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

knew nothing of week-day services, and thought none the worse of the Sunday sermon if it allowed him to sleep from the text to the blessing–liking the afternoon service best, because the prayers were the shortest, and not ashamed to say so; for he had an easy, jolly conscience, broad-backed like himself, and able to carry a great deal of beer or port wine–not being made squeamish by doubts and qualms and lofty aspirations. Life was not a task to him, but a sinecure; he fingered the guineas in his pocket, and ate his dinners and slept the sleep of the irresponsible; for had he not kept up his charter by going to church on the Sunday afternoon? Fine old Leisure! Do not be severe upon him and judge him by our modern standard; he never went to Exeter Hall, or heard a popular preacher, or read _Tracts for the Times_ or _Sartor Resartus_.” [Footnote: Adam Bede, chapter LII.]

Her faithfulness to the life she describes is seen in her skilful use of dialect. The sense of local coloring is greatly heightened by the dialogues which speak the language of the people portrayed. When Luke describes his rabbits as _nesh_ things, and Mrs. Jerome says little _gells_ should be seen and not heard, and Tommy Trounsom mentions his readiness to pick up a _chanch_ penny, we are brought closer to the homely life of these people. She has so well succeeded, in Mr. Carson’s words, in portraying “what they call the dileck as is spoke hereabout,” the reader is enabled to realize, as he could not so well do by any other method, the homeliness and rusticity of the life presented.

George Eliot has not attempted a great variety in the use of dialect, for she has avoided unfamiliar words, and has made use of no expressions which would puzzle her readers in the attempt to understand them. The words not to be found in the dictionary are those which may in almost every instance be heard in the speech of the uncultured wherever the English language is spoken. Among others are these words: chapellin’, chanch, coxy, corchey, dawnin’, fettle, franzy, gell, megrim, nattering, nesh, overrun, queechy, plash. In a letter to Professor Skeats, published in the _Transactions of the English_ _Dialect Society_, she has explained her methods of using dialect.

It must be borne in mind that my inclination to be as close as I could to the rendering of dialect, both in words and spelling, was constantly checked by the artistic duty of being generally intelligible. But for that check I should have given a stronger color to the dialogue in _Adam Sede_, which is modelled on the talk of North Staffordshire and the neighboring part of Derbyshire. The spelling, being determined by my own ear alone, was necessarily a matter of anxiety, for it would be as possible to quarrel about it as about the spelling of Oriental names. The district imagined as the scene of _Silas Marner_ is in North Warwickshire; but here, and in all my other presentations of English life except _Adam Bede_, it has been my intention to give the general physiognomy rather than a close portraiture of the provincial speech as I have heard it in the Midland or Mercian region. It is a just demand that art should keep clear of such specialties as would make it a puzzle for the larger part of its public; still, one is not bound to respect the lazy obtuseness or snobbish ignorance of people who do not care to know more of their native tongue than the vocabulary of the drawing-room and the newspaper.

It may be said of George Eliot’s realism that she did not borrow nearly so much from actual observation as was done by Charlotte Bronte, in whose novels, scenes, persons and events are described with great accuracy and fulness. In large measure Charlotte Bronte borrowed her materials from the life about her. Large as was her invention, original as her mind was, and unique in its thought, yet she seems to have been unable to create the plots of her novels without aid from real events and persons. Persons and scenes and events were so vividly portrayed in _Jane Eyre_ as to be at once recognized, subjecting the author to much annoyance and mortification. In _Shirley_ there is even a larger use of local traditions and manners, the locality of the story being described with great accuracy. George Eliot did not use such materials to nearly so great an extent, being far less dependent on them. Nor had she anything of Scott’s need of local traditions. Accurate as she is, she creates her own story, not depending, as he did, on the suggestive help of the stories of the past. Few of his novels are the entire creations of his own mind; but he used every hint and suggestion he could find as the basis of his work. In this, George Eliot is no more a realist than either of her great predecessors. Even Goldsmith and Fielding were no more creative and original than she, for they depended as much as she on the occurrences of real life for their plots. All genuine novelists have drawn their materials from the life about them, and they could not attain success otherwise. All depends, however, on how the material thus used is made to bear its results. If Charlotte Bronte borrowed more from actual life of event and scenery, yet she was not more a realist; rather her power lies in something higher than realism, in that subtle insight and creative power which gives originality to her work. She was an idealist keeping close to the actual; and in this fact is to be found her superiority to George Eliot in certain directions. George Eliot studied life accurately and intimately, but she did not tie herself to any individual occurrences or persons. She had so absorbed the spirit of the life amidst which she lived, as to give a true expression to it under an almost purely fictitious garb.

There is less of distinct teaching in the _Scenes of Clerical Life_ than in George Eliot’s later novels. Yet even in these earlier stories there is to be found many a clear indication of her thought. In “Amos Barton” she has especially set forth her sympathy with humble life. This fundamental canon of her art is presented more distinctly in this story, and dwelt upon more fully, than in any of her subsequent novels. It would be difficult to discover any special teaching in “Mr. Gilfil’s Love Story;” and this is perhaps the only production of George Eliot’s pen which has not some distinct object beyond the telling of the story itself. The religious motif is strong in _Janet’s Repentance_, and not to be mistaken by any attentive reader who now for the first time takes up the story. The value of religion as a reforming force is plainly inculcated, as well as that the main and only value of that force is altruistic. It presents a fine picture of the Evangelical movement and its work, though mainly on its humanitarian side. Its deeper spirit of devotion, its loftier religious ideal, its craving after a more intimate realization of the divine presence, is not portrayed. The real purport of the story is contained in its closing words, where the reader is told that the true memorial left behind him by Edgar Tryan is to be found in a life saved to all noble thing’s by his efforts.

It is Janet Dempster, rescued from self-despair, strengthened with divine hopes, and now looking back on years of purity and helpful labor. The man who has left such a memorial behind him must have been one whose heart beat with true compassion, and whose lips were moved by fervent faith.

These _Scenes of Clerical Life_ surpass all George Eliot’s later novels in one respect–their pathos. _Adam Bede_ comes nearer them in this particular than any of the later works, but even that novel does not equal them in their power to lay hold of feeling and sympathy and in moving the reader to tears. They differ greatly in this respect from another short story, written only a few years later, entitled “Brother Jacob.” This story has more of light banter in it than any other novel of George Eliot’s, and less of tenderness and pathos. It is but another lesson on her great theme of _retribution_. The author says in the last sentence of the story that “we see in it an admirable instance of the unexpected forms in which the great Nemesis hides herself.” The central thought of the story is, that even in the lives of the most ordinary persons, and in the case of even the smallest departures from the right, there is a power of retribution at work bringing us an unfailing punishment for the evil we do.

The literary excellences of the _Scenes from Clerical Life_ are many. They are simple, charming stories, full of life, and delightful in tone. Their humor is rare and effective, never coarse, but racy and touching. Their tenderness of tone lays warm hold upon the reader’s sympathies and brings him closer to the throbbing hearts of his fellow-men. There is a pure idyllic loveliness and homelikeness about these stories that is exquisite. They all evidently grew out of the tender memories and associations of George Eliot’s girlhood.

In _Adam Bede_ the author’s purpose is concentrated on character and the moral unfoldment of the lives she describes, while the thorough dramatic unity is lacking which such a work demands. It is a delightful picture of country life, and for idyllic loveliness is scarcely equalled, never surpassed, in English literature. The charm of the narrative is only rivalled by the deep human interest the characters have for us. This exquisite picture of rural life is not merely a piece of fine painting; but the deepest problems, the largest human interests, ever appear as a perpetual background of spiritual reality, giving a sublimity to the whole that truly dignifies it. The thoughtful reader soon finds this inweaving of a larger purpose adding greatly to the idyllic loveliness of these scenes. The moral tone is clear and earnest, and the religious element gives a charm and nobility to this delightful picture of rustic simplicity.

_Adam Bede_ has probably delighted a larger number of her readers than any other of George Eliot’s books, and even a majority of her critics prefer it to any other. It at once arrests and fixes the attention of the reader. The first chapter has an immediate interest in its wonderful picture of Adam, and its most vivid description of the workshop. The second chapter, with its account of Dinah Morris and her preaching, leaves no possibility of doubt about the genius and power of the book. The reader is brought at once face to face with scenes and persons that act as enchantment on him; and this complete absorption of interest never flags to the end. The elements of this fascination, which is in itself so simple, natural and human, have been pointed out by various critics. They are to be found in the homeliness, pathos and naturalness of the whole story from beginning to end. Little as the critics have noted it, however, much of this fascination comes of the high and pure moral tone of the story, its grasp on the higher motives and interests of life, and its undertone of yearning after a religious motive and ideal adequate to all the problems of human destiny. This religious motive is indeed more than a yearning, for it is a fixed and self-contained confidence in altruism, expressed in sympathy and feeling and pathos most tender and passionate. This novel is full of an eager desire to realize to men their need of each other, and of longing to show them how much better and happier the world would be if we were more sympathetic and had more of fellow-feeling. Life is full of suffering, and this can be lessened only as we help and love each other, only as we can make our feelings so truly tender as to feel the sorrows of others as our own, causing us to live for the good of those who suffer. It is said of Adam Bede that–

He had too little fellow-feeling with the weakness that errs in spite of foreseen consequences. Without this fellow-feeling, how are we to get enough patience and charity toward our stumbling, falling companions in the long and changeful journey? And there is but one way in which a strong determined soul can learn it–by getting his heart-strings bound round the weak and erring, so that he must share not only the outward consequence of their error but their inward suffering.

This compassion for human suffering is conspicuous throughout, and it is regarded as the most effective means of binding men together in common sympathy and helpfulness. Sorrow is regarded as the true means of man’s elevation, as that purifying agent which is indispensable to his true development. This teaching is fully depicted in the chapter headed “The Hidden Dread,” and in which Hetty’s flight is described. We are told in that chapter that this looks like a very bright world on the surface, but that as we look closer within man’s nature we find sorrow and pain untold.

What a glad world this looks like, as one drives or rides along the valleys and over the hills! I have often thought so when, in foreign countries, where the fields and woods have looked to me like our English Loamshire: the rich land tilled with just as much care, the woods rolling down the gentle slopes to the green meadows–I have come on something by the roadside which has reminded me that I am not in Loamshire–an image of a great agony–the agony of the Cross. It has stood, perhaps, by the clustering apple-blossoms, or in the broad sunshine by the cornfield, or at a turning by the wood where a clear brook was gurgling below; and surely, if there came a traveller to this world who knew nothing of the story of man’s life upon it, this image of agony would seem to him strangely out of place in the midst of this joyous nature. He would not know that hidden behind the apple-blossoms, or among the golden corn, or under the shrouding boughs of the wood, there might be a human heart beating heavily with anguish–perhaps a young blooming girl, not knowing where to turn for refuge from swift-advancing shame; understanding no more of this life of ours than a foolish lost lamb, wandering farther and farther in the nightfall on the lonely heath, yet tasting the bitterest of life’s bitterness. Such things are sometimes hidden among the sunny fields and behind the blossoming orchards; and the sound of the gurgling brook, if you came close to one spot behind a small bush, would be mingled for your ear with a despairing human sob. No wonder man’s religion has much sorrow in it; no wonder he needs a Suffering God.

The remedy for this sorrow, even in the pages of _Adam Bede_, is not the atoning love of Christ or the blessedness of a divine forgiveness, but the altruistic compassion of man for man. There is, however, a, deeper recognition in this novel of Christian belief than in any other by George Eliot. The prayer and sermon of Dinah Morris have a truly Christian tone and thought. This is not the case with the teachings of Savonarola, who is always much more an altruist than a Christian, and into whose mouth Christian phrases are put, while it is very evident the Christian spirit in its wholeness was not put into his heart. Sorrow and suffering are regarded in _Adam Bede_ as the means of baptism into a larger life of sympathy, as the means of purification from selfishness and individual aims. Along with this teaching goes the cognate one, that feeling is the true test of the religious life. A feeling that draws us close to others in helpfulness is worth more than knowledge, culture and refinement of taste.

