Evidence for Wild-Fowling (St. James’s Gazette, 4 December 1885)

In his analysis of this article in The Jefferies Canon (1995) W.J. Keith describes it as ‘puzzling’, for its focus on wildfowl shooting on the fens and sea is ‘an aspect of sport not generally considered within Jefferies’ range’. Samuel Looker had included the item in one of his lists of Jefferies’ works, but without explanation of why he had attributed it to the author. Matthews and Trietel suggest that in the article Jefferies was writing in his ‘old “outdoor” style’ (Keith, 1995), and Keith asserts that ‘the argument for Jefferies’ authorship would, I think, need to lay heavy stress on a shift in his subject-matter from personal observation to acquired knowledge in the last years of rapidly failing health’. At the time of authorship Jefferies was living in Crowborough. It was a difficult year. Jefferies lost his baby son in March, and the family moved house twice. Boys Firmin recalls meeting Jefferies in the fields, and described him as ‘poor and ‘not understood’ (Matthews and Trietel, p. 198). Jefferies wrote to his friend C.P. Scott that ‘in April, 1885…I broke down utterly, and could only lie on the sofa in a fainting condition’ (Matthews and Trietel, p. 194). He also wrote to Scott that ‘in September, 1885, my spine seemed suddenly to snap…I could not undress myself’, and that ‘the misery of that dreadful winter will never be forgotten’ (letter 22 October 1886 in Matthews and Trietel, p. 200). In February 1886 he wrote to his mother that his illness was akin to starvation, ‘the Doctor here says he has no idea what is the matter & has given me up sometime. I am now trying to get a physician down from London but the expense is very great’ (Matthews and Trietel, p. 201). Jefferies was ill, grieving, and impoverished, and had already spent money for several years on his health, including operations.

It is thus quite feasible that Jefferies might have drawn on experiences from the 1870s, or adapted manuscripts or notes from that time, in order to construct an article for publication. It is my opinion that we have perhaps underestimated the range of Jefferies’ early research and writings. He was passionate about places and had a desire to travel and explore, and we know from his letters to his Aunt in the 1860s that he travelled to France. He had plenty of opportunity to explore different places in the 1870s once he was no longer in regular employment with the local papers in Swindon. There are no written references to him having visited the east coast, but this doesn’t mean that he never did. The earliest notebook we have dates from 1876. In this year he was staying with his Aunt Ellen at Sydenham while he ventured to further his writing career, leaving his wife and child living in Swindon. He was working very hard to gain notice as an author, and evidence of his methods remain in the 1876 notebook transcribed by John Pearson. For example, the notes ‘a la World’ and ‘Style – newspapers choice of a word – a polished style, yet simple Saxon words’ suggest that he was working to adapt his style to suit different papers. At this time he was writing about a wide range of subjects too.

In 1878 he was approached by Charles Longman to write a book on shooting, and the references to ‘SB’ in his notebooks and his correspondence with Longman suggest that he did begin work on the project. Longman was looking for a volume that was ‘to be what Hawker’s work was forty years ago’, but Jefferies never completed it (Matthews and Trietel, p. 95).[1] Letters to Longman in July and August 1878 record Jefferies having sent a specimen chapter to Longman in September, which may have been ‘The Art of Shooting’ (Matthews and Trietel, p. 107). Jefferies was clearly researching the Shooting Book in 1878, with proposed chapters including ‘the gun’, ‘the gun room’, ‘the art of shooting’, ‘the dog’, ‘the etiquette of shooting’, and he wrote to Longman to explain that he had been busy with researching ‘various points’ of the book and ‘the various kinds of game’ (Besant, pp. 194-5). Matthews and Trietel also observe that a manuscript of 22 pages bearing the date 8 December 1878 and titled ‘Shooting Sketches’ contains an outline and notes for The Amateur Poacher (which was serialised in 1879).

