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George Robert Gissing: Quotes

More than half a century of existence has taught me that most of the wrong and folly which darken earth is due to those who cannot possess their souls in quiet; that most of the good which saves mankind from destruction comes of life that is led in thoughtful stillness. Every day the world grows noisier; I, for one, will have no part in that increasing clamour, and, were it only by my silence, I confer a boon on all.

The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft (1903) — Spring, IV.

Some one, I see, is lifting up his sweet voice in praise of Conscription.  It is only at long intervals that one reads this kind of thing in our reviews or newspapers, and I am happy in believing that most English people are affected by it even as I am, with the sickness of dread and of disgust.  That the thing is impossible in England, who would venture to say?  Every one who can think at all sees how slight are our safeguards against that barbaric force in man which the privileged races have so slowly and painfully brought into check.  Democracy is full of menace to all the finer hopes of civilization, and the revival, in not unnatural companionship with it, of monarchic power based on militarism, makes the prospect dubious enough.  There has but to arise some Lord of Slaughter, and the nations will be tearing at each other’s throats.  Let England be imperilled, and Englishmen will fight; in such extremity there is no choice.  But what a dreary change must come upon our islanders if, without instant danger, they bend beneath the curse of universal soldiering!  I like to think that they will guard the liberty of their manhood even beyond the point of prudence.

The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft (1903) — Spring, XIX.

But there is the rustle of branches in the morning breeze; there is the music of a sunny shower against the window; there is the matin song of birds. Several times lately I have lain wakeful when there sounded the first note of the earliest lark; it makes me almost glad of my restless nights.

The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft (1903) — Spring, XXIII.

Walking in a favourite lane to-day, I found it covered with shed blossoms of the hawthorn.  Creamy white, fragrant even in ruin, lay scattered the glory of the May.  It told me that spring is over.

Have I enjoyed it as I should?  Since the day that brought me freedom, four times have I seen the year’s new birth, and always, as the violet yielded to the rose, I have known a fear that I had not sufficiently prized this boon of heaven whilst it was with me.  Many hours I have spent shut up among my books, when I might have been in the meadows.  Was the gain equivalent?  Doubtfully, diffidently, I hearken what the mind can plead.

I recall my moments of delight, the recognition of each flower that unfolded, the surprise of budding branches clothed in a night with green.  The first snowy gleam upon the blackthorn did not escape me.  By its familiar bank, I watched for the earliest primrose, and in its copse I found the anemone.  Meadows shining with buttercups, hollows sunned with the marsh marigold held me long at gaze.  I saw the sallow glistening with its cones of silvery fur, and splendid with dust of gold.  These common things touch me with more of admiration and of wonder each time I behold them.  They are once more gone.  As I turn to summer, a misgiving mingles with my joy.

The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft (1903) — Spring, XXV.

Think merely how one’s view of common things is affected by literary association.  What were honey to me if I knew nothing of Hymettus and Hybla?—if my mind had no stores of poetry, no memories of romance?  Suppose me town-pent, the name might bring with it some pleasantness of rustic odour; but of what poor significance even that, if the country were to me mere grass and corn and vegetables, as to the man who has never read nor wished to read.  For the Poet is indeed a Maker: above the world of sense, trodden by hidebound humanity, he builds that world of his own whereto is summoned the unfettered spirit.  Why does it delight me to see the bat flitting at dusk before my window, or to hear the hoot of the owl when all the ways are dark?  I might regard the bat with disgust, and the owl either with vague superstition or not heed it at all.  But these have their place in the poet’s world, and carry me above this idle present.

The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft (1903) — Summer, XIX.

I think of foxgloves, for it is the moment of their glory.  Yesterday I went to the lane which I visit every year at this time, the deep, rutty cart-track, descending between banks covered with giant fronds of the polypodium, and overhung with wych-elm and hazel, to that cool, grassy nook where the noble flowers hang on stems all but of my own height.  Nowhere have I seen finer foxgloves.  I suppose they rejoice me so because of early memories—to a child it is the most impressive of wild flowers; I would walk miles any day to see a fine cluster, as I would to see the shining of purple loosestrife by the water edge, or white lilies floating upon the still depth.

The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft (1903) — Summer, XXIV.

This morning’s sunshine faded amid slow-gathering clouds, but something of its light seems still to linger in the air, and to touch the rain which is falling softly. I hear a pattering upon the still leafage of the garden; it is a sound which lulls, and tunes the mind to calm thoughtfulness.

The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft (1903) — Autumn, VII.

At sunrise I looked forth; nowhere could I discern a cloud the size of a man’s hand; the leaves quivered gently, as if with joy in the divine morning which glistened upon their dew.  At sunset I stood in the meadow above my house, and watched the red orb sink into purple mist, whilst in the violet heaven behind me rose the perfect moon.  All between, through the soft circling of the dial’s shadow, was loveliness and quiet unutterable.  Never, I could fancy, did autumn clothe in such magnificence the elms and beeches; never, I should think, did the leafage on my walls blaze in such royal crimson.  It was no day for wandering; under a canopy of blue or gold, where the eye could fall on nothing that was not beautiful, enough to be at one with Nature in dreamy rest.  From stubble fields sounded the long caw of rooks; a sleepy crowing ever and anon told of the neighbour farm; my doves cooed above their cot.  Was it for five minutes, or was it for an hour, that I watched the yellow butterfly wafted as by an insensible tremor of the air amid the garden glintings?  In every autumn there comes one such flawless day.

The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft (1903) — Autumn, XVIII.

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.

The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft (1903) — Autumn, XIX.

How many such moments come back to me as my thoughts wander!  Dim little trattorie in city byways, inns smelling of the sun in forgotten valleys, on the mountain side, or by the tideless shore, where the grape has given me of its blood, and made life a rapture.

The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft (1903) — Autumn, XX.

Yesterday I passed by an elm avenue, leading to a beautiful old house.  The road between the trees was covered in all its length and breadth with fallen leaves—a carpet of pale gold.  Further on, I came to a plantation, mostly of larches; it shone in the richest aureate hue, with here and there a splash of blood-red, which was a young beech in its moment of autumnal glory.

I looked at an alder, laden with brown catkins, its blunt foliage stained with innumerable shades of lovely colour.  Near it was a horse-chestnut, with but a few leaves hanging on its branches, and those a deep orange.  The limes, I see, are already bare.

To-night the wind is loud, and rain dashes against my casement; to-morrow I shall awake to a sky of winter.

The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft (1903) — Autumn, XXV.

Blasts from the Channel, with raining scud, and spume of mist breaking upon the hills, have kept me indoors all day.  Yet not for a moment have I been dull or idle, and now, by the latter end of a sea-coal fire, I feel such enjoyment of my ease and tranquillity that I must needs word it before going up to bed.

The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft (1903) — Winter, I.

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, yellow-mantled 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 grey-green 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.

The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft (1903) — Winter, XXIII.