Thursday, January 11, 2018

White phantoms, cloven tongues

‘At Bockhampton. My birthday - 44. Alone in the plantation, at 9 o’clock. A weird hour: strange faces and figures formed by dying lights. Holm leaves shine like human eyes, and the sky glimpses between the trunks are like white phantoms and cloven tongues. It is so silent and still that a footstep on the dead leaves could be heard a quarter of a mile off. Squirrels run up the trunks in fear, stamping and crying ‘chut-chut-chut!’ ’ This is rare piece of lyrical descriptive writing from the diary of the English writer Thomas Hardy, who died 90 years ago today. It can be found in his ‘autobiography’ as written/compiled by his second wife Florence - but for the most part the only extracts of his diary that have survived are those with some direct relevance for the ‘autobiography’. Hardy went to great lengths during his lifetime - including destroying his own diaries and those of his first wife - to control how his ‘life’ would be portrayed after his death.

Hardy was born in 1840 near Dorchester, England, and educated locally until he was 18 when was apprenticed to an architect. In 1862, he moved to London where he joined Arthur Blomfield’s practice as an assistant architect, and he was assigned to various church building projects. By the late 1860s, he was writing novels, the first two of which he published anonymously. In 1874, he married Emma Gifford, whom he had met while working in Cornwall. The year before he had published A Pair of Blue Eyes under his own name inspired by his courtship of Emma, which was also serialised, and a year later he published Far from the Madding Crowd which was successful enough to allow him to abandon architecture and take up a literary career.

After living in various places mostly in Dorset, in 1885, Hardy and his wife moved into Max Gate, near Dorchester, a house designed by Hardy and built by his brother. During the subsequent decade, he produced several of his most famous works The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), The Woodlanders (1887), Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891) and Jude the Obscure (1895). In these novels, Hardy tackled controversial stories of marriage and divorce, and what he saw as the hypocrisy of Victorian attitudes towards women. While many found Tess shocking, there was a public outcry against Jude the Obscure. Subsequently, Hardy retreated from fiction, and returned to his first literary love, poetry, writing and publishing hundred of poems.

By the early years of the 20th century, Hardy was undoubtedly recognised as one of the country’s outstanding authors. In 1910, King George V conferred on him the Order of Merit (Hardy had refused a knighthood), and in 1912 he received the gold medal of the Royal Society of Literature. But that same year, 1912, Emma died. Although he had been estranged from her for some years, he fell back in love with her memory. However, he had also become involved with Florence Dugdale, nearly 40 years younger, who occasionally did research for him in London, and who, herself, had literary ambitions. They married in 1914, but, biographers say, the marriage proved disappointing, and Hardy spent most of every day closeted in his study. He died in 1928. He had wanted to be buried next to Emma in Dorchester, but thanks to a somewhat gruesome compromise between executors Hardy’s heart was removed from the corpse to be buried with Emma, but the rest of it was cremated and interred in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey. Further biographical information is available online at Wikipedia, The Hardy Society, The Poetry Foundation, the Victorian Web or Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Hardy certainly kept a diary at times, but he left behind no diary manuscripts, having chosen to destroy them all - just as he had done with his first wife’s diaries, on discovering how bitterly she had written about him. Claire Tomalin, in her biography of Hardy (The Time-torn Man, Viking, 2006) writes: ‘Sensibly enough, he decided [his wife’s diaries] were largely the product of a mind subject to delusions and refused to allow them to spoil his renewed vision of her as the love of his life.’ However, in the 15 years or so after the death of Emma, and with the help of Florence, Hardy made good use of his own diaries in preparing an autobiography, the first part of which was published soon after his death: The Early Life of Thomas Hardy 1840-1891 (Macmillan, 1928). It was issued as a work ‘by Florence Emily Hardy’ as ‘compiled largely from contemporary notes, letters, diaries, and biographical memoranda, as well as from oral information in conversations extending over many years’. This original version is freely available at Internet Archive, as is the second volume, The Later Years of Thomas Hardy, 1892-1928 (Macmillan, 1930).

In a prefatory note to the first volume, Florence Hardy says she was greatly helped in her task of putting together the biography ‘by the dated observations which [Hardy] made in pocket-books, during the years of his novel-writing, apparently with the idea that if one followed the trade of fiction one must take notes, rather than from natural tendency, for when he ceased fiction and resumed the writing of verses he left off note-taking except to a very limited extent.’ However, there has been much controversy over the authorship of the two-volume ‘Life’, with biographers generally referring to it as an ‘autobiography’, and offering more or less evidence that Hardy wrote almost all of the text, went to great lengths to create the fiction of his wife’s authorship, and to hide the extent of his own penmanship. Biographers, these days, accept that Florence, with the help of a few of Hardy’s friends, did have some impact on the final published texts, more so with the second volume than the first, but mostly with the aim of ensuring he was portrayed as an attractive character.