It is logical that if Jefferies was preparing a shooting book that he would have included material about wildfowl shooting. A reference to coastal wildfowl shooting appears in ‘Choosing a Gun’ (Hills and the Vale): ‘5) He had latterly taken a fancy to wildfowl shooting by the coast, for which a very hardhitting, longrange gun was needed. It would never do if D. could not bring down a duck.’ This reference to the sport could be explained away by arguing that Jefferies is merely alluding to the well-known practice of wildfowl shooting by the coast. But it seems more logical to imagine that he did visit the eastern coast of England. His aunt’s house at Sydenham and his own rented house at Surbiton (where he was living in 1878) were both connected by train to places that afforded good opportunities for wildfowl shooting by the coast. A detailed account of how it was possible to travel by from London to the Essex marshes at Maldon, for example, is given by ‘Wildfowler’ in the Field for December 1880. The author describes which train and bus to catch and suggests how to contact the owner of The Blue Boar Inn at Maldon to organise a fly or trap to be collected. The author also mentions a punt and boat builder named Harold who loans out his punts to visitors.

It is possible that in 1885 Jefferies may have made use of unpolished manuscripts written for the shooting book that he never completed. I have made the following language analysis based on words, pairs of words, or phrases in ‘Wild-Fowling’ that can be found in Jefferies’ other works. Where relevant I discuss the context of the wording, and where possible I have listed the phrases in the order in which they appear in the text.

References to shooting wildfowl appear in Wild Life in a Southern County, The Amateur Poacher, and The Gamekeeper at Home. In Wild Life in a Southern County, referring to the sport around Coate Reservoir, Jefferies writes: ‘Once now and then wildfowl come in countless numbers: it is said to be when they are driven south by severe weather. … the only way to shoot them by day is for two or more sportsmen to post themselves behind the hedges in different places.’ In ‘Wild-Fowling’ he writes ‘About the middle of October, each year, large quantities of wild-fowl, ranging from wild swans to ducks, that have migrated from cold northern latitudes, visit our shores’.

Later in ‘Wild-Fowling’ he refers to the need ‘to find a suitable shelter directly in the line of flight’. In ‘Birds of Spring’, published in March 1884 (The Hills and the Vale) he specifically refers to the migration of large numbers of birds to the eastern shores in October, where ‘our shores’ and ‘line of flight’ both feature in the same sentence: ‘October, when hedge-sparrows and golden-crested wrens, larks, blackbirds, and thrushes and many others, float over on the gales from the coasts of Norway. Their numbers, especially of the smaller birds, such as larks, are immense, and their line of flight so extended that it strikes our shores for a distance of two hundred miles.’

In ‘Wild-Fowling’ Jefferies writes that wild-fowling is a ‘special occupation’. The Gamekeeper at Home alsorefers to game-keeping as a ‘special occupation’: ‘His children, again, must come within reach of similar influences, and thus for a lengthened period there must be a predisposition towards this special occupation.’

In The Amateur Poacher (and see ‘Snipes and Moonlit Sport’) Jefferies writes: ‘In the evening I used to hide in the osier‐beds on the edge of a great water‐meadow; for now that the marshes are drained, and the black earth of the fens yields a harvest of yellow corn, the broad level meads which are irrigated to fertilise them are among the chief inland resorts of wildfowl.’ This quotation may relate to the phrase ‘higher cultivation of land’ used in ‘Wild-Fowling’ with respect to the diminishing haunts of wildfowl: ‘The increase of railways and the higher cultivation of land has done much to deter wild-fowl from making more than a merely temporary sojourn on the large inland sheets of water that at one time swarmed with them’. If we refer back to Wild Life in a Southern County we are reminded of his memory of seeing thousands of wildfowl on Coate Water: ‘I saw the lake literally black – they almost covered it for a length of half a mile and a breadth of about a quarter. It was a sight not to be quickly forgotten; and the noise of their wings as vast parties every now and then rose and wheeled around was something astonishing. They only stayed a few days’.

In turn, the sound of the beating wings features in ‘Wild-Fowling’: ‘The practised “flight” shooter, however, will seldom be caught napping; his quick ears will have detected the whistling sound caused by the rapidly beating wings when the birds are still a hundred yards or so distant, and the gun will be levelled and the finger ready to press the trigger the instant the first “skein” of geese or “team” of ducks comes in sight.’ In The Amateur Poacher too (see again ‘Snipes and Moonlit Sport’) Jefferies refers to the ‘whistling noise’ of wings as ducks approach in relation to the timing of the shot: ‘Presently comes a whistling noise of wings, and a loud ‘quack, quack!’ as a string of ducks, their long necks stretched out, pass over not twenty yards high, slowly slanting downwards to the water. This is the favourable moment for the gun’.

