Richard Jefferies.

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This book consists of three unpublished essays and of fifteen
reprinted from _Longman's Magazine_, _Fraser's Magazine_, the _New
Quarterly_, _Knowledge_, _Chambers's Magazine_, the _Graphic_, and
the _Standard_, where they have probably been little noticed since
the time of their appearance. Several more volumes of this size
might have been made by collecting all the articles which were not
reprinted in Jefferies' lifetime, or in 'Field and Hedgerow' and
'Toilers of the Field,' shortly after his death. But the work in
such volumes could only have attracted those very few of the
omnivorous lovers of Jefferies who have not already found it out.
After the letters on the Wiltshire labourer, addressed to the
_Times_ in 1872, he wrote nothing that was not perhaps at the time
his best, but, being a journalist, he had often to deal immediately,
and in a transitory manner, with passing events, or to empty a page
or two of his note-books in response to an impulse assuredly no
higher than habit or necessity. Many of these he passed over or
rejected in making up volumes of essays for publication; some he
certainly included. Of those he passed over, some are equal to the
best, or all but the best, of those which he admitted, and I think
these will be found in 'The Hills and the Vale.' There are others
which need more excuse. The two early papers on 'Marlborough Forest'
and 'Village Churches,' which were quoted in Besant's 'Eulogy,' are
interesting on account of their earliness (1875), and charming
enough to please those who read all Jefferies' books. 'The Story of
Swindon,' 'Unequal Agriculture,' and 'Village Organization,' will be
valued for their matter, and because they are examples of his
writing, and of his interests and opinions, before he was thirty.
That they are partly out of date is true, but they are worth
remembering by the student of Jefferies and of his times; they do
credit to his insight and even to his foresight; and there is still
upon them, here and there, some ungathered fruit. The later
agricultural articles, 'The Idle Earth,' 'After the County
Franchise,' and 'The Wiltshire Labourer,' are the work of his ripe
years. There were also several papers published not only after his
death, but after the posthumous collections. I have included all of
these, for none of them needs defence, while 'Nature and Eternity'
ranks with his finest work. The three papers now for the first time
printed might have been, but are not, admitted on that ground alone.
'On Choosing a Gun' and 'Skating' belong to the period of 'The
Amateur Poacher,' and are still alive, and too good to destroy. 'The
Dawn' is beautiful.

Among these eighteen papers are examples from nearly every kind
and period of Jefferies' work, though his earliest writing is
still decently interred where it was born, in Wiltshire and
Gloucestershire papers (chiefly the _North Wilts Herald_), except
such as was disinterred by the late Miss Toplis for 'Jefferies
Land,' 'T.T.T.,' and 'The Early Fiction of Richard Jefferies.'
From his early youth Jefferies was a reporter in the north of
Wiltshire and south of Gloucestershire, at political and
agricultural meetings, elections, police-courts, markets, and
Boards of Guardians. He inquired privately or officially into the
history of the Great Western Railway works at New Swindon, of the
local churches and families, of ancient monuments, and he
announced the facts with such reflections as came to him, or might
be expected from him, in newspaper articles, papers read before
the Wiltshire Archæological Society, and in a booklet on 'The
Goddards of North Wilts.' As reporter, archæologist, and
sportsman, he was continually walking to and fro across the vale
and over the downs; or writing down what he saw, for the most part
in a manner dictated by the writing of other men engaged in the
same way; or reading everything that came in his way, but
especially natural history, chronicles, and Greek philosophy in
English translations. He was bred entirely on English, and in a
very late paper he could be so hazy about the meaning of
'illiterate' as to say that the labourers 'never were illiterate
mentally; they are now no more illiterate in the partial sense of
book-knowledge.' He tried his hand at topical humour, and again
and again at short sensational tales. But until he was twenty-four
he wrote nothing which could have suggested that he was much above
the cleverer young men of the same calling. There was nothing fine
or strong in his writing. His researches were industrious, but not
illuminated. If his range of reading was uncommon, it gave him
only some quotations of no exceptional felicity. His point of view
could have given no cause for admiration or alarm. And yet he was
not considered an ordinary young man, being apparently idle,
ambitious, discontented, and morose, and certainly unsociable and
negligently dressed. He walked about night and day, chiefly alone
and with a noticeable long stride. But if he was ambitious, it was
only that he desired success - the success of a writer, and
probably a novelist, in the public eye. His possessions were the
fruits of his wandering, his self-chosen books and a sensitive,
solitary temperament. He might have been described as a clever
young man, well-informed, a little independent, not first-rate at
shorthand, and yet possibly too good for his place; and the
description would have been all that was possible to anyone not
intimate with him, and there was no one intimate with him but
himself. He had as yet neither a manner nor a matter of his own.
It is not clear from anything remaining that he had discovered
that writing could be something more than a means of making party
views plausible or information picturesque. In 1867, at the age of
nineteen, he opened a description of Swindon as follows:

'Whenever a man imbued with republican politics and
progressionist views ascends the platform and delivers an
oration, it is a safe wager that he makes some allusion at least
to Chicago, the famous mushroom city of the United States, which
sprang up in a night, and thirty years ago consisted of a dozen
miserable fishermen's huts, and now counts over two hundred
thousand inhabitants. Chicago! Chicago! look at Chicago! and see
in its development the vigour which invariably follows
republican institutions.... Men need not go so far from their
own doors to see another instance of rapid expansion and
development which has taken place under a monarchical
government. The Swindon of to-day is almost ridiculously
disproportioned to the Swindon of forty years ago....'

Eight years later Jefferies rewrote 'The Story of Swindon' as it is
given in this book, and the allusion to Chicago was reduced to this:

'The workmen required food; tradesmen came and supplied that
food, and Swindon rose as Chicago rose, as if by magic.'

Yet it is certain that in 1867 Jefferies was already carrying about
with him an experience and a power which were to ripen very slowly
into something unique. He was observing; he was developing a sense
of the beauty in Nature, in humanity, in thought, and the arts; and
he was 'not more than eighteen when an inner and esoteric meaning
began to come to him from all the visible universe, and undefinable
aspirations filled him.'

In 1872 he discovered part of his power almost in its perfection. He
wrote several letters to the _Times_ about the Wiltshire labourer,
and they were lucid, simple, moderate, founded on his own
observation, and arranged in a telling, harmonious manner. What he
said and thought about the labourers then is of no great importance
now, and even in 1872 it was only a journalist's grain in the scale
against the labourer's agitation. But it was admirably done. It was
clear, easy writing, and a clear, easy writer he was thenceforth to
the end.

These letters procured for him admission to _Fraser's_ and other
magazines, and he now began for them a long series of articles,
mainly connected with the land and those who work on the land. He
had now freedom and space to put on paper something of what he had
seen and thought. The people, their homes, and their fields, he
described and criticized with moderation and some spirit. He showed
that he saw more things than most writing men, but it was in an
ordinary light, in the same way as most of the readers whom he
addressed. His gravity, tenderness and courage were discernible, but
the articles were not more than a clever presentation of a set of
facts and an intelligent, lucid point of view, which were good grist
to the mills of that decade. They had neither the sagacity nor the
passion which could have helped that calm style to make literature.

'The Story of Swindon' (_Fraser's_, May, 1875) is one of three or
four articles which Jefferies wrote at that time on a subject not
purely his own. As a journalist he had had to do a hundred things
for which he had no strong natural taste. This article is a good
example of his adaptable gifts. He was probably equal to grappling
with any set of facts and ideas at the word of command. In 'coming
to this very abode of the Cyclops' the _North Wilts Herald_ reporter
survives, and nothing could be more like everybody else than the
phrasing and the atmosphere of the greater part, as in 'the ten
minutes for refreshment, now in the case of certain trains reduced
to five, have made thousands of travellers familiar with the name of
the spot.' This is probably due to lack not so much of skill as of
developed personality. When he describes and states facts, he is
lucid and forcible; when he reflects or decorates, he is often showy
or ill at ease, or both, though the thought on p. 130 is valid
enough. Through the cold, colourless light between him and the
object, he saw and remembered clearly; short of creativeness, he was
a master - or one of those skilled servants who appear masters - of
words. The power is, at this distance, more worthy of attention than
the achievement. The power of retaining and handling facts was one
which he never lost, but it was absorbed and even concealed among
powers of later development, when reality was a richer thing to him
than is to be surmised from anything in 'The Story of Swindon.'

'Unequal Agriculture' (_Fraser's_, May, 1877) and 'Village
Organization' (_New Quarterly_, October, 1875) belong to the same
period. They describe and debate matters which are now not so new,
though often as debatable. The description is sometimes felicitous,
as in the 'steady jerk' of the sower's arm, but is not destined for
immortality; and the picture of a steam-plough at work he himself
surpassed in a later paper. But it is sufficiently vivid to survive
for another generation. Since Cobbett no keener agriculturist's eye
or better pen had surveyed North Wiltshire. The most advanced and
the most antiquated style of farming remain the same in our own day.
Whether these articles were commissioned or not, their form and
direction was probably dictated as much by the expressed or supposed
needs of the magazine as by Jefferies himself. His own line was not
yet clear and strong, and he consciously or unconsciously adopted
one which was a compromise between his own and that of his
contemporaries. In fact, it is hard in places to tell whether he is
expressing his own opinion or those of the farmers whom he has
consulted; and he still writes as one of an agricultural community
who is to remain in it. But many of the suggestions in 'Village
Organization' may still be found stimulating, and the inactivity of
men in country parishes is not yet in need of further description;
while the fact that 'the great centres of population have almost
entirely occupied the attention of our legislators of late years' is
still only fitfully perceived. It should be noticed, also, that he
is true to himself and his later self, if not in his valiant
asseveration of the farmer's sturdy independence, yet in the wish
that there should be an authority to 'cause a parish to be supplied
with good drinking water,' or that there should be a tank, 'the
public property of the village.'

