HARDY, THOMAS (1840-1928)
AUTOGRAPH MANUSCRIPT OF HIS CELEBRATED POEM 'IN TIME OF "THE BREAKING OF NATIONS"', signed ('T. Hardy'), 12 lines in three four-line stanzas, with autograph biblical source and note that the poem is from Moments of Vision, 1 page, quarto, dated by Hardy 1915 [written out before 11 July 1917]
Only a man harrowing clods
In a slow silent walk
With an old horse that stumbles & nods
Half asleep as they stalk.
Only their smoke without flame
From the heaps of couch-grass:
Yet this will go onward the same
Though Dynasties pass.
Yonder a maid & her wight
Come whispering by:
Wars annals will cloud into night
Ere their story die.
ONE OF HARDY'S 'BEST-KNOWN AND MOST FAMOUS LYRICS' (Gittings). 'In Time of "The Breaking of Nations"' is the most famous example of Hardy's faculty 'for burying an emotion in my heart or brain for forty years, and exhuming it at the end of that time as fresh as when interred.' The poem, about the start of the First World War, was in fact a reminiscence of St. Juliot, conceived during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 when Hardy was reading Tennyson with his future wife Emma Lavinia Gifford in the garden of her brother's rectory in Cornwall, at which time Hardy had made notes in pencil on the endpapers of Lackmann's Specimens of German Prose ('...Sc. rusty harrow - behind that rooks - behind them, 2 men hoeing mangel, with bowed backs, behind that a heap of couch smoking, behind those gorse & cart doing nothing in field - then the ground rising to plantn.') The poem itself was written in 1915 during the First World War, about forty-five years later. It was first printed in the Saturday Review on 29 January 1916; secondly, a limited edition of 29 copies was printed by Clement Shorter in 1916; it was then collected in Selected Poems, 1916, and in Moments of Vision, 1917. ONE OF HARDY'S MOST ANTHOLOGISED POEMS, it suggests that the simple labour it describes will outlast the devastations of war.
With the poem is a letter from Florence Hardy dated 11 July 1918 to [Paul] Lemperly sending a 'sheet of M.S....This one is from my husband with his regards.' Richard Purdy records only two manuscripts of the poem, both fair copies, one in the Bliss Collection (having been sold at the Red Cross sale at Christie's on 26 April 1916), the other (the present manuscript), formerly in the possession of Paul Lemperly, 'a gift of Mrs Hardy in July 1918.' In The Letters Purdy and Millgate correctly suggest that the poem was also written out by Hardy in Edward Marsh's 'Little Book 'on 6 November 1918; this is now at Eton.
In the letter Florence Hardy also discusses the editions of Thomas Hardy's works which she does not own, especially A Pair of Blue Eyes, identifies a drawing said to be by Hardy as a forgery, describes an early painting by him that she has ('...I think it very delicate & beautiful...), sends details about the date when the title 'Satires of Circumstance' was first used, notes likely fuel and food shortages (referring to Hardy's liking of plenty of sugar), and mentions having a copy of 'Convergence of Twain'. Also present is a note by Lemperly about the value of his poem and a long typed letter to him from Dodd & Livingstone offering him one of ten copies of a printing of Hardy's poem about the 'Titanic'.
Hardy's handwriting was chosen for illustration in 'English Handwriting', S.P.E. Tract No. XIII, edited by Roger Fry and E.A. Lowe, 1926. The main repository for Hardy's manuscripts is the Dorset County Museum, Dorchester. See also lot 378. The poem was selected by Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney for inclusion in their anthology The Rattle Bag (1982).
PROVENANCE: Mrs Thomas Hardy; Paul Lemperly; Dr Rosenbach.
REFERENCES: Richard Purdy, Thomas Hardy: A Bibliographical Study, 1979; Index of English Literary Manuscripts, volume IV, 1800-1900, Part 2, compiled by Barbara Rosenbaum, 1990 (no record of another manuscript of this poem); The Collected Letters of Thomas Hardy, edited by Richard Purdy and Michael Millgate, volume v, p. 286; Michael Millgate, Thomas Hardy: A Biography, 1982; Robert Gittings, Young Thomas Hardy, 1975; Thomas Hardy, Poems: A Casebook, edited by James Gibson and Trevor Johnson, 1979; Tom Paulin, 'Thomas Hardy and 'In The' "Time of the Breaking of Nations"..., The Secret Life of Poems, 2008.