Hampshire Days Critical Essays

W. H. Hudson

Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

Despite the poverty and ill health from which W. H. Hudson suffered much of his life, the dominant mood of HAMPSHIRE DAYS is the quiet joy found in the creatures, plants, and seasons of nature. This mood may have been furthered by the Civil List pension granted the author in 1901, the year before he finished the work. He tells us that he returned to New Forest in December, 1902, to complete this book, which chronicles his activities and discoveries in Hampshire from 1900 to 1902. His purpose was to write of this “delectable spot in the best bird months of April, May, and June,” but fortunately his vision included more than these months and a far wider variety of subjects, including Hampshire people, towns, and buildings, than this statement indicates.

Because Hudson was an important naturalist, one would expect much of the book to be devoted to the flora and fauna of Hampshire and its centuries-old forests, like Harewood, Wolmer and, especially, the somewhat misleadingly named New Forest. Hudson reveals his love of this particular forest on many pages and on one occasion speaks of it as containing the most beautiful forest landscape in all England. Its name derives from its being placed under forest laws by William the Conqueror in 1079. Of its present-day 130-square-mile area, thirty square miles are privately owned and forty-five of the remaining hundred are Crown woodlands, largely of oak and pine. Hudson lived in a former manor house in the forest while gathering material for his book. He was obviously concerned about the future of the forest, endangered by the abuse of the New Forest. This abuse was the unregulated raiding of the forest of its heath, game animals, rare species of birds, and plants. Hudson believed that only by government ownership of these lands and by careful regulation could New Forest be restored to its former glory.

Hudson’s interest in plant life is further revealed by his discussion of yew trees, particularly the Selborne yew, whose age he believed to exceed greatly the thousand years usually credited to a large churchyard yew, and the Farrington yew, both of which he numbers among his Hampshire favorites. He postulates that the practice of burying people beneath yews (with the consequent removal of a barrowful of roots for each grave) inflicts injury on the yew, and he concludes that the great size of the Selborne yew may result from the fact that only one grave was dug near it. As a naturalist, Hudson properly preferred wild nature to cultivated or garden nature, and he had little use for collectors of plants or animals if they killed in order to collect. He seems to have had little use for cut flowers; a picked rose, he says, lacks luster and means no more to the soul than a flower made from wax or paper. But roses growing wild convince one that there is no more beautiful sight in...

(The entire section is 1163 words.)