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

Part 5 out of 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And again, she says,--

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In _Adam Bede_, Parson Irwine says to Arthur,--

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

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

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

In the same novel we are told, that--

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

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

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

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

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

_The Mill on the Floss_ reflects this thought.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"'The life of heaven above,
All the life of glorious love.'

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

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

HOLLY LODGE, Oct. 7, 1850.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Once more, thanks, dear Sara. Ever your loving


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Back to Full Books