Twelve thousand years since the Caveman stood at the mouth of his cavern and gazed out at the night and the stars. He looked again and saw the sun rise beyond the sea. He reposed in the noontide heat under the shade of the trees, he closed his eyes and looked into himself. He was face to face with the earth, the sun, the night; face to face with himself. There was nothing between; no wall of written tradition; no built-up system of culture—his naked mind was confronted by naked earth. He made three idea-discoveries, wresting them from the unknown: the existence of his soul, immortality, the deity. Now to-day, as I write, I stand in exactly the same position as the Caveman. Written tradition, systems of culture, modes of thought, have for me no existence. If ever they took any hold of my mind it must have been very slight; they have long ago been erased. From earth and sea and sun, from night, the stars, from day, the trees, the hills, from my own soul — from these I think. I stand this moment at the mouth of the ancient cave, face to face with nature, face to face with the supernatural, with myself. My naked mind confronts the unknown. Richard Jefferies ‘The Story of my Heart.’
(John) Richard Jefferies (1848-1887) is best known for his prolific and sensitive writing on natural history, rural life and agriculture in late Victorian England. However, a closer examination of his career reveals a many-sided author who was something of an enigma. To some people he is more familiar as the author of the children’s classic Bevis or the strange futuristic fantasy After London, while he also has some reputation as a mystic worthy of serious study. Since his death his books have enjoyed intermittent spells of popularity, but today he is unknown to the greater part of the reading public. Jefferies, however, has been an inspiration to a number of more prominent writers and W.H. Hudson, Edward Thomas, Henry Williamson and John Fowles are among those who have acknowledged their debt to him. In my view his greatest achievement lies in his expression, aesthetically and spiritually, of the human encounter with the natural world – something that became almost an obsession for him in his last years…
[The quote is from] ‘his extraordinary autobiography, The Story of My Heart (1883). He had been planning this work for seventeen years and, in his words, it was ‘absolutely and unflinchingly true’. It was not an autobiography of the events of his life, but an outpouring of his deepest thoughts and feelings, beginning with his first ‘soul experiences’ on Liddington Hill, expressed in prose poetry that is often impassioned, sensuous and evocative. He describes his mystical communion with nature and his yearning for the fullest ‘soul life’. Within him burned a desire to grasp the great truths which he felt were all around him – ‘to have from all green things and from the sunlight the inner meaning which was not known to them, that I might be full of light as the woods of the sun’s rays’.
See also The Richard Jefferies Society