Born in London in 1819 as the only child of prosperous but possessive parents, John Ruskin was a sensitive, talented and observant boy who grew up to be the most significant anglophone art critic and social commentator of the late nineteenth century. His unfinished autobiography, Praeterita, was his last major work, begun in 1885 and written in the lucid intervals from a dementia which finally enveloped him completely until his death in 1901. Despite the circumstances of its composition, the book is written in the most luminous style which even the nineteenth century, that great age of English prose, can show. Praeterita is an account of childhood, boyhood and youth. It tells the story of Ruskin's early years, describing the formation of his taste and intellect through education, travels in Europe, and encounters with great works of art and artists - most famously his father's friend, J.M.W. Turner. All these experiences are set in the context of domestic life in pre-Victorian England, described in exquisite detail. But Praeterita is far more than a mere memoir.
It is, to paraphrase Wordsworth, the story of a poet's mind, belonging with comparable works of non-fiction by Newman, Tolstoy and Henry Adams, and with fictional accounts of childhood by Dickens, George Eliot, James and Proust. This edition of Praeterita is accompanied by Dilecta, Ruskin's own selection from his letters, diaries and passages from other writings which throw further light on his memoirs.
Timothy Hilton, a former art critic for the Guardian and the Independent on Sunday, is the author of a two-volume biography of John Ruskin (Yale, 1985, 2000). Other works include The Pre-Raphaelites and Picasso.