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I will go away, if peradventure I can ease them.’ The servants of God are struggling after a law of justice, peace and charity, that the hundred thousand citizens among whom you were born may be governed righteously; but you think no more of that than if you were a bird, that may spread its wings and fly whither it will in search of food to its liking. And yet you have scorned the teaching of the Church, my daughter. As if you, a wilful wanderer, following your own blind choice, were not below the humblest Florentine woman who stretches forth her hands with her own people, and craves a blessing for them; and feels a close sisterhood with the neighbor who kneels beside her, and is not of her own blood; and thinks of the mighty purpose that God has for Florence; and waits and endures because the promised work is great, and she feels herself little.”

She then asserts her purpose not to go away to a life of ease and self-indulgence, but rather to one of hardship; but that plea is not suffered to pass.

“You are seeking your own will, my daughter. You are seeking some good other than the law you are bound to obey. But how will you find good? It is not a thing of choice: it is a river that flows from the foot of the Invisible Throne, and flows by the path of obedience. I say again, man cannot choose his duties. You may choose to forsake your duties, and choose not to have the sorrow they bring. But you will go forth; and what will you find, my daughter? Sorrow without duty–bitter herbs, and no bread with them.”

Savonarola bids her draw the crucifix from her bosom, which she secretly carries, and appeals to her by that symbol of devotion and self-sacrifice to remain true to her duties, to accept willingly the burdens given her to bear, not to think of self, but only of others. He condemns the pagan teaching she had received, of individual self-seeking, and the spirit of culture, refinement and ease which accompanied that teaching. She looks on the image of a suffering life, a life offered willingly as a sacrifice for others’ good, and he says,–

“Conform your life to that image, my daughter; make your sorrow an offering; and when the fire of divine charity burns within you, and you behold the need of your fellow-men by the light of that flame, you will not call your offering great. You have carried yourself proudly, as one who held herself not of common blood or of common thoughts; but you have been as one unborn to the true life of man. What! you say your love for your father no longer tells you to stay in Florence? Then, since that tie is snapped, you are without a law, without religion; you are no better than a beast of the field when she is robbed of her young. If the yearning of a fleshly love is gone, you are without love, without obligation. See, then, my daughter, how you are below the life of the believer who worships that image of the Supreme Offering, and feels the glow of a common life with the lost multitude for whom that offering was made, and beholds the history of the world as the history of a great redemption, in which he is himself a fellow-worker, in his own place and among his own people! If you held that faith, my beloved daughter, you would not be a wanderer flying from suffering, and blindly seeking the good of a freedom which is lawlessness. You would feel that Florence was the home of your soul as well as your birthplace, because you would see the work that was given you to do there. If you forsake your place, who will fill it? You ought to be in your place now, helping in the great work by which God will purify Florence and raise it to be the guide of the nations. What! the earth is full of iniquity–full of groans–the light is still struggling with a mighty darkness, and you say, ‘I cannot bear my bonds; I will burst them asunder; I will go where no man claims me?’ My daughter, every bond of your life is a debt: the right lies in the payment of that debt; it can lie nowhere else. In vain will you wander over the earth; you will be wandering forever away from the right.”

Romola hesitates, she pleads that her brother Dino forsook his home to become a monk, and that possibly Savonarola may be wrong. He then appeals to her conscience, and assures her that she has assumed relations and duties which cannot be broken from on any plea. The human ties are forever sacred; there can exist no causes capable of annulling them.

“You are a wife. You seek to break your ties in self-will and anger, not because the higher life calls upon you to renounce them. The higher life begins for us, my daughter, when we renounce our own will to bow before a Divine law. That seems hard to you. It is the portal of wisdom, and freedom, and blessedness. And the symbol of it hangs before you. That wisdom is the religion of the cross. And you stand aloof from it; you are a pagan; you have been taught to say, ‘I am as the wise men who lived before the time when the Jew of Nazareth was crucified.’ And that is your wisdom! To be as the dead whose eyes are closed, and whose ear is deaf to the work of God that has been since their time. What has your dead wisdom done for you, my daughter? It has left you without a heart for the neighbors among whom you dwell, without care for the great work by which Florence is to be regenerated and the world made holy; it has left you without a share in the Divine life which quenches the sense of suffering self in the ardors of an ever-growing love. And now, when the sword has pierced your soul, you say, ‘I will go away; I cannot bear my sorrow.’ And you think nothing of the sorrow and the wrong that are within the walls of the city where you dwell; you would leave your place empty, when it ought to be filled with your pity and your labor. If there is wickedness in the streets, your steps should shine with the light of purity; if there is a cry of anguish, you, my daughter, because you know the meaning of the cry, should be there to still it. My beloved daughter, sorrow has come to teach you a new worship; the sign of it hangs before you.”

This teaching of renunciation is no less distinctly presented in _The Mill on the Floss_, the chief ethical aim of which is its inculcation. It is also there associated with the Catholic form of its expression, through Maggie’s reading of _The Imitation of Christ_, a book which was George Eliot’s constant companion, and was found by her bedside after her death. It was the spirit of that book which attracted George Eliot, not its doctrines. Its lofty spirit of submission and renunciation she admired; and she believed that altruism can be made real only through tradition, only as associated with past heroisms and strivings and ideals. As an embodiment of man’s craving for perfect union with humanity, for full and joyous submission to his lot, the old forms of faith are sacred. They carry the hopes of ages; they are a pictured poem of man’s inward strivings. To break away from these memories is to forsake one’s home, is to repudiate one’s mother. We cannot intellectually accept them, we cannot assent to the dogmas associated with them; but the forms are the spontaneous expressions of the heart, while the dogmas are an after-thought of the inquiring intellect. The real meaning of the cross of Christ is self-sacrifice for humanity’s sake; that was its inspiration, that has ever been its true import. It was this view of the subject which made George Eliot so continuously associate her new teachings with the old expressions of faith.

In altruism she believes is to be found the hope of the world, the cure of every private pain and grief. Altruism means living for and in the race, as a willing member of the social organic life of humanity, as desiring not one’s own good but the welfare of others. That doctrine she applies to Maggie’s case. This young girl was dissatisfied with her life, out of harmony with her surroundings, and could not accept the theories of life given her.

She wanted some explanation of this hard, real life; the unhappy-looking father, seated at the dull breakfast-table; the childish, bewildered mother; the little sordid tasks that filled the hours, or the more oppressive emptiness of weary, joyless leisure; the need of some tender, demonstrative love; the cruel sense that Tom didn’t mind what she thought or felt, and that they were no longer playfellows together; the privation of all pleasant things that had come to _her_ more than to others–she wanted some key that would enable her to understand, and in understanding endure, the heavy weight that had fallen on her young heart. If she had been taught “real learning and wisdom, such as great men knew,” she thought she should have held the secrets of life; if she had only books, that she might learn for herself what wise men knew! Saints and martyrs had never interested Maggie so much as sages and poets. She know little of saints and martyrs, and had gathered, as a general result of her teaching, that they were a temporary provision against the spread of Catholicism, and had all died at Smithfield.

Into the darkness of Maggie’s life a light suddenly comes in the shape of the immortal book of Thomas a Kempis. Why that book; why along such a way should the light come? The answer is, that George Eliot meant to teach certain ideas. It is this fact which justifies her reader in taking these scenes of her novels, these words spoken in the interludes, as genuine reflections and transcripts of her own mind. Maggie turns over a parcel of books brought her by Bob Jakin, to find little in them–

but _Thomas a Kempis_. The name had come across her in her reading, and she felt the satisfaction, which every one knows, of getting some ideas to attach to a name that strays solitary in the memory. She took up the little old clumsy book with some curiosity; it had the corners turned down in many places, and some hand, now forever quiet, had made at certain passages strong pen-and-ink marks, long since browned by time. Maggie turned from leaf to leaf, and read where the quiet hand pointed. “Know that the love of thyself doth hurt thee more than anything in the world…. If thou seekest this or that, and wouldst be here or there to enjoy thy own will and pleasure, thou shalt never be quiet nor free from care; for in everything somewhat will be wanting, and in every place there will be some that will cross thee…. Both above and below, which way soever thou dost turn thee, everywhere thou shalt find the cross; and everywhere of necessity thou must have patience, if thou wilt have inward peace, and enjoy an everlasting crown…. If thou desire to mount unto this height, thou must set out courageously, and lay the axe to the root, that thou mayest pluck up and destroy that hidden inordinate inclination to thyself, and unto all private and earthly good. On this sin, that a man inordinately loveth himself, almost all dependeth, whatsoever is thoroughly to be overcome; which evil being once overcome and subdued, there will presently ensue great peace and tranquillity…. It is but little thou sufferest in comparison of them that have suffered so much, were so strongly tempted, so grievously afflicted, so many ways tried and exercised. Thou oughtest therefore to call to mind the more heavy sufferings of others, that thou mayest the easier bear thy little adversities. And if they seem not little unto thee, beware lest thy impatience be the cause thereof…. Blessed are those ears that receive the whispers of the divine voice, and listen not to the whisperings of the world. Blessed are those ears which hearken not unto the voice which soundeth outwardly, but unto the Truth which teacheth inwardly.”

A strange thrill of awe passed through Maggie while she read, as if she had been wakened in the night by a strain of solemn music, telling of beings whose souls had been astir while hers was in stupor. She went on from one brown mark to another, where the quiet hand seemed to point, hardly conscious that she was reading–seeming rather to listen while a low voice said,–

“Why dost thou here gaze about, since this is not the place of thy rest? In heaven ought to be thy dwelling, and all earthly things are to be looked on as they forward thy journey thither. All things pass away, and thou together with them. Beware thou cleave not unto them lest thou be entangled and perish…. If a man should give all his substance, yet it is as nothing. And if he should do great penances, yet are they but little. And if he should attain to all knowledge, he is yet far off. And if he should be of great virtue and very fervent devotion, yet is there much wanting; to wit, one thing which is most necessary for him. What is that? That having left all, he leave himself, and go wholly out of himself, and retain nothing of self-love…. I have often said unto thee, and now again I say the same. Forsake thyself, resign thyself, and thou shalt enjoy much inward peace…. Then shall all vain imaginations, evil perturbations and superfluous cares fly away; then shall immoderate fear leave thee, and inordinate love shall die.”

Maggie drew a long breath and pushed her heavy hair back, as if to see a sudden vision more clearly. Here, then, was a secret of life that would enable her to renounce all other secrets–here was a sublime height to be reached without the help of outward things–here was insight, and strength, and conquest, to be won by means entirely within her own soul, where a supreme Teacher was waiting to be heard. It flashed through her like the suddenly apprehended solution of a problem, that all the miseries of her young life had come from fixing her heart on her own pleasure, as if that were the central necessity of the universe; and for the first time she saw the possibility of shifting the position from which she looked at the gratification of her own desires, of taking her stand out of herself, and looking at her own life as an insignificant part of a divinely guided whole. She read on and on in the old book, devouring eagerly the dialogues with the invisible Teacher, the pattern of sorrow, the source of all strength; returning to it after she had been called away, and reading until the sun went down behind the willows. With all the hurry of an imagination that could never rest in the present, she sat in the deepening twilight forming plans of self-humiliation and entire devotedness, and, in the ardor of first discovery, renunciation seemed to her the entrance into that satisfaction which she had so long been craving in vain. She had not perceived–how could she until she had lived longer?–the inmost truth of the old monk’s outpourings, that renunciation remains sorrow, though a sorrow borne willingly. Maggie was still panting for happiness, and was in ecstasy because she had found the key to it. She knew nothing of doctrines and systems–of mysticism or quietism; but this voice out of the far-off middle ages was the direct communication of a human soul’s belief and experience, and came to Maggie as an unquestioned message. I suppose that is the reason why the small, old-fashioned book, for which you need only pay sixpence at a book-stall, works miracles to this day, turning bitter waters into sweetness, while expensive sermons and treatises, newly issued, leave all things as they were before. It was written down by a hand that waited for the heart’s promptings; it is the chronicle of a solitary hidden anguish, struggle, trust and triumph,–not written on velvet cushions to teach endurance to those who are treading with bleeding feet on the stones. And so it remains to all time a lasting record of human needs and human consolations; the voice of a brother who, ages ago, felt, and suffered, and renounced,–in the cloister, perhaps, with serge gown and tonsured head, with much chanting and long fasts, and with a fashion of speech different from ours,–but under the same silent, far-off heavens, and with the same passionate desires, the same strivings, the same failures, the same weariness. [Footnote: The Mill on the Floss, Book IV., chapter III.]

