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of land, are the possibilities of sport or the beauty of the demesne.
What Richard Jefferies loved—the untutored beauty of the woods, the wilderness of down and heather, or the old manor house where old shadowy days, melted into night three centuries since, have left a little of their twilight in the hall; where there is a dream in every chair, and where romance has grown richer with age like the colour of the oak. These, once the ideal possessions, and coveted only by the few, and most politely born, are now appreciated by the many, and have become convertible into the gold of the London money market. Of this for proof we have only to turn to any newspaper of to-day. Let me take this one, as a sample of many others, an advertisement from the Field newspaper of September the 3rd :
Ancient Mansion, of Elizabethan period preferred, Wanted to purchase; any part of England will do, and preference will be given to house that has not been restored or modernized in any way; a large quantity of land not required. Address, “ R. J. V.," care of Messrs. Osborn & Mercer, 28B, Albemarle Street, Piccadilly, W.
If we turn to the types of opinion around which this reverence has intertwined itself, it is one of the pleasantest contradictions of advanced Radicalism that it has saved to the nation the weird and romantic beauty of Epping Forest, and stayed the hand of the wood farmer and larch planter in the unrivalled glades of primæval timber of the New Forest.
Amid the rise and fall of mushroom millionaires-the race to make and the race to spend there is, as indeed there should be, a growing respect and regard for the incomparable beauty which centuries of family pride and family self-denial have created, and lovingly preserved, in the multitudes of fine places and woodlands of ancient timber that are scattered throughout the country, and that, like the portraits of Vandyke, plead the pathos and story of English history.
In no part of England is all this so conspicuous as in those southern countries of which Richard Jefferies wrote. I know of no greater contrast, nothing which tells more graphically the history of the two countries, than the dreary and treeless plains of France across which has swept, uprooted and destroyed, every phase of revolution and violence, with the peaceful and smiling entrance into England through the fruitful county of Kent, studded as it is with fine trees and places.
The southern counties have not only enjoyed more sunshine and more genial climate wherewith nature can adorn herself; but as their wealth has been that of sky and landscape, so they have not been endowed with that mineral wealth which destroys the one and obscures the other.
There are parts of Wiltshire and Dorset that lie to the south
of Salisbury, a wild land of downs and heath which adjoins the New Forest, that corresponds with the description of Kingswood in Sir Percival, that stood in the centre of an agricultural and wooded country, and was immediately surrounded by miles of chase and forest untouched since the Saxon time, when it had been the favourite hunting-ground of King and Etheling.
In a little pamphlet, entitled Reporting, Editing, and Authorship, published by John Snow & Co., Jefferies says: “To create a taste in the public requires a great genius; it is, therefore, wisest to study the existing taste, and so cast the story that it may suit the fashion of the day.” The writing of Richard Jefferies describes, in express language, a growing passion which exists among all classes for the things in which he delighted. “We often hear of the doomed days of shooting. My experience points in a very different direction. The depression in agriculture is very severe, and yet there is hardly a young farmer who does not take out a license, and very excellent shots many of them are. Moreover, while there are corresponding objections and troubles, there is no doubt that the facility of acquiring shooting resulting from the impoverishment of the landowning class, has opened out the sport very largely to a class who before found some difficulty in partaking of it. Everything that brings the capitalist in the towns into a practical acquaintance with the enjoyments of the country must benefit the agriculturalist, and (2) it must tend to dispel the ridiculous prejudice and jealousy which, born of ignorance, is directed against a class who receive less interest for their capital than that of any other body of men. That the public taste is attracted to other natural pleasures experienced by Richard Jefferies is established beyond controversy--open spaces, "the open air,” flowers, for these the craving is general and growing; it is a part, and by no means an unimportant part, of that general belief which is sinking deep into our hearts, that just as the social reformer is acquiring the interest formerly attached to the politician, so the removal of social evils and the creation of healthy and happier conditions—better homes in the towns for the poor, homes which are not so miserable as to make the miseries of the gin-palace a brighter alternative—and a more general knowledge of the laws of health and healthy living must precede the development of any finer conceptions of religious or human duties.
Jefferies puts into the language of poetry a thought which must have come home to many of us. Speaking of the wood pigeons he says : “ They have not laboured in mental searching as we have; they have not wasted their time looking among empty straw for the grain that is not there; they have been in the sunlight. Since the days of ancient Greece the doves have remained in the sunshine; we who have laboured have found nothing. In the
sunshine by the shady verge of woods, by the sweet waters where the wild dove sips, there alone will thought be found. To him the solitude and silence of nature are not as it appears to many morbid writers the voices of remorse, regret, retaliation. Nature speaks to him of herself, and through herself, of higher things beyond. He could commune with her as an agreeable and cheerful companion, full of incident and anecdote, and not, as she is so often represented, the confessor of our own egotism, or of our own dreary and foolish fancies. “I was,” says Richard Jefferies, sensitive to all things, to the earth under and the star hollow round about, to the least blade of grass, to the largest oak. They seemed like exterior nerves and veins for the conveyance of feeling to me; sometimes a very ecstasy of exquisite enjoyment of the entire visible universe filled me.”
