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The Complete Poetical Works of Thomas Hardy.

The Dynasts is the block over which even Hardy's most fervent admirers tend to stumble; the less fervent avoid it altogether. Why bother with 650 pages of turgid blank verse in an 'epic-drama of the Napoleonic wars' which is successful neither as an epic nor as a drama, and whose isolated moments of poetic quality are conveniently excerpted in most anthologies of Hardy's poetry? Hardy himself began the reductive process by including six passages from The Dynasts in his Selected Poems of 1916, adding in 1927 a further excerpt, 'Albuera', to the expanded selection, Chosen Poems, posthumously published in 1929. These 'authorized' extracts have been perpetuated by subsequent editors and anthologists, so that readers of Hardy's Complete Poems (ed. James Gibson, Macmillan, 1979) or of the first three volumes of Samuel Hynes's Complete Poetical Works of Thomas Hardy, as of most anthologies currently available, will know 'The Night of Trafalgar', 'Budmouth Dears', My Love's Gone A-fighting', 'The Eve of Waterloo', 'Chorus of the Pities' and 'Last Chorus'. (Hynes includes 'Albuera' among the uncollected poems; Gibson does not.)

To his friend Edward Clodd, Hardy wrote on 20 February 1908, one week after the publication of the third and final volume of The Dynasts:

What you remind me of - the lyrical account of the fauna of the Waterloo field on the eve of the battle is, curiously enough, the page that struck me, in looking back over the book, as being the most original in it. Though, of course, a thing may be original without being good. However, it does happen that (so far as I know) in the many treatments of Waterloo in literature, those particular personages who were present have never been alluded to before.

Not only is this 'lyrical account' arguably the finest passage in The Dynasts; it is one of Hardy's few successful ventures into descriptive verse.

That might seem a remarkable, even an obtuse claim, in the light of the prestige of Hardy's descriptive prose. Yet his poetry is almost exclusively lyrical or narrative: critics have not sufficiently measured the absence in Hardy of the descriptive poetry of a Clare or a Barnes. In the Selected Poems Hardy makes distinctions, but leaves no space for 'descriptive' verse. He divides the volume into three parts: I. Poems Chiefly Lyrical. II. Poems Narrative and Reflective. III. War Poems and Lyrics from The Dynasts; 105 poems from his first four volumes of verse (those published by 1916) are sorted and mingled, together with the 6 from The Dynasts. The poems in the third group, apart from those extracted from The Dynasts, are weak, and of a patriotic, even dutiful nature: Selected Poems was planned and published in wartime. Even such war poems as 'The Souls of the Slain' and 'In Time of "The Breaking of Nations"' rather cloud beside this sequence from The Dynasts (Part III, Act VI, scene viii, ll. 44-82), one of Hardy's rare ventures in terza rima:

Yea, the coneys are scared by the thud of hoofs, And their white scuts flash at their vanishing heels, And swallows abandon the hamlet-roofs.

The mole's tunnelled chambers are crushed by wheels, The lark's eggs scattered, their owners fled; And the hedgehog's household the sapper unseals.

The snail draws in at the terrible tread, But in vain; he is crushed by the felloe-rim; The worm asks what can be overhead,

And wriggles deep from a scene so grim, And guesses him safe; for he does not know What a foul red rain will be soaking him!

Trodden and bruised to a miry tomb Are ears that have greened but will never be gold, And flowers in the bud that will never bloom.

So the season's intent, ere its fruit unfold, Is frustrate, and mangled, and made succumb, Like a youth of promise struck stark and cold! . . .

The reversal of expected terms in the metaphor here is almost as shocking as Yeats's 'O sages standing in God's holy fire / As in the gold mosaic of a wall' ('Sailing to Byzantium'). Instead of comparing a youth to a cut-off branch or a stricken flower, the inanimate things of nature are lamented as one would lament a youth of promise. Inanimate but not without intention, for it is the season's intent that is 'frustrate', and in that archaism we must hear an echo of another poem in terza rima:

The counter our lovers staked was lost As surely as if it were lawful coin: And the sin I impute to each frustrate ghost

Is - the unlit lamp and the ungirt loin. . . .

