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The Baldwin Project: John Ruskin

John Ruskin

(1819 - 1900)

1851 The King of the Golden River


<P> Charles Madison Curry and Erle Elsworth Clippinger in their <I>Children's Literature</I> (1920, 1921) give the following paragraphs in introduction to the two pieces in <I>The King of the Golden River and Dame Wiggins of Lee</I>: </P> <BLOCKQUOTE><P> John Ruskin (1819-1900), the most eloquent of English prose writers, was much interested in the question of literature for both grown-ups and children. He edited a reissue of Taylor's translation of Grimms' <I>Popular Stories</I>, issued "Dame Wiggins of Lee and Her Seven Wonderful Cats" (see No. 143), and wrote that masterpiece among modern stories for children, <I>The King of the Golden River</I>. Its fine idealism, splendidly imagined structure, wonderful word-paintings, and perfect English all combine to justify the high place assigned to it Ruskin wrote the story in 1841, at a "couple of sittings," though it was not published until ten years later. Speaking of it later in life, he said that it "was written to amuse a little girl; and being a fairly good imitation of Grimm and Dickens, mixed with a little true Alpine feeling of my own, it has been rightly pleasing to nice children, and good for them. But it is totally valueless, for all that. I can no more write a story than compose a picture." The final statement may be taken for what it is worth, written as it was at a time of disillusionment. The first part of Ruskin's analysis is certainly true and has been thus expanded by his biographer, Sir E. T. Cook: "The grotesque and the German setting of the tale were taken from Grimm; from Dickens it took its tone of pervading kindliness and geniality. The Alpine ecstasy and the eager pressing of the moral were Ruskin's own; and so also is the style, delicately poised between poetry and comedy." </P> <P> The following tale [Dame Wiggins of Lee] was edited (1885) for children by John Ruskin from a version "written principally by a lady of ninety (Mrs. Sharp)". Ruskin himself added the third, fourth, eighth, and ninth stanzas, because "in the old books no account is given of what the cats learned when they went to school, and I thought my younger readers might be glad of some notice of such particulars." But he thought his rhymes did not ring like the real ones, of which he said: "I aver these rhymes to possess the primary value of rhyme&#8212;that is, to be rhythmical in a pleasant and exemplary degree." The book was illustrated with quaint woodcuts for each stanza after the edition of 1823, with additional drawings for the four new stanzas by Kate Greenaway, one of the most famous illustrators of children's books. Ruskin commends the result "to the indulgence of the Christmas fireside, because it relates nothing that is sad, and portrays nothing that is ugly." </P> </BLOCKQUOTE>
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