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Finding Ruskin by MRT's Kelly Ward

posted on 27/08/19

I’m somewhat abashed to say that it has taken me to the age of 47 to explore Ruskin. And what immense treasure is found there! My preconceptions never led me to imagine how much of the man infuses his work, and, though I anticipated insight and meaning, I hadn’t expected to find such an open and simply likeable man present in his writings, particularly given the apparent troubles of his personal life. Reading the preface, I had a strong sense of him sitting at his desk in Denmark Hill in February 1851, scribing (and rescribing) the words I was reading, without the knowledge of how many hearts and minds they would stir over the two centuries that followed.

This sense of connection with not just the stones of Venice – or Vienna, or Varanasi – but with the authentic human creators of them, and the men and women of times past that have occupied those spaces or whose footsteps have echoed through them – is at the heart of what we hope you experience on our tours.

Bringing the past to life, which is our lecturers’ remit, does not stem from an insipid feeling of nostalgia but it is a way of understanding our human condition – of sifting through what is fleeting and what endures, what is meaningful, and what is of no consequence, of expanding our perceptions through the lasting gifts bequeathed to us.

Venice Campanile, watercolour by R. Barratt, publ. 1907.

Ruskin writes: ‘And both in the plates and the text I have aimed chiefly at clear intelligibility; that any one, however little versed in the subject, might be able to take up the book, and understand what it meant forthwith. I have utterly failed of my purpose, if I have not made all the essential parts of the essay intelligible to the least learned, and easy to the most desultory readers, who are likely to take interest in the matter at all ... so that, though I may often be found trite or tedious, I trust that I shall not be obscure. I am especially anxious to rid this essay of ambiguity, because I want to gain the ear of all kinds of persons.’

While our clients could never be described as ‘desultory’ or ‘the least learned’, the sentiment of making scholarly learning and inspired perceptions clearly accessible, compelling and thought-provoking to all our tour participants, irrespective of prior study, is fundamental to our choice of lecturers. This November, in the bicentenary year of Ruskin’s birth, Christopher Newall will be acquainting a small group with this writer and his Stones of Venice. We encourage you to join them, delving deeper into discovery of this most engaging of thinkers in the most entrancing of cities.

Kelly Ward, Director of Martin Randall Australasia

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