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The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft by George Gissing

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This etext was prepared from the 1903 Archibald Constable and Co.
edition by David Price, email ccx074@coventry.ac.uk



The name of Henry Ryecroft never became familiar to what is called
the reading public. A year ago obituary paragraphs in the literary
papers gave such account of him as was thought needful: the date
and place of his birth, the names of certain books he had written,
an allusion to his work in the periodicals, the manner of his death.
At the time it sufficed. Even those few who knew the man, and in a
measure understood him, must have felt that his name called for no
further celebration; like other mortals, he had lived and laboured;
like other mortals, he had entered into his rest. To me, however,
fell the duty of examining Ryecroft's papers; and having, in the
exercise of my discretion, decided to print this little volume, I
feel that it requires a word or two of biographical complement, just
so much personal detail as may point the significance of the self-
revelation here made.

When first I knew him, Ryecroft had reached his fortieth year; for
twenty years he had lived by the pen. He was a struggling man,
beset by poverty and other circumstances very unpropitious to mental
work. Many forms of literature had he tried; in none had he been
conspicuously successful; yet now and then he had managed to earn a
little more money than his actual needs demanded, and thus was
enabled to see something of foreign countries. Naturally a man of
independent and rather scornful outlook, he had suffered much from
defeated ambition, from disillusions of many kinds, from subjection
to grim necessity; the result of it, at the time of which I am
speaking, was, certainly not a broken spirit, but a mind and temper
so sternly disciplined, that, in ordinary intercourse with him, one
did not know but that he led a calm, contented life. Only after
several years of friendship was I able to form a just idea of what
the man had gone through, or of his actual existence. Little by
little Ryecroft had subdued himself to a modestly industrious
routine. He did a great deal of mere hack-work; he reviewed, he
translated, he wrote articles; at long intervals a volume appeared
under his name. There were times, I have no doubt, when bitterness
took hold upon him; not seldom he suffered in health, and probably
as much from moral as from physical over-strain; but, on the whole,
he earned his living very much as other men do, taking the day's
toil as a matter of course, and rarely grumbling over it.

Time went on; things happened; but Ryecroft was still laborious and
poor. In moments of depression he spoke of his declining energies,
and evidently suffered under a haunting fear of the future. The
thought of dependence had always been intolerable to him; perhaps
the only boast I at any time heard from his lips was that he had
never incurred debt. It was a bitter thought that, after so long
and hard a struggle with unkindly circumstance, he might end his
life as one of the defeated.

A happier lot was in store for him. At the age of fifty, just when
his health had begun to fail and his energies to show abatement,
Ryecroft had the rare good fortune to find himself suddenly released
from toil, and to enter upon a period of such tranquillity of mind
and condition as he had never dared to hope. On the death of an
acquaintance, more his friend than he imagined, the wayworn man of
letters learnt with astonishment that there was bequeathed to him a
life annuity of three hundred pounds. Having only himself to
support (he had been a widower for several years, and his daughter,
an only child, was married), Ryecroft saw in this income something
more than a competency. In a few weeks he quitted the London suburb
where of late he had been living, and, turning to the part of
England which he loved best, he presently established himself in a
cottage near Exeter, where, with a rustic housekeeper to look after
him, he was soon thoroughly at home. Now and then some friend went
down into Devon to see him; those who had that pleasure will not
forget the plain little house amid its half-wild garden, the cosy
book-room with its fine view across the valley of the Exe to Haldon,
the host's cordial, gleeful hospitality, rambles with him in lanes
and meadows, long talks amid the stillness of the rural night. We
hoped it would all last for many a year; it seemed, indeed, as
though Ryecroft had only need of rest and calm to become a hale man.
But already, though he did not know it, he was suffering from a
disease of the heart, which cut short his life after little more
than a lustrum of quiet contentment. It had always been his wish to
die suddenly; he dreaded the thought of illness, chiefly because of
the trouble it gave to others. On a summer evening, after a long
walk in very hot weather, he lay down upon the sofa in his study,
and there--as his calm face declared--passed from slumber into the
great silence.

When he left London, Ryecroft bade farewell to authorship. He told
me that he hoped never to write another line for publication. But,
among the papers which I looked through after his death, I came upon
three manuscript books which at first glance seemed to be a diary; a
date on the opening page of one of them showed that it had been
begun not very long after the writer's settling in Devon. When I
had read a little in these pages, I saw that they were no mere
record of day-to-day life; evidently finding himself unable to
forego altogether the use of the pen, the veteran had set down, as
humour bade him, a thought, a reminiscence, a bit of reverie, a
description of his state of mind, and so on, dating such passage
merely with the month in which it was written. Sitting in the room
where I had often been his companion, I turned page after page, and
at moments it was as though my friend's voice sounded to me once
more. I saw his worn visage, grave or smiling; recalled his
familiar pose or gesture. But in this written gossip he revealed
himself more intimately than in our conversation of the days gone
by. Ryecroft had never erred by lack of reticence; as was natural
in a sensitive man who had suffered much, he inclined to gentle
acquiescence, shrank from argument, from self-assertion. Here he
spoke to me without restraint, and, when I had read it all through,
I knew the man better than before.

Assuredly, this writing was not intended for the public, and yet, in
many a passage, I seemed to perceive the literary purpose--something
more than the turn of phrase, and so on, which results from long
habit of composition. Certain of his reminiscences, in particular,
Ryecroft could hardly have troubled to write down had he not,
however vaguely, entertained the thought of putting them to some
use. I suspect that, in his happy leisure, there grew upon him a
desire to write one more book, a book which should be written merely
for his own satisfaction. Plainly, it would have been the best he
had it in him to do. But he seems never to have attempted the
arrangement of these fragmentary pieces, and probably because he
could not decide upon the form they should take. I imagine him
shrinking from the thought of a first-person volume; he would feel
it too pretentious; he would bid himself wait for the day of riper
wisdom. And so the pen fell from his hand.

Conjecturing thus, I wondered whether the irregular diary might not
have wider interest than at first appeared. To me, its personal
appeal was very strong; might it not be possible to cull from it the
substance of a small volume which, at least for its sincerity's
sake, would not be without value for those who read, not with the
eye alone, but with the mind? I turned the pages again. Here was a
man who, having his desire, and that a very modest one, not only
felt satisfied, but enjoyed great happiness. He talked of many
different things, saying exactly what he thought; he spoke of
himself, and told the truth as far as mortal can tell it. It seemed
to me that the thing had human interest. I decided to print.

The question of arrangement had to be considered; I did not like to
offer a mere incondite miscellany. To supply each of the
disconnected passages with a title, or even to group them under
subject headings, would have interfered with the spontaneity which,
above all, I wished to preserve. In reading through the matter I
had selected, it struck me how often the aspects of nature were
referred to, and how suitable many of the reflections were to the
month with which they were dated. Ryecroft, I knew, had ever been
much influenced by the mood of the sky, and by the procession of the
year. So I hit upon the thought of dividing the little book into
four chapters, named after the seasons. Like all classifications,
it is imperfect, but 'twill serve.

G. G.



For more than a week my pen has lain untouched. I have written
nothing for seven whole days, not even a letter. Except during one
or two bouts of illness, such a thing never happened in my life
before. In my life; the life, that is, which had to be supported by
anxious toil; the life which was not lived for living's sake, as all
life should be, but under the goad of fear. The earning of money
should be a means to an end; for more than thirty years--I began to
support myself at sixteen--I had to regard it as the end itself.

I could imagine that my old penholder feels reproachfully towards
me. Has it not served me well? Why do I, in my happiness, let it
lie there neglected, gathering dust? The same penholder that has
lain against my forefinger day after day, for--how many years?
Twenty, at least; I remember buying it at a shop in Tottenham Court
Road. By the same token I bought that day a paper-weight, which
cost me a whole shilling--an extravagance which made me tremble.
The penholder shone with its new varnish, now it is plain brown wood
from end to end. On my forefinger it has made a callosity.

Old companion, yet old enemy! How many a time have I taken it up,
loathing the necessity, heavy in head and heart, my hand shaking, my
eyes sick-dazzled! How I dreaded the white page I had to foul with
ink! Above all, on days such as this, when the blue eyes of Spring
laughed from between rosy clouds, when the sunlight shimmered upon
my table and made me long, long all but to madness, for the scent of
the flowering earth, for the green of hillside larches, for the
singing of the skylark above the downs. There was a time--it seems
further away than childhood--when I took up my pen with eagerness;
if my hand trembled it was with hope. But a hope that fooled me,
for never a page of my writing deserved to live. I can say that now
without bitterness. It was youthful error, and only the force of
circumstance prolonged it. The world has done me no injustice;
thank Heaven I have grown wise enough not to rail at it for this!
And why should any man who writes, even if he write things immortal,
nurse anger at the world's neglect? Who asked him to publish? Who
promised him a hearing? Who has broken faith with him? If my
shoemaker turn me out an excellent pair of boots, and I, in some
mood of cantankerous unreason, throw them back upon his hands, the
man has just cause of complaint. But your poem, your novel, who
bargained with you for it? If it is honest journeywork, yet lacks
purchasers, at most you may call yourself a hapless tradesman. If
it come from on high, with what decency do you fret and fume because
it is not paid for in heavy cash? For the work of man's mind there
is one test, and one alone, the judgment of generations yet unborn.
If you have written a great book, the world to come will know of it.
But you don't care for posthumous glory. You want to enjoy fame in
a comfortable armchair. Ah, that is quite another thing. Have the
courage of your desire. Admit yourself a merchant, and protest to
gods and men that the merchandise you offer is of better quality
than much which sells for a high price. You may be right, and
indeed it is hard upon you that Fashion does not turn to your stall.


The exquisite quiet of this room! I have been sitting in utter
idleness, watching the sky, viewing the shape of golden sunlight
upon the carpet, which changes as the minutes pass, letting my eye
wander from one framed print to another, and along the ranks of my
beloved books. Within the house nothing stirs. In the garden I can
hear singing of birds, I can hear the rustle of their wings. And
thus, if it please me, I may sit all day long, and into the
profounder quiet of the night.

My house is perfect. By great good fortune I have found a
housekeeper no less to my mind, a low-voiced, light-footed woman of
discreet age, strong and deft enough to render me all the service I
require, and not afraid of solitude. She rises very early. By my
breakfast-time there remains little to be done under the roof save
dressing of meals. Very rarely do I hear even a clink of crockery;
never the closing of a door or window. Oh, blessed silence!

There is not the remotest possibility of any one's calling upon me,
and that I should call upon any one else is a thing undreamt of. I
owe a letter to a friend; perhaps I shall write it before bedtime;
perhaps I shall leave it till to-morrow morning. A letter of
friendship should never be written save when the spirit prompts. I
have not yet looked at the newspaper. Generally I leave it till I
come back tired from my walk; it amuses me then to see what the
noisy world is doing, what new self-torments men have discovered,
what new forms of vain toil, what new occasions of peril and of
strife. I grudge to give the first freshness of the morning mind to
things so sad and foolish.