A reference to fens appear in Red Deer: ‘From the inhabited places Exmoor is nibbled at, but is not affected, any more than the drainage of fens straitens the sea’. The Eastern counties are referred to in Worlds End: ‘The great agricultural labourers’ movement of the Eastern counties had extended even to this village; a branch of the Union had been formed’, and ‘These people, in the heart of a midland county, lived almost exactly the life that was led at the same period by the dwellers in the fen countries to the eastward.’

When the wildfowl ‘take their departure in the early spring’ (‘Wild-Fowling’). ‘In the early spring’ may be an unsurprising term for a naturalist to use, but it features elsewhere in Jefferies’ works: ‘In the early spring, when the night is bright and clear, it is a place to stand a moment and muse awhile.’ (Wild Life in a Southern County; ‘In the early spring, when the east wind rushes with bitter energy across the plains’ (Nature near London); ‘Then the men who come out from the towns, ostensibly to gather primroses in the early spring, or ferns, which they hawk from door to door’ (The Gamekeeper at Home); ‘In the early spring, while the bitter east wind raged, he used to sit in the old oak chair at the south window’ (Bevis); ‘The sports were held in the early spring; the races proper, according to custom, came off in October.’ (World’s End). In two other instances he uses the term when discussing birds: ‘The brilliant cockbirds return in the early spring, or at least appear to do so, for the habits of birds are sometimes quite local.’ (The Amateur Poacher), and concerning woodpigeons: ‘In the early spring, while walking up the Long Ditton road towards sunset… they were always flying about the tops of the trees preparatory to roosting.’ (The Hills and the Vale)

‘the immediate vicinity of the seashore’ (‘Wild-Fowling’). ‘immediate vicinity’ is used elsewhere in Jefferies’ works in sporting contexts: ‘The young birds get the use of their wings very quickly, and their instinct rather seems to be to wander than to remain in the immediate vicinity of their birthplace’ (Wild Life in a Southern County); ‘are perfectly conscious of what is proceeding in their immediate vicinity’ (Field and Farm, ‘The Place of Ambush’). The references refer to rook and rabbit shooting respectively. The phrase also appears again in Field and Farm: ‘The first is that of the savage, who can hardly be said to cultivate any stock, but rather induces semi-wild animals to follow him and breed in his immediate vicinity (so as to be easier of access) by furnishing them with food.’

‘a more or less sure find’ (‘Wild-Fowling’). ‘a more or less’ appears elsewhere: ‘It was not a solitary instance, the same thing has happened in scores of farmhouses to a more or less degree’ (Hodge and his Masters); ‘Hundreds of lathes of every conceivable pattern are planing the solid steel and the solid iron as if it were wood, cutting off with each revolution a more or less thick slice of the hard metal, which curls up like a shaving of deal’ (The Hills and the Vale); ‘Consider these things working through centuries, perhaps in a more or less direct manner, since the Norman Conquest’ (The Open Air); Of the fourteen magnates in the borough of Masbury: ‘Every one of these possessed qualities of stupidity more marked than Cornleigh’s; little acts, words, ways, could be mentioned by which each had branded himself as a more or less consummate ass’ (The Dewy Morn) [Vol.2 1884]); ‘The Abbey of Malmesbury, the Nunnery of Wilton, the Monastery of Ivychurch, near Sarum or Salisbury, the Monastery of Wallingford, and lastly the Priory of Southwick, had all, to a more or less degree, some interest in Swindon’ (Jefferies’ Land).

In ‘Wild-Fowling’ Jefferies writes that during a hard frost: ‘the birds are more scattered about the fens and marshes, electing during the daytime – their period of repose – to seek shelter in the creeks and ditches rather than betake themselves to the open sea at the break of day, as is their usual custom.’ The phrase ‘period of repose’ features in Landscape and Labour: ‘Although agriculture year by year approaches nearer and nearer in methods of practice to those employed in manufacture, as yet the winter is a season of inaction, a period of repose.’ Allusion to the ‘usual’ custom or course of birds can be found in the discussion of wild-fowl shooting in The Amateur Poacher (specifically ducks): ‘for one or two evenings previously a look-out should be kept and their usual course observed; for all birds and animals, even the wildest wild fowl, are creatures of habit and custom, and having once followed a particular path will continue to use it until seriously disturbed. Evening after evening the ducks will rise above the horizon at the same place and almost at the same time, and fly straight to their favourite feeding place.’

