Hardy and Time



In 1876 Hardy copied two sentences from an address by John Morley into his Literary Notebooks:

Life. ‘The stuff of which life is made is Time.’

The unknown Great ‘You never know what child in rags that meets you in the street may have in him the germ of gifts that might add new treasures to the storehouse of beautiful things or noble acts’1

One wonders why Hardy troubled to copy the first sentence, since Time, with or without the initial capital, is the subject of so much of his work. Few writers can have had less need to remind themselves of how much human life is shaped by the sense either of time past, of memories pushing into or pulling against the present, or more often of time as passing, the present undermined even as it is experienced by the anticipation of its loss. The second is more teasing. Was it taken down as the starting point for a story about wasted potential and the careless cruelty of social judgements, or perhaps for a poem about the gradual disclosure of the beauty hidden in the commonplace and everyday? Either of these might be a ‘typical’ Hardy subject. The sense of ambiguity in the sentence, and the idea of the ‘germ’, are among the topics I want to explore further in the course of this paper.


Germ Plasm Counterfeit Image Human Infirmity Beautiful Thing Compulsory Sterilization 
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  1. Quotations from his poems are taken from The Complete Poems of Thomas Hardy, ed. James Gibson (London: Macmillan, 1976).Google Scholar
  2. 1.
    Entries 841 and 842 in The Literary Notebooks of Thomas Hardy, ed. Lennart A. Björk, 2 volumes (London: Macmillan Press, 1985) vol. 1, p. 84 (subsequently cited as Literary Notebooks).Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    The episode is discussed by Tess Cosslett in her The ‘Scientific Movement’ and Victorian Literature (Brighton: Harvester, 1982).Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    John Ruskin, letter to Henry Acland, in The Works of John Ruskin, ed. E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, Library Edition, 39 volumes (London: George Allen, 1903–1912) vol. 36, p. 115.Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    Thomas Hardy, The Life and Work of Thomas Hardy, ed. Michael Millgate (London: Macmillan Press, 1984) pp. 32–3 (subsequently cited as Life and Work).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Charles Kingsley, Glaucus; or, The Wonders of the Shore, 5th edition (London: Macmillan, 1890) pp. 136–8.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    See D. S. MacColl, Nineteenth Century Art (Glasgow: J. Maclehose, 1902) p. 115.Google Scholar
  8. Marcia Pointon provides a valuable discussion of Pegwell Bay in her ‘The Representation of Time in Painting’, Art History, I (March 1978) 99–103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 8.
    Thomas Huxley, ‘The Struggle for Existence in Human Society’, in Evolution & Ethics, and Other Essays (London: Macmillan, 1895) p. 199.Google Scholar
  10. 9.
    See Darwin: A Norton Critical Edition, ed. Philip Appleman (New York: Norton, 1979) p. 131.Google Scholar
  11. 12.
    The fullest account of the degeneration debate is by William Greenslade in his Degeneration, Culture and the Novel, 1880–1940 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994)Google Scholar
  12. 15.
    Henry Maudsley, Body and Mind, enlarged and revised edition (London: Macmillan, 1873) pp. 75–6Google Scholar
  13. quoted from Vieda Skultans, Madness and Morals: Ideas on Insanity in the Nineteenth Century (London: Routledge, 1975) pp. 206–7Google Scholar
  14. Other quotations from Maudsley in this paragraph are from his Responsibility in Mental Disease (London: H. S. King, 1874)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. There is a valuable account of Maudsley’s work in Elaine Showalter, The Female Malady: Women, Madness and English Culture, 1830–1980 (London: Virago, 1987)Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    John Tyndall, ‘On the Scientific Use of the Imagination’, in Fragments of Science for Unscientific People (London: Longmans, 1871) pp. 163–4.Google Scholar
  17. The passage is quoted by Hardy’s friend Edward Clodd in his biography for the Modern English Writers series, Thomas Henry Huxley (Edinburgh and London: Blackwood, 1911) p. 134, in a discussion of Huxley’s views on the relation of matter and spirit.Google Scholar
  18. 17.
    Bertrand Russell, Mysticism and Logic and Other Essays (London: Longmans, 1918) p. 47.Google Scholar
  19. 20.
    Hardy read Weismann’s Essay on Heredity (1889) in 1890.Google Scholar
  20. 21.
    See J. B. Bullen, ‘The Gods in Wessex Exile: Thomas Hardy and Mythology’, in J. B. Bullen (ed.), The Sun is God: Painting, Literature and Mythology in the Nineteenth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), for an account of the sun and sun worship in Tess of the d’Urbervilles.Google Scholar

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© Phillip Mallett 1998

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