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George Eliot; A Critical Study of Her Life, Writings & Philosophy by George Willis Cooke

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nothing towards God which he does not also feel towards man." The dogmas of
Christianity are interpreted by Feuerbach from this standpoint of
conceiving religion as a projection of feeling upon the outward world. So
he explains the incarnation as man's love for man, man's yearning to help
his fellows, the renunciation and suffering man undergoes for man. The
passion of Christ represents freely accepted suffering for others in love
of them. The trinity typifies the participated, social life of the species;
it shows the father, mother and son as the symbols of the race. The _logos_
or son is the nature of the imagination made objective, the satisfaction of
the need for mental images, the reflected splendor of the imagination.
Faith in providence is faith in one's own worth; it indicates the divine
reality and significance of our own being. Prayer is an expression of the
power of feeling, a dialogue of man with his own heart. Faith is confidence
in the reality of the subjective in opposition to the limitations or laws
of nature and reason. Its specific object is miracle; faith and miracle are
absolutely inseparable. That which is objectively miracle is subjectively
faith. Faith is the miracle of feeling; it is nothing else than belief in
the absolute reality of subjectivity. The power of miracle is the power of
the imagination, for imagination corresponds to personal feeling; it sets
aside all limits, all laws painful to the feelings, and thus makes
objective to man the immediate, absolutely unlimited satisfaction of his
subjective wishes. The belief in miracle accepts wishes as realities. In
fact, the fundamental dogmas of Christianity are simply realized wishes of
the heart. This is true, because the highest law of feeling is the
immediate unity of will and deed, of wishing and reality. To religion, what
is felt or wished is regarded as real. In the Redeemer this is realized,
wish becomes fact. All things are to be wrought, according to religion, by
belief. Thus the future life is a life where feeling realizes every desire.
Its whole import is that of the abolition of the discordance which exists
between wish and reality. It is the realization of a state which
corresponds to the feelings, in which man is in unison with himself. The
other world is nothing more than the reality of a known idea, the
satisfaction of a conscious desire, the fulfilment of a wish. "The sum of
the future life is happiness, the everlasting bliss of personality, which
is here limited and circumscribed by nature. Faith in the future life is
therefore faith in the freedom of subjectivity from the limits of nature;
it is faith in the eternity and infinitude of personality, and not of
personality viewed in relation to the idea of the species, in which it
forever unfolds itself in new individuals, but of personality as belonging
to already existing individuals; consequently, it is the faith of man in
himself. But faith in the kingdom of heaven is one with faith in God; the
context of both ideas is the same; God is pure absolute subjectivity
released from all natural limits; he is what individuals ought to be and
will be; faith in God is therefore the faith of man in the infinitude and
truth of his own nature; the Divine Being is the subjective human being in
his absolute freedom and unlimitedness."

It is not probable that George Eliot confined her philosophic studies to
the writings of Charles Bray and Feuerbach, but it is quite certain that in
their books which she did faithfully study, are to be found some of the
leading principles of her philosophy. What gives greater confirmation to
the supposition that her philosophy was largely shaped under their
influence is the fact that her intimate friend, Sara Hennell, drew from the
same sources for the presentation of theories quite identical with hers.
Sara Hennell's _Thoughts in Aid of Faith_, published in 1860, is an attempt
to show that the religious sentiments may be retained when the doctrines of
theology are intellectually rejected, that a disposition of the heart akin
to Paul's may be present though conviction be extinct. In securing this
result, she too takes Feuerbach as her guide, and his teachings she claims
are fully corroborated by the philosophy of Herbert Spencer. Religion she
regards as the result of the tendency of man's mind towards philosophy, the
outgrowth of the activity of his mental faculties seeking satisfaction for
themselves in explaining the world given for his contemplation and study.
"The growth of religion in the human intelligence (thereby distinguished
from mere blind emotion), is coincident with, or rather immediately
consequent upon, the power of forming abstract ideas; that is to say, it is
a generalization effected by the operation of the intellect upon the
sentiments and emotions, when these have attained to so great extent and
distinctness as to become self-conscious." Man early objectifies the
qualities he finds in himself and his fellows, regards them as entities, is
prostrated in awe and worship before them, conceives them to be gods. He
attributes to outward objects his subjective states, and regards them as
like himself, only infinitely more powerful. His emotions he believes are
caused by these objective beings, and he thinks he is inspired, that the
gods are at work within him. Feeling becomes the voice of God, the
revelator of religions and theologies. Christianity Miss Hennell regards as
"the form in which the religious affections, struggling against earthly
limitations, have created for themselves the satisfaction they demand, and,
therefore, in so far, real, just as the affections are real." Feeling, she
says, is real as logic, and must equally have its real foundation. That is,
feeling gives us the truth, actually answers to the realities of things as
man can know them. She is here an ontologist, and she is convinced that
feeling is a direct witness of the deeper knowledge and reality which man
seeks in religion. The permanency and validity of religion she believes in,
and she testifies to its wholesome and ennobling effect upon the race.
"Christianity, having formed an actual portion of the composition both of
our own individual experience and of the world's history, can no more be
annihilated out of them than the sum of what we learned during a certain
number of years of our childhood, from the one, or the effects of any
notable occurrence, such as the fall of the Roman Empire, or the Norman
invasion, from the other;--Christianity on every view, whether of its truth
or falsity, and consequently of its good or bad effect, has undoubtedly
contributed to make us what we are; without it we should have grown into
something incalculably different from our present selves.... And how can it
be otherwise than real to us, this belief that has nourished the souls
of us all, and seems to have moulded actually anew their internal
constitution, as well as stored them up with its infinite variety of
external interests and associations? What other than a very real thing has
it been in the life of the world, sprang out of, and again causing to
spring forth, such volumes of human emotion? making a current, as it were,
of feeling, that has drawn within its own sphere all the moral vitality of
so many ages. In all this reality of influence there is indeed the
testimony of Christianity having truly formed an integral portion of the
organic life of humanity."

Though Miss Hennell is so earnest a believer in Christianity, yet she
totally rejects the idea of any objective reality corresponding to its
dogmas. This conclusion is based on the philosophic notion, which she
shares with Bray, Feuerbach, George Eliot, Spencer and Lewes, that man has
no real knowledge whatever except that which is given in consciousness.
This philosophy, shared in common by these persons, is called by Lewes
"reasoned realism," and by Spencer "transfigured realism." It accepts the
reality of an outward world, but says that all man knows of it is, that it
produces impressions on his senses which are transmuted into sensations.
Sensations produce feelings, and feelings become ideas. According to
Spencer, the steps of knowledge are three: the co-ordinating of sensations
in a living organism; the registering of impressions within the organism in
such a way as to build up a store of experiences; the transmission of the
organism and its susceptibilities to offspring. Miss Hennell accepts
Spencer's theory that feeling is the source of all our knowledge. Not only,
as she says, does it "constitute the essential and main vitality of our
nature," but when it is stored up in the human organism and inherited, it
becomes the vital source out of which all moral and religious truth is
built up. Experience, transformed into inherited feeling, takes on the form
of those intuitions which "are the only reliable ground of solid belief."
"These sentiments which are born within us, slumbering as it were in our
nature, ready to be awakened into action immediately they are roused by
hint of corresponding circumstances, are drawn out of the whole of previous
human existence. They constitute our treasured inheritance out of all the
life that has been lived before us, to which no age, no human being who has
trod the earth and laid himself to rest with all his mortal burden upon her
maternal bosom, has failed to add his contribution. No generation has had
its engrossing conflict, surely battling out the triumphs of mind over
material force, and through forms of monstrous abortions concurrent with
its birth, too hideous for us now to bear in contemplation, moulding the
early intelligence by every struggle, and winning its gradual powers,--no
single soul has borne itself through its personal trial,--without
bequeathing to us of its fruit. There is not a religious thought that we
take to ourselves for secret comfort in our time of grief, that has not
been distilled out of the multiplicity of the hallowed tears of mankind;
not an animating idea is there for our fainting courage that has not
gathered its inspiration from the bravery of the myriad armies of the
world's heroes. All this best of humanity's hard earnings has been hoarded
with generous care by our _alma natura naturans_; so that at last, in our
rich ages, the _mens naturafa_ opens its gaze with awful wonder upon its
environment of spiritual possessions."

The intimate sympathy of George Eliot and Miss Hennell indicates that they
followed much the same studies, and it is certain they arrived at very
similar conclusions. That the one was directly influenced or led by the
other there seem to be no reasons for believing. All that is probable is,
that there was a close affinity of thought and purpose between them, and
that they arrived at similar philosophical conclusions. The same is to be
said in regard to George Eliot's relations to George Henry Lewes. Her
theories of life, as has been already clearly indicated, were firmly fixed
before she knew him, and her philosophical opinions were formed. The
similarity of their speculative opinions doubtless had something to do with
bringing them together; and it is certain that the tenor of their thoughts,
their views about life, and their spiritual aspirations, were very much
alike, giving promise of a most thorough sympathy in all their intellectual
and moral pursuits. If she was influenced by him, he was quite as much
influenced by her. Lewes accepted the philosophical side of Comte's
Positive Philosophy, but the religious side of it he rejected and strongly
condemned. In his _History of Philosophy_, he says, "Antagonism to the
method and certain conclusions of the _Politique positive_ led me for many
years to regard that work as a deviation from the Positive Philosophy in
every way unfortunate. My attitude has changed now that I have learned
(from the remark of one very dear to me) to regard it as an Utopia,
presenting hypotheses rather than doctrines, suggestions for inquirers
rather than dogmas for adepts--hypotheses carrying more or less of truth,
and serviceable as a provisional mode of colligating facts, to be confirmed
or contradicted by experience." It is altogether probable, as in this case,
that George Eliot gave Lewes the suggestive aid of her acute mind. If she
was aided by him, it was only as one strong mind aids another, by collision
and suggestion rather than by direct teaching.

Lewes may have had the effect to deepen and establish firmly the
conclusions already reached by George Eliot, and a consideration of his
philosophy must confirm this conjecture. He, too, makes feeling the basis
of all knowing. From this point, however, he diverges widely from Herbert
Spencer and the other English empiricists. Spencer regards matter and mind
as two phases of an underlying substance, which he presents as the unknown
and unknowable. Lewes at once denies the duality implied in the words
matter and mind, motion and feeling, and declares these are one and the
same thing, objectively or subjectively presented. Feeling is motion, and
motion is feeling; mind is the spiritual aspect of the material organism,
and matter is the objective aspect of feeling. Feeling is not the cause of
motion, as idealism would suggest; and motion does not cause or turn into
feeling, as materialism teaches. The two are absolutely identical; there is
no dualism or antithesis. In the same way, cause and effect are but two
aspects of one phenomenon; there is no separation between them, but one and
the same thing before and after. He applies this idea to the conception of
natural law, and declares it to be only the persistence of phenomena; that
is, the persistence of feeling. He denies that there is any absolute behind
phenomena; the absolute is in the phenomena, which is the only reality. The
phenomenal universe is simply a group of relations, nothing more; and what
seems to be, really exists, because the relations are real.

It is not necessary here to enter into a full presentation of Lewes's
philosophy, but his theories about the functions of feeling are of
importance, in view of George Eliot's acceptance of them. They have been
summarized into the statement that "all truths are alike feelings, ideally
distinguishable according to the aspects under which they are viewed. There
is no motion apart from feeling, for the motion _is_ the feeling; there is
no force apart from matter which compels it to moves for the force _is_ the
matter, as matter is motion--differently viewed; there is no essence or
substance which determines the properties, for the substance is the whole
group of properties; there are no causes outside of effects, no laws
outside the processes, no reality outside the phenomena, no absolute
outside the relative, which determine things to be as they are and not
otherwise, for all these are but different sides of one and the same
thing." The central thought presented by Lewes is, that "for us there is
nothing but feeling, whose subjective side is sensations, perceptions,
memories, reasonings, the ideal constructions of science and philosophy,
emotions, pleasures, pains; whose objective side is motion, matter, force,
cause, the absolute." The outcome of this theory is, it enables Lewes to
believe that the inner and outer practically agree, that our feelings give
a sufficiently correct picture of the universe. In reality, the two do not
agree, and even "science is in no respect a plain transcript of reality;"
but so intimate are feeling and the outer world, that the inward report is
to be regarded as practically a correct one.

