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George Eliot was a painstaking, laborious writer. She did not proceed rapidly, so carefully did she elaborate her pages. Her subjects were thoroughly studied before the pen was taken in hand, patiently thought out, planned with much care, and all available helps secured that could be had. She threw her whole life into her work, became a part of the scenes she was depicting; her life was absorbed until the work of writing became a painful process both to body and mind. “Her beautifully written manuscript,” says her publisher, “free from blur or erasure, and with every letter delicately and distinctly finished, was only the outward and visible sign of the inward labor which she had taken to work out her ideas. She never drew any of her facts or impressions from second hand; and thus, in spite of the number and variety of her illustrations, she had rarely much to correct in her proof-sheets. She had all that love of doing her work well for the work’s sake which she makes prominent characteristics of Adam Bede and Stradivarius.”

When a book was completed, so intense had been her application and the absorption of her life in her work, a period of despondency followed. When a correspondent praised Middlemarch, and expressed a hope that even a greater work might follow, she replied, As to the great novel which remains to be written, I must tell you that I never believe in future books. Again, she wrote of the depression which succeeded the completion of each of her works,

Always after finishing a book I have a period of despair that I can ever again produce anything worth giving to the world. The responsibility of writing grows heavier and heavier does it not? as the world grows older and the voices of the dead more numerous. It is difficult to believe, until the germ of some new work grows into imperious activity within one, that it is possible to make a really needed contribution to the poetry of the world I mean possible to one’s self to do it.

Owing probably somewhat to this tendency to take a despondent view concerning her own work, and to distrust of the leadings of her own genius, was her habit of never reading the criticisms made on her books. She adopted this rule, she tells one correspondent, “as a necessary preservative against influences that would have ended by nullifying her power of writing.” To another, who had written her in appreciation of her books, she wrote this note, in which she alludes to the same habit of shunning criticism:

MY DEAR MISS WELLINGTON, The signs of your sympathy sent to me across the wide water have touched me with the more effect because you imply that you are young. I care supremely that my writing should be some help and stimulus to those who have probably a long life before them.

Mr. Lewes does not let me read criticisms on my writings. He always reads them himself, and gives me occasional quotations, when be thinks that they show a spirit and mode of appreciation which will win my gratitude. He has carefully read through the articles which were accompanied by your kind letter, and he has a high opinion of the feeling and discernment exhibited in them. Some concluding passages which he read aloud to me are such as I register among the grounds of any encouragement in looking backward on what I have written, if not in looking forward to my future writing.

Thank you, my dear young friend, whom I shall probably never know otherwise than in this spiritual way. And certainly, apart from those relations in life which bring daily duties and opportunities of lovingness, the most satisfactory of all ties is this effective invisible intercourse of an elder mind with a younger.

The quotation in your letter from Hawthorne’s book offers an excellent type both for men and women in the value it assigns to that order of work which is called subordinate but becomes ennobling by being finely done. Yours, with sincere obligations,


By the way, Mr. Lewes tells me that you ascribe to me a hatred of blue eyes which is amusing, since my own eyes are blue-gray. I am not in any sense one of the “good haters;” on the contrary, my weaknesses all verge toward an excessive tolerance and a tendency to melt off the outlines of things.

21 North Bank, Regent’s Park, Ja, ’73.

Her sensitiveness was great, and contact with an unappreciative and unsympathetic public depressing to a large degree. It was a part of that shrinking away from the world which kept her out of society, and away from all but a select few whose tastes and sympathies were largely in accordance with her own. Besides, she distrusted that common form of criticism which presumes to tell an author how he ought to have written, and assumes to itself an insight and knowledge greater than that possessed by genius itself. Concerning the value of such criticism she wrote these pertinent words:

I get confirmed in my impression that the criticism of any new writing is shifting and untrustworthy. I hardly think that any critic can have so keen a sense of the shortcomings in my works as that I groan under in the course of writing them, and I cannot imagine any edification coming to an author from a sort of reviewing which consists in attributing to him or her unexpressed opinions, and in imagining circumstances which may be alleged as petty private motives for the treatment of subjects which ought to be of general human interest.

To the same correspondent she used even stronger words concerning her dislike of ordinary criticism.

Do not expect “criticism” from me. I hate “sitting in the seat of judgment,” and I would rather try to impress the public generally with the sense that they may get the best result from a book without necessarily forming an “opinion” about it, than I would rush into stating opinions of my own. The floods of nonsense printed in the form of critical opinions seem to me a chief curse of our times a chief obstacle to true culture.

