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  • 1883
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of Hegel, seized with eagerness upon a little book which gave an intense reality to Spinoza and his thoughts, which threw Hegel’s contradictories into epigrams, and made the course of philosophic thought unfold itself naturally with all the life and coherence of a well-considered plot…. There can be no possible doubt as to the success of this method. Men to whom philosophy has been a wearisome swaying backward and forward of meaningless phrases, found something which they could remember and understand…. For a generation this ‘entirely popular’ book saturated the minds of the younger readers. It has done as much as any book, perhaps-more than any, to give the key to the prevalent thought of our time about the metaphysical problems…. That such a book should have had such a triumph was a singular literary fact. The opinions frankly expressed as to theology, metaphysics, and many established orthodoxies; its conclusion, glowing in every page, that metaphysics, as Danton said of the Revolution, was devouring its own children, and led to self-annihilation; its proclamation of Comte as the legitimate issue of all previous philosophy and positive philosophy as its ultimate _irenicon_–all this, one might think, would have condemned such a book from its birth. The orthodoxies frowned; the professors sneered; the owls of metaphysic hooted from the gloom of their various jungles; but the public read, the younger students adopted it, the world learned from it the positive method; it held its ground because it made clear what no one else had made clear–what philosophy meant, and why philosophers differed so violently.”

This extravagant praise becomes even absurd when the writer gravely says that this book “had simply killed metaphysic.” A popular style and method gave the book success, along with the fact that the temper of the time made such a statement acceptable. It cleverly indicated the weak places in the metaphysical methods, and it presented the advantages of the inductive method with great eloquence and ingenuity. Its satire, and its contempt for the more spiritualistic systems, also helped to make it readable.

His later work, in which he develops his own positive conclusions, has the merit of being one of the best expositions yet made of the philosophy of evolution. In view, however, of his unqualified condemnation of the theories of metaphysicians, his system is one of singular audacity of speculation. Not even Schelling or Hegel has gone beyond him in theorizing, or exceeded him in the ground traversed beyond the limits of demonstration. He who had held up all speculative systems to scorn, distanced those he had condemned, and showed how easy it is to take theory for fact. Metaphysic has not had in its whole history a greater illustration of the daring of speculation than in the case of Lewes’s theory of the relations of the subjective and objective. He interprets matter and mind, motion and feeling, objective and subjective, as simply the outer and inner, the concave and convex, sides of one and the same reality. Mind is the same as matter, except that it is viewed from a different aspect. In this opinion he resembles Schelling more than any other thinker, as he does in some other of his speculations. As a monist, his conclusions are similar to those of the leading German transcendentalists. Indeed, the evolution philosophy he expounds is, in some of its aspects, but a development of the identity philosophy of Schelling. In its monism, its theory of the development of mind out of matter, and its conception of law, they are one and the same. The evolution differs from the identity philosophy mainly in its more scientific interpretation of the influence of heredity and the social environment. The one is undoubtedly an outgrowth from the other, while the audacious nights of speculation indulged in by Lewes rival anything attempted even by Schelling.

Lewes was one of the earliest English disciples of Auguste Comte, and he probably did more than any other person to introduce the opinions of that thinker to English students. He was a zealous and yet not a blind disciple, rejecting for the most part the later speculations of Comte. Comte’s theories of social and religious construction were repugnant to Lewes’s mind, but his positive methods and his entire rejection of theology were acceptable. Comte’s positivism was the foundation of his own philosophy, and he did little more than to expand and more carefully work out the system of his predecessor. In psychology he went beyond Comte, through his physiological studies, and by the adoption of the methods and results of evolution. His discovery of the sociological factors of mind was a real advance on his master.

George Eliot’s connection with Lewes had much to do with the after-development of her mind. An affinity of intellectual purpose and conviction drew them together. She found her philosophical theories confirmed by his, and both together labored for the propagation of that positivism in which they so heartily believed. Their lives and influence are inseparably united. There was an almost entire unanimity of intellectual conviction between them, and his books are in many ways the best interpreters of the ethical and philosophical meanings of her novels. Her thorough interest in his studies, and her comprehension of them, is manifest on many of her pages. Her enthusiastic acceptance of positivism in that spirit in which it is presented by Lewes, is apparent throughout all her work. Their marriage was a companionship and a friendship. They lived in each other, were mutual helpers, and each depended much on–the advice and counsel of the other. Miss Mathilde Blind has pointed out how thoroughly identical are their views of realism in art, and on many other subjects they were as harmonious. They did not echo each other, but there was an intimate affinity of intellectual apprehension and purpose.

Immediately after their marriage, Lewes and his wife went to Germany, and they spent a quiet year of study in Berlin, Munich and Weimar. Here he re-wrote and completed his _Life of Goethe_. On their return to England they took a house in Blandford Square, and began then to make that home which was soon destined to have so much interest and attraction. A good part of the year 1858 was also spent on the continent in study and travel. Three months were passed in Munich, six weeks in Dresden, while Salzburg, Vienna and Prague were also visited. The continent was again visited in the summer of 1865, and a trip was taken through Normandy, Brittany and Touraine. Other visits preceded and followed, including a study of Florence in preparation for the writing of _Romola_, and a tour in Spain in 1867 to secure local coloring for _The Spanish Gypsy_. In 1865, the house in Blandford Square was abandoned for “The Priory,” a commodious and pleasant house on the North Bank, St. John’s Wood. It was here Mr. and Mrs. Lewes lived until his death.



Until she was thirty-six years old Mrs. Lewes had given no hint that she was likely to become a great novelist. She had shown evidence of large learning and critical ability, but not of decided capacity for imaginative or poetic creation. The critic and the creator are seldom combined in one person; and while she might have been expected to become a philosophical writer of large reputation, there was little promise that she would become a great novelist. Before she began the _Scenes of Clerical Life_, she had written but very little of an original character. She was not drawn irresistibly to the career for which she was best fitted, and others had to discover her gift and urge her to its use. Mr. Lewes saw that the person who could write so admirably of what a novel ought to be, and who could so skilfully point out the defects in the lady novelists of the day, was herself capable of writing much better ones than those she criticised. It was at his suggestion, and through his encouragement, she made her first attempt at novel-writing. Her love of learning, her relish for literary and philosophical studies, led her to believe that she could accomplish the largest results in the line of the work she had already begun. Yet Lewes had learned from her conversational powers, from her keen appreciation of the dramatic elements of daily life, and from her fine humor and sarcasm, that other work was within the range of her powers. Reluctantly she consented to turn aside from the results of scholarship she had hoped to accomplish, and with many doubts concerning her ability to become a writer of fiction. The history of the publication of her first work, _Scenes of Clerical Life_, has been fully told, and is helpful towards an understanding of her career as an author.

In the autumn of 1856, William Blackwood received from Lewes a short story bearing–the title of “The Sad Fortunes of the Rev. Amos Barton,” which he sent as the work of an anonymous friend. His nephew has described the results that followed on the reception of this novel by Blackwood, and its publication in _Blackwood’s Magazine_. “The story was offered as the first instalment of a series; and though the editor pronounced that ‘Amos’ would ‘do,’ he wished to satisfy himself that it was no chance hit, and requested a sight of the other tales before coming to a decision. Criticisms on the plot and studies of character in ‘Amos Barton’ were frankly put forward, and the editor wound up his letter by saying,’ If the author is a new writer, I beg to congratulate him on being worthy of the honors of print and pay. I shall be very glad to hear from him or you soon.’ At this time the remaining _Scenes of Clerical Life_ were unwritten, and the criticisms upon ‘Amos’ had rather a disheartening effect upon the author, which the editor hastened to remove as soon as he became sensible of them, by offering to accept the tale. He wrote to Mr. Lewes, ‘If you think it would stimulate the author to go on with the other tales, I shall publish ‘Amos’ at once;’ expressing also his ‘sanguineness’ that he would be able to approve of the contributions to follow, as ‘Amos’ gave indications of great freshness of style. Some natural curiosity had been expressed as to the unknown writer, and a hint had been thrown out that he was ‘a clergyman,’–a device which, since it has the great sanction of Sir Walter Scott, we must regard as perfectly consistent with the ethics of anonymous literature.

“‘Amos Barton’ occupied the first place in the magazine for January, 1857, and was completed in the following number. By that time ‘Mr. Gilfil’s Love Story’ was ready, and the _Scenes of Clerical Life_ appeared month by month, until they ended with ‘Janet’s Repentance’ in November of that year. As fresh instalments of the manuscript were received, the editor’s conviction of the power, and even genius, of his new contributor steadily increased. In his first letter to the author after the appearance of ‘Amos Barton,’ he wrote, ‘It is a long time since I have read anything so fresh, so humorous and so touching. The style is capital, conveying so much in so few words.’ In another letter, addressed ‘My dear Amos,’ for lack of any more distinct appellation, the editor remarks, ‘I forgot whether I told you or Lewes that I had shown part of the MS. to Thackeray. He was staying with me, and having been out at dinner, came in about eleven o’clock, when I had just finished reading it. I said to him, ‘Do you know that I think I have lighted upon a new author who is uncommonly like a first-class passenger?’ I showed him a page or two–I think the passage where the curate returns home and Milly is first introduced. He would not pronounce whether it came up to my ideas, but remarked afterwards that he would have liked to have read more, which I thought a good sign.’

“From the first the _Scenes of Clerical Life_ arrested public attention. Critics were, however, by no means unanimous as to their merits. They had so much individuality–stood so far apart from the standards of contemporary fiction–that there was considerable difficulty in applying the usual tests in their case. The terse, condensed style, the exactitude of expression, and the constant use of illustration, naturally suggested to some the notion that the new writer must be a man of science relaxing himself in the walks of fiction. The editor’s own suspicions had once been directed towards Professor Owen by a similarity of handwriting. Guesses were freely hazarded as to the author’s personality, and among other conjectures was one that Lord Lyttoll, whose ‘Caxton’ novels were about the same period delighting the readers of this magazine, had again struck a new vein of fiction. Probably Dickens was among the first to divine that the author must be a woman; but the reasons upon which he based this opinion might readily have been met by equally cogent deductions from the _Scenes_ that the writer must be of the male sex. Dickens, on the conclusion of the _Scenes_, wrote a letter of most generous appreciation, which, when sent through the editor, afforded the unknown author very hearty gratification.

“While ‘Mr. Gilfil’s Love Story’ was passing through the magazine, the editor was informed that he was to know the author as ‘George Eliot.’ It was at this time, then, that a name so famous in our literature was invented. We have no reason to suppose that it had been thought of when the series was commenced. It was probably assumed from the impossibility of a nameless shadow maintaining frequent communication with the editor of a magazine; possibly the recollection of George Sand entered into the idea; but the designation was euphonious and impressive.

“Before the conclusion of the _Scenes_, Mr. Blackwood felt satisfied that he had to do with a master mind, and that a great career as a novelist lay open to George Eliot; and his frequent communications urged her warmly to persevere in her efforts. When ‘Janet’s Repentance’ was drawing to a close, and arrangements were being made for re-issuing the sketches as a separate publication, he wrote to Mr. Lewes, ‘George Eliot is too diffident of his own powers and prospects of success. Very few men, indeed, have more reason to be satisfied as far as the experiment has gone. The following should be a practical cheerer,’–and then he proceeded to say how the Messrs, Blackwood had seen reason to make a large increase in the forthcoming reprint of the _Scenes_. The volumes did not appear until after the New Year of 1858; and their success was such that the editor was able, before the end of the month, to write as follows to Lewes: ‘George Eliot has fairly achieved a literary reputation among judges, and the public must follow, although it may take time. Dickens’s letter was very handsome, and truly kind. I sent him an extract from George Eliot’s letter to me, and I have a note from him, saying that ‘he has been much interested by it,’ and that ‘it has given him the greatest pleasure.’ Dickens adheres to his theory that the writer must be a woman.’ To George Eliot herself he wrote in February, 1858, ‘You will recollect, when we proposed to reprint, my impression was that the series had not lasted long enough in the magazine to give you a hold on the general public, although long enough to make your literary reputation. Unless in exceptional cases, a very long time often elapses between the two stages of reputation, the literary and the public. Your progress will be _sure_, if not so quick as we could wish.'”

The success of the _Clerical Scenes_ determined the literary career of Mrs. Lewes. She began at once an elaborate novel, which was largely written in Germany. It was sent to Blackwood for publication, and his nephew has given a full account of the reception of the manuscript and the details of giving the work to the public.