The doctrine of retribution is presented as distinctly and positively in _Adam Bede_ as in any subsequent book George Eliot wrote. It is given the form of distinct statement, and it is developed fully in the working out of the plot. Parson Irwine speaks the thought of the author in these words:

“There is no sort of wrong deed of which a man can bear the punishment alone; you can’t isolate yourself, and say that the evil which is in you shall not spread. Men’s lives are as thoroughly blended with each other as the air they breathe; evil spreads as necessarily as disease. I know, I feel the terrible extent of suffering this sin of Arthur’s has caused to others; but so does every sin cause suffering to others besides those who commit it.”

The tendency of selfishness and wrong to develop misery is fully unfolded. The terrible law of moral cause and effect is made apparent throughout the whole work. The folly of Arthur and the vanity of Hetty work them terrible consequences of evil and bitterness. Many others are made to suffer with them. The fatal Nemesis is unmasked in these revelations of human nature.

If the critics are right in pronouncing _Adam Bede_ artistically defective, it is not difficult to see that there is still less of unity in _The Mill on the Floss_. Unconnected and unnecessary scenes and persons abound, while the Tulliver and Dodson families, and their stupidities, are described at a tedious length. Yet the picture of child-life given here compensates for all we might complain of in other directions. Maggie is an immortal child, wonderfully drawn, out of the very heart of nature herself. Her joy in life, her doubts and fears, her conflicts with self, are delineated with a master’s hand, and justify–such is their faithfulness to child-life–the supposition that this is George Eliot’s own childhood, so delicate and penetrating is the insight of this description, Swinburne has justly said that “no man or woman, outside the order of poets, has ever written of children with such adorable fidelity of affection as the spiritual mother of Totty, Eppie and of Lillo.” Nor have the poets surpassed her in truthfulness to child-life and intuitive insight into child-nature. The child Maggie is unsurpassed, not as an ideal being, but as a living child that plays in the dirt, tears her frocks, and clips her hair in an hour of childish anger.

In this novel we first come distinctly upon another element in the writings of George Eliot, and this is a yearning after a fuller, larger life. It does not appear as distinctly developed in _Adam Bede_, where there is more of poise and repose. Maggie represents the restless spirit of the nineteenth century, intense dissatisfaction with self, and a profoundly human passion for something higher and diviner. A passionate restlessness and a profound spiritual hunger are united in this novel to an eager desire for a deeper and fuller life, and for a satisfactory answer to the soul’s spiritual thirst. The spiritual repose of Dinah, who has found all the religious cravings of her nature satisfied in Methodism, is abandoned for the inward yearning of Maggie, whose passionate search for spiritual truth ends in disaster.

No other of George Eliot’s books has been so severely criticised as this one, except _Daniel Deronda_, and mainly because of Maggie. The apparent fall of the heroine, and the crude tragedy of the ending, have been regarded as serious defects. The moral tone and purpose have been severely condemned. In his essays on foul and fair fiction, Ruskin puts _The Mill on the Floss_ into that class of novels which describe life’s blotches, burrs and pimples, and calls it “the most striking instance extant of this study of cutaneous disease.” He says the personages are picked up from behind the counter and out of the gutter, and he finds “there is not a single person in the book of the smallest importance to anybody in the world but themselves, or whose qualities deserved so much as a line of printer’s type in their description.” To the same effect is Swinburne’s criticism of Maggie’s relations to Stephen Guest. He calls it “the hideous transformation by which Maggie is debased.” He says that most of George Eliot’s admirers would regard this as “the highest and the purest and the fullest example of her magnificent and matchless powers. The first two thirds of the book suffice to compose perhaps the very noblest of tragic as well as of humorous prose idyls in the language; comprising one of the sweetest as well as saddest and tenderest, as well as subtlest examples of dramatic analysis–a study in that kind as soft and true as Rousseau’s, as keen and true as Browning’s, as full as either’s of the fine and bitter sweetness of a pungent and fiery fidelity. But who can forget the horror of inward collapse, the sickness of spiritual re-action, the reluctant, incredulous rage of disenchantment and disgust, with which he came upon the thrice-unhappy third part? The two first volumes have all the intensity and all the perfection of George Sand’s best work, tempered by all the simple purity and interfused with all the stainless pathos of Mrs. Gaskell’s; they carry such affluent weight of thought, and shine with such warm radiance of humor, as invigorates and illuminates the work of no other famous woman; they have the fiery clarity of crystal or of lightning; they go near to prove a higher claim and attest a clearer right on the part of their author than that of George Sand herself to the crowning crown of praise conferred on her by the hand of a woman ever greater and more glorious than either in her sovereign gift of lyric genius, to the salutation given as by an angel indeed from heaven, of ‘large-brained woman and large-hearted man.'” In the momentary lapse of Maggie, Swinburne finds a fatal defect, which no subsequent repentance atones for. He says that “here is the patent flaw, here too plainly is the flagrant blemish, which defaces and degrades the very crown and flower of George Eliot’s wonderful and most noble work; no rent or splash on the raiment, but a cancer in the very bosom, a gangrene in the very flesh. It is a radical and mortal plague-spot, corrosive and incurable.”

Such criticism has little if any value, because there is no point of sympathy between the critic and his author. That real life contains such errors as Maggie’s cannot be doubted, and George Eliot wished to paint no ideal scenes or heroines. To portray a passionate, eager, yearning nature, full of poetry, longing for a diviner spiritual life, surrounded by dull and unpoetic conditions and persons, was her purpose. That the hunger of such a person for the expression of her inward cravings for joy, music and beauty should lead her astray and make a sudden lapse possible, is not to be doubted. The fault of the critics is in supposing that this lapse from moral conduct was that of a physical depravity. Maggie’s passion grew wholly out of that inward yearning for a fuller life which made all her difficulties. It was not physical passion but spiritual craving; and in the purpose of the novelist she was as pure after as before.

The cause of what must be regarded as the great defect in _The Mill on the Floss_ is not that George Eliot chose to paint life in a diseased state, but that she had not the power to make her characters act what they themselves were. While the delightful inward portraiture of Maggie is in process all are charmed with her, her soul is as pure and sweet as a rose new-blown; but when the time arrives for her to act as well as to meditate and to dream, she is not made equal to herself. Through all her books this is true, that George Eliot can describe a soul, but she cannot make her men and women act quite up to the facts of daily life. In this way Dinah and Adam are not equal to themselves, and settle down to a prosaic life such as is not in keeping with that larger action of which they were capable. George Eliot’s characters are greater than their deeds; their inward life is truer and more rounded than their outward life is pure and noble.

_The Mill on the Floss_ fully develops George Eliot’s conception of the value of self-renunciation in the life of the individual, and gives a new emphasis to her ideas about the importance of the spiritual life as an element in true culture. It has been said that she intended to indicate the nature of physiological attraction between men and women, and how large an influence it has; but whether that was an aim of hers or not, she undoubtedly did attempt to indicate how altogether important is renunciation to a life of true development, how difficult it is to attain, and that it is the vital result of all human endeavor. She surrounded a tender, sensitive, musical and poetic soul, one quick to catch the tone of a higher spiritual faith, with the common conditions of ordinary social life, to show how such an “environment” cripples and retards a soul full of aspiration and capable of the best things. Maggie saw the way to the light, but the way was hard, beset with difficulties individual and social, and she could neither overcome herself nor the world. She was taken suddenly away, and the novel comes to a hasty conclusion, because the author desired to indicate the causes of spiritual danger to ardent souls, and not to inculcate a formula for their relief. Maggie had learned how difficult it is for the individual to make for himself a new way in life, how benumbing are the conditions of ordinary human existence; and through her death we are to learn that in such difficulties as hers there is no remedy for the individual. Only through the mediation of death could Maggie be reconciled to those she had offended; death alone could heal the social wounds she had made, and restore her as an accepted and ennobled member of the corporate existence of humanity. This seems to be the idea underlying the hurried conclusion of this novel, that the path of renunciation once truly entered on, brings necessarily such difficulties as only death can overcome; and death does overcome them when those we have loved and those we have helped, forget what seem to them our wrong deeds in the loving memories which follow the dead. Over the grave men forget all that separated them from others, and the living are reconciled to those who can offend them no more. All that was good and pure and loving is then made to appear, and memory glorifies the one who in life was neglected or hated. Through death Maggie was restored to her brother, and over her grave came perfect reconciliation with those others from whom she had been alienated. That renunciation may lead to cruel martyrdoms is what George Eliot means; but she would say it has its lofty recompense in that restoration which death brings, when the individual becomes a part of the spiritual influence which surrounds and guides us all. For those who can accept such a conclusion as this the unity of the novel may seem complete.

The poetry of Maggie’s nature found itself constantly dragged down to conditions of vulgar prose by the life about her. That life was prosy and hard because those ideal aims which come from a recognition of the past and its traditions were absent from it. Maggie tried to overcome them by renunciation, but by renunciation which did not rest on any genuine sorrow and pain. At last these came, and the real meaning of renunciation was made clear to her. Her bitter sorrow taught her the great lesson which George Eliot ever strives to inculcate, that what is hard, sorrowful and painful in the world should move us to more and more of compassion and help for our fellows who also find life sad and burdensome. At the last Maggie learned this greatest of all lessons which life can give us.

She sat quite still far on into the night, with no impulse to, change her attitude, without active force enough even for the mental act of prayer–only waiting for the light that would surely come again. It came with the memories that no passion could long quench: the long past came back to her, and with it the fountains of self-renouncing pity and affection, of faithfulness and resolve. The words that were marked by the quiet hand in the little old book that she had long ago learned by heart, rushed even to her lips, and found a vent for themselves in a low murmur that was quite lost in the loud driving of the rain against the window, and the loud moan and roar of the wind: “I have received the Cross, I have received it from Thy hand; I will bear it, and bear it till death, as Thou hast laid it upon me.”

But soon other words rose that could find no utterance but in a sob: “Forgive me, Stephen. It will pass away. You will come back to her.”

She took up the letter, held it to the candle, and let it burn slowly on the hearth. To-morrow she would write to him the last word of parting.

“I will bear it, and bear it till death… But how long it will be before death comes! I am so young, so healthy. How shall I have patience and strength? Am I to struggle and fall, and repent again? Has life other trials as hard for me still?” With that cry of self-despair Maggie fell on her knees against the table, and buried her sorrow-stricken face. Her soul went out to the Unseen Pity that would be with her to the end. Surely there was something being taught her by this experience of great need, and she must be learning a secret of human tenderness and long-suffering that the less erring could hardly know. “O God, if my life is to be long, let me live to bless and comfort–”

Then the flood came, and death. Maggie could repent, she could acquire the true spirit of renunciation, she could even give herself to a life of altruism; but death only could restore her to the world. Death, says George Eliot, is the great reconciler.

_Silas Marner_ is the only one of these earlier novels in which there is a continuous unity of purpose and action. Its several parts are thoroughly wrought into each other, the aim of the narrative is adhered to throughout, and there are no superfluous incidents. The plot is simple, cause and effect flow on steadily to the end in the unfoldment of character and action, and the design of the author is easily grasped. One of her critics, himself a novelist of a high order, has said that in its unity of purpose and dramatic expression _Silas Marner_ is more nearly a masterpiece than any other of George Eliot’s novels; “it has more of that simple, rounded, consummate aspect, that absence of loose ends and gaping issues, which marks a classical work.” [Footnote: Henry James, Jr.] In this novel, too, her humor flows out with a richer fulness, a racier delight and a more sparkling variety of expression than in any other book of hers, not excepting _Adam Bede_. She has here reached the very height of her qualities as a humorist, for in _Silas Marner_ her humor is constantly genial and delightful.

Certain ethical ideas appear very distinctly in this novel. It illustrates man’s need of social ties and connections. Silas forsook his old life, the life of his childhood and youth, and the world was a blank for him in consequence. With the sundering of the ties which bound him to the traditional environment amidst which he was reared, all the purpose and meaning of his life was gone. The old ties, obligations and associations gone, his life was without anchorage, its ideal aims perished, and he lived a selfish and worthless creature. When new social ties were formed by the young child he found then his life opened up to a larger meaning again, and he recovered the better things in his nature. He was then led back again into his relations to society, he became once more a man, a fresh life was opened to him. This brought a new confidence in religion, a new trust in the moral motives of life. In this way George Eliot presents the social basis of the higher life in man, and her theory that it cannot be broken off from its traditional surroundings without grave injury to the finer elements of our nature. The law of retribution manifests itself clearly in these pages. Godfrey deserts wife and child. In after years he would fain restore the child to its rightful place, but he finds it has grown up under conditions which alienate it from any sympathy with him. He pronounces his own condemnation:

“There’s debts we can’t pay like money debts, by paying extra for the years that have slipped by. While I’ve been putting off and putting off, the trees have been growing–it’s too late now. Marner was in the right in what he said about a man’s turning away a blessing from his door: it falls to somebody else. I wanted to pass for childless once, Nancy–I shall pass for childless now against my wish.”