It is not to be forgotten, however, that George Eliot had done much critical work before she became a novelist, and that much of it was of a keen and cutting nature. Severely as she was handled by the critics, no one of them was more vigorous than was her treatment of Young and Cumming. Even in later years, when she took up the critical pen, the effect was felt. Mr. Lecky did not pass gently through her hands when she reviewed his Rationalism in Europe. Her criticisms in Theophrastus Such were penetrating and severe.

For the same reason, she read few works of contemporary fiction, that her mind might not be biassed and that she might not be discouraged in her own work. Always busy with some special subject which absorbed all her time and strength, she could give little attention to contemporary literature. To one correspondent she wrote,

My constant groan is, that I must leave so much of the greatest writing
which the centuries have sifted for me, unread for want of time.

The style adopted by George Eliot is for the most part fresh, vital and energetic. It is pure in form, rich in illustrations, strong and expressive in manner. There are exceptions to this statement, it is true, and she is sometimes turgid and dry, again gaudy and verbose. Sententious in her didactic passages, she is pure and noble in her sentiment, poetical and impressive in her descriptions of nature. Her diction is choice, her range of expression large, and she admirably suits her words to the thought she would present. There is a rich, teeming fulness of life in her books, the canvas is crowded, there is movement and action. An abundance of passion, delicate feeling and fine sensibility is expressed.

The critics have almost universally condemned the plots of George Eliot’s novels for their want of unity. They tell us that the flow of events is often not orderly, while improbable scenes are introduced, superfluous incidents are common, the number of characters is too great, and the analysis of character impedes the unity of events. These objections are not always vital, and sometimes they are mere objections rather than genuine criticisms. Instances of failure to follow the best methods may be cited in abundance, one of which is seen in the first two chapters in Daniel Deronda being placed out of their natural order. The opening scenes in The Spanish Gypsy seem quite unnecessary to the development of the plot, while the last two scenes of the second book are so fragmentary and unconnected with the remainder of the story as to help it but little. In the middle of Adam Bede are several chapters devoted to the birthday party, which are quite unnecessary to the development of the action. Daniel Deronda contains two narratives which are in many respects almost entirely distinct from each other, and the reader is made to alternate between two worlds that have little in common. There is much of the improbable in the account of the Transome estate in Felix Holt, while the closing scenes in the life of Tito Melema in Romola are more tragical than natural. Yet these defects are incidental to her method and art rather than actual blemishes on her work. For the most part, her work is thoroughly unitary, cause leads naturally into effect, and there is a moral development of character such as is found in life itself. Her plots are strongly constructed, in simple outlines, are easily comprehended and kept in mind, and the leading motive holds steadily through to the end. Her analytical method often makes an apparent interruption of the narrative, and the unity of purpose is frequently developed through the philosophic purport of the novel rather than in its literary form. Direct narrative is often hindered, it is true, by her habit of studying the remote causes and effects of character, but she never wanders far enough to forget the real purpose had in view. She holds the many elements of her story well under command, she concentrates them upon some one aim, and she gives to her story a tragic unity of great moral splendor and effect. Even the diverse elements, the minute side-studies and the profuse comments, are all woven into the organic structure, and are essential to the unfoldment of the plot. They seem to be quite irrelevant interruptions until we look back upon the completed whole and study the perfected intent of the story. Then we see how essential they are to the epic finish of the novel, and to that total effect which a work of genius creates. Then it is seen that a dramatic unity and well-studied intent hold together every part and make a completed structure of great beauty.

Her dramatic skill is great, and her dialogues thoroughly good. Her characters are full of power and life, and stand out as distinct personalities. The conversation is sprightly, strong and wise. Probably no novelist has created so many clearly cut, positive, intensely personal characters as George Eliot, and this individualism is depicted as acting within social and hereditary limits; hence dramatic action is constantly arising. Shakspere and Browning only surpass her in dramatic power, as in the creation of character. Yet her method of producing character differs essentially from that of Shakspere, Homer and all the great creators. She describes character, while they present it. Homer gives no description of Helen; but of her beauty and her person we learn all the more because we are left to find them out from the influence they produce. We know Hamlet because he lives before us, and impresses his personality upon every feature of the great drama in which he appears. George Eliot’s manner is to describe, to minutely portray, and to dissect to the last muscle and nerve.

