The House of Cobwebs and Other Stories
George Gissing

Part 1 out of 6



























'Les gens tout a fait heureux, forts et bien portants, sont-ils
prepares comme il faut pour comprendre, penetrer, exprimer la vie,
notre vie si tourmentee et si courte?'


In England during the sixties and seventies of last century the world of
books was dominated by one Gargantuan type of fiction. The terms book and
novel became almost synonymous in houses which were not Puritan, yet where
books and reading, in the era of few and unfree libraries, were strictly
circumscribed. George Gissing was no exception to this rule. The English
novel was at the summit of its reputation during his boyish days. As a lad
of eight or nine he remembered the parts of _Our Mutual Friend_ coming to
the house, and could recall the smile of welcome with which they were
infallibly received. In the dining-room at home was a handsomely framed
picture which he regarded with an almost idolatrous veneration. It was an
engraved portrait of Charles Dickens. Some of the best work of George
Eliot, Reade, and Trollope was yet to make its appearance; Meredith and
Hardy were still the treasured possession of the few; the reigning models
during the period of Gissing's adolescence were probably Dickens and
Trollope, and the numerous satellites of these great stars, prominent among
them Wilkie Collins, William Black, and Besant and Rice.

Of the cluster of novelists who emerged from this school of ideas, the two
who will attract most attention in the future were clouded and obscured for
the greater period of their working lives. Unobserved, they received, and
made their own preparations for utilising, the legacy of the mid-Victorian
novel--moral thesis, plot, underplot, set characters, descriptive
machinery, landscape colouring, copious phraseology, Herculean proportions,
and the rest of the cumbrous and grandiose paraphernalia of _Chuzzlewit,
Pendennis_, and _Middlemarch_. But they received the legacy in a totally
different spirit. Mark Rutherford, after a very brief experiment, put all
these elaborate properties and conventions reverently aside. Cleverer and
more docile, George Gissing for the most part accepted them; he put his
slender frame into the ponderous collar of the author of the _Mill on the
Floss_, and nearly collapsed in wind and limb in the heart-breaking attempt
to adjust himself to such an heroic type of harness.

The distinctive qualities of Gissing at the time of his setting forth were
a scholarly style, rather fastidious and academic in its restraint, and the
personal discontent, slightly morbid, of a self-conscious student who finds
himself in the position of a sensitive woman in a crowd. His attitude
through life was that of a man who, having set out on his career with the
understanding that a second-class ticket is to be provided, allows himself
to be unceremoniously hustled into the rough and tumble of a noisy third.
Circumstances made him revolt against an anonymous start in life for a
refined and educated man under such conditions. They also made him
prolific. He shrank from the restraints and humiliations to which the poor
and shabbily dressed private tutor is exposed--revealed to us with a
persuasive terseness in the pages of _The Unclassed, New Grub Street,
Ryecroft_, and the story of _Topham's Chance._ Writing fiction in a garret
for a sum sufficient to keep body and soul together for the six months
following payment was at any rate better than this. The result was a long
series of highly finished novels, written in a style and from a point of
view which will always render them dear to the studious and the
book-centred. Upon the larger external rings of the book-reading multitude
it is not probable that Gissing will ever succeed in impressing himself.
There is an absence of transcendental quality about his work, a failure in
humour, a remoteness from actual life, a deficiency in awe and mystery, a
shortcoming in emotional power, finally, a lack of the dramatic faculty,
not indeed indispensable to a novelist, but almost indispensable as an
ingredient in great novels of this particular genre.[1] In temperament and
vitality he is palpably inferior to the masters (Dickens, Thackeray, Hugo,
Balzac) whom he reverenced with such a cordial admiration and envy. A 'low
vitality' may account for what has been referred to as the 'nervous
exhaustion' of his style. It were useless to pretend that Gissing belongs
of right to the 'first series' of English Men of Letters. But if debarred
by his limitations from a resounding or popular success, he will remain
exceptionally dear to the heart of the recluse, who thinks that the scholar
does well to cherish a grievance against the vulgar world beyond the
cloister; and dearer still, perhaps, to a certain number of enthusiasts who
began reading George Gissing as a college night-course; who closed _Thyrza_
and _Demos_ as dawn was breaking through the elms in some Oxford
quadrangle, and who have pursued his work patiently ever since in a
somewhat toilsome and broken ascent, secure always of suave writing and
conscientious workmanship, of an individual prose cadence and a genuine
vein of Penseroso:--

'Thus, Night, oft see me in thy pale career...
Where brooding Darkness spreads his jealous wings,
And the night-raven sings.'

[Footnote 1: The same kind of limitations would have to be postulated in
estimating the brothers De Goncourt, who, falling short of the first
magnitude, have yet a fully recognised position upon the stellar atlas.]

Yet by the larger, or, at any rate, the intermediate public, it is a fact
that Gissing has never been quite fairly estimated. He loses immensely if
you estimate him either by a single book, as is commonly done, or by his
work as a whole, in the perspective of which, owing to the lack of critical
instruction, one or two books of rather inferior quality have obtruded
themselves unduly. This brief survey of the Gissing country is designed to
enable the reader to judge the novelist by eight or nine of his best books.
If we can select these aright, we feel sure that he will end by placing the
work of George Gissing upon a considerably higher level than he has
hitherto done.

The time has not yet come to write the history of his career--fuliginous in
not a few of its earlier phases, gathering serenity towards its
close,--finding a soul of goodness in things evil. This only pretends to be
a chronological and, quite incidentally, a critical survey of George
Gissing's chief works. And comparatively short as his working life proved
to be--hampered for ten years by the sternest poverty, and for nearly ten
more by the sad, illusive optimism of the poitrinaire--the task of the mere
surveyor is no light or perfunctory one. Artistic as his temperament
undoubtedly was, and conscientious as his writing appears down to its
minutest detail, Gissing yet managed to turn out rather more than a novel
per annum. The desire to excel acted as a spur which conquered his
congenital inclination to dreamy historical reverie. The reward which he
propounded to himself remained steadfast from boyhood; it was a kind of
_Childe Harold_ pilgrimage to the lands of antique story--

'Whither Albano's scarce divided waves
Shine from a sister valley;--and afar
The Tiber winds, and the broad ocean laves
The Latian coast where sprang the Epic War.'

Twenty-six years have elapsed since the appearance of his first book in
1880, and in that time just twenty-six books have been issued bearing his
signature. His industry was worthy of an Anthony Trollope, and cost his
employers barely a tithe of the amount claimed by the writer of _The Last
Chronicle of Barset_. He was not much over twenty-two when his first novel
appeared.[2] It was entitled _Workers in the Dawn_, and is distinguished by
the fact that the author writes himself George Robert Gissing; afterwards
he saw fit to follow the example of George Robert Borrow, and in all
subsequent productions assumes the style of 'George Gissing.' The book
begins in this fashion: 'Walk with me, reader, into Whitecross Street. It
is Saturday night'; and it is what it here seems, a decidedly crude and
immature performance. Gissing was encumbered at every step by the giant's
robe of mid-Victorian fiction. Intellectual giants, Dickens and Thackeray,
were equally gigantic spendthrifts. They worked in a state of fervid heat
above a glowing furnace, into which they flung lavish masses of unshaped
metal, caring little for immediate effect or minute dexterity of stroke,
but knowing full well that the emotional energy of their temperaments was
capable of fusing the most intractable material, and that in the end they
would produce their great, downright effect. Their spirits rose and fell,
but the case was desperate, copy had to be despatched for the current
serial. Good and bad had to make up the tale against time, and revelling in
the very exuberance and excess of their humour, the novelists invariably

[Footnote 2: Three vols. 8vo, 1880 (Remington). It was noticed at some
length in the _Athenoeum_ of June 12th, in which the author's philosophic
outlook is condemned as a dangerous compound of Schopenhauer, Comte, and
Shelley. It is somewhat doubtful if he ever made more for a book than the
L250 he got for _New Grub Street_. L200, we believe, was advanced on _The
Nether World,_ but this proved anything but a prosperous speculation from
the publisher's point of view, and L150 was refused for _Born in Exile_.]

To the Ercles vein of these Titans of fiction, Gissing was a complete
stranger. To the pale and fastidious recluse and anchorite, their tone of
genial remonstrance with the world and its ways was totally alien. He knew
nothing of the world to start with beyond the den of the student. His
second book, as he himself described it in the preface to a second edition,
was the work of a very young man who dealt in a romantic spirit with the
gloomier facts of life. Its title, _The Unclassed,_[3] excited a little
curiosity, but the author was careful to explain that he had not in view
the _declasses_ but rather those persons who live in a limbo external to
society, and refuse the statistic badge. The central figure Osmond Waymark
is of course Gissing himself. Like his creator, raving at intervals under
the vile restraints of Philistine surroundings and with no money for
dissipation, Osmond gives up teaching to pursue the literary vocation. A
girl named Ida Starr idealises him, and is helped thereby to a purer life.
In the four years' interval between this somewhat hurried work and his
still earlier attempt the young author seems to have gone through a
bewildering change of employments. We hear of a clerkship in Liverpool, a
searing experience in America (described with but little deviation in _New
Grub Street_), a gas-fitting episode in Boston, private tutorships, and
cramming engagements in 'the poisonous air of working London.' Internal
evidence alone is quite sufficient to indicate that the man out of whose
brain such bitter experiences of the educated poor were wrung had learnt in
suffering what he taught--in his novels. His start in literature was made
under conditions that might have appalled the bravest, and for years his
steps were dogged by hunger and many-shaped hardships. He lived in cellars
and garrets. 'Many a time,' he writes, 'seated in just such a garret (as
that in the frontispiece to _Little Dorrit_) I saw the sunshine flood the
table in front of me, and the thought of that book rose up before me.' He
ate his meals in places that would have offered a way-wearied tramp
occasion for criticism. 'His breakfast consisted often of a slice of bread
and a drink of water. Four and sixpence a week paid for his lodging. A meal
that cost more than sixpence was a feast.' Once he tells us with a thrill
of reminiscent ecstasy how he found sixpence in the street! The ordinary
comforts of modern life were unattainable luxuries. Once when a newly
posted notice in the lavatory at the British Museum warned readers that the
basins were to be used (in official phrase) 'for casual ablutions only,' he
was abashed at the thought of his own complete dependence upon the
facilities of the place. Justly might the author call this a tragi-comical
incident. Often in happier times he had brooding memories of the familiar
old horrors--the foggy and gas-lit labyrinth of Soho--shop windows
containing puddings and pies kept hot by steam rising through perforated
metal--a young novelist of 'two-and-twenty or thereabouts' standing before
the display, raging with hunger, unable to purchase even one pennyworth of
food. And this is no fancy picture,[4] but a true story of what Gissing had
sufficient elasticity of humour to call 'a pretty stern apprenticeship.'
The sense of it enables us to understand to the full that semi-ironical and
bitter, yet not wholly unamused passage, in _Ryecroft_:--

'Is there at this moment any boy of twenty, fairly educated, but
without means, without help, with nothing but the glow in his brain
and steadfast courage in his heart, who sits in a London garret and
writes for dear life? There must be, I suppose; yet all that I have
read and heard of late years about young writers, shows them in a very
different aspect. No garretteers, these novelists and journalists
awaiting their promotion. They eat--and entertain their critics--at
fashionable restaurants, they are seen in expensive seats at the
theatre; they inhabit handsome flats--photographed for an illustrated
paper on the first excuse. At the worst, they belong to a reputable
club, and have garments which permit them to attend a garden party or
an evening "at home" without attracting unpleasant notice. Many
biographical sketches have I read during the last decade, making
personal introduction of young Mr. This or young Miss That, whose book
was--as the sweet language of the day will have it--"booming"; but
never one in which there was a hint of stern struggles, of the pinched
stomach and frozen fingers.'

[Footnote 3: Three vols., 1884, dedicated to M.C.R. In one volume
'revised,' 1895 (preface dated October 1895).]

[Footnote 4: Who but Gissing could describe a heroine as exhibiting in her
countenance 'habitual nourishment on good and plenteous food'?]

