Edmond Henri Adolphe Scherer.

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of the hvimor and the pathos of these stories, I have never
seen the like of ; and they have impressed me in a manner
that I should find it very difficult to describe to you, if I had
the impertinence to try.

In addressing these few words of thankfulness to the
creator of the Sad Fortunes of the Kev. Amos Barton, and
the sad love story of Mr. Gilfil, I am (I presume) bound to
adopt the name that it pleases that excellent writer to
assume. I can suggest no better one : but I should have
been strongly disposed, if I had been left to my own devices,
to address the said writer as a woman. I have observed
what seemed to me such womanly touches in those moving
fictions, that the assurance on the title-page is insuificient to
satisfy me even now. If they originated with no woman, I
believe that no man ever before had the art of making him-
self mentally so like a woman since the world began.

You will not suppose that I have any vulgar wish to
fathom your secret. I mention the point as one of great
interest to me — not of mere curiosity. If it should ever
suit your convenience and inclination to show me the face
of the man, or woman, who has written so charmingly, it
will be a very memorable occasion to me. If otherwise, I

1 [Perhaps it would be more correct to say " his experience as
an editor." — Trajis.]

286 ESSAYS oiT ENGLISH litehatur:^

shall always hold that impalpable personage in loving attach-
ment and respect, and shall yield myself up to all future
utterances from the same source, with a perfect confidence
in their making me wiser and better.

Your obliged and faithful servant and admirer,

Chakles Dickens.
George Eliot, Esq.

Having come to the consciousness of her genius,
having received, an unanimous vote of encourage-
ment, and having, at the same time, hit upon a vein
of literary production which promised to bring her
modest home into easy circumstances, George Eliot
began work on a larger scale almost before she
had finished the novel, " Scenes of Clerical Life."
" Adam Bede " was already begun by the end of
1857 : its second volume was written at Munich
and at Dresden. The Leweses were passionately
fond of travelling, and the sale of the previous
book had been sufficiently profitable, the reception
given to these stories by the public sufficiently
promising for the future, to let them give them-
selves the pleasure of making acquaintance with
new countries. Besides, they resolved to work and
kept their resolve. "Munich," she writes, "swarms
with professors of all sorts, all grundlich, of course,
and one or two of them great. There is no one we
are more charmed with than Liebig." Bodenstedt
made our travellers think of their friend Gruppe
at Berlin, by the multitude of his acquirements and
the variety of his productions. In fact, Bodenstedt


was a traveller, a journalist, a professor, and the
manager of a theatre. He translated from Persian,
from Russian, and from English ; he wrote a great
work on the peoples of the Caiicasus ; he paid
special attention to Shakespeare. He was the
author of plays, of novels, of a volume of verses
which went through nearly a hundred editions, and
he crowned the whole by a history of his own life.
'-Enormously instructed after the fashion of the
Germans," writes George Eliot, "and not at all
stupid with it." The translator of the ''Leben
Jesu " had the pleasure of meeting Strauss at
Munich, and was very agreeably impressed by him.
"He speaks with very choice words, like a man
strictly truthful in the use of language." George
Eliot loved the arts, music most of all, but painting
also, and she naturally bestowed part of her time
on the galleries. She had little admiration for the
modern German school. "Kaulbach's great com-
positions are huge charades." " His ' Destruction
of Jerusalem ' is a regular child's puzzle of symbol-

He is certainly a man of great faculty, but is, I imagine,
carried out of his true path by the ambition to produce
" Weltgeschichthche Bilder," which the German critics
may go into raptures about. His "Battle of the Huns,"
which is the most impressive of all his great pictures, was
the first of the series. He painted it simply under the
inspiration of the grand myth about the spirits of the dead
warriors rising and carrying on the battle in the air.
Straightway the German critics began to smoke furiously


that vile tobacco which they call clsthetiJc, declared it a
" Weltgeschichtliches Bild," and ever since Kaulbach has
been concocting these pictures in which, instead of taking
a single moment of reality and trusting to the infinite sym-
bolism that belongs to all nature, he attempts to give you
at one view a succession of events — each represented by
some group which may mean " Whichever you please, my
little dear."