Such is a happy and indeed a practical philosophy; one which in these days might teach us a great deal. To increase the happiness of the many is for ever on our lips; it is one of the leading mottoes of our political cant, but how much more effective would be such a wish if it fell from the lips of those in whose own natures there was a sunshine that could to others be transmitted.
In conclusion, I would fain say a few words in relation to the mystical philosophy of which Richard Jefferies imbibed so deeply, and of which all of us have more or less imbibed, to whom the eternities—for nature, while ever changing, never dies—of nature have appealed.
In Mr. Shorthouse the grace of English scenery, by him usually associated with an idealised aristocracy, the glories of Kingswood, its pleasance, chase and halls of twilight and of tapestry awaken the feelings of a High Church sacramentalist. To him it is the story of religion as told by the Church that seems to touch, and touching, transfuse with an increased glory the wonders of creation. To Jefferies there is also a deep religious sense, but of a different kind. “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.” With Jefferies the wonders of creation excite a humility, a sense of how limitless is the knowledge of facts, but how limited and circumscribed the knowledge of thought; as he says, ever the same thoughts come that have been written down centuries and centuries. To him nature is an incomprehensible religion in itself rather than the medium for revealing the doctrines of any particular religious system. “Sweet," he says, “is the bitter sea, and the clear green in which the gaze seeks the soul looking through the glass into itself, the sea thinks for me as I VOL. X.
listen and ponder; the sea thinks, and every boom of the wave repeats my prayer; my soul rising to the immensity utters its desire prayer with all the strength of the sea, or again, the full stream of ocean beats upon the shore, and the rich wind feeds the heart, the sun burns brightly; the sense of soul life burns in me like a torch.” Every page, every line I might say, of the writings of Richard Jefferies contradicts that hopeless and dreary philosophy of materialism which is accepted by those whose study of nature is not with eyes of love, but purely mechanical, of the laboratory only. Immortality is everywhere, around him and before him, nay, it is the sense with him of absolute incapacity to realise the immensity of this spiritual life which makes him feel the incompleteness and inadequacy of the definition of the religious mystery by any particular creed or church. Just as Marcus Aurelius asks “What is earth but a point, how small a corner is occupied ! who and what are they who are about to cry thee up?" so Jefferies felt that as the sky extended beyond the valley, so there are ideas beyond the valley of our thoughts. “Beyond and over the horizon I feel that there are other waves of ideas unknown to me, flowing as the stream of ocean flows.” In this there is a general agreement. To one and all upon whom has fallen nature's spell, to Shorthouse as well as to Jefferies, there is the feeling that ideas are beyond the power of language, that our immortal nature cannot be communicated through the medium of what is human and mortal.
For all that is revered by the various religious systems that belong to various races and climes this philosophy offers a reverence deep and profound. It is the philosophy of humility rather than of dogmatism, but just as Shorthouse and Jefferies have each in different ways attuned our minds to a higher interpretation of natural philosophy, so would it teach us to find a fresh sense and a quickening vitality of enjoyment in all that is around and among us.
Though it was now broad day, a gentle trace
Of light, diviner than the common sun,
Was filled with magic sounds woven into one
Amid the gliding waves and shadows dun.
OUR FIRST AMPHICTYONIC COUNCIL.
In his address of welcome to the members of the Colonial Conference, Lord Salisbury observed, This meeting, we are all sensible, is the beginning of a state of things which will have great results in the future. It will be the parent of a long progeniture, and distant Councils of the Empire may, in some far-off time, look back to the meeting in this room as the root whence all their greatness and all their significance have sprung.” To those, therefore, who carefully watch some of the deeper currents of our Imperial life, and anticipate the course of history, these words seem to convey no idle prophecy or extravagant fancy. The Conference has met and dispersed, and the delegates have returned to their colonies well satisfied with their work, their reception, and the character of the inaugural meeting in London, which has neither belied its Imperial function, nor falsified our Prime Minister's anticipations. As far as the main object is concerned, it has been a success, and a business programme of the utmost value carried to a practical conclusion. Those who predicted that an Imperial or Colonial Conference, vested with advisory and consultative functions only, would be a failure, have been grievously disappointed. It has been found possible to consult in London, and also to act in unison with the Colonial Legislatures several thousand miles away. Thanks to the cable, the proceedings of our metropolitan meeting could be known and commented upon in every colonial centre within the space of a few hours. The scheme for the naval defence of the Colonies, which was submitted to the Conference, on April 18, by the First Lord of the Admiralty, was approved of by the Victorian, Queensland, and South Australian Cabinets on April 22, by Tasmania and Western Australian on April 25. New Zealand replied on the 23rd, and accepted the proposals with two provisoes, that two war-ships should be stationed in New Zealand waters, and also that the Australasian Colonies agreed en masse with the Imperial plan. In New South Wales there was hesitation, Sir Henry Parkes, the Premier, declaring that he regarded the Conference as one of consultation only, and that he was unable, therefore, to commit the Colony to a definite agreement. This reply was received by telegram on