Richard Jefferies.

Field and hedgerow, being the last essays of Richard Jefferies, collected by his widow online

. (page 1 of 25)
Online LibraryRichard JefferiesField and hedgerow, being the last essays of Richard Jefferies, collected by his widow → online text (page 1 of 25)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook




• •••..






; ;








'•■■• '•'•■■•■ ■•




■■:■'■'■' ■ ■■■■■'■■'■ -

HI "' :




aaumat ■■.■.■■







CLiss °\52>





With Portrait. Crown 8vo, y &d.


Autobiography. With Portrait and New Preface
by C. J. Longman. Crown 8vo, y. 6d.

RED DEER. With 17 Illustrations by J.
Charlton and H. Tunaly. Crown 8vo, 3^. 6d.

a Portrait from the Bust in Salisbury Cathedral.
Crown 8vo, 31. 6d.

WOOD MAGIC : A Fable. With Frontis-
piece and Vignette by E. V. B. Crown 8vo,
3 s - 6d -


Hoole Waylen. i6mo, y. 6d.













All rights reserved



FOR permission to reprint my husband's latest Essays
my sincere thanks are due to the Editors of the follow-
ing publications : —

The Fortnightly Review.

Manchester Guardian.

Pall Mall Gazette.


English Illustrated Magazine.

Longma?i's Magazine.

St. James's Gazette.

Art Journal.

Chambers's Journal.

Magazine of Art.

Century Illustrated Magazine.

J J.






*-THE JULY GRASS ......... 37


THE COUNTRY SUNDAY . , 8 a . , . $0




HOUSE-MARTINS . . » . , . . . .110





COUNTRY PLACES . . . . , . , . . 1 73

FIELD WORDS AND WAYS . . . . . . . 1 87





some april insects . 204

the time of year . 209

mixed days of may and december 215

the makers of summer , . 220

steam on countrv roads - . ... 230

field sports in art : the mammoth hunter . . . 240

birds' nests 2$0

Nature in the louvre . , . , , . . 255

summer in somerset .267

an english deer-park . « , . * . . . 287

my old village 311

my chaffinch , .... 33°



It is sweet on awaking in the early morn to listen to
the small bird singing on the tree. No sound of voice
or flute is like to the bird's song ; there is something in
it distinct and separate from all other notes. The throat
of woman gives forth a more perfect music, and the
organ is the glory of man's soul. The bird upon the
tree utters the meaning of the wind — a voice of the
grass and wild flower, words of the green leaf; they
speak through that slender tone. Sweetness of dew
and rifts of sunshine, the dark hawthorn touched with
breadths of open bud, the odour of the air, the colour
of the daffodil — all that is delicious and beloved of
spring-time are expressed in his song. Genius is nature,
and his lay, like the sap in the bough from which he
sings, rises without thought. Nor is it necessary that
it should be a song ; a few short notes in the sharp
spring morning are sufficient to stir the heart. But
yesterday the least of them all came to a bough by my
window, and in his call I heard the sweet-briar wind
rushing over the young grass. Refulgent fall the golden
rays of the sun ; a minute only, the clouds cover him




and the hedge is dark. The bloom of the gorse is shut
like a book ; but it is there — a few hours of warmth and
the covers will fall open. The meadow is bare, but in a
little while the heart-shaped celandine leaves will come
in their accustomed place. On the pollard willows the
long wands are yellow-ruddy in the passing gleam of
sunshine, the first colour of spring appears in their bark.
The delicious wind rushes among them and they bow
and rise ; it touches the top of the dark pine that looks
in the sun the same now as in summer ; it lifts and
swings the arching trail of bramble ; it dries and
crumbles the earth in its fingers ; the hedge-sparrow's
feathers are fluttered as he sings on the bush.

