Experiencing a January morning in Robert Elsmere

1. In another moment he had stepped out into the January morning. It was clear and still as the night had been. In the east there was a pale promise of sun; the reddish-brown trunks of the fir woods had just caught it and rose faintly in glowing in endless vistas and colonnades one behind the other. The flooded river itself rushed through the bridge as full and turbid as before, but all the other water surfaces had gleaming films of ice. The whole ruinous place had a clean, almost a festal air under the touch of the frost, while on the side of the hill leading to Murewell, tree rose above tree, the delicate network of their wintry twigs and branches set against stretches of frost-whitened grass, till finally they climbed into the pale all-completing blue. In a copse close at hand there were woodcutters at work, and piles of gleaming laths shining through the underwood. Robins hopped along the frosty road, and as he walked on through the houses toward the bridge, Robert's quick ear distinguished that most wintry of all sounds—the cry of a flock of field-fares passing overhead. [292]

Robert Elsmere approaches Squire Wendover's grand country house

2. Elsmere took his guest along a bit of common, where great black junipers stood up like magnates in council above the motley undergrowth of fern and heather, and then they turned into the park. A great stretch of dimpled land it was, falling softly toward the south and west, bounded by a shining twisted river, and commanding from all its highest points a heathery world of distance, now turned a stormy purple under the drooping fringes of the rain clouds. They walked downward from the moment of entering it, till at last, when they reached a wooded plateau about a hundred feet above the river, the house itself came suddenly into view.

That was a house of houses! The large main building, as distinguished from the lower stone portions to the north which represented a fragment of the older Elizabethan house, had been in its day the crown and boast of Jacobean house-architecture. It was fretted and jewelled with Renaissance terra-cotta work from end to end; each gable had its lace work, each window its carved setting. And yet the lines of the whole were so noble, genius had hit the general proportions so finely, that no effect of stateliness or grandeur had been missed through all the accumulation of ornament. Majestic relic of a vanished England, the house rose amid the August woods rich in every beauty that site, and wealth, and centuries could give to it. The river ran about it as though it loved it. The cedars which had kept it company for well nigh two centuries gathered proudly round it; the deer grouped themselves in the park beneath it, as though they were conscious elements in a great whole of loveliness.[ch 14, 191; emphasis added]

The Westmoreland hills in Fenwick's Career

The Westmoreland hills are the remains of an infinitely older world—giants decayed, but of a great race and ancestry; they have the finish, the delicate or noble loveliness—one might almost say the manner—that comes of long and gentle companionship with those chief forces that make for natural beauty, with air and water, with temperate suns and too abundant rains. Beside them the Alps are inhuman; the Apennines mere forest-grown heaps—mountains in the making; while all that Scotland gains from the easy enveloping glory of its heather, Westmoreland, which is almost heatherless, must owe to an infinitude of fine strokes, tints, curves, and groupings, to touches of magic and to lines of grace, yet never losing the wild energy of precipice and rock that belongs of right to a mountain world.

Springtime in Langdale (Fenwick's Career)

To-day Langdale was in spring. The withered fern was still red on the sides of the pikes; there was not a leaf on the oaks, still less on the ashes; but the larches were green in various plantations, and the sycamores were bursting. Half a mile eastward the woods were all in soft bloom, carpeted with windflowers and bluebells. Here, but for the larches, and the few sycamores and yews that guard each lonely farm, all was naked fell and pasture. The harsh spring wind came rioting up the valley, to fling itself on the broad sides of the pikes; the lambs made a sad bleating; the water murmured in the ghyll beyond the house; the very sunshine was clear and cold. [25]

Eugénie at Versailles (Fenwick's Career)

Eugénie de Pastourelles was sitting on the terrace at Versailles. Or rather she was established in one of the deep embrasures between the windows, on the western side. The wind was cold, but again a glorious sun bathed the terrace and the château. It was a day of splendour—a day when heaven and earth seemed to have conspired to flatter and to adorn the vast creation of Louis Quatorze, this white, flaming palace, amid the gold and bronze of its autumn trees, and the blue of its waters. Superb clouds, of a royal sweep and amplitude, sailed through the brilliant sky; the woods that girdled the horizon were painted broadly and solidly in the richest colour upon an immense canvas steeped in light. In some of the nearer alleys which branch from the terrace, the eye travelled, through a deep magnificence of shade, to an arched and framed sunlight beyond, embroidered with every radiant or sparkling colour; in others, the trees, almost bare, met lightly arched above a carpet of intensest green—a tapis vert stretching toward a vaporous distance, and broken by some god, or nymph, on whose white shoulders the autumn leaves were dropping softly one by one.

Wide horizons, infinitely clear—a blazing intensity of light, beating on the palace, the gardens, the statues, and the distant water of the 'Canal de Versailles'—each tint and outline, sharp and vehement, full-bodied and rich—the greenest greens, the bluest blues, the most dazzling gold:—this was Versailles, as Eugénie saw it, on this autumn day. And through it all, the blowing of a harsh and nipping wind sounded the first approach of winter, still defied, as it were, by these bright woods decked for a last festival. [214]

Early morning fog in London (Fenwick's Career)

After a moderately bright morning, that after-breakfast fog which we owe to the British kitchen and the domestic hearth was descending on the Strand. The stream of traffic, on the roadway and the pavements, was passing to and fro under a yellow darkness; the shop-lights were beginning to flash out here and there, but without any of their evening cheerfulness; and on the passing faces one saw written the inconvenience and annoyance of the fog—the fear, too, lest it should become worse and impenetrable. [261]

Fenwick on a hill above Elterwater (Fenwick's Career)

He was soon nearly a mile from home; rejoicing strangely in his recovered power of movement, and in the freshness of the evening air. He found himself on a hill above Elterwater, looking back on the lake, and on a wide range of hills beyond, clothed, in all their lower slopes, with the full leaf of June. Wood rose above wood, in every gradation of tone and loveliness, creeping upwards through blue haze, till they suddenly lost hold on the bare peaks, which rose, augustly clear, into the upper sky. The lake with its deep or glowing reflexions—its smiling shore—the smoke of its few houses—lay below him; and between him and it, glistening sharply, in a sun-steeped magic, upon the blue and purple background of the hills and woods—a wild cherry, in its full mantle of bridal white.

What tranquillity!—what colour!—what infinite variety of beauty! His heart swelled within him. Life of the body—and life of the soul—seemed to be flowing back upon him, lifting him on its wave, steeping him in its freshening strength. 'My God!' he thought, remembering the sketch he had just made, and the mastery with which he had worked—'if I am able to paint again!—if I am!' [360-61]


Ward, Mrs. Humphry. Robert Elsemere. Ed. Clyde de L. Ryals. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1967.

Ward, Mrs. Humphry. Robert Elsemere. Boston: DeWolfe, Fiske & Co., n.d. Project Gutenberg E-Book produced by Andrew Templeton and David Widger. Last Updated: February 7, 2013. Web. 20 July 2014.

Last modified 20 July 2014