatel: ‘… all days are rather sad for me, at this place which
my father used to be so fond of, and which I never could at all
understand his liking:–now, when I am old too, and have lost my love of
scrambling and exploring, I can sympathise in his feelings too late.
Everything seems to be too late, in this world’ (Works,
18/xxxvlli). His father had died two years previously, and Ruskin seems
to be reflecting that part of his Father’s wisdom was not to have
been always tilting at sublimities, and to realise that meaning might
yet be found in more modest situations. Ruskin made a number of very
line studies of Neuchatel and the lake, cf Turner, Ruskin and the
Pre-Raphaelities, exhibition catalogue, Tate 2000, nos 163, 164 and 248,
, John Ruskin: Master Drawings, 2000 p. 135, plus a view
of the Chateau at the Ruskin Library, Lancaster University,, not
previously identified (RF958). Perhaps Neuchatel and its prospects of
the Alps came to represent a vantage point from which he could review
his own position and the state of his project. He developed a similar
later affection for Bonneville and St Martin on the approaches to Mont
(19) This is rather at variance with Ruskin’s delighted report
of his progress along the lakes with the high Alps in view all the way
from Yverdun to Solothurn in the Diary for 29 and 30July 1835. Perhaps
his memories had been overwritten by the bitter grey conditions
encountered in 1841. The area was earlier popularised by Jean Jacques
Rousseau, who in 1765 lived on the Isle St Pierre on Lake Bienne, and
wrote about it as a veritable earthly paradise in his 5ch Reverie.
Roussean’s Isle became a
even during his
residence, and by the 1830s his rooms had become a shrine, cf Murray,
pp122-3. Ruskin seems to have been ignorant of all this here, or at
least its significance had slipped his mind. When he wrote to his mother
from Neuchatel on 8 May 1866, however, Rousseau and his relevance was
clearly in his consciousness (Works, 18/xxxviii).
(20) The views of the Alps–the Bernese Oberland to the south east,
and the Mont Blanc range to the south, are the chief beauties of the
journey along the west shore of the lakes of Bienne and Neuchatel, as
Ruskin’s drawings from the 1860s testify (see above). The source of
the detail given in Fig 2 is unknown, but was most likely a record made
in 1835 since the weather was too poor to permit such distant views in
1841. Ruskin later incorporated a similar view of Mont Blanc in a
drawing of a Chimney at Neuchatel: Dent du Midi and Mont Blanc in the
distance, (reproduced Works, 1/64). If Ruskin’s labelling is to) be
accepted then the distance between Mont Blanc and Mont Velan has been
rather compressed. Whatever the case it does appear as if George
Ricfunond utilised the profile, albeit in a generalised way, to paint
Mont Blanc into the background of the portrait of Ruskin in which he was
working at this time (see introduction).
(21) Ruskin stayed at Yverdon on 29 July 1835. It is not dear when
he might have stayed at Bienne. He passed through in 1833, 1835 and
1841, but on the latter occasions did not stay overnight. A lunch stop
might have been sufficient to convince him of the quality of provision.
(22) This would be a slow journey through switchback country on
poorly connecting roads even today. It is revealing that Ruskin even
considers it as a possibility, so keen is he to) save Richmond from
(23) Ruskin visited Lausanne fir 1833, 1835 and 1841. The Library
Edition catalogue of works by Ruskin (Works, 38/361) records a
of the Chateau from the 1835 visit (?now
University of Rochester
Library,, USA) and gives a vivid description of a sunset from the diary
for 1841 qu. Works 1/xl. Eventually he came to know Lausanne well, and
even care for it, and conducted an important analysis of a sketch of the
subject by Turner for Modern Painters V (Works, 7/242). Here, however,
Ruskin betrays an impulsive contempt for any of the larger centres of
habitation in the Alps. tater, when his views were mellowed by greater
sympathy for the human condition, his reflex became that such places
were not what they were his youth. The narrowness of Ruskin’s
sympathy here contrasts markedly with the breadth of sympathy and vision
of the late Turner, whose own last visits to Lausanne of 1836 and 1841
coincide roughly with Ruskin’s first, and produced a major body of
studies that were among Ruskin’s favourites in his selections from
(24) Ruskin’s off-handedness regarding Vevey is almost
incomprehensible. He was there in 1833 and 1835. Murray, p146, calls the
Trois Couronnes which was then situated on the Rue Simplon in the old
town ‘the best, and good’. In 1842, however, the proprietor
opened a neo-classical palace on lake shore and that remains (with a
neo-baroque makeover in 1890) one of the most
1. Of or suitable for a palace:
2. Of the nature of a palace, as in spaciousness or ornateness:
hotels in Europe.
At the time of writing Ruskin appears tit have not yet sampled its
delights, but from 1844 Vevey became established as one of his
parents’ favourite resorts, and was included in every trip to the
area. Ruskin eventually realised the wisdom in his father’s
affection for it, cf Praeterita (Works 35/517-8).
(25) From this it does not seem that Ruskin had ever actually
stayed at Villeneuve, and there is no evidence to suggest anything but
passing visits in his tours up to 1849. Murray, p150, says of the inns
at Villeneuve: ‘Croix Blanche; Lion d’Or, both
indifferent’, but in 1839 a new grand hotel on the scale of the
Trois Couronnes at Vevey opened, and it is probably that to which Ruskin
is referring here. The Hotel Byron stood between Chillon and Villenueve
and in its heyday attracted a literary and illustrious clientele. The
building burned down in 1933, and was not replaced. Ruskin’s
account of this part of the journey appears contrived to promote
strenuous application to mountains over genteel resort life. His comment
on the north shore of Lake Geneva in The Poetry of Architecture (1838-9)
‘as monotonous a bit of vine country as any in Europe. while the
south side .. is as exquisite a piece of scenery as is to be found in
all Switzerland’ (Works, 1/160) reaffirms his youthful distaste for
(26) Ruskin visited Chillon in 1833 and 1835, and passed by on many
subsequent occasions. Byron’s famous poem The Prisoner of Chillon
(1816) was a powerful early stimulus to Ruskin’s Alpine
imagination, and when the family visited together in 1833 the guide
Salvador cut young Ruskin’s name on the opposite side of the same
pillar as Byron’s. That night at the inn Ruskin’s father wrote
in his diary: ‘May he be the opposite of his lordship in everything
but his genius and generosity’ (Timothy Hilton, Life of John
Ruskin, vol 1, London, 2000, p26).
(27) St Gingolpf (sometimes also given as St Gingough) is on the
south shore of Lake Geneva, more-or-less opposite Vevey. To this date,
Ruskin had only travelled the south shore in 1835. The
the national repository in London for treasures in science and art. Located in the Bloomsbury section of the city, it has departments of antiquities, prints and drawings, coins and medals, and ethnography.
has a drawing of the Castle of Chillon seen across the lake from near
Meillerie, not far from St Gingolph. (1901.0506.3). This has been
hitherto dated tit 1833, but Ruskin’s visit to the spot in 1835
appears to have been his first.
