AUTOGRAPH REVISED MANUSCRIPT, IN EFFECT A DRAFT, OF HIS FINE ELEGIAC POEM 'A SINGER ASLEEP (A. C. S. 1837-1909)', title altered from 'A South-Coast Nocturn', signed by Hardy beneath the title ('Thomas Hardy'), 52 lines, in one eight-line and eight five-line stanzas, with substantive autograph revisions to ten lines preserving reconsidered text, 2 pages, quarto, sewn into a paper wrapper inscribed with the title and with a note signed by St. J Hornby 'Given to me by Mrs Thomas Hardy August, 1937, dated at the end, cloth box, Bonchurch, 1910
In this fair niche above the slumbering sea,
The sentrys up & down, all night, all day,
From cove to promontory, from ness to bay,
The Fates have fitly bidden that he should be
-- It was as though a garland of red roses
Had fallen about the hood of a smug nun...
I still can hear the brabble & the roar
At those thy tunes, O still one, now passed through
That fitful fire of tongues then entered new!
Their power is spent like spindrift on the shore;
Thine swells yet more and more.
So here, beneath the waking constellations,
Where the waves peal their everlasting strains,
And the dull subterrene reverberations
Shake him when storms make mountains of their plains -
Him once their peer in sad improvisations,
And deft as wind to cleave their frothy manes -
I leave him, while the daylight gleam declines
Upon the capes and chines.
Hardy was a tremendous admirer of Swinburne, whose death in April 1909 was a great shock to him. The hypocritical notices in the press 'roused him to an anger reminiscent of his indignation at the reception of Poems and Ballads more than thirty years earlier.' (Millgate). Hardy did not attend the funeral but in March 1910 he and Florence Dugdale, later the second Mrs Hardy, went to the Isle of Wight to visit Swinburne's grave. In Later Years, she described the visit: 'that windy March day had a poetry of its own, how primroses clustered in the hedges, and noisy rooks wheeled in the air over the little churchyard. Hardy gathered a sprig of ivy and laid it on the grave of that brother-poet of whom he never spoke save in words of admiration and affection.' The poem was 'half finished' by 13 March 1910 and was published in the English Review in April 1910. It was collected in Satires of Circumstance, 1914. It was entirely appropriate that the sea was so much a theme in this poem: it was an obsession of Swinburne's, about which he wrote often. 'Chines' was a word used by Swinburne. As a child 'he could have gone blindfold over miles of beach' where he 'played like a sea-bird' (Henderson, who also states that Hardy wrote 'A Singer Asleep' beside Swinburne's grave).
Hardy's admiration for Swinburne dated from his years in London in the 1860s when he was working as a draughtsman for the architect Arthur William Blomfield. He used to walk through crowded London streets from lodgings near Hyde Park reading the early poems of Swinburne 'to my imminent risk of being knocked down' (Purdy). He would later recall this period 'as one of extraordinary excitement in which the intoxication of Swinburne's verse merged with a growing sense of his own capacities as a poet.' (Millgate).
The third and fourth stanzas of 'A Singer Asleep' recall those heady days:
O that far morning of a summer day,
When, down a terraced street whose pavement lay
Glassing the sunshine into my bent eyes,
I walked & read with a quick glad surprise
New words, in a classic guise:
The passionate pages of his earlier years,
Fraught with hot signs, sad laughters, kisses, tears...
When Swinburne and Hardy met, they greeted each other as kindred spirits. 'We laughed & condoled with each other on having been the two most abused of living writers - he for "Poems & Ballads" & I for "Jude the Obscure"'.
A RARE DRAFT OF A POEM BY HARDY, AND THE ONLY ONE SURVIVING FOR THIS POEM. This is the kind of poetical manuscript that Hardy habitually destroyed as soon as he had made a copy for the printer, as the present one evidently started out to be. Although at least one manuscript survives for each of Hardy's more than 900 poems, providing nearly 1,400 verse entries in the Index of English Literary Manuscripts, 'only a handful are working drafts'. 'When he was nearing the age of eighty, Hardy began to sort through all of his own and his deceased first wife's papers. During this process, he destroyed what he didn't want preserved: on 7 May 1919, he wrote to Sir George Douglas 'I have not been doing much -- mainly destroying papers of the last 30 or 40 years, & they raise ghosts...' The process of sifting through a lifetime's worth of papers continued: one of the items Hardy listed as needing to be done in a memo to himself dating from the late 1920s [he died in 1928] was: 'Continue to examine & destroy old MSS. entries in notebooks, & marks in printed books.' (Index p. 3). That this draft of 'A Singer Asleep' survived ten years of sifting and destruction may suggest how important the poem was to Hardy personally. The first page of the manuscript is illustrated by Michael Millgate. Three other manuscripts survive, all unrevised fair copies (Battersea District Library, British Library and Dorset County Museum).
Modern critical opinion of Swinburne perhaps makes it hard for current readers to appreciate how much he was admired in his own lifetime. To give context to Hardy's reverence for him, it is perhaps only necessary to refer to A.E. Housman, who, while he did not account Swinburne the greatest poet of the nineteenth century, thought him Wordsworth's equal as the most original.
PROVENANCE: Florence Hardy; St. J. Hornby; David Holmes; Frederick Adams; J.O. Edwards (bookplate); Bernard Quaritch.
REFERENCES: Index of English Literary Manuscripts, compiled by Barbara Rosenbaum, IV, part 2, HrT 1071; The Complete Poetical Works, edited by Samuel Hynes, (1987), pp. 31-3 and 489 (notes); Michael Millgate, Thomas Hardy: A Biography, 1982; Michael Millgate; Thomas Hardy: A Biography Revisited, 2004; Richard Purdy, Thomas Hardy: A Bibliographical Study, 2002; The Life and Work, edited by Michael Millgate; Thomas Hardy's Public Voice: The Essays, Speeches and Miscellaneous Prose; 'Swinburne' in A.E. Housman, Collected Poems and Selected Prose, edited by Christopher Ricks, 1988; two manuscripts (status not given and presumably fair copies) are listed in Location Register of Twentieth-Century Literary Manuscripts and Letters, 2 volumes, 1988; Philip Henderson, Swinburne: The Portrait of a Poet, 1974. Thanks to Ted Hofmann for his contributions to this description.
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