Prologue



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   Chapter:   1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 Prologue

Green Mansions


by W. H. Hudson

A Romance of the Tropical Forest

Historical and Classic Romance

FOREWORD
I take up pen for this foreword with the fear of one who knows
that he cannot do justice to his subject, and the trembling of
one who would not, for a good deal, set down words unpleasing to
the eye of him who wrote Green Mansions, The Purple Land, and all
those other books which have meant so much to me. For of all
living authors--now that Tolstoi has gone I could least dispense
with W. H. Hudson. Why do I love his writing so? I think
because he is, of living writers that I read, the rarest spirit,
and has the clearest gift of conveying to me the nature of that
spirit. Writers are to their readers little new worlds to be
explored; and each traveller in the realms of literature must
needs have a favourite hunting-ground, which, in his good
will--or perhaps merely in his egoism--he would wish others to
share with him.
The great and abiding misfortunes of most of us writers are
twofold: We are, as worlds, rather common tramping-ground for our
readers, rather tame territory; and as guides and dragomans
thereto we are too superficial, lacking clear intimacy of
expression; in fact--like guide or dragoman--we cannot let folk
into the real secrets, or show them the spirit, of the land.
Now, Hudson, whether in a pure romance like this Green Mansions,
or in that romantic piece of realism The Purple Land, or in books
like Idle Days in Patagonia, Afoot in England, The Land's End,
Adventures among Birds, A Shepherd's Life, and all his other
nomadic records of communings with men, birds, beasts, and
Nature, has a supreme gift of disclosing not only the thing he
sees but the spirit of his vision. Without apparent effort he
takes you with him into a rare, free, natural world, and always
you are refreshed, stimulated, enlarged, by going there.
He is of course a distinguished naturalist, probably the most
acute, broad-minded, and understanding observer of Nature living.
And this, in an age of specialism, which loves to put men into
pigeonholes and label them, has been a misfortune to the reading
public, who seeing the label Naturalist, pass on, and take down
the nearest novel. Hudson has indeed the gifts and knowledge of
a Naturalist, but that is a mere fraction of his value and
interest. A really great writer such as this is no more to be
circumscribed by a single word than America by the part of it
called New York. The expert knowledge which Hudson has of Nature
gives to all his work backbone and surety of fibre, and to his
sense of beauty an intimate actuality. But his real eminence and
extraordinary attraction lie in his spirit and philosophy. We
feel from his writings that he is nearer to Nature than other
men, and yet more truly civilized. The competitive, towny
culture, the queer up-to-date commercial knowingness with which
we are so busy coating ourselves simply will not stick to him. A
passage in his Hampshire Days describes him better than I can:
"The blue sky, the brown soil beneath, the grass, the trees, the
animals, the wind, and rain, and stars are never strange to me;
for I am in and of and am one with them; and my flesh and the
soil are one, and the heat in my blood and in the sunshine are
one, and the winds and the tempests and my passions are one. I
feel the 'strangeness' only with regard to my fellow men,
especially in towns, where they exist in conditions unnatural to
me, but congenial to them.... In such moments we sometimes feel
a kinship with, and are strangely drawn to, the dead, who were
not as these; the long, long dead, the men who knew not life in
towns, and felt no strangeness in sun and wind and rain." This
unspoiled unity with Nature pervades all his writings; they are
remote from the fret and dust and pettiness of town life; they
are large, direct, free. It is not quite simplicity, for the
mind of this writer is subtle and fastidious, sensitive to each
motion of natural and human life; but his sensitiveness is
somehow different from, almost inimical to, that of us others,
who sit indoors and dip our pens in shades of feeling. Hudson's
fancy is akin to the flight of the birds that are his special
loves--it never seems to have entered a house, but since birth to
have been roaming the air, in rain and sun, or visiting the trees
and the grass. I not only disbelieve utterly, but intensely
dislike, the doctrine of metempsychosis, which, if I understand
it aright, seems the negation of the creative impulse, an
apotheosis of staleness--nothing quite new in the world, never
anything quite new--not even the soul of a baby; and so I am not
prepared to entertain the whim that a bird was one of his remote
incarnations; still, in sweep of wing, quickness of eye, and
natural sweet strength of song he is not unlike a
super-bird--which is a horrid image. And that reminds me: This,
after all, is a foreword to Green Mansions--the romance of the
bird-girl Rima--a story actual yet fantastic, which immortalizes,
I think, as passionate a love of all beautiful things as ever was
in the heart of man. Somewhere Hudson says: "The sense of the
beautiful is God's best gift to the human soul." So it is: and
to pass that gift on to others, in such measure as herein is
expressed, must surely have been happiness to him who wrote Green
Mansions. In form and spirit the book is unique, a simple
romantic narrative transmuted by sheer glow of beauty into a
prose poem. Without ever departing from its quality of a tale,
it symbolizes the yearning of the human soul for the attainment
of perfect love and beauty in this life--that impossible
perfection which we must all learn to see fall from its high tree
and be consumed in the flames, as was Rima the bird-girl, but
whose fine white ashes we gather that they may be mingled at last
