Other Idyllists

Richard Jefferies
(6 November 1848-14 August 1887)

Born at Coate near Swindon and educated at Sydenham in Kent, Richard Jefferies began work as Journalist on the North Wilts Herald 1866 moving on to the Wiltshire and Gloucester Herald a few years later. He married Jessie Baden at Chiseldon Church on 8 July, 1874 and they had two children.

His earliest works were undistinguished histories of Malmesbury, Swindon and Cirencester. However, he also published a guide for journalists – Reporting, Editing and Authorship – in 1873. A first novel – The Scarlet Shawl – appeared in 1874 another – Restless Human Hearts – in 1875 and another – Worlds End in 1877. The novels, and other published fictions of this early period, were never acclaimed and Jefferies turned increasingly to his nature writings and topical essays for his main income. Perhaps his first step on the road to success came in 1878 with publication in the Pall Mall Gazette of the first chapter of The Game Keeper at Home. This established a style of writing for which Jefferies is chiefly remembered – reflections of country life, minute observation of nature and engaging observations on life. The success of Gamekeeper at Home was repeated with further serialised works: Wild Life in a Southern County (1878), Hodge at his Work (1879), The Amateur Poacher (1879) and Round about a Great Estate (1880).

His reputation enhanced, Jefferies returned to fiction with Green Ferne Farm, published in 1880 and followed this with further fictionalised works: Wood Magic (1881), Bevis, the Story of a Boy (1882), Story of My Heart (1883), The Dewy Morn (1883), After London (1885), and Amaryllis at the Fair (1887). However, he never ceased with his observational works and some of his best writing can be found in: Nature Near London (1883), The Life of the Fields (1884), Red Deer (1884) and The Open Air (1885). Collections of his periodical essays were published posthumously.

Unfortunately, despite a life spent mainly out of doors, Jefferies was never robust of constitution. Indeed, many of his later works were produced while suffering the agonies of Tuberculosis. He died in Goring on 14 August, 1887 at the age of 38.

Jefferies connections with Salisbury are slight, but there are busts here in the Council Offices and in the Cathedral. Salisbury Journal published details of a fund established by the writer’s friend, the artist J W North, to support the family following Jefferies’ untimely death.

Biography:

Looker, S J. Richard Jefferies man of the Fields. 1965.
Salt, Henry. Richard Jefferies A Study. 1894.
Thomas, E. Richard Jefferies. His life and Work. 1909.
Besant, W. The Eulogy of Richard Jefferies. 1888.

George Heming Mason
(1818 – 1872)
George Mason was born near Stoke in Staffordshire in 1818, the eldest son of George Miles Mason a Staffordshire potter. His grandfather Miles Mason, born at Dent in Yorkshire in 1752, began his successful career as a glass manufacturer and china dealer, then he started to make pottery at Liverpool and then in Staffordshire, moving to the Minerva Works in Fenton. In 1813 he handed the business over to his two sons George and Charles James. It was Charles James Mason who invented ‘Ironstone’. The artist’s father, George Miles Mason, retired from the business in 1829 and in 1832 he purchased Wetley Abbey where he devoted his remaining years to literature and painting.

The young Goerge was educated at King Edwards School, Birmingham, and studied for the medical profession for five years under Dr Watt. But all his thoughts being given to art, he abandoned medicine in 1844 and travelled for a time on the Continent; finally settling in Rome. Here he began to acquire artistic instruction while he painted from nature around Rome with Giovanni Costa, and remained until 1855, befriending Frederick (later Lord) Leighton in 1853. During his foreign sojourn he underwent many privations which permanently affected his health; but he continued to labor assiduously, making studies of the picturesque scenery that surrounded him. Two notable works date from this period: ‘Ploughing in the Campagna’, shown in the Royal Academy of 1857, and ‘In the Salt Marshes, Campagna’, exhibited in the following year.

In 1855 Mason returned to England, marrying in 1857 and settling at the family home at Wetley Abbey where he continued to paint Italian subjects from studies made during his stay abroad. However, his work soon started to feature scenes of rural and peasant life in his native Staffordshire. After problems within the family, including the financial ruination of his father, he gave up painting for a time. He left Staffordshire in 1865 and went to live at Hammersmith and in 1867 he resumed painting idyllic pastoral landscapes at sunset, usually using a long, narrow canvas to give a panorama. The first picture of this class was ‘Wind on the Wold’, and it was followed with work of equal quality including his three best known works: The Evening Hymn (1868), ‘a band of Staffordshire mill-girls returning from their work’; ‘Girls dancing by the Sea’ (1869); and ‘the Harvest Moon’ (1872).

Mason was elected an associate of the Royal Academy in 1869. By that time he had fully established his position as an artist of unusual power and individuality. Mason died on the 22nd of October 1872. In his work he laboured under the double disadvantage of feeble and uncertain health, and a want of thorough art-training, so that his pictures were never produced easily, or without strenuous and long- continued effort. His art is great in virtue of the solemn pathos which pervades it, of the dignity and beauty in rustic life which it reveals, of its keen perception of noble form and graceful motion, and of rich effects of color and subdued light. In motif and treatment it has something in common with the art of Millet and Jules Breton, as with that of Frederick Walker among Englishmen; though he had neither the occasional uncouth robustness of Millet nor the firm actuality of Jules Breton. His pictures Wind on. the Wold and The Cast Shoe are in the National Gallery of British Art.

Mason is now often considered in relation to the younger Walker and for this reason his work is now viewed within the context of the idyllist style that evolved during the 1860s and 70s.

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