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

Part 3 out of 8

the local coloring. In writing _Romola_, she searched into every corner of
Florentine history, custom and thought. She is true to every touch of local
incident and manner. In _Daniel Deronda_, she made herself familiar with
Jewish life, and has given the race aroma to her portraits and scenes. She
is thoroughly a realist, but a realist with a wide and attractive sympathy,
a profound insight into motives and impulses, and a strong imagination. She
is too great a genius to believe that the novelist can describe life as the
geologist describes the strata of the earth. She feels with her characters;
she has that form of insight or imagination which enables her to apprehend
a mind totally unlike her own. This is what saves the history of Hetty from
coarseness and repulsiveness. It is Hetty's own account of her life-woes.
Its infinite pathos, and the tenderness and pity it awakens, destroys our
concern for the other features of the narrative.

Psychologic analysis seems out of place in a novel, but with George Eliot
it is a chief purpose of her writing. She lays bare the soul, opens its
inmost secrets, and its anatomy is minutely studied. She devotes more space
to the inner life and character of her personalities than to her narratives
and conversations. She traces some of her characters through a long process
of development, and shows how they are affected by the experiences of life.
Her more important characters grow up under her pen, develop under the
influence of thought or sorrow. Novelists usually carry their characters
through their pages on the same level of mind and life; and George Eliot
not only does this with her uncultured characters, but she also shows the
soul in the process of unfolding or expanding. None of her leading
characters are at the end what they were in the beginning; with the most
subtle power she traces the growth of Tito Melema's mind through its
perilous descent into selfish corruption, and with equal or even greater
skill she unfolds the history of Daniel Deronda's development under the
impulse to find for himself a life-mission. In this direction George Eliot
is always great. Her skill is remarkable, albeit she has not sounded either
the highest or the lowest ranges of human capacity. The range within which
her studies are made is a wide one, however, and within it she has shown
herself the master of human motives and a consummate artist in portraying
the soul. She devotes the utmost care to describing some plain person who
appears in her pages for but a moment, and is as much concerned that he
shall be truly presented as if he were of the utmost consequence. More than
one otherwise very ordinary character acquires under this treatment of hers
the warmest interest for the reader. And she describes such persons,
because their influence is subtle or momentous as it affects the lives of
others. Personages and incidents play a part in her books not for the sake
of the plot or to secure dramatic unity, but for the sake of manifesting
the soul, in order that the unfoldment of psychologic analysis may go on.
The unity she aims at is that of showing the development of the soul under
influence of some one or more decisive impulses or as affected by given
surroundings. The lesser characters, while given a nature quite their own,
help in the process of unfolding the personality which gives central
purpose to each of her novels. The influence of opposite natures on each
other, the moulding power of circumstances, and especially the bearings of
hereditary impulses, all play a prominent part in this process of
psychologic analysis.

Through page after page and chapter after chapter she traces the feelings
and thoughts of her characters. How each decisive event appears to them is
explained at length. Moreover, the most trivial trait of character, the
most incidental impulse, is described in all its particularity. Through
many pages Hetty's conduct in her own bedroom is laid before the reader,
and in no other way could her nature have been so brought to our knowledge.
Her shallow lightness of heart and her vanity could not be realized by
ordinary intercourse with one so pretty and so bright; but George Eliot
describes Hetty's taking out the earrings given her by Arthur, and we see
what she is. The author seeks to open before us the inner life of that
childish soul, and we see into its nature and realize all its capacities
for good and evil.

Oh, the delight of taking out that little box and looking at the
earrings! Do not reason about it, my philosophical reader, and say that
Hetty, being very pretty, must have known that it did not signify
whether she had any ornaments or not; and that, moreover, to look at
earrings which she could not possibly wear out of her bedroom could
hardly be a satisfaction, the essence of vanity being a reference to
the impressions produced on others; you will never understand women's
natures if you are so excessively rational. Try rather to divest
yourself of all your rational prejudices, as much as if you were
studying the psychology of a canary-bird, and only watch the movements
of this pretty round creature as she turns her head on one side with an
unconscious smile at the earrings nestled in the little box. Ah! you
think, it is for the sake of the person who has given them to her, and
her thoughts are gone back now to the moment when they were put into
her hands. No; else why should she have cared to have earrings rather
than anything else? and I know that she had longed for earrings from
among all the ornaments she could imagine.

This faculty of soul interpretation may be illustrated by innumerable
passages and from characters the most diverse in nature and capacity. As an
instance of her ability to interpret uncommon minds, those affected in some
peculiar manner, reference may be made to Baldassarre, in _Romola_. The
descriptions of this man's sufferings, the giving way of his mind under
them, and the purpose of revenge which took complete possession of him,
form a study in character unsurpassed. For subtle insight into the action
of a morbid mind, and for a majestic conception of human passion, the
passage wherein Baldassarre finds he can again read his Greek book is most
worthy of attention.

Her ability to delineate a growing mind, and a mind at work under the
influence of new and rare experiences, is shown in the case of Daniel
Deronda. His quiet love of ease as a boy is described as he sits one day
watching the falling rain, and meditates on the possibility which has been
suggested to him, that his is not to be the life of a gentleman.

He knew a great deal of what it was to be a gentleman by inheritance,
and without thinking much about himself--for he was a boy of active
perceptions, and easily forgot his own existence in that of Robert
Bruce--he had never supposed that he could be shut out from such a lot,
or have a very different part in the world from that of the uncle who
petted him... But Daniel's tastes were altogether in keeping with his
nurture: his disposition was one in which every-day scenes and habits
beget not _ennui_ or rebellion but delight, affection, aptitudes;
and now the lad had been stung to the quick by the idea that his
uncle--perhaps his father--thought of a career for him which was
totally unlike his own, and which he knew very well was not thought of
among possible destinations for the sons of English gentlemen.

The mind of this lad expands; ideal desires awake in him; there is a
yearning for a life of noble knight-errantry in some heroic cause. The
reader is permitted to watch from step to step the growth of this longing,
and to behold each new deed by which it is expressed. He craves for a
broader life, but he is surrounded by such a social atmosphere as to make
his longing futile. As a young man who is seeking to know what there is in
the world for him to do, and who is eager for some task that is to end in a
larger life for man, he is again described.

It happened that the very vividness of his impressions had often made
him the more enigmatic to his friends, and had contributed to an
apparent indefiniteness in his sentiments. His early wakened
sensibility and reflectiveness, had developed into a many-sided
sympathy, which threatened to hinder any persistent course of action:
as soon as he took up any antagonism, though only in thought, he seemed
to himself like the Sabine warriors in the memorable story--with
nothing to meet his spear but flesh of his flesh, and objects that he
loved. His imagination had so wrought itself to the habit of seeing
things as they probably appeared to others, that a strong partisanship,
unless it were against an immediate oppression, had become an
insincerity for him. His plenteous, flexible sympathy had ended by
falling into one current with that reflective analysis which tends to
neutralize sympathy. Few men were able to keep themselves clearer of
vices than he; yet he hated vices mildly, being used to think of them
less in the abstract than as a part of mixed human natures having an
individual history, which it was the bent of his mind to trace with
understanding and pity. With the same innate balance he was fervidly
democratic in his feeling for the multitude, and yet, through his
affections and imagination, intensely conservative; voracious of
speculations on government and religion, yet loath to part with
long-sanctioned forms which, for him, were quick with memories and
sentiments that no argument could lay dead... He was ceasing to care
for knowledge--he had no ambition for practice--unless they could both
be gathered up into one current with his emotions; and he dreaded, as
if it were a dwelling-place of lost souls, that dead anatomy of culture
which turns the universe into a mere ceaseless answer to queries, and
knows, not everything, but everything else about everything--as if one
should be ignorant of nothing concerning the scent of violets except
the scent itself, for which one had no nostril. But how and whence was
the needed event to come?--the influence that would justify partiality,
and make him what he longed to be, yet was unable to make himself--an
organic part of social life, instead of roaming in it like a yearning
disembodied spirit, stirred with a vague, social passion, but without
fixed local habitation to render fellowship real? To make a little
difference for the better was what he was not contented to live
without; but how make it? It is one thing to see your road, another to
cut it.

He rescues Mirah and sets out in search of her brother. He finds Mordecai,
and gradually a way is opened to him along which his yearning is satisfied.
Step by step the reader is permitted to trace the expansion of his mind. A
window is opened into his soul, and we see its every movement as Daniel is
led on to find the mission which was to be his. When that task is fully
accepted he says to Mordecai,--

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 to be striven for as a personal prize.

In her strong tendency to psychologic analysis George Eliot much resembles
Robert Browning. It is the life of passion and ideas which both alike
delight to describe. They greatly differ, however, in their methods of
dissecting the inner life. Browning lays bare the soul in some startling
experience, George Eliot by the slow development of the mind through all
the stages of growth. He is impersonal, but she is always present to make
comments and to expound the causes of growth. Yet her characters are as
clear-cut, as individual, as his. His analysis is the more rapid, subtle
and complete in immediate expression; hers is the more penetrating,
vigorous and interesting. His lightning flash sees the soul through and
through in the present moment; her calmer and intenser gaze penetrates the
long succession of hidden causes by which the soul is shaped to its earthly

Any account of George Eliot which dwells only on her humor and sarcasm, her
realism and her powers of analysis, does her grave injustice. She has also
in rare degree the power of artistic constructiveness, a strong and
brilliant imagination and genius of almost the highest range. She can
create character as well as analyze it, and with that brilliant command of
resources which indicates a high order of genius. She had culture almost
equal to Goethe's, and quite equal to Mrs. Browning's; and she had that
wide sympathy with life which was his, with an equal capacity for their
expression in an artistic reconstruction of human experience. While Mr. R.
H. Hutton is justified in saying that "few minds at once so speculative and
so creative have ever put their mark on literature," yet the critic needs
to beware lest he give the speculative tendency in her mind a place too
prominent compared with that assigned to her creative genius. The poet and
the novelist are so seldom speculative, so seldom put into their creations
the constant burden of great thoughts, that when one appears who does this,
it is likely to be dwelt upon too largely by the critics. George Eliot
speculates about life and its experiences, and it is evident she had a
philosophy of life at her command; but it is quite as true that she soars
on pinions free into the heavens of genius, and brings back the song which
no other has sung, and which is a true song. She has created characters,
she has described the histories of souls, in a manner which will cause some
of her books to endure for all time. If she has allied her genius to
current culture and speculation, it has in that way been given continuity
of purpose and definiteness of aim. The genius is there and cannot be
hidden or obscured; and those who love what is great and noble will be
profoundly attracted by her books. If a great thinker, she is still more
truly a great literary artist; and such is the largeness and gracious power
of her genius that those who do not love her speculations will be drawn to
her in spite of all objections. Her genius is generous, expansive,
illuminative, profound. Her creativeness is an elemental power; new births
are to be found in her books; life has grown under her moulding touch.



Before George Eliot began her career as a novelist she had already turned
her attention to what is good and bad in fiction-writing, and had given
expression to her own theory of the novel. What she wrote on this subject
is excellent in itself, but it now has an additional interest in view of
her success as a novelist, and as throwing light on her conception of the
purposes to be followed in the writing of fiction. In what she wrote on
this subject two ideas stand out distinctly, that women are to find in
novel-writing a literary field peculiarly adapted to their capacities, and
that the novel should be a true portraiture of life.

She was a zealous advocate of woman's capacity to excel as a novelist, and
she saw in this form of literature a field especially adapted to her
greater powers of emotion and sympathy. Very generous and appreciative are
her references to the lady novelists whom she defends, the excellence of
whose work she maintains entitles them to the highest places as literary
artists. In the article on "Lady Novelists" she has drawn attention both to
those qualities in which woman may excel and to those in which she may
fail. In writing later of "Silly Novels by Lady Novelists" she criticised
unsparingly those women who write novels without comprehending life or any
of its problems, and who write in a merely artificial manner. The width of
her own culture, the vigor of her critical talent, the largeness of her
conception of life and its interests, are well expressed in these essays.
Only a large mind could have so truly conceived the real nature of woman's
relations to literature, and expressed them in a spirit so intelligent and
comprehensive. She would have the whole of life portrayed, and she believes
only a woman can truly speak for women. But her faith in woman seems not to
have been of the revolutionary character. She rather preferred that women
should achieve a higher social condition by deeds than by words. A great
intellectual career like her own, which places a woman in the front rank of
literary creators, does more to elevate the position of women than any
amount of agitation in favor of suffrage. That she sought for the highest
intellectual achievement, and that she labored to attain the widest results
of scholarship, is greatly to her credit; but more to her credit is it,
that she made no claim upon the public as a woman, but only as a literary
artist. She asked that her work should be judged on its literary merits, as
the product of intellect, and not with reference to her sex. While
believing that woman can do her work best by being true to the instincts,
sympathies and capacities of her sex, yet she would have the same standard
of literary judgment applied to women as to men. Its truthfulness, its
reality, its power to widen our sympathies and enlarge our culture, its
measure of genius and moral power, is the true test to be applied to any
literary work. Such being her conception of the manner in which women
should be judged when becoming literary creators, she had no excuses to
offer for those who make use of prejudices and a false culture in their own
behalf. She says that

The most mischievous form of feminine silliness is the literary form,
because it tends to confirm the popular prejudice against the solid
education of women.