with our own, when we too have been refined by the fire of
death's resignation. The book is soaked through and through with
a strange beauty. I will not go on singing its praises, or
trying to make it understood, because I have other words to say
of its author.
Do we realize how far our town life and culture have got away
from things that really matter; how instead of making
civilization our handmaid to freedom we have set her heel on our
necks, and under it bite dust all the time? Hudson, whether he
knows it or not, is now the chief standard-bearer of another
faith. Thus he spake in The Purple Land: "Ah, yes, we are all
vainly seeking after happiness in the wrong way. It was with us
once and ours, but we despised it, for it was only the old common
happiness which Nature gives to all her children, and we went
away from it in search of another grander kind of happiness which
some dreamer--Bacon or another--assured us we should find. We
had only to conquer Nature, find out her secrets, make her our
obedient slave, then the Earth would be Eden, and every man Adam
and every woman Eve. We are still marching bravely on,
conquering Nature, but how weary and sad we are getting! The old
joy in life and gaiety of heart have vanished, though we do
sometimes pause for a few moments in our long forced march to
watch the labours of some pale mechanician, seeking after
perpetual motion, and indulge in a little, dry, cackling laugh at
his expense." And again: "For here the religion that languishes
in crowded cities or steals shamefaced to hide itself in dim
churches flourishes greatly, filling the soul with a solemn joy.
Face to face with Nature on the vast hills at eventide, who does
not feel himself near to the Unseen?
"Out of his heart God shall not pass
His image stamped is on every grass."
All Hudson's books breathe this spirit of revolt against our new
enslavement by towns and machinery, and are true oases in an age
so dreadfully resigned to the "pale mechanician."
But Hudson is not, as Tolstoi was, a conscious prophet; his
spirit is freer, more willful, whimsical--almost perverse--and
far more steeped in love of beauty. If you called him a prophet
he would stamp his foot at you--as he will at me if he reads
these words; but his voice is prophetic, for all that, crying in
a wilderness, out of which, at the call, will spring up roses
here and there, and the sweet-smelling grass. I would that every
man, woman, and child in England were made to read him; and I
would that you in America would take him to heart. He is a
tonic, a deep refreshing drink, with a strange and wonderful
flavour; he is a mine of new interests, and ways of thought
instinctively right. As a simple narrator he is well-nigh
unsurpassed; as a stylist he has few, if any, living equals. And
in all his work there is an indefinable freedom from any thought
of after-benefit--even from the desire that we should read him.
He puts down what he sees and feels, out of sheer love of the
thing seen, and the emotion felt; the smell of the lamp has not
touched a single page that he ever wrote. That alone is a marvel
to us who know that to write well, even to write clearly, is a
wound business, long to learn, hard to learn, and no gift of the
angels. Style should not obtrude between a writer and his
reader; it should be servant, not master. To use words so true
and simple that they oppose no obstacle to the flow of thought
and feeling from mind to mind, and yet by juxtaposition of
word-sounds set up in the recipient continuing emotion or
gratification--this is the essence of style; and Hudson's writing
has pre-eminently this double quality. From almost any page of
his books an example might be taken. Here is one no better than
a thousand others, a description of two little girls on a beach:
"They were dressed in black frocks and scarlet blouses, which set
off their beautiful small dark faces; their eyes sparkled like
black diamonds, and their loose hair was a wonder to see, a black
mist or cloud about their heads and necks composed of threads
fine as gossamer, blacker than jet and shining like spun
glass--hair that looked as if no comb or brush could ever tame
its beautiful wildness. And in spirit they were what they
seemed: such a wild, joyous, frolicsome spirit, with such grace
and fleetness, one does not look for in human beings, but only in
birds or in some small bird-like volatile mammal--a squirrel or a
spider-monkey of the tropical forest, or the chinchilla of the
desolate mountain slopes; the swiftest, wildest, loveliest, most
airy, and most vocal of small beauties." Or this, as the
quintessence of a sly remark: "After that Mantel got on to his
horse and rode away. It was black and rainy, but he had never
needed moon or lantern to find what he sought by night, whether
his own house, or a fat cow--also his own, perhaps." So one
might go on quoting felicity for ever from this writer. He seems
to touch every string with fresh and uninked fingers; and the
secret of his power lies, I suspect, in the fact that his words:
"Life being more than all else to me . . ." are so utterly
true.
I do not descant on his love for simple folk and simple things,
his championship of the weak, and the revolt against the cagings
and cruelties of life, whether to men or birds or beasts, that
springs out of him as if against his will; because, having spoken
of him as one with a vital philosophy or faith, I don't wish to
draw red herrings across the main trail of his worth to the
world. His work is a vision of natural beauty and of human life
as it might be, quickened and sweetened by the sun and the wind
and the rain, and by fellowship with all the other forms of life--
the truest vision now being given to us, who are more in want of
it than any generation has ever been. A very great writer;
and--to my thinking--the most valuable our age possesses.
JOHN GALSWORTHY
September 1915 Manaton: Devon
Green Mansions by W. H. Hudson


