The Royal Academy Exhibition 1859
Well, of course, it is very nice. Housings and camels―palm trees―clouds, and sheikh. But waiting for a ferry-boat is dull work; and are we never to get out of Egypt any more? nor to perceive the existence of any living creatures but Arabs and camels ? Is there nothing paintable in England, nor Spain, nor Italy?1 Or, in the East, if we must live in the East, is no landscape ever visible but a dead level of mud raised two feet above a slow stream? I have heard of lovely hills and convents at Athos―of green trees and flowing waters at Damascus―of mighty rocks at Petra and Mount Hor―of wonderful turrets and enamelled walls at Cairo: surely the mosaic of a marble turret is as pretty a thing to paint as a camel-housing; and it would take no more trouble to draw the ridges of an Arabian mountain than the folds of that everlasting sheik's cloak! We go to this melancholy Egypt through plague, and mosquitoes, and misery of every sort―and all we see for our pains is a camel with a fine carpet on his back. Cannot we see that any day at the Zoological Gardens? But the Sphinx, and the temples, and the hieroglyphics, and the mirage, and simoom, and everything that we want to know about, and that one would be so thankful to have painted properly―shall we never have any of these? It is too unkind of you, Mr. Lewis; and it serves you quite right to be put up there, where nobody can see a bit of your good work, but only your dull subject. But what is this we have got put underneath you, which looks like a tobacconist's sign? a valuable work, it is to be hoped―let us see.
(1)[Ruskin particularly regretted that Lewis did not devote himself to Venice. "I would give anything," he wrote to his father from Venice (September 16, 1851), "if John Lewis would come; he is the only man who could draw it, and he would do it perfectly." Compare another letter already given above, p. 167]