W. H. Hudson's Little GirlsThursday, June 21, 2007
A year before Argentine born William Henry Hudson (1841-1922) died he wrote a book of essays (traveling in England where he lived towards the end of his life) called A Traveller In Little Things. Here is chapter XXI:
Wild Flowers And Little Girls
Thinking of the numerous company of little girls of infinite charm I have met, and of their evanishment, I have a vision of myself on horseback on the illimitable green level pampas, under the wide sunlit cerulean sky in late September or early October, when the wild flowers are at their best before the wilting heats of summer.
Seeing the flowers so abundant, I dismount and lead my horse by the bridle and walk knee-deep in the lush grass, stooping down at every step to look closely at the shy, exquisite blooms in their dewy morning freshness and divine colours. Flowers of an inexpressible unearthly loveliness and unforgettable; for how forget them when their images shine in memory in all their pristine morning brilliance!
That's how I remember and love to remember them, in that first fresh aspect, not as they appear later, the petals wilted or dropped, sunbrowned, ripening their seed and fruit.
And so with the little human flowers. I love to remember and think of them as flowers, not as ripening or ripened into young ladies, wives, matrons, mothers of sons and daughters.
As little girls, as human flowers, they shone and passed out of sight. Only of one do I think differently, the most exquisite among them, the most beautiful in body and soul, or so I imagine, perhaps because of the manner of her vanishing even while my eyes were still on her. That was Dolly, aged eight, and because her little life finished then she is the one that never faded, never changed.
Here are some lines I wrote when grief at her going was still fresh. They were in a monthly magazine at that time years ago, and were set to music, although not very successfully, and I wish it could be done again.
Should'st thou come to me again
From the sunshine and the rain,
With thy laughter sweet and free,
O how should I welcome thee!
Like a streamlet dark and cold
Kindled into fiery gold
By a sunbeam swift that cleaves
Downward through curtained leaves;
So this darkned life of mine
Lit with sudden joy would shine,
And to greet thee I should start
With a cry in my heart.
Back to drop again, the cry
On my trembling lips would die:
Thou would'st pass to be again
With the sunshine and the rain.
W.H. Hudson goes on to write in Chapter XXIII
A Spray Of Southernwood
To pass from little girls to little boys is to go into quite another, an inferior, coarser world. No doubt there are wonderful little boys, but as a rule their wondefullness consists in a precocious intellect: this kind doesn't appeal to me, so that if I were to say anything on the matter, it would be a prejudiced judgment. Even the ordinary civilized little boy, the nice little gentleman who is as much at home in the drawing-room as at his desk in the school-room or with a bat in the playing field - even that harmless little person seems somehow unnatural, or denaturalized to my primitive taste. A result, I will have it, of improper treatment. He has been under the tap, too thoroughly scrubbed, boiled, strained and served up with melted butter and a sprig of parsley for ornament in a gilt-edged dish. I prefer him raw, and would rather have the street-Arab, if in town, and the unkempt, rough and tough cottage boy in the country. But take them civilized or natural, those who love and observe little children no more expect to find that peculiar exquisite charm of the girl-child which I have endeavoured to describe in the boy, than they would expect the music of the wood-lark and the airy fairy grace and beauty of the grey wagtail in Philip Sparrow.........
I had these stories in mind yesterday as I sat on my bench gazing at Rebecca, her friend Britany, Lauren and Tim Bray and Lauren Wood's little girl. We were having iced tea, Filipino ensaimadas and polvorones, watermelon, melon and grapes in our sunny afternoon garden. My granddaughter Lauren (she is going to be five this Sunday) was blowing soap bubbles by the centre rose bed. I could not get enough of her (above left in her wine coloured dress and below being made up for that photograph by Ale my eldest daughter).
When my daughter Hilary was pregnant for the second time I would tell her (I may have been almost serious) that if she had a little boy I was going to disown her. Luckily Lauren was a little girl and I never had to carry out my threat. I honestly would not know how to deal with a little baby boy. After all, I have two daughters and never wanted a son. I don't particularly care if I am the last of the Waterhouse-Haywards.
I think of W. H. Hudson's stories and wonder how they would be read in our overly cautious 21st century? Would any monthly magazine have published that story of the little girl?
I can't get enough of my little girls. I guess that I can write about them and how I feel here and be safe. I have the protection that being a grandfather provides. I believe that W.H. Hudson wrote from an innocent heart in more innocent times and while he would have been pilloried now for what he wrote then, he was lucky to have been a man of his time. Perhaps, he may have even been lucky enough to be a grandfather.
And perhaps, if Hudson had cultivated a rose garden he would have come to appreciate the beauty in the faded glory of the rose. Seen here is a spent bloom of the Gallica rose, Rosa 'Alain Blanchard'.