‘Silent Workings of the Invisible Hand’: Hardy’s Metaphysical Evolution

  • Mark Asquith


In a rather playful passage in a letter to an unidentified correspondent Hardy claimed ‘I have no philosophy — merely what I have often explained to be only a confused heap of impressions, like those of a bewildered child at a conjuring show.’1 It is a sentiment repeated in a letter to John Galsworthy in which he claims ‘I am not a philosopher’ and ‘a miserable reasoner’.2 Such admissions mean that it has become fashionable to dismiss Hardy as a systematic thinker, Millgate, for one, arguing that Hardy’s mind was ‘not naturally equipped to move easily in realms of philosophical discourse’.3 It is a sentiment seemingly vindicated by the lapses in his treatment of determinism and idealism (pinpointed by Simon Gatrell and Robert Schweik) in both The Mayor of Casterbridge and Tess of the D’Urbervilles.4


Reflex Action Phenomenal World Conscious Life Fervent Supporter Cosmic Vision 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 3.
    Michael Millgate, Thomas Hardy: His Career as a Novelist (London: Macmillan, 1994), p. 177.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 6.
    Miller, Thomas Hardy: Distance and Desire (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1970), p. 16.Google Scholar
  3. 7.
    Green, Hardy’s Lyrics: Pearls of Pity (London: Macmillan, 1996), p. 3. He states that ‘the universe as disclosed by Hardy’s personal experience and response to Victorian science — not only biology, but also astronomy and geology — [is] a non-moral, non-human order in which energies of inconceivable main and magnitude stream, flare, and lash, an order in which chance, causation, mutability and evolution obtain, and in which necessity “governs” both external Nature (that is, every organic and inorganic element, object, creature, and physical phenomenon outside a human being) and internal Nature (that is, heredity, sexual instinct, and emotions) — all this makes up a concept of the material conditions of man’s life for which, to facilitate discussion, let us adopt the compound term cosmic process’ (p. 30), Green’s italics.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 11.
    Pater, The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry, 2nd edn (1877) edited with Textual and Explanatory Notes by Donald L. Hill (California: University of California Press, 1980), pp. 150, 151.Google Scholar
  5. 15.
    J. A. Froude, The Nemesis of Faith (Farnborough: Gregg, 1969 [a facsimile reprint of the 2nd edn, 1849]), pp. 27–28. Hardy’s Impercipient is the observer of a Cathedral service who regrets that he ‘knows not the ease’ enjoyed by the congregation, since ‘He who breathes All’s Well to these/Breathes no All’s-Well to me’, Complete Poems, 11. 13–16. In ‘God’s Funeral’ Hardy acknowledges that though he is unable to share the present faith of those weeping over the passing of God, he nevertheless ‘did not forget/That what was mourned for, I, too long had prized’. Complete Poems, 11. 53, 55–56.Google Scholar
  6. 19.
    For J. S. Mill, the rigidity of natural laws leads us to believe that every event could be caused by ‘a specific volition of the presiding Power, provided that this Power adheres in its particular volitions to general laws laid down by itself, Nature, the Utility of Religion, and Theism, 2nd edn (London: Longmans, Green, Reader and Dyer, 1874), p. 136. In The Life Hardy notes of On Liberty that ‘we students of that date knew almost by heart’ (p. 330).Google Scholar
  7. 21.
    Herbert Spencer, First Principles, 5th edn (London: Williams & Norgate, 1887), p. 41. A book which Hardy claimed acted ‘as a sort of patent expander when I had been particularly narrowed down by the events of life’, Hardy to Lena Milman, Letters, II, pp. 24–25 (17 July, 1893).Google Scholar
  8. 25.
    John Morley, ‘Three Books on the Eighteenth Century’, Fortnightly Review, 22 (August, 1877), 259–284 (p. 268). See Literary Notebooks, 1065. Hardy’s underlining.Google Scholar
  9. 26.
    John Tulloch, ‘Morality without Metaphysics’, Edinburgh Review, 144 (October, 1876), 470–500 (p. 476). See Literary Notebook, 872.Google Scholar
  10. 27.
    John Tyndall, ‘Apology’ appended to ‘The Belfast Address’, in Fragments of Science: A Series of Detached Essays, Addresses and Reviews, 5th edn (London: Longman, Green, 1876), p. 560.Google Scholar
  11. 28.
    Spencer, Herbert, The Principles of Psychology, 3rd edn, 2 vols (London: Williams & Northgate, 1881), I, pp. 617–618.Google Scholar
  12. 34.
    Zimmern, Arthur Schopenhauer: His Life and his Philosophy (London: Longmans, Green, 1876). Simcox, Academy, 9 (March, 1876), 265–266 (p. 265).Google Scholar
  13. 35.
    Sully, ‘The Pessimist’s View of Life’, Cornhill Magazine, 33 (April, 1876), 431–443. Pessimism: A History and a Criticism (London: Henry S. King, 1877).Google Scholar
  14. 66.
    See J. O. Bailey, Thomas Hardy and the Cosmic Mind (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1956), pp. 90–93, and Wright, pp. 47–54.Google Scholar
  15. 73.
    W. L. Clifford, Lectures and Essays, edited by Leslie Stephen and Frederick Pollock, 2 vols (London: Macmillan, 1879), II, p. 85.Google Scholar
  16. 76.
    W. H. Mallock, ‘The Late Professor Clifford’s Essays’, Edinburgh Review, 151 (April, 1880), 474–511. For Hardy’s notes, see Literary Notebooks, 1215.Google Scholar
  17. 77.
    Hardy to Roden Noel, Letters, I, pp. 261–262 (3 April, 1892).Google Scholar
  18. 90.
    Hardy to Edward Wright, Letters, III, pp. 255–256 (2 June, 1907).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Mark Asquith 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mark Asquith

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations