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Title: Mathilde Blind
Author: Eliot, George, 1819-1880
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Mathilde Blind" ***

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_Eminent Women Series_

EDITED BY JOHN H. INGRAM

GEORGE ELIOT

[_All Rights Reserved_]



GEORGE ELIOT

BY
MATHILDE BLIND

LONDON:
W. H. ALLEN AND CO.
13, WATERLOO PLACE
1883.

[_All Rights Reserved_]


LONDON:
PRINTED BY WILLIAM CLOWES AND SONS, LIMITED,
STAMFORD STREET AND CHARING CROSS.



PREFATORY NOTE.


Detailed accounts of GEORGE ELIOT'S life have hitherto been singularly
scanty. In the dearth of published materials a considerable portion of
the information contained in this biographical study has, necessarily,
been derived from private sources. In visiting the places connected with
GEORGE ELIOT'S early life, I enjoyed the privilege of meeting her
brother, Mr. Isaac Evans, and was also fortunate in gleaning many a
characteristic fact and trait from old people in the neighbourhood,
contemporaries of her father, Mr. Robert Evans. For valuable help in
forming an idea of the growth of GEORGE ELIOT'S mind, my warm thanks are
especially due to her oldest friends, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Bray, and
Miss Hennell of Coventry. Miss Jenkins, the novelist's schoolfellow, and
Mrs. John Cash, also generously afforded me every assistance in their
power.

A great part of the correspondence in the present volume has not
hitherto appeared in print, and has been kindly placed at my disposal by
Mrs. Bray, Mrs. Gilchrist, Mrs. Clifford, Miss Marks, Mr. William M.
Rossetti, and the late James Thomson. I have also quoted from letters
addressed to Miss Phelps which were published in _Harper's Magazine_ of
March 1882, and from one or two other articles that have appeared in
periodical publications. For permission to make use of this
correspondence my thanks are due to Mr. C. L. Lewes.

By far the most exhaustive published account of GEORGE ELIOT'S life and
writings, and the one of which I have most freely availed myself, is Mr.
Call's admirable essay in the _Westminster Review_ of July 1881.
Although this, as indeed every other article on the subject, states
GEORGE ELIOT'S birthplace incorrectly, it contains many important _data_
not mentioned elsewhere. To the article on GEORGE ELIOT in _Blackwood's
Magazine_ for February 1881, I owe many interesting particulars, chiefly
connected with the beginning of GEORGE ELIOT'S literary career. Amongst
other papers consulted may be mentioned a noticeable one by Miss Simcox
in the _Contemporary Review_, and an appreciative notice by Mr.
Frederick Myers in _Scribner's Magazine_, as well as articles in
_Harper's Magazine_ of May 1881, and _The Century_ of August 1882. Two
quaint little pamphlets, 'Seth Bede: the Methody,' and 'George Eliot in
Derbyshire,' by Guy Roslyn, although full of inaccuracies, have also
furnished some curious items of information.

MATHILDE BLIND.



CONTENTS.


                                                  PAGE
CHAPTER I.

INTRODUCTORY                                         1

CHAPTER II.

CHILDHOOD AND EARLY HOME                             9

CHAPTER III.

YOUTHFUL STUDIES AND FRIENDSHIPS                    22

CHAPTER IV.

TRANSLATION OF STRAUSS AND FEUERBACH--TOUR ON
THE CONTINENT                                       44

CHAPTER V.

THE "WESTMINSTER REVIEW"                            59

CHAPTER VI.

GEORGE HENRY LEWES                                  77

CHAPTER VII.

SCENES OF CLERICAL LIFE                             91

CHAPTER VIII.

ADAM BEDE                                          106

CHAPTER IX.

THE MILL ON THE FLOSS                              123

CHAPTER X.

SILAS MARNER                                       137

CHAPTER XI.

ROMOLA                                             148

CHAPTER XII.

HER POEMS                                          161

CHAPTER XIII.

FELIX HOLT AND MIDDLEMARCH                         175

CHAPTER XIV.

DANIEL DERONDA                                     192

CHAPTER XV.

LAST YEARS                                         204



GEORGE ELIOT.



CHAPTER I.

INTRODUCTORY.


Speaking of the contributions made to literature by her own sex, George
Eliot, in a charming essay written in 1854, awards the palm of
intellectual pre-eminence to the women of France. "They alone," says the
great English author, "have had a vital influence on the development of
literature. For in France alone the mind of woman has passed, like an
electric current, through the language, making crisp and definite what
is elsewhere heavy and blurred; in France alone, if the writings of
women were swept away, a serious gap would be made in the national
history."

The reason assigned by George Eliot for this literary superiority of
Frenchwomen consists in their having had the courage of their sex. They
thought and felt as women, and when they wrote, their books became the
fullest expression of their womanhood. And by being true to themselves,
by only seeking inspiration from their own life-experience, instead of
servilely copying that of men, their letters and memoirs, their novels
and pictures have a distinct, nay unique, value, for the student of art
and literature. Englishwomen, on the other hand, have not followed the
spontaneous impulses of nature. They have not allowed free play to the
peculiarly feminine element, preferring to mould their intellectual
products on the masculine pattern. For that reason, says George Eliot,
their writings are "usually an absurd exaggeration of the masculine
style, like the swaggering gait of a bad actress in male attire."

This novel theory, concerning a specifically feminine manifestation of
the intellect, is doubly curious when one compares it with Madame de
Staël's famous saying, "_Le génie n'a pas de sexe._" But an aphorism,
however brilliant, usually contains only one half the truth, and there
is every reason to think that women have already, and will much more
largely, by-and-by, infuse into their works certain intellectual and
emotional qualities which are essentially their own. Shall we, however,
admit George Eliot's conclusion that Frenchwomen alone have hitherto
shown any of this original bias? Several causes are mentioned by her in
explanation of this exceptional merit. Among these causes there is one
which would probably occur to every one who began to reflect on this
subject. The influence of the "Salon" in developing and stimulating the
finest feminine talents has long been recognised. In this school for
women the gift of expression was carried to the utmost pitch of
perfection. By their active co-operation in the discussion of the most
vital subjects, thought became clear, luminous, and forcible; sentiment
gained indescribable graces of refinement; and wit, with its brightest
scintillations, lit up the sombre background of life.

But among other causes enumerated as accounting for that more
spontaneous productivity of Frenchwomen, attributed to them by George
Eliot, there is one which would probably have occurred to no other mind
than hers, and which is too characteristic of her early scientific
tendencies to be omitted. For according to her, the present superiority
of Frenchwomen is mainly due to certain physiological peculiarities of
the Gallic race. Namely, to the "small brain and vivacious temperament
which permit the fragile system of woman to sustain the superlative
activity requisite for intellectual creativeness," whereas "the larger
brain and slower temperament of the English and Germans are in the
womanly organisation generally dreamy and passive. So that the
_physique_ of a woman may suffice as the substratum for a superior
Gallic mind, but is too thin a soil for a superior Teutonic one."

So knotty and subtle a problem must be left to the scientist of the
future to decide. Perhaps some promising young physiologist, profiting
by the "George Henry Lewes Studentship" founded by George Eliot, may
some day satisfactorily elucidate this question. In the meanwhile it is
at least gratifying to reflect that she does not deny the future
possibilities of even English and German women. She admits that
conditions might arise which in their case also would be favourable to
the highest creative effort; conditions which would modify the existing
state of things according to which, to speak in her own scientific
phraseology: "The woman of large capacity can seldom rise beyond the
absorption of ideas; her physical conditions refuse to support the
energy required for spontaneous activity; the voltaic pile is not strong
enough to produce crystallisations."

But was the author of 'Adam Bede' not herself destined to be a
triumphant refutation of her theory? Or had those more favourable
circumstances mentioned as vague possibilities already arisen in her
case? Not that we believe, for that matter, in the superior claims of
illustrious Frenchwomen. It is true George Eliot enumerates a formidable
list of names. But on the whole we may boast of feminine celebrities
that need not shrink from the comparison.

There is, of course, much truth in the great Englishwoman's generous
praise of her French compeers. "Mme. de Sévigné remains," she says, "the
single instance of a woman who is supreme in a class of literature which
has engaged the ambition of men; Mme. Dacier still reigns the queen of
blue-stockings, though women have long studied Greek without shame; Mme.
de Staël's name still rises to the lips when we are asked to mention a
woman of great intellectual power; Mme. Roland is still the unrivalled
type of the sagacious and sternly heroic yet lovable woman; George Sand
is the unapproached artist who, to Jean Jacques' eloquence and deep
sense of external nature, unites the clear delineation of character and
the tragic depth of passion."

Shall we be forced to admit that the representative women of England
cannot justly be placed on as high a level? Is it so certain that they,
too, did not speak out of the fulness of their womanly natures? That
they too did not feel the genuine need to express modes of thought and
feeling peculiar to themselves, which men, if at all, had but
inadequately expressed hitherto?

Was not Queen Elizabeth the best type of a female ruler, one whose keen
penetration enabled her to choose her ministers with infallible
judgment? Did not Fanny Burney distil the delicate aroma of girlhood in
one of the most delightful of novels? Or what of Jane Austen, whose
microscopic fidelity of observation has a well-nigh scientific accuracy,
never equalled unless in the pages of the author we are writing of? Sir
Walter Scott apparently recognised the eminently feminine inspiration of
her writings, as he says: "That young lady had a talent for describing
the involvements, and feelings, and characters of ordinary life, which
is for me the most wonderful I ever met with. The Bow-wow strain I can
do myself like any now agoing; but the exquisite touch, which renders
ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting from the truth of
the descriptions and the sentiment, is denied to me." Then turning to
the Brontës, does not one feel the very heartbeats of womanhood in those
powerful utterances that seem to spring from some central emotional
energy? Again, does not Mrs. Browning occupy a unique place among poets?
Is there not a distinctively womanly strain of emotion in the throbbing
tides of her high-wrought melodious song? And, to come to George Eliot
herself, will any one deny that, in the combination of sheer
intellectual power with an unparalleled vision for the homely details of
life, she takes precedence of all writers of this or any other country?
To some extent this wonderful woman conforms to her own standard. She
undoubtedly adds to the common fund of crystallised human experience, as
literature might be called, something which is specifically feminine.
But, on the other hand, her intellect excels precisely in those
qualities habitually believed to be masculine, one of its chief
characteristics consisting in the grasp of abstract philosophical ideas.
This faculty, however, by no means impairs those instinctive processes
of the imagination by which true artistic work is produced; George Eliot
combining in an unusual degree the subtlest power of analysis with that
happy gift of genius which enabled her to create such characters as Amos
Barton, Hetty, Mrs. Poyser, Maggie, and Tom Tulliver, Godfrey Cass and
Caleb Garth, which seem to come fresh from the mould of Nature itself.
Indeed, she has hardly a rival among women in this power of objective
imagination by which she throws her whole soul into natures of the most
varied and opposite types, whereas George Sand only succeeds greatly
when she is thoroughly in sympathy with her creations.

After George Eliot's eulogium of French women, one feels tempted to
institute a comparison between these two great contemporaries, who
occupied the same leading position in their respective countries. But it
will probably always remain a question of idiosyncracy which of the two
one is disposed to rank higher, George Eliot being the greatest realist,
George Sand the greatest idealist, of her sex. The works of the French
writer are, in fact, prose poems rather than novels. They are not
studies of life, but life interpreted by the poet's vision. George Sand
cannot give us a description of any scene in nature, of her own
feelings, of a human character, without imparting to it some magical
effect as of objects seen under the transfiguring influence of moonlight
or storm clouds; whereas George Eliot loves to bathe her productions in
the broad pitiless midday light, which leaves no room for illusion, but
reveals all nature with uncompromising directness. The one has more of
that primitive imagination which seizes on the elemental side of
life--on the spectacle of the starry heavens or of Alpine solitudes, on
the insurrection and tumult of human passion, on the shocks of
revolution convulsing the social order--while the other possesses, in a
higher degree, the acute intellectual perception for the orderly
sequence of life, for that unchangeable round of toil which is the lot
of the mass of men, and for the earth in its homelier aspects as it
tells on our daily existence. In George Sand's finest work there is a
sweet spontaneity, almost as if she were an oracle of Nature uttering
automatically the divine message. But, on the other hand, when the
inspiration forsakes her, she drifts along on a windy current of words,
the fatal facility of her pen often beguiling the writer into vague
diffuseness and unsubstantial declamation.

In this respect, also, our English novelist is the opposite of George
Sand, for George Eliot invariably remains the master of her genius:
indeed, she thoroughly fulfils Goethe's demand that if you set up for an
artist you must command art. This intellectual self-restraint never
forsakes George Eliot, who always selects her means with a thorough
knowledge of the ends to be attained. The radical difference in the
genius of these two writers, to both of whom applies Mrs. Browning's apt
appellation of "large-brained woman and large-hearted man," extends
naturally to their whole tone of thought. George Sand is impassioned,
turbulent, revolutionary, the spiritual daughter of Rousseau, with an
enthusiastic faith in man's future destiny. George Eliot, contemplative,
observant, instinctively conservative, her imagination dearly loving to
do "a little Toryism on the sly," is as yet the sole outcome of the
modern positive spirit in imaginative literature--the sole novelist who
has incorporated in an artistic form some of the leading ideas of Comte,
of Mazzini, and of Darwin. In fact, underlying all her art there is the
same rigorous teaching of the inexorable laws which govern the life of
man. The teaching that not liberty but duty is the condition of
existence; the teaching of the incalculable effects of hereditary
transmission, with the solemn responsibilities it involves; the teaching
of the inherent sadness and imperfection in human nature, which render
resignation the first virtue of man.

In fact, as a moral influence, George Eliot cannot so much be compared
with George Sand, or with any other novelist of her generation, as with
Carlyle. She had, indeed, a far more explicit ethical code to offer than
the author of 'Sartor Resartus.' For though the immense force of the
latter's personality, glowing through his writings, had a tonic effect
in promoting a healthy moral tone, there was little of positive moral
truth to be gathered from them. But the lessons which George Eliot would
fain teach to men were most unmistakable in their bearing--the lessons
of pitying love towards fellow-men; of sympathy with all human
suffering; of unwavering faithfulness towards the social bond,
consisting in the claims of race, of country, of family; of unflagging
aspiration after that life which is most beneficent to the community,
that life, in short, towards which she herself aspired in the now famous
prayer to reach


     "That purest heaven, be to other souls
     The cup of strength in some great agony,
     Enkindle generous ardour, feed pure love,
     Beget the smiles that have no cruelty--
     Be the sweet presence of a good diffused,
     And in diffusion ever more intense."



CHAPTER II.

CHILDHOOD AND EARLY HOME.


Mary Ann Evans, better known as "George Eliot," was born on November
22nd, 1819, at South Farm, a mile from Griff, in the parish of Colton,
in Warwickshire. Both the date and place of her birth have been
incorrectly stated, hitherto, in the notices of her life. The family
moved to Griff House in March of the following year, when she was only
six months old. Her father, Robert Evans, of Welsh origin, was a
Staffordshire man from Ellaston, near Ashbourne, and began life as a
carpenter. In the kitchen at Griff House may still be seen a
beautifully-fashioned oaken press, a sample of his workmanship. A
portrait of him, also preserved there, is known among the family as
"Adam Bede." It is not as good a likeness as that of a certain carefully
painted miniature, the features of which bear an unmistakable
resemblance to those of the daughter destined to immortalise his name. A
strongly marked, yet handsome face, massive in structure, and with brown
eyes, whose shrewd, penetrating glance is particularly noticeable,
betoken the man of strong practical intelligence, of rare energy and
endurance. His career and character are partially depicted in Adam Bede,
Caleb Garth, and Mr. Hackit--portraitures in which the different stages
of his life are recorded with a mingling of fact and fiction. A
shadowing forth of the same nature is discernible in the devotion of
Stradivarius to his noble craft; and even in the tender paternity of Mr.
Tulliver there are indications of another phase of the same
individuality.

Like Adam Bede, Mr. Evans from carpenter rose to be forester, and from
forester to be land-agent. It was in the latter capacity alone that he
was ever known in Warwickshire. At one time he was surveyor to five
estates in the midland counties--those of Lord Aylesford, Lord Lifford,
Mr. Bromley Davenport, Mrs. Gregory, and Sir Roger Newdigate. The last
was his principal employer. Having early discerned the exceptional
capacity of the man, Sir Roger induced him to settle in Warwickshire,
and take charge of his estates. Sir Roger's seat, Arbury Hall, is the
original of the charming description of Cheverel Manor in 'Mr. Gilfil's
Love Story.' It is said that Mr. Evans's trustworthiness had become
proverbial in the county. But while faithfully serving his employers he
also enjoyed great popularity among their tenants. He was gentle, but of
indomitable firmness; and while stern to the idle and unthrifty, he did
not press heavily on those who might be behindhand with their rent,
owing to ill-luck or misfortune, on quarter days.

Mr. Evans was twice married. He had lost his first wife, by whom he had
a son and a daughter, before settling in Warwickshire. Of his second
wife, whose maiden name was Pearson, very little is known. She must,
therefore, according to Schiller, have been a pattern of womanhood; for
he says that the best women, like the best ruled states, have no
history. We have it on very good authority, however, that Mrs. Hackit,
in 'Amos Barton,' is a faithful likeness of George Eliot's mother. This
may seem startling at first, but, on reflection, she is the woman one
might have expected, being a strongly-marked figure, with a heart as
tender as her tongue is sharp. She is described as a thin woman, with a
chronic liver-complaint, of indefatigable industry and epigrammatic
speech; who, "in the utmost enjoyment of spoiling a friend's
self-satisfaction, was never known to spoil a stocking." A notable
housewife, whose clockwork regularity in all domestic affairs was such
that all her farm-work was done by nine o'clock in the morning, when she
would sit down to her loom. "In the same spirit, she brought out her
furs on the first of November, whatever might be the temperature. She
was not a woman weakly to accommodate herself to shilly-shally
proceedings. If the season didn't know what it ought to do, Mrs. Hackit
did. In her best days it was always sharp weather at 'Gunpowder Plot,'
and she didn't like new fashions." Keenly observant and quick of temper,
she was yet full of good nature, her sympathy showing itself in the
active helpfulness with which she came to the assistance of poor Milly
Barton, and the love she showed to her children, who, however, declined
kissing her.

Is there not a strong family resemblance between this character and Mrs.
Poyser, that masterpiece of George Eliot's art? Mary Ann's gift of
pointed speech was therefore mother-wit, in the true sense, and her rich
humour and marvellous powers of observation were derived from the same
side, while her conscientiousness, her capacity, and that faculty of
taking pains, which is so large a factor in the development of genius,
came more directly from the father.

Mr. Evans had three children by his second wife, Christiana, Isaac, and
Mary Ann. "It is interesting, I think," writes George Eliot, in reply to
some questions of an American lady, "to know whether a writer was born
in a central or border district--a condition which always has a strongly
determining influence. I was born in Warwickshire, but certain family
traditions connected with more northerly districts made these districts
a region of poetry to me in my early childhood." In the autobiographical
sonnets, entitled 'Brother and Sister,' we catch a glimpse of the mother
preparing her children for their accustomed ramble, by stroking down the
tippet and setting the frill in order; then standing on the door-step to
follow their lessening figures "with the benediction of her gaze." Mrs.
Evans was aware, to a certain extent, of her daughter's unusual
capacity, being anxious not only that she should have the best education
attainable in the neighbourhood, but also that good moral influences
should be brought to bear upon her: still, the girl's constant habit of
reading, even in bed, caused the practical mother not a little
annoyance.

The house, where the family lived at that time, and in which the first
twenty years of Mary Ann Evans's life were spent, is situated in a rich
verdant landscape, where the "grassy fields, each with a sort of
personality given to it by the capricious hedge-rows," blend
harmoniously with the red-roofed cottages scattered in a happy haphazard
fashion amid orchards and elder-bushes. Sixty years ago the country was
much more thickly wooded than now, and from the windows of Griff House
might be seen the oaks and elms that had still survived from
Shakespeare's forest of Arden. The house of the Evans family, half
manor-house, half farm, was an old-fashioned building, two stories
high, with red brick walls thickly covered with ivy. Like the Garths,
they were probably "very fond of their old house." A lawn, interspersed
with trees, stretched in front towards the gate, flanked by two stately
Norway firs, while a sombre old yew almost touched some of the upper
windows with its wide-spreading branches. A farm-yard was at the back,
with low rambling sheds and stables; and beyond that, bounded by quiet
meadows, one may still see the identical "leafy, flowery, bushy" garden,
which George Eliot so often delighted in describing, at a time when her
early life, with all its tenderly hoarded associations, had become to
her but a haunting memory of bygone things. A garden where roses and
cabbages jostle each other, where vegetables have to make room for
gnarled old apple-trees, and where, amid the raspberry bushes and row of
currant trees, you expect to come upon Hetty herself, "stooping to
gather the low-hanging fruit."

Such was the place where the childhood of George Eliot was spent. Here
she drew in those impressions of English rural and provincial life, of
which one day she was to become the greatest interpreter. Impossible to
be in a better position for seeing life. Not only was her father's
position always improving, so that she was early brought in contact with
different grades of society, but his calling made him more or less
acquainted with all ranks of his neighbours, and, says George Eliot, "I
have always thought that the most fortunate Britons are those whose
experience has given them a practical share in many aspects of the
national lot, who have lived long among the mixed commonalty, roughing
it with them under difficulties, knowing how their food tastes to them,
and getting acquainted with their notions and motives, not by inference
from traditional types in literature, or from philosophical theories,
but from daily fellowship and observation."

And what kind of a child was it who loitered about the farm-yard and
garden and fields, noticing everything with grave, watchful eyes, and
storing it in a memory of extraordinary tenacity? One of her
schoolfellows, who knew her at the age of thirteen, confessed to me that
it was impossible to imagine George Eliot as a baby; that it seemed as
if she must have come into the world fully developed, like a second
Minerva. Her features were fully formed at a very early age, and she had
a seriousness of expression almost startling for her years. The records
of her child-life may be deciphered, amid some romantic alterations, in
the early history of Tom and Maggie Tulliver. Isaac and Mary Ann Evans
were playmates, like these, the latter having all the tastes of a boy;
whereas her sister Chrissy, said to be the original of Lucy Deane, had
peculiarly dainty feminine ways, and shrank from out-door rambles for
fear of soiling her shoes or pinafore. But Mary Ann and her brother went
fishing together, or spinning tops, or digging for earth-nuts; and the
twice-told incident of the little girl being left to mind the rod and
losing herself in dreamy contemplation, oblivious of her task, is
evidently taken from life, and may be quoted as a reminiscence of her
own childhood:--


     "One day my brother left me in high charge
     To mind the rod, while he went seeking bait,
     And bade me, when I saw a nearing barge,
     Snatch out the line, lest he should come too late.

     Proud of the task I watched with all my might
     For one whole minute, till my eyes grew wide,
     Till sky and earth took on a new strange light
     And seemed a dream-world floating on some tide.

     A fair pavilioned boat for me alone,
     Bearing me onward through the vast unknown.

     But sudden came the barge's pitch-black prow,
     Nearer and angrier came my brother's cry,
     And all my soul was quivering fear, when lo!
     Upon the imperilled line, suspended high,

     A silver perch! My guilt that won the prey
     Now turned to merit, had a guerdon rich
     Of hugs and praises, and made merry play
     Until my triumph reached its highest pitch

     When all at home were told the wondrous feat,
     And how the little sister had fished well.
     In secret, though my fortune tasted sweet,
     I wondered why this happiness befell.

     'The little lass had luck,' the gardener said;
     And so I learned, luck was to glory wed."


Unlike Maggie, however, little Mary Ann was as good a hand at fishing as
her brother, only differing from him in not liking to put the worms on
the hooks.

Another incident taken from real life, if somewhat magnified, is the
adventure with the gipsies. For the prototype of Maggie also fell among
these marauding vagrants, and was detained a little time among them.
Whether she also proposed to instruct the gipsies and to gain great
influence over them by teaching them something about "geography" and
"Columbus," does not transpire. But, indeed, most of Maggie's early
experiences are autobiographic, down to such facts as her father telling
her to rub her "turnip" cheeks against Sally's to get a little bloom,
and to cutting off one side of her hair in a passion. At a very early
age Mary Ann and her brother were sent to the village free school at
Colton, in the parish of Griff, a not unusual custom in those days, when
the means of tuition for little children were much more difficult to
procure than now. There are still old men living who used to sit on the
same form with little Mary Ann Evans learning her A, B, C, and a certain
William Jacques (the original of the delightfully comic Bob Jakins of
fiction) remembers carrying her pick-a-back on the lawn in front of her
father's house.

As the brother and sister grew older they saw less of each other, Mary
Ann being sent to a school at Nuneaton, kept by Miss Lewis, for whom she
retained an affectionate regard long years afterwards. About the same
time she taught at a Sunday-school, in a little cottage adjoining her
father's house. When she was twelve years old, being then, in the words
of a neighbour, who occasionally called at Griff House, "a queer,
three-cornered, awkward girl," who sat in corners and shyly watched her
elders, she was placed as boarder with the Misses Franklin at Coventry.
This school, then in high repute throughout the neighbourhood, was kept
by two sisters, of whom the younger, Miss Rebecca Franklin, was a woman
of unusual attainments and ladylike culture, although not without a
certain taint of Johnsonian affectation. She seems to have thoroughly
grounded Miss Evans in a sound English education, laying great stress in
particular on the propriety of a precise and careful manner of speaking
and reading. She herself always made a point of expressing herself in
studied sentences, and on one occasion, when a friend had called to ask
after a dying relative, she actually kept the servant waiting till she
had framed an appropriately worded message. Miss Evans, in whose family
a broad provincial dialect was spoken, soon acquired Miss Rebecca's
carefully elaborated speech, and, not content with that, she might be
said to have created a new voice for herself. In later life every one
who knew her was struck by the sweetness of her voice, and the finished
construction of every sentence, as it fell from her lips; for by that
time the acquired habit had become second nature, and blended
harmoniously with her entire personality. But in those early days the
artificial effort at perfect propriety of expression was still
perceptible, and produced an impression of affectation, perhaps
reflecting that of her revered instructress. It is also believed that
some of the beauty of her intonation in reading English poetry was owing
to the same early influence.

Mary Ann, or Marian as she came afterwards to be called, remained about
three years with the Misses Franklin. She stood aloof from the other
pupils, and one of her schoolfellows, Miss Bradley Jenkins, says that
she was quite as remarkable in those early days as after she had
acquired fame. She seems to have strangely impressed the imagination of
the latter, who, figuratively speaking, looked up at her "as at a
mountain." There was never anything of the schoolgirl about Miss Evans,
for, even at that early age, she had the manners and appearance of a
grave, staid woman; so much so, that a stranger, happening to call one
day, mistook this girl of thirteen for one of the Misses Franklin, who
were then middle-aged women. In this, also, there is a certain
resemblance to Maggie Tulliver, who, at the age of thirteen, is
described as looking already like a woman. English composition, French
and German, were some of the studies to which much time and attention
were devoted. Being greatly in advance of the other pupils in the
knowledge of French, Miss Evans and Miss Jenkins were taken out of the
general class and set to study it together; but, though the two girls
were thus associated in a closer fellowship, no real intimacy apparently
followed from it. The latter watched the future "George Eliot" with
intense interest, but always felt as if in the presence of a superior,
though socially their positions were much on a par. This haunting sense
of superiority precluded the growth of any closer friendship between the
two fellow-pupils. All the more startling was it to the admiring
schoolgirl, when one day, on using Marian Evans's German dictionary, she
saw scribbled on its blank page some verses, evidently original,
expressing rather sentimentally a yearning for love and sympathy. Under
this granite-like exterior, then, there was beating a heart that
passionately craved for human tenderness and companionship!

Inner solitude was no doubt the portion of George Eliot in those days.
She must already have had a dim consciousness of unusual power, to a
great extent isolating her from the girls of her own age, absorbed as
they were in quite other feelings and ideas. Strong religious
convictions pervaded her life at this period, and in the fervid faith
and spiritual exaltation which characterise Maggie's girlhood, we have a
very faithful picture of the future novelist's own state of mind.
Passing through many stages of religious thought, she was first simple
Church of England, then Low Church, then "Anti-Supernatural." In this
latter character she wore an "Anti-Supernatural" cap, in which, so says
an early friend, "her plain features looked all the plainer." But her
nature was a mixed one, as indeed is Maggie's too, and conflicting
tendencies and inclinations pulled her, no doubt, in different
directions. The self-renouncing impulses of one moment were checkmated
at another by an eager desire for approbation and distinguishing
pre-eminence; and a piety verging on asceticism did not exclude, on the
other hand, a very clear perception of the advantages and desirability
of good birth, wealth, and high social position. Like her own charming
Esther in 'Felix Holt,' she had a fine sense, amid somewhat anomalous
surroundings, of the highest refinements and delicacies which are
supposed to be the natural attributes of people of rank and fashion. She
even shared with the above-mentioned heroine certain girlish vanities
and weaknesses, such as liking to have all things about her person as
elegant as possible.

About the age of fifteen Marian Evans left the Misses Franklin, and soon
afterwards she had the misfortune of losing her mother, who died in her
forty-ninth year. Writing to a friend in after life she says, "I began
at sixteen to be acquainted with the unspeakable grief of a last
parting, in the death of my mother." Less sorrowful partings ensued,
though in the end they proved almost as irrevocable. Her elder sister,
and the brother in whose steps she had once followed "puppy-like,"
married and settled in homes of their own. Their different lots in life,
and the far more pronounced differences of their aims and ideas,
afterwards divided the "brother and sister" completely. This kind of
separation between people who have been friends in youth is often more
terrible to endure than the actual loss by death itself, and doth truly
"work like madness in the brain." Is there not some reference to this in
that pathetic passage in 'Adam Bede:' "Family likeness has often a deep
sadness in it. Nature, that great tragic dramatist, knits us together by
bone and muscle, and divides us by the subtler web of our brains, blends
yearning and repulsion, and ties us by our heartstrings to the beings
that jar us at every movement ... we see eyes--ah! so like our mother's,
averted from us in cold alienation."

For some years after this Miss Evans and her father remained alone
together at Griff House. He offered to get a housekeeper, as not the
house only, but farm matters, had to be looked after, and he was always
tenderly considerate of "the little wench" as he called her. But his
daughter preferred taking the whole management of the place into her own
hands, and she was as conscientious and diligent in the discharge of her
domestic duties as in the prosecution of the studies she carried on at
the same time. One of her chief beauties was in her large,
finely-shaped, feminine hands--hands which she has, indeed, described as
characteristic of several of her heroines; but she once pointed out to a
friend at Foleshill that one of them was broader across than the other,
saying, with some pride, that it was due to the quantity of butter and
cheese she had made during her housekeeping days at Griff. It will be
remembered that this is a characteristic attributed to the exemplary
Nancy Lammeter, whose person gave one the idea of "perfect unvarying
neatness as the body of a little bird," only her hands bearing "the
traces of butter making, cheese crushing, and even still coarser work."
Certainly the description of the dairy in 'Adam Bede,' and all the
processes of butter making, is one which only complete knowledge could
have rendered so perfect. Perhaps no scene in all her novels stands out
with more life-like vividness than that dairy which one could have
sickened for in hot, dusty streets: "Such coolness, such purity, such
fresh fragrance of new-pressed cheese, of firm butter, of wooden vessels
perpetually bathed in pure water; such soft colouring of red earthenware
and creamy surfaces, brown wood and polished tin, grey limestone and
rich orange-red rust on the iron weights and hooks and hinges."

This life of mixed practical activity and intellectual pursuits came to
an end in 1841, when Mr. Evans relinquished Griff House, and the
management of Sir Roger Newdigate's estates, to his married son, and
removed with his daughter to Foleshill, near Coventry.



CHAPTER III.

YOUTHFUL STUDIES AND FRIENDSHIPS.


The period from about twenty to thirty is usually the most momentous in
the lives of illustrious men and women. It is true that the most abiding
impressions, those which the future author will reproduce most vividly,
have been absorbed by the growing brain previous to this age; but the
fusion of these varied impressions of the outward world with the inner
life, and the endless combinations in which imagination delights, rarely
begin before. Then, as a rule, the ideas are engendered to be carried
out in the maturity of life. Alfred de Vigny says truly enough:


                "Qu'est-ce qu'une grande vie?
     Une pensée de la jeunesse, exécutée par l'âge mur."


Moreover, it is a revolutionary age. Inherited opinions that had been
accepted, as the rotation of the seasons, with unhesitating
acquiescence, become an object of speculation and passionate
questioning. Nothing is taken upon trust. The intellect, stimulated by
the sense of expanding and hitherto unchecked capacity, delights in
exercising its strength by critically passing in review the opinions,
laws, institutions commonly accepted as unalterable. And if the
intellect is thus active the heart is still more so. This is
emphatically the time of enthusiastic friendship and glowing love, if
often also of cruel disenchantment and disillusion. In most biographies,
therefore, this phase of life is no less fascinating than instructive.
For it shows the individual while still in a stage of growth already
reacting on his environment, and becoming a motive power according to
the measure of his intellectual and moral endowments.

It is on this state of George Eliot's life that we are now entering. At
Foleshill she acquired that vast range of knowledge and universality of
culture which so eminently distinguished her.

The house she now inhabited though not nearly as picturesque or
substantial as the former home of the Evanses, was yet sufficiently
spacious, with a pleasant garden in front and behind it; the latter,
Marian Evans was fond of making as much like the delicious garden of her
childhood as was possible under the circumstances. In other respects she
greatly altered her ways of life, cultivating an ultra-fastidiousness in
her manners and household arrangements. Though so young she was not only
entire mistress of her father's establishment but, as his business
required him to be abroad the greater part of each week, she was mostly
alone.

Her life now became more and more that of a student, one of her chief
reasons for rejoicing at the change of residence being the freer access
to books. She had, however, already amassed quite a library of her own
by this time. In addition to her private studies, she was now also able
to have masters to instruct her in a variety of subjects. The Rev. T.
Sheepshanks, headmaster of the Coventry Grammar-school, gave her
lessons in Greek and Latin, as she particularly wished to learn the
former language in order to read Æschylus. She continued her study of
French, German, and Italian under the tuition of Signor Brezzi, even
acquiring some knowledge of Hebrew by her own unassisted efforts. Mr.
Simms, the veteran organist of St. Michael's, Coventry, instructed her
in the pianoforte; and probably Rosamond Vincy's teacher in
'Middlemarch' is a faithful portraiture of him. "Her master at Mrs.
Lemon's school (close to a country town with a memorable history that
had its relics in church and castle) was one of those excellent
musicians here and there to be found in the provinces, worthy to compare
with many a noted Kapellmeister in a country which offers more plentiful
conditions of musical celebrity." George Eliot's sympathetic rendering
of her favourite composers, particularly Beethoven and Schubert, was
always delightful to her friends, although connoisseurs considered her
possessed of little or no strictly technical knowledge. Be that as it
may, many an exquisite passage scattered up and down her works, bears
witness to her heartfelt appreciation of music, which seems to have had
a more intimate attraction for her than the fine arts. She shows little
feeling for archæological beauties, in which Warwickshire is so rich: in
her 'Scenes of Clerical Life' dismissing a fine monument of Lady Jane
Grey, a genuine specimen of old Gothic art at Astley Church, with a
sneer about "marble warriors, and their wives without noses."

In spite of excessive study, this period of Marian's life is not without
faint echoes of an early love-story of her own. In the house of one of
her married half-sisters she met a young man who promised, at that
time, to take a distinguished position in his profession. A kind of
engagement, or semi-engagement, took place, which Mr. Evans refused to
countenance, and finally his daughter broke it off in a letter, showing
both her strong sense and profoundly affectionate nature. At this time
she must have often had a painful consciousness of being cut off from
that living fellowship with the like-minded so stimulating to the
intellectual life. Men are not so subject to this form of soul hunger as
women; for at their public schools and colleges they are brought into
contact with their contemporaries, and cannot fail to find comrades
amongst them of like thoughts and aspirations with themselves. A fresh
life, however, at once vivifying to her intellect and stimulating to her
heart, now began for Marian Evans in the friendship she formed with Mr.
and Mrs. Charles Bray of Rosehill, Coventry. Rahel--the subtly gifted
German woman, whose letters and memoirs are a treasury of delicate
observation and sentiment--observes that people of marked spiritual
affinities are bound to meet some time or other in their lives. If not
entirely true, there is a good deal to be said for this comforting
theory; as human beings of similar nature seem constantly converging as
by some magnetic attraction.

