18 DECEMBER 1880, Page 19


THERE is a class of novels which we are compelled by critical canons to call good, and which, nevertheless, we read only with

a certain effort, and from a sense of duty. There is another class, which a conscientious regard for literary integrity warns us to call bad, but which, notwithstanding, we cannot help finding extremely readable. And there is a third class, which are both readable and good ; and it is to this class that The Trumpet-Major, and the majority of the other novels which Mr. Hardy has written, may be said to belong. He is not like any other novelist, and in no respect is he more unique than in this : that he is a novelist born, not made. His genius is observant, truthful, humorous, and at once masculine and shy. We have brought together the last two traits, as forming a somewhat unusual combination, though it is, perhaps, not so unusual as might naturally be expected. The feminine genius that con-

cerns itself with modern fiction cannot be said to be uniformly shy. Be that as it may, Mr. Hardy is what we have said ; it is one of his most distinctive and valuable quali- ties. He has a telling instinct for the value of sex ; his heroines are profoundly feminine ; his heroes thoroughly, and at times comically, masculine. His shyness, connected as it is with an almost morbid keenness of observation, imparts to his humour a peculiarly delicate and delightful aroma ; he never misses the comic aspect of a situation or episode, and yet he never enforces it by a coarse or un- sympathetic touch ; the light falls gently and sweetly upon it and passes on. A great many modern novelists would never be humorous, if there were not so great a demand for humour now-a-days,---a demand which they feel in duty bound to supply, to the best of their ability ; but Mr. Hardy is humorous, in- evitably and inadvertently,—and would be so, if humour in literature were a thing unheard of until he wrote. In view of his sensitiveness to impressions, it might be supposed that he would find it difficult to be "original," that he would be prone to catch the tone and manner of other writers. Nor has he always been altogether free from this reproach ; but never for long, and never when he is at his beat. The reason is, that his fine literary organisation finds itself clogged or hampered by the assumption of any method not spontaneous to itself ; it cannot breathe in any other than its native atmosphere ; and very soon it withdraws itself from foreign•support and influence, and is almost surprised to find how excellently it can walk alone. In other words, the essential veracity of Mr. Hardy's insight is potent enough to correct his tendency to self-distrust ; he discovers that he can be more accurate when he depends upon his own vision, than when he accepts the spectacles of minds stronger and more positive than his own.

This fineness of organisation, however, carries the penalty of being open to certain faults, and from these faults Mr. Hardy's work is not free. A faculty of seeing more in things than ordinary eyes can discern, opens the way to making mountains out of molehills,—to,attaching more than their due importance to things really or comparatively insignificant. Thus it may sometimes happen that when Mr. Hardy has nothing very

• The Trumpet-Major. By Thomas Hardy. 3 vole. London: Smith and Elder. striking to relate, he too readily seeks compensation in magnify- ing and elaborating trifles. The result is an impression of thinness ; the workmanship is as good as ever, but the subject is inadequate; and the best workmanship is apt, under these circumstances, to become fantastic and whimsical. On the other hand, genius of Mr. Hardy's order is not capable of the loftier and more powerful efforts of tragedy ; its furthest range in this direction should be limited by the pathetic, and this involves never altogether losing sight of the humorous. Now, in true -pathos Mr. Hardy has no living superior, but his attempts in the way of tragedy have not been satisfactory. His voice, so melodious within its proper compass, breaks when strained at more powerful notes. The episodes which occupy the closing chapters of The Return of the Native, for example, have not a true ring ; they seem arbitrary, and the reader does not feel convinced that they really happened. When Shakespeare shows us a Lady Macbeth or an Othello, we at once perceive that tragedy is inherent in them ; and when the tragic action comes, we feel it to be the irrepressible manifestation of even greater tragic possibilities within ; there is no forcing on of the agony, if anything, it is rather repressed. But in Mr. Hardy's case, the tragic garb wherewith he drapes his characters is not suited to them ; it " fits them too much," as the Americans say. He conceives his tragic episode forcibly enough, but he does not give his actors the strength to carry it out ; they seem to do the thing, but they are not themselves when they do it; they achieve it only at the cost of their own lives, so to speak. When Othello kills Desdemona, the act only makes him more Othello than lie was before ; but when Eustacia drowns herself on Egdon Heath, she leaves the Eustacia that we believe in safe on the bank. How much less effective is that elaborate scene than the simple sentence which concludes the story of " Under the Green- wood Tree," where the heroine has become the wife of the worthy fellow she does not love, and thinks of "the secret that she would never tell." There is genuine heartbreak in those words, so gentle and so grievous.

