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Mr. Edward Thomas Writes a Sym-
pathetic Biography- of Richard
Jefferies, Student of Eng-
lish Country Life.



THOSE who have found pleasure in
the books of Hichard Jefferies,
the English nature writer, will
enjoy reading Edward Thomas's
"Richard Jefferies, His Life and Work,"
(Little, Brown & Co. $3.) for they will
find in it a full and sympathetic biog-
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^be '* Spectator" auC» iRicbarC Jefferies.

The Spectator has been described as "the leading liteiary
or^^an of the day," and its correspondence columns as "always
inreresting" owing to the fact that they are "open to the most
varied shades of opinion," and that there is *' no boycott." Is
there not ? Out of my own recent experience I can assure the
writer of this gratifying testimonial that, if he should become
engaged in correspondence with the leading literary organ of
the day on such a subject as the alleged return of a dying Free-
thinker to orthodoxy, he will have cause to modify his judgment.
There is at least one "shade of opinion" which the Spectator is
not ashamed to boycott, and that is the views of those who
question the story of the "conversion" of Richard Jefteries.
The following letter, addressed by me to the editor of the
Spectator, and promptly "declined with thanks," will tell its
own tale : —

SlK,_I am sure you have no more desire to claim Jefll-ries unfairly
as a Christian than I to claim him unfairly as a FreeihinUer. As,
therefore, you have allowed Mrs. Mackintosh to repeat m your columns
(May 6lh, 1905) the account of Jefferies's "conversion' which she
contributed, sixteen years ago, to the GirVs Oivn Paper— 11 story which,
in another form, is familiar 10 readers of Besant's Eulogy— I presume
vou will grant me the usual courtesy of a reply.

' Now, oliviously, only those who were present with Jefieries at the
end can speak of wliai then happened. It is not ihe facts, but the
interprelation of the facts, that we question : and here it is that a con-
sideration of Jefferies's own avowal of his creed becomes essential to
the discussion. To say that he was "at times inclined to sceptical
views" is to understate the case somewhat ludicrously, seeing that in
his Sloty of My Heart, published only four years before his death, and
with the prospect of death confronting him, he solemnly referred to the
opinions there expressed as his "most serious convictions," for seven-
teen years " continually thought of and pondered over," and that in
his Hours of Spring, which appeared only fifteen months before he
died, the same freelhinking views were reiterated. Here, then, is
indubitable evidence that the change in Jefferies's belief, if change there
were, took place towards the very close of his life— at the time, that is,
when he was physically and mentally a wreck. Surely, without offence
to his surviving relatives, we may doubt the intellectual value attaching
to a *' conversion" of that kind t

But how, I have often been asked, can I reconcile this contention
with Sir Walter Besant's earlier statement, that at the end " the simple
old faith came back to him"? I trust thai in fairness you will permit
me to quote from a letter which Sir Walter Besant addressed to me
privately in 1S91, three years after the publication of his Eulogy.

"Now here," he said, "is an important point. I stated in my
Eulogy that he died a Christian. This was true in the sense of outward
conformity. His wife read to him from the Gospel of St. Luke, and he
acquiesced. But / have since been informed [the italics are Sir W.
Besant'sJ he was weak, loo weak not to acquiesce, and his views never
changed from the time when he wrote the Siory of My Heatt,^^

You may dismiss me. Sir, if you will, as a biographer who " airs
opinions of his own " (whose but his own should he air?) and who "does
not know his duty " ; but vou will not so easily dismiss the fact that the
writer of the Eulogy of Richard J efferies, who first lent authority to the
story of the death-bed conversion, himself came to regard that incident
as of little significance or weight.— Yours faithfully,

May 9th, 1905. Henry S. Salt.

The above letter the Spectator suppressed, and was content to
leave its readers under the totally false impression that I had
no answer to make to the statement which it described in
an editorial note as "disposing finally of the allegation that
Jefferies did not return to the Christian faith." Such are the
methods to which " the leading literary organ of the day" will
condescend, when there is a "religious" motive for dishonesty.

Henry S. Salt.



