This article comprises the annual Birthday Lecture of the Richard Jefferies Society as it was delivered in October, 2004. The text sketches the economic, social and environmental history of Jefferies' period (the 1860s, 1870s and 1880s), drawing
inter aliaon his works and referring especially to his home district in north-east Wiltshire. It alludes, firstly, to the fortunes and environmental effects of both intensive and ‘tumbledown’ arable farming. Second, it describes the creation of sporting estates and the letting of sporting rights as swift responses by some landowners to falling cereal prices. Third, the text points to under-investment in education and non-agricultural activities as hampering adjustment to the depression, and shows that Jefferies was a free trader who grasped that rapid and extensive food importation and labour emigration would have been a proper response. A related paper, Eric L. Jones, ‘Richard Jefferies’ Writing Criticised and Defended', is to appear in the Richard Jefferies Society Journalin April, 2005.