The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft

Author: George Gissing


I was at ramble in the lanes, when, from somewhere at a distance, there sounded the voice of a countryman—strange to say—singing. The notes were indistinct, but they rose, to my ear, with a moment’s musical sadness, and of a sudden my heart was stricken with a memory so keen that I knew not whether it was pain or delight. For the sound seemed to me that of a peasant’s song which I once heard whilst sitting among the ruins of Paestum. The English landscape faded before my eyes. I saw great Doric columns of honey-golden travertine; between them, as I looked one way, a deep strip of sea; when I turned, the purple gorges of the Apennine; and all about the temple, where I sat in solitude, a wilderness dead and still but for that long note of wailing melody. I had not thought it possible that here, in my beloved home, where regret and desire are all but unknown to me, I could have been so deeply troubled by a thought of things far off. I returned with head bent, that voice singing in my memory. All the delight I have known in Italian travel burned again within my heart. The old spell has not lost its power. Never, I know, will it again draw me away from England; but the Southern sunlight cannot fade from my imagination, and to dream of its glow upon the ruins of old time wakes in me the voiceless desire which once was anguish.

In his Italienische Reise, Goethe tells that at one moment of his life the desire for Italy became to him a scarce endurable suffering; at length he could not bear to hear or to read of things Italian, even the sight of a Latin book so tortured him that he turned away from it; and the day arrived when, in spite of every obstacle, he yielded to the sickness of longing, and in secret stole away southward. When first I read that passage, it represented exactly the state of my own mind; to think of Italy was to feel myself goaded by a longing which, at times, made me literally ill; I, too, had put aside my Latin books, simply because I could not endure the torment of imagination they caused me. And I had so little hope (nay, for years no shadow of reasonable hope) that I should ever be able to appease my desire. I taught myself to read Italian; that was something. I worked (half-heartedly) at a colloquial phrase-book. But my sickness only grew towards despair.

Then came into my hands a sum of money (such a poor little sum) for a book I had written. It was early autumn. I chanced to hear some one speak of Naples—and only death would have held me back.


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Chicago: George Gissing, "XIX," The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft, trans. Evans, Sebastian in The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft Original Sources, accessed July 20, 2024,

MLA: Gissing, George. "XIX." The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft, translted by Evans, Sebastian, in The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft, Original Sources. 20 Jul. 2024.

Harvard: Gissing, G, 'XIX' in The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft, trans. . cited in , The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft. Original Sources, retrieved 20 July 2024, from