In many ways Lewes differed from his contemporaries, disagreeing again and
again with Spencer, Bain and Huxley. He often seems much nearer Schelling
than Haeckel. He differs from Schelling in his demand for verification and
the inductive method, and in claiming that all his conclusions are the
result of scientific experiments and deductions. He agrees with Schelling
in his rejection of mechanical processes and in his acceptance of a vital,
organic method in nature and in social development. He differs from many of
the other leaders of speculative science in his rejection of reflex action,
maintaining that the brain is not the only seat of sensation, and that all
cerebral processes are mental processes. With equal vigor he rejects the
theory of animal automatism, and the assertion that animal actions can be
completely expressed and accounted for in terms of nervous matter and
motion. The laws of the mind, he maintained, are not to be deduced from
physiological processes, but with them must be joined the psychical
processes of the individual and the social man. He separates man by an
impassable barrier from the lower animals, this gulf between them being due
to human society and to the social acquisition of language. In the social
factor he finds an important element of psychology, and one that must
always come in to overturn any mechanical theories of mental activity.

It has been very truly said, that Lewes must be credited with the doctrine
of the dependence of the human mind on the social medium. Others had hit
upon this idea, and it had been very well developed by Spencer and Comte;
but Lewes gave it a wider and profounder interpretation than any other. One
of his critics says that Lewes "has the sort of claim to have originated
this theory that Bacon has to be considered the discoverer of the inductive
method." He not only held with Spencer and other evolutionists, that the
human mind is the product of experience in contact with the outer world,
that experience transmitted by heredity and built up into mental processes
and conclusions; but he maintained that the social medium is a much greater
and more important factor. The past makes the present; the social life
develops the individual. Our language, our thought, as individuals, are the
product of the collective life of the race. "We are to seek in the social
organism for all the main conditions of the higher functions, and in the
social medium of beliefs, opinions, institutions, &c., for the atmosphere
breathed by the intellect. Man is no longer to be considered simply as an
assemblage of organs, but also as an organ in a collective organism. From
the former he derives his sensations, judgments, primary impulses; from the
latter, his conceptions, theories and virtues. This is very clear when we
learn how the intellect draws both its inspiration and its instrument from
the social needs. All the materials of intellect are images and symbols,
all its processes are operations on images and symbols. Language--which is
wholly a social product for a social need--is the chief vehicle of
symbolical operation, and the only means by which abstraction is
affected.... Language is the creator and sustainer of that ideal world in
which the noblest part of human activity finds a theatre, the world of
thought and spiritual insight, of knowledge and duty, loftily elevated
above that of sense and appetite. Into this ideal world man absorbs the
universe as in a transfiguration. It is here that he shapes the programme
of his existence; and to that programme he makes the real world conform.
It is here he forms his highest rules of conduct. It is here he plants
his hopes and joys. It is here he finds his dignity and power. The ideal
world becomes to him the supreme reality." Lewes said that what a man
thinks "is the necessary product of his organism and external conditions."
The "organism itself is the product of its history; it is what it has
become; it is a part of the history of the race." Because man is a creature
of feeling he is susceptible to the influences of the outer world, and
from the influences and experiences thus received the foundations of his
mental life are laid. The structure erected on this foundation, however, is
the product of man's social environment. As a social being, he inherits
mental capacities, and all the instruments of mental, moral and social
development, as these have been produced in the past. The social structure
takes up and preserves the results of individual effort; and social
capacity enlarges mental and moral power quite beyond what mere inheritance

Lewes assigned as high a value to introspection as to observation in
psychology, and said that whatever place is assigned to the one in
scientific method must be assigned to the other. He therefore accorded a
high value to imagination and intuition, and to all ideal constructions of
life and its meanings which are based on science. All knowledge grows out
of feeling, and must be expressible again in feeling, if it is to have any
value. Accordingly, man's life is of little value apart from sentiment, and
the emotional nature must always be satisfied. As Lewes begins his
philosophy in feeling, he holds that the final object of philosophy is to
develop feeling into a perfect expression, in accordance with the ideal
wants of man's nature. In other words, the final and supreme object of
philosophy is the expression of religion and the founding of a moral and
spiritual system of life. He believed that religion will continue to
regulate the evolution of humanity, and in "a religion founded on science
and expressing at each stage what is known of the world and of man." As
much as any zealous Christian believer he accepted man's need of spiritual
culture and religious development. At the same time, his philosophy
rejected a substantive absolute, or any other spiritual realities or
existences apart from the universe given in feeling and consciousness.
Accordingly, man must find his ideal satisfactions, his spiritual realities
and moral ideals, within the limits of the universe as known to philosophy,
and in the organic life of the race.

George Eliot was also largely influenced by the teachings of Auguste Comte.
The place he assigned to positive knowledge and the inductive method, to
feeling, to development and the influence of the past upon the present,
were all accepted by her in an enthusiastic spirit. Altruism commanded her
hearty belief, and to its principles she devoted her life. Comte's
conceptions in regard to sentiment, and the vital importance of religion
and social organization, had her entire assent. She differed from him in
regard to spiritual and social organization, and she could not accept his
arbitrary and artificial methods. One of the leaders of positivism in
England [Footnote: Some Public Aspects of Positivism, the annual address
before the Postivist Society, London, January 1, 1881, by Professor E.G.
Beesley, of University College.] has given this account of her relations to
its organized movements and to its founder:

"Her powerful intellect had accepted the teaching of Auguste Comte, and she
looked forward to the reorganization of belief on the lines which he had
laid down. Her study of his two great works was diligent and constant. The
last time I saw her--a few days before her death--I found that she had just
been reading over again, with closest attention, that wonderful treatise,
_The General View of Positivism_, a book which always seems full of fresh
wisdom, however often one comes back to it. She had her reservations, no
doubt. There were details in Comte's work which did not satisfy her. But
all who knew her were aware--and I speak from an acquaintance of eighteen
years--that she had not only cast away every shred of theology and
metaphysics, but that she had found refuge from mere negativism in the
system of Comte. She did not write her positivism in broad characters on
her books. Like Shakspere, she was first an artist and then a philosopher;
and I imagine she thought it to be her business as an artist rather to
paint humanity as it is than as she would have it to be. But she could not
conceal her intellectual conviction, and few competent persons read her
books without detecting her standpoint. If any doubt could have existed, it
was set at rest by that noble poem on 'Subjective Immortality,' the
clearest, and at the same time the most beautiful, expression that has yet
been given to one of the most distinctive doctrines of positivism; a
composition of which we can already say with certainty that it will enter
into the positivist liturgies of all countries and through all time.
Towards positivism as an organization, a discipline,--in short, as a
church,--her attitude must be plainly stated. She had much sympathy with
it, as she showed by regularly subscribing to positivist objects, as, for
instance, to the fund of the central organization in Paris presided over by
M. Laffitte. But she sought membership neither in that nor any other
church. Like most of the stronger and thoroughly emancipated minds in this
period of transition and revolutionary disturbance, she looked not beyond
her own conscience for guidance and authority, but judged for herself,
appealing to no external tribunal from the solitary judgment-seat within. I
do not for a moment suppose that she looked on the organization of a church
as unattainable; but she did not regard it as attained."

Another of her friends [Footnote: W.M.W. Call in the Westminster Review
for July, 1881.] has indicated very clearly the nature and extent of her
dissent from Comte. He remarks that "her apologetic representation of the
_Politique_ as an _Utopia_ evinces that she did not admit the cogency of
its reasoning, or regard the entire social reconstruction of Comte as
demonstrably valid. Her dissatisfaction with some of his speculations, as
expressed to ourselves in the spring of 1880, was very decided.... All
membership with the positivist community she steadily rejected. That a
philosophy originally so catholic as that of Comte should assume a
sectarian character, was a contingency she foreboded and deprecated." In
this last remark we doubtless have the explanation of George Eliot's
dissent from Comte. She believed in an organic, vital development of a
higher social structure, which will be brought about in the gradual
evolution of humanity. Comte's social structure was artificial, the
conception of one mind, and therefore as ill adapted to represent the wants
of mankind as any other system devised by an individual thinker. His
philosophy proper, his system of positive; thought, she accepted with but
few reservations. Her views in this direction, as in many others, were
substantially those presented by Lewes in his many works bearing on
positivism. She was profoundly indebted to Comte, although in her later
years she largely passed beyond his influence to the acceptance of the new
evolution philosophy. In fact, she belonged to that school of English
positivists which has only accepted the positive philosophy of Comte, and
which has rejected his later work in the direction of social and religious
construction. Lewes was the earliest of English thinkers to look at Comte
in this way; but other representative members of the school are John Stuart
Mill, George Eliot, Frederic Harrison and John Morley. Zealously accepting
Comte's position that philosophy must limit itself to positive data and
methods, they look upon the "Religion of Humanity," with Prof. Tyndall, as
Catholicism minus Christianity, and reject it.

She certainly came nearer to Comte in some directions than to Herbert
Spencer, for the latter has not so fully recognized those elements of the
mental and social life which most attracted her attention. Her theory of
duty is one which he does not accept. He insists in his _Data of Ethics_
that duty will become less and less _obligatory_ and necessary in the
future, because all action will be in harmony with the impulses of the
inner man and with the conditions of the environment. This conclusion is
entirely opposed to the moral-theory of George Eliot, and is but one
instance of their wide divergence. He insists, in his _Study of Sociology_,
that the religious consciousness will not change its lines of evolution. He
distinctly rejects the conclusion arrived at by George Eliot, that there is
no Infinite Reality knowable to man, and that the substance and reality of
religion is purely subjective. "That the object-matter of religion," he
says, "can be replaced by another object-matter, as supposed by those who
think the 'religion of humanity' will be the religion of the future, is a
belief countenanced neither by induction nor by deduction. However dominant
may become the moral sentiment enlisted on behalf of humanity, it can never
exclude the sentiment alone properly called religious, awakened by that
which is behind humanity and behind all other things." George Eliot was
content with humanity, and believed that all religion arises out of the
subjective elements of human life. At the same time that she made religion
a development from feeling, she limited the moral law to emotional
sanctions. On the contrary, Spencer is much more a rationalist, and insists
on the intellectual basis both of morals and of religion. He makes less of
feeling than she; and in this fact is to be found a wide gulf of separation
between them. She could have been no more content with his philosophy than
she was indebted to it in the construction of her own. As much one as they
are in their philosophic basis and general methods, they are antagonistic
in their conceptions about man and in the place assigned to nature in the
development of religion. To George Eliot, religion is the development of
feeling. To Spencer, it is the result of our "_thought_ of a power of which
humanity is but a small and fugitive product." In these, as in other
directions, they were not in sympathy. Her realism, her psychologic method,
her philosophic theories, her scientific sympathies, she did not derive
from him, diligently as she may have studied his books.

George Eliot agreed with Comte and all other positivists in setting aside
every inquiry into causes, and limiting philosophy to the search after
laws. The idea of causes is idealistic, and a cause of any kind whatever
is, according to these thinkers, not to be found. "The knowledge of laws,"
says Comte, "is henceforth to take the place of the search after causes."
In other words, it is impossible for man to find out _why_ anything is, he
can only know _how_ it is. George Eliot entirely agreed with Comte as to
the universal dominion of law. She also followed him in his teachings about
heredity, which he held to be the cause of social unity, morality, and the
higher or subjective life. His conception of feeling as the highest
expression of human life confirmed the conclusions to which she had already
arrived from the study of Feuerbach. She was an enthusiastic believer in
the Great Being, Humanity; she worshipped at that shrine. More to her than
all other beliefs was her belief that we are to live for others. With Comte
she said, "Altruism alone can enable us to live in the highest and truest
sense." She would have all our doctrines about _rights_ eliminated from
morality and politics. They are as absurd, says Comte, as they are immoral.