She has also a rich and racy humor, sensitive and sober, refined and delicate. She does not caricature folly with Dickens, or laugh at weakness with Thackeray; but she shows us the limitations of life in such a manner as to produce the finest humor. She is never repulsive, grotesque or vulgar; but wise, laughter-loving and sympathetic. Her humor is pure and homely as it is delicate and exquisite; and it is invariably human and noble. She has an intense love and a wonderful appreciation of the ludicrous, sees whatever is incongruous In life, and makes her laughter genial and joyous. Her humor is the very quintessence of human experience, strikes deadly blows at what is unjust and untrue. It is both intellectual and moral, as Professor Dowden suggests. “The grotesque in human character is reclaimed from the province of the humorous by her affections, when that is possible, and is shown to be a pathetic form of beauty. Her humor usually belongs to her entire conception of character, and cannot be separated from it.” She laughs at all, but sneers at no one, for she has keen sympathy with all.

George Eliot is not so good a satirist as she is humorist. Her humor is as fresh and delightful as a morning in May, but her satire is nearly always labored. She is too much in sympathy with human nature to laugh at its follies and its weaknesses. Its joys, its bubbling humor and delight she can appreciate, as well as all the pain and sorrow that come to men and women; and she can fully enter into the life of her characters of every kind, and portray their inmost motives and impulses; but the foibles of the world she cannot treat in the vein of the satirist. In her earlier books she is said to have been under the influence of Thackeray, but her satire is heavy, and lacks his light touch and his tender undertone of compassion. Here is a good specimen of her earlier attempts to be satirical:

When a man is happy enough to win the affections of a sweet girl, who can soothe his cares with crochet, and respond to all his most cherished ideas with beaded urn-rugs and chair-covers in German wool, he has, at least, a guarantee of domestic comfort, whatever trials may await him out of doors. What a resource it is under fatigue and irritation to have your drawing-room well supplied with small mats, which would always be ready if you ever wanted to set anything on them! And what styptic for a bleeding heart can equal copious squares of crochet-work, which are useful for slipping down the moment you touch them?

Similar to this is the account of Mrs. Pullett’s grief.

It is a pathetic sight and a striking example of the complexity Introduced into the emotions by a high state of civilization the sight of a fashionably dressed female in grief. From the sorrow of a Hottentot to that of a woman in large buckram sleeves, with several bracelets on each arm, an architectural bonnet, and delicate ribbon-strings what a long series of gradations! In the enlightened child of civilization the abandonment characteristic of grief is checked and varied in the subtlest manner, so as to present an interesting problem to the analytic mind. If, with a crushed heart and eyes half-blinded by the mist of tears, she were to walk with a too devious step through a door-place, she might crush her buckram sleeves, too, and the deep consciousness of this possibility produces a composition of forces by which she takes a line that just clears the door-post. Perceiving that the tears are hurrying fast, she unpins her strings and throws them languidly backward a touching gesture, indicative, even in the deepest gloom, of the hope in future dry moments when cap-strings will once more have a charm. As the tears subside a little, and with her head leaning backward at an angle that will not injure her bonnet, she endures that terrible moment when grief, which has made all things else a weariness, has itself become weary; she looks down pensively at her bracelets, and adjusts their clasps with that pretty studied fortuity which would be gratifying to her mind if it were once more in a calm and healthy state.

In her later books the strained efforts at satire are partially avoided, and though the satirical spirit is not withdrawn in any measure, yet it is more delicately managed. It is less open, less blunt, but hardly more subtle and penetrative. It is still a strained effort, and it is quite too hard and bare in statement. We are told in Middlemarch that

Mrs. Bulstrode’s naïve way of conciliating piety and worldliness, the nothingness of this life and the desirability of cut glass, the consciousness at once of filthy rags and the best damask, was not a sufficient relief from the weight of her husband’s invariable seriousness.

Such a turning of sentiment into satire as the following is rather jarring, and is a good specimen of that laborious smartness, as Mr. R.H. Hutton justly calls it, which is found in all of George Eliots books:

Young love-making that gossamer web! Even the points it clings to the things whence its subtile interlacings are swung are scarcely perceptible: momentary touches of finger-tips, meetings of rays from blue and dark orbs, unfinished phrases, lightest changes of cheek and lip, faintest tremors. The web itself is made of spontaneous beliefs and indefinable joys, yearnings of one life toward another, visions of completeness, indefinite trust. And Lydgate fell to spinning that web from his inward self with wonderful rapidity, in spite of experience supposed to be finished off with the drama of Laure in spite, too, of medicine and biology; for the inspection of macerated muscle or of eyes presented in a dish (like Santa Lucia’s), and other incidents of scientific inquiry, are observed to be less incompatible with poetic love than a native dulness or a lively addiction to the lowest prose.