“_Adam Bede_ was begun almost as soon as the _Scenes_ were finished, and had already made considerable progress before their appearance in the reprint. In February, 1858, the editor, writing to Mr. Lewes, says, ‘I am delighted to hear from George Eliot that I might soon hope to see something like a volume of the new tale. I am very sanguine.’ In a few weeks after, the manuscript of the opening chapters of _Adam Bede_ was put into his hands, and he writes thus to Lewes after the first perusal: ‘Tell George Eliot that I think _Adam Bede_ all right–most lifelike and real. I shall read the MS. quietly over again before writing in detail about it…. For the first reading it did not signify how many things I had to think of; I would have hurried through it with eager pleasure. I write this note to allay all anxiety on the part of George Eliot as to my appreciation of the merits of this most promising opening of a picture of life. In spite of all injunctions, I began _Adam Bede_ in the railway, and felt very savage when the waning light stopped me as we neared the Scottish border.’ A few weeks later, when he had received further chapters, and had reperused the manuscript from the beginning, Mr. Blackwood wrote to George Eliot, ‘The story is altogether very novel, and I cannot recollect anything at all like it. I find myself constantly thinking of the characters as real personages, which is a capital sign.’ After he had read yet a little further he remarks, ‘There is an atmosphere of genuine religion and purity that fears no evil, about the whole opening of the story.’ George Eliot made an expedition to Germany in the spring of 1858, and the bulk of the second volume was sent home from Munich. Acknowledging the receipt of the manuscript, the editor wrote to Lewes, ‘There can be no mistake about the merits, and I am not sure whether I expressed myself sufficiently warmly. But you know that I am not equal to the _abandon_ of expression which distinguishes the large-hearted school of critics.’ Adam Bede was completed in the end of October, 1858, and Mr. Blackwood read the conclusion at once, and sent his opinions. He says, ‘I am happy to tell you that I think it is capital.–I never saw such wonderful efforts worked out by such a succession of simple and yet delicate and minute touches. Hetty’s night in the fields is marvellous. I positively shuddered for her, poor creature; and I do not think the most thoughtless lad could read that terrible picture of her feelings and hopeless misery without being deeply moved. Adam going to support her at the trial is a noble touch. You really make him a gentleman by that act. It is like giving him his spurs. The way poor Hetty leans upon and clings to Dinah is beautiful. Mr. Irwine is always good; so are the Poysers, lifelike as possible. Dinah is a very striking and original character, always perfectly supported, and never obtrusive in her piety. Very early in the book I took it into my head that it would be ‘borne in upon her’ to fall in love with Adam. Arthur is the least satisfactory character, but he is true too. The picture of his happy, complacent feelings before the bombshell bursts upon him is very good.’

“_Adam Bede_ was published in the last week of January, 1859. The author was desirous on this occasion to test her strength by appealing directly to the public; and the editor, though quite prepared to accept _Adam Bede_ for the magazine, willingly gratified her. Sending George Eliot an early copy, before _Adam Bede_ had reached the public, he says, ‘Whatever the subscription may be, I am confident of success–great success. The book is so novel and so true, that the whole story remains in my mind like a succession of incidents in the lives of people I know. _Adam Bede_ can certainly never come under the class of popular agreeable stories; but those who love power, real humor, and true natural description, will stand by the sturdy carpenter and the living groups you have painted in and about Hayslope.’

“_Adam Bede_ did not immediately command that signal success which, looking back to it now, we might have expected for it. As the editor had warned the author, the Scenes had secured for her a reputation with the higher order of readers and with men of letters, but had not established her popularity with the public in general. The reviewers, too, were somewhat divided. Many of them recognized the merits of the work, but more committed the blunder of endeavoring to fix the position of the book by contrasting the author with the popular novelists of the time, and by endeavoring to determine from which of them she had drawn her inspiration. In 1859 a review of _Adam Bede_ from the pen of one of the oldest and ablest of our contributors was published in this magazine, and on its appearance George Eliot wrote the editor, ‘I should like you to convey my gratitude to your reviewer. I see well he is a man whose experience and study enabled him to relish parts of my book which I should despair of seeing recognized by critics in London back drawing-rooms. He has gratified me keenly by laying his fingers on passages which I wrote either from strong feeling or from intimate knowledge, but which I had prepared myself to find passed over by reviewers.’ Soon after, _The Times_ followed with an appreciative notice of the book which sounded its real merits, and did justice to the author’s originality of genius; and by the month of April the book was steadily running through a second edition. Readers were beginning to realize that the _Scenes of Clerical Life_ was not a mere chance success, but the work of a writer capable of greater and better things.”

It was Mrs. Lewes’s desire not to be known to the public in her own personality, hence her adoption of a _nom de plume_. She shrank from the consequences of a literary fame, had none of George Sand’s love of notoriety or desire to impress herself upon the world. It was her hope that George Eliot and Mrs. Lewes would lead distinct lives so far as either was known outside her own household; that the two should not be joined together even in the minds of her most intimate friends. When her friend, the editor of the _Westminster Review_, detected the authorship of _Adam Bede_, and wrote to her in its praise, congratulating her on the success she had attained, Lewes wrote to him denying positively that Mrs. Lewes was the author. Charles Dickens also saw through the disguise, and wrote to the publisher declaring his opinion that _Adam Bede_ was written by a woman. When this was denied, he still persisted in his conviction, detecting the womanly insight into character, her failure adequately to portray men, while of women “she seemed to know their very hearts.”

The vividness with which scenes and persons about her childhood home were depicted, speedily led to the breaking of this disguise. One of her school-fellows, as soon as she had read _Adam Bede_, said, “George Eliot is Marian Evans;” but others were only confident that the author must be some Nuncaton resident, and began to look about them for the author. Some portions of the _Scenes of Clerical Life_ had already been discovered to have a very strong local coloring, and now there was much curiosity as to the personality of the writer. A dilapidated gentleman of the neighborhood, who had run through with a fortune at Cambridge, was selected for the honor. While the _Scenes_ were being published, an Isle of Man newspaper attributed the authorship to this man, whose name was Liggins, but he at once repudiated it. On the appearance of _Adam Bede_ this claim was again put forward, and a local clergyman became the medium of its announcement to the public. The London _Times_ printed the following letter in its issue of April 15, 1859: “Sir,–The author of _Scenes of Clerical Life_ and _Adam Bede_ is Mr. Joseph Liggins, of Nuncaton, Warwickshire. You may easily satisfy yourself of my correctness by inquiring of any one in that neighborhood. Mr. Liggins himself and the characters whom he paints are as familiar there as the twin spires of Coventry.–Yours obediently, H. ANDERS, Rector of Kirkby.”

The next day the following was printed by the same paper:–

Sir,–The Rev. H. Anders has with questionable delicacy and unquestionable inaccuracy assured the world through your columns that the author of _Scenes of Clerical Life_ and _Adam Bede_ is Mr. Joseph Liggins, of Nuncaton. I beg distinctly to deny that statement. I declare on my honor that that gentleman never saw a line of those works until they were printed, nor had he any knowledge of them whatever. Allow me to ask whether the act of publishing a book deprives a man of all claim to the courtesies usual among gentlemen? If not, the attempt to pry into what is obviously meant to be withheld–my name–and to publish the rumors which such prying may give rise to, seems to me quite indefensible, still more so to state these rumors as ascertained facts. I am, sir. Yours, &c., GEORGE ELIOT.

Liggins found his ardent supporters, and he explained the letter repudiating the authorship of the _Scenes of Clerical Life_ as being written to further his own interests. He obtained money on the plea that he was being deprived of his rights, by showing portions of a manuscript which he had copied from the printed book. Neighboring clergymen zealously espoused his cause, and a warm controversy raged for a little time concerning his claim. Very curiously, it became a question of high and low church, his own fellow-believers defending Liggins with zeal, while the other party easily detected his imposition. Finally, Blackwood published a letter in _The Times_ denying his claims, accompanied by one from George Eliot expressing entire satisfaction with her publisher. A consequence of this discussion was, that the real name of the author was soon known to the public.

The curiosity excited about the authorship of _Adam Bede_, the Liggins controversy, and the fresh, original character of the book itself, soon drew attention to its merits. It was referred to in a Parliamentary debate, and it became the general topic of literary conversation. Its success was soon assured, and it was not long before it was recognized that a new novelist of the first order had appeared.

It is as amusing as interesting now to look back upon the reception given to _Adam Bede_ by the critics. It is not every critic who can detect a great writer in his first unheralded book, and some very stupid blunders were made in regard to this one. It was reviewed in _The Spectator_ for February 12, 1859, in this unappreciative manner: “George Eliot’s three-volume novel of _Adam Bede_ is a story of humble life, where religious conscientiousness is the main characteristic of the hero and heroine, as well as of some of the other persons. Its literary feature partakes, we fear, too much of that Northern trait which, by minutely describing things and delineating individuals as matters of substantive importance in themselves, rather than as subordinate to general interest, has a tendency to induce a feeling of sluggishness in the reader.”

Not all the critics were so blundering as this one, however, and in the middle of April, _The Times_ said there was no mistake about the character of _Adam Bede_, that it was a first-rate novel, and that its author would take rank at once among the masters of the craft. In April, also, _Blackwood’s Magazine_ gave the book a hearty welcome. The natural, genuine descriptions of village life were commended, and the boot was praised for its “hearty, manly sympathy with weakness, not inconsistent with hatred of vice.” Throughout this notice the author is spoken of as “Mr. Eliot.” The critic of the _Westminster Review_, in an appreciative and favorable notice, expressed a doubt if the author could be a man. He cited Hetty as proof that only a woman could have written the book, and said this character could “only be delineated as it is by an author combining the intense feelings and sympathies of a woman with the conceptive power of artistic genius.” The woman theory was pronounced to be beset with serious difficulties, however, and the notice concluded with these words: “But while pronouncing no decisive opinion on this point, we may remark that the union of the best qualities of the masculine and feminine intellect is as rare as it is admirable; that it is a distinguishing characteristic of the most gifted artists and poets, and that to ascribe it to the author of _Adam Bede_ is to accord the highest praise we can bestow.”

With the writing of _Adam Bede_, George Eliot accepted her career as a novelist, and henceforth her life was devoted to literary creation. Even before _Adam Bede_ was completed, her attention was directed to Savonarola as the subject for a novel. Though this subject was in her mind, yet it was not made use of until later. As soon as _Adam Bede_ was completed, she at once began another novel of English life, and drawn even more fully than its predecessors from her own experience. Of this new work a greater portion of the manuscript was in the hands of the publishers with the beginning of 1860. She called it _Sister Maggie_, from the name of the leading character. This title did not please the publisher, and on the 6th of January, Blackwood wrote to her suggesting that it be called _The Mill on the Floss_. This title was accepted by George Eliot, and the new work appeared in three volumes at the beginning of April, 1860.

In July, 1859, there appeared in _Blackwood’s Magazine_ a short story from George Eliot bearing the title of “The Lifted Veil.” This was followed by another, in 1864, called “Brother Jacob.” Both were printed anonymously and are the only short stories she wrote after the _Clerical Scenes_. They attracted attention, but were not reprinted until 1880, when they appeared in the volume with _Silas Marner_, in Blackwood’s “cabinet edition” of her works. In March, 1861, _Silas Marner, the Weaver of Raveloe_, her only one-volume novel, was given to the public by Blackwood.

Having carefully studied the life and surroundings of Savonarola, she now took up this subject, and embodied it in her _Romola_. This novel appeared in the _Cornhill Magazine_ from July, 1862, to July, 1863. It has been reported that it was offered to Blackwood for publication, who rejected it because it was not likely to be popular with the public. The probable reason of its publication in the _Cornhill Magazine_ was that a large sum was paid for its first appearance in that periodical. In a letter written July 5, 1862, Lewes gave the true explanation. “My main object in persuading her to consent to serial publication was not the unheard-of magnificence of the offer, but the advantage to such a work of being read slowly and deliberately, instead of being galloped through in three volumes. I think it quite unique, and so will the public when it gets over the first feeling of surprise and disappointment at the book not being English and like its predecessor.” The success it met with while under way in the pages of the magazine may be seen from a letter written by Lewes on December 18. “Marian lives entirely in the fifteenth century, and is much cheered every now and then by hearing indirectly how her book is appreciated by the higher class of minds, and some of the highest, though it is not, and cannot be, popular. In Florence we hear they are wild with delight and surprise at such a work being executed by a foreigner, as if an Italian had ever done anything of the kind.” _Romola_ was illustrated in the _Cornhill Magazine_, and on its completion was reprinted by Smith, Elder & Co., the publishers of that periodical.