My house is perfect. Just large enough to allow the grace of order
in domestic circumstance; just that superfluity of intramural space,
to lack which is to be less than at one's ease. The fabric is
sound; the work in wood and plaster tells of a more leisurely and a
more honest age than ours. The stairs do not creak under my step; I
am waylaid by no unkindly draught; I can open or close a window
without muscle-ache. As to such trifles as the tint and device of
wall-paper, I confess my indifference; be the walls only
unobtrusive, and I am satisfied. The first thing in one's home is
comfort; let beauty of detail be added if one has the means, the
patience, the eye.

To me, this little book-room is beautiful, and chiefly because it is
home. Through the greater part of life I was homeless. Many places
have I inhabited, some which my soul loathed, and some which pleased
me well; but never till now with that sense of security which makes
a home. At any moment I might have been driven forth by evil hap,
by nagging necessity. For all that time did I say within myself:
Some day, perchance, I shall have a home; yet the "perchance" had
more and more of emphasis as life went on, and at the moment when
fate was secretly smiling on me, I had all but abandoned hope. I
have my home at last. When I place a new volume on my shelves, I
say: Stand there whilst I have eyes to see you; and a joyous tremor
thrills me. This house is mine on a lease of a score of years. So
long I certainly shall not live; but, if I did, even so long should
I have the wherewithal to pay my rent and buy my food.

I think with compassion of the unhappy mortals for whom no such sun
will ever rise. I should like to add to the Litany a new petition:
"For all inhabitants of great towns, and especially for all such as
dwell in lodgings, boarding-houses, flats, or any other sordid
substitute for Home which need or foolishness may have contrived."

In vain I have pondered the Stoic virtues. I know that it is folly
to fret about the spot of one's abode on this little earth.

All places that the eye of heaven visits
Are to the wise man ports and happy havens.

But I have always worshipped wisdom afar off. In the sonorous
period of the philosopher, in the golden measure of the poet, I find
it of all things lovely. To its possession I shall never attain.
What will it serve me to pretend a virtue of which I am incapable?
To me the place and manner of my abode is of supreme import; let it
be confessed, and there an end of it. I am no cosmopolite. Were I
to think that I should die away from England, the thought would be
dreadful to me. And in England, this is the dwelling of my choice;
this is my home.


I am no botanist, but I have long found pleasure in herb-gathering.
I love to come upon a plant which is unknown to me, to identify it
with the help of my book, to greet it by name when next it shines
beside my path. If the plant be rare, its discovery gives me joy.
Nature, the great Artist, makes her common flowers in the common
view; no word in human language can express the marvel and the
loveliness even of what we call the vulgarest weed, but these are
fashioned under the gaze of every passer-by. The rare flower is
shaped apart, in places secret, in the Artist's subtler mood; to
find it is to enjoy the sense of admission to a holier precinct.
Even in my gladness I am awed.

To-day I have walked far, and at the end of my walk I found the
little white-flowered wood-ruff. It grew in a copse of young ash.
When I had looked long at the flower, I delighted myself with the
grace of the slim trees about it--their shining smoothness, their
olive hue. Hard by stood a bush of wych elm; its tettered bark,
overlined as if with the character of some unknown tongue, made the
young ashes yet more beautiful.

It matters not how long I wander. There is no task to bring me
back; no one will be vexed or uneasy, linger I ever so late. Spring
is shining upon these lanes and meadows; I feel as if I must follow
every winding track that opens by my way. Spring has restored to me
something of the long-forgotten vigour of youth; I walk without
weariness; I sing to myself like a boy, and the song is one I knew
in boyhood.

That reminds me of an incident. Near a hamlet, in a lonely spot by
a woodside, I came upon a little lad of perhaps ten years old, who,
his head hidden in his arms against a tree trunk, was crying
bitterly. I asked him what was the matter, and, after a little
trouble--he was better than a mere bumpkin--I learnt that, having
been sent with sixpence to pay a debt, he had lost the money. The
poor little fellow was in a state of mind which in a grave man would
be called the anguish of despair; he must have been crying for a
long time; every muscle in his face quivered as if under torture,
his limbs shook; his eyes, his voice, uttered such misery as only
the vilest criminal should be made to suffer. And it was because he
had lost sixpence!

I could have shed tears with him--tears of pity and of rage at all
this spectacle implied. On a day of indescribable glory, when earth
and heaven shed benedictions upon the soul of man, a child, whose
nature would have bidden him rejoice as only childhood may, wept his
heart out because his hand had dropped a sixpenny piece! The loss
was a very serious one, and he knew it; he was less afraid to face
his parents, than overcome by misery at the thought of the harm he
had done them. Sixpence dropped by the wayside, and a whole family
made wretched! What are the due descriptive terms for a state of
"civilization" in which such a thing as this is possible?

I put my hand into my pocket, and wrought sixpennyworth of miracle.

It took me half an hour to recover my quiet mind. After all, it is
as idle to rage against man's fatuity as to hope that he will ever
be less a fool. For me, the great thing was my sixpenny miracle.
Why, I have known the day when it would have been beyond my power
altogether, or else would have cost me a meal. Wherefore, let me
again be glad and thankful.


There was a time in my life when, if I had suddenly been set in the
position I now enjoy, conscience would have lain in ambush for me.
What! An income sufficient to support three or four working-class
families--a house all to myself--things beautiful wherever I turn--
and absolutely nothing to do for it all! I should have been hard
put to it to defend myself. In those days I was feelingly reminded,
hour by hour, with what a struggle the obscure multitudes manage to
keep alive. Nobody knows better than I do quam parvo liceat
producere vitam. I have hungered in the streets; I have laid my
head in the poorest shelter; I know what it is to feel the heart
burn with wrath and envy of "the privileged classes." Yes, but all
that time I was one of "the privileged" myself, and now I can accept
a recognized standing among them without shadow of self-reproach.

It does not mean that my larger sympathies are blunted. By going to
certain places, looking upon certain scenes, I could most
effectually destroy all the calm that life has brought me. If I
hold apart and purposely refuse to look that way, it is because I
believe that the world is better, not worse, for having one more
inhabitant who lives as becomes a civilized being. Let him whose
soul prompts him to assail the iniquity of things, cry and spare
not; let him who has the vocation go forth and combat. In me it
would be to err from Nature's guidance. I know, if I know anything,
that I am made for the life of tranquillity and meditation. I know
that only thus can such virtue as I possess find scope. More than
half a century of existence has taught me that most of the wrong and
folly which darken earth is due to those who cannot possess their
souls in quiet; that most of the good which saves mankind from
destruction comes of life that is led in thoughtful stillness.
Every day the world grows noisier; I, for one, will have no part in
that increasing clamour, and, were it only by my silence, I confer a
boon on all.

How well would the revenues of a country be expended, if, by mere
pensioning, one-fifth of its population could be induced to live as
I do!


"Sir," said Johnson, "all the arguments which are brought to
represent poverty as no evil, show it to be evidently a great evil.
You never find people labouring to convince you that you may live
very happily upon a plentiful fortune."

He knew what he was talking of, that rugged old master of common
sense. Poverty is of course a relative thing; the term has
reference, above all, to one's standing as an intellectual being.
If I am to believe the newspapers, there are title-bearing men and
women in England who, had they an assured income of five-and-twenty,
shillings per week, would have no right to call themselves poor, for
their intellectual needs are those of a stable-boy or scullery
wench. Give me the same income and I can live, but I am poor

You tell me that money cannot buy the things most precious. Your
commonplace proves that you have never known the lack of it. When I
think of all the sorrow and the barrenness that has been wrought in
my life by want of a few more pounds per annum than I was able to
earn, I stand aghast at money's significance. What kindly joys have
I lost, those simple forms of happiness to which every heart has
claim, because of poverty! Meetings with those I loved made
impossible year after year; sadness, misunderstanding, nay, cruel
alienation, arising from inability to do the things I wished, and
which I might have done had a little money helped me; endless
instances of homely pleasure and contentment curtailed or forbidden
by narrow means. I have lost friends merely through the constraints
of my position; friends I might have made have remained strangers to
me; solitude of the bitter kind, the solitude which is enforced at
times when mind or heart longs for companionship, often cursed my
life solely because I was poor. I think it would scarce be an
exaggeration to say that there is no moral good which has not to be
paid for in coin of the realm.

"Poverty," said Johnson again, "is so great an evil, and pregnant
with so much temptation, so much misery, that I cannot but earnestly
enjoin you to avoid it."

For my own part, I needed no injunction to that effort of avoidance.
Many a London garret knows how I struggled with the unwelcome
chamber-fellow. I marvel she did not abide with me to the end; it
is a sort of inconsequence in Nature, and sometimes makes me vaguely
uneasy through nights of broken sleep.


How many more springs can I hope to see? A sanguine temper would
say ten or twelve; let me dare to hope humbly for five or six. That
is a great many. Five or six spring-times, welcomed joyously,
lovingly watched from the first celandine to the budding of the
rose; who shall dare to call it a stinted boon? Five or six times
the miracle of earth reclad, the vision of splendour and loveliness
which tongue has never yet described, set before my gazing. To
think of it is to fear that I ask too much.


"Homo animal querulum cupide suis incumbens miseriis." I wonder
where that comes from. I found it once in Charron, quoted without
reference, and it has often been in my mind--a dreary truth, well
worded. At least, it was a truth for me during many a long year.
Life, I fancy, would very often be insupportable, but for the luxury
of self-compassion; in cases numberless, this it must be that saves
from suicide. For some there is great relief in talking about their
miseries, but such gossips lack the profound solace of misery nursed
in silent brooding. Happily, the trick with me has never been
retrospective; indeed, it was never, even with regard to instant
suffering, a habit so deeply rooted as to become a mastering vice.
I knew my own weakness when I yielded to it; I despised myself when
it brought me comfort; I could laugh scornfully, even "cupide meis
incumbens miseriis." And now, thanks be to the unknown power which
rules us, my past has buried its dead. More than that; I can accept
with sober cheerfulness the necessity of all I lived through. So it
was to be; so it was. For this did Nature shape me; with what
purpose, I shall never know; but, in the sequence of things eternal,
this was my place.

Could I have achieved so much philosophy if, as I ever feared, the
closing years of my life had passed in helpless indigence? Should I
not have sunk into lowest depths of querulous self-pity, grovelling
there with eyes obstinately averted from the light above?


The early coming of spring in this happy Devon gladdens my heart. I
think with chill discomfort of those parts of England where the
primrose shivers beneath a sky of threat rather than of solace.
Honest winter, snow-clad and with the frosted beard, I can welcome
not uncordially; but that long deferment of the calendar's promise,
that weeping gloom of March and April, that bitter blast outraging
the honour of May--how often has it robbed me of heart and hope.
Here, scarce have I assured myself that the last leaf has fallen,
scarce have I watched the glistening of hoar-frost upon the
evergreens, when a breath from the west thrills me with anticipation
of bud and bloom. Even under this grey-billowing sky, which tells
that February is still in rule:-

Mild winds shake the elder brake,
And the wandering herdsmen know
That the whitethorn soon will blow.

