The London to which Hardy had come was not the city with which English residents and American visitors are familiar in 1965. There were of course no automobiles and no electric lights. There was as yet no Charing Cross Railway station. The Victoria Embankment had not yet been built and Cleopatra’s Needle would not be set up there until 1878. There was no Tate Art Gallery: it was not opened until 1897. The Victoria and Albert Museum, not to be begun until 1899, would not be opened to the public until 1909. Temple Bar still stood in its place between Fleet Street and the Strand, just as it had stood
in the days of Johnson and Goldsmith. Hardy described the city to which he had come as ‘the LondonofDickens and Thackeray5, and both these novelists were still alive. Their London, however, was already beginning to undergo transformation. The Houses of Parliament, begun in the year of Hardy’s birth, had been completed in 1857, just five years before his arrival. The famous Reading Room of the British Museum, with its impressive dome, had been built in 1857, and a new Westminster Bridge, replacing the one crossed by Wordsworth in 1802, would open its splendid span to traffic shortly after Hardy’s arrival. There can be no doubt about the fact that, when the young man from Dorchester stepped out of the London station on to the streets of London, he knew that he had left more than Dorchester behind. He had crossed ‘an extraordinary chronological frontier’ . What made him particularly aware of this crossing was the London Exhibition of 1862. He had, in fact, timed his arrival in the metropolis in order to be present when the Exhibition was thrown open to the public.