This introduction of a scientific illustration will serve to bring another tendency of George Eliot’s to our attention. She makes a frequent use of her large learning and culture in her novels. In the earlier ones a Greek quotation is to be found here and there, while in the later, German seems to have the preference. In The Mill on the Floss she describes Bob Jakins thumb as a singularly broad specimen of that difference between the man and the monkey. Such references to recent scientific speculations are not unfrequent. If they serve to show the tendencies of her mind towards knowledge and large thought, they also indicate a too ready willingness to imbibe, and to use in a popular manner, what is not thoroughly assimilated truth. The force of such an illustration as the following must be lost on most novel-readers:

Although Sir James was a sportsman, he had some other feelings toward women than toward grouse and foxes, and did not regard his future wife in the light of prey, valuable chiefly for the excitements of the chase. Neither was he so well acquainted with the habits of primitive races as to feel that an ideal combat for her, tomahawk in hand, so to speak, was necessary to the historical continuity of the marriage tie.

It is doubtful whether any reader will quite catch the meaning of this sentence:

Has any one ever pinched into its pilulous smallness the cobweb of
prematrimonial acquaintanceship?

Many of her critics have asserted that this use of the language of science, and the adoption of the speculative ideas of the time, had largely increased upon George Eliot in her later books; but this is not true. In her Westminster Review essays both tendencies are strongly developed. In one of them she says, The very chyme and chyle of a rector are conscious of the gown and band. Again, she says,

The woman of large capacity can seldom rise beyond the absorption of ideas; her physical conditions refuse to support the energy required for spontaneous activity; the voltaic pile is not strong enough to produce crystallization.

It is not just to George Eliot, however, to refer to such mere casual blemishes, without insisting on the largeness of thought, the wealth of knowledge, and the comprehensive understanding of human experience with which her books abound. She often turns aside to discuss the problems suggested by the experiences of her characters, to point out how the effect of their own thoughts and deeds re-act upon them, and to inculcate the highest ethical lessons. In one of her “asides” she seems to reject this method, in referring to Fielding.

A great historian, as he insisted on calling himself, who had the happiness to be dead a hundred and twenty years ago, and so to take his place among the colossi whose huge legs our living pettiness is observed to walk under, glories in his copious remarks and digressions as the least imitable part of his work, and especially in those initial chapters to the successive books of his history, where he seems to bring his arm-chair to the proscenium, and chat with us in all the lusty ease of his fine English. But Fielding lived when the days were longer (for time, like money, is measured by our needs), when summer afternoons were spacious, and the clock ticked slowly in the winter evenings. We belated historians must not linger after his example; and if we did so, it is probable that our chat would be thin and eager, as if delivered from a campstool in a parrot-house. I, at least, have so much to do in unravelling certain human lots, and seeing how they were woven and interwoven, that all the light I can command must be concentrated on this particular web, and not dispersed over that tempting range of relevancies called the universe.

She does not ramble away from her subject, it is true; but she likes to pause often to discuss the doings of her personages, and to pour forth some tender or noble thought. To many of her readers these bits of wisdom and of sentiment are among the most valuable portions of her books, when taken in their true environment in her pages. She has a purpose larger than that of telling a story or of describing the loves of a few men and women. She seeks to penetrate into the motives of life, and to reveal the hidden springs of action; to show how people affect each other; how ideas mould the destinies of the individual. To do all this in that large, artistic spirit she has followed, requires that there shall be something more than narration and conversation. That she has now and then commented unnecessarily, and in a too-learned manner, is a very small detraction from the interest of her books.

In Adam Bede she turns aside for a whole chapter to defend her method of depicting accurately, minutely, in the simplest detail, the feelings, motives, actions and surroundings of very commonplace and uninteresting people. Her reasons for this method in novel-writing apply to all her works, and are worthy of the author of Adam Bede and Silas Marner.

I would not, even if I had the choice, be the clever novelist who could create a world so much better than this, in which we get up in the morning to do our daily work, that you would be likely to turn a harder, colder eye on the dusty streets and the common green fields on the real breathing men and women, who can be chilled by your indifference or injured by your prejudice; who can be cheered and helped onward by your fellow-feeling, your forbearance, your outspoken, brave justice.