The circle to which Miss Evans now happened to be introduced was in
every sense congenial and inspiriting. Mr. Bray, his wife, and his
sister-in-law were a trio more like some delightful characters in a
first-rate novel than the sober inhabitants of a Warwickshire country
town. Living in a house beautifully situated on the outskirts of
Coventry, they used to spend their lives in philosophical speculations,
philanthropy, and pleasant social hospitality, joining to the ease and
_laisser aller_ of continental manners a thoroughly English geniality
and trustworthiness.

Mr. Bray was a wealthy ribbon manufacturer, but had become engrossed
from an early age in religious and metaphysical speculation as well as
in political and social questions. Beginning to inquire into the dogmas
which formed the basis of his belief, he found, on careful
investigation, that they did not stand, in his opinion, the test of
reason. His arguments set his brother-in-law, Mr. Charles C. Hennell, a
Unitarian, to examine afresh and go carefully over the whole ground of
popular theology, the consequence of this close study being the 'Inquiry
concerning the Origin of Christianity,' a work which attracted a good
deal of attention when it appeared, and was translated into German at
the instance of David Strauss. It was published in 1838, a few years
after the appearance of the 'Life of Jesus.' In its critical examination
of the miracles, and in the sifting of mythological from historical
elements in the Gospels it bears considerable analogy to Strauss's great
work, although strictly based on independent studies, being originally
nothing more than an attempt to solve the doubts of a small set of
friends. Their doubts were solved, but not in the manner originally
anticipated.

Mrs. Bray, of an essentially religious nature, shared the opinions of
her husband and brother, and without conforming to the external rites
and ceremonies of a creed, led a life of saintly purity and
self-devotion. The exquisite beauty of her moral nature not only
attracted Marian to this truly amiable woman, but filled her with
reverence, and the friendship then commenced was only ended by death.

In Miss Sara Hennell, Marian Evans found another congenial companion who
became as a sister to her. This singular being, in most respects such a
contrast to her sister, high-strung, nervous, excitable, importing all
the ardour of feeling into a life of austere thought, seemed in a manner
mentally to totter under the weight of her own immense metaphysical
speculations. A casual acquaintance of these two young ladies might
perhaps have predicted that Miss Hennell was the one destined to achieve
fame in the future, and she certainly must have been an extraordinary
mental stimulus to her young friend Marian. These gifted sisters, two of
a family, all the members of which were remarkable, by some are
identified as the originals of the delightful Meyrick household in
'Daniel Deronda.' Each member of this genial group was already, or
ultimately became, an author of more or less repute. A reviewer in the
'Westminster,' writing of Mr. Bray's philosophical publications, some
years ago, said: "If he would reduce his many works to one containing
nothing unessential, he would doubtless obtain that high place among the
philosophers of our country to which his powers of thought entitle him."
His most popular book, called 'The Education of the Feelings,' intended
for use in secular schools, deals with the laws of morality practically
applied. Mrs. Bray's writings, on the same order of subjects, are still
further simplified for the understanding of children. She is the
authoress of 'Physiology for Schools,' 'The British Empire,' 'Elements
of Morality,' etc. Her 'Duty to Animals' has become a class book in the
schools of the midland counties, and she was one of the first among
those noble-hearted men and women who have endeavoured to introduce a
greater degree of humanity into our treatment of animals.

George Eliot, writing to Mrs. Bray in March 1873 on this very subject,
says:

"A very good, as well as very rich, woman, Mrs. S----, has founded a
model school at Naples, and has the sympathy of the best Italians in her
educational efforts. Of course a chief point in trying to improve the
Italians is to teach them kindness to animals, and a friend of Mrs.
S---- has confided to her a small sum of money--fifty pounds, I
think--to be applied to the translation and publication of some good
books for young people, which would be likely to rouse in them a
sympathy with dumb creatures.

"Will you kindly help me in the effort to further Mrs. S----'s good work
by sending me a copy of your book on animals, and also by telling me the
periodical in which the parts of the book first appeared, as well as the
titles of any other works which you think would be worth mentioning for
the purpose in question?

"Mrs. S---- (as indeed you may probably know) is the widow of a German
merchant of Manchester, as rich as many such merchants are, and as
benevolent as only the choicest few. She knows all sorts of good work
for the world, and is known by most of the workers. It struck me, while
she was speaking of this need of a book to translate, that you had done
the very thing."

A few days later the following highly interesting letter came from the
same source:

"Many thanks for the helpful things you have sent me. 'The Wounded
Bird' is charming. But now something very much larger of the same kind
must be written, and you are the person to write it--something that will
bring the emotions, sufferings, and possible consolations of the dear
brutes vividly home to the imaginations of children: fitted for children
of all countries, as Reineke Fuchs is comprehensible to all nations. A
rough notion came to me the other day of supposing a house of refuge,
not only for dogs, but for all distressed animals. The keeper of this
refuge understands the language of the brutes, which includes
differences of dialect not hindering communication even between birds,
and dogs, by the help of some Ulysses among them who is versed in the
various tongues, and puts in the needed explanations. Said keeper
overhears his refugees solacing their evenings by telling the story of
their experiences, and finally acts as editor of their autobiographies.
I imagine my long-loved fellow-creature, the ugly dog, telling the
sorrows and the tender emotions of gratitude which have wrought him into
a sensitive soul. The donkey is another cosmopolitan sufferer, and a
greater martyr than Saint Lawrence. If we only knew what fine motives he
has for his meek endurance, and how he loves a friend who will scratch
his nose!

"All this is not worth anything except to make you feel how much better
a plan you can think of.

"Only you must positively write this book which everybody wants--this
book which will do justice to the share our 'worthy fellow-labourers'
have had in the groaning and travailing of the world towards the birth
of the right and fair.

"But you must not do it without the 'sustenance of labour'--I don't say
'pay,' since there is no pay for good work. Let Mr. ... be blest with
the blessing of the unscrupulous. I want to contribute something towards
helping the brutes, and helping the children, especially the southern
children, to be good to the creatures who are continually at their
mercy. I can't write the needed book myself, but I feel sure that you
can, and that you will not refuse the duty."

Mrs. Bray's answer to this humorous suggestion may be gathered from
George Eliot's amiable reply:

"I see at once that you must be right about the necessity for being
simple and literal. In fact I have ridiculous impulses in teaching
children, and always make the horizon too wide.

"'The Wounded Bird' is perfect of its kind, and that kind is the best
for a larger work. You yourself see clearly that it is an exceptional
case for any one to be able to write books for children without putting
in them false morality disguised as devout religion. And you are one of
the exceptional cases. I am quite sure, from what you have done, that
you can do the thing which is still wanted to be done. As to
imagination, 'The Wounded Bird' is full of imagination."

These extracts pleasantly illustrate both the writer and recipient of
such humane letters; and, though written at a much later period, not
only give an idea of the nature of Mrs. Bray's literary pursuits, but of
the friendly relations subsisting to the end between her and George
Eliot.

Of Miss Hennell's work it is more difficult to speak without entering
more deeply into her subject-matter than is compatible with the scope of
the present work. In one of her best known books, entitled 'Thoughts in
Aid of Faith,' she makes the daring attempt to trace the evolution of
religion, her mode of thought partaking at once of the scientific and
the mystical. For the present she seems to be one of the very few women
who have ventured into the arena of philosophy; and, curiously enough,
her doctrine is that there should be a feminine method in metaphysics as
well as a masculine, the sexes, according to this singular theory,
finding their counterpart in religion and science. It may be remembered
that George Eliot, in one of her essays, is of opinion that women should
endeavour to make some distinctively feminine contributions to the
intellectual pursuits they engage in, saying, "Let the whole field of
reality be laid open to woman as well as to man, and then that which is
peculiar in her mental modification, instead of being, as it is now, a
source of discord and repulsion between the sexes, will be found to be a
necessary complement to the truth and beauty of life. Then we shall have
that marriage of minds which alone can blend all the hues of thought and
feeling in one lovely rainbow of promise for the harvest of happiness."
Something of the same idea lies at the root of much in Miss Hennell's
mystical disquisitions.

This circumstantial account of the circle to which Miss Evans was now
introduced has been given, because it consisted of friends who, more
than any others, helped in the growth and formation of her mind. No
human being, indeed, can be fully understood without some knowledge of
the companions that at one time or other, but especially during the
period of development, have been intimately associated with his or her
life. However vastly a mountain may appear to loom above us from the
plain, on ascending to its summit one always finds innumerable lesser
eminences which all help in making up the one imposing central effect.
And similarly in the world of mind, many superior natures, in varying
degrees, all contribute their share towards the maturing of that
exceptional intellectual product whose topmost summit is genius.

The lady who first introduced Marian Evans to the Brays was not without
an object of her own, for her young friend--whose religious fervour,
tinged with evangelical sentiment, was as conspicuous as her unusual
learning and thoughtfulness--seemed to her peculiarly fitted to exercise
a beneficial influence on the Rosehill household, where generally
unorthodox opinions were much in vogue.

Up to the age of seventeen or eighteen Marian had been considered the
most truly pious member of her family, being earnestly bent, as she
says, "to shape this anomalous English Christian life of ours into some
consistency with the spirit and simple verbal tenor of the New
Testament." "I was brought up," she informs another correspondent, "in
the Church of England, and have never joined any other religious
society; but I have had close acquaintance with many dissenters of
various sects, from Calvinistic Anabaptists to Unitarians." Her inner
life at this time is faithfully mirrored in the spiritual experiences of
Maggie Tulliver. Marian Evans was not one who could rest satisfied with
outward observances and lip-worship: she needed a faith which should
give unity and sanctity to the conception of life; which should awaken
"that recognition of something to be lived for beyond the mere
satisfaction of self, which is to the moral life what the addition of a
great central ganglion is to animal life." At one time Evangelicalism
supplied her with the most essential conditions of a religious life:
with all the vehemence of an ardent nature she flung her whole soul into
a passionate acceptance of the teaching of Christianity, carrying her
zeal to the pitch of asceticism.

This was the state of her mind, at the age of seventeen, when her aunt
from Wirksworth came to stay with her. Mrs. Elizabeth Evans (who came
afterwards to be largely identified with Dinah Morris) was a zealous
Wesleyan, having at one time been a noted preacher; but her niece, then
a rigid Calvinist, hardly thought her doctrine strict enough. When this
same aunt paid her a visit, some years afterwards, at Foleshill,
Marian's views had already undergone a complete transformation, and
their intercourse was constrained and painful; for the young evangelical
enthusiast, who had been a favourite in clerical circles, was now in
what she afterwards described as a "crude state of freethinking." It was
a period of transition through which she gradually passed into a new
religious synthesis.

Her intimacy with the Brays began about the time when these new doubts
were beginning to ferment in her. Her expanding mind, nourished on the
best literature, ancient and modern, began to feel cramped by dogmas
that had now lost their vitality; yet a break with an inherited form of
belief to which a thousand tender associations bound her, was a
catastrophe she shrank from with dread. Hence a period of mental
uncertainty and trouble. In consequence of these inward questionings, it
happened that the young lady who had been unwittingly brought to convert
her new acquaintances was converted by them. In intercourse with them
she was able freely to open her mind, their enlightened views helping
her in this crisis of her spiritual life; and she found it an intense
relief to feel no longer bound to reconcile her moral and intellectual
perceptions with a particular form of worship.

The antagonism she met with in certain quarters, the social persecution
from which she had much to suffer, are perhaps responsible for some of
the sharp, caustic irony with which she afterwards assailed certain
theological habits of thought. It is not unlikely that in some of her
essays for the _Westminster Review_ she mainly expressed the thoughts
which were stirred in her by the opposition she encountered at this
period of her life--as, for example, in the brilliant paper entitled
'Worldliness and Otherworldliness,' which contains such a scathing
passage as the following:

"For certain other elements of virtue, which are of more obvious
importance to untheological minds,--a delicate sense of our neighbour's
rights, an active participation in the joys and sorrows of our
fellow-men, a magnanimous acceptance of privation or suffering for
ourselves when it is the condition of good to others, in a word, the
extension and intensification of our sympathetic nature, we think it of
some importance to contend, that they have no more direct relation to
the belief in a future state than the interchange of gases in the lungs
has to the plurality of worlds. Nay, to us it is conceivable that to
some minds the deep pathos lying in the thought of human mortality--that
we are here for a little while and then vanish away, that this earthly
life is all that is given to our loved ones, and to our many suffering
fellow-men, lies nearer the fountains of moral emotion than the
conception of extended existence.... To us it is matter of unmixed
rejoicing that this latter necessity of healthful life is independent of
theological ink, and that its evolution is ensured in the interaction of
human souls as certainly as the evolution of science or of art, with
which, indeed, it is but a twin ray, melting into them with undefinable
limits."

It was, of course, inevitable that her changed tone of mind should
attract the attention of the family and friends of Marian, and that the
backsliding of so exemplary a member should afford matter for scandal in
many a clerical circle and evangelical tea-meeting. Close to the Evanses
there lived at that time a dissenting minister, whose daughter Mary was
a particular favourite of Marian Evans. There had been much neighbourly
intimacy between the two young ladies, and though there was only five
years' difference between them, Marian always inspired her friend with a
feeling of awe at her intellectual superiority. Yet her sympathy--that
sympathy with all human life which was the strongest element of her
character--was even then so irresistible that every little trouble of
Mary's life was entrusted to her keeping. But the sudden discovery of
their daughter's friend being an "infidel" came with the shock of a
thunderclap on the parents. Much hot argument passed between the
minister and this youthful controversialist, but the former clinched the
whole question by a triumphant reference to the dispersion of the Jews
throughout the world as an irrefutable proof of the divine inspiration
of the Bible. In spite of this vital difference on religious questions,
Miss Evans was suffered to go on giving the minister's daughter lessons
in German, which were continued for two or three years, she having
generously undertaken this labour of love twice a week, because she
judged from the shape of her young friend's head--phrenology being rife
in those days--that she must have an excellent understanding. But,
better than languages, she taught her the value of time, always cutting
short mere random talk by simply ignoring it. Altogether the wonderful
strength of her personality manifested itself even at this early period
in the indelible impression it left on her pupil's memory, many of her
sayings remaining graven on it as on stone. As, for instance, when one
day twitting Mary's too great self-esteem she remarked, "We are very apt
to measure ourselves by our aspiration instead of our performance." Or
when on a friend's asking, "What is the meaning of Faust?" she replied,
"The same as the meaning of the universe." While reading _'Wallenstein's
Lager_,' with her young pupil, the latter happened to say how life-like
the characters seemed: "Don't say _seemed_," exclaimed Marian; "we know
that they _are_ true to the life." And she immediately began repeating
the talk of labourers, farriers, butchers, and others of that class,
with such close imitation as to startle her friend. Is not this a
fore-shadowing of the inimitable scene at the 'Rainbow?'

By far the most trying consequence of her change of views was that now,
for the first time, Marian was brought into collision with her father,
whose pet she had always been. He could not understand her inward
perplexities, nor the need of her soul for complete inward unity of
thought, a condition impossible to her under the limiting conditions of
a dogmatic evangelicalism, "where folly often mistakes itself for
wisdom, ignorance gives itself airs of knowledge, and selfishness,
turning its eyes upwards, calls itself religion." She, on the other
hand, after a painful struggle, wanted to break away from the old forms
of worship, and refused to go to church. Deeply attached though she was
to her father, the need to make her acts conform with her convictions
became irresistible. Under such conflicting tendencies a rupture between
father and daughter became imminent, and for a short time a breaking up
of the home was contemplated, Marian intending to go and live by herself
in Coventry. One of the leading traits in her nature was its
adhesiveness, however, and the threat of separation proved so painful to
her that her friends, Mr. and Mrs. Bray, persuaded her to conform to her
father's wishes as far as outward observances were implied, and for the
rest he did not trouble himself to inquire into her thoughts or
occupations.

From a letter written at this period it appears that the 'Inquiry
Concerning the Origin of Christianity' had made a most powerful
impression on her mind. Indeed, she dated from it a new birth. But so
earnest and conscientious was she in her studies, that before beginning
its longed-for perusal, she and a friend determined to read the Bible
through again from beginning to end.

The intimacy between the inmates of Rosehill and the girl student at
Foleshill meanwhile was constantly growing closer. They met daily, and
in their midst the humorous side of her nature expanded no less than her
intellect. Although striking ordinary acquaintances by an abnormal
gravity, when completely at her ease she at times bubbled over with fun
and gaiety, irradiated by the unexpected flashes of a wit whose full
scope was probably as yet unsuspected by its possessor. Not but that
Miss Evans and her friends must have been conscious, even at that early
age, of extraordinary powers in her, destined some day to give her a
conspicuous position in the world. For her conversation was already so
full of charm, depth, and comprehensiveness, that all talk after hers
seemed stale and common-place. Many were the discussions in those days
between Mr. Bray and Marian Evans, and though frequently broken off in
fierce dispute one evening, they always began again quite amicably the
next. Mr. Bray probably exercised considerable influence on his young
friend's mind at this impressible period of life; perhaps her attention
to philosophy was first roused by acquaintance with him, and his varied
acquirements in this department may have helped in giving a positive
direction to her own thoughts.

Mr. Bray was just then working out his 'Philosophy of Necessity,' the
problems discussed being the same as those which have occupied the
leading thinkers of the day: Auguste Comte in his 'Positive Philosophy;'
Buckle in his 'History of Civilization;' and Mr. Herbert Spencer in his
'Sociology.' The theory that, as an individual and collectively, man is
as much subject to law as any of the other entities in nature, was one
of those magnificent ideas which revolutionise the world of thought.
Many minds, in different countries, of different calibre, were all
trying to systematise what knowledge there was on this subject in order
to convert hypothesis into demonstration. To what extent Mr. Bray may
have based his 'Philosophy of Necessity' on independent research, or how
much was merely assimilated from contemporary sources, we cannot here
inquire. Enough that the ideas embodied in it represented some of the
most vital thought of the age, and contributed therefore not a little to
the formation of George Eliot's mind, and to the grip which she
presently displayed in the handling of philosophical topics.

In 1842 the sensation created by Dr. Strauss's _Leben Jesu_ had even
extended to so remote a district as Warwickshire. Some persons of
advanced opinions, deeply impressed by its penetrating historical
criticism, which was in fact Niebuhr's method applied to the elucidation
of the Gospels, were very desirous of obtaining an English translation
of this work; meeting at the house of a common friend, the late Mr.
Joseph Parkes of Birmingham, they agreed, in the first blush of their
enthusiasm, to raise amongst them whatever sum might be required for the
purpose. Mr. Hennell, the leading spirit in this enterprise, proposed
that the translation should be undertaken by Miss Brabant, the
accomplished daughter of Dr. Brabant, a scholar deeply versed in
theological matters, who was in friendly correspondence with Strauss and
Paulus in Germany and with Coleridge and Grote in England. The lady in
question, though still in her teens, was peculiarly fitted for the task,
as she had already translated some of Baur's erudite writings on
theological subjects into English. But when she had done about one half
of the first volume, her learned labours came to an unexpected
conclusion, as she became engaged to Mr. Hennell, who to great mental
attainments joined much winning buoyancy of manner. And on her marriage
with this gentleman she had to relinquish her task as too laborious.

Miss Brabant's acquaintance with Marian began in 1843, and in the
summer of that year the whole friendly group started on an excursion to
Tenby. During their stay at this watering-place the lady who had begun,
and the lady destined eventually to accomplish, the enormous labour of
translating the 'Life of Jesus' gave tokens of feminine frivolity by
insisting on going to a public ball, where, however, they were
disappointed, as partners were very scarce. It should be remembered that
Marian Evans was only twenty-three years old at this time, but, though
she had not yet done anything, her friends already thought her a
wonderful woman. She never seems to have had any real youthfulness, and
her personal appearance greatly improved with time. It is only to the
finest natures, it should be remembered, that age gives an added beauty
and distinction; for the most persistent self has then worked its way to
the surface, having modified the expression, and to some extent the
features, to its own likeness.

There exists a coloured sketch done by Mrs. Bray about this period,
which gives one a glimpse of George Eliot in her girlhood. In those
Foleshill days she had a quantity of soft pale-brown hair worn in
ringlets. Her head was massive, her features powerful and rugged, her
mouth large but shapely, the jaw singularly square for a woman, yet
having a certain delicacy of outline. A neutral tone of colouring did
not help to relieve this general heaviness of structure, the complexion
being pale but not fair. Nevertheless the play of expression and the
wonderful mobility of the mouth, which increased with age, gave a
womanly softness to the countenance in curious contrast with its
framework. Her eyes, of a grey-blue, constantly varying in colour,
striking some as intensely blue, others as of a pale, washed-out grey,
were small and not beautiful in themselves, but when she grew animated
in conversation, those eyes lit up the whole face, seeming in a manner
to transfigure it. So much was this the case, that a young lady, who had
once enjoyed an hour's conversation with her, came away under its spell
with the impression that she was beautiful, but afterwards, on seeing
George Eliot again when she was not talking, she could hardly believe
her to be the same person. The charm of her nature disclosed itself in
her manner and in her voice, the latter recalling that of Dorothea, in
being "like the voice of a soul that has once lived in an Æolian harp."
It was low and deep, vibrating with sympathy.

Mr. Bray, an enthusiastic believer in phrenology, was so much struck
with the grand proportions of her head that he took Marian Evans to
London to have a cast taken. He thinks that, after that of Napoleon, her
head showed the largest development from brow to ear of any person's
recorded. The similarity of type between George Eliot's face and
Savonarola's has been frequently pointed out. Some affinity in their
natures may have led her, if unconsciously, to select that epoch of
Florentine life in which he played so prominent a part.

Though not above the middle height Marian gave people the impression of
being much taller than she really was, her figure, although thin and
slight, being well-poised and not without a certain sturdiness of make.
She was never robust in health, being delicately strung, and of a highly
nervous temperament. In youth the keen excitability of her nature often
made her wayward and hysterical. In fact her extraordinary intellectual
vigour did not exclude the susceptibilities and weaknesses of a
peculiarly feminine organisation. With all her mental activity she yet
led an intensely emotional life, a life which must have held hidden
trials for her, as in those days she was known by her friends "to weep
bucketfuls of tears."

A woman of strong passions, like her own Maggie, deeply affectionate by
nature, of a clinging tenderness of disposition, Marian Evans went
through much inward struggle, through many painful experiences before
she reached the moral self-government of her later years. Had she not,
it is hardly likely that she could have entered with so deep a
comprehension into the most intricate windings of the human heart. That,
of course, was to a great extent due to her sympathy, sympathy being the
strongest quality of her moral nature. She flung herself, as it were,
into other lives, making their affairs, their hopes, their sorrows, her
own. And this power of identifying herself with the people she came near
had the effect of a magnet in attracting her fellow-creatures. If
friends went to her in their trouble they would find not only that she
entered with deep feeling into their most minute concerns, but that, by
gradual degrees, she lifted them beyond their personal distress, and
that they would leave her presence in an ennobled and elevated frame of
mind. This sympathy was closely connected with her faculty of detecting
and responding to anything that showed the smallest sign of intellectual
vitality. She essentially resembled Socrates in her manner of eliciting
whatsoever capacity for thought might be latent in the people she came
in contact with: were it only a shoemaker or day-labourer, she would
never rest till she had found out in what points that particular man
differed from other men of his class. She always rather educed what was
in others than impressed herself on them; showing much kindliness of
heart in drawing out people who were shy. Sympathy was the key-note of
her nature, the source of her iridescent humour, of her subtle knowledge
of character, and of her dramatic genius.



CHAPTER IV.

TRANSLATION OF STRAUSS AND FEUERBACH.--TOUR ON THE CONTINENT.


Miss Brabant's marriage to Mr. Charles Hennell occurred some months
after this excursion to Tenby. In the meanwhile it was settled that Miss
Evans should continue her translation of Dr. Strauss's _Leben Jesu_.
Thus her first introduction to literature was in a sense accidental. The
result proved her admirably fitted for the task; for her version of this
searching and voluminous work remains a masterpiece of clear nervous
English, at the same time faithfully rendering the spirit of the
original. But it was a vast and laborious undertaking, requiring a large
share of patience, will, and energy, quite apart from the necessary
mental qualifications. On this occasion, to fit herself more fully for
her weighty task, Marian taught herself a considerable amount of Hebrew.
But she groaned, at times, under the pressure of the toil which had
necessarily to be endured, feeling tempted to relinquish what must often
have seemed almost intolerable drudgery. The active interest and
encouragement of her friends, however, tided her over these moments of
discouragement, and after three years of assiduous application, the
translation was finally completed, and brought out by Dr. (then Mr.)
John Chapman in 1846. It is probably safe to assume that the composition
of none of her novels cost George Eliot half the effort and toil which
this translation had done. Yet so badly is this kind of literary work
remunerated, that twenty pounds was the sum paid for what had cost three
years of hard labour!

Indeed, by this time, most of the twelve friends who had originally
guaranteed the sum necessary for the translation and publication of the
'Life of Jesus,' had conveniently forgotten the matter; and had it not
been for the generosity of Mr. Joseph Parkes, who volunteered to advance
the necessary funds, who knows how long the MS. translation might have
lain dormant in a drawer at Foleshill? It no sooner saw the light,
however, than every one recognised the exceptional merits of the work.
And for several years afterwards Miss Evans continued to be chiefly
known as the translator of Strauss's _Leben Jesu_.

Soon after relieving Miss Brabant from the task of translation, Miss
Evans went to stay for a time with her friend's father, Dr. Brabant, who
sadly felt the loss of his daughter's intelligent and enlivening
companionship. No doubt the society of this accomplished scholar,
described by Mr. Grote as "a vigorous self-thinking intellect," was no
less congenial than instructive to his young companion; while her
singular mental acuteness and affectionate womanly ways were most
grateful to the lonely old man. There is something very attractive in
this episode of George Eliot's life. It recalls a frequently recurring
situation in her novels, particularly that touching one of the
self-renouncing devotion with which the ardent Romola throws herself
into her afflicted father's learned and recondite pursuits.

There exists a letter written to an intimate friend in 1846, soon after
the translation of Strauss was finished, which, I should say, already
shows the future novelist in embryo. In this delightfully humorous
mystification of her friends, Miss Evans pretends that, to her
gratification, she has actually had a visit from a real live German
professor, whose musty person was encased in a still mustier coat. This
learned personage has come over to England with the single purpose of
getting his voluminous writings translated into English. There are at
least twenty volumes, all unpublished, owing to the envious machinations
of rival authors, none of them treating of anything more modern than
Cheops, or the invention of the hieroglyphics. The respectable
professor's object in coming to England is to secure a wife and
translator in one. But though, on inquiry, he finds that the ladies
engaged in translation are legion, they mostly turn out to be utterly
incompetent, besides not answering to his requirements in other
respects; the qualifications he looks for in a wife, besides a thorough
acquaintance with English and German, being personal ugliness and a snug
little capital, sufficient to supply him with a moderate allowance of
tobacco and _Schwarzbier_, after defraying the expense of printing his
books. To find this phoenix among women he is sent to Coventry on all
hands.

In Miss Evans, so she runs on, the aspiring professor finds his utmost
wishes realised, and so proposes to her on the spot; thinking that it
may be her last chance, she accepts him with equal celerity, and her
father, although strongly objecting to a foreigner, is induced to give
his consent for the same reason. The lady's only stipulation is that her
future husband shall take her out of England, with its dreary climate
and drearier inhabitants. This being settled, she invites her friends to
come to her wedding, which is to take place next week.

This lively little _jeu d'esprit_ is written in the wittiest manner, and
one cannot help fancying that this German Dryasdust contained the germ
of one of her very subtlest masterpieces in characterisation, that of
the much-to-be-pitied Casaubon, the very Sysiphus of authors. In the
lady, too, willing to marry her parchment-bound suitor for the sake of
co-operating in his abstruse mental labours, we have a faint adumbration
of the simple-minded Dorothea.

But these sudden stirrings at original invention did not prevent Miss
Evans from undertaking another task, similar to her last, if not so
laborious. She now set about translating Ludwig Feuerbach's _Wesen des
Christenthums_. This daring philosopher, who kept aloof from
professional honours, and dwelt apart in a wood, that he might be free
to handle questions of theology and metaphysics with absolute
fearlessness, had created a great sensation by his philosophical
criticism in Germany. Unlike his countrymen, whose writings on these
subjects are usually enveloped in such an impenetrable mist that their
most perilous ideas pass harmlessly over the heads of the multitude,
Feuerbach, by his keen incisiveness of language and luminousness of
exposition, was calculated to bring his meaning home to the average
reader. Mr. Garnett's account of the 'Essence of Christianity' in the
'Encyclopædia Britannica,' admirably concise as it is, may be quoted
here, as conveying in the fewest words the gist of this "famous
treatise, where Feuerbach shows that every article of Christian belief
corresponds to some instinct or necessity of man's nature, from which he
infers that it is the creation and embodiment of some human wish, hope,
or apprehension.... Following up the hint of one of the oldest Greek
philosophers, he demonstrates that religious ideas have their
counterparts in human nature, and assumes that they must be its
product."

The translation of the 'Essence of Christianity' was also published by
Mr. Chapman in 1854. It appeared in his 'Quarterly Series,' destined "to
consist of works by learned and profound thinkers, embracing the
subjects of theology, philosophy, biblical criticism, and the history of
opinion." Probably because her former translation had been so eminently
successful, Miss Evans received fifty pounds for her present work. But
there was no demand for it in England, and Mr. Chapman lost heavily by
its publication.

About the same period Miss Evans also translated Spinoza's _De Deo_ for
the benefit of an inquiring friend. But her English version of the
'Ethics' was not undertaken till the year 1854, after she had left her
home at Foleshill. In applying herself to the severe labour of rendering
one philosophical work after another into English, Miss Evans, no doubt,
was bent on elucidating for herself some of the most vital problems
which engage the mind when once it has shaken itself free from purely
traditional beliefs, rather than on securing for herself any pecuniary
advantages. But her admirable translations attracted the attention of
the like-minded, and she became gradually known to some of the most
distinguished men of the time.

Unfortunately her father's health now began to fail, causing her no
little pain and anxiety. At some period during his illness she stayed
with him in the Isle of Wight, for in a letter to Mrs. Bray, written
many years afterwards, she says, "The 'Sir Charles Grandison' you are
reading must be the series of little fat volumes you lent me to carry to
the Isle of Wight, where I read it at every interval when my father did
not want me, and was sorry that the long novel was not longer. It is a
solace to hear of any one's reading and enjoying Richardson. We have
fallen on an evil generation who would not read 'Clarissa' even in an
abridged form. The French have been its most enthusiastic admirers, but
I don't know whether their present admiration is more than traditional,
like their set phrases about their own classics."

During the last year of her father's life his daughter was also in the
habit of reading Scott's novels aloud to him for several hours of each
day; she must thus have become deeply versed in his manner of telling
the stories in which she continued to delight all her life; and in
speaking of the widening of our sympathies which a picture of human life
by a great artist is calculated to produce, even in the most trivial and
selfish, she gives as an instance Scott's description of Luckie
Mucklebackit's cottage, and his story of the 'Two Drovers.'

But a heavy loss now befell Marian Evans in the death of her father,
which occurred in 1849. Long afterwards nothing seemed to afford
consolation to her grief. For eight years these two had kept house
together, and the deepest mutual affection had always subsisted between
them. Marian ever treasured her father's memory. As George Eliot she
loved to recall in her works everything associated with him in her
childhood; those happy times when, standing between her father's knees,
she used to be driven by him to "outlying hamlets, whose groups of
inhabitants were as distinctive to my imagination as if they belonged to
different regions of the globe." Miss Evans, however, was not suffered
to mourn uncomforted. The tender friends who cared for her as a sister,
now planned a tour to the Continent in hopes that the change of scene
and associations would soften her grief.

So they started on their travels, going to Switzerland and Italy by the
approved route, which in those days was not so hackneyed as it now is.
To so penetrating an observer as Miss Evans there must have been an
infinite interest in this first sight of the Continent. But the journey
did not seem to dispel her grief, and she continued in such very low
spirits that Mrs. Bray almost regretted having taken her abroad so soon
after her bereavement. Her terror, too, at the giddy passes which they
had to cross, with precipices yawning on either hand--so that it seemed
as if a false step must send them rolling into the abyss--was so
overpowering that the sublime spectacle of the snow-clad Alps seemed
comparatively to produce but little impression on her. Her moral triumph
over this constitutional timidity, when any special occasion arose, was
all the more remarkable. One day when crossing the Col de Balme from
Martigny to Chamounix, one of the side-saddles was found to be badly
fitted, and would keep turning round, to the risk of the rider, if not
very careful, slipping off at any moment. Marian, however, insisted on
having this defective saddle in spite of the protest of Mrs. Bray, who
felt quite guilty whenever they came to any perilous places.

How different is this timidity from George Sand's hardy spirit of
enterprise! No one who has read that captivating book, her _Lettres d'un
Voyageur_, can forget the great Frenchwoman's description of a Swiss
expedition, during which, while encumbered with two young children, she
seems to have borne all the perils, fatigues, and privations of a
toilsome ascent with the hardihood of a mountaineer. But it should not
be forgotten that, although Miss Evans was just then in a peculiarly
nervous and excitable condition, and her frequent fits of weeping were a
source of pain to her anxious fellow-travellers. She had, in fact, been
so assiduous in attendance on her sick father, that she was physically
broken down for a time. Under these circumstances an immediate return to
England seemed unadvisable, and, when her friends started on their
homeward journey, it was decided that Marian should remain behind at
Geneva.

Here, amid scenes so intimately associated with genius--where the
"self-torturing sophist, wild Rousseau," placed the home of his
'_Nouvelle Héloïse_,' and the octogenarian Voltaire spent the serene
Indian summer of his stirring career; where Gibbon wrote his 'History of
the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire;' where Byron and Shelley
sought refuge from the hatred of their countrymen, and which Madame de
Staël complainingly exchanged for her beloved Rue du Bac--here the
future author of 'Romola' and 'Middlemarch' gradually recovered under
the sublime influences of Nature's healing beauties.

For about eight months Miss Evans lived at a boarding-house, "Le
Plongeau," near Geneva. But she was glad to find a quieter retreat in
the family of an artist, M. d'Albert, becoming much attached to him and
his wife. Established in one of the lofty upper stories of this pleasant
house, with the blue shimmering waters of the lake glancing far below,
and the awful heights of Mont Blanc solemnly dominating the entire
landscape, she not only loved to prosecute her studies, but, in
isolation from mankind, to plan glorious schemes for their welfare.
During this stay she drank deep of Rousseau, whose works, especially
_Les Confessions_, made an indelible impression on her. And when
inciting a friend to study French, she remarked that it was worth
learning that language, if only to read him. At the same period Marian
probably became familiarised with the magnificent social Utopias of St.
Simon, Proudhon, and other French writers. Having undergone a kind of
mental revolution herself not so long ago, she must have felt some
sympathy with the thrilling hopes of liberty which had agitated the
states of Western Europe in 1849. But, as I have already pointed out,
her nature had conservative leanings. She believed in progress only as
the result of evolution, not revolution. And in one of her most incisive
essays, entitled 'The National History of German Life,' she finely
points out the "notable failure of revolutionary attempts conducted from
the point of view of abstract democratic and socialistic theories." In
the same article she draws a striking parallel between the growth of
language and that of political institutions, contending that it would be
as unsatisfactory to "construct a universal language on a rational
basis"--one that had "no uncertainty, no whims of idiom, no cumbrous
forms, no fitful shimmer of many-hued significance, no hoary archaisms
'familiar with forgotten years'"--as abruptly to alter forms of
government which are nothing, in fact, but the result of historical
growth, systematically embodied by society.

Besides the fascinations of study, and the outward glory of nature, the
charm of social intercourse was not wanting to this life at Geneva. In
M. D'Albert, a very superior man, gentle, refined, and of unusual mental
attainments, she found a highly desirable daily companion. He was an
artist by profession, and it is whispered that he suggested some of the
traits in the character of the delicate-minded Philip Wakem in the 'Mill
on the Floss.' The only portrait in oils which exists of George Eliot is
one painted by M. D'Albert at this interesting time of her life. She
inspired him, like most people who came into personal contact with her,
with the utmost admiration and regard, and, wishing to be of some
service, he escorted Miss Evans to England on her return thither.
Curiously enough, M. D'Albert subsequently translated one of her works,
probably 'Adam Bede,' without in the least suspecting who its real
author was.