(28) The south shore of Lake Geneva was the main coaching route
from Geneva to Martigny and thence up the Valais and over the
into Italy Murray, p155, makes it a 3-3 1/2 day journey from
Martigny to Milan, and Geneva to Martigny 68 miles, or one day’s
travel. The road had been much improved in Napoleon’s time, and the
Simplon route was with that of Mt Cents, one of major arterial routes
into Italy from France.
(29) George Richmond had evidently taken this route when journeying
to Italy in 1837-9 and 1840-1. He stayed four days in Chamonix in 1843,
which offers the evidence for the date of this letter. The implication
of Ruskin’s comment is that for Richmond prior to the date of this
letter, as indeed for most travellers heading for Italy via the Simplon
Pass, the object of the exercise had been to make progress
Acting or done with speed and efficiency. See Synonyms at fast1.
through a landscape that was seen more as a threat than a diversion.
(30) A well known landmark, and all-too-appropriately named, seen
on the right side of the Rhone valley when coming from Lake Geneva,
about five miles short of Martigny. Turner sketched it in 1802,
London, originally the National Gallery of British Art. The original building (in Millbank on the former site of Millbank Prison), with a collection of 65 modern British paintings, was given by Sir Henry Tate and was opened in 1897.
, London, TB LXXV 28, 29.
(31) Ruskin is describing the debouchement of the Gorges du Trient.
He made several later references to this channel, four hundred feet deep
in places, and ‘notable for its narrowness, and for the magnificent
hardness of the rock through which it is cut a
, coarse-grained, imperfectly foliated, or layered, metamorphic rock. Gneiss is characterized by alternating light and dark bands differing in mineral composition and having coarser grains than those of schist.
quartz into undulations like those of a Damascus sabre, and as compact
as its steel’ (Modern Painters W, Works, 6/316). It is not clear
when Ruskin actually investigated the site, but a reference in his diary
for 23 July 1835 suggests that such an investigation was a relatively
fresh memory: ‘… the stream, which flows from the Glacier du
Trient through this valley, finds an issue between walls of
perpendicular crag, forming a tremendous chasm, which is broad enough to
permit the passage of the river, and no more. This chasm opens into the
valley of the Rhone near the Pissevache … no road can be carried
through it.’ The diary records nothing for 22 July other than it
being a ‘Fine clear morning. A drop or two of rain in the
afternoon’, although the Ruskin party spent the whole day at
Martigny, and perhaps occupied some part of it with the short excursion
to the site. The gorge is described in HB de Saussure’s Voyages
dans les Alpes, 1786-7 edn, vol IV, pp366ff, which Ruskin had been given
as a birthday present in 1834 (see introduction). Murray does not
mention it, but the suspended planks mentioned by de Saussure were
reinstated for tourist use in the raid-Cl9, and their present-day
successors remain spectacularly in use today.
(32) Ruskin visited Martigny in 1833, and 1835 and on numerous
occasions thereafter. Murray, p156, comments on its unhealthy situation,
and the effects of this on the inhabitants, and Ruskin’s own
concern is articulated in Praeterita (Works, 35/435) where despite all,
he confesses that Martigny, with Sallanches, was one of the places
‘where I have passed many of the most serviceable days of my
life’. In 1869-70 he even dreamed up a scheme for improving water.
regulation and drainage in the Rhone valley, which he believed might
(cf. Works 19/lv). La Paste is described by
Murray, p155, as ‘good, the best’, and the neighbouring La
Cygne as ‘tolerably good and moderate’. Turner seems to have
stayed at the latter, and made a watercolour of it for Rogers’
Italy, of which Ruskin had a copy made by
21/214, 328; 22/44) and pace his comment here Ruskin cared enough for
the place in 1843 to buy a watercolour of it by
38/339). La Paste is the opening scene of young Ruskin’s poetic
drama MSS ‘The Ascent of St Bernard’, written “after his
visit of 1835 (Works, 1/155 ff), and an 1835 drawing of the Hotel de la
Paste was catalogued by Cook and Wedderburn in the Library edition when
still at Brantwood (Works, 38/266 no.1108) whilst another of the
interior of the inn is noted as having been lost (Works, 29/475). Tire
rushing waters of the Drance were described vividly by Ruskin in Modern
Painters 1 (Works, 3/556).
(33) Ruskin climbed the 2191 m. Col de Balme from Chamonix in 1835
and 1842. His contention that the view is bad seems driven much more by
emotion than experience. On his first visit he seems to have been
mightily impressed and he devoted a long passage and a drawing to the
panorama from the summit in the Diary for 8 July 1835. Murray, p301, is
positively ecstatic about the view, ‘where one of the finest scenes
in the world bursts upon the traveller’. Ruskin’s claim here,
however, that it was ‘terrible hard work to get at’ seems
eminently justified. Even Murray admits that the path is
‘excessively steep and fatiguing’, beset by tree roots and
tangles, but it is, nevertheless, Murray’s clearly recommended
route from Martigny to Chamonix for anyone in search of scenery. In 1835
Ruskin bought a piece of ‘rose flour’ from the ‘Cabinet
of Natural History on the mountain’, which was presumably a stall
at the summit refuge. Later in Seven Lamps of Architecture of 1849,
however, he complained that the hut had
tr.v. hu·mil·i·at·ed, hu·mil·i·at·ing, hu·mil·i·ates
To lower the pride, dignity, or self-respect of. See Synonyms at degrade.
the mountain, and
destroyed its natural sublimity (Works, 8/104). On 28 July 1849 when
going over the Col de la Seigne to Courmayeur he noted ‘I always
despised and even disliked the Col de Balme,’
(34) Ruskin’s first visit to the ‘Fete Noire seems to
have been on 23 July 1835 when the family made a day excursion from
Martigny, and Ruskin’s observations in the Diary appear to be first
impressions. The British Museum has a drawing of the view of the Rhone
valley from the ascent above Martigny (1901,0506.3), previously dated to
1833, but there is no evidence for a visit to the site in that year.
Cook and Wedderburn (Works, 38/286, no. 1636) record an 1835 pencil
sketch of the Tete Noire at Brantwood. He made another excursion from
Chamonix on 27 June 1842 that left vivid memories, but he claims to have
enjoyed nothing through suffering from a headache.
(35) ie the Col de la Forclaz, 1526 m.
(36) It is perhaps a shame that Ruskin’s invitation to so
enjoy the road can be accepted no longer. The mule track of the 1830s
and 40s has become a major transit route, although still narrow. One
would hardly recommend anyone to stroll on the road here, trapped as
they would be by steel crash barriers and menaced by an unrelenting flow
of cars, lorries and buses. It is remarkable, however, that Ruskin here
devotes so much space and enthusiasm to the site, and that his account
communicates such a strong sense of arrival and of relaxation. Here, for
Ruskin, is the kind of place in which Richmond might truly
with his surroundings. It is interesting that this occurs in one of the
interstices of the tour rather than at one of its cardinal points.
