For of all living authors–now that Tolstoi has gone–I could least dispense with W. H. Hudson. ~ John Galsworthy
W. H. Hudson was born in 1841 in Argentina to immigrants from the United States. He is best known today, to those few who even know his name, for his novel Green Mansions, which for years was a staple of English 101 classes. Fortunately and unfortunately it no longer appears to be required reading. It is fortunate since to my mind it is one of his lesser works. It is unfortunate though in that generations of English majors are growing up without knowing Hudson, one of the finest writers the English language has ever known.
A quick look at Wikipedia shows how obscure Hudson has become since Galsworthy penned his famous words about Hudson in an introduction to Green Mansions. The Wikipedia article consists of a few brief biographical paragraphs mostly about his accomplishments as an ornithologist and a bibliography of his works. That is it for a writer who was once so admired by literary giants like Galsworthy and Ford and Henry James.
When I first began to read Hudson, in the mid-1980s, his work was difficult to find but not impossible. Combing used bookstore shelves I could find old volumes of Idle Days in Patagonia, El Ombu and Other Stories, A Little Lost Boy, Afoot in England, The Naturalist in la Plata... It took time, but with work I found most of the volumes I was searching for… and all, without exception, were worth any and all the trouble it took to find them.
I was introduced to Hudson when reading books of reminiscences by Ford Madox Ford. Ford like Galsworthy held Hudson in great esteem and affection. It seems like everyone who knew him as a person and a writer loved and respected him.
Hudson grew up speaking American English and Spanish. His early work shows the influence of both. He uses both Spanish and English. The Spanish idioms dropped out over time in his writing, but the way he looked at the world… so American… so un-European… especially nature and birds… never changed.
Hudson has been on my mind of late because I recently downloaded – for free – many of the works that had once taken me so long to find, and a few I could not find then and so have not yet read. (Since Hudson died in 1922, his works are all available in the public domain from many different sites.)
Sometimes when you re-read a work you greatly admire, you find yourself disappointed… a little bewildered and surprised to find something once great and rare now diminished and dull. Not so with Hudson. If anything, my appreciation for him has only increased over time.
Is he work? Yes, in the way that all 19th Century writers can be work: like Tolstoy, and James, and Turgenev, and Ford, and… But like them, he is worth the work. He should not be forgotten and should not have only a few brief paragraphs in Wikipedia. He should be downloaded, read, and celebrated.