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The Harbours Of England - Preface Post by :speeenterprises Category :Nonfictions Author :John Ruskin Date :May 2012 Read :2910

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The Harbours Of England - Preface


"Turner's _Harbors of England_," as it is generally called, is a book which, for various reasons, has never received from readers of Mr. Ruskin's writings the attention it deserves. True, it has always been sought after by connoisseurs, and collectors never fail with their eleven or twelve guineas whenever a set of Artist's Proofs of the First Edition of 1856 comes into the market. But to the General Reader the book with its twelve exquisitely delicate mezzotints--four of which Mr. Ruskin has declared to be among the very finest executed by Turner from his marine subjects--is practically unknown.

The primary reason for this neglect is not far to seek. Since 1877 no new edition of the work has been published, and thus it has gradually passed from public knowledge, though still regarded with lively interest by those to whom Mr. Ruskin's words--particularly words written in further unfolding of the subtleties of Turner's art--at all times appeal so strongly.

In his own preface Mr. Ruskin has told us all that in 1856 it was necessary to know of the genesis of the _Harbors_. That account may now be supplemented with the following additional facts. In 1826 Turner (in conjunction with Lupton, the engraver) projected and commenced a serial publication entitled _The Ports of England_. But both artist and engraver lacked the opportunity required to carry the undertaking to a successful conclusion, and three numbers only were completed. Each of these contained two engravings. Part I., introducing _Scarborough and _Whitby_, duly appeared in 1826; Part II., with _Dover and _Ramsgate_, in 1827; and in 1828 Part III., containing _Sheerness and _Portsmouth_, closed the series.(A) Twenty-eight years afterwards (that is, in 1856, five years after Turner's death) these six plates, together with six new ones, were published by Messrs. E. Gambart & Co., at whose invitation Mr. Ruskin consented to write the essay on Turner's marine painting which accompanied them. The book, a handsome folio, appears to have been immediately successful, for in the following year a second edition was called for. This was a precise reprint of the 1856 edition; but, unhappily, the delicate plates already began to exhibit signs of wear. The copyright (which had not been retained by Mr. Ruskin, but remained the property of Messrs. E. Gambart & Co.) then passed to Messrs. Day & Son, who, after producing the third edition of 1859, in turn disposed of it to Mr. T. J. Allman. Allman issued a fourth edition in 1872, and then parted with his rights to Messrs. Smith, Elder & Co., who in 1877 brought out the fifth, and, until now, last edition. Since that date the work has been out of print, and has remained practically inaccessible to the ordinary reader.

(A) To ornament the covers of these parts, Turner designed a vignette, which was printed upon the center of the front wrapper of each. As _The Ports of England is an exceptionally scarce book, and as the vignette can be obtained in no other form, a facsimile of it is here given. The original drawing was presented by Mr. Ruskin to the Fitz-William Museum, at Cambridge, where it may now be seen.

It is matter for congratulation that at length means have been found to bring _The Harbors of England once more into currency, and to issue the book through Mr. George Allen at a price which will place it within the reach of the reading public at large.

The last edition of 1877, with its worn and "retouched" plates,(B) was published at twenty-five shillings; less than a third of that sum will suffice to procure a copy of this new issue in which the prints (save for their reduced size) more nearly approach the clearness and beauty of the originals of 1856 than any of the three editions which have immediately preceded it.

(B) By this time (1877) the plates had become considerably worn, and were accordingly "retouched" by Mr. Chas. A. Tomkins. But such retouching proved worse than useless. The delicacy of the finer work had entirely vanished, and the plates remained but a ghost of their former selves, such as no one would recognize as doing justice to Turner. The fifth is unquestionably the least satisfactory of the five original editions containing Lupton's engravings.

I have before me the following interesting letter addressed by Mr. Ruskin's father to Mr. W. Smith Williams, for many years literary adviser to Messrs. Smith, Elder & Co.:--

"CHAMOUNI, _August 4th, 1856.

"MY DEAR SIR,--I hear that in _The Athenaeum of 26th July there is a good article on my son's _Harbors of England_, and I should be greatly obliged by Mr. Gordon Smith sending me that number....

"The history of this book, I believe, I told you. Gambart, the French publisher and picture dealer, said some 18 months ago that he was going to put out 12 Turner plates, never published, of English Harbors, and he would give my son two good Turner drawings for a few pages of text to illustrate them.(C) John agreed, and wrote the text, when poorly in the spring of 1855, at Tunbridge Wells; and it seems the work has just come out. It was in my opinion an extremely well done thing, and more likely, as far as it went, if not to be extremely popular, at least to be received without cavil than anything he had written. If there is a very favorable review in _The Athenaeum ... it may tend to disarm the critics, and partly influence opinion of his larger works....--With our united kind regards,

"Yours very truly,

(C) Mr. E. Gambart (who is still living) states that, to the best of his recollection, he paid Mr. Ruskin 150 guineas for his work. Probably this was the price originally agreed upon, the two Turner drawings being ultimately accepted as a more welcome and appropriate form of remuneration.

In all save one particular the Text here given follows precisely that of the previous issues. It has been the good fortune of the present Editor to be able to restore a characteristic passage suppressed from motives of prudence when the work was originally planned.(D) The proof-sheets of the first edition, worked upon by Mr. Ruskin, were given by him to his old nurse Anne.(E) She, fortunately, carefully preserved them, and in turn gave them to Mr. Allen, some ten years before he became Mr. Ruskin's publisher. These proofs had been submitted as they came from the press to Mr. W. H. Harrison (well known to readers of _On the Old Road_, etc., as "My First Editor"), who marked them freely with notes and suggestions. To one passage he appears to have taken so decided an objection that its author was prevailed upon to delete it. But, whilst deferring thus to the judgment of others, and consenting to remove a sentence which he doubtless regarded with particular satisfaction as expressing a decided opinion upon a favorite picture, Mr. Ruskin indulged in one of those pleasantries which now and again we observe in his informal letters, though seldom, if ever, in his serious writings. In the margin, below the canceled passage, he wrote boldly: "_Sacrificed to the Muse of Prudence. J. R._"(F)

(D) See _post_, p. 19.

