Wednesday, April 30, 2008

More Lake District: Brantwood

While Beatrix Potter's Hilltop Farm was charming, I must admit that, for me, it was merely a preface to what was a veritable pilgrimage: visiting Brantwood, the home of John Ruskin. It's hard for me to describe the role that Ruskin has come to play in my imagination, indeed in my very self-understanding of my calling. Perhaps second only to Augustine, Ruskin looms as a giant and an examplar for me. A writer who refused to observe the narrow (and rather arbitrary) boundaries that we know as "the disciplines," and even refusing to confine his writing to the academy, Ruskin is the consummate example of a public intellectual who was interested in making his scholarship serve those who would never darken the door of a university lecture hall--including a particular concern for the working classes. His prose is sparkling and dense, and he persistently denounced the destruction of life and fragmentation of communities and families that was the result of the so-called "modern" accomplishments of capitalism and the Industrial Revolution. (Thus my blog Fors Clavigera is just a small homage to his legacy.)

Suffice it to say that I was thrilled to make this visit, and appreciated that Deanna and the kids were willing to share my enthusiasm (indeed, the kids were great, and even quite entertained, I think. Thanks, guys!). What I wasn't prepared for was just how moved I would be by the experience: being able to stand behind his desk, with a wall of windows overlooking Lake Coniston, constituting the environment of his later writing; standing in his bedroom where he wrestled with the demons of depression in such darkness at one point that, in fact, he never slept there again, but instead moved into a smaller room next door; and especially standing in a windowed turret he had added to the house, in which he would long meditate and contemplate the snow-capped mountains that must have constantly taken him back to Switzerland and Italy--places that were his home away from home. I was overcome with a sense of how much he spent himself, almost kenotically, in pursuit of a vision of justice. A saint worth imitating.

Here are some snapshots with commentary:
This is a dining room that Ruskin added to the house; you can't quite make it out, but the windows here echo the Venetian Gothic of which he was such a fan. And just above and behind it, the little roof is the top of the turret I mentioned.
We weren't supposed to take pictures in the house, but Dee said we just had to sneak this one: it is a portrait of Ruskin when he was 38 years old, with me in my 38th year (37.5!). Ruskin had the benefit of those big, bushy Victorian sideburns to cover his double-chin, I guess.
Lake Coniston from Brantwood; I think I could be pretty prolific if this was the view from my study!
Ruskin's grave in the Coniston Church cemetery (he turned down an offer to be buried in Westminster Abbey).
After Brantwood we drove north through the Lake District to Keswick, had tea, and then visited this stone circle just outside town. Like Stone Henge, but much more worn by the elements. Most of the stone circles in England are in the Lake District. Sheep and lambs were huddling around it, trying to stay out of the wind!

No comments: