Most of Ruskin's books are out of print. Anyone who takes more than a passing interest in his work should look for the standard edition in a library. This is The Library Edition of the Works of John Ruskin, edited by E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, London, 1903-12 It was published in thirty-nine large volumes, and the index alone fills one of them. It is a masterpiece of editorial scholarship and very easy to use. The introductions to each volume are unusually long, well-written and informative; it is beautifully illustrated, mainly with Ruskin's drawings; the notes are incomparable.
Of complete books in print, the only ones easily available that include material not in this selection are The Elements of Drawing (Dover) and Praeterita (OUP). There is also a handsome edition of The Stones of Venice (Faber and Faber), which includes some splendid colour reproductions; but it is heavily abridged and the cuts are nowhere indicated. There are also a number of selections in print. Of these, by far the best is The Genius of John Ruskin, edited by J. D. Rosenberg, London (Allen and Unwin), 1964. This includes much longer extracts than is customary and attempts to cover every phase and manner of Ruskin's career. Many collections of diaries and letters have been published. Much the most important of these, The Diaries of John Ruskin, selected and edited by Joan Evans and J. H. Waterhouse, three volumes, Oxford, 1956-9, is out of print. Fortunately, certain of Ruskin's books are still easy to find in second-hand bookshops, though they are neither as cheap nor as common as they were until quite recently, and many specific works are rare.
The quantity of secondary literature is staggering. Of the innumerable biographies, three merit particular attention. E. T. Cook's The Life of John Ruskin, two volumes, London, 1893, is the standard work. It is reverential but neither pompous nor fussy; most of the material appears in the Introductions to the Library Edition. Derrick Leon's Ruskin: The Great Victorian, London, 1949, is probably the fullest and most sympathetic biography. Unlike most modern critics, Leon was very much a Ruskinian. John Dixon Hunt's The Wider Sea, London (Dent), 1982, is the most up-to-date account. Tim Hilton's John Ruskin: The Early Years, New Haven (Yale), 1985, published in the month this book goes to press, sounds as if it is likely soon to become the standard biography. It deals with Ruskin's life up until 1860; a second volume dealing with the later years is promised. The most interesting critical studies of recent years are, in my view, J. D. Rosenberg's The Darkening Glass, London (Routledge), 1963, and Robert Hewison's John Ruskin: The Argument of the Eye, London (Thames and Hudson), 1976. Both make original observations and both use biographical material.
Ruskin was a superb draughtsman and watercolourist. Evidence of this is to be found in the Library Edition, in Paul H. Walton's The Drawings of John Ruskin, Oxford (Clarendon Press), 1972, in Robert Hewison's Ruskin and Venice, London (Thames and Hudson), 1978, and in John Ruskin, the catalogue to the Arts Council travelling exhibition of 1983.