(E) See _Praeterita_. She died March 30th, 1871.

(F) The accompanying illustration is a facsimile of the portion of the proof-sheet described above--slightly reduced to fit the smaller page.

That Mr. Harrison was justified in raising objection to this "moderate estimate" of Turner's picture will, I think, be readily allowed. In those days Mr. Ruskin's influence was, comparatively speaking, small; and the expression of an opinion which heaped praise upon the single painting of a partially understood painter at the expense of a great and popular institution would only have served to arouse opposition, and possibly to attract ridicule. It is different to-day. We know the keen enthusiasm of the author of _The Seven Lamps_, and have seen again and again how he expresses himself in terms of somewhat exaggerated admiration when writing of a painter whom he appreciates, or a picture that he loves. To us this enthusiasm is an attractive characteristic. It has never been permitted to distort the vision or cloud the critical faculty; and we follow the teaching of the Master all the more closely because we feel his fervor, and know how completely he becomes possessed with a subject which appeals to his imagination or his heart. I have therefore not scrupled to revive the words which he consented to immolate at the shrine of Prudence.

It is not my province here to enter into any criticism of the pages which follow; but, for the benefit of those who are not versed in the minutiae of Shelleyan topics, a word may be said regarding Mr. Ruskin's reference(G) to the poet who met his death in the Bay of Spezzia. The _Don Juan was no "traitorous" craft. Fuller and more authentic information is to hand now than the meager facts at the disposal of a writer in 1856; and we know that the greed of man, and not the lack of sea-worthiness in his tiny vessel, caused Percy Shelley to

"... Suffer a sea change
Into something rich and strange."

(G) See _post_, p. 3.

There is, unhappily, no longer any room for doubt that the _Don Juan was willfully run down by a felucca whose crew coveted the considerable sum of money they believed Byron to have placed on board, and cared nothing for the sacrifice of human life in their eagerness to seize the gold.

The twelve engravings, to which reference has already been made, have been reproduced by the photogravure process from a selected set of early examples; and, in addition, the plates so prepared have been carefully worked upon by Mr. Allen himself. It will thus be apparent that everything possible has been done to produce a worthy edition of a worthy book, and to place in the hands of the public what to the present generation of readers is tantamount to a new work from a pen which--alas!--has now for so long a time been still.



Among the many peculiarities which distinguished the late J. M. W. Turner from other landscape painters, not the least notable, in my apprehension, were his earnest desire to arrange his works in connected groups, and his evident intention, with respect to each drawing, that it should be considered as expressing part of a continuous system of thought. The practical result of this feeling was that he commenced many series of drawings,--and, if any accident interfered with the continuation of the work, hastily concluded them,--under titles representing rather the relation which the executed designs bore to the materials accumulated in his own mind, than the position which they could justifiably claim when contemplated by others. The _River Scenery was closed without a single drawing of a rapidly running stream; and the prints of his annual tours were assembled, under the title of the _Rivers of France_, without including a single illustration either of the Rhone or the Garonne.

The title under which the following plates are now presented to the public, is retained merely out of respect to this habit of Turner's. Under that title he commenced the publication, and executed the vignette for its title-page, intending doubtless to make it worthy of taking rank with, if not far above, the consistent and extensive series of the _Southern Coast_, executed in his earlier years. But procrastination and accident equally interfered with his purpose. The excellent engraver Mr. Lupton, in co-operation with whom the work was undertaken, was unfortunately also a man of genius, and seems to have been just as capricious as Turner himself in the application of his powers to the matter in hand. Had one of the parties in the arrangement been a mere plodding man of business, the work would have proceeded; but between the two men of talent it came very naturally to a stand. They petted each other by reciprocal indulgence of delay; and at Turner's death, the series, so magnificently announced under the title of the _Harbors of England_, consisted only of twelve plates, all the less worthy of their high-sounding title in that, while they included illustrations of some of the least important of the watering-places, they did not include any illustration whatever of such harbors of England as Liverpool, Shields, Yarmouth, or Bristol. Such as they were, however, I was requested to undertake their illustration. As the offer was made at a moment when much nonsense, in various forms, was being written about Turner and his works; and among the twelve plates there were four(H) which I considered among the very finest that had been executed from his marine subjects, I accepted the trust; partly to prevent the really valuable series of engravings from being treated with injustice, and partly because there were several features in them by which I could render more intelligible some remarks I wished to make on Turner's marine painting in general.

(H) Portsmouth, Sheerness, Scarborough, and Whitby.

These remarks, therefore, I have thrown together, in a connected form; less with a view to the illustration of these particular plates, than of the general system of ship-painting which was characteristic of the great artist. I have afterwards separately noted the points which seemed to me most deserving of attention in the plates themselves.

Of archaeological information the reader will find none. The designs themselves are, in most instances, little more than spirited sea-pieces, with such indistinct suggestion of local features in the distance as may justify the name given to the subject; but even when, as in the case of the Dover and Portsmouth, there is something approaching topographical detail, I have not considered it necessary to lead the reader into inquiries which certainly Turner himself never thought of; nor do I suppose it would materially add to the interest of these cloud distances or rolling seas, if I had the time--which I have not--to collect the most complete information respecting the raising of Prospect Rows, and the establishment of circulating libraries.


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