CHARLOTTE BROICHER: John Ruskin und sein Werk.
Puritaner, Künstler, Kritiker. 1. Reihe: Essays. Leipzig, Diederichs,
1902. In-8º, XXXVI-298 p., with 1 plate.

JOHN RUSKIN: Moderne Maler (vol. I and II). Im Auszug
überstz und zusammengefasst von Charlotte Broicher.
Leipzig, Diederichs, 1902. In-8º, XII-312 p.

   Renan observed the efficacious and charming role that women played in the origin of all religions. We are pleased to declare amid the religious zeal that is exercised around the name of Ruskin, the evangelic mission, the mission of bearers of good news that women, and in particular German women, seem to have taken upon themselves. Quite recently, in these very pages, we reviewed Mme de Bunsen's slim volume devoted to Ruskin. This time around it is Frau Charlotte Broicher who has just written a very fine essay on the Coniston master, which she has had follow an abridged translation of the first two volumes of Modern Painters. Frau Charlotte Broicher has a naturally philosophical intellect, but also a long cultivated intellect. Her taste bears the imprint, so it seems, of intellectual fashions that are, so to speak, posterior to Ruskin. And it seems that she perceives it to some extent through other writers, and perhaps inevitably, if they occupy the first place in her intellect. Moreover it is the fate of the greatest geniuses, when they achieve posterity, that they can no longer be appreciated without being swollen by their tributaries. Ruskin began, and never stopped evoking in the imagination of his purest disciples all the intellects, greater of lesser than his, that had been, after him, the masters of a generation. As it is, Frau Broicher's book, in its pleasing and fervent form, may be read with much enjoyment and profit. I would like to point out as of particular interest the first chapter in which is revealed and circumscribed the general point of view of the book and chapter fourteen which we shall say a few words about presently.
   In her first chapter Frau Broicher notes that not long ago Ruskin's name was hardly known in Germany. Now he has begun to be quoted. They are at pains to fully understand him. And, without knowing it, they are all living under his influence. It is that influence and primarily the personality that explains him, that Frau Broicher means to analyze. To her, Ruskin is both an artist and a prophet. Or rather, she says, he begins his career as an artist and ends it as a prophet. "It is an aspect of his character that the great apostle of beauty deep down always remains a puritan." Thus, in short, is the idea that was set out in the Gazette des Beaux-Arts; but in our opinion Frau Broicher, besides being tainted by partiality, treats the idea in a rather too superficial way. But Ruskin is not only a puritan, he is also an artist. And that, according to Frau Broicher (and in reality it is too obvious), from the nature and the gaps in his education at Oxford. "The art historian", says the German commentator, "is obliged to review all manifestations of genius that occur through the course of a period in history. The artist proceeds quite differently. Half the masters leave him indifferent or find him antipathetic. Such a one is Ruskin."
   So, he wrote Modern Painters for no other reason than to make Turner understood, etc. There follows a quite exact analysis of Modern Painters (of which Frau Broicher, in her second volume, translates a number of extracts and puts them together one with another with methodical and intelligent care). Then, discussing The Stones of Venice, which she calls "a history in the manner of Carlyle", Frau Broicher makes an interesting remark on the affinities that exist between Ruskin's ideas and those of Goethe on the subject of the gothic: "In Goethe's essay on German architecture," she says, "you will find the germ of the idea that Ruskin was to develop eighty years later, in the Stones." Let us once more take note of the following idea from this passage to conclude our analysis of this first chapter: "Ruskin's altruism has a deeper basis than Tolstoy's." Tolstoy said: "Love your neighbour more than you love yourself; the less you come to love yourself, the more you come to love your neighbour." Ruskin said: "Love your neighbour as yourself. And the more you love yourself with a love that is elevated and noble, the more elevated and noble will be the love you feel for your neighbour."
