Richard Jefferies (1848-1887) was born near Swindon, the son of a Wiltshire farmer. He left school at fifteen and, after a failed attempt to run away to America, began his writing career as a local reporter for the North Wiltshire Herald.
In 1867 Jefferies suffered a severe bout of illness, the first ominous sign of tuberculosis, and his health never fully recovered. In 1874 he married Jessie Baden, the daughter of a neighbouring farmer, and published his first novel, The Scarlet Shawl, in the same year.
Jefferies moved to London in 1876 and began to make his name as a naturalist. His evocative essays of country life, many of which were printed in newspapers and proved popular with an urban readership, were collected and published in several volumes, including The Gamekeeper at Home (1876), Wild Life in a Southern County, The Amateur Poacher (both 1879) and Hodge and his Masters (1880).
Jefferies’ health collapsed once more in 1881 and he was to remain an invalid for the rest of his life. This same year saw the publication of his first book for children, Wood Magic, the modest success of which encouraged a sequel, Bevis: The Story of a Boy (1882).
The Story of My Heart, a remarkably honest piece of autobiography describing the development of his spiritual beliefs, appeared in 1883 and this was followed by the stark, apocalyptic novel After London (1885), which imagines the city destroyed and reclaimed by nature.
Jefferies’ final novel, Amaryllis at the Fair (1887), brings together many of his views on rural affairs and contemporary society.
Jefferies died at Goring-by-Sea in Sussex aged just thirty-eight.