That she believed in the solid education of women is apparent in her own
efforts towards obtaining it for herself, and her conception of what is to
be done with it was large and generous. Mere learning she did not hold to
be an adornment in a woman. The culture must be transmuted into life-power,
and be poured forth, not as oracular wisdom in silly novels, but as
sympathy and enlarged comprehension of the daily duties of life. When
educated women "mistake vagueness for depth, bombast for eloquence, and
affectation for originality," she is not surprised that men regard
rhodomontade as the native accent of woman's intellect, or that they come
to the conclusion that "the average nature of women is too shallow and
feeble a soil to bear much tillage."

It is true that the men who come to such a decision on such very
superficial and imperfect observation may not be among the wisest in
the world; but we have not now to contest their opinion--we are only
pointing out how it is unconsciously encouraged by many women who have
volunteered themselves as representatives of the feminine intellect. We
do not believe that a man was ever strengthened in such an opinion by
associating with a woman of true culture, whose mind had absorbed her
knowledge instead of being absorbed by it. A really cultured woman,
like a really cultured man, is all the simpler and the less obtrusive
for her knowledge; it has made her see herself and her opinions in
something like just proportions; she does not make it a pedestal from
which she flatters herself that she commands a complete view of men and
things, but makes it a point of observation from which to form a right
estimate of herself.... She does not write books to confound
philosophers, perhaps because she is able to write books that delight
them, in conversation she is the least formidable of women, because she
understands you, without wanting to make you aware that you _can't_
understand her. She does not give you information, which is the raw
material of culture,--she gives you sympathy, which is its subtlest

After this estimate of the value of culture to women, it is interesting to
turn to George Eliot's words concerning the legitimate work which women can
perform in literature. What she says on this subject shows that she not
only had culture, but also the wisdom which is its highest result. She saw
that while a woman is to ask for no leniency towards her work because she
is a woman, yet that she is not to imitate men or to ignore her sex. She is
to portray life as a woman sees it, with a woman's sympathies and
experiences. To interpret the feminine side of life is her legitimate
province as a literary artist.

If we regard literature as the expression of the emotions, the whims,
the caprices, the enthusiasms, the fluctuating idealisms which move
each epoch, we shall not be far wrong; and inasmuch as women
necessarily take part in these things, they ought to give them _their_
expression. And this leads us to the heart of the question, what does
the literature of women mean? It means this: while it is impossible for
men to express life otherwise than as they know it--and they can only
know it profoundly according to their own experience--the advent of
female literature promises woman's view of life, woman's experience; in
other words, a new element. Make what distinctions you please in the
social world, it still remains true that men and women have different
organizations, consequently different experiences. To know life you
must have both sides depicted. Let him paint what he knows. And if you
limit woman's sphere to the domestic circle, you must still recognize
the concurrent necessity of domestic life finding its homeliest and
truest expression in the woman who lives it.

Keeping to the abstract heights we have chosen, too abstract and
general to be affected by exceptions, we may further say that the
masculine mind is characterized by the predominance of the intellect,
and the feminine by the predominance of the emotions. According to this
rough division, the regions of philosophy would be assigned to men,
those of literature to women. We need scarcely warn the reader against
too rigorous an interpretation of this statement, which is purposely
exaggerated the better to serve as a signpost. It is quite true that no
such absolute distinction will be found in authorship. There is no man
whose mind is shrivelled up into pure intellect; there is no woman
whose intellect is completely absorbed by her emotions. But in most men
the intellect does not move in such inseparable alliance with the
emotions as in most women, and hence, although often not so great as in
women, yet the intellect is more commonly dominant. In poets, artists,
and men of letters, _par excellence_, we observe this feminine trait,
that their intellect habitually moves in alliance with their emotions;
and one of the best descriptions of poetry was that given by Professor
Wilson, as the "intellect colored by the feelings."

Woman, by her greater affectionateness, her greater range and depth
of emotional experience, is well fitted to give expression to
the emotional facts of life, and demands a place in literature
corresponding to that she occupies in society; and that literature
must be greatly benefited thereby, follows from the definition we have
given of literature.

But hitherto, in spite of illustrations, the literature of woman has
fallen short of its function, owing to a very natural and a very
explicable weakness--it has been too much a literature of imitation. To
write as men write, is the aim and besetting sin of women; to write as
women, is the real office they have to perform. Our definition of
literature includes this necessity. If writers are bound to express
what they have really known, felt and suffered, that very obligation
imperiously declares they shall not quit their own point of view for
the point of view of others. To imitate is to abdicate. We are in no
need of more male writers; we are in need of genuine female experience.
The prejudices, notions, passions and conventionalisms of men are amply
illustrated; let us have the same fulness with respect to women.
Unhappily the literature of women may be compared with that of Rome: no
amount of graceful talent can disguise the internal defect. Virgil,
Ovid and Catullus were assuredly gifted with delicate and poetic
sensibility; but their light is, after all, the light of moons
reflected from the Grecian suns, and such as brings little life with
its rays, To speak in Greek, to think in Greek, was the ambition of all
cultivated Romans, who could not see that it would be a grander thing
to utter their pure Roman natures in sincere originality. So of women.
The throne of intellect has so long been occupied by men, that women
naturally deem themselves bound to attend the court. Greece domineered
over Rome; its intellectual supremacy was recognized, and the only way
of rivalling it seemed to be imitation. Yet not so did Rome vanquish
Pyrrhus and his elephants; not by employing elephants to match his, but
by Roman valor.

Of all departments of literature, fiction is the one to which, by
nature and by circumstance, women are best adapted. Exceptional women
will of course be found competent to the highest success in other
departments; but speaking generally, novels are their forte. The
domestic experiences which form the bulk of woman's knowledge finds an
appropriate form in novels; while the very nature of fiction calls for
that predominance of sentiment which we have already attributed to the
feminine mind. Love is the staple of fiction, for it "forms the story
of a woman's life." The joys and sorrows of affection, the incidents of
domestic life, the aspirations and fluctuations of emotional life,
assume typical forms in the novel. Hence we may be prepared to find
women succeeding better in _finesse_ of detail, in pathos and
sentiment, while men generally succeed better in the construction of
plots and the delineation of character. Such a novel as _Tom Jones_ or
_Vanity Fair_ we shall not get from a woman, nor such an effort of
imaginative history as _Ivanhoe_ or _Old Mortality_; but Fielding,
Thackeray and Scott are equally excluded from such perfection in its
kind as _Pride and Prejudice_, _Indiana_ or _Jane Eyre_. As an artist
Jane Austen surpasses all the male novelists that ever lived; and for
eloquence and depth of feeling no man approaches George Sand.

We are here led to another curious point in our subject, viz., the
influence of sorrow upon female literature. It may be said without
exaggeration that almost all literature has some remote connection with
suffering. "Speculation," said Novalis, "is disease." It certainly
springs from a vague disquiet. Poetry is analogous to the pearl which
the oyster secretes in its malady.

"Most wretched men
Are cradled into poetry by wrong,
They learn in suffering what they teach in song."

What Shelley says of poets, applies with greater force to women. If
they turn their thoughts to literature, it is--when not purely an
imitative act--always to solace by some intellectual activity the
sorrow that in silence wastes their lives, and by a withdrawal of the
intellect from the contemplation of their pain, or by a transmutation
of their secret anxieties into types, they escape from the pressure of
that burden. If the accidents of her position make her solitary and
inactive, or if her thwarted affections shut her somewhat from that
sweet domestic and maternal sphere to which her whole being
spontaneously moves, she turns to literature as to another sphere. We
do not here simply refer to those notorious cases where literature was
taken up with the avowed and conscious purpose of withdrawing thoughts
from painful subjects; but to the unconscious, unavowed influence of
domestic disquiet and unfulfilled expectations, in determining the
sufferer to intellectual activity. The happy wife and busy mother are
only forced into literature by some hereditary organic tendency,
stronger even than the domestic; and hence it is that the cleverest
women are not those who have written books.

In the later essay on "Silly Novels" her powers of sarcasm were fully
displayed. It showed keen critical powers, and a clear insight into the
defects inherent in most novel-writing. She spared no faults, had no mercy
for presumption, and condemned unsparingly the pretence of culture.
She described four kinds of silly novels, classing them as being of the
_mind-and-millinery_, the _oracular, the _white-neck-cloth_, and the
_modern-antique_ varieties. All her powers of analysis and insight shown
in her novels appeared in this article.

Severe as her criticism is, it is always just. It aims at the presentation
of a truer conception of the purpose of novel-writing, and women are
judged simply as literary workers. This criticism is based on the clearest
apprehension of why it is that women fail as novel-writers; that it is not
because they are women, but because they are false to nature and to the
simplest conditions of literary art. These women write poor novels because
they aim at fine writing, and believe they must be learned and
grandiloquent. They ignore what they see about them every day, and which,
if they were to describe it in simple language, would give them real power.
It is this falsity in thought, method and purpose which is so severely
condemned. And it is the very justness of the criticism which makes it
severe, which gives to a true description of these novels the nature of a
stinging sarcasm. That these women are praised by the critics she justly
regards as a sure indication of their incapacity, or a sign of man's
chivalry towards the other sex, which does not permit him to speak the
truth about what he knows to be so false and immature. She also sees that
what women need is to be told the truth, and to be compelled to accept the
just consequences of their work,

The standing apology for women who become writers without any special
qualification is, that society shuts them out from other spheres of
occupation. Society is a very culpable entity, and has to answer for
the manufacture of many unwholesome commodities, from bad pickles to
bad poetry. But society, like "matter" and her Majesty's Government,
and other lofty abstractions, has its share of excessive blame as
well as excessive praise. Where there is one woman who writes from
necessity, we believe there are three who write from vanity; and
besides, there is something so antiseptic in the mere healthy fact
of working for one's bread, that the most trashy and rotten kind
of literature is not likely to have been produced under such
circumstances. "In all labor there is profit;" but ladies' silly
novels, we imagine, are less the result of labor than of busy idleness.

Happily we are not dependent on argument to prove that fiction is a
department of literature in which women can, after their kind, fully
equal men. A cluster of great names, both living and dead, rush to our
memories in evidence that women can produce novels not only fine, but
among the very finest;--novels, too, that have a precious specialty,
lying quite apart from masculine aptitudes and experience. No
educational restrictions can shut women out from the materials of
fiction, and there is no species of art which is so free from rigid
requirements. Like crystalline masses, it may take any form and yet
be beautiful; we have only to pour in the right elements--genuine
observation, humor and passion. But it is precisely this absence
of rigid requirement which constitutes the fatal seduction of
novel-writing to incompetent women. Ladies are not wont to be very
grossly deceived as to their power of playing on the piano; here
certain positive difficulties of execution have to be conquered, and
incompetence inevitably breaks down. Every art which has its absolute
_technique_ is, to a certain extent, guarded from the intrusions of
mere left-handed imbecility. But in novel-writing there are no barriers
for incapacity to stumble against, no external criteria to prevent a
writer from mistaking foolish facility for mastery. And so we have
again and again the old story of La Fontaine's ass, who puts his nose
to the flute, and, finding that he elicits some sound, exclaims, "Moi,
aussi, je joue de la flute;"--a fable which we commend, at parting, to
the consideration of any feminine reader who is in danger of adding to
the number of "silly novels by lady novelists."

