Tuesday, 20 February 2007

Richard Jefferies encounter by WH Hudson


Nature in Downland, 1900: page 14

…Jefferies was much in my mind just now because by chance I happened to be writing this introductory chapter in the last house he inhabited, and where he died, in the small village of Goring, between the sea and the West Sussex downs.

A strange, I had almost said mysterious, adventure befell me as I came hither. On a cloudy melancholy day in September I came in search of this cottage, walking to the church by a narrow lane with a low trim wall- like hedge on either side, my thoughts were of Jefferies, who had doubtless often walked here too, feeling the icy hand on him of one that walked invisible at his side. My mind was full of sadness, when, hearing the crunching of gravel beneath other feet than my own, I suddenly looked up, and behold, there before me stood the man himself, back on earth in the guise of a tramp! It was a most extraordinary coincidence that at such a moment I should have come face to face with this poor outcast and wanderer who had the Jefferies countenance as I knew it from portraits and descriptions. It was the long thoughtful suffering face, long straight nose, flowing brown beard, and rather large full blue eyes. I was startled at the expression, the unmistakable stamp of a misery that was anguish and near to despair and insanity. He passed me, then paused, and after a moment or two, said hesitatingly, “Can you spare a penny?” I gave him something without looking at his face again, and went on my way sorry that I had met him, fo I knew that those miserable eyes would continue to haunt me.

Here, sitting in the room that was his – the author of the strange Story - the morning sun filling it with brightest light, the sounds he listened to coming in at the open window – the intermittent whispering of the foliage and the deeper continuous whisper of the near sea, and cries and calls of so many birds that come and go in the garden, each “deep in his day’s employ” - I cannot but think of him and lament again that he was prematurely torn away from this living green world he worshipped…

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