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The new nature books cause one reader to turn admiringly to an old master
J. A. Maxtone Graham
December 06, 1965
Nature writing is a kind of industry these days, with numberless authors following birds and beasts in the hope of trapping them into a bestseller. The boom comes just about a century too late to do any good for Richard Jefferies. It is a pity for he could have used the money, and he was a writer of such skill and integrity as to deserve the best in reputation and fortune. He may be in for a revival, for—though he is not widely read—there is a flourishing Richard Jefferies Society, whose members live in places as far apart as Paris, France and Houston, Texas. Jefferies was born in 1848, the son of a small farmer who owned 40 acres (called Coate Farm) in Wiltshire, England. He grew up on the farm, and as a boy often sneaked away from his chores to walk with his gun to the bare uncultivated downland that lay beyond a nearby hill. Sometimes he would come back hours later with no shot fired for, in the act of raising his gun to his shoulder, he would observe a new peculiarity of the flight of the pigeon, or watch, for the hundredth time, a rabbit, thumping its hind legs on the ground as a signal of danger; and his long sensitive forefinger would slowly stray away from the unpulled trigger.
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December 06, 1965

The New Nature Books Cause One Reader To Turn Admiringly To An Old Master

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Jefferies was, perhaps, a product of his age. As the center of British life shifted for the first time from the open country to the grime, smoke and congestion of the city, people increasingly wished to be reminded of that nine-tenths of the land which they could never know more intimately than through an occasional weekend visit. Certainly, many have followed him in his trade, and England now has 500 new books a year on agriculture, natural history and related subjects. But there will seldom be another who, like Thoreau, could write a whole compelling page about a single leaf, an essay on the living things around a particular ditch or an entire book by sitting observantly in one field.

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