Her praise of the great novelists is as enthusiastic as her condemnation of
the silly ones is severe. It is interesting to note that in the first of
these papers she selects Jane Austen and George Sand as the chiefest among
women novelists, and that she praises them for the truthfulness of their
portraitures of life, nor is she any the less aware of the defects of these
masters than of the deficiencies of silly women who write novels. She finds
that Jane Austen never penetrates into the deeper spiritual experiences of
life, and that George Sand lacks in that moral poise and purity which is so
necessary to the finest literary effort. Her sketches of these women are as
truthful as they are interesting.

First and foremost let Jane Austen be named, the greatest artist that
has ever written, using the term to signify the most perfect mastery
over the means to her end. There are heights and depths in human nature
Miss Austen has never scaled nor fathomed, there are worlds of
passionate existence into which she has never set foot; but although
this is obvious to every reader, it is equally obvious that she has
risked no failures by attempting to delineate that which she has not
seen. Her circle may be restricted, but it is complete. Her world is a
perfect orb and vital. Life, as it appears to an English gentlewoman
peacefully yet actively engaged in her quiet village, is mirrored in
her works with a purity and fidelity that must endow them with interest
for all time. To read one of her books is like an actual experience of
life; you know the people as if you had lived with them, and you feel
something of personal affection towards them. The marvellous reality
and subtle distinctive traits noticeable in her portraits has led
Macaulay to call her a prose Shakspere. If the whole force of the
distinction which lies in that epithet _prose_ be fairly appreciated,
no one, we think, will dispute the compliment; for out of Shakspere it
would be difficult to find characters so typical yet so nicely
demarcated within the limits of their kind. We do not find such
profound psychological insight as may be found in George Sand (not to
mention male writers), but taking the type to which the characters
belong, we see the most intimate and accurate knowledge in all Miss
Austen's creations.

Only cultivated minds fairly appreciate the exquisite art of Miss
Austen. Those who demand the stimulus of effects, those who can only
see by strong lights and shadows, will find her tame and uninteresting.
We may illustrate this by one detail. Lucy Steele's bad English, so
delicately and truthfully indicated, would in the hands of another have
been more obvious, more "effective" in its exaggeration, but the loss
of this comic effect is more than replaced to the cultivated reader by
his relish of the nice discrimination visible in its truthfulness. And
so of the rest. _Strong_ lights are unnecessary, _true_ lights being
at command. The incidents, the characters, the dialogue--all are of
every-day life, and so truthfully presented that to appreciate the art
we must try to imitate it, or carefully compare it with that of others.

We are but echoing an universal note of praise in speaking thus highly
of her works, and it is from no desire of simply swelling that chorus
of praise that we name her here, but to call attention to the peculiar
excellence, at once womanly and literary, which has earned this
reputation. Of all imaginative writers she is the most _real_. Never
does she transcend her own actual experience, never does her pen trace
a line that does not touch the experience of others. Herein we
recognize the first quality of literature. We recognize the second and
more special quality of womanliness in the tone and point of view; they
are novels written by a woman, an Englishwoman, a gentlewoman; no
signature could disguise that fact; and because she has so faithfully
(although unconsciously) kept to her own womanly point of view, her
works are durable. There is nothing of the _doctrinaire_ in Jane
Austen; not a trace of woman's "mission;" but as the most truthful,
charming, humorous, pure-minded, quick-witted and unexaggerated of
writers, female literature has reason to be proud of her.

And this is her suggestive portrait of the other, drawn with that skill
which is only displayed when one genius interprets another through
community of feeling and purpose.

Of greater genius, and incomparably deeper experience, George Sand
represents woman's literature more illustriously and more obviously. In
her, quite apart from the magnificent gifts of nature, we see the
influence of sorrow as a determining impulse to write, and the abiding
consciousness of the womanly point of view as the subject matter of her
writings. In vain has she chosen the mask of a man: the features of a
woman are everywhere visible. Since Goethe no one has been able to say
with so much truth, "My writings are my confessions." Her biography
lies there, presented, indeed, in a fragmentary shape and under wayward
disguises, but nevertheless giving to the motley groups the strong and
uumistakable charm of reality. Her grandmother, by whom she was brought
up, disgusted at her not being a boy, resolved to remedy the misfortune
as far as possible by educating her like a boy. We may say of this, as
of all the other irregularities of her strange and exceptional life,
that whatever unhappiness and error may be traceable thereto, its
influence on her writings has been beneficial, by giving a greater
range to her experience. It may be selfish to rejoice over the malady
which secretes a pearl, but the possessor of the pearl may at least
congratulate himself that at any rate the pearl has been produced; and
so of the unhappiness of genius. Certainly few women have had such
profound and varied experience as George Sand; none have turned it to
more account. Her writings contain many passages that her warmest
admirers would wish unwritten; but although severe criticism may detect
the weak places, the severest criticism must conclude with the
admission of her standing among the highest minds of literature. In the
matter of eloquence, she surpasses everything France has yet produced.
There has been no style at once so large, so harmonious, so expressive,
and so unaffected: like a light shining through an alabaster vase, the
ideas shine through her diction; while as regards rhythmic melody of
phrase, it is a style such as Beethoven might have written had he
uttered in words the melodious passion that was in him. But deeper than
all eloquence, grander than all grandeur of phrase, is that forlorn
splendor of a life of passionate experience painted in her works. There
is no man so wise but he may learn from them, for they are the
utterances of a soul in pain, a soul that has been tried. No man could
have written her books, for no man could have had her experience, even
with a genius equal to her own. The philosopher may smile sometimes at
her philosophy, for _that_ is only the reflex of some man whose ideas
she has adopted; the critic may smile sometimes--at her failure in
delineating men; but both philosopher and critic must perceive that
those writings of hers are _original_ and genuine, are transcripts of
experience, and as such fulfil the primary condition of all literature.

This clear, intellectual apprehension of what woman can effect in
literature, had much to do with George Eliot's own success. Yet it is
doubtful if she was so true, in some directions, to the instincts of her
sex as was George Sand, Mrs. Browning or Charlotte Bronte. Hers was in
large measure an intellect without sex; and though she was a woman in all
the instincts of her heart, yet intellectually she occupied the human
rather than the woman's point of view. With a marvellous insight into the
heart of woman, and great skill in portraying womanly natures, she had a
man's way, the logical and impersonal manner, of viewing, the greater
problems of human existence. Charlotte Bronte more truly represents the
woman's way of viewing life; the trustful way of one educated in the
conventional views of religion. She has given a corrector interpretation of
the meaning of love to woman than George Eliot has been able to present,
and simply because she thought and lived more nearly as other women think
and live. Hers was the genius of spontaneous insight and emotion, that
vibrated to every experience and was moved by every sentiment. Life played
upon her heart like the wind upon an Aescolian harp, and she reflected its
every movement of joy and sorrow. George Eliot studied life, probed into
it, cut it in pieces, constructed a theory of it, and then told us what it
means. In this she was unlike other women who have made a deep impression
on literature. Mrs. Browning had nearly as much culture, was as thoughtful
as she, but more genuinely feminine at the heart-core. Love she painted in
a purer and happier fashion than that adopted by George Eliot, and she had
the warmer impulses of a woman's tenderness. Her account of life is the
truer, because it is the more ideal; and this may be said for Charlotte
Bronte also. George Eliot had the larger intellect, the keener mind, was a
profounder thinker; but her realism held her back from that instinctive
conception of life which realizes its larger ideal meanings. It is not
enough to see what is; man desires to know what ought to be. The poet is
the seer, the one who apprehends, who has that finer eye for facts by which
he is able to behold what the facts give promise of. This ideal vision Mrs.
Browning had, and in so far she was the superior of George Eliot. The same
may be said for George Sand, who, with all her wildness and impurity, was a
woman through and through. She was all heart, all impulse, lived in her
instincts and emotions. She had the abandon, enthusiasm and spontaneity
which George Eliot lacked. If the one represents the head, the other
expresses the heart of woman. George Eliot, as a woman, thought, reasoned,
philosophized; George Sand felt, gave every emotion reign, lived out all
her impulses. What the one lacks the other had; where one was weak the
other was strong. With somewhat of George Sand's idealism and emotional
zeal for wider and freer life, George Eliot would have been a greater
writer. Could she have moulded Dorothea with what is best in Consuelo, she
would have been the rival of the greatest literary artists among men. Yet,
with her limitations, it must be said that George Eliot is the superior of
all other women in her literary accomplishments. If others are her
superiors in some directions, in the totality of her powers she surpasses
all. Even as an interpreter of woman's nature and the feminine side of
life, she does not fail to keep well ahead of the best of feminine writers.
She is more thoroughly the master of her powers, is more self-centred,
looks out upon human experience more calmly and with a more penetrating
gaze. Foremost of the half-dozen women who during the present century have
sought to interpret the feminine side of life, she has done much for her
sex. Daring more than others, she has given a greater promise than any
other of what woman is to accomplish when her nature blossoms out into all
its possibilities.

The chief rule for novel-writing laid down by George Eliot in these essays
is, that the novel shall be the result of experience and true to nature.
She emphasizes the importance of this condition, and says that the novelist
is bound to use actual experience as his material, and that alone, or else
keep silent. Weak and silly novels are the result of an effort to break
away from this rule; but the writer who ventures to disregard it never can
be other than silly or weak. Novelists, she says, may either portray
experience outwardly through observation, or inwardly through sentiment, or
through a combination of both.

Observation without sentiment usually leads to humor or satire;
sentiment without observation to rhetoric and long-drawn lachrymosity.
The extreme fault of the one is flippant superficiality, that of the
other is what is called sickly sentimentality.

All true literature, she says, is based on fact, describes life as it is
lived by men and women, touches and is fragrant with reality. This cardinal
principle of literary art she has defined and illustrated in her own strong
and expressive manner in this _Review_ article.

All poetry, all fiction, all comedy, all _belles-lettres_, even to the
playful caprices of fancy, are but the expression of experiences and
emotions; and these expressions are the avenues through which we reach
the sacred _adytum_ of humanity, and learn better to understand our
fellows and ourselves. In proportion as these expressions are the forms
of universal truths, of facts common to all nations or appreciable by
all intellects, the literature which sets them forth is permanently good
and true. Hence the universality and immortality of Homer, Shakspere,
Cervantes, Moliere. But in proportion as these expressions are the forms
of individual, peculiar truths, such as fleeting fashions or
idiosyncrasies, the literature is ephemeral. Hence tragedy never grows
old, for it arises from elemental experience; but comedy soon ages, for
it arises from peculiarities. Nevertheless, even idiosyncrasies are
valuable as side glances; they are aberrations that bring the natural
orbit into more prominent distinctness.

It follows from what has been said, that literature, being essentially
the expression of experience and emotion--of what we have seen, felt
and thought--that only _that_ literature is effective, and to be prized
accordingly, which has _reality for its basis_ (needless to say that
emotion is as real as the three-per-cents), _and effective in
proportion to the depth and breadth of that basis_.

In writing? of the authors of _Jane Eyre_ and _Mary Barton_, she shows how
important to her mind it is that the novel should have its basis in actual
experience, and that it should be an expression of reality.

They have both given imaginative expression to actual experience--they
have not invented, but reproduced; they have preferred the truth, such
as their own experience testified, to the vague, false, conventional
notions current in circulating libraries. Whatever of weakness may be
pointed out in their works will, we are positive, be mostly in those
parts where experience is deserted, and the supposed requirements of
fiction have been listened to; whatever has really affected the public
mind is, we are equally, certain, the transcript of some actual
incident, character or emotion. Note, moreover, that beyond this basis
of actuality these writers have the further advantage of deep feeling
united to keen observation.

Especially severe is her condemnation of the tendency to introduce only
fashionable or learned people into novels. She says the silly novelists
rarely make us acquainted with "any other than very lofty and fashionable
society," and very often the authors know nothing of such society except
from the reading of other such novels.

It is true that we are constantly struck with the want of
verisimilitude in their representations of the high society in which
they seem to live; but then they betray no closer acquaintance with
any other form of life. If their peers and peeresses are improbable,
their literary men, tradespeople and cottagers are impossible; and
their intellect seems to have the peculiar impartiality of reproducing
both what they _have_ seen and heard, and what they have _not_ seen
and heard, with equal faithfulness.

