RUSKIN, John (1819-1900). A correspondence of approximately 65 autograph letters signed ('John Ruskin', 'J. Ruskin', 'J.R.' or 'Maestro'), 1884-1888, comprising approximately 56 letters to Mrs Allen Harker ('Lizzie', 'goosie' or 'Mousie'), Brantwood, Canterbury, Oxford, Herne Hill, Morley's Hotel in Trafalgar Square, Kent Hotel and 2 Devonshire Terrace in Sandgate, and n.p., Easter Day [4 April] 1884 - 24 April 1888, many n.d., the letter of [22 November 1886] including a poem in three quatrains, 'Ho, Ho, the Cocks crow Little girls get up', and nine to her husband ('Allen' or 'Robin'), Brantwood and 'Kate Raven's', Coniston, 26 March 1885 - 4 June 1887, letter of 23 March  including a rough sketch of a bird,
COMFORT IN THE 'MERE LANGUOR AND GLOOM OF DECLINING LIFE'. Ruskin's letters to Lizzie are an extensive and revealing series, though the earliest are written in a most light-hearted way, referring flirtatiously to her passion for 'playing Chopin, and tennis, all day', and discussing meetings for tea with her family in Cheltenham, or her visits to Oxford either to attend one of his lectures in October 1884 [on 'The pleasures of England'], or, with her 'lover' Allen Harker, to come to tea with him in the Woodstock Road. By the end of the year, however, Ruskin is plunged into depression, 'faint and depressed beyond any faintness that ever yet came on me' on 24th December, writing three days later to describe his condition in an affecting simile, 'mere dismal fold up, like a caterpillar curled -- I shall wriggle out of it, little by little, and won't spin long threads any more, for it's very uncomfortable to be like this', before a curious reference to a dream of Lizzie's, 'Yes, if I could make that dream true, and get an orphan girl who wouldn't leave me, that would be the only thing I can fancy that would do me any good'. More revealing still is a letter on 29th December, written amidst 'the mere languor and gloom of declining life' to thank Lizzie for 'telling me how greatly I still can influence the hearts of women for all good', and going on to discuss his memories of Rose La Touche (the young women who was the object of Ruskin's frustrated infatuation for more than 15 years before her death in 1875 -- an event which has been considered a turning point towards the mental decline of his later years):
'Rose was tall and brightly fair, her face of the most delicately chiselled beauty -- too severe to be entirely delightful to all people -- the eyes gray, and when she was young, full of play; after the sad times came, the face became nobly serene, and of a strange beauty -- so that once a stranger seeing her for the first time said "she looked like a younger sister of Christ's"'.
The remaining letters advert frequently to Ruskin's (half-playful) infatuation with 'Tenzo' or 'Tennie' (apparently Lizzie's sister), and in general to the influence of his young female friends or 'pets' upon Ruskin ('It's not good for me to be among nice girls. I am sad when I come away'), as well as to Ruskin's declining physical and mental state (in December 1885 he has been 'lying for a couple of months one side of me in the grave'), though also with some references to his public life (in March 1885 'I've just resigned my Oxf[or]d profess[orshi]p on the vivisection vote. They may torture cats without instructions from me') and insights into his idiosyncratic views (in April 1886 he confesses that he doesn't care for babies, '[I] like little pigs ever so much better'). The middle section of the correspondence builds up to a visit to Brantwood in January 1887, initially enticing her with the beauties of the area, 'No such icicles and frost work anywhere as our lake streams and cascades give'. Shortly after a second visit at the end of April, however, occurs one of the crises of Ruskin's latter years, when his relations with [his heirs] the Severns broke down, and he abruptly left his home: he refers to this in a letter to Allen written from the house of a friend in Coniston on 4 June (the Severns have behaved 'in the vilest and basest ways') and to Lizzie on the 7th of 'the strongest treachery going on round me ... The reports of my failing health spread about the neighbourhood are frightfully mischievous'. The themes of the last stages of the correspondence are once again of the decline of Ruskin's health and spirits after his definitive departure from Brantwood: writing from hotels and lodgings in London and Sandgate, Ruskin confesses to intensifying bewilderment and ennui: 'I don't the least know what is to become of myself'; 'I'm tired of pictures -- and minerals, -- and the sky, and the sea'. There are still occasional flashes of activity, as when he goes to a watercolours view and 'there were people glad to see me there. Robert Browning among others', and the letters are much animated by an increasingly feverish fixation on 'Tenzo'. But the last letters are sad indeed, urging his friends to forget him for the present ('Don't think about me just now') and not to visit ('I can't bear speaking just now').
Lizzie Allen Harker went on to be the author of a score of children's books, published in the early 20th Century; she published her reminiscences of Ruskin (quoting some of his letters) in articles in The Outlook ('John Ruskin in the 'Eighties', 11 February and 21 October 1889) and in Scribner ('Ruskin and Girlhood', November 1906). (65)