Life now has a meaning for Maggie, its secret has been in some measure opened. Only by bitter experiences does she at last learn the full meaning of that word; but all her after-life is told for us in order that the depth and breadth and height of that meaning may be unfolded. Very soon Maggie is heard saying,

“Our life is determined for us–and it makes the mind very free when we give up wishing, and only think of bearing what is laid upon us, and doing what is given us to do.”

It is George Eliot who really speaks these words; hers is the thought which inspires them.

Yet Maggie has not learned to give up wishing; and the sorrow, the tragedy of her life comes in consequence. She is pledged in love to Philip, the son of the bitter enemy of her family, and is attracted to Stephen, the lover of her cousin Lucy. A long contest is fought out in her life between attraction and duty; between individual preferences and moral obligations. The struggle is hard, as when Stephen avows his love, and she replies,–

“Oh, it is difficult–life is very difficult. It seems right to me sometimes that we should follow our strongest feeling; but, then, such feelings continually come across the ties that all our former life has made for us–the ties that have made others dependent on us–and would cut them in two. If life were quite easy and simple, as it might have been in Paradise, and we could always see that one being first toward whom–I mean, if life did not make duties for us before love comes, love would be a sign two people ought to belong to each other. But I see–I feel that it is not so now; there are things we must renounce in life; some of us must resign love. Many things are difficult and dark to me, but I see one thing quite clearly–that I must not, cannot seek my own happiness by sacrificing others. Love is natural; but surely pity, and faithfulness and memory are natural too. And they would live in me still and punish me if I did not obey them. I should be haunted by the suffering I had caused. Our love would be poisoned.”

Against her will she elopes with Stephen, or her departure with him is so understood; but us soon as she realizes what she has done, her better nature asserts itself, and she refuses to go on. Stephen pleads that the natural law which has drawn them together is greater than every other obligation; but Maggie replies,–

“If we judged in that way, there would be a warrant for all treachery and cruelty. We should justify breaking the most sacred ties that can ever be formed on earth.”

He then asks what is outward faithfulness and constancy without love. Maggie pleads the better spirit.

“That seems right–at first; but when I look further, I’m sure it is not right. Faithfulness and constancy mean something else besides doing what is easiest and pleasantest to ourselves. They mean renouncing whatever is opposed to the reliance others have in us–whatever would cause misery to those whom the course of our lives has made dependent on us. If we–if I had been better, nobler, those claims would have been so strongly present with me–I should have felt them pressing on my heart so continually, just as they do now in the moments when my conscience is awake, that the opposite feeling would never have grown in me as it has done: it would have been quenched at once. I should have prayed for help so earnestly–I should have rushed away as we rush from hideous danger. I feel no excuse for myself–none. I should never have failed toward Lucy and Philip as I have done, if I had not been weak, selfish and hard–able to think of their pain without a pain to myself that would have destroyed all temptation. Oh. what is Lucy feeling now? She believed in me–she loved me–she was so good to me! Think of her!”

She can see no good for herself which is apart from the good of others, no joy which is the means of pain to those she holds dear. The past has made ties and; memories which no present love or future joy can take away; she must be true to past obligations as well as present inclinations.

“There are memories and affections, and longing after perfect goodness, that have such a strong hold on me, they would never quit me for long; they would come back and be pain to me–repentance. I couldn’t live in peace if I put the shadow of a wilful sin between myself and God. I have caused sorrow already–I know–I feel it; but I have never deliberately consented to it; I have never said, ‘They shall suffer that I may have joy.'”

And again, she says,–

“We can’t choose happiness either for ourselves or for another; we can’t tell where that will lie. We can only choose whether we will indulge ourselves in the present moment, or whether we will renounce that, for the sake of obeying the divine voice within us–for the sake of being true to all the motives that sanctify our lives. I know this belief is hard; it has slipped away from me again and again; but I have felt that if I let it go forever I should have no light through the darkness of this life.”

In these remarkable passages from _Romola_ and _The Mill on the Floss_, George Eliot presented her own theory of life. One of her friends, in giving an account of her moral influence, speaks of “the impression she produced, that one of the greatest duties of life was that of resignation. Nothing was more impressive as exhibiting the power of feelings to survive the convictions which gave them birth, than the earnestness with which she dwelt, on this as the great and real remedy for all the ills of life. On one occasion she appeared to apply it to herself in speaking of the short space of life that lay before her, and the large amount of achievement that must be laid aside as impossible to compress into it–and the sad, gentle tones in which the word _resignation_ was uttered, still vibrate on the ear.” [Footnote: Contemporary Review, February, 1881.] Not only renunciation but resignation was by her held to be a prime requisite of a truly moral life. Man must renounce many things for the sake of humanity, but he must also resign himself to endure many things because the universe is under the dominion of invariable laws. Much of pain and sorrow must come to us which can in no way be avoided. A true resignation and renunciation will enable us to turn pain and sorrow into the means of a higher life. In _Adam Bede_ she says that “deep, unspeakable suffering may well be called a baptism, a regeneration, the initiation into a new state.” She teaches that man can attain true unity with the race only through renunciation, and renunciation always means suffering. Self-sacrifice means hardship, struggle and sorrow; but the true end of life can only be attained when self is renounced for that higher good which comes through devotion to humanity. Her noblest characters, Maggie Tulliver, Romola, Jubal, Fedalma, Armgart, attain peace only when they have found their lives taken up in the good of others. To her the highest happiness consists in being loyal to duty, and it “often brings so much pain with it that we can only tell it from pain by its being what we would choose before everything else, because our souls see it is good.”

George Eliot’s religion is without God, without immortality, without a transcendent spiritual aim and duty. It consists in a humble submission to the invariable laws of the universe, a profound love of humanity, a glorification of feeling and affection, and a renunciation of personal and selfish desires for an altruistic devotion to the good of the race. Piety without God, renunciation without immortality, mysticism without the supernatural, everywhere finds eloquent presentation in her pages. Offering that which she believes satisfies the spiritual wants of man, she yet rejects all the legitimate objects of spiritual desire. Even when her characters hold to the most fervent faith, and use with the greatest enthusiasm the old expressions of piety, it is the human elements in that faith which are made to appear most prominently. We are told that no radiant angel came across the gloom with a clear message for Romola in her moment of direst distress and need. Then we are told that many such see no angels; and we are made to realize that angelic voices are to George Eliot the voices of her fellows.

In those times, as now, there were human beings who never saw angels or heard perfectly clear messages. Such truth as came to them was brought confusedly in the voices and deeds of men not at all like the seraphs of unfailing wing and piercing vision–men who believed falsities as well as truths, and did the wrong as well as the right. The helping hands stretched out to them were the hands of men who stumbled and often saw dimly, so that these beings unvisited by angels had no other choice than to grasp that stumbling guidance along the path of reliance and action which is the path of life, or else to pause in loneliness and disbelief, which is no path, but the arrest of inaction and death.

The same thought is expressed in _Silas Marner_, that man is to expect no help and consolation except from his fellow-man.

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

Even more explicit in its rejection of all sources of help, except the human, is the motto to “The Lifted Veil.”

Give me no light, great Heaven, but such as turns To energy of human fellowship;
No powers beyond the growing heritage That makes completer manhood.

The purpose of this story is to show that supernatural knowledge is a curse to man. The narrator of the story is gifted with the power of divining even the most secret thoughts of those about him, and of beholding coming events. This knowledge brings him only evil and sorrow. His spiritual insight did not save him from folly, and he is led to say,–

“There is no short cut, no patent tram-road to wisdom. After all the centuries of invention, the soul’s path lies through the thorny wilderness, which must be still trodden in solitude, with bleeding feet, with sobs for help, as it was trodden by them of old time.”

He also discourses of the gain which it is to man that the future is hidden from his knowledge,

“So absolute is our soul’s need of something hidden and uncertain for the maintenance of that doubt and hope and effort which are the breath of its life, that if the whole future were laid bare to us beyond to-day, the interest of all mankind would be bent on the hours that lie between; we should pant after the uncertainties of our one morning and our one afternoon; we should rush fiercely to the exchange for our last possibility of speculation, of success, of disappointment; we should have a glut of political prophets foretelling a crisis or a no-crisis within the only twenty-four hours left open to prophecy. Conceive the condition of the human mind if all propositions whatsoever were self-evident except one, which was to become self-evident at the close of a summer’s day, but in the mean time might be the subject of question, of hypothesis, of debate. Art and philosophy, literature and science, would fasten like bees on that one proposition that had the honey of probability in it, and be the more eager because their enjoyment would end with sunset. Our impulses, our spiritual activities, no more adjust themselves to the idea of their future reality than the beating of our heart, or the irritability of our muscles.”

All is hidden from man that does not grow out of human experience, and it is better so. Such is George Eliot’s method of dealing with our craving for a higher wisdom and a direct revelation. Such wisdom and such revelation are not to be had, and they would not help man if he had them. The mystery of existence rouses his curiosity, stimulates his powers, develops art, religion, sympathy, and all that is best in human life. In her presentations of the men and women most affected by religious motives she adheres to this theory, and represents them as impelled, not by the sense of God’s presence, but by purely human considerations. She makes Dorothea Brooke say,–

“I have always been thinking of the different ways in which Christianity is taught, and whenever I find one way that makes it a wider blessing than any other, I cling to that as the truest–I mean that which takes in the most good of all kinds, and brings in the most people as sharers in it.”

Of the same character is the belief which comforts Dorothea, and takes the place to her of prayer.

“That by desiring what is perfectly good, even when we don’t quite know what it is and cannot do what we would, we are a part of the divine power against evil–widening the skirts of light and making the struggle with darkness narrower.”

Mr. Tryan, in _Janet’s Repentance_, is a most ardent disciple of Evangelicalism, and accepts all its doctrines; but George Eliot contrives to show throughout the book, that all the value of his work and religion consisted in the humanitarian spirit of renunciation he awakened.

George Eliot does not entirely avoid the supernatural, but she treats it as unexplainable. Instances of her use of it are to be found in Adam Bede’s experience while at work on his father’s coffin, in the visions of Savonarola, and in Mordecai’s strange faith in a coming successor to his own faith and work. For Adam Bede’s experience there is no explanation given, nor for that curious power manifest in the “Lifted Veil.” On the other hand, the spiritual power of Savonarola and Mordecai have their explanation, in George Eliot’s philosophy, in that intuition which is inherited insight. In her treatment of such themes she manifests her appreciation of the great mystery which surrounds man’s existence, but she shows no faith in a spiritual world which impinges on the material, and ever manifests itself in gleams and fore-tokenings.