PROLOGUE
It is a cause of very great regret to me that this task has taken
so much longer a time than I had expected for its completion. It
is now many months--over a year, in fact--since I wrote to
Georgetown announcing my intention of publishing, IN A VERY FEW
MONTHS, the whole truth about Mr. Abel. Hardly less could have
been looked for from his nearest friend, and I had hoped that the
discussion in the newspapers would have ceased, at all events,
until the appearance of the promised book. It has not been so;
and at this distance from Guiana I was not aware of how much
conjectural matter was being printed week by week in the local
press, some of which must have been painful reading to Mr. Abel's
friends. A darkened chamber, the existence of which had never
been suspected in that familiar house in Main Street, furnished
only with an ebony stand on which stood a cinerary urn, its
surface ornamented with flower and leaf and thorn, and winding
through it all the figure of a serpent; an inscription, too, of
seven short words which no one could understand or rightly
interpret; and finally the disposal of the mysterious ashes--that
was all there was relating to an untold chapter in a man's life
for imagination to work on. Let us hope that now, at last, the
romance-weaving will come to an end. It was, however, but
natural that the keenest curiosity should have been excited; not
only because of that peculiar and indescribable charm of the man,
which all recognized and which won all hearts, but also because
of that hidden chapter--that sojourn in the desert, about which
he preserved silence. It was felt in a vague way by his
intimates that he had met with unusual experiences which had
profoundly affected him and changed the course of his life. To
me alone was the truth known, and I must now tell, briefly as
possible, how my great friendship and close intimacy with him
came about.
When, in 1887, I arrived in Georgetown to take up an appointment
in a public office, I found Mr. Abel an old resident there, a man
of means and a favourite in society. Yet he was an alien, a
Venezuelan, one of that turbulent people on our border whom the
colonists have always looked on as their natural enemies. The
story told to me was that about twelve years before that time he
had arrived at Georgetown from some remote district in the
interior; that he had journeyed alone on foot across half the
continent to the coast, and had first appeared among them, a
young stranger, penniless, in rags, wasted almost to a skeleton
by fever and misery of all kinds, his face blackened by long
exposure to sun and wind. Friendless, with but little English,
it was a hard struggle for him to live; but he managed somehow,
and eventually letters from Caracas informed him that a
considerable property of which he had been deprived was once more
his own, and he was also invited to return to his country to take
his part in the government of the Republic. But Mr. Abel, though
young, had already outlived political passions and aspirations,
and, apparently, even the love of his country; at all events, he
elected to stay where he was--his enemies, he would say
smilingly, were his best friends--and one of the first uses he
made of his fortune was to buy that house in Main Street which
was afterwards like a home to me.
I must state here that my friend's full name was Abel Guevez de
Argensola, but in his early days in Georgetown he was called by
his Christian name only, and later he wished to be known simply
as "Mr. Abel."
I had no sooner made his acquaintance than I ceased to wonder at
the esteem and even affection with which he, a Venezuelan, was
regarded in this British colony. All knew and liked him, and the
reason of it was the personal charm of the man, his kindly
disposition, his manner with women, which pleased them and
excited no man's jealousy--not even the old hot-tempered
planter's, with a very young and pretty and light-headed
wife--his love of little children, of all wild creatures, of
nature, and of whatsoever was furthest removed from the common
material interests and concerns of a purely commercial community.
The things which excited other men--politics, sport, and the
price of crystals--were outside of his thoughts; and when men had
done with them for a season, when like the tempest they had
"blown their fill" in office and club-room and house and wanted a
change, it was a relief to turn to Mr. Abel and get him to
discourse of his world--the world of nature and of the spirit.