To 'Unequal Agriculture' the editor of _Fraser's Magazine_ appended
a note, saying that if England were to be brought to such a pitch of
perfection under scientific cultivation as Jefferies desired, 'a few
of us would then prefer to go away and live elsewhere.' And there is
no doubt that he was carried away by his subject into an
indiscriminate optimism, for he turned upon it sadly and with equal
firmness in later life. But the writing is beyond that of the
letters to the _Times_, and in the sentences -

'The plough is drawn by dull, patient oxen, plodding onwards now
just as they were depicted upon the tombs and temples, the
graves and worshipping-places, of races who had their being
three thousand years ago. Think of the suns that have shone
since then; of the summers and the bronzed grain waving in the
wind; of the human teeth that have ground that grain, and are
now hidden in the abyss of earth; yet still the oxen plod on,
like slow Time itself, here this day in our land of steam and

- in these sentences, though they are commonplace enough, there is
proof that the writer already had that curious consciousness of the
past which was to give so deep a tone to many of his pages later on.
But in these papers, again, what is most noticeable is the practical
knowledge and the power of handling practical things. Though he
himself, brought up on his father's farm, had no taste for farming,
and seldom did any practical work except splitting timber, he yet
confines himself severely to things as they are, or as they may
quickly be made to become by a patching-up. These are 'practical
politics for practical men.' Consequently the clear and forcible
writing is only better in degree than other writing of the moment
with an element of controversy, and represents not the whole truth,
but an aspect of selected portions of the truth. When it is turned
to other purposes it shows a poor grace, as in 'a widespread ocean
of wheat, an English gold-field, a veritable Yellow Sea, bowing in
waves before the southern breeze - a sight full of peaceful poetry;'
and the sluggish, customary euphemism of phrases like 'a few calves
find their way to the butcher' is tedious enough.

'The Idle Earth' (_Longman's_, December, 1894), 'After the County
Franchise' (_Longman's_, February, 1884), and 'The Wiltshire
Labourer' (_Longman's_, 1887), belong to Jefferies' later years.
'The Idle Earth' was published only after his death, but, like the
other two, was written, probably, between 1884 and 1887. He was no
longer writing as a practical man, but as a critical outsider with
an inside knowledge. 'The Idle Earth' is an astonishing
curiosity - an extreme example of Jefferies' discontent with things
as they are. 'Why is it,' he asks, 'that this cry arises that
agriculture will not pay?... The answer is simple enough. It is
because the earth is idle one-third of the year.' He looks round a
January field and sees 'not an animal in sight, not a single
machine for making money, not a penny being turned.' He wishes to
know, 'What would a manufacturer think of a business in which he was
compelled to let his engines rest for a third of the year?' Then he
falls upon the miserable Down-land because that is still more idle
and still less productive. 'With all its progress,' he cries, 'how
little real advance has agriculture made! All because of the
stubborn, idle earth.' It is a genuine cry, to be paralleled by
'Life is short, art long,' and by his own wonder that 'in twelve
thousand written years the world has not yet built itself a House,
unfilled a Granary, nor organized itself for its own comfort,' by
his contempt for 'this little petty life of seventy years,' and for
the short sleep permitted to men.

The editor of _Longman's_ had to explain that, in publishing 'After
the County Franchise,' he was not really 'overstepping the limit
which he laid down in undertaking to keep _Longman's Magazine_ free
from the strife of party politics, because it might be profitable to
consider what changes this Bill will make, when it becomes law, in
the lives and the social relations of our rural population.' It was
true that Jefferies was no longer a party politician. He was by that
time above and before either party. He is so still, and the
reappearance of these no longer novel ideas is excusable simply
because Jefferies' name is likely to gain for them still more of the
consideration and support which they deserve, for it may be hoped
that our day is ready to receive the seed of trouble and advance
contained in the modest suggestion which he believed to be
compatible with 'the acquisition of public and the preservation of
private liberty.'

