The Historian of Wessex


IT is perhaps unfortunate for Mr. Thomas Hardy, and still more unfortunate for criticism, that all general discussion of the Wessex novels tends to resolve itself into discussion of Jude the Obscure. Jude achieves, we are not forgetting, a singular emphasis among Mr. Hardy’s works of fiction, both because it is the last, the terrible outcome of a long series of experiments, and because it has the sanction of its author’s expressed approval. Hardy did indeed arrive at a forbidding unity of purpose, a misanthropy at once querulous and brutal. But he is so often identified with that extremity of his thought and feeling, not so much because it is traceable in him from the beginning as because its intensity is so great that it casts a sinister light backward over all that precedes it. If only for such factitious reasons, any fundamental criticism of Mr. Hardy has to begin with the celebrated pessimism of which Jude the Obscure is an ultimate expression, or, in the least, favorable view, a reductio ad absurdum. But it is very important to remember that there is only one Jude. A critic who undertakes, with Mr. Chesterton, to classify Thomas Hardy as ‘the village atheist .. . . blaspheming over the village idiot’ makes the mistake of rewriting A Pair of Blue Eyes and Far from the Madding Crowd, in order to prove that a great novelist was always the same person, and that he has always read the universe in the same dark light. Whereas it is our point, by all odds the most important producible, that Mr. Hardy has been several persons in succession, so that to reject Jude the Obscure is by no means to reject the whole of Hardy. When we look for the element of consistency or continuity in Hardy, we find it in his art, not in his philosophy. The development of his art is a growth; that of his philosophy is a change.

The truthful critic must describe the pessimism of Hardy as simply the extension of his earlier temperamental bias toward appreciation of incongruity. Probably no novelist has ever had a keener appreciation of the incongruous for its own sake. The quaint homemade songbooks of his Mellstock choir, made up of sheets hand-ruled by the horny fingers of country artisans, wheelwrights, ploughmen ; cobblers, and containing between the same covers the most bizarre extremes of pious and unprintably profane, can stand as an image of character, of life, and of the world, as Hardy tended from the beginning to see them. The incongruous mixture of elements in the same character; the incongruous domination of the strong or unified character by impersonal forces, Nature, Heredity, or simply Chance; pranks played on the helpless human soul by the mocking irresponsibility of the whole worldscheme— these are the familiar and characteristic appeals of Hardy after a certain point; and even from the first they are a vaguely implied destination.

The subtly pessimistic bent of Hardy’s mind is shown in the group of novels which may be called, far want of a really apt name, his idylls —such novels as Under the Greenwood Tree, Far from the Madding Crowd, A Pair of Blue Eyes, and The Woodlanders; a group not compressed into a few years, a recognizable ‘period,’ but scattered from 1872 to 1887, and interspersed with others less great,— as The Hand of Ethelberta, — and far greater, as The Return of the Native.

The figure of a cadence marred by a half-inaudible discord will serve to describe life as Hardy sees it in these tragicomic idylls, especially since it is in the endings of such books that he comes nearest to his later pessimism. Under the Greenwood Tree closes with the conversation of two just-married lovers, the husband exclaiming fondly over the perfect confidence they share and the impossibility of either’s having a secret from the other, the woman coolly assenting even while she thinks, in the last phrase of the book, ‘of a secret she should never tell’ — a secret which, told, would discolor the entire future of their relation. A Pair of Blue Eyes and The Woodlanders both end with gravescenes which show how Time has made — as is his wont—a laughing-stock of love.

Still more characteristic, because in the tone of humor rather than pathos, is the close of Far from the Madding Crowd. Farmer Oak has at last, after many vicissitudes, married Bathsheba, who resorts to him after all else has failed her. When the neighbors come to chorus their good wishes, the dominant strain is somehow not the serene contentment it seems to be. No one means to touch a discordant string; yet — ‘Why, it might have been worse, and I feel my thanks accordingly,’ is all Joseph Poorgrass can say. And somehow the reader can say no more; for Bathsheba’s gift is that of a spent, an all but wasted self, worn out by the stresses brought into her life by caprices and petty vanities.