I wonder to myself how they can all get on without
me — how they manage, bird and flower, without me to
keep the calendar for them. For I noted it so carefully
and lovingly, day by day, the seed-leaves on the mounds
in the sheltered places that come so early, the pushing
up of the young grass, the succulent dandelion, the
coltsfoot on the heavy, thick clods, the trodden chickweed
despised at the foot of the gate-post, so common and
small, and yet so dear to me. Every blade of grass was
mine, as though I had planted it separately. They were
all my pets, as the roses the lover of his garden tends so
faithfully. All the grasses of the meadow were my
pets, I loved them all ; and perhaps that was why I
never had a ' pet/ never cultivated a flower, never kept
a caged bird, or any creature. Why keep pets when
every wild free hawk that passed overhead in the air was
mine ? I joyed in his swift, careless flight, in the throw
of his pinions, in his rush over the elms and miles of
woodland ; it was happiness to see his unchecked life.
What more beautiful than the sweep and curve of his
going through the azure sky ? These were my pets, and


all the grass. Under the wind it seemed to dry and
become grey, and the starlings running to and fro on the
surface that did not sink now stood high above it and
were larger. The dust that drifted along blessed it and
it grew. Day by day a change ; always a note to make.
The moss drying on the tree trunks, dog's-mercury
stirring under the ash-poles, bird's-claw buds of beech
lengthening ; books upon books to be filled with these
things. I cannot think how they manage without me.

To-day through the window-pane I see a lark high
up against the grey cloud, and hear his song. I cannot
walk about and arrange with the buds and gorse-bloom ;
how does he know it is the time for him to sing ?
Without my book and pencil and observing eye, how
does he understand that the hour has come ? To sing
high in the air, to chase his mate over the low stone
wall of the ploughed field, to battle with his high-crested
rival, to balance himself on his trembling wings out-
spread a few yards above the earth, and utter that sweet
little loving kiss, as it were, of song — oh, happy, happy
days ! So beautiful to watch as if he were my own, and
I felt it all ! It is years since I went out amongst them
in the old fields, and saw them in the green corn ; they
must be dead, dear little things, by now. Without me
to tell him, how does this lark to-day that I hear through
the window know it is his hour ?

The green hawthorn buds prophesy on the hedge ;
the reed pushes up in the moist earth like a spear thrust
through a shield ; the eggs of the starling are laid in the
knot-hole of the pollard elm — common eggs, but within
each a speck that is not to be found in the cut diamond
of two hundred carats — the dot of protoplasm, the atom
of life. There was one row of pollards where they
always befcan laying first. With a big stick in his beak

B 2


the rook is blown aside like a loose feather in the wind ;
he knows his building-time from the fathers of his house
— hereditary knowledge handed down in settled course :
but the stray things of the hedge, how do they know ?
The great blackbird has planted his nest by the ash-stole,
open to every one's view, without a bough to conceal it
and not a leaf on the ash — nothing but the moss on the
lower end of the branches. He does not seek cunningly
for concealment. I think of the drift of time, and I see
the apple bloom coming and the blue veronica in the
grass. A thousand thousand buds and leaves and
flowers and blades of grass, things to note day by day,
increasing so rapidly that no pencil can put them down
and no book hold them, not even to number them — and
how to write the thoughts they give ? All these without
me — how can they manage without me ?

For they were so much to me, I had come to feel that
I was as much in return to them. The old, old error :
I love the earth, therefore the earth loves me — I am her
child — I am Man, the favoured of all creatures. I am
the centre, and all for me was made.

In time past, strong of foot, I walked gaily up the
noble hill that leads to Beachy Head from Eastbourne,
joying greatly in the sun and the wind. Every step
crumbled up numbers of minute grey shells, empty and
dry, that crunched under foot like hoar-frost or fragile
beads. They were very pretty ; it was a shame to crush
them — such vases as no king's pottery could make.
They lay by millions in the depths of the sward, and I
thought as I broke them unwillingly that each of these
had once been a house of life. A living creature dwelt
in each and felt the joy of existence, and was to itself all
in all — as if the great sun over the hill shone for it, and
the width of the earth under was for it. and the grass


and plants put on purpose for it. They were dead, the
whole race of them, and these their skeletons were as
dust under my feet. Nature sets no value upon life
neither of minute hill-snail nor of human being.