‘Just as the twilight is merging into gloom flocks of wild-fowl of every description wend their way inland to their accustomed haunts, hardly deviating a yard from their regular course.’ (‘Wild-Fowling’). ‘wend their way’ appears in Wild Life in a Southern County: ‘By the time they have mown the grass or reaped the wheat, as the case may be, in one county, the crops are ripe in another, to which they then wend their way’, and in Landscape with Figures: ‘The children never forget St Thomas’s Day, which ancient custom has consecrated to alms, and they wend their way from farmhouse to farmhouse throughout the parish’

‘of every description’ appears in The Hills and the Vale: ‘A vast corn exchange, a vaster drillhall for the workmen— who had formed a volunteer corps—to drill in, chapels of every description’; in Hodge and his Masters:  ‘They are spent in patiently reading a mass of deeds, indentures, contracts, vouchers, affidavits, evidence of every description and of the most voluminous character’; in Field and Hedgerow: ‘All our scientific men are now earnestly engaged in the study of bacteria, microbes, mycelium, and yeast, infinitesimally minute fungi of every description’. ‘Accustomed haunts’ appears in an altered form in Wild Life in a Southern County in relation to rooks: ‘the vanguard comes sweeping up, and each regiment rises from the meadow or the hill, and takes its accustomed place … thither just as fancy leads, or as they are driven by passersby, in reality they have all their special haunts’. A similar reference to ‘favourite haunts’ appears in The Gamekeeper at Home, and in Field and Hedgerow Jefferies refers to the ‘especial haunts of pheasants.’

‘a vast area of marsh-land’ (‘Wild-Fowling’). Elsewhere Jefferies refers to a vast area as a ‘vast expanse’:

‘the vast expanse of ripening wheat’ (Hodge and his Masters, 1880)

‘the vast expanse of Tanganyika’ (The Open Air)

‘the vast expanse of green boughs’ (Wild Life in a Southern County, 1879)

‘one vast expanse of cereals’ (Round about a Great Estate, 1880)

‘the vast expanse of country’ (Red Deer, 1884)

‘the vast expanse of furze’ (The Gamekeeper at Home, 1878)

In After London, published in the same year as ‘Wild-Fowling’, Jefferies refers to ‘vast marshes which cover the site of the ancient London.’

‘favourable conditions’ (‘Wild-Fowling’). These two words are used together in The Open Air (1885): ‘When such results are produced under favourable conditions at the yeoman’s homestead’; in Restless Human Hearts: ‘the wicked and the degraded would have been honest and true had they enjoyed the same favourable conditions’, and in After London (1885) ‘he had entered the dreaded precincts under favourable conditions.’

‘fallen almost entirely into disuse’ (‘Wild-Fowling’). ‘Fallen into disuse’ appears in several other works in relation to lost customs and habits: ‘This was a ropewalk, but has long since fallen into disuse; the tendency of the age having for a long time been to centralise industry of all kinds.’ (Wild Life in a Southern County); ‘But even a stranger who took the trouble to turn over the folios would now and then find matter to interest him: such as curious notes of archæological discovery, accounts of local customs now fallen into disuse’ (Hodge and his Masters); ‘The last has fallen into disuse. It used to be the custom to meet at the central village inn night after night to hear the news, as well as for convivial purposes’ (The Hills and the Vale); ‘This sort of thing has so much fallen into disuse in the country that it was a surprise to me to find the herbalist in a measure flourishing round about London.’ (The Old House at Coate); ‘of recent years the pleasant minutiae of sport, not alone concerning rabbits, have rather fallen into disuse and oblivion.’ (‘Shooting a Rabbit’, Chronicles of the Hedges)

‘in boisterous weather wild-fowl on the open sea are more than usually alert’ (‘Wild-Fowling’). ‘boisterous’ weather features in Hodge and his Masters: ‘But the true March wind, though too boisterous to be exactly genial, causes a joyous sense of freshness, as if the very blood in the veins were refined and quickened upon inhaling it.’