Our author might have added that it is the same
with the other arts ; that the Germans, loving them
only in an intellectual manner, insist on thrusting
scientific elements into them ; that even poetry
pleases Germans better when they find in it matter
for comment and interpretation. The worship
paid to Goethe by his countrymen is due less to
his really perfect works, to his really immortal
creations, than to the endless field which he has
opened to the pedantry of scholiasts. Is there a
single German savant who is not more attracted by
the second " Faust " than by the first ?

At Dresden our travellers resolved to make no
acquaintances, and to work with no other distrac-
tion than the picture-galler}^, the open-air concerts,
and excursions on foot. ''We have been as happy
as princes — are not, George writing at the far
corner of the great salon, I at my ScJirank [desk]
in my own private room with closed doors. Here
I wrote the latter half of the second volume of
' Adam Bede ' in the long mornings that our early
hours, rising at six o'clock, procure us." The


third volume was written in England, after return-
ing from the journey, and straight off: this was
the author's way, as I remember hearing her say
herself. As soon as ever she had a thorough grasp
of her subject, or rather it of her, she did her writ-
ing with great speed. The first volume of " Adam
Bede " was hardly revised at all ; and her husband's
advice, to which G-eorge Eliot always attached
great value, was occupied with nothing but verbal
alterations. The MS. of the book bears a dedica-
tion which attests not merely the gratitude due
for useful collaboration. "To my dear husband,
George Henry Lewes, I give the MS. of a work
which would never have been written but for the
happiness which his love has conferred on my
life." She did the same with all her books, and
inscribed on the autograph of each of them the
touching expression of her gratitude and her
tenderness for the companion of her life.

George Eliot's readers are, I believe, agreed that
the " Scenes of Clerical Life " contain the germs of
the beauties of all the author's later works ; but
"Adam Bede" is a real novel, and in this more
extended form it fulfilled and surpassed the expec-
tation which the author's early work had excited.
Moreover, it is to the second attempt that it is
usual to remand new-comers in letters to convince
one's self that the first success has been something
more than a lucky accident. In this case no doubt
was possible, and men had an indisputable power


before them. It was not easy to know which to
admire most — the pathetic interest of Hetty Sor-
rel's fortunes or the rustic salt of the sallies of
Mrs. Poyser, one of those creations which, from
the first moment, take their place in the literature
of a nation. It was but a few weeks after the
appearance of ''Adam Bede" that a speaker in
the House of Commons quoted one of the genial
farmer's wife's sayings like a man who was sure
that his hearers would understand him. The noise
which George Eliot's name made echoed even in
France. M. Montegut spoke of " Adam Bede " to
the readers of the "Eevue des deux Mondes," and in
this article, which George Eliot thought the best
of all that had been devoted to her novel, our col-
league made no secret of his enthusiasm. "Oh!
what delightful and refined reading," said he, refer-
ring to the " Scenes of Clerical Life." " One's soul
was filled with it as with a perfume of sweetness
and piety ; one was not seduced into admiration,
one was taken by storm; it was not merely mov-
ing, it was affecting." Then, passing to "Adam
Bede," and after extolling the combined delicacy
and precision of the observation, the often exquis-
ite style, the sympathetic, and, so to say, luminous
impartiality which sheds itself on all the occupants
of the stage, he said : " Twelve hundred pages
occupied in telling of the seduction of a girl at a
farm by a youthful squire, the ill luck in love and
the happiness in marriage of a poor country car-


penter ! 'tis much, you will say. Well, I can assure
you that when I had read them I wanted more.
What the author offers us is a huge nosegay of
wild flowers, full of wealth in scent and color, one
of those nosegays that we have often brought home
in youth after a country excursion and delighted in
preserving for several days after in a large vase as
a souvenir of a few hours of reckless activity —
thorny branches of wild eglantine torn from the
living hedges, flowering brambles, great tufts of
lilac, hand-broken from the favorite tree of spring,
huge bearded grasses, rushes in golden bloom."

