Friday, 4 March 2011


The Gatehouse

Burderop House

(In Jefferies’ time, Burderop Park was owned by the Calley family. The house is now owned by Halcrow)

Extract from Round about a Great Estate
Richard Jefferies, 1880

The great house at Okebourne Chace stands in the midst of the park, and from the southern windows no dwellings are visible. Near at hand the trees appear isolated, but further away insensibly gather together, and above them rises the distant Down crowned with four tumuli. ..
In the enclosed portion of the park at Okebourne the boughs of the trees descended and swept the sward. Nothing but sheep being permitted to graze there, the trees grew in their natural form, the lower limbs drooping downwards to the ground. Hedgerow timber is usually ‘stripped’ up at intervals, and the bushes, too, interfere with the expansion of the branches; while the boughs of trees standing in the open fields are nibbled off by cattle. But in that part of the park no cattle had fed in the memory of man; so that the lower limbs, drooping by their own weight, came arching to the turf. Each tree thus made a perfect bower.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Red Deer

In June 1882 Jefferies visited Exmoor, a vast expanse of high moorland intersected by deep wooded coombes covering part of West Somerset and North Devon. The resulting book, Red Deer, is a natural history of the moorland red deer and a detailed account of the methods of hunting them, for which Jefferies owed much to the first-hand information given to him by Arthur Heal, huntsman to the Devon and Somerset staghounds.

The book concentrates on the Somerset sector of Exmoor which includes the heartland of deer hunting - the dramatic landscape around Dunkery Beacon and Horner which falls away to the Bristol Channel at Porlock. Deer were known on occasions to swim out to sea in a last effort to escape the pursuing hounds. A lively and expertly-researched book, Red Deer also includes much information on the topography and climate of Exmoor and the customs and outlook of its inhabitants. I have chosen the excerpts below to provide some background to the deer hunting and have not included any of the vivid, and sometimes harrowing, descriptions of the chase. Stags and hinds were hunted separately and at different times of the year.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Toilers of the Field

The blackbird's whistle is very human, like a human being playing the flute; an uncertain player, now drawing forth a bar of a beautiful melody—then losing it again. He does not know what quiver or what turn his note will take before it ends; the note leads him and completes itself. It is a song which strives to express the singer's keen delight, the singer's exquisite appreciation of the loveliness of the days; the golden glory of the meadow, the light, the luxurious shadows, the indolent clouds reclining on their azure couch. Such thoughts can only be ex­pressed in fragments, like a sculptor's chips, thrown off as the inspiration seizes him, not mechanically sawn to a set line. Now and again the blackbird feels the beauty of the time, the large white daisy stars, the grass with yellow-dusted tips, the air which comes so softly un-perceived by any precedent rustle of the hedge, the water which runs slower, held awhile by rootlet, flag, and forget-me-not. He feels the beauty of the time, and he must say it. His notes come like wild-flowers, not sown in order. The sunshine opens and shuts the stops of his instrument. — 'The Toilers of the Field': The Coming of Summer.

Field and Hedgerow

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 springtime are expressed in his song. Genius is nature and his lay, like the sap in the bough from which he sings, rises without thought. —' Field and Hedgerow': Hours of Spring.

Nature near London

The sun at his meridian pours forth his light, forgetting, in all the inspiration of his strength and glory, that without an altar-screen of green his love must scorch. Joy in life; joy in life. The ears listen, and want more; the eyes are gratified with gazing, and desire yet further; the nostrils are filled with the sweet odours of flower and sap. The touch, too, has its pleasures, dallying with leaf and flower. Can you not almost grasp the odour-laden air and hold it in the hollow of the hand? — ' Nature near London': Woodlands.

Amaryllis at the Fair

Did ever any one have a beauti­ful idea or feeling without be­ing repulsed?—'Amaryllis at the Fair.'

Life of the Fields

Human thoughts and imagin­ings written down are pale and feeble in bright summer light. The eye wanders away, and rests more lovingly on greensward and green lime leaves. The mind wanders yet deeper and farther into the dreamy mystery of the azure sky. . . The delicacy and beauty of thought or feeling is so extreme that it cannot be inked in; it is like the green and blue of field and sky, of veronica flower and grass blade, which in their own existence throw light and beauty on each other, but in artificial colours repel . . . Never yet have I been able to write what I felt about the sunlight only. Colour and form and light are as magic to me. It is a trance. It requires a language of ideas to convey it. It is ten years since I last reclined on that grass plot, and yet I have been writing of it as if it was yesterday, and every blade of grass is as visible and real to me now as then.— 'The Life of the Fields': Meadow Thoughts.