   After this introductory chapter, we finish by describing the fourteenth, "a persoenlich, persoenliches", as one of those that seemed to us of most interest. This chapter is a commentary on a page of Ruskin's which is itself a discussion of a phrase by Goethe, quoted by Carlyle to Emerson: "The world is quite empty when when it is represented only by mountains, rivers and towns; but here and there we know lives a friend whose thoughts are at one with our own; and for us this makes this world a garden in which there is life." "My education", replied Ruskin, "had formed in me a completely opposite opinion... Never was I more content than when nobody was thinking about me. My greatest joy was to observe without being observed myself. I interested myself in men and in their character, just as if they were marmots, chamois, trout or titmice, etc. etc. My love of nature became the principle of everything of worth that I did, the light that nourished me." Frau Broicher has rightly raised this great debate in her book: it has provided us with one of the essential disputes that will always divide the sects and the schools. "The world is so empty when it is represented by mountains and rivers; but here and there we know lives a friend whose thoughts are at one with our own; and for us this makes this world a garden in which there is life." It seems, as far as we are concerned, entirely significant that these words are Goethe's. In them is reflected the character of his work, and, with inflexible and faithful precision, his limits. For indeed it has, and Wilhelm Meister1 is not, as too many have seemed to say of Emerson (Representative Men)2 and Carlyle (Heroes)3 all nature; at most it would be all humanity. "Human, all too human"4, we would be tempted to repeat in the presence of this admirable book, without in any way troubling to give to these impudent and sublime words the meaning that they preserve in the book that made them famous.
   As regards the overly human XVIIIth century, that depoetized the world by populating it, it seems to us that Ruskin was quite right in recovering from it its mystery by anthropomorphosizing it. And, having nowhere "a friend whose thoughts are at one with our own", he discovered the inspiration that only solitude can provide5 and that, in Wilhelm Meister, in Elective Affinities,6 the greatest intelligence that there ever was, most apt to play any role, even that of the imagination, never to be superceded. One of my friends pursuing in a fervent yet undisciplined spirit that great debate instituted between Goethe and Ruskin and who would decide, truth to tell, if it were to be settled, between the two great families of thought that any classification, however synthetic it may be, must recognize, said to me several times on this subject: "In Constantinople I had one of those friends of whom Goethe speaks, der mit uns übereinstimmt.7 Constantinople seemed much closer to me, more pleasant, more spiritual, more human. This philosopher - a charming mind - little by little ceased to live in Constantinople or to be a friend to me, you might say: Constantinople gradually took on in my imagination the place it had lost in my heart. Through unforeseen and hurtful circumstances it lost anew little by little its poetry and its mystery and became once more, as in Goethe's words, a sympathetic corner of the great garden in which there is life. This philosopher is now dead to me. Never has Santa Sophia seemed so beautiful to me. If, by chance, our friendship is restored, Turkey would lose that poetic mystery in whose depths we must seek the profound personalities that it is art's mission to bring to light, because this mystery is only found in remote and solitary places. It becomes lost to them should a friend, by living in those places populate for us their solitude and diminish their remoteness by reconciling them to our heart." Nothing demonstrates the interest of Frau Broicher's book better than this personal contribution of memories and examples where it stimulates and persuades the most hesitant. And it is to her credit to lead us tirelessly, by pleasant paths and as though on a gentle slope, to the heights where the vast horizon is arrayed. There is not any great merit in that, however, because on these roads she need only let herself be guided by the Master; but still we must follow. "Her ways are ways of pleasantness," as Solomon said in Proverbs, "and all her paths are peace."8


First published in La Chronique des arts et de la curiosité, 2 January 1904.

1. In 1794 Goethe published Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, which he worked on for twenty years, and in 1821, Wilhelm Meister's Journeyman Years.

2. One of the most important collections of essays (1850) published by the American philosopher Emerson (1803-1882).

3. The Scottish writer Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) had translated the two works that Goethe dedicated to Wilhelm Meister into English. He set forth his directive essays in the six lectures that he published in 1840 under the title of Heroes and Hero Worship.

4. Title given by Friedrich Nietzsche to one of his master works.

5. An idea that was dear to Proust, one that dominated his aesthetic.

6. The novel that Goethe published under this title in 1809 was originally conceived as a short story as a part of Wilhelm Meister.

7. "who agree with us in everything".

8. Proverbs, III, 17.


Return to Front Page