I am the more glad to recall M. Montegut's study
that it remained pretty much without a companion,
in French criticism. It is with few exceptions^
the only piece of cordial praise that this illustrious
lady has received in our country. Most of the
judgments of her works which at long intervals
have appeared in our reviews have shown either
the disdain of a jaded taste, or (which is worse)
the reluctance of envy, especially feminine envy, to
recognize a superiority by the side of which, it is
true, the commonplaces of the day seem more com-
monplace than ever.

Dickens was again one of the first to express his

1 [Among the exceptions, of course, are the two earlier articles
of M. Scherer's own, which appear in this book. I do not know
whose was the " feminine " jealousy glanced at below. The above
sample of M. Monte'gut is a good deal more flowery than is his
wont. — Trans.]


admiration. Tlie reading of "Adam Bede," lie
wrote to the author, was an event in his life.
Herbert Spencer was enthusiastic, declaring that
he felt a better man for having read the book ; but
George Eliot's head was not turned. " I sing my
Magnificat under my breath," she said, "and I
feel great delight, deep and silent. But few writers,
I think, have known less than I have of the trans-
ports and the feelings of triumph which they
describe as the result of success." It was from
this time that she contracted the repugnance to
speaking and hearing speak about her books which
became a note of her literary life, and which had
already made her intrust Lewes with the duty of
intercepting reviews in newspapers, whether lauda-
tory or the reverse. "If people were to hum
their remarks or their comments round me, I
should lose the calm mind and the honest labor
without which nothing good and wholesome can be
written. To talk about my works is to me as
though I were to talk of my private thoughts or
my religion." Moreover she felt the obligations
of success, and was nervous about a new novel
just begun. " ' Adam's ' good fortune," she said to
her publisher, "makes me write more anxiously
than ever. I fancy it is a kind of feeling of respon-
sibility joined to a good deal of pride."

We need not follow out the history of G-eorge
Eliot's works. Quite contrary to the ordinary fate
of the works of a writer who has at once gained


the public vote, and to the fate of novelists more
especially, because they draw more and more
deeply on their fund of experience and observa-
tion — the public at each new book of George
Eliot's, even while regretting, so to say, its infi-
delity to the earlier ones, could not keep proclaim-
ing the superiority of the new-comer. " The Mill
on the Moss," which appeared in 1860, might be
looked upon as the author's master-piece if " Mid-
dlemarch," ten years later, had not contested that
title with it, and if there had not appeared in the
interval " Silas Marner," an admirable rustic idyl,
and the historical romance of "Romola," which
was destined to show George Eliot equal to herself
in all the styles she tried. Even '' Deronda," her
last story, spoilt as it is by inexplicable preoccu-
pations, includes passages equal in power to any-
thing that the author has done.

The scene of " Eomola " is the Florence of the
fifteenth century, and the plan of it came to George
Eliot in the course of an Italian journey, " one of
those journeys which seem to divide one's life in
half, so many new ideas do they suggest, so many
new sources of interest do they open to the mind."
Having fixed on her scheme, she returned to Flor-
ence, visiting the old streets, rummaging ancient
books, seeking to impregnate herself with the
spirit of the venerable city. But she was still far
from her goal. When, on her return home, she at
last set to her work, she saw all its difficulties rising


before her. Would not her genius desert her when
she left the familiar scenes of rustic life in the
England of to-day for foreign countries and past
ages ? Would she succeed in reviving in their true
physiognomy the town, the epoch, and the figure
of Savonarola? She despaired more than once,
gave up her task, then took to it again, plunged
(conscientiously as she did everything) into his-
torical studies, and brought forth in sorrow a kind
of moral tragedy which even the reader cannot
behold without emotion. It seemed as if a weight
were crushing her down. Each phrase, she said,
had been written in her heart's blood. " I began
the novel a young woman," she added ; " I was an
old one when I finished it." Yet it had only taken
her eighteen months to write. Either owing to
the pains she had taken in the writing of it, or
to the moral importance which she attached to the
drawing of the characters whereof she composed
her picture, George Eliot seems to have had for
" Eomola " a partiality which I find some dif&culty
in sharing.

