Seeing Many Beautiful Things: John Ruskin’s “Old Coachman”

By Melinda Creech
Graduate Assistant, Armstrong Browning Library

The Armstrong Browning Library has fifteen letters that deal in one way or another with David Fudge, John Ruskin’s coachman for fifty years. The following anecdotes are recorded in The Works of John Ruskin, Volume 35, 717-718.

From “Mr. Ruskin and his old Coachman” Daily Chronicle, January 22, 1900:

‘David’ would daily drive him through the Surrey lanes, then (ten or twelve years ago) untouched by the builder. The sight of a brooklet or of a picturesque bit of road, said Mr. Fudge, would always call for the eager request: ‘Drive through there, David; drive through there!’ The Professor was a great walker, and would often dismount from his brougham and set out across country. ‘Then, I suppose, you would meet your master to take him home after the walk?’ “Yes; before leaving the carriage he would insist on sketching out a plan of the road I was to take to meet him. And more than often I found him waiting for—such was his pace and his knowledge of the foot paths. My master was a very plain liver, and almost a teetotaler. He was very reserved in his way, and kept but little company. But, min you,’ added Mr. Fudge, with emphasis, ‘he was as good a master as it is possible to have. All the old family servants are amply provided for. I have many a time seem my late master heartily shake the hand of a crossing sweeper whom he thought well of. Mr. Fudge proudly brought forth from his breast pocket a number of affectionate letters written to him in later years.

From the Western Morning News, January 22, 1900:

Like all Ruskin’s servants, David Fudge is provided for in his old age, and every month since his retirement, he has received a cheque from Brantwood. The old man keeps all his letters with a jealous affection. In one of them Ruskin says: ‘Dearest David,—I am sorry to hear of your illness, but hope you will be better. I enclose £5, with which you may be enable to buy some comforts.

The Works of John Ruskin, Volume 28, 520, records Ruskin’s comments in Fors Clavigera Vol. VI, paragraph 10: “I have got two Davids, and a Kate, that I wouldn’t change for anybody else’s servants in the world.”

Very little mention is made of a person who for a great part of Ruskin’s life was his daily companion. These letters give a few more glimpses into Daivd Fudge’s life.

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Letter from George Nugée to John Ruskin. 24 November 1853. Page 1.

Letter from George Nugée to John Ruskin. 24 November 1853. Page 2.

Letter from George Nugée to John Ruskin. 24 November 1853. Page 2.

In this letter George Nugée, Vicar of Wymering, sends a letter or recommendation to Ruskin regarding David Fudge. Fudge had served the family well at their residence in London, 6. Upper Wimpole Street, but because the Nugées were moving to the country, Wymering Manor, where he served as Vicar, and had no room there for a coachman with a family, he was recommending David Fudge’s service to  John Ruskin.

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Fragment of a Letter from John Ruskin to David Fudge. [Ca. 1871].

In this fragment Ruskin assures Fudge of his just treatment by both his cousin, Joan (Agnew Ruskin) Severn, and himself and encourages Fudge to “remonstrate with her” if he thinks she gives him more work than is proper. From this fragment, it seems that Fudge had responsibilities at Denmark Hill in the service of Ruskin’s cousin, Joan Severn while Ruskin was away.

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Letter from John Ruskin to David Fudge. 18 October 1877.

Here Ruskin sends  David Fudge his cheque, apologizing for the delay, and instructs him to pay Dawson Herdson, the head gardener at Brantwood, and get a receipt.

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Letter from Joan Severn to David Fudge. 30 August [1895]. Page 1

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Letter from Joan Severn to David Fudge. 30 August [1895]. Page 2

In this letter Joan Severn informs David Fudge that he may get a request from the architect, William Douglas Caröe, to show him the house where J. M. W. Turner had lived, a place that Fudge and Ruskin had visited some thirty years before. Caröe was interested in preserving the place.

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Letter from W. D. Caröe to David Fudge. 2 September 1895. Page 1.

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Letter from W. D. Caröe to David Fudge. 2 September 1895. Pages 2 and 3.

In this letter, Caröe asks Fudge to come and see him and help him to find Turner’s house in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea.

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Letter from W. D. Caröe to David Fudge. 2 September 189[5]. Page 1.

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Letter from W. D. Caröe to David Fudge. 2 September 1895. Page 2.

In this letter, which was probably misdated by Caröe, he regrets he couldn’t make their appointment, commends Fudge for the information he gave Mrs. Caröe about Turner’s House, and thanks him for his assistance.

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Letter from Joan Severn to David Fudge. 25 March 1897. Page 1.

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Letter from Joan Severn to David Fudge. 25 March 1897. Page 2.

The Armstrong Browning Library owns nine letters written by Joan Severn, Ruskin’s cousin. In 1871 Joan married Arthur Severn, moved into Herne Hill, and began to take over the administration of the property. They also spent time at Brantwood and eventually moved there in 1887, where she began managing that estate.

This letter indicates that Fudge had sent some photographs to Ruskin.

We all think them excellent—it gave him real pleasure to see your face again—& those sweet little children, of whom you must be very fond—& proud—

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Letter from Joan Severn to David Fudge. [Ca. 1898]. Page 1.

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Letter from Joan Severn to David Fudge. [Ca. 1898]. Page 2.

In this letter Mrs. Severn thanks Fudge for the Christmas card and reports that Ruskin also received his and sends his thanks. She expresses sorrow about the death of the gardener Dawson Herdson.

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Letter from Joan Severn to David Fudge. 21 January 1900.

This letter reports on Ruskin’s death.

I know you too will grieve in the terrible sorrow that has come to us by the death of your beloved Master—failure of the heart from influenza after only a day’s illness—no suffering thank God, but just like a peaceful sleep at the end—

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Letter from Joan Severn to David Fudge. 20 February 1902.

Joan Severn sends £2 to Fudge and hopes for his recovery.

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Letter from Joan Severn to Mrs. Hading. 5 November 1903. Page 1.

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Letter from Joan Severn to Mrs. Hading. 5 November 1903. Pages 2 and 3.

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Letter from Joan Severn to Mrs. Hading. 5 November 1903. Page 4.

Mrs. Severn sends her condolences to Mrs. Hading, David Fudge’s daughter, and asks that she purchase flowers for his funeral, sending her the bill.

I was much shocked & distressed to get your letter today here, telling of the death of your dear Father whose loss I naturally mourn—& feel in this great sorrow deeply for you all—…your Father’s death removes a land-mark associated with many interesting, & happy associations—

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Letter from Joan Severn to Emmie. 21 December 1903. Page 1.

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Letter from Joan Severn to Emmie. 21 December 1903. Page 2.

This is another letter of sympathy from Joan Severn to Emmie, Fudge’s daughter. She has sent Mrs. Severn a photograph of her Father with her son and also a memorial card.

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Letter from Joan Severn to David’s Daughter. 13 February 1906. Page 1.

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Letter from Joan Severn to David’s Daughter. 13 February 1906. Pages 2 and 3.

Joan Severn replies to Fudge’s daughter’s letter and asks her to visit when she returns to Herne Hill. It is unclear whether Mrs. Hading, Emmie, and David’s Daughter are all the same person. It is known that the Fudges had several children.

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Letter from Sara Anderson to Mrs. Hasting. 8 November [ny]. Page 1.

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Letter from Sara Anderson to Mrs. Hasting. 8 November [ny]. Page 2.

Sara Anderson, amanuensis for both Ruskin and Joan Severn, reports that Mrs. Severn has just returned home and asks Mrs. Hasting to send the date of David Fudge’s death and the name and address of the person who is managing his affairs.

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