‘the drainage operations carried out in the various Fen districts – formerly  sanctuary of countless geese, ducks, widgeon, teal, grebes, dunbirds, curlew, plover, etc. – have done much to diminish the shore-shooter’s chance of success.’ (‘Wild-Fowling’). A reference to drainage features in Hodge and his Masters: ‘model farms to be visited; steam-engines to be seen at work; lectures to be listened to on the spot; deep-drainage operations, a new drill, or a new sheaf-binder to be looked at.’ ‘Chance of success’ appears in The Life of the Fields (Country Literature ‘Plan of Distribution’, November 1881): ‘the chance of success vanishes’, and in Restless Human Hearts: ‘They dreaded the possibility of such an innovation as limited matrimony coming into fashion; therefore they turned the vials of their wrath and venom upon it, and called in the odium theologicum to demolish its merest chance of success.’

There are also instances when Jefferies specifically mentions chance and success in relation to shooting:

The Old House at Coate: ‘whether shotgun or rifle. … enough in the metal to bear the expected strain, and without any provision, as it were, against the chance of extra pressure. … remember that my success was due to the manner in which I held the gun, grasping it before giving the signal with the left hand where that hand would have to sustain it when at the shoulder.’

The Open Air: ‘The singlebarrel gun has passed out of modern sport; but I remember mine with regret, and think I shall some day buy another. … Something in the power of the doublebarrel—the overwhelming odds it affords the sportsman over bird and animal—pleases. … One gunmaker has a fourbarrel gun, quite a light weight too, which would be a tremendous success if the creatures would obligingly run and fly’

The Hills and the Vale: ‘No two shops were of the same opinion: at one you were told that the choke was the greatest success in the world; … They had some remarkably good guns—for the leading secondhand shops do not care to buy a gun unless by a crack maker’

The Gamekeeper at Home: ‘A successful battue requires no little finesse and patience exercised beforehand; weeks are spent in preparing for the amusement of a few hours.’

Field and Hedgerow: ‘now there are few who have such fixed ideas, they are ready to take a chance at home or abroad. … is more or less at heart a sportsman, and the farmer having got the right of the gun he is not unlikely to become to some extent a game preserver. … To be a successful sportsman nowadays you must be a welldrilled veteran, never losing presence of mind’

‘A vast area of marsh-land still borders certain parts of the eastern coast; and to such places the birds repair night after night to seek their food-supplies’ (‘Wild-Fowling’). ‘Night after night’ appears in Jefferies’ works in relation to the habits of birds and people:

The habits of rooks in Wild Life in a Southern County: ‘This last summer (1878) I noticed a whole flock, some hundreds in number, remaining out till late—till quite dusk—night after night, and always in the same place. It was an arable field, and there they stood close together on the ground’

People in The Hills and the Vale:  ‘It used to be the custom to meet at the central village inn night after night to hear the news, as well as for convivial purposes.’

‘Accurate knowledge of their habits in this respect enables the “flight” shooter to lay his plans accordingly’ (‘Wild-Fowling’). Jefferies makes allusions to the knowledge of habits of his quarry in Nature Near London: ‘It is a habit with partridges to fly low, but just skimming the tops of the hedges, and certainly, had they been three inches lower, they must have taken my hat off. The knowledge that partridges were often about there, made me always glance into this field on passing it’, and in The Gamekeeper at Home: ‘So one mind sees the outside only; another projects itself into the mind of the creature, be it dog or horse or bird. Experience certainly educates the dog as it does the man. After long acquaintance and practice in the field we learn the habits and ways of game—to know where it will or not be … This is acquired knowledge.’

‘Having from some convenient coign of vantage observed for two or three evenings the exact direction the birds take, his next step is to find a suitable shelter directly in the line of flight, behind which he can lie concealed and await their arrival’ (‘Wild-Fowling’). ‘coign of vantage’. Keith (1995) points out that this phrase comes from Macbeth (I vi 7) and that Jefferies uses it in Wild Life in a Southern County, but concludes that ‘it is too well known a quotation to carry much weight’. It is significant however that the phrase appears in relation to birds (jackdaws) that ‘build in every coign of vantage’. Keith also does not mention Jefferies’ use of the term in The Gamekeeper at Home where the context is perhaps more significant. Here Jefferies describes two jays preying on other birds, writing that:

A pair will work a hedge in a sportsmanlike manner… you may see the jay hop out … settling on the larger lumps of clay for convenience of view…With a sidelong hop and two flaps of the wing, he half springs, half glides to another coign of vantage.’