George Eliot had a strong tendency towards philosophical speculations.
While yet a student she expressed an ardent desire that she might live to
reconcile the philosophy of Locke with that of Kant. In positivism, as
developed and modified by Lewes, she found that reconciliation. She went
far towards accepting the boldest speculations of the agnostic science of
the time, but she modified it again and again to meet the needs of her own
broader mind and heart. Yet it is related of her that in parting with one
of the greatest English poets, probably Tennyson, when he said to her,
"Well, good-by, you and your molecules," she replied, "I am quite content
with my molecules." Her speculations led to the rejection of anything like
a positive belief in God, to an entire rejection of faith in a personal
immortality, and to a repudiation of all idealistic conceptions of
knowledge derived from supersensuous sources. Her theories are best
represented by the words environment, experience, heredity, development,
altruism, solidarite, subjective immortality. These speculations confront
the reader in nearly every chapter of her novels, and they gave existence
to all but a very few of her poems.



Science was accepted by George Eliot as furnishing the method and the proof
for her philosophic and religious opinions. She was in hearty sympathy with
Spencer and Darwin in regard to most of their speculations, and the
doctrine of evolution was one which entirely approved itself to her mind.
All her theories were based fundamentally on the hypothesis of universal
law, which she probably interpreted with Lewes, in his _Foundations of a
Creed_, as the uniformities of Infinite Activity. Not only in the physical
world did she see law reigning, but also in every phase of the moral and
spiritual life of man. In reviewing Lecky's _Rationalism in Europe_, she
used these suggestive words concerning the uniformity of sequences she
believed to be universal in the fullest sense:

The supremely important fact that the gradual reduction of all
phenomena within the sphere of established law, which carries as a
consequence the rejection of the miraculous, and has its determining
current in the development of physical science, seems to have engaged
comparatively little of his attention; at least he gives it no
prominence. The great conception of uniform regular sequence, without
partiality and without caprice--the conception which is the most potent
force at work in the modification of our faith, and of the practical
form given to our sentiments--could only grow out of that patient
watching of external fact, and that silencing of preconceived notions,
which are urged upon the mind by the problems of physical science.
[Footnote: Fortnightly Review, May, 1865.]

The uniformities of nature have the effect upon man, through his nervous
organization, of developing a responsive feeling and action. He learns to
respond to that uniformity, to conform his actions to it. The habits thus
acquired are inherited by his children, and moral conduct is developed.
Heredity has as conspicuous a place in the novels of George Eliot as in the
scientific treatises of Charles Darwin. She has attempted to indicate the
moral and social influences of heredity, that it gives us the better part
of our life in all directions. Heredity is but one phase of the uniformity
of nature and the persistence of its forces. That uniformity never changes
for man; his life it entirely ignores. He is crushed by its forces; he is
given pain and sorrow through its unpitying disregard of his tender nature.
Not only the physical world, but the moral world also, is unfailing in the
development of the legitimate sequences of its forces. There is no
cessation of activity, no turning aside of consequences, no delay in the
transformation of causes into necessary effects.

George Eliot never swerves from this conception of the universe, physical
and moral; everywhere cause is but another name for effect. The unbending
order adopts man into its processes, helps him when he conforms to them,
and gives him pain when he disregards them. The whole secret of man's
existence is to be found in the agreement of his life with the invariable
sequences of nature and moral activity; harmony with them brings true
development, discord brings pain and sorrow. The unbending nature of law,
and man's relations to it, she has portrayed in "Mr. Gilfil's Love Story,"
when describing Tina's sorrows.

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 oil the other side of the
expectant earth. The stream of human thought and deed was hurrying and
broadening onward. The astronomer was at his telescope; the great ships
were laboring 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.

The effect of the uniformities of nature upon man, as George Eliot regarded
them, is not quite that which would be inferred from these words alone.
While she believed that nature is as unbending and pitiless as is here
indicated, yet that unbending uniformity, which never changes its direction
for man, is a large influence towards the development of his higher life.
It has the effect on man to develop feeling which is the expression of all
that is best and most human in his life.

George Eliot believed that the better and nobler part of man's life is to
be found in feeling. It is the first expression which he makes as a
sentient being, to have emotions; and his emotions more truly represent him
than the purely intellectual processes of the mind. She would have us
believe that feeling is rather to be trusted than the intellect, that it is
both a safer and a surer guide. In _Middlemarch_ she says that "our good
depends on the quality and breadth of our emotions." Her conception of the
comparative worth of feeling and logic is expressed in _Romola_ with a
characteristic touch.

After all has been said that can be said about the widening influence
of ideas, it remains true that they would hardly be such strong
agents unless they were taken in a solvent of feeling. The great
world-struggle of developing thought is continually foreshadowed in
the struggle of the affections, seeking a justification for love and

In _Daniel Deronda_, when considering the causes which prevent men from
desecrating their fathers' tombs for material gain, she says, "The only
check to be alleged is a sentiment, which will coerce none who do not hold
that sentiments are the better part of the world's wealth." To the same
effect is her saying in _Theophrastus Such_, that "our civilization,
considered as a splendid material fabric, is helplessly in peril without
the spiritual police of sentiments or ideal feelings." She expresses the
conviction in _Adam Bede_, that "it is possible to have very erroneous
theories and very sublime feelings;" and she does not hesitate through
all her writings to convey the idea, that sublime feelings are much to
be preferred to profound thoughts or the most perfect philosophy. She
makes Adam Bede say that "it isn't notions sets people doing the right
thing--it's feelings," and that "feeling's a sort o' knowledge." Feeling
gives us the only true knowledge we have of our fellow-men, a knowledge
in every way more perfect than that which is to be derived from our
intellectual inquiries into their natures and wants. In _Janet's
Repentance_ this power of feeling to give us true knowledge of others,
to awaken us to the deeper needs of our own souls, when we come in contact
with those who are able to move and inspire us, is eloquently presented.

Blessed influence of one true loving human soul on another! Not
calculable by algebra, not deducible by logic, but mysterious,
effectual, mighty as the hidden process by which the tiny seed is
quickened, and bursts forth into tall stem and broad leaf, and glowing
tasselled flower. Ideas are often poor ghosts; our sun-filled eyes
cannot discern them; they pass athwart us in thin vapor, and cannot
make themselves felt. But sometimes they are made flesh; they breathe
upon us with warm breath; they touch us with soft responsive hands;
they look at us with sad, sincere eyes, and speak to us in appealing
tones; they are clothed in a living human soul, with all its conflicts,
its faith and its love. Then their presence is a power; then they shake
us like a passion, and we are drawn after them with gentle compulsion,
as flame is drawn to flame. [Footnote: Chapter XIX.]

She returns to the same subject when considering the intellectual theories
of happiness and the proportion of crime there is likely to occur in the
world. She shows her entire dissent from such a method of dealing with
human woe, and she pleads for that sympathy and love which will enable us
to feel the pain of others as our own. This fellow-feeling gives us the
most adequate knowledge we can have.

It was probably a hard saying to the Pharisees, that "there is more joy
in heaven over one sinner that repenteth than over ninety and nine just
persons that need no repentance." And certain ingenious philosophers
of our own day must surely take offence at a joy so entirely out of
correspondence with arithmetical proportion. But a heart that has
been taught by its own sore struggles to bleed for the woes of
another--that has "learned pity through suffering"--is likely to find
very imperfect satisfaction in the "balance of happiness," "doctrine of
compensations," and other short and easy methods of obtaining thorough
complacency in the presence of pain; and for such a heart that saying
will not be altogether dark. The emotions I have observed are but
slightly influenced by arithmetical considerations: the mother, when
her sweet lisping little ones have all been taken from her one after
another, and she is hanging over her last dead babe, finds small
consolation in the fact that the tiny dimpled corpse is but one of a
necessary average, and that a thousand other babes brought into the
world at the same time are doing well, and are likely to live; and if
you stood beside that mother--if you knew her pang and shared it--it is
probable you would be equally unable to see a ground of complacency in
statistics. Doubtless a complacency resting on that basis is highly
rational; but emotion, I fear, is obstinately irrational; it insists on
caring for individuals; it absolutely refuses to adopt the quantitative
view of human anguish, and to admit that thirteen happy lives are a
set-off against twelve miserable lives, which leaves a clear balance on
the side of satisfaction. This is the inherent imbecility of feeling,
and one must be a great philosopher to have got quite clear of all
that, and to have emerged into the serene air of pure intellect, in
which it is evident that individuals really exist for no other purpose
than that abstractions maybe drawn from them--abstractions that may
rise from heaps of ruined lives like the sweet savor of a sacrifice in
the nostrils of philosophers, and of a philosophic Deity. And so it
comes to pass that for the man who knows sympathy because he has known
sorrow, that old, old saying about the joy of angels over the repentant
sinner outweighing their joy over the ninety-nine just, has a meaning
which does not jar with the language of his own heart. It only tells
him that for angels too there is a transcendent value in human pain
which refuses to be settled by equations; that the eyes of angels too
are turned away from the serene happiness of the righteous to bend with
yearning pity on the poor erring soul wandering in the desert where no
water is; that for angels too the misery of one casts so tremendous a
shadow as to eclipse the bliss of ninety-nine. [Footnote: Chapter

Again, she says in the same story,--

Surely, surely the only true knowledge of our fellow-man is that
which enables us to feel with him--which gives us a fine ear for the
heart-pulses that are beating under the mere clothes of circumstance
and opinion. Our subtlest analogies of schools and sects must miss the
essential truth, unless it be lit up by the love that sees in all forms
of human thought and-work the life-and-death struggles of separate
human beings.

George Eliot would have us believe, that until we can feel with man,
enter sympathetically into his emotions and yearnings, we cannot know
him. It is because we have common emotions, common experiences, common
aspirations, that we are really able to understand man; and not because of
statistics, natural history, sociology or psychology. The objective facts
have their place and value, but the real knowledge we possess of mankind is
subjective, grows out of fellow-feeling.

The mental life of man, according to George Eliot, is simply an expansion
of the emotional life. At first the mental life is unconscious, it is
instinctive, simply the emotional response of man to the sequences of
nature. This instinctive life of the emotions always remains a better part
of our natures, and is to be trusted rather than the more formal activities
of the intellectual faculties. In the most highly developed intellects
even, there is a subconscious mental activity, an instinctive life of
feeling, which is rather to be trusted than reason itself. This is a
frequently recurring statement, which George Eliot makes in the firmest
conviction of its truthfulness. It appears in such a sentence as this, in
_The Mill on the Floss_: "Watch your own speech, and notice how it is
guided by your less conscious purposes." In _Daniel Deronda_ it finds
expression in the assertion that "there is a great deal of unmapped country
within us which would have to be taken into account in an explanation of
our gusts and storms." It is more explicitly presented in _Adam Bede_.

Do we not all agree to call rapid thought and noble impulses by the
name of inspiration? After our subtlest analysis of the mental process,
we must still say that our highest thoughts and our best deeds are all
given to us.

George Eliot puts into the mouth of Mordecai the assertion that love lies
deeper than any reasons which are to be found for its exercise. In the same
way, she would have us believe that feeling is safer than reason. Daniel
Deronda questions Mordecai's visions, and doubts if he is worth listening
to, except for pity's sake. On this the author comments, in defence of the
visions, as against reason.