In his later years it was customary for him to inquire of a new author 'Has
he starved'? He need have been under no apprehension. There is still a
God's plenty of attics in Grub Street, tenanted by genuine artists,
idealists and poets, amply sufficient to justify the lamentable conclusion
of old Anthony a Wood in his life of George Peele. 'For so it is and always
hath been, that most poets die poor, and consequently obscurely, and a hard
matter it is to trace them to their graves.' Amid all these miseries,
Gissing upheld his ideal. During 1886-7 he began really to _write_ and the
first great advance is shown in _Isabel Clarendon_.[5] No book, perhaps,
that he ever wrote is so rich as this in autobiographical indices. In the
melancholy Kingcote we get more than a passing phase or a momentary glimpse
at one side of the young author. A long succession of Kingcote's traits are
obvious self-revelations. At the beginning he symbolically prefers the old
road with the crumbling sign-post, to the new. Kingcote is a literary
sensitive. The most ordinary transaction with uneducated ('that is
uncivilised') people made him uncomfortable. Mean and hateful people by
their suggestions made life hideous. He lacks the courage of the ordinary
man. Though under thirty he is abashed by youth. He is sentimental and
hungry for feminine sympathy, yet he realises that the woman who may with
safety be taken in marriage by a poor man, given to intellectual pursuits,
is extremely difficult of discovery. Consequently he lives in solitude; he
is tyrannised by moods, dominated by temperament. His intellect is in
abeyance. He shuns the present--the historical past seems alone to concern
him. Yet he abjures his own past. The ghost of his former self affected him
with horror. Identity even he denies. 'How can one be responsible for the
thoughts and acts of the being who bore his name years ago?' He has no
consciousness of his youth--no sympathy with children. In him is to be
discerned 'his father's intellectual and emotional qualities, together with
a certain stiffness of moral attitude derived from his mother.' He reveals
already a wonderful palate for pure literary flavour. His prejudices are
intense, their character being determined by the refinement and idealism of
his nature. All this is profoundly significant, knowing as we do that this
was produced when Gissing's worldly prosperity was at its nadir. He was
living at the time, like his own Harold Biffen, in absolute solitude, a
frequenter of pawnbroker's shops and a stern connoisseur of pure dripping,
pease pudding ('magnificent pennyworths at a shop in Cleveland Street, of a
very rich quality indeed'), faggots and saveloys. The stamp of affluence in
those days was the possession of a basin. The rich man thus secured the
gravy which the poor man, who relied on a paper wrapper for his pease
pudding, had to give away. The image recurred to his mind when, in later
days, he discussed champagne vintages with his publisher, or was consulted
as to the management of butlers by the wife of a popular prelate. With what
a sincere recollection of this time he enjoins his readers (after Dr.
Johnson) to abstain from Poverty. 'Poverty is the great secluder.' 'London
is a wilderness abounding in anchorites.' Gissing was sustained amid all
these miseries by two passionate idealisms, one of the intellect, the other
of the emotions. The first was ancient Greece and Rome--and he incarnated
this passion in the picturesque figure of Julian Casti (in _The
Unclassed_), toiling hard to purchase a Gibbon, savouring its grand epic
roll, converting its driest detail into poetry by means of his enthusiasm,
and selecting Stilicho as a hero of drama or romance (a premonition here of
_Veranilda_). The second or heart's idol was Charles Dickens--Dickens as
writer, Dickens as the hero of a past England, Dickens as humorist, Dickens
as leader of men, above all, Dickens as friend of the poor, the outcast,
the pale little sempstress and the downtrodden Smike.

[Footnote 5: _Isabel Clarendon_. By George Gissing. In two volumes, 1886
(Chapman and Hall). In reviewing this work the _Academy_ expressed
astonishment at the mature style of the writer--of whom it admitted it had
not yet come across the name.]

In the summer of 1870, Gissing remembered with a pious fidelity of detail
the famous drawing of the 'Empty Chair' being framed and hung up 'in the
school-room, at home'[6] (Wakefield).

[Footnote 6: Of Gissing's early impressions, the best connected account, I
think, is to be gleaned from the concluding chapters of _The Whirlpool_;
but this may be reinforced (and to some extent corrected, or, here and
there cancelled) by passages in _Burn in Exile_ (vol. i.) and in
_Ryecroft_. The material there supplied is confirmatory in the best sense
of the detail contributed by Mr. Wells to the cancelled preface of
_Veranilda_, touching the 'schoolboy, obsessed by a consuming passion for
learning, at the Quaker's boarding-school at Alderley. He had come thither
from Wakefield at the age of thirteen--after the death of his father, who
was, in a double sense, the cardinal formative influence in his life. The
tones of his father's voice, his father's gestures, never departed from
him; when he read aloud, particularly if it was poetry he read, his father
returned in him. He could draw in those days with great skill and
vigour--it will seem significant to many that he was particularly
fascinated by Hogarth's work, and that he copied and imitated it; and his
father's well-stocked library, and his father's encouragement, had
quickened his imagination and given it its enduring bias for literary
activity.' Like Defoe, Smollett, Sterne, Borrow, Dickens, Eliot, 'G.C.' is,
half involuntarily, almost unconsciously autobiographic.]

'Not without awe did I see the picture of the room which was now
tenantless: I remember too, a curiosity which led me to look closely
at the writing-table and the objects upon it, at the comfortable
round-backed chair, at the book-shelves behind. I began to ask myself
how books were written and how the men lived who wrote them. It is my
last glimpse of childhood. Six months later there was an empty chair
in my own home, and the tenor of my life was broken.

'Seven years after this I found myself amid the streets of London and
had to find the means of keeping myself alive. What I chiefly thought
of was that now at length I could go hither or thither in London's
immensity seeking for the places which had been made known to me by

'One day in the city I found myself at the entrance to Bevis Marks! I
had just been making an application in reply to some advertisement--of
course, fruitlessly; but what was that disappointment compared with
the discovery of Bevis Marks! Here dwelt Mr. Brass and Sally and the
Marchioness. Up and down the little street, this side and that, I went
gazing and dreaming. No press of busy folk disturbed me; the place was
quiet; it looked no doubt much the same as when Dickens knew it. I am
not sure that I had any dinner that day; but, if not, I daresay I did
not mind it very much.'

The broad flood under Thames bridges spoke to him in the very tones of 'the
master.' He breathed Guppy's London particular, the wind was the black
easter that pierced the diaphragm of Scrooge's clerk.

'We bookish people have our connotations for the life we do not live.
In time I came to see London with my own eyes, but how much better
when I saw it with those of Dickens!'

Tired and discouraged, badly nourished, badly housed--working under
conditions little favourable to play of the fancy or intentness of the
mind--then was the time, Gissing found, to take down Forster and read--read
about Charles Dickens.

'Merely as the narrative of a wonderfully active, zealous, and
successful life, this book scarce has its equal; almost any reader
must find it exhilarating; but to me it yielded such special
sustenance as in those days I could not have found elsewhere, and
lacking which I should, perhaps, have failed by the way. I am not
referring to Dickens's swift triumph, to his resounding fame and high
prosperity; these things are cheery to read about, especially when
shown in a light so human, with the accompaniment of so much geniality
and mirth. No; the pages which invigorated me are those where we see
Dickens at work, alone at his writing-table, absorbed in the task of
the story-teller. Constantly he makes known to Forster how his story
is getting on, speaks in detail of difficulties, rejoices over spells
of happy labour; and what splendid sincerity in it all! If this work
of his was not worth doing, why, nothing was. A troublesome letter has
arrived by the morning's post and threatens to spoil the day; but he
takes a few turns up and down the room, shakes off the worry, and sits
down to write for hours and hours. He is at the sea-side, his desk at
a sunny bay window overlooking the shore, and there all the morning he
writes with gusto, ever and again bursting into laughter at his own

[Footnote 7: See a deeply interesting paper on Dickens by 'G.G.' in the New
York _Critic_, Jan. 1902. Much of this is avowed autobiography.]

The influence of Dickens clearly predominated when Gissing wrote his next
novel and first really notable and artistic book, _Thyrza_.[8] The figure
which irradiates this story is evidently designed in the school of Dickens:
it might almost be a pastel after some more highly finished work by Daudet.
But Daudet is a more relentless observer than Gissing, and to find a
parallel to this particular effect I think we must go back a little farther
to the heroic age of the _grisette_ and the tearful _Manchon de Francine_
of Henri Murger. _Thyrza_, at any rate, is a most exquisite picture in
half-tones of grey and purple of a little Madonna of the slums; she is in
reality the _belle fleur d'un fumier_ of which he speaks in the epigraph of
the _Nether World_. The _fumier_ in question is Lambeth Walk, of which we
have a Saturday night scene, worthy of the author of _L'Assommoir_ and _Le
Ventre de Paris_ in his most perceptive mood. In this inferno, amongst the
pungent odours, musty smells and 'acrid exhalations from the shops where
fried fish and potatoes hissed in boiling grease,' blossomed a pure white
lily, as radiant amid mean surroundings as Gemma in the poor Frankfort
confectioner's shop of Turgenev's _Eaux Printanieres._ The pale and rather
languid charm of her face and figure are sufficiently portrayed without any
set description. What could be more delicate than the intimation of the
foregone 'good-night' between the sisters, or the scene of Lyddy plaiting
Thyrza's hair? The delineation of the upper middle class culture by which
this exquisite flower of maidenhood is first caressed and transplanted,
then slighted and left to wither, is not so satisfactory. Of the upper
middle class, indeed, at that time, Gissing had very few means of
observation. But this defect, common to all his early novels, is more than
compensated by the intensely pathetic figure of Gilbert Grail, the
tender-souled, book-worshipping factory hand raised for a moment to the
prospect of intellectual life and then hurled down by the caprice of
circumstance to the unrelenting round of manual toil at the soap and candle
factory. Dickens would have given a touch of the grotesque to Grail's
gentle but ungainly character; but at the end he would infallibly have
rewarded him as Tom Pinch and Dominie Sampson were rewarded. Not so George
Gissing. His sympathy is fully as real as that of Dickens. But his fidelity
to fact is greater. Of the Christmas charity prescribed by Dickens, and of
the untainted pathos to which he too rarely attained, there is an abundance
in _Thyrza_. But what amazes the chronological student of Gissing's work is
the magnificent quality of some of the writing, a quality of which he had
as yet given no very definite promise. Take the following passage, for

[Footnote 8: _Thyrza: A Novel_ (3 vols., 1887). In later life we are told
that Gissing affected to despise this book as 'a piece of boyish idealism.'
But he was always greatly pleased by any praise of this 'study of two
sisters, where poverty for once is rainbow-tinted by love.' My impression
is that it was written before _Demos_, but was longer in finding a
publisher; it had to wait until the way was prepared by its coarser and
more vigorous workfellow. A friend writes: 'I well remember the appearance
of the MS. Gissing wrote then on thin foreign paper in a small, thin
handwriting, without correction. It was before the days of typewriting, and
the MS. of a three-volume novel was so compressed that one could literally
put it in one's pocket without the slightest inconvenience.' The name is
from Byron's _Elegy on Thyrza_.]

'A street organ began to play in front of a public-house close by.
Grail drew near; there were children forming a dance, and he stood to
watch them.

Do you know that music of the obscure ways, to which children dance?
Not if you have only heard it ground to your ears' affliction beneath
your windows in the square. To hear it aright you must stand in the
darkness of such a by-street as this, and for the moment be at one
with those who dwell around, in the blear-eyed houses, in the dim
burrows of poverty, in the unmapped haunts of the semi-human. Then you
will know the significance of that vulgar clanging of melody; a pathos
of which you did not dream will touch you, and therein the secret of
hidden London will be half revealed. The life of men who toil without
hope, yet with the hunger of an unshaped desire; of women in whom the
sweetness of their sex is perishing under labour and misery; the
laugh, the song of the girl who strives to enjoy her year or two of
youthful vigour, knowing the darkness of the years to come; the
careless defiance of the youth who feels his blood and revolts against
the lot which would tame it; all that is purely human in these
darkened multitudes speaks to you as you listen. It is the
half-conscious striving of a nature which knows not what it would
attain, which deforms a true thought by gross expression, which
clutches at the beautiful and soils it with foul hands.

The children were dirty and ragged, several of them barefooted, nearly
all bare-headed, but they danced with noisy merriment. One there was,
a little girl, on crutches; incapable of taking a partner, she stumped
round and round, circling upon the pavement, till giddiness came upon
her and she had to fall back and lean against the wall, laughing aloud
at her weakness. Gilbert stepped up to her, and put a penny into her
hand; then, before she had recovered from her surprise, passed
onwards.'--(p. 111.)

This superb piece of imaginative prose, of which Shorthouse himself might
have been proud,[9] is recalled by an answering note in _Ryecroft_, in
which he says, 'I owe many a page to the street-organs.'

And, where the pathos has to be distilled from dialogue, I doubt if the
author of _Jack_ himself could have written anything more restrainedly
touching or in a finer taste than this:--

[Footnote 9: I am thinking, in particular, of the old vielle-player's
conversation in chap. xxiii. of _John Inglesant_; of the exquisite passage
on old dance music--its inexpressible pathos--in chap. xxv.]

'Laughing with kindly mirth, the old man drew on his woollen gloves
and took up his hat and the violin-bag. Then he offered to say

"But you're forgetting your top-coat, grandad," said Lydia.

"I didn't come in it, my dear."

"What's that, then? I'm sure _we_ don't wear such things."

