MADDING: acting in a frenzied manner

madding crowd

  • Some people like crowds.  Some don’t.
  • Some people receive energy by being in a crowded place.  Others get claustrophobia.
  • Crowds can be vehicles of great celebration.   Crowds can be militant and vicious.

 

Obviously, when in the 18th century,  he wrote the poem, Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard,  Thomas Hardy portrayed the crowd as  madding.   Revelling  in the peace and quiet of the graveyard, the frenzy and craziness of the market place was far away.   It provided the peace which was promised to those whose bones lay beneath the grassy blanket.   It is as a country church yard should be.

The term Hart chose to use, madding, is often misquoted as maddening, but his archaic and proper linguistic choice is even more powerful in its obscurity.   The emphasis is upon the root word of mad, meaning not angry (as we are wont to define it today,) but nearing to insanity.   Dictionary.com clarifies its use in the following way:

Mad  meaning “enraged, angry” has been used since 1300, and this sense is a very common one. Because some teachers and usage critics insist that the only correct meaning of mad  is “mentally disturbed, insane,” mad  is often replaced by angry  in formal contexts: The president is angry at Congress for overriding his veto.”

The clairity they provide is to make the point that something or someone  can be mad without being insane, in the medical sense of the word.    That would seem to be consistent with Hardy’s use of the word.   He saw the crowd as loud, chaotic and out of control.   It is interesting to note that most poet scholars say that Hardy is referring directly to human existence when he cites “the madding crowd.”  Those who have died, therefore, are freed from the hectic, out-of-control life experience and allowed to “rest” in the peace of death.   R.I.P., so often inscribed on a grave stone, is from the Latin Requiem im Pacem, meaning “rest in peace.”

The word madding is almost invariably connected to the word crowd.  It would seem that Hardy’s depiction of death in this beautiful poem is the source for the centuries-old reference to the word.  The Epitaph he reads upon the gravestone of his dear departed friend,

THE EPITAPH.
Here rests his head upon the lap of Earth
 
  A Youth to Fortune and to Fame unknown.  
Fair Science frown’d not on his humble birth,  
  And Melancholy mark’d him for her own.
Large was his bounty, and his soul sincere,  
  Heav’n did a recompense as largely send:  
He gave to Mis’ry all he had, a tear,  
  He gain’d from Heav’n (’twas all he wish’d) a friend.  
No farther seek his merits to disclose,  
  Or draw his frailties from their dread abode,  
(There they alike in trembling hope repose,)  
  The bosom of his Father and his God.

 

His friend has died, and he is depicted as sleeping in the presence of God.  It is a traditional expression of the meaning of death, and one to which most people cling.   We, upon our departure from this madding crowd, could wish for no less nor no more.

_______________________

Photo Credit: T. Carter

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