Suppose he had introduced himself as one of the strictest reasoners: do
they form a body of men hitherto free from false conclusions and
illusory speculations? The driest argument has its hallucinations, too
hastily concluding that its net will now at last be large enough to
hold the universe. Men may dream in demonstrations, and cut out an
illusory world in the shape of axioms, definitions and propositions,
with a final exclusion of fact signed Q.E.D. No formulas for thinking
will save us mortals from mistake in our imperfect apprehension of the
matter to be thought about. And since the unemotional intellect may
carry us into a mathematical dream-land where nothing is but what is
not, perhaps an emotional intellect may have absorbed into its
passionate vision of possibilities some truth of what will be--the more
comprehensive massive life feeding theory with new material, as the
sensibility of the artist seizes combinations which science explains
and justifies. At any rate, presumptions to the contrary are not to be
trusted. [Footnote: Chapter XLI.]

As explicit is a passage in _Theophrastus Such_, wherein imagination is
regarded as a means of knowledge, because it rests on a subconscious
expression of experience.

It is worth repeating that powerful imagination is not false outward
vision, but intense inward representation, and a creative energy
constantly fed by susceptibility to the veriest minutiae of experience,
which it reproduces and constructs in fresh and fresh wholes; not the
habitual confusion of probable fact with the fictions of fancy and
transient inclination, but a breadth of ideal association which informs
every material object, every incidental fact, with far-reaching
memories and stored residues of passion, bringing into new light the
less obvious relations of human existence. [Footnote: Chapter XIII.]

Imagination, feeling and the whole inward life are being constantly shaped
by our actions. Experience gives new character to the inward life, and at
the same time determines its motives and its inclinations. The muscles
develop as they are used; what has been once done it is easier to do again.
In the same way, our deeds influence our lives, and compel us to repeat our
actions. At least this is George Eliot's opinion, and one she is fond of
re-affirming. After Arthur had wronged Hetty, his life was changed, and of
this change wrought in his character by his conduct, George Eliot says,--

Our deeds determine us, as much as we determine our deeds; and until we
know what has been or will be the peculiar combination of outward with
inward facts which constitute a man's critical actions, it will be
better not to think ourselves wise about his character. There is a
terrible coercion in our deeds which may at first turn the honest man
into a deceiver, and then reconcile him to the change; for this
reason--that the second wrong presents itself to him in the guise of
the only practicable right. The action which before commission has been
seen with that blended common sense and fresh untarnished feeling which
is the healthy eye of the soul, is looked at afterward with the lens of
apologetic ingenuity, through which all things that men call beautiful
and ugly are seen to be made up of textures very much alike. Europe
adjusts itself to a _fait accompli_, and so does an individual
character--until the placid adjustment is disturbed by a convulsive
retribution. [Footnote: Chapter XXIX.]

What we have done, determines what we shall do, even in opposition to
our wills. After Tito Melema had done his first act towards denying his
foster-father, we have this observation of the author's:

Our deeds are like children that are born to us; they live and act
apart from our own will. Nay, children may be strangled, but deeds
never; they have an indestructible life both in and out of our
consciousness; and that dreadful vitality of deeds was pressing hard on
Tito for the first time.

When Tito had openly denied that father, at an unexpected moment, we hear
the ever-present chorus repeating this great ethical truth:

Tito was experiencing that inexorable law of human souls, that we
prepare ourselves for sudden deeds by the reiterated choice of good or
evil that gradually determines character.

As a river moves in the channel made for it, as a plant grows towards the
sunlight, so man does again what he has once done. The impression of his
act is left upon his nature, it is taken up into his motives, it leads to
feeling and impulse, it repeats itself in future conduct. His deed lives in
memory, it lives in weakness or strength of impulse, it lives in disease or
in health, it lives in mental listlessness or in mental vigor. What is
done, determines our natures in their character and tendency for the
future. "A man can never separate himself from his past history," says
George Eliot in one of the mottoes of _Felix Holt_. We cannot rid ourselves
of the effects of our actions; they follow us forever. This truth takes
shape in _Romola_ in these words:

Our lives make a moral tradition for our individual selves, as the life
of mankind at large makes a moral tradition for the race; and to have
once acted greatly, seems a reason why we should always be noble. But
Tito was feeling the effect of an opposite tradition: he had now no
memories of self-conquest and perfect faithfulness from which he could
have a sense of falling.

A motto in _Daniel Deronda_ reiterates this oft-repeated assertion.

Deeds are the pulse of Time, his beating life,
And righteous or unrighteous, being done,
Must throb in after-throbs till Time itself
Be laid in stillness, and the universe
Quiver and breathe upon no mirror more.

Feeling is to be preferred to logic, according to George Eliot, because it
brings us the results of long-accumulating experiences, because it embodies
the inherited experiences of the race. She was an earnest believer in
"far-reaching memories and stored residues of passion," for she was
convinced that the better part of all our knowledge is brought to us by
inheritance. The deeds of the individual make the habits of his life, they
remain in memory, they guide the purposes of the will, and they give
motives to action. Deeds often repeated give impulse and direction to
character, and these appear in the offspring as predispositions of body
and mind. In this way our deeds "throb in after-throbs" of our children;
and in the same manner the deeds of a people live in the life of the race
and become guiding motives in its future deeds. As the deeds of a person
develop into habits, so the deeds of a people develop into national
tendencies and actions.

George Eliot was a thorough believer in the Darwinian theories of heredity,
and she has in all her books shown the effects of hereditary conditions on
the individual and even upon a people. Family and race are made to play a
very important part in her writings. Other novelists disregard the
conditions and limitations imposed by heredity, and consider the individual
as unrestricted by other laws than those of his own will; but George Eliot
gives conspicuous prominence to the laws of heredity, both individual and
social. Felix Holt never ceases in her pages to be the son of his mother,
however enlarged his ideas may become and broad his culture. Rosamond Vincy
also has a parentage, and so has Mary Garth. Daniel Deronda is a Jew by
birth, the son of a visionary mother and a truth-seeking father. This
parentage expresses itself throughout his life, even in boyhood, in all his
thought and conduct. Heredity shapes the destiny of Tito Melema, Romola,
Fedalma, Maggie Tulliver, Will Ladislaw, Gwendolen Harleth and many another
character in George Eliot's novels. It is even more strongly presented in
her poems. In _The Spanish Gypsy_ she describes Fedalma as a genuine
daughter of her father, as inheriting his genius and tendencies, which are
stronger than all the Spanish culture she had received. When Fedalma says
she belongs to him she loves, and that love

is nature too,
Forming a fresher law than laws of birth,--

Zarca replies,--

Unmake yourself, then, from a Zincala--
Unmake yourself from being child of mine!
Take holy water, cross your dark skin white;
Round your proud eyes to foolish kitten looks;
Walk mincingly, and smirk, and twitch your robe:
Unmake yourself--doff all the eagle plumes
And be a parrot, chained to a ring that slips
Upon a Spaniard's thumb, at will of his
That you should prattle o'er his words again!

Fedalma cannot unmake herself; she has already danced in the plaza, and she
is soon convinced that she is a Zincala, that her place is with her father
and his tribe. The Prior had declared,--

That maiden's blood
Is as unchristian as the leopard's,

and it so proves. His statement of reasons for this conviction expresses
the author's own belief.

What! Shall the trick of nostrils and of lips
Descend through generations, and the soul
That moves within our frame like God in worlds--
Convulsing, urging, melting, withering--
Imprint no record, leave no documents,
Of her great history? Shall men bequeath
The fancies of their palates to their sons,
And shall the shudder of restraining awe,
The slow-wept tears of contrite memory,
Faith's prayerful labor, and the food divine
Of fasts ecstatic--shall these pass away
Like wind upon the waters, tracklessly?
Shall the mere curl of eyelashes remain,
And god-enshrining symbols leave no trace
Of tremors reverent?

This larger or social heredity is that which claims much the larger share
of George Eliot's attention, and it is far more clearly and distinctively
presented in her writings. She gives a literary expression here to the
teachings of the evolutionists, shows the application to life of what has
been taught by Spencer, Haeckel and Lewes. In his _Foundations of a Creed_,
Lewes has stated this theory in discussing "the limitations of knowledge."
"It is indisputable," he says, "that every particular man comes into the
world with a heritage of organized forms and definite tendencies, which
will determine his feeling and thinking in certain definite ways, whenever
the suitable conditions are present. And all who believe in evolution
believe that these forms and tendencies represent ancestral experiences and
adaptations; believe that not only is the pointer born with an organized
tendency to point, the setter to set, the beaver to build, and the bird to
fly, but that the man is born with a tendency to think in images and
symbols according to given relations and sequences which constitute logical
laws, that _what_ he thinks is the necessary product of his organism and
the external conditions. This organism itself is a product of its history;
it _is_ what it has _become_; it is a part of the history of the human
race; it is also specially individualized by the particular personal
conditions which have distinguished him from his fellow-men. Thus
resembling all men in general characters, he will in general feel as
they feel, think as they think; and differing from all men in special
characters, he will have personal differences of feeling and shades of
feeling, thought and combinations of thought.... The mind is built up
out of assimilated experiences, its perceptions being shaped by its
pre-perceptions, its conceptions by its pre-conceptions. Like the body,
the mind is shaped through its history." In other words, experience is
inherited and shapes the mental and social life. What some philosophers
have called intuitions, and what Kant called the categories of the mind,
Lewes regarded as the inherited results of human experience. By a slow
process of evolution the mind has been produced and shaped into harmony
with its environment; the results of inherited experience take the form of
feelings, intuitions, laws of thought and social tendencies. Its intuitions
are to be accepted as the highest knowledge, because the transmitted
results of all human experience.

As the body performs those muscular operations most easily to which it
is most accustomed, so men as social beings perform those acts and think
those thoughts most easily and naturally to which the race has been longest
accustomed. Man lives and thinks as man has lived and thought; he inherits
the past. In his social life he is as much the child of the past as he is
individually the son of his father. If he inherits his father's physiognomy
and habits of thought, so does he socially inherit the characteristics of
his race, its social and moral life. George Eliot was profoundly convinced
of the value of this fact, and she has presented it in her books in all
its phases. In her _Fortnightly Review_ essay on "The Influence of
Rationalism," she says all large minds have long had "a vague sense" "that
tradition is really the basis of our best life." She says, "Our sentiments
may be called organized traditions; and a large part of our actions gather
all their justification, all their attractions and aroma, from the memory
of the life lived, of the actions done, before we were born." Tradition is
the inherited experience of the race, the result of its long efforts, its
many struggles, after a larger life. It lives in the tendencies of our
emotions, in the intuitions and aspirations of our minds, as the wisdom
which our minds hold dear, as the yearnings of our hearts after a wider
social life. These things are not the results of our own reasonings, but
they are the results of the life lived by those who have gone before us,
and who, by their thoughts and deeds, have shaped our lives, our minds, to
what they are. Tradition is the inherited experience, feeling, yearning,
pain, sorrow and wisdom of the ages. It furnishes a great system of
customs, laws, institutions, ideas, motives and feelings into which we are
born, which we naturally adopt, which gives shape and strength to our
growing life, which makes it possible for us to take up life at that stage
it has reached after the experiences of many generations. George Eliot says
in _Middlemarch_ that "a kind Providence furnishes the limpest personality
with a little gum or starch in the form of tradition." We come into a world
made ready for us, and find prepared for our immediate use a vast complex
of customs and duties and ideas, the results of the world's experience.
George Eliot believed, with Comte, that with each generation the influence
of the past over the present becomes greater, and that men's lives are more
and more shaped by what has been. In _The Spanish Gypsy_ she makes Don
Silva say that

The only better is a Past that lives
On through an added Present, stretching still
In hope unchecked by shaming memories
To life's last breath.