The success of _Romola_ was such as to lead George Eliot to begin on another historical subject, though she was probably induced to do this much more by its fitness to her purposes than by the public reception of the novel. This time she gave her work a poetical and dramatic form. _The Spanish Gypsy_ was written in the winter of 1864-5, but was laid aside for more thorough study of the subject and for careful revision. She had previously, in 1863, written a short story in verse, founded on the pages of Bocaccio, entitled “How Lisa Loved the King.” Probably other poems had also been written, but poetry had not occupied much of her attention. As a school-girl, and even after she had gone to London, she had written verses. Among these earlier attempts, it may not be unsafe to conjecture, may have been the undated poems which she has published in connection with _The Legend of Jubal_. These are “Self and Life,” “Sweet Evenings come and go, Love,” and “The Death of Moses.”

After laying aside _The Spanish Gypsy_ she began on another novel of English life, and _Felix Holt: the Radical_ was printed in three volumes by Blackwood, in June, 1866. Shortly after, she printed in _Blackwood’s Magazine_–an “Address to workmen, by Felix Holt,” in which she gave some wholesome and admirable advice to the operative classes who had been enfranchised by the Reform Bill. In the same magazine, “How Lisa Loved the King” was printed in May, 1869. This was the last of her contributions to its pages. Its publisher gave her many encouragements in her literary career, and was devoted to her interests. After his death she gave expression to her appreciation of his valuable aid in reaching the public, through a letter addressed to his successor.

I feel that his death was an irreparable loss to my mental life for nowhere else is it possible that I can find the same long-tried genuineness of sympathy and unmixed impartial gladness in anything I might happen to do well. To have had a publisher who was in the fullest sense of the word a gentleman, and at the same time a man of excellent moral judgment, has been an invaluable stimulus and comfort to me. Your uncle had retained that fruit of experience which makes a man of the world, as opposed to the narrow man of literature. He judged well of writing, because he had learned to judge well of men and things, not merely through quickness of observation and insight, but with the illumination of a heart in the right place–a thorough integrity and rare tenderness of feeling.

After a visit to Spain in the summer of 1867, _The Spanish Gypsy_ was re-written and published by Blackwood, in June, 1868. During several years, at this period of her life, her pen was busy with poetical subjects. “A Minor Prophet” was written in 1865, “Two Lovers” in 1866, and “Oh may I join the Choir Invisible” in 1867. “Agatha” was written in 1868, and was published in the _Atlantic Monthly_ for August, 1869. _The Legend of Jubal_ was written in 1869 and was printed in _Macmillan’s Magazine_ for May, 1870. In 1869 were also written the series of sonnets entitled “Brother and Sister.” “Armgart” was written in 1870, and appeared in _Macmillan’s Magazine_ in July, 1871. “Arion” and “Stradivarius” were written in 1873. “A College Breakfast Party” was written in April, 1874, and was printed in _Macmillan’s Magazine_ for July, 1878. _The Legend of Jubal and other Poems_ was published by Blackwood in 1874, and contained all the poems just named, except the last. A new edition was published in 1879 as _The Legend of Jubal and other Poems, Old and New_. The “new” poems in this edition are “The College Breakfast Party,” “Self and Life,” “Sweet Evenings come and go, Love,” and “The Death of Moses.”

To the longer of these poetical studies succeeded another novel of English Life. _Middlemarch: a Study of Provincial Life_ was printed in twelve monthly parts by Blackwood, beginning in December, 1871. Five years later, _Daniel Deronda_ was printed in eight monthly parts by the same publisher, beginning with February, 1876. This method of publication was probably adopted for the same reason assigned by Lewes for the serial appearance of _Romola_. Both novels attracted much attention, and were eagerly devoured and discussed as the successive numbers appeared, the first because of its remarkable character as a study of English life, the other because of its peculiar ideas, and its defence of the Jewish race. Her last book, _Impressions of Theophrastus Such_, a series of essays on moral and literary subjects, written the year before, was published by Blackwood in June, 1879. Its reception by the public was somewhat unfavorable, and it added nothing of immediate enlargement to her reputation.

Of miscellaneous writing George Eliot did but very little. While Mr. Lewes was the editor of _The Leader_ newspaper, from 1849 to 1854, she was an occasional contributor of anonymous articles to its columns. When he founded _The Fortnightly Review_ she contributed to its first number, published in May, 1865, an article on “The Influence of Rationalism,” in which she reviewed Lecky’s _Rationalism in Europe_. These occasional efforts of her pen, together with the two short stories and the poems already mentioned, constituted all her work outside her series of great novels. She concentrated her efforts as few authors have done; and having found, albeit slowly and reluctantly, what she could best accomplish, she seldom strayed aside. When her pen had found its proper place it was not often idle; and though she did not write rapidly, yet she continued steadily at her work and accomplished much. Within twenty years she wrote eight great works of fiction, including _The Spanish Gypsy_; works that are destined to an immortality of fame. From almost entire obscurity her name appeared, with the publication of the _Scenes of Clerical Life_, to attract attention among a few most appreciative readers, and it was destined then to rise suddenly to the highest place of literary reputation with the publication of _Adam Bede_. Her genius blazed clearly out upon the world in the fulness of its powers, and each new work added to her fame, and revealed some new capacity in the delineation of character. Her literary career shows throughout the steady triumph of genius and of persistent labor.



The home of Mrs. Lewes during the later years of her life was in one of the London suburbs, near Regent’s Park, in what is known as St. John’s Wood, at number 21, North Bank Street. This locality was not too far from the city for the enjoyment and the use of its advantages, while it was out of the noise and the smoke. The houses stand far apart, are surrounded with trees and lawns, while all is quiet and beautiful. The square, unpretentious house in which the Leweses lived was surrounded by a fine garden and green turf, while flowers were abundant. A high wall shut it out from the street. Within, all was refinement and good taste; there were flowers in the windows, the furniture was plain and substantial, while quiet simplicity reigned supreme. The house had two stories and a basement. On the first floor were two drawing-rooms, a small reception room, a dining-room and Mr. Lewes’s study. These rooms were decorated by Owen Jones, their artist friend. The second floor contained the study of George Eliot, which was a plain room, not large. Its two front windows looked into the garden, and there were book-cases around the walls, and a neat writing-desk. All things about the house indicated simple tastes, moderate needs, and a plain method of life.

Mrs. Lewes usually went into her study at eight o’clock in the morning, and remained there at work until one. If the weather was fine, she rode out in the afternoon, or she walked in Regent’s Park with Mr. Lewes. In case the weather did not permit her going out, she returned again to her study in the afternoon. The affairs of her household were so arranged that she could give herself uninterruptedly to her work. The kitchen was in the basement, a housekeeper had entire charge of the management of the house, and Mrs. Lewes was carefully guarded from all outside interruptions. She very seldom went into society, and she received but few visitors, except on Sunday afternoons. Her letters were written by Mr. Lewes, with the exception of those to personal friends or an occasional outside correspondent; and all the details of the publication of her books and the management of her business affairs were in his hands. The immediate success of her novels made them profitable to the publisher, and she was paid comparatively large sums for them.

Her evenings were spent by Mrs. Lewes at home, in reading and singing, unless she went to the theatre, as she often did. She walked much, often visiting the zoological gardens, and she had a great liking for all kinds of small animals. She greatly enjoyed travelling. Music was her passion, and art her delight. She preferred the realistic painters, and she never tired of the collections she often visited in London.

The health of Mrs. Lewes was never good. She was a constant sufferer, was nervous, excitable and low-spirited. Only by the utmost care and husbanding of her powers was she enabled to accomplish her work. In a note to one of her correspondents she has given some hint of the almost chronic languor and bodily weakness from which she suffered.

The weather, our ailments, and various other causes, have made us put off our flight from one week to another, but now we are really fluttering our wings and making a dust about us. I wish we had seen you oftener. I was placidly looking forward to your staying in England another year or more, and gave way to my general languor about seeing friends in these last months, which have been too full of small bodily miseries for me to feel that I had much space to give to pleasanter occupation.

Only those who knew her long and well can fitly describe such a woman as Mrs. Lewes. Personal intimacy gives a color to the words used, and a meaning to the delicate shades of expression, that can be had in no other way. One of her friends has described her as being of “the middle height, the head large, the brow ample, the lower face massive; the eyes gray, lighting up from time to time with a sympathetic glow; the countenance sensitive, spiritual, with ‘mind and music breathing’ from it; the general demeanor composed and gracious; her utterance fluent and finished, but somewhat measured; her voice clear and melodious, moving evenly, as it were in a monotone, though now and then rising, with a sort of quiet eagerness, into a higher note.” The same writer speaks of the close-fitting flow of her robe, and the luxuriant mass of light-brown hair hanging low on both sides of her head, as marked characteristics of her costume. Her features were very plain and large, too large for anything like beauty, but strongly impressive by their very massiveness. More than one of her friends has spoken of her resemblance to Savonarola, perhaps suggested by her description of that monk-prophet in _Romola_. Mr. Kegan Paul finds that she also resembled Dante and Cardinal Newman, and that these four were of the same spiritual family, with a curious interdependence of likeness. All these persons have “the same straight wall of brow; the droop of the powerful nose; mobile lips, touched with strong passion kept resolutely under control; a square jaw, which would make the face stern were it not counteracted by the sweet smile of lips and eye.” Her friends say that no portrait does her justice, that her massive we features could not be portrayed. “The mere shape of the head,” says Kegan Paul, “would be the despair of any painter. It was so grand and massive that it would scarcely be possible to represent it without giving the idea of disproportion to the frame, of which no one ever thought for a moment when they saw her, although it was a surprise, when she stood up, to see that, after all, she was but a little fragile woman who bore this weight of brow and brain.”

An account of her personal traits has been given by Mrs. Lippincott. “She impressed me,” says this writer, “at first as exceedingly plain, with the massive character of her features, her aggressive jaw and evasive blue eyes. But as she grew interested and earnest in conversation, a great light flashed over or out of her face, till it seemed transfigured, while the sweetness of her rare smile was something quite indescribable. But she seemed to me to the last lofty and cold. I felt that her head was among the stars–the stars of a wintry night.” Another American, Miss Kate Field, in writing of the English authors to be seen in Florence half a dozen years after George Eliot began her career, was the first to give an account of this new literary star. “She is a woman of large frame and fair Saxon coloring. In heaviness of jaw and height of cheek-bone she greatly resembles a German; nor are her features unlike those of Wordsworth, judging from his pictures. The expression of her face is gentle and amiable, while her manner is particularly timid and retiring. In conversation Mrs. Lewes is most entertaining, and her interest in young writers is a trait which immediately takes captive all persons of this class. We shall not forget with what kindness and earnestness she addressed a young girl who had just begun to handle a pen, how frankly she related her own literary experience, and how gently she _suggested_ advice. True genius is always allied to humility; and in seeing Mrs. Lewes do the work of a good Samaritan so unobtrusively, we learned to respect the woman as much as we had ever admired the writer. ‘For years,’ said she to us, ‘I wrote reviews because I knew too little of humanity.'”

These sketches by persons who only met her casually have an interest in the illustration of her character; and they may be added to by still another account, written by Mrs. Annie Downs, also an American, in 1879, and describing a visit to George Eliot two years before her death. “Tall, slender, with a grace most un-English, her face, instead of beauty, possessed a sweet benignity, and at times flashed into absolute brilliancy. She was older than I had imagined, for her hair, once fair, was gray, and unmistakable lines of care and thought were on the low, broad brow. But although a pang pierced my heart as I recognized that most of her life was behind her, so intensely did I feel her personality that in a moment I lost sight of her age; it was like standing soul to soul, and beyond the reach of time. Dressed in black velvet, with point lace on her hair, and repeated at throat and wrists, she made me think at once of Romola and Dorothea Brooke. She talked of Agassiz, of his museum at Cambridge, of the great natural-history collections at Naples, of Sir Edwin Landseer’s pictures, and with enthusiasm of Mr. Furnival’s Shakspere and Chaucer classes at the Working Men’s College… She had quaint etchings of some of the monkeys at the zoological gardens, and told me she was more interested in them than any of the other animals, they exhibit traits so distinctly human. She declared, while her husband and friends laughingly teased her for the assertion, that she had seen a sick monkey, parched with fever, absolutely refuse the water he longed for, until the keeper had handed it to a friend who was suffering more than he. As an illustration of their quickness, she told me, in a very dramatic manner, of a nurse who shook two of her little charges for some childish misdemeanor while in the monkey house. No one noticed the monkeys looking at her, but pretty soon every old monkey in the house began shaking her children, and kept up the process until the little monkeys had to be removed for fear their heads would be shaken off. I felt no incongruity between her conversation and her books. She talked as she wrote; in descriptive passages, with the same sort of humor, and the same manner of linking events by analogy and inference. The walls were covered with pictures. I remember Guido’s Aurora, Michael Angelo’s prophets, Raphael’s sibyls, while all about were sketches, landscapes and crayon drawings, gifts from the most famous living painters, many of whom are friends of the house. A grand piano, opened and covered with music, indicated recent and continual use.”

