Home  »  Volume XIII: English THE VICTORIAN AGE Part One The Nineteenth Century, II  »  § 19. The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIII. The Victorian Age, Part One.

XIV. George Meredith, Samuel Butler, George Gissing

§ 19. The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft

A third of these imaginative liberations Gissing found in his lifelong admiration of Dickens. His monograph established a claim for Dickens as a representative of “national life and sentiment”; it disposed finally of the heresy that Dickens’s characters were merely types or caricatures devoid of basis in observation; it brought into relief his skill in the presentation of various types of women; and it accorded due praise to his style, discriminating in it the salutary element which is drawn from the eighteenth century. The book is more than a criticism of Dickens; it is a manual of the art of fiction, which brings to bear upon a mass of problems raised by his work a ripe judgment formed by practice, reading and reflection. One further imaginative solace Gissing found in the solitary retreat outlined in The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft; a retreat freed from the menace of poverty, from the exactions of acquaintanceship, filled with the atmosphere of books and of quiet comfort; even in prosperity, Gissing preferred the of social outlaw. In form, The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft lies somewhere between the journal intime and the diary, reflection and observation being expanded to the length of brief essays, and “turned to the mood of the sky and the procession of the year”; memories of the bitter past, or of vanishing phases of English custom and scenery; thoughts stirred by some phrase of famous authorship, or by the anticipations of mortality, or by things which he resented, such as industrialism, compulsion of the individual, talk of war: all are mingled and unified by the style and tone which echo “the old melodious weeping of the poets.” The book is not autobiographical, though it seems to be the expression of a personality almost as intimately realised as the autobiographical form presupposes. Gissing wrote of it that it was “much more an aspiration than a memory.”