It is to be noted, however, that many traces of mysticism appear in her works. This might have been expected from her early love of the transcendentalists, as well as from her frequent perusal of Thomas a Kempis. More especially was this to be expected from her conception of feeling as the source of all that is best in man’s life. The mystics always make feeling the source of truth, prefer emotion to reason. All thinkers who lay stress on the value of feeling are liable to become mystics, even if materialists in their philosophy. Here and there in her pages this tendency towards mysticism, which manifests itself in some of the more poetic of the scientists of the present time, is to be seen in George Eliot. Some of her words about love, music and nature partake of this character. Her sayings about altruism and renunciation touch the border of the mystical occasionally. Had she been less thoroughly a rationalist she would doubtless have become a mystic in fact. Her tendency in this direction hints at the close affinity between the evolutionists of to-day and the idealists of a century ago. They unite in making matter and mind identical, and in regarding feeling as a source of truth. These are the two essential thoughts on which all mysticism rests. As modern science becomes the basis of speculation about religion, and gives expression to these doctrines, it will develop mysticism. Indeed, it is difficult to know wherein much that George Eliot wrote differs from mysticism. Her subjective immortality derived much of its acceptableness and beauty from those poetic phases given to it by idealistic pantheism. Her altruism caught the glow of the older humanitarianism, Her conception of feeling and emotional sympathy is touched everywhere with that ideal glamour given it by the mystical teachings of an earlier generation. Had she lived half a century earlier she might have been one of Fichte’s most ardent disciples, and found in his subjective idealism the incentive to a higher inspiration than that attained to under the leadership of Comte. Her religion would then have differed but little from what it did in fact, but there would have been a new sublimity and a loftier spirit at the heart of it.

George Eliot retains the traditional life, piety and symbolism of Christianity, but she undertakes to show they have quite another meaning than that usually given them. Her peculiarity is that she should wish to retain the form after the substance is gone. Comte undertook to give a new outward expression to those needs of the soul which lead to worship and piety; but George Eliot accepted the traditional symbolisms as far better than anything which can be invented. If we would do no violence to feeling and the inner needs of life, we must not break with the past, we must not destroy the temple of the soul. The traditional worship, piety and consecration, the poetic expression of feeling and sentiment, must be kept until new traditions, a new symbolism, have developed themselves out of the experiences of the race. God is a symbol for the great mystery of the universe and of being, the eternity and universality of law. Immortality is a symbol for the transmitted impulse which the person communicates to the race. The life and death of Christ is a symbol of that altruistic spirit of renunciation and sorrow willingly borne, by which humanity is being lifted up and brought towards its true destiny. Feeling demands these symbols, the heart craves for them. The bare enunciation of principles is not enough; they must be clothed upon by sentiment and affection. The Christian symbols answer to this need, they most fitly express this craving of the soul for a higher and purer life. The spontaneous, creative life of humanity has developed them as a fit mode of voicing its great spiritual cravings, and only the same creative genius can replace them. The inquiring intellect cannot furnish substitutes for them; rationalism utterly fails in all its attempts to satisfy the spiritual nature.

Such is George Eliot’s religion. It is the “Religion of Humanity” as interpreted by a woman, a poet and a genius. It differs from Comte’s as the work of a poet differs from that of a philosopher, as that of a woman differs from that of a man. His _positive religion_ gives the impression of being invented; it is artificial, unreal. Hers is, at least, living and beautiful and impressive; it is warm, tender and full of compassion, He invents a new symbolism, a new hierarchy, and a new worship; that is, he remodels Catholicism to fit the Religion of Humanity. She is too sensible, too wise, or rather too poetic and sympathetic, to undertake such a transformation, or to be satisfied with it when accomplished by another. She gives a new poetic and spiritual meaning to the old faith and worship; and in doing this makes no break with tradition, rejects nothing of the old symbolism.

It was her conviction that nothing of the real meaning and power of religion escaped by the transformation she made in its spiritual contents. She believed that she had dropped only its speculative teachings, while all that had ever made it of value was retained. That she was entirely mistaken in this opinion scarcely needs to be said; or that her speculative interpretation, if generally accepted, would destroy for most persons even those elements of religion which she accepted. A large rich mind, gifted with genius and possessed of wide culture, as was hers, could doubtless find satisfaction in that attenuated substitute for piety and worship which she accepted. There certainly could be no Mr. Tryan, no Dinah Morris, no Savonarola, no Mordecai, if her theories were the common ones; and it would be even less possible for a Dorothea, a Felix Holt, a Daniel Deronda, or a Romola to develop in such an atmosphere. What her intellectual speculations would accomplish when accepted as the motives of life, is seen all too well in the case of those many radical thinkers whom this century has produced. Only the most highly cultivated, and those of an artistic or poetic temperament, could accept her substitute for the old religion. The motives she presents could affect but a few persons; only here and there are to be found those to whom altruism would be a motive large enough to become a religion. To march in the great human army towards a higher destiny for humanity may have a strong fascination for some, and is coming to affect and inspire a larger number with every century; but it is not enough to know that the race is growing better. What is the end of human progress? we have a right to ask. Does that progress go on in accordance with some universal purpose, which includes the whole universe? We must look not only for a perfect destiny for man, but for a perfect destiny for all worlds and beings throughout the infinitude of God’s creative influence. A progressive, intellectual religion such as will answer to the larger needs of modern life, must give belief in a universal providence, and it must teach man to trust in the spiritual capacities of his own soul. Unless the universe means something which is intelligible, and unless it has a purpose and destiny progressive and eternal, it is impossible that religion will continue to inspire men. That is, only a philosophy which gives such an interpretation to the universe can be the basis of an enduring and progressive religion.

If religion is to continue, it is also necessary that man should be able to believe in the soul as something more than the product of environment and heredity. It is not merely the belief in immortality which has inspired the greatest minds, but the inward impulse of creative activity, resting on the conviction that they were working with God for enduring results. Absorption into the life of humanity can be but a feeble motive compared with that which grows out of faith in the soul’s spiritual eternity in co-operation with God.

George Eliot’s religion is highly interesting, and in many ways it is suggestive and profitable. Her insistence on feeling and sympathy as its main impulses is profoundly significant; but that teaching is as good for Theism or Christianity as for the Religion of Humanity, and needs everywhere to be accepted. In like manner, her altruistic spirit may be accepted and realized by those who can find no sympathy for her intellectual speculations. Love of man, self-sacrifice for human good, cannot be urged by too many teachers. The greater the number of motives leading to that result, the better for man.



Whatever may be said of George Eliot’s philosophy and theology, her moral purpose was sound and her ethical intent noble. She had a strong passion for the ethical life, her convictions regarding it were very deep and earnest, and she dwelt lovingly on all its higher accomplishments. Her books are saturated with moral teaching, and her own life was ordered after a lofty ethical standard. She seems to have yearned most eagerly after a life of moral helpfulness and goodness, and she has made her novels the teachers of a vigorous morality.

Her friends bear enthusiastic testimony to the nobleness of her moral life and to her zeal for ethical culture. We are told by one of them that “she had upbuilt with strenuous pains a resolute virtue,” conquering many faults, and gaining a lofty nobleness of spirit. Another has said, that “precious as the writings of George Eliot are and must always be, her life and character were yet more beautiful than they.” Her zeal for morality was very great; she was an ethical prophet; the moral order of life roused her mind to a lofty inspiration. If she could not conceive of God, if she could not believe in immortality, yet she accepted duty as peremptory and absolute. Her faith in duty and charity seemed all the more vigorous and confident because her religion was so attenuated and imperfect. Love of man with her grew into something like that mighty and absorbing love of God which is to be seen in some of the greatest souls. Morality became to her a religion, not so intense as with saints and prophets, but more sympathetic and ardent than with most ethical teachers. She was no stoic, no teacher of moral precepts, no didactic debater about moral duties, no mere _dilettante_ advocate of human rights. She was a warm, tender, yearning, sympathetic, womanly friend of individuals, who hoped great things for humanity, and who believed that man can find happiness and true culture only in a moral life.

She was distinctively a moral teacher in her books. The novel was never to her a work of art alone. The moral purpose was always present, always apparent, always clear and emphatic. There was something to teach for her whenever she took the pen in hand; some deep lesson of human experience, some profound truth of human conduct, some tender word of sympathy for human sorrow and suffering. She seems to have had no sympathy with that theory which says that the poet and the novelist are to picture life as it is, without regard to moral obligations and consequences. In this respect she was one of the most partisan of all partisans, an absolute dogmatist; for she never forgot for a moment the moral consequences of life. She was one of the most ardent of modern preachers, her books are crowded with teaching of the most positive character. In her way she was a great believer, and when she believed she never restrained her pen, but taught the full measure of her convictions. She did not look upon life as a scene to be sketched, but as an experience to be lived, and a moral order to be improved by sympathy and devotedness. Consequently the artist appears in the teacher’s garb, the novelist has become an ethical preacher. She does not describe life as something outside of herself, nor does she regard human sorrows and sufferings and labors merely as materials for the artist’s use; but she lives in and with all that men do and suffer and aspire to. Hers is not the manner of Homer and Scott, who hide their personality behind the wonderful distinctness of their personalities, making the reader forget the author in the strength and power of the characters described. It is not that of Shakspere, of whom we seem to get no glimpse in his marvellous readings of human nature, who paints other men as no one else has done, but who does not paint himself. Hers is rather the manner of Wordsworth and Goethe, who have a theory of life to give us, and whose personality appears on every page they wrote. She has a philosophy, a morality and a religion to inculcate. She had a vast subjective intensity of conviction, and a strong individualism of purpose, which would not hide itself behind the scenes. Her philosophy impregnates with a strong personality all her classic utterances; her ethics present a marked purpose in the development of her plots and in her presentation of the outcome of human experience; and her religion glows in the personal ardor and sympathy of her noblest characters, and in their passion for renunciation and altruism.

Her ethical passion adds to the strength and purpose of George Eliot’s genius. No supreme literary creator has been devoid of this characteristic, however objective and impersonal he may have been. Homer, Virgil, Dante, Cervantes, Shakspere, Scott, were all earnest ethical teachers. The moral problems of life impressed them profoundly, and they showed a strong personal preference for righteousness. The literary masters of all times and countries have loved virtue, praised purity, and admired ethical uprightness. Any other attitude than this argues something less than genius, though genius may be far from didactic and not given to preaching. The moral intent of life is so inwoven with all its experiences, that the failure of any mind to be impressed with it, and profoundly affected, proves it wanting in insight, poetic vision and genius. George Eliot is entirely in harmony, in this respect, with all the masters of the literary art. Her ethical passion is a clear sign of her genius, and proves the vigor of her intellectual vision. No one who rightly weighs the value of her books, and fairly estimates the nature of her teaching, can regret that she had so keen a love of ethical instruction. The vigor, enthusiasm and originality of her teaching compensate for many faults.

Her teachings have a special interest because they afford a literary embodiment of the ethical theories of the evolution philosophy. They indicate the form which is likely to be given to ethics if theism and individualism are discarded, and the peculiar effects upon moral life which will be induced by agnosticism. She applied agnosticism to morals, by regarding good and evil as relative, and as the results, of man’s environment. For her, ethics had no infinite sanctions, no intuitive promulgation of an eternal law; but she regarded morality as originating in and deriving its authority from the social relations of men to each other. Our intuitive doing of right, or sorrow for wrong, is the result of inherited conditions. In _Romola_ she speaks of Tito as affected by–

the inward shame, the reflex of that outward law which the great heart of mankind makes for every individual man, a reflex which will exist even in the absence of the sympathetic impulses that need no law, but rush to the deed of fidelity and pity as inevitably as the brute mother shields her young from the attack of the hereditary enemy. [Footnote: Chapter IX.]

This teaching is often found in her pages, and in connection with the assertion of the relativity of morals. There is no absolute moral law for her, no eternal ideal standard; but what is right is determined by the environment. Instead of Kant’s categorical imperative of the moral law, proclaimed as a divine command in every soul, George Eliot found in the conscience and in the moral intuitions simply inherited experiences. In _Daniel Deronda_ she says, “Our consciences are not all of the same pattern, an inner deliverance of fixed laws; they are the voice of sensibilities as various as our memories.”

George Eliot’s rejection of any absolute standard of moral conduct or of happiness continually asserts itself in her pages. We must look at the individual, his inherited moral power, his environment, his special motives, if we would judge him aright. In the last chapters of _The Mill on the Floss_, when writing of Maggie’s repentance, this idea appears. Maggie is not to be tried by the moral ideal of Christianity, nor by any such standard of perfection as Kant proposed, but by all the circumstances of her place in life and her experience. We are accordingly told that–

Moral judgments must remain false and hollow unless they are checked and enlightened by a perpetual reference to the special circumstances that mark the individual lot.

George Eliot says in one of the mottoes in _Felix Holt_ that moral happiness is “mainly a complex of habitual relations and dispositions.” Even more explicit is her assertion, in one of the mottoes of _Daniel Deronda_, of the relativity of moral power.

Looking at life in the growth of a single lot, who having a practised vision may not see that ignorance of the true bond between events, and false conceit of means whereby sequences may be compelled–like that falsity of eyesight which overlooks the gradations of distance, seeing that which is afar off as if it were within a step or a grasp– precipitate the mistaken soul on destruction?

She does not teach, however, that man is a mere victim of circumstances, that he is a creature ruled by fate. His environment includes his own moral heredity, which may overcome the physical circumstances which surround him. In _Middlemarch_ she says, “It always remains true that if we had been greater, circumstances would have been less strong against us.” The same thought appears in Zarca’s appeal to Fedalma to be his true daughter, in one of the most effective scenes of _The Spanish Gypsy_. Moral devotedness is the strongest of all forces, he argues, even when it fails of its immediate aim; and even in failure the inherited life of the race is enlarged.

No great deed is done
By falterers who ask for certainty. No good is certain, but the steadfast mind, The undivided will to seek the good:
‘Tis that compels the elements, and wrings A human music from the indifferent air. The greatest gift the hero leaves his race Is to have been a hero. Say we fail!–
We feed the high tradition of the world, And leave our spirit in our children’s breasts.

George Eliot never goes so far as to say that man may, by virtue of his inward life, rise superior to all circumstances, and maintain the inviolable sanctity of his own moral nature. She does not forget that defeat is often the surest victory, that moral faithfulness may lead to disgrace and death; but even in these cases it is for the sake of the race we are to be faithful. The inward victory, the triumph of the soul in unsullied purity and serenity, she does not dwell upon; and it may be doubted if she fully recognized such a moral result. Her mind is so occupied with the social results of conduct as to overlook the individual victories which life ever brings to those who are faithful unto death. George Eliot has put her theory of morality into the mouth of Guildenstern, one of the characters in “A College Breakfast Party.”

Where get, you say, a binding law, a rule Enforced by sanction, an Ideal throned
With thunder in its hand? I answer, there Whence every faith and rule has drawn its force Since human consciousness awaking owned An Outward, whose unconquerable sway
Resisted first and then subdued desire By pressure of the dire impossible
Urging to possible ends the active soul And shaping so its terror and its love. Why, you have said it–threats and promises Depend on each man’s sentence for their force: All sacred rules, imagined or revealed, Can have no form or potency apart
From the percipient and emotive mind. God, duty, love, submission, fellowship, Must first be framed in man, as music is, Before they live outside him as a law.
And still they grow and shape themselves anew, With fuller concentration in their life Of inward and of outward energies
Blending to make the last result called Man, Which means, not this or that philosopher Looking through beauty into blankness, not The swindler who has sent his fruitful lie By the last telegram: it means the tide Of needs reciprocal, toil, trust and love– The surging multitude of human claims
Which make “a presence not to be put by” Above the horizon of the general soul.
Is inward reason shrunk to subtleties, And inward wisdom pining passion-starved?– The outward reason has the world in store, Regenerates passion with the stress of want, Regenerates knowledge with discovery,
Shows sly rapacious self a blunderer, Widens dependence, knits the social whole In sensible relation more defined.

As these words would indicate, George Eliot’s faith in the moral meaning and outcome of the world is very strong. All experience is moral, she would have us believe, and capable of teaching man the higher life. That is, all experience tends slowly to bring man into harmony with his environment, and to teach him that certain actions are helpful, while others are harmful. This teaching is very definite and emphatic in her pages, often rising into a lofty eloquence and a rich poetic diction, as her mind is wrought upon by the greatness and the impressiveness of the moral lessons of life.

However effective the outward order of nature may be in creating morality, it is to be borne in mind that ethical rules can have no effect “apart from the percipient and emotive mind.” It is, in reality, the social nature which gives morality its form and meaning. It is a creation of the social organism. Its basis is found, indeed, in the invariable order of nature, but the superstructure is erected out of and by society. “Man’s individual functions,” says Lewes, “arise in relations to the cosmos; his general functions arise in relations to the social medium; thence moral life emerges. All the animal impulses become blended with human emotions. In the process of evolution, starting from the merely animal appetite of sexuality, we arrive at the purest and most far-reaching tenderness. The social instincts tend more and more to make sociality dominate animality, and thus subordinate personality to humanity…. The animal has sympathy, and is moved by sympathetic impulses, but these are never altruistic; the ends are never remote. Moral life is based on sympathy; it is feeling for others, working for others, aiding others, quite irrespective of any personal good beyond the satisfaction of the social impulse. Enlightened by the intuition of our community of weakness, we share ideally the universal sorrows. Suffering harmonizes. Feeling the need of mutual help, we are prompted by it to labor for others.” [Footnote: Foundations of a Creed, vol. I., pp. 147, 153.] Morality is social, not personal; the result of those instincts which draw men together in community of interests, sympathies and sufferings. Its sanctions are all social; its motives are purely human; its law is created by the needs of humanity. There is no outward coercive law of the divine will or of invariable order which is to be supremely regarded; the moral law is human need as it changes from age to age. The increase of human sympathies in the process of social evolution gives the true moral ideal to be aspired after. What will increase the social efficiency of the race, what will promote altruism, is moral.

Alike because of the invariable order of nature, and the social dependence of men on each other, are the effects of conduct wrought out in the individual. George Eliot believes in “the orderly sequence by which the seed brings forth a crop after its kind.” All evil is injurious to man, destructive of the integrity of his life. She teaches the doctrine of Nemesis with as much conviction, thoroughness and eloquence as the old Greek dramatists, making sin to be punished, and wrong-doing to be destructive. Sometimes she presents this doctrine with all the stern, unpitying vigor of an Aeschylus, as a dire effect of wrong that comes upon men with an unrelenting mercilessness. In _Janet’s Repentance_ she says,–

Nemesis is lame, but she is of colossal stature, like the gods; and sometimes, while her sword is not yet unsheathed, she stretches out her huge left arm and grasps her victim. The mighty hand is invisible, but the victim totters under the dire clutch.

Her doctrine of Nemesis resembles that of the old Greeks more than that of the modern optimists and theists. Hers is not the idealistic conception of compensation, which measures out an exact proportion of punishment for every sin, and of happiness for every virtuous action. Wrong-doing injures others as well as those who commit the evil deed, and moral effects reach far beyond those who set them in operation. Very explicitly is this fact presented in _The Mill on the Floss_.

So deeply inherent is it in this life of ours that men have to suffer for each other’s sins, so inevitably diffusive is human suffering, that even justice makes its victims, and we can conceive no retribution that does not spread beyond its mark in pulsations of unmerited pain.

In _Adam Bede_, Parson Irwine says to Arthur,–

Consequences are unpitying. Our deeds carry their terrible consequences quite apart from any fluctuations that went before–consequences that are hardly ever confined to ourselves.

Yet wrong-doing does not go unpunished, for the law of moral cause and effect ever holds good. This is the teaching of the first chapter of _Felix Holt_.

There is seldom any wrong-doing which does not carry along with it some downfall of blindly climbing hopes, some hard entail of suffering, some quickly satiated desire that survives, with the life in death of old paralytic vice, to see itself cursed by its woeful progeny–some tragic mark of kinship in the one brief life to the far-stretching life that went before, and to the life that is to come after, such as has raised the pity and terror of men ever since they began to discern between will and destiny. But these things are often unknown to the world, for there is much pain that is quite noiseless; and vibrations that make human agonies are often a mere whisper in the roar of hurrying existence. There are glances of hatred that stab and raise no cry of murder; robberies that leave man or woman forever beggared of peace and joy, yet kept secret by the sufferer–committed to no sound except that of low moans in the night, seen in no writing except that made on the face by the slow months of suppressed anguish and early morning tears. Many an inherited sorrow that has marred a life has been breathed into no human ear.

In the same novel we are told, that–

To the end of men’s struggles a penalty will remain for those who sink from the ranks of the heroes into the crowd for whom the heroes fight and die.

The same teaching is to be found in the motto of _Daniel Deronda_, where we are bidden to fear the evil tendencies of our own souls.

Let thy chief terror be of thine own soul: There, ‘mid the throng of hurrying desires That trample o’er the dead to seize their spoil, Lurks vengeance, footless, irresistible As exhalations laden with slow death,
And o’er the fairest troop of captured joys Breathes pallid pestilence.

The manner in which George Eliot believes Nemesis works out her results has already been indicated. Her effects do not appear in any outward and palpable results, necessarily; her method is often unknown to men, hidden even from the keenest eyes. Evil causes produce evil results, that is all; and these are shown in the most subtle and secret results of what life is. One of her methods is indicated in _Adam Bede_.

Nemesis can seldom forge a sword for herself out of our consciences– out of the suffering we feel in the suffering we may have caused; there is rarely metal enough there to make an effective weapon. Our moral sense learns the manners of good society, and smiles when others smile; but when some rude person gives rough names to our actions, she is apt to take part against us.

_The Mill on the Floss_ reflects this thought.

Retribution may come from any voice; the hardest, crudest most imbruted urchin at the street-corner can inflict it.

More effective still is that punishment which comes of our own inward sense of wrong-doing. George Eliot makes Parson Irwine say that “the inward suffering is the worst form of Nemesis.” This is well illustrated in the experience of Gwendolen, who, after the death of her husband at Geneva, is anxious to leave that place.

For what place, though it were the flowery vale of Enna, may not the inward sense turn into a circle of punishment where the flowers are no better than a crop of flame-tongues burning the soles of our feet?

Even before this, Gwendolen had come to realize the dire effects of selfish conduct in that dread and bitterness of spirit which subdued her and mocked all her hopes and joys.