Murray, p.299 gives a vivid account of the Tete Noire, and concurs with
Ruskin that it makes a superior route to the Col de Balme in respect of
its general scenery The diaries contain no record of the cloud effect
supposedly witnessed on a crossing [1842 or earlier] from Chamonix in
the direction of Martigny which Ruskin describes in Modern Painters I
(37) Ruskin seems to indicate a waterfall on the Torrent du
/ber·ber·ine/ () an alkaloid from species of Berberis and related plants, and from Hydrastis canadensis;
, on the right above the village of Berberine, now relatively
little mentioned, but the torrent is dammed above by the Barrage
d’Emosson, creating a large lake among steep mountains, which has
become a major attraction served both by funicular and steam railway.
(38) ie the Col des Montets, 1461 m.
(39) The sketch supplied is actually a view of ‘Mont Blanc
&c seen from the Dole, Jura’, north-east of Geneva. The view
from the nearby Col de la Faucille was Ruskin’s first sight of the
Alps on his tour of 1835, recorded in a drawing sold at Sotheby’s,
London, 11 July 1990 no. 21, repr, raid was a view that he revisited on
numerous occasions thereafter, and remembered fondly all his life. From
the Dole Mont Blanc is some 55 miles distant, and the detail recorded in
the sketch would have required sharp eyes and clear conditions. It is
dubious how much use it would have been to George Richmond on the Col
des Montets, because the angle to Mont Blanc is completely different, ie
from very much nearer and from the north east rather than from the north
west–a difference of nearly 90 degrees. It is perhaps surprising that
Ruskin had no sketches to hand of the view from the Col des Montets, and
v. im·pro·vised, im·pro·vis·ing, im·pro·vis·es
1. To invent, compose, or perform with little or no preparation.
here with this somewhat misleading material. The sole
reason for supplying the drawing was to give Richmond a sense of the
relations of the main peaks of the Mont Blanc range, but the drawing
presents them from an angle that on this prescription he would never
(40) Chamonix was to Ruskin by far the most important of all Alpine
sites. He stayed there on each of his early visits to the Alps (except
1841 when he was only in the Alps by virtue of returning to England from
Italy) and it was the principal objective of the tour of 1842 when he
stayed for over a month. He made numerous visits in later years, and
always stayed at the Union. The Union opened in 1816 and was the first
of the grand hotels to be built in Chamonix. Murray, p291, considered
the Londres to be one of the finest hotels in the Alps, so standards at
the Union must have been exceptional for the Ruskins to have made it
their preferred base. Despite his comment about the better views from
the Londres, Ruskin made several drawings of the views from the windows
of the Union, cf, eg, The Cascade de la
/fo·lie/ () [Fr.] psychosis; insanity.
folie à deux (
, repr. Works, 5/xxii, and
Chamouni, View from the Hotel de l’Union, Birmingham
1 Chronic atrophic gastritis 2 Coronary angiography, see there
Works, 5/xx). Ruskin penned a prose account of his anticipation and
first visit to Chamonix (Works, 2/381), which is much superior to the
Works, particularly written or artistic works, produced in an author’s or artist’s youth.
that he penned in rhyme. The contrast between the
prose and the poetry is significant of what Ruskin considered to be his
Chamonix work, in that he set himself to
all conceits and
conventions of the Alps, and come to know the area of Chamonix through
the most painstaking, prosaic programme of study that he could muster,
He made diligent records of clouds and weather effects, collections of
rocks and minerals, botanical studies and some of the most penetrating
and concentrated of all drawing studies of the area. He spent a month
there between mid June and mid July in 1842 studying clouds and flowers,
but says in Praeterita that he did not achieve much, other than to
confirm himself in his task, and to establish how much there was to be
done (Works, 35/315). Elsewhere he remarks that he brought back only one
drawing–‘One careful outline of Mont Blanc with the village of the
Prieure’ [almost certainly the watercolour of Chamonix at the
, Cambridge, USA (1901.23) reproduced Works, 2/ii]–from
Chamonix that year (Works, 35/627), although the truth of that appears
doubtful, since it is contradicted even by Ruskin’s own evidence in
a list of Chamonix subjects compiled in 1854 (Works, 6/xxi) where he
mentions one drawing for 1842, but of a different subject–The Aiguilles
of Chamonix from below
(repr Works, 35/238). His experience
did, however, consolidate a sense of his own task to come to know nature
in some manner that might achieve the depth and profundity that he saw
in Turner. The sense of that mission, as well as his observations at
Chamonix in 1842, informs the later sections of the first volume of
Modern Painters published in 1843, especially part 2, sections III and
IV, ‘Of Truth of Skies’, and ‘Of Truth of Earth’. He
returned for a month mid June to mid July in 1844, and for a further
week at the end of July that same summer, and spent the time working
‘in entirely right and profitable ways’ (Works, 4/345) drawing
dally besides geologising and botanising. We know little of the visit of
1846, when he spent a few days there returning from a lengthy trip to
Italy, apart from the fact that he did some drawing–a few subjects are
included in the 1854 list (works, 6/xxi)–but he recorded observations
from only one day at Chamonix in that year’s diary Further visits
in 1849, 1851 and 1854 informed the later volumes of Modern Painters,
especially the important sections on geology in vol.4 and in 1849 he
enlisted the newly-developed photographic process of
his investigations. In Praeterita he claimed in that year to have taken
the first ever photographic representations of the Matterhorn and the
Aiguilles of Chamonix (Works, 35/452). One of his favourite spots was by
a cleft stone on the lower slopes of the Brevent. The ‘Pierre
Ruskin’ may be found near the path not far above the lower station
of the Brevent telecabine, and is marked by a bronze plaque. It is
perhaps somewhat ironic that the stone is now completely hemmed in by
trees, so that from this spot it is difficult to see much of the valley.
(41) The excursion to the Montanvers (as it is usually given today)
was and still is the principal tourist excursion from Chamonix. Most
visitors now avoid the steep path up the valley side by taking the
railway, but this does not diminish the impact of the view from the top
which commands the whole of the
Mer de Glace
[Fr.,=sea of ice], glacier (3.5 mi/5.6 km long; 16 sq mi/41 sq km), Haute-Savoie dept., E France, on the northern slope of Mont Blanc.
, looking across to the
spires of the Dru and Verte, and upwards to the heart of the Mont Blanc
massif, terminated by the Aiguille du Tacul and the Grandes Jorasses.
Ruskin made the excursion in 1833, 1835, and 1842, and several times
(42) The Tapia is the intermediate summit on the south side of the
valley at Chamonix, between the tree line and the foot of the aiguilles.
It is a name not now in common use, but is the general area of the
halfway station, the Plan de l’Aiguille on the modern Alguille du
Midi telecabine. It represented for Ruskin the practical opportunity to
make contact with the substance of the attendant peaks of Mont Blanc. He
made his first excursions there in 1842. It is a taxing climb on foot
from Chamonix, a vertical ascent of 1300m, and on his first attempt on
17 June the Diaries record that he approached it carefully, turning back
half way ‘for fear of being tired’. Ruskin’s promotion of
the area to Richmond in this letter seems like a statement of intent,
for in 1844 he made it one of his principal sites of study at Chamonix,
collecting rock samples and making drawings, and towards the end of his
stay that year was virtually running up there daily.