For Browning, it is the inanimate statue and bust which have the sentiment or 'intent' to condemn the cowardice or dilatoriness that caused them to be made. The originality of Hardy's chorus lies less in the representation of the fauna than in the figurative reprise, the shock of the 'like', and the use of 'frustrate' to impede enjambment.

The text of the chorus in The Complete Poems (ed. Gibson) displays one variant, 'What a foul red flood will be soaking him!' This is the reading in all printings of The Dynasts from the first in 1908 to the last in Hardy's lifetime, a signed limited edition of 1927, with a single but prestigious exception: the Wessex Edition of 1910. 'Flood' is, we might think, no good at all: its hyperbole makes of 'soak' a most inept litotes: only soaked, not drowned - by a flood? Hardy revised and tampered to the very end: here he seems to have introduced an improvement, 'a foul red rain', and then omitted to retain it. The complexity of the situation has been elucidated by Simon Gatrell in 'An Examination of some Revisions to Printed Versions of The Dynasts', The Library (sixth series), Vol. I, no. 3 (Sept. 1979), pp. 265-81. A more comprehensive account of the editorial problem could now be based on Hynes's listing of all printed variants. Gatrell argued in 1979 that the 1927 limited edition, incorporating Hardy's last revisions, should be the copy-text for any subsequent edition; Purdy in 1954 had advanced the claims of the 1910 one- volume text in the Wessex Edition; Orel chose the Mellstock Edition of 1920 as his copy-text for the New Wessex Edition of 1978, on the grounds that the Mellstock was the last edition of which Hardy himself read and corrected the complete proofs. Hynes has selected the first edition of each part (1904, 1906, 1908) as his copy-text. The scope of the editorial problem is evident from such divergent choices.

Hynes's choice of copy-text gives particular clarity to the listing, at the foot of the page, of all printed variants: almost all listed variants are subsequent to the version in the text. However, Hynes does sometimes prefer other readings, as in his wise choice of 'rain' (only in the 1910 edition) over 'flood' of 1908 and all other printings in Hardy's lifetime.

One expects all textual variants to be given in Hynes's edition, whose earlier volumes have warmed reviewers to extravagant praise: 'hard to imagine a more satisfactory edition', 'a text edited to the highest standards of scholarly accuracy', and so forth. All printed variants are indeed listed at the foot of the page, and the level of accuracy seems impressive. If, however, we turn to the notes at the back of each of the two volumes among which the text of The Dynasts has been distributed - oddly labelled 'Explanatory Notes', for their chief purport is textual - we shall not always be satisfied. The note to the passage above cited, from Part III, Act VI, scence viii, ll. 44-82, reads, in full: 'For a collation of separate manuscripts and printings of this lyric passage, see Vol. III of this edition, pp. 290-1'.

The word 'lyric' gives away the editor's uncertainty, almost confesses culpability. As arranged in The Dynasts the lines that form 'The Eve of Waterloo' in Selected Poems are no lyric, nor are they singly voiced: twelve tercets are distributed between 'The Chorus of the Years' and 'The Chorus of the Pites', and a final tercet is given to the 'Chorus of Sinister Spirits'. Hynes has included in Volume III of The Complete Poetical Works the 'Uncollected Poems', including those excerpts from The Dynasts arranged and placed by Hardy in Selected Poems. By not duplicating the annotation of those lines in their proper context in The Dynasts, the editor may give the reader the impression that the lines began as a separate and self-contained poem which was subsequently incorporated into - and distributed within - The Dynasts. This false impression is only deepened by that oddly superfluous adjective: 'lyric passage'. As each volume of The Complete Poetical Works is available separately, and as the text of The Dynasts is already spread over two volumes, it seems not only a poor editorial decision but a piece of cynicism on the part of the publisher, that the student of The Dynasts should feel the want of a third volume. (This reviewer received only the two volumes that were thought to contain The Dynasts).