Passion is of the nature of seed, and finds nourishment within, tending to a predominance which determines all currents toward itself, and makes the whole life its tributary. And the intensest form of hatred is that rooted in fear, which compels to silence and drives vehemence into a constructive vindictiveness, an imaginary annihilation of the deserted object, something like the hidden rites of vengeance with which the persecuted have made a dark vent for their rage, and soothed their suffering into dumbness. Such hidden rites went on in the secrecy of Gwendolen’s mind, but not with soothing effect–rather with the effect of a struggling terror. Side by side with the dread of her husband had grown the self-dread which urged her to flee from the pursuing images wrought by her pent-up impulse. The vision of her past wrong-doing, and what it had brought on her, came with a pale ghastly illumination over every imagined deed that was a rash effort at freedom, such as she had made in her marriage. [Footnote: Chapter LIV.]

The way in which wrong-doing affects us to our hurt is suggested also in _Romola_, where its results upon the inward life are explicitly revealed.

Under every guilty secret there is hidden a brood of guilty wishes, whose unwholesome infecting life is cherished by the darkness. The contaminating effect of deeds lies less in the commission than in the consequent adjustment of our desires–the enlistment of our self-interest on the side of falsity; as, on the other hand, the purifying effect of public confession springs from the fact that by it the hope in lies is forever swept away, and the soul recovers the noble attitude of simplicity.

In the same novel the effect of wrong-doing is regarded as an inward and subduing fear of the consequences of our conduct. This dread so commonly felt, and made a most effective motive by all religions, George Eliot regards as the soul’s testimony to the great law of retribution. Experience that moral causes produce moral effects, as that law is every day taught us, takes hold of feeling, and becomes a nameless dread of the avenging powers.

Having once begun to explain away Baldassarre’s claim, Tito’s thought showed itself as active as a virulent acid, eating its rapid way through all the tissues of sentiment. His mind was destitute of that dread which has been erroneously decried as if it were nothing higher than a man’s animal care for his own skin; that awe of the divine Nemesis which was felt by religious pagans, and, though it took a more positive form under Christianity, is still felt by the mass of mankind simply as a vague fear at anything which is called wrong-doing. Such terror of the unseen is so far above mere sensual cowardice that it will annihilate that cowardice: it is the initial recognition of a moral law restraining desire, and checks the hard bold scrutiny of imperfect thought into obligations which can never be proved to have any sanctity in the absence of feeling. “It is good,” sing the old Eumenides, in Aeschylus, “that fear should sit as the guardian of the soul, forcing it into wisdom–good that men should carry a threatening shadow in their hearts under the full sunshine; else how shall they learn to revere the light?” That guardianship may become needless; but only when all outward law has become needless–only when duty and love have united in one stream and made a common force. [Footnote: Chapter XI.]

Another form in which Nemesis punishes us is described in the essay on “A Half-Breed” in _The Impressions of Theophrastus Such_. Mixtus was a man with noble aims, but he was fascinated by Scintilla, and realized none of his ideals. He was captivated by her prettiness, liveliness and music, and then he was captured on his worldly side. She did not believe in “notions” and reforms, and he succumbed to her wishes. As a result, his life was crippled, he was always unsatisfied with himself. Of this form of retribution George Eliot says,–

An early deep-seated love to which we become faithless has its unfailing Nemesis, if only in that division of soul which narrows all newer joys by the intrusion of regret and the established presentiment of change. I refer not merely to the love of a person, but to the love of ideas, practical beliefs and social habits. And faithlessness here means not a gradual conversion dependent on enlarged knowledge, but a yielding to seductive circumstance; not a conviction that the original choice was a mistake, but a subjection to incidents that flatter a growing desire. In this sort of love it is the forsaker who has the melancholy lot; for an abandoned belief may be more effectively vengeful than Dido. The child of a wandering tribe, caught young and trained to polite life, if he feels a hereditary yearning, can run away to the old wilds and get his nature into tune. But there is no such recovery possible to the man who remembers what he once believed without being convinced that he was in error, who feels within him unsatisfied stirrings toward old beloved habits and intimacies from which he has far receded without conscious justification or unwavering sense of superior attractiveness in the new. This involuntary renegade has his character hopelessly jangled and out of tune. He is like an organ with its stops in the lawless condition of obtruding themselves without method, so that hearers are amazed by the most unexpected transitions–the trumpet breaking in on the flute, and the oboe confounding both.

With a strong and eloquent energy, George Eliot teaches the natural consequences of conduct. Every feeling, thought and deed has its effect, comes to fruition. Desire modifies life, shapes our destiny, moulds us into the image of its own nature. Actions become habits, become controlling elements in our lives, and tend to work out their own legitimate results. The whole of George Eliot’s doctrine of retribution is, that human causes, as much as any other, lead to their appropriate effects. Her frequent use of the word _Nemesis_ indicates the idea she had of the inevitableness of moral consequences, that a force once set in motion can never be recalled in its effects, which make a permanent modification of human life in its present and in its past. It was not the old doctrine of fate which she presented, not any arbitrary inflictment from supernatural powers. The inevitableness of moral consequences influenced her as a solemn and fearful reality which man must strictly regard if he would find true manhood.

The doctrine of retribution is very clearly taught by George Eliot in her comments. With a still greater distinctness it is taught in the development of her characters. As we follow the careers of Hetty, Maggie, Tito, Fedalma, Lydgate and Gwendolen we see how wonderful was George Eliot’s insight into the moral issues of life. Not only with these, but with all her characters, we see a righteous moral unfoldment of character into its effects. There is no compromise with evil in her pages; all selfishness, wrong and crime comes to its proper results. The vanity and selfishness of Hetty leads to what terrible crime and shame for her, and what misery for others! Tito’s selfishness and want of resolute purpose carries him inevitably downward to a hideous end. What is so plain in the case of these characters is as true, though not so palpable, in that of many others in her books. Dorothea’s conduct is clearly shown to develop into consequences (as did Lydgate’s) which were the natural results of what she thought, did and was. Maggie’s misery was the product of her conduct, the legitimate outcome of it.

George Eliot goes beyond the conduct of any one person and its results, and attempts to show how it is affected by the person’s environment. It was Maggie’s family, education, social standing and personal qualities of mind and heart which helped to determine for her the consequences of her conduct. It was Dorothea’s education and social environment which largely helped to shape her career and to leave her bereaved of the largest possibilities of which her life was capable. Gwendolen’s life was largely determined by her early training and by her social surroundings. Yet with all these, life has its necessary issues, and Nemesis plays its part. Retribution is for all; it is ever stern, just and inevitable. Just, however, only in the sense that wrong-doing cannot escape its own effects, but not just in the sense that the guiltless must often share the fate of the guilty. Wrong-doing drags down to destruction many an innocent person. It is to be said of George Eliot, however, that she never presents any of her characters as doomed utterly by the past. However strong the memories of the ages lay upon them, they are capable of self-direction. Not one of her characters is wholly the victim of his environment. There is no hint in _Middlemarch_ that Dorothea was not capable of heroism and self-consecration. Her environment gave a wrong direction to her moral purpose; but that purpose remained, and the moral nobleness of her mind was not destroyed. Still, it is largely true, that in her books the individual is sacrificed to his social environment. He is to renounce his own personality for the sake of the race. Consequently his fate is linked with that of others, and he must suffer from other men’s deeds.

With all its limitations and defects, George Eliot’s teaching concerning the moral effects of conduct is wholesome and healthy. It rests on a solid foundation of experience and scientific evidence. Her books are full of moral stimulus and strengthening, because of the profound conviction with which she has presented her conception of moral cause and effect. With her, we must believe that moral sequences are as inevitable as the physical.

It would be very unjust to George Eliot to suppose that she left man in the hands of a relentless moral order which manifests no tenderness and which is incapable of pity and mercy. She did not believe in an Infinite Father, full of love and forgiveness; that faith was not for her. Yet she did believe in a providence which can assuage man’s sorrows and deal tenderly with his wrong-doing. While nature is stern and the moral sequences of life unbending, man may be sympathetic and helpful. Man is to be the providence of man; humanity is to be his tender forgiving Friend. A substitute so poor for the old faith would seem to have little power of moral renovation or sympathetic impulse in it; but it quickened George Eliot’s mind with enthusiasm and ardor. The “enthusiasm of humanity” filled her whole soul, was a luminous hope in her heart and an inspiring purpose to her mind. With Goethe and Carlyle she found in work for humanity the substitute for all faith and the cure for all doubt. Faust finds for his life a purpose, and for the universe a solution, when he comes to labor for the practical improvement of humanity. This was George Eliot’s own conclusion, that it is enough for us to see the world about us made a little better and more orderly by our efforts. All her noblest characters find in altruism a substitute for religion, and they find there a moral anchorage. She says very plainly in _Middlemarch_, that every doctrine is capable of “eating out our morality if unchecked by the deep-seated habit of direct fellow-feeling with individual fellow-men.” To the same effect is her saying in _Romola_, that “with the sinking of the high human trust the dignity of life sinks too; we cease to believe in our own better self, since that also is a part of the common nature which is degraded in our thought; and all the finer impulses of the soul are dulled.” In _Janet’s Repentance_ she has finely presented this faith in sympathetic humanitarianism, showing how Janet found peace in the sick-room where all had been doubt and trial before.

Day after day, with only short intervals of rest, Janet kept her place in that sad chamber. No wonder the sick-room and the lazaretto have so often been a refuge from the tossings of intellectual doubt–a place of repose for the worn and wounded spirit. Here is a duty about which all creeds and all philosophies are at one:–here, at least, the conscience will not be dogged by doubt–the benign impulse will not be checked by adverse theory: here you may begin to act without settling one preliminary question. To moisten the sufferer’s parched lips through the long night-watches, to bear up the drooping head, to lift the helpless limbs, to divine the want that can find no utterance beyond the feeble motion of the hand or beseeching glance of the eye–these are offices that demand no self-questionings, no casuistry, no assent to propositions, no weighing of consequences. Within the four walls where the stir and glare of the world are shut out, and every voice is subdued,–where a human being lies prostrate, thrown on the tender mercies of his fellow,–the moral relation of man to man is reduced to its utmost clearness and simplicity: bigotry cannot confuse it, theory cannot pervert it, passion, awed into quiescence, can neither pollute nor perturb it. As we bend over the sick-bed all the forces of our nature rush towards the channels of pity, of patience and of love, and sweep down the miserable choking drift of our quarrels, our debates, our would-be wisdom, and our clamorous, selfish desires. This blessing of serene freedom from the importunities of opinion lies in all simple, direct acts of mercy, and is one source of that sweet calm which is often felt by the watcher in the sick-room, even when the duties there are of a hard and terrible kind. [Footnote: Chapter XXIV.]

The basis of such sympathetic helpfulness she finds in the common sorrows and trials of the world. All find life hard, pain comes to all, none are to be found unacquainted with sorrow. These common experiences draw men together in sympathy, unite them in a common purpose of assuagement and help. The sorrow of Adam Bede made him more gentle and patient with his brother.

