The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft

Author: George Gissing


The characteristic motive of English poetry is love of nature, especially of nature as seen in the English rural landscape. From the "Cuckoo Song" of our language in its beginnings to the perfect loveliness of Tennyson’s best verse, this note is ever sounding. It is persistent even amid the triumph of the drama. Take away from Shakespeare all his bits of natural description, all his casual allusions to the life and aspects of the country, and what a loss were there! The reign of the iambic couplet confined, but could not suppress, this native music; Pope notwithstanding, there came the "Ode to Evening" and that "Elegy" which, unsurpassed for beauty of thought and nobility of utterance in all the treasury of our lyrics, remains perhaps the most essentially English poem ever written.

This attribute of our national mind availed even to give rise to an English school of painting. It came late; that it ever came at all is remarkable enough. A people apparently less apt for that kind of achievement never existed. So profound is the English joy in meadow and stream and hill, that, unsatisfied at last with vocal expression, it took up the brush, the pencil, the etching tool, and created a new form of art. The National Gallery represents only in a very imperfect way the richness and variety of our landscape work. Were it possible to collect, and suitably to display, the very best of such work in every vehicle, I know not which would be the stronger emotion in an English heart, pride or rapture.

One obvious reason for the long neglect of Turner lies in the fact that his genius does not seem to be truly English. Turner’s landscape, even when it presents familiar scenes, does not show them in the familiar light. Neither the artist nor the intelligent layman is satisfied. He gives us glorious visions; we admit the glory—but we miss something which we deem essential. I doubt whether Turner tasted rural England; I doubt whether the spirit of English poetry was in him; I doubt whether the essential significance of the common things which we call beautiful was revealed to his soul. Such doubt does not affect his greatness as a poet in colour and in form, but I suspect that it has always been the cause why England could not love him. If any man whom I knew to be a man of brains confessed to me that he preferred Birket Foster, I should smile—but I should understand.


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Chicago: George Gissing, "IV," The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft, trans. Evans, Sebastian in The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft Original Sources, accessed March 31, 2023,

MLA: Gissing, George. "IV." The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft, translted by Evans, Sebastian, in The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft, Original Sources. 31 Mar. 2023.

Harvard: Gissing, G, 'IV' in The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft, trans. . cited in , The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft. Original Sources, retrieved 31 March 2023, from