It is always a shock when vital changes have occurred in one's
individual lot to return to a well-known place, after an absence of some
duration, to find it wearing the same unchangeable aspect. One expects
somehow that fields and streets and houses would show some alteration
corresponding to that within ourselves. But already from a distance the
twin spires of Coventry, familiar as household words to the Warwickshire
girl, greeted the eyes of the returning traveller. In spite of all love
for her native spot of earth, this was a heavy time to Marian Evans. Her
father was dead, the home where she had dwelt as mistress for so many
years broken up, the present appearing blank and comfortless, the future
uncertain and vaguely terrifying. The question now was where she should
live, what she should do, to what purposes turn the genius whose untried
and partially unsuspected powers were darkly agitating her whole being.

As has been already said, Marian Evans had a highly complex nature,
compounded of many contradictory impulses, which, though gradually
brought into harmony as life matured, were always pulling her, in those
days, in different directions. Thus, though she possessed strong family
affections, she could not help feeling that to go and take up her abode
in the house of some relative, where life resolved itself into a
monotonous recurrence of petty considerations, something after the Glegg
pattern, would be little short of crucifixion to her, and, however deep
her attachment for her native soil may have been, she yet sighed
passionately to break away from its associations, and to become "a
wanderer and a pilgrim on the face of the earth."

For some little time after her return from abroad Marian took up her
residence with her brother and his family. But the children who had
toddled hand-in-hand in the fields together had now diverged so widely
that no memories of a mutual past could bridge over the chasm that
divided them. Under these circumstances the family at Rosehill pressed
her to make their home permanently hers, and for about a year, from 1850
to 1851, she became the member of a household in fullest sympathy with
her. Here Mr. Bray's many-sided mental activity and genial brightness of
disposition, and his wife's exquisite goodness of heart, must have
helped to soothe and cheer one whose delicately strung nature was just
then nearly bending under the excessive strain of thought and feeling
she had gone through. One person, indeed, was so struck by the grave
sadness generally affecting her, that it seemed to him as if her coming
took all the sunshine out of the day. But whether grave or gay, whether
meditative or playful, her conversation exercised a spell over all who
came within its reach.

In the pleasant house at Rosehill distinguished guests were constantly
coming and going, so that there was no lack of the needed intellectual
friction supplied by clever and original talk. Here in a pleasant
garden, planted with rustling acacia trees, and opening on a wide
prospect of richly-wooded, undulating country, with the fitful
brightness of English skies overhead, and a smooth-shaven lawn to walk
or recline upon, many were the topics discussed by men who had made, or
were about to make, their mark. Froude was known there. George Combe
discussed with his host the principles of phrenology, at that time
claiming "its thousands of disciples." Ralph Waldo Emerson, on a
lecturing tour in this country, while on a brief visit, made Marian's
acquaintance, and was observed by Mrs. Bray engaged in eager talk with
her. Suddenly she saw him start. Something said by this quiet,
gentle-mannered girl had evidently given him a shock of surprise.
Afterwards, in conversation with her friends, he spoke of her "great
calm soul." This is no doubt an instance of the intense sympathetic
adaptiveness of Miss Evans. If great, she was not by any means calm at
this period, but inwardly deeply perturbed, yet her nature, with
subtlest response, reflected the transcendental calm of the philosopher
when brought within his atmosphere.

George Dawson, the popular lecturer, and Mr. Flower, were more
intimately associated with the Rosehill household. The latter, then
living at Stratford-on-Avon, where he was wont to entertain a vast
number of people, especially Americans, who make pilgrimages to
Shakespeare's birthplace, is known to the world as the benevolent
denouncer of "bits and bearing-reins." One day this whole party went to
hear George Dawson, who had made a great sensation at Birmingham, preach
one of his thrilling sermons from the text "And the common people heard
him gladly." George Eliot, alluding to these days as late as 1876, says,
in a letter to Mrs. Bray:

"George Dawson was strongly associated for me with Rosehill, not to
speak of the General Baptist Chapel, where we all heard him preach for
the first time (to us).... I have a vivid recollection of an evening
when Mr. and Mrs. F---- dined at your house with George Dawson, when he
was going to lecture at the Mechanics' Institute, and you felt
compassionately towards him, because you thought the rather riotous talk
was a bad preface to his lecture. We have a Birmingham friend, whose
acquaintance we made many years ago in Weimar, and from him I have
occasionally had some news of Mr. Dawson. I feared, what you mention,
that his life has been a little too strenuous in these latter years."

On the evening alluded to in this letter Mr. Dawson was dining at Mrs.
Bray's house before giving his lecture on 'John Wesley,' at the
Mechanics' Institute. His rich sarcasm and love of fun had exhilarated
the whole company, and not content with merely "riotous talk," George
Dawson and Mr. Flower turned themselves into lions and wild cats for the
amusement of the children, suddenly pouncing out from under the
table-cloth, with hideous roarings and screechings, till the hubbub
became appalling, joined to the delighted half-frightened exclamations
of the little ones. Mr. Dawson did the lions, and Mr. Flower, who had
made personal acquaintance with the wild cats in the backwoods of
America, was inimitable in their peculiar pounce and screech.

Thus amid studies and pleasant friendly intercourse did the days pass at
Rosehill. Still Marian Evans was restless, tormented, frequently in
tears, perhaps unconsciously craving a wider sphere, and more definitely
recognised position. However strenuously she, at a maturer time of life,
inculcated the necessity of resignation, she had not then learned to
resign herself. And now a change was impending--a change which, fraught
with the most important consequences, was destined to give a new
direction to the current of her life. Dr. John Chapman invited her to
assist him in the editorship of the _Westminster Review_, which passed
at that time into his hands from John Mill. They had already met, when
Marian was passing through London on her way to the Continent, on some
matter of business or other connected with one of her translations. Dr.
Chapman's proposition was accepted; and although Marian suffered keenly
from the wrench of parting with her friends, the prompting to work out
her powers to the full overcame the clinging of affection, and in the
spring of 1851 she left Rosehill behind her and came to London.



CHAPTER V.

THE 'WESTMINSTER REVIEW.'


Dr. and Mrs. Chapman were at this time in the habit of admitting a few
select boarders, chiefly engaged in literary pursuits, to their large
house in the Strand, and Miss Evans, at their invitation, made her home
with them. Thus she found herself at once in the centre of a circle
consisting of some of the most advanced thinkers and brilliant
_littérateurs_ of the day; a circle which, partly consisting of
contributors to the _Westminster Review_, was strongly imbued with
scientific tendencies, being particularly partial to the doctrines of
Positive Philosophy.

Those were in truth the palmy days of the _Westminster Review_. Herbert
Spencer, G. H. Lewes, John Oxenford, James and Harriet Martineau,
Charles Bray, George Combe, and Professor Edward Forbes were among the
writers that made it the leading expositor of the philosophic and
scientific thought of the age. It occupied a position something midway
between that of the _Nineteenth Century_ and the _Fortnightly_.
Scorning, like the latter, to pander to the frivolous tastes of the
majority, it appealed to the most thoughtful and enlightened section of
the reading public, giving especial prominence to the philosophy of the
Comtist School; and while not so fashionable as the _Nineteenth
Century_, it could boast among its contributors names quite as famous,
destined as they were to become the foremost of their time and country.
With this group of illustrious writers Miss Evans was now associated,
and the articles she contributed from the year 1852 to 1858 are among
the most brilliant examples of periodical literature. The first notice
by her pen is a brief review of Carlyle's 'Life of Sterling' for January
1852, and judging from internal evidence, as regards style and method of
treatment, the one on Margaret Fuller, in the next number, must be by
the same hand.

To the biographer there is a curious interest in what she says in her
first notice about this kind of literature, and it would be well for the
world if writers were to lay it more generally to heart. "We have often
wished that genius would incline itself more frequently to the task of
the biographer, that when some great or good personage dies, instead of
the dreary three-or five-volumed compilations of letter, and diary, and
detail, little to the purpose, which two-thirds of the public have not
the chance, nor the other third the inclination, to read, we could have
a real "life," setting forth briefly and vividly the man's inward and
outward struggles, aims, and achievements, so as to make clear the
meaning which his experience has for his fellows. A few such lives
(chiefly autobiographies) the world possesses, and they have, perhaps,
been more influential on the formation of character than any other kind
of reading." Then again, speaking of the 'Memoirs of Margaret Fuller,'
she remarks, in reference to the same topic, "The old-world biographies
present their subjects generally as broken fragments of humanity,
noticeable because of their individual peculiarities, the new-world
biographies present their subjects rather as organic portions of
society."

George Eliot's estimate of Margaret Fuller (for there can be little
doubt that it is hers) possesses too rare an interest for readers not to
be given here in her own apposite and pungent words: "We are at a loss
whether to regard her as the parent or child of New England
Transcendentalism. Perhaps neither the one nor the other. It was
essentially an intellectual, moral, spiritual regeneration--a renewing
of the whole man--a kindling of his aspirations after full development
of faculty and perfect symmetry of being. Of this sect Margaret Fuller
was the priestess. In conversation she was as copious and oracular as
Coleridge, brilliant as Sterling, pungent and paradoxical as Carlyle;
gifted with the inspired powers of a Pythoness, she saw into the hearts
and over the heads of all who came near her, and, but for a sympathy as
boundless as her self-esteem, she would have despised the whole human
race! Her frailty in this respect was no secret either to herself or her
friends.... We must say that from the time she became a mother till the
final tragedy when she perished with her husband and child within sight
of her native shore, she was an altered woman, and evinced a greatness
of soul and heroism of character so grand and subduing, that we feel
disposed to extend to her whole career the admiration and sympathy
inspired by the closing scenes.

"While her reputation was at its height in the literary circles of
Boston and New York, she was so self-conscious that her life seemed to
be a studied act, rather than a spontaneous growth; but this was the
mere flutter on the surface; the well was deep, and the spring genuine;
and it is creditable to her friends, as well as to herself, that such at
all times was their belief."

In this striking summing-up of a character, the penetrating observer of
human nature--taking in at a glance and depicting by a few masterly
touches all that helps to make up a picture of the real living
being--begins to reveal herself.

These essays in the _Westminster Review_ are not only capital reading in
themselves, but are, of course, doubly attractive to us because they let
out opinions, views, judgments of things and authors, which we should
never otherwise have known. Marian Evans had not yet hidden herself
behind the mask of George Eliot, and in many of these wise and witty
utterances of hers we are admitted behind the scenes of her mind, so to
speak, and see her in her own undisguised person--before she had assumed
the _rôle_ of the novelist, showing herself to the world mainly through
her dramatic impersonations.

In these articles, written in the fresh maturity of her powers, we learn
what George Eliot thought about many subjects; we learn who were her
favourite authors in fiction; what opinions she held on art and poetry;
what was her attitude towards the political and social questions of the
day; what was her conception of human life in general. There is much
here, no doubt, that one might have been prepared to find, but a good
deal, too, that comes upon one with the freshness of surprise.

A special interest attaches naturally to what she has to say about her
own branch of art--the novel. Though she had probably no idea that she
was herself destined to become one of the great masters of fiction, she
had evidently a special predilection for works of that kind, noticeable
because hitherto her bent might have appeared almost exclusively towards
philosophy. To the three-volume circulating-library novel of the
ordinary stamp she is merciless in her sarcasm. One of her most pithy
articles of this time, or rather later, its date being 1856, is directed
against "Silly Novels by Lady Novelists." "These," she says, "consist of
the frothy, the prosy, the pious, or the pedantic. But it is a mixture
of all these--a composite order of feminine fatuity, that produces the
largest class of such novels, which we shall distinguish as the _mind
and millinery_ species. We had imagined that destitute women turned
novelists, as they turned governesses, because they had no other
'ladylike' means of getting their bread. Empty writing was excused by an
empty stomach, and twaddle was consecrated by tears.... It is clear that
they write in elegant boudoirs, with violet-coloured ink and a ruby pen,
that they must be entirely indifferent to publishers' accounts, and
inexperienced in every form of poverty except poverty of brains."

After finding fault with what she sarcastically calls the _white
neck-cloth_ species of novel, "a sort of medical sweetmeat for Low
Church young ladies," she adds, "The real drama of Evangelicalism, and
it has abundance of fine drama for any one who has genius enough to
discern and reproduce it, lies among the middle and lower classes. Why
can we not have pictures of religious life among the industrial classes
in England, as interesting as Mrs. Stowe's pictures of religious life
among the negroes?"

She who asked that question was herself destined, a few years later, to
answer her own demand in most triumphant fashion. Already here and there
we find hints and suggestions of the vein that was to be so fully worked
out in 'Scenes of Clerical Life' and 'Adam Bede.' Her intimate knowledge
of English country life, and the hold it had on her imagination, every
now and then eats its way to the surface of her writings, and stands out
amongst its surrounding matter with a certain unmistakable native force.
After censuring the lack of reality with which peasant life is commonly
treated in art, she makes the following apposite remarks, suggested by
her own experience: "The notion that peasants are joyous, that the
typical moment to represent a man in a smock-frock is when he is
cracking a joke and showing a row of sound teeth, that cottage matrons
are usually buxom, and village children necessarily rosy and merry, are
prejudices difficult to dislodge from the artistic mind which looks for
its subjects into literature instead of life. The painter is still under
the influence of idyllic literature, which has always expressed the
imagination of the town-bred rather than the truth of rustic life.
Idyllic ploughmen are jocund when they drive their team afield; idyllic
shepherds make bashful love under hawthorn bushes; idyllic villagers
dance in the chequered shade and refresh themselves not immoderately
with spicy nut-brown ale. But no one who has seen much of actual
ploughmen thinks them jocund, no one who is well acquainted with the
English peasantry can pronounce them merry. The slow gaze, in which no
sense of beauty beams, no humour twinkles; the slow utterance, and the
heavy slouching walk, remind one rather of that melancholy animal the
camel, than of the sturdy countryman, with striped stockings, red
waistcoat, and hat aside, who represents the traditional English
peasant. Observe a company of haymakers. When you see them at a distance
tossing up the forkfuls of hay in the golden light, while the wagon
creeps slowly with its increasing burden over the meadow, and the bright
green space which tells of work done gets larger and larger, you
pronounce the scene 'smiling,' and you think these companions in labour
must be as bright and cheerful as the picture to which they give
animation. Approach nearer and you will find haymaking time is a time
for joking, especially if there are women among the labourers; but the
coarse laugh that bursts out every now and then, and expresses the
triumphant taunt, is as far as possible from your conception of idyllic
merriment. That delicious effervescence of the mind which we call fun
has no equivalent for the northern peasant, except tipsy revelry; the
only realm of fancy and imagination for the English clown exists at the
bottom of the third quart pot.

"The conventional countryman of the stage, who picks up pocket-books and
never looks into them, and who is too simple even to know that honesty
has its opposite, represents the still lingering mistake, that an
unintelligible dialect is a guarantee for ingenuousness, and that
slouching shoulders indicate an upright disposition. It is quite sure
that a thresher is likely to be innocent of any adroit arithmetical
cheating, but he is not the less likely to carry home his master's corn
in his shoes and pocket; a reaper is not given to writing
begging-letters, but he is quite capable of cajoling the dairy-maid into
filling his small-beer bottle with ale. The selfish instincts are not
subdued by the sight of buttercups, nor is integrity in the least
established by that classic rural occupation, sheep-washing. To make men
moral something more is requisite than to turn them out to grass."

Every one must see that this is the essay writing of a novelist rather
than of a moral philosopher. The touches are put on with the vigour of a
Velasquez. Balzac, or Flaubert, or that most terrible writer of the
modern French school of fiction, the author of 'Le Sabot Rouge,' never
described peasant life with more downright veracity. In the eyes of Miss
Evans this quality of veracity is the most needful of all for the
artist. Because "a picture of human life, such as a great artist can
give, surprises even the trivial and the selfish into that attention to
what is apart from themselves, which may be called the raw material of
sentiment." For "art is the nearest thing to life; it is a mode of
amplifying experience and extending our contact with our fellow-men
beyond the bounds of our personal lot. All the more sacred is the task
of the artist when he undertakes to paint the life of the People.
Falsification here is far more pernicious than in the more artificial
aspects of life. It is not so very serious that we should have false
ideas about evanescent fashions--about the manners and conversation of
beaux and duchesses; but it is serious that our sympathy with the
perennial joys and struggles, the toil, the tragedy, and the humour in
the life of our more heavily laden fellow-men should be perverted, and
turned towards a false object instead of a true one."

George Eliot afterwards faithfully adhered to the canons fixed by the
critic. Whether this consciousness of a moral purpose was altogether a
gain to her art may be more fitly discussed in connection with the
analysis of her works of fiction. It is only needful to point out here
how close and binding she wished to make the union between ethics and
æsthetics.

Almost identical views concerning fundamental laws of Art are discussed
in an equally terse, vigorous, and pictorial manner in an article called
'Realism in Art: Recent German Fiction.' This article, however, is not
by George Eliot, but by George Henry Lewis. It was published in October
1858, and appeared after their joint sojourn in Germany during the
spring and summer of that year. I think that if one carefully compares
'Realism in Art' with George Eliot's other articles, there appears
something like a marriage of their respective styles in this paper. It
seems probable that Lewis, with his flexible adaptiveness, had come
under the influence of George Eliot's powerful intellect, and that many
of the views he expresses here at the same time render George Eliot's,
as they frequently appear, identical with hers. In the article in
question the manner as well as the matter has a certain suggestion of
the novelist's style. For example she frequently indicates the quality
of human speech by its resemblance to musical sounds. She is fond of
speaking of "the _staccato_ tones of a voice," "an _adagio_ of utter
indifference," and in the above-mentioned essay there are such
expressions as the "stately _largo_" of good German prose. Again, in the
article in question, we find the following satirical remarks about the
slovenly prose of the generality of German writers: "To be gentlemen of
somewhat slow, sluggish minds is perhaps their misfortune; but to be
writers deplorably deficient in the first principles of composition is
assuredly their fault. Some men pasture on platitudes, as oxen upon
meadow-grass; they are at home on a dead-level of common-place, and do
not desire to be irradiated by a felicity of expression." And in another
passage to the same effect the author says sarcastically, "Graces are
gifts: it can no more be required of a professor that he should write
with felicity than that he should charm all beholders with his personal
appearance; but literature requires that he should write intelligibly
and carefully, as society requires that he should wash his face and
button his waistcoat." Some of these strictures are very similar in
spirit to what George Eliot had said in her review of Heinrich Heine,
published in 1856, where complaining of the general cumbrousness of
German writers, she makes the following cutting remark: "A German comedy
is like a German sentence: you see no reason in its structure why it
should ever come to an end, and you accept the conclusion as an
arrangement of Providence rather than of the author."

A passage in this article, which exactly tallies with George Eliot's
general remarks on Art, must not be omitted here. "Art is a
representation of Reality--a Representation inasmuch as it is not the
thing itself, but only represents it, must necessarily be limited by the
nature of its medium.... Realism is thus the basis of all Art, and its
antithesis is not Idealism but Falsism.... To misrepresent the forms of
ordinary life is no less an offence than to misrepresent the forms of
ideal life: a pug-nosed Apollo, or Jupiter in a great-coat, would not be
more truly shocking to an artistic mind than are those senseless
falsifications of Nature into which incompetence is led under the
pretence of 'beautifying' Nature. Either give us true peasants or leave
them untouched; either paint no drapery at all, or paint it with the
utmost fidelity; either keep your people silent, or make them speak the
idiom of their class."

Among German novelists (or rather writers of short stories), Paul Heyse
is one of the few who is singled out for special praise in this review.
And it is curious that there should be a tale by this eminent author
called 'The Lonely Ones' (which also appeared in 1858), in which an
incident occurs forcibly recalling the catastrophe of Grandcourt's death
in 'Daniel Deronda': the incident--although unskilfully introduced--of a
Neapolitan fisherman whose momentary murderous hesitation to rescue his
drowning friend ends in lifelong remorse for his death.

What makes the article in question particularly interesting are the
allusions to the German tour, which give it an almost biographical
interest. As has been mentioned already, Mr. Lewis and George Eliot were
travelling in Germany in the spring of 1858, and in a letter to a friend
she writes: "Then we had a delicious journey to Salzburg, and from
thence through the Salz-Kammergut to Vienna, from Vienna to Prague, and
from Prague to Dresden, where we spent our last six weeks in quiet work
and quiet worship of the Madonna." And in his essay on Art Mr. G. H.
Lewis alludes to the most priceless art-treasure Dresden contains,
"Raphael's marvellous picture, the Madonna di San Sisto," as furnishing
the most perfect illustration of what he means by Realism and Idealism.
Speaking of the child Jesus he says: "In the never-to-be-forgotten
divine babe, we have at once the intensest realism of presentation with
the highest idealism of conception: the attitude is at once grand, easy
and natural; the face is that of a child, but the child is divine: in
those eyes and in that brow there is an indefinable something which,
greater than the expression of the angels, grander than that of pope or
saint, is to all who see it a perfect _truth_; we feel that humanity in
its highest conceivable form is before us, and that to transcend such a
form would be to lose sight of the _human_ nature there represented." A
similar passage occurs in 'The Mill on the Floss,' where Philip Wakem
says: "The greatest of painters only once painted a mysteriously divine
child; he couldn't have told how he did it, and we can't tell why we
feel it to be divine."

Enough has probably been quoted from George Eliot's articles to give the
reader some idea of her views on art. But they are so rich in happy
aphorisms, originality of illustration, and raciness of epithet that
they not only deserve attentive study because they were the first fruits
of the mind that afterwards gave to the world such noble and perfect
works as 'The Mill on the Floss' and 'Silas Marner,' but are well worth
attention for their own sake. Indeed nothing in George Eliot's fictions
excels the style of these papers. And what a clear, incisive, masterly
style it was! Her prose in those days had a swiftness of movement, an
epigrammatic felicity, and a brilliancy of antithesis which we look for
in vain in the over-elaborate sentences and somewhat ponderous wit of
'Theophrastus Such.'

A very vapid paper on 'Weimar and its Celebrities,' April 1859, which a
writer in the _Academy_ attributes to the same hand, I know not on what
authority, does not possess a single attribute that we are in the habit
of associating with the writings of George Eliot. That an author who, by
that time, had already produced some of her very finest work, namely,
the 'Scenes of Clerical Life,' and 'Adam Bede,' should have been
responsible simultaneously for the trite commonplaces ventilated in this
article is simply incredible. It is true that Homer is sometimes found
nodding, and the right-hand of the greatest master may forget its
cunning, but would George Eliot in her most abject moments have been
capable of penning such a sentence as this in connection with Goethe?
"Would not Fredricka or Lili have been a more genial companion than
Christina Vulpius for that great poet of whom his native land is so
justly proud?" It is not worth while to point out other platitudes such
as flow spontaneously from the facile pen of a penny-a-liner; but the
consistent misspelling of every name may be alluded to in passing. Thus
we read "Lily" for "Lely," "Zetter" for "Zelter," "Quintus Filein" for
"Fixlein," "Einsedel" for "Einsiedel," etc. etc. This, in itself, would
furnish no conclusive argument, supposing George Eliot to have been on
the Continent and out of the way of correcting proofs. But as it
happened she was in England in April 1859, and it is, therefore, on all
grounds impossible that this worthless production should be hers.

Perhaps her two most noteworthy articles are the one called 'Evangelical
Teaching,' published in 1855, and the other on 'Worldliness and other
Worldliness,' which appeared in 1857. This happy phrase, by the way, was
first used by Coleridge, who says, "As there is a worldliness or the too
much of this life, so there is another _worldliness_ or rather _other
worldliness_ equally hateful and selfish with _this worldliness_." These
articles are curious because they seem to occupy a midway position
between George Eliot's earliest and latest phase of religious belief.
But at this period she still felt the recoil from the pressure of a
narrowing dogmatism too freshly not to launch back at it some of the
most stinging shafts from the armoury of her satire. Not Heine himself,
in his trenchant sallies, surpasses the irony with which some of her
pages are bristling. To ignore this stage in George Eliot's mental
development would be to lose one of the connecting links in her history:
a history by no means smooth and uneventful, as some times superficially
represented, but full of strong contrasts, abrupt transitions, outward
and inward changes sympathetically charged with all the meaning of this
transitional time. Two extracts from the above-mentioned articles will
amply testify to what has just been said.

"Given a man with a moderate intellect, a moral standard not higher than
the average, some rhetorical affluence and great glibness of speech,
what is the career in which, without the aid of birth or money, he may
most easily attain power and reputation in English society? Where is
that Goshen of intellectual mediocrity in which a smattering of science
and learning will pass for profound instruction, where platitudes will
be accepted as wisdom, bigoted narrowness as holy zeal, unctuous egoism
as God-given piety? Let such a man become an evangelical preacher; he
will then find it possible to reconcile small ability with great
ambition, superficial knowledge with the prestige of erudition, a
middling morale with a high reputation for sanctity. Let him shun
practical extremes, and be ultra only in what is purely theoretic. Let
him be stringent on predestination, but latitudinarian on fasting;
unflinching in insisting on the eternity of punishment, but diffident of
curtailing the substantial comforts of time; ardent and imaginative on
the pre-millenial advent of Christ, but cold and cautious towards every
other infringement of the _status quo_. Let him fish for souls, not with
the bait of inconvenient singularity, but with the drag-net of
comfortable conformity. Let him be hard and literal in his
interpretation only when he wants to hurl texts at the heads of
unbelievers and adversaries, but when the letter of the Scriptures
presses too closely on the genteel Christianity of the nineteenth
century, let him use his spiritualising alembic and disperse it into
impalpable ether. Let him preach less of Christ than of Antichrist; let
him be less definite in showing what sin is than in showing who is the
Man of Sin; less expansive on the blessedness of faith than on the
accursedness of infidelity. Above all, let him set up as an interpreter
of prophecy, rival 'Moore's Almanack' in the prediction of political
events, tickling the interest of hearers who are but moderately
spiritual by showing how the Holy Spirit has dictated problems and
charades for their benefit; and how, if they are ingenious enough to
solve these, they may have their Christian graces nourished by learning
precisely to whom they may point as 'the horn that had eyes,' 'the lying
prophet,' and the 'unclean spirits.' In this way he will draw men to him
by the strong cords of their passions, made reason-proof by being
baptized with the name of piety. In this way he may gain a metropolitan
pulpit; the avenues to his church will be as crowded as the passages to
the opera; he has but to print his prophetic sermons, and bind them in
lilac and gold, and they will adorn the drawing-room table of all
evangelical ladies, who will regard as a sort of pious 'light reading'
the demonstration that the prophecy of the locusts, whose sting is in
their tail, is fulfilled in the fact of the Turkish commander having
taken a horse's tail for his standard, and that the French are the very
frogs predicted in the Revelations."

Even more scathing than this onslaught on a certain type of the popular
evangelical preacher, is the paper on the poet Young, one of the
wittiest things from George Eliot's pen, wherein she castigates with all
her powers of sarcasm and ridicule that class of believers who cannot
vilify this life sufficiently in order to make sure of the next, and
who, in the care of their own souls, are careless of the world's need.
Her analysis of the 'Night Thoughts' remains one of the most brilliant
criticisms of its kind. Young's contempt for this earth, of all of us,
and his exaltation of the starry worlds above, especially provoke his
reviewer's wrath. This frame of mind was always repulsive to George
Eliot, who could never sufficiently insist on the need of man's
concentrating his love and energy on the life around him. She never felt
much toleration for that form of aspiration that would soar to some
shadowy infinite beyond the circle of human fellowship. One of the most
epigrammatic passages in this article is where she says of Young, "No
man can be better fitted for an Established Church. He personifies
completely her nice balance of temporalities and spiritualities. He is
equally impressed with the momentousness of death and of burial fees;
he languishes at once for immortal life and for 'livings;' he has a
fervid attachment to patrons in general, but on the whole prefers the
Almighty. He will teach, with something more than official conviction,
the nothingness of earthly things; and he will feel something more than
private disgust, if his meritorious efforts in directing men's attention
to another world are not rewarded by substantial preferment in this. His
secular man believes in cambric bands and silk stockings as
characteristic attire for 'an ornament of religion and virtue;' he hopes
courtiers will never forget to copy Sir Robert Walpole; and writes
begging letters to the king's mistress. His spiritual man recognizes no
motives more familiar than Golgotha and 'the skies;' it walks in
graveyards, or soars among the stars.... If it were not for the prospect
of immortality, he considers it would be wise and agreeable to be
indecent, or to murder one's father; and, heaven apart, it would be
extremely irrational in any man not to be a knave. Man, he thinks, is a
compound of the angel and the brute; the brute is to be humbled by being
reminded of its 'relation to the stars,' and frightened into moderation
by the contemplation of deathbeds and skulls; the angel is to be
developed by vituperating this world and exalting the next, and by this
double process you get the Christian--'the highest style of man.' With
all this our new-made divine is an unmistakable poet. To a clay
compounded chiefly of the worldling and the rhetorician there is added a
real spark of Promethean fire. He will one day clothe his apostrophes
and objurgations, his astronomical religion and his charnel house
morality, in lasting verse, which will stand, like a Juggernaut made of
gold and jewels, at once magnificent and repulsive: for this divine is
Edward Young, the future author of the 'Night Thoughts.'"

It has seemed appropriate to quote thus largely from these essays,
because, never having been reprinted, they are to all intents and
purposes inaccessible to the general reader. Yet they contain much that
should not willingly be consigned to the dust and cobwebs, among which
obsolete magazines usually sink into oblivion. They may as well be
specified here according to their dates. 'Carlyle's Life of Sterling,'
January 1852; 'Woman in France: Madame de Sablé,' October 1854;
'Evangelical Teaching: Dr. Cumming,' October 1855; 'German Wit: Heinrich
Heine,' January 1856; 'Silly Novels by Lady Novelists,' October 1856;
'The Natural History of German Life,' July 1856; and 'Worldliness and
other Worldliness: the Poet Young,' January 1857.

Miss Evans's main employment on the _Westminster Review_ was, however,
editorial. She used to write a considerable portion of the summary of
contemporary literature at the end of each number. But her co-operation
as sub-editor ceased about the close of 1853, when she left Dr.
Chapman's house, and went to live in apartments in a small house in
Cambridge Terrace, Hyde Park. Marian Evans was not entirely dependent at
this time on the proceeds of her literary work, her father having
settled the sum of 80l. to 100l. a year on her for life, the capital of
which, however, did not belong to her. She was very generous with her
money; and although her earnings at this time were not considerable,
they were partly spent on her poor relations.



CHAPTER VI.

GEORGE HENRY LEWES.


Meanwhile, these literary labours were pleasantly diversified by
frequent visits to her friends at Rosehill and elsewhere. In October
1852, she stayed with Mr. and Mrs. George Combe at Edinburgh, and on her
way back was the guest of Harriet Martineau, at her delightfully
situated house in Ambleside. Her acquaintance with Mr. Herbert Spencer
had ripened into a cordial friendship. They met constantly both in
London and in the country, and their intercourse was a source of mutual
intellectual enjoyment and profit. As must already have become evident,
it is erroneous to suppose that he had any share in the formation of her
mind: for as Mr. Herbert Spencer said, in a letter to the _Daily News_,
"Our friendship did not commence until 1851 ... when she was already
distinguished by that breadth of culture, and universality of power,
which have since made her known to all the world."

In a letter to Miss Phelps, George Eliot touches on this rumour, after
alluding in an unmistakable manner to another great contemporary: "I
never--to answer one of your questions quite directly--I never had any
personal acquaintance with" (naming a prominent Positivist); "never saw
him to my knowledge, except in the House of Commons; and though I have
studied his books, especially his 'Logic' and 'Political Economy,' with
much benefit, I have no consciousness of their having made any marked
epoch in my life.

"Of Mr. ----'s friendship I have had the honour and advantage for twenty
years, but I believe that every main bias of my mind had been taken
before I knew him. Like the rest of his readers, I am, of course,
indebted to him for much enlargement and clarifying of thought."

But there was another acquaintance which Miss Evans made during the
first year of her residence in the Strand, destined to affect the whole
future tenor of her life--the acquaintance of Mr. George Henry Lewes,
then, like her, a contributor to the _Westminster Review_.

George Henry Lewes was Marian's senior by two years, having been born in
London on the 18th of April, 1817. He was educated at Greenwich in a
school once possessing a high reputation for thoroughly "grounding" its
pupils in a knowledge of the classics. When his education was so far
finished, he was placed as clerk in a merchant's office. This kind of
occupation proving very distasteful, he turned medical student for a
time. Very early in life he was attracted towards philosophy, for at the
age of nineteen we find him attending the weekly meetings of a small
club, in the habit of discussing metaphysical problems in the parlour of
a tavern in Red Lion Square, Holborn. This club, from which the one in
'Daniel Deronda' is supposed to have borrowed many of its features, was
the point of junction for a most heterogeneous company. Here, amicably
seated round the fire, a speculative tailor would hob and nob with some
medical student deep in anatomy; a second-hand bookseller having
devoured the literature on his shelves, ventilated their contents for
the general benefit; and a discursive American mystic was listened to in
turn with a Jewish journeyman watchmaker deeply imbued with Spinozism.
It is impossible not to connect this Jew, named Cohen, and described as
"a man of astonishing subtilty and logical force, no less than of sweet
personal worth," with the Mordecai of the novel just mentioned. However
wide the after divergencies, here evidently lies the germ. The weak eyes
and chest, the grave and gentle demeanour, the whole ideality of
character correspond. In some respects G. H. Lewes was the "Daniel
Deronda" to this "Mordecai." For he not only loved but venerated his
"great calm intellect." "An immense pity," says Mr. Lewes, "a fervid
indignation filled me as I came away from his attics in one of the
Holborn courts, where I had seen him in the pinching poverty of his
home, with his German wife and two little black-eyed children."

To this pure-spirited suffering watchmaker, Lewes owed his first
acquaintance with Spinoza. A certain passage, casually cited by Cohen,
awakened an eager thirst for more in the youth. The desire to possess
himself of Spinoza's works, still in the odour of pestilential heresy,
haunted him like a passion. For he himself, then "suffering the social
persecution which embitters any departure from accepted creeds," felt in
defiant sympathy with all outcasts. On a dreary November evening, the
coveted volumes were at length discovered on the dingy shelves of a
second-hand bookseller. By the flaring gaslight, young Lewes, with a
beating heart, read on the back of a small brown quarto those thrilling
words, 'Spinoza: Opera Posthuma!' He was poor in those days, and the
price of the volume was twenty shillings, but he would gladly have
sacrificed his last sixpence to secure it. Having paid his money with
feverish delight, he hurried home in triumph, and immediately set to
work on a translation of the 'Ethics,' which, however, he was too
impatient to finish.

This little incident is well worth dwelling upon not only as being the
first introduction of a notable thinker to philosophy, but as showing
the eager impulsive nature of the man. The study of Spinoza led to his
publishing an article on his life and works in the _Westminster Review_
of 1843, almost the first account of the great Hebrew philosopher which
appeared in this country. This article, afterwards incorporated in the
'Biographical History of Philosophy,' formed the nucleus, I believe, of
that "admirable piece of synthetic criticism and exposition," as Mr.
Frederic Harrison calls it; a work which, according to him, has
influenced the thought of the present generation almost more than any
single book except Mr. Mill's 'Logic.'

