The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft

Author: George Gissing


All through the morning, the air was held in an ominous stillness. Sitting over my books, I seemed to feel the silence; when I turned my look to the window, I saw nothing but the broad, grey sky, a featureless expanse, cold, melancholy. Later, just as I was bestirring myself to go out for an afternoon walk, something white fell softly across my vision. A few minutes more, and all was hidden with a descending veil of silent snow.

It is a disappointment. Yesterday I half believed that the winter drew to its end; the breath of the hills was soft; spaces of limpid azure shone amid slow-drifting clouds, and seemed the promise of spring. Idle by the fireside, in the gathering dusk, I began to long for the days of light and warmth. My fancy wandered, leading me far and wide in a dream of summer England. . . .

This is the valley of the Blythe. The stream ripples and glances over its brown bed warmed with sunbeams; by its bank the green flags wave and rustle, and, all about, the meadows shine in pure gold of buttercups. The hawthorn hedges are a mass of gleaming blossom, which scents the breeze. There above rises the heath, yellowmantled with gorse, and beyond, if I walk for an hour or two, I shall come out upon the sandy cliffs of Suffolk, and look over the northern sea. . . .

I am in Wensleydale, climbing from the rocky river that leaps amid broad pastures up to the rolling moor. Up and up, till my feet brush through heather, and the grouse whirrs away before me. Under a glowing sky of summer, this air of the uplands has still a life which spurs to movement, which makes the heart bound. The dale is hidden; I see only the brown and purple wilderness, cutting against the blue with great round shoulders, and, far away to the west, an horizon of sombre heights. . . .

I ramble through a village in Gloucestershire, a village which seems forsaken in this drowsy warmth of the afternoon. The houses of grey stone are old and beautiful, telling of a time when Englishmen knew how to build whether for rich or poor; the gardens glow with flowers, and the air is delicately sweet. At the village end, I come into a lane, which winds upwards between grassy slopes, to turf and bracken and woods of noble beech. Here I am upon a spur of the Cotswolds, and before me spreads the wide vale of Evesham, with its ripening crops, its fruiting orchards, watered by sacred Avon. Beyond, softly blue, the hills of Malvern. On the branch hard by warbles a little bird, glad in his leafy solitude. A rabbit jumps through the fern. There sounds the laugh of a woodpecker from the copse in yonder hollow. . . .

In the falling of a summer night, I walk by Ullswater. The sky is still warm with the afterglow of sunset, a dusky crimson smouldering above the dark mountain line. Below me spreads a long reach of the lake, steel-grey between its dim colourless shores. In the profound stillness, the trotting of a horse beyond the water sounds strangely near; it serves only to make more sensible the repose of Nature in this her sanctuary. I feel a solitude unutterable, yet nothing akin to desolation; the heart of the land I love seems to beat in the silent night gathering around me; amid things eternal, I touch the familiar and the kindly earth. Moving, I step softly, as though my footfall were an irreverence. A turn in the road, and there is wafted to me a faint perfume, that of meadow-sweet. Then I see a light glimmering in the farmhouse window—a little ray against the blackness of the great hillside, below which the water sleeps. . . .

A pathway leads me by the winding of the river Ouse. Far on every side stretches a homely landscape, tilth and pasture, hedgerow and clustered trees, to where the sky rests upon the gentle hills. Slow, silent, the river lapses between its daisied banks, its greygreen osier beds. Yonder is the little town of St. Neots. In all England no simpler bit of rural scenery; in all the world nothing of its kind more beautiful. Cattle are lowing amid the rich meadows. Here one may loiter and dream in utter restfulness, whilst the great white clouds mirror themselves in the water as they pass above. . . .

I am walking upon the South Downs. In the valleys, the sun lies hot, but here sings a breeze which freshens the forehead and fills the heart with gladness. My foot upon the short, soft turf has an unwearied lightness; I feel capable of walking on and on, even to that farthest horizon where the white cloud casts its floating shadow. Below me, but far off, is the summer sea, still, silent, its ever-changing blue and green dimmed at the long limit with luminous noontide mist. Inland spreads the undulant vastness of the sheep-spotted downs, beyond them the tillage and the woods of Sussex weald, coloured like to the pure sky above them, but in deeper tint. Near by, all but hidden among trees in yon lovely hollow, lies an old, old hamlet, its brown roofs decked with golden lichen; I see the low church-tower, and the little graveyard about it. Meanwhile, high in the heaven, a lark is singing. It descends; it drops to its nest, and I could dream that half the happiness of its exultant song was love of England. . . .

It is all but dark. For a quarter of an hour I must have been writing by a glow of firelight reflected on to my desk; it seemed to me the sun of summer. Snow is still falling. I see its ghostly glimmer against the vanishing sky. To-morrow it will be thick upon my garden, and perchance for several days. But when it melts, when it melts, it will leave the snowdrop. The crocus, too, is waiting, down there under the white mantle which warms the earth.


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Chicago: George Gissing, "XXIII," The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft, trans. Evans, Sebastian in The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft Original Sources, accessed March 2, 2024,

MLA: Gissing, George. "XXIII." The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft, translted by Evans, Sebastian, in The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft, Original Sources. 2 Mar. 2024.

Harvard: Gissing, G, 'XXIII' in The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft, trans. . cited in , The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft. Original Sources, retrieved 2 March 2024, from