So I am content to tell my simple story, without trying to make things seem better than they were; dreading nothing, indeed, but falsity, which, in spite of one’s best efforts, there is reason to dread. Falsehood is so easy, truth so difficult. The pencil is conscious of a delightful facility in drawing a griffin the longer the claws, and the larger the wings, the better; but that marvellous facility, which we mistook for genius, is apt to forsake us when we want to draw a real unexaggerated lion. Examine your words well, and you will find that, even when you have no motive to be false, it is a very hard thing to say the exact truth, even about your own immediate feelings much harder than to say something fine about them which is not the exact truth.

It is for this rare, precious quality of truthfulness that I delight in many Dutch paintings, which lofty-minded people despise. I find a source of delicious sympathy in these faithful pictures of a monotonous homely existence, which has been the fate of so many more among my fellow-mortals than a life of pomp or of absolute indigence, of tragic suffering or of world-stirring actions. I turn without shrinking, from cloud-borne angels, from prophets, sibyls and heroic warriors, to an old woman bending over her flower-pot, or eating her solitary dinner, while the noonday light, softened, perhaps, by a screen of leaves, falls on her mob-cap, and just touches the rim of her spinning-wheel and her stone jug, and all those cheap, common things which are the precious necessaries of life to her: or I turn to that village wedding, kept between four brown walls, where an awkward bridegroom opens the dance with a high-shouldered, broad-faced bride, while elderly and middle-aged friends look on, with very irregular noses and lips, and probably with quart pots in their hands, but with expression of unmistakable contentment and good-will. “Foh!” says my idealistic friend, “what vulgar details! What good is there in taking all these pains to give an exact likeness of old women and clowns? What a low phase of life! what clumsy, ugly people!”

But, bless us, things may be lovable that are not altogether handsome, I hope? I am not at all sure that the majority of the human race have not been ugly, and even among those “lords of their kind,” the British, squat figures, ill-shapen nostrils, and dingy complexions, are not startling exceptions. Yet there is a great deal of family love among us. I have a friend or two whose class of features is such that the Apollo curl on the summit of their brows would be decidedly trying; yet, to my certain knowledge, tender hearts have beaten for them, and their miniatures flattering, but still not lovely are kissed in secret by motherly lips. I have seen many an excellent matron who could never in her best days have been handsome, and yet she had a packet of yellow love-letters in a private drawer, and sweet children showered kisses on her sallow cheeks. And I believe there have been plenty of young heroes of middle stature and feeble beards, who have felt quite sure they could never love anything more insignificant than a Diana, and yet have found themselves in middle life happily settled with a wife who waddles. Yes! thank God; human feeling is like the mighty rivers that bless the earth; it does not wait for beauty it flows with resistless force, and brings beauty with it.

All honor and reverence to the divine beauty of form! Let us cultivate it to the utmost in men, women and children in our gardens and in our houses; but let us love that other beauty, too, which lies in no secret of proportion, but in the secret of deep sympathy. Paint us an angel, if you can, with a floating violet robe, and a face paled by the celestial light; paint us yet oftener a Madonna, turning her mild face upward, and opening her arms to welcome the divine glory; but do not impose on us any aesthetic rules which shall banish from the regions of Art those old women scraping carrots with their work-worn hands, those heavy clowns taking holiday in a dingy pot-house those rounded-backs and stupid, weather-beaten faces that have bent over the spade and done the rough work of the world those homes with their tin pans, their brown pitchers, their rough curs, and their clusters of onions. In this world there are so many of these common, coarse people, who have no picturesque sentimental wretchedness! It is so needful we should remember their existence, else we may happen to leave them quite out of our religion and philosophy, and frame lofty theories which only fit a world of extremes. Therefore let Art always remind us of them; therefore let us always have men ready to give the loving pains of a life to the faithful representing of commonplace things men who see beauty in these commonplace things, and delight in showing how kindly the light of heaven falls on them.

