Webster's popularity during his lifetime rested upon his pictures of scenes from contemporary cottage and ale-house life. His view of rustic life was more refined than that of the seventeenth-century Dutch masters who inspired him. However, he frequently set his figures in interiors where the main source of light is an open window. This is a device often found in Dutch genre pictures. The theme of this picture was inspired by the great emigration boom of the late 1840s and early 1850s. A family studies the envelope of a letter from a friend or relation who has emigrated. They are clearly worried about what the letter might contain.