One of her intimate friends says that “in every line of her face there was powder, and about her jaw and mouth a prodigious massiveness, which might well have inspired awe had it not been tempered by the most gracious smile which ever lighted up human features, and was ever ready to convert what otherwise might have been terror into fascination!” We are told that “an extraordinary delicacy pervaded her whole being. She seemed to live upon air, and the rest of her body was as light and fragile as her countenance and intellect were massive.” One of the results of this large brain and fragile body was, that she was never vigorous in health. Only her quiet, simple life, and avoidance of all excitement in regular work, enabled her to accomplish so much as she did. Her conversation was rich and attractive. She talked much as she wrote, was a good listener, never obtruded her opinions, and always had a noble moral purpose in her words.

An American lady has given an interesting account of her home and of her conversation. “No one,” says Mrs. Field, “who had ever seen her could mistake the large head (her brain must be heavier than most men’s) covered with a mass of rich auburn hair. At first I thought her tall; for one could not think that such a head could rest on an ordinary woman’s shoulders. But, as she rose up, her figure appeared of but medium height. She received us very kindly. In seeing, for the first time, one to whom we owed so many happy hours, it was impossible to feel towards her as a stranger. All distance was removed by her courtesy. Her manners are very sweet, because very simple and free from affectation. To me her welcome was the more grateful as that of one woman to another. There is a sort of free-masonry among women, by which they understand at once those with whom they have any intellectual sympathy. A few words, and all reserve was gone. ‘Come, sit by me on this sofa,’ she said; and instantly, seated side by side, we were deep in conversation. It is in such intimacy one feels the magnetism of a large mind informed by a true woman’s heart; then, as the soul shines through the face, one perceives its intellectual beauty. No portrait can give the full expression of the eye any more than of the voice. Looking into that clear, calm eye, one sees a transparent nature, a soul of goodness and truth, an impression which is deepened as you listen to her soft and gentle tones. A low voice is said to be an excellent thing in a woman. It is a special charm of the most finely cultured English ladies. But never did a sweeter voice fascinate a listener,–so soft and low that one must almost bend to hear. You can imagine what it was thus to sit for an hour beside this gifted woman and hear talk of questions interesting to the women of England and America. But I should do her great injustice if I gave the impression that there was in her conversation any attempt at display. There is no wish to shine. She is above that affectation of brilliancy which is often mere flippancy. Nor does she seek to attract homage and admiration. On the contrary, she is very averse to speak of herself, or even to hear the heartfelt praise of others. She does not engross the conversation, but is more eager to listen than to talk. She has that delicate tact–which is one of the fine arts among women–to make others talk, suggesting topics the most rich and fruitful, and by a word drawing the conversation into a channel where it may flow with broad, free current. Thus she makes you forget the celebrated author, and think only of the refined and highly cultivated woman. You do not feel awed by her genius, but only quickened by it, as something that calls out all that is better and truer. While there is no attempt to impress you with her intellectual superiority, you naturally feel elevated into a higher sphere. The conversation of itself floats upward into a region above the commonplace. The small-talk of ordinary society would seem an impertinence. There is a singular earnestness about her, as if those mild eyes looked deep into the great, sad, awful truths of existence. To her, life is a serious reality, and the gift of genius a grave responsibility.”

Mrs. Lewes was in the habit for many years of receiving her friends on Sunday afternoons from two to six o’clock. These gatherings came to be among the most memorable features of London literary life. A large number of persons, both men and women, attended her receptions, and among them many who were well known to the scientific or literary world. Especially were young men of aspiring minds drawn hither and given a larger comprehension of life. She had no political or fashionable connections, says Mr. F.W.H. Myers, “but nearly all who were most eminent in art, science, literature, philanthropy, might be met from time to time at her Sunday-afternoon receptions. There were many women, too, drawn often from among very different traditions of thought and belief, by the unfeigned goodness which they recognized in Mrs. Lewes’s look and speech, and sometimes illumining with some fair young face a _salon_ whose grave talk needed the grace which they could bestow. And there was sure to be a considerable admixture of men not as yet famous,–probably never to be so,–but whom some indication of studies earnestly pursued, of sincere effort for the good of their fellow-men, had recommended to ‘that hopeful interest which’–to quote a letter of her own–‘the elder mind, dissatisfied with itself, delights to entertain with regard to those younger, whose years and powers hold a larger measure of unspoiled life.’ It was Mr. Lewes who on these occasions contributed the cheerful _bonhomie_, the observant readiness, which are necessary for the facing of any social group. Mrs. Lewes’s manner had a grave simplicity, which rose in closer converse into an almost pathetic anxiety to give of her best–to establish a genuine human relation between herself and her interlocutor–to utter words which should remain as an active influence for good in the hearts of those who heard them. To some of her literary admirers, this serious tone was distasteful; they were inclined to resent the prominence given to moral ideas in a quarter from which they preferred to look merely for intellectual refreshment. Mrs. Lewes’s humor, though fed from a deep perception of the incongruities of human fates, had not, except in intimate moments, any buoyant or contagious quality, and in all her talk–full of matter and wisdom, and exquisitely worded as it was–there was the same pervading air of strenuous seriousness which was more welcome to those whose object was distinctively to _learn_ from her, than to those who merely wished to pass an idle and brilliant hour. To her, these mixed receptions were a great effort. Her mind did not move easily from one individuality to another, and when she afterward thought that she had failed to understand some difficulty which had been laid before her,–had spoken the wrong word to some expectant heart,–she would suffer from almost morbid accesses of self-reproach.” A further idea of these conversations may be gathered from Mr. Kegan Paul’s account. “When London was full,” he says, “the little drawing-room in St. John’s Wood was now and then crowded to overflowing with those who were glad to give their best of conversation, of information, and sometimes of music, always to listen with eager attention to whatever their hostess might say, when all that she said was worth hearing. Without a trace of pedantry, she led the conversation to some great and lofty strain. Of herself and her works she never spoke; of the works and thoughts of others she spoke with reverence, and sometimes even too great tolerance. But these afternoons had the highest pleasure when London was empty, or the day was wet, and only a few friends were present, so that her conversation assumed a more sustained tone than was possible when the rooms were full of shifting groups. It was then that, without any premeditation, her sentences fell as fully formed, as wise, as weighty, as epigrammatic, as any to be found in her books. Always ready, but never rapid, her talk was not only good in itself, but it encouraged the same in others, since she was an excellent listener, and eager to hear.”

At these gatherings the most noted of the English disciples of Comte were to be found, and among them Frederic Harrison, Prof. E.S. Beesley, Dr. Congrove, the director of the London Church of Humanity, and Prof. W.K. Clifford. The English positivists were represented by Herbert Spencer, Prof. T.H. Huxley and Moncure D. Conway. The realistic school of poets and artists came in the persons of its most representative men. Dante Rosetti and Millais, Tourguenief and Burne Jones, DuMaurier and Dr. Hueffner illustrated most of its phases. The great world of general literature sent Sir Arthur Helps, Sir Theodore Martin, Anthony Trollope, C.G. Leland, Justin McCarthy, Frederic Myers, Prof. Mark Pattison and many another. The rarer guests included Alfred Tennyson and Robert Browning. It was no inconsiderable influence which could draw together such a company and hold it together for many years. Of the part played in these gatherings by the hosts, Miss Mathilde Blind has given an account. Lewes acted “as a social cement. His vivacity, his ready tact, the fascination of his manners, diffused that general sense of ease and _abandon_ so requisite to foster an harmonious flow of conversation. He was inimitable as a _raconteur_, and Thackeray, Trollope and Arthur Helps were fond of quoting some of the stories which he would dramatize in the telling. One of the images which, on these occasions, recurs oftenest to George Eliot’s friends is that of the frail-looking woman who would sit with her chair drawn close to the fire, and whose winning womanliness of bearing and manners struck every one who had the privilege of an introduction to her. Her long, pale face, with its strongly marked features, was less rugged in the mature prime of life than in youth, the inner meanings of her nature having worked themselves more and more to the surface, the mouth, with its benignant suavity of expression, especially softening the too prominent under lip and massive jaw. Her abundant hair, untinged with gray, whose smooth bands made a kind of frame to the face, was covered by a lace or muslin cap, with lappets of rich point or Valenciennes lace fastened under her chin. Her gray-blue eyes, under noticeable eyelashes, expressed the same acute sensitiveness as her long, thin, beautifully shaped hands. She had a pleasant laugh and smile, her voice being low, distinct, and intensely sympathetic in quality; it was contralto in singing, but she seldom sang or played before more than one or two friends. Though her conversation was perfectly easy, each sentence was as finished, as perfectly formed, as the style of her published works.”

Among the persons who gathered at The Priory on Sunday afternoons there came to be a considerable number of those who were Mrs. Lewes’s devoted disciples. They hung upon her words, they accepted her views of life, her philosophy became theirs. That she would have admitted such discipleship existed there is no reason to believe, and it is certain she did not attempt to bring it about or even desire it. So great, however, was her power of intellect, so noble her personal influence, it was impossible that ardent young natures could refrain from devotion to such genius and speedy acceptance of its teachings. The richness of her moral and intellectual nature aided largely in this heroine worship, but she impressed herself on other minds because she was so much an individual, because her personality was of a kind to command reverence and devotion. It was not merely young and impulsive natures who were thus attracted and inspired, for Edith Simcox says that “men and women, old friends and new, persons of her own age and of another generation, the married and the single, impulsive lovers and hard-headed philosophers, nay, even some who elsewhere might have passed for cynics, all classes alike yielded to the attractive force of this rare character, in which tenderness and strength were blended together, and as it were transfused with something that was all her own–the genius of sweet goodness.” Perhaps her influence was so great on those it reached because it demanded high and noble life and thought of her disciples. Her moral ideal was a high one, and she had literary and artistic standards that demanded all the effort of both genius and talent, while her culture was such as to be exacting in its requirements. So we find Miss Simcox saying that Mrs. Lewes, in her friendships, “had the unconscious exactingness of a full nature. She was intolerant of a vacuum in the mind or character, and she was indifferent to admiration that did not seem to have its root in fundamental agreement with those principles she held to be most ‘necessary to salvation.’ Where this sympathy existed, her generous affection was given to a fellow-believer, a fellow-laborer, with singularly little reference to the fact that such full sympathy was never unattended with profound love and reverence for herself as a living witness to the truth and power of the principles thus shared. To love her was a strenuous pleasure; for in spite of the tenderness for all human weakness that was natural to her, and the scrupulous charity of her overt judgments, the fact remained that her natural standard was ruthlessly out of reach, and it was a painful discipline for her friends to feel that she was compelled to lower it to suit their infirmities. The intense humility of her self-appreciation, and the unfeigned readiness with which she would even herself with any sinner who sought her counsel, had the same effect upon those who would compare what she condemned in herself with what she tolerated in them. And at the same time, no doubt, this total absence of self-sufficiency had something to do with the passionate tenderness with which commonplace people dared to cherish their immortal friend.”

As has already been suggested, her womanliness is a more prominent characteristic of Mrs. Lewes’s mind than its great intellectual power. Her sympathy was keen and most sensitive, her modesty and humility were almost excessive, and her tenderness of nature was a woman’s own. She gave her sympathy readily and freely to the humble and unfavored. She had no taint of intellectual aristocracy, says one of her friends. Faithful, devoted love; the sacredness of simple duties and plain work; earnest help of other souls,–these were among the daily lessons of her life and teaching. “How strong was the current of her sympathy in the direction of all humble effort,” exclaims one of her friends, “how reluctantly she checked presumption! The most ordinary and uninteresting of her friends must feel that had they known nothing of her but her rapid insight into and quick response to their inmost feelings she would still have been a memorable personality to them. This sympathy was extended to the sorrows most unlike anything she could ever by any possibility have known–the failures of life obtained as large a share of her compassion as its sorrows. The wish to console and cheer was indeed rooted in the most vital part of her nature.” Another of her friends has said that “she possessed to a marvellous degree the divine gifts of charity, and of attracting moral outcasts to herself, whose devils she cast out, if I may be permitted the expression, by shutting her eyes to their existence. In her presence you felt wrapped round by an all-embracing atmosphere of sympathy and readiness to make the least of all your short comings, and the most of any good which might be in you. But great as was her personality, she shrank with horror from intruding it upon you, and, in general society, her exquisitely melodious voice was, unhappily for the outside circles, too seldom raised beyond the pitch of something not much above a whisper. Of the rich vein of humor which runs through George Eliot’s works there was comparatively little trace in her conversation, which seldom descended from the grave to the gay. But although she rarely indulged in conversational levity herself, she was most tolerant of it, and even encouraged its ebullition, in others, joining heartily in any mirth which might be going on.”

She made her younger admirers feel the deeper influence of her great personality by inspiring them with the largest moral purposes. To awaken and to arouse the moral nature seems always to have been her purpose, and to lead it to the highest attainable results. Earnest young minds never “failed to feel in her presence that they were for the time, at all events, raised into a higher moral level, and none ever left her without feeling inspired with a stronger sense of duty, and positively under the obligation of striving to live up to a higher standard of life.” Hence her personal influence was considerable, though she led the close life of a student, and did not go into general society at all. This high moral earnestness made her a prophet to her friends, as in her books it made her a great moral teacher to the world at large. Those who had the privilege of an intimate acquaintance with Mrs. Lewes have pronounced the woman greater than her books. She was not only a great writer but a great woman. Human nature in its largest capacities was represented in her, for she rose above the limitations of sex; and she is thought of less as a great woman than as a large human personality. Hers was a massive nature, emphatic, individual, many-sided. Genius of a very high order, though not the highest, was hers, while she was possessed of a broad culture and great learning. Seldom does genius carry with it talents so varied and well-trained or a culture so full and thorough. And her culture was of that kind which entered into every fibre of her nature and became a part of her own personality. It was thoroughly digested and absorbed into good healthy red blood, and became a quickened, sustained motive to the largest efforts. How vital this love of culture was, may be seen when we are told that “she possessed in an eminent degree that power which has led to success in so many directions, of keeping her mind unceasingly at the stretch without conscious fatigue. She would cease to ponder or to read when other duties called her, but never because she herself felt tired. Even in so complex an effort as a visit to a picture gallery implies, she could continue for hours at the same pitch of earnest interest, and outweary strong men. Nor was this a mere habit of passive reception. In the intervals between her successive compositions her mind was always fusing and combining its fresh stores.”

She had culture, moral power and earnestness in a high degree, warmth of sympathy and sensitiveness to all beauty, but she had no saintliness. Profound as was her reverence for moral purity, and lofty as was her moral purpose, she was not a saint, and holiness was not a characteristic of her nature. This clear and high sense of moral truth everywhere appears in her life and thought. “For the lessons most imperatively needed by the mass of men, the lessons of deliberate kindness, of careful truth, of unwavering endeavor,–for these plain themes one could not ask a more convincing teacher than she. Everything in her aspect and presence was in keeping with the bent of her soul. The deeply lined face, the too marked and massive features, were united with an air of delicate refinement, which in one way was the more impressive because it seemed to proceed entirely from within. Nay, the inward beauty would sometimes quite transform the external harshness; there would be moments when the thin hands that entwined themselves in their eagerness, the earnest figure that bowed forward to speak and hear, the deep gaze moving from one face to another with a grave appeal,–all these seemed the transparent symbols that showed the presence of a wise, benignant soul. But it was the voice which best revealed her, a voice whose subdued intensity and tremulous richness seemed to environ her uttered words with the mystery of a world that must remain untold. And then again, when in moments of more intimate converse some current of emotion would set strongly through her soul, when she would raise her head in unconscious absorption and look out into the unseen, her expression was not one to be soon forgotten. It has not, indeed, the serene felicity of souls to whose childlike confidence all heaven and earth are fair. Rather it was the look of a strenuous Demiurge, of a soul on which high tasks are laid, and which finds in their accomplishment its only imagination of joy.”

Another side of her influence on persons is expressed by the representative of that publishing house which gave her books to the world. “In addition to the spell which bound the world to her by her genius, she had a personal power of drawing to herself, in ties of sympathy and kindly feeling, all who came under her influence. She never oppressed any one by her talents; she never allowed any one to be sensible of the depth and variety of her scholarship; she knew, as few know, how to draw forth the views and feelings of her visitors, and to make their sympathies her own. There was a charm in her personal character which of itself was sufficient to conciliate deep and lasting regard. Every one who entered her society left it impressed with the conviction that they had been under the influence of a sympathy and tenderness not less remarkable than the force of her mental power…. Her deep and catholic love for humanity in its broadest and best sense, which was in itself the strongest quickening motive of her genius, will maintain her influence in the future as in the present.”

Hers was a somewhat sensitive, shrinking nature, with no self-assumption, and without the taint of egotism. She had a modest estimate of her own great literary creations, and shrank from all mention of them and from the homage paid to her as an author. After the publication of _Romola_ she was one day reading French to a girl companion in the garden of a Swiss hotel, when a lady drew near to listen to the silvery tones of her voice. Noticing this, she said, “Do you understand?” The lady answered, “I do not care for the matter; I only came to listen to your voice.” “Do you like it?” was then inquired. When the lady expressed the pleasure it gave her, Mrs. Lewes took her hand and warmly said, “I thank you. I would rather you would compliment my voice than my _Romola_.” [Footnote: This story is not authenticated; it may be taken for what it is worth, though it appears to be characteristic.]

It has been truly said of her that above all novelists, with the exception of Goethe, she was supreme in culture. She had a passion for knowledge, and zeal in the pursuit of learning. She was a lover of books, but not a scholar in the technical and exact sense. Delighting in literature, art, music, and all that appeals to the imagination, rather than in mere information, yet she was a thinker of original powers, with a keen appreciation of philosophy, and ability to tread its most difficult paths with firm step. She had an intimate acquaintance with the literatures of Germany, France, Italy and Spain, and she was well read in the classics of Greece and Rome. She was “competently acquainted” with the different systems of philosophy, and she had mastered their problems while thinking out her own conclusions. Having no professional knowledge of the sciences, she was a diligent reader of scientific books, and was familiar with all the bearings of science on philosophy and religion. Her books show an intimate knowledge of modern thought in many of its phases, as it bears upon physical, economic, historical and intellectual science. With all her learning, however, she retained a woman’s sympathy with life, beauty and poetry. Her knowledge was never dry and technical, but warm and imaginative with genius and poetry. [Footnote: Her scholarly habits, and her realistic tendencies, usually made George Eliot very painstaking and accurate, but an occasional slip of pen or memory is to be noted in her books. In Theophrastus Such she credited to the Apologia of Plato what is really contained in the Phaedo. The motto to chapter seventeen of Daniel Deronda was quoted, in the first edition, as from In Memoriam instead of Locksley Hall. In an early chapter of Felix Holt she made the parson preach from the words, “Break up the fallow ground of your hearts.” The words of scripture are, “Break up your fallow ground.” In Adam Bede a clergyman is made to take the words of the Prayer Book, “In the midst of life we are in death,” for his text.]

Her culture may be compared with Mrs. Browning’s, who was also an extensive reader and widely informed. The poet as well as the novelist acquired her learning because of her thirst for knowledge, and mainly by her own efforts; but she preferred the classics to science, and literature to philosophy. Mrs. Browning was the wiser, George Eliot the more learned. The writings of Mrs. Browning are less affected by her information than George Eliot’s; and this is true because she was of a more poetical temperament, because her imagination was more brilliant and creative.

Mrs. Lewes was an enthusiastic lover of art, and especially of music. She never tired in her interest in beholding fine paintings, and music was the continual delight of her life. She was a tireless frequenter of picture galleries, and every fine musical entertainment in London was sure to find her, in company with Mr. Lewes, an enthusiastic listener. Good acting also claimed not a little of her interest, and she carefully studied even the details of the dramatic art, so that she was able to give a critical appreciation to the acting she enjoyed. Indeed, she had given to her mind that rounded fulness of attainment, and developed all her faculties with that due proportion, which Fichte so earnestly preached as the characteristic of true culture. “Her character,” says Edith Simcox, “seemed to include every possibility of action and emotion; no human passion was wanting in her nature, there were no blanks or negations; and the marvellous thing was to see how, in this wealth of impulses and desires, there was no crash of internal discord, no painful collisions with other human interests outside; how, in all her life, passions of volcanic strength were harnessed in the service of those nearest her, and so inspired by the permanent instinct of devotion to her kind, that it seemed as if it were by her own choice they spent themselves there only where their force was welcome. Her very being was a protest against the opposing and yet cognate heresies that half the normal human passions must be strangled in the quest of virtue, and that the attainment of virtue is a dull and undesirable end, seeing that it implies the sacrifice of most that makes life interesting.” She had her own temptations and her imperfections. With these she struggled bravely, and set herself to the hard task of correction and discipline. Her culture was not merely one of books, but it was also one of moral discipline and of strenuous spiritual subjection. It was one of stern moral requirements and duties, as well as one of large sympathy with all that is natural and beautiful.

It was a quiet life of continuous study and authorship which Mrs. Lewes led in The Priory, and it was varied from year to year only by her visits to the continent and by her summer residence in Surrey. One of her summer retreats, at the village of Shotter Mill, has been described, as well as her life there. The most picturesque house in the place is known as Brookbank, and here she spent a summer, that of 1871. It is described as “an old two-storied cottage, the front of the house being half-covered with trailing rose-trees. The rooms are low but pleasant, and furnished in a simple, comfortable manner. We have often endeavored,” says the writer of this account, “to glean some information regarding George Eliot’s life at Shotter Mill, but she and Mr. Lewes lived in such seclusion that there was very little to be told. They seldom crossed their threshold during the day, but wandered over the commons and hills after sundown. They were very anxious to lodge at the picturesque old farm, ten minutes’ walk beyond Brookbank, but all available room was then occupied. However, George Eliot would often visit the farmer’s wife, and, sitting on a grassy bank just beside the kitchen door, would discuss the growth of fruit and the quality of butter in a manner so quiet and simple the good country folks were astonished, expecting very different conversation from the great novelist. The farmer was employed to drive them two or three times a week. They occasionally visited Tennyson, whose home is only three miles distant, though a rather tedious drive, since it is up hill nearly all the way. George Eliot did not enjoy the ride much, for the farmer told us that, ‘withal her being such a mighty clever body,–she were very nervous in a carriage–allays wanted to go on a smooth road, and seemed dreadful feared of being thrown out.’ George Eliot was writing _Middlemarch_ during her summer at Brookbank, and the term for which they had the cottage expired before they wished to return to London. The Squire was away at the time, so they procured permission to use his house during the remainder of the visit. In speaking of them he said, ‘I visited Mr. and Mrs. Lewes several times before they went back to town, and found the authoress a very agreeable woman, both in manner and appearance; but her mind was evidently completely absorbed in her work; she seemed to have no time for anything but writing from morning till night. Her hand could hardly convey her thoughts to paper fast enough. It was an exceptionally hot summer, and yet through it all Mrs. Lewes would have artificial heat placed at her feet to keep up the circulation. Why, one broiling day I came home worn out, longing for a gray sky and a cool breeze, and on going into the garden I found her sitting there, her head just shaded by a deodara on the lawn, writing away as usual. I expostulated with her for letting the midday sun pour down on her like that. ‘Oh,’ she replied, ‘I like it. To-day is the first time I have felt warm this summer.’ So I said no more, and went my way.’ And thus nearly all we could learn about George Eliot was that she loved to bask in the sun and liked green peas. She visited some of the cottagers, but only those living in secluded places, who knew nothing of her. Just such people as these she used in her graphic and realistic sketches of peasant life. With regard to the surrounding country, George Eliot said that it pleased her more than any she knew of in England.”

