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Great First Impressions: John Ruskin’s First View of the Swiss Alps at Sunset

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Great First Impressions Series

This is a series I hope to run occasionally as I come across passages from Great Writers about their first impressions as adolescents and young writers just beginning their exploration of their world and their times

Great First Impressions: John Ruskin’s First View of the Swiss Alps at Sunset

September 8, 2016

The great reader, writer, and Victorian critic of art and literature, John Ruskin, whose views were to encapsulate the spirit of his age, described in this beautiful passage from his autobiography, the first time he ever viewed the Swiss Alps: “the walls of lost Eden could not have been more beautiful.”

It was sunset and he was fourteen-years old: “It is not possible to imagine, in any time of the world, a more blessed entrance into life, for a child of such temperament as mine. True, the temperament belonged to the age; a very few years—within the hundred, –before that, no child could have been born to care for mountains, or for the men that lived among them, in that way. Till Rousseau’s time, there had been no ‘sentimental’ love of nature; and till Scott’s, no such apprehensive love ‘of all sorts and conditions of men,’ not in the soul merely, but in the flesh . . . I went down that evening from the garden-terrace of Schaffhausen with my destiny fixed in all of it that was sacred and useful.”

With a retrospective of this crucial moment in his creative development, Ruskin realizes that his experience could never have been the same before the Romantic Revolution in the two generations preceding his. Before Jean-Paul Rousseau, the Swiss Alps never really inspired such breathtaking awe in view of the sublime nature of the mountains. It just wasn’t how people responded to Nature.

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Paul Varner

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