She pointed to a chair, on which Thyrza had just artfully spread the
gift. Mr. Boddy looked in a puzzled way; had he really come in his
coat and forgotten it? He drew nearer.

"That's no coat o' mine, Lyddy," he said.

Thyrza broke into a laugh.

"Why, whose is it, then?" she exclaimed. "Don't play tricks, grandad;
put it on at once!"

"Now come, come; you're keeping Mary waiting," said Lydia, catching up
the coat and holding it ready.

Then Mr. Boddy understood. He looked from Lydia to Thyrza with dimmed

"I've a good mind never to speak to either of you again," he said in a
tremulous voice. "As if you hadn't need enough of your money! Lyddy,
Lyddy! And you're as had, Thyrza, a grownup woman like you; you ought
to teach your sister better. Why, there; it's no good; I don't know
what to say to you. Now what do you think of this, Mary?"

Lydia still held up the coat, and at length persuaded the old man to
don it. The effect upon his appearance was remarkable; conscious of
it, he held himself more upright and stumped to the little square of
looking-glass to try and regard himself. Here he furtively brushed a
hand over his eyes.

"I'm ready, Mary, my dear; I'm ready! It's no good saying anything to
girls like these. Good-bye, Lyddy; good-bye, Thyrza. May you have a
happy Christmas, children! This isn't the first as you've made a happy
one for me."'--(p. 117.)

The anonymously published _Demos_ (1886) can hardly be described as a
typical product of George Gissing's mind and art. In it he subdued himself
rather to the level of such popular producers as Besant and Rice, and went
out of his way to procure melodramatic suspense, an ingredient far from
congenial to his normal artistic temper. But the end justified the means.
The novel found favour in the eyes of the author of _The Lost Sir
Massingberd_, and Gissing for the first time in his life found himself the
possessor of a full purse, with fifty 'jingling, tingling, golden, minted
quid' in it. Its possession brought with it the realisation of a paramount
desire, the desire for Greece and Italy which had become for him, as it had
once been with Goethe, a scarce endurable suffering. The sickness of
longing had wellnigh given way to despair, when 'there 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.'[10]

[Footnote 10: See _Emancipated_, chaps. iv.-xii.; _New Grub Street_, chap,
xxvii.; _Ryecroft_, Autumn xix.; the short, not superior, novel called
_Sleeping Fires_, 1895, chap. i. 'An encounter on the Kerameikos'; _The
Albany_, Christmas 1904, p. 27; and _Monthly Review_, vol. xvi. 'He went
straight by sea to the land of his dreams--Italy. It was still happily
before the enterprise of touring agencies had fobbed the idea of Italian
travel of its last vestiges of magic. He spent as much time as he could
afford about the Bay of Naples, and then came on with a rejoicing heart to
Rome--Rome, whose topography had been with him since boyhood, beside whose
stately history the confused tumult of the contemporary newspapers seemed
to him no more than a noisy, unmeaning persecution of the mind. Afterwards
he went to Athens.']

The main plot of _Demos_ is concerned with Richard Mutimer, a young
socialist whose vital force, both mental and physical, is well above the
average, corrupted by accession to a fortune, marrying a refined wife,
losing his money in consequence of the discovery of an unsuspected will,
and dragging his wife down with him,--down to _la misere_ in its most
brutal and humiliating shape. Happy endings and the Gissing of this period
are so ill-assorted, that the 'reconciliations' at the close of both this
novel and the next are to be regarded with considerable suspicion. The
'gentlefolk' in the book are the merest marionettes, but there are
descriptive passages of first-rate vigour, and the voice of wisdom is heard
from the lips of an early Greek choregus in the figure of an old parson
called Mr. Wyvern. As the mouthpiece of his creator's pet hobbies parson
Wyvern rolls out long homilies conceived in the spirit of Emerson's
'compensation,' and denounces the cruelty of educating the poor and making
no after-provision for their intellectual needs with a sombre enthusiasm
and a periodicity of style almost worthy of Dr. Johnson.[11]

[Footnote 11: An impressive specimen of his eloquence was cited by me in an
article in the _Daily Mail Year Book_ (1906, p. 2). A riper study of a
somewhat similar character is given in old Mr. Lashmar in _Our Friend the
Charlatan_. (See his sermon on the blasphemy which would have us pretend
that our civilisation obeys the spirit of Christianity, in chap, xviii.).
For a criticism of _Demos_ and _Thyrza_ in juxtaposition with Besant's
_Children of Gibeon_, see Miss Sichel on 'Philanthropic Novelists'
(_Murray's Magazine_, iii. 506-518). Gissing saw deeper than to 'cease his
music on a merry chord.']

After _Demos_, Gissing returned in 1888 to the more sentimental and
idealistic palette which he had employed for _Thyrza_. Renewed
recollections of Tibullus and of Theocritus may have served to give his
work a more idyllic tinge. But there were much nearer sources of
inspiration for _A Life's Morning_. There must be many novels inspired by a
youthful enthusiasm for _Richard Feverel_, and this I should take to be one
of them. Apart from the idyllic purity of its tone, and its sincere
idolatry of youthful love, the caressing grace of the language which
describes the spiritualised beauty of Emily Hood and the exquisite charm of
her slender hands, and the silvery radiance imparted to the whole scene of
the proposal in the summer-house (in chapter iii., 'Lyrical'), give to this
most unequal and imperfect book a certain crepuscular fascination of its
own. Passages in it, certainly, are not undeserving that fine description
of a style _si tendre qu'il pousse le bonheur a pleurer_. Emily's father,
Mr. Hood, is an essentially pathetic figure, almost grotesquely true to
life. 'I should like to see London before I die,' he says to his daughter.
'Somehow I have never managed to get so far.... There's one thing that I
wish especially to see, and that is Holborn Viaduct. It must be a wonderful
piece of engineering; I remember thinking it out at the time it was
constructed. Of course you have seen it?' The vulgar but not wholly inhuman
Cartwright interior, where the parlour is resolved into a perpetual
matrimonial committee, would seem to be the outcome of genuine observation.
Dagworthy is obviously padded with the author's substitute for melodrama,
while the rich and cultivated Mr. Athel is palpably imitated from Meredith.
The following tirade (spoken by the young man to his mistress) is Gissing
pure. 'Think of the sunny spaces in the world's history, in each of which
one could linger for ever. Athens at her fairest, Rome at her grandest, the
glorious savagery of Merovingian Courts, the kingdom of Frederick II., the
Moors in Spain, the magic of Renaissance Italy--to become a citizen of any
one age means a lifetime of endeavour. It is easy to fill one's head with
names and years, but that only sharpens my hunger.' In one form or another
it recurs in practically every novel.[12] Certain of the later portions of
this book, especially the chapter entitled 'Her Path in Shadow' are
delineated through a kind of mystical haze, suggestive of some of the work
of Puvis de Chavannes. The concluding chapters, taken as a whole, indicate
with tolerable accuracy Gissing's affinities as a writer, and the pedigree
of the type of novel by which he is best known. It derives from Xavier de
Maistre and St. Pierre to _La Nouvelle Heloise,_--nay, might one not almost
say from the _pays du tendre_ of _La Princesse de Cleves_ itself.
Semi-sentimental theories as to the relations of the sexes, the dangers of
indiscriminate education, the corruptions of wretchedness and poverty in
large towns, the neglect of literature and classical learning, and the
grievances of scholarly refinement in a world in which Greek iambic and
Latin hexameter count for nothing,--such form the staple of his theses and
tirades! His approximation at times to the confines of French realistic art
is of the most accidental or incidental kind. For Gissing is at heart, in
his bones as the vulgar say, a thorough moralist and sentimentalist, an
honest, true-born, downright ineradicable Englishman. Intellectually his
own life was, and continued to the last to be, romantic to an extent that
few lives are. Pessimistic he may at times appear, but this is almost
entirely on the surface. For he was never in the least blase or ennuye. He
had the pathetic treasure of the humble and downcast and unkindly
entreated--unquenchable hope. He has no objectivity. His point of view is
almost entirely personal. It is not the _lacrimae rerum_, but the _lacrimae
dierum suorum_, that makes his pages often so forlorn. His laments are all
uttered by the waters of Babylon in a strange land. His nostalgia in the
land of exile, estranged from every refinement, was greatly enhanced by the
fact that he could not get on with ordinary men, but exhibited almost to
the last a practical incapacity, a curious inability to do the sane and
secure thing. As Mr. Wells puts it:--

[Footnote 12: Sometimes, however, as in _The Whirlpool_ (1897) with a very
significant change of intonation:--'And that History which he loved to
read--what was it but the lurid record of woes unutterable! How could he
find pleasure in keeping his eyes fixed on century after century of
ever-repeated torment--war, pestilence, tyranny; the stake, the dungeon;
tortures of infinite device, cruelties inconceivable?'--(p. 326.)]

'It is not that he was a careless man, he was a most careful one; it
is not that he was a morally lax man, he was almost morbidly the
reverse. Neither was he morose or eccentric in his motives or bearing;
he was genial, conversational, and well-meaning. But he had some sort
of blindness towards his fellow-men, so that he never entirely grasped
the spirit of everyday life, so that he, who was so copiously
intelligent in the things of the study, misunderstood, blundered, was
nervously diffident, and wilful and spasmodic in common affairs, in
employment and buying and selling, and the normal conflicts of
intercourse. He did not know what would offend, and he did not know
what would please. He irritated others and thwarted himself. He had no
social nerve.'

Does not Gissing himself sum it up admirably, upon the lips of Mr.
Widdowson in _The Odd Women_: 'Life has always been full of worrying
problems for me. I can't take things in the simple way that comes natural
to other men.' 'Not as other men are': more intellectual than most, fully
as responsive to kind and genial instincts, yet bound at every turn to
pinch and screw--an involuntary ascetic. Such is the essential burden of
Gissing's long-drawn lament. Only accidentally can it be described as his
mission to preach 'the desolation of modern life,' or in the gracious
phrase of De Goncourt, _fouiller les entrailles de la vie_. Of the
confident, self-supporting realism of _Esther Waters_, for instance, how
little is there in any of his work, even in that most gloomily photographic
portion of it which we are now to describe?

During the next four years, 1889-1892, Gissing produced four novels, and
three of these perhaps are his best efforts in prose fiction. _The Nether
World_ of 1889 is certainly in some respects his strongest work, _la letra
con sangre_, in which the ruddy drops of anguish remembered in a state of
comparative tranquillity are most powerfully expressed. _The Emancipated_,
of 1890, is with equal certainty, a _rechauffe_ and the least successful of
various attempts to give utterance to his enthusiasm for the _valor
antica_--'the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome.' _New
Grub Street_, (1891) is the most constructive and perhaps the most
successful of all his works; while _Born in Exile_ (1892) is a key-book as
regards the development of the author's character, a _clavis_ of primary
value to his future biographer, whoever he may be. The _Nether World_
contains Gissing's most convincing indictment of Poverty; and it also
expresses his sense of revolt against the ugliness and cruelty which is
propagated like a foul weed by the barbarous life of our reeking slums.
Hunger and Want show Religion and Virtue the door with scant politeness in
this terrible book. The material had been in his possession for some time,
and in part it had been used before in earlier work. It was now utilised
with a masterly hand, and the result goes some way, perhaps, to justify the
well-meant but erratic comparisons that have been made between Gissing and
such writers as Zola, Maupassant and the projector of the _Comedie
Humaine_. The savage luck which dogs Kirkwood and Jane, and the worse than
savage--the inhuman--cruelty of Clem Peckover, who has been compared to the
Madame Cibot of Balzac's _Le Cousin Pons_, render the book an intensely
gloomy one; it ends on a note of poignant misery, which gives a certain
colour for once to the oft-repeated charge of morbidity and pessimism.
Gissing understood the theory of compensation, but was unable to exhibit it
in action. He elevates the cult of refinement to such a pitch that the
consolations of temperament, of habit, and of humdrum ideals which are
common to the coarsest of mankind, appear to elude his observation. He does
not represent men as worse than they are; but he represents them less
brave. No social stratum is probably quite so dull as he colours it. There
is usually a streak of illusion or a flash of hope somewhere on the
horizon. Hence a somewhat one-sided view of life, perfectly true as
representing the grievance of the poet Cinna in the hands of the mob, but
too severely monochrome for a serious indictment of a huge stratum of our
common humanity. As in _Thyrza_, the sombreness of the ground generates
some magnificent pieces of descriptive writing.