/

-Reprinted from the LlTERAKV V^TlW^Y. for June. ^' ^ .



n



RICHARD JEFFERIES
HIS LIFE AND WORK







^A.^i/ui.^M^^^n^lon.i^Sit^'Xl''''/'^ tp-f-:^^



RICHARD JEFFERIES

HIS LIFE AND WORK



BY EDWARD THOMAS

AUTHOR OF
'H0R,« SOLITARI/K,' 'the heart of ENGLAND,' ETC.



WITH ILLUSTRATIONS
AND A MAP



LONDON : HUTCHINSON & CO.

PATERNOSTER ROW

1909



\- 1



TO

W. H. HUDSON

AUTHOR OF 'the NATURALIST IN LA PLATA,'

' THE PURPLE LAND,' * GREEN MANSIONS,'

*NATURB IN DOWNLAND,' ETC.



632741



PREFACE

This book is an attempt to give a fuller account of the life
and writings of Richard Jefferies than has yet been pub-
lished. That ' The Eulogy of Richard Jefferies ' by the
late Walter Besant was kindly, but unsympathetic and
incomplete, cannot be disputed. Mr. Henry S. Salt's
' Richard Jefferies : His Life and His Ideals,' though a
much better book, is a critical essay, and leaves the way
clear for such a book as I have tried to write. For over
twenty years I have known Jefferies' part of Wiltshire, and
I hope that I have got most of what the country people
had to tell about him and his family. I have had much
information and great kindness from Mrs. Richard
Jefferies, Miss Phyllis Jefferies, Mr. Charles Jefferies, Mrs.
Robert T. Bilhng [nee Sarah Jefferies), Mr. Robert T.
Bilhng, Mrs. Harrild, Mr. Henry S. Salt, Mr. C. P.
Scott, Mr. C. J. Longman, and Mr. George Dartnell,
author of a bibliography of Richard Jefferies in the
Wiltshire ArchcBological Society's Magazine, etc. I desire
also to thank the publishers of Richard Jefferies' books
for their permission to quote extensively from them :
Messrs. Smith, Elder and Co., publishers of ' The Game-
keeper at Home,' ' The Amateur Poacher,' ' Wild Life in
a Southern County,' ' Round about a Great Estate,'
* Greene Feme Farm,' and ' Hodge and his Masters ' ;
Messrs. Longmans, Green and Co., publishers of ' Wood
Magic,' ' The Story of My Heart,' ' Red Deer,' ' Field and
Hedgerow,' and * Toilers of the Field ' ; Messrs. Mac-
millan and Co., publishers of ' The Dewy Mom ' ; Messrs.
Chatto and Wmdus, publishers of ' Nature near London,'

vii



viii PREFACE

* The Open Air,' and ' Life of the Fields ' ; and Messrs.
Duckworth and Co., pubHshers of ' Bevis,' ' After London,'
and ' AmaryUis at the Fair ' ; also the proprietors of
Country Life and Miss F. C. Hall for permission to use the
photograph of Richard Jefferies as a young man. The
following also have given me help : Mr. George Avenell,
Mr. Samuel Lane Bondman, Mr. Gordon Bottomley,
Mr. James Bradford, Mr. A. Coleman, Mr. T. C. Davison,
Mr. F. B. Doveton, Mr. Ernest Rhys, Miss W. M.
Fentiman, Mr. A. M. Freeman, the Rev. E. H.
Goddard, Mr. William Gough, Mr. P. Anderson Graham,
Mrs. Arthur Harvie, Mr. H. Bottomley Knowles, Mr. C. J.
Longman, Mr. S. Morris, Mr. A. Theodore Rake, Mrs.
Daniel Smith, Mr, H. H. Stunner, Mr. H. Woolford,
and Mr. W. Wright.

