The R Numbers

1. For reasons which remain obscure to me, the text of John Ruskin’s Praeterita is arranged in numbered paragraphs. At least, such is the case with the Everyman edition which I am reading. I have seen other versions where the numbering is absent. This practice is not a substitute for, but rather an addition to, the conventional division of the text into chapters. The numbering, however, is continuous through the chapters, so that, for example, Chapter II of Volume I (“Herne-Hill Almond Blossoms”) begins with paragraph number 36. The book was originally published in three volumes, and each has its paragraphs separately numbered, so that Volume I contains paragraphs numbered 1 to 260 in twelve chapters, Volume II 1 to 235 in twelve chapters, and Volume III 1 to 86 in four chapters, at which point Ruskin abandoned it.

2. The numbering of paragraphs does not support a critical apparatus appended to the book, such as a commentary, notes, or what have you. Hence my perplexity. It appears to be simply idiosyncratic.

3. I have noticed, while reading, that my eyes tend to glance over the numbers without registering them. And yet, when I first opened the book, and saw the numbering, I found it very pleasing. I cannot quite articulate why. Of course, it acts as a handy aide memoire for any nuggets of arresting Ruskinian prose one wants to recall. However, I think there have been quite enough quotations from Mr R. posted at Hooting Yard over recent months.

4. I am not sure what, if anything, is the purpose of this post, other than to practise a bit of paragraph-numbering off my own bat. In my experience, it is these odd and inconsequential postages which attract a greater number of comments than usual. We shall see.

2 thoughts on “The R Numbers

  1. Re 1: The paragraph numbering could have been introduced to prevent bored Linotypists from inserting paragraphs of their own. It’s a wearying life enlivened only by splashes of hot lead.

    Re 3: If Mr R. has an unnumbered edition of Praeterita some (or all) of those quotations may be spurious.

    Re 4: Damn. I just bit first, didn’t I?

  2. I don’t know why this happened but I suddenly heard my Granny’s voice saying “The sun is shining. Why don’t you go out and play for a little while?’


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