A pure moral tone, a keen ethical instinct, mark all these earlier novels by George Eliot. Quite as noticeable is their spiritual atmosphere and their high place assigned to the religious life. Their teaching in these directions has a conservative tendency, and it is based on the most vigorous convictions.



Whatever differences there may exist between George Eliot’s earlier and later books are due rather to the materials used than to any change in purpose, methods or beliefs. In writing of the distinction drawn between her earlier and later books, she said,–

Though I trust there is some growth in my appreciation of others and in my self-distrust, there has been no change in the point of view from which I regard our life since I wrote my first fiction, the _Scenes of Clerical Life_. Any apparent change of spirit must be due to something of which I am unconscious. The principles which are at the root of my effort to paint Dinah Morris are equally at the root of my effort to paint Mordecai.

Her later books grow more out of conscious effort and deliberate study than the earlier, are more carefully wrought out, and contain less of spontaneity. The spiritual and ethical purpose, however, is not more distinct and conscious in _Daniel Deronda_ than in _The Mill on the Floss_, in _Romola_ than in _Adam Bede_. The ethical purpose may be more apparent in _Daniel Deronda_ than in _Adam Bede_, more on the surface, and clearer to the view of the general reader, but this is because it takes an unusual form, rather than because it is really any more distinctly present. In _The Mill on the Floss_ her teaching first became known to her readers, and in _Romola_ this purpose to use the novel as the vehicle for propagating ideas became fully apparent. Her aim having once come clearly to view, it was not difficult to see how large an element it was in her earlier books, where it had not been seen before. If she had written nothing but _Adam Bede_ her teachings might not have come to light, though some of those she has most often insisted on are to be found clearly stated in that book. Her doctrinal aim, however, became more clear and pronounced as she went on in her career as a novelist, and became more thoroughly conscious of her own powers and of the purposes which she wished to work out in her novels. She gained courage to express her ideas, and their importance was more deeply impressed upon her mind and heart.

In _Romola_ it was first made clear that George Eliot is to be judged as a moralist as well as a literary artist. That she is a great literary artist, surpassed only by a select few, is to be borne constantly in mind; but as a moralist she surpasses most others in the amount of her teaching, and teaching which is thoroughly incorporated into the literary fibre of her work. She much resembles Wordsworth in this, that while she is an original creator of artistic forms and ideas, her books will be sought for their views of life as well for their qualities as novels. Wordsworth is a poet of vast original powers, but the poetic fire in him often burns low and his verses become mere prose. Yet his ideas about nature, life and morals command for him a place higher than that occupied by any other poet of his time, and a school of thinkers and critics has been developed through his influence. In much the same way, George Eliot is likely to attract attention because of her teachings; and it is probable her books will be resorted to and interpreted largely with reference to her moral and philosophical ideas. Should such a movement as this ever spring up, _Romola_ will necessarily become one of the most important of all her books. Some of her principal ideas appear therein more distinctly, in clearer outline, and with a greater fulness of expression, than they obtain in any other of her books. The foreign setting of her story enabled her to give a larger utterance to her thoughts, while there was less of personal and pathetic interest to impede their expression. This is also true of _The Spanish Gypsy_, that it has more of teaching and less of merely literary attraction than any other of her longer poems. The purpose to do justice to the homely life of rustic England was no longer present, and she was free to give her intellectual powers a deliberate expression in the form of a thoughtful interpretation of a great historic period. Mr. Henry James, Jr., has recognized the importance of this effort, and says of _Romola_, that he regards it, “on the whole, as decidedly the most important of her works,–not the most entertaining nor the most readable, but the one in which the largest things are attempted and grasped. The figure of Savonarola, subordinate though it is, is a figure on a larger scale than any which George Eliot has elsewhere undertaken; and in the career of Tito Melema there is a fuller representation of the development of a character. Considerable as are our author’s qualities as an artist, and largely as they are displayed in _Romola_, the book is less a work of art than a work of morals. Like all of George Eliot’s works, its dramatic construction is feeble; the story drags and halts,–the setting is too large for the picture.”

The book lacks in spontaneity, is too deliberate, contemplative and ethical. While its artistic elements are great, and even powerful, it is too consciously moral in its purpose to satisfy the literary requirements of a work of art. It wants the sensuous elements of life and the _abandon_ of poetic genius. There is little which is sensational about the book; too little, perhaps, of that vivid imaginative interest which impels the reader headlong through the pages of a novel to the end. It is, however, a high merit in George Eliot, that she does not resort to factitious elements of interest in her books, but works honestly, conscientiously, and with a pure purpose. If the reader is not drawn on by the sensational, he is amply repaid by the more deliberate and natural interest which gives a meaning to every chapter.

George Eliot selected for her book one of the most striking and picturesque periods of modern history, in the great centre of culture and art in the fifteenth century. Florence was the intellectual capital of the world in the renaissance period, and the truest representative of its spirit. It was the time also of that remarkable monk-prophet, Savonarola, whose voice was raised so powerfully against the corruptions of that most corrupt age. This unique character, doubtless, had much to do in causing George Eliot to take this city and time for her story. No one of the reformers of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries was more in earnest, had a loftier purpose, worked in a nobler spirit, than this Dominican monk of Florence. His opposition to the Medici, his conflict with Rome, his visions and prophecies, his leadership of the politics of Florence, his powerful preaching, his untimely death, all give a romantic and a tragic interest to his life, and conspire to make him one of the most interesting figures in modern history. His moral purpose was conspicuous even when tainted by personal ambition. His political influence was supreme while it lasted, and was wielded in the interests of Florence, for its liberties and its moral regeneration. As a religious teacher he was profoundly in earnest; a prophet in his own belief as well as in the depth of his religious insight, he accepted with the most thorough intensity of conviction the spiritual truths he inculcated. In his own belief he was constantly in communion with the spiritual world, and was guided and taught by it. He swayed the people of Florence as the wind sways the branches of a tree, and they bowed utterly to his will for the moment, when he put forth all his moral and intellectual powers in the pulpit. A puritan in morals, he had a most vivid realization of the terrible evils of his time; and he could make his congregation look at the world with his own faith and moral purpose. His influence on literature and art was also great, and it was felt for many years after his death.

Savonarola spoke in the pulpit with the authority of the profoundest personal conviction, and his hearers were impressed by his preaching with the feeling that they listened to one who knew whereof he spoke. Whenever he preached there was a crowd to hear; people came three or four hours before the time, and they came in throngs from the surrounding country. He held separate services for men, for women, for children, in order that all might hear. And this eagerness to listen to him was not for a few weeks, but it continued for years. The greatest enthusiasm was awakened by his influence, the people were melted into tears, every person listened with bated breath to his words. Thousands were converted, and among them many of the most learned of the poets, artists and statesmen of the time. The most remarkable changes in the modes of life took place, money was restored, and contributed freely to buy bread when famine threatened, and the confessional was daily crowded with penitents. One of his biographers says that “the most remarkable change that was apparent in the manners of the people, in their recreations and amusements, was the abandonment of demoralizing practices, of debauchery of all kinds, of profane songs of a licentious character which the lower grades of the people especially were greatly addicted to; and the growth of a new taste and passion for spiritual hymns and sacred poetry that had succeeded that depraved taste.”

On one side of his nature, Savonarola seems to have been of a remarkably pure and noble character, with high aims, noble ambitions and a clear moral insight. Looked at on its better side, his religious reformation was wholesome and salutary, and dictated by a genuine desire to elevate worship and to purify faith. There was a very different side to his life and work, however, and in some features of his character he seems to have been a fanatic and enthusiast of the most dangerous sort. He was credulous, superstitious and visionary. He had no clear, strong and well-reasoned purpose to which he could hold consistently to the end. An earnest Catholic, he only sought to reform the Church, not to supersede it; but his moral aims were not high enough to carry him to the logical results of his position. Involved by his visionary faith in claims of miraculous power and supernatural communication, he had not the intellectual honesty to carry those claims to their legitimate conclusion. Weakness, hesitation and inconsistency marked his character in his later years, and have made him a puzzle to modern students. These inconsistencies of character have led to widely divergent conclusions about the man, his sincerity of purpose and the outcome of his work.

Another influence of the time, more powerful because more permanent, was the renaissance movement, which was at this period working its greatest changes and inspiring the most fervid enthusiasm. A new world had been disclosed to the people of the fifteenth century in the revival of knowledge concerning classic literature and art, and there came to be an absorbing, passionate interest in whatever pertained to the ancients. Manuscripts were eagerly sought after, translations were diligently made, literature was modelled after the classic writers, to quote and to imitate the ancients became the habit of the day. A change the most striking was produced in the modes of thought and of life. The love of nature was revived, and with it a graceful abandonment to the dominion of the senses. Paganism seemed likely to return upon the world again and to reconquer from Christianity all that it had once lost. The pagan spirit revived, its tastes and modes of life came back again. Plato was restored to his old place, and in the minds of the cultured seemed worthier of homage than Christ. With such as Lorenzo Medici and his literary friends, Platonism was regarded as a religion.

The recovery of classic literature came to the men of this period as a revelation. It opened a new world to them, it operated upon them like a galvanic shock, it kindled the most fervid enthusiasms. It also had the effect to restore the natural side of life, to liberate men from a false spiritualism and an excessive idealism. From despising the human faculties, men came back to an acceptance of their dictation, and even to an animal delight in the senses and passions. The natural man was deified; but not in the manner of the Greeks, in simplicity and with a pure love of beauty. An artificial love of nature and the natural in man was the result of the renaissance; a hothouse culture and a corrupting moral development followed. Passion was given loose rein, the senses took every form of indulgence. Yet the Church was even worse, while many of the classic scholars were stoic in their moral purity and earnestness. This movement developed individualism in thought, a selfish moral aim, and intellectual arrogance. The men who came under its influence cared more for culture than for humanity, they were driven away from the common interests of their fellows by their new intellectual sympathies. It was the desire of Savonarola to restore the old Christian spirit of brotherhood and helpfulness. In this his movement was wide apart from that of the renaissance, which gave such tyrants as the Medici a justification for their deliberate attacks on the liberties of the people. He loved man, they loved personal development.

George Eliot shows these two influences in antagonism with each other; on the one hand a reforming Christianity, on the other the renaissance movement. She admirably contrasts them in their spirit and influence, though she by no means indicates all of the tendencies of either. Her purpose is not that of the historical novelist, who wishes simply to give a correct and living picture of the time wherein he lays his plot. She vises this portion of history because it furnishes an excellent opportunity to unfold her ideas about life, rather than because it gives an abundance of picturesque material to the novelist. Her primary object is not the interpretation of Florentine life in the time of Savonarola; and this subordination of the historical material must be kept fully in mind by the reader or he will be misled in his judgment on the book. It has well been said that the historical characters in _Romola_ are not so well sketched as the original creations. Savonarola is not so lifelike as Tito. She seems to have been cramped by the details of history; and she has not thoroughly conquered and marshalled subordinate to her thought the mass of local incidents she introduces. Her account of Savonarola is inadequate, because it does not enter fully enough into his history, and because it omits much which is necessary to a full understanding of the man and his influence.

So far as the book has an historical purpose it is that of describing the general life of the time rather than that of portraying Savonarola. Because of this purpose much is introduced into the story which is irrelevant to the plot itself. Not only did the author desire to contrast a man like Savonarola, led by the spirit of self-denial and renunciation, with one like Tito Melema led by the spirit of self-love and personal gratification; but she wished to contrast worldliness and spirituality, or individualism and altruism, as social forces. Lorenzo and the renaissance give one form of life, Savonarola and Christianity give another; and these two appear as affecting every class in society and every phase of the social order. To bring out this contrast requires a broad stage and many scenes. Much which seems quite irrelevant to the plot has its place in this larger purpose, and serves to bring out the final unity of impression which the author sought to produce. Nor is the purpose of the book merely that of contrasting two great phases of thought and of social influence, but rather to show them as permanent elements in human, nature and the nature of the effect which each produces.

