Osgood, McIlvaine's edition is an important one. The text of every novel was thoroughly and carefully revised, the topography (names and distances) corrected where necessary, chapters frequently retitled, and much rewriting done. In addition Hardy prepared a special preface for each volume (prefaces which have a peculiar interest when read consecutively as the work of 1895-6) and assumed the drudgery of proof-reading. The first volume of the edition was published at 6s., 4 April 1895, and subsequent volumes followed at monthly intervals, the last [i. e., vol. XVI, Under the Greenwood Tree] appearing in September 1896.

Sheets of the Osgood, McIlvaine edition of the Wessex Novels with an altered title-page were published in America by Harper & Brothers, except for the copyright volumes they already had in type. The plates were used for a number of impressions by Osgood, McIlvaine, their successors Harper & Brothers (London), and after 1902 by Macmillan & Co. for their uniform edition. — Richard Little Purdy, "Part II: Collected Editions," p. 281.

What have Mark Twain's Life on the Mississippi and Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles got in common? Both were published by eminent Bostonian James Ripey Osgood (1836-1892). The Osgood, McIlvaine Complete Wessex Novels of Thomas Hardy was not merely a highly ambitious project involving three publishing houses (the titular publisher, its American associate, Harper and Brothers, and its successor, Macmillan); it was the culmination of J. R. Osgood's professional life as a publisher and supporter of English writers — and, ironically, he died shortly before its first volume was even published.

In 1864, twenty-eight-year-old Osgood, something of a Latin prodigy who had entered college at the age of twelve, joined Dickens's friend and quondam exclusive American publisher James T. Fields as a full partner; when its offices relocated from the Old Corner at Washington and School Streets to 124 Tremont Street in Boston, the reorganised firm became Fields, Osgood, and Company in 1868. When Fields retired in 1871, the firm became James R. Osgood and Company as a result of Osgood and Benjamin Holt Ticknor's (son of the founder of Ticknor & Fields) buying out Fields' interest. Osgood then sought to attract such talented American writers as William Dean Howells, Bret Harte, and Henry James. Investing heavily in new print technologies and establishing a New York office, the firm ran into financial difficulties, and was forced to sell assets and to merge with Hurd and Houghton to become Houghton, Mifflin, and Co. in 1880. James R. Osgood formed a second J. R. Osgood and Co, only to see it taken over by Benjamin Holt Ticknor, in 1885 under the name Ticknor and Company. When James Osgood retired in 1880, the company became known as Houghton Mifflin & Company, an imprint familiar to most scholarly book-buyers in the 20th c. However, Osgood was not yet out of publishing. In 1891, stationed in London as the representative of Harper & Bros., Osgood founded a new firm after the Chace Act granted British authors full U. S. copyright protection. During its seven years of operation, the firm published such significant international writers as Thomas Hardy and Henryk Sienkiewicz. Osgood had also befriended Samuel L. Clemens, better known by his nom de plume "Mark Twain." In 1882 Osgood published Twain's The Prince and the Pauper. That same year, Osgood accompanied Clemens on a riverboat expedition, collecting material for Life on the Mississippi, which Osgood brought out in 1883. Osgood's firm was in its day one of the most financially successful in Boston. However, in 1885 as a result of overextending itself the company went bankrupt. Osgood's young partners, Thomas and Benjamin Ticknor, took on a third partner and started a new firm. Meantime, Osgood went to work for Harper's Magazine​as the firm's London representative. In 1891 Osgood went into business for himself once more, with Harper's permission, in partnership with Clarence McIlvaine as James R. Osgood, McIlvaine and Company. The firm had its greatest success with Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles, but Osgood died before the volume went on sale. In 1895, the firm still bearing Osgood's name published artist-illustrator George Du Maurier's international best-seller Trilby, which made both the heroine's hat and the story's satanic villain, Svengali, household words throughout the English-speaking world.

The new firm of Osgood, McIlvaine of 45 Albemarle Street, London, between 1894 and 1897 published the first set of Hardy's fiction, The Complete Wessex Novels, in a uniform octavo format; the House of Harper in New York published its own version of the edition, with the frontispieces by Henry Macbeth-Raeburn. Each volume in the first English edition was printed on laid paper, with an etched frontispiece and Hardy's full-page map of Wessex at the back of each text, the original series binding being of decorative dark-green ribbed cloth gilt, with an elaborate "TH" monogram blocked in gilt on the front cover. Osgood, McIlvaine's Wessex Novels (which actually included several volumes of collected short fiction) remains the first uniform and complete edition of Hardy's prose works, preceding the 1913-1930 Macmillan uniform Wessex edition, which added the poems and drama. Formerly the London representatives of Harper & Bros., New York, James Ripley Osgood (1836–1892) and Clarence W. McIlvaine had become Hardy's publishers in 1891 when the new International Copyright Bill took effect in the United States. When in June 1894 Hardy's earlier agreement with Sampson, Low expired, Hardy's new publisher decided to embark upon a wholly new, seventeen-volume uniform edition of his fiction, which J. R. Osgood never lived to see, having died in May 1892. According to Michael Millgate (2004), Hardy himself chose the title "Wessex Novels" for the new edition. Simon Gatrell in Hardy the Creator: A Textual Biography (1988) pays fitting tribute to the finely engraved frontispieces that Hardy's friend Macbeth-Raeburn executed for the 1895-1897 collected edition. In November 1894, having just received the commission, thirty-four-year-old illustrator