(43) The Brevent is the summit of the north side of the valley of
Chamonix. Ruskin liked to walk on its lower slopes, immediately above
the town, especially of an evening, when he could observe the sunset
effects on Mont Blanc and the Alguille Verte. The excursion to the
higher slopes on foot is a fairly major undertaking, involving a climb
of nearly 1000m, which might today be dispensed with by taking instead
the Brevent telecabine. Ruskin’s first ascents were in 1842, when
he seems from the diaries not quite to have had his full measure of the
subject; an excursion of 11 July being described as ‘a
failure’ [cf entry for 17 July 1842]. He reapplied himself to the
area in 1844 evidently more to his satisfaction and on numerous
(44) The first shelter on the Montenvers was a rude hut known at
the ‘Chateau de Montanvert’. This was superseded by a more
1. Spacious; roomy. See Synonyms at spacious.
2. Archaic Suitable; handy.
[Middle English, convenient, from Medieval Latin
structure erected by an Englishman, Charles Blair, in 1779,
then in 1795 by a pavilion built by M Desportes of Geneva to offer
refreshment, accommodation and beds (cf Murray, p293), and then by an
inn built by the Commune of Chamonix in 1840. The area was a major site
for Turner on his visit of 1802, cf. D Hill, Turner in the Alps, 1992
(45) Page 4 also contains a pencil drawing of an unidentified range
of hills, presumably overinscribed on the text. It is not referred to in
the body of the letter, and is perhaps to be attributed to George
Richmond rather than Ruskin.
(46) The drawing in question is rather more than a ‘rude
outline’. It is the largest of the sketches supplied with the
letter, full page and quite an impressive object. It takes in the whole
range of Mont Blanc as seen from the Brevent, panning from the Alguille
du Charmoz at the left, through the spire of the Alguille du Midi at the
centre, across the dome of Mont Blanc itself to the
Glacier des Bossons
and the Alguille du Gouter at the right. His viewpoint is on the lower
slopes of the Brevent, at about the height of the petit balcon sud
(approx 1200m), about 140m above the town centre of Chamonix. It is not
clear what exactly might have been Ruskin’s source material for
this particular angle of view, and he probably made studies of similar
material on each of his previous visits. The confidence and accuracy of
the characterisation, however, suggests mature observation, so the
original sketch for this probably dates from 1842.
(47) Drawing number 5 is inscribed ‘Mont Blanc and its
aiguilles seen from Geneva’. It appears to be based on a hitherto
unpublished sketch inside the back cover of a volume that contains a
Ruskin for the tour of 1833, plus later material
(Ruskin Library, Lancaster University, RF 33a). The sketch has the
appearance of an extremely painstaking study, taking advantage of
exceptionally clear conditions, and is inscribed with the names of all
the peaks. The confidence and accuracy, of the hand argues a certain
degree of maturity, and it seems most likely that the study dates to
(48) Now known as
(49) ie in drawing no. 5 Ruskin seems to have forgotten that this
tour does not take Richmond to Geneva.
(50) The tour prescribed here does not take Richmond to the Dole,
the viewpoint of drawing no. 3. Ruskin wants to demonstrate, at the risk
of being both confusing and tedious, the importance of coming properly
to know the true form and geography of the mountain. His implication is
that this knowledge can properly only be gained by thorough experience
and exploration; literally by having considered the form from the widest
possible variety of situations.
(51) It is not dear what Ruskin’s source for this drawing
might have been, but the original sketch presumably dates from 1842 when
he climbed to the Tapia at least twice (see Diaries, 20 and 30 June
1842). The viewpoint is a short distance south-west of the Plan de
l’Aiguille station on the Aiguille du Midi telecahine.
(52) The Aiguilles des Ciseaux.
(53) It is not quite clear to what Ruskin alludes by the phrase
‘My Mill place’. There is the implication, however, that
Richmond was familiar with a drawing of the subject by Ruskin. No such
subject is known today, but from the reference to the same place a few
lines later we can deduce that it was at the foot of the Flegere,
possibly in the vicinity of
de Chamonix or Les Tines.
(54) Ruskin’s Cascade des Pelerins may be identified as the
Cascade du Dard, a 20m fall on the Torrent du Dard, which descends from
the Glacier des Pelerins not far from the entrance to the modern
), and Courmayeur, Aosta Valley, Italy ().
. It was known as the Cascade de Peletins in an engraving by
Jean Dubois published in 1840. A visit to it can be easily accomplished
on foot via a woodland path from Chamonix, and the falls would have
provided an intermediate destination on a kruger walk to the Glacier des
Bossons. There is no evidence of any such excursion in 1833, but the
Diaries record excursions to the Glacier des Bossons from Chamonix on 10
July 1835 and 19 June 1842.
(55) The Glacier des Bossons is the most obviously visible glacier
from Chamonix, appearing to descend from the very summit of Mont Blanc,
right to the valley floor.
(56) The source of the Arveiron (or Arveyron) was a great vault of
ice at the foot of the Glacier
, city (1990 pop. 8,286), Clearfield co., W central Pa., in the region of the Allegheny plateau; inc. 1881.
from which the river Arveyron
issued. The Glacier du Bois was the debouchement of the Mer de Glace
into the valley a couple of miles above Chamonix. It was an important
subject of study for Ruskin, and the diaries record visits there in
1833, 1835 and 1842. The glacier originally curved round the left side
of the Rochers des Mottets and reached the valley floor near the village
Les Bois is a municipality in the district of Franches-Montagnes in the canton of Jura in Switzerland.
, but has now retreated completely out of sight. A
considerable retreat took place during Ruskin’s lifetime, and he
remarks upon it several times on later visits to the site. Recent
studies show that the ice of the Mer de Glace currently stands 150m
lower at the Montanvers than in 1820, which probably accounts for the
1. Cheerful willingness; eagerness.
2. Speed or quickness; celerity.
with which early visitors ventured onto the ice. Today such
adventures require the descent of a series of near-vertical ladders.
(57) In the context of his own experience, this seems a rather
peculiar comment. In 1842 he climbed tire Flegere before the Brevent,
and on the evidence of the diary for 24 June was delighted with his
first experience of the former, but qualified about the latter.
Ruskin’s comment is perhaps not so much an adverse judgement on the
Flegere per se, as a measure to prevent Richmond’s having two hard
but relatively similar excursions. The present-day visitor might
profitably include both the Flegere mad Brevent in one excursion by
taking the telecabine up to the Flegere, and then walking along the
Grand Balcon sud to the Brevent telecabine.
(58) Ruskin appears mistaken about the name. The direct and usual
pedestrian route from Chamonix to Contamines is over the Col de Vosa.
There is, however a Col de la Forclaz (one of several in the area) north
of this crossing between Le Prarion and the Tete Noire from Les Houches
to St Gervais les Bains. That would be an unnecessarily longer route to
(59) This pool backed by crags may be found at les Gallands, about
a mile down the valley on the old
from Chamonix, and is a popular
spot to this day. Ruskin mentions the area in the diary for 1842 for 5
July when on 2 July he enjoyed ‘a long walk in afternoon by the
larval, aquatic stage of any of the amphibian animals. After hatching from the egg, the tadpole, sometimes called a polliwog, is gill-breathing and legless and propels itself by means of a tail.
stream down Servoz way’, and for 17 July recording that OA
the 13th ‘In afternoon [he went] down to tadpole stream, to finish
sketch’ in rather dark conditions that eventually broke to give a
spectacular succession of glimpses of the summits.