There are few prophets in the world few sublimely beautiful women few heroes. I can’t afford to give all my love and reverence to such rarities; I want a great deal of those feelings for my every-day fellow-men, especially for the few in the foreground of the great multitude, whose faces I know, whose hands I touch, for whom I have to make way with kindly courtesy. Neither are picturesque lazzaroni or romantic criminals half so frequent as your common laborer, who gets his own bread, and eats it vulgarly, but creditably, with his own pocket-knife. It is more needful that I should have a fibre of sympathy connecting me with that vulgar citizen who weighs out my sugar in a vilely assorted cravat and waistcoat, than with the handsomest rascal in red scarf and green feathers; more needful that my heart should swell with loving admiration at some trait of gentle goodness in the faulty people who sit at the same hearth with me, or in the clergyman of my own parish, who is, perhaps, rather too corpulent, and in other respects is not an Oberlin or a Tillotson, than at the deeds of heroes whom I shall never know except by hearsay, or at the sublimest abstract of all clerical graces that was ever conceived by an able novelist.

In all her earlier novels George Eliot has shown the artistic possibilities of the humblest lives and situations. In the most ordinary lives, as in the case of the persons described in Silas Marner, and in the least picturesque incidents of human existence, there is an interest for us which, when properly brought out, will be sure to absorb our attention. She has abundantly proved that dramatic situations, historic surroundings and heroic attitudes are not necessary for the highest purposes of the novelist. Hers are heart tragedies and spiritual histories; for life has its tragic, pathetic and humorous elements of the keenest interest under every social condition. Her realism is relieved, as in actual life, by love, helpfulness and pathos; by deep sorrow, sufferings patiently borne, and tender sympathy for others woes. And if she sometimes sketches with too free a hand the coarse and repulsive features of life, this fault is relieved by her tender sympathy with the sorrows and weaknesses of her characters. She asks her readers not to grudge Amos Barton his lovely wife, that large, fair, gentle Madonna, with an imposing mildness and the unspeakable charm of gentle womanhood. He was a man of very middling qualities and a quite stupid sort of person, but he loved his wife and made the most he could of such talents as he had. She pleads in his behalf by saying,

I have all my life had a sympathy for mongrel ungainly dogs, who are nobody’s pets; and I would rather surprise one of them by a pat and a pleasant morsel, than meet the condescending advances of the loveliest Skye-terrier who has his cushion by my lady’s chair.

Much the larger number of characters in these novels are of the same unpromising quality. Most of them are ignorant, uncouth and simple-minded; yet George Eliot gives them a warm place in our hearts, and we rejoice to have known them all. This ignorant rusticity is discovered to have charms and attractions of its own. Especially does the reader learn that what is most human and what is most lovely in personal character may be found within these rough exteriors and amid these unpromising circumstances.

Even so fine a character as Adam Bede, one of the best in all her books, was a workman of limited education and little knowledge of the outside world. The author does “not pretend that his was an ordinary character among workmen.” Yet such men as he are found among his class, and the noble qualities he possessed are not out of place among workingmen. Her warm sympathy with this class, the class in which she was born and reared, and her earnest desire to do it justice, is seen in what she says of Adam.

He was not an average man. Yet such men as he are reared here and there in every generation of our peasant artisans with an inheritance of affections nurtured by a simple family life of common need and common industry, and an inheritance of faculties trained in skilful, courageous labor; they make their way upward, rarely as geniuses, most commonly as painstaking, honest men, with the skill and conscience to do well the tasks that lie before them. Their lives have no discernible echo beyond the neighborhood where they dwelt, but you are almost sure to find there some good piece of road, some building, some application of mineral produce, some improvement in farming practice, some reform of parish abuses, with which their names are associated by one or two generations after them. Their employers were richer for them, the work of their hands has worn well, and the work of their brains has guided well the hands of other men. They went about in their youth in flannel or paper caps, in coats black with coal-dust or streaked with lime and red paint; in old age their white hairs are seen in a place of honor at church and at market, and they tell their well-dressed sons and daughters seated round the bright hearth on winter evenings, how pleased they were when they first earned their twopence a day. Others there are who die poor, and never put off the workman’s coat on week-days; they have not had the art of getting rich; but they are men of trust, and when they die before the work is all out of them, it is as if some main screw had got loose in a machine; the master who employed them says, “Where shall I find their like?”

In Amos Barton she states her reasons for portraying characters of so little outward interest. Amos had none of the more manly and sturdy qualities of Adam Bede, and yet to George Eliot it was enough that he was human, that trouble and heartache could come to him, and that he must carry his share of the burdens and weaknesses of the world.