It was, all felt, a good thing to have a Mr. Abel in Georgetown.
That it was indeed good for me I quickly discovered. I had
certainly not expected to meet in such a place with any person to
share my tastes--that love of poetry which has been the chief
passion and delight of my life; but such a one I had found in Mr.
Abel. It surprised me that he, suckled on the literature of
Spain, and a reader of only ten or twelve years of English
literature, possessed a knowledge of our modern poetry as
intimate as my own, and a love of it equally great. This feeling
brought us together and made us two--the nervous olive-skinned
Hispano-American of the tropics and the phlegmatic blue-eyed
Saxon of the cold north--one in spirit and more than brothers.
Many were the daylight hours we spent together and "tired the sun
with talking"; many, past counting, the precious evenings in that
restful house of his where I was an almost daily guest. I had
not looked for such happiness; nor, he often said, had he. A
result of this intimacy was that the vague idea concerning his
hidden past, that some unusual experience had profoundly affected
him and perhaps changed the whole course of his life, did not
diminish, but, on the contrary, became accentuated, and was often
in my mind. The change in him was almost painful to witness
whenever our wandering talk touched on the subject of the
aborigines, and of the knowledge he had acquired of their
character and languages when living or travelling among them; all
that made his conversation most engaging--the lively, curious
mind, the wit, the gaiety of spirit tinged with a tender
melancholy--appeared to fade out of it; even the expression of
his face would change, becoming hard and set, and he would deal
you out facts in a dry mechanical way as if reading them in a
book. It grieved me to note this, but I dropped no hint of such
a feeling, and would never have spoken about it but for a quarrel
which came at last to make the one brief solitary break in that
close friendship of years. I got into a bad state of health, and
Abel was not only much concerned about it, but annoyed, as if I
had not treated him well by being ill, and he would even say that
I could get well if I wished to. I did not take this seriously,
but one morning, when calling to see me at the office, he
attacked me in a way that made me downright angry with him. He
told me that indolence and the use of stimulants was the cause of
my bad health. He spoke in a mocking way, with a presence of not
quite meaning it, but the feeling could not be wholly disguised.
Stung by his reproaches, I blurted out that he had no right to
talk to me, even in fun, in such a way. Yes, he said, getting
serious, he had the best right--that of our friendship. He would
be no true friend if he kept his peace about such a matter.
Then, in my haste, I retorted that to me the friendship between
us did not seem so perfect and complete as it did to him. One
condition of friendship is that the partners in it should be
known to each other. He had had my whole life and mind open to
him, to read it as in a book. HIS life was a closed and clasped
volume to me.
His face darkened, and after a few moments' silent reflection he
got up and left me with a cold good-bye, and without that
hand-grasp which had been customary between us.
After his departure I had the feeling that a great loss, a great
calamity, had befallen me, but I was still smarting at his too
candid criticism, all the more because in my heart I acknowledged
its truth. And that night, lying awake, I repented of the cruel
retort I had made, and resolved to ask his forgiveness and leave
it to him to determine the question of our future relations. But
he was beforehand with me, and with the morning came a letter
begging my forgiveness and asking me to go that evening to dine
with him.
We were alone, and during dinner and afterwards, when we sat
smoking and sipping black coffee in the veranda, we were
unusually quiet, even to gravity, which caused the two white-clad
servants that waited on us--the brown-faced subtle-eyed old Hindu
butler and an almost blue-black young Guiana Negro--to direct
many furtive glances at their master's face. They were
accustomed to see him in a more genial mood when he had a friend
to dine. To me the change in his manner was not surprising: from
the moment of seeing him I had divined that he had determined to
open the shut and clasped volume of which I had spoken--that the
time had now come for him to speak.

 

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