It was part of that growing tenderness which came from the sorrow at work within him. For Adam, though you see him quite master of himself, working hard and delighting in his work after his inborn inalienable nature, had not outlived his sorrow–had not felt it slip from him as a temporary burden, and leave him the same man again. Do any of us? God forbid! It would be a poor result of all our anguish and our wrestling if we won nothing but our old selves at the end of it–if we could return to the same blind loves, the same self-confident blame, the same light thoughts of human suffering, the same frivolous gossip over blighted human lives, the same feeble sense of that Unknown toward which we have sent forth irrepressible cries in our loneliness. Let us rather be thankful that our sorrow lives in us as an indestructible force, only changing its form, as forces do, and passing from pain into sympathy–the one poor word which includes all our best insight and our best love. Not that this transformation of pain into sympathy had completely taken place in Adam yet; there was still a great remnant of pain, which he felt would subsist as long as _her_ pain was not a memory, but an existing thing, which he must think of as renewed with the light of every morning. But we get accustomed to mental as well as bodily pain, without, for all that, losing our sensibility to it; it becomes a habit of our lives, and we cease to imagine a condition of perfect ease as possible for us. Desire is chastened into submission; and we are contented with our day when we are able to bear our grief in silence, and act as if we were not suffering. For it is at such periods that the sense of our lives having visible and invisible relations beyond any of which either our present or prospective self is the centre, grows like a muscle that we are obliged to lean on and exert.

Armgart finds that “true vision comes only with sorrow.” Sorrow and suffering create a sympathy which sends us to the relief of others. “Pain must enter into its glorified life of memory before it can turn into compassion,” we are told in _Middlemarch_. In the trying hours of Maggie Tulliver’s life she came to know–

that new sense which is the gift of sorrow–that susceptibility to the bare offices of humanity which raises them into a bond of loving fellowship.

Again, she learns that “more helpful than all wisdom is one draught of simple human pity that will not forsake us.” Man is in this way brought to live for man, to suffer in his sufferings, to be mercifully tender and pitiful with him in his temptations and trials. Sympathy builds up the moral life, gives an ethical meaning to man’s existence. Thus humanity becomes a providence to man, and it is made easier for him to bear his sufferings and to be comforted in his sorrows. Nemesis is stern, but man is pitiful; retribution is inexorable, but humanity is sympathetic. Nature never relents, and there is no God who can so forgive us our sins as to remove their legitimate effects; but man can comfort us with his love, and humanity can teach us to overcome retribution by righteous conduct.

All idealistic rights are to be laid aside, according to her theory, all personal claims and motives are to be renounced. In the duties we owe to others, life is to find its rightful expression. In _Janet’s Repentance_ she says,–

The idea of duty, that recognition of something to be lived for beyond the mere satisfaction of self, is to the moral life what the addition of a great central ganglion is to animal life. No man can begin to mould himself on a faith or an idea without rising to a higher order of experience: a principle of subordination, of self-mastery, has been introduced into his nature; he is no longer a mere bundle of impressions, desires and impulses.

To live for self, George Eliot seems to regard as immoral; self is to be ignored except in so far as it can be made to serve humanity. As rights are individual they are repudiated, and the demand for them is regarded as revolutionary and destructive.

That man is a moral being because he is a social being she carries to its farthest extreme in some of her teachings, as when she makes public opinion the great motive power to social improvement. Felix Holt pronounces public opinion–the ruling belief in society about what is right and what is wrong, what is honorable and what is shameful–to be the greatest power under heaven. In the “Address to Working Men, by Felix Holt,” published in _Blackwood’s Magazine_, Felix is made to say to his fellows,–

Any nation that had within it a majority of men–and we are the majority–possessed of much wisdom and virtue, would not tolerate the bad practices, the commercial lying and swindling, the poisonous adulteration of goods, the retail cheating and the political bribery which are carried on boldly in the midst of us. A majority has the power of creating a public opinion. We could groan and his-s before we had the franchise: if we had groaned and hissed in the right place, if we had discerned better between good and evil, if the multitude of us artisans and factory hands and miners and laborers of all sorts had been skilful, faithful, well-judging, industrious, sober–and I don’t see how there can be wisdom and virtue anywhere without these qualities–we should have made an audience that would have shamed the other classes out of their share in the national vices. We should have had better members of Parliament, better religious teachers, honester tradesmen, fewer foolish demagogues, less impudence in infamous and brutal men; and we should not have had among us the abomination of men calling themselves religious while living in splendor on ill-gotten gains. I say it is not possible for any society in which there is a very large body of wise and virtuous men to be as vicious as our society is–to have as low a standard of right and wrong, to have so much belief in falsehood, or to have so degrading, barbarous a notion of what pleasure is, or of what justly raises a man above his fellows. Therefore let us have done with this nonsense about our being much better than the rest of our countrymen, or the pretence that that was a reason why we ought to have such an extension of the franchise as has been given to us.

The essay on “Moral Swindlers,” in _Theophrastus Such_, clearly indicates George Eliot’s point of view in ethics. She makes those moral traits which are social of greater importance than those which are personal. She complains that a man who is chaste and of a clean personal conduct is regarded as a moral man when his business habits are not good. To her, his relations to his fellows in all the social and business affairs of life are of higher importance than his personal habits or his family relations. She rebels against that deep moral instinct of the race which identifies morality with personal character, and is indignant that the altruism she so much believed in is not everywhere made identical with ethics. To her, the person is nothing; the individual is thought of only as a member of a community. She forgot that any large and noble moral life for a people must rest upon personal character, upon a pure and healthy state of the moral nature in individuals. Nations cannot be moral, but persons can. Public corruption has its foundation in personal corruption. The nation cannot have a noble moral life unless the individuals of which it is composed are pure in character and noble in conduct. She complains that sexual purity is made identical with morality, while business integrity is not. Every social and moral bond we have, she says, “is a debt; the right lies in the payment of that debt; _it can lie nowhere else_.” It is a debt owed, not to God, but to humanity; it is therefore to be paid, not by personal holiness, but by human sympathy and devotion.

The higher social morality, that which inspires nations with great and heroic purposes, George Eliot believes is mainly due, as she says in the essay on “The Modern Hep, Hep, Hep!” “to the divine gift of a 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 memories of the past lie mainly in the direction of national movements, and hence the higher moral life of the present must be associated with national memories. The glorious commonplaces of historic teaching, as well as of moral inspiration, are to be found in the fact “that the preservation of national memories is an element and a means of national greatness, that their revival is a sign of reviving nationality, and that every heroic defender, every patriotic restorer, has been inspired by such memories and has made them his watchword.” To reject such memories, such social influences, she regards as “a blinding superstition,” and says that the moral visions of a nation are an effective bond which must be accepted by all its members. Two of her most characteristic books are written to inculcate this teaching. In _The Spanish Gypsy_ we learn that there is no moral strength and purpose for a man like Don Silva, who repudiates his country, its memories and its religion. The main purpose of _Daniel Deronda_ is to show how binding and inspiring is the vision of moral truth and life which comes from association even with the national memories of an outcast and alien people.

She wished to see individuals helped and good done in the present. She makes Theophrastus Such, in the essay on “Looking Backward,” speak her own mind.

“All reverence and gratitude for the worthy dead on whose labors we have entered, all care for the future generations whose lot we are preparing; but some affection and fairness for those who are doing the actual work of the world, some attempt to regard them with the same freedom from ill-temper, whether on private or public grounds, as we may hope will be felt by those who will call us ancient! Otherwise, the looking before and after, which is our grand human privilege, is in danger of turning to a sort of other-worldliness, breeding a more illogical indifference or bitterness than was ever bred by the ascetic’s contemplation of heaven.”

Again, she says that “the action by which we can do the best for future ages is of the sort which has a certain beneficence and grace for contemporaries.” And this was not merely the teaching of her books, it was the practice of her life. Miss Edith Simcox has made it clear that she was zealously anxious to help men and women by personal effort. She tells us that “George Eliot’s sympathies went out more readily towards enthusiasm for the discharge of duties than for the assertion of rights. It belonged to the positive basis of her character to identify herself more with what people wished to do themselves than with what they thought somebody else ought to do for them. Her indignation was vehement enough against dishonest or malicious oppression, but the instinct to make allowance for the other side made her a bad hater in politics, and there may easily have been some personal sympathy in her description of Deronda’s difficulty about the choice of a career. She was not an inviting auditor for those somewhat pachydermatous philanthropists who dwell complacently upon ‘cases’ and statistics which represent appalling depths of individual suffering. Her imagination realized these facts with a vividness that was physically unbearable, and unless she could give substantial help, she avoided the fruitless agitation. At the same time, her interest in all rational good works was of the warmest, and she was inclined to exaggerate rather than undervalue the merits of their promoters, with one qualification only. ‘Help the millions, by all means,’ she has written; ‘I only want people not to scorn the narrower effect.’ Charity that did not begin at home repelled her as much as she was attracted by the unpretentious kindness which overlooked no near opportunity; and perhaps we should not be far wrong in guessing that she thought for most people the scrupulous discharge of all present and unavoidable duties was nearly occupation enough. Not every one was called to the high but difficult vocation of setting the world to rights. But on the other hand, it must be remembered that her standard of exactingness was ‘high, and some of the things that in her eyes it was merely culpable to leave undone might be counted by others among virtues of supererogation. Indeed, it is within the limits of possibility that a philanthropist wrapped in over-much conscious virtue might imagine her cold to the objects proposed, when she only failed to see uncommon merit in their pursuit. No one, however, could recognize with more generous fervor, more delighted admiration, any genuine unobtrusive devotion in either friends or strangers, whether it were spent in making life easier to individuals, or in mending the conditions among which the masses live and labor.’ This writer gives us further insight into George Eliot’s character when we are told that ‘she came as a very angel of consolation to those persons of sufficiently impartial mind to find comfort in the hint that the world might be less to blame than they were as to those points on which they found themselves in chronic disagreement with it. But she had nothing welcome for those whose idea of consolation is the promise of a _deus ex machina_ by whose help they may gather grapes of thorns and figs of thistles. She thought there was much needed doing in the world, and criticism of our neighbors and the natural order might wait at all events until the critic’s own character and conduct were free from blame.’ She had faith in ordinary lives, and these she earnestly desired to help and encourage. Those who themselves struggle with difficulties are best capable, she thought, of helping others out of theirs. In _Daniel Deronda_ she said, ‘Our guides, we pretend, must be sinless; as if those were not often the best teachers who only yesterday got corrected for their mistakes.'”

George Eliot’s interest in the present amelioration of human conditions was strengthened by her faith in the future of the race. She expected no rapid improvement, no revolutionizing development; but she believed the past of mankind justifies faith in a gradual attainment of perfect conditions. This conviction was expressed when she said,–

What I look to is a time when the impulse to help our fellows shall be as immediate and irresistible as that which I feel to grasp something firm if I am falling.

She saw too much evil and suffering to be an optimist; she could not see that all things are good or tending towards what is good. Yet her faith in the final outcome was earnest, and she looked to a slow and painful progress as the result of human struggles. When called an optimist, she responded, “I will not answer to the name of optimist, but if you like to invent Meliorist, I will not say you call me out of my name.” She trusted in that gradual development which science points out as the probable result of the survival of the fittest in human life. In “A Minor Prophet” she has presented her conception of human advancement, and tenderly expressed her sympathy with all humble, imperfect lives.

