Monday, 9 February 2009

The Countryman extracts - Part 1, Walks and Talks with Thomas Hardy

This (shortened) article was written by Sir Newman Flower (never heard of him!) who apparently was chairman of Cassell's and born in Dorset. he wrote books on Handel, Schubert and Sir Arthur Sullivan and also edited the Journals of Arnold Bennett).

Through the long years of friendship with Thomas Hardy I had many opportunities of talking with him during our rambles near his home at Max Gate, Dorchester, and further afield. As we walked, he would talk continuously in that quiet, gentle voice of his that never raised its pitch. He broke off now and then to observe a field in vivid colour, or the glory on an autum wood, or would halt suddenly and stare, too enraptured by the beauty of the scene to comment. Once we were leaning over a stile looking down on Yellowham Wood, outside Dorchester, which figures in 'Far from the Madding Crowd' and other novels. The bluebell carpet was lovely to heold, as it is every spring in Yellowham Wood. "Have you ever heard of a world artist who could do that?" he asked.

On another occasion we were walking near the little village of Bockhampton, a couple of miles from Dorchester, where he hd been born in that lovely thatched cottage which is now monument to his memory. The country about it was riotous with wild flowers. In the little cottage garden I used to have a cup of tea with his old mother, who wore a sunbonnet, and, as T.H. said, was like Whistler's portrait of his mother. He told me as we walked, "I used to wonder, when I was a boy walking up this road, what sort of a world I ws going into. The thoughts of a boy are pieces of life: it is life that fashions them as the sun shapes the odd things that grow in our gardens. There are a lot of things I thought and queried in those days which I could not explain even now, although more than seventy years have passed over me."

(Linked from Whistler's Mother page . . . )

In the Who's Who 1918, Hardy annotated himself thus: 'against bird-catching, performing animals, careless butchering, and the chaining of dogs.' He loathed these things. All clruelty; hurt him. He told me once that he regarded the Spanish bull-fight as the work of maniacs gone more mad. 'Animals, birds, insects are here as part of the pageant of our lives', he added. 'Exactly what part some are intended to play we do not know. But in the case of beaten, over-driven horses - only fools forget that it is a crime.'

. . . He had lived long enough to remember the days when the Dorset labourer got 12 shillings a week, and brought up a family on it. Yes, and if he caught a rabbit he was thrown out of his cottage, rain-driven, unholy place that it ws. hardy told me he had seen some foul things of this kidn done in Dorset in his youth. But what had impressed him more than anything was his father's description of a scene which he witnessed when four men were hanged for being present
with others who had set fire to a hay rick. One of them was a half-starved boy of eighteen, and they had to put weights on his feet to break his neck. Hardy thought this was the most horrifying thing in human tragedy he had heard of . . .

. . . And he loved picnics. Whenever I was in Dorset, and that waas often, I used to ring him up and get him out on a picnic. How well I remember the last one! I went to Max Gate with a good luncheon basket, and collected him and Florence hardy. My wife and son sat with her at the back, and T.H. was beside me at the wheel. 'Now T.H.," I said, 'where do you want to go?' He thought for a while. Then he said he would like to go to High Stoy, that hill in west Dorset made famous in 'The Woodlanders'. While I was driving down one of the country lanes, T.H. said, 'Go slow here. I want you to notice this woman coming towards us.' When she had passed he said, 'That might have been Tess. That is just how I imagined her to be.'

On the way home, as we drew near Cerne Abbas, he asked me to stop the car. 'See that farm over there, and that big field?' he said. 'Kipling came down to stay with me a short time ago, and wanted to go over the scenes in my novels. So I brought him round here. When we were crossing that big field there on foot, a savage sow came for us. We made a dash for the hedge, and were scrambling through it when the farmer came out and shouted, 'Let 'un be! Let 'un be! 'E won't 'urt 'ee. if 'ee don't rumple 'un." ' said hardy, 'We weren't waiting to 'rumple 'un' and he added, 'Kipling and I tore our suits to pieces getting through that hedge'. I suppose that ws the only time in his life that anything in nature ever frightened Thomas Hardy . . .

I think this article brings the true character of Thomas Hardy to life in the way that the biographies I have of him seem to have missed.


Tea with Willow said...

Oh thank you so much for posting about this article ... I agree, the true nature of Thomas Hardy just shines through, doesn't it?! The part where he spots a woman who reminded him of Tess brought tears to my eyes .... I would love to have shared just one day of his company!!

Willow xx

nancy said...

Wonderful! How blessed you are to be able to walk those same places. He must have been a fine human being. Sounds like a man of faith. Must get on with Tess.

Bovey Belle said...

Willow - reading this article made me feel I knew the real man more.

Nancy - I hope you will read Tess with an open mind as to when it was written. It is quite my favourite of his novels - if not my favourite novel of all time. A friend of mine in Alaska read it and hated it, because she was reading it with a modern eye and thought Tess should have stood up for herself (hah, but then there would have been no story anyway!) I have read it many times and each time I reach a deeper understanding of the nuances and indeed, even the symbolism involved in the book.