To dwell further on this famous passage: one almost misses the visual clue to terza rima through a typographical error which has not separated two of the tercets: an interlinear space is missing. The 'Chorus of the Pites' is thus seen to speak in a block of six lines. Its next speech is headed 'Chorus of Pities', the definite article having been spirited away without warrant or explanation. (Unless the explanation is in Vol. III.)

Two misprints in two pages is, one is happy to report, unusual, and far above average. There are, however, 29 errors so far identified in the two volumes under review. In the Preface (IV, p. 8) we read 'Readers will ready discern' for - as they will readily discern - 'readily'. The list of characters has a dangling line number (p. 13, l. '35'). One might think Hardy could not tell his cities from his rivers, let alone his numbers, in the line (p. 89, l. 140):

Traverse the Danube somewhat down from the Ulm;

The proofreader did not notice (p. 109, l. 40):

Well, what cares England? She was won her game;

nor (p. 118, l. 69):

Our ships will be in place, And ready to speak back in iron words When their cry Hail!

'Theirs' corrects the syntax, and subtly amends the rhythm. The following errors occur in Vol. V: p. 29, 1. 63: 'to fantaticize'; p. 64, l. 4.10 'the soldier ransack'; p. 77, l. 89 'grevious'; p. 98, l. 0.2 'bird's eye' for bird's-eye'; p. 124, l. 65: 'the worst ignominy to tar with him'; and in The Queen of Cornwall, p. 298, l. 3 'thought' for 'though'; p. 301, l. 11 'goes' for 'goest'; p. 312, l. 87 'to' for 'too'.

There are numerous instances of misalignment (Vol. IV, p. 137, l. 163; p. 171, l. 58.3; p. 388, l. 95; Vol. V, p. 116, l. 101); and stanzas not separated by interlinear spacing (IV, pp. 313-4, passim; V, p. 92, l. 75; p. 203, ll. 49-50 (the line numbers themselves are incorrectly printed here); and in The Queen of Cornwall, p. 290, ll. 87-8). A few instances of incorrect typeface or case (V, p. 108, ll. 88.1-3; p. 138, l. 39 'fortune' for 'Fortune'; p. 301, l. 4 'and' for 'And'; p. 306, l. 2.1; p. 313, l. 0.1; p. 324, 1.22 'but' for 'But'). These may seem small blemishes, but in such a complicated and visually-coded text, our eyes depend for guidance precisely on these misnamed 'accidentals'. This reader was not looking for errors; he found himself in confusion at exactly these points. As a reading text, Orel's New Wessex Edition of 1978 is to be preferred.

The most amusing error concerns the printing of the one important Greek word in these volumes. Hardy explains to an enquirer, Reginald Bosworth Smith, in a letter dated 20 February 1906, the source of his title:

where the ?? occurs in the Magnificat - 'He hath cast down the dynasts from their thrones,' or as we have it in our translation, 'the mighty from their seats' (I used to read the Gk. Testt in my younger and theological days).

One of the very rare typographical errors in the Collected Letters gives us ?? while Hynes, in citing the Collected Letters, proposes the variant ??. And still scholars condescend to Hardy's provincial ways and autodidactic accomplishments.

Orel's edition is to be preferred for a second reason. Hardy's text is liberally supported by his own footnotes whose glossing qualities place yet another layer of gauzy distance between the reader and the 'action'. The elaborate stage-directions and Dumb Shows have often been celebrated for their visual inventiveness, and for their anticipation of cinematography, but they have usually been treated as mere curiosities.

In neither epic nor drama can there be a status for stage-directions as part of the literary text. Hardy's stage-directions serve very effectively to keep The Dynasts as a text to be read, not as a play to be performed, and they create extraordinary distances, both optical and figurative. The reader cannot 'get involved' in the fate of personages seen through the wrong end of a telescope. And beyond even the stage-directions we find the footnotes, as in this instance from Part First, Act II, scene V, 131. 12-4:

From the opposite horizon numerous companies of volunteers, in the local uniform of red with green facings,(*) are moving coastwards in companies . . . .

* These historic facings, which, I believe, won for the local (old 39th) regiment the nickname of 'Green Linnets', have been changed for no apparent reason. (They are now restored. - 1909.)