I have been thinking of those early years of mine in London, when
the seasons passed over me unobserved, when I seldom turned a glance
towards the heavens, and felt no hardship in the imprisonment of
boundless streets. It is strange now to remember that for some six
or seven years I never looked upon a meadow, never travelled even so
far as to the tree-bordered suburbs. I was battling for dear life;
on most days I could not feel certain that in a week's time I should
have food and shelter. It would happen, to be sure, that in hot
noons of August my thoughts wandered to the sea; but so impossible
was the gratification of such desire that it never greatly troubled
me. At times, indeed, I seem all but to have forgotten that people
went away for holiday. In those poor parts of the town where I
dwelt, season made no perceptible difference; there were no luggage-
laden cabs to remind me of joyous journeys; the folk about me went
daily to their toil as usual, and so did I. I remember afternoons
of languor, when books were a weariness, and no thought could be
squeezed out of the drowsy brain; then would I betake myself to one
of the parks, and find refreshment without any enjoyable sense of
change. Heavens, how I laboured in those days! And how far I was
from thinking of myself as a subject for compassion! That came
later, when my health had begun to suffer from excess of toil, from
bad air, bad food and many miseries; then awoke the maddening desire
for countryside and sea-beach--and for other things yet more remote.
But in the years when I toiled hardest and underwent what now appear
to me hideous privations, of a truth I could not be said to suffer
at all. I did not suffer, for I had no sense of weakness. My
health was proof against everything, and my energies defied all
malice of circumstance. With however little encouragement, I had
infinite hope. Sound sleep (often in places I now dread to think
of) sent me fresh to the battle each morning, my breakfast,
sometimes, no more than a slice of bread and a cup of water. As
human happiness goes, I am not sure that I was not then happy.

Most men who go through a hard time in their youth are supported by
companionship. London has no pays latin, but hungry beginners in
literature have generally their suitable comrades, garreteers in the
Tottenham Court Road district, or in unredeemed Chelsea; they make
their little vie de Boheme, and are consciously proud of it. Of my
position, the peculiarity was that I never belonged to any cluster;
I shrank from casual acquaintance, and, through the grim years, had
but one friend with whom I held converse. It was never my instinct
to look for help, to seek favour for advancement; whatever step I
gained was gained by my own strength. Even as I disregarded favour
so did I scorn advice; no counsel would I ever take but that of my
own brain and heart. More than once I was driven by necessity to
beg from strangers the means of earning bread, and this of all my
experiences was the bitterest; yet I think I should have found it
worse still to incur a debt to some friend or comrade. The truth is
that I have never learnt to regard myself as a "member of society."
For me, there have always been two entities--myself and the world,
and the normal relation between these two has been hostile. Am I
not still a lonely man, as far as ever from forming part of the
social order?

This, of which I once was scornfully proud, seems to me now, if not
a calamity, something I would not choose if life were to live again.


For more than six years I trod the pavement, never stepping once
upon mother earth--for the parks are but pavement disguised with a
growth of grass. Then the worst was over. Say I the worst? No,
no; things far worse were to come; the struggle against starvation
has its cheery side when one is young and vigorous. But at all
events I had begun to earn a living; I held assurance of food and
clothing for half a year at a time; granted health, I might hope to
draw my not insufficient wages for many a twelvemonth. And they
were the wages of work done independently, when and where I would.
I thought with horror of lives spent in an office, with an employer
to obey. The glory of the career of letters was its freedom, its

The fact of the matter was, of course, that I served, not one
master, but a whole crowd of them. Independence, forsooth! If my
writing failed to please editor, publisher, public, where was my
daily bread? The greater my success, the more numerous my
employers. I was the slave of a multitude. By heaven's grace I had
succeeded in pleasing (that is to say, in making myself a source of
profit to) certain persons who represented this vague throng; for
the time, they were gracious to me; but what justified me in the
faith that I should hold the ground I had gained? Could the
position of any toiling man be more precarious than mine? I tremble
now as I think of it, tremble as I should in watching some one who
walked carelessly on the edge of an abyss. I marvel at the
recollection that for a good score of years this pen and a scrap of
paper clothed and fed me and my household, kept me in physical
comfort, held at bay all those hostile forces of the world ranged
against one who has no resource save in his own right hand.

But I was thinking of the year which saw my first exodus from
London. On an irresistible impulse, I suddenly made up my mind to
go into Devon, a part of England I had never seen. At the end of
March I escaped from my grim lodgings, and, before I had time to
reflect on the details of my undertaking, I found myself sitting in
sunshine at a spot very near to where I now dwell--before me the
green valley of the broadening Exe and the pine-clad ridge of
Haldon. That was one of the moments of my life when I have tasted
exquisite joy. My state of mind was very strange. Though as boy
and youth I had been familiar with the country, had seen much of
England's beauties, it was as though I found myself for the first
time before a natural landscape. Those years of London had obscured
all my earlier life; I was like a man town-born and bred, who scarce
knows anything but street vistas. The light, the air, had for me
something of the supernatural--affected me, indeed, only less than
at a later time did the atmosphere of Italy. It was glorious spring
weather; a few white clouds floated amid the blue, and the earth had
an intoxicating fragrance. Then first did I know myself for a sun-
worshipper. How had I lived so long without asking whether there
was a sun in the heavens or not? Under that radiant firmament, I
could have thrown myself upon my knees in adoration. As I walked, I
found myself avoiding every strip of shadow; were it but that of a
birch trunk, I felt as if it robbed me of the day's delight. I went
bare-headed, that the golden beams might shed upon me their
unstinted blessing. That day I must have walked some thirty miles,
yet I knew not fatigue. Could I but have once more the strength
which then supported me!

I had stepped into a new life. Between the man I had been and that
which I now became there was a very notable difference. In a single
day I had matured astonishingly; which means, no doubt, that I
suddenly entered into conscious enjoyment of powers and
sensibilities which had been developing unknown to me. To instance
only one point: till then I had cared very little about plants and
flowers, but now I found myself eagerly interested in every blossom,
in every growth of the wayside. As I walked I gathered a quantity
of plants, promising myself to buy a book on the morrow and identify
them all. Nor was it a passing humour; never since have I lost my
pleasure in the flowers of the field, and my desire to know them
all. My ignorance at the time of which I speak seems to me now very
shameful; but I was merely in the case of ordinary people, whether
living in town or country. How many could give the familiar name of
half a dozen plants plucked at random from beneath the hedge in
springtime? To me the flowers became symbolical of a great release,
of a wonderful awakening. My eyes had all at once been opened; till
then I had walked in darkness, yet knew it not.

Well do I remember the rambles of that springtide. I had a lodging
in one of those outer streets of Exeter which savour more of country
than of town, and every morning I set forth to make discoveries.
The weather could not have been more kindly; I felt the influences
of a climate I had never known; there was a balm in the air which
soothed no less than it exhilarated me. Now inland, now seaward, I
followed the windings of the Exe. One day I wandered in rich, warm
valleys, by orchards bursting into bloom, from farmhouse to
farmhouse, each more beautiful than the other, and from hamlet to
hamlet bowered amid dark evergreens; the next, I was on pine-clad
heights, gazing over moorland brown with last year's heather,
feeling upon my face a wind from the white-flecked Channel. So
intense was my delight in the beautiful world about me that I forgot
even myself; I enjoyed without retrospect or forecast; I, the egoist
in grain, forgot to scrutinize my own emotions, or to trouble my
happiness by comparison with others' happier fortune. It was a
healthful time; it gave me a new lease of life, and taught me--in so
far as I was teachable--how to make use of it.


Mentally and physically, I must be much older than my years. At
three-and-fifty a man ought not to be brooding constantly on his
vanished youth. These days of spring which I should be enjoying for
their own sake, do but turn me to reminiscence, and my memories are
of the springs that were lost.

Some day I will go to London and revisit all the places where I
housed in the time of my greatest poverty. I have not seen them for
a quarter of a century or so. Not long ago, had any one asked me
how I felt about these memories, I should have said that there were
certain street names, certain mental images of obscure London, which
made me wretched as often as they came before me; but, in truth, it
is a very long time since I was moved to any sort of bitterness by
that retrospect of things hard and squalid. Now, owning all the
misery of it in comparison with what should have been, I find that
part of life interesting and pleasant to look back upon--greatly
more so than many subsequent times, when I lived amid decencies and
had enough to eat. Some day I will go to London, and spend a day or
two amid the dear old horrors. Some of the places, I know, have
disappeared. I see the winding way by which I went from Oxford
Street, at the foot of Tottenham Court Road, to Leicester Square,
and, somewhere in the labyrinth (I think of it as always foggy and
gas-lit) was a shop which had pies and puddings in the window,
puddings and pies kept hot by steam rising through perforated metal.
How many a time have I stood there, raging with hunger, unable to
purchase even one pennyworth of food! The shop and the street have
long since vanished; does any man remember them so feelingly as I?
But I think most of my haunts are still in existence: to tread
again those pavements, to look at those grimy doorways and purblind
windows, would affect me strangely.

I see that alley hidden on the west side of Tottenham Court Road,
where, after living in a back bedroom on the top floor, I had to
exchange for the front cellar; there was a difference, if I remember
rightly, of sixpence a week, and sixpence, in those days, was a very
great consideration--why, it meant a couple of meals. (I once FOUND
sixpence in the street, and had an exultation which is vivid in me
at this moment.) The front cellar was stone-floored; its furniture
was a table, a chair, a wash-stand, and a bed; the window, which of
course had never been cleaned since it was put in, received light
through a flat grating in the alley above. Here I lived; here I
WROTE. Yes, "literary work" was done at that filthy deal table, on
which, by the bye, lay my Homer, my Shakespeare, and the few other
books I then possessed. At night, as I lay in bed, I used to hear
the tramp, tramp of a posse of policemen who passed along the alley
on their way to relieve guard; their heavy feet sometimes sounded on
the grating above my window.

I recall a tragi-comical incident of life at the British Museum.
Once, on going down into the lavatory to wash my hands, I became
aware of a notice newly set up above the row of basins. It ran
somehow thus: "Readers are requested to bear in mind that these
basins are to be used only for casual ablutions." Oh, the
significance of that inscription! Had I not myself, more than once,
been glad to use this soap and water more largely than the sense of
the authorities contemplated? And there were poor fellows working
under the great dome whose need, in this respect, was greater than
mine. I laughed heartily at the notice, but it meant so much.

Some of my abodes I have utterly forgotten; for one reason or
another, I was always moving--an easy matter when all my possessions
lay in one small trunk. Sometimes the people of the house were
intolerable. In those days I was not fastidious, and I seldom had
any but the slightest intercourse with those who dwelt under the
same roof, yet it happened now and then that I was driven away by
human proximity which passed my endurance. In other cases I had to
flee from pestilential conditions. How I escaped mortal illness in
some of those places (miserably fed as I always was, and always
over-working myself) is a great mystery. The worst that befell me
was a slight attack of diphtheria--traceable, I imagine, to the
existence of a dust-bin UNDER THE STAIRCASE. When I spoke of the
matter to my landlady, she was at first astonished, then wrathful,
and my departure was expedited with many insults.