_Romola_ demands for its thorough appreciation that the reader shall have a considerable acquaintance with Italian history in the fifteenth century and with the social and literary changes of that period. Whether it is read with a keen interest and relish will much depend on this previous information. To the mere novel-reader it may seem dull and too much encumbered by uninteresting learning. To one who is somewhat familiar with the renaissance period, and who can appreciate the ethical intention of the book, it will be found to be a work of genius and profound insight. It will help such a reader to a clearer comprehension of this period than he could well obtain in any other manner, and the ethical purpose will add a new and living interest to the story of Florentine life. He will be greatly helped to comprehend the moral and intellectual life of the time, with its–

strange web of belief and unbelief; of Epicurean levity and fetichistic dread; of pedantic impossible ethics uttered by rote, and crude passions acted out with childish impulsiveness; of inclination toward a self-indulgent paganism, and inevitable subjection to that human conscience which, in the unrest of a new growth, was filling the air with strange prophecies and presentiments. [Footnote: _Proem to Romola_.]

The artistic features of this period were many and striking, but George Eliot has not made so large a use of them as could have been wished; at least they appear in her book too much under the influence of historic information. She could not be content merely to absorb and reflect an historic period; but her active intellect, full of ideas concerning the causes of human changes, must give an explanation of what was before her. This philosophic tendency mars the artistic effect and blurs the picture which would otherwise have been given. Yet the critic must not be too sure of this, and he must be content simply to note that George Eliot was too energetic a thinker to be willing to portray the picturesque features of Florentine life in the fifteenth century and to do no more. She had at least three objects,–to give a picture of Florentine life in the fifteenth century, to show the influence of the renaissance in conflict with Christianity, and to inculcate certain ethical ideas about renunciation, tradition and moral retribution. While the book thus gains in breadth and in a certain massive impression which it produces, yet it loses in that concentration of effect which a more limited purpose would have secured. It gives the impression of having been written by a vigorous thinker rather than by a genius of the first order. The critic has no right to complain of this, however, or even to assume that genius might do other work than it has done. Had George Eliot been less thoughtful than she was, she would not have been George Eliot. _Romola_ grew out of a genius so large and original that it can well endure the criticisms caused by any defects it may have.

The ideas of the time appear subtly expressed in the influence they produce on the persons who entertain them. Savonarola’s mysticism and high moral purpose made him at once a prophet and a reformer, but he was not able to separate the spiritual realities of life from devotion to his party. His courage, purity and holiness cannot but be admired, while his fanaticism is to be deplored. George Eliot has well conceived and expressed the effect produced in all but the very greatest minds by the assumption of supernatural powers. Savonarola was strong and great as a preacher and a reformer, weak only on the side of his visions and his faith that his party represented the kingdom of God. Not that his visions were weak, nor are they assumed to be untrue; but his mysticism clouded his intellect, and his fanaticism led him to overlook the practical truths to be inculcated by a genuine reformer. He is a true type of the mystical churchman of the time, who saw the corruption about him and desired a better order of things, but who hoped to secure it by reviving the past in all its imagined supernatural features. He would have ruled the world by visions to be received by monks, and he would have made Jesus Christ the head of the republic. Yet his visions entangled his clear intellect and perverted his moral purpose.

On the other hand, Tito Melema was intended to represent the renaissance movement on its Greek, or its aesthetic and social side. He was not a bad man at heart, but he had no moral purpose, no ethical convictions. He had the Greek love of ease, enjoyment and unconcern for the morrow; a spirit which the renaissance revived in many of its literary devotees. He lived for the day, for self, in the delight of music, art, social intercourse and sensual enjoyment. He had the renaissance quickness of assuming all parts, its love of wide and pretentious learning, its superficial scholarship, its social and political deftness and flexibility. The dry, minute, unprofitable spirit of criticism is well indicated by Bardo Bardi, which had no originality and no fresh vitality, but which loved to comment on the classic writers at tedious length, and to collate passages for purposes the most foreign from any practical aim life could possibly afford. In the conception of Tito, George Eliot has quite surpassed herself, and in all literature there is no delineation of a character surpassing this. One of her critics says there is no character in her novels “more subtly devised or more consistently developed. His serpentine beauty, his winning graciousness, his aesthetic refinement, his masculine energy of intellect, his insinuating affectionateness, with his selfish love of pleasure and his cowardly recoil from pain, his subdulous serenity and treacherous calm, as of a faithless summer sea, make up a being that at once fascinates and repels, that invites love, but turns our love into loathing almost before we have given it.” [Footnote: Westminster Review, July, 1881.] Mr. R.H. Hutton has expressed his conviction that this is one of the most skilfully painted of all the characters in fictitious literature. He says, “A character essentially treacherous only because it is full of soft placid selfishness is one of the most difficult to paint;” but in sketching Tito’s career, “the same wonderful power is maintained throughout, of stamping on our imagination with the full force of a master hand a character which seems naturally too fluent for the artist’s purpose. There is not a more masterly piece of painting in English romance than this figure of Tito.”

Romola represents the divided interests of one who was affected by both the renaissance and Christianity. Brought up to know only what the renaissance had to teach, to delight in culture and to ignore religion, her contact with Savonarola opened a new world to her mind. Her experience in life led her to seek some deeper moral anchorage than was afforded by the culture of her father and husband, yet she could not follow Savonarola into the region of mystical visions and other-worldliness. Her life having broken loose from the ties of love through the faithlessness of Tito, and from the ties of tradition through the failure of culture to satisfy her heart, she drifts out into the world, to find, under the leadership of the great preacher, that life’s highest duty is renunciation. His influence over the noblest souls of his time is indicated in Romola’s trust in him, and in her acceptance of him as a master and a guide. When this guide failed, as all human guides must fail, she found peace in the service of others. In living for humanity, her sorrows were turned into strength, and her renunciation became a religion. It is Romola who represents George Eliot in this book, gives voice to her ideas, and who preaches the new gospel she would have the world learn. If Romola has her limitations as a conception of womanly character, is too “passionless and didactic,” yet she does admirably represent the influence on a thoughtful woman of a contention between culture and religion, and how such a person may gradually attain to a self-poised life in loving service toward others. She is not an ideal woman. She was given a character which prevents her being quite attractive, because she was made to represent ideas and social tendencies.

The altruistic doctrine of renunciation, and of living for others, is more fully developed in _Romola_ than in any other of George Eliot’s books except _The Mill on the Floss_. That the truest satisfaction life can afford is to be found in work done for human good is conspicuously shown in the experiences of Romola. She finds no peace as a follower of Savonarola, she finds no abiding content in philosophy; but toil for others among the sick, suffering and dying, brings heavenly joy and a great calm. She had no special love for this work, her early education had even made it repulsive; but Savonarola had shown her that in this direction lay life’s true aim. He communicated to her his own enthusiasm for humanity, and she retained this faith even after her loss of confidence in him had loosened her hold on his religious teachings. She went beyond her teacher and inspirer, learned his lessons better than he did himself, and came to see that a true religion is not of a sect or party, but humanitarian. When she warned him against his fanatical devotion to his party, he attempted to justify his narrow policy by identifying true Christianity with his own work, Romola replied,–

“Do you then know so well what will further the coming of God’s kingdom, father, that you will dare to despise the plea of mercy–of justice–of faithfulness to your own teaching? Take care, father, lest your enemies have some reason when they say that, in your visions of what will further God’s kingdom, you see only what will strengthen your own party.”

“And that is true!” said Savonarola, with flashing eyes. Romola’s voice had seemed to him in that moment the voice of his enemies. “The cause of my party _is_ the cause of God’s kingdom.”

“I do not believe it!” said Romola, her whole frame shaken with passionate repugnance. “God’s kingdom is something wider–else let me stand outside it with the beings that I love.”

The two faces were lit up, each with an opposite emotion, each with an opposite certitude. Further words were impossible. Romola hastily covered her head and went out in silence. [Footnote: Chapter LIX.]

Savonarola forgot the better spirit of his own teachings, he sought to become a political leader. It was his ruin, for his purpose was vitiated, and his influence waned. George Eliot well says that “no man ever struggled to retain power over a mixed multitude without suffering vitiation; his standard must be their lower needs, and not his own best insight.” This was the sad fate of the great Florentine preacher and reformer. He lost his faith, and he spoke without the moment’s conviction. When this result came about, all hope for Savonarola as a reformer was gone. He was then only the leader of a party. George Eliot has well painted the effect upon Romola of this fall, and given deep insight into the results of losing our trust in those great souls who have been our guides. All the ties of life had snapped for Romola; her marriage had proved a failure, her friend had become unworthy of her confidence; and she fled.

Romola went away, found herself in the midst of a plague-stricken people, gave her life to an assuagement of suffering and sorrow. Then she could come back to her home purified, calm and noble. In the “Epilogue,” we find her speaking the word which gives meaning to the whole book. Tessa’s child, whom she had rescued, says to her that he would like to lead a life which would give him a good deal of pleasure. Romola says to him,–

“That is not easy, my Lille. It is only a poor sort of happiness that could ever come by caring very much about our own narrow pleasures. We can only have the highest happiness, such as goes along with being a great man, by having wide thoughts, and much feeling for the rest of the world as well as ourselves; and this sort of happiness 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. There are so many things wrong and difficult in the world that no man can be great–he can hardly keep himself from wickedness–unless he gives up thinking much about pleasures or rewards, and gets strength to endure what is hard and painful. My father had the greatness that belongs to integrity; he chose poverty and obscurity rather than falsehood. And there was Fra Girolamo–you know why I keep to-morrow sacred; _he_ had the greatness which belongs to a life spent in struggling against powerful wrong, and in trying to raise men to the highest deeds they are capable of, And so, my Lillo, if you mean to act nobly and seek to know the best things God has put within reach of men, you must learn to fix your mind on that end, and not on what will happen to you because of it. And remember, if you were to choose something lower, and make it the rule of your life to seek your own pleasure and escape from what is disagreeable, calamity might come just the same; and it would be calamity falling on a base mind, which is the one form of sorrow that has no balm in it, and that may well make a man say, ‘It would have been better for me if I had never been born.’ I will tell you something, Lillo.”

Romola paused a moment. She had taken Lillo’s cheeks between her hands, and his young eyes were meeting hers.

“There was a man to whom I was very near, so that I could see a great deal of his life, who made almost every one fond of him, for he was young, and clever, and beautiful, and his manners to all were gentle and kind. I believe when I first knew him, he never thought of anything cruel or base. But because he tried to slip away from everything that was unpleasant, and cared for nothing else so much as his own safety, he came at last to commit some of the basest deeds–such as make men infamous. He denied his father, and left him to misery; he betrayed every trust that was reposed in him, that he might keep himself safe and get rich and prosperous. Yet calamity overtook him.”

Aside from this altruistic teaching which is developed in connection with the life of Romola, the doctrine of retribution is vigorously unfolded in the history of Tito Melema. The effects of selfishness and personal self-seeking have nowhere been so wonderfully studied by George Eliot as in this character. His career is minutely traced from step to step of his downfall, and with a remarkable faithfulness and courage. The effects of vice and sin are nowhere so finely presented and with such profound ethical insight. A careful study of this character alone will give a clear comprehension of George Eliot’s conception of retribution, how the natural laws of life drag us down when we are untrue to ourselves and others. It is a great moral lesson presented in this character, a sermon of the most powerful kind. Nemesis follows Tito ever onward from the first false step, lowers the tone of his mind, corrupts his moral nature, drags him into an ever-widening circle of vice and crime, makes him a traitor, and causes him to be false to his wife. Step by step, as he gives way to evil, we see the degradation of his heart and mind, how the unfailing Nemesis is wreaking its vengeance upon him. He is surely punished, and his death is the fit end of his career. We are shown how his evil deeds affect others, how the great law of retribution involves the innocent in his downfall. Here George Eliot has unfolded for us how true it is that our lives are linked on every side with the lives of our fellows, and how the deeds of any one must affect for good or evil the lives of many others.