I thought myself so much to the earliest leaf and the
first meadow orchis — so important that I should note
the first zee-zee of the titlark — that I should pronounce
it summer, because now the oaks were green ; I must
not miss a day nor an hour in the fields lest something
should escape me. How beautiful the droop of the great
brome-grass by the wood ! But to-day I have to listen
to the lark's song — not out of doors with him, but through
the window-pane, and the bullfinch carries the rootlet fibre
to his nest without me. They manage without me very
well ; they know their times and seasons — not only the
civilised rooks, with their libraries of knowledge in their
old nests of reference, but the stray things of the hedge
and the chiffcharT from over sea in the ash wood. They
go on without me. Orchis flower and cowslip) — I can-
not number them all — I hear, as it were, the patter of
their feet — flower and bud and the beautiful clouds that
go over, with the sweet rush of rain and burst of sun
glory among the leafy trees. They go on, and I am
no more than the least of the empty shells that strewed
the sward of the hill. Nature sets no value upon life,
neither of mine nor of the larks that sang years ago.
The earth is all in all to me, but I am nothing to the
earth : it is bitter to know this before you are dead.
These delicious violets are sweet for themselves ; they
were not shaped and coloured and gifted with that ex-
quisite proportion and adjustment of odour and hue for
me. High up against the grey cloud I hear the lark
through the window singing, and each note falls into my
heart like a knife.


Now this to me speaks as the roll of thunder that
cannot be denied — you must hear it ; and how can you
shut your ears to what this lark sings, this violet tells,
this little grey shell writes in the curl of its spire ? The
bitter truth that human life is no more to the universe
than that of the unnoticed hill-snail in the grass should
make us think more and more highly of ourselves as
human — as men — living things that think. We must
look to ourselves to help ourselves. We must think our-
selves into an earthly immortality. By day and by
night, by years and by centuries, still striving, studying,
searching to find that which shall enable us to live a
fuller life upon the earth — to have a wider grasp upon its
violets and loveliness, a deeper draught of the sweet-briar
wind. Because my heart beats feebly to-day, my trick-
ling pulse scarcely notating the passing of the time, so
much the more do I hope that those to come in future
years may see wider and enjoy fuller than I have done ;
and so much the more gladly would I do all that I could
to enlarge the life that shall be then. There is no hope
on the old lines — they are dead, like the empty shells ;
from the sweet delicious violets think out fresh petals of
thought and colours, as it were, of soul.

Never was such a worshipper of earth. The com-
monest pebble, dusty and marked with the stain of the
ground, seems to me so wonderful ; my mind works
round it till it becomes the sun and centre of a system
of thought and feeling. Sometimes moving aside the
tufts of grass with careless fingers while resting on the
sward, I found these little pebble-stones loose in the
crumbly earth among the rootlets. Then, brought out
from the shadow, the sunlight shone and glistened on the
particles of sand that adhered to it. Particles adhered
to my skin — thousands of years between finger and


thumb, these atoms of quartz, and sunlight shining all
that time, and flowers blooming and life glowing in all,
myriads of living things, from the cold still limpet
on the rock to the burning, throbbing heart of man.
Sometimes I found them among the sand of the heath,
the sea of golden brown surging up yellow billows six
feet high about me, where the dry lizard hid, or basked,
of kin, too, to old time. Or the rush of the sea wave
brought them to me, wet and gleaming, up from the
depths of what unknown Past? where they nestled in the
root crevices of trees forgotten before Egypt. The living
mind opposite the dead pebble — did you ever consider
the strange and wonderful problem there ? Only the
thickness of the skin of the hand between them. The
chief use of matter is to demonstrate to us the existence
of the soul. The pebble-stone tells me I am a soul be-
cause I am not that that touches the nerves of my hand.
We are distinctly two, utterly separate, and shall never
come together. The little pebble and the great sun over-
head — millions of miles away : yet is the great sun no
more distinct and apart than this which I can touch.
Dull-surfaced matter, like a polished mirror, reflects back
thought to thought's self within.

