Pages from Emerson's book Life and Landscape on the Norfolk Broads

The image below, the first plate in Life and Landscape on the Norfolk Broads, epitomizes Emerson's celebration of the worker as hero. Placed front and center, the man is a dominant force, dividing the composition in half: the land and the workers on one side, and the marshes, the source of their livelihoods, on the other. The text, written by Emerson, appeared on the following page.

Coming Home from the Marshes / P.H. Emerson
text page / P.H. Emerson

Transcription of the Text
The wild winds and chill days of October have killed the fen flowers. No longer blooms the yellow-iris or the meadow-sweet, no scent is wafted from marsh-myrtle or sweet-sedge, but beauty, sublime beauty, still reigns.

To the left stretch masses of golden-ochred rush, to the right the rich greens of the marshes, and throughout winds the river, a vein of the deepest cobalt, while overhead roll masses of snow-white cumuli flying before the wild west wind. Along the marsh wall comes a group of labourers returning from their short day's work. Typical specimens these of the Norfolk peasant,—wiry in body, pleasant in manner, inteligent in mind. Their lot, though hard, is not unpleasant. Much of their work is that of an agricultural labourer, but in this part of Norfolk it is more varied than in ordinary agricultural districts. They have just returned from cutting the reed. Protected by their long marsh-boots, they may be classed as "waders," for they spend much of their time standing in water up to their boot-tops. Nevertheless they are happy and healthy. The octogenarian who is down the bank lacing his boot, is one of those whose life is a puzzle to the psysiologist, for he has been exposed to all kinds of weather all his life; he has been badly fed, has drunk spirits enough to float a wherry, and chewed bad tobacco enough to load it. Nevertheless he blithely carries his six-and-eighty years. The two young men carry meaks,—short scythes much in vogue in the Broads. A healthy merry crew they stride along, startling now a coot from its sedgy home, now a flock of plover. An old heron with upstretched neck is watching their every movement, ready when they get nearer to fly lazily across the river and drop into the marsh beyond. Now it is a flock of golden plover which darkens the sky overhead and attracts their attention, now they stop to gather mushrooms to eke out their slender fare. The girl's quick eye spies some king-cups which are blooming here curiously out of season, and she stoops to pick the beautiful flowers, mindful of her kind old mother. So homeward go these Norfolk peasants; a naturalist in his way each one of them. Shy of strangers at first, they improve on acquaintance, and with Bishop Hall I agree, "It is a sweet and civil country."

P.H. Emerson