John Ruskin was a Victorian writer in the most literal sense. Born three months before the future queen in 1819, he predeceased her in 1900 by just over a year. 2019 therefore marks a double bicentenary, but there are no prizes for guessing which has attracted more notice. In contrast to the respect accorded to him in his lifetime, amounting in some cases to veneration, Ruskin is little read now, and most of his work is out of print. Admittedly, the undertaking resembles one of his beloved Alpine ascents: the Library Edition of his collected works, published between 1903 and 1912, fills thirty-nine stout volumes. Until silenced in 1889 by a final bout of mental illness, which had been preceded by several breakdowns, he was a compulsive writer. “If I had been Robinson Crusoe,” he engagingly confessed, “I should have written books for Friday!” Much of his private writing, in the form...


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