The Weald of Kent, Surrey and Sussex

Richard Jefferies: His Biography
by Edward Thomas
published by Hutchison in 1909

Only the final chapter - Recapitulation - and the Bibliography are included from this fine Biography of Richard Jefferies.
See also Field and Hedgerow by Richard Jefferies
Richard Jefferies in Sussex
and Richard Jefferies and Sussex


RICHARD JEFFERIES was, then, always a child of the soil, as well as of the earth in a larger sense. From father and mother he had the blood of Wiltshire and Gloucestershire farmers. He was the second child (the eldest child, a daughter, died young) of a younger son of a younger son. But it was country blood with a difference: both Gyde and Jefferies had been dipped in London, and had followed there the trade of printing; and though old John Jefferies, the grandfather, retired early, and not quite contentedly, to the mill and the bakery and the farm, and Charles Gyde 'of Islington' was buried in Pitchcombe churchyard, they had been troubled by this change from the fields to Fleet Street and back again. Richard's mother, in spite of her good butter, was not a countrywoman, and she was soured by the life of one. His father left Wiltshire as a young man, and travelled roughly, seeing the cities of the United States. Of their sons, the two younger worked on the farm till it was given up; then the second of them went to America and stayed there. The youngest lives in a town. Richard Jefferies, the eldest son, would hardly ever work on the land. Some of his schooldays and most of his early holidays he spent near London, at Sydenham, and when he was very young began to be interested in his uncle's printing works. Most of his relations had seen more of books than the majority of country people. Two of his uncles were men of unusual accomplishment. John Luckett Jefferies, a draughtsman and musician; Frederick Gyde, draughtsman and engraver. Uncle and aunt sent books to Coate Farm. Father and grandfather had a taste for books.

The boy gave no early promise, and no special care was taken of him. He attended the ordinary schools of the poorer middle class, and those irregularly and never after he was fifteen. When not at school, he was out of doors, picking up the usual know-ledge of a farmer's son, but carefully, and more and more with the help of books. Home life was not happy; he was a retiring and unpopular boy, not strong, but of great courage. Whether he was more unpopular than any unusual boy is likely to be I do not know; but all through his life he seems to have attracted little affection, and his writings show that, in return, he loved, but had no likings. Something there was in him, perhaps, akin to his uncomfortable humour, which unconsciously repelled - something that creeps into his writings, particularly in the more emphatic parts, and gives us a twinge as at an unpleasant voice. He dreamed away much time, and came early to a sense of loneliness among men and of peculiar intimacy with nature, whom he first courted as a sportsman. Unwilling to work on the farm, he was obliged to do something soon after his school-days, and he took to reporting for a local newspaper when he was seventeen. He began to read books of science and philo-sophy. He found himself at still greater odds with his family, who accused him of indolence. He expressed himself in crude, sensational stories and in local histories. He suffered from severe illnesses and great weakness several times. When he was not much past twenty he was engaged to the daughter of a neighbouring farmer.

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