I listened to the sweet-briar wind this morning ; but
for weeks and weeks the stark black oaks stood straight
out of the snow as masts of ships with furled sails frozen
and ice-bound in the haven of the deep valley. Each
was visible to the foot, set in the white slope, made
individual in the wood by the brilliance of the back-
ground. Never was such a long winter. For fully two
months they stood in the snow in black armour of iron
bark unshaken, the front rank of the forest army that
would not yield to the northern invader. Snow in broad
flakes, snow in semi-flakes, snow raining down in frozen


specks, whirling and twisting in fury, ice raining in small
shot of frost, howling, sleeting, groaning ; the ground
like iron, the sky black and faintly yellow — brutal
colours of despotism — heaven striking with clenched
fist When at last the general surface cleared, still
there remained the trenches and traverses of the enemy,
his ramparts drifted high, and his roads marked with
snow. The black firs on the ridge stood out against the
frozen clouds, still and hard ; the slopes of leafless
larches seemed withered and brown ; the distant plain
far down gloomy with the same dull yellowish blackness.
At a height of seven hundred feet the air was sharp as
a scythe — a rude barbarian giant wind knocking at the
walls of the house with a vast club, so that we crept
sideways even to the windows to look out upon the
world. There was everything to repel — the cold, the
frost, the hardness, the snow, dark sky and ground, leaf-
lessness ; the very furze chilled and all benumbed. Yet
the forest was still beautiful. There was no day that
we did not, all of us, glance out at it and admire it, and
say something about it. Harder and harder grew the
frost, yet still the forest-clad hills possessed a something
that drew the mind open to their largeness and grandeur.
Earth is always beautiful — always. Without colour, or
leaf, or sunshine, or song of bird and flutter of butterfly's
wing ; without anything sensuous, without advantage or
gilding of summer — the power is ever there. Or shall
we not say that the desire of the mind is ever there, and
will satisfy itself, in a measure at least, even with the
barren wild ? The heart from the moment of its first
beat instinctively longs for the beautiful ; the means we
possess to gratify it are limited — we are always trying
to find the statue in the rude block. Out of the vast
block of the earth the mind endeavours to carve itself


loveliness, nobility, and grandeur. We strive for the
right and the true : it is circumstance that thrusts wrong
upon us.

One morning a labouring man came to the door with
a spade, and asked if he could dig the garden, or try to,
at the risk of breaking the tool in the ground. He was
starving ; he had had no work for two months ; it was
just six months, he said, since the first frost started the
winter. Nature and the earth and the gods did not
trouble about kim y you see ; he might grub the rock-
frost ground with his hands if he chose — the yellowish
black sky did not care. /'Nothing for man ! The only
good he found was in his fellow- men ; they fed him after
a fashion — still they fed him. There was no good in
anything else. Another aged man came once a week
regularly ; white as the snow through which he walked.
In summer he worked ; since the winter began he had
had no employment, but supported himself by going
round to the farms in rotation. They all gave him a
trifle — bread and cheese, a penny, a slice of meat —
something ; and so he lived, and slept the whole of that
time in outhouses wherever he could. He had no home
of any kind. Why did he not go into the workhouse ?
1 I be afeared if I goes in there they'll put me with the
rough uns, and very likely I should get some of my
clothes stole.' Rather than go into the workhouse he
would totter round in the face of the blasts that might
cover his weak old limbs with drift. There was a sense
of dignity and manhood left still ; his clothes were worn,
but clean and decent ; he was no companion of rogues ;
the snow and frost, the straw of the outhouses, was
better than that. He was struggling against age,
against nature, against circumstance ; the entire weight
of society, law, and order pressed upon him to force


him to lose his self-respect and liberty. He would
rather risk his life in the snowdrift. Nature, earth, and
the gods did not help him ; sun and stars, where were
they ? He knocked at the doors of the farms and
found good in man only — not in Law or Order, but in
individual man alone.

