Other Writing
MR Society

William Hale White and John Ruskin, 1865-1900, by Nicholas Jacobs

According to Klinke, the first contact between Hale White and Ruskin was made when the latter wrote to Hale White as follows: 'I am much interested by your letter and understand well the pressure of life and toil on the classes you represent and for whom you plead. But I have always looked upon them as the victims of many forces and wills, with which for the present there was no direct contest possible.' This letter (dated 5 October 1865) refers to Hale White's 'An Argument for an Extension of the Franchise, a Letter addressed to George Jacob Holyoake, Esq.' This public letter to Holyoake was first published in 1866, so Klinke concludes that Ruskin had read it, or knew enough about it, before its publication (Klinke also quotes a letter from John Stuart Mill to Hale White, dated September 1865, also referring to the Holyoake letter, i.e. before publication).

The next contact between Ruskin and Hale White, according to Klinke, occurred in October 1867, when Ruskin introduced Hale White to Philip Webb (Klinke cites a letter from Ruskin to Hale White of 27 October 1867 for this invitation, but he does not quote from it. He concludes that at some stage Hale White must have invited Ruskin down to Carshalton, because he quotes a letter from Ruskin on 2 February 1869 saying: 'Indeed I'll come and see you. . .Nothing could possibly give me greater pleasure'.

Klinke quotes a letter from Ruskin on 27 December 1877 as follows: 'I shall again have the pleasure of shaking your hand.' This, and the indication revealed in Letters to Three Friends (p.6) that Hale White visited Ruskin at Brantwood (though on that particular occasion he was out), is evidence to Klinke that the two men must have met on unrecorded occasions. He supposes, from the letters he has read, but doesn't quite quote fully enough, that Hale White would have asked Ruskin about Carlyle. In this context, and after mentioning Carlyle's Latter-Day Pamphlets, Klinke quotes the following letter from Ruskin to White of 11 January 1877: 'Yes, I entirely agree with you that nothing should more excite our indignation than these attempts of rich men to steal the people's land - if I had my way, I would hang them in chains in the middle of the common they want to enclose. God knows, the old highwaymen were measures of divine justice in comparison.'

On 3 July 1880 the Secular Review published Hale White's piece called 'Marcus Antoninus'. On 15 July following, Ruskin wrote: 'This paper of yours on Antonine is entirely delightful and thoroughly true and well done. I hope to make use of it, & am most glad to have it & to hear from you. Ever affectionately yours.' (Hale White's article on the Roman stoic contains the following: 'He was in the position in which many of us are now. He had no traditionary faith to which he could resort for oracular and unquestionable replies to his doubts. The old Roman worship had decayed, and whatever help was necessary he had to obtain for himself. It is probably that all men who think at all about these things are compelled to work out their own salvation, even if born into the straitest sect from which they may never stray.')

When Hale White published his 'Byron, Goethe and Mr Matthew Arnold' in the Contemporary Review in August 1881, he again received fan-mail from Ruskin: 'I had seen your delightful paper in the C. and been delighted by it - and knocked two or three people on the head with it - before your note came' (4 August 1881). Already that June, he had written to Hale White: 'Indeed the little bit of sympathy about Byron was a fountain of help'(20 June 1881). It sounds as though Ruskin was himself thinking about Byron, and he was indeed planning to write an essay on Byron's 'Corsair', to be called 'The Morality of Byron's Poetry'. He wrote to Hale Whie on 16 January 1882: 'I'll take your paper as a text to start from' and, according to Klinke, wanted to hear Hale White himself reading it. However,,on 25 February, he wrote: 'I am laid up with the worst influenza I've had for years - head ache - hot hands - cough - sneeze - intellectual palsy, moral despair. I shall not be able to stir out for a week if then - but I'll write you what I think of that paper. Strange, if the people who think it isn't moral "could" see your own gentle and pleasant life! But an account of that would be a better lesson than an analysis of the corsair!'

Klinke quite rightly forebears to comment on the psychosomatic illness which must have struck Ruskin when he read the title of his proposed article, and he ignores the suspicion of a mutual admiration society indicated by Ruskin's last letter. Instead, he stresses at this point the evidence the surviving letters give of the closeness of the two men, and how ready to help Ruskin Hale White always was. He cites the following: 'I cannot enough thank you for the invaluable details, and for the permission to print them' (letter from Ruskin, 14 December 1886); five days later, Ruskin is writing: It's a joy & relief to me to write to my friends - the real ones - sometimes - though I never can get the half of what I would set down.'

This is the last Ruskin letter quoted by Klinke, but he later stresses that this was by no means the end of their correspondence. He says that MSS have gone missing or got lost. To give evidence of the continuing contact between the two men, Klinke refers the reader to a sentence in a Hale White letter to Mrs Colenutt: 'I had a message from Ruskin a few days ago. He is placid and happy, but never puts his hand to paper, not even to write a note' (Letters to Three Friends, pp.52-3).

Klinke concludes the section of his book on Hale White and Ruskin by citing all those passages in Letters to Three Friends which mention him, always in admiring and fond terms, up to and including news of his death 'which came to me late at night by telegram and was a great shock' (Letters, p.99). In an almost discreet footnote, as if nervous of seeming to criticize, Klinke regrets that 'nobody has given an account of the genuine friendship, of the reciprocal sacrifice and give and take that existed' between Ruskin and Hale White, so that 'we will have to content ourselves with seeing Ruskin as the admired and respected patron of the other'.