In these summer retreats she continued steadily at her work, and she greatly delighted in the quiet and rest. Other summers were spent at Witley, in the same county, where the fine scenery, lovely drives and wide-reaching views from the hill-tops were to her a perpetual delight. At this place a house was bought, and there was a project of giving up the London residence and of visiting the city only for occasional relaxation. This project was not carried out, for soon after their return from Witley in the autumn of 1878, Mr. Lewes was taken ill, and died in November. His death was a great blow to Mrs. Lewes, and he was deeply mourned, so much so as to seriously impair her health. The state of her mind at this trying period is well indicated in a letter written to Prof. David Kaufmann.


MY DEAR SIR,–Your kind letter has touched me very deeply. I confess that my mind has more than once gone out to you as one from whom I should like to have some sign of sympathy with my loss. But you were rightly inspired in waiting till now, for during many weeks I was unable even to listen to the letters which my generous friends were continually sending me. Now, at last, I am eagerly interested in every communication that springs out of an acquaintance with my husband and taskworks.

I thank you for telling me about the Hungarian translation of his History of Philosophy, but what would I not have given if the volumes could have come a few days before his death; for his mind was perfectly clear, and he would have felt some joy in that sign of his work being effective. I do not know whether you enter into the comfort I feel that he never knew he was dying, and fell gently asleep after ten days of illness in which the suffering was comparatively mild…..

One of the last things he did at his desk was to despatch a manuscript of mine to the publishers. The book (not a story and not bulky) is to appear near the end of May, and as it contains some words I wanted to say about the Jews, I will order a copy to be sent to you.

I hope that your labors have gone on uninterruptedly for the benefit of others, in spite of public troubles. The aspect of affairs with us is grevious–industry languishing, and the best part of our nation indignant at our having been betrayed into an unjustifiable war (in South Africa).

I have been occupied in editing my husband’s MSS., so far as they are left in sufficient completeness to be prepared for publication without the obtrusion of another mind instead of his. A brief volume on _The Study of Psychology_ will appear immediately, and a further volume of psychological studies will follow in the autumn. But his work was cut short while he still thought of it as the happy occupation of far-stretching months. Once more let me thank you for remembering me in my sorrow, and believe me

Yours with high regard,

Writing to a friend soon after Lewes’s death, who had also lost her husband, she said,–

There is but one refuge–the having much to do. Nothing can make the burden to be patiently borne, except the gradual adaptation of your soul to the new conditions.

The much to do she partly found in editing the uncompleted _Problems of Life and Mind_, and in establishing a studentship for original investigation in physiology, known as “The George Henry Lewes Studentship.” Its value is about two hundred pounds, and it is open to both sexes. These labors enabled her to do honor to one she had trusted through many years, whose name and fame she greatly revered, and to recover the even poise of her life. She carefully managed the business affairs he had left in her hands, and she provided for his children.

A year and a half after the death of Lewes, May 6, 1880, she was married at the church of St. George’s, Hanover Square, to John Walter Cross, the senior partner in a London banking firm, whom she had first met in 1867, and who had been a greatly valued friend both to herself and Lewes. Though much younger than herself, he had many qualities to recommend him to her regard. A visit to the continent after this ceremony lasted for several months, a considerable portion of the time being spent in Venice. On their return to London in the autumn after spending a happy summer in Surrey, they went to live in the house of Mr. Cross at 4 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea. The old habits of her life were taken up, her studies were resumed, a new novel was begun, her friends came as usual on Sunday afternoons, and many years of work seemed before her, for her health had greatly improved. On Friday, December 17, 1880, she attended the presentation of the _Agamemnon_ of Aeschylus, in the original Greek, with the accompaniments of the ancient theatre, by the undergraduates of Balliol College, Oxford. She was very enthusiastic about this revival of ancient art, and planned to read anew all the Greek dramatists with her husband. The next day she attended a popular concert at St. James Hall, and listened with her usual intense interest. Sitting in a draught, she caught cold, but that evening she played through much of the music she had heard in the afternoon. The next day she was not so well as usual, yet she met her friends in the afternoon. On Monday her larynx was slightly affected, and a physician was called, but no danger was apprehended. Yet her malady gained rapidly. On Tuesday night she was in a dangerous condition, and on Wednesday the pericardium was found to be seriously diseased. Towards midnight of that day, December 22, after a period of unconsciousness, she quietly passed away. She was buried on the 29th, in the unconsecrated portion of Highgate Cemetery, by the side of George Henry Lewes. The funeral services were conducted by the Rev. Dr. Sadler, a radical Unitarian minister, who spoke of her great genius, and quoted her own words about a future life in the life of humanity. His address contained many references to her personal characteristics, such as could only come from an intimate friend. He said,–

“To those who are present it is given to think of the gentleness, and delicate womanly grace and charm, which were combined with ‘that breadth of culture and universality of power which,’ as one has expressed it, ‘have made her known to all the world.’ To those who are present it is given to know the diffidence and self-distrust which, notwithstanding all her public fame, needed individual sympathy and encouragement to prevent her from feeling too keenly how far the results of her labors fell below the standard she had set before her. To those who are present too it may be given–though there is so large a number to whom it is not given–to understand how a nature may be profoundly devout, and yet unable to accept a great deal of what is usually held as religious belief. No intellectual difficulties or uncertainties, no sense of mental incapacity to climb the heights of infinitude, could take from her the piety of the affections or ‘the beliefs which were the mother-tongue of her soul.’ I cannot doubt that she spoke out of the fulness of her own heart when she put into the lips of another the words, ‘May not a man silence his awe or his love and take to finding reasons which others demand? But if his love lies deeper than any reasons to be found!’ How patiently she toiled to render her work in all its details as little imperfect as might be! How green she kept the remembrance of all those companions to whom she felt that she owed a moulding and elevating influence, especially in her old home, and of him who was its head, her father! How her heart glowed with a desire to help to make a heaven on earth, to be a ‘cup of strength’ to others, and when her own days on earth should have closed, to have a place among those

“‘Immortal dead who still live on 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 sell;
In thoughts sublime that pierce the night like stars, And with their mild persistence urge man’s search To vaster issues.’

“How she thus yearned ‘to join the choir invisible, whose music is the gladness of the world!’ All this is known to those who had the privilege of being near her.”

The address was preceded by a simple burial service, and was followed by a prayer, all being given in the chapel of the cemetery. The coffin, covered with the finest floral tributes, was then borne to the grave, where the burial service was completed, and was followed by a prayer and the benediction. Although the day was a disagreeable one and rain was falling, the chapel was crowded, and many not being able to gain admittance stood about the open grave. Beside her personal friends and her family there were present many persons noted for their literary or scientific attainments, On the lid of the coffin was this inscription:

(“George Eliot”)
Born 22d Nov., 1819; died 22d Dec., 1880.

Quilla fonte
Che spande di parlay si largo flume.

[Footnote: From Dante, and has been rendered into English thus:

That fountain
Which spreads abroad so wide a river of speech.]

The novel which had been begun was left a mere fragment, and in accordance with what it was thought would have been her wish, was destroyed by her family. Perhaps it was better that her dislike of unfinished work should be so respected.



George Eliot was a painstaking, laborious writer. She did not proceed rapidly, so carefully did she elaborate her pages. Her subjects were thoroughly studied before the pen was taken in hand, patiently thought out, planned with much care, and all available helps secured that could be had. She threw her whole life into her work, became a part of the scenes she was depicting; her life was absorbed until the work of writing became a painful process both to body and mind. “Her beautifully written manuscript,” says her publisher, “free from blur or erasure, and with every letter delicately and distinctly finished, was only the outward and visible sign of the inward labor which she had taken to work out her ideas. She never drew any of her facts or impressions from second hand; and thus, in spite of the number and variety of her illustrations, she had rarely much to correct in her proof-sheets. She had all that love of doing her work well for the work’s sake which she makes prominent characteristics of Adam Bede and Stradivarius.”

When a book was completed, so intense had been her application and the absorption of her life in her work, a period of despondency followed. When a correspondent praised _Middlemarch_, and expressed a hope that even a greater work might follow, she replied, “As to the ‘great novel’ which remains to be written, I must tell you that I never believe in future books.” Again, she wrote of the depression which succeeded the completion of each of her works,–

Always after finishing a book I have a period of despair that I can ever again produce anything worth giving to the world. The responsibility of writing grows heavier and heavier–does it not?–as the world grows older and the voices of the dead more numerous. It is difficult to believe, until the germ of some new work grows into imperious activity within one, that it is possible to make a really needed contribution to the poetry of the world–I mean possible to one’s self to do it.

Owing probably somewhat to this tendency to take a despondent view concerning her own work, and to distrust of the leadings of her own genius, was her habit of never reading the criticisms made on her books. She adopted this rule, she tells one correspondent, “as a necessary preservative against influences that would have ended by nullifying her power of writing.” To another, who had written her in appreciation of her books, she wrote this note, in which she alludes to the same habit of shunning criticism:

MY DEAR MISS WELLINGTON,–The signs of your sympathy sent to me across the wide water have touched me with the more effect because you imply that you are young. I care supremely that my writing should be some help and stimulus to those who have probably a long life before them.

Mr. Lewes does not let me read criticisms on my writings. He always reads them himself, and gives me occasional quotations, when be thinks that they show a spirit and mode of appreciation which will win my gratitude. He has carefully read through the articles which were accompanied by your kind letter, and he has a high opinion of the feeling and discernment exhibited in them. Some concluding passages which he read aloud to me are such as I register among the grounds of any encouragement in looking backward on what I have written, if not in looking forward to my future writing.

Thank you, my dear young friend, whom I shall probably never know otherwise than in this spiritual way. And certainly, apart from those relations in life which bring daily duties and opportunities of lovingness, the most satisfactory of all ties is this effective invisible intercourse of an elder mind with a younger.

The quotation in your letter from Hawthorne’s book offers an excellent type both for men and women in the value it assigns to that order of work which is called subordinate but becomes ennobling by being finely done. [Footnote: A reference to Hilda’s ceasing to consider herself an original artist in the presence of the great masters. “Beholding the miracles of beauty which the old masters had achieved, the world seemed already rich enough in original designs and nothing more was so desirable as to diffuse these selfsame beauties more widely among mankind.’–So Hilda became a copyist.”] Yours, with sincere obligations,


By the way, Mr. Lewes tells me that you ascribe to me a hatred of blue eyes–which is amusing, since my own eyes are blue-gray. I am not in any sense one of the “good haters;” on the contrary, my weaknesses all verge toward an excessive tolerance and a tendency to melt off the outlines of things.

21 North Bank, Regent’s Park, Jan. 16, ’73.

[Footnote: From The Critic of December 31, 1881. This letter was addressed to Miss Alice Wellington, now Mrs. Rollins.]

Her sensitiveness was great, and contact with an unappreciative and unsympathetic public depressing to a large degree. It was a part of that shrinking away from the world which kept her out of society, and away from all but a select few whose tastes and sympathies were largely in accordance with her own. Besides, she distrusted that common form of criticism which presumes to tell an author how he ought to have written, and assumes to itself an insight and knowledge greater than that possessed by genius itself. Concerning the value of such criticism she wrote these pertinent words:

I get confirmed in my impression that the criticism of any new writing is shifting and untrustworthy. I hardly think that any critic can have so keen a sense of the shortcomings in my works as that I groan under in the course of writing them, and I cannot imagine any edification coming to an author from a sort of reviewing which consists in attributing to him or her unexpressed opinions, and in imagining circumstances which may be alleged as petty private motives for the treatment of subjects which ought to be of general human interest.

To the same correspondent she used even stronger words concerning her dislike of ordinary criticism.

Do not expect “criticism” from me. I hate “sitting in the seat of judgment,” and I would rather try to impress the public generally with the sense that they may get the best result from a book without necessarily forming an “opinion” about it, than I would rush into stating opinions of my own. The floods of nonsense printed in the form of critical opinions seem to me a chief curse of our times–a chief obstacle to true culture.

It is not to be forgotten, however, that George Eliot had done much critical work before she became a novelist, and that much of it was of a keen and cutting nature. Severely as she was handled by the critics, no one of them was more vigorous than was her treatment of Young and Cumming. Even in later years, when she took up the critical pen, the effect was felt. Mr. Lecky did not pass gently through her hands when she reviewed his _Rationalism in Europe_. Her criticisms in _Theophrastus Such_ were penetrating and severe.

For the same reason, she read few works of contemporary fiction, that her mind might not be biassed and that she might not be discouraged in her own work. Always busy with some special subject which absorbed all her time and strength, she could give little attention to contemporary literature. To one correspondent she wrote,–

My constant groan is, that I must leave so much of the greatest writing which the centuries have sifted for me, unread for want of time.