I only mention the two volumes of George
Eliot's poetry for the sake of not omitting them ;
because, fine as some passages are in their pathos
or in their wit, and deeply interesting as they all
are regarded as experiments, these poems add
nothing to the author's reputation save by complet-
ing the proof of the variety of her gifts.

An author's works, it has often been said are


the true events of his life. Putting aside the
books I have just named, there is nothing to note
in George Eliot's later years except a continually
increasing fame, the respect which a blameless life
won her, affluence which became riches, frequent
travels both abroad and in England; and lastly,
what is not given necessarily either by glory or by
fortune, a happiness of which she herself said in a
letter, "Altogether we are dangerously happy." It
seemed to her that she had a ransom to pay to fate,
and she well knew also that old age, sooner or
later, takes on itself the duty of levying this tax
by parting those who love. Lewes died in 1878.
As we have already remarked, she married again
less than eighteen months later, her husband being
a man who was much younger than herself, but
whose affection had touched her, and the delicacy
of whose sentiments made him worthy of her. The
happiness she found in this new union was of no
long duration, and she died within the year from
the result of a chill. She was sixty-one, but had
as yet shown none of the infirmities of age. She
loved life, she had said to one of her friends a
little before ; she was full of plans, and then the
world was so interesting.

The engraved portrait which Mr. Cross has placed
as a frontispiece to his wife's biography is as like
as the reproduction of a singularly expressive face
can be. George Eliot's features, a little heavy and
strongly marked in their frame of abundant hair,


expressed a soul which, is in command of itself, a
great intelligence which has remained kindly.
One felt in them the union of timidity, which is
driven back into itself, with an affectionate need
of sympathy. The entire personality was gentle,
distinguished, suited to gain confidence and inspire

The moral unity of George Eliot's character is not
easy to fix. Not that I take her literally when she
calls herself a chameleon, and says she is in danger
of losing her personality. My difficulty comes from
her very depth. What we see in George Eliot's
maturity is a great and beautiful soul, clear and
calm, which has known or guessed, felt or antici-
pated, the feeling of everything. But at what price
has she bought this dominion of reason over pas-
sion, this ascendency of reflection over spontaneity?
"Is it not probable that the " Life" was not allowed
to tell us everything? Is it not permissible to be-
lieve that the history of Maggie in " The Mill on
the Floss " was an inspiration of memory? And
is it not natural to suppose that personal experience
counted for something in the final self-possession,
and in such an intimate knowledge of life?

In studying such a character as that of George
Eliot the danger is lest we should mistake this ac-
quired empire over impulse for a natural want of
warmth. Indeed, more people than one have been
the dupes of this mistake, and have wondered at the
absence of fire and " go " in the letters which have


been given to us. This was to forget the conditions
of Mr. Cross's publication, but it was also to mis-
judge the intellectual and moral history of George
Eliot. She had known what impetuosity is. "1
love," she wrote at thirty, ''souls which hurry
towards their end, carried on the springtide of sen-
timent, and not harassed by perpetual negations."
Twenty years later, and we find her fearing to
come to a conclusion too quickly, and to show her-
self more positive than inner light allows. "I
dread all positive assertion on matters of great im-
portance, through fear of committing myself by my
own words, and of degenerating into a mere echo of
myself. A horrible destiny, yet one of which, it
must be confessed, many and great men have been
the victims." Here we have the two things, the
carrying away and the reaction. Serenity spreads
itself over this life, but the hidden emotion, the
throb below, do not fail to betray themselves still.
A book, the sight of a picture, will often bring
tears to her eyes. Or it may be gaiety which breaks
out; for, grave as we fancy her, she was none the
less capable, her biographer tells us, of the frankest
hilarity, of joyous, catching, irresistible laughter.
Literary predilections are telltales of character,
and for this reason we may collect George Eliot's.
She calls Milton her demigod, and we see in this a
soul inclined towards things serious and sublime.
In the same way, Wordsworth ranks high in her
affections. Yet this does not prevent her from


adoring Moliere, "our great favorite," she writes.
" We are not reading him just now, but we are con-
stantly talking of him. The 'Misanthrope' seems
to me the greatest and most complete production
of its kind in existence." On the other hand,
she holds Byron " the most vulgar-minded genius
who has ever produced a great effect in literature."
Nor let us forget her admiration for the works of
Comte, which was sincere, though the expression of
it was perhaps exaggerated by the desire of pleasing
her friends Mr. Congreve and Mr. Harrison, who
evidently wished to make a convert of her. In
writing to others, she confessed that Positivism
seemed to her narrow and exclusive ; while, as for
the religion which was grafted on Comte's philos-
ophy, she subscribed to the scheme, but avoided
becoming a member.

