The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft by George Gissing


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Page 2

The question of arrangement had to be considered; I did not like to offer
a mere incondite miscellany. To supply each of the disconnected passages
with a title, or even to group them under subject headings, would have
interfered with the spontaneity which, above all, I wished to preserve.
In reading through the matter I had selected, it struck me how often the
aspects of nature were referred to, and how suitable many of the
reflections were to the month with which they were dated. Ryecroft, I
knew, had ever been much influenced by the mood of the sky, and by the
procession of the year. So I hit upon the thought of dividing the little
book into four chapters, named after the seasons. Like all
classifications, it is imperfect, but 'twill serve.

G. G.




SPRING


I.


For more than a week my pen has lain untouched. I have written nothing
for seven whole days, not even a letter. Except during one or two bouts
of illness, such a thing never happened in my life before. In my life;
the life, that is, which had to be supported by anxious toil; the life
which was not lived for living's sake, as all life should be, but under
the goad of fear. The earning of money should be a means to an end; for
more than thirty years--I began to support myself at sixteen--I had to
regard it as the end itself.

I could imagine that my old penholder feels reproachfully towards me. Has
it not served me well? Why do I, in my happiness, let it lie there
neglected, gathering dust? The same penholder that has lain against my
forefinger day after day, for--how many years? Twenty, at least; I
remember buying it at a shop in Tottenham Court Road. By the same token
I bought that day a paper-weight, which cost me a whole shilling--an
extravagance which made me tremble. The penholder shone with its new
varnish, now it is plain brown wood from end to end. On my forefinger it
has made a callosity.

Old companion, yet old enemy! How many a time have I taken it up,
loathing the necessity, heavy in head and heart, my hand shaking, my eyes
sick-dazzled! How I dreaded the white page I had to foul with ink! Above
all, on days such as this, when the blue eyes of Spring laughed from
between rosy clouds, when the sunlight shimmered upon my table and made
me long, long all but to madness, for the scent of the flowering earth,
for the green of hillside larches, for the singing of the skylark above
the downs. There was a time--it seems further away than childhood--when
I took up my pen with eagerness; if my hand trembled it was with hope.
But a hope that fooled me, for never a page of my writing deserved to
live. I can say that now without bitterness. It was youthful error, and
only the force of circumstance prolonged it. The world has done me no
injustice; thank Heaven I have grown wise enough not to rail at it for
this! And why should any man who writes, even if he write things
immortal, nurse anger at the world's neglect? Who asked him to publish?
Who promised him a hearing? Who has broken faith with him? If my
shoemaker turn me out an excellent pair of boots, and I, in some mood of
cantankerous unreason, throw them back upon his hands, the man has just
cause of complaint. But your poem, your novel, who bargained with you
for it? If it is honest journeywork, yet lacks purchasers, at most you
may call yourself a hapless tradesman. If it come from on high, with
what decency do you fret and fume because it is not paid for in heavy
cash? For the work of man's mind there is one test, and one alone, the
judgment of generations yet unborn. If you have written a great book,
the world to come will know of it. But you don't care for posthumous
glory. You want to enjoy fame in a comfortable armchair. Ah, that is
quite another thing. Have the courage of your desire. Admit yourself a
merchant, and protest to gods and men that the merchandise you offer is
of better quality than much which sells for a high price. You may be
right, and indeed it is hard upon you that Fashion does not turn to your
stall.



II.


The exquisite quiet of this room! I have been sitting in utter idleness,
watching the sky, viewing the shape of golden sunlight upon the carpet,
which changes as the minutes pass, letting my eye wander from one framed
print to another, and along the ranks of my beloved books. Within the
house nothing stirs. In the garden I can hear singing of birds, I can
hear the rustle of their wings. And thus, if it please me, I may sit all
day long, and into the profounder quiet of the night.

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Sun 15th Sep 2019, 16:35