Jefferies compares the jay to acting in the manner of a sportsman, and the other birds ‘know well his murderous intent’ to prey on young or weak partridges or pheasants. A further connection between the use of the phrase in ‘Wild-fowling’ and in The Gamekeeper at Home is the accompanying reference to convenience.

 ‘The velocity of flight is well-nigh incredible’. From his notebooks and articles we know that Jefferies developed a keen interest in flight, particularly the flight of birds. In a letter to Samuel Looker Jefferies’ daughter Phyllis recalled him observing the flight of seagulls: ‘I know my father was very interested in flying & felt sure it would soon develop & studied & watched the wonderful flight of seagulls, my mother has often spoken of this’ (8 May, 1947). Flight features in ‘The Hovering of the Kestrel’ and ‘Birds Climbing the Air’, and is further attested to by Jefferies’ sketches for flying machines in his notebooks. As he expressed in The Story of My Heart (1883) ‘I desired…to construct a more flexible engine with which to carry into execution the design of the will’.

In The Life of the Fields Jefferies uses the word ‘velocity’ twice, and in both instances specifically in relation to the flight of birds. In ‘Birds Climbing the Air’ Jefferies discusses soaring:

‘the velocity of a bullet rapidly decreases, and a ball shot from an express rifle, and driven by a heavy charge, soon begins to droop. When these facts are duly considered, it will soon be apparent what a remarkable feat soaring really is. The hawk does not always ascend in a spiral, but every now and then revolves in a circle—a flat circle—and suddenly shoots up with renewed rapidity.’

In ‘Meadow Thoughts’ he observes the flight of swallows:

‘The white-backed eave-swallow has returned many, many times from the shallow drinking-place by the brook to his half-built nest. Sometimes the pair of them cling to the mortar they have fixed under the eave, and twitter to each other about the progress of the work. They dive downwards with such velocity when they quit hold that it seems as if they must strike the ground, but they shoot up again, over the wall and the lime trees.’

A similar observation is made in ‘Swallow-Time’ (3 August 1886 the Standard, collected in Field and Hedgerow, 1887), but here the phrase ‘the velocity of flight’ is altered to ‘velocity of passage’: ‘When the swallow comes down to the earth his path is no longer that of the immortals, his way is as the way of men, constantly obstructed, and made a thousandfold more difficult by the velocity of his passage.’

Elsewhere ‘velocity’ appears in The Open Air: ‘The fury of the storm is unchecked, and nothing can keep out the raindrops which come with the velocity of shot.’; After London: ‘The velocity of the gale which had carried him …’; Bevis: ‘The velocity of their course carried them to and fro’.

I can find no evidence that the term ‘velocity of flight’ was used elsewhere in a literary context during Jefferies’ lifetime – no book or newspaper databases bring it up. It is a scientific term, and we know that Jefferies quite often brought terminology from other disciplines or contexts into his writing. This particular formation of words is rare. The term was used after Jefferies’ lifetime in 1921 by Colonel R. Meinektzhagen in ‘Some preliminary remarks on the Velocity of Migratory Flight among Birds, with special reference to the Palœarctic Region’, and in 1922 by E.C.S. Baker in ‘Velocity of flight among birds’. It also features in Aerodynamics, constituting the first volume of a complete work on aerial flight by Frederick Lanchester (1907): ‘we shall have the sweep and the peripteral area varying inversely as the square of the velocity of flight.’

The most obvious source of Jefferies’ use of the term is Richard Owen’s ‘Locomotion of Birds’, in The Anatomy of Vertebrates published in 1866 when Jefferies was living in Coate and working for the local papers. Jefferies corresponded with Owen in 1873 about a fossil found in a quarry near Swindon, and again in 1876 when he mentioned Owen’s latest publication and tried to arrange a meeting with him (see Phyllis Trietel, ‘Richard Jefferies and the Plesiosaur, 1992’): http://richardjefferiessociety.co.uk/downloads/1_Journal_1992.pdf

If Jefferies already knew Owen’s ‘Locomotion of Birds’ from an earlier time in life he might well have gone back to it in the mid 1880s when his interest in flight intensified.

