This volume, as befits the first volume of the set, is for the most part juvenalia. Cook & Wedderburn have opted to organize their edition mostly chronologically, with a few exceptions: multi-volume works (Modern Painters, Stones of Venice) appear in consecutive volumes; within volumes, more important large works come before odds & sods. That's the case here. The first & largest piece in Early Prose Writings is The Poetry of Architecture, which Ruskin published as a series of articles in The Architectural Magazine in 1837-8, & which was only collected as a book much later.
It's very much a young man's book – Ruskin was 18 & 19 when he wrote it (tho he'd been publishing poems, & the occasional essay or note, for several years) & trying his best to do well at Oxford, which wasn't easy: his strong suits, as he laid them out around this time, were imaginative writing (read: sub-Byronic verse), drawing, & the study of geology & architecture – none of which were on the curriculum at the University. Indeed, while he was stoked to the gills on Sir Walter Scott & the Authorized Version, his Latin & Greek were pretty shaky, which put him at a distinct disadvantage among the Etonians & Harrovians around him. The Poetry of Architecture is a bit of rag-bag, an attempt to argue for the relationship of architecture to national scenery/topography on the one hand and "national character" on the other. Mostly it's JR recounting what he saw on his various family visits to the Continent, & compare it to what he knew from the family's annual wine-selling tours of Great Britain (Ruskin's father was a sherry merchant, in partnership with the Dolmecq family, whose sherries one can still pick up at the supermarket). Lots of descriptions of what characteristic English, Swiss, & Italian cottages look like, & how they best harmonize with the surroundings.
What I'm most struck by in this apprentice work – for JR has yet to formulate a coherent aesthetic in any self-conscious fashion, tho he's already got a good start on his aureate prose – is how astonishingly self-assured he is in his pronouncements. This is the work of a young man whose parents had been telling everyone he was a genius for a decade or more, & he's perfectly aware of it, & perfectly happy to live up to the label. The vast majority of the dissertations I've read, & the vast majority of the first books, have nothing like the consistent sense Ruskin's prose shows of inherent rightness. It gets oppressive after a while – as does the work of any 19-year-old jackanapes, no matter how brilliant – but there's also something rather intoxicating about it, even as he hands down Moses's tablets on matters I couldn't care less about (the proper form of a chimney, the proper angle a roof should make to its supporting wall).