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AND THE QUIET LIFE
BEING SOME PAGES FROM THE PRIVATE PAPERS OF
HENRY RYECROFT BY GEORGE GISSING
CHOSEN BY W R B
THOMAS B MOSHER
OF that type of literature which may perhaps best be termed spiritual autobiography, the choicest and most characteristic specimens have undoubtedly been the work of French writers. Yet there is one book at least in recent English literature that seems not unworthy of a place on the same shelf with the journals of Amid and de Guérin and the "Obermann" of de Sénancour. That book is George Gissing's "The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft."1 In the ten years or more since its first publication it has passed through several editions, and has gradually found its fit circle (however comparatively few) of faithful readers, to whom its fund of mellow thought finely expressed and its rare spiritual charm are a source of unfailing pleasure.
Though Gissing has thrown a thin veil of fiction over his narrative, in its numerous retrospective passages the book is autobiography of the truest sort. After half a lifetime of "sweat and peril" as a literary hack in London, the writer imagines himself at middle age as coming at last into the heritage of peace which, through all the grey and bitter years of his servitude, he had never ceased passionately to desire. A legacy, small but sufficient, enables him to shake of forever the accursed dust of Grub &red, and establish himself in a Devonshire cottage, with no other companion than an aged housekeeper. There, during the few years that life yet allows him, he reads his beloved books, watches the changing glories of nature, and muses on many things.
In the following pages are brought together those passages from "The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft" which have to do specifically with books and reading.
W. R. B.
1 A bibliographical fact hitherto omitted in the telling is that Gissing printed his Ryecroft in The Fortnightly Review in May, August, November, 1902, ending February, 1903, with the whimsical title, An Author at Grass: Extracts from the Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft, Edited by George Gissing. The first edition in book form was published by Constable, London, in January, 1903.Section 1