William Tinsley's Illustrated Edition of "Under the Greenwood Tree" (1878)

Hardy, Thomas. Under The Greenwood Tree. A Rural Painting of the Dutch School (1870). Il. R. Knight. London: Chatto and Windus, 1878.

Illuminated initial T

he sixteen wood-engravings constituting the first illustrations for Thomas Hardy's journeyman novel are from the 1878 Chatto and Windus edition of Under The Greenwood Tree: A Rural Painting of the Dutch School, illustrated by R. Knight, originally published in the Tinsley edition that Richard Little Purdy indicates William Tinsley published expressly as a Christmas book in December 1875 (although it is "dated 1876" [8]). When Tinsley's publishing house failed, he passed the copyright (which he valued at three hundred pounds) along with the remaining stock and the stereotypes to Chatto and Windus. The octavo volume, bound in bright blue morocco, has gilt lettering announcing its title and author, and alludes to Hardy as "The author of Far From the Madding Crowd, undoubtedly for the sake of promotion — ironically, William Tinsley had declined to publish what turned out to be Hardy's "break out" novel in 1874, so that instead of appearing monthly in Tinsley's Magazine as A Pair of Blue Eyes had done (September 1872-July 1873), Far From the Madding Crowd appeared in The Cornhill Magazine, and subsequently as a Smith, Elder volume. With fifteen full-page wood-engravings and an ornamental tailpiece, the Chatto and Windus volume has 344 pages and a table of contents, but no list of illustrations, most of which concern the characters rather than the situations or settings of the novel.

The 1870s illustrator "R. Knight" clearly was a competent Sixties draughtsman working in the new manner of portraiture rather than realisation of crucial narrative moments and caricature — and he was prepared to receive the low-end wages that Tinsley typically paid. By 1878, Tinsley was some 33,000 pounds in debt; still retaining the copyright to this first Hardy novel, William Tinsley attempted to capitalise on Hardy's recent celebrity as author of the Cornhill serial Far From the Madding Crowd, something of a best-seller in volume form as published by Smith, Elder. However, sales did not meet Tinsley's expectations, and his financial straits compelled him to sell the copyright (together with the wood-engravings and set type) to Chatto and Windus later in 1878.

Disgusted by his loss of fifteen pounds in publishing his second novel, Desperate Remedies, when Tinsley asked him for another novel, Hardy merely sent him the discarded manuscript of Under the Greenwood Tree without even reviewing it. For a mere forty pounds Tinsley acquired the British and continental copyrights from Hardy, who corrected the proofs in May 1872. Tinsley's first edition consisted of two volumes, unillustrated. The illustrator of the 1878 single-volume edition of six years later in framing the frontispiece has rightly graphed the importance of Fancy with her "curls and a hat and a feather" to the plot, but surrounds her in the book's largest illustration with vignettes of the village quire rather than scenes involving her having to choose between three suitors, the young tranter, the wealthy middle-aged farmer, Shiner, and the judgmental Anglican minister, Parson Maybold.

Since the "Upper Mellstock" of the story is in fact the Higher Bockhampton of Hardy's youth, descriptions of the novel's locales are specific to a degree rarely paralleled elsewhere in English literature, but only several of Knight's illustrations reflect the sense of the place that permeates the book. In this respect the most effective of the sixteen illustrations is that describing Keeper Day's cottage in Yellowham ("Yalbury") Wood. Although the action occurs within three miles of a significant town, Dorchester (the "Casterbridge" of Hardy's novels and short stories), the characters are such as one would have found in a nineteenth-century Dorset village and rarely does an urban note intrude. The village romance which dominates the story reflects Hardy's own with Emma Gifford, the rector's sister-in-law whom Hardy as a young architect met when visiting the parish church in St. Juliot, Cornwall. Emma's independent spirit, social aspirations, musical nature, and fashion sense match those of the educated gamekeeper's organist daughter, Fancy Day; two years after the publication of the novel Hardy was personally able to enact Dick Dewy's role at the novel's end by marrying Emma. As Anna Winchcombe remarks in her 1975 preface to the novel, the setting is not the only autobiographical element: "The members of the Dewy family . . . bear a strong likeness to the Hardy family, though the author's family and grandfather were builders and stonemasons" (15).

Among the nineteenth-century British editions of Hardy's first novel, Under The Greenwood Tree (1872) are these four, the book not having been serialised first:

(Tinsley Brothers, 1872) — 2-volume first edition — Anonymous [speculation was that George Eliot was the author]

(1873 Tinsley Brothers) — 2nd Edition, one volume (Hardy is identified as the author on the title-page).

(1875 Tinsley) — 3rd Edition, one volume. Il. R Knight.

(1878 Chatto & Windus) — 4th Edition, one volume. The cover

The Thomas Hardy Association website lists these nineteenth-century editions of the novel, indicating that these illustrations by Knight first appeared in the fourth edition, and that these reappeared in the Chatto and Windus edition of 1878:

  1. 2-vol. edition. (London: Tinsley Bros., 1872)
  2. New edition. (London: Tinsley Bros., 1873)
  3. Leisure Hour series. (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1873)
  4. Illustrated edition. (London: Tinsley Bros., 1875)
  5. Seaside Library (Quarto edition). No. 50. (New York: George Munro, 1877) [First piracy of any Hardy title]
  6. New edition with illustrations. (London: Chatto and Windus, 1878) [Reprinted 1878, 1891, 1892, 1893]
  7. (New York: Hovendon Co., 1892)
  8. Seaside Library (Pocket edition). No. 1976. (New York: George Munro, 1892)
  9. Wessex Novels edition. (London: Osgood, McIlvaine, 1896)
  10. Uniform edition. (New York: Harper and Bros., 1896?)
  11. Majestic series. No. 451. (New York: George Munro, 1896) [This volume also includes "The Romantic Adventures of a Milkmaid."]
  12. (London: Harper and Bros., 1898) [Reissue of the 1896 Osgood, McIlvaine edition]

The Knight Illustrations Commissioned by William Tinsley in 1875



All citations from the 1878 Chatto and Windus edition have been checked against the following readily available paperback edition:

Hardy, Thomas. Under The Greenwood Tree, or, The Mellstock Quire — A Rural Painting of the Dutch School (1872). Ed. Anna Winchcombe. Houndmills, Basingstoke, and London: Macmillan Education, 1978.

Purdy, Richard Little. Thomas Hardy: A Bibliographical Study. Oxford University Press. 1954.

Victorian Web Thomas Hardy Victorian Book Illustration

Last modified 23 June 2014