Almost every leading thought of George Eliot’s philosophy and ethics is unfolded in greater or less degree in this novel. It is full of brave, wholesome teaching, and of clear insight into the consequences of conduct.

_Romola_ is the most thoughtful, the most ambitious, the most philosophical of George Eliot’s works; and it is also the most lacking in spontaneity, and more than any other shows the evidences of the artist’s labors. Yet by many persons it will be accepted as the greatest of her works, and not without the best of reasons. It contains some of her most original characters, gives a remarkable emphasis to great moral laws, and interprets the spiritual influence of the conflict which is ever waging between tradition and advancing culture as no other has done. It is a thought-provoking book, a book of the highest moral aims.



The scenes of George Eliot’s later novels are laid in England, but for the most part among a town rather than a rural population. Instead of Hayslope and Raveloe, Mrs. Poyser and Silas Marner, we have Middlemarch and Treby Magna, Dorothea Brooke and Felix Holt. If Felix Holt is quite as much a working-man as Adam Bede, occupying a social position higher in no respect whatever, yet he is a workingman of a far different type. If Adam is the nobler character, the truer type of man, Felix represents a larger social purpose and has higher moral aims. In _Adam Bede_, we find rustic simplicity and contentment, but in _Felix Holt_ we touch social aspirations and political ambitions. The horizon has widened, the plane of social life has lifted, there are new motives and larger ideals.

Very many of her readers and critics regard _Middlemarch_ as George Eliot’s greatest novel. This is said to have been her own opinion. With great unanimity her readers pronounce _Felix Holt_ her weakest and least interesting work. So far as the dramatic and artistic execution are concerned, these judgments are not entirely correct. The machinery of _Middlemarch_ is clumsy, and the plot desultory in aim and method. On the other hand, _Felix Holt_ is strongly thought out and skilfully planned. It has much of passion and enthusiasm in it, and not a little of pure and noble sentiment, while _Middlemarch_ is never impassioned, but flows on calmly. The author evidently put herself into _Felix Holt_ with the purpose of teaching her own views about moral and social life. She lived in the characters, felt and hoped with them, and wrote out of a deep, spontaneous purpose. The sensational element has been more fully used, and the unity of the plot more thoroughly developed, than in any other of her works, while there is a living, breathing purpose in the story which is absent from her later works. _Felix Holt_ is one of the two or three novels by George Eliot which have an affirmative and thoroughly constructive purpose. It is this purpose which makes the chief interest of the work. It is a story of social reform, and is to be read as an embodiment of the author’s political ideas. From this point of view it is a story full of interest, and it is the one of George Eliot’s novels which will most strongly impress those who are fully in sympathy with her ideas of progress and social regeneration. The purpose of _Middlemarch_ is critical, to show how our modern social life cramps the individual, limits his energies, and destroys his power of helpful service to the world. This critical aim runs through the whole work and colors every feature of it. The impression made by the whole work is saddening; and the reader, while admiring the artistic power and the literary finish of the book, is depressed by the moral issue. In strength of imagination, intellectual insight, keen power of analysis, this novel surpasses anything else George Eliot has written.

_Felix Holt_ is a novel with an ethical purpose. It aims to show how social and political reform can be brought about. Felix is George Eliot’s ideal working-man, a man who remains true to his own class, seeks his own moral elevation, does not have much faith in the ballot, and who is zealous for the education of his fellows. He is a radical who believes in heredity, who is aware of our debt to the past, and who would use the laws of social inheritance for the elevation of mankind. The account Felix gives of his conversion contains George Eliot’s conception of what is to be done by all workingmen who rightly understand what social reform is and how it can be most truly brought about. It is to be secured by each workingman living not for self and pleasure, but to do what good he can in the world.

“I’m not speaking lightly,” said Felix. “If I had not seen that I was making a hog of myself very fast, and that pig-wash, even if I could have got plenty of it, was a poor sort of thing, I should never have looked life fairly in the face to see what was to be done with it. I laughed out loud at last to think of a poor devil like me, in a Scotch garret, with my stockings out at heel and a shilling or two to be dissipated upon, with a smell of raw haggis mounting from below, and old women breathing gin as they passed me on the stairs–wanting to turn my life into easy pleasure. Then I began to see what else it could be turned into. Not much, perhaps. This world is not a very fine place for a good many of the people in it. But I’ve made up my mind it shan’t be the worse for me, if I can help it. They may tell me I can’t alter the world–that there must be a certain number of sneaks and robbers in it, And if I don’t lie and filch, somebody else will. Well, then, somebody else shall, for I won’t. That’s the upshot of my conversion. Mr. Lyon, if you want to know it.”

When Felix gives Esther an account of his plans, and describes to her his purpose to do what he can to elevate his class, we have George Eliot’s own views on the subject of social reform. Felix says,–

“I want to be a demagogue of a new sort: an honest one, if possible, who will tell the people they are blind and foolish, and neither flatter them nor batten on them. I have my heritage–an order I belong to. I have the blood of a line of handicraftsmen in my veins, and I want to stand up for the lot of the handicraftsmen as a good lot, in which a man may be better trained to all the best functions of his nature, than if he belonged to the grimacing set who have visiting-cards, and are proud to be thought richer than their neighbors.”

That the leading aim of _Felix Holt_ is to show the nature of true social reform may be seen in the address made by Felix at the election, and even more distinctly in the address put into his mouth in _Blackwood’s Magazine_ for 1868. In the election speech Felix gives it as his belief that if workingmen “go the right way to work they may get power sooner without votes” than with them, by the use of public opinion, “the greatest power under heaven.” The novel points out the social complications of life, the influence of hereditary privileges and abuses, and how every attempt at reform is complicated by many interests, and is likely to fall into the hands of demagogues who use the workingmen for their own purposes. The address of Felix in _Blackwood’s_ is really a commentary on the novel, or rather a fine and suggestive summary of the moral, social and political idea; it was meant to inculcate.

In _Felix Holt_, George Eliot would teach the world that true social reform is not to be secured by act of Parliament, or by the possession of the ballot on the part of all workingmen. It is but another enforcement of the theory that it is not rights men are to seek after, but duties; that social and political reform is not to be secured by insistence on rights, but by the true and manly acceptance of altruism. Felix Holt is a social reformer who is not a demagogue, who does not seek office or personal advancement, but who wishes to show by his own conduct how a larger life is to be won. He would introduce universal education; he would teach the great principles of right living, physically and morally; he would inculcate the spirit of helpfulness and mutual service. As a brave, earnest, self-sacrificing, pure-minded lover of humanity, he is an inspiring character. George Eliot evidently wished to indicate in his creation what can be done by workingmen towards the uplifting of their own class. A better social order, she would have us believe, cannot be secured from external sources; but it must be had by an internal impulse moving those whose lives are degraded to seek for higher things because of their own intrinsic good. The demagogue seeks the elevation of workingmen because he can use them for his own advancement; but Felix desires their elevation for the good of the whole social structure. To this end he would inspire in his fellows a greater moral ambition and zeal for the common good. He is a Mazzini, Castelar or John Bright in his own social order; one who loves his own class, wishes to remain in it, and who desires above all things that it shall do its part in the work of national elevation. His aim is not to oppose the other classes in society, but to make his own necessary to the prosperity of his country. Felix is not an ideal character, for he is rough, uncultured and headstrong; but he is an inspiring personality, with gifts of intellectual fascination and moral courage. George Eliot has created no other character like him, for Deronda and Zarca, whose aims somewhat resemble his, are very different. He is no hero, he is not altogether an attractive person. He has, however, the power, which some of the noblest of George Eliot’s characters possess, of attracting and uplifting other persons. He made Esther realize the wide gulf between self-pleasing and duty, he inspired her with moral courage and awakened her mind to the higher aims and satisfactions life has to give us. He was undoubtedly meant for a moral hero of the working class, a prophet to the laborers. With all his limitations he is one of the noblest and most helpful characters in George Eliot’s books.

Other distinctive ideas of George Eliot’s appear throughout this book. Her theories of heredity, altruism and environment affect the whole development of the story. Perhaps no more striking illustration of the law of retribution is to be found in her books than in the case of Mrs. Transome. This woman’s sin corrupted her own life, and helped to darken the lives of others.

The aim had in view in _Middlemarch_ is to illustrate the impotence of modern life so far as it relates in moral heroism and spiritual attainment. High and noble action is hindered and baulked by the social conditions in the midst of which we live; and those who would live grandly and purely, and in a supreme unselfishness devote themselves to the world, find that their efforts are in vain. Dorothea has longings after a life of love and service; she would live for high purposes and give herself for others’ good. Her hopes end in disaster almost; and she is cramped and baulked on every side. Lydgate would devote himself to science, to patient investigations for the sake of alleviating human misery and disease. His social environment cripples him, and his life comes to nothing compared with what he had aimed at, and what he was capable of attaining. Dorothea is presented as capable of becoming a saint, being of an ardent, heroic nature, a woman who yearned after some lofty conception of the world that was to be made, not merely poetry, but an actual fact about her; who was “enamoured of intensity and greatness,” and “likely to seek martyrdom.” The difficulties which most beset such a nature are presented in the very first chapter, where these saintly tendencies are considered as probable obstacles to her making a good marriage.

A young lady of some birth and fortune, who knelt suddenly down on a brick floor by the side of a sick laborer and prayed fervidly, as if she thought herself living in the time of the Apostles–who had strange whims of fasting like a Papist, and of sitting up at night to read old theological books! Such a wife might awaken you some fine morning with a new scheme for the application of her income which would interfere with political economy, and the keeping of saddle-horses; a man would naturally think twice before he risked himself in such fellowship.

The social life of Tipton really had no room for such a woman, could not employ her rare gifts, knew not what to make of her yearnings and her charity. And Tipton is the world and modern life, which spurns the heroic, has no place for the poetry of existence, can make nothing of yearnings and longings for high heroism. Because the social order into which she was born could not use her gifts, because the vision of life in her soul was other and higher than that which society had marked out for such as she, her life was wasted in an unhappy marriage. In an earlier age she would have become a St. Theresa, for society then had a place for such souls. Now she bows in reverence to a man of learning, dreams great things of tender service to him; but this proves not to be the place in which she belongs. In the last paragraphs of the book the author gives her own account of Dorothea’s failure to reach the good she sought.

Sir James never ceased to regard Dorothea’s second marriage as a mistake; and indeed this remained the tradition concerning it in Middlemarch, where she was spoken of to a younger generation as a fine girl who married a sickly clergyman, old enough to be her father, and in little more than a year after his death gave up her estate to marry his cousin–young enough to have been his son, with no property, and not well-born. Those who had not seen anything of Dorothea usually observed that she could not have been “a nice woman,” else she would not have married either the one or the other.

Certainly those determining acts of her life were not ideally beautiful. They were the mixed result of young and noble impulse struggling under prosaic conditions. Among the many remarks passed on her mistakes, it was never said in the neighborhood of Middlemarch that such mistakes could not have happened if the society into which she was born had not smiled on propositions of marriage from a sickly man to a girl less than half his own age–on modes of education which make a woman’s knowledge another name for motley ignorance–on rules of conduct which are in flat contradiction with its own loudly asserted beliefs. While this is the social air in which mortals begin to breathe, there will be collisions such as those in Dorothea’s life, where great feelings take the aspect of error, and great faith the aspect of illusion. For there is no creature whose inward being is so strong that it is not greatly determined by what lies outside it. A new Theresa will hardly have the opportunity of reforming a conventual life, any more than a new Antigone will spend her heroic piety in daring all for the sake of a brother’s burial; the medium in which their ardent deeds took place is forever gone. But we insignificant people with our daily words and acts, are preparing the lives of many Dorotheas, some of which may present a far sadder sacrifice than that of the Dorothea whose story we know.

Her finely touched spirit had still its fine issues, though they were not widely visible. Her full nature, like that river of which Alexander broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive; for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.

