|the original babe|
Not unlike his own character Gabriel Oak, we could say of Hardy that "Being a man not without a frequent consciousness that there was some charm in this life he led, he stood still looking at the sky as a useful instrument, and regarded it in an appreciative spirit, as a work of art superlatively beautiful." (Far from the Madding Crowd 15, Norton Critical Edition) Hardy's recognition of the marriage of utility and beauty breathes life into the hard fibres of earth and stone and star. For Hardy, beautiful things are not still and lifeless like the stillness of a chinese jar in Proust (or Eliot). Rather they throb with birdsong and the bleating of ewes. Part of this liveliness grows from the fact that Hardy is not bent on making distinctions and systems. The categories of "useful", "beautiful", and "good" do not necessarily denote a separation from each other, rather beauty, for Hardy, is enhanced by utility, goodness by beauty, utility by goodness and so on.
In what is little more than an aside about an ill-fated and overzealous sheepdog, Hardy remarks:
George's son had done his work so thoroughly that he was considered too good a workman to live, and was, in fact, taken and tragically shot at twelve o'clock that same day--another instance of the untoward fate which so often attends dogs and other philosophers who follow out a train of reasoning to its logical conclusion, and attempt perfectly consistent conduct in a world made up so largely of compromise. (33-34)What was the dog's mistake? He understood his task to be the herding of sheep and did not foresee their tragic plunge over a precipice!
|George & George's son--the evolution of the English sheepdog|