The style adopted by George Eliot is for the most part fresh, vital and energetic. It is pure in form, rich in illustrations, strong and expressive in manner. There are exceptions to this statement, it is true, and she is sometimes turgid and dry, again gaudy and verbose. Sententious in her didactic passages, she is pure and noble in her sentiment, poetical and impressive in her descriptions of nature. Her diction is choice, her range of expression large, and she admirably suits her words to the thought she would present. There is a rich, teeming fulness of life in her books, the canvas is crowded, there is movement and action. An abundance of passion, delicate feeling and fine sensibility is expressed.

The critics have almost universally condemned the plots of George Eliot’s novels for their want of unity. They tell us that the flow of events is often not orderly, while improbable scenes are introduced, superfluous incidents are common, the number of characters is too great, and the analysis of character impedes the unity of events. These objections are not always vital, and sometimes they are mere objections rather than genuine criticisms. Instances of failure to follow the best methods may be cited in abundance, one of which is seen in the first two chapters in _Daniel Deronda_ being placed out of their natural order. The opening scenes in _The Spanish Gypsy_ seem quite unnecessary to the development of the plot, while the last two scenes of the second book are so fragmentary and unconnected with the remainder of the story as to help it but little. In the middle of _Adam Bede_ are several chapters devoted to the birthday party, which are quite unnecessary to the development of the action. _Daniel Deronda_ contains two narratives which are in many respects almost entirely distinct from each other, and the reader is made to alternate between two worlds that have little in common. There is much of the improbable in the account of the Transome estate in _Felix Holt_, while the closing scenes in the life of Tito Melema in _Romola_ are more tragical than natural. Yet these defects are incidental to her method and art rather than actual blemishes on her work. For the most part, her work is thoroughly unitary, cause leads naturally into effect, and there is a moral development of character such as is found in life itself. Her plots are strongly constructed, in simple outlines, are easily comprehended and kept in mind, and the leading motive holds steadily through to the end. Her analytical method often makes an apparent interruption of the narrative, and the unity of purpose is frequently developed through the philosophic purport of the novel rather than in its literary form. Direct narrative is often hindered, it is true, by her habit of studying the remote causes and effects of character, but she never wanders far enough to forget the real purpose had in view. She holds the many elements of her story well under command, she concentrates them upon some one aim, and she gives to her story a tragic unity of great moral splendor and effect. Even the diverse elements, the minute side-studies and the profuse comments, are all woven into the organic structure, and are essential to the unfoldment of the plot. They seem to be quite irrelevant interruptions until we look back upon the completed whole and study the perfected intent of the story. Then we see how essential they are to the epic finish of the novel, and to that total effect which a work of genius creates. Then it is seen that a dramatic unity and well-studied intent hold together every part and make a completed structure of great beauty.

Her dramatic skill is great, and her dialogues thoroughly good. Her characters are full of power and life, and stand out as distinct personalities. The conversation is sprightly, strong and wise. Probably no novelist has created so many clearly cut, positive, intensely personal characters as George Eliot, and this individualism is depicted as acting within social and hereditary limits; hence dramatic action is constantly arising. Shakspere and Browning only surpass her in dramatic power, as in the creation of character. Yet her method of producing character differs essentially from that of Shakspere, Homer and all the great creators. She describes character, while they present it. Homer gives no description of Helen; but of her beauty and her person we learn all the more because we are left to find them out from the influence they produce. We know Hamlet because he lives before us, and impresses his personality upon every feature of the great drama in which he appears. George Eliot’s manner is to describe, to minutely portray, and to dissect to the last muscle and nerve.

She has also a rich and racy humor, sensitive and sober, refined and delicate. She does not caricature folly with Dickens, or laugh at weakness with Thackeray; but she shows us the limitations of life in such a manner as to produce the finest humor. She is never repulsive, grotesque or vulgar; but wise, laughter-loving and sympathetic. Her humor is pure and homely as it is delicate and exquisite; and it is invariably human and noble. She has an intense love and a wonderful appreciation of the ludicrous, sees whatever is incongruous In life, and makes her laughter genial and joyous. Her humor is the very quintessence of human experience, strikes deadly blows at what is unjust and untrue. It is both intellectual and moral, as Professor Dowden suggests. “The grotesque in human character is reclaimed from the province of the humorous by her affections, when that is possible, and is shown to be a pathetic form of beauty. Her humor usually belongs to her entire conception of character, and cannot be separated from it.” She laughs at all, but sneers at no one,–for she has keen sympathy with all.

George Eliot is not so good a satirist as she is humorist. Her humor is as fresh and delightful as a morning in May, but her satire is nearly always labored. She is too much in sympathy with human nature to laugh at its follies and its weaknesses. Its joys, its bubbling humor and delight she can appreciate, as well as all the pain and sorrow that come to men and women; and she can fully enter into the life of her characters of every kind, and portray their inmost motives and impulses; but the foibles of the world she cannot treat in the vein of the satirist. In her earlier books she is said to have been under the influence of Thackeray, but her satire is heavy, and lacks his light touch and his tender undertone of compassion. Here is a good specimen of her earlier attempts to be satirical:

When a man is happy enough to win the affections of a sweet girl, who can soothe his cares with crochet, and respond to all his most cherished ideas with beaded urn-rugs and chair-covers in German wool, he has, at least, a guarantee of domestic comfort, whatever trials may await him out of doors. What a resource it is under fatigue and irritation to have your drawing-room well supplied with small mats, which would always be ready if you ever wanted to set anything on them! And what styptic for a bleeding heart can equal copious squares of crochet-work, which are useful for slipping down the moment you touch them? [Footnote: Janet’s Repentance, chapter III.]

Similar to this is the account of Mrs. Pullett’s grief.

It is a pathetic sight and a striking example of the complexity Introduced into the emotions by a high state of civilization–the sight of a fashionably dressed female in grief. From the sorrow of a Hottentot to that of a woman in large buckram sleeves, with several bracelets on each arm, an architectural bonnet, and delicate ribbon-strings–what a long series of gradations! In the enlightened child of civilization the abandonment characteristic of grief is checked and varied in the subtlest manner, so as to present an interesting problem to the analytic mind. If, with a crushed heart and eyes half-blinded by the mist of tears, she were to walk with a too devious step through a door-place, she might crush her buckram sleeves, too, and the deep consciousness of this possibility produces a composition of forces by which she takes a line that just clears the door-post. Perceiving that the tears are hurrying fast, she unpins her strings and throws them languidly backward–a touching gesture, indicative, even in the deepest gloom, of the hope in future dry moments when cap-strings will once more have a charm. As the tears subside a little, and with her head leaning backward at an angle that will not injure her bonnet, she endures that terrible moment when grief, which has made all things else a weariness, has itself become weary; she looks down pensively at her bracelets, and adjusts their clasps with that pretty studied fortuity which would be gratifying to her mind if it were once more in a calm and healthy state. [Footnote: Mill on the Floss, chapter VII.]

In her later books the strained efforts at satire are partially avoided, and though the satirical spirit is not withdrawn in any measure, yet it is more delicately managed. It is less open, less blunt, but hardly more subtle and penetrative. It is still a strained effort, and it is quite too hard and bare in statement. We are told in _Middlemarch_ that

Mrs. Bulstrode’s _naive_ way of conciliating piety and worldliness, the nothingness of this life and the desirability of cut glass, the consciousness at once of filthy rags and the best damask, was not a sufficient relief from the weight of her husband’s invariable seriousness.

Such a turning of sentiment into satire as the following is rather jarring, and is a good specimen of that “laborious smartness,” as Mr. R.H. Hutton justly calls it, which is found in all of George Eliot’s books:–

Young love-making–that gossamer web! Even the points it clings to–the things whence its subtile interlacings are swung–are scarcely perceptible: momentary touches of finger-tips, meetings of rays from blue and dark orbs, unfinished phrases, lightest changes of cheek and lip, faintest tremors. The web itself is made of spontaneous beliefs and indefinable joys, yearnings of one life toward another, visions of completeness, indefinite trust. And Lydgate fell to spinning that web from his inward self with wonderful rapidity, in spite of experience supposed to be finished off with the drama of Laure–in spite, too, of medicine and biology; for the inspection of macerated muscle or of eyes presented in a dish (like Santa Lucia’s), and other incidents of scientific inquiry, are observed to be less incompatible with poetic love than a native dulness or a lively addiction to the lowest prose. [Footnote: Middlemarch, chapter XXXVI.]

This introduction of a scientific illustration will serve to bring another tendency of George Eliot’s to our attention. She makes a frequent use of her large learning and culture in her novels. In the earlier ones a Greek quotation is to be found here and there, while in the later, German seems to have the preference. In _The Mill on the Floss_ she describes Bob Jakin’s thumb as “a singularly broad specimen of that difference between the man and the monkey.” Such references to recent scientific speculations are not unfrequent. If they serve to show the tendencies of her mind towards knowledge and large thought, they also indicate a too ready willingness to imbibe, and to use in a popular manner, what is not thoroughly assimilated truth. The force of such an illustration as the following must be lost on most novel-readers:–

Although Sir James was a sportsman, he had some other feelings toward women than toward grouse and foxes, and did not regard his future wife in the light of prey, valuable chiefly for the excitements of the chase. Neither was he so well acquainted with the habits of primitive races as to feel that an ideal combat for her, tomahawk in hand, so to speak, was necessary to the historical continuity of the marriage tie. [Footnote: Middlemarch, chapter VI.]

It is doubtful whether any reader will quite catch the meaning of this sentence:

Has any one ever pinched into its pilulous smallness the cobweb of prematrimonial acquaintanceship? [Footnote: Ibid, chapter II.]

Many of her critics have asserted that this use of the language of science, and the adoption of the speculative ideas of the time, had largely increased upon George Eliot in her later books; but this is not true. In her _Westminster Review_ essays both tendencies are strongly developed. In one of them she says, “The very chyme and chyle of a rector are conscious of the gown and band.” Again, she says,–

The woman of large capacity can seldom rise beyond the absorption of ideas; her physical conditions refuse to support the energy required for spontaneous activity; the voltaic pile is not strong enough to produce crystallization.

It is not just to George Eliot, however, to refer to such mere casual blemishes, without insisting on the largeness of thought, the wealth of knowledge, and the comprehensive understanding of human experience with which her books abound. She often turns aside to discuss the problems suggested by the experiences of her characters, to point out how the effect of their own thoughts and deeds re-act upon them, and to inculcate the highest ethical lessons. In one of her “asides” she seems to reject this method, in referring to Fielding.

A great historian, as he insisted on calling himself, who had the happiness to be dead a hundred and twenty years ago, and so to take his place among the colossi whose huge legs our living pettiness is observed to walk under, glories in his copious remarks and digressions as the least imitable part of his work, and especially in those initial chapters to the successive books of his history, where he seems to bring his arm-chair to the proscenium, and chat with us in all the lusty ease of his fine English. But Fielding lived when the days were longer (for time, like money, is measured by our needs), when summer afternoons were spacious, and the clock ticked slowly in the winter evenings. We belated historians must not linger after his example; and if we did so, it is probable that our chat would be thin and eager, as if delivered from a campstool in a parrot-house. I, at least, have so much to do in unravelling certain human lots, and seeing how they were woven and interwoven, that all the light I can command must be concentrated on this particular web, and not dispersed over that tempting range of relevancies called the universe. [Footnote: Middlemarch, chapter XV.]

She does not ramble away from her subject, it is true; but she likes to pause often to discuss the doings of her personages, and to pour forth some tender or noble thought. To many of her readers these bits of wisdom and of sentiment are among the most valuable portions of her books, when taken in their true environment in her pages. She has a purpose larger than that of telling a story or of describing the loves of a few men and women. She seeks to penetrate into the motives of life, and to reveal the hidden springs of action; to show how people affect each other; how ideas mould the destinies of the individual. To do all this in that large, artistic spirit she has followed, requires that there shall be something more than narration and conversation. That she has now and then commented unnecessarily, and in a too-learned manner, is a very small detraction from the interest of her books.

In _Adam Bede_ she turns aside for a whole chapter to defend her method of depicting accurately, minutely, in the simplest detail, the feelings, motives, actions and surroundings of very commonplace and uninteresting people. Her reasons for this method in novel-writing apply to all her works, and are worthy of the author of _Adam Bede_ and _Silas Marner_.

