John Ruskin was born in London in 1819, of Scottish descent. His father was a succesful wine-merchant and art lover; his mother a strict Evangelical whose religious instruction affected him deeply. He entered Christ Church, Oxford, in 1836 and graduated in 1842. In 1843, the first of the five volumes of
Modern Painters was published, a work written in defense of J.M.W. Turner. The other volumes survey the main traditions of European painting from Giotto to the nineteenth century. Ruskin was also passionately interested in Gothic architecture and published two books on the subject before the completion of
Modern Painters: The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849) and the three volumes of
The Stones of Venice in 1851 and 1853. He married Effie Gray in 1848, but seven years later the marriage was annulled on grounds of non-consummation. In 1858 he met Rose la Toche, a girl of nine, with whom he fell in love and became increasingly obsessed, and in that year he finally lost his Evangelical faith. In 1860, disillusioned with a society in which poverty was rampant and the poor exploited, he began the first of four essays attacking the science of Political Economy. They were published in book form in 1862, uner the title,
Unto this Last. This was followed in 1863 by
Munera Pulveris, which puts forward some positive proposals for economic change and reform. In 1869 he became the first Slade Professor of Fine Art at Oxford and in 1871 began writing
Fors Clavigera, a series of open letters which draw connections between diverse subjects. He also took part in many practical projects, many of which he directed by way of his Utopian pressure-group, the Guild of St. George. When Rose la Touche died insanse in 1875, however, he began to show signs of mental disturbance and suffered the first of seven mental breakdowns in 1878. In 1885 he began publishing his autobiography,
Praeterita. This moving and lyrical book was brought to a premature conclusion by his last and most violent breakdown in 1889. He lived on, withdrawn and inactive, until 1900.
My Friends,I have not come among you to-night to endeavour to give you an entertaining lecture; but to tell you a few plain facts, and ask you some plain, but necessary questions. I have seen and known too much of the struggle for life among our labouring population, to feel at ease, even under any circumstances, in inviting them to dwell on the trivialities of my own studies; but, much more, as I meet to-night, for the first time, the members of a working Institute established in the district in which I have passed the greater part of my life, I am desirous that we should at once understand each other, on graver matters. I would fain tell you, with what feelings, and with what hope, I regard this Institution, as one of many such, now happily established throughout England, as well as in other countries;Institutions which are preparing the way for a great change in all the circumstances of industrial life; but of which the success must wholly depend upon our clearly understanding the circumstances and necessary limits of this change.