On the whole, however, I had nothing much to complain of except my
poverty. You cannot expect great comfort in London for four-and-
sixpence a week--the most I ever could pay for a "furnished room
with attendance" in those days of pretty stern apprenticeship. And
I was easily satisfied; I wanted only a little walled space in which
I could seclude myself, free from external annoyance. Certain
comforts of civilized life I ceased even to regret; a stair-carpet I
regarded as rather extravagant, and a carpet on the floor of my room
was luxury undreamt of. My sleep was sound; I have passed nights of
dreamless repose on beds which it would now make my bones ache only
to look at. A door that locked, a fire in winter, a pipe of
tobacco--these were things essential; and, granted these, I have
been often richly contented in the squalidest garret. One such
lodging is often in my memory; it was at Islington, not far from the
City Road; my window looked upon the Regent's Canal. As often as I
think of it, I recall what was perhaps the worst London fog I ever
knew; for three successive days, at least, my lamp had to be kept
burning; when I looked through the window, I saw, at moments, a few
blurred lights in the street beyond the Canal, but for the most part
nothing but a yellowish darkness, which caused the glass to reflect
the firelight and my own face. Did I feel miserable? Not a bit of
it. The enveloping gloom seemed to make my chimney-corner only the
more cosy. I had coals, oil, tobacco in sufficient quantity; I had
a book to read; I had work which interested me; so I went forth only
to get my meals at a City Road coffee-shop, and hastened back to the
fireside. Oh, my ambitions, my hopes! How surprised and indignant
I should have felt had I known of any one who pitied me!

Nature took revenge now and then. In winter time I had fierce sore
throats, sometimes accompanied by long and savage headaches.
Doctoring, of course, never occurred to me; I just locked my door,
and, if I felt very bad indeed, went to bed--to lie there, without
food or drink, till I was able to look after myself again. I could
never ask from a landlady anything which was not in our bond, and
only once or twice did I receive spontaneous offer of help. Oh, it
is wonderful to think of all that youth can endure! What a poor
feeble wretch I now seem to myself, when I remember thirty years


Would I live it over again, that life of the garret and the cellar?
Not with the assurance of fifty years' contentment such as I now
enjoy to follow upon it! With man's infinitely pathetic power of
resignation, one sees the thing on its better side, forgets all the
worst of it, makes out a case for the resolute optimist. Oh, but
the waste of energy, of zeal, of youth! In another mood, I could
shed tears over that spectacle of rare vitality condemned to sordid
strife. The pity of it! And--if our conscience mean anything at
all--the bitter wrong!

Without seeking for Utopia, think what a man's youth might be. I
suppose not one in every thousand uses half the possibilities of
natural joy and delightful effort which lie in those years between
seventeen and seven-and-twenty. All but all men have to look back
upon beginnings of life deformed and discoloured by necessity,
accident, wantonness. If a young man avoid the grosser pitfalls, if
he keep his eye fixed steadily on what is called the main chance,
if, without flagrant selfishness, he prudently subdue every interest
to his own (by "interest" understanding only material good), he is
putting his youth to profit, he is an exemplar and a subject of
pride. I doubt whether, in our civilization, any other ideal is
easy of pursuit by the youngster face to face with life. It is the
only course altogether safe. Yet compare it with what might be, if
men respected manhood, if human reason were at the service of human
happiness. Some few there are who can look back upon a boyhood of
natural delights, followed by a decade or so of fine energies
honourably put to use, blended therewith, perhaps, a memory of joy
so exquisite that it tunes all life unto the end; they are almost as
rare as poets. The vast majority think not of their youth at all,
or, glancing backward, are unconscious of lost opportunity, unaware
of degradation suffered. Only by contrast with this thick-witted
multitude can I pride myself upon my youth of endurance and of
combat. I had a goal before me, and not the goal of the average
man. Even when pinched with hunger, I did not abandon my purposes,
which were of the mind. But contrast that starved lad in his slum
lodging with any fair conception of intelligent and zealous youth,
and one feels that a dose of swift poison would have been the right
remedy for such squalid ills.


As often as I survey my bookshelves I am reminded of Lamb's "ragged
veterans." Not that all my volumes came from the second-hand stall;
many of them were neat enough in new covers, some were even stately
in fragrant bindings, when they passed into my hands. But so often
have I removed, so rough has been the treatment of my little library
at each change of place, and, to tell the truth, so little care have
I given to its well-being at normal times (for in all practical
matters I am idle and inept), that even the comeliest of my books
show the results of unfair usage. More than one has been foully
injured by a great nail driven into a packing-case--this but the
extreme instance of the wrongs they have undergone. Now that I have
leisure and peace of mind, I find myself growing more careful--an
illustration of the great truth that virtue is made easy by
circumstance. But I confess that, so long as a volume hold
together, I am not much troubled as to its outer appearance.

I know men who say they had as lief read any book in a library copy
as in one from their own shelf. To me that is unintelligible. For
one thing, I know every book of mine by its SCENT, and I have but to
put my nose between the pages to be reminded of all sorts of things.
My Gibbon, for example, my well-bound eight-volume Milman edition,
which I have read and read and read again for more than thirty
years--never do I open it but the scent of the noble page restores
to me all the exultant happiness of that moment when I received it
as a prize. Or my Shakespeare, the great Cambridge Shakespeare--it
has an odour which carries me yet further back in life; for these
volumes belonged to my father, and before I was old enough to read
them with understanding, it was often permitted me, as a treat, to
take down one of them from the bookcase, and reverently to turn the
leaves. The volumes smell exactly as they did in that old time, and
what a strange tenderness comes upon me when I hold one of them in
hand. For that reason I do not often read Shakespeare in this
edition. My eyes being good as ever, I take the Globe volume, which
I bought in days when such a purchase was something more than an
extravagance; wherefore I regard the book with that peculiar
affection which results from sacrifice.

Sacrifice--in no drawing-room sense of the word. Dozens of my books
were purchased with money which ought to have been spent upon what
are called the necessaries of life. Many a time I have stood before
a stall, or a bookseller's window, torn by conflict of intellectual
desire and bodily need. At the very hour of dinner, when my stomach
clamoured for food, I have been stopped by sight of a volume so long
coveted, and marked at so advantageous a price, that I COULD not let
it go; yet to buy it meant pangs of famine. My Heyne's Tibullus was
grasped at such a moment. It lay on the stall of the old book-shop
in Goodge Street--a stall where now and then one found an excellent
thing among quantities of rubbish. Sixpence was the price--
sixpence! At that time I used to eat my midday meal (of course my
dinner) at a coffee-shop in Oxford Street, one of the real old
coffee-shops, such as now, I suppose, can hardly be found. Sixpence
was all I had--yes, all I had in the world; it would purchase a
plate of meat and vegetables. But I did not dare to hope that the
Tibullus would wait until the morrow, when a certain small sum fell
due to me. I paced the pavement, fingering the coppers in my
pocket, eyeing the stall, two appetites at combat within me. The
book was bought and I went home with it, and as I made a dinner of
bread and butter I gloated over the pages.

In this Tibullus I found pencilled on the last page: "Perlegi, Oct.
4, 1792." Who was that possessor of the book, nearly a hundred
years ago? There was no other inscription. I like to imagine some
poor scholar, poor and eager as I myself, who bought the volume with
drops of his blood, and enjoyed the reading of it even as I did.
How much THAT was I could not easily say. Gentle-hearted Tibullus!-
-of whom there remains to us a poet's portrait more delightful, I
think, than anything of the kind in Roman literature.

An tacitum silvas inter reptare salubres,
Curantem quidquid dignum sapiente bonoque est?

So with many another book on the thronged shelves. To take them
down is to recall, how vividly, a struggle and a triumph. In those
days money represented nothing to me, nothing I cared to think
about, but the acquisition of books. There were books of which I
had passionate need, books more necessary to me than bodily
nourishment. I could see them, of course, at the British Museum,
but that was not at all the same thing as having and holding them,
my own property, on my own shelf. Now and then I have bought a
volume of the raggedest and wretchedest aspect, dishonoured with
foolish scribbling, torn, blotted--no matter, I liked better to read
out of that than out of a copy that was not mine. But I was guilty
at times of mere self-indulgence; a book tempted me, a book which
was not one of those for which I really craved, a luxury which
prudence might bid me forego. As, for instance, my Jung-Stilling.
It caught my eye in Holywell Street; the name was familiar to me in
Wahrheit und Dichtung, and curiosity grew as I glanced over the
pages. But that day I resisted; in truth, I could not afford the
eighteen-pence, which means that just then I was poor indeed. Twice
again did I pass, each time assuring myself that Jung-Stilling had
found no purchaser. There came a day when I was in funds. I see
myself hastening to Holywell Street (in those days my habitual pace
was five miles an hour), I see the little grey old man with whom I
transacted my business--what was his name?--the bookseller who had
been, I believe, a Catholic priest, and still had a certain priestly
dignity about him. He took the volume, opened it, mused for a
moment, then, with a glance at me, said, as if thinking aloud:
"Yes, I wish I had time to read it."

Sometimes I added the labour of a porter to my fasting endured for
the sake of books. At the little shop near Portland Road Station I
came upon a first edition of Gibbon, the price an absurdity--I think
it was a shilling a volume. To possess those clean-paged quartos I
would have sold my coat. As it happened, I had not money enough
with me, but sufficient at home. I was living at Islington. Having
spoken with the bookseller, I walked home, took the cash, walked
back again, and--carried the tomes from the west end of Euston Road
to a street in Islington far beyond the Angel. I did it in two
journeys--this being the only time in my life when I thought of
Gibbon in avoirdupois. Twice--three times, reckoning the walk for
the money--did I descend Euston Road and climb Pentonville on that
occasion. Of the season and the weather I have no recollection; my
joy in the purchase I had made drove out every other thought.
Except, indeed, of the weight. I had infinite energy, but not much
muscular strength, and the end of the last journey saw me upon a
chair, perspiring, flaccid, aching--exultant!

The well-to-do person would hear this story with astonishment. Why
did I not get the bookseller to send me the volumes? Or, if I could
not wait, was there no omnibus along that London highway? How could
I make the well-to-do person understand that I did not feel able to
afford, that day, one penny more than I had spent on the book? No,
no, such labour-saving expenditure did not come within my scope;
whatever I enjoyed I earned it, literally, by the sweat of my brow.
In those days I hardly knew what it was to travel by omnibus. I
have walked London streets for twelve and fifteen hours together
without ever a thought of saving my legs, or my time, by paying for
waftage. Being poor as poor can be, there were certain things I had
to renounce, and this was one of them.

Years after, I sold my first edition of Gibbon for even less than it
cost me; it went with a great many other fine books in folio and
quarto, which I could not drag about with me in my constant
removals; the man who bought them spoke of them as "tomb-stones."
Why has Gibbon no market value? Often has my heart ached with
regret for those quartos. The joy of reading the Decline and Fall
in that fine type! The page was appropriate to the dignity of the
subject; the mere sight of it tuned one's mind. I suppose I could
easily get another copy now; but it would not be to me what that
other was, with its memory of dust and toil.


