Ruskin's poems burble along comfortably enough, if unmemorably. I've gotten about halfway thru the 550-page 2nd volume of the Library Edition; I've finished, that is, all the poems he formally published & collected during his lifetime (the collection of record, which more or less signalled the close of Ruskin's already negelected poetic career, came out in 1850, when he was 31), & have just embarked on the real live "juvenilia," starting with the bits of precocious doggerel he was cranking out at 7 or so. What's striking about the –er – mature poetry (he really pretty much gave up poetry when he got deeply into the 1st volume of Modern Painters, published when he was 24) is that Ruskin's much-admired descriptive "eloquence" – what many would call his "purple prose" – is already very much in place. Indeed, the stuff comes absolutely naturally to him, simply flows off his pen. What makes the difference is that in Modern Painters that descriptive gift will be harnessed to a coherent moral aesthetic; later, things'll get even more interesting, when that moral aesthetic is imbricated with a social & political vision.
It's hard not to agree with Kenneth Clark in his introduction to the Penguin anthology Ruskin Today, who regrets "the sheer nonsense which occupies a great part of his later work." On the other hand, Clark presents an interesting meditation upon his choice of particularly "beautifully written" passages – the "purple" bits, precisely:
There are good reasons why this kind of writing [a "highly coloured prose style"] is no longer admired and, by younger critics, actively despised. It introduces an emotional appeal into matters which should be the concern of reason, and even the emotions it arouses are inflated by the pressure of words. It is commonly used to conceal the truth,to stir up hatred, and to promote war. A rhetorical style intoxicates the writer and seems to generate a particular state of mind, so that Ruskin will suddenly indulge in a tub-thumping justification of the Crimean War or a violent incitement to go out and seize colonies (although in his quieter moments he knew that both war and colonialism were wrong), simply because the mounting rhythm of his style carried him in that direction. Today the suspicion we feel for degraded language rhetoric extends to elaborate writings of all kinds. We find it hard to believe that anyone who is sincerely anxious to tell the truth will do so in long and well-contrived sentences, rather than in a series of monosyllables and grunts. [Compare the inexplicably popular Matt Taibbi's neanderthal attack on Terry Eagleton, or the American right wing's promotion of the "rhetoric" of Joe the Plumber & Sarah Palin against Obama during the last election.] And so the marvellous eloquence which, to his contemporaries, seemed to guarantee Ruskin's immortality, has become one of the principal reasons why he remains unread.
Gay Daly's Pre-Raphaelites in Love continues to amuse & engross. I called it a "pot-boiler with academic pretensions," which was perhaps a trifle harsh but on balance fair enough. The material itself is fascinating, & presented gracefully – the erotic relationship between painters & models, the collision of Victorian moral strictures & hard-wired human desires, the place of the "fine arts" in Victorian political economy, the process of a new "avant-garde" assimilating itself into the structures of official culture, etc. – but I'm continually hankering for Daly to dig a bit deeper, to indulge in a bit more hard analysis. But that, of course, might well push the book out of the "popular audience" category into the "academic" world. (Precisely the wall I found myself walking atop while writing The Poem of a Life, & I'm not sure which side I kept falling onto. [Perhaps, given that the book is still available, & a bargain, you should pick up your own copy & decide for yourself?])
Is it too obvious that I'm avoiding writing what I ought to be writing?