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A revival of Argentina's Thoreau

The rediscovery of the work and influence of William Henry Hudson fans the flame of romantic naturalism.

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If Reuben Ravera has his way, one day his museum will be a destination for culture tourists, like the Café Tortoni, jammed these days with Americans, Europeans, and Japanese eager to be in a place where the great Jorge Luis Borges hung his hat.

Mr. Ravera's task is as hard as rocks. Unlike Borges, whose fame seems brighter today than when he was alive, the name William Henry Hudson doesn't sit on the lips of the literati, local or foreign. He lived a long time ago, which is why most people know little of his contribution to Argentina's national culture, though his books are available in stores and libraries across the land.

"The fact that he wrote in English is a problem," Ravera said, as we squirmed out of the dense traffic of downtown Buenos Aires, heading out of town toward the William Henry Hudson Museum and Ecological Park. "Most Argentines think he was English."

During our drive through the suburbs we saw evidence of at least an institutional memory of Hudson's presence here so many years ago: a train station bears his name, a small town by the side of the highway, too; there are ads for a housing development called Altos de Hudson (Hudson Heights), and Hudson Avenue leads into the eponymous park.

Confusion about Hudson's nationality is understandable. He was himself confused. Argentine born, the child of Anglophile immigrants from Massachusetts, Hudson thought he was destined to be an Englishman. He would be that, and much more. Through his writings and civic efforts to create laws to protect birds and other animals, he fiercely rejected the biblically sanctioned notion that the natural world was man's to conquer and dispose of at will. His was a voice in the wilderness which, like that of Henry David Thoreau, was actually heard. Were he to be writing today, he'd surely find an audience in the green movement.


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