The influence of social environment is also presented in _Felix Holt_ as a chief determining agent in the lives of individuals. However high the aims and noble the purposes of the individual, he must succumb to those social influences which are more powerful than he. In the third chapter we are told that–

This history is chiefly concerned with the private lot of a few men and women; but there is no private life which has not been determined by a wider public life, from the time when the primeval milkmaid had to wander with the wanderings of her clan, because the cow she milked was one of a herd which had made the pastures bare. Even in that conservatory existence where the fair Camelia is sighed for by the noble young Pineapple, neither of them needing to care about the frost or rain outside, there is a nether apparatus of hot-water pipes liable to cool down on a strike of the gardeners or a scarcity of coal. And the lives we are about to look back upon do not belong to those conservatory species; they are rooted in the common earth, having to endure all the ordinary chances of past and present weather. As to the weather of 1832, the Zadkiel of that time had predicted that the electrical condition of the clouds in the political hemisphere would produce unusual perturbations in organic existence, and he would perhaps have seen a fulfilment of his remarkable prophecy in that mutual influence of dissimilar destinies which we shall see gradually unfolding itself. For if the mixed political conditions of Treby Magna had not been acted on by the passing of the Reform Bill, Mr. Harold Transome would not have presented himself as a candidate for North Loamshire, Treby would not have been a polling-place, Mr. Matthew Jermyn would not have been on affable terms with a Dissenting preacher and his flock, and the venerable town would not have been placarded with handbills, more or less complimentary and retrospective–conditions in this case essential to the “where” and the “what,” without which, as the learned know, there can be no event whatever.

In the case of Lydgate, if the ambition was less noble and pure, the fall was greater, and the disaster sadder to contemplate. He, too, was hindered by his “environment,” but it was much more of his own creating, the result of his own nature, than in the case of Dorothea. We are told that “he was fired with the possibility that he might work out the proof of an anatomical conception, and make a link in the chain of discovery.” That he was fully capable of achieving such a result is made to appear by the author. The account given of the discovery he wished to make, abundantly confirms this opinion of him; it also shows how large was George Eliot’s learning, and how well she could use it for the novelist’s purposes.

To show how a person capable of such work could be entangled in the ordinary affairs of life and lose sight of his youthful vision, or at least the power of realizing it, is the purpose developed in the career of Lydgate. There were “spots of commonness” in his nature. These–

lay in the complexion of his prejudices, which, in spite of noble intention and sympathy, were half of them such as are found in ordinary men of the world: that distinction of mind which belonged to his intellectual ardor did not penetrate his feeling and judgment about furniture, or women, or the desirability of its being known (without his telling) that he was better born than other country surgeons.

The egotism of his nature, his incapacity for hard, severe economy and the exclusion of luxury and refined pleasure, proved his destruction. Along with this egotism went a too susceptible impressiveness in the presence of beautiful women of soft, delicate ways. He meant to do great things in science, but he could not endure the discipline, the sacrifice, the long years of waiting, by which the great result was to be attained. Even if he could have done this, he lost the power of doing it through the social environment of marriage. How a man’s love for a woman may corrupt the heroic purposes of his life is hinted at in one of the paragraphs in which George Eliot describes Lydgate, and the vision which enamoured his young life until the woman turned all his gold into dross.

We are not afraid of telling over and over again how a man comes to fall in love with a woman and be wedded to her, or else be fatally parted from her. Is it due to excess of poetry or of stupidity that we are never weary of describing what King James called a woman’s “makdom and her fairnesse,” never weary of listening to the twanging of the old Troubadour strings, and are comparatively uninterested in that other kind of “makdom and fairnesse” which must be wooed with industrious thought and renunciation of small desires? In the story of this passion, too, the development varies: sometimes it is the glorious marriage, sometimes frustration and final parting. And not seldom the catastrophe is wound up with the other passion, sung by the Troubadours. For in the multitude of middle-aged men who go about their vocations in a daily course determined for them much in the same way as the tie of their cravats, there is always a good number who once meant to shape their own deeds and alter the world a little. The story of their coming to be shapen after the average, and fit to be packed by the gross, is hardly ever told even in their consciousness for perhaps their ardor for generous, unpaid toil cooled as imperceptibly as the ardor of other youthful loves, till one day their earlier self walked like a ghost in its old home and made the new furniture ghastly. Nothing in the world more subtle than the process of their gradual change! In the beginning they inhaled it unknowingly: you and I may have sent some of our breath toward infecting them when we uttered our conforming falsities or drew our silly conclusions; or perhaps it came with the vibration from a woman’s glance.

The pathetic and saddening tragedy of a man’s failure to realize the possibilities of his own nature was never more clearly and minutely told than in the case of Lydgate. We see all the steps of his fall, we know all the reasons why it came, we comprehend fully what he might have been and done. The bitterness of his own failure made him call his wife a basil plant–“a plant which had flourished wonderfully on a murdered man’s brains.” His hair never became white, but having won a large practice in his profession, he had his life heavily insured, and died at the age of fifty. He regarded his own life as a failure, though he was outwardly successful and “his skill was relied on by many paying patients.” Against his will, by ways and causes he could not foresee, through the tenderness and ease of his own nature, the vision of his youth did not come true.

Perhaps _Middlemarch_ is the most perfect example among George Eliot’s novels of her purpose to show how we are guided, controlled and modified in our thought and action by the whole society of which the individual forms a single atom. Many characters appear in _Middlemarch_, drawn with wonderful skill and finish, each having some part to perform in the complicated, play of life, and each some subtle, scarce-understood influence on all. Tragedy and comedy, selfishness and renunciation, greed and charity, love and jealousy, mingle here as in life. Many of these characters, such as Caleb Garth, Farebrother, Mrs. Cadwallader and Mr. Brooke, are remarkable portraitures, original and well conceived; but they all have their place in the social structure, and serve a purpose in the moral issue to be worked out.

It has been said of _Felix Holt_, and justly, that its characters are too typical, too much representative of a class, and too little personal in their natures and individual in their actions. Yet this method of treating character is consistent with the purpose of the novel, which is quite as much ethical as literary. Here we have imbruted and ignorant workingmen, laborers who would elevate their class, pious Dissenters, typical clergymen of the Church of England, old hereditary families with the smouldering evils which accumulate about them, ambitious and unscrupulous adventurers, and all the other phases of character likely to be found in such a town as Treby Magna. Each person stands for a class; and the aim of the novel is to indicate how the relative position of the classes represented may be changed with as little as possible of disorder and disruption.

It should be borne in mind, however, that the aim of George Eliot is not exclusively ethical. _Felix Holt_ and _Middlemarch_ are not ethical or socialistic treatises, and the whole purpose does not run in these directions. She ever keeps in mind, however, the great fact that on the ethical basis of right and wrong rests all the tragedy and comedy of the world. Her ideas are made alive with genius, and her ethical purposes take color in the glow of a brilliant imagination. She never did violence to the rule which she stated in her essay on the poet Young.

On its theoretic and perceptive side, morality touches science; on its emotional side, art. Now the products of art are great in proportion as they result from that immediate prompting of innate power which we call genius, and not from labored obedience to a theory or rule; and the presence of genius, or innate prompting, is directly opposed to the perpetual consciousness of a rule. The action of faculty is imperious, and excludes the reflection _why_ it should act. In the same way, in proportion as morality is emotional, _i.e._, has affinity with art, it will exhibit itself in direct sympathetic feeling and action, and not as the recognition of a rule. Love does not say, “I ought to love”–it loves. Pity does not say, “It is right to be pitiful”–it pities. Justice does not say, “I am bound to be just”–it feels justly. It is only where moral emotion is comparatively weak that the contemplation of a rule or theory habitually mingles with its action; and in accordance with this; we think experience, both in literature and life, has shown that the minds which are pre-eminently didactic–which insist on a “lesson,” and despise everything that will not convey a moral, are deficient in sympathetic emotion.

The moral and social problems of life seem to fire her creative powers, kindle her imagination, and give rein to her genius. While the thoughtful reader may find in _Felix Holt_ and _Middlemarch_ more that interests his speculative faculties than of what will satisfy his sentiments and imagination, yet he must keep in mind the fact that these are works depending largely for their effect on the mind to their poetic qualities. There is in them both a large and thoughtful contemplation of life, but with a constant reference to its passion, sentiment and ideal aims. If they are realistic it is not to the exclusion of spiritual elements; and the poetic, sentimental phases of human existence are never ignored.



The purpose of George Eliot’s last novel is distinctly constructive. While there is much of criticism in its pages, and criticism of the severest kind, its aim is that of spiritual renewal and upbuilding. It unfolds her conception of social growth, and of the influence of tradition and the national idea, much more completely than any other of her works. Moreover, it is all aglow with moral enthusiasm and spiritual ardor. It indicates a greater spontaneity than any of her books after _The Mill on the Floss_, and gives ample evidence that it possessed and absorbed the author’s mind with its purpose and spirit. It is written from a great depth of conviction and moral earnestness. That it is her greatest book, artistically considered, there is no reason for believing; that it has its serious limitations as a literary creation all the critics have said. Yet it remains also to be said, that for largeness of aim, wealth of sentiment, and purity of moral teaching, no other book of George Eliot’s surpasses _Daniel Deronda_. Indeed, in its realization of the spiritual basis of life, and in its portrayal of the religious sentiment, as these are understood by positivism, this book surpasses every other, by whomsoever written.

_Daniel Deronda_ is a romance, and hence differs in kind, conception, scope, circumstance and form from her other works. It is less a study of character than most of her other works, has more of adventure and action; and while it is no less realistic, yet it has higher ideal aims, and seeks to interpret what ought to be.

At least three distinct purposes may be seen running through the book, which blend into and confirm each other: to show the all-powerful influence of heredity, that blood will assert itself as more effective than any conditions of social environment or education; to indicate that ideals, subjective feelings and sentiments form the reality and the substance of religion, and that tradition affords the true medium of its expression; and to contrast a form of social life based on individualism with one based on tradition. The aim of _Daniel Deronda_, however, is many-sided, and cannot be expressed in a few phrases. It is too vital with life, touches the emotions and sentiments too often, has an ideal motive too large, to be dismissed with a quickly spoken word of contempt. Professor Dowden, one of her best and most sympathetic critics, has said that it is “an homage to the emotions rather than to the intellect of man. Her feeling finds expression not only in occasional gnomic utterances in which sentiments are declared to be the best part of the world’s wealth, and love is spoken of as deeper than reason, and the intellect is pronounced incapable of ascertaining the validity of claims which rest upon loving instincts of the heart, or else are baseless. The entire work possesses an impassioned aspect, an air of spiritual prescience, far more than the exactitude of science. The main forces which operate in it are sympathies, aspirations, ardors; and ideas chiefly as associated with these.” The object aimed at is ideal and religious, much more than intellectual and scientific, to show how necessary is religion, how weak and imperfect is man when the ideal side of his nature is undeveloped. It makes clear the author’s conviction concerning the importance of religion, that she prized its spiritual hopes, found satisfaction in its enthusiasms and aspirations. When Gwendolen was cast down in utter dejection, all of joy and delight the world had afforded her gone, and she felt the greatest need of something to comfort and sustain her in her distrust of self and the world, Deronda said to her, “The refuge you are needing from personal trouble is the higher, the religious life, which holds an enthusiasm for something more than our own appetites and vanities.”

The religion inculcated, to be sure, is not that of faith in a personal God and a personal immortality, but that which is based on the mystery of life and nature, impressed on the sensitive soul of man in fears, sorrows, hopes, aspirations, and built up into great ideals and institutions through tradition. _Daniel Deronda_ gives us the gospel of altruism, a new preaching of love to man. _Daniel Deronda_ proves as no other writing has ever done, what is the charm and the power of these ideas when dissociated from any spiritual hopes which extend beyond humanity.

In order to give the most adequate expression to her ideas, and to show forth the power of the spiritual life as she conceived it, George Eliot made use of that race and religion which presents so remarkable an illustration of the influence of tradition and heredity. She saw in Judaism a striking confirmation of her theories, and a proof of what ideal interests can do to preserve a nation. To vindicate that race in the eyes of the world, to show what capacity there is in its national traditions, was also a part of her purpose. That this was her aim may be seen in what she said to a young Jew in whom she was much interested.

I wrote about the Jews because I consider them a fine old race who have done great things for humanity. I feel the same admiration for them as I do for the Florentines.

