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The Early Life of Mark Rutherford (W. Hale White)   By: (1831-1913)

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THE EARLY LIFE OF MARK RUTHERFORD

Autobiographical Notes

I have been asked at 78 years old to set down what I remember of my early life. A good deal of it has been told before under a semi transparent disguise, with much added which is entirely fictitious. What I now set down is fact.

I was born in Bedford High Street, on December 22, 1831. I had two sisters and a brother, besides an elder sister who died in infancy. My brother, a painter of much promise, died young. Ruskin and Rossetti thought much of him. He was altogether unlike the rest of us, in face, in temper, and in quality of mind. He was very passionate, and at times beyond control. None of us understood how to manage him. What would I not give to have my time with him over again! Two letters to my father about him are copied below:

(185 )

"My DEAR SIR,

"I am much vexed with myself for not having written this letter sooner. There were several things I wanted to say respecting the need of perseverance in painting as well as in other businesses, which it would take me too long to say in the time I have at command so I must just answer the main question. Your son has very singular gifts for painting. I think the work he has done at the College nearly the most promising of any that has yet been done there, and I sincerely trust the apparent want of perseverance has hitherto been only the disgust of a creature of strong instincts who has not got into its own element he seems to me a fine fellow and I hope you will be very proud of him some day but I very seriously think you must let him have his bent in this matter and then if he does not work steadily take him to task to purpose. I think the whole gist of education is to let the boy take his own shape and element and then to help discipline and urge him IN that, but not to force him on work entirely painful to him.

"Very truly yours, (Signed) "J. RUSKIN."

"NATIONAL GALLERY, 3rd April.

"MY DEAR SIR, (185 )

"Do not send your son to Mr. Leigh: his school is wholly inefficient. Your son should go through the usual course of instruction given at the Royal Academy, which, with a good deal that is wrong, gives something that is necessary and right, and which cannot be otherwise obtained. Mr. Rossetti and I will take care (in fact your son's judgement is I believe formed enough to enable him to take care himself) that he gets no mistaken bias in those schools. A 'studio' is not necessary for him but a little room with a cupboard in it, and a chair and nothing else IS. I am very sanguine respecting him, I like both his face and his work.

"Thank you for telling me that about my books. I am happy in seeing much more of the springing of the green than most sowers of seed are allowed to see, until very late in their lives but it is always a great help to me to hear of any, for I never write with pleasure to myself, nor with purpose of getting praise to myself. I hate writing, and know that what I do does not deserve high praise, as literature; but I write to tell truths which I can't help crying out about, and I DO enjoy being believed and being of use.

"Very faithfully yours, (Signed) J. RUSKIN. W. White, Esq."

My mother, whose maiden name was Chignell, came from Colchester. What her father and mother were I never heard. I will say all I have to say about Colchester, and then go back to my native town. My maternal grandmother was a little, round, old lady, with a ruddy, healthy tinge on her face. She lived in Queen Street in a house dated 1619 over the doorway. There was a pleasant garden at the back, and the scent of a privet hedge in it has never to this day left me. In one of the rooms was a spinet. The strings were struck with quills, and gave a thin, twangling, or rather twingling sound. In that house I was taught by a stupid servant to be frightened at gipsies. She threatened me with them after I was in bed. My grandmother was a most pious woman. Every morning and night we had family prayer... Continue reading book >>




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