'Hours yet before the fireworks begin. Never mind; here by good
luck we find seats where we can watch the throng passing and
repassing. It is a great review of the people. On the whole, how
respectable they are, how sober, how deadly dull! See how worn-out the
poor girls are becoming, how they gape, what listless eyes most of
them have! The stoop in the shoulders so universal among them merely
means over-toil in the workroom. Not one in a thousand shows the
elements of taste in dress; vulgarity and worse glares in all but
every costume. Observe the middle-aged women; it would be small
surprise that their good looks had vanished, but whence comes it they
are animal, repulsive, absolutely vicious in ugliness? Mark the men in
their turn; four in every six have visages so deformed by ill-health
that they excite disgust; their hair is cut down to within half an
inch of the scalp; their legs are twisted out of shape by evil
conditions of life from birth upwards. Whenever a youth and a girl
come along arm-in-arm, how flagrantly shows the man's coarseness! They
are pretty, so many of these girls, delicate of feature, graceful did
but their slavery allow them natural development; and the heart sinks
as one sees them side by side with the men who are to be their

On the terraces dancing has commenced; the players of violins,
concertinas, and penny whistles do a brisk trade among the groups
eager for a rough-and-tumble valse; so do the pickpockets. Vigorous
and varied is the jollity that occupies the external galleries,
filling now in expectation of the fireworks; indescribable the mingled
tumult that roars heavenwards. Girls linked by the half-dozen
arm-in-arm leap along with shrieks like grotesque maenads; a rougher
horseplay finds favour among the youths, occasionally leading to
fisticuffs. Thick voices bellow in fragmentary chorus; from every side
comes the yell, the cat-call, the ear-rending whistle; and as the
bass, the never-ceasing accompaniment, sounds the myriad-footed tramp,
tramp along the wooden flooring. A fight, a scene of bestial
drunkenness, a tender whispering between two lovers, proceed
concurrently in a space of five square yards. Above them glimmers the
dawn of starlight.'--(pp. 109-11.)

From the delineation of this profoundly depressing milieu, by the aid of
which, if the fate of London and Liverpool were to-morrow as that of
Herculaneum and Pompeii, we should be able to reconstruct the gutters of
our Imperial cities (little changed in essentials since the days of
Domitian), Gissing turned his sketch-book to the scenery of rural England.
He makes no attempt at the rich colouring of Kingsley or Blackmore, but, as
page after page of _Ryecroft_ testifies twelve years later, he is a perfect
master of the _aquarelle_.

'The distance is about five miles, and, until Danbury Hill is reached,
the countryside has no point of interest to distinguish it from any
other representative bit of rural Essex. It is merely one of those
quiet corners of flat, homely England, where man and beast seem on
good terms with each other, where all green things grow in abundance,
where from of old tilth and pasture-land are humbly observant of
seasons and alternations, where the brown roads are familiar only with
the tread of the labourer, with the light wheel of the farmer's gig,
or the rumbling of the solid wain. By the roadside you pass
occasionally a mantled pool, where perchance ducks or geese are
enjoying themselves; and at times there is a pleasant glimpse of
farmyard, with stacks and barns and stables. All things as simple as
could be, but beautiful on this summer afternoon, and priceless when
one has come forth from the streets of Clerkenwell.

* * * * *

'Danbury Hill, rising thick-wooded to the village church, which is
visible for miles around, with stretches of heath about its lower
slopes, with its far prospects over the sunny country, was the
pleasant end of a pleasant drive.'--(_The Nether World_, pp.

The first part of this description is quite masterly--worthy, I am inclined
to say, of Flaubert. But unless you are familiar with the quiet,
undemonstrative nature of the scenery described, you can hardly estimate
the perfect justice of the sentiment and phrasing with which Gissing
succeeds in enveloping it.

Gissing now turned to the submerged tenth of literature, and in describing
it he managed to combine a problem or thesis with just the amount of
characterisation and plotting sanctioned by the novel convention of the
day. The convention may have been better than we think, for _New Grub
Street_ is certainly its author's most effective work. The characters are
numerous, actual, and alive. The plot is moderately good, and lingers in
the memory with some obstinacy. The problem is more open to criticism, and
it has indeed been criticised from more points of view than one.

'In _New Grub Street_,' says one of his critics,[13] 'Mr. Gissing
has endeavoured to depict the shady side of literary life in an age
dominated by the commercial spirit. On the whole, it is in its realism
perhaps the least convincing of his novels, whilst being undeniably
the most depressing. It is not that Gissing's picture of poverty in
the literary profession is wanting in the elements of truth, although
even in that profession there is even more eccentricity than the
author leads us to suppose in the social position and evil plight of
such men as Edwin Reardon and Harold Biffen. But the contrast between
Edwin Reardon, the conscientious artist loving his art and working for
its sake, and Jasper Milvain, the man of letters, who prospers simply
because he is also a man of business, which is the main feature of the
book and the principal support of its theme, strikes one throughout as
strained to the point of unreality. In the first place, it seems
almost impossible that a man of Milvain's mind and instincts should
have deliberately chosen literature as the occupation of his life;
with money and success as his only aim he would surely have become a
stockbroker or a moneylender. In the second place, Edwin Reardon's
dire failure, with his rapid descent into extreme poverty, is clearly
traceable not so much to a truly artistic temperament in conflict with
the commercial spirit, as to mental and moral weakness, which could
not but have a baneful influence upon his work.'

[Footnote 13: F. Dolman in _National Review_, vol. xxx.; cf. _ibid_., vol.

This criticism does not seem to me a just one at all, and I dissent from it
completely. In the first place, the book is not nearly so depressing as
_The Nether World_, and is much farther removed from the strain of French
and Russian pessimism which had begun to engage the author's study when he
was writing _Thyrza_. There are dozens of examples to prove that Milvain's
success is a perfectly normal process, and the reason for his selecting the
journalistic career is the obvious one that he has no money to begin
stock-broking, still less money-lending. In the third place, the mental and
moral shortcomings of Reardon are by no means dissembled by the author. He
is, as the careful student of the novels will perceive, a greatly
strengthened and improved rifacimento of Kingcote, while Amy Reardon is a
better observed Isabel, regarded from a slightly different point of view.
Jasper Milvain is, to my thinking, a perfectly fair portrait of an
ambitious publicist or journalist of the day--destined by determination,
skill, energy, and social ambition to become an editor of a successful
journal or review, and to lead the life of central London. Possessing a
keen and active mind, expression on paper is his handle; he has no love of
letters as letters at all. But his outlook upon the situation is just
enough. Reardon has barely any outlook at all. He is a man with a delicate
but shallow vein of literary capacity, who never did more than tremble upon
the verge of success, and hardly, if at all, went beyond promise. He was
unlucky in marrying Amy, a rather heartless woman, whose ambition was far
in excess of her insight, for economic position Reardon had none. He writes
books to please a small group. The books fail to please. Jasper in the main
is right--there is only a precarious place for any creative litterateur
between the genius and the swarm of ephemera or journalists. A man writes
either to please the hour or to produce something to last, relatively a
long time, several generations--what we call 'permanent.' The intermediate
position is necessarily insecure. It is not really wanted. What is lost by
society when one of these mediocre masterpieces is overlooked? A sensation,
a single ray in a sunset, missed by a small literary coterie! The circle is
perhaps eclectic. It may seem hard that good work is overwhelmed in the
cataract of production, while relatively bad, garish work is rewarded. But
so it must be. 'The growing flood of literature swamps every thing but
works of primary genius.' Good taste is valuable, especially when it takes
the form of good criticism. The best critics of contemporary books (and
these are by no means identical with the best critics of the past and its
work) are those who settle intuitively upon the writing that is going to
appeal more largely to a future generation, when the attraction of novelty
and topicality has subsided. The same work is done by great men. They
anticipate lines of action; philosophers generally follow (Machiavelli's
theories the practice of Louis XI., Nietzsche's that of Napoleon I.). The
critic recognises the tentative steps of genius in letters. The work of
fine delicacy and reserve, the work that follows, lacking the real
originality, is liable to neglect, and _may_ become the victim of ill-luck,
unfair influence, or other extraneous factors. Yet on the whole, so
numerous are the publics of to-day, there never, perhaps, was a time when
supreme genius or even supreme talent was so sure of recognition. Those who
rail against these conditions, as Gissing seems here to have done, are
actuated consciously or unconsciously by a personal or sectional
disappointment. It is akin to the crocodile lament of the publisher that
good modern literature is neglected by the public, or the impressionist's
lament about the great unpaid greatness of the great unknown--the
exclusively literary view of literary rewards. Literature must be governed
by over-mastering impulse or directed at profit.

But _New Grub Street_ is rich in memorable characters and situations to an
extent unusual in Gissing; Biffen in his garret--a piece of genre almost
worthy of Dickens; Reardon the sterile plotter, listening in despair to the
neighbouring workhouse clock of St. Mary-le-bone; the matutinal interview
between Alfred Yule and the threadbare surgeon, a vignette worthy of
Smollett. Alfred Yule, the worn-out veteran, whose literary ideals are
those of the eighteenth century, is a most extraordinary study of an
_arriere_--certainly one of the most crusted and individual personalities
Gissing ever portrayed. He never wrote with such a virile pen: phrase after
phrase bites and snaps with a singular crispness and energy; material used
before is now brought to a finer literary issue. It is by far the most
tenacious of Gissing's novels. It shows that on the more conventional lines
of fictitious intrigue, acting as cement, and in the interplay of
emphasised characters, Gissing could, if he liked, excel. (It recalls
Anatole France's _Le Lys Rouge_, showing that he, too, the scholar and
intellectual _par excellence_, could an he would produce patterns in plain
and fancy adultery with the best.) Whelpdale's adventures in Troy, U.S.A.,
where he lived for five days on pea-nuts, are evidently
semi-autobiographical. It is in his narrative that we first made the
acquaintance of the American phrase now so familiar about literary
productions going off like hot cakes. The reminiscences of Athens are
typical of a lifelong obsession--to find an outlet later on in _Veranilda_.
On literary _reclame_, he says much that is true--if not the whole truth,
in the apophthegm for instance, 'You have to become famous before you can
secure the attention which would give fame.' Biffen, it is true, is a
somewhat fantastic figure of an idealist, but Gissing cherished this
grotesque exfoliation from a headline by Dickens--and later in his career
we shall find him reproducing one of Biffen's ideals with a singular

'Picture a woman of middle age, wrapped at all times in dirty rags
(not to be called clothing), obese, grimy, with dishevelled black
hair, and hands so scarred, so deformed by labour and neglect, as to
be scarcely human. She had the darkest and fiercest eyes I ever saw.
Between her and her mistress went on an unceasing quarrel; they
quarrelled in my room, in the corridor, and, as I knew by their shrill
voices, in places remote; yet I am sure they did not dislike each
other, and probably neither of them ever thought of parting.
Unexpectedly, one evening, this woman entered, stood by the bedside,
and began to talk with such fierce energy, with such flashing of her
black eyes, and such distortion of her features, that I could only
suppose that she was attacking me for the trouble I caused her. A
minute or two passed before I could even hit the drift of her furious
speech; she was always the most difficult of the natives to
understand, and in rage she became quite unintelligible. Little by
little, by dint of questioning, I got at what she meant. There had
been _guai_, worse than usual; the mistress had reviled her
unendurably for some fault or other, and was it not hard that she
should be used like this after having _tanto, tanto lavorato_! In
fact, she was appealing for my sympathy, not abusing me at all. When
she went on to say that she was alone in the world, that all her kith
and kin were _freddi morti_ (stone dead), a pathos in her aspect
and her words took hold upon me; it was much as if some heavy-laden
beast of burden had suddenly found tongue and protested in the rude
beginnings of articulate utterance against its hard lot. If only we
could have learnt in intimate detail the life of this domestic
serf[14]! How interesting and how sordidly picturesque against the
background of romantic landscape, of scenic history! I looked long
into her sallow, wrinkled face, trying to imagine the thoughts that
ruled its expression. In some measure my efforts at kindly speech
succeeded, and her "Ah, Cristo!" as she turned to go away, was not
without a touch of solace.'

[Footnote 14: Here is a more fully prepared expression of the very essence
of Biffen's artistic ideal.--_By the Ionian Sea_, chap. x.]

