Sunday, 17 February 2008

George Meredith and Thomas Hardy

My apologies for the quality of these pictures from Wipipedia Commons - I obviously have the wrong pixel-count or something - gives you a vague idea of the man anyway.

This is a follow-up prompted by Nancy, who mentioned Meredith and Hardy being friends. This had passed over my head, so off I went to explore this comment (to Google is a wonderful thing). I discovered this poem by Thomas Hardy about his friend George Meredith:

George Meredith


    Forty years back, when much had place
    That since has perished out of mind,
    I heard that voice and saw that face.

    He spoke as one afoot will wind
    A morning horn ere men awake;
    His note was trenchant, turning kind.

    He was one of those whose wit can shake
    And riddle to the very core
    The counterfiets that Time will break....

    Of late, when we two met once more,
    The luminous countenance and rare
    Shone just as forty years before.

    So that, when now all tongues declare
    His shape unseen by his green hill,
    I scarce believe he sits not there.

    No matter. Further and further still
    Through the world's vaprous vitiate air
    His words wing on--as live words will.
    Thomas Hardy

Of course, along the way I was seduced by other of Hardy's poems, which I had to read and enjoy, and I will share with you at a later date. If you are not familiar with Hardy's poems (or indeed his Wessex novels) you could do worse than to walk into the nearest bookshop and see what they have in stock. His novels speak of the countryside and people of his childhood in the 1840s; to read them is to find how people lived then. Don't - as I did - start with Jude the Obscure. It took me 6 years to pluck up the courage to read anything else of his. Start with The Mayor of Casterbridge, or Far From the Madding Crowd, or my favourite, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, or perhaps A Group of Noble Dames (short stories).

Wikipedia has turned up an excellent potted history of George Meredith and a picture of a bearded man who bears no resemblence to my mind's-eye image of him - for some reason I saw him stout and balding, but I suppose his mourneful bearded expression sits more easily with the title poet and author. His novels have equally passed me by - how could I have missed 'The Shaving of Shagpat'?!!! (What on earth was that all about?!) Or 'Lord Ormont and his Aminta'. These are definite candidates for a Car Boot Box, so I shall remember to look out for him next time I rummage (later this morning in fact). His 'Celt and Saxon' rings a vague bell, but then I may have an archaeology book of that title amongst my souvenirs.

Meredith was born in 1812 in Portsmouth, the son and grandson of naval outfitters, and was educated from the age of 14 at a Moravian school in Germany. He married twice, and after his first wife left him and their 5 year old son, he wrote a novel occasioned by this experience: 'The Ordeal of Richard Feverel'. Oscar Wilde loved his work, saying, "Ah, Meredith! Who can define him? His style is chaos illumined by flashes of lightning". In his capacity of adviser to publishers, he is credited with helping Thomas Hardy 's first limping steps on the road to literary genious, and he was also a contemporary and friend of J M Barrie. He gained great honor during his life and succeeded Lord Tennyson as president of the Society of Authors and in 1905 was appointed to the Order of Merit by Edward VII. He died at Box Hill in Surrey in 1908.

I shall leave you with a telling quote from The Ordeal of Richard Feverel. Make of it what you will:

Kissing don't last; cookery do!


MammyT said...

Well,I'll soon be off to the library with my little list in hand. You are enriching and broadening my literary horizons, dear Jenny. I know I was forced to read the Mayor of Casterbridge in Junior High School. Can't remember a word of it.

Bovey Belle said...

I think you may find that "having" to read a book and CHOOSING to read a book are two entirely different things Nancy! Enjoy! btw, you are broadening my literary horizons too!