What is simple, natural, unaffected, she pleads for as the true material of
fiction. How she would apply this idea may be seen in her condemnation of a
novelist who devoted her pages to a defence of Evangelicalism. This writer
is "tame and feeble" because she attempts to depict a form of society with
which she is not familiar. That the common phases of religious life are
capable of affording the richest material for the novelist, George Eliot
has abundantly shown, and what she says of their value in this discussion
of "Silly Novelists" is of great interest in view of her own success in
this kind of portraiture. What she suggested as a fine field for the
novelist was to be the one she herself was so well to occupy. Her success
proved how clearly she comprehended the nature of novel-writing, and how
well she understood the character of the material with which the best
results can be attained.

It is less excusable in an Evangelical novelist than any other,
gratuitously to seek her subjects among titles and carriages. The real
drama of Evangelicalism--and it has abundance of fine drama for any one
who has genius enough to discern and reproduce it--lies among the
middle and lower classes; and are not Evangelical opinions understood
to give an especial interest in the weak things of the earth, rather
than in the mighty? Why, then, cannot our Evangelical novelists show
us the operation of their religious views among people (there really
are many such in the world) who keep no carriage, "not so much as a
brass-bound gig," who even manage to eat their dinner without a silver
fork, and in whose mouths the authoress's questionable English would be
strictly consistent? Why can we not have pictures of religious life
among the industrial classes in England as interesting as Mrs. Stowe's
pictures of religious life among the negroes?

Was this question a prophecy? It indicates that the writer's attention
had already been directed to the richness of this material for the purposes
of the novelist. After reading these words we see why she took up the
common life of the English village as she had herself been familiar with
it from childhood. In order to be true to her own conception of the novel,
there was no other field she could occupy. That she understood the
picturesqueness of this form of life no reader of her novels will doubt,
or that she saw and understood its capacities for artistic delineation.
The opening paragraphs of her _Westminster Review_ article on the "Natural
History of German Life" afford further evidence of her insight and
wisdom on this subject. They also afford evidence of her hatred of the
conventional and the artificial in art, literature and life. The spirit of
imitation and mannerism common to the eighteenth century was in every way
repugnant to her. She could have had only contempt for the literary art of
a Pope or a Boileau. The nature of her realism, and the conception she had
of its importance, may be understood from these paragraphs, for in them she
has unfolded her theory more clearly than in anything else she has written,
and with that genius for sympathetic description which is so marked in her

How little the real characteristics of the working-classes are known to
those who are outside them, how little their natural history has been
studied, is sufficiently disclosed by our art as well as by our
political and social theories. Where, in our picture exhibitions, shall
we find a group of true peasantry? What English artist even attempts to
rival in truthfulness such studies of popular life as the pictures of
Teniers or the ragged boys of Murillo? Even one of the greatest
painters of the pre-eminently realistic school, while in his picture of
"The Hireling Shepherd" he gave us a landscape of marvellous
truthfulness, placed a pair of peasants in the foreground who were not
much more real than the idyllic swains and damsels of our chimney
ornaments. Only a total absence of acquaintance and sympathy with our
peasantry could give a moment's popularity to such a picture as "Cross
Purposes," where we have a peasant girl who looks as if she knew
L.E.L.'s poems by heart, and English rustics whose costumes seem to
indicate that they are meant for ploughmen with exotic features that
remind us of a handsome _primo tenore_. Rather than such cockney
sentimentality as this as an education for the taste and sympathies, we
prefer the most crapulous group of boors that Teniers ever painted. But
even those among our painters who aim at giving the rustic type of
features, who are far above the effeminate feebleness of the "Keepsake"
style, treat their subjects under the influence of traditions and
prepossessions rather than of direct observation. The notion that
peasants are joyous, that the typical moment to represent a man in a
smock-frock is when he is cracking a joke and showing a row of sound
teeth, that cottage matrons are usually buxom, and village children
necessarily rosy and merry, are prejudices difficult to dislodge from
the artistic mind, which looks for its subjects into literature instead
of life. The painter is still under the influence of idyllic
literature, which has always expressed the imagination of the
cultivated and town-bred, rather than the truth of rustic life. Idyllic
ploughmen are jocund when they drive their team afield; idyllic
shepherds make bashful love under hawthorn bushes; idyllic villagers
dance in the chequered shade, and refresh themselves, not immoderately,
with spicy nut-brown ale. But no one who has seen much of actual
ploughmen thinks them jocund; no one who is well acquainted with the
English peasantry can pronounce them merry. The slow gaze, in which no
sense of beauty beams, no humor twinkles,-the slow utterance and the
heavy slouching walk, remind one rather of that melancholy animal, the
camel, than of the sturdy countryman with striped stockings, red waist
coat and hat aside, who represents the traditional English peasant.
Observe a company of haymakers, when you see them at a distance,
tossing up the forkfuls of hay in the golden light, while the wagon
creeps--slowly with its increasing burthen over the meadow, and the
bright green space which tells of work done gets larger and larger, you
pronounce the scene "smiling," and you think that these companions in
labor must be as bright and cheerful as the picture to which they give
animation. Approach nearer, and you will certainly find that haymaking
time is a time of joking, especially it there are women among the
laborers; but the coarse laugh that bursts out every now and then, and
expresses the triumphant taunt, is as far as possible from your idyllic
conception of idyllic merriment. That delicious effervescence of the
mind which we call fun has no equivalent for the northern peasant,
except tipsy revelry; the only realm of fancy and imagination for the
English clown exists at the bottom of the third quart-pot.

The conventional countryman of the stage, who picks up pocket books and
never looks into them, and who is too simple even to know that honesty
has its opposite, represents the still lingering mistake that an
unintelligible dialect is a guarantee for ingenuousness, and that
slouching shoulders indicate an upright disposition. It is quite true
that a thresher is likely to be innocent of any adroit arithmetical
cheating, but he is not the less likely to carry home his master's corn
in his shoes and pocket; a reaper is not given to writing begging
letters, but he is quite capable of cajoling the dairy-maid into
filling his small-beer bottle with ale. The selfish instincts are not
subdued by the sight of buttercups, nor is integrity in the least
established by that classic rural occupation, sheep-washing. To make
men moral, something more is requisite than to turn them out to grass.

Opera peasants, whose unreality excites Mr. Ruskin's indignation, are
surely too frank an idealization to be misleading; and since popular
chorus is one of the most effective elements of the opera, we can
hardly object to lyric rustics in elegant laced bodices and picturesque
motley, unless we are prepared to advocate a chorus of colliers in
their pit costume, or a ballet of charwomen and stocking-weavers. But
our social novels profess to represent the people as they are, and the
unreality of their representations is a grave evil. The greatest
benefit we owe to the artist, whether painter, poet or novelist, is
the extension of our sympathies. Appeals founded on generalizations
and statistics require a sympathy ready-made, a moral sentiment already
in activity; but a picture of human life such as a great artist can
give, surprises even the trivial and the selfish into that attention
to what is apart from themselves, which may be called the raw material
of moral sentiment. When Scott takes us into Luckie Mucklebackit's
cottage, or tells the story of The Two Drovers,--when Wordsworth
sings to us the reverie of Poor Susan,--when Kingsley shows us Alton
Locke gazing yearningly over the gate which leads from the highway
into the first wood he ever saw,--when Harnung paints a group of
chimney-sweepers,--more is done towards linking the higher classes
with the lower, towards obliterating the vulgarity of exclusiveness,
than by hundreds of sermons and philosophical dissertations. Art is the
nearest thing to life; it is a mode of amplifying experience and
extending our contact with our fellow-men beyond the bounds of our
personal lot. All the more sacred is the task of the artist when he
undertakes to paint the life of the people. Falsification here is far
more pernicious than in the more artificial aspects of life. It is not
so very serious that we should have false ideas about evanescent
fashions--about the manners and conversation of beaux and duchesses;
but it _is_ serious that our sympathy with the perennial joys and
struggles, the toil, the tragedy and the humor in the life of our more
heavily laden fellow-men,--should be perverted, and turned towards a
false object instead of the true one.

This perversion is not the less fatal because the misrepresentation
which gives rise to it has what the artist considers a moral end. The
thing for mankind to know is, not what are the motives and influences
which the moralist thinks _ought_ to act on the laborer or the artisan,
but what are the motives and influences which do act on him. We want to
be taught to feel, not for the heroic artisan or the sentimental
peasant, but for the peasant in all his coarse apathy, and the artisan
in all his suspicious selfishness.

We have one great novelist who is gifted with the utmost power of
rendering the external traits of our town population; and if he could
give us their psychological character--their conceptions of life, and
their emotions--with the same truth as their idiom and manners, his
books would be the greatest contribution art has ever made to the
awakening of social sympathies. But while he can copy Mrs. Plornish's
colloquial style with the delicate accuracy of a sun-picture, while
there is the same startling inspiration in his description of the
gestures and phrases of "Boots," as in the speeches of Shakspere's mobs
or numskulls, he scarcely ever passes from the humorous and external to
the emotional and tragic, without becoming as transcendent in his
unreality as he was a moment before in his artistic truthfulness. But
for the precious salt of his humor, which compels him to reproduce
external traits that serve, in some degree, as a corrective to his
frequently false psychology, his preternaturally virtuous poor children
and artisans, his melodramatic bootmen and courtesans, would be as
noxious as Eugene Sue's idealized proletaires in encouraging the
miserable fallacy that high morality and refined sentiment can grow
out of harsh social relations, ignorance and want; or that the
working-classes are in a condition to enter at once into a millennial
state of _altruism_, wherein every one is caring for every one else,
and no one for himself.

If we need a true conception of the popular character to guide our
sympathies rightly, we need it equally to check our theories, and
direct us in their application. The tendency created by the splendid
conquests of modern generalization, to believe that all social
questions are merged in economical science, and that the relations of
men to their neighbors may be settled by algebraic equations,--the
dream that the uncultured classes are prepared for a condition which
appeals principally to their moral sensibilities,--the aristocratic
dilettantism which attempts to restore the "good old times" by a sort
of idyllic masquerading, and to grow feudal fidelity and veneration as
we grow prize turnips, by an artificial system of culture,--none of
these diverging mistakes can co-exist with a real knowledge of the
people, with a thorough study of their habits, their ideas, their
motives. The landholder, the clergyman, the mill-owner, the mining
agent, have each an opportunity for making precious observations on
different sections of the working-class, but unfortunately their
experience is too often not registered at all, or its results are too
scattered to be available as a source of information and stimulus to
the public mind generally. If any man of sufficient moral and
intellectual breadth, whose observations would not be vitiated by a
foregone conclusion, or by a professional point of view, would devote
himself to studying the natural history of our social classes,
especially of the small shop-keepers, artisans and peasantry,--the
degree in which they are influenced by local conditions, their maxims
and habits, the points of view from which they regard their religious
teachers, and the degree in which they are influenced by religious
doctrines, the interaction of the various classes on each other, and
what are the tendencies in their position towards disintegration or
towards development,--and if, after all this study, he would give us
the result of his observations in a book well nourished with specific
facts, his work would be a valuable aid to the social and political

The estimates given in these essays of the writings of Jane Austen, George
Sand, Charlotte Bronte and Thackeray, show the soundness of George Eliot's
critical judgment. She fully appreciated Jane Austen's artistic skill, as
she did George Sand's impassioned love of liberty and naturalness. She also
saw how tame are Miss Austen's scenes, how humanly imperfect are
Thackeray's characters. Her own work is wanting in Jane Austen's artistic
skill and finish, but there is far more of originality and character in her
books, more of thought and purpose. Miss Austen tells her story wonderfully
well, but her books are all on the same level of social mediocrity and
flatness. No fresh, strong, natural, aspiring life is to be found in one of
them. George Eliot has not Jane Austen's artistic skill, but she has
thought, depth of purpose, originality of expression and conception, and a
marvellous creative insight into character. She is less passionate and bold
than George Sand, not the same daring innovator, more rational and
sensible. She is not so much a poet, has little of George Sand's power of
improvisation, much less of eloquence and abandon. She has more literary
skill than Charlotte Bronte, less originality, but none of her crudeness.
She has not so much of the subtle element of genius, but more of solidity
and thought.