In 1892 Gissing was already beginning to try and discard his down look, his
lugubrious self-pity, his lamentable cadence. He found some alleviation
from self-torment in _David Copperfield_, and he determined to borrow a
feather from 'the master's' pinion--in other words, to place an
autobiographical novel to his credit. The result was _Born in Exile_
(1892), one of the last of the three-volume novels,--by no means one of the
worst. A Hedonist of academic type, repelled by a vulgar intonation,
Gissing himself is manifestly the man in exile. Travel, fair women and
college life, the Savile club, and Great Malvern or the Cornish coast,
music in Paris or Vienna--this of course was the natural milieu for such a
man. Instead of which our poor scholar (with Homer and Shakespeare and
Pausanias piled upon his one small deal table) had to encounter the life of
the shabby recluse in London lodgings--synonymous for him, as passage after
passage in his books recounts, with incompetence and vulgarity in every
form, at best 'an ailing lachrymose slut incapable of effort,' more often
sheer foulness and dishonesty, 'by lying, slandering, quarrelling, by
drunkenness, by brutal vice, by all abominations that distinguish the
lodging-letter of the metropolis.' No book exhibits more naively the
extravagant value which Gissing put upon the mere externals of refinement.
The following scathing vignette of his unrefined younger brother by the
hero, Godfrey Peak, shows the ferocity with which this feeling could
manifest itself against a human being who lacked the elements of scholastic
learning (the brother in question had failed to give the date of the Norman

'He saw much company and all of low intellectual order; he had
purchased a bicycle and regarded it as a source of distinction, or
means of displaying himself before shopkeepers' daughters; he believed
himself a moderate tenor and sang verses of sentimental imbecility; he
took in several weekly papers of unpromising title for the chief
purpose of deciphering cryptograms, in which pursuit he had singular
success. Add to these characteristics a penchant for cheap jewellery,
and Oliver Peak stands confessed.'

The story of the book is revealed in Peak's laconic ambition, 'A plebeian,
I aim at marrying a lady.' It is a little curious, some may think, that
this motive so skilfully used by so many novelists to whose work Gissing's
has affinity, from Rousseau and Stendhal (_Rouge et Noire_) to Cherbuliez
(_Secret du Precepteur_) and Bourget (_Le Disciple_), had not already
attracted him, but the explanation is perhaps in part indicated in a finely
written story towards the close of this present volume.[15] The white,
maidenish and silk-haired fairness of Sidwell, and Peak's irresistible
passion for the type of beauty suggested, is revealed to us with all
Gissing's wonderful skill in shadowing forth feminine types of lovelihood.
Suggestive too of his oncoming passion for Devonshire and Western England
are strains of exquisite landscape music scattered at random through these
pages. More significant still, however, is the developing faculty for
personal satire, pointing to a vastly riper human experience. Peak was
uncertain, says the author, with that faint ironical touch which became
almost habitual to him, 'as to the limits of modern latitudinarianism until
he met Chilvers,' the sleek, clerical advocate of 'Less St. Paul and more
Darwin, less of Luther and more of Herbert Spencer':--

'The discovery of such fantastic liberality in a man whom he could not
but dislike and contemn gave him no pleasure, but at least it disposed
him to amusement rather than antagonism. Chilvers's pronunciation and
phraseology were distinguished by such original affectation that it
was impossible not to find entertainment in listening to him. Though
his voice was naturally shrill and piping, he managed to speak in head
notes which had a ring of robust utterance. The sound of his words was
intended to correspond with their virile warmth of meaning. In the
same way he had cultivated a habit of the muscles which conveyed an
impression that he was devoted to athletic sports. His arms
occasionally swung as if brandishing dumb-bells, his chest now and
then spread itself to the uttermost, and his head was often thrown
back in an attitude suggesting self-defence.'

[Footnote 15: See page 260.]

Of Gissing's first year or so at Owens, after leaving Lindow Grove School
at Alderley,[16] we get a few hints in these pages. Like his 'lonely
cerebrate' hero, Gissing himself, at school and college, 'worked insanely.'
Walked much alone, shunned companionship rather than sought it, worked as
he walked, and was marked down as a 'pot-hunter.' He 'worked while he ate,
he cut down his sleep, and for him the penalty came, not in a palpable,
definable illness, but in an abrupt, incongruous reaction and collapse.'
With rage he looked back on these insensate years of study which had
weakened him just when he should have been carefully fortifying his

[Footnote 16: With an exhibition gained when he was not yet fifteen.]

The year of this autobiographical record[17] marked the commencement of
Gissing's reclamation from that worst form of literary slavery--the
chain-gang. For he had been virtually chained to the desk, perpetually
working, imprisoned in a London lodging, owing to the literal lack of the
means of locomotion.[18] His most strenuous work, wrung from him in dismal
darkness and wrestling of spirit, was now achieved. Yet it seems to me both
ungrateful and unfair to say, as has frequently been done, that his
subsequent work was consistently inferior. In his earlier years, like
Reardon, he had destroyed whole books--books he had to sit down to when his
imagination was tired and his fancy suffering from deadly fatigue. His
corrections in the days of _New Grub Street_ provoked not infrequent,
though anxiously deprecated, remonstrance from his publisher's reader. Now
he wrote with more assurance and less exhaustive care, but also with a
perfected experience. A portion of his material, it is true, had been
fairly used up, and he had henceforth to turn to analyse the sufferings of
well-to-do lower middle-class families, people who had 'neither inherited
refinement nor acquired it, neither proletarian nor gentlefolk, consumed
with a disease of vulgar pretentiousness, inflated with the miasma of
democracy.' Of these classes it is possible that he knew less, and
consequently lacked the sureness of touch and the fresh draughtsmanship
which comes from ample knowledge, and that he had, consequently, to have
increasing resort to books and to invention, to hypothesis and theory.[19]
On the other hand, his power of satirical writing was continually expanding
and developing, and some of his very best prose is contained in four of
these later books: _In the Year of Jubilee_ (1894), _Charles Dickens_
(1898), _By the Ionian Sea_ (1901), and _The Private Papers of Henry
Ryecroft_ (1903); not far below any of which must be rated four others,
_The Odd Women_ (1893), _Eve's Ransom_ (1895), _The Whirlpool_ (1897), and
_Will Warburton_ (1905), to which may be added the two collections of short

[Footnote 17: Followed in 1897 by _The Whirlpool_ (see p. xvi), and in 1899
and 1903 by two books containing a like infusion of autobiographical
experience, _The Crown of Life_, technically admirable in chosen passages,
but sadly lacking in the freshness of first-hand, and _The Private Papers
of Henry Ryecroft_, one of the rightest and ripest of all his productions.]

[Footnote 18: 'I hardly knew what it was to travel by omnibus. I have
walked London streets for twelve and fifteen hours together without even a
thought of saving my legs or my time, by paying for waftage. Being poor as
poor can be, there were certain things I had to renounce, and this was one
of them.'--_Ryecroft_. For earlier scenes see _Monthly Review_, xvi., and
_Owens College Union Mag_., Jan. 1904, pp. 80-81.]

[Footnote 19: 'He knew the narrowly religious, the mental barrenness of the
poor dissenters, the people of the slums that he observed so carefully, and
many of those on the borders of the Bohemia of which he at least was an
initiate, and he was soaked and stained, as he might himself have said,
with the dull drabs of the lower middle class that he hated. But of those
above he knew little.... He did not know the upper middle classes, which
are as difficult every whit as those beneath them, and take as much time
and labour and experience and observation to learn.'--'The Exile of George
Gissing,' _Albany_, Christmas 1904. In later life he lost sympathy with the
'nether world.' Asked to write a magazine article on a typical 'workman's
budget,' he wrote that he no longer took an interest in the 'condition of
the poor question.']

Few, if any, of Gissing's books exhibit more mental vigour than _In the
Year of Jubilee_. This is shown less, it may be, in his attempted solution
of the marriage problem (is marriage a failure?) by means of the suggestion
that middle class married people should imitate the rich and see as little
of each other as possible, than in the terse and amusing characterisations
and the powerfully thought-out descriptions. The precision which his pen
had acquired is well illustrated by the following description, not unworthy
of Thomas Hardy, of a new neighbourhood.

'Great elms, the pride of generations passed away, fell before the
speculative axe, or were left standing in mournful isolation to please
a speculative architect; bits of wayside hedge still shivered in fog
and wind, amid hoardings variegated with placards and scaffoldings
black against the sky. The very earth had lost its wholesome odour;
trampled into mire, fouled with builders' refuse and the noisome drift
from adjacent streets, it sent forth, under the sooty rain, a smell of
corruption, of all the town's uncleanliness. On this rising locality
had been bestowed the title of "Park." Mrs. Morgan was decided in her
choice of a dwelling here by the euphonious address, Merton Avenue,
Something-or-other Park.'

Zola's wonderful skill in the animation of crowds has often been commented
upon, but it is more than doubtful if he ever achieved anything superior to
Gissing's marvellous incarnation of the jubilee night mob in chapter seven.
More formidable, as illustrating the venom which the author's whole nature
had secreted against a perfectly recognisable type of modern woman, is the
acrid description of Ada, Beatrice, and Fanny French.

'They spoke a peculiar tongue, the product of sham education and a
mock refinement grafted upon a stock of robust vulgarity. One and all
would have been moved to indignant surprise if accused of ignorance or
defective breeding. Ada had frequented an "establishment for young
ladies" up to the close of her seventeenth year: the other two had
pursued culture at a still more pretentious institute until they were
eighteen. All could "play the piano"; all declared--and believed--that
they "knew French." Beatrice had "done" Political Economy; Fanny had
"been through" Inorganic Chemistry and Botany. The truth was, of
course, that their minds, characters, propensities, had remained
absolutely proof against such educational influence as had been
brought to bear upon them. That they used a finer accent than their
servants, signified only that they had grown up amid falsities, and
were enabled, by the help of money, to dwell above-stairs, instead of
with their spiritual kindred below.'

The evils of indiscriminate education and the follies of our grotesque
examination system were one of Gissing's favourite topics of denunciation
in later years, as evidenced in this characteristic passage in his later
manner in this same book:--

'She talked only of the "exam," of her chances in this or that
"paper," of the likelihood that this or that question would be "set."
Her brain was becoming a mere receptacle for dates and definitions,
vocabularies and rules syntactic, for thrice-boiled essence of
history, ragged scraps of science, quotations at fifth hand, and all
the heterogeneous rubbish of a "crammer's" shop. When away from her
books, she carried scraps of paper, with jottings to be committed to
memory. Beside her plate at meals lay formulae and tabulations. She
went to bed with a manual, and got up with a compendium.'

The conclusion of this book and its predecessor, _The Odd Women_,[20] marks
the conclusion of these elaborated problem studies. The inferno of London
poverty, social analysis and autobiographical reminiscence, had now alike
been pretty extensively drawn upon by Gissing. With different degrees of
success he had succeeded in providing every one of his theses with
something in the nature of a jack-in-the-box plot which the public loved
and he despised. There remained to him three alternatives: to experiment
beyond the limits of the novel; to essay a lighter vein of fiction; or
thirdly, to repeat himself and refashion old material within its limits.
Necessity left him very little option. He adopted all three alternatives.
His best success in the third department was achieved in _Eve's Ransom_
(1895). Burrowing back into a projection of himself in relation with a not
impossible she, Gissing here creates a false, fair, and fleeting beauty of
a very palpable charm. A growing sense of her power to fascinate steadily
raises Eve's standard of the minimum of luxury to which she is entitled.
And in the course of this evolution, in the vain attempt to win beauty by
gratitude and humility, the timid Hilliard, who seeks to propitiate his
charmer by ransoming her from a base liaison and supporting her in luxury
for a season in Paris, is thrown off like an old glove when a richer
_parti_ declares himself. The subtlety of the portraiture and the economy
of the author's sympathy for his hero impart a subacid flavour of peculiar
delicacy to the book, which would occupy a high place in the repertoire of
any lesser artist. It well exhibits the conflict between an exaggerated
contempt for, and an extreme susceptibility to, the charm of women which
has cried havoc and let loose the dogs of strife upon so many able men. In
_The Whirlpool_ of 1897, in which he shows us a number of human floats
spinning round the vortex of social London,[21] Gissing brings a
melodramatic plot of a kind disused since the days of _Demos_ to bear upon
the exhausting lives and illusive pleasures of the rich and cultured middle
class. There is some admirable writing in the book, and symptoms of a
change of tone (the old inclination to whine, for instance, is scarcely
perceptible) suggestive of a new era in the work of the
novelist--relatively mature in many respects as he now manifestly was.
Further progress in one of two directions seemed indicated: the first
leading towards the career of a successful society novelist 'of circulating
fame, spirally crescent,' the second towards the frame of mind that created
_Ryecroft_. The second fortunately prevailed. In the meantime, in
accordance with a supreme law of his being, his spirit craved that
refreshment which Gissing found in revisiting Italy. 'I want,' he cried,
'to see the ruins of Rome: I want to see the Tiber, the Clitumnus, the
Aufidus, the Alban Hills, Lake Trasimenus! It is strange how these old
times have taken hold of me. The mere names in Roman history make my blood
warm.' Of him the saying of Michelet was perpetually true: 'J'ai passe a
cote du monde, et j'ai pris l'histoire pour la vie.' His guide-books in
Italy, through which he journeyed in 1897 (_en prince_ as compared with his
former visit, now that his revenue had risen steadily to between three and
four hundred a year), were Gibbon, his _semper eadem_, Lenormant (_la
Grande-Grece_), and Cassiodorus, of whose epistles, the foundation of the
material of _Veranilda_, he now began to make a special study. The dirt,
the poverty, the rancid oil, and the inequable climate of Calabria must
have been a trial and something of a disappointment to him. But physical
discomfort and even sickness was whelmed by the old and overmastering
enthusiasm, which combined with his hatred of modernity and consumed
Gissing as by fire. The sensuous and the emotional sides of his experience
are blended with the most subtle artistry in his _By the Ionian Sea_, a
short volume of impressions, unsurpassable in its kind, from which we
cannot refrain two characteristic extracts:--

[Footnote 20: _The Odd Women_ (1893, new edition, 1894) is a rather sordid
and depressing survey of the life-histories of certain orphaned daughters
of a typical Gissing doctor--grave, benign, amiably diffident, terribly
afraid of life. 'From the contact of coarse actualities his nature shrank.'
After his death one daughter, a fancy-goods shop assistant (no wages), is
carried off by consumption; a second drowns herself in a bath at a
charitable institution; another takes to drink; and the portraits of the
survivors, their petty, incurable maladies, their utter uselessness, their
round shoulders and 'very short legs,' pimples, and scraggy necks--are as
implacable and unsparing as a Maupassant could wish. From the deplorable
insight with which he describes the nerveless, underfed, compulsory
optimism of these poor in spirit and poor in hope Gissing might almost have
been an 'odd woman' himself. In this book and _The Paying Guest_ (1895) he
seemed to take a savage delight in depicting the small, stiff, isolated,
costly, unsatisfied pretentiousness and plentiful lack of imagination which
cripples suburbia so cruelly.--See _Saturday Review_, 13 Apr. 1896; and see
also _ib_., 19 Jan. 1895.]