I would not, even if I had the choice, be the clever novelist who could create a world so much better than this, in which we get up in the morning to do our daily work, that you would be likely to turn a harder, colder eye on the dusty streets and the common green fields–on the real breathing men and women, who can be chilled by your indifference or injured by your prejudice; who can be cheered and helped onward by your fellow-feeling, your forbearance, your outspoken, brave justice.

So I am content to tell my simple story, without trying to make things seem better than they were; dreading nothing, indeed, but falsity, which, in spite of one’s best efforts, there is reason to dread. Falsehood is so easy, truth so difficult. The pencil is conscious of a delightful facility in drawing a griffin–the longer the claws, and the larger the wings, the better; but that marvellous facility, which we mistook for genius, is apt to forsake us when we want to draw a real unexaggerated lion. Examine your words well, and you will find that, even when you have no motive to be false, it is a very hard thing to say the exact truth, even about your own immediate feelings–much harder than to say something fine about them which is _not_ the exact truth.

It is for this rare, precious quality of truthfulness that I delight in many Dutch paintings, which lofty-minded people despise. I find a source of delicious sympathy in these faithful pictures of a monotonous homely existence, which has been the fate of so many more among my fellow-mortals than a life of pomp or of absolute indigence, of tragic suffering or of world-stirring actions. I turn without shrinking, from cloud-borne angels, from prophets, sibyls and heroic warriors, to an old woman bending over her flower-pot, or eating her solitary dinner, while the noonday light, softened, perhaps, by a screen of leaves, falls on her mob-cap, and just touches the rim of her spinning-wheel and her stone jug, and all those cheap, common things which are the precious necessaries of life to her: or I turn to that village wedding, kept between four brown walls, where an awkward bridegroom opens the dance with a high-shouldered, broad-faced bride, while elderly and middle-aged friends look on, with very irregular noses and lips, and probably with quart pots in their hands, but with expression of unmistakable contentment and good-will. “Foh!” says my idealistic friend, “what vulgar details! What good is there in taking all these pains to give an exact likeness of old women and clowns? What a low phase of life! what clumsy, ugly people!”

But, bless us, things may be lovable that are not altogether handsome, I hope? I am not at all sure that the majority of the human race have not been ugly, and even among those “lords of their kind,” the British, squat figures, ill-shapen nostrils, and dingy complexions, are not startling exceptions. Yet there is a great deal of family love among us. I have a friend or two whose class of features is such that the Apollo curl on the summit of their brows would be decidedly trying; yet, to my certain knowledge, tender hearts have beaten for them, and their miniatures–flattering, but still not lovely–are kissed in secret by motherly lips. I have seen many an excellent matron who could never in her best days have been handsome, and yet she had a packet of yellow love-letters in a private drawer, and sweet children showered kisses on her sallow cheeks. And I believe there have been plenty of young heroes of middle stature and feeble beards, who have felt quite sure they could never love anything more insignificant than a Diana, and yet have found themselves in middle life happily settled with a wife who waddles. Yes! thank God; human feeling is like the mighty rivers that bless the earth; it does not wait for beauty–it flows with resistless force, and brings beauty with it.

All honor and reverence to the divine beauty of form! Let us cultivate it to the utmost in men, women and children–in our gardens and in our houses; but let us love that other beauty, too, which lies in no secret of proportion, but in the secret of deep sympathy. Paint us an angel, if you can, with a floating violet robe, and a face paled by the celestial light; paint us yet oftener a Madonna, turning her mild face upward, and opening her arms to welcome the divine glory; but do not impose on us any aesthetic rules which shall banish from the regions of Art those old women scraping carrots with their work-worn hands, those heavy clowns taking holiday in a dingy pot-house–those rounded-backs and stupid, weather-beaten faces that have bent over the spade and done the rough work of the world–those homes with their tin pans, their brown pitchers, their rough curs, and their clusters of onions. In this world there are so many of these common, coarse people, who have no picturesque sentimental wretchedness! It is so needful we should remember their existence, else we may happen to leave them quite out of our religion and philosophy, and frame lofty theories which only fit a world of extremes. Therefore let Art always remind us of them; therefore let us always have men ready to give the loving pains of a life to the faithful representing of commonplace things–men who see beauty in these commonplace things, and delight in showing how kindly the light of heaven falls on them.

There are few prophets in the world–few sublimely beautiful women–few heroes. I can’t afford to give all my love and reverence to such rarities; I want a great deal of those feelings for my every-day fellow-men, especially for the few in the foreground of the great multitude, whose faces I know, whose hands I touch, for whom I have to make way with kindly courtesy. Neither are picturesque lazzaroni or romantic criminals half so frequent as your common laborer, who gets his own bread, and eats it vulgarly, but creditably, with his own pocket-knife. It is more needful that I should have a fibre of sympathy connecting me with that vulgar citizen who weighs out my sugar in a vilely assorted cravat and waistcoat, than with the handsomest rascal in red scarf and green feathers; more needful that my heart should swell with loving admiration at some trait of gentle goodness in the faulty people who sit at the same hearth with me, or in the clergyman of my own parish, who is, perhaps, rather too corpulent, and in other respects is not an Oberlin or a Tillotson, than at the deeds of heroes whom I shall never know except by hearsay, or at the sublimest abstract of all clerical graces that was ever conceived by an able novelist. [Footnote: Adam Bede, chapter XVII.]

In all her earlier novels George Eliot has shown the artistic possibilities of the humblest lives and situations. In the most ordinary lives, as in the case of the persons described in _Silas Marner_, and in the least picturesque incidents of human existence, there is an interest for us which, when properly brought out, will be sure to absorb our attention. She has abundantly proved that dramatic situations, historic surroundings and heroic attitudes are not necessary for the highest purposes of the novelist. Hers are heart tragedies and spiritual histories; for life has its tragic, pathetic and humorous elements of the keenest interest under every social condition. Her realism is relieved, as in actual life, by love, helpfulness and pathos; by deep sorrow, sufferings patiently borne, and tender sympathy for others’ woes. And if she sometimes sketches with too free a hand the coarse and repulsive features of life, this fault is relieved by her tender sympathy with the sorrows and weaknesses of her characters. She asks her readers not to grudge Amos Barton his lovely wife, that “large, fair, gentle Madonna,” with an imposing mildness and the unspeakable charm of gentle womanhood. He was a man of very middling qualities and a quite stupid sort of person, but he loved his wife and made the most he could of such talents as he had. She pleads in his behalf by saying,–

I have all my life had a sympathy for mongrel ungainly dogs, who are nobody’s pets; and I would rather surprise one of them by a pat and a pleasant morsel, than meet the condescending advances of the loveliest Skye-terrier who has his cushion by my lady’s chair.

Much the larger number of characters in these novels are of the same unpromising quality. Most of them are ignorant, uncouth and simple-minded; yet George Eliot gives them a warm place in our hearts, and we rejoice to have known them all. This ignorant rusticity is discovered to have charms and attractions of its own. Especially does the reader learn that what is most human and what is most lovely in personal character may be found within these rough exteriors and amid these unpromising circumstances.

Even so fine a character as Adam Bede, one of the best in all her books, was a workman of limited education and little knowledge of the outside world. The author does “not pretend that his was an ordinary character among workmen.” Yet such men as he are found among his class, and the noble qualities he possessed are not out of place among workingmen. Her warm sympathy with this class, the class in which she was born and reared, and her earnest desire to do it justice, is seen in what she says of Adam.

He was not an average man. Yet such men as he are reared here and there in every generation of our peasant artisans–with an inheritance of affections nurtured by a simple family life of common need and common industry, and an inheritance of faculties trained in skilful, courageous labor; they make their way upward, rarely as geniuses, most commonly as painstaking, honest men, with the skill and conscience to do well the tasks that lie before them. Their lives have no discernible echo beyond the neighborhood where they dwelt, but you are almost sure to find there some good piece of road, some building, some application of mineral produce, some improvement in farming practice, some reform of parish abuses, with which their names are associated by one or two generations after them. Their employers were richer for them, the work of their hands has worn well, and the work of their brains has guided well the hands of other men. They went about in their youth in flannel or paper caps, in coats black with coal-dust or streaked with lime and red paint; in old age their white hairs are seen in a place of honor at church and at market, and they tell their well-dressed sons and daughters seated round the bright hearth on winter evenings, how pleased they were when they first earned their twopence a day. Others there are who die poor, and never put off the workman’s coat on week-days; they have not had the art of getting rich; but they are men of trust, and when they die before the work is all out of them, it is as if some main screw had got loose in a machine; the master who employed them says, “Where shall I find their like?” [Footnote: Chapter XIX.]

In _Amos Barton_ she states her reasons for portraying characters of so little outward interest. Amos had none of the more manly and sturdy qualities of Adam Bede, and yet to George Eliot it was enough that he was human, that trouble and heartache could come to him, and that he must carry his share of the burdens and weaknesses of the world.

The Rev. Amos Barton, whose sad fortunes I have undertaken to relate, was, you perceive, in no respect an ideal or exceptional character; and perhaps I am doing a bold thing to bespeak your sympathy on behalf of a man who was so very far from remarkable,–a man whose virtues were not heroic, and who had no undetected crime within his breast; who had not the slightest mystery hanging about him, but was palpably and unmistakably commonplace; who was not even in love, but had had that complaint many years ago. “An utterly uninteresting character!” I think I hear a lady reader exclaim,–Mrs. Farthingale, for example, who prefers the ideal in fiction; to whom tragedy means ermine tippets, adultery and murder; and comedy, the adventures of some personage who is quite a “character.”

But, my dear madam, it is so very large a majority of your fellow-countrymen that are of this insignificant stamp. At least eighty out of a hundred of your adult male fellow-Britons returned in the last census are neither extraordinarily silly, nor extraordinarily wicked, nor extraordinarily wise; their eyes are neither deep and liquid with sentiment, nor sparkling with suppressed witticisms; they have probably had no hairbreadth escapes or thrilling adventures; their brains are certainly not pregnant with genius, and their passions have not manifested themselves at all after the fashion of a volcano. They are simply men of complexions more or less muddy, whose conversation is more or less bald and disjointed. Yet these commonplace people–many of them–bear a conscience, and have felt the sublime prompting to do the painful right; they have their unspoken sorrows, and their sacred joys; their hearts have perhaps gone out towards their first-born, and they have mourned over the irreclaimable dead. Nay, is there not a pathos in their very insignificance,–in our comparison of their dim and narrow existence with the glorious possibilities of that human nature which they share?

Depend upon it, you would gain unspeakably if you would learn with me to see some of the poetry and the pathos, the tragedy and the comedy, lying in the experience of a human soul that looks out through dull gray eyes, and that speaks in a voice of quite ordinary tones. In that case, I should have no fear of your not caring to know what further befell the Rev. Amos Barton, or of your thinking the homely details I have to tell at all beneath your attention.

In her hands the novel becomes the means of recording the history of those whom no history takes note of, and of bringing before the world its unnamed and unnoted heroes. Professor Dowden says her sympathy spreads with a powerful and even flow in every direction. In this effort she has been eminently successful; and her loving sympathy with all that is human; her warm-hearted faith in the weak and unfortunate; the graciousness of her love for the common souls who are faithful and true in their way and in their places, will excuse much greater literary faults than any into which she has fallen. The sincere and loving humanity of her books gives them a great charm, and an influence wide-reaching and noble.

No one of her imitators and successors has gained anything of like power which is given to her novels by her intense sympathy with her characters. Others have described ignorant and coarse phases of life as something to look at and study, but not to bring into the heart and love. George Eliot loves her characters, has an intense affection for them, pours out her motherliness upon them. Not so Daudet or James or Howells, who study crude life on the surface, and because it is the fashion. There is no heart-nearness in their work, little of passionate human desire to do justice to phases of life hitherto neglected. She has in this regard the genius of Scott and Hugo, who live in and with their characters, and so make them living and real. She identifies herself with the life she describes, and never looks at it from without, with curious and cold and critical gaze, simply for the sake of making a novel.

She is more at home among villagers than in the drawing-room. A profound intuition has led her to the very heart of English life among the happier and worthier classes of working-people. There is no squalor in her books, no general misery, but always conscience, respectability and home-comforts. There is something of coarseness in some of her scenes, and a realism too bare and bald; but for the most part she has come far short of what might have been done in picturing the repulsive and sensual side of life. In all her books there is abundant evidence of her painstaking, and of her anxious desire to be truthful. She has studied life on the spot, and gives to it