"Reviews: Pre-Raffaellitism." Art Journal 19 (1 Apr. 1857), 131.

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Pre-Raffaellitism. By the Rev. Edward Young, M. A., Trinity College, Cambridge. Published by Longman & Co., London.

Every man who propounds new doctrines or theories, and attempts to establish them by the destruction of what is valued, if not for its worth, yet for its antiquity, must enter the arena of contest fully prepared for the vigorous opposition of adversaries. There is scarcely anything more ungenial to the natural mind than an attempt to reason it out of its belief; such an attempt seems an insult to the understanding, while, if it succeeds, it casts down the object of our love or our idolatry, wounding our vanity, and dissipating every atom of self-sufficiency. It is possible that when Mr. Ruskin entered the lists of Art-criticism, to prove that for nearly four centuries the world had seen only a single great and true painter, he may have expected to encounter great hostility; but whether he did or no, he has certainly found it, and as certainly owes much of the opposition with which he has been met to the manner, rather than the matter, of his attack. It was assuredly quite unnecessary that, in order to set up his "golden image," he should knock down the golden images of others, ruthlessly, discourteously, yea, savagely. It is this, "the head and front of his offending," that has raised up, and will continue to raise up, so large and powerful a host of adversaries, not for the purpose only of proving Mr. Ruskin and Turner are not right, but to show that the former is an advocate whose arguments are not always to be trusted, inasmuch as they frequently contradict each other. We have sometimes felt surprised that so deep a thinker and so subtle a logician as Mr. Ruskin generally appears to be in his writings, should have overlooked his errors of this character, and also have arrived at different conclusions from the same premises adduced at different passages in his various books. The apology we offer on his behalf for these mistakes of judgment, and for his many strange deductions, is that the writer’s imaginative powers and enthusiasm have led him astray, made him oblivious of foregone assertions, have often rendered him paradoxical, and sealed up his more sober senses.

Under the title of "Pre-Raffaellitism, or a Popular Inquiry into some newly-asserted Principles connected with the Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, and Revolution of Art," Mr. Young makes a vigorous and well-directed attack on the new school of painting in its most objectionable practice, and on its strong supporter, Mr. Ruskin. As to its practice, let any one go into the rooms of the British Institution now open, and notice pictures hanging there by candidates for "Pre-Raffaellite honours," and then let him consider what English Art (!) is striving after: the "offence is rank." Several chapters at the commencement of the volume are, however, devoted to show the inconsistency with itself of much that the "Modern Graduate" has written, and the dubious truth is–if such a term may be allowed–of more; and we think that Mr. Ruskin himself will be surprised at Mr. Young’s analytical extracts. In the other chapters, treating of the poetry, religion, and revolution of Art, he handles the respective subjects in an honest, hearty, fearless manner, with a felicity of thought and eloquence of expression scarcely inferior to the champion whom he assails. His book will, it cannot be doubted, find very many readers; and of these, it is even less problematical, he will carry with him the suffrages of the far larger portion; for, to quote one of his observations in the vindication of his course of inquiry, he says that Mr. Ruskin, "by pushing beyond all wholesome or legitimate limits the demands of science, and by converting artistic criticism into a moral impeachment, he has not only disturbed our enjoyment of ancient Art, but wounded our sense of justice, and compelled, I might say, a fight for decent standing-room in the commonwealth of the liberal Arts." To this we will add another, as the expression of our own opinion and feelings:–"Cut out of his writings all I understand by Pre-Raffaellitism, and few would go beyond myself in the admiration of the remainder."


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Copyright © 1999 Thomas J. Tobin.

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