[Footnote 21: The whirlpool in which people just nod or shout to each other
as they spin round and round. The heroine tries to escape, but is drawn
back again and again, and nearly submerges her whole environment by her
wild clutches. Satire is lavished upon misdirected education (28), the
sluttishness of London landladies, self-adoring Art on a pedestal (256),
the delegation of children to underlings, sham religiosity (229), the
pampered conscience of a diffident student, and the _mensonge_ of modern
woman (300), typified by the ruddled cast-off of Redgrave, who plays first,
in her shrivelled paint, as procuress, and then, in her naked hideousness,
as blackmailer.]

'At Cotrone the tone of the dining-room was decidedly morose. One
man--he seemed to be a sort of clerk--came only to quarrel. I am
convinced that he ordered things which he knew that the people could
not cook, just for the sake of reviling their handiwork when it was
presented. Therewith he spent incredibly small sums; after growling
and remonstrating and eating for more than an hour, his bill would
amount to seventy or eighty centesimi, wine included. Every day he
threatened to withdraw his custom; every day he sent for the landlady,
pointed out to her how vilely he was treated, and asked how she could
expect him to recommend the Concordia to his acquaintances. On one
occasion I saw him push away a plate of something, plant his elbows on
the table, and hide his face in his hands; thus he sat for ten
minutes, an image of indignant misery, and when at length his
countenance was again visible, it showed traces of tears.'--(pp.

The unconscious paganism that lingered in tradition, the half-obscured
names of the sites celebrated in classic story, and the spectacle of the
white oxen drawing the rustic carts of Virgil's time--these things roused
in him such an echo as _Chevy Chase_ roused in the noble Sidney, and made
him shout with joy. A pensive vein of contemporary reflection enriches the
book with passages such as this:--

'All the faults of the Italian people are whelmed in forgiveness as
soon as their music sounds under the Italian sky. One remembers all
they have suffered, all they have achieved in spite of wrong. Brute
races have flung themselves, one after another, upon this sweet and
glorious land; conquest and slavery, from age to age, have been the
people's lot. Tread where one will, the soil has been drenched with
blood. An immemorial woe sounds even through the lilting notes of
Italian gaiety. It is a country, wearied and regretful, looking ever
backward to the things of old.'--(p. 130.)

The _Ionian Sea_ did not make its appearance until 1901, but while he was
actually in Italy, at Siena, he wrote the greater part of one of his very
finest performances; the study of _Charles Dickens_, of which he corrected
the proofs 'at a little town in Calabria.' It is an insufficient tribute to
Gissing to say that his study of Dickens is by far the best extant. I have
even heard it maintained that it is better in its way than any single
volume in the 'Man of Letters'; and Mr. Chesterton, who speaks from ample
knowledge on this point, speaks of the best of all Dickens's critics, 'a
man of genius, Mr. George Gissing.' While fully and frankly recognising the
master's defects in view of the artistic conscience of a later generation,
the writer recognises to the full those transcendent qualities which place
him next to Sir Walter Scott as the second greatest figure in a century of
great fiction. In defiance of the terrible, and to some critics damning,
fact that Dickens entirely changed the plan of _Martin Chuzzlewit_ in
deference to the popular criticism expressed by the sudden fall in the
circulation of that serial, he shows in what a fundamental sense the author
was 'a literary artist if ever there was one,' and he triumphantly refutes
the rash daub of unapplied criticism represented by the parrot cry of
'caricature' as levelled against Dickens's humorous portraits. Among the
many notable features of this veritable _chef-d'oeuvre_ of under 250 pages
is the sense it conveys of the superb gusto of Dickens's actual living and
breathing and being, the vindication achieved of two ordinarily rather
maligned novels, _The Old Curiosity Shop_ and _Little Dorrit_, and the
insight shown into Dickens's portraiture of women, more particularly those
of the shrill-voiced and nagging or whining variety, the 'better halves' of
Weller, Varden, Snagsby and Joe Gargery, not to speak of the Miggs, the
Gummidge, and the M'Stinger. Like Mr. Swinburne and other true men, he
regards Mrs. Gamp as representing the quintessence of literary art wielded
by genius. Try (he urges with a fine curiosity) 'to imagine Sarah Gamp as a
young girl'! But it is unfair to separate a phrase from a context in which
every syllable is precious, reasonable, thrice distilled and sweet to the
palate as Hybla honey.[22]

[Footnote 22: A revised edition (the date of Dickens's birth is wrongly
given in the first) was issued in 1902, with topographical illustrations by
F.G. Kitton. Gissing's introduction to _Nickleby_ for the Rochester edition
appeared in 1900, and his abridgement of Forster's _Life_ (an excellent
piece of work) in 1903 [1902]. The first collection of short stories,
twenty-nine in number, entitled _Human Odds and Ends_, was published in
1898. It is justly described by the writer of the most interesting
'Recollections of George Gissing' in the _Gentleman's Magazine,_ February
1906, as 'that very remarkable collection.']

Henceforth Gissing spent an increasing portion of his time abroad, and it
was from St. Honore en Morvan, for instance, that he dated the preface of
_Our Friend the Charlatan_ in 1901. As with _Denzil Quarrier_ (1892) and
_The Town Traveller_ (1898) this was one of the books which Gissing
sometimes went the length of asking the admirers of his earlier romances
'not to read.' With its prefatory note, indeed, its cheap illustrations,
and its rather mechanical intrigue, it seems as far removed from such a
book as _A Life's Morning_ as it is possible for a novel by the same author
to be. It was in the South of France, in the neighbourhood of Biarritz,
amid scenes such as that described in the thirty-seventh chapter of _Will
Warburton_, or still further south, that he wrote the greater part of his
last three books, the novel just mentioned, which is probably his best
essay in the lighter ironical vein to which his later years inclined,[23]
_Veranilda_, a romance of the time of Theodoric the Goth, written in solemn
fulfilment of a vow of his youth, and _The Private Papers of Henry
Ryecroft_, which to my mind remains a legacy for Time to take account of as
the faithful tribute of one of the truest artists of the generation he

[Footnote 23: It also contains one of the most beautiful descriptions ever
penned of the visit of a tired town-dweller to a modest rural home, with
all its suggestion of trim gardening, fresh country scents, indigenous
food, and homely simplicity.--_Will Warburton_, chap. ix.]

In _Veranilda_ (1904) are combined conscientious workmanship, a pure style
of finest quality, and archaeology, for all I know to the contrary, worthy
of Becker or Boni. Sir Walter himself could never in reason have dared to
aspire to such a fortunate conjuncture of talent, grace, and historic
accuracy. He possessed only that profound knowledge of human nature, that
moulding humour and quick sense of dialogue, that live, human, and local
interest in matters antiquarian, that statesmanlike insight into the pith
and marrow of the historic past, which makes one of Scott's historical
novels what it is--the envy of artists, the delight of young and old, the
despair of formal historians. _Veranilda_ is without a doubt a splendid
piece of work; Gissing wrote it with every bit of the care that his old
friend Biffen expended upon _Mr. Bailey, grocer_. He worked slowly,
patiently, affectionately, scrupulously. Each sentence was as good as he
could make it, harmonious to the ear, with words of precious meaning
skilfully set; and he believed in it with the illusion so indispensable to
an artist's wellbeing and continuance in good work. It represented for him
what _Salammbo_ did to Flaubert. But he could not allow himself six years
to write a book as Flaubert did. _Salammbo_, after all, was a magnificent
failure, and _Veranilda_,--well, it must be confessed, sadly but surely,
that _Veranilda_ was a failure too. Far otherwise was it with _Ryecroft_,
which represents, as it were, the _summa_ of Gissing's habitual meditation,
aesthetic feeling and sombre emotional experience. Not that it is a
pessimistic work,--quite the contrary, it represents the mellowing
influences, the increase of faith in simple, unsophisticated English
girlhood and womanhood, in domestic pursuits, in innocent children, in
rural homeliness and honest Wessex landscape, which began to operate about
1896, and is seen so unmistakably in the closing scenes of _The Whirlpool_.
Three chief strains are subtly interblended in the composition. First that
of a nature book, full of air, foliage and landscape--that English
landscape art of Linnell and De Wint and Foster, for which he repeatedly
expresses such a passionate tendre,[24] refreshed by 'blasts from the
channel, with raining scud and spume of mist breaking upon the hills' in
which he seems to crystallise the very essence of a Western winter.
Secondly, a paean half of praise and half of regret for the vanishing
England, passing so rapidly even as he writes into 'a new England which
tries so hard to be unlike the old.' A deeper and richer note of
thankfulness, mixed as it must be with anxiety, for the good old ways of
English life (as lamented by Mr. Poorgrass and Mark Clark[25]), old English
simplicity, and old English fare--the fine prodigality of the English
platter, has never been raised. God grant that the leaven may work! And
thirdly there is a deeply brooding strain of saddening yet softened
autobiographical reminiscence, over which is thrown a light veil of
literary appreciation and topical comment. Here is a typical _cadenza_,
rising to a swell at one point (suggestive for the moment of Raleigh's
famous apostrophe), and then most gently falling, in a manner not wholly
unworthy, I venture to think, of Webster and Sir Thomas Browne, of both of
which authors there is internal evidence that Gissing made some study.

[Footnote 24: 'I love and honour even the least of English landscape

[Footnote 25: 'But what with the parsons and clerks and school-people and
serious tea-parties, the merry old ways of good life have gone to the
dogs--upon my carcass, they have!'--_Far from the Madding Crowd_.]

'I always turn out of my way to walk through a country churchyard;
these rural resting-places are as attractive to me as a town cemetery
is repugnant. I read the names upon the stones and find a deep solace
in thinking that for all these the fret and the fear of life are over.
There comes to me no touch of sadness; whether it be a little child or
an aged man, I have the same sense of happy accomplishment; the end
having come, and with it the eternal peace, what matter if it came
late or soon? There is no such gratulation as _Hic jacet_. There
is no such dignity as that of death. In the path trodden by the
noblest of mankind these have followed; that which of all who live is
the utmost thing demanded, these have achieved. I cannot sorrow for
them, but the thought of their vanished life moves me to a brotherly
tenderness. The dead amid this leafy silence seem to whisper
encouragement to him whose fate yet lingers: As we are, so shalt thou
be; and behold our quiet!'--(p. 183.)

And in this deeply moving and beautiful passage we get a foretaste, it may
be, of the euthanasia, following a brief summer of St. Martin, for which
the scarred and troublous portions of Gissing's earlier life had served as
a preparation. Some there are, no doubt, to whom it will seem no
extravagance in closing these private pages to use the author's own words,
of a more potent Enchanter: 'As I close the book, love and reverence
possess me.'