Before the appearance of either article or 'History of Philosophy,' Mr.
Lewes went to Germany, and devoted himself to the study of its language
and literature, just brought into fashion by Carlyle. Returning to
England in 1839, he became one of the most prolific journalists of the
day. Witty, brilliant, and many-sided, he seemed pre-eminently fitted by
nature for a press writer and _littérateur_. His versatility, was so
amazing, that a clever talker once said of him: "Lewes can do everything
in the world but paint: and he could do that, too, after a week's
study." At this time, besides assisting in the editorship of the
_Classical Museum_, he wrote for the _Morning Chronicle_, the
_Athenæum_, the _Edinburgh_, _Foreign Quarterly_, _British Quarterly_,
_Blackwood_, _Fraser_, and the _Westminster Review_. After publishing 'A
Biographical History of Philosophy,' through Mr. Knight's 'Weekly
Volumes' in 1846, he wrote two novels, 'Ranthorpe,' and 'Rose, Blanche,
and Violet,' which successively appeared in 1847 and 1848. But fiction
was not his _forte_, these two productions being singularly crude and
immature as compared with his excellent philosophical work. Some jokes
in the papers about "rant," killed what little life there was in
"Ranthorpe." Nevertheless, Charlotte Brontë, who had some correspondence
with Mr. Lewes about 1847, actually wrote about it as follows: "In
reading 'Ranthorpe,' I have read a new book, not a reprint, not a
reflection of any other book, but a _new book_." Another great writer,
Edgar Poe, admired it no less, for he says of the work: "I have lately
read it with deep interest, and derived great _consolation_ from it
also. It relates to the career of a literary man, and gives a just view
of the true aims and the true dignity of the literary character."

'The Spanish Drama;' 'The Life of Maximilian Robespierre, with extracts
from his unpublished correspondence;' 'The Noble Heart: a Tragedy;' all
followed in close succession from the same inexhaustible pen. The last,
it was said, proved also a tragedy to the publishers. But not content
with writing dramas, Mr. Lewes was also ambitious of the fame of an
actor, the theatre having always possessed a strong fascination for him.
Already as a child he had haunted the theatres, and now, while
delivering a lecture at the Philosophical Institution in Edinburgh, he
shocked its staid _habitués_ not a little by immediately afterwards
appearing on the stage in the character of Shylock: so many, and
seemingly incompatible, were Lewes's pursuits. But this extreme mobility
of mind, this intellectual tripping from subject to subject, retarded
the growth of his popularity. The present mechanical subdivision of
labour has most unfortunately also affected the judgment passed on
literary and artistic products. Let a man once have written a novel
typical of the manners and ways of a certain class of English society,
or painted a picture with certain peculiar effects of sea or landscape,
or composed a poem affecting the very trick and language of some bygone
mediæval singer, he will be doomed, to the end of his days, to do the
same thing over and over again, _ad nauseam_. Nothing can well be more
deadening to any vigorous mental life, and Mr. Lewes set a fine example
of intellectual disinterestedness in sacrificing immediate success to
the free play of a most variously endowed nature.

The public too was a gainer by this. For the life of Goethe could not
have been made the rich, comprehensive, many-sided biography it is, had
Mr. Lewes himself not tried his hand at such a variety of subjects. This
life, begun in 1845, the result partly of his sojourn in Germany, did
not appear in print until 1855. Ultimately destined to a great and
lasting success, the MS. of the 'Life of Goethe' was ignominiously sent
from one publisher to another, until at last Mr. David Nutt, of the
Strand, showed his acumen by giving it to the reading world.

Some years before the publication of this biography Mr. Lewes had also
been one of the founders of that able, but unsuccessful weekly, the
_Leader_, of which he was the literary editor from 1849 to 1854. Many of
his articles on Auguste Comte were originally written for this paper,
and afterwards collected into a volume for Bohn's series. Indeed, after
Mr. John Stuart Mill, he is to be regarded as the earliest exponent of
Positivism in England. He not only considered the '_Cours de Philosophie
Positive_' the greatest work of this century, but believed it would
"form one of the mighty landmarks in the history of opinion. No one
before M. Comte," he says, "ever dreamed of treating social problems
otherwise than upon theological or metaphysical methods. He first showed
how possible, nay, how imperative, it was that social questions should
be treated on the same footing with all other scientific questions. This
being his object, he was forced to detect the law of mental evolution
before he could advance. This law is the law of historical progression."
But while Mr. Lewes, with his talent for succinct exposition, helped
more than any other Englishman to disseminate the principles of Comte's
philosophy in this country, he was at the same time violently opposed to
his '_Politique Positive_,' with its schemes of social reorganisation.

Even so slight a survey as this must show the astonishing discursiveness
of Mr. Lewes's intellect. By the time he was thirty he had already tried
his hand at criticism, fiction, biography, the drama, and philosophy. He
had enlarged his experience of human nature by foreign travel; he had
addressed audiences from the lecturer's platform; he had enjoyed the
perilous sweets of editing a newspaper; he had even, it is said, played
the harlequin in a company of strolling actors. Indeed, Mr. Thackeray
was once heard to say that it would not surprise him to meet Lewes in
Piccadilly, riding on a white elephant; whilst another wit likened him
to the Wandering Jew, as you could never tell where he was going to turn
up, or what he was going to do next.

In this discursiveness of intellect he more nearly resembled the
Encyclopedists of the 18th century than the men of his own time. Indeed
his personal appearance, temperament, manners, general tone of thought,
seemed rather to be those of a highly-accomplished foreigner than of an
Englishman. He was a lightly-built, fragile man, with bushy curly hair,
and a general shagginess of beard and eyebrow not unsuggestive of a Skye
terrier. For the rest, he had a prominent mouth and grey, deeply-set
eyes under an ample, finely-proportioned forehead. Volatile by nature,
somewhat wild and lawless in his talk, he in turn delighted and shocked
his friends by the gaiety, recklessness, and genial _abandon_ of his
manners and conversation. His companionship was singularly stimulating,
for the commonest topic served him as a starting-point for the lucid
development of some pet philosophical theory. In this gift of making
abstruse problems intelligible, and difficult things easy, he had some
resemblance to the late W. K. Clifford, with his magical faculty of
illuminating the most abstruse subjects by his vivid directness of
exposition.

As Lewes's life was so soon to be closely united to that of Marian
Evans, this cursory sketch of his career will not seem inappropriate.
At the time they met at Dr. Chapman's house, Mr. Lewes, who had married
early in life, found his conjugal relations irretrievably spoiled. How
far the blame of this might attach to one side or to the other does not
concern us here. Enough that in the intercourse with a woman of such
astonishing intellect, varied acquirements, and rare sympathy, Mr. Lewes
discovered a community of ideas and a moral support that had been sadly
lacking to his existence hitherto.

In many ways these two natures, so opposite in character, disposition,
and tone of mind, who, from such different starting-points, had reached
the same standpoint, seemed to need each other for the final fruition
and utmost development of what was best in each. A crisis was now
impending in Marian's life. She was called upon to make her private
judgment a law unto herself, and to shape her actions, not according to
the recognised moral standard of her country, but in harmony with her
own convictions of right and wrong. From a girl, it appears, she had
held independent views about marriage, strongly advocating the German
divorce laws. On the appearance of 'Jane Eyre,' when every one was
talking of this book and praising the exemplary conduct of Jane in her
famous interview with Rochester, Marian Evans, then only
four-and-twenty, remarked to a friend that in his position she
considered him justified in contracting a fresh marriage. And in an
article on Madame de Sablé, written as early as 1854, there is this
significant passage in reference to the "laxity of opinion and practice
with regard to the marriage-tie in France." "Heaven forbid," she
writes, "that we should enter on a defence of French morals, most of all
in relation to marriage! But it is undeniable that unions formed in the
maturity of thought and feeling, and grounded only on inherent fitness
and mutual attraction, tended to bring women into more intelligent
sympathy with man, and to heighten and complicate their share in the
political drama. The quiescence and security of the conjugal relation
are, doubtless, favourable to the manifestation of the highest qualities
by persons who have already attained a high standard of culture, but
rarely foster a passion sufficient to rouse all the faculties to aid in
winning or retaining its beloved object--to convert indolence into
activity, indifference into ardent partisanship, dulness into
perspicuity."

Such a union, formed in the full maturity of thought and feeling, was
now contracted by Marian Evans and George Henry Lewes. Legal union,
however, there could be none, for though virtually separated from his
wife, Mr. Lewes could not get a divorce. Too little has as yet
transpired concerning this important step to indicate more than the bare
outline of events. Enough that Mr. Lewes appears to have written a
letter in which, after a full explanation of his circumstances, he used
all his powers of persuasion to win Miss Evans for his life-long
companion; that she consented, after having satisfied her conscience
that in reality she was not injuring the claims of others; and that
henceforth she bore Mr. Lewes's name, and became his wife in every sense
but the legal one.

This proceeding caused the utmost consternation amongst her
acquaintances, especially amongst her friends at Rosehill. The former
intimate and affectionate intercourse with Mrs. Bray and her sister was
only gradually restored, and only after they had come to realise how
perfectly her own conscience had been consulted and satisfied in the
matter. Miss Hennell, who had already entered on the scheme of religious
doctrine which ever since she has been setting forth in her printed
works, "swerved nothing from her own principles that the maintenance of
a conventional form of marriage (remoulded to the demands of the present
age) is essentially attached to all religion, and pre-eminently so to
the religion of the future."

In thus defying public opinion, and forming a connection in opposition
to the laws of society, George Eliot must have undergone some trials and
sufferings peculiarly painful to one so shrinkingly sensitive as
herself. Conscious of no wrong-doing, enjoying the rare happiness of
completest intellectual fellowship in the man she loved, the step she
had taken made a gap between her kindred and herself which could not but
gall her clinging, womanly nature. To some of her early companions,
indeed, who had always felt a certain awe at the imposing gravity of her
manners, this dereliction from what appeared to them the path of duty
was almost as startling and unexpected as if they had seen the heavens
falling down.

How far the individual can ever be justified in following the dictates
of his private judgment, in opposition to the laws and prevalent
opinions of his time and country, must remain a question no less
difficult than delicate of decision. It is precisely the point where
the highest natures and the lowest sometimes apparently meet; since to
act in opposition to custom may be due to the loftiest motives--may be
the spiritual exaltation of the reformer, braving social ostracism for
the sake of an idea, or may spring, on the other hand, from purely
rebellious promptings of an anti-social egoism, which recognises no law
higher than that of personal gratification. At the same time, it seems,
that no progress could well be made in the evolution of society without
these departures on the part of individuals from the well-beaten tracks,
for even the failures help eventually towards a fuller recognition of
what is beneficial and possible of attainment. Mary Wollstonecraft
Shelley, George Sand, the New England Transcendentalists, with their
communistic experiment at Brooke Farm, all more or less strove to be
path-finders to a better and happier state of society. George Eliot,
however, hardly belonged to this order of mind. Circumstances prompted
her to disregard one of the most binding laws of society, yet, while she
considered herself justified in doing so, her sympathies were, on the
whole, more enlisted in the state of things as they are than as they
might be. It is certainly curious that the woman, who in her own life
had followed such an independent course, severing herself in many ways
from her past with all its traditional sanctities, should yet so often
inculcate the very opposite teaching in her works--should inculcate an
almost slavish adherence to whatever surroundings, beliefs, and family
ties a human being may be born to.

I need only add here that Mr. Lewes and Marian went to Germany soon
after forming this union, which, only ending by death, gave to each what
had hitherto been lacking in their lives. Many marriages solemnised in a
church, and ushered in with all the ostentation of _trousseau_,
bridesmaids, and wedding breakfast, are indeed less essentially such in
all the deeper human aspects which this relation implies, than the one
contracted in this informal manner. Indeed, to those who saw them
together, it seemed as if they could never be apart. Yet, while so
entirely at one, each respected the other's individuality, his own, at
the same time, gaining in strength by the contact. Mr. Lewes's mercurial
disposition now assumed a stability greatly enhancing his brilliant
talents, and for the first time facilitating that concentration of
intellect so necessary for the production of really lasting philosophic
work. On the other hand, George Eliot's still dormant faculties were
roused and stimulated to the utmost by the man to whom this union with
her formed the most memorable year of his life. By his enthusiastic
belief in her he gave her the only thing she wanted--a thorough belief
in herself. Indeed, he was more than a husband: he was, as an intimate
friend once pithily remarked, a very mother to her. Tenderly watching
over her delicate health, cheering the grave tenor of her thoughts by
his inexhaustible buoyancy, jealously shielding her from every adverse
breath of criticism, Mr. Lewes in a manner created the spiritual
atmosphere in which George Eliot could best put forth all the flowers
and fruits of her genius.

In joining her life with that of Mr. Lewes, the care of his three
children devolved upon George Eliot, who henceforth showed them the
undeviating love and tenderness of a mother. One of the sons had gone
out to Natal as a young man, and contracted a fatal disease, which,
complicated with some accident, resulted in an untimely death. He
returned home a hopeless invalid, and his tedious illness was cheered by
the affectionate tendance of her who had for so many years acted a
mother's part towards him.



CHAPTER VII.

SCENES OF CLERICAL LIFE.


As has already been mentioned, Mr. Lewes and Marian went to Germany in
1854, dividing the year between Berlin, Munich, and Weimar. In the
latter pleasant little Saxon city, on which the mighty influence of
Goethe seemed still visibly resting, as the reflection of the sun
lingers in the sky long after the sun himself has set, Lewes partly
re-wrote his 'Life of Goethe.' Here must have been spent many delightful
days, wandering in Goethe's track, exploring the beautiful
neighbourhood, and enjoying some of the most cultivated society in
Germany. Several articles on German life and literature, afterwards
published in the _Westminster Review_, were probably written at this
time. The translation of Spinoza's 'Ethics' by George Eliot was also
executed in the same year. Mr. Lewes, alluding to it in 'Goethe's Life,'
says, in a foot-note, "It may interest some readers to learn that
Spinoza will ere long appear in English, edited by the writer of these
lines." This was a delusive promise, since the translation has not yet
made its appearance. But surely its publication would now be warmly
welcomed.

The time, however, was approaching when George Eliot was at last to
discover where her real mastery lay. And this is the way, as the story
goes, that she discovered it. They had returned from the Continent and
were settled again in London, both actively engaged in literature. But
literature, unless in certain cases of triumphant popularity, is perhaps
the worst paid of all work. Mr. Lewes and George Eliot were not too well
off. The former, infinite in resources, having himself tried every form
of literature in turn, could not fail to notice the matchless power of
observation, and the memory matching it in power, of the future
novelist. One day an idea struck him. "My dear," he said, "I think you
could write a capital story." Shortly afterwards there was some dinner
engagement, but as he was preparing to go out, she said, "I won't go out
this evening, and when you come in don't disturb me. I shall be very
busy." And this was how the 'Scenes of Clerical Life' came first to be
written! On being shown a portion of the first tale, 'Amos Barton,' Mr.
Lewes was fairly amazed.

Stories are usually fabricated after the event; but, if not true, they
often truly paint a situation. And the general testimony of friends
seems to agree that it was Mr. Lewes who first incited the gifted woman,
of whose great powers he was best able to form a judgment, to express
herself in that species of literature which would afford the fullest
scope to the creative and dramatic faculties which she so eminently
possessed. Here, however, his influence ended. He helped to reveal
George Eliot to herself, and after that there was little left for him to
do. But this gift of stimulating another by sympathetic insight and
critical appreciation is itself of priceless value. When Schiller died,
Goethe said, "The half of my existence is gone from me." A terrible
word to utter for one so great. But never again, he knew, would he meet
with the same complete comprehension, and, lacking that, his genius
itself seemed less his own than before.

There is an impression abroad that Mr. Lewes, if anything, did some
injury to George Eliot from a literary point of view; that the nature of
his pursuits led her to adopt too technical and pedantic a phraseology
in her novels. But this idea is unjust to both. In comparing her
earliest with her latest style, it is clear that from the first she was
apt to cull her illustrations from the physical sciences, thereby
showing how much these studies had become part of herself. Indeed, she
was far more liable to introduce these scientific modes of expression
than Mr. Lewes, as may be easily seen by comparing his 'Life of Goethe,'
partly re-written in 1854, with some of her essays of the same date. As
to her matter, it is curious how much of it was drawn from the earliest
sources of memory--from that life of her childhood to which she may
sometimes have turned yearningly as to a long-lost Paradise. Most of her
works might, indeed, not inaptly be called 'Looking Backward.' They are
a half-pathetic, half-humorous, but entirely tender revivification of
the "days that are no more." No one, however intimate, could really
intermeddle with the workings of a genius drawing its happiest
inspiration from the earliest experiences of its own individual past.

Nothing is more characteristic of this obvious tendency than the first
of the 'Scenes of Clerical Life,' 'The Sad Fortunes of the Rev. Amos
Barton.' At Chilvers Coton the curious in such matters may still see the
identical church where the incumbent of Shepperton used to preach
sermons shrewdly compounded of High Church doctrines and Low Church
evangelicalism, not forgetting to note "its little flight of steps with
their wooden rail running up the outer wall, and leading to the
school-children's gallery." There they may still see the little
churchyard, though they may look in vain for the "slim black figure" of
the Rev. Amos, "as it flits past the pale gravestones," in "the silver
light that falls aslant on church and tomb." And among the tombs there
is one, a handsome substantial monument, overshadowed by a yew-tree, on
which there is this inscription:


                       HERE LIES,
     WAITING THE SUMMONS OF THE ARCHANGEL'S TRUMPET,
                 ALL THAT WAS MORTAL OF
               THE BELOVED WIFE OF THE
             REV. JOHN GWYTHER, B.A.,
                 CURATE OF THIS PARISH,
                     NOV. 4TH, 1836,
               AGED THIRTY-FOUR YEARS,
           LEAVING A HUSBAND AND SEVEN CHILDREN.


This Emma Gwyther is none other than the beautiful Milly, the wife of
Amos, so touchingly described by George Eliot, whose mother, Mrs. Evans,
was her intimate friend. George Eliot would be in her teens when she
heard the story of this sweet woman: heard the circumstantial details of
her struggles to make the two ends of a ridiculously small income meet
the yearly expenses: heard her mother, no doubt (in the words of Mrs.
Hackit) blame her weak forbearance in tolerating the presence in her
house of the luxurious and exacting countess, who, having ingratiated
herself with the gullible Amos by her talk of the "livings" she would
get him, gave much scandal in the neighbourhood: heard of the pathetic
death-bed, when, worn by care and toil, the gentle life ebbed quietly
away, leaving a life-long void in her husband's heart and home. All this
was the talk of the neighbourhood when George Eliot was a girl; and her
extraordinary memory allowed nothing to escape.

On the completion of 'Amos Barton,' Mr. Lewes, who, as already
mentioned, was a contributor to 'Maga.' sent the MS. to the editor, the
late Mr. John Blackwood, as the work of an anonymous friend. This was in
the autumn of 1856. The other scenes of 'Clerical Life' were then
unwritten, but the editor was informed that the story submitted to his
approval formed one of a series. Though his judgment was favourable, he
begged to see some of the other tales before accepting this, freely
making some criticisms on the plot and studies of character in 'Amos
Barton.' This, however, disheartened the author, whose peculiar
diffidence had only been overcome by Mr. Lewes's hearty commendation.
When the editor had been made aware of the injurious effect of his
objections, he hastened to efface it by accepting the tale without
further delay. It appeared soon afterwards in _Blackwood's Magazine_ for
January 1857, where it occupied the first place. This story, by some
considered as fine as anything the novelist ever wrote, came to an end
in the next number. 'Mr. Gilfil's Love Story,' and 'Janet's Repentance'
were written in quick succession, and the series was completed in
November of the same year.

Although there was nothing sufficiently sensational in these 'Scenes' to
arrest the attention of that great public which must be roused by
something new and startling, literary judges were not slow to discern
the powerful realism with which the author had drawn these
uncompromising studies from life. After the appearance of 'Amos Barton,'
Mr. Blackwood wrote to the anonymous author: "It is a long time since I
have read anything so fresh, so humorous, and so touching. The style is
capital, conveying so much in so few words." Soon afterwards he began
another letter: "My dear Amos, I forget whether I told you or Lewes that
I had shown part of the MS. to Thackeray. He was staying with me, and
having been out at dinner, came in about eleven o'clock, when I had just
finished reading it. I said to him, 'Do you know that I think I have
lighted upon a new author, who is uncommonly like a first-class
passenger.' I showed him a page or two, I think the passage where the
curate returns home and Milly is first introduced. He would not
pronounce whether it came up to my ideas, but remarked afterwards that
he would have liked to have read more, which I thought a good sign."

Dickens, after the publication of the 'Scenes,' sent a letter to the
unknown writer through the editor, warmly expressing the admiration he
felt for them. But he was strongly of opinion from the first that they
must have been written by a woman. In the meanwhile the tales were
reprinted in a collected form, and they were so successful that the
editor, writing to Mr. Lewes at the end of January 1858, when the book
had hardly been out a month, was able to say, "George Eliot has fairly
achieved a literary reputation among judges, and the public must follow,
although it may take time." And in a letter to George Eliot herself, he
wrote in February: "You will recollect, when we proposed to reprint, my
impression was that the series had not lasted long enough in the
magazine to give you a hold on the general public, although long enough
to make your literary reputation. Unless in exceptional cases, a very
long time often elapses between the two stages of reputation--the
literary and the public. Your progress will be _sure_, if not so quick
as we could wish."

While the sketches were being re-issued in book form, Messrs. Blackwood
informed its author that they saw good cause for making a large increase
in the forthcoming reprint, and their anticipations were fully justified
by its success. All sorts of rumours were abroad as to the real author
of these clerical tales. Misled by a hint, calculated to throw him off
the real scent, Mr. Blackwood was at first under the impression that
they were the work of a clergyman, and perhaps this may have been the
origin of a belief which lingered till quite recently, that George Eliot
was the daughter of a clergyman, a statement made by several of the
leading daily papers after her death. Abandoning the idea of the
clergyman, Mr. Blackwood next fixed upon a very different sort of
person, to wit, Professor Owen, whom he suspected owing to the
similarity of handwriting and the scientific knowledge so exceptional in
a novelist. No less funny was the supposition held by others of Lord
Lytton--who more than once hoaxed the public under a new literary
disguise--having at last surpassed himself in the sterling excellence of
these tales. Now that Bulwer has gone the way of all fashions, it seems
incredible that the most obtuse and slow-witted of critics should have
mistaken for a moment his high-flown sentimental style for the new
author's terse, vigorous and simple prose.

It was impossible, however, for an author to remain a mere nameless
abstraction. An appellation of some kind became an imperative necessity,
and, during the passage of 'Mr. Gilfil's Love Story' through the press,
the pseudonym of "George Eliot"--a name destined to become so justly
renowned--was finally assumed.

The 'Scenes of Clerical Life' were to George Eliot's future works what a
bold, spirited sketch is to a carefully elaborated picture. All the
qualities that distinguished her genius may be discovered in this, her
first essay in fiction. With all Miss Austen's matchless faculty for
painting commonplace characters, George Eliot has that other nobler
faculty of showing what tragedy, pathos, and humour may be lying in the
experience of a human soul "that looks out through dull grey eyes, and
that speaks in a voice of quite ordinary tones." While depicting some
commonplace detail of every day life, she has the power to make her
reader realise its close relation to the universal life. She never gives
you the mere dry bones and fragments of existence as represented in some
particular section of society, but always manages to keep before the
mind the invisible links connecting it with the world at large. In 'Mr.
Gilfil's Love Story' there is a passage as beautiful as any in her
works, and fully illustrating this attitude of her mind. It is where
Tina, finding herself deceived in Captain Wybrow, gives way to her
passionate grief in solitude.

"While this poor little heart was being bruised with a weight too heavy
for it, Nature was holding on her calm inexorable way, in unmoved and
terrible beauty. The stars were rushing in their eternal courses; the
tides swelled to the level of the last expectant weed; the sun was
making brilliant day to busy nations on the other side of the swift
earth. The stream of human thought and deed was hurrying and broadening
onward. The astronomer was at his telescope; the great ships were
labouring over the waves; the toiling eagerness of commerce, the fierce
spirit of revolution, were only ebbing in brief rest; and sleepless
statesmen were dreading the possible crisis of the morrow. What were our
little Tina and her trouble in this mighty torrent, rushing from one
awful unknown to another? Lighter than the smallest centre of quivering
life in the water-drop, hidden and uncared for as the pulse of anguish
in the breast of the tiniest bird that has fluttered down to its nest
with the long-sought food, and has found the nest torn and empty."

There is rather more incident in this story of Mr. Gilfil than in either
of the two other 'Scenes of Clerical Life.' In 'Amos Barton' the
narrative is of the simplest, as has already been indicated; and the
elements from which 'Janet's Repentance' is composed are as free from
any complex entanglement of plot. The author usually describes the most
ordinary circumstances of English life, but the powerful rendering of
the human emotions which spring from them takes a most vivid hold of the
imagination: 'Mr. Gilfil's Love-Story,' however, seems a little Italian
romance dropped on English soil.

It is, in brief, the narration of how Sir Christopher Cheverel and his
wife, during their residence at Milan, took pity on a little orphan
girl, "whose large dark eyes shone from out her queer little face like
the precious stones in a grotesque image carved in old ivory." Caterina,
or Tina as she is called, taken back to Cheverel Manor, grew up under
the care of the Baronet's wife, to whom she became endeared by her
exceptional musical talent. Sir Christopher had no children, but had
chosen his nephew, Captain Wybrow, for his heir, and planned a marriage
between him and Miss Assher, the handsome and accomplished owner of a
pretty estate. Another marriage, on which he has equally set his heart,
is that between his ward Maynard Gilfil, an open-eyed manly young fellow
destined for the Church, and the mellow-voiced, large-eyed Tina, for
whom he has long nursed an undeclared passion. But alas, for the
futility of human plans! Tina, to whom the elegant Anthony Wybrow has
been secretly professing love, suffers tortures of jealousy when he and
Miss Assher, to whom he has dutifully become engaged, come on a visit to
Cheverel Manor. The treacherous Captain, to lull the suspicions of his
betrothed, insinuates that poor Miss Sarti entertains a hopeless passion
for him, which puts the poor girl, who gets an inkling of this
double-dealing, into a frenzy of indignation. In this state she
possesses herself of a dagger, and as she is going to meet the Captain
by appointment, dreams of plunging the weapon in the traitor's heart.
But on reaching the appointed spot, she beholds the false lover
stretched motionless on the ground already--having suddenly died of
heart disease. Tina's anguish is indescribable: she gives the alarm to
the household, but stung by remorse for a contemplated revenge of which
her tender-hearted nature was utterly incapable, she flies unperceived
from the premises at night. Being searched for in vain, she is suspected
of having committed suicide. After some days of almost unbearable
suspense, news is brought that Tina is lying ill at the cottage of a
former maid in the household. With reviving hopes her anxious lover
rides to the farm, sees the half-stunned, unhappy girl, and, after a
while, manages to remove her to his sister's house. She gradually
recovers under Mrs. Heron's gentle tendance, and one day a child's
accidental striking of a deep bass note on the harpsichord suddenly
revives her old passionate delight in music. And 'the soul that was born
anew to music was born anew to love.' After a while Tina agrees to
become Mr. Gilfil's wife, who has been given the living at Shepperton,
where a happy future seems in store for the Vicar. "But the delicate
plant had been too deeply bruised, and in the struggle to put forth a
blossom it died.

"Tina died, and Maynard Gilfil's love went with her into deep silence
for evermore."

Besides this sympathy with the homeliest characters and situations, or,
more properly speaking, springing from it, there already runs through
these three tales the delicious vein of humour irradiating George
Eliot's otherwise sombre pictures of life with sudden flashes of mirth
as of sunlight trembling above dark waters. In this depth and richness
of humour George Eliot not only takes precedence of all other
distinguished women, but she stands among them without a rival. Hers is
that thoughtful outlook on life, that infinite depth of observation
which, taking note of the inconsistencies and the blunders, the
self-delusions and "fantastic pranks" of her fellow-men, finds the
source of laughter very near to tears; never going out of her way for
the eccentric and peculiar in human nature, seeing that human nature
itself appears to her as the epitome of all incongruity. It is this
breadth of conception and unerringness of vision piercing through the
external and accidental to the core of man's mixed nature which give
certain of her creations something of the life-like complexity of
Shakespeare's.

Her power of rendering the idiom and manners of peasants, artisans, and
paupers, of calling up before us the very gestures and phrases of
parsons, country practitioners, and other varieties of inhabitants of
our provincial towns and rural districts, already manifests itself fully
in these clerical stories. Here we find such types as Mr. Dempster, the
unscrupulous, brutal, drunken lawyer; Mr. Pilgrim, the tall, heavy,
rough-mannered, and spluttering doctor, profusely addicted to bleeding
and blistering his patients; Mr. Gilfil, the eccentric vicar, with a
tender love-story hidden beneath his rugged exterior; the large-hearted,
unfortunate Janet, rescued from moral ruin by Mr. Tryan, the ascetic
evangelical clergyman, whose character, the author remarks, might have
been found sadly wanting in perfection by feeble and fastidious minds,
but, as she adds, "The blessed work of helping the world forward happily
does not wait to be done by perfect men; and I should imagine that
neither Luther nor John Bunyan, for example, would have satisfied the
modern demand for an ideal hero, who believes nothing but what is true,
feels nothing but what is exalted, and does nothing but what is
graceful. The real heroes of God's making are quite different: they have
their natural heritage of love and conscience, which they drew in with
their mother's milk; they know one or two of those deep spiritual truths
which are only to be won by long wrestling with their own sins and their
own sorrows; they have earned faith and strength so far as they have
done genuine work, but the rest is dry, barren theory, blank prejudice,
vague hearsay."

George Eliot's early acquaintance with many types of the clerical
character, and her sympathy with the religious life in all its
manifestations, was never more fully shown than in these 'Scenes.' In
'Janet's Repentance' we already discover one of George Eliot's favourite
psychological studies--the awakening of a morally mixed nature to a new,
a spiritual life. This work of regeneration Mr. Tryan performs for
Janet, Felix Holt for Esther, and Daniel Deronda for Gwendolen. Her
protest against the application of too lofty a moral standard in judging
of our fellow-creatures, her championship of the "mongrel, ungainly dogs
who are nobody's pets," is another of the prominent qualities of her
genius fully expressed in this firstling work, being, indeed, at the
root of her humorous conception of life. One of the finest bits of
humour in the present volume is the scene in 'Amos Barton,' which occurs
at the workhouse, euphemistically called the "College." Mr. Barton,
having just finished his address to the paupers, is thus accosted by Mr.
Spratt, "a small-featured, small-statured man, with a remarkable power
of language, mitigated by hesitation, who piqued himself on expressing
unexceptionable sentiments in unexceptionable language on all occasions.

"'Mr. Barton, sir--aw--aw--excuse my trespassing on your time--aw--to
beg that you will administer a rebuke to this boy; he is--aw--aw--most
inveterate in ill-behaviour during service-time.'

"The inveterate culprit was a boy of seven, vainly contending against
'candles' at his nose by feeble sniffing. But no sooner had Mr. Spratt
uttered his impeachment than Mrs. Fodge rushed forward, and placed
herself between Mr. Barton and the accused.

"'That's _my_ child, Muster Barton,' she exclaimed, further manifesting
her maternal instincts by applying her apron to her offspring's nose.
'He's aly's a-findin' faut wi' him, and a-poundin' him for nothin'. Let
him goo an' eat his roost goose as is a-smellin' up in our noses while
we're a-swallering them greasy broth, an' let my boy alooan.'

"Mr. Spratt's small eyes flashed, and he was in danger of uttering
sentiments not unexceptionable before the clergyman; but Mr. Barton,
foreseeing that a prolongation of this episode would not be to
edification, said 'Silence!' in his severest tones.

"'Let me hear no abuse. Your boy is not likely to behave well, if you
set him the example of being saucy.' Then stooping down to Master Fodge,
and taking him by the shoulder, 'Do you like being beaten?'

"'No--a.'

"'Then what a silly boy you are to be naughty. If you were not naughty,
you wouldn't be beaten. But if you are naughty, God will be angry, as
well as Mr. Spratt; and God can burn you for ever. That will be worse
than being beaten.'

"Master Fodge's countenance was neither affirmative nor negative of this
proposition.

"'But,' continued Mr. Barton, 'if you will be a good boy, God will love
you, and you will grow up to be a good man. Now, let me hear next
Thursday that you have been a good boy.'

"Master Fodge had no distinct vision of the benefit that would accrue to
him from this change of courses."



CHAPTER VIII.

ADAM BEDE.


Rarely has a novelist come to his task with such a far-reaching culture,
such an intellectual grasp, as George Eliot. We have seen her girlhood
occupied with an extraordinary variety of studies; we have seen her
plunged in abstruse metaphysical speculations; we have seen her
translating some of the most laborious philosophical investigations of
German thinkers; we have seen her again translating from the Latin the
'Ethics' of Spinoza; and, finally, we have seen her attracting, and
attracted by, some of the leaders in science, philosophy, and
literature.

Compared with such qualifications who among novelists could compete?
What could a Dickens, or a Thackeray himself, throw into the opposing
scale? Lewes, indeed, was a match for her in variety of attainments, but
he had made several attempts at fiction, and the attempts had proved
failures. When at last, in the maturity of her powers, George Eliot
produced 'Adam Bede,' she produced a novel in which the amplest results
of knowledge and meditation were so happily blended with instinctive
insight into life and character, and the rarest dramatic imagination,
as to stamp it immediately as one of the great triumphs and masterpieces
in the world of fiction.

It is worth noticing that in 'Adam Bede' George Eliot fulfils to the
utmost the demands which she had been theoretically advocating in her
essays. In some of these she had not only eloquently enforced the
importance of a truthful adherence to nature, but had pointed out how
the artist is thus in the very vanguard of social and political reforms;
as in familiarising the imagination with the real condition of the
people, he did much towards creating that sympathy with their wants,
their trials, and their sufferings, which would eventually effect
external changes in harmony with this better understanding. Such had
been her teaching. And in Dickens she had recognised the one great
novelist who, in certain respects, had painted the lower orders with
unerring truthfulness. His "Oliver Twists," his "Nancys," his "Joes,"
were terrible and pathetic pictures of the forlorn outcasts haunting our
London streets. And if, as George Eliot says, Dickens had been able to
"give us their psychological character, their conception of life and
their emotions, with the same truth as their idiom and manners, his
books would be the greatest contribution Art has ever made to the
awakening of social sympathies." Now George Eliot absolutely does what
Dickens aimed at doing. She not merely seizes the outward and accidental
traits of her characters: she pierces with unerring vision to the very
core of their nature, and enables us to realise the peculiarly subtle
relations between character and circumstance. Her primary object is to
excite our sympathy with the most ordinary aspects of human life, with
the people that one may meet any day in the fields, the workshops, and
the homes of England. Her most vivid creations are not exceptional
beings, not men or women pre-eminently conspicuous for sublime heroism
of character or magnificent mental endowments, but work-a-day folk,


            "Not too fine or good
     For human nature's daily food."


To this conscientious fidelity of observation and anxious endeavour to
report the truth and nothing but the truth, as of a witness in a court
of justice, are owing that life-like vividness with which the scenery
and people in 'Adam Bede' seem projected on the reader's imagination.
The story, indeed, is so intensely realistic as to have given rise to
the idea that it is entirely founded on fact. That there is such a
substratum is hardly a matter of doubt, and there have been various
publications all tending to prove that the chief characters in 'Adam
Bede' were not only very faithful copies of living people, but of people
closely connected with its author. To some extent this is
incontrovertible. But, on the other hand, there is a likelihood of the
fictitious events having in their turn been grafted on to actual
personages and occurrences, till the whole has become so fused together
as to lead some persons to the firm conviction that Dinah Morris is
absolutely identical with Mrs. Elizabeth Evans, the Derbyshire
Methodist. Such a supposition would help to reconcile the conflicting
statements respectively made by the great novelist and the writers of
two curious little books entitled 'Seth Bede, the Methody, his Life and
Labours,' chiefly written by himself, and 'George Eliot in Derbyshire,'
by Guy Roslyn.

From these brochures one gathers that Hayslope, where the rustic drama
of 'Adam Bede' unfolds itself, is the village of Ellaston, not far from
Ashbourne in Staffordshire. This village is so little altered that the
traveller may still see the sign-board of the "Donnithorne Arms," and
the red brick hall, only with windows no longer unpatched. Samuel,
William, and Robert Evans (the father of the novelist) were born in this
place, and began life as carpenters, as their father before them. Samuel
Evans became a zealous Methodist, and was rather laughed at by his
family in consequence, for he says, "My elder brothers often tried to
tease me; they entertained High Church principles. They told me what
great blunders I made in preaching and prayer; that I had more zeal than
knowledge." In this, as in other respects, he is the prototype of Seth,
as Adam resembles Robert Evans, one of the more secular elder brothers,
only that in real life it was Samuel who married Elizabeth, the Dinah
Morris of fiction.