There must be several men of spirit and experiences akin to mine who
remember that little book-shop opposite Portland Road Station. It
had a peculiar character; the books were of a solid kind--chiefly
theology and classics--and for the most part those old editions
which are called worthless, which have no bibliopolic value, and
have been supplanted for practical use by modern issues. The
bookseller was very much a gentleman, and this singular fact,
together with the extremely low prices at which his volumes were
marked, sometimes inclined me to think that he kept the shop for
mere love of letters. Things in my eyes inestimable I have
purchased there for a few pence, and I don't think I ever gave more
than a shilling for any volume. As I once had the opportunity of
perceiving, a young man fresh from class-rooms could only look with
wondering contempt on the antiquated stuff which it rejoiced me to
gather from that kindly stall, or from the richer shelves within.
My Cicero's Letters for instance: podgy volumes in parchment, with
all the notes of Graevius, Gronovius, and I know not how many other
old scholars. Pooh! Hopelessly out of date. But I could never
feel that. I have a deep affection for Graevius and Gronovius and
the rest, and if I knew as much as they did, I should be well
satisfied to rest under the young man's disdain. The zeal of
learning is never out of date; the example--were there no more--
burns before one as a sacred fire, for ever unquenchable. In what
modern editor shall I find such love and enthusiasm as glows in the
annotations of old scholars?

Even the best editions of our day have so much of the mere
schoolbook; you feel so often that the man does not regard his
author as literature, but simply as text. Pedant for pedant, the
old is better than the new.


To-day's newspaper contains a yard or so of reading about a spring
horse-race. The sight of it fills me with loathing. It brings to
my mind that placard I saw at a station in Surrey a year or two ago,
advertising certain races in the neighbourhood. Here is the poster,
as I copied it into my note-book:

"Engaged by the Executive to ensure order and comfort to the public
attending this meeting:-

14 detectives (racing),
15 detectives (Scotland Yard),
7 police inspectors,
9 police sergeants,
76 police, and a supernumerary contingent of specially selected men
from the Army Reserve and the Corps of Commissionaires.

The above force will be employed solely for the purpose of
maintaining order and excluding bad characters, etc. They will have
the assistance also of a strong force of the Surrey Constabulary."

I remember, once, when I let fall a remark on the subject of horse-
racing among friends chatting together, I was voted "morose." Is it
really morose to object to public gatherings which their own
promoters declare to be dangerous for all decent folk? Every one
knows that horse-racing is carried on mainly for the delight and
profit of fools, ruffians, and thieves. That intelligent men allow
themselves to take part in the affair, and defend their conduct by
declaring that their presence "maintains the character of a sport
essentially noble," merely shows that intelligence can easily enough
divest itself of sense and decency.


Midway in my long walk yesterday, I lunched at a wayside inn. On
the table lay a copy of a popular magazine. Glancing over this
miscellany, I found an article, by a woman, on "Lion Hunting," and
in this article I came upon a passage which seemed worth copying.

"As I woke my husband, the lion--which was then about forty yards
off--charged straight towards us, and with my .303 I hit him full in
the chest, as we afterwards discovered, tearing his windpipe to
pieces and breaking his spine. He charged a second time, and the
next shot hit him through the shoulder, tearing his heart to

It would interest me to look upon this heroine of gun and pen. She
is presumably quite a young woman; probably, when at home, a
graceful figure in drawing-rooms. I should like to hear her talk,
to exchange thoughts with her. She would give one a very good idea
of the matron of old Rome who had her seat in the amphitheatre.
Many of those ladies, in private life, must have been bright and
gracious, high-bred and full of agreeable sentiment; they talked of
art and of letters; they could drop a tear over Lesbia's sparrow; at
the same time, they were connoisseurs in torn windpipes, shattered
spines and viscera rent open. It is not likely that many of them
would have cared to turn their own hands to butchery, and, for the
matter of that, I must suppose that our Lion Huntress of the popular
magazine is rather an exceptional dame; but no doubt she and the
Roman ladies would get on very well together, finding only a few
superficial differences. The fact that her gory reminiscences are
welcomed by an editor with the popular taste in view is perhaps more
significant than appears either to editor or public. Were this lady
to write a novel (the chances are she will) it would have the true
note of modern vigour. Of course her style has been formed by her
favourite reading; more than probably, her ways of thinking and
feeling owe much to the same source. If not so already, this will
soon, I daresay, be the typical Englishwoman. Certainly, there is
"no nonsense about her." Such women should breed a remarkable race.

I left the inn in rather a turbid humour. Moving homeward by a new
way, I presently found myself on the side of a little valley, in
which lay a farm and an orchard. The apple trees were in full
bloom, and, as I stood gazing, the sun, which had all that day been
niggard of its beams, burst forth gloriously. For what I then saw,
I have no words; I can but dream of the still loveliness of that
blossomed valley. Near me, a bee was humming; not far away, a
cuckoo called; from the pasture of the farm below came a bleating of


I am no friend of the people. As a force, by which the tenor of the
time is conditioned, they inspire me with distrust, with fear; as a
visible multitude, they make me shrink aloof, and often move me to
abhorrence. For the greater part of my life, the people signified
to me the London crowd, and no phrase of temperate meaning would
utter my thoughts of them under that aspect. The people as country-
folk are little known to me; such glimpses as I have had of them do
not invite to nearer acquaintance. Every instinct of my being is
anti-democratic, and I dread to think of what our England may become
when Demos rules irresistibly.

Right or wrong, this is my temper. But he who should argue from it
that I am intolerant of all persons belonging to a lower social rank
than my own would go far astray. Nothing is more rooted in my mind
than the vast distinction between the individual and the class.
Take a man by himself, and there is generally some reason to be
found in him, some disposition for good; mass him with his fellows
in the social organism, and ten to one he becomes a blatant
creature, without a thought of his own, ready for any evil to which
contagion prompts him. It is because nations tend to stupidity and
baseness that mankind moves so slowly; it is because individuals
have a capacity for better things that it moves at all.

In my youth, looking at this man and that, I marvelled that humanity
had made so little progress. Now, looking at men in the multitude,
I marvel that they have advanced so far.

Foolishly arrogant as I was, I used to judge the worth of a person
by his intellectual power and attainment. I could see no good where
there was no logic, no charm where there was no learning. Now I
think that one has to distinguish between two forms of intelligence,
that of the brain, and that of the heart, and I have come to regard
the second as by far the more important. I guard myself against
saying that intelligence does not matter; the fool is ever as
noxious as he is wearisome. But assuredly the best people I have
known were saved from folly not by the intellect but by the heart.
They come before me, and I see them greatly ignorant, strongly
prejudiced, capable of the absurdest mis-reasoning; yet their faces
shine with the supreme virtues, kindness, sweetness, modesty,
generosity. Possessing these qualities, they at the same time
understand how to use them; they have the intelligence of the heart.

This poor woman who labours for me in my house is even such a one.
From the first I thought her an unusually good servant; after three
years of acquaintance, I find her one of the few women I have known
who merit the term of excellent. She can read and write--that is
all. More instruction would, I am sure, have harmed her, for it
would have confused her natural motives, without supplying any clear
ray of mental guidance. She is fulfilling the offices for which she
was born, and that with a grace of contentment, a joy of
conscientiousness, which puts her high among civilized beings. Her
delight is in order and in peace; what greater praise can be given
to any of the children of men?

The other day she told me a story of the days gone by. Her mother,
at the age of twelve, went into domestic service; but on what
conditions, think you? The girl's father, an honest labouring man,
PAID the person whose house she entered one shilling a week for her
instruction in the duties she wished to undertake. What a grinning
stare would come to the face of any labourer nowadays, who should be
asked to do the like! I no longer wonder that my housekeeper so
little resembles the average of her kind.


A day of almost continuous rain, yet for me a day of delight. I had
breakfasted, and was poring over the map of Devon (how I love a good
map!) to trace an expedition that I have in view, when a knock came
at my door, and Mrs. M. bore in a great brown-paper parcel, which I
saw at a glance must contain books. The order was sent to London a
few days ago; I had not expected to have my books so soon. With
throbbing heart I set the parcel on a clear table; eyed it whilst I
mended the fire; then took my pen-knife, and gravely, deliberately,
though with hand that trembled, began to unpack.

It is a joy to go through booksellers' catalogues, ticking here and
there a possible purchase. Formerly, when I could seldom spare
money, I kept catalogues as much as possible out of sight; now I
savour them page by page, and make a pleasant virtue of the
discretion I must needs impose upon myself. But greater still is
the happiness of unpacking volumes which one has bought without
seeing them. I am no hunter of rarities; I care nothing for first
editions and for tall copies; what I buy is literature, food for the
soul of man. The first glimpse of bindings when the inmost
protective wrapper has been folded back! The first scent of BOOKS!
The first gleam of a gilded title! Here is a work the name of which
has been known to me for half a lifetime, but which I never yet saw;
I take it reverently in my hand, gently I open it; my eyes are dim
with excitement as I glance over chapter-headings, and anticipate
the treat which awaits me. Who, more than I, has taken to heart
that sentence of the Imitatio--"In omnibus requiem quaesivi, et
nusquam inveni nisi in angulo cum libro"?

I had in me the making of a scholar. With leisure and tranquillity
of mind, I should have amassed learning. Within the walls of a
college, I should have lived so happily, so harmlessly, my
imagination ever busy with the old world. In the introduction to
his History of France, Michelet says: "J'ai passe e cote du monde,
et j'ai pris l'histoire pour la vie." That, as I can see now, was
my true ideal; through all my battlings and miseries I have always
lived more in the past than in the present. At the time when I was
literally starving in London, when it seemed impossible that I
should ever gain a living by my pen, how many days have I spent at
the British Museum, reading as disinterestedly as if I had been
without a care! It astounds me to remember that, having breakfasted
on dry bread, and carrying in my pocket another piece of bread to
serve for dinner, I settled myself at a desk in the great Reading-
Room with books before me which by no possibility could be a source
of immediate profit. At such a time, I worked through German tomes
on Ancient Philosophy. At such a time, I read Appuleius and Lucian,
Petronius and the Greek Anthology, Diogenes Laertius and--heaven
knows what! My hunger was forgotten; the garret to which I must
return to pass the night never perturbed my thoughts. On the whole,
it seems to me something to be rather proud of; I smile approvingly
at that thin, white-faced youth. Me? My very self? No, no! He
has been dead these thirty years.

Scholarship in the high sense was denied me, and now it is too late.
Yet here am I gloating over Pausanias, and promising myself to read
every word of him. Who that has any tincture of old letters would
not like to read Pausanias, instead of mere quotations from him and
references to him? Here are the volumes of Dahn's Die Konige der
Germanen: who would not like to know all he can about the Teutonic
conquerors of Rome? And so on, and so on. To the end I shall be
reading--and forgetting. Ah, that's the worst of it! Had I at
command all the knowledge I have at any time possessed, I might call
myself a learned man. Nothing surely is so bad for the memory as
long-enduring worry, agitation, fear. I cannot preserve more than a
few fragments of what I read, yet read I shall, persistently,
rejoicingly. Would I gather erudition for a future life? Indeed,
it no longer troubles me that I forget. I have the happiness of the
passing moment, and what more can mortal ask?