(60) Murray, p302, describes the inn at Contamines as
‘tolerable’. Turner crossed this route in 1802 and 1836, and a
watercolour from the first visit shows the guides assembling their
party, for the crossing as the first rays of sunlight break across Mont
Blanc (repr Hill, p66).
(61) Ruskin male this crossing in 1849, but as he discovered, it is
not normal to cross the Col de la Seigne from Contamines, given that the
imposing Col de la Bonhomme intervenes. Most travellers stopped at Le
Chapui (Ruskin’s halt) or the Chalets des Motets. By the time that
he reached the Col de la Seigne in 1849, Ruskin was suffering from a
Sore throat, also called pharyngitis, is a painful inflammation of the mucous membranes lining the pharynx. It is a symptom of many conditions, but most often is associated with colds or influenza.
and headache, and so was not in the best frame of mind to
enjoy it. Nevertheless, he was proud of having taken a sketch of the
view towards Mont Blanc (Ruskin Library, Lancaster University, RF903)
from just over the summit (cf Diaries, 28 July 1849. When Turner made
the crossing in 1836 he made a study from almost exactly the same
viewpoint (private collection, cf D Hill, Turner, Mont Blanc and the
, 2000 (=Hill, 2000), repr p149). The route was from
prehistoric times a major mule crossing between Italy and France, and is
still largely undeveloped, although as frequently crossed (at least in
the summer) by walkers on tire
Tour du Mont Blanc
(62) Murray, p255, recommends the Albergo del Angelo, and does not
mention the Union.
(63) In fact Ruskin was disappointed by the Allee Blanche in 1849
(cf Diaries 28 July 1849). He should have heeded the advice given here
to Richmond, and returned when he was not so tired and out of sorts. He
much enjoyed the Val Ferret in 1849 (more-or-less the continuation of
the Allee Blanche on the south-eastern flank of the Mont Blanc massif)
when tackling it fresh having rested for a couple of days at Courmayeur.
While recuperating at Courmayeur he made a watercolour of the church
tower with the Mont Blanc range beyond, repr Works 12/41, now Birmingbam
Museum and Art Gallery, 1905 P6.
(64) Ruskin seems here almost to claim an ascent of Mont Crammont,
which at 2737m is quite a serious undertaking and which he had not
attempted when he was at Courmayeur in 1835. On that occasion a planned
excursion to the Aller Blanche was frustrated by a broken bridge
(Diaries, 18 July 1835), and he went up to what he calls in the diary
‘the Col du Cramont’: He records that he ascended from
Courmayeur at first by a ravine, and so he seems to mean that he went up
to Pra Neiron and the Col Checroui, which is between the Tete d’Arp
and Mont Chetif, and might with justice be described as the ‘Col du
Cramont’, although the term has no currency, today. It remains,
however, a superb vantage point for the spectacularly steep southern
face of Mont Blanc, which Ruskin describes in raptures in the diary. It
does appear, however, as if he was here trying to imply rather more
mountain experience than he had in fact and Richmond would probably not
have thanked Ruskin had he followed the remark too literally to the
summit of Mont Crammont.
(65) Prior to 1843, Ruskin’s only visit to the upper part of
the Val d’Aosta was in 1835 when his party crossed the
from Martigny to Aosta, and then made their way to
Courmayeur before returning to Martigny by the same route. He described
the journey in his MSS poem letter from abroad, cf Works, 2/434. We do
not know whether he heeded his own advice to use colours, but only one
pencil sketch from the visit is now known, of the Chateau de St Pierre,
repr Works 2/432 as ‘Fortress in the Val d’Aosta’, and
sold at Christie’s, 29 October 1985, lot 153. Turner made this part
of the valley the principal destination of his tour to the Alps in 1836,
cf Hill 2000,
, and when Ruskin met Turner at the home of
Turner’s dealer, Thomas Griffiths on 23 June 1840, he recorded in
his diary: ‘Turner talking with great rapture of Aosta and
(66) Murray p.253 says ‘The inns at Aosta are now generally
good, but the Ecu de Valais is excellent.’ On Ruskin’s first
visit to Aosta of 1835 his first impression (cf Diary, 16 July 1835) was
unfavourable, largely on account of the poor condition of the
inhabitants (for which see also Murray, p254), but when he passed
through a few days later (Diary 20 July) he found the Roman antiquities
extremely interesting. Aosta is a city of great antiquity and
considerable military and religious significance, controlling some of
the key routes connecting Italy with northern and
The countries of western Europe, especially those that are allied with the United States and Canada in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (established 1949 and usually known as NATO).
. On his
return to the city in 1851, Ruskin found the whole place much more to
his liking, and was been delighted with what he found there and remained
throughout (cf Diary, 24/25 August 1851, and a letter to
his father quoted Works 10/xxiv).
(67) The St Bernard hospice provided one of the highlights of his
second visit of 1835 and became the subject of various juvenile essays
in poetry or drama. Despite his comment here on the relative lack of
interest of the scenery, the hills around Mont Velan and the
later came to assume considerable personal significance for
Ruskin. In a chapter of Praeterita entitled ‘Mont Velan’, he
described the Alps as ‘the mountain kingdom of which I claimed
possession by the law of love’. The opportunity to sleep at the
summit of the pass, and share society with fellow travellers and with
the monks of the hospice impressed him deeply, and underscores all his
early descriptions (cf Works vols 1, 2). When he stayed there in 1851,
he was accompanied by his wife Effie, and a letter to his father
describes his fears that they were in danger of being banished for Effie
was in such
and making the monks play and sing
‘unclerical tunes’. An 1835 drawing of the Hospice of the St
Bernard with Mont Velan beyond, now at the Ruskin Library, Lancaster
University (RF 2037), is repr Works 1/520,
(68) Travellers frequently perished trying to make the crossing of
the pass in bad weather, and the monks collected the corpses and put
them in a
1. A building, room, or vault in which the bones or bodies of the dead are placed; a charnel.
2. A scene or place of great physical suffering and loss of life:
. This became a macabre object of curiosity for
tourists, and Ruskin wrote a scathing description of visitor
n. pl. in·an·i·ties
1. The condition or quality of being inane.
2. Something empty of meaning or sense.
(and his own) in the post-1835 MSS ‘Chronicles of St Bernard’,
(69) Sion is the first important town in the Rhone Valais above
Martigny. Prior to 1843 Ruskin’s only visit was during his tour of
1833. On that occasion the state of the Swiss peasantry in the area was
a family preoccupation and John James Ruskin remarked upon it at length
in his diary of the tour (Lancaster, Ruskin Library RF MSS 33a). In 1856
Sion was the occasion of an important reflection on the topic in the
chapter ‘Mountain Gloom’ of Modern Painters IV, (Works
6/410ff) that set him on the course of making a real difference if he
could to the quality of the inhabitants’ lives, and helped fix his
more general social compass during the later part of his career.