1908 EDWARD THOMAS.



CONTENTS



CH.\nER FAGH

I. THE COUNTRY OF RICHARD JKFFERIES - - I

II. ANCESTRY - - - - - ' ^3

III. CHILDHOOD AT COATE FARM - - "34

IV. YOUTH AND EARLY MANHOOD - - -5°

V. EARLY MANHOOD {conthiued) - - - 8o

VI. FIRST NOVELS - - - - '9^

VII. FIRST COUNTRY ESSAYS - - - - 107

VIII. IN LONDON AND THE SUBURBS - - - III

IX. FIRST COUNTRY BOOKS - - " I23

X. 'NATURE NEAR LONDON ' - - - - 150

XL 'WOOD MAGIC ' AND * BEVIS ' - - " 156

XII. ILLNESS - - - - - - 170

XIII. 'the STORY OF MY HEART'- - - "177

XIV. 'the LIFE OF THE FIELDS' AND 'THE OPEN AIR ' - 209
XV. 'THE DEWY MORN ' - - - - . - 224

XVL 'after LONDON' - - - - -254

XVII. 'AMARYLLIS AT THE FAIR* - - - - 263

XVIII. ' FIELD AND HEDGEROW ' AND OTHER ESSAYS - 29O

XIX. RECAPITULATION - - - - "3^7



BIBLIOGRAPHY
INDEX



329
336



IX



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

TO FACE PAGE

RICHARD JEFFERIES (STEREOSCOPIC PHOTOGRAPH PHOTO-
GRAVURE) ..... Frontispiece

FOREST AND DOWN (dRAWN BY JAMES GUTHRIE) - - 12

RICHARD JEFFERIES AS A BOY - - - ' S^

OLD SWINDON CHURCH - - - - - 62

RICHARD JEFFERIES AS A YOUNG MAN - - ' 7^

JAMES LUCKETT JEFFERIES - - - - 86
COATE FARM - - - - - "134

ELIZABETH JEFFERIES ..... 144

THE 'VENUS ACCROUPIE ' - - - - - 1 87

ELIZABETH JEFFERIES ..... 2IO

JAMES LUCKETT JEFFERIES .... 240

FANNY JEFFERIES - - - • - - 270

LETTER OF RICHARD JEFFERIES (FACSIMILE) - - 306



XI



THE LIFE AND WRITINGS OF
RICHARD JEFFERIES

CHAPTER I

THE COUNTRY OF RICHARD JEFFERIES

Richard Jefferies was born at Coate Farm, in the North
Wiltshire hamlet of Coate and the parish of Chisledon, on
November 6, 1848. There he dwelt for the greater part
of the first thirty years of his life ; there and thereabouts,
and in the neighbouring county of Gloucestershire, dwelt
his ancestors for several, perhaps many, generations. This
country and its people was the subject of half his work,
and the background, the source, or the inspiration, of all
but all the rest. He, in his turn, was the genius, the
human expression, of this country, emerging from it, not to
be detached from it any more than the curves of some
statues from their maternal stone. He walked about the
hills and fields of it day and night, in pursuit of sport, of
health, of society, of solitude, of joy, of the dearest objects
of his soul ; and though he left it never to return, yet
three times before he died he lived in, or in sight of, country
not unlike it — at Brighton, at Crowborough, and at
Goring.

It is a beautiful, a quiet, an unrenowned, and a most
visibly ancient land. The core and essence of it are the
Downs, which lie south and east and west of Coate.
Northward is Swindon, where Jefferies lived two years,

I



2 THE LIFE OF RICHARD JEFFERIES

and Wootton Bassett, Purton, Malmesbury, Cirencester,
and Fairford — all of which he knew, with their surrounding
fields ; but to reach them was to leave the Downs for the
rich, sluggish, dairy country of elms, that is seldom
roused to the energy of hills. Fair as that part of Wilt-
shire is, it has left few marks upon his books ; and even in
his youthful chapters on the Swindon neighbourhood,
where he might have thought it his business to set his
affection aside, he seldom betrays much knowledge of the
northward land, of whose people Aubrey wrote that they
' speak drawling,' are ' dull and heavy of spirits,' ' feed
chiefly on milk meats, which hurts their inventions,' are
' melanchol}^ contemplative, malicious, by consequence
whereof come more lawsuits — at least double those in
the southern parts,' and are ' more apt to be fanatic'
Roughly speaking, the Wiltshire and Berkshire Canal, in its
course from near Wantage, past Uffington, Stratton St.
Margaret, Swindon, Wootton Bassett, and Dauntsey, was
Jefferies' northern boundary. That boundary at least
in winter he loved, for the frosts turned it into an incom-
parable track for his skates, and it is as a skater only that
he is respectfully remembered in those parts. The canal
has now relapsed into barbarism ; its stiffened and weedy
waters are stirred only by the moorhen, who walks more
than she swims across them.