The Pageant of Summer

Though not often consciously recognised, perhaps this is the great pleasure of summer, to watch the earth, the dead particles, revolving themselves into the living case of life, to see the seed-leaf push aside the clod and become by degrees the perfumed flower. From the tiny mottled egg come the wings that by-and-by shall pass the immense sea. It is in this marvellous transformation of clods and cold matter into living things that the joy and the hope of summer reside. Every blade of grass, each leaf, each separate floret and petal, is an inscription speaking of hope. Consider the grasses and the oaks, the swallows, the sweet blue butterfly—they are one and all a sign and token showing before our eyes earth made into life. So that my hope becomes as broad as the horizon afar, reiterated by every leaf, sung on every bough, reflected in the gleam of every flower. There is so much for us yet to come, so much to be gathered, and enjoyed. Not for you or me, now, but for our race, who will ultimately use this magical secret for their happiness. Earth holds secrets enough to give them the life of the fabled Immortals. My heart is fixed firm and stable in the belief that ulti­mately the sunshine and the summer, the flowers and the azure sky, shall become, as it were, interwoven into man's existence. He shall take from all their beauty and enjoy their glory. Hence it is that a flower is to me so much more than stalk and petals. When I look in the glass I see that every line in my face means pessimism; but in spite of my face—that is my experience —I remain an optimist. Time with an unsteady hand has etched thin crooked lines, and, deepening the hollows, has cast the original expression into shadow. Pain and sorrow flow over us with little ceasing, as the sea-hoofs beat on the beach. Let us not look at ourselves but onwards, and take strength from the leaf and the signs of the field. He is in­deed despicable who cannot look onwards to the ideal life of man. Not to do so is to deny our birthright of mind.—'The Life of the Fields': The Pageant of Summer.

The Story of my Heart

I was not more than eighteen when an inner and esoteric meaning began to come to me from all the visible universe, and indefinable aspira­tions filled me. I found them in the grass fields, under the trees, on the hill-tops, at sunrise, and in the night. There was a deeper meaning every­where. The sun burned with it, the broad front of morning beamed with it; a deep feeling entered me while gazing at the sky in the azure noon, and in the star-lit evening.—' The Story of my Heart.'1

The Dewy Morn

Waylen's (1895) selections from The Dewy Morn:

The streamlet in the woods is full before the dove alights to drink at it; the flower in the grass has expanded before the butterfly comes. A great passion does not leap into existence as violets sprang up beneath the white feet of Aphrodite. It has grown first. The grapes have ripened in the sun before they are plucked for wine.—' The Dewy Morn.'

Saturday, 1 November 2008

'Wild Flowers' - The Open Air

All the world is young to a boy, and thought has not entered into it; even the old men with grey hair do not seem old; different but not aged, the idea of age has not been mastered. A boy has to frown and study, and then does not grasp what long years mean. The various hues of the petals pleased without any knowledge of colour-contrasts, no note even of colour except that it was bright, and the mind was made happy without consideration of those ideals and hopes associated with the azure sky above the fir tree. A fresh footpath, a fresh flower, a fresh delight. The reeds, the grasses, the rushes - unknown and new things at every step - something always to find; no barren spot anywhere, or sameness. Every day the grass painted anew, and its green seen for the first time; not the old green, but a novel hue and spectacle, like the first view of the sea.

'On the Downs' - The Hills and the Vale

The wind blows, and declares that the mind has capacity for more than has ever yet been brought to it. The wind is wide, and blows not only here, but along the whole range of hills - the hills are not broad enough for it; nor is the sea - it comes across the ocean and spreads itself whither it will. Though invisible, it is material, and yet it knows no limit. As the wind to the fixed boulder lying deep in the sward, so is the immaterial mind to the wind. There is capacity in it for more than has ever yet been placed before it. No system, no philosophy yet organized in logical sequence satisfies the inmost depth - fills and fully occupies the well of thought. Read the system and with the last word it is over - the mind passes on and requires more...


Add your favourite quotes from Bevis: a story of a boy in the comments section.

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The heavens were as much a part of life as the elms, the oak, the house, the garden and orchard, the meadow and the brook. They were no more separated than the furniture of the parlour, than the old oak chair where he [Bevis] sat, and saw the new moon shine over the mulberry tree. They were neither above nor beneath, they were in the same place with him; just as when you walk in a wood the trees are all about you, on a plane with you, so he felt the constellations and the sun on a plane with him, and that he was moving among them as the earth rolled on, like them, with them, in the stream of space.

The Amateur Poacher

Add your favourite quotes from The Amateur Poacher in the comments section.

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Let us always be out of doors among trees and grass, and rain and wind and sun. There the breeze comes and strikes the cheek and sets it aglow: the gale increases and the trees creak and roar, but it is only a ruder music. A calm follows, the sun shines in the sky, and it is the time to sit under an oak, leaning against the bark, while the birds sing and the air is soft and sweet.