We have already seen that one distinguishing
point of George Eliot's mind was a very rare com-
bination of intellectual boldness and religious sen-
sibility. She was absolutely honest in examination,
and to her all questions were open questions. " You
ask if I am ready to allow myself to be convinced.
Most certainly; I admit discussion on every matter
except dinner and debts. I hold that the first must
be eaten and the second must be paid : these are my
only prejudices." But this rationalizing tempera-
ment did not exclude a certain mysticism of the
kind which, according to herself, belongs to all
poetic souls, " the delight with which the soul bathes
in emotions exceeding the precision of thouo-ht."


She felt sympathy for all the great historical
religions, especially Judaism and Christianity, as
monuments of struggles similar to our own. If she
had followed her inclination she would often have
gone into those religious assemblies, the essence of
which is the recognition of a spiritual law, appealing
to our voluntary obedience and ready to deliver us
from the tyranny of capricious impulses and un-
tamed passions. It is true that when she has got
as far as this rationalism reappears and resumes the
upper hand. What is it that these believers who
meet to worship God worship under that name?
What but the loftiest possible conception of good?
So far is it, according to our author, from being
true that morality derives from religion, that the
religious ideapar excellence, the idea of God, merely
personifies the moral idea of some nation or some
time. This is why theology transforms itself, why
religions succeed each other in proportion as hu-
manity perfects itself. And this perfectibility of
religions is a thesis big with consequences. Por
if we give to the notion of the Supreme Being a
connotation so variable and so extensive as that of
moral emotion, we come to the identification of God
with humanity, to making piety consist in reflecting
tenderly on the mj^stery of mortal fate, to reducing
the science of life to two elements only, commis-
eration for the fate of other men, and for ourselves,
" that consent to the inevitable which submits to it
without bitterness and is called resignation."


Unsubstantial as George Eliot's religion may
seem, nothing made further breach in it. She re-
mained persuaded that if human actions do not
escape the universal chain of cause and effect, this
character of necessity does not affect their moral
quality, does not diminish their ugliness or their
beauty, and consequently cannot weaken our mo-
tives for preferring one to another. Besides, one
last link continued to attach George Eliot to mys-
tical tradition, and to that idealist and romantic
period of humanity which contemporary naturalism
is at work to destroy. She had read Darwin's works
with interest ; but she does not seem to have grasped
or to have accepted their whole bearing. She saw
in them only the idea of evolution. " Now, " says
she, " this theory, like all the other explanations of
the way in which things have come into existence,
affects me little as compared with the mystery which
is at the bottom of existence itself. " And so behind
the fact she looks for something else than the fact ;
she raises the questions which cannot be answered;
she is of those who, as Schiller says, ^ want to know
why ten is not twelve.

George Eliot cannot be ranked among modern
adepts in pessimism. She does not look on life as
bad in itself — she is only, as it were, oppressed
with the difficulties of the struggle, with the ugli-
nesses and the sufferings of humanity. She was
disposed to believe with the ancients that those are
1 Die Weltweisen.


happiest wlio die young ; and, as we have just seen,
she brought herself to place the highest virtue in
resignation, or, as she also calls it, "the courage
which can do without narcotics, the fortitude which
supports evils with full consciousness of them, and
with eyes wide open." This want of trust in hu-
man destiny is such that George Eliot will not yield
to the ideas of social progress which have seized so
tyrannously on the modern spirit ; she is too thor-
oughly persuaded that happiness is above all a moral

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Online LibraryEdmond Henri Adolphe SchererEssays on English literature; → online text (page 20 of 21)