John Ruskin | 9 autograph letters signed, to Libbie and Polly Bell, 1880s
Series of nine autograph letters signed, seven to Libbie Bell ("Darling Libbie") and two to her sister Polly
affectionate letters on his desire to see her, several inviting her to visit him ("...I never expected to see you - in that Lapland snow - but the moment any body can see either sky or ground again - shall look for you to tea and muffins: the new gown must not be risked - I like you all the same in any gown..."), the letters to Polly discussing his wish to have a dress made for Janie, another girl in the family, the second letter written partly in verse, 12 pages, 8vo, headed stationery of 84 Woodstock Road, Oxford, and Brantwood, Coniston, Lancashire, 29 November 1884 to 7 January 1886 (where dated), with seven autograph envelopes, splitting at folds, minor staining
[with:] John Ruskin, signed carte de visite photograph by Elliott & Fry, head and shoulders, taken in 1867, signed on the mount, dated 1879 on the reverse; autograph envelope with free frank signature of W.E. Gladstone (probably signed on his behalf by his daughter) originally enclosed with letter of 19 November 1884; Joan Ruskin Severn, two autograph letters signed, to Libbie Bell, 3 pages, 8vo, headed stationery of Brantwood, Coniston, Lancashire, 1917; photographic portrait of Joan Severn by Gabells of London, 150 x 100mm, mounted (193 x 140mm); printed order of service from the funeral of John Ruskin
"...I've been very sick and weary myself and not fit to speak to anybody - or I should have been begging for a sight of Libbie before now..."
A REVEALING CORRESPONDENCE WITH A YOUNG WOMAN. Libbie Bell was a local girl living at Hawes Bank in Coniston. She was in her early twenties when she received these letters from Ruskin, the first of which is written from Oxford at the time of Ruskin's tumultuous final Slade lecture: "I hope you all - you especially, have been missing me very much! I have, you - and the old man [of Coniston], greatly too". Ruskin expressed such intensity of emotion in a number of relationships with young women, in which sexual desire seems to have been sublimated into sentimental attachments combined with regular requests for girls to dress up for him. In one letter he wonders if she will wear her new gown, and another announces that he has a dress ready for her to wear, although he is careful to mention that she will be chaperoned when she changes ("...after tea, Mrs Severn [will] help you to put on the dress..."). The letters to Polly Bell similarly focus on his wish to "make a nice little dress for my little pet Janie to go to school in"; the receipt of the dress appears to have driven a delighted Ruskin to verse:
"I've been thrice across the lake to plead with Polly,
And I promised her a silken gown, and an Irish shawl
But she's wild as the heather bells, and hard as the holly
And I couldn't get an answer,
at all, - at all - !"
Bonhams, 12 November 2013, lot 252
splitting at folds, minor staining
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