Is it I, Henry Ryecroft, who, after a night of untroubled rest, rise
unhurriedly, dress with the deliberation of an oldish man, and go
downstairs happy in the thought that I can sit reading, quietly
reading, all day long? Is it I, Henry Ryecroft, the harassed toiler
of so many a long year?

I dare not think of those I have left behind me, there in the ink-
stained world. It would make me miserable, and to what purpose?
Yet, having once looked that way, think of them I must. Oh, you
heavy-laden, who at this hour sit down to the cursed travail of the
pen; writing, not because there is something in your mind, in your
heart, which must needs be uttered, but because the pen is the only
tool you can handle, your only means of earning bread! Year after
year the number of you is multiplied; you crowd the doors of
publishers and editors, hustling, grappling, exchanging
maledictions. Oh, sorry spectacle, grotesque and heart-breaking!

Innumerable are the men and women now writing for bread, who have
not the least chance of finding in such work a permanent livelihood.
They took to writing because they knew not what else to do, or
because the literary calling tempted them by its independence and
its dazzling prizes. They will hang on to the squalid profession,
their earnings eked out by begging and borrowing, until it is too
late for them to do anything else--and then? With a lifetime of
dread experience behind me, I say that he who encourages any young
man or woman to look for his living to "literature," commits no less
than a crime. If my voice had any authority, I would cry this truth
aloud wherever men could hear. Hateful as is the struggle for life
in every form, this rough-and-tumble of the literary arena seems to
me sordid and degrading beyond all others. Oh, your prices per
thousand words! Oh, your paragraphings and your interviewings! And
oh, the black despair that awaits those down-trodden in the fray.

Last midsummer I received a circular from a typewriting person,
soliciting my custom; some one who had somehow got hold of my name,
and fancied me to be still in purgatory. This person wrote: "If
you should be in need of any extra assistance in the pressure of
your Christmas work, I hope," etc.

How otherwise could one write if addressing a shopkeeper? "The
pressure of your Christmas work"! Nay, I am too sick to laugh.


Some one, I see, is lifting up his sweet voice in praise of
Conscription. It is only at long intervals that one reads this kind
of thing in our reviews or newspapers, and I am happy in believing
that most English people are affected by it even as I am, with the
sickness of dread and of disgust. That the thing is impossible in
England, who would venture to say? Every one who can think at all
sees how slight are our safeguards against that barbaric force in
man which the privileged races have so slowly and painfully brought
into check. Democracy is full of menace to all the finer hopes of
civilization, and the revival, in not unnatural companionship with
it, of monarchic power based on militarism, makes the prospect
dubious enough. There has but to arise some Lord of Slaughter, and
the nations will be tearing at each other's throats. Let England be
imperilled, and Englishmen will fight; in such extremity there is no
choice. But what a dreary change must come upon our islanders if,
without instant danger, they bend beneath the curse of universal
soldiering! I like to think that they will guard the liberty of
their manhood even beyond the point of prudence.

A lettered German, speaking to me once of his year of military
service, told me that, had it lasted but a month or two longer, he
must have sought release in suicide. I know very well that my own
courage would not have borne me to the end of the twelvemonth;
humiliation, resentment, loathing, would have goaded me to madness.
At school we used to be "drilled" in the playground once a week; I
have but to think of it, even after forty years, and there comes
back upon me that tremor of passionate misery which, at the time,
often made me ill. The senseless routine of mechanic exercise was
in itself all but unendurable to me; I hated the standing in line,
the thrusting-out of arms and legs at a signal, the thud of feet
stamping in constrained unison. The loss of individuality seemed to
me sheer disgrace. And when, as often happened, the drill-sergeant
rebuked me for some inefficiency as I stood in line, when he
addressed me as "Number Seven!" I burned with shame and rage. I
was no longer a human being; I had become part of a machine, and my
name was "Number Seven." It used to astonish me when I had a
neighbour who went through the drill with amusement, with zealous
energy; I would gaze at the boy, and ask myself how it was possible
that he and I should feel so differently. To be sure, nearly all my
schoolfellows either enjoyed the thing, or at all events went
through it with indifference; they made friends with the sergeant,
and some were proud of walking with him "out of bounds." Left,
right! Left, right! For my own part, I think I have never hated
man as I hated that broad-shouldered, hard-visaged, brassy-voiced
fellow. Every word he spoke to me, I felt as an insult. Seeing him
in the distance, I have turned and fled, to escape the necessity of
saluting, and, still more, a quiver of the nerves which affected me
so painfully. If ever a man did me harm, it was he; harm physical
and moral. In all seriousness I believe that something of the
nervous instability from which I have suffered since boyhood is
traceable to those accursed hours of drill, and I am very sure that
I can date from the same wretched moments a fierceness of personal
pride which has been one of my most troublesome characteristics.
The disposition, of course, was there; it should have been modified,
not exacerbated.

In younger manhood it would have flattered me to think that I alone
on the school drill-ground had sensibility enough to suffer acutely.
Now I had much rather feel assured that many of my schoolfellows
were in the same mind of subdued revolt. Even of those who,
boylike, enjoyed their drill, scarce one or two, I trust, would have
welcomed in their prime of life the imposition of military servitude
upon them and their countrymen. From a certain point of view, it
would be better far that England should bleed under conquest than
that she should be saved by eager, or careless, acceptance of
Conscription. That view will not be held by the English people; but
it would be a sorry thing for England if the day came when no one of
those who love her harboured such a thought.


It has occurred to me that one might define Art as: an expression,
satisfying and abiding, of the zest of life. This is applicable to
every form of Art devised by man, for, in his creative moment,
whether he produce a great drama or carve a piece of foliage in
wood, the artist is moved and inspired by supreme enjoyment of some
aspect of the world about him; an enjoyment in itself keener than
that experienced by another man, and intensified, prolonged, by the
power--which comes to him we know not how--of recording in visible
or audible form that emotion of rare vitality. Art, in some degree,
is within the scope of every human being, were he but the ploughman
who utters a few would-be melodious notes, the mere outcome of
health and strength, in the field at sunrise; he sings, or tries to,
prompted by an unusual gusto in being, and the rude stave is all his
own. Another was he, who also at the plough, sang of the daisy, of
the field-mouse, or shaped the rhythmic tale of Tam o' Shanter. Not
only had life a zest for him incalculably stronger and subtler than
that which stirs the soul of Hodge, but he uttered it in word and
music such as go to the heart of mankind, and hold a magic power for

For some years there has been a great deal of talk about Art in our
country. It began, I suspect, when the veritable artistic impulse
of the Victorian time had flagged, when the energy of a great time
was all but exhausted. Principles always become a matter of
vehement discussion when practice is at ebb. Not by taking thought
does one become an artist, or grow even an inch in that direction--
which is not at all the same as saying that he who IS an artist
cannot profit by conscious effort. Goethe (the example so often
urged by imitators unlike him in every feature of humanity) took
thought enough about his Faust; but what of those youthtime lyrics,
not the least precious of his achievements, which were scribbled as
fast as pen could go, thwartwise on the paper, because he could not
stop to set it straight? Dare I pen, even for my own eyes, the
venerable truth that an artist is born and not made? It seems not
superfluous, in times which have heard disdainful criticism of
Scott, on the ground that he had no artistic conscience, that he
scribbled without a thought of style, that he never elaborated his
scheme before beginning--as Flaubert, of course you know, invariably
did. Why, after all, has one not heard that a certain William
Shakespeare turned out his so-called works of art with something
like criminal carelessness? Is it not a fact that a bungler named
Cervantes was so little in earnest about his Art that, having in one
chapter described the stealing of Sancho's donkey, he presently, in
mere forgetfulness, shows us Sancho riding on Dapple, as if nothing
had happened? Does not one Thackeray shamelessly avow on the last
page of a grossly "subjective" novel that he had killed Lord
Farintosh's mother at one page and brought her to life again at
another? These sinners against Art are none the less among the
world's supreme artists, for they LIVED, in a sense, in a degree,
unintelligible to these critics of theirs, and their work is an
expression, satisfying and abiding, of the zest of life.

Some one, no doubt, hit upon this definition of mine long ago. It
doesn't matter; is it the less original with me? Not long since I
should have fretted over the possibility, for my living depended on
an avoidance of even seeming plagiarism. Now I am at one with Lord
Foppington, and much disposed to take pleasure in the natural
sprouts of my own wit--without troubling whether the same idea has
occurred to others. Suppose me, in total ignorance of Euclid, to
have discovered even the simplest of his geometrical demonstrations,
shall I be crestfallen when some one draws attention to the book?
These natural sprouts are, after all, the best products of our life;
it is a mere accident that they may have no value in the world's
market. One of my conscious efforts, in these days of freedom, is
to live intellectually for myself. Formerly, when in reading I came
upon anything that impressed or delighted me, down it went in my
note-book, for "use." I could not read a striking verse, or
sentence of prose, without thinking of it as an apt quotation in
something I might write--one of the evil results of a literary life.
Now that I strive to repel this habit of thought, I find myself
asking: To what end, then, do I read and remember? Surely as
foolish a question as ever man put to himself. You read for your
own pleasure, for your solace and strengthening. Pleasure, then,
purely selfish? Solace which endures for an hour, and strengthening
for no combat? Ay, but I know, I know. With what heart should I
live here in my cottage, waiting for life's end, were it not for
those hours of seeming idle reading?

I think sometimes, how good it were had I some one by me to listen
when I am tempted to read a passage aloud. Yes, but is there any
mortal in the whole world upon whom I could invariably depend for
sympathetic understanding?--nay, who would even generally be at one
with me in my appreciation. Such harmony of intelligences is the
rarest thing. All through life we long for it: the desire drives
us, like a demon, into waste places; too often ends by plunging us
into mud and morass. And, after all, we learn that the vision was
illusory. To every man is it decreed: thou shalt live alone.
Happy they who imagine that they have escaped the common lot; happy,
whilst they imagine it. Those to whom no such happiness has ever
been granted at least avoid the bitterest of disillusions. And is
it not always good to face a truth, however discomfortable? The
mind which renounces, once and for ever, a futile hope, has its
compensation in ever-growing calm.


All about my garden to-day the birds are loud. To say that the air
is filled with their song gives no idea of the ceaseless piping,
whistling, trilling, which at moments rings to heaven in a
triumphant unison, a wild accord. Now and then I notice one of the
smaller songsters who seems to strain his throat in a madly joyous
endeavour to out-carol all the rest. It is a chorus of praise such
as none other of earth's children have the voice or the heart to
utter. As I listen, I am carried away by its glorious rapture; my
being melts in the tenderness of an impassioned joy; my eyes are dim
with I know not what profound humility.


