[17 January 1882?]. Manuscript. Twelve 5" x 8" pages written on 3 folded leaves, stitched together at the vertical fold, not signed but completely in Ruskin's hand. A presumably complete and untitled essay, possibly unpublished, on realism in art and its relation to morals. Ruskin begins, “Realism in any work of art ... is by no means a modern attribute. We find it in the paintings of Raphael just as unmistakably as in those [of] Meissonier or Duran.... We may very properly call it the natural -- the human -- element of a work of art, and no doubt it is this element which pleases us most in all masterpieces.... But realism is not the sole end, nor even the chief end of artistic creations; if it were, we should prize a photograph more than one of Turner's landscapes.... Now contemporary fiction must be subject to the same laws as past fiction, only its worth must vary according to the merits of the present novelists.... The three greatest English novelists -- Thackeray, George Eliot, and Dickens were minute in their copies of human nature & precise in their character dissection. Of the three, Dickens avowedly wrote for a 'purpose' -- to remedy abuse of a specific character -- to denounce foundling houses, charity schools and courts of chancery, but while he succeeded in mitigating or correcting many of these wrongs, he necessarily pushed his realism too far -- to the detriment of his art.... Dickens invests the lowest classes with romance; he makes them so attractive that you regret you were not born a pauper." Ruskin discusses other British authors as well as the French school: "I think we shall find that the French realistic school (and its imitation in England & America) fails signally. Realism is not to blame as much as the want of art.... We may regard realism as an aid to morals if it is interwoven with the artistic element. If unaccompanied by this, realism in fiction can never lead to the highest creations of genius, may frequently be pernicious, and will probably often be dull." The essay does not appear in the WORKS OF JOHN RUSKIN, ed. Cook and Wedderburn (Cambridge, 1903-12). The date is written, apparently in another hand, at the very end of the essay. Minor staining. Near Fine. Item #020995
The OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY cites Ruskin’s MODERN PAINTERS as the earliest instance of the word “realism” to mean “close resemblance to what is real; fidelity of representation, rendering the precise detail of the real thing or scene.”.