George Eliot.

Middlemarch: a study of provincial life (Volume v. 4 PT.1) online

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"These little things are great to little man."— Goldsmith.

" Have you seen much of your scientific phoenix,
Lydgate, lately?" said Mr Toller at one of his
Christmas dinner-parties, speaking to Mr Fare-
brother on his right hand.

" Not much, I am sorry to say," answered the
Vicar, accustomed to parry Mr Toller's banter
about his belief in the new medical light. " I am
out of the way, and he is too busy."

" Is he ? I am glad to hear it," said Dr Minchin,
with mingled suavity and surprise.

" He gives a great deal of time to the New Hos-
pital," said Mr Farebrother, who had his reasons
for continuing the subject : " I hear of that from


my neighbour, Mrs Casaubon, who goes there
often. She says Lydgate is indefatigable, and is
making a fine thing of Bulstrode's institution.
He is preparing a new ward in case of the cholera
coming to us."

" And preparing theories of treatment to try on
the patients, I suppose," said Mr Toller.

" Come, Toller, be candid," said Mr Farebrother.
" You are too clever not to see the good of a bold
fresh mind in medicine, as well as in everything
else ; and as to cholera, I fancy, none of you are
very sure what you ought to do. If a man goes a
little too far along a new road, it is usually him-
self that he harms more than any one else."

" I am sure you and Wrench ought to be obliged
to him," said Dr Minchin, looking towards Toller,
"for he has sent you the cream of Peacock's

" Lydgate has been living at a great rate for a
young beginner," said Mr Harry Toller, the brewer.
" I suppose his relations in the North back him

" I hope so," said Mr Chichely, '■ else he ought
not to have married that nice girl we were all
so fond of. Hang it, one has a grudge against
a man who carries off the prettiest girl in the


"Ay, by God ! and the best too," said Mr Standish.

" My friend Vincy didn't half like the marriage,
I know that," said Mr Chichely. " He wouldn't
do much. How the relations on the other side
may have come down I can't say." There was an
emphatic kind of reticence in Mr Chichely's man-
ner of speaking.

" Oh, I shouldn't think Lydgate ever looked to
practice for a living," said Mr Toller, with a slight
touch of sarcasm ; and there the subject was

This was not the first time that Mr Farebrother
had heard hints of Lydgate's expenses being obvi-
ously too great to be met by his practice, but he
thought it not unlikely that there were resources
or expectations which excused the large outlay at
the time of Lydgate's marriage, and which might
hinder any bad consequences from the disappoint-
ment in his practice. One evening, when he took
the pains to go to Middlemarch on purpose to have
a chat with Lydgate as of old, he noticed in him
an air of excited effort quite unlike his usual easy
way of keeping silence or breaking it with abrupt
energy whenever he had anything to say. Lydgate
talked persistently when they were in his work-
room, putting arguments for and against the pro-
bability of certain biological view*, but he had


none of those definite things to say or to show
which give the way-marks of a patient uninter-
rupted pursuit, such as he used himself to insist on,
saying that " there must be a systole and diastole
in all inquiry," and that " a man's mind must
be continually expanding and shrinking between
the whole human horizon and the horizon of an
object-glass." That evening he seemed to be talk-
ing widely for the sake of resisting any personal
bearing ; and before long they went into the draw-
ing-room, where Lydgate, having asked Eosamond
to give them music, sank back in his chair in si-
lence, but with bright dilated eyes. " He may have
been taking an opiate," was a thought that crossed
Mr Farebrother's mind — "tic-douloureux, perhaps
— or medical worries."

It did not occur to him that Lydgate's mar-
riage was not delightful : he believed, as the rest
did, that Eosamond was an amiable, docile creature,
though he had always thought her rather uninter-
esting — a little too much the pattern-card of the
finishing-school ; and his mother could not for-
give Eosamond because she never seemed to see
that Henrietta Noble was in the room. " How-
ever, Lydgate fell in love with her," said the
Vicar to himself, " and she must be to his taste."

Mr Farebrother was aware that Lydgate was


a proud man, but having very little correspond-
ing fibre in himself, and perhaps too little care about
personal dignity, except the dignity of not being
mean or foolish, he could hardly allow enough
for the way in which Lydgate shrank, as from a
burn, from the utterance of any word about his
private affairs. And soon after that conversation
at Mr Toller's, the Vicar learned something which
made him watch the more eagerly for an oppor-
tunity of indirectly letting Lydgate know that
if he wanted to open himself about any difficulty
there was a friendly ear ready.

The opportunity came at Mr Vincy's, where, on
New Year's Day, there was a party, to which
Mr Farebrother was irresistibly invited, on the
plea that he must not forsake his old friends on
the first new year of his being a greater man, and
Eector as well as Vicar. And this party was
thoroughly friendly : all the ladies of the Fare-
brother family were present ; the Vincy children
all dined at the table, and Fred had persuaded
his mother that if she did not invite Mary Garth,
the Farebrothers would regard it as a slight to them-
selves, Mary being their particular friend. Mary
came, and Fred was in high spirits, though his
enjoyment was of a checkered kind — triumph
that his mother should see Mary's importance


with the chief personages in the party being
much streaked with jealousy when Mr Farebrother
sat down by her. Fred used to be much more
easy about his own accomplishments in the days
when he had not begun to dread being " bowled out
by Farebrother," and this terror was still before
him. Mrs Vincy, in her fullest matronly bloom,
looked at Mary's little figure, rough wavy hair, and
visage quite without lilies and roses, and wondered;
trying unsuccessfully to fancy herself caring about
Mary's appearance in wedding - clothes, or feel-
ing complacency in grandchildren who would
"feature" the Garths. However, the party was
a merry one, and Mary was particularly bright ;
being glad, for Fred's sake, that his friends were
getting kinder to her, and being also quite will-
ing that they should see how much she was val-
ued by others whom they must admit to be

Mr Farebrother noticed that Lydgate seemed
bored, and that Mr Vincy spoke as little as pos-
sible to his son-in-law. Ptosamond was perfectly
graceful and calm, and only a subtle observation
such as the Vicar had not been roused to bestow
on her would have perceived the total absence of
that interest in her husband's presence which a
loving wife is sure to betray, even if etiquette


keeps her aloof from him. When Lydgate was
taking part in the conversation, she never looked
towards him any more than if she had been a
sculptured Psyche modelled to look another way :
and when, after being called out for an hour or
two, he re-entered the room, she seemed uncon-
scious of the fact, which eighteen months before
would have had the effect of a numeral before
ciphers. In reality, however, she was intensely
aware of Lydgate's voice and movements ; and her
pretty good-tempered air of unconsciousness was
a studied negation by which she satisfied her
inward opposition to him without compromise of
propriety. When the ladies were in the drawing-
room after Lydgate had been called away from the
dessert, Mrs Farebrother, when Eosamond hap-
pened to be near her, said — " You have to give
up a great deal of your husband's society, Mrs

" Yes, the life of a medical man is very ardu-
ous : especially when he is so devoted to his
profession as Mr Lydgate is," said Eosamond, who
was standing, and moved easily away at the end
of this correct little speech.

" It is dreadfully dull for her when there is no
company," said Mrs Vincy, who was seated at the
old lady's side. " I am sure I thought so when


Eosamond was ill, and I was staying with her.
You know, Mrs Farebrother, ours is a cheerful
house. I am of a cheerful disposition myself, and
Mr Vincy always likes something to be going on.
That is what Rosamond has been used to. Very
different from a husband out at odd hours, and
never knowing when he will come home, and of a
close, proud disposition, I think " — indiscreet Mrs
Vincy did lower her tone slightly with this
parenthesis. " But Eosamond always had an angel
of a temper ; her brothers used very often not to
please her, but she was never the girl to show
temper ; from a baby she was always as good as
good, and with a complexion beyond anything.
But my children are all good-tempered, thank

This was easily credible to any one looking at
Mrs Vincy as she threw back her broad cap-
strings, and smiled towards her three little girls,
aged from seven to eleven. But in that smiling
glance she was obliged to include Mary Garth,
whom the three girls had got into a corner to
make her tell them stories. Mary was just finish-
ing the delicious tale of Eumpelstiltskin, which
she had well by heart, because Letty was never
tired of communicating it to her ignorant elders
from a favourite red volume. Louisa, Mrs Vincy s


darling, now ran to her with wide-eyed serious
excitement, crying, " mamma, mamma, the little
man stamped so hard on the floor he couldn't get
his leg out again ! "

"Bless you, my cherub ! " said mamma ; " you
shall tell me all about it to-morrow. Go and
listen ! " and then, as her eyes followed Louisa
back towards the attractive corner, she thought
that if Fred wished her to invite Mary again she
would make no objection, the children being so
pleased with her.

But presently the corner became still more ani-
mated, for Mr Farebrother came in, and seating
himself behind Louisa, took her on his lap ;
whereupon the girls all insisted that he must hear
Bumpelstiltskin, and Mary must tell it over again.
He insisted too, and Mary, without fuss, began
again in her neat fashion, with precisely the same
words as before. Fred, who had also seated him-
self near, would have felt unmixed triumph in
Mary's effectiveness if Mr Farebrother had not
been looking at her with evident admiration, while
he dramatised an intense interest in the tale to
please the children.

" You will never care any more about my one-
eyed giant, Loo," said Fred at the end.

" Yes, I shall. Tell him. now," said Louisa,


" Oh, I daresay ; I am quite cut out. Ask Mr

"Yes," added Mary; "ask Mr Farebrother to
tell you about the ants whose beautiful house was
knocked down by a giant named Tom, and he
thought they didn't mind because he couldn't hear
them cry, or see them use their pocket-handker-

" Please," said Louisa, looking up at the

1 No, no, I am a grave old parson. If I try to
draw a story out of my bag a sermon comes
instead. Shall I preach you a sermon V* said he,
putting on his short-sighted glasses, and pursing
up his lips.

" Yes," said Louisa, falteringly.

" Let me see, then. Against cakes : how cakes
are bad things, especially if they are sweet and
have plums in them."

Louisa took the affair rather seriously, and got
down from the Vicar's knee to go to Fred.

"Ah, I see it will not do to preach on New
Year's Bay," said Mr Farebrother, rising and walk-
ing away. He had discovered of late that Fred
had become jealous of him, and also that he him-
self was not losing his preference for Mary above
all other women.


" A delightful young person is Miss Garth," said
Mrs Farebrother, who had been watching her
son's movements.

" Yes," said Mrs Vincy, obliged to reply, as the
old lady turned to her expectantly. " It is a pity
she is not better-looking."

" I cannot say that/' said Mrs Farebrother, de-
cisively. " I like her countenance. We must not
always ask for beauty, when a good God has seen
fit to make an excellent young woman without
it. I put good manners first, and Miss Garth
will know how to conduct herself in any station."

The old lady was a little sharp in her tone,
having a prospective reference to Mary's becom-
ing her daughter-in-law ; for there was this incon-
venience in Mary's position with regard to Fred,
that it was not suitable to be made public, and
hence the three ladies at Lowick Parsonage
were still hoping that Camden would choose Miss

New visitors entered, and the drawing-room
was given up to music and games, while whist-
tables were prepared in the quiet room on the
other side of the hall. Mr Farebrother played a
rubber to satisfy his mother, who regarded her
occasional whist as a protest against scandal and
novelty of opinion, in which light even a revoke


had its dignity. But at the end he got Mr
Chichely to take his place, and left the room. As
he crossed the hall, Lydgate had just come in and
was taking off his greatcoat.

"You are the man I was going to look for,"
said the Yicar; and instead of entering the
drawing-room, they walked along the hall and
stood against the fireplace, where the frosty air
helped to make a glowing bank. "You see, I
can leave the whist-table easily enough," he went
on, smiling at Lydgate, "now I don't play for
money. I owe that to you, Mrs Casaubon says."

" How ?" said Lydgate, coldly.

" Ah, you didn't mean me to know it ; I call
that ungenerous reticence. You should let a man
have the pleasure of feeling that you have done
him a good turn. I don't enter into some people's
dislike of being under an obligation : upon my
word, I prefer being under an obligation to every-
body for behaving well to me."

"I can't tell what you mean," said Lydgate,
"unless it is that I once spoke of you to Mrs
Casaubon. But I did not think that she would
break her promise not to mention that I had
done so," said Lydgate, leaning his back against
the corner of the mantelpiece, and showing no
radiance in his face.


" It was Brooke who let it out, only the other
day. He paid me the compliment of saying that
he was very glad I had the living, though you
had come across his tactics, and had praised me
up as a Ken and a Tillotson, and that sort of
thing, till Mrs Casaubon would hear of no one

"Oh, Brooke is such a leaky-minded fool,"
said Lydgate, contemptuously.

"Well, I was glad of the leakiness then. I
don't see why you shouldn't like me to know
that you wished to do me a service, my dear
fellow. And you certainly have done me one.
It's rather a strong check to one's self-complacency
to find how much of one's right doing depends on
not being in want of money. A man will not be
tempted to say the Lord's Prayer backward to
please the devil, if he . doesn't want the devil's
services. I have no need to hang on the smiles
of chance now."

"I don't see that there's any money-getting with-
out chance," said Lydgate ; " if a man gets it in a
profession, it's pretty sure to come by chance."

Mr Farebrother thought he could account for
this speech, in striking contrast with Lydgate's
former way of talking, as the perversity which will
often spring from the moodiness of a man ill at


ease in his affairs. He answered in a tone of
good-humoured admission —

"Ah, there's enormous patience wanted with
the way of the world. But it is the easier for a
man to wait patiently when he has friends who
love him, and ask for nothing better than to help
him through, so far as it lies in their power."

" Oh yes," said Lydgate, in a careless tone,
changing his attitude and looking at his watch.
" People make much more of their difficulties than
they need to do."

He knew as distinctly as possible that this was
an offer of help to himself from Mr Farebrother,
and he could not bear it. So strangely deter-
mined are we mortals, that, after having been
long gratified with the sense that he had privately
done the Yicar a service, the suggestion that the
Vicar discerned his need of a service in return
made him shrink into unconquerable reticence.
Besides, behind all making of such offers what
else must come? — that he should "mention his
case," imply that he wanted specific things. At
that moment, suicide seemed easier.

Mr Farebrother was too keen a man not to
know the meaning of that reply, and there was a
certain massiveness in Lydgate's manner and tone,
corresponding with his physique, which if he


repelled your advances in the first instance seemed
to put persuasive devices out of question.

"What time are you V said the Vicar, devour-
ing his wounded feeling.

" After eleven," said Lydgate. And they went
into the drawing-room.

vol. rv



1st Gent. Where lies the power, there let the blame lie too.

2d Gent. Nay, power is relative ; you cannot fright
The coming pest with border fortresses,
Or catch your carp with subtle argument.
All force is twain in one : cause is not cause
Unless effect be there ; and action's self
Must needs contain a passive. So command
Exists but with obedience.

Even if Lydgate had been inclined to be quite
open about his affairs, he knew that it would
have hardly been in Mr Farebrother's power
to give him the help be immediately wanted.
With the year's bills coming in from his tradesmen,
with Dover's threatening hold on his furniture,
and with nothing to depend on but slow dribbling
payments from patients who mast not be offended
— for the handsome fees he had had from Freshitt
Hall and Lowick Manor had been easily ab-
sorbed — nothing less than a thousand pounds
would have freed him from actual embarrassment,
and left a residue which, according to the favour-


ite phrase of hopefulness in such circumstances,
would have given him " time to look about him."

Naturally, the merry Christmas bringing the
happy New Year, when fellow-citizens expect
to be paid for the trouble and goods they have
smilingly bestowed on their neighbours, had
so lightened the pressure of sordid cares on
Lydgate's mind that it was hardly possible for
him to think unbrokenly of any other subject,
even the most habitual and soliciting. He was
not an ill-tempered man ; his intellectual activity,
the ardent kindness of his heart, as well as his
strong frame, would always, under tolerably easy
conditions, have kept him above the petty uncon-
trolled susceptibilities which make bad temper.
But he was now a prey to that worst irritation
which arises not simply from annoyances, but
from the second consciousness underlying those
annoyances, of wasted energy and a degrading
preoccupation, which was the reverse of all his
former purposes. " This is what I am thinking
of; and that is what I might have been thinking
of," was the bitter incessant murmur within him,
making every difficulty a double goad to im-