This deep conviction of the blessed influence of the past upon us is well
expressed in the little poem on "Self and Life," one of the most fully
autobiographical of all her poems, where she makes Life bid Self remember

How the solemn, splendid Past
O'er thy early widened earth
Made grandeur, as on sunset cast
Dark elms near take mighty girth.
Hands and feet were tiny still
When we knew the historic thrill,
Breathed deep breath in heroes dead,
Tasted the immortals' bread.

In expressive sentences, in the development of her characters, and in many
other ways, she affirms this faith in tradition. In one of the mottoes
in _Felix Holt_ she uses a fine sentence, which is repeated in "A Minor

Our finest hope is finest memory.

The finest hope of the race is to be found in memory of its great deeds, as
its saddest loss is to be found in forgetfulness of a noble past. In _The
Mill on the Floss_, when describing St. Ogg's, she attributes its sordid
and tedious life to its neglect of the past and its inspiring memories.

The mind of St. Ogg's did not look extensively before or after. It
inherited a long past without thinking of it, and had no eyes for the
spirits that walk the streets, Since the centuries when St. Ogg with
his boat, and the Virgin Mother at the prow, had been seen on the wide
water, so many memories had been left behind, and had gradually
vanished like the receding hill-tops! And the present time was like the
level plain where men lose their belief in volcanoes and earthquakes,
thinking to-morrow will be as yesterday, and the giant forces that used
to shake the earth are forever laid to sleep. The days were gone when
people could be greatly wrought upon by their faith, still less change
it: the Catholics were formidable because they would lay hold of
government and property, and burn men alive; not because any sane and
honest parishioner of St. Ogg's could be brought to believe in the
Pope. One aged person remembered how a rude multitude had been swayed
when John Wesley preached in the cattle-market; but for a long while it
had not been expected of preachers that they should shake the souls of
men. An occasional burst of fervor in Dissenting pulpits on the subject
of infant baptism was the only symptom of a zeal unsuited to sober
times when men had done with change. Protestantism sat at ease,
unmindful of schisms, careless of proselytism; Dissent was an
inheritance along with a superior pew and a business connection; and
Churchmanship only wondered contemptuously at Dissent as a foolish
habit that clung greatly to families in the grocery and chandlering
lines, though not incompatible with prosperous wholesale dealing.
[Footnote: Chapter XII.]

This faith in tradition, as giving the basis of all our best life, is
perhaps nowhere so expressively set forth by George Eliot as in _The
Spanish Gypsy_. It is distinctly taught by all the best characters in the
words they speak, and it is emphatically taught in the whole purpose and
spirit of the poem. Zarca says his tribe has no great life because it has
no great national memories. He calls his people

Wanderers whom no God took knowledge of
To give them laws, to fight for them, or blight
Another race to make them ampler room;
Who have no whence or whither in their souls,
No dimmest lure of glorious ancestors
To make a common breath for piety.

As his people are weak because they have no traditional life, he proposes
by his deeds to make them national memories and hopes and aims.

No lure
Shall draw me to disown them, or forsake
The meagre wandering herd that lows for help--
And needs me for its guide, to seek my pasture
Among the well-fed beeves that graze at will.
Because our race has no great memories,
I will so live, it shall remember me
For deeds of such divine beneficence
As rivers have, that teach, men what is good
By blessing them. I have been schooled--have caught
Lore from Hebrew, deftness from the Moor--
Know the rich heritage, the milder life,
Of nations fathered by a mighty Past.

The way in which such a past is made is suggested by Zarca, in answer to a
question about the Gypsy's faith; it is made by a common life of faith and
brotherhood, that gives origin to a common inheritance and memories.

O, it is a faith
Taught by no priest, but by their beating hearts
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 that deep 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.
And you have sworn--even with your infant breath
You too were pledged.

George Eliot's faith in tradition, as furnishing the basis of our best
life, and the moral purpose and law which is to guide it, she has
concentrated into one question asked by Maggie Tulliver.

If the past is not to bind us, where can duty lie? We should
have no law but the inclination of the moment.

Although this question is asked in regard to an individual's past, the
answer to it holds quite as good for the race as for the individual. She
repudiates all theories which give the individual authority to follow
inclination, or even to follow some inner or personal guide. The true
wisdom is always social, always grows out of the experiences of the race,
and not out of any personal inspiration or enlightenment. Tradition
furnishes the materials for reason to use, but reason does not penetrate
into new regions, or bring to us wisdom apart from that we obtain through
inherited experiences. George Eliot compares these two with each other in
_The Spanish Gypsy_ in the words of Sephardo.

I abide
By that wise spirit of listening reverence
Which marks the boldest doctors of our race.
For Truth, to us, is like a living child
Born of two parents: if the parents part
And will divide the child, how shall it live?
Or, I will rather say: Two angels guide
The path of man, both aged and yet young,
As angels are, ripening through endless years.
On one he leans: some call her Memory,
And some, Tradition; and her voice is sweet,
With deep mysterious accords: the other,
Floating above, holds down a lamp which streams
A light divine and searching on the earth,
Compelling eyes and footsteps. Memory yields,
Yet clings with loving check, and shines anew
Reflecting all the rays of that bright lamp
Our angel Reason holds. We had not walked
But for Tradition; we walk evermore
To higher paths, by brightening Reason's lamp.

Man leans on tradition, it is the support of his life, by its strength he
is able to move forward. Reason is a lamp which lights the way, gives
direction to tradition; it is a beacon and not a support. Tradition not
only brings us the wisdom of all past experience, but it develops into a
spiritual atmosphere in which we live, move and have our being. This was
Comte's idea, that the spiritual life is developed out of tradition, that
the world's experiences have produced for us intangible hopes, yearnings
and aspirations; awe, reverence and sense of subtle mystery: mystic trust,
faith in invisible memories, joy in the unseen power of thought and love;
and that these create for us a spiritual world most real in its nature, and
most powerful in its influence. On every hand man is touched by the
invisible, mystical influences of the past, spiritual voices call to him
out of the ages, unseen hands point the way he is to go. He breathes this
atmosphere of spiritual memories, he is fed on thoughts other men have made
for his sustenance, he is inspired by the heroisms of ages gone before. In
an article in the _Westminster Review_ in July, 1856, on "The Natural
History of German Life," in review of W.H. Riehl's books on the German
peasant, and on land and climate, she presents the idea that a people can
be understood only when we understand its history. Society, she says, has
developed through many generations, and has built itself up in many
memories and associations. To change it we must change its traditions.
Nothing can be done _de novo_; a fresh beginning cannot be had. The dream
of the French Revolution, that a new nation, a new life, a new morality,
was to be created anew and fresh out of the cogitations of philosophers, is
not in any sense to be realized. Tradition forever asserts itself, the past
is more powerful than all philosophers, and new traditions must be made
before a new life can be had for society. These ideas are well expressed by
George Eliot in her review of Riehl's books.

He sees in European society _incarnate history_, and any attempt to
disengage it from its historical elements must, he believes, be simply
destruction of social vitality. What has grown up historically can only
die out historically, by the gradual operation of necessary laws. The
external conditions which society has inherited from the past are but
the manifestation of inherited internal conditions in the human beings
who compose it; the internal conditions and the external are related to
each other as the organism and its medium, and development can take
place only by the gradual consentaneous development of both. As a
necessary preliminary to a purely rational society, you must obtain
purely rational men, free from the sweet and bitter prejudices of
hereditary affection and antipathy; which is as easy as to get running
streams without springs, or the leafy shade of the forest without the
secular growth of trunk and branch.

The historical conditions of society may be compared with those of
language. It must be admitted that the language of cultivated nations
is in anything but a rational state; the great sections of the
civilized world are only approximately intelligible to each other, and
even that, only at the cost of long study; one word stands for many
things, and many words for one thing; the subtle shades of meaning, and
still subtler echoes of association, make language an instrument which
scarcely anything short of genius can wield with definiteness and
certainty. Suppose, then, that the effort which has been again and
again made to construct a universal language on a rational basis has
at length succeeded, and that you have a language which has no
uncertainty, no whims of idiom, no cumbrous forms, no fitful shimmer of
many-hued significance, no hoary archaisms "familiar with forgotten
years,"--a patent deodorized and non-resonant language, which effects
the purpose of communication as perfectly and rapidly as algebraic
signs. Your language may be a perfect medium of expression to science,
but will never express _life_, which is a great deal more than science.
With the anomalies and inconveniences of historical language, you will
have parted with its music and its passion, with its vital qualities
as an expression of individual character, with its subtle capabilities
of wit, with everything that gives it power over the imagination; and
the next step in simplification will be the invention of a talking
watch, which will achieve the utmost facility and despatch in the
communication of ideas by a graduated adjustment of ticks, to be
represented in writing by a corresponding arrangement of dots. A
"melancholy language of the future!" The sensory and motor nerves that
run in the same sheath are scarcely bound together by a more necessary
and delicate union than that which binds men's affections, imagination,
wit and humor with the subtle ramifications of historical language.
Language must be left to grow in precision, completeness and unity, as
minds grow in clearness, comprehensiveness and sympathy. And there is
an analogous relation between the moral tendencies of men and the
social conditions they have inherited. The nature of European men has
its roots intertwined with the past, and can only be developed by
allowing those roots to remain undisturbed while the process of
development is going on, until that perfect ripeness of the seed which
carries with it a life independent of the root....

It has not been sufficiently insisted on, that in the various branches
of social science there is an advance from the general to the special,
from the simple to the complex, analogous with that which is found in
the series of the sciences, from mathematics to biology. To the laws of
quantity comprised in mathematics and physics are superadded, in
chemistry, laws of quality; to those again are added, in biology, laws
of life; and lastly, the conditions of life in general branch out into
its special conditions, or natural history, on the one hand, and into
its abnormal conditions, or pathology, on the other. And in this series
or ramification of the sciences, the more general science will not
suffice to solve the problems of the more special. Chemistry embraces
phenomena which are not explicable by physics; biology embraces
phenomena which are not explicable by chemistry; and no biological
generalization will enable us to predict the infinite specialties
produced by the complexity of vital conditions. So social science,
while it has departments which in their fundamental generality
correspond to mathematics and physics, namely, those grand and simple
generalizations which trace out the inevitable march of the human race
as a whole, and, as a ramification of these, the laws of economical
science, has also, in the departments of government and jurisprudence,
which embrace the conditions of social life in all their complexity,
what may be called its biology, carrying us on to innumerable special
phenomena which outlie the sphere of science, and belong to natural
history. And just as the most thorough acquaintance with physics, or
chemistry, or general physiology, will not enable you at once to
establish the balance of life in your private vivarium, so that your
particular society of zoophytes, molluscs and echinoderms may feel
themselves, as the Germans say, at ease in their skins; so the most
complete equipment of theory will not enable a statesman or a political
and social reformer to adjust his measures wisely, in the absence of a
special acquaintance with the section of society for which he
legislates, with the peculiar characteristics of the nation, the
province, the class whose well-being he has to consult. In other words,
a wise social policy must be based not simply on abstract social
science but on the natural history of social bodies.

Her conception of the corporate life of the nice has been clearly expressed
by George Eliot in the concluding essay in _Theophrastus Such_. In that
essay she writes of the powerful influence wrought upon national life by
"the divine gift of memory which inspires the moments with a past, a
present and a future, and gives the sense of corporate existence that
raises man above the otherwise more respectable and innocent brute." The
nations which lead the world on to a larger civilization are not merely
those with most genius, originality, gift of invention or talent for
scientific observation, but those which have the finest traditions. As a
member of such a nation, the individual can be noble and great. We should
almost be persuaded, reading George Eliot's eloquent rhetoric on this
subject, that personal genius is of little moment in comparison with a rich
inheritance of national memories. It is indeed true that Homer, Virgil,
Dante, Milton and Shakspere have used the traditions of their people for
the materials of their immortal works, but what would those traditions have
been without the genius of the men who deal with the traditions in a
fashion quite their own, giving them new meaning and vitality! The poet,
however, needs materials for his song, and memories to inspire it. The
influence of these George Eliot well understands in calling them "the deep
suckers of healthy sentiment."