Her theories concerning the novel place George Eliot fully in sympathy with
what may very properly be called the British school of fiction. The natural
history of man is the subject matter used by this school; and to describe
accurately, minutely, some portion of the human race, some social
community, is its main object. Richardson, Fielding, Miss Austen and
Thackeray are the masters in this school, who have given direction to its
aims and methods. They have sought to accomplish in novel-writing somewhat
the same results as those aimed at by Wordsworth and Browning in poetry, to
follow the natural, to make much of the common, to describe things as they
are. They are realists both in method and philosophy, though differing
widely from the minuteness and coarseness of Tourguenief and Zola, in that
they show a large element of the ideal interfused with the real. This
school is seldom coarse, vulgar or sensuous, does not mistake the depraved
and beastly for the natural. Its members delight in simple scenes, plain
life, common joys; the scenes, life and joys which are open to every
Englishman. They have made use of the facts lying immediately about them,
those with which they were the most familiar. They have broken away from
the traditional theories of life, the manners of books of etiquette and the
rules of fashionable society, for the life which is natural and instinct
with impulses of its own. The life of the professions is described, local
dialects and provincialisms appear, places and scenery are carefully
painted, and the disagreeable and painful become elements in these novels,
because common to humanity.

To this special theory of the novel, as it had been worked out by the
English masters of prose-poetry, George Eliot added nothing essential.
Thackeray, Mrs. Gaskell, Miss Austen, Miss Mitford, Fielding and Richardson
had preceded her along the way she was to follow. Their methods became
hers, she accepted their influence, and her work was done in the spirit
they had so ably illustrated. In one direction, however, she far surpassed
any one of her masters, and gave to the novel a richness of power and
fulness of aim it had not attained to with any of her predecessors. George
Eliot combined other methods with that of naturalism, not adhering rigidly
to the purpose of painting life as it appears on the surface. Not only from
the pre-Raphaelites, but from such romanticists as Scott, did she learn
much. Past scenes became natural, and history was discovered to be a vast
element in the thought of the present. Scott's power of reviving the past
in all its romantic and picturesque features, which gave him such capacity
for re-creating the life that had once passed away, was not possessed by
George Eliot. Still, if not a romancist, she realized how mighty is the
shaping power of the past over the present. For this reason, she endeavored
to recast old scenes, to revive in living shapes the times that had gone
by. The living movements of the present, its efforts at reform, its cries
for liberty, its searchings after a freer and purer life, also became a
prominent element in her novels. If in this tendency she somewhat enlarged
upon the methods of her masters, yet she was quite in sympathy with many
who came just before her, and with many more who were her contemporaries.
In another direction she kept along the way followed by many of her
co-workers, and brought philosophy and socialistic speculation to the aid
of the naturalistic method. Indeed, she so far departed from that method,
and from the soundest theories of art, as to become to some extent a

Her novels, like much of the poetry of the same period, are eclectic in
spirit, combining with the naturalistic methods those of the historic,
socialistic, culture and speculative schools. Art and culture for their own
sake combined in her novels with the purpose to use history and social life
obedient to a distinct conception of their meanings. To describe life
accurately there must be a clear conception of what life means. Genius
never works aimlessly; and in seeing life as it is, always sees that it has
a tendency and direction. A mind so thoughtful as George Eliot's, with so
strong a love of speculative interest in it, was likely to give to
novel-writing done by her a large philosophic element. Yet her philosophy
is nearly always subject to her imagination and to her naturalism. Her love
of nature, her intimate interest in life and its elemental problems, her
passionate sympathy with all human passions and experiences, saves her from
becoming a mere _doctrinaire_, and gives to her speculations a pathetic,
living interest. The poetic elements of her novels are so many as to
subordinate the philosophic to the true purposes of art.

In one direction George Eliot departed from the methods of her
predecessors, and to so great an extent as to be herself the originator of
a new school of fiction. She followed the bent of her time for analysis and
psychologic interpretation. It is here more than anywhere else she differs
from Charlotte Bronte and George Sand. These two great novelists create
character by direct representation, by making their persons live and act.
George Eliot shows her characters to the reader by analyzing their motives
and by giving the history of their development. The disadvantages of the
analytic method are apparent when George Eliot is compared with Scott.
Unique, personal and human are his creations, instinct with all human
emotions, and profoundly real. It is only the poetic side of life which he
sees, not its philosophic. George Eliot wanted to know the meanings of
things, and this very desire brings a largeness into her books which is not
found in Scott's. She was much the more thoughtful of the two, the one who
tried to realize to the intellect what life means. Yet her method of doing
this is not always the best one for the poet or the novelist. Scott was no
realist, and yet George Eliot has not been more accurate than he. Indeed,
he is far more truly accurate in so far as he paints the soul as well as
the body of life. The sad endings of her novels grew out of a false theory,
and from her inability to see anything of spiritual reality beyond the
little round of man's earthly destiny. She did not accept the doctrine that
art is to be cultivated only for art's sake, for art was always to her the
vehicle of moral or philosophic teaching. The limitations of her art
largely lay in the direction of her agnosticism. Scott and George Sand gain
for their work a great power and effect by their acceptance of the
spiritual as real. There is a light, a subtle aroma, a width of vision, a
sense of reality, in their work from this source, which is wanting in
George Eliot's. The illimitable mystery beyond the region of the real is
the greatest fact man has presented to him, and that region is a reality in
all the effects it works on humanity. No poet can ignore it or try to limit
it to humanity without a loss to his work. It is this subtle, penetrative,
aromatic and mystic power of the ideal which is most to be felt as lacking
in the works of George Eliot. Much as we may praise her, we can but feel
this limitation. Great as is our admiration, we can but feel that there is
a higher range of poetic and artistic creation than any she reached.

The quotations presented from her early writings prove that George Eliot
began her career as a novelist with a fully elaborated conception of the
purposes of the novel and of the methods to be followed in its production.
She had thoroughly studied the subject, had read many of the best works of
the best writers, and had formed a carefully digested theory of the novel.
That she could do this is rather an indication of critical than of creative
power. Her novels everywhere betray the greatness of her reasoning powers,
that she was a thinker, that she had strong powers of intellectual
analysis, and that she had a logical, accurate mind. Had her mind taken no
other direction than this, however, she never could have become a great
novelist. These essays indicated something beside powers of reasoning and
psychological analysis. They also indicated her capacity for imaginative
insight into the motives and impulses of human nature, and an intuitive
comprehension of what is most natural to human thought and action. They
showed appreciation of sympathy and feeling, and delicate perception of the
finer cravings and tendencies of even the commonest souls. They gave
promise of so much creative power, her friends saw that in novel-writing
she was to find the true expression of her large qualities of mind and
heart. The person who could so skilfully point out the faults in the poor
novels rapidly issuing from the press, and realize the true indications of
a master's power in the creations of the literary artists, might herself
possess the genius necessary to original work of her own. Her early essays
are now chiefly of value for this promise they give of larger powers than
those which could be fully expressed in such work. They prophesied the
future, and made her friends zealous to overcome her own reluctance to
enter upon a larger work. She doubted her own genius, but it was not
destined to remain unfruitful.



Had George Eliot written nothing else than the poems which bear her name,
she would have been assigned a permanent place among the poets. Having
first attained her rank in the highest order of novelists, however, her
poetry suffers in comparison with her prose. The critics tell us that no
person gifted with supreme excellence in one form of creative expression
has ever been able to attain high rank in another. They forget that Goethe
was great both in prose and poetry; that his _Wilhelm Meister_ is of
scarcely inferior genius to his _Faust_. They also forget that Victor Hugo
holds the first place among the French poets of the present century, at the
same time that he is the greatest of all French novelists. It would be well
for them also to remember that Scott held high rank as a poet before he
began his wonderful career as a novelist. A contemporary of George Eliot's,
to name a single instance of another kind, was equally excellent as poet
and painter. Dante Rossetti made for himself a lasting place in both
directions, and in both he did work of a high order.

In reality, the novel much resembles the narrative or epic poem; and if a
work of true genius, it is difficult to distinguish it from the poem except
as they differ in external form. The novel has for its main elements those
qualities of imagination, description, high-wrought purpose, which are also
constituents of much of the best poetry. The novel is more expansive than
the poem, one of the chief characteristics of which is condensation; its
theme may take a wider range, and it may embrace those cruder and more
common features of life which are inappropriate to the poem. The novelist
can make a greater use of humor, he can give more detail to description,
and portrayal of character can be carried to a much greater extent, than is
usual with the poet. The poet requires a subject more sublime, inspiring
and naturally beautiful than the novelist, who seeks what is the more
human, nearer the level of daily social existence, and full of the
affecting even if ruder interests and passions of life. The novel is so
similar to the poem, and in so many ways requires such similar qualities of
mind for its production, that there is no inherent reason why the same
person cannot do equally good work in both. The supposition is that the
poet may become a novelist, or the novelist a poet, in all cases except
where there is some outward disqualification. The novelist may not have the
sense of rhythmical form and of metrical expression; and the poet may not
possess that constructive faculty which builds up plots, incidents and
characters. In nearly all respects but these the two forms of creative
genius so nearly assimilate each other, it is to be expected a novelist may
turn poet if he have a large imagination and a stimulating capacity for
metrical expression.

Novelists of strong imagination and a ready command of expressive words,
barely escape writing poetry when they only purpose to write prose. This is
true of Hugo, Auerbach, Dickens and George Eliot, again and again. The glow
of creation, the high-wrought impulse of imagination, the ideal conception
of life, all move the novelist in the direction of poetry. With much effort
he keeps meter and rhyme out of his prose, but simile and metaphor,
condensed expression, unusual words, poetic compounds, alliteration,
sublime and picturesque expression, will intrude themselves. Dickens even
permits meter and rhyme to conquer him, and weakens his style in
consequence. He grows sentimental, and the real strength of pure prose is
lost. George Eliot is often poetical in expression, touches the very
borders of poetry continually, but she seldom permits herself to lapse from
the strong, energetic and impressive prose which she almost uniformly
writes. Specimens of this noble poetic-prose may be found very often in her
pages. While it would be difficult by any transposition of words to turn it
into poetry, as may often be done in the case of Dickens's prose, yet it
contains most of the elements of a high order of poetry. In the account of
the death of Maggie and Tom is to be found a fine specimen of her style,
the last words being good iambics.

The boat reappeared, but brother and sister had gone down in an embrace
never to be parted; living through again, in one supreme moment, the
days when they _had clasped their little hands in love, and roamed the
daisied fields together_.

In the first paragraph of the thirty-third chapter of _Adam Bede_ is a
sentence which makes a successful stanza in iambics by the addition of a
single word.

The woods behind the chase,
And all the hedgerow trees,
Took on a solemn splendor _then_
Under the dark low-hanging skies.

It is very seldom, however, that George Eliot permits anything like meter
in her prose, and she is usually very reticent of rhythm. There is fervor
and enthusiasm, imagination and poetic insight, but all kept within the
limits of robust and manly prose. This capacity of prose to serve most of
the purposes of poetry may be seen in a marked degree in all of George
Eliot's novels. In the account of Adam Bede's love for Hetty this subtle
power of words and ideas to give the charm and impression of poetry without
rhythm or rhyme is exhibited in a characteristic manner.

I think the deep love he had for that sweet, rounded, blossom-like,
dark-eyed Hetty, of whose inward self he was really very ignorant, came
out of the very strength of his nature, and not out of any inconsistent
weakness. Is it any weakness, pray, to be wrought on by exquisite
music? to feel its wondrous harmonies searching the subtlest windings
of your soul, the delicate fibres of life where no memory can
penetrate, and binding together your whole being, past and present, in
one unspeakable vibration; melting you in one moment with all the
tenderness, all the love that has been scattered through the toilsome
years, concentrating in one emotion of heroic courage or resignation
all the hard-learned lessons of self-renouncing sympathy, blending your
present joy with past sorrow, and your present sorrow with all your
past joy? If not, then neither is it a weakness to be so wrought upon
by the exquisite curves of a woman's cheek and neck and arms, by the
liquid depths of her beseeching eyes, or the sweet childish pout of her
lips. For the beauty of a lovely woman is like music; what can one say
more? Beauty has an expression beyond and far above the one woman's
soul that it clothes, as the words of genius have a wider meaning than
the thought that prompted them; it is more than a woman's love that
moves us in a woman's eyes--it seems to be a far-off, mighty love
that has come near to us, and made speech for itself there; the
rounded neck, the dimpled arm, move us by something more than their
prettiness--by their close kinship with all we have known of tenderness
and peace. [Footnote: Adam Bede, chapter XXXIII.]

