W. H. Hudson wrote two classics of late 19th century English literature and yet today is almost unknown. Both works, `Green Mansions,` and `The Purple Land,` take place in South America, the former in the verdant jungles of Venezuela, the latter (highly praised by Hemingway) in Uruguay. Raised on a farm in Patagonia, Hudson eventually emigrated to England, pining away his final years with a deep nostalgia for South America.
"The Naturalist in La Plata,` is the well-ripened fruit of such nostalgia. In it, Hudson comprised an amazing compendium of essays , all centered around the unique wildlife of the Argentine grasslands. Any naturalist, amateur or professional, will enjoy reading these informative and engaging essays on topics as diverse as, `Music and Dancing in Nature,` `The Strange Instincts of Cattle,` Fear in Birds, `Some Curious Animal Weapons,` and many others.
The real joy in reading this book is twofold. First, W.H. Hudson was a man far ahead of his time. A pioneer conservationist in an age of glorified extermination hunting, Hudson`s thoughts on species preservation will resonate with many an eco-minded reader of today."The life of even a single species is of incalculably greater value to mankind for what it teaches and would continue to teach than all the chiseled marbles and painted canvases the world contains." Regarding the murderous hunts of his day, Hudson laments that the age`s motto should be, "Let us slay all noble and beautiful things, for tomorrow we die." Hudson`s belief in the interconnectedness of all life was revolutionary for its time.
The second reason one should spend time with this remarkable writer and scholar is for his rare mastery of the English sentence. On cursory inspection, Hudson`s English appears clunky, long-winded, leaden with unnecessary ornamentation. Yet, digested slowly and thoroughly, Hudson`s prose comes alive and reveals hidden gems. Take for instance the following sentence, "I hasten to say that the huánuco or guanaco as it is often spelt, is not a perishing species; nor as things are, is it likely to perish soon, despite the fact that civilized men, Britons especially, are now enthusiastically engaged in the extermination of all the nobler mammalians:---a very glorious crusade, the triumphant conclusion of which will doubtless be witnessed by the succeeding generation, more favored in this respect than ours." Despite their serpentine length, such sentences contain a myriad of fact and opinion.
`The Naturalist in La Plata' abounds in such seemingly prolix sentences, which can easily bog down the impatient reader. Yet, given time and effort, Hudson`s prose style can be mastered and even enjoyed for its unique combination of clarity and beauty. And for those hardy souls who manage to reach its end, `The Naturalist in La Plata` rewards greatly with fascinating and stimulating snippets from a great naturalist`s notebook. One can learn about the intricate dancing rituals of many bird species, about the social complexity of the vizcacha, about the primordial migrations of the guanaco as well as other fascinating tidbits of nature lore.
Whether one is an armchair naturalist or just a lover of fine English prose, W.H. Hudson`s `The Naturalist in La Plata` will surely please.