All the novels of this group mingle light and shadow in somewhat the proportion of life. Their resultant taste is bitter-sweet, like that of life. If any one trait in them more irritates than pleases, it is the conscious effort to disentangle and accent the note of irony above its natural vibration. The reader experiences a lurking wonder whether, after all, the artist has given the goodness of life a quite fair chance. This wonder recurs most often in connection with the women characters, in the treatment of whom Hardy’s insistence is always upon the lighter qualities. His judgments of women are censorious in the extreme; indeed, his favorite motif is the situation which might be one of ideal felicity but for a woman’s failure in constancy or candor. Fancy, Elfride, Viviette spoil the future by white lies, deceits intrinsically petty but overwhelming in their consequences; Bathsheba fails through vanity or self-regard; Grace through inconstancy.

To these qualities of his unsparing analysis, Hardy adds on almost lyrical sense of the cruelty of Time, which makes beauty fade and love grow cold. No artist has ever had a more plaintive sense of the pathos of shriveled cheeks and whitened hair, or a less adequate sense of their dignity. We can think of no character in Hardy who promises an old age of ripened wisdom and contentment, fire-lighted ease and musing, placid retrespect. Most of them are victims of the irony that waits on the vows of lovers, who pledge themselves to eternity and, like Wilfrid Pole, forget before eleven o’clock of the morrow morning.

The mournful beauty of these idyllic books is so haunting largely because throughout their pages the possibility of happiness, though unfulfilled, is so vividly present and near. They are marked by a sense of the insubstantial character of the wall that shuts men and women from their beatitude. Spare one trifling element of the ironic, let so much as a pin-point of light through the wall, and the characters can find their way to happiness; not otherwise. This is the latent cruelty of even these earlier and purer interpretations of life — a cruelty foreshadowed in such title phrases as Far from the Madding Crowd and Under the Greenwood Tree, wrenched from idyllic poems about the beneficence of nature to man, to be applied to idyllic novels about Mr. Hardy’s favorite idea, the ironic contrast between nature and man.


Hardy always perceived, then, the ironies that make for humor or for the bearable degrees of pathos — ‘Life’s Little Ironies,’ as he calls them in a familiar title. But it is not until nearly the end of his career in the novel that he begins to add these up into the great fundamental ironies that make for despair. We see his drift as a thing selfpropulsive. The tendency grows by what it feeds on, progressing, not evenly but on the whole decisively, toward its own logical fulfillment. In the seventies Hardy found humanity in many ways a sorry spectacle, but still rather a lark; in the eighties, a forlorn hope; in the nineties, a desperate failure. When he wrote Two on a Tower his purpose was ‘to set the emotional history of two infinitesimal lives against the stupendous background of the stellar universe, and to impart to readers the sentiment that of these two contrasting magnitudes the smaller might be the greater to them as men.’ Ten years later his purpose would have been to engulf and extinguish the lesser magnitude. After 1885 he might have written a book called Desperate Expedients, but hardly one called Desperate Remedies. By 1890 he is almost exclusively concerned with Man the Ridiculous — ‘Time’s Laughing-Stock.’

It is only at this last stage, where his sombre temperament vents itself in a black philosophy, that he becomes the exact antithesis of Meredith. Meredith’s parting word, ‘There is no irony in nature,’ he would have turned at length into ‘There is nothing but irony in nature’; he would have taken the ‘Fifty years for one brave minute!’ of Kirby the Old Buccaneer and given it the ironical inflection to make it mean all the accumulated good of fifty years existing for no better end than annihilation in one tragic instant. But not even Mr. Hardy can give us the right to identify him throughout with this eventual grim fixity of despair. An artist’s meaning, after all, is less what he says than what he makes you feel; the malignant words in Jude the Obscure may deny, but they cannot destroy, the compassion evoked by such a tragedy as The Return of the Native.

We mean of course to face, not to obscure or belittle, the significance of Jude the Obscure. Incomprehensible as one may find a world in which men and women are destroyed, not through their weaknesses, but actually, like Tess and Jude, through their virtues, Hardy did create that world of evil principle, in which man is only a ‘disease of the dust’; and one may not merely cover one’s eyes with horrified protesting hands. Because that one book contains a great artist’s final summary of man’s tragic life, the consideration of it is on no account to be shirked.