Love, music and beautiful landscapes continually inspire the poetic side of
her nature; and these themes, which are constantly recurring in her
chapters, draw forth her imagination and give fervor and enthusiasm to her
expression. Her love of nature is deep and most appreciative of all its
transformations and beauties. This sensitiveness to the changes of the
outward world is a large element in her mind, and indicates the reality of
her poetic gifts. This may be seen in a passage such as the following:--

The ride to Stone Court, which Fred and Rosamond took the next morning,
lay through a pretty bit of midland landscape, almost all meadows and
pastures, with hedgerows still allowed to grow in bushy beauty, and to
spread out coral fruit for the birds. Little details gave each field a
particular physiognomy, dear to the eyes that have looked on them from
childhood; the pool in the corner where the grasses were dank and
trees leaned whisperingly; the great oak shadowing a bare place in
mid-pasture; the high bank where the ash-trees grew; the sudden slope
of the old marl-pit making a red background for the burdock; the
huddled roofs and ricks of the homestead without a traceable way of
approach; the gray gate and fences against the depths of the bordering
wood; and the stray hovel, its old, old thatch full of mossy hills and
valleys, with wondrous modulations of light and shadow, such as we
travel far to see in later life, and see larger, but not more
beautiful. These are the things that made the gamut of joy in landscape
to midland-bred souls--the things they toddled among, or perhaps
learned by heart, standing between their father's knees while he drove
leisurely. [Footnote: Middlemarch, chapter XII.]

It is nature as affecting man, and man as transformed into a creature of
feeling and passion by the mysterious conditions of his existence, which
oftenest arouses the poetic fervor in her. The enthusiasm of high resolves,
yearnings after the pure and beautiful, and love's regenerating power, give
to her themes which kindle poetic expression to a glow. The vision of
Mordecai on Blackfriars' bridge affords a fine example of her love of the
ideal in moral purpose, and shows how stimulating it is to her imagination.
It is a poetic picture of the finest quality she has given in this chapter,
one that could easily have been made to find expression in verse of great
beauty; but it is poetry in thought and spirit alone, not in form or
structure. It is true prose in form, strong in its fulness of detail, knit
together with words of the right texture, built up into a true prose image
of beauty in thought.

Mordecai's mind wrought so constantly in images that his coherent
trains of thought often resembled the significant dreams attributed to
sleepers by waking persons in their most inventive moments; nay, they
often resembled genuine dreams in their way of breaking off the passage
from the known to the unknown. Thus, for a long while, he habitually
thought of the Being answering to his need as one distinctly
approaching or turning his back toward him, darkly painted against a
golden sky. The reason of the golden sky lay in one of Mordecai's
habits. He was keenly alive to some poetic aspects of London; and a
favorite resort of his, when strength and leisure allowed, was to some
one of the bridges, especially about sunrise or sunset. Even when he
was bending over watch-wheels and trinkets, or seated in a small upper
room looking out on dingy bricks and dingy cracked windows, his
imagination spontaneously planted him on some spot where he had a
far-stretching scene; his thought went on in wide spaces, and whenever
he could, he tried to have in reality the influences of a large sky.
Leaning on the parapet of Blackfriars' bridge, and gazing meditatively,
the breadth and calm of the river, with its long vista half hazy, half
luminous, the grand dim masses or tall forms of buildings which were
the signs of world-commerce, the on-coming of boats and barges from the
still distance into sound and color, entered into his mood and blent
themselves indistinguishably with his thinking, as a fine symphony to
which we can hardly be said to listen, makes a medium that bears up our
spiritual wings. Thus it happened that the figure representative of
Mordecai's longing was mentally seen darkened by the excess of light
in the aerial background. But in the inevitable progress of his
imagination toward fuller detail he ceased to see the figure with its
back toward him. It began to advance, and a face became discernible;
the words youth, beauty, refinement, Jewish birth, noble gravity,
turned into hardly individual but typical form and color: gathered from
his memory of faces seen among the Jews of Holland and Bohemia, and
from the paintings which revived that memory. Reverently let it be said
of this mature spiritual need that it was akin to the boy's and girl's
picturing of the future beloved; but the stirrings of such young desire
are feeble compared with the passionate current of an ideal life
straining to embody itself, made intense by resistance to imminent
dissolution. The visionary form became a companion and auditor, keeping
a place not only in the waking imagination, but in those dreams of
lighter slumber of which it is truest to say, "I sleep, but my heart is
awake"--when the disturbing trivial story of yesterday is charged with
the impassioned purpose of years. [Footnote: Daniel Deronda, chapter

Many times in her prose George Eliot has recognized the true character of
poetry, and she has even given definitions of it which show how well she
knew its real nature. She makes Will Ladislaw say that--

To be a poet is to have a soul so quick to discern that no shade of
quality escapes it, and so quick to feel that discernment is but a hand
playing with finely ordered variety on the chords of emotion--a soul in
which knowledge passes instantaneously into feeling, and feeling
flashes back as a new organ of knowledge. [Footnote: Middlemarch,
chapter XXII.]

She thinks poetry and romance are as plentiful in the world as ever they
were, that they exist even amidst the conditions created by invention and
science; and if we do not find them there it is only because poetry and
romance are absent from our own minds. If we have not awe and tenderness,
wonder and enthusiasm, poetry cannot come near us, and we shall not be
thrilled and exalted by it. [Footnote: Daniel Deronda, chanter XIX.] Yet it
is not difficult to see that George Eliot is not a poet in the fullest
sense, because hers is not thoroughly and always a poetic mind, because she
reasons about things too much. The poet is impressed, moved, thrilled and
exalted, and pours out his song from his feelings and transfused with
emotion. George Eliot was given to speculation, loved exactness of
expression, and kept too close to the real. She had not that lightness of
touch, that deftness and flexibility of expression, and that versatility of
imaging forth her ideas, which the real poet possesses. Her mind moved with
a ponderous tread, which needed a prose style large and stately as its true
medium of expression. While she had poetic ideas in abundance, and an
imaginative discernment of nature and life, she had not the full gift of
poetic speech. She lacked inspiration as well as flexibility of thought,
her imagination was not sufficiently rich, and she had not the full sense
of rhythmic harmony.

George Eliot first began to write in verse, as was to be expected of one
gifted with an imagination vigorous as hers. Her love of music, her keen
perception of the beauties of nature, her love of form and color, gave
added attraction and impetus in the same direction. That she did not
continue through many years to write poetry seems to have been partly the
result of her intense interest in severer studies. The speculative cast of
her mind predominated the poetical so nearly as to turn her away from the
poetic side of life to find a solution for its graver and more intricate
problems. Her return to the poetic form of expression may be accounted for
partly as the result of a greater confidence in her own powers which came
from success, and partly from a desire for a new and richer medium of

So far as can be judged from the dates of her poems, as appended to many of
them, "How Lisa Loved the King" was the earliest written. This was written
in the year of the publication of _Romola_, and was followed the next year
by the first draft of _The Spanish Gypsy_. The poetical mottoes of _Felix
Holt_, however, were the first to be published; and not until these
appeared did the public know of her poetic gifts. _The Spanish Gypsy_ was
not published until 1868, and "How Lisa Loved the King" appeared the
following year.

The original mottoes in _Felix Holt_ gave good hint of George Eliot's
poetic gifts. They are solid with thought, pregnant with the ripe wisdom of
daily experience, significant for dramatic expression, or notable for their
humor. They are rather heavy and ponderous in style, though sonorous in
expression. A stately tread, a largeness of expression, an air of weighty
meaning, appear in nearly all these mottoes. As a specimen of the more
philosophic, the following will indicate the truthfulness of this

Truth is the precious harvest of the earth,
But once, when harvest waved upon a land,
The noisome cankerworm and caterpillar,
Locusts, and all the swarming, foul-born broods,
Fastened upon it with swift, greedy jaws,
And turned the harvest into pestilence,
Until men said, What profits it to sow?

Her capacity for dramatic expression, in which a rich comprehension of
life is included, may be seen in these lines:

1ST CITIZEN. Sir, there's a hurry in the veins of youth
That makes a vice of virtue by excess.

2D CITIZEN. What if the coolness of our tardier veins
Be loss of virtue?

1ST CITIZEN. All things cool with time--
The sun itself, they say, till heat shall find
A general level, nowhere in excess.

2D CITIZEN. 'Tis a poor climax, to my weaker thought,
That future middlingness.

Wisdom alloyed with humor appears in another motto:

"It is a good and soothfast saw;
Half-roasted never will be raw;
No dough is dried once more to meal.
No crock new-shapen by the wheel;
You can't turn curds to milk again
Nor Now, by wishing, back to Then;
And having tasted stolen honey,
You can't buy innocence for money."

Mr. Buxton Forman says, that "in the charming headings to the chapters of
_Felix Holt_ it seemed as though the strong hand which had, up to that
point, exercised masterly control over the restive tendency of high prose
to rear up into verse, had relaxed itself just for the sake of a holiday,
and no more. These headings did not bear the stamp of original poetry upon
them. Forcible as were some, admirable in thought and applicability to the
respective chapters as were all, none bore traces of that clearly defined
individuality of style betrayed by all great and accomplished practitioners
of verse, in even so small a compass as these headings. Some of them
possess the great distinctive technical mark of poetry,--condensation; but
this very condensation is compassed not in an original and individual
method, but in the method of some pre-existent model; and it is hardly
necessary to enforce that power of assimilation or reproduction, however
large, is no infallible index of self-existent poetical faculty." This
critic finds traces of Shakspere, Wordsworth and Mrs. Browning in these
mottoes, and thinks they are all imitative, even when they are best. It is
too easy, however, to dispose of a piece of literary work in this manner,
and such criticism is very apt to have little meaning in it. George Eliot
has proven herself far too original, both in prose and poetry, to make such
a criticism of much value. Even if the charge of imitation is a valid one,
it is far more probable that it was conscious and purposed, than that
George Eliot's poetic gifts could only be exercised when impelled by the
genius of some other. To give the impression of quotation may have been a
part of George Eliot's purpose in writing these mottoes, which are original
enough, and thoughtful enough, to have been attributed to any of the great
poets. The real defects of her poetry lie in quite another direction than
that of a lack of originality. She has enough to say that is fresh and
interesting, she has no need to consult others for what she is to utter;
but she has not the fervor of expression, the impressive touch, which
separates poetry from prose. There is intellectual power enough, thought
even in excess, but she does not soar and sing. She walks steadily,
majestically along on the ground, she has no wings for the clear ether.
Indeed, she is too much a realist to breathe in that upper air of pure
song; it is too fine and delicate for one who loves the solid facts of
earth so well as she.

If George Eliot often wrote prose which is almost poetry, she also wrote
poetry which is almost prose. The concentrated, image-bearing phrases of
poetry are wanting oftentimes in her verse. There is meter but no other
quality of poetry, and not a few passages could be printed as prose with
scarce a suspicion to the reader that they were intended for poetry. Mr.
Buxton Forman has given a passage from _The Spanish Gypsy_ in this way,
adding only six insignificant words, and restoring _i_ to _is_ in two
instances. He rightly says that the passage printed in prose "would surely
be read by any one who saw it for the first time, without any suspicion
that it merely required the excision of six little words and two letters to
transform it to verse; no single expression betraying the secret that the
passage is from a poem."

_Do_ you hear the trumpet! There _is_ old Eamon's
blast. No bray but his can shake the air so well. He takes his
trumpeting as solemnly as _an_ angel charged to wake the
dead; thinks war was made for trumpeters, and _that_ their
great art _was_ made solely for themselves who understand
it. His features have all shaped themselves to blowing, and when
his trumpet _is either_ bagged or left at home he seems
_like_ a chattel in a broker's booth, a spoutless
watering-can, a promise to pay no sum particular!

George Eliot had not full command of poetic expression. This frequently
appears, not only in the fact that many lines are simply prose in thought,
but in the defects of the poetic form. Some lines are too short and others
too long, some having four and some six feet. An instance of the former is
to be found in these words between Don Silva and the Prior, forming one

Strong reasons, father.
Ay, but good?

Of the latter:

And starry flashing steel and pale vermilion.

Still more suggestive are the expedients she resorts to in order to
complete the line. Lopez is made to say,--

Santiago! Juan, thou art hard to please.
I speak not for my own delighting, I.
I can be silent, I.

Very near this, Lopez is spoken of in this line:

That was not what he drew his sword at--he!

Such defects as these are not, certainly, of vital importance, and may
doubtless be found in even the greatest poets; but they are noticeable here
because of one texture with that which limits the quality of her poetic
art. The principal criticism to be made on her poetry is that it was
composed and did not create itself out of a full poetic mind. It was
wrought out, was the result of study and composition, is wanting in
spontaneity and enthusiasm. The most serious defect of her poetry is also
the most marked defect of her prose, and this is a want of the ideal
element. She was a realist by nature, and could not free herself from the
tendency to look at the world on its surface only.

