The Unknown Boy
This and the picture below are the only evidence that Thomas Hardy may have fathered an illegitimate child with Tryphena Sparks.
Nellie Bromell showed it to Lois Deacon in Tryphena’s portrait album and claimed it was “Hardy’s boy”, variously known as “Randy”, “Randal” or “Randolph”. Nellie said her half-brother had visited the Gale family a few times in Topsham. Tryphena’s husband Charles Gale must have known what had happened before they married. After Tryphena died in 1890, when Nellie was eleven, Hardy and his brother Henry visited, to place flowers on her tomb. They called in at the Gales’, and Nellie remembers her Father asking her to attend on the brothers whilst he made sandwiches for them. He didn’t want to meet Thomas Hardy, by then a world-famous author.
No written record of any description has been found of this mysterious boy. Hardy went to great lengths to destroy all records pertaining to his early life. Even after he died in 1928 his second wife Florence Emily and literary executor Sidney Cockerell burnt piles of papers in the grounds of Max Gate, Hardy’s rather gloomy residence outside Dorchester, on his instructions. The earliest picture of Thomas Hardy in The Life of Thomas Hardy by Florence Emily Hardy depicts him as an hirsute thirty year-old.
He seems to have had no knowledge that Tryphena had kept a portrait album with earlier pictures of him and her illegitimate son, which obviously she considered of importance. It came into the possession of her eldest child, Eleanor Tryphena Gale, later Nellie Bromell.
It has been noted that this boy bears a distinct resemblance to Hardy’s description of the highly-disturbed Little Father Time in his last novel Jude the Obscure, mauled by the critics on its publication in 1895.
On the left, a photo of Thomas Hardy aged nineteen, taken in 1859. On the right, Randy, aged about twenty-one, near the time Tryphena died.
Horace Moseley Moule (pronounced “mole”) is the third member of the eternal triangle that occurs frequently in Hardy’s novels.
A member of a large Victorian family of mainly boys, Moule’s Father was vicar of Fordington St. George’s church in Dorchester and the family has been identified as the model for the Clare family in Tess of the d’Urbervilles.
Horace Moule was a gifted classical scholar and exercised a considerable influence on the young Thomas Hardy. He had what were considered at the time to be character flaws, including alcoholism and a questionable sexuality. Despite his acknowledged erudition he failed to gain a degree at either Oxford or Cambridge and committed suicide in 1873.
Hardy was estranged from Horace and Tryphena for two years, from July 1870. He had committed Tryphena to Horace’s guidance whilst she was at Stockwell College, Horace being in London and Hardy working as an architect in Weymouth. Horace reviewed Under the Greenwood Tree in September 1872 favourably. Hardy incorporated Horace into many of his male characters. Women are often bedazzled by the Moule character.
The poem Standing by the Mantelpiece, from Winter Words, was published after Hardy’s death. Hardy had visited Horace at Cambridge in 1872 and watched guttering candles in King’s College Chapel on another visit seven years later. The speaker in the poem is Horace: he tells Hardy that, as Tryphena loves him and not Horace, Hardy must stay alive to watch over her. Horace claims the shroud, formed by wax as it drips from a burning candle. An alternative romantic meaning can be drawn from this enigmatic verse:
Standing by the Mantelpiece (Winter Words)
This candle-wax is shaping to a shroud
To-night. (They call it that, as you may know)—
By touching it the claimant is avowed,
And hence I press it with my finger – so.
To-night. To me twice night, that should have been
The radiance of the midmost tick of noon,
And close around me wintertime is seen
That might have shone the veriest day of June!
But since all’s lost, and nothing really lies
Above but shade, and shadier shade below,
Let me make clear, before one of us dies,
My mind to yours, just now embittered so.
Since you agreed, unurged and full-advised,
And let warmth grow without discouragement,
Why do you bear you now as if surprised
When what has come was clearly consequent?
Since you have spoken, and finality
Closes around, and my last movements loom,
I say no more: the rest must wait till we
Are face to face again, yonside the tomb.
And let the candle-wax thus mould a shape
Whose meaning now, if hid before, you know,
And how by touch one present claims its drape,
And that it’s I who press my finger – so.
Florence Emily Hardy writes in The Life of Thomas Hardy: “Speaking generally, there is more autobiography in a hundred lines of Mr. Hardy’s poetry than in all the novels.” (p. 392).
As Lois Deacon wrote of Thomas Hardy, in a paper where she attempts to identify the five women depicted in his poem The Chosen:
“For sixty years he had lived in a multi-caverned hell, into which he had been plunged by a score of hideous ironies of circumstance. The complex tragedy of ‘concatenated affections’ between himself, Tryphena Sparks, Horace Moule, Emma Lavinia Gifford and Charlie Gale had devastated the lives of three of them during the decade 1867–77 and had, perforce, to be hidden during the lifetime of Hardy’s whole family.”
Thomas Hardy had no children from his two marriages and none of his three siblings married, so the line is extinct.
To return to My Lost Prize, click here