This page contains affiliate links. As Amazon Associates we earn from qualifying purchases.
  • 1883
FREE Audible 30 days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again, she says in the same story,–

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zarca replies,–

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our finest hope is finest memory.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

She also expressed more sympathy with the simple faith of the multitude than with the intellectual speculations of philosophers and theologians; and again, she said that she felt more sympathy with than divergence from the narrowest and least cultivated believer in Christianity. As a vehicle of the accumulated hopes and traditions of the world’s feeling and sorrow she appreciated Christianity, saw its beauty, felt deeply in sympathy with its spirit of renunciation, accepted its ideal of a divine life. She learned from Feuerbach that religion, that Christianity, gives fit expression to the emotional life and spiritual aspirations of man, and that what it finds within in no degree corresponds with that which surrounds man without.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We may admit that if the better part of virtue consists, as Young appears to think, in contempt for mortal joys, in “meditation of our own decease,” and in “applause” of God in the style of a congratulatory address to Her Majesty–all which has small relation to the well-being of mankind on this earth–the motive to it must be gathered from something that lies quite outside the sphere of human sympathy. But, for certain other elements of virtue, which are of more obvious importance to untheological minds,–a delicate sense of our neighbor’s rights, an active participation in the joys and sorrows of our fellow-men, a magnanimous acceptance of privation or suffering for ourselves when it is the condition of good to others,–in a word, the extension and intensification of our sympathetic nature,–we think it of some importance to contend that they have no more direct relation to the belief in a future state than the interchange of gases in the lungs has to the plurality of worlds. Nay, to us it is conceivable that in some minds the deep pathos lying in the thought of human mortality–that we are here for a little while and then vanish away, that this earthly life is all that is given to our loved ones and to our many suffering fellow-men–lies nearer the fountains of moral emotion than the conception of extended existence. And surely it ought to be a welcome fact, if the thought of _mortality_, as well as of immortality, be favorable to virtue. Do writers of sermons and religious novels prefer that we should be vicious in order that there may be a more evident political and social necessity for printed sermons and clerical fictions? Because learned gentlemen are theological, are we to have no more simple honesty and good-will? We can imagine that the proprietors of a patent water-supply have a dread of common springs; but, for our own part, we think there cannot be too great security against a lack of fresh water or of pure morality. To us it is a matter of unmixed rejoicing that this latter necessary of healthful life is independent of theological ink, and that its evolution is insured in the interaction of human souls as certainly as the evolution of science or art, with which, indeed, it is but a twin ray, melting into them with undefinable limits.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sent by the invisible choir of all the dead.

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

The sign
Of death that turned to more diffusive life

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

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

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

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

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

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