HARDY (THOMAS) Autograph letter signed, agreeing to write an obituary notice of William Barnes, 1886
Lot 80
HARDY (THOMAS) Autograph letter signed, agreeing to write an obituary notice of William Barnes, 1886
Sold for £875 (US$ 1,470) inc. premium
Lot Details
Autograph letter signed ("T. Hardy"), to Norman MacColl, editor of the Athenaeum, agreeing to write an obituary notice of William Barnes ("...The MS shall be sent Tuesday night at latest...") and asking to be telegraphed if MacColl has made any other arrangements before receiving this letter, 2 pages, integral blank leaf, headed paper, a little creased and browned, preserved in a manilla envelope bound into grey boards ('Photomount Pamphlet Binder'), bookplate of Frederick B. Adams (and his pencilled note to envelope), small 8vo, Max Gate, 10 October 1886


  • THOMAS HARDY WRITES THE OBITUARY OF WILLIAM BARNES, this was to appear in the Athenaeum on 16 October 1886. The obituary was clearly written with considerable dispatch, Hardy promising to post the manuscript on Tuesday night, with the letter being written on a Sunday; this being confirmed by the reference to the telegraph. In the obituary, Hardy describes Barnes as 'probably the most interesting link between present and past forms of rural life that England possessed' and as a man from 'remote pastoral recesses' whose 'great retentiveness and powers of observation' had made him 'a complete repertory of forgotten manners, words, and sentiments' – in this respect, as Michael Millgate observes, Hardy 'might almost have been writing his own obituary of more than forty years later' (Thomas Hardy, 1982, p. 275).

    Its opening is not dissimilar to that of The Mayor of Casterbridge, published a few months earlier: 'Until within the last year or two there were few figures more familiar to the eye in the county town of Dorset on a market day than an aged clergyman, quaintly attired in caped cloak, knee-breeches, and buckled shoes, with a leather satchel slung over his shoulders, and a stout staff in his hand. He seemed usually to prefer the middle of the street to the pavement, and to be thinking of matters which had nothing to do with the scene before him. He plodded along with a broad, firm tread, notwithstanding the slight stoop occasioned by his years. Every Saturday morning he might have been seen thus trudging up the narrow South Street, his shoes coated with mud or dust according to the state of the roads between his rural home and Dorchester, and a little grey dog at his heels, till he reached the four cross-ways in the centre of the town. Halting here, opposite the public clock, he would pull his old-fashioned watch from its deep fob, and set it with great precision to London time'.

    It was reprinted by Lionel Johnson in The Art of Thomas Hardy (1894), pp. xlix-lviii. Our letter is published in the Collected Letters of Thomas Hardy, edited by Richard Little Purdy and Michael Millgate, 1978, i, p. 153; and is from the collection of Frederick B. Adams, Jr, Part II, Sotheby's, 7 November 2001, lot 428.
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