The same idea is to be seen very clearly in the last essay in the _Impressions of Theophrastus Such_. She regarded the great memories and traditions of this people as a priceless legacy which may and ought to draw all the scattered Israelites together and unite them again in a common national life.

A people having the seed of worthiness in it must feel an answering thrill when it is adjured by the deaths of its heroes who died to preserve its national existence; when it is reminded of its small beginnings and gradual growth through past labors and struggles, such as are still demanded of it in order that the freedom and well-being thus inherited may be transmitted unimpaired to children and children’s children; when an appeal against the permission of injustice is made to great precedents in its history and to the better genius breathing in its institutions. It is this living force of sentiment in common which makes a national consciousness. Nations so moved will resist conquest with the very breasts of their women, will pay their millions and their blood to abolish slavery, will share privation in famine and all calamity, will produce poets to sing “some great story of a man,” and thinkers whose theories will bear the test of action. An individual man, to be harmoniously great, must belong to a nation of this order, if not in actual existence, yet existing in the past, in memory, as a departed, invisible, beloved ideal, once a reality, and perhaps to be restored. A common humanity is not yet enough to feed the rich blood of various activity which makes a complete man. The time is not come for cosmopolitanism to be highly virtuous, any more than for communism to suffice for social energy.

This was one of the favorite ideas of George Eliot, which she has again and again expressed. She was impressed with the conviction that such a national life is necessary to the world’s growth and welfare, that the era of a common brotherhood, dissociated from national traditions and hopes, has not yet come. Hence her belief that Judaism ought to speak the voice of a united race, occupying the old home of this people, and sending forth its ideas as a national inheritance and inspiration. This belief inspires the concluding words of her essay, as well as the last chapters of the novel.

There is still a great function for the steadfastness of the Jew: not that he should shut out the utmost illumination which knowledge can throw on his national history, but that he should cherish the store of inheritance which that history has left him. Every Jew should be conscious that he is one of a multitude possessing common objects of piety in the immortal achievements and immortal sorrows of ancestors who have transmitted to them a physical and mental type strong enough, eminent enough in faculties, pregnant enough with peculiar promise, to constitute a new beneficent individuality among the nations, and, by confuting the traditions of scorn, nobly avenge the wrongs done to their fathers.

There is a sense which the worthy child of a nation that has brought forth industrious prophets, high and unique among the poets of the world, is bound by their visions.

Is bound?

Yes; for the effective bond of human action is feeling, and the worthy child of a people owning the triple name of Hebrew, Israelite and Jew, feels his kinship with the glories and the sorrows, the degradation and the possible renovation of his national family.

Will any one teach the nullification of this feeling and call his doctrine a philosophy? He will teach a blinding superstition–the superstition that a theory of human well-being can be constructed in disregard of the influences which have made us human.

The purpose of _Daniel Deronda_, however, is not merely to vindicate Judaism. This race and its religion are used as the vehicles for larger ideas, as an illustration of the supreme importance to mankind of spiritual aims concentrated into the form of national traditions and aspirations. Her own studies, and personal intercourse with the Jews, helped to attract her to this race; but the main cause of her use of them in this novel is their remarkable history. Their moral and spiritual persistence, their wonderful devotedness to their own race and its aims, admirably adapted them to develop for her the ideas she wished to express. What nation could she have taken that would have so clearly illustrated her theory of national memories and traditions? In the forty-second chapter of _Daniel Deronda_ she has put into the month of Mordecai her own theories on this subject. He vindicates his right to call himself a _rational_ Jew, one who accepts what is reasonable and true.

“It is to see more and more of the hidden bonds that bind and consecrate change as a dependent growth–yea, consecrate it with kinship; the past becomes my parent, and the future stretches toward me the appealing arms of children. Is it rational to drain away the sap of special kindred that makes the families of man rich in interchanged wealth, and various as the forests are various with the glory of the cedar and the palm?”

He declares that each nation has its own work to do in the world, in the uplifting and maintenance of some special idea which is necessary to the welfare and development of humanity. The place he assigns to Judaism is precisely that which made it dear to George Eliot, because it embodied her conception of religion and its social functions.

“Israel is the heart of mankind, if we mean by heart the core of affection which binds a race and its families in dutiful love, and the reverence for the human body which lifts the needs of our animal life into religion, and the tenderness which is merciful to the poor and weak and to the dumb creature that wears the yoke for us.”

Again, he utters words which are simply an expression of George Eliot’s own sentiments.

“Where else is there a nation of whom it may be as truly said that their religion and law and moral life mingled as the stream of blood in the heart and made one growth–where else a people who kept and enlarged their spiritual store at the very time when they were hunted with a hatred as fierce as the forest fires that chase the wild beast from his covert? There is a fable of the Roman that, swimming to save his life, he held the roll of his writings between his teeth and saved them from the waters. But how much more than that is true of our race? They struggled to keep their place among the nations like heroes–yea, when the hand was hacked off, they clung with the teeth; but when the plow and the harrow had passed over the last visible signs of their national covenant, and the fruitfulness of their land was stifled with the blood of the sowers and planters, they said, ‘The spirit is alive, let us make it a lasting habitation–lasting because movable–so that it may be carried from generation to generation, and our sons unborn may be rich in the things that have been, and possess a hope built on an unchangeable foundation.’ They said it and they wrought it, though often breathing with scant life, as in a coffin, or as lying wounded amid a heap of slain. Hooted and scared like the unowned dog, the Hebrew made himself envied for his wealth and wisdom, and was bled of them to fill the bath of Gentile luxury; he absorbed knowledge, he diffused it; his dispersed race was a new Phoenicia working the mines of Greece and carrying their products to the world. The native spirit of our tradition was not to stand still, but to use records as a seed, and draw out the compressed virtues of law and prophecy.”

Then Mordecai unfolds his theory of national unity and of a regenerated national life; and it is impossible to read his words attentively without accepting them as an expression of George Eliot’s own personal convictions. As an embodiment of her conception of the functions of national life they are full of interest aside from their place in the novel.

“In the multitudes of the ignorant on three continents who observe our rites and make the confession of the Divine Unity, the soul of Judaism is not dead. Revive the organic centre: let the unity of Israel which has made the growth and form of its religion be an outward reality. Looking toward a land and a polity, our dispersed people in all the ends of the earth may share the dignity of a national life which has a voice among the peoples of the East and the West–which will plant the wisdom and skill of our race so that it may be, us of old, a medium of transmission and understanding. Let that come to pass, and the living warmth will spread to the weak extremities of Israel, and superstition will vanish, not in the lawlessness of the renegade, but in the illumination of great facts which widen feeling, and make all knowledge alive as the young offspring of beloved memories…. The effect of our separateness will not be completed and have its highest transformation unless our race takes on again the character of a nationality. That is the fulfilment of the religious trust that moulded them into a people, whose life has made half the inspiration of the world. What is it to me that the ten tribes are lost untraceably, or that multitudes of the children of Judah have mixed themselves with the Gentile populations as a river with rivers? Behold our people still! Their skirts spread afar; they are torn and soiled and trodden on; but there is a jewelled breast-plate. Let the wealthy men, the monarchs of commerce, the learned in all knowledge, the skilful in all arts, the speakers, the political counsellors, who carry in their veins the Hebrew blood which has maintained its vigor in all climates, and the pliancy of the Hebrew genius for which difficulty means new device–let them say, ‘We will lift up a standard, we will unite in a labor hard but glorious like that of Moses and Ezra, a labor which shall be a worthy fruit of the long anguish whereby our fathers maintained their separateness, refusing the ease of falsehood.’ They have wealth enough to redeem the soil from debauched and paupered conquerors; they have the skill of the statesman to devise, the tongue of the orator to persuade. And is there no prophet or poet among us to make the ears of Christian Europe tingle with shame at the hideous obloquy of Christian strife which the Turk gazes at as at the fighting of beasts to which he has lent an arena? There is store of wisdom among us to found a new Jewish polity, grand, simple, just, like the old–a republic where there is equality of protection, an equality which shone like a star on the forehead of our ancient community, and gave it more than the brightness of Western freedom amidst the despotisms of the East. Then our race shall have an organic centre, a heart and brain to watch and guide and execute; the outraged Jew shall have a defence in the court of nations, as the outraged Englishman or American. And the world will gain as Israel gains. For there will be a community in the van of the East which carries the culture and the sympathies of every great nation in its bosom; there will be a land set for a halting-place of enmities, a neutral ground for the East as Belgium is for the West. Difficulties? I know there are difficulties. But let the spirit of sublime achievement move in the great among our people, and the work will begin….

“What is needed is the leaven–what is needed is the seed of fire. The heritage of Israel is beating in the pulses of millions; it lives in their veins as a power without understanding, like the morning exultation of herds; it is the inborn half of memory, moving as in a dream among writings on the walls, which it sees dimly but cannot divide into speech. Let the torch of visible community be lighted! Let the reason of Israel disclose itself in a great outward deed, and let there be another great migration, another choosing of Israel to be a nationality whose members may still stretch to the ends of the earth, even as the sons of England and Germany, whom enterprise carries afar, but who still have a national hearth, and a tribunal of national opinion. Will any say, ‘It cannot be’? Baruch Spinoza had not a faithful Jewish heart, though he had sucked the life of his intellect at the breasts of Jewish tradition. He laid bare his father’s nakedness and said, ‘They who scorn him have the higher wisdom.’ Yet Baruch Spinoza confessed he saw not why Israel should not again be a chosen nation. Who says that the history and literature of our race are dead? Are they not as living as the history and literature of Greece and Home, which have inspired revolutions, enkindled the thought of Europe and made the unrighteous powers tremble? These were an inheritance dug from the tomb. Ours is an inheritance that has never ceased to quiver in millions of human frames….

“I cherish nothing for the Jewish nation, I seek nothing for them, but the good which promises good to all the nations. The spirit of our religious life, which is one with our national life, is not hatred of aught but wrong. The masters have said an offence against man is worse than an offence against God. But what wonder if there is hatred in the breasts of Jews who are children of the ignorant and oppressed–what wonder, since there is hatred in the breasts of Christians? Our national life was a growing light. Let the central fire be kindled again, and the light will reach afar. The degraded and scorned of our race will learn to think of their sacred land not as a place for saintly beggary to await death in loathsome idleness, but as a republic where the Jewish spirit manifests itself in a new order founded on the old, purified, enriched by the experience our greatest sons have gathered from the life of the ages. How long is it?–only two centuries since a vessel earned over the ocean the beginning of the great North American nation. The people grew like meeting waters; they were various in habit and sect. There came a time, a century ago, when they needed a polity, and there were heroes of peace among them. What had they to form a polity with but memories of Europe, corrected by the vision of a better? Let our wise and wealthy show themselves heroes. They have the memories of the East and West, and they have the full vision of a better. A new Persia with a purified religion magnified itself in art and wisdom. So will a new Judea, poised between East and West–a covenant of reconciliation. Will any say the prophetic vision of your race has been hopelessly mixed with folly and bigotry; the angel of progress hag no message for Judaism–it is a half-buried city for the paid workers to lay open–the waters are rushing by it as a forsaken field? I say that the strongest principle of growth lies in human choice. The sons of Judah have to choose, that God may again choose them. The Messianic time is the time when Israel shall will the planting of the national ensign. The Nile overflowed and rushed onward; the Egyptian could not choose the overflow, but he chose to work and make channels for the fructifying waters, and Egypt became the land of corn. Shall man, whose soul is set in the royalty of discernment and resolve, deny his rank and say, I am an onlooker, ask no choice or purpose of me? That is the blasphemy of this time. The divine principle of our race is action, choice, resolved memory. Let us contradict the blasphemy, and help to will our own better future and the better future of the world–not renounce our higher gift and say, ‘Let us be as if we were not among the populations;’ but choose our full heritage, claim the brotherhood of our nation, and carry into it a new brotherhood with the nations of the Gentiles. The vision is there: it will be fulfilled.”