The central fact of the nightmare seems to be that man’s very powers of hope, of faith, of resistance have become agents of tragedy. The sad thing is no longer that the little evil in life can sometimes triumph over the great good: it is that the little spark of good must linger unquenched by the flood of evil. The heart must keep on longing for fulfillments which exist only as illusions. Strength is more tragic than weakness, for strength means resistance, and resistance means only the prolonging of futile pain. There is no bitterness in the Wessex novels to be compared with the bitterness of this final paradox, that the one greatest evil in the cosmos is the goodness in man’s soul. But for that goodness, the argument seems to run, we should not know evil as evil, or suffering as suffering. Jude, a man at the last gasp, is not even allowed to curse God and die with a shred of human dignity. Arabella, the most heartless of Hardy’s women, conceals the fact of his death for several hours in order that she may finish a tawdry frolic with tawdry companions. Of Jude’s faithless love of earlier days, it is said by Mrs. Edlin, a motherly soul: ‘Well — poor little thing, ’t is to be believed she’s found forgiveness somewhere! She said she had found peace!’ — on which note the drama might almost bearably have ended. But there comes Arabella’s harsh retort, literally Hardy’s last word in the field of the novel: ‘She may swear that on her knees to the holy cross upon her necklace till she’s hoarse, but it won’t be true! . . . She’s never found peace since she left his arms, and never will again till she’s as he is now!’ By this last word we are ushered into a cosmos where goodness is foredoomed, denied even a fighting chance, and made at length to crave oblivion as the sole thing left to believe in.

It is one thing to let the imagination enter that cosmos, and another to accept its conditions. The answer to such a last word as Hardy’s depends on considerations somewhat abstract but, surely, not obscure. First of all, Jude is one illustrious example of a familiar artistic fallacy: the attempt to prove a general truth about life by imagined facts. It is useless for Mr. Hardy to protest that life stacked the cards against Jude, when it is so very obvious that Mr. Hardy stacked them. ‘ By ten o’clock that night Jude was lying on the bedstead at his lodging, covered with a sheet, and straight as an arrow. Through the partly opened window the joyous throb of a waltz entered from the ball-room at Cardinal.’ By such gestures — Jude is full of that machinemade irony — the case is tricked out in gloom. That particular gesture is Mr. Hardy’s way of saying that life does not care what it does to the deserving unfortunate. But his proof is purely arbitrary — as arbitrary as if, at the opposite extreme, he had suddenly filled the lodging with Good Samaritans come in from the street to ask how they could help. The trouble is that his theory has become so important to him that he lets it first select and then discolor the facts. He overlooks the facts that do not fit the theory and distorts the ones that half fit it, instead of choosing the facts broadly for their human interest and letting them prove what they will.

Was it the late Samuel Butler who remarked that extremes alone are logical, but that extremes are always absurd? That Hardy should once have overlooked this truism is the more remarkable since he had formerly given an ingenious illustration of it. In recounting the summary execution of a young sheep-dog who had chased the sheep to their death, and was considered ‘too good a workman to live,’ Hardy calls the transaction ‘another instance of the untoward fate which so often attends dogs and other philosophers who follow out a train of reasoning to its logical conclusion, and attempt perfectly consistent conduct in a world made up so largely of compromise.’

The logic of an inexorable pessimism appears to be one of the absurdities denied to literature, not by the nature of pessimism as a philosophy, but by that of literature as an art. If it be asked whether optimism is not in its way as arbitrary as pessimism, the answer is, philosophically yes, but not artistically. For there exists in practical application of the two this gigantic difference: the optimist in literature leaves the powers of darkness really powerful, because the triumphant strength of goodness is exalted just in proportion to the forces it has to contend against, and his result is a balanced picture of life as a struggle; whereas the pessimist is restricted from telling the whole truth about the goodness of life, because at any cost he must make evil triumph over it. Consequently we view the singular spectacle of the pessimist leagued with the powers of darkness against the human hero, that their victory over him may be assured; and the struggle is not equal enough to produce tragedy in the true sense.

This is why all the greatest tragedies have been written by optimists — men who have enough faith in life to understand that it is good even when it does not seem so. The pessimist has not enough faith in life to understand that it is good even when it does seem so; and therefore he falsifies the immediate seemings of things in deference to his ultimate principle. But the proper concern of fiction is with the immediate seemings; and if it miss the truth about them, it has failed at the all-important point, the point of access to the reader. However adequate it may be as selfexpression, it stops short of self-communication, without which the work of art dies at its source.


