The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft

Author: George Gissing


If the ingenious foreigner found himself in some village of manufacturing Lancashire, he would be otherwise impressed. Here something of the power of England might be revealed to him, but of England’s worth, little enough. Hard ugliness would everywhere assail his eyes; the visages and voices of the people would seem to him thoroughly akin to their surroundings. Scarcely could one find, in any civilized nation, a more notable contrast than that between these two English villages and their inhabitants.

Yet Lancashire is English, and there among the mill chimneys, in the hideous little street, folk are living whose domestic thoughts claim undeniable kindred with those of the villagers of the kinder south. But to understand how "comfort," and the virtues it implies, can exist amid such conditions, one must penetrate to the hearthside; the door must be shut, the curtain drawn; here "home" does not extend beyond the threshold. After all, this grimy row of houses, ugliest that man ever conceived, is more representative of England to-day than the lovely village among the trees and meadows. More than a hundred years ago, power passed from the south of England to the north. The vigorous race on the other side of Trent only found its opportunity when the age of machinery began; its civilization, long delayed, differs in obvious respects from that of older England. In Sussex or in Somerset, however dull and clownish the typical inhabitant, he plainly belongs to an ancient order of things, represents an immemorial subordination. The rude man of the north is—by comparison—but just emerged from barbarism, and under any circumstances would show less smooth a front. By great misfortune, he has fallen under the harshest lordship the modern world has known—that of scientific industrialism, and all his vigorous qualities are subdued to a scheme of life based upon the harsh, the ugly, the sordid. His racial heritage, of course, marks him to the eye; even as ploughman or shepherd, he differs notably from him of the same calling in the weald or on the downs. But the frank brutality of the man in all externals has been encouraged, rather than mitigated, by the course his civilization has taken, and hence it is that, unless one knows him well enough to respect him, he seems even yet stamped with the half-savagery of his folk as they were a century and a half ago. His fierce shyness, his arrogant self-regard, are notes of a primitive state. Naturally, he never learnt to house himself as did the Southerner, for climate, as well as social circumstance, was unfavourable to all the graces of life. And now one can only watch the encroachment of his rule upon that old, that true England whose strength and virtue were so differently manifested. This fair broad land of the lovely villages signifies little save to the antiquary, the poet, the painter. Vainly, indeed, should I show its beauty and its peace to the observant foreigner; he would but smile, and, with a glance at the tractionengine just coming along the road, indicate the direction of his thoughts.


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Chicago: George Gissing, "XIV," The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft, trans. Evans, Sebastian in The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft Original Sources, accessed October 2, 2023,

MLA: Gissing, George. "XIV." The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft, translted by Evans, Sebastian, in The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft, Original Sources. 2 Oct. 2023.

Harvard: Gissing, G, 'XIV' in The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft, trans. . cited in , The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft. Original Sources, retrieved 2 October 2023, from