‘Talking of Exhibitions, World’s Fairs, and what not,’ said the old gentleman, ‘I would not go round the corner to see a dozen of them nowadays. The only exhibition that ever made, or ever will make, any impression upon my imagination was the first of the series, the parent of them all, and now a thing of old times–the Great Exhibition of 1851, in Hyde Park, London. None of the younger generation can realize the sense of novelty it produced in us who were then in our prime. A noun substantive went so far as to become an adjective in honour of the occasion. It was “exhibition” hat, “exhibition” razor-strop, “exhibition” watch; nay, even “exhibition” weather, “exhibition” spirits, sweethearts, babies, wives–for the time.
‘For South Wessex, the year formed in many ways an extraordinary chronological frontier or transit-line, at which there occurred what one might call a precipice in Time. As in a geological “fault,” we had presented to us a sudden bringing of ancient and modern into absolute contact, such as probably in no other single year since the Conquest was ever witnessed in this part of the country.’
These observations led us onward to talk of the different personages, gentle and simple, who lived and moved within our narrow and peaceful horizon at that time; and of three people in particular, whose queer little history was oddly touched at points by the Exhibition, more concerned with it than that of anybody else who dwelt in those outlying shades of the world, Stickleford, Mellstock, and Egdon. First in prominence among these three came Wat Ollamoor–if that were his real name–whom the seniors in our party had known well.
He was a woman’s man, they said,–supremely so–externally little else. To men be was not attractive; perhaps a little repulsive at times. Musician, dandy, and company-man in practice; veterinary surgeon in theory, he lodged awhile in Mellstock village, coming from nobody knew where; though some said his first appearance in this neighbourhood had been as fiddle-player in a show at Greenhill Fair.
Many a worthy villager envied him his power over unsophisticated maidenhood–a power which seemed sometimes to have a touch of the weird and wizardly in it. Personally he was not ill-favoured, though rather un- English, his complexion being a rich olive, his rank hair dark and rather clammy–made still clammier by secret ointments, which, when he came fresh to a party, caused him to smell like ‘boys’-love’ (southernwood) steeped in lamp-oil. On occasion he wore curls–a double row–running almost horizontally around his head. But as these were sometimes noticeably absent, it was concluded that they were not altogether of Nature’s making. By girls whose love for him had turned to hatred he had been nicknamed ‘Mop,’ from this abundance of hair, which was long enough to rest upon his shoulders; as time passed the name more and more prevailed.
His fiddling possibly had the most to do with the fascination he exercised, for, to speak fairly, it could claim for itself a most peculiar and personal quality, like that in a moving preacher. There were tones in it which bred the immediate conviction that indolence and averseness to systematic application were all that lay between ‘Mop’ and the career of a second Paganini.
While playing he invariably closed his eyes; using no notes, and, as it were, allowing the violin to wander on at will into the most plaintive passages ever heard by rustic man. There was a certain lingual character in the supplicatory expressions he produced, which would well nigh have drawn an ache from the heart of a gate-post. He could make any child in the parish, who was at all sensitive to music, burst into tears in a few minutes by simply fiddling one of the old dance-tunes he almost entirely affected–country jigs, reels, and ‘Favourite Quick Steps’ of the last century–some mutilated remains of which even now reappear as nameless phantoms in new quadrilles and gallops, where they are recognized only by the curious, or by such old-fashioned and far-between people as have been thrown with men like Wat Ollamoor in their early life.