Much has been written about this Elizabeth Evans (the aunt of George
Eliot, already spoken of): indeed, her life was one of such rare
devotion to an ideal cause, that even such imperfect fragments of it as
have been committed to writing by herself or her friends are of
considerable interest. Elizabeth was born at Newbold in Leicestershire,
and left her father's house when little more than fourteen years old.
She joined the Methodists in 1797, after which she had entirely done
with the pleasures of the world and all her old companions. "I saw it my
duty," she says, "to leave off all my superfluities of dress; hence I
pulled off all my bunches, cut off my curls left off my lace, and in
this I found an unspeakable pleasure. I saw I could make a better use of
my time and money than to follow the fashions of a vain world." While
still a beautiful young girl, attired in a quaker dress and bonnet, she
used to walk across those bleak Derbyshire hills looking so strangely
mournful in their treeless nudity, with their bare stone fences grey
against a greyer sky. Here she trudged from village to village gathering
the poor about her, and pouring forth words of such earnest conviction
that, as she says, "Many were brought to the Lord." The points of
resemblance between her career and that of Dinah Morris cannot fail to
strike the reader, even their phraseology being often singularly alike,
as when Mrs. Evans writes in the short account of what she calls her
"unprofitable life:" "I saw it my duty to be wholly devoted to God, and
to be set apart for the Master's use;" while Dinah says: "My life is too
short, and God's work is too great for me to think of making a home for
myself in this world." It must be borne in mind, however, that these
similarities of expression are natural enough when one considers that
Dinah is a type of the same old-fashioned kind of Methodism to which
Mrs. Evans belonged. What is perhaps stranger is, that the account given
by George Eliot of her various meetings with her aunt, Mrs. Elizabeth
Evans, should differ considerably from what the latter herself
remembered or has stated about them. Shortly after the appearance of
'Adam Bede,' attention had been publicly called to the identity of the
heroine of fiction with the Methodist preacher. This conviction was so
strong in Wirksworth, that a number of friends placed a memorial tablet
in the Methodist chapel at Wirksworth with the following inscription:--


                 ERECTED BY GRATEFUL FRIENDS,

                         In Memory of

                      MRS. ELIZABETH EVANS,

             (KNOWN TO THE WORLD AS "DINAH BEDE ")

       WHO DURING MANY YEARS PROCLAIMED ALIKE IN THE
           OPEN AIR, THE SANCTUARY, AND FROM HOUSE
                           TO HOUSE,

                     THE LOVE OF CHRIST:

     SHE DIED IN THE LORD, MAY 9TH, 1849; AGED 74 YEARS.


In order to give a correct notion of the amount of truth in her novel,
George Eliot wrote in the following terms to her friend Miss Hennell on
the 7th of October, 1859: "I should like, while the subject is vividly
present with me, to tell you more exactly than I have ever yet done,
_what_ I knew of my aunt, Elizabeth Evans. My father, you know, lived in
Warwickshire all my life with him, having finally left Staffordshire
first, and then Derbyshire, six or seven years before he married my
mother. There was hardly any intercourse between my father's family,
resident in Derbyshire and Staffordshire, and our family--few and far
between visits of (to my childish feeling) strange uncles and aunts and
cousins from my father's far-off native county, and once a journey of my
own, as a little child, with my father and mother, to see my uncle
William (a rich builder) in Staffordshire--but _not_ my uncle and aunt
Samuel, so far as I can recall the dim outline of things--are what I
remember of northerly relatives in my childhood.

"But when I was seventeen or more--after my sister was married, and I
was mistress of the house--my father took a journey into Derbyshire, in
which, visiting my uncle and aunt Samuel, who were very poor, and lived
in a humble cottage at Wirksworth, he found my aunt in a very delicate
state of health after a serious illness, and, to do her bodily good, he
persuaded her to return with him, telling her that _I_ should be very,
very happy to have her with me for a few weeks. I was then strongly
under the influence of evangelical belief, and earnestly endeavouring to
shape this anomalous English-Christian life of ours into some
consistency with the spirit and simple verbal tenor of the New
Testament. I _was_ delighted to see my aunt. Although I had only heard
her spoken of as a strange person, given to a fanatical vehemence of
exhortation in private as well as public, I believed that I should find
sympathy between us. She was then an old woman--above sixty--and, I
believe, had for a good many years given up preaching. A tiny little
woman, with bright, small dark eyes, and hair that had been black, I
imagine, but was now grey--a pretty woman in her youth, but of a totally
different physical type from Dinah. The difference--as you will
believe--was not _simply_ physical; no difference is. She was a woman of
strong natural excitability, which I know, from the description I have
heard my father and half-sister give, prevented her from the exercise of
discretion under the promptings of her zeal. But this vehemence was now
subdued by age and sickness; she was very gentle and quiet in her
manners, very loving, and (what she must have been from the very first),
a truly religious soul, in whom the love of God and love of man were
fused together. There was nothing rightly distinctive in her religious
conversation. I had had much intercourse with pious dissenters before;
the only freshness I found in her talk came from the fact that she had
been the greater part of her life a Wesleyan, and though _she left the
society when women were no longer allowed to preach_, and joined the New
Wesleyans, she retained the character of thought that belongs to the
genuine old Wesleyan. I had never talked with a Wesleyan before, and we
used to have little debates about predestination, for I was then a
strong Calvinist. Here her superiority came out, and I remember now,
with loving admiration, one thing which at the time I disapproved; it
was not strictly a consequence of her Arminian belief, and at first
sight might seem opposed to it, yet it came from the spirit of love
which clings to the bad logic of Arminianism. When my uncle came to
fetch her, after she had been with us a fortnight or three weeks, he was
speaking of a deceased minister once greatly respected, who, from the
action of trouble upon him, had taken to small tippling, though
otherwise not culpable. 'But I hope the good man's in heaven for all
that,' said my uncle. 'Oh yes,' said my aunt, with a deep inward groan
of joyful conviction, 'Mr. A.'s in heaven, that's sure.' This was at the
time an offence to my stern, ascetic, hard views--how beautiful it is to
me now!

"As to my aunt's conversation, it is a fact that the only two things of
any interest I remember in our lonely sittings and walks are her telling
me one sunny afternoon how she had, with another pious woman, visited an
unhappy girl in prison, stayed with her all night, and gone with her to
execution; and one or two accounts of supposed miracles in which she
believed, among the rest, _the face with the crown of thorns seen in
the glass_. In her account of the prison scenes I remember no word she
uttered; I only remember her tone and manner, and the deep feeling I had
under the recital. Of the girl she knew nothing, I believe, or told me
nothing, but that she was a common, coarse girl, convicted of
child-murder. The incident lay in my mind for years on years, as a dead
germ, apparently, till time had made my mind a nidus in which it could
fructify; it then turned out to be the germ of 'Adam Bede.'

"I saw my aunt twice after this. Once I spent a day and night with my
father in the Wirksworth cottage, sleeping with my aunt, I remember. Our
interview was less interesting than in the former time; I think I was
less simply devoted to religious ideas. And once again she came with my
uncle to see me, when father and I were living at Foleshill; _then_
there was some pain, for I had given up the form of Christian belief,
and was in a crude state of freethinking. She stayed about three or four
days, I think. This is all I remember distinctly, as matter I could
write down, of my dear aunt, whom I really loved. You see how she
suggested 'Dinah;' but it is not possible you should see, as I do, how
entirely her individuality differed from 'Dinah's.' How curious it seems
to me that people should think 'Dinah's' sermon, prayers, and speeches
were _copied_, when they were written with hot tears as they surged up
in my own mind!

"As to my indebtedness to facts of local and personal history of a small
kind connected with Staffordshire and Derbyshire, you may imagine of
what kind that is, when I tell you that I never remained in either of
those counties more than a few days together, and of only two such
visits have I more than a shadowy, interrupted recollection. The details
which I know as facts, and have made use of for my picture, were
gathered from such imperfect allusion and narrative as I heard from my
father in his occasional talk about old times.

"As to my aunt's children or grandchildren saying, if they _did_ say,
that 'Dinah' is a good portrait of my aunt, that is simply the vague,
easily-satisfied notion imperfectly-instructed people always have of
portraits. It is not surprising that simple men and women, without
pretension to enlightened discrimination, should think a generic
resemblance constitutes a portrait, when we see the great public, so
accustomed to be delighted with _mis_-representations of life and
character, which they accept as representations, that they are
scandalised when art makes a nearer approach to truth.

"Perhaps I am doing a superfluous thing in writing all this to you, but
I am prompted to do it by the feeling that in future years 'Adam Bede,'
and all that concerns it, may have become a dim portion of the past, and
that I may not be able to recall so much of the truth as I have now told
you."

Nothing could prove more conclusively how powerful was the impression
which 'Adam Bede' created than this controversy concerning the amount of
truth which its characters contained. But, as hinted before, it seems
very likely that some of the doings and sayings of the fictitious
personages should have been attributed, almost unconsciously, to the
real people whom they resembled. How quick is the popular imagination in
effecting these transformations came only quite recently under my
notice, when some English travellers, while visiting Château d'If, were
taken by the guide in perfect good faith to see the actual dungeon where
Monte Christo was imprisoned! Similarly, one would think, that the
moving sermon preached by Dinah on the Green at Hayslope had been
afterwards erroneously ascribed to Mrs. Elizabeth Evans. But an account
recently published in the _Century Magazine_ by one who had long known
the Evanses of Wirksworth, seems irreconcilable with such a supposition.
According to this writer it would appear that besides the visits to her
aunt at Wirksworth, of which George Eliot speaks in the letter just
quoted, there was one other of which no mention is made. This visit,
which she paid her cousin, Mr. Samuel Evans, occurred in 1842, when she
remained a week at his house in Wirksworth. The aunt and niece were in
the habit of seeing each other every day for several hours at this time.
They usually met at the house of one of the married daughters of Mrs.
Elizabeth Evans, holding long conversations while sitting by themselves
in the parlour. "These secret conversations," says the writer of the
article, "excited some curiosity in the family, and one day one of the
daughters said, 'Mother, I can't think what thee and Mary Ann have got
to talk about so much.' To which Mrs. Evans replied: 'Well, my dear, I
don't know what she wants, but she gets me to tell her all about my life
and my religious experience, and she puts it all down in a little book.
I can't make out what she wants it for.'" After her departure, Mrs.
Evans is reported to have said to her daughter, "Oh dear, Mary Ann has
got one thing I did not mean her to take away, and that is the notes of
the first sermon I preached at Ellaston Green." According to the same
authority, Marian Evans took notes of everything people said in her
hearing: no matter who was speaking, down it went into the note-book,
which seemed never out of her hand; and these notes she is said to have
transcribed every night before going to bed. Yet this habit was foreign
to her whole character, and the friends who knew her most intimately in
youth and later life never remember seeing her resort to such a
practice. Be that as it may, there can be no doubt that the novelist
very freely used many of the circumstances connected with her aunt's
remarkable career. How closely she adhered to nature is shown by the
fact that in Mrs. Poyser and Bartle Massey she retained the actual names
of the characters portrayed, as they happened to be both dead. Bartle
Massey, the village cynic, had been the schoolmaster of her father,
Robert Evans. How accurately the latter, together with all his
surroundings, was described is shown by the following anecdote. On its
first appearance 'Adam Bede' was read aloud to an old man, an intimate
associate of Robert Evans in his Staffordshire days. This man knew
nothing concerning either author or subject beforehand, and his
astonishment was boundless on recognising so many friends and incidents
of his own youth portrayed with unerring fidelity. He sat up half the
night listening to the story in breathless excitement, now and then
slapping his knee as he exclaimed, "That's Robert, that's Robert to the
life."

Although Wirksworth is not the locality described in 'Adam Bede,' it
contains features recalling that quaint little market-town, where over
the door of one of the old-fashioned houses may be read the name made
illustrious by the inimitable Mrs. Poyser. In the neighbourhood, too,
are "Arkwright's mills there at Cromford," casually alluded to by Adam
Bede; and should the tourist happen to enter one of the cottages of grey
stone, with blue-washed door and window-frames, he may still alight on
specimens of Methodism, as devout as Seth Bede, eloquently expounding
the latest political event by some prophecy of Daniel or Ezekiel. In
short, one breathes the atmosphere in which such characters as Dinah and
Seth actually lived and had their being. This uncompromising Realism, so
far from detracting, only enhances the genius of this powerful novel. A
thousand writers might have got hold of these identical materials: a
George Eliot alone could have cast these materials into the mould of
'Adam Bede.' Let any one glance at the account of their religious
experiences, as given by Elizabeth or Samuel Evans, and he will realise
all the more strongly how great was the genius of her who transfused
these rambling, commonplace effusions into such an artistic whole. I
have entered so minutely into this question of the likeness between the
actual characters and those in the novel purely on account of the
biographical interest attaching to it. In judging of 'Adam Bede' as a
work of art these facts possess next to no importance. If we could trace
the characters in any one of Shakespeare's plays to human beings
actually connected with the poet, we should consider such a discovery
immensely valuable as throwing new light on his own life, though it
would hardly affect our critical estimate of the drama itself.

So much has been said already about the characters in 'Adam Bede' in
connection with the real people they resemble, that little need be added
here about them. Dinah Morris--the youthful preacher, whose eloquence
is but the natural, almost involuntary manifestation in words, of a
beautiful soul; whose spring of love is so abundant that it overflows
the narrow limits of private affection, and blesses multitudes of
toiling, suffering men and women with its wealth of pity, hope, and
sympathy--was a new creation in the world of fiction. Some writer has
pointed out a certain analogy between the sweet Derbyshire Methodist and
the gentle pietist whose confessions form a very curious chapter of
'Wilhelm Meister.' But the two characters are too dissimilar for
comparison. The German heroine is a dreamy, passive, introspective
nature, feeling much but doing little; whereas the English preacher does
not inquire too curiously into the mysteries of her faith, but moved by
the spirit of its teaching goes about actively, participating in the
lives of others by her rousing words and her acts of charity. Only a
woman would or could have described just such a woman as this: a woman
whose heart is centred in an impersonal ideal instead of in any
individual object of love; whereas a man's heroine always has her
existence rooted in some personal affection or passion, whether for
parent or lover, child or husband. This makes Dinah less romantically
interesting than Hetty Sorrel, the beautiful, kittenlike, self-involved
creature with whom she is so happily contrasted. George Eliot never drew
a more living figure than this of Hetty, hiding such a hard little heart
under that soft dimpling beauty of hers. Again, I think that only a
woman would have depicted just such a Hetty as this. The personal charms
of this young girl are drawn in words that have the glow of life itself;
yet while intensely conscious of her beauty, we are kept aware all the
time that, to use one of the famous Mrs. Poyser's epigrammatic sayings,
Hetty is "no better nor a cherry wi' a hard stone inside it." George
Eliot is never dazzled or led away by her own bewitching creation as a
man would have been. There is a certain pitilessness in her analysis of
Hetty's shallow, frivolous little soul, almost as if she were
saying--See here, what stuff this beauty which you adore is made of in
reality! To quote her own subtle, far-reaching interpretation of beauty:
"Hetty's face had a language that transcended her feelings. There are
faces which nature charges with a meaning and pathos not belonging to
the simple human soul that flutters beneath them, but speaking the joys
and sorrows of foregone generations; eyes that tell of deep love which
doubtless has been and is somewhere, but not paired with these eyes,
perhaps paired with pale eyes that can say nothing, just as a national
language may be instinct with poetry unfelt by the lips that use it."

The sensation created by 'Adam Bede' was shown in other ways besides the
claim of some to have discovered the original characters of this
striking novel. The curiosity of the public was naturally much exercised
as to who the unknown author could possibly be, who had so suddenly
leaped into fame. And now there comes on the scene an individual who
does not claim to be the living model of one of the characters
portrayed, but to be the author of the book himself. And the name of
this person was Liggins!

While the 'Scenes of Clerical Life' were yet appearing in _Blackwood's
Magazine_ the inhabitants of Nuneaton and its neighbourhood were
considerably perplexed and excited to find well-known places and
persons touched off to the life. In Amos Barton they recognised the
incumbent of Coton Church, in Mr. Pilgrim a medical man familiar to
every child in the town, and indeed in every one of the characters an
equally unmistakable portrait. Clearly no one but a fellow-townsman
could have hit off these wonderful likenesses. Literary talent not being
too abundant, their choice of an author was limited. The only man who by
any stretch of imagination seemed to have the making of a man of letters
in him was this above-mentioned Liggins. To have studied at Cambridge,
gallantly run through a fortune, and be in very needy circumstances,
were exactly the qualifications to be expected in a man of genius.
Further evidence seeming unnecessary, the real authorship of the
'Scenes' was now revealed in an Isle of Man paper. At first the reputed
author gently denied the impeachment, but on the appearance of 'Adam
Bede' he succumbed to the temptation. To be fêted at dinner parties as a
successful author, and to have a subscription set on foot by
enthusiastic lady-admirers and fellow-townsmen, in whose eyes he was a
sadly unrequited genius, proved irresistible. A local clergyman even
wrote to the _Times_ stating Liggins to be the real surname of "George
Eliot!" The latter wrote, of course, denying the statement, and
challenging the pretender to produce some specimen of his writing in the
style of 'Adam Bede.' But the confidence of the Nuneaton public in their
hero Liggins was not to be so easily shaken. Two dissenting ministers
from Coventry went over to Attleborough to call upon the "great author,"
and to find out if he really did write 'Adam Bede.' Liggins evaded their
questions, indirectly admitting that he did; but when they asked him
point blank, "Liggins, tell us, _did_ you write 'Adam Bede'?" he said,
"If I didn't, the devil did!" and that was all they could get out of
him. Another clergyman was much less sceptical, assuring every one that
he was positive as to Liggins being the author, as he had seen the MS.
of 'Adam Bede' in his hands. To this day there lives in the Isle of Man
a certain venerable old gentleman who has never lost his faith in
Liggins, but, when George Eliot is mentioned, gravely shakes his head,
implying that there is more in the name than meets the eye of the
superficial observer. But a heavy retribution befell the poor
pseudo-author at last, for when his false pretences to favour were fully
manifest he fell into utter neglect and poverty, ending his days in the
workhouse.

This foolish misrepresentation hastened the disclosure of George Eliot's
real personality and name, which occurred on the publication of the
'Mill on the Floss.' Shortly before that, Mr. Blackwood, who had long
entertained the wish to know the author of the 'Scenes of Clerical Life'
and of 'Adam Bede,' was invited by Lewes to meet him at last. No one was
present at the dinner-table besides Mr. Lewes, Marian, and Mr. Blackwood
himself. The dinner was an extremely pleasant one, but when it was over,
the guest could not help expressing his regret that George Eliot himself
should not have been present. "Here he is," said Lewes, introducing the
quiet, low-spoken lady who had presided at table, not without enjoyment
at the sensation he produced as the astonished publisher shook hands
with his contributor.



CHAPTER IX.

THE MILL ON THE FLOSS.


While the public had been trying to discover who the mysterious George
Eliot could possibly be, one person there was who immediately penetrated
the disguise, and felt positive as to the identity of the author. On
reading the 'Scenes,' and especially 'Adam Bede,' he was convinced that
no one but a member of his own family could have written these stories.
He recognised incidents, touches, a saying here or there, just the
things that no one outside his own home could by any chance have come
upon. But George Eliot's brother kept this discovery closely locked
within his own breast. He trembled lest any one else should discover the
secret, fearing the outcry of neighbours who might not always feel that
the author had represented them in colours sufficiently flattering.

When the 'Mill on the Floss' appeared, however, the veil was lifted, and
people heard that George Eliot had once been a Miss Marian Evans, who
came from the neighbourhood of Nuneaton in Warwickshire. To her brother
Isaac alone this was no news, as he had detected his sister in the first
of the 'Scenes.' The child-life of Tom and Maggie Tulliver was in many
respects an autobiography; and no biographer can ever hope to describe
the early history of George Eliot as she herself has done in the 'Mill
on the Floss.' How many joys and griefs of those happy careless days
must have been recalled to her brother--those days when little Mary Ann
had sat poring over Daniel Defoe's 'History of the Devil'--or sought
refuge in the attic at Griff house, after a quarrel with him: "This
attic was Maggie's favourite retreat on a wet day, when the weather was
not too cold; here she fretted out all her ill-humours, and talked aloud
to the worm-eaten floors and the worm-eaten shelves, and the dark
rafters festooned with cobwebs; and here she kept a Fetish which she
punished for all her misfortunes. This was the trunk of a large wooden
doll, which once stared with the roundest of eyes above the reddest of
cheeks, but was now entirely defaced by a long career of vicarious
suffering. Three nails driven into the head commemorated as many crises
in Maggie's nine years of earthly struggle, that luxury of vengeance
having been suggested to her by the picture of Jael destroying Sisera in
the old Bible."

Again, at some fields' distance from their old home there had been a
"Round Pool" called "The Moat," "almost a perfect round, framed in with
willows and tall reeds, so that the water was only to be seen when you
got close to the brink." This was a favourite resort of Isaac and Mary
Ann, as also of Tom and his sister when they went fishing together, and
"Maggie thought it probable that the small fish would come to her hook
and the large ones to Tom's." The "Red Deeps," too, where Maggie loved
to walk in June, when the "dog-roses were in their glory," and where she
lived through many phases of her shifting inner life was in the same
vicinity, and at one time a beloved haunt of the future novelist.

But although some of the spots mentioned in the 'Mill on the Floss'
have been easily identified as connected with George Eliot's early home,
the scenery of that novel is mainly laid in Lincolnshire. St. Oggs, with
"its red-fluted roofs and broad warehouse gables," is the ancient town
of Gainsborough. The Floss is a tidal river like the Trent, and in each
case the spring-tide, rushing up the river with its terrific wave and
flooding the land for miles round, is known as the Eagre, a name not a
little descriptive of the thing itself.

The 'Mill on the Floss' (a title adopted by the author at the suggestion
of Mr. Blackwood in preference to 'Sister Maggie') is the most poetical
of George Eliot's novels. The great Floss, hurrying between green
pastures to the sea, gives a unity of its own to this story, which opens
to the roar of waters, the weltering waters which accompany it at the
close. It forms the elemental background which rounds the little lives
of the ill-starred family group nurtured on its banks. The childhood of
Tom and Maggie Tulliver is inextricably blended with this swift river,
the traditions of which have been to them as fairy tales; its haunting
presence is more or less with them throughout their chequered existence;
and when pride and passion, when shame and sorrow have divided the
brother and sister, pursued as by some tragic fate, the Floss seems to
rise in sympathy, and submerges them in its mighty waters to unite them
once more "in an embrace never to be parted." It cannot fail to strike
the reader that in almost every one of George Eliot's novels there
occurs a death by drowning: as in the instance of Thias Bede, of Dunstan
Cass, of Henleigh Grandcourt, and nearly in that of Tito. This may be
accounted for by the fact that as a child the novelist became acquainted
with the sudden death of a near relative who had accidentally fallen
into a stream: an incident which sunk deeply into her retentive mind.

Fate plays a very conspicuous part in this as in most of George Eliot's
novels. But it is not the Fate of the Greeks, it is not a power that
affects human existence from without: it rather lies at the root of it,
more or less shaping that existence according to obscure inherited
tendencies, and in the collision between character and circumstance,
between passion and law, potent only in proportion as the individual
finally issues conquered or a conqueror from the struggle of life. This
action of character on circumstance, and of circumstance on character is
an ever-recurring _motif_ with George Eliot. We constantly see adverse
circumstances modifying and moulding the lives of the actors in her
stories. She has hardly, if ever, therefore, drawn a hero or heroine,
for these, instead of yielding, make circumstances yield to them.
Dorothea and Lydgate in abandoning their striving after the highest kind
of life; Tito in invariably yielding to the most pleasurable prompting
of the moment; Gwendolen in being mainly influenced by circumstances
acting on her, without her reacting on them, are all types of this kind.

Maggie belongs, on the whole, to the same type. She, too, is what Goethe
calls a problematic nature, a nature which, along with vast
possibilities and lofty aspirations, lacks a certain fixity of purpose,
and drifting helplessly from one extreme to another, is shattered almost
as soon as it has put out of port. In Maggie's case this evil springs
from the very fulness of her nature; from the acuteness of an
imagination which the many-sidedness of life attracts by turns in the
most opposite directions. Tom, on the other hand, with his narrow
practical understanding, entirely concentrated on the business in hand,
swerves neither to right nor left, because he may be said to resemble a
horse with blinkers, in that he sees only the road straight ahead.
Maggie, with all her palpable weaknesses and startling inconsistencies,
is the most adorable of George Eliot's women. In all poetry and fiction
there is no child more delicious than the "little wench" with her loving
heart and dreamy ways, her rash impulses and wild regrets, her fine
susceptibilities and fiery jets of temper--in a word, her singularly
fresh and vital nature. The same charm pervades every phase of her life.
In her case the child, if I may so far modify Wordsworth's famous
saying, is eminently the mother of the woman.

Profoundly affectionate by nature, and sympathising as she does with her
father in his calamity, she cannot help rebelling at the sordid
narrowness of her daily life, passionately craving for a wider field
wherein to develop her inborn faculties. In this state of yearning and
wild unrest, her accidental reading of Thomas à Kempis forms a crisis in
her life, by bringing about a spiritual awakening in which Christianity,
for the first time, becomes a living truth to her. Intense as she is,
Maggie now throws all the ardour of her nature into renunciation and
self-conquest. She seeks her highest satisfaction in abnegation of all
personal desire, and in entire devotion to others. In her young
asceticism she relinquishes a world of which she is ignorant, stifling
every impulse, however innocent, that seems opposed to her new faith.

But Maggie has more actual affinity with poets and artists than with
saints and martyrs. Her soul thrills like a finely-touched instrument to
the beauty of the world around her, and though she doubts whether there
may not even be a sinfulness in the indulgence of this enjoyment, yet
the summer flowers and the summer sunshine put her scruples to flight.
And then, when, through the intervention of Philip Wakem, the
enchantments of romance and poetry are brought within her reach, the
glory of the world again lays hold of her imagination, and a fresh
conflict is begun in her soul. Thus she drifts from one state into
another most opposed to it, and to an outside observer, such as Tom, her
abrupt transitions are a sign that she is utterly wanting in moral
stamina.

Not only Tom, but many eminent critics, who have descanted with fond
partiality on Maggie's early life, seem to be shocked by that part of
her story in which she allows herself to fall passionately in love with
such an ordinary specimen of manhood as Stephen Guest. The author has
even been accused of violating the truth of Nature, inasmuch as such a
high-minded woman as Maggie could never have inclined to so vulgar, so
commonplace a man as her lover. Others, while not questioning the truth
of the character, find fault with the poor heroine herself, whom they
pronounce an ineffective nature revealing its innate unsoundness by the
crowning error of an abject passion for so poor a creature as the dandy
of St. Oggs. This contention only proves the singular vitality of the
character itself, and nothing is more psychologically true in George
Eliot's studies of character than this love of the high-souled heroine
for a man who has no corresponding fineness of fibre in his nature, his
attraction lying entirely in the magnetism of mutual passion. This
vitality places Maggie Tulliver by the side of the Juliets, the Mignons,
the Consuelos, the Becky Sharps and other airy inheritors of
immortality. It is curious that Mr. Swinburne, in view of such a
character as this, or, indeed, bearing in mind a Silas Marner, a Dolly
Winthrop, a Tito, and other intrinsically living reproductions of human
nature, should describe George Eliot's as intellectually constructed
characters in contrast to Charlotte Brontë's creations, the former,
according to him, being the result of intellect, the latter of genius.
If ever character came simply dropped out of the mould of Nature it is
that of Maggie. His assumption, that the 'Mill on the Floss' can in any
sense have been suggested by, or partially based upon, Mrs. Gaskell's
story of 'The Moorland Cottage,' seems equally baseless. There is
certainly the identity of name in the heroines, and some resemblance of
situation as regards portions of the story, but both the name and the
situation are sufficiently common not to excite astonishment at such a
coincidence. Had George Eliot really known of this tale--a tale feebly
executed at the best--she would obviously have altered the name so as
not to make her obligation too patent to the world. As it is, she was
not a little astonished and even indignant, on accidentally seeing this
opinion stated in some review, and positively denied ever having seen
the story in question.

Indeed when one knows how this story grew out of her own experience, how
its earlier portions especially are a record of her own and her
brother's childhood--how even Mrs. Glegg and Mrs. Pullet were only too
faithfully done from the aunts of real life, one need not go far afield
to seek for its origin. Every author usually writes one book, which he
might more or less justly entitle 'My Confessions,' into which he pours
an intimate part of his life under a thin disguise of fiction, a book
invariably exciting a unique kind of interest in the reader be he
conscious or not of the presence of this autobiographical element.
Fielding's 'Amelia,' Thackeray's 'Pendennis,'Dickens's 'David
Copperfield,' Charlotte Brontë's 'Villette,' are cases in point. The
'Mill on the Floss' is a work of similar nature. Maggie Tulliver is
George Eliot herself, but only one side, one portion, one phase of
George Eliot's many-sided, vastly complex nature. It is George Eliot's
inner life in childhood and youth as it appeared to her own
consciousness. We recognise in it her mental acuteness, her clinging
affectionateness, her ambition, her outlook beyond the present, her
religious and moral preoccupations, even her genius is not so much
omitted as left in an undeveloped, rudimentary state. While her
make-believe stories, her thirst for knowledge, her spiritual
wrestlings, and the passionate response of her soul to high thinking,
noble music, and the beautiful in all its forms, show that the making of
genius was there in germ. Much in the same manner Goethe was fond of
partitioning his nature, and of giving only the weaker side to his
fictitious representatives. Conscious in himself of fluctuations of
purpose which he only got the better of by his indomitable will, he
usually endowed these characters with his more impulsive, pliant self,
as manifested in Werther, in Tasso, in Edward of the 'Elective
Affinities.' In this sense also Maggie Tulliver resembles George Eliot.
She is her potential self, such as she might have been had there not
been counterbalancing tendencies of unusual force, sufficient to hold in
check all erratic impulses contrary to the main direction of her life.

While tempted to dwell largely on Maggie Tulliver, the central figure of
'The Mill on the Floss,' it would be very unfair to slur over the other
admirably drawn characters of this novel. Her brother Tom, already
repeatedly alluded to, is in every sense the counterpart of "Sister
Maggie." Hard and narrow-minded he was from a boy, "particularly clear
and positive on one point, namely, that he would punish everybody who
deserved it: why, he wouldn't have minded being punished himself, if he
deserved it; but, then, he never _did_ deserve it." This strikes the
key-note of a character whose stern inflexibility, combined with much
practical insight and dogged persistence of effort, is at the same time
dignified by a high, if somewhat narrow, sense of family honour.
Conventional respectability, in fact, is Tom Tulliver's religion. He is
not in any sense bad, or mean, or sordid; he is only so circumscribed in
his perceptive faculties, that he has no standard by which to measure
thoughts or feelings that transcend his own very limited conception of
life.

Both by his good and his bad qualities, by his excellencies and his
negations, Tom Tulliver proves himself what he is--a genuine sprig of
the Dodson family, a chip of the old block! And the Dodson sisters are,
in their way, among the most amazingly living portraitures that George
Eliot ever achieved. Realism in art can go no further in this direction.
These women, if present in the flesh, would not be so distinctively
vivid as when beheld through the transfixing medium of George Eliot's
genius. For here we have the personages, with all their quaintnesses,
their eccentricities, their odd, old-fashioned twists and ways--only
observed by fragments in actual life--successfully brought to a focus
for the delight and amusement of generations of readers. There is
nothing grotesque, nothing exaggerated, in these humorous figures. The
comic effect is not produced, as is often the case with the inventions
of Dickens, by some set peculiarity of manner or trick of speech, more
in the spirit of caricature. On the contrary, it is by a strict
adherence to the just mean of nature, by a conscientious care not to
overstep her probabilities, that we owe these matchless types of English
provincial life. And the genuine humour of these types verges on the
pathetic, in that the infinitely little of their lives is so magnified
by them out of all proportion to its real importance. Mrs. Glegg, with
her dictatorial ways, her small economies, her anxiety to make a
handsome figure in her will, and her invariable reference to what was
"the way in our family," as a criterion of right behaviour on all
occasions: Mrs. Pullet, the wife of the well-to-do yeoman-farmer, bent
on proving her gentility and wealth by the delicacy of her health, and
the quantity of doctor's stuff she can afford to imbibe: Mrs. Tulliver,
the good, muddle-headed woman, whose husband "picked her from her
sisters o' purpose, 'cause she was a bit weak, like," and for whom the
climax of misery in bankruptcy is the loss of her china and table-linen:
these, as well as the henpecked Mr. Glegg, and the old-maidish Mr.
Pullet, are worthy pendants to Mrs. Poyser and Dolly Winthrop.

Whether too great a predominance may not be given to the narrow,
trivial views of these people, with their prosaic respectability, is a
nice question, which one is inclined to answer in the negative on
reading such a conjugal scene as that between Mr. and Mrs. Glegg, after
the latter's quarrel with Mr. Tulliver:

"It was a hard case that a vigorous mood for quarrelling, so highly
capable of using any opportunity, should not meet with a single remark
from Mr. Glegg on which to exercise itself. But by-and-by it appeared
that his silence would answer the purpose, for he heard himself
apostrophised at last in that tone peculiar to the wife of one's bosom.

"'Well, Mr. Glegg! it's a poor return I get for making you the wife I've
made you all these years. If this is the way I'm to be treated, I'd
better ha' known it before my poor father died, and then when I'd wanted
a home, I should ha' gone elsewhere--as the choice was offered me.'

"Mr. Glegg paused from his porridge and looked up, not with any new
amazement, but simply with that quiet, habitual wonder with which we
regard constant mysteries.

"'Why, Mrs. G., what have I done now?'

"'Done now, Mr. Glegg? _done now?_ ... I'm sorry for you.'

"Not seeing his way to any pertinent answer, Mr. Glegg reverted to his
porridge.

"'There's husbands in the world,' continued Mrs. Glegg, after a pause,
'as 'ud have known how to do something different to siding with
everybody else against their own wives. Perhaps I'm wrong, and you can
teach me better. But I've allays heard as it's the husband's place to
stand by the wife, instead of rejoicing and triumphing when folks insult
her."

"'Now what call have you to say that?' said Mr. Glegg rather warmly,
for, though a kind man, he was not as meek as Moses. 'When did I rejoice
or triumph over you?'

"'There's ways o' doing things worse than speaking out plain, Mr. Glegg.
I'd sooner you'd tell me to my face as you make light of me, than try to
make as everybody's in the right but me, and come to your breakfast in
the morning, as I've hardly slept an hour this night, and sulk at me as
if I was the dirt under your feet.'

"'Sulk at you?' said Mr. Glegg, in a tone of angry facetiousness.
'You're like a tipsy man as thinks everybody's had too much but
himself.'

"'Don't lower yourself with using coarse language to _me_, Mr. Glegg! It
makes you look very small, though you can't see yourself,' said Mrs.
Glegg, in a tone of energetic compassion. 'A man in your place should
set an example, and talk more sensible.'"

After a good deal of sparring in the same tone, Mr. Glegg at last bursts
forth: "'Did ever anybody hear the like i' this parish? A woman with
everything provided for her, and allowed to keep her own money the same
as if it was settled on her, and with a gig new stuffed and lined at no
end o' expense, and provided for when I die beyond anything she could
expect ... to go on i' this way, biting and snapping like a mad dog!
It's beyond everything, as God A'mighty should ha' made women _so_.'
(These last words were uttered in a tone of sorrowful agitation. Mr.
Glegg pushed his tea from him, and tapped the table with both his
hands.)

"'Well, Mr. Glegg! if those are your feelings, it's best they should be
known,' said Mrs. Glegg, taking off her napkin, and folding it in an
excited manner. 'But if you talk o' my being provided for beyond what I
could expect, I beg leave to tell you as I'd a right to expect a many
things as I don't find. And as to my being like a mad dog, it's well if
you're not cried shame on by the country for your treatment of me, for
it's what I can't bear, and I won't bear.'...

"Here Mrs. Glegg's voice intimated that she was going to cry, and,
breaking off from speech, she rang the bell violently.

"'Sally,' she said, rising from her chair, and speaking in rather a
choked voice, 'light a fire upstairs, and put the blinds down. Mr.
Glegg, you'll please order what you like for dinner. I shall have
gruel.'"

