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Wild Life in a Southern County   By: (1848-1887)

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Wild Life in a Southern County By Richard Jefferies Published by Smith, Elder, & Co, London. This edition dated 1879. Wild Life in a Southern County, by Richard Jefferies.



There is a frontier line to civilisation in this country yet, and not far outside its great centres we come quickly even now on the borderland of nature. Modern progress, except where it has exterminated them, has scarcely touched the habits of bird or animal; so almost up to the very houses of the metropolis the nightingale yearly returns to her former haunts. If we go a few hours' journey only, and then step just beyond the highway where the steam ploughing engine has left the mark of its wide wheels on the dust and glance into the hedgerow, the copse, or stream, there are nature's children as unrestrained in their wild, free life as they were in the veritable backwoods of primitive England. So, too, in some degree with the tillers of the soil: old manners and customs linger, and there seems an echo of the past in the breadth of their pronunciation.

But a difficulty confronts the explorer who would carry away a note of what he has seen, because nature is not cut and dried to hand, nor easily classified, each subject shading gradually into another. In studying the ways, for instance, of so common a bird as the starling it cannot be separated from the farmhouse in the thatch of which it often breeds, the rooks with whom it associates, or the friendly sheep upon whose backs it sometimes rides. Since the subjects are so closely connected, it is best, perhaps, to take the places they prefer for the convenience of division, and group them as far as possible in the districts they usually frequent.

The following chapters have, therefore, been so arranged as to correspond in some degree with the contour of the country. Commencing at the highest spot, an ancient entrenchment on the Downs has been chosen as the starting place from whence to explore the uplands. Beneath the hill a spring breaks forth, and, tracing its course downwards, there next come the village and the hamlet. Still farther the streamlet becomes a broad brook, flowing through meadows in the midst of which stands a solitary farmhouse. The house itself, the garden and orchard, are visited by various birds and animals. In the fields immediately around in the great hedges and the copse are numerous others, and an expedition is made to the forest. Returning to the farm again as a centre, the rookery remains to be examined, and the ways and habits of the inhabitants of the hedges. Finally come the fish and wild fowl of the brook and lake; finishing in the Vale.




The most commanding down is crowned with the grassy mound and trenches of an ancient earthwork, from whence there is a noble view of hill and plain. The inner slope of the green fosse is inclined at an angle pleasant to recline on, with the head just below the edge, in the summer sunshine. A faint sound as of a sea heard in a dream a sibilant `sish, sish,' passes along outside, dying away and coming again as a fresh wave of the wind rushes through the bennets and the dry grass. There is the happy hum of bees who love the hills as they speed by laden with their golden harvest, a drowsy warmth, and the delicious odour of wild thyme. Behind the fosse sinks, and the rampart rises high and steep two butterflies are wheeling in uncertain flight over the summit. It is only necessary to raise the head a little way, and the cool breeze refreshes the cheek cool at this height while the plains beneath glow under the heat... Continue reading book >>

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