The historian guides us rightly in urging us to dwell on the virtues of
our ancestors with emulation, and to cherish our sense of a common
descent as a bond of obligation. The eminence, the nobleness of a
people, depends on its capability of being stirred by memories, and for
striving for what we call spiritual ends--ends which consist not in an
immediate material possession, but in the satisfaction of a great
feeling that animates the collective body as with one soul. A people
having the seed of worthiness in it must feel an answering thrill when
it is adjured by the deaths of its heroes who died to preserve its
national existence; when it is reminded of its small beginnings and
gradual growth through past labors and struggles, such as are still
demanded of it in order that the freedom and well-being thus inherited
may be transmitted unimpaired to children and children's children; when
an appeal against the permission of injustice is made to great
precedents in its history and to the better genius breathing in its
institutions. It is this living force of sentiment in common which
makes a national consciousness. Nations so moved will resist conquest
with the very breasts of their women, will pay their millions and their
blood to abolish slavery, will share privation in famine and all
calamity, will produce poets to sing "some great story of a man," and
thinkers whose theories will bear the test of action. An individual
man, to be harmoniously great, must belong to a nation of this order,
if not in actual existence yet existing in the past--in memory, as a
departed, invisible, beloved ideal, once a reality, and perhaps to be
restored.... Not only the nobleness of a nation depends on the presence
of this national consciousness, but also the nobleness of each
individual citizen. Our dignity and rectitude are proportioned to our
sense of relationship with something great, admirable, pregnant with
high possibilities, worthy of sacrifice, a continual inspiration to
self-repression and discipline by the presentation of aims larger and
more attractive to our generous part than the securing of personal ease
or prosperity. [Footnote: Theophrastus Such, chapter XVIII.]

Zealous as is George Eliot's faith in tradition, she is broad-minded enough
to see that it is limited in its influence by at least two causes,--by
reason and by the spirit of universal brotherhood. We have already seen
that she makes reason one of man's guides. In _Romola_ the right of the
individual to make a new course for action is distinctly expressed. Romola
had "the inspiring consciousness," we are told, "that her lot was vitally
united with the general lot which exalted even the minor details of
obligation into religion," and so "she was marching with a great army, she
was feeling the stress of a common life." Yet she began to feel that she
must not merely repeat the past; and the influence of Savonarola, in
breaking with Rome for the sake of a pure and holy life, inspired her.

To her, as to him, there had come one of those moments in life when the
soul must dare to act on its own warrant, not only without external law
to appeal to, but in face of a law which is not unarmed with divine
lightnings--lightnings that may yet fall if the warrant has been false.

It is reason's lamp by which "we walk evermore to higher paths;" and by its
aid, new deeds are to be done, new memories created, fresher traditions
woven into feeling and hope. National memories are to be superseded by the
spirit of brotherhood, for, as the race advances, nations are brought
closer to each other, have more in common, and development is made of
world-wide traditions. Theophrastus Such, in the last of his essays, tells
us that "it is impossible to arrest the tendencies of things towards the
quicker or slower fusion of races."

The environment of her characters George Eliot makes of very great
importance. She dwells upon the natural scenery which they love, but
especially does she magnify the importance of the social environment, and
the perpetual influence it has upon the whole of life. Mr. James Sully has
clearly interpreted her thought on this subject, and pointed out its
engrossing interest for her.

"A character divorced from its surroundings is an abstraction. A
personality is only a concrete living whole, when we attach it by a network
of organic filaments to its particular environment, physical and social.
Our author evidently chooses her surroundings with strict regard to her
characters. She paints nature less in its own beauty than in its special
aspect and significance for those whom she sets in its midst. 'The bushy
hedgerows,' 'the pool in the corner of the field where the grasses were
dank,' 'the sudden slope of the old marl-pit, making a red background for
the burdock'--these things are touched caressingly and lingered over
because they are so much to the 'midland-bred souls' whose history is here
recorded; so much because of cumulative recollection reaching back to the
time when they 'toddled among' them, or perhaps 'learnt them by heart
standing between their father's knees while he drove leisurely.' And what
applies to the natural environment applies still more to those narrower
surroundings which men construct for themselves, and which form their daily
shelter, their work-shop, their place of social influence. The human
interest which our author sheds about the mill, the carpenter's shop, the
dairy, the village church, and even the stiff, uninviting conventicle,
shows that she looks on these as having a living continuity with the people
whom she sets among them. Their artistic value is but a reflection of all
that they mean to those for whom they have made the nearer and habitually
enclosing world." The larger influence in the environment of any person,
according to George Eliot, is that which arises from tradition. Cut off
from the sustenance given by tradition, the person loses the motives, the
supports of his life. This is well shown in the case of Silas Marner, who
had fled from his early home and all his life held dear. George Eliot
describes the effect of such a change of environment.

Even people whose lives have been made various by learning, sometimes
find it hard to keep a fast hold on their habitual views of life, on
their faith in the Invisible--nay, on the sense that their past joys
and sorrows are a real experience, when they are suddenly transported
to a new land, where the beings around them know nothing of their
history, and share none of their ideas--where their mother earth shows
another lap, and human life has other forms than those on which their
souls have been nourished. Minds that have been unhinged from their old
faith and love, have perhaps sought this Lethean influence of exile, in
which the past becomes dreamy because its symbols have all vanished,
and the present too is dreamy because it is linked with no memories.
[Footnote: Chapter II.]

She delights to return again and again to the influences produced upon us
by the environment of childhood. In _The Mill on the Floss_ she tells us
how dear the earth becomes by such associations.

We could never have loved the earth so well if we had had no childhood
in it,--if it were not the earth where the same flowers come up again
every spring that we used to gather with our tiny fingers as we sat
lisping to ourselves on the grass--the same hips and haws on the autumn
hedgerows--the same redbreasts that we used to call "God's birds,"
because they did no harm to the precious crops. What novelty is worth
that sweet monotony where everything is known, and _loved_ because it
is known?

The wood I walk in on this mild May day, with the young yellow-brown
foliage of the oaks between me and the blue sky, the white
star-flowers, and the blue-eyed speedwell, and the ground-ivy at
my feet--what grove of tropic palms, what strange ferns or splendid
broad-petalled blossoms, could ever thrill such deep and delicate
fibres within me as this home-scene? These familiar flowers, these
well-remembered bird-notes, this sky with its fitful brightness,
these furrowed and grassy fields, each with a sort of personality given
to it by the capricious hedgerows--such things as these are the mother
tongue of our imagination, the language that is laden with all the
subtle inextricable associations the fleeting hours of our childhood
left behind them. Our delight in the sunshine on the deep-bladed grass
to-day might be no more than the faint perception of wearied souls,
if it were not for the sunshine and the grass in the far-off years,
which still live in us, and transform our perception into love.
[Footnote: Chapter V.]

In the backward glance of _Theophrastus Such_ this anchorage of the life in
familiar associations is described as a source of our faith in the
spiritual, even when all the childhood thoughts about those associations
cannot be retained.

The illusions that began for us when we were less acquainted with evil
have not lost their value when we discern them to be illusions. They
feed the ideal better, and in loving them still, we strengthen, the
precious habit of loving something not visibly, tangibly existent, but
a spiritual product of our visible, tangible selves.

In the evolution philosophy she found the reconciliation between Locke and
Kant which she so earnestly desired to discover in girlhood. The old school
of experimentalists did not satisfy her with their philosophy; she saw
that the dictum that all knowledge is the result of sensation was not
satisfactory, that it was shallow and untrue. On the other hand, the
intellectual intuition of Schelling was not acceptable, nor even Kant's
categories of the mind. She wished to know why the mind instinctively
throws all experiences and thoughts under certain forms, and why it must
think under certain general methods. She found what to her was a perfectly
satisfactory answer to these questions in the theory of evolution as
developed by Darwin and Spencer. Through the aid of these men she found the
reconciliation between Locke and Kant, and discovered that both were wrong
and both right. So familiar has this reconciliation become, and so wide is
its acceptance, that no more than a mere hint of its meaning will be needed
here. This philosophy asserts, with Locke, that all knowledge begins in
sensation and experience; but with Kant, it affirms that knowledge passes
beyond experience and becomes intuitional. It differs from Kant as to the
source of the intuitions, pronouncing them the results of experience built
up into legitimate factors of the mind by heredity. Experience is inherited
and becomes intuitions. The intuitions are affirmed to be reliable, and, to
a certain extent, sure indications of truth. They are the results, to use
the phrase adopted by Lewes, of "organized experience;" experience verified
in the most effective manner in the organism which it creates and modifies.
According to this philosophy, man must trust the results of experience, but
he can by no means be certain that those results correspond with actuality.
They are actual for him, because it is impossible for him to go beyond
their range. Within the little round created by "organized experience,"
which is also Lewes's definition of science, man may trust his knowledge,
because it is consistent with itself; but beyond that strict limit he can
obtain no knowledge, and even knows that what is without it does not
correspond with what is within it. In truth, man knows only the relative,
not the absolute; he must rely on experience, not on creative reason.

George Eliot would have us believe that the sources of life are not inward,
but outward; not dependent on the deep affirmations of individual reason,
or on the soul's inherent capacity to see what is true, but on the effects
of environment and the results of social experience. Man is not related to
an infinite world of reason and spiritual truth, but only to a world of
universal law, hereditary conditions and social traditions. Invariable law,
heredity, feeling, tradition; these words indicate the trend of George
Eliot's mind, and the narrow limitations of her philosophy. Man is not only
the product of nature, but, according to this theory, nature limits his
moral capacity and the range of his mental activity. Environment is
regarded as all-powerful, and the material world as the _source_ of such
truth as we can know. In her powerful presentation of this philosophy of
life George Eliot indicates her great genius and her profound insight. At
the same time, her work is limited, her genius cramped, and her imagination
crippled, by a philosophy so narrow and a creed so inexpansive.



As a great literary creator, George Eliot holds a singular position in
reference to religious beliefs. To most literary artists religion is a
vital part of life, which enters as a profound element into their teachings
or into their interpretations of character and incident. Religion deeply
affects the writings of Tennyson, Browning and Ruskin; its problems, its
hopes, its elements of mystery and infinity touch all their pages. In an
equal degree, though with a further departure from accredited beliefs, and
with a greater effect from philosophical or humanitarian influences, has it
wrought itself into the genius of Goethe, Carlyle and Hugo. Even the pages
of Voltaire, Shelley and Heine have been touched by its magic influence;
their words glow with its great interests, and bloom into beauty through
its inspiration. None of these is more affected by religion than George
Eliot has been; nor does it form a greater element in their writings than
in hers.

What is singular about George Eliot's position is, that she both affirms
and denies; she is deeply religious and yet rejects all religious
doctrines. No writer of the century has given religion a more important
relation to human interests or made it a larger element in his creative
work; and yet no other literary artist has so completely rejected all
positive belief in God and immortality. In her books she depicts every
phase of religious belief and life, and with sympathy and appreciation. A
very large proportion of her characters are clergymen or other religious
persons, who are described with accuracy and sympathy. Her own faith, the
theory of religion she accepts, is not given to any of her characters. What
she believes, appears only in her comments, and in the general effect which
life produces on the persons she describes. She believed Christianity is
subjectively true, that it is a fit expression of the inner nature and of
the spiritual wants of the soul. She did not propagate the pantheism of
Spinoza or the theism of Francis Newman, because she did not regard them as
so near the truth as the Christianity of Paul. As intellectual theories
they may have been preferable to her, but from the outlook of feeling which
she ever occupied, Paul was the truer teacher, and especially because his
teachings are linked with the spiritual desires and outpourings of many
generations. The spontaneous movements of the human mind, which have taken
possession of vast numbers of people through long periods of time, have a
depth of meaning which the speculations of no individual theorizer can ever
possess. Especially did she regard Christianity as a pure and noble
expression of the soul's inner wants and aspirations. It is an objective
realization of feeling and sentiment, it gives purpose and meaning to man's
cravings for a diviner life, it links generation to generation in a
continued series of beautiful traditions and noble inspirations. Her
intellectual view of the subject was expressed to a friend in these words:

Deism seems to me the most incoherent of all systems, but to
Christianity I feel no objection but its want of evidence.