Some gentlemen have made an amazing figure
in literature by general discontent with the


universe as a trap of dulness into which their
great souls have fallen by mistake ; but the sense
of a stupendous self and an insignificant world
may have its consolations. Lydgate's discontent
was much harder to bear : it was the sense that
there was a grand existence in thought and
effective action lying around him, while his self
was being narrowed into the miserable isolation
of egoistic fears, and vulgar anxieties for events
that might allay such fears. His troubles will
perhaps appear miserably sordid, and beneath the
attention of lofty persons who can know nothing
of debt except on a magnificent scale. Doubtless
they were sordid ; and for the majority, who are
not lofty, there is no escape from sordidness but
by being free from money-craving, with all its
base hopes and temptations, its watching for
death, its hinted requests, its horse-dealer's desire
to make bad work pass for good, its seeking for
function which ought to be another's, its com-
pulsion often to long for Luck in the shape of
a wide calamity.

It was because Lydgate writhed under the idea
of getting his neck beneath this vile yoke that he
had fallen into a bitter moody state which was
continually widening Eosamond's alienation from
him. After the first disclosure about the bill


of sale, he had made many efforts to draw her
into sympathy with him about possible measures
for narrowing their expenses, and with the threat-
ening approach of Christmas his propositions grew
more and more definite. " We two can do with
only one servant, and live on very little," he said,
"and I shall manage with one horse." For Lydgate,
as we have seen, had begun to reason, with a more
distinct vision, about the expenses of living : and
any share of pride he had given to appearances
of that sort was meagre compared with the pride
which made him revolt from exposure as a debtor,
or from asking men to help him with their money.

" Of course you can dismiss the other two ser-
vants, if you like," said Eosamond ; "but I should
have thought it would be very injurious to your
position for us to live in a poor way. You must
expect your practice to be lowered."

"My dear Rosamond, it is not a question of
choice. We have begun too expensively. Pea-
cock, you know, lived in a much smaller house
than this. It is my fault : I ought to have known
better, and I deserve a thrashing — if there were
anybody who had a right to give it me — for bring-
ing you into the necessity for living in a poorer
way than you have been used to. But we married
because we loved each other, T suppose. And


that may help us to pull along till things get
better. Come, dear, put down that work and come
to me."

He was really in chill gloom about her at that
moment, but he dreaded a future without affec-
tion, and was determined to resist the oncoming
of division between them. Eosamond obeyed
him, and he took her on his knee, but in her
secret soul she was utterly aloof from him. The
poor thing saw only that the world was not
ordered to her liking, and Lydgate was part of
that world. But he held her waist with one hand
and laid the other gently on both of hers ; for tin's
rather abrupt man had much tenderness in his
manners towards women, seeming to have always
present in his imagination the weakness of their
frames and the delicate poise of their health both
in body and mind. And he began again to speak

" I find, now I look into things a little, Kosy,
that it is wonderful what an amount of money
slips away in our housekeeping. I suppose the
servants are careless, and we have had a great
many people coming. But there must be many
in our rank who manage with much less : they
must do with commoner things, I suppose, and
look after the scraps. It seems, money goes but


a little way in these matters, for Wrench has
everything as plain as possible, and he has a very
large practice."

" Oh, if you think of living as the Wrenches
do ! " said Eosamond, with a little turn of her
neck. " But I have heard you express your dis-
gust at that way of living."

" Yes, they have bad taste in everything — they
make economy look ugly. We needn't do that.
I only meant that they avoid expenses, although
Wrench has a capital practice."

"Why should not you have a good practice,
Tertius ? Mr Peacock had. You should be more
careful not to offend people, and you should send
out medicines as the others do. I am sure you
began well, and you got several good houses. It
cannot answer to be eccentric ; you should think
what will be generally liked," said Eosamond, in
a decided little tone of admonition.

Lydgate's anger rose : he was prepared to be
indulgent towards feminine weakness, but not

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