Life of Horatio Mosley Moule [1832 - 1873]

Tutor and close friend of Thomas Hardy

©2007 Compiled by Michael Russell OPC for Fordington


Horatio Mosely Moule

[ known as Horace Moule ]

[Picture by kind permission of the Dorset County Museum]

Horatio Mosley Moule was born on 30 May 1832 the fourth of eight sons of Henry Moule [1801-1880] and his wife Mary Mullet Evans. He was duly baptised by his father the Vicar of St George’s in Fordington on 7th July the same year.


Origin of his name

He took his first name from Henry’s younger brother Horatio Moule [1805-1886] who was also an ordained priest and had accompanied Henry to Fordington in 1829 when he took over as Vicar. As a Curate Henry’s brother regularly carried out baptisms, marriages and burials at St George’s church from their joint arrival in 1829 up to 1837. He almost certainly would have been present at the baptism of his namesake; we know for example from the parish registers that he conducted a burial of a child there on the 10th July. With Horace Moule such a permanent feature of their lives at the vicarage it was necessary to distinguish between Henry’s brother & his son, so Horatio Mosley Moule became known throughout the family as Horace, and I will refer to him as such from now on.


He appears to have taken his second name from Richard Mosley who was also Henry’s curate from January 1831. His last recorded official engagement in Fordington is the day before Horace’s baptism on 6th July 1832 so they obviously knew he was leaving and it seems to have been a gesture of fond remembrance of his time there. Richard Mosley [Moseley] a graduate of Holy Trinity Cambridge obtained his MA in 1833, married in 1837, became curate of Holy Trinity Ipswich until 1841 when he became vicar of Rotherham in Yorkshire. He remained there until 1872 when he retired to Hastings where he died at the age of 79 on 14th Feb 1882.

Early Years 1832-1855

Horace grew up at Fordington Vicarage and was regarded by his brothers as the most brilliant of the family. At the age of 12 he was already playing the organ for church services. His subsequent life however suggests an inner turmoil he found difficult to resolve and perhaps at times a lack of self esteem. Like his brothers at the age of 19 he headed for University entering Trinity College Oxford as a scholar on 16 June1851. By 1854 however he had left without a degree, in contrast to his two eldest brothers, something he must have found difficult to explain to his father. In that year he matriculated at Queens College Cambridge entering under the name of Horace Moule, which suggests a deliberate attempt to put his time at Oxford behind him which he did at least initially with some success.

Thomas Hardy

In 1856 Thomas Hardy the novelist and poet left school at the age of 16 and was articled to the architect John Hicks in Dorchester. At an impressionable age he began to teach himself Greek with encouragement from the dialect poet and philologist William Barnes, who had a house next door to Hicks’ office. At the same time, he met and was befriended by Horace who now helped him with his studies, and encouraged him to write poetry. They became enduring friends.


In later life Hardy was always to emphasize Horace Moule's devotion to music and the promise he had shown of becoming  ‘a distinguished English poet’. Although Horace was still studying at Cambridge when at home in Fordington he helped with the teaching of the group of paying pupils which his father had for some years gathered at the vicarage. He was chosen as the president of the 'Fordington Times Society', composed of the Moule brothers, their friends, and their father's pupils, which held weekly meetings on literary topics between April 1856 and December 1859: several of his pieces appear in Tempora Mutantur, a collection of prose and verse by members of the society which appeared in 1859. At the same time he was contributing reviews and occasional essays to national periodicals. Back at Cambridge in 1858 his dissertation on divinity won the Hulsean Prize yet he was not to be awarded his BA until 1867 and his MA only arrived in 1873, the year he died.


It is likely that there were some depressive elements in Horace’s make-up, quite apart from the disappointments of his academic career his personal life was at times a mess. At some undefined time, he started talking of suicide in fits of depression; he also tried to ward off these fits by drinking. It became an open secret with his relatives that he sometimes slept with a razor under his pillow, to be removed by them secretly.

Unfortunately Hardy was to encounter all too soon the darker side of Horace’s personality. Early in 1860 Horace went to live in Cathedral Close at Salisbury, with two pupils whom he had undertaken to coach in Greek, Latin, and mathematics preparatory to their sitting Oxford and Cambridge entrance examinations. One of these pupils, Wynne Albert Bankes recorded in his diary that it quickly became apparent that Horace was a Dipsomaniac and that he was suffering from DT's, a condition which had its origin in his taking opium when reviewing books for Macmillan of Cambridge at which he worked for 48 or 72 hours at a stretch. Horace eventually recovered, and Bankes, whose previous naval experience had given him a good deal of worldly experience, agreed to continue with the otherwise satisfactory tutorial arrangement if Horace would neither have drink in the house nor go out of the house alone. The little group moved on 22 April to Lynton, in Devon, spent a few days in Oxford (where the second pupil took and failed his examination), and then proceeded to Saint-Germain-en-Laye, which is situated in the western suburbs of Paris, for the summer. On Saturday, 28 July, Bankes went into Paris a distance of about 12 miles; Horace was to meet him there in time for church the following morning. On the Tuesday, when Moule still had not appeared, Bankes went back to Saint-Germain and discovered that he 'had ordered a bottle of claret on Saturday, that he had cut his whiskers off and had disappeared'. Bankes made daily visits to the Paris morgue and Horace's brothers Henry and Charles came to France to help in the search; on the following Sunday, 5 August, they heard by telegram that the truant had arrived safely back in England. Hardy was certainly at Fordington Church for Evensong on 5 August 1860, the day on which Moule resurfaced. By 1860, therefore, Hardy was already thoroughly familiar with Horace’s alcoholism, and the survival of their friendship says much for that extraordinary charm which Horace in his happier moments seems to have exercised over all who encountered him.