* * * * *

Whatever the critics may determine as to the merit of the stories in the
present volume, there can be no question as to the interest they derive
from their connection with what had gone before. Thus _Topham's Chance_ is
manifestly the outcome of material pondered as early as 1884. _The Lodger
in Maze Pond_ develops in a most suggestive fashion certain problems
discussed in 1894. Miss Rodney is a re-incarnation of Rhoda Nunn and
Constance Bride. _Christopherson_ is a delicious expansion of a mood
indicated in _Ryecroft_ (Spring xii.), and _A Capitalist_ indicates the
growing interest in the business side of practical life, the dawn of which
is seen in _The Town Traveller_ and in the discussion of Dickens's
potentialities as a capitalist. The very artichokes in _The House of
Cobwebs_ (which, like the kindly hand that raised them, alas! fell a victim
to the first frost of the season) are suggestive of a charming passage
detailing the retired author's experience as a gardener. What Dr. Furnivall
might call the 'backward reach' of every one of these stories will render
their perusal delightful to those cultivated readers of Gissing, of whom
there are by no means a few, to whom every fragment of his suave and
delicate workmanship 'repressed yet full of power, vivid though sombre in
colouring,' has a technical interest and charm. Nor will they search in
vain for Gissing's incorrigible mannerisms, his haunting insistence upon
the note of 'Dort wo du nicht bist ist das Glueck,' his tricks of the brush
in portraiture, his characteristic epithets, the _dusking_ twilight, the
_decently ignoble_ penury, the _not ignoble_ ambition, the _not wholly
base_ riot of the senses in early manhood. In my own opinion we have here
in _The Scrupulous Father_, and to a less degree, perhaps, in the first and
last of these stories, and in _A Poor Gentleman_ and _Christopherson_,
perfectly characteristic and quite admirable specimens of Gissing's own
genre, and later, unstudied, but always finished prose style.

* * * * *

But a few words remain to be said, and these, in part at any rate, in
recapitulation. In the old race, of which Dickens and Thackeray were
representative, a successful determination to rise upon the broad back of
popularity coincided with a growing conviction that the evil in the world
was steadily diminishing. Like healthy schoolboys who have worked their way
up to the sixth form, they imagined that the bullying of which they had had
to complain was become pretty much a thing of the past. In Gissing the
misery inherent in the sharp contrasts of modern life was a far more deeply
ingrained conviction. He cared little for the remedial aspect of the
question. His idea was to analyse this misery as an artist and to express
it to the world.

One of the most impressive elements in the resulting novels is the witness
they bear to prolonged and intense suffering, the suffering of a proud,
reserved, and over-sensitive mind brought into constant contact with the
coarse and brutal facts of life. The creator of Mr. Biffen suffers all the
torture of the fastidious, the delicately honourable, the scrupulously
high-minded in daily contact with persons of blunt feelings, low ideals,
and base instincts. 'Human cattle, the herd that feed and breed, with them
it was well; but the few born to a desire for ever unattainable, the gentle
spirits who from their prisoning circumstance looked up and afar, how the
heart ached to think of them!' The natural bent of Gissing's talent was
towards poetry and classical antiquity. His mind had considerable natural
affinity with that of Tennyson.[26] He was passionately fond of old
literature, of the study of metre and of historical reverie. The subtle
curiosities of Anatole France are just of the kind that would have appealed
irresistibly to him. His delight in psychological complexity and feats of
style are not seldom reminiscent of Paul Bourget. His life would have
gained immeasurably by a transference to less pinched and pitiful
surroundings: but it is more than doubtful whether his work would have done

[Footnote 26: In a young lady's album I unexpectedly came across the line
from _Maud_, 'Be mine a philosopher's life in the quiet woodland ways,'
with the signature, following the quotation marks, 'George Gissing.' The
borrowed aspiration was transparently sincere. 'Tennyson he worshipped'
(see _Odd Women_, chap. i.). The contemporary novelist he liked most was
Alphonse Daudet.]

The compulsion of the twin monsters Bread and Cheese forced him to write
novels the scene of which was laid in the one milieu he had thoroughly
observed, that of either utterly hideous or shabby genteel squalor in
London. He gradually obtained a rare mastery in the delineation of his
unlovely _mise en scene_. He gradually created a small public who read
eagerly everything that came from his pen, despite his economy of material
(even of ideas), and despite the repetition to which a natural tendency was
increased by compulsory over-production. In all his best books we have
evidence of the savage and ironical delight with which he depicted to the
shadow of a hair the sordid and vulgar elements by which he had been so
cruelly depressed. The aesthetic observer who wanted material for a picture
of the blank desolation and ugliness of modern city life could find no
better substratum than in the works of George Gissing. Many of his
descriptions of typical London scenes in Lambeth Walk, Clerkenwell, or Judd
Street, for instance, are the work of a detached, remorseless, photographic
artist realising that ugly sordidness of daily life to which the ordinary
observer becomes in the course of time as completely habituated as he does
to the smoke-laden air. To a cognate sentiment of revolt I attribute that
excessive deference to scholarship and refinement which leads him in so
many novels to treat these desirable attributes as if they were ends and
objects of life in themselves. It has also misled him but too often into
depicting a world of suicides, ignoring or overlooking a secret hobby, or
passion, or chimaera which is the one thing that renders existence
endurable to so many of the waifs and strays of life. He takes existence
sadly--too sadly, it may well be; but his drabs and greys provide an
atmosphere that is almost inseparable to some of us from our gaunt London
streets. In Farringdon Road, for example, I look up instinctively to the
expressionless upper windows where Mr. Luckworth Crewe spreads his baits
for intending advertisers. A tram ride through Clerkenwell and its leagues
of dreary, inhospitable brickwork will take you through the heart of a
region where Clem Peckover, Pennyloaf Candy, and Totty Nancarrow are
multiplied rather than varied since they were first depicted by George
Gissing. As for the British Museum, it is peopled to this day by characters
from _New Grub Street_.

There may be a perceptible lack of virility, a fluctuating vagueness of
outline about the characterisation of some of his men. In his treatment of
crowds, in his description of a mob, personified as 'some huge beast
purring to itself in stupid contentment,' he can have few rivals. In
tracing the influence of women over his heroes he evinces no common
subtlety; it is here probably that he is at his best. The _odor di
femmina_, to use a phrase of Don Giovanni's, is a marked characteristic of
his books. Of the kisses--

'by hopeless fancy feigned
On lips that are for others'--

there are indeed many to be discovered hidden away between these pages. And
the beautiful verse has a fine parallel in the prose of one of Gissing's
later novels. 'Some girl, of delicate instinct, of purpose sweet and pure,
wasting her unloved life in toil and want and indignity; some man, whose
youth and courage strove against a mean environment, whose eyes grew
haggard in the vain search for a companion promised in his dreams; they
lived, these two, parted perchance only by the wall of neighbour houses,
yet all huge London was between them, and their hands would never touch.'
The dream of fair women which occupies the mood of Piers Otway in the
opening passage of the same novel, was evidently no remotely conceived
fancy. Its realisation, in ideal love, represents the author's _Crown of
Life_. The wise man who said that Beautiful Woman[27] was a heaven to the
eye, a hell to the soul, and a purgatory to the purse of man, could hardly
find a more copious field of illustration than in the fiction of George

[Footnote 27: With unconscious recollection, it may be, of Pope's notable
phrase in regard to Shakespeare, he speaks in his last novel of woman
appearing at times as 'a force of Nature rather than an individual being'
(_Will Warburton_, p. 275).]

Gissing was a sedulous artist; some of his books, it is true, are very
hurried productions, finished in haste for the market with no great amount
either of inspiration or artistic confidence about them. But little
slovenly work will be found bearing his name, for he was a thoroughly
trained writer; a suave and seductive workmanship had become a second
nature to him, and there was always a flavour of scholarly, subacid and
quasi-ironical modernity about his style. There is little doubt that his
quality as a stylist was better adapted to the studies of modern London
life, on its seamier side, which he had observed at first hand, than to
stories of the conventional dramatic structure which he too often felt
himself bound to adopt. In these his failure to grapple with a big
objective, or to rise to some prosperous situation, is often painfully
marked. A master of explanation and description rather than of animated
narrative or sparkling dialogue, he lacked the wit and humour, the
brilliance and energy of a consummate style which might have enabled him to
compete with the great scenic masters in fiction, or with craftsmen such as
Hardy or Stevenson, or with incomparable wits and conversationalists such
as Meredith. It is true, again, that his London-street novels lack certain
artistic elements of beauty (though here and there occur glints of rainy or
sunset townscape in a half-tone, consummately handled and eminently
impressive); and his intense sincerity cannot wholly atone for this loss.
Where, however, a quiet refinement and delicacy of style is needed as in
those sane and suggestive, atmospheric, critical or introspective studies,
such as _By the Ionian Sea_, the unrivalled presentment of _Charles
Dickens_, and that gentle masterpiece of softened autobiography, _The
Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft_ (its resignation and autumnal calm, its
finer note of wistfulness and wide human compassion, fully deserve
comparison with the priceless work of Silvio Pellico) in which he indulged
himself during the last and increasingly prosperous years of his life, then
Gissing's style is discovered to be a charmed instrument. That he will _sup
late_, our Gissing, we are quite content to believe. But that a place is
reserved for him, of that at any rate we are reasonably confident. The
three books just named, in conjunction with his short stories and his _New
Grub Street_ (not to mention _Thyrza_ or _The Nether World_), will suffice
to ensure him a devout and admiring group of followers for a very long time
to come; they accentuate profoundly the feeling of vivid regret and almost
personal loss which not a few of his more assiduous readers experienced
upon the sad news of his premature death at St. Jean de Luz on the 28th
December 1903, at the early age of forty-six.


_February_ 1906.


1880. Workers in the Dawn.
1884. The Unclassed.
1886. Isabel Clarendon.
1886. Demos.
1887. Thyrza.
1888. A Life's Morning.
1889. The Nether World.
1890. The Emancipated.
1891. New Grub Street.
1892. Born in Exile.
1892. Denzil Quarrier.
1893. The Odd Women.
1894. In the Year of Jubilee.
1895. The Paying Guest.
1895. Sleeping Fires.
1895. Eve's Ransom.
1897. The Whirlpool.
1898. Human Odds and Ends: Stories and Sketches.
1898. The Town Traveller.
1898. Charles Dickens: a Critical Study.
1899. The Crown of Life.
1901. Our Friend the Charlatan.
1901. By the Ionian Sea. Notes of a Ramble in Southern Italy.
1903. Forster's Life of Dickens--Abridgement.
1903. The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft.
1904. Veranilda: a Romance.
1905. Will Warburton: a Romance of Real Life.
1906. The House of Cobwebs, and other Stories.

[Of notices and reviews of George Gissing other than those mentioned in the
foregoing notes the following is a selection:--_Times_, 29 Dec. 1903;
_Guardian_, 6 Jan. 1904; _Outlook_, 2 Jan. 1904; _Sphere_, 9 Jan. 1904;
_Athenaeum_, 2 and 16 Jan. 1904; _Academy_, 9 Jan. 1904 (pp. 40 and 46);
New York _Nation_, 11 June 1903 (an adverse but interesting paper on the
anti-social side of Gissing); _The Bookman_ (New York), vol. xviii.;
_Independent Review_, Feb. 1904; _Fortnightly Review_, Feb. 1904;
_Contemporary Review_, Aug. 1897; C.F.G. Masterman's _In Peril of Change_,
1905, pp. 68-73; _Atlantic Monthly_, xciii. 280; _Upton Letters_, 1905, p.


It was five o'clock on a June morning. The dirty-buff blind of the
lodging-house bedroom shone like cloth of gold as the sun's unclouded rays
poured through it, transforming all they illumined, so that things poor and
mean seemed to share in the triumphant glory of new-born day. In the bed
lay a young man who had already been awake for an hour. He kept stirring
uneasily, but with no intention of trying to sleep again. His eyes followed
the slow movement of the sunshine on the wall-paper, and noted, as they
never had done before, the details of the flower pattern, which represented
no flower wherewith botanists are acquainted, yet, in this summer light,
turned the thoughts to garden and field and hedgerow. The young man had a
troubled mind, and his thoughts ran thus:--

'I must have three months at least, and how am I to live?... Fifteen
shillings a week--not quite that, if I spread my money out. Can one live on
fifteen shillings a week--rent, food, washing?... I shall have to leave
these lodgings at once. They're not luxurious, but I can't live here under
twenty-five, that's clear.... Three months to finish my book. It's good;
I'm hanged if it isn't! This time I shall find a publisher. All I have to
do is to stick at my work and keep my mind easy.... Lucky that it's summer;
I don't need fires. Any corner would do for me where I can be quiet and see
the sun.... Wonder whether some cottager in Surrey would house and feed me
for fifteen shillings a week?... No use lying here. Better get up and see
how things look after an hour's walk.'

