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This article is taken from PN Review 166, Volume 32 Number 2, November - December 2005.

The Thomas Hardy Birthday Lecture 2005 Michael Alexander

On his eightieth birthday, 2 June 1920, Thomas Hardy pencilled the following note: 'When, like the Psalmist, "I call mine own ways to remembrance", I find nothing in them that quite justifies this celebration.' He added, however, that long survival enables some who are 'late to develop... to complete their job'. This lecture is about long survival. A marker of anniversaries, and keenly aware of the passing of days, seasons, and years, Hardy was not a great celebrator of birthdays. 'How she would have loved a party today', he wrote of Emma. She would have loved it. As a small boy, he had, with his father, played music for others to dance to, and he loved dancing (like cyder and love, it was 'a great thing, /a great thing to' him), but he was also an observer, a bystander. Late in life, he wrote of himself that He never expected much, and that for Life I had never cared greatly. This Roman pose was struck in the late Empire, by Landor, Henley, Housman and Kipling. While such disclaimers reflect a recurring mood of Hardy's, I find them, as historical statements, entirely unconvincing. If Hardy had never expected much and hadn't cared greatly for life we would not be here.

What we did as we climbed, and what we talked of
        Matters not much, nor to what it led -
Something that life will not be ...


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