For Jefferies at Coate, the summer sun rose over White-
horse Hill, eight miles off in Berkshire, with the ancient
entrenchment above and the westward-ramping white
horse below ; and to reach the hill meant a long, lonely
walk on the Ridgeway through the high corn-land and past
Wayland Smith's cave, or along the more frequented
parallel road below, through Wanborough, Little Hinton,
Bishopston, Ashbury, and Compton Beauchamp. At
Bishopston stood the old mansion — used as a Grammar
School — which he has celebrated in ' Wild Life in a
Southern County,' in ' An Extinct Race,' and in his early
chapter on the London and Faringdon road. At Hinton
and Bishopston there are fine farmhouses with lime-



THE COUNTRY OF RICHARD JEFFERIES 3

trees ; at Ashbury, also, one among trees and oats, built
of stone, with many square windows and handsome
chimneys; and one where the by-road goes to Longcott and
Shrivenham. North of this road is the flat land, which has
so many elms bordering so many small fields that from a
distance it seems one wood. South, and close at hand, are
the Downs — the solitary, arable slopes, the solid beech
clumps, the coursing and racing turf of Ashdown and
Lambourn. Always high up, the Ridge way goes north-
eastward over the corn, with few traces of living men except
the Oxford Steam-Ploughing Company's engines, har-
boured, perchance, amidst heaps of coal and the chalk-land
flowers — hop-trefoil, saw-wort, scabious, purple gentian,
and poppy. Wayland Smith's cave lies on the left going
north-east, about thirty water-worn and mossy sarsens,
some roughly hewn, three upright, with a superincumbent
fourth, hidden among beeches and starved elders. Beyond,
the old road is to be seen going rough and white up White-
horse Hill, nicked by the entrenchment, and with it even
the weary feet must go if it is summer and the hour a
spacious and windless twilight. It leads to yet another
camp, Letcombe Castle, two or three miles south of
Wantage, farther than which a walker from Coate who
had to return the same day would not be likely to travel.

Going south-east instead of north-east from Coate, a
similar limit is reached at Lambourn. From Wan-
borough, through Totterdown, to Baydon, the road is the
Ermine Street on its way from Cirencester, through
Cricklade, to Sheen, and crosses the Ridgeway at Totter-
down. For the ear at least Baydon is Badon Mount.
This is pure down-land : the breasted hills curving as if
under the influence of a great melody ; the beeches lining
the Roman road, and sheltering a gipsy camp among
harebells, sweet basil, and trefoil, which the grasshopper
also loves. Lambourn itself is a fair, small town, with a
cross, of which the shaft is as graceful and light as the
beeches in the churchyard. It is the hub of many little
roads that lead out among the curving expanses of pasture

