[In chapter XV of Book II, Robert Elsmere first gives Langham, his Oxford friend and menor, a tour of the Squire's magnificent library, after which he shows him the noisome, unhealthy hovels that house the estate's agricultural workers, explaining that “the houses which were built on a swamp originally, are falling into ruin; the roofs, the drains, the accommodation per head, are all about equally scandalous.”] — George P. Landow]

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he bridge whereon they stood crossed the main channel of the river, which just at that point, however, parted into several branches, and came meandering slowly down through a little bottom or valley, filled with osier beds, long since robbed of their year's growth of shoots. On the other side of the river, on ground all but level with the osier beds which interposed between them and the stream, rose a miserable group of houses, huddled together as though their bulging walls and rotten roofs could only maintain themselves at all by the help and support which each wretched hovel gave to its neighbor. The mud walls were stained with yellow patches of lichen, the palings round the little gardens were broken and ruinous. Close beside them all was a sort of open drain or water-course, stagnant and noisome, which dribbled into the river a little above the bridge. Behind them rose a high gravel bank edged by firs, and a line of oak trees against the sky. The houses stood in the shadow of the bank looking north, and on this gray, lowering day, the dreariness, the gloom, the squalor of the place were indescribable.

Inside, the hovel was miserable indeed. It belonged to that old and evil type which the efforts of the last twenty years have done so much all over England to sweep away: four mud walls, enclosing an oblong space about eight yards long, divided into two unequal portions by a lath and plaster partition, with no upper story, a thatched roof, now entirely out of repair, and letting in the rain in several places, and a paved floor little better than the earth itself, so large and cavernous were the gaps between the stones. The dismal place had no small adornings—none of those little superfluities which, however ugly and trivial, are still so precious in the dwellings of the poor, as showing the existence of some instinct or passion which is not the creation of the sheerest physical need; and Langham, as he sat down, caught the sickening marsh smell which the Oxford man, accustomed to the odors of damp meadows in times of ebbing flood and festering sun, knows so well. As old Milsom began to talk to him in his weak, tremulous voice, the visitor's attention was irresistibly held by the details about him. Fresh as he was from all the delicate sights, the harmonious colors and delightful forms of the Squire's house, they made an unusually sharp impression on his fastidious senses. What does human life become lived on reeking floors and under stifling roofs like these? What strange, abnormal deteriorations, physical and spiritual, must it not inevitably undergo? Langham felt a sudden inward movement of disgust and repulsion. [200-02, 203]

Last modified 19 July 2014