These footnotes almost systematically measure the temporal distance, between the time of the events and that of the writing. Of a lady stranded on the field of Salamanca, after the battle in which her husband was killed, Hardy supplies this information in a footnote (Part Third, Act I, scene iii, l. 80):

The writer has been unable to discover what became of this unhappy lady and her orphaned infants. - (The foregoing note, which appeared in the first edition of this drama [1908], was the means of bringing from a descendant of the lady referred to the information that she remarried, and lived and died at Venice; and that both her children grew up and did well. - 1909.)

A recent critic of The Dynasts (and there have been too few at any time) has written:

... the poet, in footnotes, needlessly explains of a minor character 'that both her children grew up and did well' (3.i.iv). Such notes are included to support the sense of historical authenticity, and reveal Hardy as a writer unwilling to relinquish the fruits of his research for the sake of artistic economy. The intrusiveness of his historical sense is felt when he unnecessarily comments, 'The writer is able to recall the picturesque effect of this uniform' (3.ii.i); or that at one point 'the writer has in the main followed Thiers' (l.ii.ii); or when he informs the reader that 'The remains of the lonely hut . . . are still visible on the elevated spot referred to' (l.ii.v); or when he comments that the [sic] Gloucester Lodge 'is but little altered' (l.iv.i). The pointlessness of these asides becomes obvious when he provides a footnote for the rose allegedly given by Napoleon to Queen Louisa of Prussia, to the effect that the gift 'is not quite matter of certainty' (2.i.viii), and when he portrays Madame Metternich's rejection of Napoleon's offer of marriage with the qualification 'So Madame Metternich to her husband in reporting this interview. But who shall say!' (2.v.i). These obtrusive and irrelevant notes (and there are many) are of little interest except as a guide to Hardy's faithful reproduction of historically accurate detail. They hinder the progress of the narrative. . . . (Kenneth Millard, Edwardian Poetry, 1991, pp. 60-1.)

This deserves to be cited at length only because it seems to get The Dynasts about as wrong as any reader can. To look for 'artistic economy' and 'the progress of the narrative' is to be disappointed by The Dynasts. 'Needlessly', 'unnecessarily', 'pointlessness', 'obtrusive', irrelevant, 'hinder', 'interrupt': these terms constitute a very thesaurus of debility in an aesthetics of efficiency.

To put it most briefly, The Dynasts proposes an aesthetic of interruption, interference, delay, frustration. Neither epic nor drama, the interest of the text lies precisely in the way that it resists either showing or telling.

This is achieved most obviously through the Dumb Shows, the stage-directions and the footnotes. A comparison with Beckett is not uninstructive, for many of Beckett's stage-directions are strictly for textual consumption: 'Smile on . . . smile off' or Willie's 'Battle of Britain moustache' in Happy Days. One might ascribe this to a latent or recursive tendency to fiction in Beckett as in Hardy. It is, however, much more interesting to think about a radically anti-Aristotelian resistance to the bleak alternative of showing or telling. What in Beckett or Hardy is not a hindrance to the narrative? And where is it that any narrative would want to be hurrying?

There is one radical and most disturbing innovation in Hynes's presentation of the text of The Dynasts. Hynes has removed Hardy's footnotes from the text, and placed them among his own editorial notes at the back of each volume. The asterisk that indicates a note does not distinguish between Hynes's and Hardy's notes. Only an advocate of aesthetic efficiency could commit such an act of vandalism. Noting this, together with the treatment of The Dynasts as raw material for a few lyrics among the 'Uncollected Poems', we may detect in Hynes a critic profoundly indifferent to The Dynasts, an editor dutifully and even apologetically completing his task.

No previous edition of The Dynasts has stripped the text of Hardy's footnotes. No explanation is supplied. Orel's New Wessex Edition provides a single text, without variants, but contains no typographical errors and respects the intactness of footnotes to the torso of the page. Hynes's decision is the more inexplicable in that, within the same note, he provides variant forms of the printed versions of Hardy's footnotes. If the note's variants are deemed to be of interest, that can only be because the notes are part of the text: they should be presented as such, as in every other edition.