(70) The Baths of Loesch or Leukerhad (in its French and German
names; Ruskin uses both) are in the mountains above Susten on the north
side of the Valais. The warm springs were celebrated since antiquity,
and Murray, pp106ff, gives an entertaining (and slightly
Suggestive of or bordering on indelicacy or impropriety.
[French, from past participle of risquer, to risk, from risque, risk; see risk.]
of people spending so long in the water that they had to devise
floatation devices so that their comforts and amusements (newspapers,
preparation of pulverized tobacco used by sniffing it into the nostrils, chewing it, or placing it between the gums and the cheek. The blended tobacco from which it is made is often aged for two or three years, fermented at least twice, ground, and usually
, etc) could remain conveniently to hand. It was not at all
Ruskin’s kind of place, still less that of his parents, and neither
diaries nor letters make any admission of ever being there. Their sole
reason for visiting would have been to visit the Gemmi pass (see below).
(71) The Gemmi pass leads northwards from Leukerbad to Kandersteg
and connects the Valais with the Lake of Thun at Speiz. The route became
practical only during the early C18 when Tyrolean roadmakers cut a
narrow, and still startling, zigzag path up the 500m cliff closing the
valley behind Leukethad. Its near-verticality earned it celebrity, but
Ruskin’s advice that it was ‘the most wonderful pass in
Switzerland’ wants consideration, not least because the Gemmi never
was, nor indeed ever has been, a principal transit or tourist route, but
more particularly because there is no evidence that Ruskin ever actually
made the complete crossing. Even after the vertical start, the route was
fit only for mules, and so it seems impossible that the Ruskins would
have even considered it fit to travel
account of getting his mother into a charabanc at Martigny in 1835 for
the Ascent of the St Bernard’ Works, 1/505 ff). We do know,
however, that Ruskin did make the ascent from Leukethad in 1849, for he
refers to it in the Diary for 17 August: ‘The Gemmi precipice,
though remarkable for the sharp promontory-shaped peaks at the top, is
on the whole poor enough, and only impressive as being traversed by a
path which shows its height at every turn. 1 was not disappointed with
the Gemmi while upon it, but now I find my old impression much
diminished and soiled, chiefly
Because of; on account of:
prep → ,
the ugly, black, loose, muddy
limestone, and to the short turning of the path, which does not boldly
go along the precipice, but twists and turns like a
There is a noble gulph near the top, but on the whole I should call it
mesquin.’ The entry was written in arrears at Chamonix, and his
most recent ascent must have been made when journeying from Zermatt to
Chamonix (unencumbered by his parents), between 12 and 14 August. The
diary entry, however, clearly implies that this recent visit had effaced
a more positive memory of a previous visit (‘my old
impression’), but there is no positive documentation of a visit.
Prior to 1843, the most likely date is 1833, and at 14 years old the
steep path would undoubtedly have left a deep impression. Whether he was
allowed to climb it is rendered doubtful by the fact that the view from
the top opens up a spectacular vista south, centred on the extremely
distinctive pyramid of the Matterhorn. Yet Ruskin did not see the
Matterhorn until 1844 (cf Works, 26/219 ff.). In any case it remains
curious that he should have given the pass such a high billing to
Richmond. Perhaps it was the fact that it was so relatively little
visited, and represented a hidden gem (rather like the waterfall at the
Tete Notre, above, or the Gries Pass, below), where the Alps might still
seem newly discovered.
(72) Ruskin visited Thun on his tours of 1833 and 1835, the first
time en route for Interlaken and the Bernese Oberland, and latterly
coming away. The Diary for 1 and 2 September 1835 records that he
thought it a pleasant enough place in itself, but his attention was
dominated by the views of the snowy peaks across the lake. In the 1850s
Thun became a regular resort for Ruskin, and the subject of several
sketches. John Hayman, Ruskin and Switzerland, 1990, nos 101-103,
reproduces three examples from the Ruskin Library at Lancaster (RF
(73) Ruskin was at Interlaken in 1833 and 1835. He made the
crossing of the Grosse Scheidegg from Meiringen to Grindelwald on 29
August 1835, and journeyed via Lauterbrunnen to Interlaken on 31 August.
It is possible that he crossed the Wengen Alp in 1833, but he did not do
so in 1835, complaining in the Diary that for some unknown reason they
went by the ‘very tiresome and stupid valley’. The mute from
Grindelwald to Lauterbrunnen over the Wengen Alp is especially
spectacular, and Ruskin was clearly determined that Richmond should not
miss it. The journey can today be enjoyed by the tourist railway. The
principal attraction at Lauterbrunnen is the
Generally supposed to be such. See Synonyms at supposed.
one of the highest unbroken falls in Europe, but in 1835, Ruskin thought
it would be improved by a greater volume of water.
(74) Actually the Grosse Scheidegg pass that links Grindelwald with
the Haslital at Meiringen.
(75) Ruskin crossed the Lake of Brientz from Interlaken and visited
the Giessbach falls in 1833. The family made brief visits to
Lauterbrunnen and Grindelwald from Interlaken on that occasion. They
returned to the area in 1835.
(76) Ruskin records exploring the
waterfalls, total drop 656 ft (200 m), S central Switzerland, where the Reichenbach River joins the Aare River. Upper Reichenbach Falls is one of the highest cataracts (c.300 ft/90 m high) in the Alps. It is familiar to readers of A.
in the Diary
for 28 August 1835. He found them impressive enough, but somewhat
trumped by the Handegg falls that he had seen a few days previously (see
below). Turner visited the Reichenbach in 1802 and painted two early
watercolours of the subject, The great fall of the Riechenbach in the
Hasle is a municipality in the district of Entlebuch in the canton of Lucerne in Switzerland.
, 1804, Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, Bedford,
and Upper Fall of the Reichenbach; rainbow, c1810,
Yale Center for
city (1990 pop. 130,474), New Haven co., S Conn., a port of entry where the Quinnipiac and other small rivers enter Long Island Sound; inc. 1784. Firearms and ammunition, clocks and watches, tools, rubber and paper products, and textiles are among the many
, but Ruskin appears to have been unaware of them
at this stage.
(77) Ruskin saw the falls at Handegg on 24 August 1835 while
ascending the Aar valley to the Grimsel Hospice. He recorded his
impression at length in the Diary for that day, thinking it ‘the
very finest fall in Switzerland’. The recent weather had been wet,
and so Ruskin probably saw the falls in spate.
(78) Ruskin and his parents arrived at the Grimsel Hospice on 24
August 1835, but would not have remembered it fondly. They were trapped
indoors for two days by heavy rain and snow until conditions eased
enough to allow them to make their way back down to Meiringen on the
(79) The Gries Pass is one of the lesser-known Alpine passes,
connecting the head of the Rhone valley in Switzerland with the Val
Formazza and thus Domodossola in Italy. It remains only a rough foot
path. There is no clear evidence of any visit by Ruskin prior to 1843.