planned a trip to Dorchester to discuss the project with Hardy. Hardy wrote that because Max Gate was undergoing construction. . . , he could not offer the artist accommodation, but would expect him for dinner. After the visit Hardy wrote and urged him to visit Cornwall in order to do the illustrations for A Pair of Blue Eyes. He remarked that it would be a shame for him to prepare them from photographs alone. He recommended a hotel at Boscastle (Letters, II, 64-65). Macbeth-Raeburn visited the town and depicted the harbor there in the frontispiece of the novel [the fourth in the series, published in 1895]. He came to Max Gate in March 1895, working closely with Hardy on the particular site to be depicted in the frontispiece to each novel (Letters, II, 69-70). — Sarah Bird Wright, p. 201.

When his seven-year contract with Osgood, McIlvaine expired, Thomas Hardy decided to shift his allegiance to a British firm headquartered in London — Macmillan. The Henry Macbeth-Raeburn plates had already passed into the possession of Harper and Brothers, which had absorbed Osgood, McIlvaine in 1898 "— thus, both Wessex Poems and Poems of Past and Present were published by 'Harper & Brothers, London and New York'" (Seymour-Smith, 390).

Raeburn's engraved frontispieces are significant not just in their beautiful detailing and tranquil atmospheres; rather, they seem to represent a significant shift in Hardy's thinking about the kind illustration that should accompany his fiction. Unlike the products of Hardy's attempts at collaboration with George Du Maurier, Helen Paterson-Allingham, John Collier, and Arthur Hopkins in particular, these engravings convey a strong sense of place while minimizing the importance of the figures in the scenes; in fact, some of the most effective, such as the Shepherd's cottage at Upper Crowstairs (the frontispiece for Wessex Tales) and the pebble bank connecting Portland Bill to the mainland (the frontispiece for The Well Beloved) contain no figures at all. The son of a well-known Scottish portrait painter, Henry Macbeth-Raeburn (1860-1947) executed his first etchings at the age of twenty-four, and had worked on the program of illustration for Andrew Lang's Border Edition of the Waverley Novels of Sir Walter Scott (1892). The running subcaption for each of the original sixteen Osgood, McIlvaine illustrations (except the extra illustration of Hardy himself in the initial volume, Tess of the D'Urbervilles), "drawn on the spot," implies that what Hardy was trying to communicate to his readers through the engravings of specific landscapes, buildings, and town scenes was the spirit of Wessex itself, the subjects in each case apparently having been chosen by the writer himself and pointed out to the thirty-five-year-old artist in a trip around the region in March 1895 (although the engraving of "Wellbridge Manor House" for the first volume is dated 1894). Gatrell describes Hardy as

more or less setting up Macbeth-Raeburn's stool and saying, 'there before you is what I had in mind when I wrote of Rainbarrow, draw that', or else giving him fairly detailed directions as to what was the appropriate landscape to take.

All this is utterly in keeping with the developed concept of Wessex that pervades the freshly revised texts, Hardy announcing with clarity through the frontispieces that there was a spot in the real world from which the fictional landscape or building could be drawn. [137-138]

The drawings are impressions rather than photographic or mechanically rendered images of the key places in the stories, distilled realities, so to speak, rather than the real thing, subjective rather than objective pictures in which the readers step as they enter the letterpress of Thomas Hardy's Wessex. He seems to say in these engravings, "There is such a place, and it is where such a story could have occurred, so suspend your disbelief. As for the characters, I leave you to picture them, entering the scene." Whereas the American edition of Jude the Obscure of mid-November 1895 reproduced the twelve Hatherell lithographs that Hardy so admired, the 1 November 1895 Osgood, McIlvaine first edition contains a single, airy, refined perspective entitled The Christminster of the Story — "Drawn on the spot." As late as 1912, Hardy was still rather ambivalent about the nature and function of illustration, even going so far as to employ an actual photograph rather than an engraving to accompany a later short story, "A Tryst at an Ancient Earthwork" (1885, 1893) as the frontispiece entitled The Castle of Mai-Dun in the 1913 volume that completed James Ripley Osgood's final publishing project.

Related Material

A Thomas Hardy Gallery

Additional Resources on Hardy's Short Stories


Gatrell, Simon. Hardy the Creator: A Textual Biography. Oxford: Clarendon, 1988.

Jackson, Arlene M. Illustration and the Novels of Thomas Hardy. Totowa, New Jersey: Rowman and Littlefield, 1981.

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.

Vann, J. Don. Victorian Novels in Serial. New York: Modern Language Association, 1985.

Wright, Sarah Bird. Thomas Hardy A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts on File, 2002.

Last modified 18 February 2017