Equally well drawn in their way, though belonging to a different class
of character, are Maggie's cousin, the lovely, gentle, and refined Lucy;
Philip Wakem, whose physical malformation is compensated by exceptional
culture and nobility of nature; Mr. Tulliver, the headstrong, violent,
but withal generous, father of Maggie, and his sister Mrs. Moss, whose
motherliness and carelessness of appearances form a striking foil to the
Dodson sisters. Indeed, 'The Mill on the Floss' is so rich in minor
characters that it is impossible to do more than mention such capital
sketches as that of Bob Jakin and his dog Mumps, or of Luke, the head
miller, who has no opinion of reading, considering that "There's fools
enoo--an' rogues enoo--wi'out lookin' i' books for 'em."

The distinguishing feature of this novel, however, lies not so much in
its wealth of portraiture or freshness of humour as in a certain
passionate glow of youth, which emanates from the heroine, and seems to
warm the story through and through. For passion, pathos, and poetic
beauty of description, 'The Mill on the Floss' is certainly unique among
George Eliot's works.



CHAPTER X.

SILAS MARNER.


The 'Mill on the Floss,' which appeared in 1860, fully established
George Eliot's popularity with the public. In the same year she
published anonymously, in _Blackwood's Magazine_, a short story called
the 'Lifted Veil.' This tale is curious as differing considerably from
her general style, having a certain mystical turn, which perhaps
recommended it more especially to the admiration of Bulwer Lytton; but,
indeed, it attracted general attention. In the meanwhile, the relations
between author and publisher became more and more friendly; the latter's
critical acumen and sound judgment being highly esteemed by George
Eliot. "He judged well of writing," she remarked, "because he had
learned to judge well of men and things, not merely through quickness of
observation and insight, but with the illumination of a heart in the
right place."

This was the most productive period of George Eliot's life. In three
successive years she published 'Adam Bede,' 'The Mill on the Floss,' and
'Silas Marner,' the last story appearing in 1861. When the amount of
thought, observation, and wisdom concentrated in these novels is taken
into consideration, it must be admitted that her mental energy was
truly astonishing. But it was the accumulated experience of her whole
past, the first abundant math borne by the springtide of life which was
garnered up in these three remarkable works. Afterwards, when she came
to write her next book,'Romola,' she turned to entirely fresh fields of
inspiration; indeed, already at this date her mind was occupied with the
idea of an Italian novel of the time of Savonarola.

In the meanwhile she produced her most perfect work. She wrote 'Silas
Marner, the Weaver of Raveloe.' I call 'Silas Marner' her most perfect
work, not only because of the symmetry with which each part is adjusted
in relation to the whole, nor because of the absence of those partly
satirical, partly moral reflections with which George Eliot usually
accompanies the action of her stories, but chiefly on account of the
simple pathos of the central motive into which all the different
incidents and characters naturally converge. How homely are the elements
from which this work of art is constructed, and how matchless the
result!

Nothing but the story of a humble weaver belonging to a small dissenting
community which assembled in Lantern Yard, somewhere in the back streets
of a manufacturing town; of a faithless love and a false friend, and the
loss of trust in all things human or divine. Nothing but the story of a
lone, bewildered man, shut out from his kind, concentrating every
baulked passion into one--the all-engrossing passion for gold. And then
the sudden disappearance of the hoard from its accustomed hiding-place,
and in its stead the startling apparition of a golden-haired little
child, found one snowy winter's night sleeping on the floor in front of
the glimmering hearth. And the gradual reawakening of love in the heart
of the solitary man, a love "drawing his hope and joy continually onward
beyond the money," and once more bringing him into sympathetic relations
with his fellow-men.

"In old days," says the story, "there were angels who came and took men
by the hand and led them away from the city of destruction. We see no
white-winged angels now. But yet men are led away from threatening
destruction; a hand is put into theirs, which leads them forth gently
towards a calm and bright land, so that they look no more backward, and
the hand may be a little child's."

Curiously enough, I came quite recently upon a story which in its
leading features very closely resembles this tale of the 'Weaver of
Raveloe.' It is called 'Jermola the Potter,' and is considered the
masterpiece of J. I. Kraszewski, the Polish novelist, author of at least
one hundred and fifty works in different branches of literature.
'Jermola,' the most popular of them all, has been translated into
French, Dutch, and German. It gives an extraordinarily vivid picture of
peasant life in a remote Polish village, and not only of peasant life,
but of the manners and habits of the landed proprietor, the Jew, the
artisan, and the yeoman, in a community whose modes of life have
undergone but little modification since the Middle Ages. These pictures,
though not elaborated with anything like the minute care of George
Eliot's descriptions of English country life, yet from their extreme
simplicity produce a most powerful impression on the reader.

The story, in brief, is that of Jermola, the body servant of a Polish
nobleman in Volhynia, whom he has served with rare devotion during the
greater part of his life. Left almost a beggar at his master's death,
without a single human tie, all he can get for years of faithful service
is a tumble-down, forsaken old inn, where he manages to keep body and
soul together in a dismantled room that but partly shelters him from the
inclemency of the weather. Hopeless, aimless, loveless, he grows old
before his time, and the passing of the days affects him hardly more
than it does a stone. But one evening, as he is sitting in front of a
scanty fire repeating the Lord's Prayer, the cry as of a little child
startles him from his devotion. Going to look what can be the meaning of
such unusual sounds, he soon discovers an infant in linen
swaddling-clothes wailing under an old oak tree. He takes the foundling
home, and from that moment a new life enters the old man's breast. He is
rejuvenated by twenty years. He is kept in a constant flutter of hope,
fear, and activity. A kind-hearted woman, called the Kozaczicha, tenders
him her services, but he is so jealous of any one but himself doing
aught for the child, that he checks her advances, and by hook or by
crook obtains a goat from an extortionate Jew, by the help of which he
rears the boy satisfactorily. Then, wishing to make a livelihood for the
child's sake, he inclines at first to the craft of the weaver, but
finally turns potter in his old age. Love sharpening his wits, he plies
quite a thriving trade in time, and the beautiful boy brings him into
more friendly relations with his neighbours. But one day, when Radionek,
who has learned Jermola's trade, is about twelve years old, the real
parents appear and claim him as their own. They had never dared to
acknowledge their marriage till the father, who had threatened to
disinherit his son in such an event, had departed this life. Now, having
nothing more to fear, they want to have their child back, and to bring
him up as befits their station in life. Jermola suffers a deadly anguish
at this separation; the boy, too, is in despair, for he clings fondly to
the old man who has reared him with more than a father's love. But the
parents insisting on their legal rights, Radionek is at last carried off
to their house in town, to be turned into a gentleman, being only
grudgingly allowed to see Jermola from time to time. The boy pines,
however, for the dear familiar presence of his foster-father, and the
free outdoor life, and at last, after some years of misery, he appears
one day suddenly in Jermola's hut, who has given up his pottery in order
to be secretly near the child he is afraid to go and see. The piteous
entreaties of Radionek, and the sight of his now sickly countenance,
induce the old man to flee into the pathless forests, where the two may
escape unseen, and reach some distant part of the country to take up
their old pleasant life once more. But the hardships and fatigues of the
journey are too much for the boy's enfeebled health, and just as they
come within sight of human dwellings, he is seized with a fever which
cuts his young life short, leaving Jermola nearly crazy with anguish.
Long afterwards a little decrepit old man was to be seen by churchgoers
sitting near a grave, whom the children mocked by calling the "bony
little man," because he seemed to consist of nothing but bones.

Such is the bare outline of a story whose main idea, that of the
redemption of a human soul from cold, petrifying isolation, by means of
a little child, is unquestionably the same as in 'Silas Marner.' Other
incidents, such as that of the peasant woman who initiates Jermola into
the mysteries of baby management, and the disclosure of the real parents
after a lapse of years, wanting to have their child back suggest
parallel passages in the English book. But coincidences of this kind
are, after all, natural enough, considering that the circle of human
feeling and action is limited, and that in all ages and countries like
conditions must give rise to much the same sequence of events. It is
therefore most likely that George Eliot never saw, and possibly never
even heard of, 'Jermola the Potter.'

The monotonous tone in the narrative of this Polish novel is in strong
contrast, it may be observed, to George Eliot's vivid and varied
treatment of her subject. This monotony, however, suits the local
colouring of 'Jermola,' by suggesting the idea of the league-long
expanse of ancient forests whose sombre solitudes encompass with a
mysterious awe the little temporary dwellings of men. But if the foreign
story surpasses 'Silas Marner' in tragic pathos, the latter far excels
it in the masterly handling of character and dialogue, in the underlying
breadth of thought, and, above all, in the precious salt of its humour.

Indeed, for humour, for sheer force, for intense realism, George Eliot,
in the immortal scene at the "Rainbow," may be said to rival
Shakespeare. Her farriers, her butchers, her wheelwrights, her tailors,
have the same startling vitality, the same unmistakable accents of
nature, the same distinctive yet unforced individuality, free from
either exaggeration or caricature. How delicious is the description of
the party assembled in the kitchen of that inn, whose landlord--a strong
advocate for compromising whatever differences of opinion may arise
between his customers, as beings "all alike in need of liquor"--clinches
all arguments by his favourite phrase--"You're both right and you're
both wrong, as I say." How admirably comic are these villagers,
invariably beginning their nightly sittings by a solemn silence, in
which one and all puff away at their pipes, staring at the fire "as if a
bet were depending on the first man who winked." And when they begin at
last, how rich is the flavour of that talk, given with an unerring
precision that forthwith makes one acquainted with the crass ignorance
and shrewdness, the mother-wit and superstition, so oddly jumbled
together in the villager's mind. What sublime absence of all knowledge
of his native land is shown by the veteran parish clerk, Mr. Macey, in
speaking of a person from another county which apparently could not be
so very different "from this country, for he brought a fine breed o'
sheep with him, so there must be pastures there, and everything
reasonable." Yet the same man can put down youthful presumption pretty
sharply, as when he remarks: "There's allays two 'pinions; there's the
'pinion a man has o' himsen, and there's the 'pinion other folks have on
him. There'd be two 'pinions about a cracked bell, if the bell could
hear itself."

Dolly Winthrop, the wife of the jolly wheelwright who makes one of the
company at the "Rainbow," is no less admirable. She is not cut after any
particular pattern or type of human nature, but has a distinctive
individuality, and is full of a freshness and unexpectedness which sets
foregone conclusions at defiance. A notable woman, with a boundless
appetite for work, so that, rising at half-past four, she has "a bit o'
time to spare most days, for when one gets up betimes i' the morning
the clock seems to stan' still tow'rt ten, afore it's time to go about
the victual." Yet with all this energy she is not shrewish, but a calm,
grave woman, in much request in sick rooms or wherever there is trouble.
She is good-looking, too, and of a comfortable temper, being patiently
tolerant of her husband's jokes, "considering that 'men would be so,'
and viewing the stronger sex' in the light of animals whom it pleased
Heaven to make troublesome like bulls or turkey cocks.'"

Her vague idea, shared indeed by Silas, that he has quite another faith
from herself, as coming from another part of the country, gives a vivid
idea of remote rural life, as well as her own dim, semi-pagan but
thoroughly reverential religious feelings, prompting her always to speak
of the Divinity in the plural, as when she says to Marner: "I've looked
for help in the right quarter, and give myself up to Them as we must all
give ourselves up to at the last; and if we'n done our part, it isn't to
be believed as Them as are above us 'ull be worse nor we are, and come
short o' Theirn."

The humour shown in these scenes and characters, or, more properly
speaking, George Eliot's humour in general, belongs to the highest
order, the same as Shakespeare's. It is based on the essential elements
of human nature itself, on the pathetic incongruities of which that
"quintessence of dust," man, is made up, instead of finding the comic in
the purely accidental or external circumstances of life, as is the case
with such humourists as Rabelais and Dickens. These latter might find a
good subject for their comic vein in seeing the Venus of Milo's broken
nose, which a mischievous urchin had again stuck on the wrong side
upwards--a sight to send the ordinary spectator into fits of laughter.
But the genuine humourist sees something in that feature itself, as
nature shaped it, to excite his facetiousness. In 'A Minor Prophet' some
lines occur in which a somewhat similar view of the genuine source of
humour is pithily put:


                         "My yearnings fail
     To reach that high apocalyptic mount
     Which shows in bird's-eye view a perfect world,
     Or enter warmly into other joys
     Than those of faulty, struggling human kind.
     That strain upon my soul's too feeble wing
     Ends in ignoble floundering: I fall
     Into short-sighted pity for the men
     Who, living in those perfect future times,
     Will not know half the dear imperfect things
     That move my smiles and tears--will never know
     The fine old incongruities that raise
     My friendly laugh; the innocent conceits
     That like a needless eyeglass or black patch
     Give those who wear them harmless happiness;
     The twists and cracks in our poor earthenware,
     That touch me to more conscious fellowship
     (I am not myself the finest Parian)
     With my coevals."


Again, in her essay on 'Heinrich Heine,' George Eliot thus defines the
difference between humour and wit: "Humour is of earlier growth than
wit, and it is in accordance with this earlier growth that it has more
affinity with the poetic tendencies, while wit is more nearly allied to
the ratiocinative intellect. Humour draws its materials from situations
and characteristics; wit seizes on unexpected and complex relations....
It is only the ingenuity, condensation, and instantaneousness which lift
some witticisms from reasoning into wit; they are reasoning raised to
its highest power. On the other hand, humour, in its higher forms and in
proportion as it associates itself with the sympathetic emotions,
continually passes into poetry; nearly all great modern humorists may be
called prose poets."

The quality which distinguishes George Eliot's humour may be said to
characterise her treatment of human nature generally. In her
delineations of life she carefully eschews the anomalous or exceptional,
pointing out repeatedly that she would not, if she could, be the writer,
however brilliant, who dwells by preference on the moral or intellectual
attributes which mark off his hero from the crowd instead of on those
which he has in common with average humanity. Nowhere perhaps in her
works do we find this tendency so strikingly illustrated as in the one
now under consideration; for here we have the study of a human being
who, by stress of circumstances, developes into a most abnormal specimen
of mankind, yet who is brought back to normal conditions and to
wholesome relations with his fellow-men by such a natural process as the
re-awakening of benumbed sympathies through his love for the little
foundling child. The scene where he finds that child has only been
touched on in a passing allusion, yet there is no more powerfully-drawn
situation in any of her novels than that where Silas, with the child in
his arms, goes out into the dark night, and, guided by the little
footprints in the virgin snow, discovers the dead mother, Godfrey Cass's
opium-eating wife, lying with "her head sunk low in the furze and half
covered with the shaken snow." There is a picture of this subject by the
young and singularly gifted artist, the late Oliver Madox Brown, more
generally known as a novelist, which is one of the few pictorial
interpretations that seem to completely project on the canvas a visible
embodiment of the spirit of the original. The pale, emaciated weaver,
staring with big, short-sighted eyes at the body of the unconscious
young woman stretched on the ground, clutching the lusty, struggling
child with one arm, while with the other he holds a lantern which throws
a feeble gleam on the snow--is realised with exceptional intensity.

The exquisite picture of Eppie's childhood, the dance she leads her
soft-hearted foster-father, are things to read, not to describe, unless
one could quote whole pages of this delightful idyl, which for gracious
charm and limpid purity of description recalls those pearls among
prose-poems, George Sand's 'Francois le Champi' and 'La Mare au Diable.'



CHAPTER XI.

ROMOLA.


'Romola' marks a new departure in George Eliot's literary career. From
the present she turned to the past, from the native to the foreign, from
the domestic to the historical. Yet in thus shifting her subject-matter,
she did not alter the strongly-pronounced tendencies underlying her
earlier novels; there was more of spontaneous, humorous description of
life in the latter, whereas in 'Romola' the ethical teaching which forms
so prominent a feature of George Eliot's art, though the same in
essence, was more distinctly wrought out. Touching on this very point,
she observes in a letter to an American correspondent: "It is perhaps
less irrelevant to say, apropos of a distinction you seem to make
between my earlier and later works, that though I trust there is some
growth in my appreciation of others and in my self-distrust, there has
been no change in the point of view from which I regard our life since I
wrote my first fiction, the 'Scenes of Clerical Life.' Any apparent
change of spirit must be due to something of which I am unconscious. The
principles which are at the root of my effort to paint Dinah Morris are
equally at the root of my effort to paint Mordecai."

The first section of 'Romola' appeared in the _Cornhill Magazine_ for
the summer of 1862, and, running its course in that popular periodical,
was finished in the summer of the following year. Mr. Lewes, in a letter
written from 16 Blandford Square, July 5, 1862, to some old friends of
George Eliot, makes the following remarks in reference to this new form
of publication: "My main object in persuading her to consent to serial
publication, was not the unheard-of magnificence of the offer, but the
advantage to such a work of being read slowly and deliberately, instead
of being galloped through in three volumes. I think it quite unique, and
so will the public when it gets over the first feeling of surprise and
disappointment at the book not being English, and like its predecessor."
And some time afterwards he wrote to the same friends: "Marian lives
entirely in the fifteenth century, and is much cheered every now and
then by hearing indirectly how her book is appreciated by the higher
class of minds, and some of the highest; though it is not, and cannot be
popular. In Florence we hear they are wild with delight and surprise at
such a work being executed by a foreigner; as if an Italian had ever
done anything of the kind!"

Before writing 'Romola' George Eliot had spent six weeks in Florence in
order to familiarise herself with the manners and conversation of its
inhabitants, and yet she hardly caught the trick of Italian speech, and
for some time afterwards she hung back from beginning her story, as her
characters not only refused to speak Italian to her, but would not speak
at all, as we can well imagine Mrs. Poyser, Bartle Massey, and Maggie to
have done. These recalcitrant spirits were at last brought to order, and
she succeeded so well, especially in her delineation of the lower
classes, that they have been recognised by Italians as true to the
life.

It should, however, be mentioned that the greatest modern Italian,
Giuseppe Mazzini, found fault with the handling, and, indeed, with the
introduction into this novel of the great figure of Savonarola. He
considered that it compared unfavourably with 'Adam Bede,' a novel he
genuinely admired, all but the marriage of Adam with Dinah Morris,
which, he said, shocked his feelings, not having any conception that the
taste of the novel-reading public demands a happy ending, whatever may
have been the previous course of the three volumes. Another illustrious
man, D. G. Rossetti, whose judgment on such a subject carries peculiar
weight, considered George Eliot to have been much less successful in
'Romola' than in her novels of English country life. He did not think
that the tone and colour of Italian life in the fifteenth century were
caught with that intuitive perception of a bygone age characteristic of
a Walter Scott or a Meinhold. The Florentine contemporaries of "Fra
Girolamo" seemed to him Nineteenth Century men and women dressed up in
the costume of the Fifteenth. The book, to use his expression, was not
"native."

It is a majestic book, however: the most grandly planned of George
Eliot's novels. It has a certain architectural dignity of structure,
quite in keeping with its Italian nationality, a quality, by the way,
entirely absent from the three later novels. The impressive historical
background is not unlike one of Mr. Irving's magnificently wrought
Italian stage-effects, rich in movement and colour, yet helping to throw
the chief figures into greater relief. The erudition shown in this
work; the vast yet minute acquaintance with the habits of thought, the
manners, the very talk of the Florentines of that day are truly
surprising; but perhaps the very fact of that erudition being so
perceptible shows that the material has not been absolutely vitalised.
The amount of labour George Eliot expended on 'Romola' was so great,
that it was the book which, she remarked to a friend, "she began a young
woman and ended an old one." The deep impression her works had made upon
the public mind heightened her natural conscientiousness, and her
gratitude for the confidence with which each fresh contribution from her
pen was received, increased her anxiety to wield her influence for the
highest ends.

But her gratitude to the public by no means extended to the critics. She
recoiled from them with the instinctive shrinking of the sensitive
plant. These interpreters between author and public were in her eyes a
most superfluous modern institution: though at one time she herself had
not scorned to sit in the critic's seat. It is well-known that G. H.
Lewes acted as a kind of moral screen protecting her from every gust or
breath of criticism that was not entirely genial. One lady, after
reading 'The Mill on the Floss,' had written off in the heat of the
moment, and, with the freedom of old friendship, while expressing the
warmest admiration for the beauty of the first two volumes, she had
ventured to find fault with part of the third. This letter was returned
by Lewes, who begged her at the same time never to write again in this
strain to George Eliot, to whom he had not ventured to show it for fear
it should too painfully affect her. In a letter to the American lady
already mentioned, George Eliot, after referring to this habit of Mr.
Lewes, says: "In this way I get confirmed in my impression that the
criticism of any new writing is shifting and untrustworthy. I hardly
think that any critic can have so keen a sense of the shortcomings in my
works as that I groan under in the course of writing them, and I cannot
imagine any edification coming to an author from a sort of reviewing
which consists in attributing to him or her unexpressed opinions, and in
imagining circumstances which may be alleged as petty private motives
for the treatment of subjects which ought to be of general human
interest.... I have been led into this rather superfluous sort of remark
by the mention of a rule which seemed to require explanation."

And again on another occasion to the same effect: "But do not expect
criticism from me. I hate 'sitting in the seat of judgment,' and I would
rather impress the public generally with the sense that they may get the
best result from a book without necessarily forming an 'opinion' about
it, than I would rush into stating opinions of my own. The floods of
nonsense printed in the form of critical opinions seem to me a chief
curse of our times--a chief obstacle to true culture."

In spite of these severe strictures on the critics and their opinions,
an "opinion" must now be given about 'Romola.' This novel may really be
judged from two entirely different points of view, possibly from others
besides, but, as it appears to me, from two. One may consider it as an
historical work, with its moving pageants, its civic broils, its church
festivals, its religious revival, its fickle populace, now siding with
the Pope, and now with the would-be reformer of the Papacy. Or again
one may regard the conjugal relations between Romola and Tito, the slow
spiritual growth of the one, and the swifter moral disintegration of the
other, as one of the subtlest studies in psychology in literature.

To turn to the scenic details which form a considerable element of this
historical picture, I have already hinted that they are not without a
taint of cumbrousness and pedantry. The author seems to move somewhat
heavily under her weight of learning, and we miss that splendid natural
swiftness and ease of movement which Shakespeare, Goethe, and Hugo know
how to impart to their crowds and spectacular effects. If, instead of
the people, one examines the man who dominated the people, the large,
massive, imposing figure of Savonarola, one must admit that the
character is very powerfully and faithfully executed but not produced at
one throw. He does not take the imagination by storm as he would have
done had Carlyle been at his fashioning. With an epithet or two, with a
sharp, incisive phrase, the latter would have conjured the great
Dominican from his grave, and we should have seen him, or believed at
least that we saw him, as he was in the flesh when his impassioned voice
resounded through the Duomo, swaying the hearts of the Florentine people
with the force of a great conviction. That he stands out thus tangibly
in 'Romola' it would be futile to assert: nevertheless, he is a noble,
powerful study, although one has laboriously to gather into one's mind
the somewhat mechanical descriptions which help to portray his
individuality. The idea underlying the working out of this grand
character is the same which Goethe had once proposed to himself in his
projected, but unfortunately never executed, drama of 'Mahomet.' It is
that of a man of moral genius, who, in solitude and obscurity, has
conceived some new, profounder aspect of religious truth, and who,
stirred by a sublime devotion, now goes forth among men to bless and
regenerate them by teaching them this higher life. But in his contact
with the multitude, in his efforts at influencing it, the prophet or
preacher is in his turn influenced. If he fails to move by the loftiest
means, he will gradually resort to the lower in order to effect his
purpose. The purity of his spirit is tarnished, ambition has crept in
where holiness reigned, and his perfect rectitude of purpose will be
sacrificed so that he may but rule.

Such are the opposing tendencies co-existing in Savonarola's mixed but
lofty nature. For "that dissidence between inward reality and outward
seeming was not the Christian simplicity after which he had striven
through years of his youth and prime, and which he had preached as a
chief fruit of the Divine life. In the heat and stress of the day, with
cheeks burning, with shouts ringing in the ears, who is so blest as to
remember the yearnings he had in the cool and silent morning, and know
that he has not belied them?" And again: "It was the habit of
Savonarola's mind to conceive great things, and to feel that he was the
man to do them. Iniquity should be brought low; the cause of justice,
purity, and love should triumph, and it should triumph by his voice, by
his work, by his blood. In moments of ecstatic contemplation, doubtless,
the sense of self melted in the sense of the Unspeakable, and in that
part of his experience lay the elements of genuine self-abasement; but
in the presence of his fellow-men for whom he was to act, pre-eminence
seemed a necessary condition of life." But, as George Eliot says, "Power
rose against him, not because of his sins, but because of his greatness;
not because he sought to deceive the world, but because he sought to
make it noble. And through that greatness of his he endured a double
agony; not only the reviling, and the torture, and the death-throe, but
the agony of sinking from the vision of glorious achievement into that
deep shadow where he could only say, 'I count as nothing: darkness
encompasses me; yet the light I saw was the true light.'"

But after all, in George Eliot's story the chief interest attaching to
"Fra Girolamo" consists in his influence on Romola's spiritual growth.
This may possibly be a blemish; yet in most novels the fictitious
characters eclipse the historical ones. The effect produced by the
high-souled Romola is not unlike that of an antique statue, at once
splendidly beautiful and imposingly cold. By the side of Tito she
reminds one of the pure whiteness of marble sculpture as contrasted with
the rich glowing sensuousness of a Venetian picture.

It is difficult to analyse why the proud, loving, single-hearted Romola,
who has something of the fierceness and impetuosity of the old "Bardo
blood" in her, should leave this impression of coldness; for in spite of
her acts of magnanimity and self-devotion, such, curiously enough, is
the case. Perhaps in this instance George Eliot modelled the character
too much according to a philosophical conception, instead of projecting
it, complete in its incompleteness, as it might have come from the hand
of Nature. Another objection sometimes brought forward, of Romola
having but little resemblance to an Italian woman of the fifteenth
century, seems to me less relevant. The lofty dignity, the pride, the
intense adhesion to family traditions were, on the contrary, very marked
attributes of a high national type during the period of Italian
supremacy. In fact, the character is not without hints and suggestions
of such a woman as Vittoria Colonna, while its didactic tendency
slightly recalls "those awful women of Italy who held professorial
chairs, and were great in civil and canon law." In one sense Romola is a
true child of the Renaissance. Brought up by her father, the
enthusiastic old scholar, in pagan ideas, she had remained aloof from
Roman Catholic beliefs and superstitions, and even when transformed by
the mighty influence of Savonarola into a devoted _Piagnone_, her
attitude always remains more or less that of a Protestant, unwilling to
surrender the right of private judgment to the Church.

The clash of character when a woman like Romola finds herself chained in
a life-long bond to such a nature as Tito's--the beautiful, wily,
insinuating Greek--is wrought out with wonderful skill and matchless
subtlety of analysis. Indeed Tito is not only one of George Eliot's most
original creations, he is a unique character in fiction. Novelists, as a
rule, only depict the full-blown villain or traitor, their virtuous and
wicked people being separated from each other by a hard and fast line
much like the goats and sheep. They continually treat character as
something permanent and unchangeable, whereas to George Eliot it
presents itself as an organism flexible by nature, subject to change
under varying conditions, liable on the one hand to disease and
deterioration, but on the other hand no less capable of being
rehabilitated, refined, or ennobled. This is one of the most distinctive
notes of George Eliot's art, and gives a quickening, fructifying quality
to her moral teaching. But it is an artistic no less than a moral gain,
sharpening the interest felt in the evolution of her fictitious
personages. For this reason Tito, the creature of circumstances, is
perhaps the most striking of all her characters in the eyes of the
psychologist. We seem to see the very pulse of the human machine laid
bare, to see the corroding effect of self-indulgence and dread of pain
on a nature not intrinsically wicked, to see at last how, little by
little, weakness has led to falsehood, and falsehood to infamy. And yet
this creature, who, under our eyes, gradually hardens into crime, is one
so richly dowered with rare gifts of person and mind, that in spite of
his moral degeneracy, he fascinates the reader no less than the men and
women supposed to come into actual contact with him. His beauty is
described with the same life-like intensity as Hetty's: the warm glow of
colour in his perfectly-moulded face, with its dark curls and long
agate-like eyes; his sunny brightness of look, the velvet softness of a
manner with which he ingratiates himself with young and old, and the
airy buoyancy of his whole gracious being, are as vividly portrayed as
the quick talent to which everything comes natural, the abundant
good-humour, the acuteness of a polished intellect, whose sharp edge,
will, at need, cut relentlessly through every tissue of sentiment.

From Melema's first uneasy debate with himself, when, in his splendid,
unsoiled youth, he enters Florence a shipwrecked stranger--a debate,
that is, as to whether he is bound to go in search of Baldassare, who
has been as a father to him--to the moment when his already blunted
conscience absolves him from such a search, and again, on to that
supreme crisis when, suddenly face to face with his benefactor, he
denies him, and so is inevitably urged from one act of baseness and
cruelty to another still blacker--we have unfolded before us, by an
unshrinking analyzer of human nature, what might not inappropriately be
called "A Soul's Tragedy." The wonderful art in the working out of this
character is shown in the fact that one has no positive impression of
Tito's innate badness, but, on the contrary, feels as if, after his
first lapses from truth and goodness, there is still a possibility of
his reforming, if only his soft, pleasure-loving nature were not driven
on, almost in spite of himself, by his shuddering dread of shame or
suffering in any form. "For," writes George Eliot, "Tito was
experiencing that inexorable law of human souls, that we prepare
ourselves for sudden deeds by the reiterated choice of good or evil
which gradually determines character."

The description of the married life of Romola and Tito is unsurpassed in
George Eliot's novels for subtlety and depth of insight: notably the
young wife's fond striving after complete inner harmony, her first,
faint, unavowed sense of something wanting, her instinctive efforts to
keep fast hold of her love and trust, and her violent, irrevocable
recoil on the discovery of Tito's first faithless action. Perhaps there
is something cold, almost stern, in Romola's loathing alienation from
her husband, and the instantaneous death of her passionate love. One
cannot quite hinder the impression that a softer woman might have
forgiven and won from him a confession of his wrong-doing; a confession
which would have averted the committal of his worst and basest deeds.
Indeed, it is Tito's awe of his grand, noble wife, and his dread of her
judgment, which first of all incite him to prevarication and lies.

It is curious to compare George Sand's theory of love, in this instance,
with George Eliot's. In 'Leon Leoni,' and in many of her novels besides,
the Frenchwoman seems to imply that for a woman to love once is to love
always, and that there is nothing so base, or mean, or cruel, but she
will forgive the man on whom she has placed her affections. In the story
mentioned above she has worked out this idea to an extent which, in many
of its details, is simply revolting. Love is there described as a
magnetic attraction, unresisted and irresistible, to which the heroine
absolutely surrenders pride, reason, and conscience. Just the opposite
kind of love is that which we find portrayed in 'Romola:' it is a love
identical with the fullest belief in the truth and goodness of the
beloved object, so that at the first realisation of moral obliquity the
repulsion created extinguishes that love, although there is no outward
severance of the marriage bond.

This great novel closes with these significant words, which Romola
addresses to Lillo, Tito's child, but not her own:

"And so, my Lillo, if you mean to act nobly, and seek to know the best
things God has put within reach of man, you must learn to fix your mind
on that end, and not on what will happen to you because of it. And
remember, if you were to choose something lower, and make it the rule of
your life to seek your own pleasure and escape from what is
disagreeable, calamity might come just the same; and it would be
calamity falling on a base mind, which is the one form of sorrow that
has no balm in it, and that may well make a man say, 'It would have been
better for me if I had never been born!'"



CHAPTER XII.

HER POEMS.


Few are the external events to be now recorded of George Eliot's life.
The publication of her successive works forms the chief landmarks. But
the year 1865 is distinguished by circumstances of some importance. In
this year Mr. Lewes, after assisting to found the _Fortnightly Review_,
assumed its editorship; and among the contributions to the first number
of the new Review was a short article from the pen of George Eliot on
Mr. Lecky's important work 'The Influence of Rationalism.'

In the course of the same year Mr. and Mrs. Lewes moved from 16
Blandford Square to the Priory, a commodious house in North Bank, St.
John's Wood, which has come to be intimately associated with the memory
of George Eliot. Here, in the pleasant dwelling-rooms decorated by Owen
Jones, might be met, at her Sunday afternoon receptions, some of the
most eminent men in literature, art, and science. For the rest, her life
flowed on its even tenor, its routine being rigidly regulated. The
morning till lunch time was invariably devoted to writing: in the
afternoon she either went out for a quiet drive of about two hours, or
she took a walk with Lewes in Regent's Park. There the strange-looking
couple--she with a certain weird, sibylline air, he not unlike some
unkempt Polish refugee of vivacious manners--might be seen, swinging
their arms, as they hurried along at a pace as rapid and eager as their
talk. Besides these walks, George Eliot's chief recreation consisted in
frequenting concerts and picture galleries. To music she was
passionately devoted, hardly ever failing to attend at the Saturday
afternoon concerts at St. James's Hall, besides frequenting various
musical réunions, such as the following extract from one of her letters
will show: "The other night we went to hear the Bach choir--a society of
ladies and gentlemen got together by Jenny Lind, who sings in the middle
of them, her husband acting as conductor. It is pretty to see people who
might be nothing but simply fashionables taking pains to sing fine music
in tune and time, with more or less success. One of the baritones we
know is a G----, who used to be a swell guardsman, and has happily taken
to good courses while still quite young. Another is a handsome young
G----, not of the unsatisfactory Co., but of the R---- G---- kin. A
soprano is Mrs. P----, wife of the Queen's Secretary, General P----, the
granddaughter of Earl Grey, and just like him in the face--and so on.
These people of 'high' birth are certainly reforming themselves a
little."

She likewise never omitted to visit the "Exhibition of Old Masters" at
Burlington House. To most people few things exercise so great a strain
on their mental and physical powers of endurance as the inspection of a
picture gallery, with its incessant appeal to the most concentrated
attention. Yet, in spite of physical weakness, George Eliot possessed
such inexhaustible mental energy that she could go on, hour after hour,
looking with the same unflagging interest at whatever possessed any
claim to attention, tiring out even vigorous men that were in her
company. In her works the allusions to art are much less frequent than
to music; but from a few hints here and there, it is possible to form
some idea of her taste, one very significant passage in 'Adam Bede'
showing her peculiar love of Dutch paintings, and her readiness to turn
without shrinking "from cloud-borne angels, from prophets, sibyls, and
heroic warriors, to an old woman bending over her flowerpot, or eating
her solitary dinner, while the noonday light, softened perhaps by a
screen of leaves, falls on her mob-cap, and just touches the rim of her
spinning-wheel and her stone jug, and all those cheap common things
which are the precious necessaries of life to her."

Another favourite resort of George Eliot's was the Zoological Gardens.
She went there a great deal to study the animals, and was particularly
fond of the "poor dear ratel" that used to turn somersaults. In fact her
knowledge of, and sympathy with, animals was as remarkable as that which
she showed for human nature. Thus she astonished a gentleman farmer by
drawing attention to the fine points of his horses. Her intimate
acquaintance with the dog comes out in a thousand touches in her novels,
and her humorous appreciation of little pigs led her to watch them
attentively, and to pick out some particular favourite in every litter.
In her country rambles, too, she was fond of turning over stones to
inspect the minute insect life teeming in moist, dark places; and she
was as interested as Lewes himself in the creatures, frogs, etc., he
kept for scientific purposes, and which would sometimes, like the frog
in the fairy tale, surprise the household by suddenly making their
entrance into the dining-room. Her liking for the "poor brutes," as she
calls them, had its origin no doubt in the same source of profound pity
which she feels for "the twists and cracks" of imperfect human beings.

Her evenings were usually passed at home, and spent in reading, or in
playing and singing; but she and Lewes used to go to the theatre on any
occasion of special interest, as when Salvini appeared in 'Othello,' a
performance attended repeatedly by both with enthusiastic delight.
Otherwise they rarely left home, seldom visiting at other people's
houses, although they made an exception in the case of a favoured few.