These words put into the mouth of Mordecai, indicate how thoroughly George Eliot entered into the spirit of Judaism. She read Hebrew with ease, and had delved extensively in Jewish literature, besides being familiar with the monumental works in German devoted to Jewish history and opinions. The religious customs, the home life, the peculiar social habits of the race, she carefully studied. The accuracy of her information has been pointed out by her Jewish critics, by whom the book has been praised with the utmost enthusiasm. One of these, Prof. David Kaufmann, of Buda-Pesth, in an excellent notice of _Daniel Deronda_, bears testimony to the author’s learning and to the faithfulness of her Jewish portraitures. He says that, “led by cordial and loving inclination to the profound study of Jewish national and family life, she has set herself to create Jewish characters, and to recognize and give presentment to the influences which Jewish education is wont to exercise–to prove by types that Judaism is an intellectual and spiritual force, still misapprehended and readily overlooked, but not the less an effective power, for the future of which it is good assurance that it possesses in the body of its adherents a noble, susceptible and pliant material which only awaits its final casting to appear in a glorious form.” He also says of the author’s learning, that it is loving and exact, that her descriptions of Jewish life are always faithful and her characters true to nature.

“Leader of the present so-called realistic school, our author keeps up in this work the reputation she has won of possessing the most minute knowledge of the subjects she handles, by the manner in which she has described the Jews–the great unknown of humanity. She has penetrated into their history and literature affectionately and thoroughly; and her knowledge in a field where ignorance is still venial if not expressly authorized, has astonished even experts. In her selection of almost always unfamiliar quotations, she shows a taste and a facility of reference really amazing. When shall we see a German writer exhibiting the courteous kindliness of George Eliot, who makes Deronda study Zunz’s _Synagogale Poesie_, and places the monumental words which open his chapter entitled ‘Leiden,’ at the head of the passage in which she introduces us to Ezra Cohen’s family, and at the club-meeting at which Mordecai gives utterance to his ideas concerning the future of Israel? She is familiar with the views of Jehuda-ha-Levi as with the dreams and longings of the cabalists, and as conversant with the splendid names of our Hispano–Arabian epoch as with the moral aphorisms of the Talmud and the subtle meaning contained in Jewish legends…. It is by the piety and tenderness with which she treats Jewish customs that the author shows how supreme her cultivation and refinement are; and the small number of mistakes which can be detected in her descriptions of Jewish life and ritual may put to blush even writers who belong to that race.” Again this critic says of the visionary Mordecai, who has been pronounced a mere dreamer and untrue to nature, that he is an altogether probable character and portrayed with a true realistic touch.” Mordecai is carved of the wood from which prophets are made, and so far as the supersensuous can be rendered intelligible, it may even be said that in studying him we are introduced into a studio or workshop of the prophetic mind. He is one of the most difficult as well as one of the most successful essays in psychological analysis ever attempted by an author; and in his wonderful portrait, which must be closely studied, and not epitomized or reproduced in extracts, we see glowing enthusiasm united to cabalistic profundity, and the most morbid tension of the intellectual powers united to clear and well-defined hopes. How has the author succeeded in making Mordecai so human and so true to nature? By mixing the gold with an alloy of commoner metal, and by giving the angelic likeness features which are familiar to us all.”

Another Jew has borne equally hearty testimony to the faithfulness with which George Eliot has described Jewish life and the spirit of the Jewish religion. “She has acquired,” this writer says, “an extended and profound knowledge of the rites, aspirations, hopes, fears and desires of the Israelites of the day. She has read their books, inquired into their modes of thought, searched their traditions, accompanied them to the synagogue; nay, she has taken their very words from their lips, and, like Asmodeus, has unroofed their houses. To say that some slight errors have crept into _Daniel Deronda_ is to say that no human work is perfect; and these inaccuracies are singularly few and unimportant.” [Footnote: James Picciotto, author of “sketches of Anglo-Jewish History,” in the Gentleman’s Magazine for November, 1876.] Still another Jewish critic says that in her gallery of portraits she “gives in a marvellously full and accurate way all the many sides of the Jewish complex national character.” He also says that Mordecai is a true successor of the prophets and moral leaders of the race, that the national spirit and temper are truly represented in him. [Footnote: Joseph Jacobs, in Macmillian’s Magazine for 1877.]

That the main purpose of _Daniel Deronda_ is not that of defending Judaism, must be apparent to every attentive reader. The Jewish race is made use of for purposes of illustration, as a notable example in proof of her theories. There is a deeper purpose conspicuous throughout the hook, which rests on her conceptions of the spiritual life as a development of tradition. This larger purpose also jests on her altruistic conception of the moral and spiritual life. As Professor Kaufmann has pointed out, the story falls into two widely separated portions, in one of which the Jewish element appears, in the other the English. Jewish life and its religious spirit are contrasted with English life and a common type of its religion. This is not a contrast, however, which is introduced for the purpose of disparaging Christianity or English social life, but with the object of comparing those whose life is anchored in the spiritual traditions of a great people, with those who find the centre of their life in egotism and an individualistic spirit. Grandcourt is a type of pure egotism; Gwendolen is a creature who lives for self and with no law outside of her own happiness. This is the spirit of the society in which they both move. On the other hand, Mordecai lives in his race, Deronda gives his life constantly away for others, and Mirah is unselfishness and simplicity itself. So distinctly is this contrast drawn, so clearly are these two phases of life brought over against each other, that the book seems to be divided in the middle, and to be two separate works joined by a slender thread. This artistic arrangement has been severely criticised, but its higher purpose is only understood when this comparison and antagonism is recognized. Then the true artistic arrangement vindicates itself, and the unity of the book becomes apparent. Deronda moves in both these worlds, and their influence on him is finely conceived. He finds no spiritual aim and motive for his life until he is led into the charmed circle of a traditional environment, and learns to live in and for his race. Living for self, the life of Gwendolen is blasted, her hopes crushed, and she finds no peace or promise except in the steadfast spiritual strength yielded her by Deronda. That such a contrasting of the two great phases of life was a part of George Eliot’s purpose she has herself acknowledged. A comparison of the spiritual histories of Gwendolen and Deronda will show how earnest was this purpose of the author. Gwendolen is a type of those souls who have no spiritual anchorage in the religious life and traditions of their people. At the opening of chapter third we are told she had no home memories, that “this blessed persistence in which affection can take root had been wanting in Gwendolen’s life.” At the end of the sixth chapter we are also told that she had no insight into spiritual realities, that the bonds of spiritual power and moral retribution had not been made apparent to her mind.

Her ideal was to be daring in speech and reckless in braving dangers, both moral and physical; and though her practice fell far behind her ideal, this shortcoming seemed to be due to the pettiness of circumstances, the narrow theatre which life offers to a girl of twenty, who cannot conceive herself as anything else than a lady, or as in any position which would lack the tribute of respect. She had no permanent consciousness of other fetters, or of more spiritual restraints, having always disliked whatever was presented to her under the name of religion, in the same way that some people dislike arithmetic and accounts: it had raised no other emotion in her, no alarm, no longing; so that the question whether she believed it, had not occurred to her, any more than it had occurred to her to inquire into the conditions of colonial property and banking, on which, as she had had many opportunities of knowing, the family fortune was dependent. All these facts about herself she would have been ready to admit, and even, more or less indirectly, to state. What she unwillingly recognized, and would have been glad for others to be unaware of, was that liability of hers to fits of spiritual dread, though this fountain of awe within her had not found its way into connection with the religion taught her, or with any human relations. She was ashamed and frightened, as at what might happen again, in remembering her tremor on suddenly feeling herself alone, when, for example, she was walking without companionship and there came some rapid change in the light. Solitude in any wide scene impressed her with an undefined feeling of immeasurable existence aloof from her, in the midst of which she was helplessly incapable of asserting herself. The little astronomy taught her at school used sometimes to set her imagination at work in a way that made her tremble; but always when some one joined her she recovered her indifference to the vastness in which she seemed an exile; she found again her usual world, in which her will was of some avail, and the religious nomenclature belonging to this world was no more identified for her with those uneasy impressions of awe than her uncle’s surplices seen out of use at the rectory. With human ears and eyes about her, she had always hitherto recovered her confidence, and felt the possibility of winning empire.

Her difficulties all came out of this egoistic spirit, this want of spiritual anchorage and religious faith. Gradually her bitter experiences awakened in her a desire for a purer life, and the influence of Deronda worked powerfully in the same direction. She is to be regarded, however, as simply a representative of that social, moral and spiritual life bred in our century by the disintegrating forces everywhere at work. No moral ideal, no awe of the divine Nemesis, no spiritual sympathy with the larger life of the race, is to be found in her thought. The radicalism of the time, which neglects religious training, which scorns the life of the past, which lives for self and culture, is destroying all that is best in modern society. Gwendolen is one of the results of these processes, an example of that impoverished life which is so common, arising from religious rebellion and egotism.

Another motive and spirit is represented in the character of Deronda. As a boy, his mind was full of ideal aspirations, he was chivalrous and eager to help and comfort others. He would take no mean advantages in his own behalf, he loved the comradeship of those whom he could help, he was always ready with his sympathy.

He was early impassioned by ideas, and burned his fire on those heights.

He would not regard his studies as instruments of success, but as the means whereby to feed motive and opinion. He had a strong craving for comprehensiveness of opinion, and was not content to store up knowledge that demanded a mere act of memory in its acquisition. He had a craving after a larger life, an ideal aim of the most winning attractiveness. Though Deronda was educated amidst surroundings almost identical with those which helped to form Gwendolen’s character, yet a very different result was produced in him because of his _inherited_ tendencies of mind. After he had seen his mother, learned that he was a Jew, he said to Mordecai,–

“It is you who have given shape to what I believe was an inherited yearning–the effect of brooding, passionate thoughts in my ancestors– thoughts that seem to have been intensely present in my grandfather. Suppose the stolen offspring of some mountain tribe brought up in a city of the plain, or one with an inherited genius for painting, and born blind–the ancestral life would be within them as a dim longing for unknown objects and sensations, and the spell-bound habit of their inherited frames would be like a cunningly wrought musical instrument never played on, but quivering throughout in uneasy, mysterious moanings of its intricate structure that, under the right touch, gives music. Something like that, I think, has been my experience. Since I began to read and know, I have always longed for some ideal task in which I might feel myself the heart and brain of a multitude–some social captainship which would come to me as a duty, and not be striven for as a personal prize. You have raised the image of such a task for me–to bind our race together in spite of heresy.”

This inherited sense of a larger life made Deronda what he was, and developed in him qualities absent in Gwendolen. This inherited power made him a new Mazzini, a born leader of men, a new saviour of society, a personal magnet to attract and inspire other souls. A magnetic power of influence drew Gwendolen to him from the first time they met, he shamed her narrow life by his silent presence, and he quickened to life in her a desire for a purer and nobler existence. George Eliot probably meant to indicate in his character her conception of the true social reformation which is needed to-day, and how it is to be brought about. The basis on which it is to be built is the traditional and inherited life of the past, inspired with new energies and meanings by the gifted souls who have inherited a large and pure personality, and who are inspired by a quickened sense of what life ought to be. On the one side a life of altruism, on the other a life of egotism, teach that the liner social and moral qualities come out of an inheritance in the national ideals and conquests of a worthy people, while the coarser qualities come of the neglect of this source of spiritual power and sustenance. Two letters written to Professor David Kaufmann indicate that this was the purpose of the hook. At the same time, they show George Eliot’s mind on other sides, and give added insights into her character. As an indication of her attitude towards Judaism, and her faith in the work she had done in Daniel Deronda, they are of great value.

May 31, ’77.

MY DEAR SIR,–Hardly, since I became an author, have I had a deeper satisfaction, I may say a more heartfelt joy, than you have given me in your estimate of _Daniel Deronda_. [Footnote: George Eliot and Judaism: an Attempt to Appreciate Daniel Deronda. By Prof. David Kaufmann, of the Jewish Theological Seminary, Buda-Pesth.]

I must tell you that it is my rule, very strictly observed, not to read the criticisms on my writings. For years I have found this abstinence necessary to preserve me from that discouragement as an artist which ill-judged praise, no less than ill-judged blame, tends to produce in me. For far worse than any verdict as to the proportion of good and evil in our work, is the painful impression that we write for a public which has no discernment of good and evil.

My husband reads any notices of me that come before him, and reports to me (or else refrains from reporting) the general character of the notice, or something in particular which strikes him as showing either an exceptional insight or an obtuseness that is gross enough to be amusing. Very rarely,