['We now govern our village ourselves;] why should we not
possess our village? Why should we not live in our own houses?
Why should we not have a little share in the land, as much, at
least, as we can pay for?... Can an owner of this kind of
property be permitted to refuse to sell? Must he be compelled to

Twenty-five years ago Jefferies, knowing that neither land nor
cottages were to be had, that there was no security of tenure for
the labourer, hoped for the day when 'some, at least, of our people
may be able to set up homes for themselves in their own country.' He
believed that 'the greater his freedom, the greater his attachment
to home, the more settled the labourer,' the firmer would become the
position of labourer, farmer, and landowner. Yet an advanced
reformer of our own day - Mr. Montague Fordham in 'Mother Earth' - has
still to cry the same thing in the wilderness; and it is still true
that 'you cannot have a fixed population unless it has a home, and
the labouring population is practically homeless.' On the other
hand, it should be remembered that Jefferies also says: 'Parks and
woods are becoming of priceless value; we should have to preserve a
few landowners, if only to have parks and woods.'

These later articles are far more persuasive than their
predecessors, for here there is no doubt, not merely that they are
sincere, but that they are the unprejudiced opinion of the man as
well as of the agriculturist. He has ceased to be concerned only
with things as they are, or as they may be made to-morrow. He allows
himself to think as much of justice as of expediency, of what is
fitting as well as of what is at once possible. The phrases,
'Sentiment is more stubborn than fact,' 'Service is no inheritance,'
'I do not want any paupers,' 'I should not like men under my thumb,'
'Men demanding to be paid in full for full work, but refusing
favours and petty assistance to be recouped hereafter; ... men with
the franchise, voting under the protection of the ballot, and voting
first and foremost for the demolition of the infernal Poor Law and
workhouse system' - these simple phrases fall with peculiar and even
pathetic force, in their context, from the mystic optimist whom pain
was ripening fast in those last years. Even here he uses phrases
like 'the serious work which brings in money' and commends 'push and
enterprise' as a substitute for 'the slow plodding manner of the
labourer.' But these are exceptional. As to the writing itself, of
which this is an example,

'By home life I mean that which gathers about a house, however
small, standing in its own grounds. Something comes into
existence about such a house, an influence, a pervading feeling,
like some warm colour softening the whole, tinting the lichen on
the wall, even the very smoke-marks on the chimney. It is home,
and the men and women born there will never lose the tone it has
given them. Such homes are the strength of a land'

- it remains simple; but by the use of far fewer words, and of fewer
orator's phrases, its unadorned directness has almost a positive
spiritual quality.

But these agricultural essays, good as they were, and absorbing as
they did all of Jefferies' social thoughts to the end of his life,
became less and less frequent as he grew less inclined and less able
to adapt his mind and style to the affairs of the moment.

In the same year as 'The Story of Swindon' he published 'Village
Churches' and 'Marlborough Forest' (_Graphic_, December 4 and
October 23, 1875). These and his unsuccessful novels remain to show
the direction of his more intimate thoughts in the third decade of
his life. They are as imperfect in their class as 'The Story of
Swindon' is perfect in its own. They are the earliest of their kind
from Jefferies' pen which have survived. He is dealing already with
another and a more individual kind of reality, and he is not yet at
home with it in words. He approaches it with ceremony - with the
ceremony of phrases like 'the great painter Autumn,' 'a very tiger
to the rabbit,' 'the titles and pomp of belted earl and knight.' But
here for the first time he is so bent upon himself and his object
that he casts only an occasional glance upon his audience, whereas
in his practical papers he has it continually in view, or even ready
to jog his elbow if he dreams. The full English hedges, which he
condemns as an agriculturist, he would now save from the modern
Goths; he can even be sorry for the death of beautiful jays. Here,
for the first time, it might occur to a student of the man that he
is more than his words express. He does not see Nature as he sees
the factory, and when he and Nature touch there is an emotional
discharge which blurs the sight, though presently it is to enrich
it. As yet we cannot be sure whether he is perfectly genuine or is
striving for an effect based upon a recollection of someone
else - probably it is both - when he writes:

'The heart has a yearning for the unknown, a longing to
penetrate the deep shadow and the winding glade, where, as it
seems, no human foot has been';

when he speaks of the '_visible_ silence' of the old church, or

'To us, each hour is of consequence, especially in this modern
day, which has invented the detestable creed that time is money.
But time is not money to Nature. She never hastens....'

But already he is expressing a thought, which he was often to repeat
in his maturity and in his best work, when he says of the
church-bell that 'In the day when this bell was made, men put their
souls into their works. Their one great object was not to turn out
100,000 all alike.'

It was in the next year, 1876, that he began to think of using his
observation and feeling in a 'chatty style,' of setting down 'some
of the glamour - the magic of sunshine, and green things, and clear
waters.' But it was not until 1878 that he succeeded in doing so.
In 'The Amateur Poacher' and its companions, there was not between
Jefferies and Nature the colourless, clear light of the factory or

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