Frontispiece: A view in "Melchester"
12.3 x 8.5 cm
Frontispiece for Hardy's Life's Little Ironies.
"On the Western Circuit," in Volume 14 of the First Uniform Edition of the Wessex Novels, with an illustration by Henry Macbeth-Raeburn. London: Osgood-McIlvaine, 1896.
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
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Text on facing page
A view in "Melchester" Drawn on the spot.
An October evening in the city of Melchester. — Page 89.
The man who played the disturbing part in the two quiet lives hereafter depicted — no great man, in any sense, by the way — first had knowledge of them on an October evening, in the city of Melchester. He had been standing in the Close, vainly endeavouring to gain amid the darkness a glimpse of the most homogeneous pile of mediaeval architecture in England, which towered and tapered from the damp and level sward in front of him. While he stood the presence of the Cathedral walls was revealed rather by the ear than by the eyes; he could not see them, but they reflected sharply a roar of sound which entered the Close by a street leading from the city square, and, falling upon the building, was flung back upon him.
He postponed till the morrow his attempt to examine the deserted edifice, and turned his attention to the noise. It was compounded of steam barrel-organs, the clanging of gongs, the ringing of hand- bells, the clack of rattles, and the undistinguishable shouts of men. A lurid light hung in the air in the direction of the tumult. Thitherward he went, passing under the arched gateway, along a straight street, and into the square. He might have searched Europe over for a greater contrast between juxtaposed scenes. The spectacle was that of the eighth chasm of the Inferno as to colour and flame, and, as to mirth, a development of the Homeric heaven. A smoky glare, of the complexion of brass- filings, ascended from the fiery tongues of innumerable naphtha lamps affixed to booths, stalls, and other temporary erections which crowded the spacious market-square.— "On the Western Circuit," pp. 89-90.
Henry Macbeth-Raeburn and Thomas Hardy have chosen as the subject of the frontispiece for the entire volume entitled Life's Little Ironies, A Set of Tales, with Some Colloquial Sketches Entitled "A Few Crusted Characters" (first published in volume form by Osgood, McIlvaine in 1894) the town cross in the cathedral city of "Melchester," otherwise, Salisbury, somewhat north of Hardy's usual haunts near Dorchester. Although the opening paragraph of the 1891 story specifically mentions "an October evening," the market cross in the centre of town, near the great Early English Gothic cathedral, is well lit. The scene, therefore, is not as atmospheric as Hardy's opening paragraphs would lead us to expect, but the market-cross is a symbol not so much of one story as all the social relationships within the seventeen ironic stories contained in the volume. The mediaeval city serves as the backdrop for a number of scenes in the Wessex Novels, including Far from the Madding Crowd, The Hand of Ethelberta, Two on a Tower, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Jude the Obscure, "A Committee-man of 'The Terror'," and several of the quasi-biographies of A Group of Noble Dames, a useful setting because, in addition to the cathedral close and marketplace, picturesque Salisbury contains the White Hart and Red Lion inns, a teacher-training college, and the Church of St. Thomas. Notes F. B. Pinion of the story illustrated by Macberth-Raeburn,
A young barrister, Charles Bradford Raye, while on the western [legal] circuit, stayed at Melchester during October and, after standing in the Close to gain a glimpse of the Cathedral in the darkness, passed out under 'the arched gateway', and walked on to the square to see what was happening at the noisy fair. Here he met Anna, who living at Melchester with Mrs Harnham, and fell in love with her. The following day he walked with her out of the city top the earthworks of Old Melchester (Old Sarum). 
The story first appeared in English Illustrated Magazine in December 1891 with four illustrations by Walter Paget and with a single illustration by W. T. Smedley in Harper's Weekly Magazine (28 November 1891), so that it was published virtually at the same time in the two different copyright regimes. A bibliographical anomaly, the volume exists in two forms, both under the Osgood, McIlvaine imprint, as both Richard L. Purdy and Martin Ray note. Issued in 1894, just after Hardy switched his allegiance from Sampson, Low, Life's Little Ironies appeared without either the Henry Macbeth-Raeburn frontispiece or the Map of Wessex, and contained a pair of Napoleonic era stories later transferred to Wessex Tales: "The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion" and "A Tradition of Eighteen Hundred and Four."
Life's Little Ironies was re-printed from the 1894 plates as volume XIV in Osgood, McIlvaine's edition of the Wessex Novels in 1896, and Hardy added a Preface , dated June 1896, which contained some observations on the source of 'The Melancholy Hussar' and the model for Parson Toogood in the tale of 'Andrey Satchel'. — Martin Ray, "Introduction" to Life's Little Ironies, p. 169.
The actual structure that is the focal point of the composition represents Salisbury's commercial activity as the Poultry Cross, a Gothic enclosure dating from the fourteenth century but restored in the eighteenth and nineteenth, at the juncture of Silver and Minster Streets, is the only remaining market cross that the city once boasted, the others being associated with the sale of livestock and wool. The building's flying buttresses, its chief feature, were removed in 1711 (as evident in J. M. W. Turner's oil painting, circa 1800), and reinstated according to the design of Winchester architect Owen Browne Carter (1806-1859) between 1852 and 1854. Today the structure is used as part of the Salisbury Market on the old market days, Tuesdays and Saturdays. Hardy may also have shown Macbeth-Raseburn a similar structure in Malmesbury, Wiltshire, built about 1490 (possibly copying Salisbury's), and nicknamed "The Birdcage" on account of its shape.
Additional Resources on Hardy's Short Stories
Gatrell, Simon. Hardy the Creator: A Textual Biography. Oxford: Clarendon, 1988.
Hardy, Thomas. Life's Little Ironies, A Set of Tales, with Some Colloquial Sketches Entitled "A Few Crusted Characters". Illustrated by Henry Macbeth-Raeburn. Volume Fourteen in the Complete Uniform Edition of the Wessex Novels. London: Osgood, McIlvaine, 1894, rpt. with illustration, 1896.
Hardy, Thomas. "On the Western Circuit." Illustrated by Walter Paget. The English Illustrated Magazine. December, 1891. Pp. 275-288.
Kay-Robinson, Denys. The Landscape of Thomas Hardy.Exeter: Webb & Bower, 1984.
Millgate, Michael. Thomas Hardy: A Biography Revisited. Oxford: Oxford U. P., 2004.
Pinion, F. B. A Hardy Companion. Trowbridge, Wiltshire: Macmillan, 1968.
Purdy, Richard L. Thomas Hardy: A Bibliographical Study. Oxford: Clarendon, 1954, rpt. 1978.
Ray, Martin. Thomas Hardy: A Textual Study of the Short Stories. London: Ashgate, 1988.
Seymour-Smith, Martin. Hardy. London: Bloomsbury, 1994.
Turner, Paul. The Life of Thomas Hardy. A Critical Biography. Oxford: Blackwell, 1998.
Wright, Sarah Bird. Thomas Hardy A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts on File, 2002.
Last modified 12 February 2017