Hynes has performed a valuable service in deviating from his copy-text to include on the title-page the epigraph from the Aeneid - Desine fata Deum flecti sperare precando (Cease to hope that the fate of the gods can be deflected by prayers) - which Hardy added only in 1927. Because it is not on the title-page of the 1920 Mellstock Edition, the New Wessex does not give it space at all. Hynes repeats the title-page before each of the three parts, and therefore repeats this epigraph thrice, though the edition of 1927, being in one volume, contained only one title-page. Thus the epigraph has registered on this critic's attention and prompted further reflections on Hardy's Virgilianism: see the reviewer's 'HARDY promises: The Dynasts and the Epic of Imperialism,' in C. Pettit, ed., Reading Thomas Hardy, Macmillan (forth- coming 1998). Yet one's gratitude for local accidents should not blind one to general deficiencies, nor to frailties of editorial principle.

Among the less satisfactory matters is the notation of variants from the holograph. Much of Part Third exists in rough draft, the only such manuscript extant in Hardy's hand. Its importance was first noted in public by W. R. Rutland who in 1938 lamented that it had not been made available to scholars. R. L. Purdy describes the draft in some detail in his bibliography of 1954, and asserts (p. 130) its significance: the draft 'offers unique evidence as to Hardy's method of composition'. The fullest published account of the process of composition, based on comparisons of the draft, the finished manuscript and the first edition, is given by Walter F. Wright in The Shaping of 'The Dynasts' (1967).

Hynes discusses the draft in a brief Appendix of five pages. While he lists some of the holographic variants in the textual apparatus, he does not explain the principle of selection. Some variants in punctuation are reported (e.g. a full stop for an exclamation mark), while some substantive variants pass unindicated.

Among the most illuminating aspects of the Rough Draft are the precise dates and times with which Hardy heads each scene. Part Third, Act VII, Scene i is headed 'The Field of Waterloo'. The draft adds: '[June 18 morn.]'. The time of Scene ii is '[June 18. 1-1.30 - 2-2.30]', Scene iv '[3-4.30]', and so forth. Hardy may never have intended to make these times part of the printed text: their presence in square brackets suggests that they were for his own guidance during composition. Hynes lists none of these times among the textual variants, useful and interesting as they may be. Appendix A provides 'A Historical Chronology of Events in The Dynasts', correlating each scene with the place and time given in the printed heading and with the 'historic date'. These dates, Hynes tells us, 'are drawn from a number of sources: from Hardy's holograph printers' copies, from printed texts of The Dynasts, from Hardy's rough draft of Part Third (in which more scenes are dated than in the printed version), and from historical reference works' (V, p. 368). In the tabular columns, however, the source of the date is not identified. One has the impression that the demands of scholarly editing are being compromised for the benefit of readers - those readers who are interested in The Dynasts for historical reasons. That Hardy's unique rough draft should be merely subsumed in some helpful timetable further suggests the editor's lack of interest in this text, his desire to conceal its oddities, to suppress its obtrusions; only by confronting, by highlighting the idiosyncrasies and inefficiencies, the incoherences and irrelevancies, can one make of them the premise on which to argue the value of this work. For The Dynasts ought to be recognized as one of the monuments of European Modernism, whose equal in both ambition and eccentricity we might find in The Cantos: perhaps for nothing less than The Dynasts did Pound proclaim Hardy his master. This edition does nothing to challenge the complacent assumption that The Dynasts is an ambitious failure; indeed, it diminishes the reader's chances of realizing what an extraordinarily original triumph it might be.

In terms of help for the ordinary reader, one with some historical curiosity, nothing in the new edition is as useful as the thirty pages of biographical summaries to be found at the end of the New Wessex Edition. The reviewer's well-worn copy of that volume, now almost twenty years old, is still intact. Pages from each of the Clarendon volumes started to detach themselves on the very first reading; after two readings one might have been the old woman of 'Autumn in King's Hintock Park', raking up leaves. Earth never grieves - nor does this reviewer.

CHARLES LOCK University of Copenhagen
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Publication:Essays in Criticism
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 1997
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