Thursday, 13 November 2014

Of idle days afoot in England and Patagonia






A new addition to my reading pile is Afoot in England by W.H. Hudson, perhaps the least heralded member of a loose triumvirate of pioneering writers on the natural history, landscape and rural way of life of Southern England alongside Richard Jefferies and Edward Thomas; influential ever since, particularly on the work of Robert Macfarlane who provides a foreword to the book that has whetted my appetite with its talk of the ‘deep-English supernaturalism’ and ‘pastoral psychogeography’ contained within.




Little Toller Books have re-published A Shepherd's Life, Hudson's story of a shepherd grazing his flocks on the borders of Wiltshire, Hampshire and Dorset. Here is their summary of his life and work:

"W.H. HUDSON (1841 – 1922) William Henry Hudson was born in Argentina, son of Anglo-American settlers. As a youth he spent much time wandering alone in the Pampas, studying its wildlife and encountering gauchos, whose nomadic, shepherding life left a deep impression. In 1869 he moved to England, settling first in London where he lived in poverty until the award of a Civil List pension in 1901. Success finally came with a novel, Green Mansions (1904), but he is best known for A Shepherd’s Life (1910), his ornithological writings, and an autobiographical memoir, Far Away and Long Ago (1918). He was also a pioneering conservationist and a founding member of the RSPB. He is buried in Worthing, West Sussex, in the same cemetery as Richard Jefferies. He is a national literary treasure in Argentina, where several public institutions and a town are named after him."

I first came across Hudson whilst looking for local writings in a bookshop in Ushuaia, the southern-most city of Argentina, where I happened upon the superbly named Idle Days In Patagonia in which the author describes the minutiae of the natural history encountered during his wanderings across the vast expanses of the Patagonian plains and Andean foothills. It was captivating reading whilst travelling across this landscape, but little did I then know of his prodigious output of novels and non-fiction and closer to home observations. A pioneer walker-philosopher chronicling a world and a landscape that now seem distant beyond years.  

The last words to Hudson from Afoot in England: "In walking ... there are alleviations which may be more to us than positive pleasures, and scenes to delight the eye that are missed by the wheelman in his haste, or but dimly seen or vaguely surmised in passing - green refreshing nooks and crystal streamlets, and shadowey woodland depths with glimpses of a blue sky beyond - all in the wilderness of the human heart".







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