The Uses o f Philosophy
ONE POINT ABOUT Hardy upon which critics seem to agree is that he had a philosophy. They may say, as T. S. Eliot does, that " Hardy's work would be better for a better philosophy, or none at all";22 nevertheless, the common view is that the philosophy must be dealt with because, as Eliot adds, "there it is." This is curious if one considers that it isn't there in the sense that it is in the work of a number of other modern poets. Hardy did not try to organize his beliefs into a prose treatise, as Yeats did in A Vision; he did not write elaborate notes to his poems explaining the fine philosophical points, as Auden did in New Year Letter; he did not attempt anything as ex cathedra as After Strange Gods or Notes Toward a Definition of Culture. Yet, for Hardy's critics, there it is, and there it continues to be.
If we look for reasons for this curious critical interest in Hardy the thinker, we will find, I think, two. First, Hardy did write a number of poems which are overtly, aggressively "philosophical," poems like "A Philosophical Fantasy," to which he attached as an epigraph Bagehot's remark that " Milton . . . made God argue." The epigraph is appropriate to the occasion, and to many other occasions