The bitter north wind drives even the wild fieldfare
to the berries in the garden hedge ; so it drives stray
human creatures to the door. A third came — an old
gipsy woman — still stout and hearty, with green fresh
brooms to sell. We bought some brooms — one of them
was left on the kitchen floor, and the tame rabbit nibbled
it ; it proved to be heather. The true broom is as green
and succulent in appearance in January as June. She
would see the ' missis.' ' Bless you, my good lady, it be
weather, bean't it ? I hopes you'll never know what it be
to want, my good lady. Ah, well, you looks good-
tempered if you don't want to buy nothing. Do you
see if you can't find me an old body, now, for my girl —
now do'ee try ; she's confined in a tent on the common
— nothing but one of our tents, my good lady — that's
true — and she's doing jest about well ' (with briskness
and an air of triumph), 'that she is! She's got twins,
you see, my lady, but she's all right, and as well as can
be. She wants to get up ; and she says to me, " Mother,
do'ee try and get me a body ; 'tis hard to lie here abed
and be well enough to get up, and be obliged to stay
here because I've got nothing but a bedgown." For you
see, my good lady, we managed pretty well with the
first baby ; but the second bothered us, and we cut up
all the bits of things we could find, and there she ain't
got nothing to put on. Do'ee see if 'ee can't find her an
old body.' The common is an open piece of furze and
heath at the verge of the forest ; and here, in a tent just


large enough to creep in, the gipsy woman had borne
twins in the midst of the snow and frost. They could
not make a fire of the heath and gorse even if they cut
it, the snow and whirling winds would not permit. The
old gipsy said if they had little food they could not do
without fire, and they were compelled to get coke and
coal somehow — apologising for such a luxury. There
was no whining — not a bit of it ; they were evidently
quite contented and happy, and the old woman proud of
her daughter's hardihood. By-and-by the husband came
round with straw beehives to sell, and cane to mend
chairs — a strong, respectable-looking man. Of all the
north wind drove to the door, the outcasts were the best
off — much better off than the cottager who was willing
to break his spade to earn a shilling ; much better off
than the white-haired labourer, whose strength was spent,
and who had not even a friend to watch with him in the
dark hours of the winter evening — not even a fire to rest
by. The gipsy nearest to the earth was the best off in
every way ; yet not even for primitive man and woman
did the winds cease. Broad flakes of snow drifted up
against the low tent, beneath which the babes were
nestling to the breast. Not even for the babes did the
snow cease or the keen wind rest ; the very fire could
scarcely struggle against it. Snow-rain and ice-rain ;
frost-formed snow-granules, driven along like shot, sting-
ing and rattling against the tent-cloth, hissing in the
fire ; roar and groan of the great wind among the oaks
of the forest. No kindness to man, from birth-hour to
ending ; neither earth, sky, nor gods care for him, innocent
at the mother's breast. Nothing good to man but man.
Let man, then, leave his gods and lift up his ideal beyond

Something grey and spotted and puffy, not unlike a


toad, moved about under the gorse of the garden hedge
one morning, half hidden by the stalks of old grasses.
By-and-by it hopped out — the last thrush, so distended
with puffed feathers against the frost as to be almost
shapeless. He searched about hopelessly round the
stones and in the nooks, all hard and frostbound ; there
was the shell of a snail, dry and whitened and empty, as
was apparent enough even at a distance. His keen eye
must have told him that it was empty ; yet such was his
hunger and despair that he took it and dashed it to
pieces against a stone. Like a human being, his imagi-
nation was stronger than his experience ; he tried to
persuade himself that there might be something there ;
hoping against hope. Mind, you see, working in the
bird's brain, and overlooking facts. A mere mechanism
would have left the empty and useless shell untouched —
would have accepted facts at once, however bitter, just
as the balance on the heaviest side declines immediately,
obeying the fact of an extra grain of weight. The bird's
brain was not mechanical, and therefore he was not
wholly mastered by experience. It was a purely human
action — just what we do ourselves. Next he came across
to the door to see if a stray berry still remained on a
creeper. He saw me at the window, and he came to the
window — right to it — and stopped and looked full at me
some minutes, within touch almost, saying as plainly as
could be said, ' I am starving — help me.' I never before
knew a thrush make so unmistakable an appeal for assist-
ance, or deliberately approach so near (unless previously
encouraged). We tried to feed him, but we fear little of
the food reached him. The wonder of the incident was

Online LibraryRichard JefferiesField and hedgerow, being the last essays of Richard Jefferies, collected by his widow → online text (page 1 of 25)