They were both fond of travelling, and, whenever it was possible, would
take trips to the Continent, or seek some quiet English rural retreat
away from the sleepless tumult of London. "For," says Lewes incidentally
in a letter, "Mrs. Lewes never seems at home except under a broad sweep
of sky and the _greenth_ of the uplands round her." So we find them
frequently contriving a change of scene; and the visits to foreign
countries, the pleasant sauntering on long summer days through
Continental towns, "dozing round old cathedrals," formed delightful
episodes in George Eliot's strenuously active life. The residence in
Germany in 1854, and again in 1858, has already been alluded to. Now, in
the year 1865, they paid a short visit to France, in the course of which
they saw Normandy, Brittany, and Touraine, returning much refreshed at
the beginning of the autumn. Two years afterwards they went to Spain, a
country that must have possessed a peculiar interest for both; for in
1846 Lewes had published a charming, if one-sided, little book on 'The
Spanish Drama,' with especial reference to Lope de Vega and Calderon;
and in 1864, only a year after the appearance of 'Romola,' George Eliot
produced the first draught of 'The Spanish Gypsy.' On becoming
personally acquainted with this land of "old romance," however, her
impressions were so far modified and deepened that she re-wrote and
amplified her poem, which was not published till 1868.

The subject of the gypsies was probably suggested to George Eliot by her
own memorable adventure in childhood, which thus became the germ of a
very impressive poem. Be that as it may, it is worth noticing that the
conception of 'The Spanish Gypsy' should have followed so closely on the
completion of the Italian novel, both being foreign subjects, belonging
to much the same period of history. In both the novelist has departed
from her habitual track, seeking for "pastures new" in a foreign soil.
After inculcating on the artist the desirability of giving "the loving
pains of a life to the faithful representation of commonplace things,"
she remarks in 'Adam Bede' that "there are few prophets in the world,
few sublimely beautiful women, few heroes," and that we cannot afford to
give all our love and reverence to such rarities. But having followed
this rule, and given the most marvellously truthful delineations of her
fellow-men as they are ordinarily to be met with, she now also felt
prompted to draw the exceptional types of human character, the rare
prophets, and the sublime heroes.

To her friend Miss Simcox, George Eliot one day mentioned a plan of
giving "the world an ideal portrait of an actual character in history,
whom she did not name, but to whom she alluded as an object of possible
reverence unmingled with disappointment." This idea was never carried
out, but at any rate Dinah Morris, Savonarola, Zarca, and Mordecai are
all exceptional beings--beings engrossed by an impersonal aim, having
the spiritual or national regeneration of their fellow-men for its
object. Dinah and Savonarola are more of the nature of prophets; Zarca
and Mordecai of that of patriots. Among these the fair Methodist
preacher, whose yearning piety is only a more sublimated love of her
kind, is the most vividly realised; while Mordecai, the patriot of an
ideal country, is but the abstraction of a man, entirely wanting in that
indefinable solidity of presentation which gives a life of its own to
the creations of art.

On the whole, Zarca, the gipsy chief, is perhaps the most vividly drawn
of George Eliot's purely ideal characters--characters which never have
the flesh-and-blood reality of her Mrs. Poysers, her Silas Marners, and
her dear little Totties and Eppies. Yet there is an unmistakable
grandeur and power of invention in the heroic figure of Zarca, although,
in spite of this power, we miss the convincing stamp of reality in him,
and not only in him, but more or less in all the characters of the
'Spanish Gypsy.' George Eliot's feeling for the extraordinary and
romantic was very subordinate to that which she entertained for the more
familiar aspects of our life. For, although she here chose one of the
most romantic of periods and localities, the Spain of Ferdinand and
Isabella, with the mingled horror and magnificence of its national
traditions, she does not really succeed in resuscitating the spirit
which animated those devout, cruel, fanatical, but ultra-picturesque
times. The Castilian noble, the Jewish astrologer, Zarca, and the
Spanish Inquisitor, even the bright, gloriously-conceived Fedalma
herself, think and speak too much like sublimated modern positivists.
For example, would, could, or should any gipsy of the fifteenth century
have expressed himself in the following terms:


                                 "Oh, it is a faith
     Taught by no priest, but by this beating heart:
     Faith to each other: the fidelity
     Of fellow-wanderers in a desert place,
     Who share the same dire thirst, and therefore share
     The scanty water: the fidelity
     Of men whose pulses leap with kindred fire,
     Who in the flash of eyes, the clasp of hands,
     The speech that even in lying tells the truth
     Of heritage inevitable as birth,
     Nay, in the silent bodily presence feel
     The mystic stirring of a common life
     Which makes the many one: fidelity
     To the consecrating oath our sponsor Fate
     Made through our infant breath when we were born
     The fellow-heirs of that small island, Life,
     Where we must dig and sow and reap with brothers.
     Fear thou that oath, my daughter--nay, not fear,
     But love it; for the sanctity of oaths
     Lies not in lightning that avenges them,
     But in the injury wrought by broken bonds
     And in the garnered good of human trust."


The poetic mode of treatment corresponds to the exalted theme of the
'Spanish Gypsy,' a subject certainly more fitted for drama or romance
rather than for the novel, properly so called. Nothing could apparently
be better adapted for the purposes of a noble, historical poem than the
conception of a great man such as Zarca, whose aim is nothing less than
the fusion of the scattered, wandering, lawless gypsy tribes into one
nation, with common traditions and a common country: the romantic
incident of the discovery of his lost daughter in the affianced bride of
Silva, Duke of Bedmar: the supreme conflict in Fedalma's breast between
love and duty, her renunciation of happiness in order to cast in her lot
with that of her outcast people: Silva's frantic grief, his desertion of
his country, his religion, and all his solemn responsibilities to turn
gypsy for Fedalma's sake, and having done so, his agony of remorse on
seeing the fortress committed to his trust taken by the gypsies he has
joined, his dearest friends massacred, his nearest of kin, Isidor, the
inquisitor, hanged before his very eyes, a sight so maddening that,
hardly conscious of his act, he slays Zarca, and so divides himself for
ever, by an impassable gulf, from the woman for whose sake he had turned
apostate.

Clearly a subject containing the highest capabilities, and, if great
thoughts constituted a great poem, this should be one of the greatest.
But with all its high merits, its sentiments imbued with rare moral
grandeur, its felicitous descriptions, the work lacks that best and
incommunicable gift which comes by nature to the poet. Here, as in her
novels, we find George Eliot's instinctive insight into the primary
passions of the human heart, her wide sympathy and piercing keenness of
vision; but her thoughts, instead of being naturally winged with melody,
seem mechanically welded into song. This applies to all her poetic work,
although some of it, especially the 'Legend of Jubal,' reaches a much
higher degree of metrical and rhythmical excellence. But although
George Eliot's poems cannot be considered on a par with her prose, they
possess a distinctive interest, and should be carefully studied by all
lovers of her genius, as affording a more intimate insight into the
working of her own mind. Nowhere do we perceive so clearly as here the
profound sadness of her view of life; nowhere does she so emphatically
reiterate the stern lesson of the duty of resignation and
self-sacrifice; or that other doctrine that the individual is bound
absolutely to subordinate his personal happiness to the social good,
that he has no rights save the right of fulfilling his obligations to
his age, his country, and his family. This idea is perhaps more
completely incorporated in Fedalma than in any other of her
characters--Fedalma, who seems so bountifully endowed with the fullest
measure of beauty, love and happiness, that her renunciation may be the
more absolute. She who, in her young joy suddenly knows herself as "an
aged sorrow," exclaiming:


                         "I will not take a heaven
     Haunted by shrieks of far-off misery.
     This deed and I have ripened with the hours:
     It is a part of me--a wakened thought
     That, rising like a giant, masters me,
     And grows into a doom. O mother life,
     That seemed to nourish me so tenderly,
     Even in the womb you vowed me to the fire,
     Hung on my soul the burden of men's hopes,
     And pledged me to redeem!--I'll pay the debt.
     You gave me strength that I should pour it all
     Into this anguish. I can never shrink
     Back into bliss--my heart has grown too big
     With things that might be."


This sacrifice is the completer for being without hope; for not
counting "on aught but being faithful;" for resting satisfied in such a
sublime conviction as--


     "The grandest death, to die in vain--for love
     Greater than sways the forces of the world."


Limit forbids me dwell longer on this poem, which contains infinite
matter for discussion, yet some of the single passages are so full of
fine thoughts felicitously expressed that it would be unfair not to
allude to them. Such a specimen as this exposition of the eternal
dualism between the Hellenic and the Christian ideals, of which Heine
was the original and incomparable expounder, should not be left unnoted:


                                    "For evermore
     With grander resurrection than was feigned
     Of Attila's fierce Huns, the soul of Greece
     Conquers the bulk of Persia. The maimed form
     Of calmly-joyous beauty, marble-limbed,
     Yet breathing with the thought that shaped its limbs,
     Looks mild reproach from out its opened grave
     At creeds of terror; and the vine-wreathed god
     Fronts the pierced Image with the crown of thorns."


And again how full of deep mysterious suggestion is this line--


     "Speech is but broken light upon the depth
     Of the unspoken."


And this grand saying--


     "What times are little? To the sentinel
     That hour is regal when he mounts on guard."


Quotations of this kind might be indefinitely multiplied; while showing
that exaltation of thought properly belonging to poetry, they at the
same time indubitably prove to the delicately-attuned ear the absence
of that subtle intuitive music, that "linked sweetness" of sound and
sense which is the birthright of poets. If an intimate and profound
acquaintance with the laws and structure of metre could bestow this
quality, which appertains to the elemental, George Eliot's verse ought
to have achieved the highest success. For in mere technical knowledge
concerning rhyme, assonance, alliteration, and the manipulation of blank
verse according to the most cunning distribution of pauses, she could
hold her own with the foremost contemporary poets, being no doubt far
more versed than either Shelley or Byron in the laws governing these
matters.

How incalculable she felt the poet's influence to be, and how fain she
would have had him wield this influence only for the loftiest ends, is
well shown in a beautiful letter, hitherto unpublished, now possessing
an added pathos as addressed to one who has but lately departed, at the
very time when his rare poetic gifts were beginning to be more widely
recognised. James Thomson, the author of "The City of Dreadful Night," a
poem which appeared first in the pages of the 'National Reformer,' with
the signature of "B. V.," was thus addressed by George Eliot:

"DEAR POET,--I cannot rest satisfied without telling you that my mind
responds with admiration to the distinct vision and grand utterance in
the poem which you have been so good as to send me.

"Also, I trust that an intellect informed by so much passionate energy
as yours will soon give us more heroic strains, with a wider embrace of
human fellowship, such as will be to the labourers of the world what,
the Odes of Tyrtæus were to the Spartans, thrilling them with the
sublimity of the social order and the courage of resistance to all that
would dissolve it. To accept life and write much fine poetry, is to take
a very large share in the quantum of human good, and seems to draw with
it necessarily some recognition, affectionate, and even joyful, of the
manifold willing labours which have made such a lot possible."

These words are of peculiar interest, because, although the writer of
them is almost as much of a pessimist as its recipient, they are so with
a difference. The pessimism of "The City of Dreadful Night," in its
blank hopelessness, paralyses the inmost nerve of life by isolating the
individual in cold obstruction. Whereas George Eliot, while recognising
to the utmost "the burthen of a world, where even the sunshine has a
heart of care," insists the more on the fact that this common suffering
binds man more indissolubly to man; that so far from justifying him in
ending his life "when he will," the groaning and travailing generations
exact that he should stand firm at his post, regardless of personal
consideration or requital, so long only as he can help towards making
the fate of his fellow mortals less heavy for them to bear. In fact, the
one is a theory of life, the other a disease of the soul.

The same stoic view, in a different form, finds expression in this
answer to a dear friend's query: "I cannot quite agree that it is hard
to see what has been the good of your life. It seems to me very clear
that you have been a good of a kind that would have been sorely missed
by those who have been nearest to you, and also by some who are more
distant. And it is this kind of good which must reconcile us to life,
and not any answer to the question, 'What would the universe have been
without me?' The point one has to care for is, 'Are A, B, and C the
better for me?' And there are several letters of the alphabet that could
not have easily spared you in the past, and that can still less spare
you in the present."

This lesson of resignation, which is enforced more and more stringently
in her writings, is again dwelt upon with peculiar emphasis in the
interesting dramatic sketch entitled 'Armgart.' The problem here is not
unlike that in 'Silas Marner.' It is that of an individual, in
exceptional circumstances, brought back to the average condition of
humanity; but whereas Silas, having sunk below the common standard, is
once more united to his fellow-men by love, the magnificently endowed
Armgart, who seems something apart and above the crowd, is reduced to
the level of the undistinguished million by the loss of her peerless
voice. 'Armgart' is the single instance, excepting, perhaps, the
Princess Halm-Eberstein, where George Eliot has attempted to depict the
woman-artist, to whom life's highest object consists in fame--


     "The benignant strength of one, transformed
     To joy of many."


But in the intoxicating flush of success, the singer, who has refused
the love of _one_ for that "sense transcendent which can taste the joy
of swaying multitudes," loses her glorious gift, and so sinks
irretrievably to a "drudge among the crowd." In the first delirium of
despair she longs to put an end to herself, "sooner than bear the yoke
of thwarted life;" but is painfully startled from her defiant mood by
the indignant query of Walpurga, her humble cousin--


     "Where is the rebel's right for you alone?
     Noble rebellion lifts a common load;
     But what is he who flings his own load off
     And leaves his fellows toiling? Rebel's right?
     Say rather the deserter's. Oh, you smiled
     From your clear height on all the million lots
     Which yet you brand as abject."


It may seem singular that having once, in 'Armgart,' drawn a woman of
the highest artistic aims and ambitions, George Eliot should imply that
what is most valuable in her is not the exceptional gift, but rather
that part of her nature which she shares with ordinary humanity. This
is, however, one of her leading beliefs, and strongly contrasts her, as
a teacher, with Carlyle. To the author of 'Hero Worship' the promiscuous
mass--moiling and toiling as factory hands and artisans, as miners and
labourers--only represents so much raw material, from which is produced
that final result and last triumph of the combination of human
forces--the great statesman, great warrior, great poet, and so forth. To
George Eliot, on the contrary--and this is the democratic side of her
nature--it is the multitude, so charily treated by destiny, which claims
deepest sympathy and tenderest compassion; so that all greatness, in her
eyes, is not a privilege, but a debt, which entails on its possessor a
more strenuous effort, a completer devotion to the service of average
humanity.



CHAPTER XIII.

FELIX HOLT AND MIDDLEMARCH.


In 'Felix Holt,' which was published in 1866, George Eliot returned once
more to her own peculiar field, where she stands supreme and
unrivalled--the novel of English provincial life. This work, which,
however, is not equal to her earlier or later fictions, yet possesses a
double interest for us. It is the only one of her writings from which
its author's political views may be inferred, if we exclude a paper
published in _Blackwood's Magazine_ in January 1868, which, indeed,
seems to be part of the novel, seeing that it is entitled, "Address to
Working Men, by Felix Holt." The paper contains, in a more direct and
concise form, precisely the same general views as regards the principles
of government which were previously enunciated through Felix the
Radical. It was an appeal to the operative classes who had been only
recently enfranchised by the Reform Bill. Its advice is mainly to the
effect that genuine political and social improvements, to be durable,
must be the result of inward change rather than of outward legislation.
The writer insists on the futility of the belief that beneficial
political changes can be effected by revolutionary measures. She points
out the necessity of a just discrimination between what is curable in
the body politic and what has to be endured. She dwells once again,
with solemn insistence, on the "aged sorrow," the inheritance of evil
transmitted from generation to generation, an evil too intimately
entwined with the complex conditions of society to be violently
uprooted, but only to be gradually eradicated by the persistent
cultivation of knowledge, industry, judgment, sobriety, and patience.

"This is only one example," she says, "of the law by which human lives
are linked together; another example of what we complain of when we
point to our pauperism, to the brutal ignorance of multitudes among our
fellow-countrymen, to the weight of taxation laid on us by blamable
wars, to the wasteful channels made for the public money, to the expense
and trouble of getting justice, and call these the effects of bad rule.
This is the law that we all bear the yoke of; the law of no man's
making, and which no man can undo. Everybody now sees an example of it
in the case of Ireland. We who are living now are sufferers by the
wrong-doing of those who lived before us; we are sufferers by each
other's wrong-doing; and the children who come after us will be
sufferers from the same causes."

To remedy this long-standing wrong-doing and suffering, so argues Felix
Holt, is not in the power of any one measure, class, or period. It would
be childish folly to expect any Reform Bill to possess the magical
property whereby a sudden social transformation could be accomplished.
On the contrary, abrupt transitions should be shunned as dangerous to
order and law, which alone are certain to insure a steady collective
progress; the only means to this end consisting in the general spread of
education, to secure which, at least for his children, the working man
should spare no pains. Without knowledge, the writer continues, no
political measures will be of any benefit, ignorance with or without
vote always of necessity engendering vice and misery. But, guided by a
fuller knowledge, the working classes would be able to discern what sort
of men they should choose for their representatives, and instead of
electing "platform swaggerers, who bring us nothing but the ocean to
make our broth with," they would confide the chief power to the hands of
the truly wise, those who know how to regulate life "according to the
truest principles mankind is in possession of."

The "Felix Holt" of the story is described by George Eliot as shaping
his actions much according to the ideas which are here theoretically
expressed. His knowledge and aptitude would enable him to choose what is
considered a higher calling. But he scorns the vulgar ambition called
"getting on in the world;" his sense of fellowship prompting him to
remain a simple artisan that he may exert an elevating influence on the
class to which he belongs. Class differences, so argues this
Radical-Conservative, being inherent in the constitution of society, it
becomes something of a desertion to withdraw what abilities one may have
from the medium where they are urgently needed, in order to join, for
the sake of selfish aims, some other body of men where they may be
superfluous.

The other distinctive feature of 'Felix Holt' consists in its elaborate
construction, ranking it, so to speak, amongst sensation novels. As a
rule, George Eliot's stories have little or no plot, the incidents
seeming not so much invented by the writer for the sake of producing an
effective work, as to be the natural result of the friction between
character and circumstance. This simplicity of narrative belongs, no
doubt, to the highest class of novel, the class to which 'The Vicar of
Wakefield,' 'Waverley,' and 'Vanity Fair' belong. In 'Felix Holt,'
however, the intricate network of incident in which the characters seem
to be enmeshed, is not unlike the modern French art of story-telling,
with its fertility of invention, as is also the strangely repellent
intrigue which forms the nucleus of the whole. All the elements which go
to make up a thrilling narrative--such as a dubious inheritance, the
disappearance of the rightful claimant, a wife's guilty secret, the
involvements of the most desperate human fates in a perplexing coil
through sin and error--are interwoven in this story of 'Felix Holt the
Radical.'

Though ingeniously invented, the different incidents seem not so much
naturally to have grown the one from the other as to be constructed with
too conscious a seeking for effect. There is something forced, uneasy,
and inadequate in the laborious contrivance of fitting one set of events
on to another, and the machinery of the disputed Transome claim is so
involved that the reader never masters the "ins" and "outs" of that
baffling mystery. Still, the groundwork of the story is deeply
impressive: its interest is, notwithstanding the complex ramification of
events, concentrated with much power upon a small group of personages,
such as Mrs. Transome, her son Harold, the little dissenting minister,
Rufus Lyon, Esther, and Felix Holt. Here, as elsewhere, the novelist
reveals the potent qualities of her genius. Not only does this story
contain such genuine humorous portraiture as the lachrymose Mrs. Holt,
and the delightfully quaint Job Tudge, but it is also enriched by some
descriptions of rural scenery and of homely existence in remote country
districts as admirable as any to be found in her writings. Rufus Lyon is
a worthy addition to that long gallery of clerical portraits which are
among the triumphs of George Eliot's art. This "singular-looking apostle
of the meeting in Skipper's Lane"--with his rare purity of heart, his
unworldliness, his zeal in the cause of dissent, his restless
argumentative spirit, and the moving memories of romance and passion
hidden beneath the odd, quaint _physique_ of the little minister encased
in rusty black--is among the most loving and lovable of characters, and
recalls more particularly that passage in the poem entitled 'A Minor
Prophet,' which I cannot but think one of the author's finest, the
passage beginning--


     "The pathos exquisite of lovely minds
     Hid in harsh forms--not penetrating them
     Like fire divine within a common bush
     Which glows transfigured by the heavenly guest,
     So that men put their shoes off; but encaged
     Like a sweet child within some thick-walled cell,
     Who leaps and fails to hold the window-bars,
     But having shown a little dimpled hand,
     Is visited thenceforth by tender hearts
     Whose eyes keep watch about the prison walls."


Esther, on the other hand, is one of those fortunate beings whose lovely
mind is lodged in a form of corresponding loveliness. This charming
Esther, though not originally without her feminine vanities and worldly
desires, is one of those characters dear to George Eliot's heart, who
renounce the allurements of an easy pleasurable existence for the higher
satisfactions of a noble love or a nobler ideal. It is curious to notice
that Eppie, Esther, Fedalma, and Daniel Deronda are all children that
have been reared in ignorance of their real parentage, and that to all
of them there comes a day when a more or less difficult decision has to
be made, when for good or evil they have to choose, once for all,
between two conflicting claims. Like Eppie, Esther rejects the
advantages of birth and fortune, and elects to share the hard but
dignified life of the high-minded Felix. But this decision in her case
shows even higher moral worth, because by nature she is so keenly
susceptible to the delicate refinements and graceful elegancies which
are the natural accompaniment of rank and wealth.

The most curious feature of this book consists, perhaps, in its original
treatment of illicit passion. Novelists, as a rule, when handling this
subject, depict its fascinations in brilliant contrast to the sufferings
and terrors which follow in its train. But George Eliot contents herself
with showing us the reverse side of the medal. Youth has faded, joy is
dead, love has turned to loathing, yet memory, like a relentless fury,
pursues the grey-haired Mrs. Transome, who hides within her breast such
a heavy load of shame and dread. The power and intensity with which this
character of the haughty, stern, yet inwardly quailing woman is drawn
are unsurpassed in their way, and there is tragic horror in the recoil
of her finest sensibilities from the vulgar, mean, self-complacent
lawyer, too thick-skinned ever to know that in his own person he is a
daily judgment on her whose life has been made hideous for his sake.
Never more impressively than here does the novelist enforce her teaching
that the deed follows the doer, being imbued with an incalculable
vitality of its own, shaping all after life, and subduing to its guise
the nature that is in bondage to it. Like those fabled dragon's teeth
planted by Cadmus, which spring up again as armed men, spreading discord
and ruin, so a man's evil actions seem endowed with independent
volition, and their consequences extend far beyond the individual life
where they originated.

If 'Felix Holt' is the most intricately constructed of George Eliot's
novels, 'Middlemarch,' which appeared five years afterwards, is, on the
other hand, a story without a plot. In fact, it seems hardly appropriate
to call it a novel. Like Hogarth's serial pictures representing the
successive stages in their progress through life of certain typical
characters, so in this book there is unrolled before us, not so much the
history of any particular individual, as a whole phase of society
portrayed with as daring and uncompromising a fidelity to Nature as that
of Hogarth himself. In 'Middlemarch,' English provincial life in the
first half of the nineteenth century is indelibly fixed in words
"holding a universe impalpable" for the apprehension and delight of the
furthest generations of English-speaking nations. Here, as in some kind
of panorama, sections of a community and groups of character pass before
the mind's eye. To dwell on the separate, strongly-individualised
figures which constitute this great crowd would be impossible within the
present limits. But from the county people such as the Brookes and
Chettams, to respectable middle-class families of the Vincy and Garth
type, down to the low, avaricious, harpy-tribes of the Waules and
Featherstones, every unit of this complex social agglomeration is
described with a life-like vividness truly amazing, when the number and
variety of the characters especially are considered. I know not where
else in literature to look for a work which leaves such a strong
impression on the reader's mind of the intertexture of human lives. Seen
thus in perspective, each separate individuality, with its specialised
consciousness, is yet as indissolubly connected with the collective life
as that of the indistinguishable zoophyte which is but a sentient speck
necessarily moved by the same vital agency which stirs the entire
organism.

Among the figures which stand out most prominently from the crowded
background are Dorothea, Lydgate, Casaubon, Rosamond Vincy, Ladislaw,
Bulstrode, Caleb, and Mary Garth. Dorothea belongs to that stately type
of womanhood, such as Romola and Fedalma, a type which seems to be
specifically George Eliot's own, and which has perhaps more in common
with such Greek ideals as Antigone and Iphigenia, than with more modern
heroines. But Dorothea, however lofty her aspirations, has not the
Christian heroism of Romola, or the antique devotion of Fedalma. She is
one of those problematic natures already spoken of; ill-adjusted to her
circumstances, and never quite adjusting circumstances to herself. It is
true that her high aims and glorious possibilities are partially stifled
by a social medium where there seems no demand for them: still the
resolute soul usually finds some way in which to work out its destiny.

"Many 'Theresas'" says George Eliot, "have been born who found for
themselves no epic life wherein there was a constant unfolding of
far-resonant action; perhaps only a life of mistakes, the offspring of a
certain spiritual grandeur ill-matched with the meanness of opportunity;
perhaps a tragic failure which found no sacred poet, and sank unwept
into oblivion. With dim lights and tangled circumstance they tried to
shape their thought and deed in noble agreement; but, after all, to
common eyes, their struggles seemed mere inconsistency and formlessness;
for these later-born 'Theresas' were helped by no coherent social faith
and order which could perform the function of knowledge for the ardently
willing soul.

"Some have felt that these blundering lives are due to the inconvenient
indefiniteness with which the Supreme Power has fashioned the natures of
women; if there were one level of feminine incompetence as strict as the
ability to count three and no more, the social lot of woman might be
treated with scientific certitude. Meanwhile the indefiniteness remains,
and the limits of variation are really much wider than any one would
imagine from the sameness of women's coiffure, and the favourite love
stories in prose and verse."

Such a life of mistakes is that of the beautiful Dorothea, the
ill-starred wife of Casaubon. In his way the character of Casaubon is as
great a triumph as that of Tito himself. The novelist seems to have
crept into the inmost recesses of that uneasy consciousness, to have
probed the most sensitive spots of that diseased vanity, and to lay bare
before our eyes the dull labour of a brain whose ideas are stillborn. In
an article by Mr. Myers it is stated, however incredible it may sound,
that an undiscriminating friend once condoled with George Eliot on the
melancholy experience which, from her knowledge of Lewes, had taught her
to depict the gloomy character of Casaubon; whereas, in fact, there
could not be a more striking contrast than that between the pedant
groping amid dim fragments of knowledge, and the vivacious littérateur
and thinker with his singular mental energy and grasp of thought. On the
novelist's laughingly assuring him that such was by no means the case,
"From whom, then," persisted he, "did you draw 'Casaubon'?" With a
humorous solemnity, which was quite in earnest, she pointed to her own
heart. She confessed, on the other hand, having found the character of
Rosamond Vincy difficult to sustain, such complacency of egoism, as has
been pointed out, being alien to her own habit of mind. But she laid no
claim to any such natural magnanimity as could avert Casaubon's
temptations of jealous vanity, and bitter resentment.

If there is any character in whom one may possibly trace some
suggestions of Lewes, it is in the versatile, brilliant, talented
Ladislaw, who held, that while genius must have the utmost play for its
spontaneity, it may await with confidence "those messages from the
universe which summon it to its peculiar work, only placing itself in an
attitude of receptivity towards all sublime chances." But however
charming, the impression Ladislaw produces is that of a somewhat
shallow, frothy character, so that he seems almost as ill-fitted for
Dorothea as the dreary Casaubon himself. Indeed the heroine's second
marriage seems almost as much a failure as the stultifying union of
Lydgate with Rosamond Vincy, and has altogether a more saddening effect
than the tragic death of Maggie, which is how much less pitiful than
that death in life of the fashionable doctor, whose best aims and vital
purposes have been killed by his wife.

Much might be said of Bulstrode, the sanctimonious hypocrite, who is yet
not altogether a hypocrite, but has a vein of something resembling
goodness running through his crafty character; of Farebrother, the lax,
amiable, genuinely honourable vicar of St. Botolph's; of Mrs.
Cadwallader, the glib-tongued, witty, meddling rector's wife, a kind of
Mrs. Poyser of high life; of Caleb Garth, whose devotion to work is a
religion, and whose likeness to Mr. Robert Evans has already been
pointed out; of the wholehearted, sensible Mary, and of many other
supremely vivid characters, whom to do justice to would carry us too
far.

'Middlemarch' is the only work of George Eliot's, I believe, in which
there is a distinct indication of her attitude towards the aspirations
and clearly formulated demands of the women of the nineteenth century.
Her many sarcastic allusions to the stereotyped theory about woman's
sphere show on which side her sympathies were enlisted. On the whole,
she was more partial to the educational movement than to that other
agitation which aims at securing the political enfranchisement of women.
How sincerely she had the first at heart is shown by the donation of
50l. "From the author of 'Romola,'" when Girton College was first
started. And in a letter to a young lady who studied there, and in whose
career she was much interested, she says, "the prosperity of Girton is
very satisfactory." Among her most intimate friends, too, were some of
the ladies who had initiated and organised the Women's Suffrage
movement. Likewise writing to Miss Phelps, she alludes to the Woman's
Lectureship in Boston, and remarks concerning the new University: "An
office that may make a new precedent in social advance, and which is at
the very least an experiment that ought to be tried. America is the
seed-ground and nursery of new ideals, where they can grow in a larger,
freer air than ours."

In 1871, the year when 'Middlemarch' was appearing in parts, George
Eliot spent part of the spring and summer months at Shottermill, a
quaint Hampshire village situated amid a landscape that unites beauties
of the most varied kind. Here we may imagine her and Mr. Lewes, after
their day's work was done, either seeking the vast stretch of heath and
common only bounded by the horizon, or strolling through the deep-sunk
lanes, or finding a soothing repose in "places of nestling green for
poets made." They had rented Brookbank, an old-fashioned cottage with
tiled roof and lattice-paned windows, belonging to Mrs. Gilchrist, the
widow of the distinguished biographer of William Blake.

The description of Mrs. Meyrick's house in 'Daniel Deronda' "where the
narrow spaces of wall held a world-history in scenes and heads," may
have been suggested by her present abode, rich in original drawings by
Blake, and valuable prints, and George Eliot writes: "If I ever steal
anything in my life, I think it will be the two little Sir Joshuas over
the drawing-room mantelpiece." At this time she and Mr. Lewes also found
intense interest in reading the 'Life of Blake.' Some correspondence,
kindly placed at my disposal by Mrs. Gilchrist, passed between this
lady and the Leweses in connection with the letting of the house,
giving interesting glimpses into the domesticities of the latter. Their
habits here, as in London, were of clockwork regularity, household
arrangements being expected to run on wheels. "Everything," writes
George Eliot, "goes on slowly at Shottermill, and the mode of narration
is that typified in 'This is the house that Jack built.' But there is an
exquisite stillness in the sunshine and a sense of distance from London
hurry, which encourages the growth of patience.

"Mrs. G----'s" (their one servant) "pace is proportionate to the other
slownesses, but she impresses me as a worthy person, and her
cooking--indeed, all her attendance on us--is of satisfactory quality.
But we find the awkwardness of having only one person in the house, as
well as the advantage (this latter being quietude). The butcher does not
bring the meat, everybody grudges selling new milk, eggs are scarce, and
an expedition we made yesterday in search of fowls, showed us nothing
more hopeful than some chickens six weeks old, which the good woman
observed were sometimes 'eaten by the gentry with asparagus.' Those
eccentric people, the gentry!

"But have we not been reading about the siege of Paris all the winter,
and shall we complain while we get excellent bread and butter and many
etceteras?... Mrs. S---- kindly sent us a dish of asparagus, which we
ate (without the skinny chicken) and had a feast.

"You will imagine that we are as fond of eating as Friar Tuck--I am
enlarging so on our commissariat. But you will also infer that we have
no great evils to complain of, since I make so much of the small."

George Eliot rarely went out in the day-time during her stay at
Shottermill, but in the course of her rambles she would sometimes visit
such cottagers in remote places as were not likely to know who she was.
She used also to go and see a farmer's wife living at a short distance
from Brookbank, with whom she would freely chat about the growth of
fruits and vegetables and the quality of butter, much to the
astonishment of the simple farm people. Speaking of her recollection of
the great novelist to an American lady by whom these facts are recorded,
the old countrywoman remarked: "It were wonderful, just wonderful, the
sight o' green peas that I sent down to that gentleman and lady every
week."

After the lapse of a few months spent in this sweet rural retreat,
George Eliot again writes to Mrs. Gilchrist: "I did not imagine that I
should ever be so fond of the place as I am now. The departure of the
bitter winds, some improvement in my health, and the gradual revelation
of fresh and fresh beauties in the scenery, especially under a hopeful
sky such as we have sometimes had--all these conditions have made me
love our little world here, and wish not to quit it until we can settle
in our London home. I have the regret of thinking that it was my
original indifference about it (I hardly ever like things until they are
familiar) that hindered us from securing the cottage until the end of
September."

George Eliot's conscientiousness and precision in the small affairs of
life are exemplified in her last note to Mrs. Gilchrist: "After Mr.
Lewes had written to you, I was made aware that a small dessert or
bread-and-butter dish had been broken. That arch-sinner, the cat, was
credited with the guilt. I am assured by Mrs. G---- that nothing else
has been injured during her reign, and Mrs. L---- confirmed the
statement to me yesterday. I wish I could replace the unfortunate
dish.... This note, of course, needs no answer, and it is intended
simply to make me a clean breast about the crockery."

About this time George Eliot was very much out of health: indeed, both
she and Lewes repeatedly speak of themselves as "two nervous, dyspeptic
creatures, two ailing, susceptible bodies," to whom slight
inconveniences are injurious and upsetting. Although it was hot summer
weather, Mrs. Lewes suffered much from cold, sitting always with
artificial heat to her feet. One broiling day in August, after she had
left Brookbank, and taken another place in the neighbourhood, an
acquaintance happening to call on her, found her sitting in the garden
writing, as was her wont, her head merely shaded by a deodara, on the
lawn. Being expostulated with by her visitor for her imprudence in
exposing herself to the full blaze of the midday sun, she replied, "Oh,
I like it! To-day is the first time I have felt warm this summer."

They led a most secluded life, George Eliot being at this time engaged
with the continuation of 'Middlemarch;' and Lewes, alluding to their
solitary habits, writes at this date: "Work goes on smoothly away from
all friendly interruptions. Lord Houghton says that it is
incomprehensible how we can live in such Simeon Stylites fashion, as we
often do, all alone--but the fact is we never _are_ alone when alone.
And I sometimes marvel how it is I have contrived to get through so much
work living in London. It's true I'm a London child." Occasionally,
however, they would go and see Tennyson, whose house is only three
miles from Shottermill, but the road being all uphill made the ride a
little tedious and uncomfortable, especially to George Eliot who had not
got over her old nervousness. The man who used to drive them on these
occasions was so much struck by this that he told the lady who has
recorded these details in the _Century Magazine_: "Withal her being such
a mighty clever body, she were very nervous in a carriage--allays wanted
to go on a smooth road, and seemed dreadful feared of being thrown out."
On one of these occasional meetings with Tennyson, the poet got involved
in a conversation with the novelist concerning evolution and such
weighty questions. They had been walking together in close argument, and
as the Poet-Laureate bade George Eliot farewell, he called to her,
already making her way down the hill, "Well, good-by, you and your
molecules!" And she, looking back, said in her deep low voice (which
always got lower when she was at all roused), "I am quite content with
my molecules."

The country all around Shottermill with its breezy uplands, its
pine-clad hills, its undulating tracts of land purpled with heath in the
autumn, became more and more endeared to George Eliot, who, indeed,
liked it better than any scenery in England. Here she could enjoy to the
full that "sense of standing on a round world," which, she writes to
Mrs. Gilchrist who had used the phrase, "was precisely what she most
cared for amongst out-of-door delights." Some years afterwards we find
her and Mr. Lewes permanently taking a house not far off, at Witley in
Surrey, which has the same kind of beautiful open scenery. Writing from
her town residence about it to her old friend Mrs. Bray, George Eliot
says: "We, too, are thinking of a new settling down, for we have bought
a house in Surrey about four miles from Godalming on a gravelly hill
among the pine-trees, but with neighbours to give us a sense of
security. Our present idea is that we shall part with this house and
give up London except for occasional visits. We shall be on the same
line of railway with some good friends at Weybridge and Guildford."



CHAPTER XIV.

DANIEL DERONDA.


