(The Story of My Heart by Richard Jefferies is scheduled to be published today, but as of the weekend we were having unexpected production delays. But it should be available any minute now, and so I leave this launch blurb in place.)
I don’t really know what to make of this book.
In the early going I am charmed by Richard Jefferies’ poetic descriptions of his jaunts through verdant fields. As we continue I appreciate his efforts to describe philosophical concepts he admits having trouble wrapping his own brain around — things like the nature of the soul-life, how the human body could last much longer if we didn’t mistreat it so, and his belief in a higher intelligence but not the higher intelligence most people mean by that phrase. I find it odd that he describes the book as “An Autobiography” yet shares precious few details about his life.
Writing in the 1880s, Jefferies predicts a time when 90% of our time is “idle,” so it feels almost like a message to us here in his future, when we spend so much of our time looking at entertainment on screens and otherwise filling our comparatively immense leisure time. He died at age 38 while envisioning that people could live for centuries.
He reminds me of the writer of Ecclesiastes, who suggests everything is meaningless while clearly reaching for meaning, not believing in a guiding intelligence to the universe while celebrating the natural and the supernatural.
In the end, and as I work my way through the list that Roger Mifflin posted in his Haunted Bookshop, the list that protagonist Aubrey Gilbert finds when he enters —
If your mind needs phosphorus, try “Trivia,” by Logan Pearsall Smith.
If your mind needs a whiff of strong air, blue and cleansing, from hilltops and primrose valleys, try “The Story of My Heart,” by Richard Jefferies.
If your mind needs a tonic of iron and wine, and a thorough rough-and-tumbling, try Samuel Butler’s “Notebooks” or “The Man Who Was Thursday,” by Chesterton.
If you need “all manner of Irish,” and a relapse into irresponsible freakishness, try “The Demi-Gods,” by James Stephens. It is a better book than one deserves or expects.
It’s a good thing to turn your mind upside down now and then, like an hourglass, to let the particles run the other way.
— I come to the conclusion that his comment about the value of turning your brain upside down like an hourglass applies to all of the books on the list, including this one, because all of them in one way or another come at the reader from unexpected directions, and I find myself sifting through the hourglass-sand long after finishing.
All of the books Mifflin cites in Christopher Morley’s 1919 novel are, obviously, at least a century old, but all of them remain vibrant and challenging and worth preserving. And that above all is the reason for “The Roger Mifflin Collection.”
I am proud to present the sixth volume in that collection, Richard Jefferies’ The Story of My Heart, even if — and probably because — I am still working through what I think of it.