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- The Life of the Fields - 1/32 -


THE LIFE OF THE FIELDS

BY RICHARD JEFFERIES

My thanks are due to those editors who have so kindly permitted me to reprint the following pages:--"The Field-Play" appeared in _Time_; "Bits of Oak Bark" and "The Pageant of Summer" in _Longman's Magazine_; "Meadow Thoughts" and "Mind under Water" in _The Graphic_; "Clematis Lane," "Nature near Brighton," "Sea, Sky, and Down," "January in the Sussex Woods," and "By the Exe" in _The Standard_; "Notes on Landscape Painting," in _The Magazine of Art_; "Village Miners," in _The Gentleman's Magazine_; "Nature and the Gamekeeper," "The Sacrifice to Trout," "The Hovering of the Kestrel," and "Birds Climbing the Air," in _The St. James's Gazette_; "Sport and Science," in _The National Review_; "The Water-Colley," in _The Manchester Guardian_; "Country Literature," "Sunlight in a London Square," "Venice in the East End," "The Pigeons at the British Museum," and "The Plainest City in Europe," in _The Pall Mall Gazette_.

RICHARD JEFFERIES

CONTENTS

THE PAGEANT OF SUMMER

THE FIELD PLAY: I. UPTILL-A-THORN II. RURAL DYNAMITE

BITS OF OAK BARK: I. THE ACORN-GATHERER II. THE LEGEND OF A GATEWAY III. A ROMAN BROOK

MEADOW THOUGHTS

CLEMATIS LANE

NATURE NEAR BRIGHTON

SEA, SKY, AND DOWN

JANUARY IN THE SUSSEX WOODS

BY THE EXE

THE WATER-COLLEY

NOTES ON LANDSCAPE PAINTING

VILLAGE MINERS

MIND UNDER WATER

SPORT AND SCIENCE

NATURE AND THE GAMEKEEPER

THE SACRIFICE TO TROUT

THE HOVERING OF THE KESTREL

BIRDS CLIMBING THE AIR

COUNTRY LITERATURE: I. THE AWAKENING. II. SCARCITY OF BOOKS III. THE VILLAGER'S TASTE IN READING IV. PLAN OF DISTRIBUTION

SUNLIGHT IN A LONDON SQUARE

VENICE IN THE EAST END.

THE PIGEONS AT THE BRITISH MUSEUM

THE PLAINEST CITY IN EUROPE

THE PAGEANT OF SUMMER

I

Green rushes, long and thick, standing up above the edge of the ditch, told the hour of the year as distinctly as the shadow on the dial the hour of the day. Green and thick and sappy to the touch, they felt like summer, soft and elastic, as if full of life, mere rushes though they were. On the fingers they left a green scent; rushes have a separate scent of green, so, too, have ferns, very different to that of grass or leaves. Rising from brown sheaths, the tall stems enlarged a little in the middle, like classical columns, and heavy with their sap and freshness, leaned against the hawthorn sprays. From the earth they had drawn its moisture, and made the ditch dry; some of the sweetness of the air had entered into their fibres, and the rushes--the common rushes--were full of beautiful summer. The white pollen of early grasses growing on the edge was dusted from them each time the hawthorn boughs were shaken by a thrush. These lower sprays came down in among the grass, and leaves and grass-blades touched. Smooth round stems of angelica, big as a gun-barrel, hollow and strong, stood on the slope of the mound, their tiers of well-balanced branches rising like those of a tree. Such a sturdy growth pushed back the ranks of hedge parsley in full white flower, which blocked every avenue and winding bird's-path of the bank. But the "gix," or wild parsnip, reached already high above both, and would rear its fluted stalk, joint on joint, till it could face a man. Trees they were to the lesser birds, not even bending if perched on; but though so stout, the birds did not place their nests on or against them. Something in the odour of these umbelliferous plants, perhaps, is not quite liked; if brushed or bruised they give out a bitter greenish scent. Under their cover, well shaded and hidden, birds build, but not against or on the stems, though they will affix their nests to much less certain supports. With the grasses that overhung the edge, with the rushes in the ditch itself, and these great plants on the mound, the whole hedge was wrapped and thickened. No cunning of glance could see through it; it would have needed a ladder to help any one look over.

It was between the may and the June roses. The may-bloom had fallen, and among the hawthorn boughs were the little green bunches that would feed the redwings in autumn. High up the briars had climbed, straight and towering while there was a thorn, or an ash sapling, or a yellow-green willow to uphold them, and then curving over towards the meadow. The buds were on them, but not yet open; it was between the may and the rose.

As the wind, wandering over the sea, takes from each wave an invisible portion, and brings to those on shore the ethereal essence of ocean, so the air lingering among the woods and hedges--green waves and billows--became full of fine atoms of summer. Swept from notched hawthorn leaves, broad-topped oak-leaves, narrow ash sprays and oval willows; from vast elm cliffs and sharp-taloned brambles under; brushed from the waving grasses and stiffening corn, the dust of the sunshine was borne along and breathed. Steeped in flower and pollen to the music of bees and birds, the stream of the atmosphere became a living thing. It was life to breathe it, for the air itself was life. The strength of the earth went up through the leaves into the wind. Fed thus on the food of the Immortals, the heart opened to the width and depth of the summer--to the broad horizon afar, down to the minutest creature in the grass, up to the highest swallow. Winter shows us Matter in its dead form, like the Primary rocks, like granite and basalt--clear but cold and frozen crystal. Summer shows us Matter changing into life, sap rising from the earth through a million tubes, the alchemic power of light entering the solid oak; and see! it bursts forth in countless leaves. Living things leap in the grass, living things drift upon the air, living things are coming forth to breathe in every hawthorn bush. No longer does the immense weight of Matter--the dead, the crystallised--press ponderously on the thinking mind. The whole office of Matter is to feed life--to feed the green rushes, and the roses that are about to be; to feed the swallows above, and us that wander beneath them. So much greater is this ween and common rush than all the Alps.

Fanning so swiftly, the wasp's wings are but just visible as he passes; did he pause, the light would he apparent through their texture. On the wings of the dragon-fly as he hovers an instant before he darts there is a prismatic gleam. These wing textures are even more delicate than the minute filaments on a swallow's quill, more delicate than the pollen of a flower. They are formed of matter indeed, but how exquisitely it is resolved into the means and organs of life! Though not often consciously recognised, perhaps this is the great pleasure of summer, to watch the earth, the dead particles, resolving 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 and 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 long grass flowing towards the hedge has reared in a wave against it. Along the hedge it is higher and greener, and rustles into the very


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