John Ruskin correspondence with Lucia and Francesca Alexander, 1882-1889 | Boston Public Library Archival and Manuscript Finding Aid Database
The 300 letters in this collection reflect the friendship that critic John Ruskin (1819-1900) and Mrs. Francis Alexander (nee Lucia Gray Swett, 1814-1916) and Francsca Alexander (1837-1917) maintained both professionally and personally from when they meet in 1882 until Ruskin’s death in 1900. Approximately half of the letters in this collection were previously published in John Ruskin’s Letters to Francesca and Memoirs of the Alexanders, (1931) by Lucia Gray Swett.
Ruskin helped Francesca, a folklorist, author and illustrator, to publish her first narrative, The Story of Ida, in 1883 and continued to assist with her next two projects, Roadside Songs in Tuscany and Christ’s Folk in the Apennines. Additionally, he acquired 122 of her drawings during the years of their friendship. Ruskin filled the mentor role left by Francesca’s father, Francis Alexander, a well-known Boston portrait painter, who had inspired his daughter’s artistic endeavors until his death in 1880. The letters between Ruskin and Francesca are largely focused on their professional activities, with details covering the editing and publication process for three of Francesca’s books, The Story of Ida, Roadside Songs of Tuscany, and Christ’s Folk in the Apennines. Ruskin also advises Francesca about her drawing technique, urging her to work on perspective and to practice drawing landscapes. In addition, Ruskin mentions his own activities, including his Oxford lectures, paintings, drawings, and music, and progress on his autobiography, Praeterita. Francesca’s letters to Ruskin recount stories from Edwige and Polissena (inspirations for Roadside Songs in Tuscany and Christ’s Folk in the Apennies) together with other daily occurrences, and provides suggestions about the enclosures forwarded to her by Ruskin.
On a personal level, Ruskin’s letters are full of reports on his physical and mental health, fear of aging and death, his affair with Rose La Touche, his pet seagull, mutual friends, and reminisces from childhood brought about by his work on Praeterita. Moreover, he frequently discusses the significance of dreams, symbols (such as owls and clouds) and religion. To Mrs. Alexander, Ruskin also writes of shared literary interests, such as their mutual love of Lord Byron and their disagreement over French novels, and his perceived failures in his life, for example, duty to his parents and neglect of the poor.
Also included in this collection are drawings by Ruskin; page proofs from Praeterita, Roadside Songs, and Christ’s Folk, which often include handwritten annotations and illustrate the publishing process; and letters to and from Rose La Touche that were forwarded to the Alexanders (Box 2, folder 40 and Box 3, folders 15, 16, 22, 23, and 24) that shed light on the relationship between she and Ruskin.