In her poetry George Eliot is much more a _doctrinaire_ than in her novels.
All her poems, except a few of the shorter ones, are devoted to the
inculcation of some moral or philosophic teaching. The very effort she was
obliged to make to give herself utterance in poetry predisposed her to
intellectual subjects and those of a controversial nature. For this reason
her verse has a special interest for those who are attracted to her
teachings. Her pen was freer, more creative, in her great novels than in
her poems. In fact, her novels, especially _Adam Bede_ and _The Mill on the
Floss_, are much more poetical than much she did in verse. In her verse she
tried to present the more spiritual side of life, to make living and
effective her own conceptions of the unseen and eternal. Yet she was
burdened constantly in this effort by the fact that she had a new theory of
the spiritual and ideal side of life to interpret. The poets who win the
homage of mankind, and conquer all hearts to themselves, take the accepted
interpretations of the great spiritual problems of life as the basis of
their work and give those a larger, loftier meaning through their poetic
and ideal insight and capacity of interpretation. They shun theories which
must be expounded and interpretations for which no one is prepared. It is
here George Eliot is seriously at fault as a poet, however much she may be
commended as a teacher and reformer. Perhaps the truest piece of poetic
work she did was _Agatha_, in which, however, there is a greater reliance
than in most of her poems, on the accepted interpretations of spiritual
beliefs. In portraying the trust, childlike and simple, of an old woman,
and in endeavoring to realize the poetic elements of that trust and
simplicity, she was very effective. In such work as this she would have
been much more successful, from the strictly poetic point of view, than she
has been, if she had not attempted to give her theories a clothing in
verse. In her "Brother and Sister" she was also very successful, but
especially so in the "Two Lovers." There is an exquisite charm and power in
some of these minor poems. Where the heart was free, and the intellect was
not dominant and insistent on the importance of its theories, there was
secured a genuine poetic beauty. There is true poetry in these lines:

Two lovers by a moss-grown spring:
They lean soft cheeks together there,
Mingled the dark and sunny hair,
And heard the wooing thrushes sing.
Oh budding time!
Oh love's blest prime!

Two wedded from the portal stept:
The bells made happy carrollings,
The air was soft as passing wings,
White petals on the pathway slept.
Oh pure-eyed bride!
Oh tender pride!

There is a beauty and majesty in the poem on subjective immortality which
is likely to make it, as it has already become, the one popular poem among
all she wrote. There is a stimulus, enthusiasm and abandon about it which
is attained but seldom in her other verses. The love of humanity, its
passionate longing to sacrifice self for the good of all, is acceptable to
much of the thought and purpose of the present time; and its spirit of
sacrifice is one which may commend it to all earnest souls. In the more
extended poems there is genuine accomplishment just in proportion as the
leading purpose was artistic rather than philosophic or moral.

Difficult as it was for a successful novelist to secure applause as a poet,
George Eliot overcame the distrust of her admirers and gained also a not
unmerited place as a poet. Her verse has been a real addition to her work,
and is likely to command an increasing interest in the future. That it is
not always successful from the merely artistic point of view, that it is
not to be placed by the side of the best poetry of the time, is no reason
why it will not appeal to many minds and enlist its own company of
admirers. Next after the universal poets are those who appeal to a select
circle and charm a particular class of minds. Among these George Eliot will
stand as one of the foremost and one of those most worthy of homage. As the
poet of positivism, she will long delight those in sympathy with her
teachings. It would be extravagant praise to call her a second Lucretius,
and yet that which has given the Roman author his place among poets will
also give George Eliot rank in the same company. With all his merits as a
poet, it has not been his poetic power, or his love of nature, or his worth
as an interpreter of human nature, which has given Lucretius his reputation
as a poet. With real poetic power,--for he would have been a much smaller
man without this,--he combined a philosophic mind and a daring genius for
speculation. The poetry gave charm and ideal grandeur to the speculations,
and the philosophy made the poetry full of meaning and earnest intellectual
purpose. He read life and nature with a keener eye and a more profound
penetration than others of his time; he tried to grasp the secret of the
universe, and because of it he left behind the touch of a strong mind. In
some such way as this, George Eliot's poetry is likely to be read in the
future. As poetry merely, it cannot take high rank; but for the sake of its
philosophy, which is conceived as a poet would conceive it, there is
promise that its future is to be one that is lasting. Even for poetry there
must be thought, and the larger, profounder it is the better for the
poetry, if it is imaginatively conceived and expressed. It is not thought,
or even philosophy, which annuls poetry, but want of ideal and creative
insight. To Goethe, Wordsworth or Browning there was a gain by enlargement
of intellectual materials, but these were suffused in true poetic fire, and
came forth a new creation. In so far as George Eliot has attained this
result is she a poet, and is she sure of the future suffrages of those who
accept her philosophy. At the least, her admirers must rejoice at the
enlarged range of expression she secured by the use of the poetic form.



George Eliot was pre-eminently a novelist and a poet; but she is also the
truest literary representative the nineteenth century has yet afforded of
its positivist and scientific tendencies. What Comte and Spencer have
taught in the name of philosophy, Tyndall and Haeckel in the name of
science, she has applied to life and its problems. Their aims, spirit and
tendencies have found in her a living embodiment, and re-appear in her
pages as forms of genius, as artistic creations. They have experimented,
speculated, elaborated theories of the universe, drawn out systems of
philosophy; but she has reconstructed the social life of man through her
creative insight. What they mean, whither they lead, is not to be
discovered nearly so plainly in their books as in hers. She is their
interpreter through that wonderful insight, genius and creative power which
enabled her to see what they could not themselves discover,--the effect of
their teachings on man as an individual and as a social being.

Whoever would know what the agnostic and evolution philosophy of the time
has to teach about man, his social life, his moral responsibilities, his
religious aspirations, should go to the pages of George Eliot in preference
to those of any other. The scientific spirit, the evolution philosophy,
live in her pages, reveal themselves there in all their strength and in all
their weakness. She was a thinker equal to any of those whose names stand
forth as the representatives of the philosophy she accepted, she was as
competent, as they to think out the problems of life and to interpret
social existence in accordance with their theories of man and nature.
Competent to grasp and to interpret the positive philosophy in all its
details and in all its applications, she also had that artistic spirit of
reconstruction which enabled her to apply to life what she held in theory.
Along with the calm philosophic spirit which thinks out "the painful riddle
of the earth," she had the creative spirit of the artist which delights in
portraying life in all its endeavors, complexities and consequences. She
not only accepted the theory of hereditary transmission as science has
recently developed it, and as it has been enlarged by positivism into a
shaping influence of the past upon the present, but she made this law vital
with meaning as she developed its consequences in the lives of her
characters. To her it was not merely a theory, but a principle so pregnant
with meaning as to have its applications in every phase of human
experience. Life could not be explained without it; the thoughts, deeds and
aspirations of men could be understood only with reference to it; much that
enters into human life of weal and woe is to be comprehended only with
reference to this law. In regard to all the other evolution problems and
principles her knowledge was as great, her insight as clear, and her
constructive use of them as original.

A new theory of life and the universe may be intellectually accepted as
soon as its teachings are comprehended; but the absorption of that theory
into the moral tissues, so that it becomes an active and constant impulse
and motive in feeling and conduct, is a long and difficult process. It
takes generations before it can associate itself with the instinctive
impulses of the mind. It is one thing to accept the theory of universal law
as an intellectual explanation of the sequences of phenomena, but it is
quite another to be guided by that theory in all the most spontaneous
movements of feeling, conscience and thought. A few minds are able to make
such a theory at once their own by virtue of genius of a very instinctive
and subtle order; but for the great majority of mankind this result can
only be reached after generations of instruction. The use made of such
theories by the poets and novelists is a sure test of their popular
acceptance. When the poets accept such a theory, and naturally express
themselves in accordance with its spirit, the people may soon feel and
think according to its meaning.

The theory of evolution will not easily adjust the human mind to its
conclusions and methods. It is therefore very remarkable that George Eliot,
the contemporary of Comte, Spencer, Darwin, Lewes and Tyndall, should be
able to give a true literary expression to their speculations. She has not
only been able to follow these men, to accept their theories and to
understand them in all their implications and tendencies, but she has so
absorbed these theories into her mind, and so made them a part of all its
processes, that she has painted life thoroughly in accordance with their
spirit. Should the teachings of the evolutionists of to-day be finally
accepted, and after a few generations become the universally received
explanations of life and the universe, it is not likely any poet or
novelist will more genuinely and entirely express their spirit than George
Eliot has done. The evolutionary spirit and ways of looking at life became
instinctive to her; she saw life and read its deepest experiences wholly in
the light shed by this philosophy. For this reason her writings are of
great value to those who would understand the evolution philosophy in its
higher phases.

George Eliot accepted the intellectual conclusions of evolution, and the
outline thus afforded she filled in with feeling and poetry. She
interpreted the pathos, the tragedy, the aspirations of life in the light
of this philosophy. Accepting with a bold and undismayed intellect the
implications and consequences of evolution, rejecting or abating no least
portion of it, she found in it a place for art, poetry and religion; and
she tried to show how it touches and moulds and uplifts man. She shrank
from nothing which would enable her to reveal how man is to live in such a
universe as she believed in; she saw all its hardness, cruelty, anguish and
mystery, and resolutely endeavored to show how these enter into and help to
form his destiny. In doing this she followed the lead of the positivists in
the acceptance of feeling as the basis and the true expression of man's
inner life. The emotional life is made the essential life; and all its
phases of manifestation in art, poetry and religion are regarded as of
great importance. George Eliot viewed the higher problems of life from this
point of view, giving to the forms in which the emotional side of man's
nature is expressed a supreme importance. Religion, as the response of
feeling to the mystery of existence, occupied a most important place in her
philosophy. That her interpretation of the emotional elements of life is
the true one, that she has discovered their source or their real ideal
significance, may well be doubted; but there is every reason for believing
that she realized their great value, and she certainly tried in an earnest
spirit to make them helpful in the life of ideal beauty and truthfulness.

All that agnostic science and the evolution philosophy had to teach, George
Eliot accepted, its doctrine of descent, its new psychology, and its
theories of society and human destiny. Its doctrine of experience, its
ethical theories, were equally hers. Yet into her interpretation of
existence went a woman's heart, the widest and tenderest sympathy, and a
quick yearning purpose to do what good she could in the world. She saw with
the lover's eyes, motherhood revealed itself in her soul, the child's trust
was in her heart. The new philosophy she applied to life, revealed its
relations to duty, love, sorrow, trial and death. To her it had a deep
social meaning, a vital connection with the heart, its hopes and its
burdens, and for her it touched the spiritual content of life with reality.
It was in this way she became the truest interpreter of the evolution
philosophy, the best apostle of the ethics taught by agnostic science. She
not only speculated, she also felt and lived. Philosophy was to her more
than an abstract theory of the universe; into it entered a tender sympathy
for all human weakness, a profound sense of the mystery of existence, and a
holy purpose to make life pure and true to all she could reach. This larger
comprehension gives a new significance to her interpretation of evolution.
It makes it impossible that this philosophy should be fully understood
without a study of her books.

