The Final Achievement
A FEW WEEKS before his death, Hardy told his wife that "he had done all that he meant to do, but he did not know whether it had been worth doing" ( Later Years, p. 263). In this remark, Hardy made two related judgments of his own achievement, neither of which is what one would expect of a major artist, though both are characteristic, and revealing, of Hardy. First, the sense of fulfilled intention is unusual; Conrad's judgment of his achievement in Nostromo is much more typical of an artist's attitude toward his completed work: "Personally," Conrad wrote, "I am not satisfied. It is something--but not the thing I tried for."57 Hardy did not seem to feel this very common sense of disparity between intention and performance--his work apparently was the thing he tried for. (This lack of artistic discontent may help to explain the presence in the Collected Poems of so many unsuccessful poems, and also Hardy's failure to develop artistically.) Second, the doubt as to the value of what he had done: this seems less a question of the value of his specific writings than a doubt as to the value of art in general--is it ever worth doing? Surely few artists would devote their lives so wholeheartedly to a vocation about which they entertained such fundamental doubts.