Were one to look at the literary journals only, and thereafter judge
of the time, it would be easy to persuade oneself that civilization
had indeed made great and solid progress, and that the world stood
at a very hopeful stage of enlightenment. Week after week, I glance
over these pages of crowded advertisement; I see a great many
publishing-houses zealously active in putting forth every kind of
book, new and old; I see names innumerable of workers in every
branch of literature. Much that is announced declares itself at
once of merely ephemeral import, or even of no import at all; but
what masses of print which invite the attention of thoughtful or
studious folk! To the multitude is offered a long succession of
classic authors, in beautiful form, at a minimum cost; never were
such treasures so cheaply and so gracefully set before all who can
prize them. For the wealthy, there are volumes magnificent; lordly
editions; works of art whereon have been lavished care and skill and
expense incalculable. Here is exhibited the learning of the whole
world and of all the ages; be a man's study what it will, in these
columns, at one time or another he shall find that which appeals to
him. Here are labours of the erudite, exercised on every subject
that falls within learning's scope. Science brings forth its newest
discoveries in earth and heaven; it speaks to the philosopher in his
solitude, and to the crowd in the market-place. Curious pursuits of
the mind at leisure are represented in publications numberless;
trifles and oddities of intellectual savour; gatherings from every
byway of human interest. For other moods there are the fabulists;
to tell truth, they commonly hold the place of honour in these
varied lists. Who shall count them? Who shall calculate their
readers? Builders of verse are many; yet the observer will note
that contemporary poets have but an inconspicuous standing in this
index of the public taste. Travel, on the other hand, is largely
represented; the general appetite for information about lands remote
would appear to be only less keen than for the adventures of

With these pages before one's eyes, must one not needs believe that
things of the mind are a prime concern of our day? Who are the
purchasers of these volumes ever pouring from the press? How is it
possible for so great a commerce to flourish save as a consequence
of national eagerness in this intellectual domain? Surely one must
take for granted that throughout the land, in town and country,
private libraries are growing apace; that by the people at large a
great deal of time is devoted to reading; that literary ambition is
one of the commonest spurs to effort?

It is the truth. All this may be said of contemporary England. But
is it enough to set one's mind at ease regarding the outlook of our

Two things must be remembered. However considerable this literary
traffic, regarded by itself, it is relatively of small extent. And,
in the second place, literary activity is by no means an invariable
proof of that mental attitude which marks the truly civilized man.

Lay aside the "literary organ," which appears once a week, and take
up the newspaper, which comes forth every day, morning and evening.
Here you get the true proportion of things. Read your daily news-
sheet--that which costs threepence or that which costs a halfpenny--
and muse upon the impression it leaves. It may be that a few books
are "noticed"; granting that the "notice" is in any way noticeable,
compare the space it occupies with that devoted to the material
interests of life: you have a gauge of the real importance of
intellectual endeavour to the people at large. No, the public which
reads, in any sense of the word worth considering, is very, very
small; the public which would feel no lack if all book-printing
ceased to-morrow, is enormous. These announcements of learned works
which strike one as so encouraging, are addressed, as a matter of
fact, to a few thousand persons, scattered all over the English-
speaking world. Many of the most valuable books slowly achieve the
sale of a few hundred copies. Gather from all the ends of the
British Empire the men and women who purchase grave literature as a
matter of course, who habitually seek it in public libraries, in
short who regard it as a necessity of life, and I am much mistaken
if they could not comfortably assemble in the Albert Hall.

But even granting this, is it not an obvious fact that our age tends
to the civilized habit of mind, as displayed in a love for
intellectual things? Was there ever a time which saw the literature
of knowledge and of the emotions so widely distributed? Does not
the minority of the truly intelligent exercise a vast and profound
influence? Does it not in truth lead the way, however slowly and
irregularly the multitude may follow?

I should like to believe it. When gloomy evidence is thrust upon
me, I often say to myself: Think of the frequency of the reasonable
man; think of him everywhere labouring to spread the light; how is
it possible that such efforts should be overborne by forces of blind
brutality, now that the human race has got so far?--Yes, yes; but
this mortal whom I caress as reasonable, as enlightened and
enlightening, this author, investigator, lecturer, or studious
gentleman, to whose coat-tails I cling, does he always represent
justice and peace, sweetness of manners, purity of life--all the
things which makes for true civilization? Here is a fallacy of
bookish thought. Experience offers proof on every hand that
vigorous mental life may be but one side of a personality, of which
the other is moral barbarism. A man may be a fine archaeologist,
and yet have no sympathy with human ideals. The historian, the
biographer, even the poet, may be a money-market gambler, a social
toady, a clamorous Chauvinist, or an unscrupulous wire-puller. As
for "leaders of science," what optimist will dare to proclaim them
on the side of the gentle virtues? And if one must needs think in
this way of those who stand forth, professed instructors and
inspirers, what of those who merely listen? The reading-public--oh,
the reading-public! Hardly will a prudent statistician venture to
declare that one in every score of those who actually read sterling
books do so with comprehension of their author. These dainty series
of noble and delightful works, which have so seemingly wide an
acceptance, think you they vouch for true appreciation in all who
buy them? Remember those who purchase to follow the fashion, to
impose upon their neighbour, or even to flatter themselves; think of
those who wish to make cheap presents, and those who are merely
pleased by the outer aspect of the volume. Above all, bear in mind
that busy throng whose zeal is according neither to knowledge nor to
conviction, the host of the half-educated, characteristic and peril
of our time. They, indeed, purchase and purchase largely. Heaven
forbid that I should not recognize the few among them whose bent of
brain and of conscience justifies their fervour; to such--the ten in
ten thousand--be all aid and brotherly solace! But the glib many,
the perky mispronouncers of titles and of authors' names, the
twanging murderers of rhythm, the maulers of the uncut edge at
sixpence extra, the ready-reckoners of bibliopolic discount--am I to
see in these a witness of my hope for the century to come?

I am told that their semi-education will be integrated. We are in a
transition stage, between the bad old time when only a few had
academic privileges, and that happy future which will see all men
liberally instructed. Unfortunately for this argument, education is
a thing of which only the few are capable; teach as you will, only a
small percentage will profit by your most zealous energy. On an
ungenerous soil it is vain to look for rich crops. Your average
mortal will be your average mortal still: and if he grow conscious
of power, if he becomes vocal and self-assertive, if he get into his
hands all the material resources of the country, why, you have a
state of things such as at present looms menacingly before every
Englishman blessed--or cursed--with an unpopular spirit.


Every morning when I awake, I thank heaven for silence. This is my
orison. I remember the London days when sleep was broken by clash
and clang, by roar and shriek, and when my first sense on returning
to consciousness was hatred of the life about me. Noises of wood
and metal, clattering of wheels, banging of implements, jangling of
bells--all such things are bad enough, but worse still is the
clamorous human voice. Nothing on earth is more irritating to me
than a bellow or scream of idiot mirth, nothing more hateful than a
shout or yell of brutal anger. Were it possible, I would never
again hear the utterance of a human tongue, save from those few who
are dear to me.

Here, wake at what hour I may, early or late, I lie amid gracious
stillness. Perchance a horse's hoof rings rhythmically upon the
road; perhaps a dog barks from a neighbour farm; it may be that
there comes the far, soft murmur of a train from the other side of
Exe; but these are almost the only sounds that could force
themselves upon my ear. A voice, at any time of the day, is the
rarest thing.

But there is the rustle of branches in the morning breeze; there is
the music of a sunny shower against the window; there is the matin
song of birds. Several times lately I have lain wakeful when there
sounded the first note of the earliest lark; it makes me almost glad
of my restless nights. The only trouble that touches me in these
moments is the thought of my long life wasted amid the senseless
noises of man's world. Year after year this spot has known the same
tranquillity; with ever so little of good fortune, with ever so
little wisdom, beyond what was granted me, I might have blessed my
manhood with calm, might have made for myself in later life a long
retrospect of bowered peace. As it is, I enjoy with something of
sadness, remembering that this melodious silence is but the prelude
of that deeper stillness which waits to enfold us all.


Morning after morning, of late, I have taken my walk in the same
direction, my purpose being to look at a plantation of young
larches. There is no lovelier colour on earth than that in which
they are now clad; it seems to refresh as well as gladden my eyes,
and its influence sinks deep into my heart. Too soon it will
change; already I think the first radiant verdure has begun to pass
into summer's soberness. The larch has its moment of unmatched
beauty--and well for him whose chance permits him to enjoy it,
spring after spring.

Could anything be more wonderful than the fact that here am I, day
by day, not only at leisure to walk forth and gaze at the larches,
but blessed with the tranquillity of mind needful for such
enjoyment? On any morning of spring sunshine, how many mortals find
themselves so much at peace that they are able to give themselves
wholly to delight in the glory of heaven and of earth? Is it the
case with one man in every fifty thousand? Consider what
extraordinary kindness of fate must tend upon one, that not a care,
not a preoccupation, should interfere with his contemplative thought
for five or six days successively! So rooted in the human mind (and
so reasonably rooted) is the belief in an Envious Power, that I ask
myself whether I shall not have to pay, by some disaster, for this
period of sacred calm. For a week or so I have been one of a small
number, chosen out of the whole human race by fate's supreme
benediction. It may be that this comes to every one in turn; to
most, it can only be once in a lifetime, and so briefly. That my
own lot seems so much better than that of ordinary men, sometimes
makes me fearful.


Walking in a favourite lane to-day, I found it covered with shed
blossoms of the hawthorn. Creamy white, fragrant even in ruin, lay
scattered the glory of the May. It told me that spring is over.

Have I enjoyed it as I should? Since the day that brought me
freedom, four times have I seen the year's new birth, and always, as
the violet yielded to the rose, I have known a fear that I had not
sufficiently prized this boon of heaven whilst it was with me. Many
hours I have spent shut up among my books, when I might have been in
the meadows. Was the gain equivalent? Doubtfully, diffidently, I
hearken what the mind can plead.

I recall my moments of delight, the recognition of each flower that
unfolded, the surprise of budding branches clothed in a night with
green. The first snowy gleam upon the blackthorn did not escape me.
By its familiar bank, I watched for the earliest primrose, and in
its copse I found the anemone. Meadows shining with buttercups,
hollows sunned with the marsh marigold held me long at gaze. I saw
the sallow glistening with its cones of silvery fur, and splendid
with dust of gold. These common things touch me with more of
admiration and of wonder each time I behold them. They are once
more gone. As I turn to summer, a misgiving mingles with my joy.



To-day, as I was reading in the garden, a waft of summer perfume--
some hidden link of association in what I read--I know not what it
may have been--took me back to schoolboy holidays; I recovered with
strange intensity that lightsome mood of long release from tasks, of
going away to the seaside, which is one of childhood's blessings. I
was in the train; no rushing express, such as bears you great
distances; the sober train which goes to no place of importance,
which lets you see the white steam of the engine float and fall upon
a meadow ere you pass. Thanks to a good and wise father, we
youngsters saw nothing of seaside places where crowds assemble; I am
speaking, too, of a time more than forty years ago, when it was
still possible to find on the coasts of northern England, east or
west, spots known only to those who loved the shore for its beauty
and its solitude. At every station the train stopped; little
stations, decked with beds of flowers, smelling warm in the sunshine
where country-folk got in with baskets, and talked in an unfamiliar
dialect, an English which to us sounded almost like a foreign
tongue. Then the first glimpse of the sea; the excitement of noting
whether tide was high or low--stretches of sand and weedy pools, or
halcyon wavelets frothing at their furthest reach, under the sea-
banks starred with convolvulus. Of a sudden, OUR station!