It is because George Eliot was not a mere speculative thinker that her
teachings become so important. The true novelist, who is gifted with
genius, who creates character and situation with a master's hand, must have
some theory of life. He must have some notion of what life means, what the
significance of the pathos and tragedy of human experience, and why it is
that good and evil in conduct do not produce the same results. Such a
theory of life, if firmly grasped and worked out strongly, becomes a
philosophy. Much depends with the novelist on that philosophy, what it
places foremost, what it sees destiny to mean. It will affect his insight,
give shape to his plots, decide his characters, guide his ethical
interpretations, fix his spiritual apprehension. It was because George
Eliot adopted a new and remarkable philosophy, one that teaches much which
the instincts of the race have rejected, and repudiates much which the race
has accepted as necessary to its welfare, that her teachings become so
noteworthy. Genius first of all she had, and the artist's creative power;
but the way she used these, and the limitations she put upon them by her
philosophy, give her books an interest which not even her wonderful genius
could alone produce. That philosophy is in debate; and it is not yet
decided whether it is mainly false because growing out of wrong methods,
or if it be in reality a true explanation of existence. Its revolutionary
character, its negative spirit, its relations to ethics and religion,
make it remarkable, and even startling. Profound thinkers, men of
commanding philosophic apprehension and power of generalization, have
accepted it; physical science has largely lent its aid to the support of
its conclusions. Yet on its side genius, imagination, creative instinct,
artistic apprehension, have not given their aid. Without them it is
defective, and cannot command the ideal sentiments and hopes of the race.
First to fill this gap came George Eliot, and she yet remains its only
great literary ally and coadjutor. Tyndall, Haeckel and DuBois Raymond can
give us science; but this is not enough. Comte, Mill and Spencer can give
us philosophy; but that is inadequate. They have also essayed, one and all,
to say some true word about morals, religion and the social ideals; but
they have one and all failed. They are too speculative, too far away from
the vital movements of life, know too little of human experience as it
throbs out of the heart and sentiments. They can explain their theories
in terms of science, ethics and philosophy; but George Eliot explains them
in terms of life. They have speculated, she has felt; they have made
philosophies, she has created ideal characters and given us poetry; they
have studied nature, she has studied experience and life; they have tried
to resolve the mind into its constituent elements; she has entered into the
heart and read its secrets; they have looked on to see what history meant,
she has lived all heart tragedies and known all spiritual aspirations.

George Eliot was not a mere disciple of any of the great teachers of
evolution. Though of their school, and largely in accord and sympathy with
them, yet she often departed from the way they went, and took a position
quite in opposition to theirs. Her standpoint in philosophy was arrived at
quite independently of their influence, and in many of its main features
her philosophy was developed before she had any acquaintance either with
them or their books. She wrote concerning John Stuart Mill, [Footnote:
Elizabeth Stuart Phelps' "Last words from George Eliot," is Harper Magazine
for March 1882. The names of Mill and Spencer are not given in this
article, but the words from her letters so plainly refer to them that they
have been quoted here as illustrating her relations to these men.]--

I never had any personal acquaintance with him, never saw him to my
knowledge except in the House of Commons; and though I have studied his
books, especially his _Logic_ and _Political Economy_ with much
benefit, I have no consciousness of their having made any marked epoch
in my life.

Concerning another leading positivist she has said,--

Of [Herbert Spencer's] friendship I have had the honor and advantage
for twenty years, but I believe that every main bias of my mind had
been taken before I knew him. Like the rest of his readers, I am, of
course, indebted to him for much enlargement and clarifying of thought.

Not long previous to her death, in reading Bridges' version of _The General
View of Positivism_, she expressed her dissent more often than her assent,
and once she said,--

I cannot submit my intellect or my soul to the guidance of Comte.

George Eliot did not take up her residence in London until her
thirty-second year, and previous to that time her acquaintance with the
positivist leaders must have been slight. Before that age the opinions of
most persons are formed, and such was the case with George Eliot. It is
likely her opinions underwent many changes after this date, but only in the
direction of those already established and in modification of the
philosophy already accepted. She became an evolutionist without the aid of
those men who are supposed to be the originators of this theory. Every new
idea or new way of interpreting nature and life grows into form gradually,
and under the influence of many different minds. The evolution philosophy
was long accepted before it became a doctrine or was formulated into a
philosophy. The same influences worked in many quarters to produce the same
conclusions. It was given to George Eliot to come under a set of influences
which led her to accept all the leading ideas of evolution before she had
any opportunity to know that philosophy as it has been elaborated by the
men whose names are most often connected with it. A brief account of the
successive philosophic influences which most directly and personally
touched her mind will largely help towards the comprehension of her

The most intimate friend of her youth, who gave her a home when trouble
came with her family, and stimulated her mind to active inquiry after
truth, was a philosopher of no mean ability. Charles Bray not only was the
first philosopher she knew, but her opinions of after years were mainly in
the direction he marked out for her. In his _Philosophy of Necessity_,
published in 1841, he maintained that the only reality is the _Great
Unknown_ which we name God, that all natural laws are actions of the first
cause. He taught that the world is created in our own minds, the result of
some unknown cause without us, which we call matter; but it is thus God
mirrors himself to us. "All we see is but the vesture of God, and what we
call laws of nature are but attributes of Deity." Matter is known to us
only as the cause of sensations, while the soul is the principle of
sensation, dependent upon the nervous system; the nervous system depending
upon life, and life upon organization. All knowledge comes to man through
the action of the external world upon the senses; all truth, all progress,
come to us out of experience. "Reason is dependent for its exercise upon
experience, and experience is nothing more than the knowledge of the
invariable order of nature, of the relations of cause and effect." All acts
of men are ruled by necessity. Pain produces our ideas of right and wrong,
and happiness is the test of all moral action. There are no such things
as sin and evil, only pains and pleasures. Evil is the natural and
necessary limitation of our faculties, and our consequent liability to
error; and pain, which we call evil, is its corrective. Nothing, under the
circumstances, could have happened but that which did happen; and the
actions of men, under precisely the same circumstances, must always issue
in precisely the same results. Death, treated of in a separate chapter, is
shown to be good, and a necessary aid to progress. Society is regarded as
an organism, and man is to find his highest life in the life of others.
"The great body of humanity (considered as an individual), with its soul,
the principle of sensation, is ever fresh and vigorous and increasing in
enjoyment. Death and birth, the means of renewal and succession, bear
the same relation to this body of society as the system of waste and
reproduction do to the human body; the old and useless and decayed material
is carried out, and fresh substituted, and thus the frame is renovated
and rendered capable of ever-increasing happiness.... The minds, that is
to say, the ideas and feelings of which they were composed, of Socrates,
Plato, Epicurus, Galileo, Bacon, Locke, Newton, are thus forever in
existence, and the immortality of the soul is preserved, not in
individuals, but in the great body of humanity.... To the race, though
not to individuals, all beautiful things are preserved forever; all that
is really good and profitable is immortal."

Nearly every idea here presented was accepted by George Eliot and
re-appears in her writings. In Bray's later books much also is to be found
which she embraced. He therein says that all outside of us is a delusion of
the senses. [Footnote: This summary of Bray's philosophy is condensed from
an article in the Westminster Review for April, 1879.] The senses conspire
with the intellect to impose upon us. The constitution of our faculties
forces us to believe in an external world, but it has no more reality than
our dreams. Each creature is the creator of its own separate, different
world. The unity of outward things is imposed on them by the faculty of
individuality, and is a mere fiction of the mind. Matter is a creature of
the imagination, and is a pure assumption. It is the centre of force, as
immaterial as spirit, as ethereal and unsubstantial. As centres of force
imply locality, and locality space, so space must have an extension of its
own. Not so; it is a pure creation of the mind. The same holds true of
time. The world of mind, the moral world as well, are our own creations.
Man has no power over himself; nothing could have been otherwise than as
it is. Repentance and remorse are foolish regrets over what could not have
been otherwise. All actions and motives are indifferent; only in their
consequences can any distinction be observed between them. Such as minister
to man's pleasure he calls good; such as produce pain he calls evil.
Thereis no good but pleasure, and no evil but pain. Hence there is no
distinction between moral and physical evil. Morality is the chemistry of
the mind, its attractions and repulsions, likes and dislikes. God is an
illusion, as are all moral conclusions based on his existence, Nor has
man any reality; he is the greatest illusion and delusion of all. The
faculty of individuality gives us all our ideas and feelings, and creates
for us what we call our minds. A mind is an aggregate of a stream of
consciousness. Ideas, feelings, states of consciousness, do not inhere in
anything; each is a distinct entity. "Thinking is," is what we should say,
not "I think." Here we are at the ground fact of what constitutes being, on
solid footing; consciousness cannot deceive us. Thinking is, even if mind
and matter, self and not-self, are illusory. It is, even if we deny both
the external and internal causes of consciousness. We know our own
consciousness, that alone. All is inference beside. When we consider what
inferences are most probable, we are led to build up a constructive
philosophy. Consciousness says we have a body, body a brain, and pressure
on the brain stops consciousness; hence a close connection between the
brain and consciousness. The two go together, and in the brain we must lay
the foundation of our philosophy. The mental faculties create the world of
individual consciousness, it the outside world. We know only what is
revealed in consciousness. Matter and mind are one. Life and mind are
correlates of physical force; they are the forms assumed by physical force
when subjected to organic conditions. Yet there is no such thing as mere
physical force. Every atom of matter acts intelligently; it has so acted
always. The conscious intelligence of the universe has subsided into
natural law, and acts automatically. This universal agent of life in all
things is God. All consciousness and physical force are but "the varied
God." There is in reality no agent but mind, conscious or unconscious. God
is nature; matter is mind solidified. Matter is force as revealed by the
senses. It is the body, force is the soul. In nature, as in man, body and
soul are one and indivisible. Mind builds up organisms. There is a living
will, conscious or unconscious, in all things. The One and All requires the
resignation of the individual and personal, of all that is selfish, to the
Infinite whole.

The basis of Bray's philosophy was idealism and pantheism, assuming form
under the influence of modern science. He quoted Emerson frequently, and
the school of thought Emerson represents affected him greatly. On the other
hand, he was then a strong phrenologist, had imbibed much of the teaching
of Combe's _Constitution of Man_, and he eagerly embraced those notions of
the relations of body and mind which have been propagated in the name of
physical science.

The same double influence is to be seen at work upon the next thinker who
was destined to give direction to George Eliot's philosophy. Feuerbach was
a disciple of Hegel, whose influence is deeply marked through all his
earlier writings. He also was affected by physical science, and he found in
sensationalism an element for his system. To him all thought is the product
of experience; he founded his ideas on materials which can be appropriated
only through the activity of the senses. The external world affects the
senses and generates feeling, feeling produces ideas. Feeling re-acts upon
the external world, interprets it according to its own wants. Feeling is
thus the source of all knowledge; feeling is the basis alike of religion
and philosophy. Feuerbach, as well as Bray, finds that man creates the
outward world in consciousness; all that is out of man which he can know,
is but a reflection of what is in him. This conception of consciousness,
this pure idealism, becomes the source of Feuerbach's philosophy of
religion. He says that religion is based on the differences between man and
the brute; man has consciousness, which is only present in a being to whom
his species, his essential nature, is an object of thought. Man thinks,
converses with himself, is at once I and Thou, can put himself in the place
of another. Religion is identical with self-consciousness, and expresses
man's sense of the infinitude of his own faculties. Man learns about
himself through what is objective to him, but the object only serves to
bring out what is in him; his own nature becomes the absolute to him.
Consciousness marks the self-satisfaction, self-perfection of man, that
all truth is in him. As feeling is the cause of the outward world, or of
that notion of it man has, it becomes the organ of religion. The nature of
God is nothing else than an expression of the nature of feeling. As man
lives mainly in feeling, finds there the sources of all his mental and
moral life, he comes to regard feeling as the divinest part of his nature,
the noblest and most excellent; so it becomes to him the organ of the
divine. When man thinks what is infinite he in reality does nothing more
than to perceive and affirm that to him feeling has an infinite power.
If you feel the infinite, you feel and affirm the infinitude of the power
of feeling. The object of the intellect is intellect objective to itself;
the object of feeling is feeling objective to itself. God is pure,
unlimited, free feeling. In religion, consciousness of the object and
self-consciousness coincide. The object of any subject is nothing else than
the subject's own nature taken objectively. God is like our thoughts and
dispositions; consciousness of God is self-consciousness, knowledge of God
is self-knowledge. Religion is the unveiling of a man's hidden treasures,
the revelation of his intimate thoughts, the open confession of his love
secrets. It is to the understanding Feuerbach attributes man's capacity for
objectifying himself or of attributing to the outward world those qualities
which really exist only within. Man's consciousness of God is nothing else
than his consciousness of his species. "Man has his highest being, his God,
in himself; not in himself as an individual, but in his essential nature,
his species. No individual is an adequate representative of his species,
but only the human individual is conscious of the distinction between the
species and the individual. In the sense of this distinction lies the root
of religion. The yearning of man after something above himself is nothing
else than the longing after the perfect type of his nature, the yearning to
be free from himself, _i.e._, from the limits and defects of his
individuality. Individuality is the self-conditioning, the self-limitation
of the species. Thus man has cognizance of nothing above himself, of
nothing beyond the nature of humanity; but to the individual man this
nature presents itself under the form of an individual man. All feelings
which man experiences towards a superior man, nay, in general, all moral
feelings which man has towards man, are of a religious nature. Man feels


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