There is some suggestion emanating from a letter written by Florence Hardy that in the late 1850’s, early 1860’s Horace had got a “low Mixen Lane” Fordington woman (and therefore one of his father's parishioners) pregnant, but she was shipped off to Australia (where the son she bore was later hanged).

It is difficult after all this time to know how much credence to place on this. Certainly the area along the river, known as Lower Fordington, had become an overcrowded urban slum. It is here that we find "Mixen Lane", actually recorded in the parish registers as Mill Street. There has always been a few illegitimate births in Fordington each year but they are certainly not confined to this street and the above accounts suggests the child was probably not baptised in Fordington anyway.

Mixen Lane

Mixen Lane is described by Thomas Hardy in his novel The Mayor of Casterbridge:-

It was "the hiding place of those who were in distress, in debt, and in trouble of every kind. Farm-labourers and other peasants, who combined a little poaching with their farming, and a little brawling and bibbing with their poaching, found themselves sooner or later in Mixen Lane."

The Parish Registers certainly confirm Mill Street to have plenty of agricultural labourers living there, but it also shows a solid representation of the wider working community with tradesmen such as shopkeepers, masons, sawyers, wheelwrights, millers and even the odd chimney sweep and it does not therefore seem to be that different from many other streets in Fordington.

(Picture by kind permission of Phillip V Allingham at

However the above photograph probably gives a better idea of how it looked just before it was torn down in the urban renewal programme of 1912.


In the aftermath of the French escapade, however, Horace seems to have made an extraordinary effort to restore stability to his life. In February 1861 he lectured on temperance at East Fordington, urging total abstinence upon those who lacked the self-discipline to drink in moderation; in January 1862 he gave the first performance on the new organ at West Fordington Church which had been built for the troops of Fordington Barracks by his father. According to Cambridge University Alumni he was also admitted to the Middle Temple in 1862. In 1864 he went with his father to a missionary meeting at West Stafford. There was nothing hypocritical about Horace’s participation in such activities. His desperate search for approval from his austere father was at the heart of his difficulties, and his share in the moral earnestness characteristic of the Moule family served only to intensify the agonies of guilt and self-contempt which succeeded each episode of failure.

There is no doubt, though, that whatever his temperamental handicaps, Horace Moule was a brilliant and inspiring teacher. This was officially recognized during a short spell (1865-68) as assistant master at Marlborough Grammar school.


Every now and then however he slipped off into the East Anglian countryside and stayed drunk for days at a time, until his brother Frederick, the vicar of Yaxley near Peterborough, would find him and bring him back to the vicarage to recover. Soon economic pressures however led to his acceptance in July 1872 of a position under the Local Government Board as an assistant Poor Law inspector for the East Anglian district. He returned from one of the many  tours he was required to make of the workhouses on 17th September 1873.


On Friday 19 September 1873, a fortnight before Michaelmas Term, Horace came back to his rooms in Queens. Cambridge was empty, and even his brother Charles was not yet in his rooms at Corpus. Suffering from another bout of depression Horace visited his doctor, James Hough, who was immediately alarmed at his condition. It was the worst bout he had seen, and he felt it urgent to provide a nurse, who came on the Saturday morning, and to send a telegram to Charles Moule that night. His brother arrived on the Sunday, and had a distressing and all-too-familiar talk with him. Horace was fully aware that his alcoholism was now threatening his work and the possibility of losing his position was very much on his mind. He became at first excited, and then deeply depressed. After a three-hour discussion, he said he felt so ill that he was going to bed.

Charles remained writing in the other room. After a few minutes he heard a sound, which at first he could not place, a kind of trickling. He went into the bedroom, and found Horace Moule lying on the bed covered in blood. Thinking at first he had broken a blood vessel, Charles Moule ran to the Porter's Lodge, and sent a messenger for Dr. Hough. Hastening back, he found his brother lying there, bleeding but still just able to speak. He said, 'Easy to die' and 'Love to my mother'. Only then, perhaps, did Charles realize that Horace had done what he long ago threatened to do, and taken his own life. The surgeon, when he arrived, confirmed that he had cut his throat. The nurse, also summoned, found an open razor. Horace Moule never spoke again.


At the inquest, held the next day, the jury returned a verdict of 'suicide whilst in a state of temporary insanity'. A person who commits suicide is not normally allowed to be buried on consecrated ground. An exception is made however where a person is deemed to have been temporarily insane and on Thursday, 25 September, Horace Moule's body was brought to Fordington, for burial within the churchyard on the Friday. The Service was conducted by Rev C.E.Vines and teh Vicar of West Fordington the Rev William Cook Osborn. Hardy, according to a poem he later wrote, went to Fordington churchyard, and contemplated the mound of chalk dug from the newly-prepared grave. It was this day, rather than the day of death, or that of the funeral, which he attended, that he always remembered. It is said that his creation of the character Jude in Jude the Obscure must have been inspired by the sad life and death of Horace Moule.

His father had to obtain a letter of administration on 16th December 1873 to take control of his personal effects which are listed as being under £200

On New Years Eve 1858 Horace had been inspired to write a 56-line verse on a midnight walk to Grey Bridge in Dorchester. The beautiful poem titled The Muffled Peal and others were published by his brother in 1878.

Publications: Author,
Christian Oratory; an inquiry into its history during the first five centuries 002568142 (1859):
Tempora mutantur. A Memorial of the Fordington Times Society. [Essays, verses, etc. by its members, H. Moule, H. M. Moule, and others.] 001268769 (1859)
The Roman Republic; being a review of some of the salient points in its history, etc 002568143 (1860)

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