The family tour of 1833 included Domodossola and the upper Rhone valley
and thus puts them in the area (although they actually crossed the Alps
via the Simplon) but the principal account of that tour, John James
Ruskin’s diary at the Ruskin Library, Lancaster University (RF MSS
33a) describes only subsequent parts of the itinerary The Gries pass is
described by Murray, pp87ff, as (quoting Brockedon’s Passes of the
Alps) exhibiting scenes of wildness and grandeur ‘nowhere exceeded
among the Alps’. Even so, Ruskin’s recommendation of it here
seems strange. It requires him to construct a
Having many turns; winding or twisting.
adjective Referring to complexly twisted thing. Cf Tortious.
itinerary for the
tour as a whole, and would have involved Richmond here in some hard and
marginal country at the head of the Valais, up to the Gries and down the
Val Formazza. Even though the glacier has receded today to leave an
ice-free path, and the northern approaches give good views to the
Bernese Alps, it remains a relatively unfrequented excursion for Alpine
walkers. Its quality is perhaps that more of loneliness than
(comparatively) of wildness and grandeur, but its attraction for Ruskin
appears to have been that it that it represented the haunt of a true
specialist, situated in some of the most unfrequented heartland of high
(80) Before 1843 Ruskin was in Domodossola and the Lake Maggiore
area only in 1833.
(81) Varese lies between Lakes Maggiore and Como. Before 1843, he
was in the area only in 1833.
(82) Ruskin visited
in both 1833 and 1835. On the first
occasion he approached from the
) is the part of the Rhine that flows northbound after Basel, along the Rhine rift, and then westward to Bingen.
valley over the Splugen
pass, and stayed at Cadenabbia on Lake Como and at Como itself. In 1835
after an already long itinerary in the Alps, he arrived from Innsbruck,
via Landeck and Mals, over the Stelvio to Bormio, Morbengo and rested on
Lake Como at Varenna, recorded in his Diary with interest for 25
September, before going on to Milan and Venice.
(83) Ruskin made this journey in reverse in 1835. His diary for 24
September also uses the word ‘capital’ to describe the inn at
Morbengo. His cautionary use of the word ‘was’ is an early
indication of his perception that the best of the old world was lost as
(84) The diary entry for 23 September 1835 describes Bormio as
beautiful and picturesque, but filthy, abominable and
Having a bad odor; foul.
September reports that the Ruskins were happy to leave ‘our
unwashed and miserable sleeping place as early as possible’.
(85) The Stelvio is one of the highest (2757m) and (relatively)
lightly-used of the Alpine passes. From the 1830s, however, it was much
improved by the Austrians to facilitate good coach (and military) links
between Milan and Austria. Ruskin wrote an extended description of the
crossing in his diary for 23 September 1835.
(86) Malles (as commonly given) is relatively unfrequented now, but
in the days of carriages provided an important
crossing of the Stelvio. Successive diary entries for 19-22 September
1835, show that Ruskin was in a state of extreme receptivity to the
mountain scenery through which he passed from Innsbruck to the Stelvio.
(87) Ruskin stayed at Landeck only once, on 21 September 1835, when
travelling from Innsbruck towards the Stelvio Pass and Italy.
(88) Ruskin arrived at Innsbruck via Zurich and Feldkirch on 19
September 1835 and stayed to the 21st when he retraced his route to
Landeck then proceeded to Mals and the Stelvio pass. The weather was
good and he thought the town very. fine with its grand squares
overlooked by mountains and the sights sufficiently impressed him to
remember Innsbruck as a type when at Carrara on 6 November 1840, and
although not mentioned in the diaries of 1835, he remembered fresh snow
on the mountains around Innsbruck when at Chamonix 19 June 1844. Works
38/258 no. 882 records a
pen and ink
drawing of Innsbruck, 10 x 12
inches, then in the collection of Mrs Mackay, and another of the Main
Street, no. 883, once in the collection of Dr Pocock.
(89) The Grimsel and Gries passes here constitute for Ruskin the
remote heartland of Switzerland, and represent the greatest exercise and
exposure. From the evidence of the diaries Ruskin very much enjoyed the
Lake Lucerne and St Gotthard area on his visits of 1833 and 1835 (see
below). Here, though, in relation to his developing sense of mission and
commitment, the lakes area perhaps seems all too conducive to lounging.
(90) The Brunig Pass connects Meiringen to Lungern and thence to
Alpnach and Lucerne. Ruskin made the crossing in 1833 and 1835. In 1833
he travelled from Interlaken across lake Brientz via the Giessbach
falls, en route for Lucerne and the Lake, and in 1835 the Diary for 22
August records that following a fairly thorough exploration of the Lake
of Lucerne, the party, crossed the Brunig from Alpnach to Meiringen, and
Ruskin’s entry is full of appreciation and enjoyment of the
crossing and its scenery. In 1848 Ruskin’s father bought one of
Turner’s greatest late watercolours, The Brunig Pass (Private
collection, sold Christie’s,
Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of
, 28 January 2009, no. 37),
but it was sold in 1852.
(91) Ruskin toured the Lake Lucerne area in both 1833 and 1835. The
itinerary of 1833 is documented in John James Ruskin’s diary
(Ruskin Library, Lancaster University, RF MSS 33a). They arrived at
Lucerne on Tuesday 23 July and stayed at the White Horse, which they
thought excellent. They took a boat on the lake and on the next day
proceeded to Kussnacht and Arch in the rain. The next day they ascended
the Rigi and despite clouds enjoyed terrific views of the lakes from the
summit. On the 26th they went to Schwytz via Goldau, to see the site of
an avalanche that had buried the village in 1806. The next day they went
on to Einsieldeln and Rapperswil. On Saturday 27 July John Ruskin was
poorly with fever and store throat and they were detained until July
30th when they went on to Zurich and lodged at the L’Epee. It was
an unpleasant stay. John Ruskin was still poorly and the hotel beset by
noise and the continual rumble of wagons. John James remarked that
Manchester was a bon repos by comparison. In 1835 Ruskin kept a detailed
diary that records that they travelled from Zurich via Zug, and arrived
in the lake Lucerne area on 12 August, but first made a crossing of the
St Gotthard Pass, before returning to Fluelen on 15 August. After that
they made a comprehensive tour, staying in Lucerne from the 17th to the
21st, in between sleeping at the Hostel at the summit of the Rigi on the
19th in order to see the sunrise on the 20th. They left Lucerne on the
21st to stay at Alpnach that night before crossing the Brunig to
Meiringen the following day. The diary gives a detailed and
a. 1. Struck with wonder, admiration, or surprise.
account of the Rigi, especially since the night was filled with thunder
and lightning. His experience of the lake crossing from Brunnen to
Fluelen en route to the St Gotthard on the 12th was rapt, but his return
to the lake on the 16th at Fluelen and on the 17th travelling to Lucerne
was marred by wet weather: ‘August 16th. Fluelen. Cloudy and wet,
everything dull and stupid. Lake grey. Clouds grey. Hills grey, tops
1. Not to one’s liking; unpleasant or offensive.
2. Having a quarrelsome, bad-tempered manner.
.’ He particularly enjoyed Lucerne. By
the time of the letter, the Ruskins had acquired their first examples of
the watercolours that Turner produced of his own visits to the area in
the 1840s. The first of these appears to have been Lucerne from the
Walls (1842, National Galleries on Merseyside, lady Lever Collection)
and over subsequent years these helped structure for Ruskin an enduring
love of the area. It is perhaps surprising that little sign of this
attraction yet appears in this letter. At this relatively youthful stage
in his life, he appears mainly to have looked to those sites that would
force him to climb highest, both literally and metaphorically.