I — 2



4 THE LIFE OF RICHARD JEFFERIES

and corn-land ; the tumuli, in one place seven together,
give a solemn tone to so much sweetness and space.
Between Baydon and Aldbourne, and about Sugar Hill,
the country is more park-like. There is a green and
hedgeless turf, with knots and trains of beeches and thorns,
and many little undulations and barbaric, winding tracks,
startled and sundered by the straight Roman road.
Thence the eyes enjoy Martinsell Hill, gentle and large,
above standing and reaped corn and the trees of Ald-
bourne. The road from Baydon to Aldbourne is notable
for its passage through one of the finest hollows in the
Downs. The unbroken undulations are long, and the
mind floats with them and sleeps in the melody which they
make : there is grass, mangolds, wheat in leaning shocks,
solid beech clusters, and, far away, on the edge of the
bowl, Liddington clump ; nor is there a house visible
among the trackways, the haystacks, the sheep, and the
corn, this side of the embowered Aldbourne church tower.
More south and less east from Coate, the Swindon and
Hungerford road goes through Liddington to Aldbourne,
again over the Downs, with four barrows on one hand,
making different harmonies together as the vision shifts,
and on the other the rectangular imprints of a British
village at Upper Upham. Untrodden but indelible old
roads, worn by hoofs and the naked feet and the trailing
staves of long-dead generations, cross and join one another
over the short grass of the chalk slopes. Aldbourne is
white-washed, thatched, and tiled, with many turnings,
and the traveller feels always as if he is in someone's
yard, because the houses, with their flowers and open doors,
look so frankly on the road ; as at Ogbourne St, George,
close by, old millstones are used as paving for paths. The
bells of the neighbourhood were once cast here. The
village was famous from Aubrey's to Jefferies' day for
rabbits ; and between here and Ogbourne St. George are
Chase Woods and Aldbourne Chase, where, in Jefferies'
youth, they found a cannon-ball that had lain there since
the brush between Rupert and Essex, before the first



THE COUNTRY OF RICHARD JEFFERIES 5

battle of Newbury. From Aldboiirne is a good walk
over the Downs to Marlborough by Stock Lane, on a steep-
banked track, with eyebright flowers underfoot and among
wayfaring trees, in sight of the oak and fir and hazel
of Aldbourne Chase in long, gentle hollows. Hereby
three deep tracks mount southward to Marlborough, and
presently cross the remains of a Roman road that goes
straight, though grassy, from Ogbourne to Mildenhall.
Thatched Mildenhall was a Roman station, as the turf
proclaims, and called Cunetio. At one time the children
there used often to pay their school-fees in Roman coin.
Now the slow sheep go past the barley-fields to Marl-
borough Fair, and the tired shepherd leans on his crooked
ash and says once to his dusty flock, *Coom along — coop !'
Traveller's joy and white bryony climb about the thorns.

At Common Head, a mile south-east of Coate, the
Roman road, leaving Ermine Street at Wanborough
Nythe, crosses the Hungerford road on its way south to
Mildenhall, through Savernake Forest (as often called
Marlborough Forest by those living on the Marlborough
side of it), to Winchester. It crosses the Ridgeway near
Chisledon, under the hill that is crowned by the camp,
or ' castle,' and the beech-clump of Liddington. Between
it and the tiny colonies of Woodsend and Snap are more
prints of British settlements on the turf, with tumuli and
earthworks that make the earth look old, like the top bar
of a stile, carved by saunterers, bored by wasps, grooved
and scratched and polished again, or like a schoolboy's
desk that has blunted a hundred ingenious knives. Recent
theory suggests that the dark Iberic people found a refuge
in Wiltshire from the Celts, who, invaded in their turn,
held out long in the same land against the Saxons.
Jefferies himself finds Celtic traces in the place-names and
surnames of the neighbourhood. From near Woodsend,
a little way off the Roman road, and within Aldbourne
Chase, there is a spread of Downs, Inkpen supreme on the
south-east, Martinsell wood}^ and dark on the south, the
Devizes hills south-west. Thence there is a pleasant