She also expressed more sympathy with the simple faith of the multitude
than with the intellectual speculations of philosophers and theologians;
and again, she said that she felt more sympathy with than divergence from
the narrowest and least cultivated believer in Christianity. As a vehicle
of the accumulated hopes and traditions of the world's feeling and sorrow
she appreciated Christianity, saw its beauty, felt deeply in sympathy with
its spirit of renunciation, accepted its ideal of a divine life. She
learned from Feuerbach that religion, that Christianity, gives fit
expression to the emotional life and spiritual aspirations of man, and that
what it finds within in no degree corresponds with that which surrounds man

Barren and lifeless as this view must seem to most persons, it was a source
of great confidence and inspiration to George Eliot. It enabled her to
appreciate the religious experiences of men, to portray most accurately and
sympathetically a great variety of religious believers, and to give this
side of life its place and proportion. At the same time, it was a personal
satisfaction to her to be able to keep in unbroken sympathy with the
religious experiences of her childhood and youth while intellectually
unable to accept the beliefs on which these experiences rested. More than
this, she believed that religion and spirituality of life are necessary
elements of human existence, that man can never cast them off, and that man
will lead a happy and harmonious life only when they have a true and
fitting expression in his culture and civilization. She maintained, with
Sara Hennell, that we may retain the religious sentiments in all their glow
and in all their depth of influence, at the same time that the doctrines of
theology and all those conceptions of nature and man on which they rest are
rejected; that we may have a disposition of the heart akin to that of the
prophets and saints of religion, while we intellectually cast aside all
which gave meaning to their faith and devotion. According to George Eliot,
religion rests upon feeling and the relations of man to humanity, as well
as upon his irreversible relations to the universe. In _The Mill on the
Floss_ she has given a definition of it, in speaking of Maggie's want of

that knowledge of the irreversible laws within and without her, which,
governing the habits, becomes morality, and developing the feelings of
submission and dependence, becomes religion. [Footnote: Book IV.,
chapter III.]

It is the human side of religion which interests George Eliot, its
influence morally, its sympathetic impulse, its power to comfort and
console. Its supernatural elements seem to have little influence over her
mind, at least only so far as they serve the moral aims of life. It is
humanity which attracts her mind, inspires her ideal hopes, kindles her
enthusiasms. Religion, apart from human encouragement and elevation, the
suppression of human sin and sorrow, and the increase of human sympathy and
joy, has little attraction for her. She takes no ground of opposition to
the beliefs of others, expresses no contempt for any form of belief in God;
but she measures all beliefs by their moral influence and their power to
enkindle the enthusiasm of humanity.

The pantheistic theism defended by Lewes in his book on Comte, in 1853,
seems to have been also accepted by George Eliot. We are told that her mind
long wavered between the two, though pantheism was less acceptable than
theism, on account of its moral indifference. It was undoubtedly the moral
bearings of the subject which all the time had the greatest weight with
her, and probably Kant's position had not a little effect on her opinions.
She came, at least, to find final satisfaction in agnosticism, to believe
that all intellectual speculations on the subject are in vain. At the same
time, her moral convictions grew stronger, and she believed in the power of
moral activity to work out a solution of life when no other can be found.
At this point she stood with Kant rather than with Comte, in accepting the
moral nature as a true guide. She very zealously believed with Fichte in a
moral order of the world, approving of the truth which underlies the words
of Fichte's English disciple, Matthew Arnold, when he discourses of "the
Eternal, not ourselves, which makes for righteousness." Her positive
convictions and beliefs on the subject lie in this direction, and she
firmly accepted the idea of a moral order and purpose. So much she thought
we can know and rely on; beyond this she believed we can know nothing. Her
later convictions on this subject have been expressed in a graphic manner
by one of her friends. "I remember how," says this person, "at Cambridge,
I walked with her once in the Fellows' Garden, of Trinity, on an evening
of rainy May; and she, stirred somewhat beyond her wont, and taking as her
text the three words which have been used so often as the inspiring
trumpet-calls of man,--the words _God, Immortality, Duty_,--pronounced,
with terrible emphasis, how inconceivable was the _first_, how unbelievable
the _second_, and yet how peremptory and absolute the _third_. Never,
perhaps, have sterner accents affirmed the sovereignty of impersonal and
unrecompensed law. I listened, and night fell; her grave, majestic
countenance turned towards me like a sibyl's in the gloom; it was as though
she withdrew from my grasp, one by one, the two scrolls of promise, and
left me the third scroll only, awful with inevitable fates." [Footnote:
F.W.H. Myers in The Century Magazine for November, 1881.] All her later
writings, at least, confirm this testimony to her assertion of the
inconceivableness of God, and her open denial of faith in theism. She
cannot have gone so far as to assert the non-existence of God, affirming
only that she could not conceive of such a being as actually existing. She
could not believe in a personal God, but Lewes's conception of a dynamic
life was doubtless acceptable.

With as much emphasis she pronounced immortality unbelievable. She early
accepted the theory of Charles Bray and Sara Hennell, that we live
hereafter only in the life of the race. The moral bearings of the subject
here also were most effective over her mind, for she felt that what we
ought most of all to consider is our relations to our fellow-men, and that
another world can have little real effect upon our present living. In her
_Westminster Review_ article on "Evangelical Teaching" as presented in
Young's _Night Thoughts_, she criticises the following declaration:--

"Who tells me he denies his soul immortal,
What'er his boast, has told me he's a knave.
His duty 'tis to love himself alone,
Nor care though mankind perish, if he smiles."

Her comments on these lines of Young's are full of interest, in view of her
subsequent teachings, and they open an insight into her tendencies of mind
very helpful to those who would understand her fully. Her interest in all
that is human, her craving for a more perfect development of human sympathy
and co-operation, are very clearly to be seen.

We may admit that if the better part of virtue consists, as Young
appears to think, in contempt for mortal joys, in "meditation of our
own decease," and in "applause" of God in the style of a congratulatory
address to Her Majesty--all which has small relation to the well-being
of mankind on this earth--the motive to it must be gathered from
something that lies quite outside the sphere of human sympathy. But,
for certain other elements of virtue, which are of more obvious
importance to untheological minds,--a delicate sense of our neighbor'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 in 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. And surely it ought
to be a welcome fact, if the thought of _mortality_, as well as of
immortality, be favorable to virtue. Do writers of sermons and
religious novels prefer that we should be vicious in order that there
may be a more evident political and social necessity for printed
sermons and clerical fictions? Because learned gentlemen are
theological, are we to have no more simple honesty and good-will? We
can imagine that the proprietors of a patent water-supply have a dread
of common springs; but, for our own part, we think there cannot be too
great security against a lack of fresh water or of pure morality. To us
it is a matter of unmixed rejoicing that this latter necessary of
healthful life is independent of theological ink, and that its
evolution is insured in the interaction of human souls as certainly as
the evolution of science or art, with which, indeed, it is but a twin
ray, melting into them with undefinable limits.

The considerations here presented are very effective ones, and quite as
truthful as effective. There are human supports for morality of the most
important and far-reaching character, and such as are outside of any
theological considerations. We ought, as George Eliot so well says, to
rejoice that the reasons for being moral are manifold, that sympathy with
others, as well as the central fires of personality, or the craving to be
in harmony with the Eternal, is able to conduce to a righteous conduct. Her
objections to Young's narrow and selfish defence of immortality are well
presented and powerful, but they do not touch such high considerations as
those offered by Kant. The craving for personal freedom and perfection is
as strong and as helpful to the race as sympathy for others and yearning to
lift up the weak and fallen. When the sense of personality is gone, man
loses much of his character; and personality rests on a deep spiritual
foundation which does not mean egotism merely, but which does mean for the
majority a conviction of a continued existence. The tendency of the present
time is to dwell less upon the theological and more upon the human motives
to conduct; but it is to be doubted if the highest phases of morality can
be retained without belief in God and a future life. The common virtues,
the sympathetic motives to conduct, the spirit of helpfulness, may be
retained intact, and even increased in power and efficiency, by those
motives George Eliot presents; but the loftier virtues of personal heroism
and devotion to truth in the face of martyrdom of one form or another, the
saintly craving for purity and holiness, and the sturdy spirit of liberty
which will suffer no bonds to exist, can be had in their full development
only with belief that God calls us to seek for perfect harmony with
himself. Kant's view that a divine law within, the living word of God,
calls ever to us as personal beings to attain the perfection of our natures
in the perfection of the race, and in conformity to the eternal law of
righteousness, is far nobler and truer than that which George Eliot

She was not a mere unbeliever, however, for she did not thrust aside the
hope of immortality with a contemptuous hand. This problem she left where
she left that concerning God, in the background of thought, among the
questions which cannot be solved. She believed that the power to contribute
to the future good of the race is hope and promise enough. At the same
time, she was very tender of the positive beliefs of others, and especially
of that yearning so many feel after personal recognition and development.
Writing to one who passionately clung to such a hope, she said,--

I have no controversy with the faith that cries out and clings from the
depths of man's need. I only long, if it were possible to me, to help
in satisfying the need of those who want a reason for living in the
absence of what has been called consolatory belief. But all the while I
gather a sort of strength from the certainty that there must be limits
or negations in my own moral powers and life experience which may
screen from me many possibilities of blessedness for our suffering
human nature. The most melancholy thought surely would be that we in
our own persons had measured and exhausted the sources of spiritual
good. But we know the poor help the poor.

These words seem to be uttered in quite another tone than that in which she
asserted the unbelievableness of immortality, though they do not indicate
anything more than a tender yearning for human good and a belief that she
could not herself measure all the possibilities of such good. The
consolation of which she writes, comes only of human sympathy and
helpfulness. In writing to a friend suffering under the anguish of a recent
bereavement, she said,--

For the first sharp pangs there is no comfort;--whatever goodness may
surround us, darkness and silence still hang about our pain. But slowly
the clinging companionship with the dead is linked with our living
affections and duties, and we begin to feel our sorrow as a solemn
initiation preparing us for that sense of loving, pitying fellowship
with the fullest human lot which, I must think, no one who has tasted
it will deny to be the chief blessedness of our life. And especially to
know what the last parting is, seems needful to give the utmost
sanctity of tenderness to our relations with each other. It is that
above all which gives us new sensibilities to "the web of human things,
birth and the grave, that are not as they were." And by that faith we
come to find for ourselves the truth of the old declaration, that there
is a difference between the ease of pleasure and blessedness, as the
fullest good possible to us wondrously mixed mortals.

In these words she suggests that sorrow for the dead is a solemn initiation
into that full measure of human sympathy and tenderness which best fits us
to be men. Looking upon all human experience through feeling, she regarded
death as one of the most powerful of all the shaping agents of man's
destiny in this world. She speaks of death, in _Adam Bede, as "the great
reconciler" which unites us to those who have passed away from us. In the
closing scenes of _The Mill on the Floss it is presented as such a
reconciler, and as the only means of restoring Maggie to the affections of
those she had wronged. It is in _The Legend of Jubal, however, that George
Eliot has expressed her thought of what death has been in the individual
and social evolution of mankind. The descendants of Cain

in glad idlesse throve,
Nor hunted prey, nor with each other strove;

but all was peace and joy with them. There were no great aspirations, no
noble achievements, no tending toward progress and a higher life. On an
evil day, Lamech, when engaged in athletic sport, accidentally struck and
killed his fairest boy. All was then changed, the old love and peace passed
away; but good rather than evil came, for man began to lead a larger life.