I feel that every change upon this earth Is bought with sacrifice. My yearnings fail To reach that high apocalyptic mount
Which shows in bird’s-eye view a perfect world, Or enter warmly into other joys
Than those of faulty, struggling human kind, That strain upon my soul’s too perfect wing Ends in ignoble floundering: I fall
Into short-sighted pity for the men Who, living in those perfect future times, Will not know half the dear imperfect things That move my smiles and tears–will never know The fine old incongruities that raise
My friendly laugh; the innocent conceits That like a needless eyeglass or black patch Give those who wear them harmless happiness; The twists and cracks in our poor earthenware, That touch me to more conscious fellowship (I am not myself the finest Parian)
With my coevals. So poor Colin Clout, To whom raw onions give prospective zest, Consoling hours of dampest wintry work, Could hardly fancy any regal joys
Quite unimpregnate with the onion’s scent: Perhaps his highest hopes are not all clear Of waftings from that energetic bulb:
‘Tis well that onion is not heresy. Speaking in parable, I am Colin Clout.
A clinging flavor penetrates ray life– My onion is imperfectness: I cleave
To nature’s blunders, evanescent types Which sages banish from Utopia.
“Not worship beauty?” say you. Patience, friend! I worship in the temple with the rest;
But by my hearth I keep a sacred nook For gnomes and dwarfs, duck-footed waddling elves Who stitched and hammered for the weary man In days of old. And in that piety
I clothe ungainly forms inherited
From toiling generations, daily bent At desk, or plough, or loom, or in the mine, In pioneering labors for the world.
Nay, I am apt, when floundering confused From too rash flight, to grasp at paradox, And pity future men who will not know
A keen experience with pity blent, The pathos exquisite of lovely minds
Hid in harsh forms–not penetrating them Like fire divine within a common bush
Which glows transfigured by the heavenly guest, So that men put their shoes off; but encaged Like a sweet child within some thick-walled cell, Who leaps and fails to hold the window-bars; But having shown a little dimpled hand, Is visited thenceforth by tender hearts Whose eyes keep watch about the prison walls. A foolish, nay, a wicked paradox!
For purest pity is the eye of love, Melting at sight of sorrow; and to grieve Because it sees no sorrow, shows a love Warped from its truer nature, turned to love Of merest habit, like the miser’s greed. But I am Colin still: my prejudice
Is for the flavor of my daily food. Not that I doubt the world is growing still, As once it grew from chaos and from night; Or have a soul too shrunken for the hope Which dawned in human breasts, a double morn, With earliest watchings of the rising light Chasing the darkness; and through many an age Has raised the vision of a future time
That stands an angel, with a face all mild, Spearing the demon. I, too, rest in faith That man’s perfection is the crowning flower Towards which the urgent sap in life’s great tree Is pressing–seen in puny blossoms now, But in the world’s great morrows to expand With broadest petal and with deepest glow.

With no disgust toward the crude and wretched life man everywhere lives to-day, but with pity and tenderness for all sorrow, suffering and struggle, she yet believed that the world is being shaped to a glorious and a mighty destiny. This faith finds full and clear expression in the concluding lines of the poem just quoted.

The faith that life on earth is being shaped To glorious ends, that order, justice, love, Mean man’s completeness, mean effect as sure As roundness in the dewdrop–that great faith Is but the rushing and expanding stream Of thought, of feeling, fed by all the past. Our finest hope is finest memory,
As they who love in age think youth is blest Because it has a life to fill with love. Full souls are double mirrors, making still An endless vista of fair things before Repeating things behind: so faith is strong Only when we are strong, shrinks when we shrink. It comes when music stirs us, and the chords Moving on some grand climax shake our souls With influx new that makes new energies. It comes in swellings of the heart and tears That rise at noble and at gentle deeds– At labors of the master-artist’s hand
Which, trembling, touches to a finer end, Trembling before an image seen within. It comes in moments of heroic love,
Unjealous joy in love not made for us– In conscious triumph of the good within, Making us worship goodness that rebukes. Even our failures are a prophecy,
Even our yearnings and our bitter tears After that fair and true we cannot grasp; As patriots who seem to die in vain
Make liberty more sacred by their pangs, Presentiment of better things on earth Sweeps in with every force that stirs our souls To admiration, self-renouncing love,
Or thoughts, like light, that bind the world in one: Sweeps like the sense of vastness, when at night We hear the roll and dash of waves that break Nearer and nearer with the rushing tide, Which rises to the level of the cliff
Because the wide Atlantic roils behind, Throbbing respondent to the far-off orbs.

George Eliot did all that could be done to make the morality she taught commendable and inspiring. In her own direct teachings, and in the development of her characters and her plots, she has done much to make it acceptable. Her strong insistence on the social basis of morality is to be admired, and the truth presented is one of great importance. Even more important is her teaching of the stern nature of retribution, that every thought, word and deed has its effect. There is need of such teaching, and it can be appropriated into the thought and life of the time with great promise of good. Yet the outcome of George Eliot’s morality was rather depressing than otherwise. While she was no pessimist, yet she made her readers feel that life was pessimistic in its main tendencies. She makes on the minds of very many of her readers the impression that life has not very much light in it. This comes from the whole cast of her mind, and still more because the light of true ideal hopes was absent from her thought. A stern, ascetic view of life appears throughout her pages, one of the results of the new morality and the humanitarian gospel of altruism. Unbending, unpitiful, does the universe seem to be when the idea of law and Nemesis is so strongly presented, and with no relief from it in the theory of man’s free will. Not less depressing to the moral nature is an unrelieved view of the universe under the omnipotent law of cause and effect, which is not lighted by any vision of God and a spiritual order interpenetrating the material. Her teaching too often takes the tone of repression; it is hard and exacting. She devotes many pages to showing the effects of the law of retribution; she gives comparatively few to the correlative law that good always has its reward. Renunciation is presented as a moral force, and as duty of supreme importance; life is to be repressed for the sake of humanity. The spontaneous tendencies of the mind and heart, the importance of giving a free and healthy development to human nature, is not regarded. Her morality is justly to be criticised for its ascetic and pessimistic tendencies.



The first four novels written by George Eliot form a group by themselves; and while all similar to each other in their main characteristics, are in important respects different from her later works. This group includes _Clerical Scenes, Adam Bede, The Mill on the Floss_ and _Silas Marner_. With these may also be classed “Brother Jacob.” They are all alike novels of memory, and they deal mainly with common life. Her own life and the surroundings of her childhood, the memories and associations and suggestions of her early life, are drawn upon. The simple surroundings and ideas of the midland village are seldom strayed away from, and most of the characters are farmers and their laborers, artisans or clergymen. _The Mill on the Floss_ offers a partial exception to this statement, for in that book we touch upon the border of a different form of society, but we scarcely enter into it, and the leading characters are from the same class as those in the other books of this group. “Mr. Gilfil’s Love Story” alone enters wholly within the circle of aristocratic society. There is more of the realism of actual life in these novels than in her later ones, greater spontaneity and insight, a deeper sympathy and a more tender pathos. They came more out of her heart and sympathies, are more impassioned and pathetic.

Throughout the _Scenes of Clerical Life_ are descriptions of actual scenes and incidents known to George Eliot in her girlhood. Mrs. Hackit is a portrait of her own mother. In the first chapter of “Amos Barton,” Shepperton Church is that at Chilvers Colon, which she attended throughout her childhood. It is from memory, and with an accurate pen, she describes–

Shepperton Church as it was in the old days with its outer court of rough stucco, its red-tiled roof, its heterogeneous windows patched with desultory bits of painted glass, and its little flight of steps with their wooden rail running up the outer wall, and leading to the school-children’s gallery. Then inside, what dear old quaintnesses! which I began to look at with delight, even when I was so crude a member of the congregation that my nurse found it necessary to provide for the reinforcement of my devotional patience by smuggling bread-and-butter into the sacred edifice. There was the chancel, guarded by two little cherubims looking uncomfortably squeezed between arch and wall, and adorned with the escutcheons of the Oldinport family, which showed me inexhaustible possibilities of meaning in their blood-red hands, their death’s-heads and cross-bones, their leopards’ paws and Maltese crosses. There were inscriptions on the panels of the singing-gallery, telling of benefactions to the poor of Shepperton, with an involuted elegance of capitals and final flourishes which my alphabetic erudition traced with ever-new delight. No benches in those days; but huge roomy pews, round which devout churchgoers sat during “lessons,” trying to look everywhere else than into each others’ eyes. No low partitions allowing you, with a dreary absence of contrast and mystery, to see everything at all moments; but tall dark panels, under whose shadow I sank with a sense of retirement through the Litany, only to feel with more intensity my burst into the conspicuousness of public life when I was made to stand up on the seat during the psalms or the singing.

Not only is this description of Shepperton Church accurate in every particular, but a subject of neighborhood gossip is made the basis of the story of “Amos Barton.” When George Eliot was about a dozen years old a strange lady appeared at the Cotou parsonage, and became a subject of much discussion on the part of the parishioners. Much pity was felt for the wife of the curate, an intimate friend of Marian Evans’s mother, whose poverty, seven children and poor health made her burdens far from easy. She died not long after, and her grave may be seen at Chilvers Coton. The Knebley Church of “Mr. Gilfil’s Love Story” is located only a short distance from Chilvers Coton, and is the chancel of the collegiate church founded by Sir Thomas de Astley in the time of Edward III. Its spire was very high, and served as a landmark to travellers through the forest of Arden, and was called “The lanthorn of Arden.” The spire fell in the year 1600, but was rebuilt later. The present church was repaired by the patron of George Eliot’s father, Sir Roger Newdigate. She describes it in the first chapter of “Mr. Gilfil’s Love Story” as–

a wonderful little church, with a checkered pavement which had once rung to the iron tread of military monks, with coats of arms in clusters on the lofty roof, marble warriors and their wives without noses occupying a large proportion of the area, and the twelve apostles with their heads very much on one side, holding didactic ribbons, painted in fresco on the walls.

A delightful lane, overshadowed with noble trees, that ran by Griff House, the birthplace of George Eliot, led to the lodge of Arbury Hall, the home of Sir Roger Newdigate. Arbury Hall was situated in the midst of a fine old forest, and it was originally a large quadrangular brick house. Sir Roger rebuilt it, acting as his own architect, and made it into a modern dwelling of the commodious gothic Order. This house and its owner appear in “Mr. Gilfil’s Love Story” as Cheverel Manor and Sir Christopher Cheverel. In the fourth chapter the reader is told that,–

For the next ten years Sir Christopher was occupied with the architectural metamorphosis of his old family mansion, thus anticipating through the prompting of his individual taste that general re-action from the insipid imitation of the Palladian style towards a restoration of the Gothic, which marked the close of the eighteenth century. This was the object he had set his heart on, with a singleness of determination which was regarded with not a little contempt by his fox-hunting neighbors…. “An obstinate, crotchety man,” said his neighbors. But I, who have seen Cheverel Manor as he bequeathed it to his heirs, rather attribute that unswerving architectural purpose of his, conceived and carried out through long years of systematic personal exertion, to something of the fervor of genius.

In this story an incident in the life of Sir Roger Newdigate may have been made use of by George Eliot. He was childless, and adopted a cottager’s child he and his wife heard singing at its father’s door one day. They educated the child, who proved to have a fine voice and a passionate love of music.

_Janet’s Repentance_ also has its scenes from actual life. Dr. Dempster was thought to be recognized by his neighbors as a well-known person in Nuneaton. Milby and its High street are no other than Nuneaton and its market-place. The character of the town and the manner of life there are all sketched from the Nuneaton of George Eliot’s childhood. The school she attended was very near the vicarage. While she was attending this school, when about nine years old, a young curate from a neighboring hamlet was permitted by the Bishop to give Sunday-evening lectures in the Nuneaton church, with the results described in _Janet’s Repentance_.