6 THE LIFE OF RICHARD JEFFERIES

furzy descent into Ogbourne St. George. Ogbonme,
thatched and irregular, with a bridge over the summer-dry
bed of the winterbourne, is in an ash-tree country ; and
most beautiful in late sunlight, against a calm, rich sky,
are the green breasts of the westward hills, or in a still,
cold summer night under a full moon amidst little, hard
white clouds like rice. Winding with the River Og, the
road forsakes the Roman way and enters Marlborough
town, with its dormered and gabled High Street, long,
wide, and discreet, and, though genial, obviously an entity
which the visitor can know little of. It has been a royal
residence ; it stood a siege in the Civil War ; its prehistoric
existence seems announced by the sarsen stone that stands
at one end of the High Street. It is the ' Overboro ' and
' Fleeceborough ' of Jefferies. The Kennet runs through,
to be joined at Mildenhall by the Og. The Downs and
Savemake Forest dominate the town. It is but a place
at the edge of the forest. Though its nearest (northern)
edge is not much less than ten miles from Coate, the
forest was well within Jefferies' reach ; he often walked
there and back, spending the whole summer day out of
doors, liking the place for its beauty, its solitude, and its
many uncertain memories. It was the subject of some
of his earliest description ; it reappears in several books.
Once, it seems that in a severe winter the stags broke out
of the forest and roamed north, and one was shot in his
own immediate country. From Mildenhall, south-east-
wards along the Roman road or the course of it, to
Crofton is six miles, and it is almost all forest, so that
its mere size — if it needed such an auxiliary — makes
Savernake respectable. Its trees are finely grown and
grouped, large and numerous enough to make it venerable ;
heroic, too, and able to sustain without injury the tremen-
dous trifling column to the glory of a Marquis of Ailesbury,
of Lord Bute, and of God. I say heroic, because the
muscular, smooth beeches, moulded like the flanks and
limbs of immortal beauty, and the oaks that perform great
feats in holding out long, snaky, horizontal branches,



THE COUNTkY OF RICHARD JEFFERIES 7

overgrown with moss and tufted polypody, and the dense,
very old thorns, shapely, or twisted in rigid agonies,
seem worthy of an heroic life — of the life of Mr. Doughty's
British princes, Caradoc, Beichiad, Togodumnos ; of
women like Embla and Herfryd and Boudicca ; of bards
like Carvilios. They and their chariots alone should
press the mossy, golden turf ; they alone would not be
unworthy of the great depths below the forest roof that
seem to be submerged in time. In one part of the forest
the moss at the base of every oak actually suggests a tide
that has risen so high, and left this green sign, but left
no life behind except the hosts of wood-pigeons and the
crow, the magpie, the jay, and the green woodpecker, that
are always crying about these desolate palaces of I know
not what lovely powers. It is beautiful yet, and at even-
ing, like the sea in a twitching calm of thin, disappearing
dark lines, offers us the inexplicable sorrows and unsus-
pected consolations of music, building for us a new earth,
a new heaven, and a new hell.

Still another way to Marlborough — and a better, because
it can only be travelled on foot — is to climb Ladder Hill
along the western edge of Burderop Woods, and to go
straight for Barbury Castle and its attendant beech-
clump, due south upon the summit of Hackpen Hill.
East is the curve of Liddington Hill, the smooth, bare,
uninhabited turf ; north-east the bosom of Wanborough
Hills ; a little east of Barbury, on Smeathe's Ridge,
trees that arrange themselves like a huge ruined castle ;
and more east a long, thin line of trees that seem Titanic
wayfarers trooping dejectedly ; and at the feet of these
related hills is all one level land of corn and roots, and
tinkling sheep, and ricks. The road traverses this plain,
and begins to rise beyond Mudgell, crossing the Ridge-
way close to the disused Burderop race-course. Tumuli
and earthworks lie on the rising ground, on this hand
and that, so commonly that the youthful Jefferies found
it ' alive with the dead.' On Barbury Hill we are among
harebell, rock-rose, scabious, and trefoil blossoms. The



8 THE LIFE OF RICHARD JEFFERIES

' Castle ' lies on the right, a double-mounded camp,
where it is thought that Cedric and Ceawlin routed the
Britons in the sixth century ; and beside it the nineteen
harassed beeches, one dead, in a clump that is to be seen
for many miles, from Uffington and from the hills above
Oxford. The dull, soft sheep-bells interweave their tink-
lings among the tumuli and in the shade of the big
mounds of beech that look so dark and massy from the
lands below. It was over these hills that Margaret, in
' Greene Feme Farm,' wandered with Geoffrey, and at
night found rest only in the Devil's Den, near Fyfield, or
the kistvaen, on Manton Down, near Rockley. Marl-



Online LibraryEdward ThomasRichard Jefferies; his life and work → online text (page 1 of 29)