And a new spirit from that hour came o'er
The race of Cain: soft idlesse was no more,
But even the sunshine had a heart of care,
Smiling with hidden dread--a mother fair
Who folding to her breast a dying child
Beams with feigned joy that but makes sadness mild.
Death was now lord of Life, and at his word
Time, vague as air before, new terrors stirred,
With measured wing now audibly arose
Throbbing through all things to some unknown close.
Now glad Content by clutching Haste was torn,
And Work grew eager, and Devise was born.
It seemed the light was never loved before,
Now each man said, "'Twill go and come no more."
No budding branch, no pebble from the brook,
No form, no shadow, but new dearness took
From the one thought that life must have an end;
And the last parting now began to send
Diffusive dread through love and wedded bliss,
Thrilling them into finer tenderness.
Then Memory disclosed her face divine,
That like the calm nocturnal lights doth shine
Within the soul, and shows the sacred graves,
And shows the presence that no sunlight craves,
No space, no warmth, but moves among them all;
Gone and yet here, and coming at each call,
With ready voice and eyes that understand,
And lips that ask a kiss, and dear responsive hand.
Thus to Cain's race death was tear-watered seed
Of various life and action-shaping need.
But chief the sons of Lamech felt the stings
Of new ambition, and the force that springs
In passion beating on the shores of fate.
They said, "There comes a night when all too late
The mind shall long to prompt the achieving hand,
The eager thought behind closed portals stand,
And the last wishes to the mute lips press
Buried ere death in silent helplessness.
Then while the soul its way with sound can cleave,
And while the arm is strong to strike and heave,
Let soul and arm give shape that will abide
And rule above our graves, and power divide
With that great god of day, whose rays must bend
As we shall make the moving shadows tend.
Come, let us fashion acts that are to be,
When we shall lie in darkness silently,
As our young brother doth, whom yet we see
Fallen and slain, but reigning in our will
By that one image of him pale and still."

Death brings discord and sorrow into a world once happy and unaspiring, but
it also brings a spiritual eagerness and a divine craving. Jabal began to
tame the animals and to cultivate the soil, Tubal-Cain began to use fire
and to work metals, while Jubal discovered song and invented musical
instruments. Out of the longing and inner unrest which death brought, came
the great gift of music. It had power to

Exult and cry, and search the inmost deep
Where the dark sources of new passion sleep.

Jubal passes to other lands to teach them the gift of song, but at last
returns an old man to share in the affections of his people. He finds them
celebrating with great pomp the invention of music, but they will not
accept him as the Jubal they did honor to and believed dead. Then the voice
of his own past instructs him that he should not expect any praises or
glory in his own person; it is enough to live in the joy of a world
uplifted by music. Thus instructed, his broken life succumbs.

Quitting mortality, a quenched sun-wave,
The All-creating Presence for his grave.

In this poem George Eliot regards death as a means of drawing men into a
deeper and truer sympathy with each other. The same thought is more fully
presented when she exultingly sings,--

O may I join 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 with self.
In thoughts sublime that pierce the night like stars,
And with their mild persistence urge man's search
To vaster issues.

Death teaches us to forget self, to live for others, to pour out unstinted
sympathy and affection for those whose lives are short and difficult. It is
the same thought as that given in reply to Young; mortal sorrows and pains
should move us as hopes of immortality cannot. There accompanies this idea
the larger one, that our future life is to be found in the better life we
make for those who come after us. George Eliot believed with Comte, that we
are to live again in minds made better by what we have done and been, that
an influence goes out from every helpful and good life which makes the
lives of those who come after us fairer and grander.

She rests this belief on no sentimental or ideal grounds. Its justification
is to be found in science, in the law of hereditary transmission. Darwin
and Spencer base the great world-process of evolution on the two laws of
transmission and variation. The fittest survives, and the world advances.
The survival of every fit and positive form of life in the better forms
which succeed it is in accordance with a process or a law which holds true
up into all the highest and subtlest expressions of man's inner life.
Heredity is as true morally and spiritually as physically, and our moral
and spiritual offspring will partake of our own qualities; and, standing on
the vantage ground of our lives, will rise higher than we. What George
Eliot regards as the positive teaching of science becomes also an inspiring
religious belief to her.

George Eliot accepted the belief of an immortality in the race with a deep
and earnest conviction. It gave a great impulse to her life, it satisfied
her craving for closer harmony and sympathy with her fellows, it satisfied
her longing for the power to assuage sorrow and to comfort pain.

So to live is heaven;
To make undying music in the world,

and to have an influence for good result from our lives far down the
future. Through the beneficent influences we can awake in the world

All our rarer, better, truer self.
That sobbed religiously in yearning song,
That watched to ease the burthen of the world,
... shall live till human time
Shall fold its eyelids, and the human sky
Be gathered like a scroll within the tomb
Unread forever.

It was this belief, so satisfying to her and so ardently entertained, which
inspired the best and noblest of her poems. With an almost exultant joy,
with the enthusiasm of an old-time devotee, she sings of that immortality
which consists in renouncing all which is personal. The diffusive good
which sweetens life for others through all time is the real heaven she

This is life to come,
Which martyred men have made more glorious
For us who strive to follow. May I reach
That purest heaven, be to other souls
The cup of strength in some great agony,
Enkindle generous ardor, feed pure love,
Beget the smiles that have no cruelty--
Be the sweet presence of a good diffused,
And in diffusion ever more intense.
So shall I join the choir invisible
Whose music is the gladness of the world.

Believing that humanity represents an organic life and development, it was
easy for George Eliot to accept the idea of immortality in the race. She
reverenced the voice of truth

Sent by the invisible choir of all the dead.

It was to her a divine voice, full of tenderness, sympathy and strength.
She was fascinated by this thought of the solemn, ever-present and
all-powerful influence of the dead over the living; there was mystery and
inspiration in this belief for her. All phases of religious history, all
religious experiences, were by her interpreted in the light of this
conception. The power of Jesus's life is, that his trancendent beauty of
soul lives in the "everlasting memories" of men, and that the cross of his
shame has become

The sign
Of death that turned to more diffusive life

His influence, his memory, has lifted up the world with a great effect, and
made his life, spirit and ideas an inherent part of humanity. He has been
engrafted into the organic life of the race, and lives there a mighty and
an increasing influence. What has happened in his case happens in the case
of all the gifted and great. According to what they were living they enter
into the life of the world for weal or woe. To become an influence for good
in the future, to leave behind an undying impulse of thought and sympathy,
was the ambition of George Eliot; and this was all the immortality she

The religious tendencies of George Eliot's mind are rather to be noted in
her conception of renunciation than in her beliefs about God and
immortality. These latter beliefs were of a negative character as she
entertained them, but her doctrine of renunciation was of a very positive
nature. The central motive of that belief was not faith in God, but faith
in man. It gained all its charm and power for her out of her conception of
the organic life of the race. Her thought was, that we should live not for
self, but for humanity. What so many ardent souls have been willing to do
for the glory of God she was willing to do for the uplifting of man. The
spirit of renunciation with her took the old theologic form of expression
to a considerable extent, associated itself in her thought with the lofty
spiritual consecration and self-abnegation of other ages. So ardently did
she entertain this doctrine, so fully did she clothe it with the old forms
of expression, that many have been deceived into believing her a devoted
Christian. A little book was published in 1879 for the express purpose of
showing that "the doctrine of the cross" is the main thought presented
throughout all George Eliot's books. [Footnote: The Ethics of George
Eliot's Works. By the late John Crombie Brown. Edinburgh: William Blackwood
and Sons. 1879.] This book was read by George Eliot with much delight, and
was regarded by her as the only criticism of her works which did full
justice to her purpose in writing them. She is presented in that book as
the writer of fiction who "stands out as the deepest, broadest and most
catholic illustrator of the true ethics of Christianity; the most earnest
and persistent expositor of the true doctrine of the cross, that we are
born and should live to something higher than love of happiness."
"Self-sacrifice as the divine law of life, and its only true fulfilment;
self-sacrifice, not in some ideal sphere sought out for ourselves in the
vain spirit of self-pleasing, but wherever God has placed us, amid homely,
petty anxieties, loves and sorrows; the aiming at the highest attainable
good in our own place, irrespective of all results of joy or sorrow, of
apparent success or failure--such is the lesson" that is conveyed in all
her books. George Eliot is presented as a true teacher of the doctrine
which admonishes us to love not pleasure but God, to forsake all things
else for the sake of obedience and devotion, to shun the world and to
devote ourselves perpetually to God's service. The Christian doctrine of
renunciation has always bidden men put their eyes on God, forget everything
beside, and seek only for that divine life which is spiritual union with
the Eternal.

That doctrine was not George Eliot's. Christianity bids men renounce the
world for the sake of a perfect union with God; George Eliot desires men to
renounce selfishness for the sake of humanity. The Christian idea includes
the renunciation of all self-seeking, it bids us give ourselves for others,
it even teaches us that others are to be preferred to ourselves. Yet all
this is to be done, not merely for the sake of the present, but in view of
an eternal destiny, and because we can thus only fulfil God's will and
attain to holy oneness with him. George Eliot did, however, throughout her
writings, identify the altruist impulse to live for others with the
Christian doctrine of the cross. To her, the life of devotion to humanity,
which she has so beautifully presented in the poem, "O may I join the Choir
Invisible," was the true interpretation of the Christian doctrine of
self-sacrifice. She accepted this world-old religious belief, consecrated
with all the tears and sacrifices and martyrdoms of the world, as a true
expression of a want of the soul, as the poetic expression of emotions and
aspirations which ever live in man. It is a beautiful symbolism of that
need of his fellows man ever has, of the conviction which is growing
stronger, that man must live for the race and not for himself. The
individual is nothing except as he identifies himself with the corporate
body of humanity; the true fulfilment of life comes only to those who in
some way recognize this fact, and give themselves for the good of the
world. George Eliot even goes so far in her willingness to renounce self
that she says in _Theophrastus Such_, "I am really at the point of finding
that this world would be worth living in without any lot of one's own. Is
it not possible for me to enjoy the scenery of earth without saying to
myself, I have a cabbage-garden in it?"

The relations of the individual to the past and the present of the race
make duties and burdens and woes for him which he has not created, but
which are given him to bear. The sins of others bring pain and sorrow to
us; we are a part of all the good and evil of the world. The present is
determined by the past; we must accept the lot created for us by those who
have gone before us. "He felt the hard pressure of our common lot, the yoke
of that mighty, resistless destiny laid upon us by the past of other men."
says George Eliot of one of her characters. The past brings us burdens and
sorrows difficult to bear; it also brings us duties. We owe to it many
things; our debt to the race is an immense one. That debt can only be
discharged by a life of devotion and loyalty, by doing what we can to make
humanity better. The Christian idea of a debt owed to God, which we can
only repay by perfect loyalty and self-abnegation, becomes to George Eliot
a debt owed to humanity, which we can only repay in the purest altruistic

The doctrine of renunciation has been presented again and again by George
Eliot; her books are full of it. It is undoubtedly the central theme of all
her teaching. In the conversation between Romola and Savonarola when she is
escaping from her home and is met by him, it is vividly expressed.
Savonarola speaks as a Christian, as a Catholic, as a monk; but the words
he uses quite as well serve to express George Eliot's convictions. The
Christian symbolism laid aside, and all was true to her; yet her feelings,
her sense of corporate unity with the past, would not even suffer her to
lay aside the symbolism in presenting her thoughts on this subject. Romola
pleads that she would not have left Florence as long as she could fulfil a
duty to her father: but Savonarola reminds her that there are other duties,
other ties, other burdens.

"If your own people are wearing a yoke, will you slip from under it,
instead of struggling with them to lighten it? There is hunger and
misery in our streets, yet you say, 'I care not; I have my own sorrows;

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