Jude the Obscure
PART II: Chapter 2
NECESSARY meditations on the actual, including the mean bread-and-cheese
question, dissipated the phantasmal for a while, and compelled Jude to smother
high thinkings under immediate needs. He had to get up, and seek for work,
manual work; the only kind deemed by many of its professors to be work at all.
Passing out into the streets on this errand he found that the colleges had
treacherously changed their sympathetic countenances: some were pompous;
some had put on the look of family vaults above ground; something barbaric
loomed in the masonries of all. The spirits of the great men had disappeared.
The numberless architectural pages around him he read, naturally, less as an
artist-critic of their forms than as an artizan and comrade of the dead
handicraftsmen whose muscles had actually executed those forms. He examined
the mouldings, stroked them as one who knew their beginning, said they were
difficult or easy in the working, had taken little or much time, were trying to the
arm, or convenient to the tool.
What at night had been perfect and ideal was by day the more or less defective
real. Cruelties, insults, had, he perceived, been inflicted on the aged erections.
The condition of several moved him as he would have been moved by maimed
sentient beings. They were wounded, broken, sloughing off their outer shape in
the deadly struggle against years, weather, and man.
The rottenness of these historical documents reminded him that he was not, after
all, hastening on to begin the morning practically as he had intended. He had
come to work, and to live by work, and the morning had nearly gone. It was, in
one sense, encouraging to think that in a place of crumbling stones there must
be plenty for one of his trade to do in the business of renovation. He asked his
way to the workyard of the stone-mason whose name had been given him at
Alfredston; and soon heard the familiar sound of the rubbers and chisels.
The yard was a little centre of regeneration. Here, with keen edges and smooth
curves, were forms in the exact likeness of those he had seen abraded and time-
eaten on the walls. These were the ideas in modern prose which the lichened
colleges presented in old poetry. Even some of those antiques might have been
called prose when they were new. They had done nothing but wait, and had
become poetical. How easy to the smallest building; how impossible to most
He asked for the foreman, and looked round among the new traceries, mullions,
transoms, shafts, pinnacles, and battlements standing on the bankers half
worked, or waiting to be removed. They were marked by precision, mathematical
straightness, smoothness, exactitude: there in the old walls were the broken lines
of the original idea; jagged curves, disdain of precision, irregularity, disarray.
For a moment there fell on Jude a true illumination; that here in the stone yard
was a centre of effort as worthy as that dignified by the name of scholarly study
within the noblest of the colleges. But he lost it under stress of his old idea. He
would accept any employment which might be offered him on the strength of his