The present story is not Mr. Hardy's best, but it has much of his best work in it, and the subject is one calculated to show the author in his happiest light. The heroine, Anne Garland, belongs to a class of women who are found nowhere else in literature than in Mr. Hardy's novels ; whether they also exist in real life, we do not undertake to say, but after reading about them, we cannot help believing that they do. Anne is personally lovely and attractive ; she is, moreover, amiable, innocent, generous, and tender-hearted, and yet she makes woeful havoc of the heart of a worthy man. She is selfish, as Mr. Hardy's heroines are selfish,—not wilfully or intellectually, but by dint of her inborn, involuntary, unconscious emotional organism. She recognises John Loveday's goodness, his self-abnegation, his lovableness, and she can no more justify herself in not loving him than she can in loving his scamp of a brother; neverthe- less, and despite all the obstacles of self-respect, gratitude, and expediency, she marries Bob, and sends John to die on a Spanish battle-field. It is Mr. Hardy's delight to show his chosen woman doing these things ; a hasty criticism might deem him cynical, but to us this judgment seems uncalled for. The truth is, such a character is not only picturesque in itself, but the cause of picturesqueness in others, and is, therefore, eminently suited for literary purposes. Compare a woman like Anne Garland with a woman like—to take an extreme case—David Coppmfield'e Agnes, or with any of Scott's pattern heroines. When a woman is governed by reason, conforms to the canons of respectability, obeys the dictates of prudence and strict propriety, and sacri- fices herself on the altar of what she is pleased to consider her womanhood, the less we hear of that woman (in fiction), the better are vie content. -What we want, and what artistic beauty demands, is colour, warmth, impulse, sweet perversity, pathetic error ; an inability to submit the heart to the guidance of the head, a happiness under conditions against which a rational judgment protests ; and all this, and more, we get in Anne Garland and her kindred. Their conduct is indefensible, but it is charming,—we love them the better for their tender naughtiness. We are appalled to see what harm these gentle, compassionate, sweet-tempered creatures can do ; to remark the naïve cruelty and hardness that underlie it all; but we are fain to confess that it is nature, and incorrigible,—we must even admit that humanity would be dry and frigid without it. For the selfishness is always passionate, never calculating. Whatever pain Anne Garland inflicts upon John, whom she esteems, she would herself suffer in tenfold degree for Bob,

whom she loves. And let the moralist be appeased, since we may see with half a glance that the fault carries its full punish- ment with it.

Although the story has this thread of pathos running through it, it is replete with true comedy, both in construction and in detail. Uncle Benjy, with his precious tin box of deeds and documents, his ravening anxiety concerning the same, his rela- tions with his nephew Festus, all are humorous in the extreme. Or what could be more finely comic than to see Bob (at that time nominally in love with Matilda) kissing Anne's hand, and then striving to appease her indignation by protesting that he only did it out of a general admiration for the sex, and not from any special tenderness for her ? " I do love Matilda best," he cries, " and I don't love you at all !" a plea of some- what doubtful value for poor Anne, who is all the time con- sumed with secret anguish at his loving Matilda instead of herself.

The story, from beginning to end, is conceived and put together with capital ingenuity. It was a happy thought to lay it in the year '14, or thereabout, and to make Bob a sailor and John a soldier. By this means an immense deal of colour and incident is introduced, which must otherwise have been lost ; the setting is in no way essential to the plot, but it helps vastly in the telling of the tale. It was a picturesque idea to put the widow and her daughter under the same roof with the miller, on the genteel side of the house, instead of sending them off to occupy a separate dwelling of their own. It was wisely done to represent Bob as a fine fellow in all ways except his fickleness, and to make the character who comes nearest to being the villain of the piece also one of the most laughable. These touches preserve the " tone " of the picture, and would not have suggested themselves to a less careful artist than Mr. Hardy. The work, as a whole, is better reading than a detailed analysis of it would indicate ; indeed, it is better in the reading than in the recollection, insomuch that we are surprised, on a second peru- sal, to find how many minor and verbal felicities we had for- gotten. At the same time, we are of opinion that, in the first place, John Loveday became, in real life, the husband of Anne Garland ; and in the second place, we think that Mr. Hardy be- came a trifle impatient with his third volume, and was sorry that it was not permitted him to compress the novel into two volumes. At all events, the third volume, especially the latter part of it, bears evidence of haste and of a subsidence of interest on the author's part, although it is to be particularly noted that in the last three or four pages, and notably in the last one or two, he fully recovers his best standard. But all allowances made, if Mr. Hardy never writes a worse book than The Trumpet-Major, he will maintain a literary level which any contemporary writer of English prose fiction might be glad to attain. We may not, perhaps, look to see him produce anything wholly unlike or superior to what he has already given us ; but we shall listen to his variations more comfortably than to the novelties of most novelists.