‘well-nigh incredible’ (Wild-fowling’) appears in other texts as ‘almost incredible’:

Hodge and his Masters: ‘They were even preferred to the notes of the Bank of England, which at one time, in outlying country places, were looked on with distrust, a state of things which seems almost incredible to the present generation.’

Restless Human Hearts: ‘the existence of persons whose whole being vibrates to the subtle and invisible touch of Nature seems almost incredible, and certainly absurd.’

Jefferies’ Land: ‘Persons of middle age describe the change which has taken place since they can remember as something almost incredible.’

Worlds End: ‘Broughton listened attentively; then he said— “Your story is strange, almost incredible; still you are in a position where nothing will do you much good but public opinion.’

‘by no means’ (Wild-fowling’) is a phrase used in After London: ‘This particular stockade was by no means an extensive one’; The Hills and the Vale: ‘Because the owner of ten thousand acres is by no means obliged to part with the minutest fragment of it’; Wild Life in a Southern County: ‘I have counted sixty in one flock, and have seen flocks so numerous as to be unable to count them accurately; that of course was exceptional, but they are by no means uncommon birds in this district’; The Life of the Fields: ‘a beautiful sunset is by no means uncommon’; Hodge and his Masters: ‘The mansion itself was but of moderate size and by no means convenient’; Restless Human Hearts: ‘they were by no means a commonplace pair, and they were working out a great problem’; The Gamekeeper at Home: ‘For the keeper, when he fulfils his duty in a quiet way, as a man of experience does, is by no means an unpopular character.’

‘Many sportsmen profess to find a special pleasure in wild-fowl shooting, as compared with any sport with the gun’ (‘Wild-Fowling’). The only instance when Jefferies uses this phrase, that I can find, is in Bevis, and it appears specifically in relation to shooting: ‘They stayed a week at Bevis’s grandpa’s, and while there, for Bevis’s special pleasure, the governor went with them one evening to see a celebrated American sportsman shoot.’

‘a good fighting station is usually much sought after’ (‘Wild-Fowling’). ‘Much sought after’ features in The Gamekeeper at Home: ‘Game, in short, was never so much sought after as at present’

‘The old-fashioned method of stalking and shooting wild-fowl by means of a horse trained for the purpose, the shooter walking on the side farthest away from the birds and keeping pace with the animal’s movements, has become practically extinct’ (‘Wild-Fowling’). Keith notes the similarity between here with the beginning of ‘Village Miners’ (June 1883), which alludes to stalking wild creatures with a ‘pony which has been trained for the purpose’. ‘For the purpose’ also appears in The Story of my Heart: ‘Some fruits are produced which he can eat, but they do not produce themselves for him, merely for the purpose of continuing their species’; Hodge and his Masters: ‘He will be in and out asking for ‘he’ all day long at intervals, and when the interview takes place it will be only for the purpose of having everything already settled explained over to him for the fiftieth time’; The Amateur Poacher: ‘The best for the purpose we found were the nuttree rods that shoot up among the hazel thickets, no larger than the shaft of an arrow, and almost as straight’; The Toilers of the Field: ‘To the right of the dairy is the brewhouse, now rarely used for the purpose implied in its name’; Wild Life in a Southern County: ‘A depression, too, is chosen for the purpose, and their depth is about ninety feet on the average: many are much deeper’; Nature near London: ‘Let the cedar and the laurel, and the whole host of invading evergreens, be put aside by themselves, in a separate and detached shrubbery, maintained for the purpose of exhibiting strange growths’; After London (1885): ‘These added to the accumulation, which increased the faster because the foundations of the ancient bridges held it like piles driven in for the purpose’, and ‘They crossed the river just above the pool by some stepping stones, large blocks rolled in for the purpose’; and The Gamekeeper at Home: ‘Besides the coops, here and there bushes, cut for the purpose’.

