Fraser's Magazine, June 1856

(Go to Summary of review by J. O. Skelton, 'Ruskin on the Ancient and Modern Poets: Homer and Tennyson', Fraser's Magazine, June 1856, pp.648-659.)

Mr. Ruskin displays in his third volume most of the characteristics which distinguished him when he wrote his first; though these, whether amiable or otherwise, have... become, in the course of ten years, more marked and confirmed. The verdict therefore must remain substantially the same. However much he may enlist our interest and admiration by the many great and engaging qualities of his genius, it is impossible to deny that no author of our day is more justly liable to severely hostile criticism; and this simply because his is so essentially an incomplete and fragmentary character. To describe such a character in a sentence is a task that even the satirist of Buckingham might hesitate to attempt. The man who inculcates admirable lessons of self-restraint and humility, and who is yet of all men the most arrogant and dogmatic - the logician who illutrates in one page what he resents in the next, - the acute student of metaphysics, who continually manifests the absence of that sobriety and accuracy of thought which is the usual result of a sound philosophical education, - the English author who can write the most lame and tawdry English, and yet in whose works we find as noble passages of clear and forcible eloquence as any in English literature, - the philanthropist who is actuated sometimes by the widest sympathies, sometimes by the most arbitrary and wayward bigotries; who now appears utterly bereft of common judgment, and again enforces wise and sagacious counsels with the rarest power of argument and illustration - such a man, we say, completely baffles every attempt at accurate description. Now all these fantastic contrasts are due to a single cause, the incompleteness of the man. (p. 648)

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Mr Ruskin has got hold, we believe, of that part of the truth which it most concerns his contemporaries to understand and practise, just as Luther got hold of what was most necessary for his. Neither of our reformers is very perfect in his way, but they do their work more effectively, we suspect, than if we could class them in the ranks of colder and harder-headed men. (p. 648)

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This also accounts for the various disparaging remarks which he makes upon what he calls the emotional school, and more particularly upon the man whom he regards as its leader - Alfred Tennyson. (p. 652)

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We are glad to have met Mr Ruskin on the neutral ground of poetry, and to have enjoyed an opportunity of estimating the soundness of his judgment on a less technical subject than those to which he has hitherto chiefly limited his research. Any opinions of his, as those of a highly cultivated thinker, deserve respect and consideration; and our disagreement with him we hope is more as regards the form than the substance of his criticism. But as that criticism undoubtedly appeared to us to echo the opinions of the critical school, to which we have alluded (and which has recently attempted in particular to identify the Laureate with certain maudlin and unhealthy poets with whom he has really nothing in common), we have felt ourselves called on to examine it minutely. (p. 659)