These matters go to the root of the tragic emotion. ‘ We can give good critical reasons,’says Professor Winchester, ‘for our natural demand that a novel should, in some sense, turn out well. It may not end in sugared marital felicity, with “God bless you, my children,” and ten thousand a year; but its total effect upon the emotions should be healthy and strengthening. Shakespeare’s most terrible tragedies brace and hearten our spirits. They never leave us with a sense of mere horror, or with a discouraged or nerveless feeling. Their close is often pitiful, sometimes supremely and solemnly tragic; yet we shut the book with a feeling of the beauty and value of the great virtues. Such art solemnizes and fortifies our souls. It meets Aristotle’s requirement for tragedy: “It purifies the passions by pity and fear.” ’

We have, when all is said, our lives to live; and art is very properly concerned with the terms of our living them. It is irrelevant, as well as paralyzing, to say that we are fools to live them at all, for we cannot think of ourselves as having a choice in the matter. Great tragedy is not moral justice, because it is essentially disaster to the good; but its appeal is to our sense of moral justice, since it makes us feel the abnormality of the destruction of good by evil. Let such disaster be presented to us as normal, a fulfillment of the world-purpose, and hope atrophies in the heart, the will is benumbed — the tragic emotion is gone. If Othello proves that jealousy is a terrible thing, it certainly does not prove that life is a terrible thing. If it did, it would entirely miss its point about jealousy; the smaller evil would be lost in the greater. So Jude misses its point about man’s inhumanity to man by covering all human nature with mud.

If, at the last, we find Hardy thus offering us spurious tragedy without the compensations of tragedy, we have only to follow him backward and upward to where the compensations are richest. To get from an abyss of impotent despair to a great height of moral indignation, we need go no further than to Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Jude is weakly good; but Tess is so strong that it takes the whole world to conquer and destroy her. She is an inspiring picture of the fortitude of the human soul expressing itself in the virtues of steadfastness, obstinate devotion, and self-effacement. Elsewhere the insistence is on the capacity of the world to inflict sorrows; here it is on the capacity of the soul to endure sorrows without being broken. Tess is the one resplendent example of her sex in the Wessex novels, a figure of solitary greatness. She has almost nothing of vanity, itching curiosity, or deceitfulness — the three Fates, almost the three Furies, of Hardy’s women. She is ‘a pure woman faithfully presented’ in her struggle against all the impurities in the world. Her greatness of heart, her indomitable courage, her stubborn persistence in hope on the very borderland of despair — these give the approach to equality between the contending powers; and it is that approach to equality that makes the splendor of authentic tragedy.

The compensations of tragedy are likeliest to take, as here, the form of the moral or social emotions.

Poor wounded name! my bosom, as a bed,
Shall lodge thee, till thy wound be thoroughly heal’d, —

in that mood of compassion Tess is imagined, and at that altitude the treatment is sustained — a far remove from, say, the superciliousness with which Bathsheba Everdene is drawn. Hardy performs his task here under an instinctive sense that there may be, that there indeed must be, something in compassionate understanding alone that can all but redeem the lost world. By such appeals the heart is wrung, and its springs of pity are not dried. It is true, as Mr. Copeland once put it, that ‘the historian of Wessex celebrated the three Fates until people shuddered to see the thread both spun and cut.’ But it is further true that in this one instance the historian himself shuddered, and thereby humanized his message.

The critic owes it to Mr. Hardy to see that what brings him eventually to the mood of frozen despair is precisely his susceptibility to the moral emotions, the warmest, most expansive possible. The sense of sympathy cries out against the tragic in life; or, more philosophically, the sense of order protests against the waste in the world. The sense of order has only to be tender enough, to find itself lacerated at every contact with reality. If Hardy once gnashed his teeth at life, it was for no other reason than that life was hurting fellow creatures whom he loved. The trouble is, not that the feeling is misguided, but that it has overleaped the human power of expression.

It is this baffled humanitarian rage of the altruist that leads Hardy to the uttermost resort of his style, the personification of evil chance, or the massed injustice of the universe, as God. Hardy’s smouldering indignation flames out, as in Tess, against man’s inhumanity to woman, and its characteristic subterfuge, the ‘ double code ’; but, more important, it flames out against the empty heavens, the inveterate mercilessness of the whole cosmic organization. The defiance sounds with a more austere dignity than in Jude, where the persistent note is querulousness. And the dignity comes through a characteristic resort of modern pessimism in literature— a species of pure symbolism, almost of pure poetry. Hardy knows that God does not exist as the object of either prayers or curses; his world is the world of naturalism, the rationalistic world of George Eliot. But he adopts the imagery of despair, personifying the new meanings under the old names. He takes the personal God in whom he has ceased to believe, and turns him into a personal devil in whom he never believed. And at the end of the tragedy, as the black flag mounts the staff, we read: ‘The President of the Immortals had ended his sport with Tess.’