So the young man arose and clad himself, and went out into the shining
street. His name was Goldthorpe. His years were not yet three-and-twenty.
Since the age of legal independence he had been living alone in London,
solitary and poor, very proud of a wholehearted devotion to the career of
authorship. As soon as he slipped out of the stuffy house, the live air,
perfumed with freshness from meadows and hills afar, made his blood pulse
joyously. He was at the age of hope, and something within him, which did
not represent mere youthful illusion, supported his courage in the face of
calculations such as would have damped sober experience. With boyish step,
so light and springy that it seemed anxious to run and leap, he took his
way through a suburb south of Thames, and pushed on towards the first
rising of the Surrey hills. And as he walked resolve strengthened itself in
his heart. Somehow or other he would live independently through the next
three months. If the worst came to the worst, he could earn bread as clerk
or labourer, but as long as his money lasted he would pursue his purpose,
and that alone. He sang to himself in this gallant determination, happy as
if some one had left him a fortune.

In an ascending road, quiet and tree-shadowed, where the dwellings on
either side were for the most part old and small, though here and there a
brand-new edifice on a larger scale showed that the neighbourhood was
undergoing change such as in our time destroys the picturesque in all
London suburbs, the cheery dreamer chanced to turn his eyes upon a spot of
desolation which aroused his curiosity and set his fancy at work. Before
him stood three deserted houses, a little row once tenanted by middle-class
folk, but now for some time unoccupied and unrepaired. They were of brick,
but the fronts had a stucco facing cut into imitation of ashlar, and
weathered to the sombrest grey. The windows of the ground floor and of that
above, and the fanlights above the doors, were boarded up, a guard against
unlicensed intrusion; the top story had not been thought to stand in need
of this protection, and a few panes were broken. On these dead frontages
could be traced the marks of climbing plants, which once hung their leaves
about each doorway; dry fragments of the old stem still adhered to the
stucco. What had been the narrow strip of fore-garden, railed from the
pavement, was now a little wilderness of coarse grass, docks, nettles, and
degenerate shrubs. The paint on the doors had lost all colour, and much of
it was blistered off; the three knockers had disappeared, leaving
indications of rough removal, as if--which was probably the case--they had
fallen a prey to marauders. Standing full in the brilliant sunshine, this
spectacle of abandonment seemed sadder, yet less ugly, than it would have
looked under a gloomy sky. Goldthorpe began to weave stories about its
musty squalor. He crossed the road to make a nearer inspection; and as he
stood gazing at the dishonoured thresholds, at the stained and cracked
boarding of the blind windows, at the rusty paling and the broken gates,
there sounded from somewhere near a thin, shaky strain of music, the notes
of a concertina played with uncertain hand. The sound seemed to come from
within the houses, yet how could that be? Assuredly no one lived under
these crazy roofs. The musician was playing 'Home, Sweet Home,' and as
Goldthorpe listened it seemed to him that the sound was not stationary.
Indeed, it moved; it became more distant, then again the notes sounded more
distinctly, and now as if the player were in the open air. Perhaps he was
at the back of the houses?

On either side ran a narrow passage, which parted the spot of desolation
from inhabited dwellings. Exploring one of these, Goldthorpe found that
there lay in the rear a tract of gardens. Each of the three lifeless houses
had its garden of about twenty yards long. The bordering wall along the
passage allowed a man of average height to peer over it, and Goldthorpe
searched with curious eye the piece of ground which was nearest to him.
Many a year must have gone by since any gardening was done here. Once upon
a time the useful and ornamental had both been represented in this modest
space; now, flowers and vegetables, such of them as survived in the
struggle for existence, mingled together, and all alike were threatened by
a wild, rank growth of grasses and weeds, which had obliterated the beds,
hidden the paths, and made of the whole garden plot a green jungle. But
Goldthorpe gave only a glance at this still life; his interest was
engrossed by a human figure, seated on a campstool near the back wall of
the house, and holding a concertina, whence, at this moment, in slow,
melancholy strain, 'Home, Sweet Home' began to wheeze forth. The player was
a middle-aged man, dressed like a decent clerk or shopkeeper, his head
shaded with an old straw hat rather too large for him, and on his feet--one
of which swung as he sat with legs crossed--a pair of still more ancient
slippers, also too large. With head aside, and eyes looking upward, he
seemed to listen in a mild ecstasy to the notes of his instrument. He had a
round face of much simplicity and good-nature, semicircular eyebrows,
pursed little mouth with abortive moustache, and short thin beard fringing
the chinless lower jaw. Having observed this unimposing person for a minute
or two, himself unseen, Goldthorpe surveyed the rear of the building,
anxious to discover any sign of its still serving as human habitation; but
nothing spoke of tenancy. The windows on this side were not boarded, and
only a few panes were broken; but the chief point of contrast with the
desolate front was made by a Virginia creeper, which grew luxuriantly up to
the eaves, hiding every sign of decay save those dim, dusty apertures which
seemed to deny all possibility of life within. And yet, on looking
steadily, did he not discern something at one of the windows on the top
story--something like a curtain or a blind? And had not that same window
the appearance of having been more recently cleaned than the others? He
could not be sure; perhaps he only fancied these things. With neck aching
from the strained position in which he had made his survey over the wall,
the young man turned away. In the same moment 'Home, Sweet Home' came to an
end, and, but for the cry of a milkman, the early-morning silence was

Goldthorpe pursued his walk, thinking of what he had seen, and wondering
what it all meant. On his way back he made a point of again passing the
deserted houses, and again he peered over the wall of the passage. The man
was still there, but no longer seated with the concertina; wearing a round
felt hat instead of the straw, he stood almost knee-deep in vegetation, and
appeared to be examining the various growths about him. Presently he moved
forward, and, with head still bent, approached the lower end of the garden,
where, in a wall higher than that over which Goldthorpe made his espial,
there was a wooden door. This the man opened with a key, and, having passed
out, could be heard to turn a lock behind him. A minute more, and this
short, respectable figure came into sight at the end of the passage.
Goldthorpe could not resist the opportunity thus offered. Affecting to turn
a look of interest towards the nearest roof, he waited until the stranger
was about to pass him, then, with civil greeting, ventured upon a question.

'Can you tell me how these houses come to be in this neglected state?'

The stranger smiled; a soft, modest, deferential smile such as became his
countenance, and spoke in a corresponding voice, which had a vaguely
provincial accent.

'No wonder it surprises you, sir. I should be surprised myself. It comes of
quarrels and lawsuits.'

'So I supposed. Do you know who the property belongs to?'

'Well, yes, sir. The fact is--it belongs to me.'

The avowal was made apologetically, and yet with a certain timid pride.
Goldthorpe exhibited all the interest he felt. An idea had suddenly sprung
up in his mind; he met the stranger's look, and spoke with the easy
good-humour natural to him.

'It seems a great pity that houses should be standing empty like that. Are
they quite uninhabitable? Couldn't one camp here during this fine summer
weather? To tell you the truth, I'm looking for a room--as cheap a room as
I can get. Could you let me one for the next three months?'

The stranger was astonished. He regarded the young man with an uneasy

'You are joking, sir.'

'Not a bit of it. Is the thing quite impossible? Are all the rooms in too
bad a state?'

'I won't say _that_,' replied the other cautiously, still eyeing his
interlocutor with surprised glances. 'The upper rooms are really not so
bad--that is to say, from a humble point of view. I--I have been looking at
them just now. You really mean, sir--?'

'I'm quite in earnest, I assure you,' cried Goldthorpe cheerily. 'You see
I'm tolerably well dressed still, but I've precious little money, and I
want to eke out the little I've got for about three months. I'm writing a
book. I think I shall manage to sell it when it's done, but it'll take me
about three months yet. I don't care what sort of place I live in, so long
as it's quiet. Couldn't we come to terms?'

The listener's visage seemed to grow rounder in progressive astonishment;
his eyes declared an emotion akin to awe; his little mouth shaped itself as
if about to whistle.

'A book, sir? You are writing a book? You are a literary man?'

'Well, a beginner. I have poverty on my side, you see.'

'Why, it's like Dr. Johnson!' cried the other, his face glowing with
interest. 'It's like Chatterton!--though I'm sure I hope you won't end like
him, sir. It's like Goldsmith!--indeed it is!'

'I've got half Oliver's name, at all events,' laughed the young man. 'Mine
is Goldthorpe.'

'You don't say so, sir! What a strange coincidence! Mine, sir, is Spicer.
I--I don't know whether you'd care to come into my garden? We might talk

In a minute or two they were standing amid the green jungle, which
Goldthorpe viewed with delight. He declared it the most picturesque garden
he had ever seen.

'Why, there are potatoes growing there. And what are those things?
Jerusalem artichokes? And look at that magnificent thistle; I never saw a
finer thistle in my life! And poppies--and marigolds--and broad-beans--and
isn't that lettuce?'

Mr. Spicer was red with gratification.

'I feel that something might be done with the garden, sir,' he said. 'The
fact is, sir, I've only lately come into this property, and I'm sorry to
say it'll only be mine for a little more than a year--a year from next
midsummer day, sir. There's the explanation of what you see. It's leasehold
property, and the lease is just coming to its end. Five years ago, sir, an
uncle of mine inherited the property from his brother. The houses were then
in a very bad state, and only one of them let, and there had been lawsuits
going on for a long time between the leaseholder and the ground-landlord--I
can't quite understand these matters, they're not at all in my line, sir;
but at all events there were quarrels and lawsuits, and I'm told one of the
tenants was somehow mixed up in it. The fact is, my uncle wasn't a very
well-to-do man, and perhaps he didn't feel able to repair the houses,
especially as the lease was drawing to its end. Would you like to go in and
have a look round?'

They entered by the back door, which admitted them to a little wash-house.
The window was over-spun with cobwebs, thick, hoary; each corner of the
ceiling was cobweb-packed; long, dusty filaments depended along the walls.
Notwithstanding, Goldthorpe noticed that the house had a water-supply; the
sink was wet, the tap above it looked new. This confirmed a suspicion in
his mind, but he made no remark. They passed into the kitchen. Here again
the work of the spider showed thick on every hand. The window, however,
though uncleaned for years, had recently been opened; one knew that by the
torn and ragged condition of the webs where the sashes joined. And lo! on
the window-sill stood a plate, a cup and saucer, a knife, a fork, a
spoon--all of them manifestly new-washed. Goldthorpe affected not to see
these objects; he averted his face to hide an involuntary smile.

'I must light a candle,' said Mr. Spicer. 'The staircase is quite dark.'

A candle stood ready, with a box of matches, on the rusty cooking-stove. No
fire had burned in the grate for many a long day; of that the visitor
assured himself. Save the objects on the window-sill, no evidence of human
occupation was discoverable. Having struck a light, Mr. Spicer advanced. In
the front passage, on the stairs, on the landing, every angle and every
projection had its drapery of cobwebs. The stuffy, musty air smelt of
cobwebs; so, at all events, did Goldthorpe explain to himself a peculiar
odour which he seemed never to have smelt. It was the same in the two rooms
on the first floor. Through the boarded windows of that in front penetrated
a few thin rays from the golden sky; they gleamed upon dust and web, on
faded, torn wall-paper and a fireplace in ruins.

'I shouldn't recommend you to take either of _these_ rooms,' said Mr.
Spicer, looking nervously at his companion. 'They really can't be called

'Those on the top are healthier, no doubt,' was the young man's reply. 'I
noticed that some of the window-glass is broken. That must have been good
for airing.'

Mr. Spicer grew more and more nervous. He opened his little round mouth,
very much like a fish gasping, but seemed unable to speak. Silently he led
the way to the top story, still amid cobwebs; the atmosphere was certainly
purer up here, and when they entered the first room they found themselves
all at once in such a flood of glorious sunshine that Goldthorpe shouted
with delight.

'Ah, I could live here! Would it cost much to have panes put in? An old
woman with a broom would do the rest.' He added in a moment, 'But the back
windows are not broken, I think?'

'No--I think not--I--no--'

Mr. Spicer gasped and stammered. He stood holding the candle (its light
invisible) so that the grease dripped steadily on his trousers.

'Let's have a look at the other,' cried Goldthorpe. 'It gets the afternoon
sun, no doubt. And one would have a view of the garden.'

'Stop, sir!' broke from his companion, who was red and perspiring. 'There's
something I should like to tell you before you go into that room.
I--it--the fact is, sir, that--temporarily--I am occupying it myself.'

'Oh, I beg your pardon, Mr. Spicer!'

'Not at all, sir! Don't mention it, sir. I have a reason--it seemed to
me--I've merely put in a bed and a table, sir, that's all--a temporary

'Yes, yes; I quite understand. What could be more sensible? If the house
were mine, I should do the same. What's the good of owning a house, and
making no use of it?'

Great was Mr. Spicer's satisfaction.

'See what it is, sir,' he exclaimed, 'to have to do with a literary man!
You are large-minded, sir; you see things from an intellectual point of
view. I can't tell you how it gratifies me, sir, to have made your
acquaintance. Let us go into the back room.'

With nervous boldness he threw the door open. Goldthorpe, advancing
respectfully, saw that Mr. Spicer had not exaggerated the simplicity of his
arrangements. In a certain measure the room had been cleaned, but along the


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