Statements by Thomas Hardy

“‘All is vanity’, said the Preacher. But if all were only vanity, who would mind? Alas, it is too often worse than vanity; agony, darkness, death also.”

“A man would never laugh were he not to forget his situation, or were he not one who never has learnt it. After risibility from comedy, how often does the thoughtful mind reproach itself for forgetting the truth? Laughter always means blindness—either from defect, choice, or accident.” (1876)

1879. January 1. New Year’s thought. A perception of the FAILURE of THINGS to be what they are meant to be, lends them, in the place of the intended interest, a new and and greater interest of an unintended kind.

January 1 (1902). A Pessimist’s apology. Pessimism (or rather what is called such) is, in brief, playing the sure game. You cannot lose at it; you may gain. It is the only view of life in which you can never be disappointed. Having reckoned what to do in the worst possible circumstances, when better arise, as they may, life becomes child’s play.

My imagination may have often run away with me; but all the same, my sober opinion—so far as I have any definite one—of the Cause of Things, has been defined in scores of places and is that of a great many ordinary thinkers: that the said Cause is neither moral nor immoral, but unmoral: ‘loveless and hateless’ I have called it, ‘which neither good not evil knows’ …. This view is quite in keeping with what you call a Pessimistic philosophy (a mere nickname with no sense in it), which I am quite unable to see as ‘leading logically to the conclusion that the Power behind the universe is malign’…. But it has always been my misfortune to presuppose a too intelligent reading public, and no doubt people will go on thinking that I really believe the Prince Mover to be a malignant old gentleman, a sort of King of Dahomey—an idea which, so far from my holding it, is to me irresistibly comic. ‘What a fool one must have been to write for such a public’ is the inevitable reflection at the end of one’s life. (1920)

Am more and more confirmed in an idea I have long held, as a matter of commonsense, before I thought of any old aphorism bearing on the subject: ‘Ars est celare artem’. The whole secret of a living style and the difference between it and a dead style, lies in not having too much style—being—in fact, a little careless, or rather seeming to be, here and there.

A sweet disorder in the dress…
A careless shoe-string, in whose tie
I see a wild civility,
Do more bewitch me than when art 
Is too precise in every part. (Herrick)

Otherwise your style is like worn half-pence—all the fresh images rounded off by rubbing, and no crispness or movement at all.   

It is, of course, simply a carrying into prose the knowledge I have acquired in poetry—that I exact rhymes and rhythms now and then are far more pleasing then correct ones. (1874)

Note. A Plot, or Tragedy, should arise from the gradual closing in of a situation that comes of ordinary human passions, prejudices, and ambitions, by reason of the characters taking no trouble to ward off the disastrous events produced by the said passions, prejudices, and ambitions.                (1878)

Altruism, or The Golden Rule, or whatever ‘Love your Neighbor as Yourself’ may be called, will ultimately be brought about I think by the pain we see in others reacting in ourselves, as if we and they were a part of one body. Mankind, in fact, may be and possibly will be viewed as members of one corporeal frame. (1890)

One fact is certain: in fiction there can be no intrinsically new thing at this stage of the world’s history…. The higher passions must ever rank above the inferior—intellectual tendencies above animal, and moral above intellectual—whatever the treatment, realistic or ideal. Any system of inversion which should attach more importance to the delineation of man’s appetites than to the delineation of his aspirations, affections, or humors, would condemn the old masters of imaginative creation from Aeschylus to Shakespeare. (1888)

As the English marriage laws are, to the eyes of anybody who looks around, the gratuitous cause of at least half the misery of the community, that they are allowed to remain in force for a day is, to quote the famous last word of the ceremony itself, an “amazement,” and can only be accounted for by the assumption that we live in a barbaric age, and are the slaves of gross superstition.

As to what should be done, in the unlikely event of any amendment of the law being tolerated by bigots, it is rather a question for experts than for me. I can only suppose, in a general way, that a marriage should be dissolvable at the wish of either party, if that party prove it to be a cruelty to him or her, provided (probably) that the maintenance of the children, if any, should be borne by the breadwinner. (1912)