(92) Ruskin passed Goldau in 1835, and in the Diary for 12 August
wrote a graphic reflection on a huge rock slide in 1806 that had
destroyed several villages. In 1843 the Ruskins commissioned from Turner
one of the most dramatic of all the later Swiss watercolours of this
subject, Goldau (1843, Private Collection USA).
(93) Ruskin remarked on the fine bridge over the Reuss near Altdorf
in his Diary for 13 August 1835, and in 1845 acquired a Turner
watercolour of the subject Storm in a Swiss pass (‘First bridge
above Altdorf’) (
Whitworth Art Gallery
(94) Ruskin visited the St Gotthard in 1835, staying the night of
14 August at the hostel at Hospenthal at the foot of the final climb on
the northern side of the pass, crossing to Airolo in the Ticino on the
15th, and returning to the same hostel on the same day, before returning
to Fluelen on Lake Lucerne in dramatically cloudy conditions on the
16th. Ruskin made a pen-and-ink drawing of Hospenthal in 1835 (Ruskin
Library, Lancaster University RF 2044, repr Works 2/436) and later
acquired two Turner sketches of Hospenthal, near Andermatt, Switzerland,
which he gave to the University of Cambridge (
building erected to house the art collection and library bequeathed in 1816 to Cambridge Univ. by Richard, Viscount Fitzwilliam. Both the collection and the building have been enlarged by later bequests, notably that of Charles Brinsley Marlay in
1861. In 1843 Ruskin acquired a Turner watercolour of The Pass of Faido
Pierpont Morgan Library
originally the private library of J. Pierpont Morgan, in 1924 made a public institution by his son J. P. Morgan as a memorial to his father (see Morgan, family). The library is privately supported; it is located at Madison Ave. and 36th St.
, Thaw Collection) which is a subject on the
approaches to the St Gotthard below Airolo, but at the date of writing
he had not yet visited that part of the valley. He made an excursion in
1845 especially to visit Turner’s site.
(95) Ruskin mentions Bellinzona as an obvious staging post
following the crossing of the St Gotthard, but there is no clear
evidence of any prior visit at this point. Later it became a favourite
place, and he spent three weeks there in 1858.
(96) Ruskin was at Zurich in 1833 and was sick there and his
/re·cu·per·a·tion/ () recovery of health and strength.
n the process of recovering health, strength, and mental and emotional vigor.
beset by traffic noise (see n91 above). In 1835 the Diaries
record that he arrived on 8 August from Constance via Winterthur and
stayed 2 days before leaving for Zug and Altdorf on the 10th. He was
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of:
2. In keeping with:
the poem Letter from Abroad (Works, 2/434) which
occasioned a day’s delay, but he nevertheless managed to make one
drawing at Zurich recorded by Cook and Wedderburn in the Library Edition
catalogue of Ruskin’s works (Works 38/306, no. 2145) and possibly
identifiable with that now at the Pierpont Morgan Library (
V4). I am
grateful to Stephen Wildman for this reference. He recorded: ‘Lake
very pretty. Albis range well seen from the town. Horizontal beds of
sandstone and sand, furrowed curiously into sloping regular buttresslike
transverse ridges. The Limmat as it flows out of the lake is
transcendentally clear and of a sort of sickly pale green like that of
the olive leaf. Every river here appears to have its own regular,
constant colour.’ He does not appear to have returned to Zurich
until the 1860s, when he found the purity of the lake and river, and of
his youthful times sullied and
tr.v. de·based, de·bas·ing, de·bas·es
To lower in character, quality, or value; degrade. See Synonyms at adulterate, corrupt, degrade.
[de- + base2.
by progress and manufacture. He
gives a devastating appraisal of the town in Time and Tide (Works,
17/355-56), as black and dirty, as Newcastle, and the local peasantry
Resembling or characteristic of a boor; rude and clumsy in behavior.
. His idea of Zurich at the time of the letter must
have been shaped by the astonishing watercolour that Turner had painted
in 1842 as part of the first Swiss series, which had been bought by HAJ
Monro of Novar (now British Museum). The diaries record that on 13 April
1844 he went to see the watercolour at Monro’s house, and pined for
it for two days afterwards, and determined to have it one way or
another, if he should live. In the event the desire went unrealised.
(97) Ruskin visited Schaffhausen in 1833, 1835 and 1842, and on
several occasions thereafter. In 1833 Schaffhausen provided his first
ever sight of the distant snowy alps, which struck him with the force of
a revelation. He wrote about it in a poem composed at the time (Works
2/367) and much later in Praeterita (Works 35/115-16) where he claimed
the occasion fixed in him the destiny of all that was to be ‘sacred
or useful’. It is not surprising that he took such care to stage
Richmond’s first sight of the Alps at the beginning of this letter.
The principal sight at Schaffhausen is the
, which was a
major subject for Ruskin, and the subject of a watercolour of 1842 (Fogg
Art Museum, Harvard), which he said was the only work by him in which
Turner ever showed any interest. In later years he became attached to
the architecture of the town as expressive of a finer, and rapidly
eroding, sensibility. He particularly despaired when the railway company
built a bridge across the river above the Rhine Fails (see, eg, Works,
7/423, 17/491, 18/89).
(98) Ruskin visited Contance in 1833 and 1835, and only once after
this time in 1859. In 1833 he was struck by the green colour of the
water of the Rhine and this informed his first published prose essay
Enquiries on the causes of the colour of the water of the Rhine,
published in 1834 (works, 1/192). In 1835 the Diary for 6 August reports
the view over ‘larger lake splendid. Chain of Alps in Distance
beyond a wide sealike horizon’. By the time of writing this letter
this aspect of Konstanz had been fixed in Ruskin’s mind by one of
the most fantastically atmospheric of all of Turner’s late Alpine
watercolours (York City Art Gallery). This was one of the first series
of Swiss watercolours that Turner made in 1842. He wrote about it in the
first volume of Modern Painters published in 1843: ‘The
“Constance” is a more marvellous example than all, giving the
vast lake, with its surface white with level mist, lying league beyond
league in the wan twilight, like a fallen space of
adj. moon·i·er, moon·i·est
1. Of or suggestive of the moon or moonlight.
3. Dreamy in mood or nature; absent-minded.
(99) Ruskin passed Feldkirch, a few miles south of
at the junction of the upper Rhine and Ill valleys, and a convenient
staging post for entry to Austria, in 1833, on his way towards the
Splugen Pass, and stayed on 16 September 1835 on his way to Innsbruck.