This reversion to the old terminology is partly a habit of speech, like the profanity of some atheists; partly it is a baffled attempt to get beyond the point where language can go; most of all, it is a conscious poetic symbolism, a figure of speech perverse and sublime.

It is easy enough, on logical grounds, to ridicule this inverted theology, in which the best in human nature becomes the scornful judge of evil chance personified as God. Indeed, Mr. Chesterton has ridiculed it in these words: ‘It has been said that if God had not existed it would have been necessary to invent Him. But it is not often, as in Mr. Hardy’s case, that it is necessary to invent Him in order to prove how unnecessary (and undesirable) He is.’ To which, long before it was written, Mr. Hardy neatly retorted by a precedent from King Lear: —

As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods;
They kill us for their sport.

But the one really decisive retort is, that to brandish one’s fists at a heaven under which things chance as they did with Tess is essentially an ennobling gesture — whether by that heaven one understands a personally malignant God, the injustices of man, or simply the collective insensibility of things.


However long we find it necessary to dwell on the elements of tragedy in Hardy’s genius, we are in small danger of forgetting that, after all, its most irresistible qualities are of the comic order. We turn to the realism of Hardy, and find the doleful philosopher an inimitably comic artist. His realism is exhibited most, of course, in his command of folk-lore and the folk-spirit, his extension and specialization of George Eliot’s early treatment of rustic life and character. The first to specialize rigidly in a provincial district marked principally by quaintness, naïve archaic oddity of speech and tradition, of custom and dress, he disinters a thousand charming odds and ends of the past. These range from whole institutions re-created bodily, such as the Mellstock choir, down to such curiosities as the ‘two-handled tall mug’ from which Gabriel Oak drank on his first evening at Warren’s Malthouse — an ancient vessel, warm and crusted with ashes from the hearth, and called a ‘God-forgive-me,’ ‘probably because its size makes any given toper feel ashamed of himself when he sees its bottom in drinking it empty.’

Much more important are the minor characters, the Greek-chorus bystanders in alehouse kitchens, at dances, rehearsals, weddings, sheep-shearings, christenings — such women as Bathsheba’s attendant Liddy and the three dairy-maids in Tess, such men as Granfer Cantle and Christian, Joseph Poorgrass, the timid William Worm, and a dozen others. All these are delightful, most of them superlative; all have the undeniable stamp of authenticity. And they are intrinsically funny, as the clowns of Shakespeare are funny.

But we would speak primarily of the uses to which they are put; of what may be called the structurally comic element in the art of Hardy. He weaves together the lives of these rustic folk and the lives of his protagonists, who are likely to be from more cultivated, even from exceedingly sophisticated classes. His heroes are often of the artistic and scientific professions. He is master of the astronomer, the architect, the artist, the writer or student of affairs, the teacher or preacher, the archaeologist or historian, placed in rural solitudes on his holidays or his professional errands, and sharply characterized through his chance contacts with simple, naïve folk. These are used in turn for two purposes: for expository comment on the principal action, and effects of broad relief or comic contrast.

It is in this second, somewhat technical respect — where once more, by the way, we find an innate love of the incongruous explaining much — that Hardy may accurately be said to have drawn his structure from the Elizabethan play. In an age like the Late Victorian, of smooth-textured art more and more highly polished, this rough chiaroscuro of Hardy, an affair of broad belts of light and shade, especially denotes artistic virility. In the boldest of these contrasts there is a primitive hacked-out quality that recalls, of English comedists in prose, Fielding, Smollett, and Dickens.

One of the best illustrations of this matter is the series of five chapters culminating in the major crisis of Far from the Madding Crowd. Fanny Robin is an obscure girl whom Sergeant Troy has wooed and dashingly won; then his fancy for Bathsheba has diverted him, and his marriage to her has made him lose track of Fanny’s plight. Troy and Bathsheba, driving, encounter her on the road, miserable and exhausted. We follow her painful and labored progress toward Casterbridge. Night comes on; she falls, but helps herself up and on with crutches improvised of sticks. With the aid of a stray dog, a powerful and kindly friend, she drags herself the remaining half-mile to ‘the Union.’ A man and a woman lift her up and help her in. The next day Troy borrows money of Bathsheba. The next morning after that, just after Troy has started off, the news comes that Fanny has died in the workhouse. Bathsheba sends Joseph Poorgrass with a wagon for the body, for Fanny had once been the servant of her uncle. Meanwhile Bathsheba, who has been putting two and two together into an uncertain and complicated four, begins to suspect her husband’s perfidy.

