Friday, May 30, 2008

Bevis by Richard Jefferies

Yesterday I managed to find a rather good copy of Bevis by Richard Jefferies, illustrated by Shepard it was a 1958 edition. A love of reading means that I will become totally absorbed in a good book and unable to put it down. So it is with this book, I have explored the large inland lake/ sea of Coate with him and his friend Mark, and followed the battle between the two opposing roman sides. It is of course a 'boys own' child books, but nevertheless completely enthralling and of course read by adults.
The first thing to strike me is a somewhat cruel attitude to animals, this, is only to be expected in the 19th century, and especially as Jefferies/Bevis for they are one and the same people, would have struck me as being gentle. But on reflection, especially in his soul-seeking in The Story of My Heart, can we begin to understand the wild exultant heart that beat beneath his somewhat quiet exterior. His imperious nature shines forth in Bevis, Mark, a loyal and loving constant companion is often upbraided in lofty tones. But to return to animals, the first instance is the family spaniel, Pan, middle aged and always hungry he follows the two boys on their expeditions up stream or on the lake, his loyalty is not often rewarded though and he gets many a beating should he chase the animals or scare the fish they are always hunting with their bow and arrows and spears.
The second moment in the book is the donkey that lives in the field and they are never able to catch. One day Mark tired after a long foray in the fields has to go home, Bevis offers the donkey and gets a stable lad to catch the wretched beast. The lad duly does this, and brings the donkey to them, but it is now that Bevis says lets tie up this beast and give him a lesson, which they duly do, tying him to an old oak tree and giving him a truly horrific thrashing - though there is no blood.
Intense people have intense feelings and emotions, so perhaps Jefferies can be forgiven this rash act, did it happen in 'real life' I expect the answer is yes because it is so vividly written and remembered.
The sense of his world, the inner landscape and the outer physical landscape is so strongly written in his books also becomes part of one's own mindset. The experience is so strong that it colours my world as well. Today, the mist in the garden, a green jungle at the moment, flowers heavy with rain, everything so verdantly alive that nature is blending time together again, the past swirling round the present - the liquid note of water as it swirls down the stream on that farm so long ago is echoed in the distance. The thunderstorm that raged before the 'War' of the romans that the boys played, has its echo in last night thunder, when the rains beat down and flooded parts of Somerset. Nature is the same we just don't notice it as much, there is less of everything, less birds, less wildflowers, more noise, more speed, more shallowness, we have become superficial unable to feel the world around us. But perhaps that is only given to the chosen few, poets and writers who express through the written word, with all its form and grace, the dynamic force of life that is nature, and is of course us as well.
There is a room in the Richard Jefferies Museum (the old farmhouse) in which 'Bevis' lies on his bed reading, in the room is a painting of Jefferies and an old grandfather clock which I thought rather odd at the time, but it seems that the clock may have stood on the landing outside the room, as written in the following quote from The Poacher.

"An oaken case six feet high or more, and a vast dial,with a mysterious picture of a full moon and a ship in full sail that somehow indicated the quarters of the year, if you had been imitating Rip Van Winkle and after a sleep of six months wanted to know whether itwas spring or autumn. But only to think that all the while we were puzzling over the moon and the ship and the queer signs on the dial a gun was hidden inside! The case was locked, it is true; but there are ways of opening locks, and we were always handy with tools.

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