An excellent analysis of how and why Hardy and his second wife compiled the ‘Life’ can be found in The Life and Work of Thomas Hardy by Thomas Hardy, edited by Michael Millgate (Macmillan, 1984). It is billed as ‘An edition on new principles of the materials previously drawn upon for The Early Life of Thomas Hardy 1840-1891 and The Later Years of Thomas Hardy 1892-1928 published over the name of Florence Emily Hardy’. Millgate’s introduction can be read online at Googlebooks. He writes: ‘Much that Hardy included in the ‘Life’, however, simply cannot be verified. Indubitably his are the many extracts from notebooks and diaries ascribed to specific dates, but since the originals of those notebooks and diaries were destroyed after they had been cannibalised in this way it has become impossible to check the accuracy either of the dates or of the transcriptions themselves - impossible to be confident that the proffered text of a note dated, say, 1885, corresponds at all precisely to what Hardy actually wrote in 1885.’ He adds, ‘it is self-evident that some of the notes must have been reworked’, and offers various examples of why this must be so.

Here, though, is a selection of extracts from Hardy’s diaries as found (and as reworked or not) in the 1928 edition of The Early Life of Thomas Hardy 1840-1891.

5 May 1873
‘ ‘Maniel’ [Immanuel] Riggs found dead. [A shepherd Hardy knew.] A curious man, who used to moisten his lips between every two or three words.’

9 June 1873
‘To London. Went to French Plays. Saw Brasseur, etc.’

15 June 1873
‘Met H. M. Moule at the Golden Cross Hotel. Dined with him at the British Hotel. Moule then left for Ipswich on his duties as Poor Law Inspector.’

16-20 June 1873
‘About London with my brother Henry.’

20 June 1873
‘By evening train to Cambridge. Stayed in College - Queens’ - Went out with H. M. M. after dinner. A magnificent evening: sun over ‘the Backs’.

Next morning went with H. M. M. to King’s Chapel early. M. opened the great West doors to show the interior vista: we got upon the roof, where we could see Ely Cathedral gleaming in the distant sunlight. A never-to-be-forgotten morning. H. M. M. saw me off for London. His last smile.’

23 June 1873
‘Excursions about Bath and Bristol with the ladies.’

28 June 1873
‘To Clifton with Miss Gifford.’

30 June 1873
‘About Bath alone. . . . Bath has a rural complexion on an urban substance. . .’

1 July 1873
‘A day’s trip with Miss G. To Chepstow, the Wye, the Wynd Cliff, which we climbed, and Tintern, where we repeated some of Wordsworth’s lines thereon.

At Tintern, silence is part of the pile. Destroy that, and you take a limb from an organism. . .  A wooded slope visible from every unmullioned window. But compare the age of the building with that of the marble hills from which it was drawn! . . .’

25 February 1883. Sent a short hastily written novel to the Graphic for Summer Number.’ [lt was The Romantic Adventures of a Milkmaid.]

28 February 1883
‘Walked with Walter Fletcher (County Surveyor) to Corfe Mullen. He says that the scene of the auction of turnpike tolls used to be curious. It was held at an inn, and at one end of the room would be the auctioneer and trustees, at the other a crowd of strange beings, looking as not worth sixpence among them. Yet the biddings for the Poole Trust would sometimes reach £1400. Sometimes the bidders would say, ‘Beg yer pardon, gentlemen, but will you wait to let us step outside a minute or two?’ Perhaps the trustees would say they could not. The men would say, ‘then we’ll step out without your letting us’. On their return only one or two would bid, and the peremptory trustees be nettled.

Passed a lonely old house formerly an inn. The road-contractor now living there showed us into the stable, and drew our attention to the furthest stall. When the place was an inn, he said, it was the haunt of smugglers, and in a quarrel there one night a man was killed in that stall. If an old horse is put there on certain nights, at about two in the morning (when the smuggler died) the horse cries
like a child, and on entering you find him in a lather of sweat.

The huge chestnut tree which stood in front of this melancholy house is dead, but the trunk is left standing. In it are still the hooks to which horses were fastened by the reins while their owners were inside.’

13 March 1883
‘M. writes to me that when a farmer at Puddlehinton who did not want rain found that a neighbouring farmer had sent to the parson to pray for it, and it had come, he went and abused the other farmer, and told him ’twas a very dirty trick of his to catch God A’mighty unawares, and he ought to be ashamed of it.

Our servant Ann brings us a report, which has been verified, that the carpenter who made a coffin for Mr. W. who died the other day, made it too short. A bystander said satirically, ‘Anybody would think you’d made it for yourself, John!’ (the carpenter was a short man). The maker said, ‘Ah - they would!’ and fell dead instantly.’

24 June 1883
‘Sunday. Went in the afternoon to see Mrs. Procter at Albert Hall Mansions. Found Browning present. He told me that Mrs.__, whom he and I had met at Lord Houghton’s, had made £200,000 by publishing pirated works of authors who had made comparatively nothing. Presently Mrs. Sutherland Orr and Mrs. Frank Hill (Daily News) came in. Also two Jewesses - the Misses Lazarus - from America. Browning tried the elder with Hebrew, and she appeared to understand so well that he said he perceived she knew the tongue better than he. When these had gone George Smith [the publisher] called, he and Mrs Procter declared that there was something tender between Mrs. Orr and Browning. ‘Why don’t they settle it!’ said Mrs. P.