All this is of a prolonged tenseness, with the tension still to be increased; and it is at this point that Hardy interposes his emotional relief. The expedient is simple; but it suffices, and it is contrived so as to help the plot as well as the mood. Poorgrass, conveying the body through solitary woods at nightfall, finds his nerves in a tremor. The tapping of heavy raindrops on poor Fanny’s coffin becomes at length too much for him, and it is with enormous relief that he approaches the Buck’s Head. Mark Clark and Jan Coggan are there. Malt flows, tongues loosen; time glides. When Gabriel Oak comes looking for Poorgrass, he finds the party fuddled with drink. ‘ Coggan looked up indefinitely at Oak, one or other of his eyes occasionally opening and closing of its own accord, as if it were not a member, but a dozy individual with a distinct personality.’ Gabriel drives on with the body. But he has forgotten to take the death certificate from Poorgrass, and the coffin is left, by Bathsheba’s direction, in her house, instead of being buried at once. Gabriel lingers by the coffin long enough to erase the last two words of the chalk inscription on the lid — ‘Fanny Robin and child ’ — in order to shield Bathsheba from the full knowledge.

This comic interlude of the tavern scene both serves the plot, by insuring yet postponing the revelation, and slackens the emotional tautness of the reader, in order that the next effect may exert its full tug of contrast. The final thrust comes when Bathsheba, left alone late at night and obsessed by suspicions, makes up her mind at last to know. She opens the coffin. While she kneels by the bodies of mother and stillborn child, her husband comes back from his unexplained errand. No need to explain now: the situation is beyond pretence, and, for the reader, almost beyond the pale of the endurable.

Tess of the D’Urbervilles may be, as a whole, the greatest of the novels; but Hardy never surpassed this sequence of five chapters, with its comic impediment so placed as to double the impact of the culminating scene. As in the best drama, each inexorable stroke tells for more than its intrinsic worth. The result shows all Mr. Hardy’s distinguished powers working as one toward a predetermined artistic effect — his irony, his humor, his extraordinary narrative power, his sense of atmosphere, his compassion; and, one must add, that unsparing and unyielding love of truth as he sees it, that does more than anything to give him his place of intellectual honor among the great modern practitioners of fiction. But even that moral inexorableness would appear as so much diffusion and waste were it not for the use that, through the most rigorous artistic selfcommand, is made of it. All the elements must work as one, or none of them will work at all. The tremendous crisis, ‘Fanny’s Revenge,’ could never have been swung in complete equilibrium to its tragic fulfillment except on some such precarious and delicate pivot of the comic.


Those readers who find Mr. Hardy everywhere, as in Jude the Obscure, a victim of his own ironic temperament, seem to us to have overlooked several important aspects of his art, not least among them this impersonal economy which rules and explains his boldest contrasts. But we shall not have made a proportioned sketch, even within the present narrow limits, until we have reverted to an equally impersonal trait of his philosophy itself, as distinguished from his art —a trait which, more than any other, modernizes and vitalizes both philosophy and art, making them harmoniously one. We find in him from the beginning a certain scientific detachment of spirit which he was the first to bring conspicuously into the regional novel, and which is fully as important as either his structural genius or his irony.

For an expression of it in its earliest intensity, we have to go back as far as The Return of the Native, where for the first time he deserts the local color that is merely quaintness for the local color that is interpretation on the grandest scale. We do not understand The Return of the Native until we understand that its real hero is the genius loci. If we analyze the plot alone, we shall find it a tissue of improbable coincidences, a prolonged strain on the credulity. Like The Mayor of Casterbridge, it is a drama of retribution brought home to the sinner, and involving disaster to the innocent; and as in The Mayor of Casterbridge, the expiation is wrought out in a very elaborate and ingenious machinery of events. But there is this allimportant difference: that the events in The Mayor of Casterbridge take place in the clear light of normal day, a compromising glare in which the plot seems as artificial as a mechanical toy; whereas in the earlier and greater spectacle the human figures move through a sinister gloom which discolors ordinary probability, and in which anything can happen. The personæ are puppets of the spirit or atmosphere of place, creatures of the gloomy twilight that broods over the Heath, to work out with human pawns the moves of its inscrutable game. The first chapter, ‘A Face on which Time makes but Little Impression,’ raises a curtain on some mighty drama presently to be enacted in shadow. The opening is one of those stupendous effects of mood which can be compared only to such things as the first scene of Hamlet or the Prelude to Tristan und Isolde. Night and day struggle together in a sort of endless twilight.