The Rev. Amos Barton, whose sad fortunes I have undertaken to relate, was, you perceive, in no respect an ideal or exceptional character; and perhaps I am doing a bold thing to bespeak your sympathy on behalf of a man who was so very far from remarkable, a man whose virtues were not heroic, and who had no undetected crime within his breast; who had not the slightest mystery hanging about him, but was palpably and unmistakably commonplace; who was not even in love, but had had that complaint many years ago. “An utterly uninteresting character!” I think I hear a lady reader exclaim, Mrs. Farthingale, for example, who prefers the ideal in fiction; to whom tragedy means ermine tippets, adultery and murder; and comedy, the adventures of some personage who is quite a “character.”

But, my dear madam, it is so very large a majority of your fellow-countrymen that are of this insignificant stamp. At least eighty out of a hundred of your adult male fellow-Britons returned in the last census are neither extraordinarily silly, nor extraordinarily wicked, nor extraordinarily wise; their eyes are neither deep and liquid with sentiment, nor sparkling with suppressed witticisms; they have probably had no hairbreadth escapes or thrilling adventures; their brains are certainly not pregnant with genius, and their passions have not manifested themselves at all after the fashion of a volcano. They are simply men of complexions more or less muddy, whose conversation is more or less bald and disjointed. Yet these commonplace people many of them bear a conscience, and have felt the sublime prompting to do the painful right; they have their unspoken sorrows, and their sacred joys; their hearts have perhaps gone out towards their first-born, and they have mourned over the irreclaimable dead. Nay, is there not a pathos in their very insignificance, in our comparison of their dim and narrow existence with the glorious possibilities of that human nature which they share?

Depend upon it, you would gain unspeakably if you would learn with me to see some of the poetry and the pathos, the tragedy and the comedy, lying in the experience of a human soul that looks out through dull gray eyes, and that speaks in a voice of quite ordinary tones. In that case, I should have no fear of your not caring to know what further befell the Rev. Amos Barton, or of your thinking the homely details I have to tell at all beneath your attention.

In her hands the novel becomes the means of recording the history of those whom no history takes note of, and of bringing before the world its unnamed and unnoted heroes. Professor Dowden says her sympathy spreads with a powerful and even flow in every direction. In this effort she has been eminently successful; and her loving sympathy with all that is human; her warm-hearted faith in the weak and unfortunate; the graciousness of her love for the common souls who are faithful and true in their way and in their places, will excuse much greater literary faults than any into which she has fallen. The sincere and loving humanity of her books gives them a great charm, and an influence wide-reaching and noble.

No one of her imitators and successors has gained anything of like power which is given to her novels by her intense sympathy with her characters. Others have described ignorant and coarse phases of life as something to look at and study, but not to bring into the heart and love. George Eliot loves her characters, has an intense affection for them, pours out her motherliness upon them. Not so Daudet or James or Howells, who study crude life on the surface, and because it is the fashion. There is no heart-nearness in their work, little of passionate human desire to do justice to phases of life hitherto neglected. She has in this regard the genius of Scott and Hugo, who live in and with their characters, and so make them living and real. She identifies herself with the life she describes, and never looks at it from without, with curious and cold and critical gaze, simply for the sake of making a novel.

She is more at home among villagers than in the drawing-room. A profound intuition has led her to the very heart of English life among the happier and worthier classes of working-people. There is no squalor in her books, no general misery, but always conscience, respectability and home-comforts. There is something of coarseness in some of her scenes, and a realism too bare and bald; but for the most part she has come far short of what might have been done in picturing the repulsive and sensual side of life. In all her books there is abundant evidence of her painstaking, and of her anxious desire to be truthful. She has studied life on the spot, and gives to it the local coloring. In writing Romola, she searched into every corner of Florentine history, custom and thought. She is true to every touch of local incident and manner. In Daniel Deronda, she made herself familiar with Jewish life, and has given the race aroma to her portraits and scenes. She is thoroughly a realist, but a realist with a wide and attractive sympathy, a profound insight into motives and impulses, and a strong imagination. She is too great a genius to believe that the novelist can describe life as the geologist describes the strata of the earth. She feels with her characters; she has that form of insight or imagination which enables her to apprehend a mind totally unlike her own. This is what saves the history of Hetty from coarseness and repulsiveness. It is Hetty’s own account of her life-woes. Its infinite pathos, and the tenderness and pity it awakens, destroys our concern for the other features of the narrative.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Since I began to read and know, I have always longed for some ideal task, in which I might feel myself the heart and brain of a multitude some social captainship, which would come to me as a duty, and not to be striven for as a personal prize.

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

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