The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft

Author: George Gissing


Of late, I have been wishing for music. An odd chance gratified my desire.

I had to go into Exeter yesterday. I got there about sunset, transacted my business, and turned to walk home again through the warm twilight. In Southernhay, as I was passing a house of which the ground-floor windows stood open, there sounded the notes of a piano—chords touched by a skilful hand. I checked my step, hoping, and in a minute or two the musician began to play that nocturne of Chopin which I love best—I don’t know how to name it. My heart leapt. There I stood in the thickening dusk, the glorious sounds floating about me; and I trembled with very ecstasy of enjoyment. When silence came, I waited in the hope of another piece, but nothing followed, and so I went my way.

It is well for me that I cannot hear music when I will; assuredly I should not have such intense pleasure as comes to me now and then by haphazard. As I walked on, forgetting all about the distance, and reaching home before I knew I was half way there, I felt gratitude to my unknown benefactor—a state of mind I have often experienced in the days long gone by. It happened at times—not in my barest days, but in those of decent poverty—that some one in the house where I lodged played the piano—and how it rejoiced me when this came to pass! I say "played the piano"—a phrase that covers much. For my own part, I was very tolerant; anything that could by the largest interpretation be called music, I welcomed and was thankful; for even "five-finger exercises" I found, at moments, better than nothing. For it was when I was labouring at my desk that the notes of the instrument were grateful and helpful to me. Some men, I believe, would have been driven frantic under the circumstances; to me, anything like a musical sound always came as a godsend; it tuned my thoughts; it made the words flow. Even the street organs put me in a happy mood; I owe many a page to them—written when I should else have been sunk in bilious gloom.

More than once, too, when I was walking London streets by night, penniless and miserable, music from an open window has stayed my step, even as yesterday. Very well can I remember such a moment in Eaton Square, one night when I was going back to Chelsea, tired, hungry, racked by frustrate passions. I had tramped miles and miles, in the hope of wearying myself so that I could sleep and forget. Then came the piano notes—I saw that there was festival in the house—and for an hour or so I revelled as none of the bidden guests could possibly be doing. And when I reached my poor lodgings, I was no longer envious nor mad with desires, but as I fell asleep I thanked the unknown mortal who had played for me, and given me peace.


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Chicago: George Gissing, "XXVI," The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft, trans. Evans, Sebastian in The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft Original Sources, accessed March 20, 2023,

MLA: Gissing, George. "XXVI." The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft, translted by Evans, Sebastian, in The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft, Original Sources. 20 Mar. 2023.

Harvard: Gissing, G, 'XXVI' in The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft, trans. . cited in , The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft. Original Sources, retrieved 20 March 2023, from