And the heroine, Eustacia Vye, is a translation into flesh and blood of the dark spirit that presides over the waste where she lives. Night and day, light and shadow, mingle and struggle in her soul too. This parallel is not a fanciful one for criticism to draw: indeed, Hardy draws it at some length himself, in the chapter named ‘Queen of Night,’ and even extends it to his heroine’s appearance. She is ' without ruddiness, as without pallor.’ ‘To see her hair was to fancy that a whole winter did not contain darkness enough to form its shadow.’ Not that Eustacia is an inhuman symbol, an abstraction: decidedly she is one of Hardy’s most real women, as Egdon Heath is one of his most real landscapes. But both the place and the woman are real with a faintly abnormal intensity; they are two pagans between whom exists a subtle accord. There is something more than a purely decorative harmony in Eustacia’s love of darkness, her prowlings at night, her stolen meetings with Wildeve at the edge of the dismal pool into which he throws his signal-stone. There is a still stranger fitness in her death in Shadwater Weir on a night when the heath has unleashed all its furies of darkness and storm. Thus the microcosm of personality is made a stage for the interplay of almost cosmic forces.

There is one more important aspect of this impersonal power of Hardy: his essentially modern faculty of taking scientific fact and utilizing it on a vast scale for effects of poetic grandeur. The obvious instance is Two on a Tower, where the characters are shown against the whole stellar universe, for ironic commentary on the somewhat petty terms of their human drama. A briefer expression of a somewhat similar concept occurs in Far From the Madding Crowd, in description of a clear night when ‘the twinkling of all the stars seemed to be but throbs of one body, timed by a common pulse.’ The greatest example of all, perhaps, is one which utilizes a different kind of scientific fact, the geologic. In A Pair of Blue Eyes, Henry Knight, scientist and scholar, loses his footing at the edge of the ‘Cliff without a Name,’ and hangs for some minutes precariously clinging on the rounded edge by a tuft of sea-pink. Time closes up ‘like a fan’ before him, and he sees himself ‘at one extremity of the years, face to face with the beginning and all the intermediate centuries simultaneously.’ Lost to all but the curving face of the cliff round and beneath him, and prompted by an imbedded fossil that stares at him from the rock, he re-lives the whole cycle of organic evolution on the earth.

The Hardy who could make so much scenic and emotional impressiveness out of the facts of a special science does quite clearly represent a generation beyond that of the rationalist George Eliot.

Criticism has been on the whole rather generous in providing points of view for the study of Mr. Hardy. But they all — historical, technical, or philosophical — fail us if we ask much of them. And we are brought back to the necessity of partly rejecting them all, and of defining our author very largely in terms of himself. We do well, surely, to beware of the conventional tags and labels, the catchwords invented for dealing on the quickest, least costly terms with the Poes and Ainsworths and Oscar Wildes of literature, but proved to be least helpful here where there is more than we can see at any one glimpse or from any one angle.

There are some affairs which pay themselves the compliment of bursting any mould of formula into which one tries to pour them, whose distinction is, as we say, to ‘ defy analysis.’ The great eighteenth-century novelists have this variousness and elusiveness; Scott and the great Victorians have it; Hardy has it also, to a degree that gives him his impressive character of survival from an age of grander dimensions than ours, an age of more burning creative intensity and of genius magnificently rioting. Even if the future should strangely overlook the greatness of such a man, it could hardly overlook his largeness. Wherever he failed, he failed spaciously, grandly, and his very failures are more to be prized than the safe successes of lesser men; just as the desperately bad things in Thackeray are better literature, if worse art, than the unusually good things in Bulwer-Lytton. This general largeness or capaciousness, which we associate with tumultuous periods such as the Elizabethan, is especially marked in Hardy because his last fifteen years of creative activity in the novel fall in a period otherwise largely given over, except for Meredith, to the excellence of little things. And, quite apart from particular small merits and defects, it demands for him a special consideration. He looms, however jaggedly or unsymmetrically, over our modern landscape; he is a mountain that towers. We may, if we will, turn from the ascent; but at least we cannot help being in his shadow.