That last bit of italics is mine, because I'm thinking of Wilmer's own notes to the Penguin Unto this Last – over 40 closely printed pages to 250-odd pages of Ruskin's text. Wilmer sets out with the editor's usual brief: to fill in contemporary contexts with which 20th-century readers might be unfamiliar, and, since "Ruskin was an exceptionally allusive writer," to identify his quotations and allusions. For the most part Wilmer does a better than fine job; if anything, the book is over-annotated – but the notes are at the end, so they can be conveniently ignored. But what to make of the following?:
In Fors Clavigera 10 (7 September 1871), after having identified himself as "a violent Tory of the old school (Walter Scott's school, that is to say, and Homer's)," Ruskin goes on to describe the ideal of monarchy that he formed from such childhood reading:
I perceived that both the author of the Iliad and the author of Waverley made their kings, or king-loving persons, do harder work than anybody else. Tydides or Idomeneus always killed twenty Trojans to other people's one, and Redgauntlet speared more salmon than any of the Solway fishermen...To the latter reference, Wilmer appends this note:
Redgauntlet: the hero of Scott's novel of the same name, a courageous young knight who undergoes many adventures in eighteenth-century Scotland. Scott's life and works are among the recurrent minor themes of Fors.Where to begin with this? Redgauntlet (1824) is the last of Scott's novels to deal with the theme of Jacobite rebellion. In his first novel, Waverley, he had written about the 1745 Jacobite rising on behalf of Bonnie Prince Charlie (the "Young Pretender"); in Rob Roy (1817), he treated the 1715 rising on behalf of Charles's father James Stuart (the "Old Pretender"). Redgauntlet, set in the 1760s, imagines a final abortive Jacobite uprising, in which Prince Charles returns to Scotland (not so young anymore, & dissipated from his years of drinking & womanizing on the continent) & is swiftly more or less shoo'd off by the English military.
Hugh Redgauntlet personifies a kind of superannuated Jacobitism, a fierce loyalty to the Stuart cause & disdain for the Hanoverian monarchy. He is in short a man born too late, & when Charles returns to his continental exile, Redgauntlet, knowing that there will be no further Jacobite risings, turns his back on Scotland and leaves with him, making way – as is so often the case with Scott's novels – for a new, less romantic, bourgeois order. Jacobitism, in the late 18th-century, becomes a kind of sentimental conservatism, rather like Archie & Edith singing "Mister we could use a man like Herbert Hoover again."
And Redgauntlet, whatever he may be, is most definitely not "a courageous young knight who undergoes many adventures." He's in late middle age, a grizzled laird best known for his prowess at fishing. So where in god's name did Wilmer get this annotation? Is this a joke? Did he just make it up?
Wilmer shows similar distance from other Scott references; rather than describe characters & situations, he throws out brief overviews ("Ruskin refers to characters and places in the two novels named, both of which are by Scott"). We all have blind spots: I suspect Sir Walter is one of Wilmer's, a writer he can't bring himself to read, even though he knows how important Scott was to the formation of Ruskin's imagination. But if you're out to fully annotate an allusive writer, for better or worse you need to have read everything the writer has read. No small order with Ruskin (or Pound, or...).
This is why the best annotated editions are the products of several hands, rather than a single editor, however devoted he may be.
[Cook & Wedderburn – as I find out from consulting my own lovely copy – don't annotate the Redgauntlet reference at all – I guess they assume it's a part of any educated reader's cultural vocabulary.]