Ruskin and the Quarterly

Edward Burne-Jones (and William Morris?)

General Description

Date: 1856
Genre: Prose essay


◦ Bradley, J. L. John Ruskin: The Critical Heritage.

◦ LeMire, Eugene D., ed. The Hollow Land

◦ Mackail, J. W. Life of William Morris .

Scholarly Commentary

Guest Editor: PC Fleming


The authorship of this essay is uncertain. Probably it was a collaborative effort between Morris and Burne-Jones, with the latter doing most of the writing. Eugene LeMire treats this question at length in the introduction to The Hollow Land (xviii-xxi). In any case, this essay should certainly be read alongside the other essay on Ruskin in The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine; in the April issue, Burne-Jones reviewed Modern Painters, the very work lambasted in the Quarterly article.

This essay is a defense of Ruskin, whom Elizabeth Rigby had attacked in an anonymous essay in the March issue of The Quarterly Review. The central question, says Burne-Jones, is whether one considers art and poetry on the same plane; that is to say, whether painting can be a vehicle of thought. Burne-Jones accuses Rigby (whose identity he did not know; he uses a masculine pronoun throughout the essay) of reducing art to mere amusement, and of missing Ruskin's point that truth is the aim of painting, as of poetry.

In the course of this essay, Burne-Jones aligns himself with the PRB, and praises Ruskin for making a critical book on art interesting. He closes the essay with a denunciation of negative criticism in general; he worries that the critic's “base bitter words will come across Ruskin's noble words”. This statement recalls Fulford's introduction to his essay on Tennyson, and is consistent with Morris's well-known distrust of critics.

This essay may have been Burne-Jones's last contribution to the magazine. The only later piece that has been attributed to him is The Druid and the Maiden, and it seems likely that this attribution was false. In August Burne-Jones claimed that he and Morris would not write any more for the Magazine (Mackail 108), and, though Morris continued to publish his work there, it is likely that Burne-Jones followed through on this promise.

Printing History

First printed in The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine , June, 1856.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1