I'd like to introduce Mr. Hudson by discussing just one single point. It won't make for a very specific reference, but I think it is a "critical abstraction" that is valuable to understand.
I have on my desk the original two volume set of Birds of La Plata, published in 1920. No, I don't. It was just a pretty lie to see how it might feel. I have on my desk the single Capra Press paperback entitled The Bird Biographies of W. H. Hudson, printed in 1988. Its forty-nine chapters, each a life history of a different species, were taken from Birds of La Plata.
Until 1900, bird-watching was what we would call bird-shooting. Naturalists carried guns and sacks instead of binoculars and field guides. Personal collections of bird carcasses—often including thousands of specimens—were the way to go. A lot of people still think that is a really great idea.
What is most remarkable is that the early naturalists wrote with real feeling for the birds they killed. They described the aesthetic delight in watching form and colour, of listening to song—and then they shot the bird. This was not unusual at all, nor was it considered contradictory.
There seem to be two kinds of people: those who kill, and those who don't. Or maybe I should say those who find killing fun, and those who try to avoid it. If you are of the second set, the aesthetic and even romantic writings of the early naturalists might well leave you cold. Biologists like to say that ontogeny recapitulates philogeny, which means that the story of an individual retraces the paths the species has come in its evolution. I am not sure whether hunters see themselves evolving into poets, though poets might wish they would.
I have watched birds, and listened to birds, for forty-six years. At least, my present-day Birds of a Lifetime—my "life list"—has a first page written September 10, 1960. I was fourteen then. A lot of what I learned followed the culture of Henry Hudson and a number of others who killed birds and marvelled at their beauty and passed along the most wonderful insights and scientific understanding of these creatures I love. I would much prefer, if I were given the choice, that I were ignorant of many truths about birds, than that I should have learned these truths because these creatures were shot. The thing has its yin and yang. I prefer gentlessness myself.
I think Henry Hudson would agree. That is the odd part. It all depends where we began, and how we were shaped, and what was the example. So, if you read his books, or if you read any of these naturalists' books, you may want to contemplate that.
The exception might be Alexander F. Skutch, who came along in 1904, and died a hundred years later. I think I might see about beginning a thread about his works, which are also about birds and occasionally romance; and which are also about the spirit and the mind. There has always been a connection between writers and people who study life forms. Many biologists are well-read and many are good writers.