Preterita: Outlines of Scenes and Thoughts Perhaps Worthy of Memory in My Past Life

Preterita: Outlines of Scenes and Thoughts Perhaps Worthy of Memory in My Past Life

Preterita: Outlines of Scenes and Thoughts Perhaps Worthy of Memory in My Past Life

Preterita: Outlines of Scenes and Thoughts Perhaps Worthy of Memory in My Past Life

Excerpt

Præterita is the only one of Ruskin's writings intended to give pleasure. When, after one of his lectures, a member of the audience tried to tell him how much he had enjoyed his works, Ruskin replied, "I don't care whether you enjoyed them; did they do you any good?" But in Præterita, as he tells us, he has written only of what it gives him joy to remember. It was begun in 1885, soon after Ruskin's final resignation from the Slade Professorship. Up to that date his writings had been growing yearly more violent and bitter. His mounting sense of evil, rumbling and flashing in the fitful numbers of Fors Clavigera, had reached a crescendo in the last Oxford lectures, which his friends had persuaded him to abandon. And his rages were undoubtedly connected with fits of what his biographers have called by the unscientific, but adequate, name of brain fever. By 1885 Ruskin realised that the only hope for his sanity lay in avoiding, as far as possible, those topics which brought his mind to the boil. He had raged and prophesied in vain. The world had followed its evil and crazy course, and at last he felt powerless to alter it. Præterita, for all its apparent ease and tranquillity, is an admission of defeat.

But however carefully Ruskin avoided angry thoughts, his attacks of brain fever continued, and became more frequent during the next four years. Præterita was written during the intervals between these attacks. At first they had no effect on the consistency of his mind during periods of calm. In fact Ruskin maintained that they were positively restful, and wrote, "I did myself much more real harm by three days steady work on the . . .

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