In ‘The Squire and the Land’ (The Old House at Coate) ‘old-fashioned’ is used in a shooting context: ‘This oldfashioned spirit, antecedent to the modern ideas of machine-precision, rather revolted from the patent shooting … which is the centre of this method, and which must be thrust out at the mark much the same as if it grasped a pistol.’ The phrase ‘practically extinct’ can also be traced to his other works where extinction is used in relation to animals, birds, and old customs: ‘The old wooden mole-trap is now almost extinct, superseded by the modern iron one, which anybody can set up. The ancient … He is now fast becoming extinct also’ (The Gamekeeper at Home); ‘Two or three still roam almost at large, picking up a living pretty much as they may, but as a recognized stock the pig is here practically extinct’ (Field and Farm); ‘the polecat is also practically extinct, though occasional specimens are said to occur’ (‘Nature and the Gamekeeper’, Life of the Fields); ‘In many districts of the country that might be called wild and lonely, the magpie is almost extinct’ (Nature near London); ‘The ignis fatuns is almost extinct  so much so that Jack-o’-the-Lantern has died out of the village folklore’ (Wild Life in a Southern County), and in Beauty is Immortal: ‘The birds of our wilds — the raven, which was, they say, almost extinct’.

‘capable of much walking exercise without distress’. ‘Without distress’ features in The Open Air: ‘If so they chose, and without stress or strain, they could see the sunrise, they could be with him as it were—unwearied and without distress—the livelong day’. Jefferies also uses the phrase in his notebooks in 1887: ‘neither lie, stand, walk, sit, without distress’.

Finally, we should consider the article in context of Jefferies’ other contributions to the St James’ Gazette, which are yet to be fully identified. At present we understand that he contributed ‘To be Sold by Auction’ in February 1885, and ‘The Professional Bird Catcher’ in August 1885, both of which Keith considers as likely Jefferies articles. I have already confirmed that ‘Notes A-Field’ in July 1885 is not by Jefferies but by John Watson (see the Richard Jefferies Society Journal, No. 20, 2011). Keith (1995) has noted that the style of ‘The Professional Bird Catcher’ ‘is more general and less specific than the earlier ‘Bird Catchers’ [October 1880] – which is what we would expect from the invalid Jefferies.’ ‘Wild-Fowling’ bears an obvious similarity to ‘The Professional Bird-Catcher’ in its treatment of trapping or shooting birds as a ‘profession’ (see the line in ‘Wild-Fowling’ that mentions birds being ‘exposed to the attack of the professional puntsmen’). Both articles refer to the trapper or shooter waiting ‘in vain’ because birds can suddenly change their feeding quarters. In ‘The Professional Bird-Catcher’ Jefferies writes that ‘when the flight season is over the catcher has another branch of his occupation to fall back upon’, which echoes the line in ‘Wild-Fowling’, ‘there remains to the wild-fowler one branch of his sport’. A further similarity between the two articles is that ‘The Professional Bird-Catcher’ mentions ‘large quantities of birds of every description roost in thick shrubs’, and ‘Wild-Fowling’ appears to reuse some of this wording in ‘large quantities of wild-fowl’ and ‘flocks of wild-fowl of every description’.[2] In ‘The Professional Bird-Catcher’ we also see ‘for the purpose’ (‘nets employed for the purpose’). A textual connection that also goes in favour of Jefferies’ authorship of ‘The Professional Bird-Catcher’ is the reference to birds flying ‘in a slanting direction’, which echoes the line in The Amateur Poacher concerning ducks ‘slowly slanting downwards to the water’.

Taking all the evidence into consideration this makes a convincing case for Jefferies’ authorship of ‘Wild-fowling’. From the language analysis it appears that a significant number of words match text from The Gamekeeper at Home, The Amateur Poacher, and Wild Life in a Southern County. This would date much of the writing to 1878 when Jefferies was also researching and writing the Shooting Book for Longman. Other matches from the mid 1880s, in particular the flight references, would suggest that he modified an earlier manuscript or notes.

[1] Colonel Peter Hawker was the author of Colonel Hawker’s Shooting Diaries.

[2] See also the earlier reference in this analysis to Wild Life in a Southern County, ‘once now and then wildfowl come in countless numbers

The painting reproduced here is by Peter Scott from http://www.bridgewatch.org.uk

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