The Wit and Wisdom of Thomas Hardy



I begin with an anecdote told by William Butler Yeats. It will sound familiar to many readers of the biographical trivia associated with Thomas Hardy. It has been repeated in various contexts, and most recently was retold by Anne Fadiman in the pages of Civilization, the magazine of the Library of Congress.1 In the nineteenth century, and well into our own time, before most enthusiasts of a particular book went to an official book-signing ceremony in a bookshop or a department store, readers were accustomed to write to an author, asking him (or her) to inscribe a book with a signature, and possibly a dedication as well. They enclosed the necessary postage for a return trip of the book, and hoped that it would suffice. As Yeats recounted this particular incident, Hardy took Yeats upstairs to a large room that was filled from floor to ceiling with books — thousands of them: ‘Yeats,’ said Hardy, ‘these are the books that were sent to me for signature.’


Oxford English Dictionary Return Trip English Letter Momentary Failure Agricultural Crisis 
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  1. 1.
    Anne Fadiman, ‘Words on a Flyleaf’, Civilization, III, 1 (January–February 1996) 82–3.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    ‘Emerson to Walt Whitman’, in Twelve American Writers, ed. William M. Gibson and George Arms (New York: Macmillan, 1962) p. 57.Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    Quoted by James Gibson in ‘The Editor’s Notes and News’, The Thomas Hardy Journal, III, 2 (May 1987) 10.Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    Vere H. Collins, Talks with Thomas Hardy at Max Gate, 1920–1922 (London: Duckworth, 1928) p. 9.Google Scholar
  5. 8.
    John Holloway, The Victorian Sage: Studies in Argument (London: Macmillan, 1953) p. 12.Google Scholar
  6. 9.
    Thomas Hardy, The Life and Work of Thomas Hardy, ed. Michael Millgate (London: Macmillan Press, 1984) pp. 448–9 (cited hereafter as Life and Work).Google Scholar
  7. 10.
    See Robert Gittings, The Older Hardy (London: Heinemann, 1978) p. 168.Google Scholar
  8. 11.
    See Rider Haggard’s books on the agricultural crisis (all of which Hardy read): Rural England (1902)Google Scholar
  9. The Poor and the Land (1905)Google Scholar
  10. and Regeneration (1910).Google Scholar
  11. 12.
    Keith Thomas, ‘Foreword’ to Victorian Thinkers: Carlyle, Ruskin, Arnold, Morris (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993) pp. v, vii.Google Scholar
  12. 14.
    David J. DeLaura, Hebrew and Hellene in Victorian England: Newman, Arnold, and Pater (Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 1969) p. xi.Google Scholar
  13. 15.
    The Collected Letters of Thomas Hardy, ed. Richard Little Purdy and Michael Millgate (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978–88) vol. II, p. 93.Google Scholar
  14. 16.
    Cf. Wendell V. Harris, The Omnipresent Debate: Empiricism and Transcendentalism in Nineteenth-Century English Prose (DeKalb, Ill.: Northern Illinois University Press, 1981) p. 207.Google Scholar
  15. 18.
    One Rare Fair Woman: Thomas Hardy’s Letters to Florence Henniker 1893–1922, ed. Evelyn Hardy and F. B. Pinion (London: Macmillan Press, 1972) p. 162.Google Scholar
  16. 19.
    Edmund Blunden, Thomas Hardy (London: Macmillan, 1958) p. 165.Google Scholar

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© Harold Orel 1998

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