Ah, that taste of the brine on a child's lips! Nowadays, I can take
holiday when I will, and go whithersoever it pleases me; but that
salt kiss of the sea air I shall never know again. My senses are
dulled; I cannot get so near to Nature; I have a sorry dread of her
clouds, her winds, and must walk with tedious circumspection where
once I ran and leapt exultingly. Were it possible, but for one
half-hour, to plunge and bask in the sunny surf, to roll on the
silvery sand-hills, to leap from rock to rock on shining sea-ferns,
laughing if I slipped into the shallows among starfish and anemones!
I am much older in body than in mind; I can but look at what I once


I have been spending a week in Somerset. The right June weather put
me in the mind for rambling, and my thoughts turned to the Severn
Sea. I went to Glastonbury and Wells, and on to Cheddar, and so to
the shore of the Channel at Clevedon, remembering my holiday of
fifteen years ago, and too often losing myself in a contrast of the
man I was then and what I am now. Beautiful beyond all words of
description that nook of oldest England; but that I feared the moist
and misty winter climate, I should have chosen some spot below the
Mendips for my home and resting-place. Unspeakable the charm to my
ear of those old names; exquisite the quiet of those little towns,
lost amid tilth and pasture, untouched as yet by the fury of modern
life, their ancient sanctuaries guarded, as it were, by noble trees
and hedges overrun with flowers. In all England there is no sweeter
and more varied prospect than that from the hill of the Holy Thorn
at Glastonbury; in all England there is no lovelier musing place
than the leafy walk beside the Palace Moat at Wells. As I think of
the golden hours I spent there, a passion to which I can give no
name takes hold upon me; my heart trembles with an indefinable

There was a time of my life when I was consumed with a desire for
foreign travel; an impatience of everything familiar fretted me
through all the changing year. If I had not at length found the
opportunity to escape, if I had not seen the landscapes for which my
soul longed, I think I must have moped to death. Few men,
assuredly, have enjoyed such wanderings more than I, and few men
revive them in memory with a richer delight or deeper longing. But-
-whatever temptation comes to me in mellow autumn, when I think of
the grape and of the olive--I do not believe I shall ever again
cross the sea. What remains to me of life and of energy is far too
little for the enjoyment of all I know, and all I wish to know, of
this dear island.

As a child I used to sleep in a room hung round with prints after
English landscape painters--those steel engravings so common half a
century ago, which bore the legend, "From the picture in the Vernon
Gallery." Far more than I knew at the time, these pictures
impressed me; I gazed and gazed at them, with that fixed attention
of a child which is half curiosity, half reverie, till every line of
them was fixed in my mind; at this moment I see the black-and-white
landscapes as if they were hanging on the wall before me, and I have
often thought that this early training of the imagination--for such
it was--has much to do with the passionate love of rural scenery
which lurked within me even when I did not recognize it, and which
now for many a year has been one of the emotions directing my life.
Perhaps, too, that early memory explains why I love a good black-
and-white print even more than a good painting. And--to draw yet
another inference--here may be a reason for the fact that, through
my youth and early manhood, I found more pleasure in Nature as
represented by art than in Nature herself. Even during that strange
time when hardships and passions held me captive far from any
glimpse of the flowering earth, I could be moved, and moved deeply,
by a picture of the simplest rustic scene. At rare moments, when a
happy chance led me into the National Gallery, I used to stand long
before such pictures as "The Valley Farm," "The Cornfield,"
"Mousehold Heath." In the murk confusion of my heart these visions
of the world of peace and beauty from which I was excluded--to
which, indeed, I hardly ever gave a thought--touched me to deep
emotion. But it did not need--nor does it now--the magic of a
master to awake that mood in me. Let me but come upon the poorest
little woodcut, the cheapest "process" illustration, representing a
thatched cottage, a lane, a field, and I hear that music begin to
murmur. It is a passion--Heaven be thanked--that grows with my
advancing years. The last thought of my brain as I lie dying will
be that of sunshine upon an English meadow.


Sitting in my garden amid the evening scent of roses, I have read
through Walton's Life of Hooker; could any place and time have been
more appropriate? Almost within sight is the tower of Heavitree
church--Heavitree, which was Hooker's birthplace. In other parts of
England he must often have thought of these meadows falling to the
green valley of the Exe, and of the sun setting behind the pines of
Haldon. Hooker loved the country. Delightful to me, and infinitely
touching, is that request of his to be transferred from London to a
rural living--"where I can see God's blessing spring out of the
earth." And that glimpse of him where he was found tending sheep,
with a Horace in his hand. It was in rural solitudes that he
conceived the rhythm of mighty prose. What music of the spheres
sang to that poor, vixen-haunted, pimply-faced man!

The last few pages I read by the light of the full moon, that of
afterglow having till then sufficed me. Oh, why has it not been
granted me in all my long years of pen-labour to write something
small and perfect, even as one of these lives of honest Izaak! Here
is literature, look you--not "literary work." Let me be thankful
that I have the mind to enjoy it; not only to understand, but to
savour, its great goodness.


It is Sunday morning, and above earth's beauty shines the purest,
softest sky this summer has yet gladdened us withal. My window is
thrown open; I see the sunny gleam upon garden leaves and flowers; I
hear the birds whose wont it is to sing to me; ever and anon the
martins that have their home beneath my eaves sweep past in silence.
Church bells have begun to chime; I know the music of their voices,
near and far.

There was a time when it delighted me to flash my satire on the
English Sunday; I could see nothing but antiquated foolishness and
modern hypocrisy in this weekly pause from labour and from bustle.
Now I prize it as an inestimable boon, and dread every encroachment
upon its restful stillness. Scoff as I might at "Sabbatarianism,"
was I not always glad when Sunday came? The bells of London
churches and chapels are not soothing to the ear, but when I
remember their sound--even that of the most aggressively pharisaic
conventicle, with its one dire clapper--I find it associated with a
sense of repose, of liberty. This day of the seven I granted to my
better genius; work was put aside, and, when Heaven permitted,
trouble forgotten.

When out of England I have always missed this Sunday quietude, this
difference from ordinary days which seems to affect the very
atmosphere. It is not enough that people should go to church, that
shops should be closed and workyards silent; these holiday notes do
not make a Sunday. Think as one may of its significance, our Day of
Rest has a peculiar sanctity, felt, I imagine, in a more or less
vague way, even by those who wish to see the village lads at cricket
and theatres open in the town. The idea is surely as good a one as
ever came to heavy-laden mortals; let one whole day in every week be
removed from the common life of the world, lifted above common
pleasures as above common cares. With all the abuses of fanaticism,
this thought remained rich in blessings; Sunday has always brought
large good to the generality, and to a chosen number has been the
very life of the soul, however heretically some of them understood
the words. If its ancient use perish from among us, so much the
worse for our country. And perish no doubt it will; only here in
rustic solitude can one forget the changes that have already made
the day less sacred to multitudes. With it will vanish that habit
of periodic calm, which, even when it has become so largely void of
conscious meaning, is, one may safely say, the best spiritual boon
ever bestowed upon a people. The most difficult of all things to
attain, the most difficult of all to preserve, the supreme
benediction of the noblest mind, this calm was once breathed over
the whole land as often as sounded the last stroke of weekly toil;
on Saturday at even began the quiet and the solace. With the
decline of old faith, Sunday cannot but lose its sanction, and no
loss among the innumerable that we are suffering will work so
effectually for popular vulgarization. What hope is there of
guarding the moral beauty of the day when the authority which set it
apart is no longer recognized?--Imagine a bank-holiday once a week!


On Sunday I come down later than usual; I make a change of dress,
for it is fitting that the day of spiritual rest should lay aside
the livery of the laborious week. For me, indeed, there is no
labour at any time, but nevertheless does Sunday bring me repose. I
share in the common tranquillity; my thought escapes the workaday
world more completely than on other days.

It is not easy to see how this house of mine can make to itself a
Sunday quiet, for at all times it is well-nigh soundless; yet I find
a difference. My housekeeper comes into the room with her Sunday
smile; she is happier for the day, and the sight of her happiness
gives me pleasure. She speaks, if possible, in a softer voice; she
wears a garment which reminds me that there is only the lightest and
cleanest housework to be done. She will go to church, morning and
evening, and I know that she is better for it. During her absence I
sometimes look into rooms which on other days I never enter; it is
merely to gladden my eyes with the shining cleanliness, the perfect
order, I am sure to find in the good woman's domain. But for that
spotless and sweet-smelling kitchen, what would it avail me to range
my books and hang my pictures? All the tranquillity of my life
depends upon the honest care of this woman who lives and works
unseen. And I am sure that the money I pay her is the least part of
her reward. She is such an old-fashioned person that the mere
discharge of what she deems a duty is in itself an end to her, and
the work of her hands in itself a satisfaction, a pride.

When a child, I was permitted to handle on Sunday certain books
which could not be exposed to the more careless usage of common
days; volumes finely illustrated, or the more handsome editions of
familiar authors, or works which, merely by their bulk, demanded
special care. Happily, these books were all of the higher rank in
literature, and so there came to be established in my mind an
association between the day of rest and names which are the greatest
in verse and prose. Through my life this habit has remained with
me; I have always wished to spend some part of the Sunday quiet with
books which, at most times, it is fatally easy to leave aside, one's
very knowledge and love of them serving as an excuse for their
neglect in favour of print which has the attraction of newness.
Homer and Virgil, Milton and Shakespeare; not many Sundays have gone
by without my opening one or other of these. Not many Sundays?
Nay, that is to exaggerate, as one has the habit of doing. Let me
say rather that, on many a rest-day I have found mind and
opportunity for such reading. Nowadays mind and opportunity fail me
never. I may take down my Homer or my Shakespeare when I choose,
but it is still on Sunday that I feel it most becoming to seek the
privilege of their companionship. For these great ones, crowned
with immortality, do not respond to him who approaches them as
though hurried by temporal care. There befits the garment of solemn
leisure, the thought attuned to peace. I open the volume somewhat
formally; is it not sacred, if the word have any meaning at all?
And, as I read, no interruption can befall me. The note of a
linnet, the humming of a bee, these are the sounds about my
sanctuary. The page scarce rustles as it turns.


Of how many dwellings can it be said that no word of anger is ever
heard beneath its roof, and that no unkindly feeling ever exists
between the inmates? Most men's experience would seem to justify
them in declaring that, throughout the inhabited world, no such
house exists. I, knowing at all events of one, admit the
possibility that there may be more; yet I feel that it is to hazard
a conjecture; I cannot point with certainty to any other instance,
nor in all my secular life (I speak as one who has quitted the
world) could I have named a single example.

It is so difficult for human beings to live together; nay, it is so
difficult for them to associate, however transitorily, and even
under the most favourable conditions, without some shadow of mutual
offence. Consider the differences of task and of habit, the
conflict of prejudices, the divergence of opinions (though that is
probably the same thing), which quickly reveal themselves between
any two persons brought into more than casual contact, and think how
much self-subdual is implicit whenever, for more than an hour or
two, they co-exist in seeming harmony. Man is not made for peaceful

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