In _Adam Bede_ there is also a considerable element of actual history. The heroine, Dinah Morris, is, in some slight particulars at least, sketched from Elizabeth Evans, an aunt of George Eliot’s. Elizabeth Evans was born at Newbold, Lincolnshire, in 1776. [Footnote: This subject has been fully worked out in a book published by Blackwood, “George Eliot in Derbyshire: a volume of gossip about passages in the novels of George Eliot,” by Guy Roslyn. Reprinted from London Society, with alterations and additions, and an introduction by George Barnett Smith. Its statements are mainly based on a small book published in London in 1859, by Talbot & Co., entitled “Seth Bede, the Methody: his Life and Labors.” Guy Roslyn is a pseudonym for Joshua Hatton.] She was a beautiful woman when young, with soft gray eyes and a fine face, and had a very simple and gentle manner. She was a Methodist preacher, lived at Wirksworth, Derbyshire, and preached wherever an opportunity occurred. When it was forbidden that women should preach, she continued to exhort in the cottages, and to visit the poor and the sick in their homes. She married Samuel Evans, who was born in Boston, and was a carpenter. He had a brother William, who was a joiner and builder. Their father was a village carpenter and undertaker, honest and respectable, but who took to drink in his later years. He was at an ale-house very late one night, and the next morning was found dead in a brook near his house. Samuel became a Methodist and a preacher, but was teased about it by his brother, who criticised his blunders in prayer and preaching. He was gentle and very considerate at home, and was greatly attached to his brother, though they could not agree in matters of religion. While they were partners in business they prospered, but Samuel did not succeed when by himself. Samuel and Elizabeth were married at St. Mary’s Church, Nottingham. In company with a Miss Richards, Elizabeth attended, in 1801 or 1802, a Mary Voce who had poisoned her child. They visited her in jail, and were with her when she was hung in Nottingham. Elizabeth wrote an account of her own life, especially of her conversion and her early work in the ministry. Concerning the execution of Mary Voce, she gives this account: “At seven o’clock [on the morning of the execution] we all knelt down in prayer, and at ten minutes before eight o’clock the Lord in mercy spoke peace to her soul. She cried out, ‘Oh, how happy I am! the Lord has pardoned all my sins, and I am going to heaven.’ She never lost the evidence for one moment, and always rejoiced in the hope of glory. Is it not by grace we are saved through faith? And is not the Saviour exalted at the Father’s right hand to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins? If salvation were by works who would be saved? The vilest and worst may come unto Him. None need despair. None ought to presume. Miss Richards and I attended her to the place of execution. Our feelings on this occasion were very acute. We rode with her in the cart to the awful place. Our people sang with her all the way, which I think was a mile and a half. We were enabled to lift up our hearts unto the Lord in her behalf, and she was enabled to bear a public testimony that God in mercy had pardoned all her sins. When the cap was drawn over her face, and she was about to be turned off, she cried, ‘Glory! glory! glory! the angels are waiting around me.’ And she died almost without a struggle. At this awful spot I lost a great deal of the fear of man, which to me had been a great hindrance for a long time. I felt if God would send me to the uttermost parts of the earth I would go, and at intervals felt I could embrace a martyr’s flame. Oh, this burning love of God, what will it not endure? I could not think I had an enemy in the world. I am certain I enjoyed that salvation that if they had smote me on one cheek, I could have turned to them the other also. I lived

“‘The life of heaven above,
All the life of glorious love.’

“I seemed myself to live between heaven and earth. I was not in heaven because of my body, nor upon earth because of my soul. Earth was a scale to heaven, and all I tasted was God. I could pray without ceasing, and in everything give thanks. I felt that the secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him. If I wanted to know anything I had only to ask, and it was given, generally in a moment. Whether I was in the public street, or at my work, or in my private room, I had continued intercourse with my God; and many, I think I may say hundreds of times, He shone upon His Word, and showed me the meaning thereof, that is, texts of scripture, so as to furnish me with sufficient matter to speak to poor sinners for a sufficient length of time.”

The life of Elizabeth Evans was only a hint to the mind of the author of _Adam Bede_. Dinah was not intended as a portrait, and the resemblances between the two were probably not the result of a conscious purpose on the part of George Eliot. Soon after the publication of _Adam Bede_, when gossip had begun to report that Dinah Morris was an accurate sketch of Elizabeth Evans, and even that her sermon and prayers had been copied from the writings of the aunt, George Eliot wrote a letter to her intimate friend, Miss Sara Hennell, in which she explained to what extent she was indebted to Elizabeth Evans for the portrait of Dinah Morris.

HOLLY LODGE, Oct. 7, 1850.

Dear Sara,–I should like, while the subject is vividly present with me, to tell you more exactly than I have ever yet done, _what_ I knew of my aunt, Elizabeth Evans. My father, you know, lived in Warwickshire all my life with him, having finally left Staffordshire first, and then Derbyshire, six or seven years before he married my mother…. [Footnote: What is here omitted of this letter will be found on page 12.]

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

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

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

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

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

Once more, thanks, dear Sara. Ever your loving


When, in 1876, a book was published to show the identity of Dinah Morris and Elizabeth Evans, George Eliot wrote to the author to protest against such a conclusion. She said to him that the one was not intended to represent the other, and that any identification of the two would be protested against as not only false in fact and tending to perpetuate false notions about art, but also as a gross breach of social decorum. Yet these declarations concerning Elizabeth Evans have been repeated, and to them has been added the assertion that she actually copied in _Adam Bede_ the history and sermons of Dinah Morris. [Footnote: “Dinah Morris and Elizabeth Evans,” an article by L. Buckley in The Century for August, 1882.] During visits to her aunt in 1842 we are told they spent several hours together each day. “They used to go to the house of one of Mrs. Evans’s married daughters, where they had the parlor to themselves and had long conversations. These secret conversations excited some curiosity in the family, and one day Mrs. Evans’s daughter said, ‘Mother, I can’t think what thee and Mary Ann have got to talk about so much.’ To which Mrs. Evans replied, ‘Well, my dear, I don’t know what she wants, but she gets me to tell her all about my life and my religious experience, and she puts it all down in a little book. I can’t make out what she wants it for.’ While at Wirksworth, Miss Evans made a note of everything people said in her hearing; no matter who was speaking, down it went into the note-book, which seemed never out of her hand. These notes she transcribed every night before going to rest. After her departure Mrs. Evans said to her daughter, ‘Oh dear, Mary Ann has got one thing I did not mean her to take away, and that is the notes of the first sermon I preached on Ellaston Green.’ The sermon preached by Dinah on Hayslope Green has been recognized as one of Mrs. Evans’s.” The purpose here seems to be to convey the impression that George Eliot actually carried away one of Mrs. Evans’s sermons, and that she afterwards copied it into _Adam Bede_. George Eliot’s own positive statement on this subject ought to be sufficient to convince any candid mind the sermon was not copied. The evidence brought forward so far in regard to the relations of Dinah Morris to Elizabeth Evans is not sufficient to prove the one was taken from the other. George Eliot’s declarations, written soon after _Adam Bede_ was published, when all was perfectly fresh in her mind, and after her relatives had made their statements about Mrs. Evans, ought to settle the matter forever. Unless new and far more positive evidence is brought forward, Dinah Morris ought to be regarded as substantially an original creation.

That some features of Elizabeth Evans’s character were sketched into that of Dinah Morris seems certain. It is also said that the names of Mrs. Poyser and Bartle Massey were the names of actual persons, the latter being the schoolmaster of her father. As showing her power of local coloring, Miss Mathilde Blind relates this incident: “On its first appearance, _Adam Bede_ was read aloud to an old man, an intimate associate of Robert Evans in his Staffordshire days. This man knew nothing concerning either author or subject beforehand, and his astonishment was boundless on recognizing so many friends and incidents of his own youth portrayed with unerring fidelity, he sat up half the night listening to the story in breathless excitement, now and then slapping his knees as he exclaimed, ‘That’s Robert, that’s Robert, to the life.'”

In _Adam Bede_, as well as in the _Clerical Scenes_ and _The Mill on the Floss_, she describes types of character instead of actual personages; and yet so much of the realistic is embodied that more than one of her characters has been identified as being in a considerable degree a sketch from life. This is true of _The Mill on the Floss_ even more fully than of her previous books. In Maggie she has portrayed one side of her own character, and made use of much of her early experience. Lucy is said to be her sister, and two of her aunts are sketched in the aunts of Maggie–Mrs. Glegg and Mrs. Pullett. Her brother recognized the minute faithfulness of this story, as he did that of _Adam Bede_. The town of St. Ogg’s is a good description of the tide-water town of Gainesborough in Lincolnshire. The Hayslope of _Adam Bede_ has been identified as the village of Ellaston, four miles from Ashbourne, in Derbyshire. It is near Wirksworth, the home of Elizabeth Evans.

The local exactness of George Eliot’s descriptions is another evidence of her realism. “It is not unlikely,” suggests Mr. Kegan Paul, “that the time will come when with one or other of her books in their hand, people will wander among the scenes of George Eliot’s early youth, and trace each allusion, as they are wont to do at Abbotsford or Newstead, and they will recognize the photographic minuteness and accuracy with which these scenes, so long unvisited, had stamped themselves on the mind of the observant girl.” The historical setting of her novels is also faithful in even minute details. The time of “Mr. Gilfil’s Love Story” is at the beginning of the last quarter of the eighteenth century, and it well describes the country customs of the earlier years of the present century. _Adam Bede_ describes the first decade of the present century, while _Silas Marner_ is a little later. With “Amos Barton,” and _The Mill on the Floss_ we are in the second decade of the century, before hand-looms had gone out or railroads had come in. She has a fondness for these days of rustic simplicity, quiet habits and homely disingenuousness, and she more than once expresses a doubt if much has been gained by the introduction of machinery, suffrage and culture. She regrets that–

Human advancement has no moments when conservative reforming intellect takes a nap, while imagination does a little toryism by the sly, revelling in regret that dear old brown, crumbling, picturesque inefficiency is everywhere giving place to sick-and-span, new-painted, new-varnished efficiency, which will yield endless diagrams, plans, elevations and sections; but, alas! no picture. Mine, I fear, is not a well-regulated mind: it has an occasional tenderness for old abuses; it lingers with a certain fondness over the days of nasal clerks and top-booted parsons, and has a sigh for the departed shades of vulgar errors. [Footnote: Amos Barton, chapter I.]

In _Adam Bede_, when describing a leisurely walk home from church in the good old days, she bursts out again into enthusiastic praise of the time before there was so much advancement and culture.

Surely all other leisure is hurry compared with a sunny walk through the fields from “afternoon church”–as such walks used to be in those old leisurely times when the boat, gliding sleepily along the canal, was the newest locomotive wonder; when Sunday books had most of them old brown leather covers, and opened with a remarkable precision always in one place. Leisure is gone–gone where the spinning-wheels are gone, and the pack-horses and the slow wagons and the pedlers who brought bargains to the door on sunny afternoons. Ingenious philosophers tell you, perhaps, that the great work of the steam-engine is to create leisure for mankind. Do not believe them; it only creates a vacuum for eager thought to rush in. Even idleness is eager now–eager for amusement; prone to excursion trains, art museums, periodical literature and exciting novels; prone even to scientific theorizing and cursory peeps through microscopes. Old Leisure was quite a different personage; he only read one newspaper, innocent of leaders, and was free from that “periodicity of sensations which we call post-time. He was a contemplative, rather stout gentleman, of excellent digestion–of quiet perceptions, undiseased by hypothesis, happy in his inability to know the causes of things, preferring the things themselves. He lived chiefly in the country, among pleasant seats and homesteads, and was fond of sauntering by the fruit-tree wall, and scenting the apricots when they were warmed by the morning sunshine, or of sheltering himself under the orchard boughs at noon when the summer pears were falling. He