'Daniel Deronda,' which appeared five years after 'Middlemarch,'
occupies a place apart among George Eliot's novels. In the spirit which
animates it, it has perhaps the closest affinity with the 'Spanish
Gypsy.' Speaking of this work to a young friend of Jewish extraction (in
whose career George Eliot felt keen interest), she expressed surprise at
the amazement which her choice of a subject had created. "I wrote about
the Jews," she remarked, "because I consider them a fine old race who
have done great things for humanity. I feel the same admiration for them
as I do for the Florentines. Only lately I have heard to my great
satisfaction that an influential member of the Jewish community is going
to start an emigration to Palestine. You will also be glad to learn that
Helmholtz is a Jew."

These observations are valuable as affording a key to the leading motive
of 'Daniel Deronda.' Mordecai's ardent desire to found a new national
state in Palestine is not simply the author's dramatic realisation of
the feeling of an enthusiast, but expresses her own very definite
sentiments on the subject. The Jewish apostle is, in fact, more or less
the mouthpiece of George Eliot's own opinions on Judaism. For so great
a master in the art of creating character, this type of the loftiest
kind of man is curiously unreal. Mordecai delivers himself of the most
eloquent and exalted views and sentiments, yet his own personality
remains so vague and nebulous that it has no power of kindling the
imagination. Mordecai is meant for a Jewish Mazzini. Within his
consciousness he harbours the future of a people. He feels himself
destined to become the saviour of his race; yet he does not convince us
of his greatness. He convinces us no more than he does the mixed company
at the "Hand and Banner," which listens with pitying incredulity to his
passionate harangues. Nevertheless the first and final test of the
religious teacher or of the social reformer is the magnetic force with
which his own intense beliefs become binding on the consciences of
others, if only of a few. It is true Mordecai secures one disciple--the
man destined to translate his thought into action, Daniel Deronda, as
shadowy, as puppet-like, as lifeless as Ezra Mordecai Cohen himself.
These two men, of whom the one is the spiritual leader and the other the
hero destined to realise his aspirations, are probably the two most
unsuccessful of George Eliot's vast gallery of characters. They are the
representatives of an idea, but the idea has never been made flesh. A
succinct expression of it may be gathered from the following passage:

"Which among the chief of the Gentile nations has not an ignorant
multitude? They scorn our people's ignorant observance; but the most
accursed ignorance is that which has no observance--sunk to the cunning
greed of the fox, to which all law is no more than a trap or the cry of
the worrying hound. There is a degradation deep down below the memory
that has withered into superstition. For the multitude of the ignorant
on three continents who observe our rites and make the confession of the
Divine Unity the Lord of Judaism is not dead. Revive the organic centre:
let the unity of Israel which has made the growth and form of its
religion be an outward reality. Looking towards a land and a polity, our
dispersed people in all the ends of the earth may share the dignity of a
national life which has a voice among the peoples of the East and the
West; which will plant the wisdom and skill of our race, so that it may
be, as of old, a medium of transmission and understanding. Let that come
to pass, and the living warmth will spread to the weak extremities of
Israel, and superstition will vanish, not in the lawlessness of the
renegade, but in the illumination of great facts which widen feeling,
and make all knowledge alive as the young offspring of beloved
memories."

This notion that the Jews should return to Palestine in a body, and once
more constitute themselves into a distinct nation, is curiously
repugnant to modern feelings. As repugnant as that other doctrine, which
is also implied in the book, that Jewish separateness should be still
further insured by strictly adhering to their own race in marriage--at
least Mirah, the most faultless of George Eliot's heroines, whose
character expresses the noblest side of Judaism, "is a Jewess who will
not accept any one but a Jew."

Mirah Lapidoth and the Princess Halm-Eberstein, Deronda's mother, are
drawn with the obvious purpose of contrasting two types of Jewish women.
Whereas the latter, strictly brought up in the belief and most minute
observances of her Hebrew father, breaks away from the "bondage of
having been born a Jew," from which she wishes to relieve her son by
parting from him in infancy, Mirah, brought up in disregard, "even in
dislike of her Jewish origin," clings with inviolable tenacity to the
memory of that origin and to the fellowship of her people. The author
leaves one in little doubt as towards which side her own sympathies
incline to. She is not so much the artist here, impartially portraying
different kinds of characters, as the special pleader proclaiming that
one set of motives are righteous, just, and praiseworthy, as well as
that the others are mischievous and reprehensible.

This seems carrying the principle of nationality to an extreme, if not
pernicious length. If there were never any breaking up of old forms of
society, any fresh blending of nationalities and races, we should soon
reduce Europe to another China. This unwavering faithfulness to the
traditions of the past may become a curse to the living. A rigidity as
unnatural as it is dangerous would be the result of too tenacious a
clinging to inherited memories. For if this doctrine were strictly
carried out, such a country as America, where there is a slow
amalgamation of many allied and even heterogeneous races into a new
nation, would practically become impossible. Indeed, George Eliot does
not absolutely hold these views. She considers them necessary at present
in order to act as a drag to the too rapid transformations of society.
In the most interesting paper of 'Theophrastus Such,' that called 'The
Modern Hep! Hep! Hep!' she remarks: "The tendency of things is towards
quicker or slower fusion of races. It is impossible to arrest this
tendency; all we can do is to moderate its course so as to hinder it
from degrading the moral status of societies by a too rapid effacement
of those national traditions and customs which are the language of the
national genius--the deep suckers of healthy sentiment. Such moderating
and guidance of inevitable movement is worthy of all effort."

Considering that George Eliot was convinced of this modern tendency
towards fusion, it is all the more singular that she should, in 'Daniel
Deronda,' have laid such stress on the reconstruction, after the lapse
of centuries, of a Jewish state; singular, when one considers that many
of the most eminent Jews, so far from aspiring towards such an event,
hardly seem to have contemplated it as a desirable or possible prospect.
The sympathies of Spinoza, the Mendelssohns, Rahel, Meyerbeer, Heine,
and many others, are not distinctively Jewish but humanitarian. And the
grandest, as well as truest thing that has been uttered about them is
that saying of Heine's: "The country of the Jews is the ideal, is God."

Indeed, to have a true conception of Jewish nature and character, of its
brilliant lights and deep shadows, of its pathos, depth, sublimity,
degradation, and wit; of its infinite resource and boundless capacity
for suffering--one must go to Heine and not to 'Daniel Deronda.' In
'Jehuda-ben-Halevy' Heine expresses the love and longing of a Jewish
heart for Jerusalem in accents of such piercing intensity that compared
with it, "Mordecai's" fervid desire fades into mere abstract rhetoric.

Nature and experience were the principal sources of George Eliot's
inspiration. And though she knew a great deal about the Jews, her
experience had not become sufficiently incorporated with her
consciousness. Otherwise, instead of portraying such tame models of
perfection as Deronda and Mirah, she would have so mixed her colours as
to give us that subtle involvement of motive and tendency--as of
cross-currents in the sea--which we find in the characters of nature's
making and in her own finest creations, such as Maggie, Silas Marner,
Dorothea Casaubon, and others.

In turning to the English portion of the story there is at once greater
play of spontaneity in the people depicted. Grandcourt, Gascoigne, Rex,
Mrs. Davilow, Sir Hugh Mallinger, and especially Gwendolen, show all the
old cunning in the psychological rendering of human nature. Curiously
enough, this novel consists of two perfectly distinct narratives; the
only point of junction being Daniel Deronda himself, who, as a Jew by
birth and an English gentleman by education, stands related to both sets
of circumstances. The influence he exerts on the spiritual development
of Gwendolen seems indeed the true _motif_ of the story. Otherwise there
is no intrinsic connection between the group of people clustering round
Mordecai, and that of which Gwendolen is the centre: unless it be that
the author wished to show the greater intensity of aim and higher moral
worth of the Jews as contrasted with these purposeless, worldly, unideal
Christians of the nineteenth century.

Compared with the immaculate Mirah, Gwendolen Harleth is a very naughty,
spoiled, imperfect specimen of maidenhood. But she has life in her; and
one speculates as to what she will say and do next, as if she were a
person among one's acquaintances. On that account most readers of
'Daniel Deronda' find their interest engrossed by the fate of
Gwendolen, and the conjugal relations between her and Grandcourt. This
is so much the case, that one suspects her to have been the first idea
of the story. She is at any rate its most attractive feature. In
Gwendolen, George Eliot once remarked, she had wished to draw a girl of
the period. Fascinating, accomplished, of siren-like beauty, she has
every outward grace combined with a singular inward vacuity. The deeper
aspects of life are undreamed of in her philosophy. Her religion
consists in a vague awe of the unknown and invisible, and her ambition
in the acquisition of rank, wealth, and personal distinction. She is
selfish, vain, frivolous, worldly, domineering, yet not without sudden
impulses of generosity, and jets of affection. Something there is in her
of Undine before she had a soul--something of a gay, vivacious,
unfeeling sprite, who recks nothing of human love or of human misery,
but looks down with utter indifference on the poor humdrum mortals
around her, whom she inspires at once with fear and fondness: something,
also, of the "princess in exile, who in time of famine was to have her
breakfast-roll made of the finest bolted flour from the seven thin ears
of wheat, and in a general decampment was to have her silver fork kept
out of the baggage."

How this bewitching creature, whose "iridescence of character" makes her
a psychological problem, is gradually brought to accept Henleigh
Grandcourt, in spite of the promise she has given to Lydia Glasher (his
discarded victim), and her own fleeting presentiments, is described with
an analytical subtlety unsurpassed in George Eliot's works. So, indeed,
is the whole episode of the married life of Grandcourt. This
territorial magnate, who possesses every worldly advantage that
Gwendolen desired, is worthy, as a study of character, to be placed
beside that of Casaubon himself. Gwendolen's girlish type of egoism,
which loves to be the centre of admiration, here meets with that far
other deadlier form of an "exorbitant egoism," conspicuous for its
intense obstinacy and tenacity of rule, "in proportion as the varied
susceptibilities of younger years are stripped away." This cold,
negative nature lies with a kind of withering blight on the susceptible
Gwendolen. Roused from the complacent dreams of girlhood by the
realities of her married life, shrinking in helpless repulsion from the
husband whom she meant to manage, and who holds her as in a vice, the
unhappy woman has nothing to cling to in this terrible inward collapse
of her happiness, but the man, who, from the first moment when his eye
arrests hers at the gaming table at Leubronn, becomes, as it were, a
conscience visibly incarnate to her. This incident, which is told in the
first chapter of the novel, recalls a sketch by Dante Rossetti, where
Mary Magdalene, in the flush of joyous life, is held by the Saviour's
gaze, and in a sudden revulsion from her old life, breaks away from
companions that would fain hold her back, with a passionate movement
towards the Man of Sorrow. This impressive conception may have
unconsciously suggested a somewhat similar situation to the novelist,
for that George Eliot was acquainted with this drawing is shown by the
following letter addressed in 1870 to Dante Rossetti:

"I have had time now to dwell on the photographs. I am especially
grateful to you for giving me the head marked June 1861: it is
exquisite. But I am glad to possess every one of them. The subject of
the Magdalene rises in interest for me, the more I look at it. I hope
you will keep in the picture an equally passionate type for her. Perhaps
you will indulge me with a little talk about the modifications you
intend to introduce."

The relation of Deronda to Gwendolen is of a Christlike nature. He is
her only moral hold in the fearful temptations that assail her now and
again under the intolerable irritations of her married life, temptations
which grow more urgent when Grandcourt leads his wife captive, after his
fashion, in a yacht on the Mediterranean. For "the intensest form of
hatred is that rooted in fear, which compels to silence, and drives
vehemence into a constructive vindictiveness, an imaginary annihilation
of the detested object, something like the hidden rites of vengeance,
with which the persecuted have made a dark vent for their rage, and
soothed their suffering into dumbness. Such hidden rites went on in the
secrecy of Gwendolen's mind, but not with soothing effect--rather with
the effect of a struggling terror. Side by side with dread of her
husband had grown the self-dread which urged her to flee from the
pursuing images wrought by her pent-up impulse."

The evil wish at last finds fulfilment, the murderous thought is
outwardly realised. And though death is not eventually the result of the
criminal desire, it yet seems to the unhappy wife as if it had a
determining power in bringing about the catastrophe. But it is precisely
this remorse which is the redeeming quality of her nature, and awakens a
new life within her. In this quickening of the moral consciousness
through guilt we are reminded, although in a different manner, of a
similar process, full of pregnant suggestions, described in Nathaniel
Hawthorne's 'Transformation.' It will be remembered that Donatello leads
a purely instinctive, that is to say animal, existence, till the
commission of a crime awakens the dormant conscience, and a soul is born
in the throes of anguish and remorse.

In 'Daniel Deronda' there is an entire absence of that rich, genial
humour which seemed spontaneously to bubble up and overflow her earlier
works. Whether George Eliot's conception of the Jews as a peculiarly
serious race had any share in bringing about that result, it is
difficult to say. At any rate, in one of her essays she remarks that,
"The history and literature of the ancient Hebrews gives the idea of a
people who went about their business and pleasure as gravely as a
society of beavers." Certainly Mordecai, Deronda, and Mirah, are
preternaturally solemn; even the Cohen family are not presented with any
of those comic touches one would have looked for in this great humorist;
only in the boy Jacob are there gleams of drollery, such as in this
description of him by Hans Meyrick: "He treats me with the easiest
familiarity, and seems in general to look at me as a second-hand
Christian commodity, likely to come down in price; remarking on my
disadvantages with a frankness which seems to imply some thoughts of
future purchase. It is pretty, though, to see the change in him if Mirah
happens to come in. He turns child suddenly--his age usually strikes one
as being like the Israelitish garments in the desert, perhaps near
forty, yet with an air of recent production."

A certain subdued vein of humour is not entirely absent from the
portraiture of the Meyrick family, a delightful group, who "had their
little oddities, streaks of eccentricity from the mother's blood as well
as the father's, their minds being like mediæval houses with unexpected
recesses and openings from this into that, flights of steps, and sudden
outlooks." But on the whole, instead of the old humour, we find in
'Daniel Deronda' a polished irony and epigrammatic sarcasm, which were
afterwards still more fully developed in the 'Impressions of
Theophrastus Such.'

Soon after the publication of this novel, we find the following allusion
to it in one of George Eliot's letters to Mrs. Bray: "I don't know what
you refer to in the _Jewish World_. Perhaps the report of Dr. Hermann
Adler's lecture on 'Deronda' to the Jewish working-men, given in the
_Times_. Probably the Dr. Adler whom you saw is Dr. Hermann's father,
still living as Chief Rabbi. I have had some delightful communications
from Jews and Jewesses, both at home and abroad. Part of the Club scene
in 'D. D.' is flying about in the Hebrew tongue through the various
Hebrew newspapers, which have been copying the 'Maga.' in which the
translation was first sent to me three months ago. The Jews naturally
are not indifferent to themselves."

This Club scene gave rise at the time to quite a controversy. It could
not fail to be identified with that other club of philosophers out at
elbows so vividly described by G. H. Lewes in the 'Fortnightly Review'
of 1866. Nor was it possible not to detect an affinity between the Jew
Cohen, the poor consumptive journeyman watchmaker, with his weak voice
and his great calm intellect, and Ezra Mordecai Cohen, in precisely
similar conditions; the difference being that the one is penetrated by
the philosophical idea of Spinozism, and the other by the political
idea of reconstituting a Jewish State in Palestine. This difference of
mental bias, no doubt, forms a contrast between the two characters,
without, however, invalidating the surmise that the fictitious
enthusiast may have been originally suggested by the noble figure of the
living Jew. Be that as it may, Lewes often took the opportunity in
conversation of "pointing out that no such resemblance existed, Cohen
being a keen dialectician and a highly impressive man, but without any
specifically Jewish enthusiasm."

When she undertook to write about the Jews, George Eliot was deeply
versed in Hebrew literature, ancient and modern. She had taught herself
Hebrew when translating the _Leben Jesu_, and this knowledge now stood
her in good stead. She was also familiar with the splendid utterances of
Jehuda-ben-Halevy; with the visionary speculations of the Cabbalists,
and with the brilliant Jewish writers of the Hispano-Arabic epoch. She
had read portions of the Talmud, and remarked one day in conversation
that Spinoza had really got something from the Cabbala. On her friend
humbly suggesting that by ordinary accounts it appeared to be awful
nonsense, she said "that it nevertheless contained fine ideas, like
Plato and the Old Testament, which, however, people took in the lump,
being accustomed to them."



CHAPTER XV.

LAST YEARS.


'Daniel Deronda' is the last great imaginative work with which George
Eliot was destined to enrich the world. It came out in small volumes,
the appearance of each fresh number being hailed as a literary event. In
allusion to an author's feeling on the conclusion of a weighty task,
George Eliot remarks in one of her letters: "As to the great novel which
remains to be written, I must tell you that I never believe in future
books.... Always after finishing a book I have a period of despair that
I can never again produce anything worth giving to the world. The
responsibility of the writer grows heavier and heavier--does it not?--as
the world grows older, and the voices of the dead more numerous. It is
difficult to believe, until the germ of some new work grows into
imperious activity within one, that it is possible to make a really
needed contribution to the poetry of the world--I mean possible to
oneself to do it."

This singular diffidence, arising from a sense of the tremendous
responsibility which her position entailed, was one of the most
noticeable characteristics of this great woman, and struck every one who
came in contact with her. Her conscientiousness made her even painfully
anxious to enter sympathetically into the needs of every person who
approached her, so as to make her speech a permanently fruitful
influence in her hearer's life. Such an interview, for example, as that
between Goethe and Heine--where the younger poet, after thinking all the
way what fine things to say to Goethe, was so disconcerted by the
awe-inspiring presence of the master, that he could find nothing better
to say than that the plums on the road-side between Jena and Weimar were
remarkably good--would have been impossible with one so eager always to
give of her best.

This deep seriousness of nature made her Sunday afternoon receptions,
which became more and more fashionable as time went on, something of a
tax to one who preferred the intimate converse of a few to that more
superficially brilliant talk which a promiscuous gathering brings with
it. Among the distinguished visitors to be met more or less frequently
at the Priory maybe mentioned Mr. Herbert Spencer, Professor Huxley, Mr.
Frederic Harrison, Professor Beesly, Dr. and Mrs. Congreve, Madame
Bodichon, Lord Houghton, M. Tourguénief, Mr. Ralston, Sir Theodore and
Lady Martin (better known as Helen Faucit), Mr. Burton of the National
Gallery, Mr. George Howard and his wife, Mr. C. G. Leland, Mr. Moncure
Conway, Mr. Justin McCarthy, Dr. Hueffer, Mr. and Mrs. Buxton Forman,
Mr. F. Myers, Mr. Sully, Mr. Du Maurier, Mr. and Mrs. Mark Pattison, Mr.
and Mrs. Clifford, Lady Castletown and her daughters, Mr. and Mrs. Burne
Jones, Mr. John Everett Millais, Mr. Robert Browning, and Mr. Tennyson.

Persons of celebrity were not the only ones, however, that were made
welcome at the Priory. The liveliest sympathy was shown by both host
and hostess in many young people as yet struggling in obscurity, but in
whom they delighted to recognise the promise of some future excellence.
If a young man were pursuing some original scientific inquiry, or
striking out a new vein of speculation, in all London there was none
likely to enter with such zest into his ideas as G. H. Lewes. His
generous appreciation of intellectual gifts is well shown in the
following lines to the late Professor W. K. Clifford:

"Few things have given us more pleasure than the intimation in your note
that you had a _fiancée_. May she be the central happiness and motive
force of your career, and, by satisfying the affections, leave your
_rare_ intellect free to work out its glorious destiny. For, if you
don't become a glory to your age and time, it will be a sin and a shame.
Nature doesn't often send forth such gifted sons, and when she does,
Society usually cripples them. Nothing but marriage--a happy
marriage--has seemed to Mrs. Lewes and myself wanting to your future."

On the Sunday afternoon receptions just mentioned, G. H. Lewes acted, so
to speak, as a social cement. His vivacity, his ready tact, the
fascination of his manners, diffused that general sense of ease and
_abandon_ so requisite to foster an harmonious flow of conversation. He
was inimitable as a _raconteur_, and Thackeray, Trollope, and Arthur
Helps were fond of quoting some of the stories which he would dramatise
in the telling. One of the images which, on these occasions, recurs
oftenest to George Eliot's friends, is that of the frail-looking woman
who would sit with her chair drawn close to the fire, and whose winning
womanliness of bearing and manners struck every one who had the
privilege of an introduction to her. Her long, pale face, with its
strongly-marked features, was less rugged in the mature prime of life
than in youth, the inner meanings of her nature having worked themselves
more and more to the surface, the mouth, with its benignant suavity of
expression, especially softening the too prominent under-lip and massive
jaw. Her abundant hair, untinged with grey, whose smooth bands made a
kind of frame to the face, was covered by a lace or muslin cap, with
lappets of rich point or Valenciennes lace fastened under her chin. Her
grey-blue eyes, under noticeable eyelashes, expressed the same acute
sensitiveness as her long, thin, beautifully-shaped hands. She had a
pleasant laugh and smile, her voice being low, distinct, and intensely
sympathetic in quality: it was contralto in singing, but she seldom sang
or played before more than one or two friends. Though her conversation
was perfectly easy, each sentence was as finished, as perfectly formed,
as the style of her published works. Indeed, she laid great stress on
the value of correct speaking and clearness of enunciation; and in
'Theophrastus Such' she laments "the general ambition to speak every
language except our mother English, which persons 'of style' are not
ashamed of corrupting with slang, false foreign equivalents, and a
pronunciation that crushes out all colour from the vowels, and jams them
between jostling consonants."

Besides M. d'Albert's Genevese portrait of George Eliot, we have a
drawing by Mr. Burton, and another by Mr. Lawrence, the latter taken
soon after the publication of 'Adam Bede.' In criticising the latter
likeness, a keen observer of human nature remarked that it conveyed no
indication of the infinite depth of her observant eye, nor of that
cold, subtle, and unconscious cruelty of expression which might
occasionally be detected there. George Eliot had an unconquerable
aversion to her likeness being taken: once, however, in 1860, she was
photographed for the sake of her "dear sisters" at Rosehill. But she
seems to have repented of this weakness, for, after the lapse of years,
she writes: "Mr. Lewes has just come to me after reading your letter,
and says, 'For God's sake tell her not to have the photograph
reproduced!' and I had nearly forgotten to say that the fading is what I
desired. I should not like this image to be perpetuated. It needs the
friendly eyes that regret to see it fade, and must not be recalled into
emphatic black and white for indifferent gazers. Pray let it vanish."

Those who knew George Eliot were even more struck by the force of her
entire personality than by her writings. Sympathetic, witty or learned
in turn, her conversation deeply impressed her hearers, being enriched
by such felicities of expression as: "The best lesson of tolerance we
have to learn is to tolerate intolerance." In answer to a friend's
surprise that a clever man should allow himself to be contradicted by a
stupid one, without dropping down on him, she remarked: "He is very
liable to drop down as a baked apple would." And of a very plain
acquaintance she said: "He has the most dreadful kind of ugliness one
can be afflicted with, because it takes on the semblance of beauty."

Poetry, music, and art naturally absorbed much attention at the Priory.
Here Mr. Tennyson has been known to read 'Maud' aloud to his friends:
Mr. Browning expatiated on the most recondite metrical rules: and
Rossetti sent presents of poems and photographs. In the following
unpublished letters George Eliot thanks the latter for his valued
gifts--"We returned only the night before last from a two months'
journey to the Continent, and among the parcels awaiting me I found your
generous gift. I am very grateful to you both as giver and poet.

"In cutting the leaves, while my head is still swimming from the
journey, I have not resisted the temptation to read many things as they
ought not to be read--hurriedly. But even in this way I have received a
stronger impression than any fresh poems have for a long while given me,
that to read once is a reason for reading again. The sonnets towards
'The House of Life' attract me peculiarly. I feel about them as I do
about a new cahier of music which I have been 'trying' here and there
with the delightful conviction that I have a great deal to become
acquainted with and to like better and better." And again, in
acknowledgment of some photographs: "The 'Hamlet' seems to me perfectly
intelligible, and altogether admirable in conception, except in the type
of the man's head. I feel sure that 'Hamlet' had a square anterior lobe.

"Mr. Lewes says, this conception of yours makes him long to be an actor
who has 'Hamlet' for one of his parts, that he might carry out this
scene according to your idea.

"One is always liable to mistake prejudices for sufficient inductions,
about types of head and face, as well as about all other things. I have
some impressions--perhaps only prejudices dependent on the narrowness of
my experience--about forms of eyebrow and their relation to passionate
expression. It is possible that such a supposed relation has a real
anatomical basis. But in many particulars facial expression is like the
expression of hand-writing: the relations are too subtle and intricate
to be detected, and only shallowness is confident."

George Eliot read but little contemporary fiction, being usually
absorbed in the study of some particular subject. "For my own spiritual
good I need all other sort of reading," she says, "more than I need
fiction. I know nothing of contemporary English novelists with the
exception of ----, and a few of ----'s works. My constant groan is that
I must leave so much of the greatest writing which the centuries have
sifted for me unread for want of time." For the same reason, on being
recommended by a literary friend to read Walt Whitman, she hesitated on
the ground of his not containing anything spiritually needful for her,
but, having been induced to take him up, she changed her opinion and
admitted that he _did_ contain what was "good for her soul." As to
lighter reading, she was fond of books of travel, pronouncing "'The
Voyage of the Challenger' a splendid book." Among foreign novelists she
was very partial to Henry Gréville, and speaks of 'Les Koumiassine' as a
pleasant story.

Persons who were privileged enough to be admitted to the intimacy of
George Eliot and Mr. Lewes could not fail to be impressed by the immense
admiration which they had for one another. Lewes's tenderness, always on
the watch lest the great writer, with her delicately poised health,
should over-exert herself, had something of doglike fidelity. On the
other hand, in spite of George Eliot's habitually retiring manner, if
any one ever engaged on the opposite side of an argument to that
maintained by the brilliant _savant_, in taking his part, she usually
had the best of it, although in the most gentle and feminine way.

Although there was entire oneness of feeling between them, there was no
unanimity of opinion. George Eliot had the highest regard for Lewes's
opinions, but held to her own. One of the chief subjects of difference
consisted in their attitude towards Christianity: whereas he was its
uncompromising opponent, she had the greatest sympathy with its various
manifestations, from Roman Catholic asceticism to Evangelical austerity
and Methodist fervour. Her reverence for every form of worship in which
mankind has more or less consciously embodied its sense of the mystery
of all "this unintelligible world" increased with the years. She was
deeply penetrated by that tendency of the Positivist spirit which
recognises the beneficial element in every form of religion, and sees
the close, nay indissoluble, connection between the faith of former
generations and the ideal of our own. She herself found ample scope for
the needs and aspirations of her spiritual nature in the religion of
humanity. As has already been repeatedly pointed out, there runs through
all her works the same persistent teaching of "the Infinite Nature of
Duty." And with Comte she refers "the obligations of duty, as well as
all sentiments of devotion, to a concrete object, at once ideal and
real; the Human Race, conceived as a continuous whole, including the
past, the present, and the future."

Though George Eliot drew many of her ideas of moral cultivation from the
doctrines of Comte's _Philosophie Positive_, she was not a Positivist in
the strict sense of the word. Her mind was far too creative by nature
to give an unqualified adhesion to such a system as Comte's. Indeed, her
devotion to the idea of mankind, conceived as a collective whole, is not
so much characteristic of Positivists as of the greatest modern minds,
minds such as Lessing, Bentham, Shelley, Mill, Mazzini, and Victor Hugo.
Inasmuch as Comte co-ordinated these ideas into a consistent doctrine,
George Eliot found herself greatly attracted to his system; and Mr.
Beesly, after an acquaintance of eighteen years, considered himself
justified in stating that her powerful intellect had accepted the
teaching of Auguste Comte, and that she looked forward to the
reorganisation of belief on the lines which he had laid down. Still her
adherence, like that of G. H. Lewes, was only partial, and applied
mainly to his philosophy, and not to his scheme of social policy. She
went farther than the latter, however, in her concurrence. For Mr.
Lewes, speaking of the _Politique Positive_ in his 'History of
Philosophy,' admits that his antagonistic attitude had been considerably
modified on learning from the remark of one very dear to him, "to regard
it as an Utopia, presenting hypotheses rather than
doctrines--suggestions for future inquiries rather than dogmas for
adepts."

On the whole, although George Eliot did not agree with Comte's later
theories concerning the reconstruction of society, she regarded them
with sympathy "as the efforts of an individual to anticipate the work of
future generations." This sympathy with the general Positivist movement
she showed by subscribing regularly to Positivist objects, especially to
the fund of the Central Organisation presided over by M. Laffitte, but
she invariably refused all membership with the Positivist community. In
conversation with an old and valued friend, she also repeatedly
expressed her objection to much in Comte's later speculations, saying on
one occasion, "I cannot submit my intellect or my soul to the guidance
of Comte." The fact is that, although George Eliot was greatly
influenced by the leading Positivist ideas, her mind was too original
not to work out her own individual conception of life.

What this conception is has been already indicated, so far as space
would permit, in the discussion of her successive works. Perhaps in the
course of time her moralising analytical tendency encroached too much on
the purely artistic faculty. Her eminently dramatic genius--which
enabled her to realise characters the most varied and opposite in type,
somewhat in the manner of Shakespeare--became hampered by theories and
abstract views of life. This was especially shown in her latest work,
'The Impressions of Theophrastus Such,' a series of essays chiefly
satirising the weaknesses and vanities of the literary class. In these
unattractive "impressions" the wit is often laboured, and does not play
"beneficently round the changing facets of egoism, absurdity, and vice,
as the sunshine over the rippling sea or the dewy meadows." Its cutting
irony and incisive ridicule are no longer tempered by the humorous
laugh, but have the corrosive quality of some acrid chemical substance.

One of the papers, however, that entitled 'Debasing the Moral Currency,'
expresses a strongly marked characteristic of George Eliot's mind. It is
a pithy protest against the tendency of the present generation to turn
the grandest deeds and noblest works of art into food for laughter. For
she hated nothing so much as mockery and ridicule of what other people
reverenced, often remarking that those who considered themselves freest
from superstitious fancies were the most intolerant. She carried this
feeling to such a pitch that she even disliked a book like 'Alice in
Wonderland' because it laughed at the things which children had had a
kind of belief in. In censuring this vicious habit of burlesquing the
things that ought to be regarded with awe and admiration, she remarks,
"Let a greedy buffoonery debase all historic beauty, majesty and pathos,
and the more you heap up the desecrated symbols, the greater will be the
lack of the ennobling emotions which subdue the tyranny of suffering,
and make ambition one with virtue."

'Looking Backward' is the only paper in 'Theophrastus Such' quite free
from cynicism. It contains, under a slightly veiled form, pathetically
tender reminiscences of her own early life. This volume, not published
till May 1879, was written before the incalculable loss which befell
George Eliot in the autumn of the preceding year.

After spending the summer of 1878 in the pleasant retirement of Witley,
Lewes and George Eliot returned to London. A severe cold taken by Lewes
proved the forerunner of a serious disorder, and, after a short illness,
this bright, many-sided, indefatigable thinker, passed away in his
sixty-second year. He had frequently said to his friends that the most
desirable end of a well-spent life was a painless death; and although
his own could not be called painless, his sufferings were at least of
short duration. Concerning the suffering and anguish of her who was left
behind to mourn him, one may most fitly say, in her own words, that,
"for the first sharp pangs there is no comfort--whatever goodness may
surround us, darkness and silence still hang about our pain." In her
case, also, the "clinging companionship with the dead" was gradually
linked with her living affections, and she found alleviation for her
sorrow in resuming those habits of continuous mental occupation which
had become second nature with her. In a letter addressed to a friend,
who, only a few short months afterwards, suffered a like heavy
bereavement, there breathes the spirit in which George Eliot bore her
own sorrow: "I understand it all.... There is but one refuge--the having
much to do. You have the mother's duties. Not that these can yet make
your life other than a burden to be patiently borne. Nothing can, except
the gradual adaptation of your soul to the new conditions.... It is
among my most cherished memories that I knew your husband, and from the
first delighted in him.... All blessing--and even the sorrow that is a
form of love has a heart of blessing--is tenderly wished for you."

On seeing this lady for the first time after their mutual loss, George
Eliot asked her eagerly: "Do the children help? Does it make any
difference?" Some help there was for the widowed heart of this sorrowing
woman in throwing herself, with all her energies, into the work which
Lewes had left unfinished at his death, and preparing it for
publication, with the help of an expert. Another subject which occupied
her thoughts at this time, was the foundation of the "George Henry Lewes
Studentship," in order to commemorate the name of one who had done so
much to distinguish himself in the varied fields of literature, science,
and philosophy. The value of the studentship is slightly under £200 a
year. It is worth noticing that persons of both sexes are received as
candidates. The object of the endowment is to encourage the prosecution
of original research in physiology, a science to whose study Lewes had
devoted himself most assiduously for many years. Writing of this matter
to a young lady, one of the Girton students, George Eliot says: "I know
... will be glad to hear also that both in England and Germany the type,
or scheme, on which the studentship is arranged has been regarded with
satisfaction, as likely to be a useful model."

Amid such preoccupations, and the preparation of 'Theophrastus Such' for
the press, the months passed on, and George Eliot was beginning to see
her friends again, when one day she not only took the world, but her
intimate circle by surprise, by her marriage with Mr. John Walter Cross,
on the 6th of May, 1880. The acquaintance with this gentleman, dating
from the year 1867, had long ago grown into the warmest friendship, and
his boundless devotion to the great woman whose society was to him as
his daily bread, no doubt induced her to take a step which could not
fail to startle even those who loved her the most. But George Eliot's
was a nature that needed some one especially to love. And though that
precious companionship, at once stimulating and sympathetic, which she
had so long enjoyed, was taken from her, she could still find comfort
during the remainder of her life in the love, the appreciation, and the
tender care which were proffered to her by Mr. Cross. Unfortunately her
life was not destined to be prolonged.

Although seeming fairly well at this date, George Eliot's health, always
delicate, had probably received a shock, from which it never recovered.
Only six months before her marriage three eminent medical men were
attending her for a painful disease. However, there seemed still a
prospect of happiness for her when she and Mr. Cross went for a tour in
Italy, settling, on their return, at her favourite country house at
Witley. In the autumn they once more made their home in London, at Mr.
Cross's town house at 4 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, and Mrs. Cross, who was
again beginning to receive her friends, seemed, to all appearances, well
and happy, with a prospect of domestic love and unimpaired mental
activity stretching out before her. But it was not to be. On Friday, the
17th of December, George Eliot attended a representation of the
'Agamemnon,' in Greek, by Oxford undergraduates, and was so stirred by
the grand words of her favourite Æschylus, that she was contemplating a
fresh perusal of the Greek dramatists with her husband. On the following
day she went to the Saturday popular concert, and on returning home
played through some of the music she had been hearing. Her fatal cold
was probably caught on that occasion, for, although she received her
friends, according to custom, on the Sunday afternoon, she felt
indisposed in the evening, and on the following day an affection of the
larynx necessitated medical advice. There seemed no cause for alarm at
first, till on Wednesday it was unexpectedly discovered that
inflammation had arisen in the heart, and that no hope of recovery
remained. Before midnight of the 22nd of December, 1880, George Eliot,
who died at precisely the same age as Lewes, had passed quietly and
painlessly away; and on Christmas Eve the announcement of her death was
received with general grief. She was buried by the side of George Henry
Lewes, in the cemetery at Highgate.

George Eliot's career has been habitually described as uniform and
uneventful. In reality nothing is more misleading. On the contrary, her
life, from its rising to its setting, describes an astonishingly wide
orbit. If one turns back in imagination from the little Staffordshire
village whence her father sprang, to the simple rural surroundings of
her own youth, and traces her history to the moment when a crowd of
mourners, consisting of the most distinguished men and women in England,
followed her to the grave, one cannot help realising how truly eventful
was the life of her who now joined in spirit the


                           "Choir invisible
     Of those immortal dead who live again
     In minds made better by their presence: live
     In pulses stirred to generosity,
     In deeds of daring rectitude, in scorn
     For miserable aims that end in self,
     In thoughts sublime that pierce the night like stars,
     And with their mild persistence urge man's search
     To vaster issues."


LONDON: PRINTED BY WM. CLOWES AND SONS, LIMITED,
STAMFORD STREET AND CHARING CROSS.





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