[Oxford—Saturday, 6 August 1859]
Saturday August 6th Breakfasted in college at ½ past 9 and after started for a walk through the cloisters, libraries, &c. There is a quaint strange beauty about a cloistered walk wh. carries the mind back, more than most old things to the times in which they were built. One of the cloisters has an arched roof of walnut beams in which spiders never build, because of the odor it is believed but is not certainly known. We saw the only authentic picture of Cardinal Wolsey in the college drawing-room and all Erasmus’ works in folio at their library in Magdalen. It was his theory that the ancients only were great and alone could be; therefore he published a folio of proverbs & extracts. Jamie says very wisely that he can’t imagine how the enormous books in old times were paid for. Erasmus is an exception of course because 20,000 copies of his works were sold, but generally speaking it is a thing unaccounted for.
From the library Dr Reade took us to the Oxford museum just half completed. It is built upon a new theory, an out-growth from one of the many seeds of wisdom planted by John Ruskin. It is peculiar in its external appearance, really beautiful, but wanting the soft loveliness that age has thrown over the buildings among which it stands. The roof is slated but with an effect of soundness and combination of color which gives it beauty as well as utility. There was no door to be found but being very anxious to obtain admission we climbed in behind through a hole in the wall like thieves and robbers. Here at last we see progress and hope once more that England is not wholly of the past. Here the eloquence of Ruskin has taken root, not only in the lovely work we see in glowing colors all about us but in the hearts of the workmen themselves. We speak to one whom we think German. He is an Irishman and a pupil of Ruskin. He is carving capitals to the marble pillars which surround the galleries. Each capital is a fresh study from Nature, intellect is called into play, a love of all natural things grows up the man is developed and made a new creature as well as Art a new thing and all because Ruskin said to them, Study Nature and even these small things will become as deep wells of Joy to you and through you to all men.
The love of this man for his work was touching. Seeing us interested he left the flowers he was finishing to explain to us what had already been done. Beginning with the ferns he said the plants were arranged and classified continuing round the first gallery and then carried to the second. Here were South America & Australian plants as well as the fleur de lis the marsh mallow and the “common” English plants; all so well and so durably carved that if these laborers do not receive their full measure of praise from their own generations, they, like all true artists have found pleasure enough in the doing of their work and are willing to leave their earthly reward to posterity. £100,000 has already been expended here and the world who do not understand the wonder and the beauty of the work grumble as usual but Ruskin steps boldly forward to encourage them and gives £300 for the completion of a window. In the meantime the work goes slowly forward slowly as all great conscientious things must and gleams of color shine out upon you here and there unexpectedly as it were from the clustered columns. Dark ivy leaves worked in iron shadow the corners breaking the clear rays of sunlight and castiron boughs look ready to bend their long leaves before the first breeze. The place is so full of thought even in its present unfinished state that we found our time exhausted in the central hall alone and in listening to the description of his own work which our kind artist-guide, chisel in hand, had given us so we did not venture into the side-rooms where we were told other artists were at work according to their several gifts. It was a great temptation but the fear of interrupting them kept us back and we left the place unwillingly hoping at some no very distant date to find ourselves there once more gazing on the finished work.
From there we went to see the original clay models of all Chantrey’s works. Here was that glorious statue of Grattan burning with the fire of eloquence, the quiet majesty of Pitt the keen eyes of Cyril Jackson, the breathing statue of James Watt. We thought these the finest and I was a little disappointed. I had believed Chantrey greater still. The kneeling figure of Bishop Heber and another celebrated divine I thought in detestable taste. Still it was a treat to have seen them and one we could not have enjoyed except for our kind friend. Then we went to our lodgings. Jamie wrote letters and I read Kenilworth until dinner. After dinner we fed the deer again from our hands and then went to see Mr Chantrey’s rooms. He lives high up under the roof of Magdalen. There he has made hanging gardens from his windows and such a wilderness of curiosities inside as would pass the power of any to describe. He knows the beauty of the bark of trees and uses it for everything. His doors are covered with engravings framed in it his flower pots are covered with it his chandelier is made of it mirrors bound with it, until the whole place has the look of a forest. It seemed too like the old curiosity shop of Dickens lighted by flowers instead of that one human flower he planted there so tenderly. Presently Dr Reade uncovered the piano and sang to us. The singing was almost as strange as the place. Old ditties which the fast world had forgotten and in particular one mournful old man’s song asking to hear again a lay he knew when he was young recalling the last time his wife sang to him. We sat there listening in the gloaming until the soft rain which was pattering down made the room seem dark and then we shut the door upon this strange home, this vagary and went back gladly to the fire-side. Dr Reade was interested to hear about Spiritualism. Talked of many things. Thinks Dumas the greatest author of fiction of our time and one of the greatest. Likes Scott’s poems. “Dora” better than any of Tennyson. Goldsmith one of the greatest men because he wrote a first-rate play, a first-rate novel, great poems and essays in profusion.