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Friday, May 21, 2010

Church Music

Bob Loveday returns home from the navy to announce he's engaged to be married to one Matilda Johnson.  She is to follow him to Overcombe after going to Melchester to collect her possessions from her aunt's.  Bob has only known his wife a few weeks and only knows she is a "of genteel breeding" and thinks her mother is dead.  The miller soon realizes Bob chose her mostly for her looks.  He is to meet her the following Sunday at King's Arms Inn at Casterbridge, where she is due to arrive by Royal Mail.  When he goes to meet her, she is not on the mail coach, so he waits for a later, less expensive coach. 

While waiting, Bob passes a church and listens to the service:

The office was not far from All Saints’ Church, and the church-windows being open, he could hear the afternoon service from where he lingered as distinctly as if he had been one of the congregation. Thus he was mentally conducted through the Psalms, through the first and second lessons, through the burst of fiddles and clarionets which announced the evening-hymn, and well into the sermon, before any signs of the waggon could be seen upon the London road.
The afternoon sermons at this church being of a dry and metaphysical nature at that date, it was by a special providence that the waggon-office was placed near the ancient fabric, so that whenever the Sunday waggon was late, which it always was in hot weather, in cold weather, in wet weather, and in weather of almost every other sort, the rattle, dismounting, and swearing outside completely drowned the parson’s voice within, and sustained the flagging interest of the congregation at precisely the right moment. No sooner did the charity children begin to writhe on their benches, and adult snores grow audible, than the waggon arrived. (Chapter 16)

The above passage exhibits Hardy's love of church music.  He came from a family that surrounded itself with music.  His father played the violin and his mother sang while other danced.  Hardy himself played the concertina at age 4 and later played the violin as well.  His familiarity with church music came from his parent's active participation in the local church, leading to Hardy's early desire to be a parson.1  Nevertheless,though Hardy's love of church music remained with him the rest of his life, he did not ramain interested in organized religion, as the passage above illustrates.  Bob was thoroughly familiar with the order of service and had the liturgy memorized.  Nevertheless, when the time for the sermon came, the service was drowned out by the noise of the arrival of the wagon bearing Matilda.

1Millgate, Thomas Hardy (2004)

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