In the evening went to the Irving dinner. Sir Frederick Pollock, who took the chair, and made a speech, said that the departure of Irving for America would be a loss that would eclipse the gaiety of nations (!) Irving in his reply said that in the twenty-seven years he had been on the stage he had enacted 650 different characters.’

25 June 1883
‘Dined at the Savile with Gosse. Met W. D. Howells of New York there. He told me a story of Emerson’s loss of memory. At the funeral of Longfellow he had to make a speech. ‘The brightness and beauty of soul’, he began, ‘of him we have lost, has been acknowledged wherever the English language is spoken. I’ve known him these forty years; and no American, whatever may be his opinions, will deny that in—in—in—I can’t remember the gentleman’s name - beat the heart of a true poet.’

Howells said that Mark Twain usually makes a good speech. But once he heard him fail. In his speech he was telling a story of an occasion when he was in some western city, and found that some impostors personating Longfellow, Emerson, and others had been there. Mark began to describe these impostors, and while doing it found that Longfellow, Emerson, etc., were present, listening, and, from a titter or two, found also that his satirical description of the impostors was becoming regarded as an oblique satirical description of the originals. He was overspread by a sudden cold chill, and struggled to a lame ending. He was so convinced that he had given offence that he wrote to Emerson and Longfellow, apologizing. Emerson could not understand the letter, his memory of the incident having failed him, and wrote to Mark asking what it meant. Then Mark had to tell him what he wished he had never uttered; and altogether the fiasco was complete.’

19 July 1883
‘In future I am not going to praise things because the accumulated remarks of ages say they are great and good, if those accumulated remarks are not based on observation. And I am not going to condemn things because a pile of accepted views raked together from tradition, and acquired by instillation, say antecedently that they are bad.’

22 July 1883
‘To Winterbome-Came Church with Gosse, to hear and see the poet Barnes. Stayed for sermon. Barnes, knowing we should be on the watch for a prepared sermon, addressed it entirely to his own flock, almost pointedly excluding us. Afterwards walked to the rectory and looked at his pictures.

Poetry versus reason: e.g., A band plays ‘God save the Queen’, and being musical the uncompromising Republican joins in the harmony: a hymn rolls from a church-window, and the uncompromising No-God-ist or Unconscious God-ist takes up the refrain.

13 August 1883
‘Tolbort [T. W. H. Tolbort -  a friend of Hardy’s from youth who had died recently] lived and studied as if everything in the world were so very much worth while. But what a bright mind has gone out at one-and-forty!’

3 November 1883
‘The Athenaeum says: ‘The glass-stainer maintains his existence at the sacrifice of everything the painter holds dear. In place of the freedom and sweet abandonment which is nature’s own charm and which the painter can achieve, the glass-stainer gives us splendour as luminous as that of the rainbow . . . in patches, and stripes, and bars.’ The above canons are interesting in their conveyance of a half truth. All art is only approximative - not exact, as the reviewer thinks; and hence the methods of all art differ from that of the glass-stainer but in degree.’

17 November 1883
‘Poem. We [human beings] have reached a degree of intelligence which Nature never contemplated when framing her laws, and for which she consequently has provided no adequate satisfactions.’ [This, which he had adumbrated before, was clearly the germ of the poem entitled ‘The Mother Mourns’ and others.]

23 December 1883
‘There is what we used to call ‘The Birds’ Bedroom’ in the plantation at Bockhampton. Some large hollies grow among leafless ash, oak, birch, etc. At this time of year the birds select the hollies for roosting in, and at dusk noises not unlike the creaking of withy-chairs arise, with a busy rustling as of people going to bed in a lodging-house; accompanied by sundry shakings, adjustings, and pattings, as if they were making their beds vigorously before turning in.

Death of old Billy C__ at a great age. He used to talk enthusiastically of Lady Susan O’Brien [the daughter of Lord Ilchester], who excited London by eloping with O’Brien the actor, as so inimitably described in Walpole’s Letters, and who afterwards settled in the Hardys’ parish as own; the third child’s face that of an angel; the fourth that of a cherub. The pretty one smiled on the second, and began to play “In the gloaming”, the little voices singing it. Now they were what Nature made them, before the smear of ‘civilization’ had sullied their existences. [An impression of a somewhat similar scene is given in the poem entitled ‘Music in a Snowy Street’.]

Rural low life may reveal coarseness of considerable leaven; but that libidinousness which makes the scum of cities so noxious is not usually there.’

2 June 1884
‘At Bockhampton. My birthday - 44. Alone in the plantation, at 9 o’clock. A weird hour: strange faces and figures formed by dying lights. Holm leaves shine like human eyes, and the sky glimpses between the trunks are like white phantoms and cloven tongues. It is so silent and still that a footstep on the dead leaves could be heard a quarter of a mile off. Squirrels run up the trunks in fear, stamping and crying ‘chut-chut-chut!’ ’

No comments: