George Willis Cooke.

George Eliot; a Critical Study of Her Life, Writings & Philosophy online

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of culture, but rarely foster a passion sufficient to rouse all the
faculties to aid in winning or retaining its beloved object - to convert
indolence into activity, indifference into ardent partisanship, dulness
into perspicuity.

Her conception of marriage may have been affected by that presented by
Feuerbach in his _Essence of Christianity_. In words translated into
English by herself, Feuerbach says, "that alone is a religious marriage
which is a true marriage, which corresponds to the essence of
marriage - love." Again, he says that marriage is only sacred when it is an
inward attraction confirmed by social and personal obligations; "for a
marriage the bond of which is merely an external restriction, not the
voluntary, contented self-restriction of love - in short, a marriage which
is not spontaneously concluded, spontaneously willed, self-sufficing - is
not a true marriage, and therefore not a truly moral marriage." As a moral
and social obligation, marriage is to be held sacred; its sacredness grows
out of its profound human elements of helpfulness, nurture and emotional
satisfaction, while its obligation rises from its primary social
functions. It does not consist in any legal form, but in compliance with
deep moral and social responsibilities. Some such conception of marriage
as this she seems to have accepted, which found its obligation in the
satisfaction it gives to the inner nature, and in the fulfilment of social
responsibilities. The influence of Compte may also have been felt in the
case of both Lewes and Marian Evans; they saw in the marriage form a
fulfilment of human, not of legal, requirements.

While there is no doubt they would both gladly have accepted the legal
form had that been possible, yet they were sufficiently out of sympathy
with the conventionalities of society to cause them to disregard that form
when it could not be complied with. They regarded themselves, however, as
married, and bound by all the ties and requirements which marriage
imposes. They proclaimed themselves to their friends as husband and wife,
and they were so accepted by those who knew them. In her letters to
literary correspondents she always mentioned Lewes as "my husband." The
laws of most civilized nations recognize these very conditions, and
regard the acceptance of the marriage relation before the world as a
sufficient form.

Those who have written of this marriage, bear testimony to its devotion
and beauty. The author of the account of her life and writings in the
_Westminster Review_, an early and intimate friend, says the "union was
from the first regarded by themselves as a true marriage, as an alliance
of a sacred kind, having a binding and permanent character. When the fact
of the union was first made known to a few intimate friends, it was
accompanied with the assurance that its permanence was already irrevocably
decreed. The marriage of true hearts for a quarter of a century has
demonstrated the sincerity of the intention. 'The social sanction,' said
Mr. Lewes once in our hearing, 'is always desirable.' There are cases in
which it is not always to be had. Such a ratification of the sacrament of
affection was regarded as a sufficient warrant, under the circumstances of
the case, for entrance on the most sacred engagement of life. There was
with her no misgiving, no hesitation, no looking back, no regret; but
always the unostentatious assertion of quiet, matronly dignity, the most
queenly expression and unconscious affirmation of the 'divine right' of
the wedded wife. We have heard her own oral testimony to the enduring
happiness of this union, and can, as privileged witnesses, corroborate it.
As a necessary element in this happiness she practically included the
enjoyment inseparable from the spontaneous reciprocation of home
affection, meeting with an almost maternal love the filial devotion of Mr.
Lewes's sons, proffering all tender service in illness, giving and
receiving all friendly confidence in her own hour of sorrowful
bereavement, and crowning with a final act of generous love and
forethought the acceptance of parental responsibilities in the
affectionate distribution of property, the visible result of years of the
intellectual toil whose invisible issues are endless."

Their marriage helped both to a more perfect work and to a truer life. She
gave poise and purpose to the "versatile, high-strung, somewhat wayward
nature" of her husband, and she "restrained, raised, ennobled, and
purified" his life and thought. He stimulated and directed her genius life
into its true channel, cared for her business interests with untiring
faithfulness, made it possible for her to pursue her work without burdens
and distractions, and gave her the inspiration of a noble affection and a
cheerful home. Miss Edith Simcox speaks of "the perfect union between
these two," which, she says, "lent half its charm to all the worship paid
at the shrine of George Eliot." She herself, Miss Simcox proceeds to say,
"has spoken somewhere of the element of almost natural tenderness in a
man's protecting love: this patient, unwearying care for which no trifles
are too small, watched over her own life; he stood between her and the
world, her relieved her from all those minor cares which chafe and fret
the artist's soul; he wrote her letters; in a word, he so smoothed the
course of her outer life as to leave all her powers free to do what she
alone could do for the world and for the many who looked to her for help
and guidance. No doubt this devotion brought its own reward; but we are
exacting for our idols and do not care to have even a generous error to
condone, and therefore we are glad to know that, great as his reward was,
it was no greater than was merited by the most perfect love that ever
crowned a woman's life." Mr. Kegan Paul also writes of the mutual
helpfulness and harmony of purpose which grew out of this marriage. "Mr.
Lewes's character attained a stability and pose in which it had been
somewhat lacking, and the quiet of an orderly and beautiful home enabled
him to concentrate himself more and more on works demanding sustained
intellectual effort, while Mrs. Lewes's intensely feminine nature found
the strong man on whom to lean in the daily business of life, for which
she was physically and intellectually unfitted. Her own somewhat sombre
cast of thought was cheered, enlivened and diversified by the vivacity and
versatility which characterized Mr. Lewes, and made him seem less like an
Englishman than a very agreeable foreigner."

This marriage presents one of the curious ethical problems of literature.
In this case approval and condemnation are alike difficult. Her own
teaching condemns it; her own life approves it. We could wish it had not
been, for the sake of what is purest and best; and yet it is not difficult
to see that its effects were in many ways beneficial to her. That it was
ethically wrong there is no doubt. That it was condemned by her own
teaching is so plain as to cause doubt about how she could herself approve
it.

Lewes had a brilliant and versatile mind. He was not a profound thinker,
but he had keen literary tastes, a vigorous interest in science, and a
remarkable alertness of intellect. His gifts were varied rather than deep;
literary rather than philosophical. As a companion, he had a wonderful
charm and magnetism; he was a graceful talker, a marvellous story-teller,
and a wit seldom rivalled. His intimate friend, Anthony Trollope, says,
"There was never a man so pleasant as he with whom to sit and talk vague
literary gossip over a cup of coffee and a cigar." By the same friend we
are told that no man related a story as he did. "No one could say that he
was handsome. The long bushy hair, and the thin cheeks, and the heavy
mustache, joined as they were, alas! almost always to a look of sickness,
were not attributes of beauty. But there was a brilliance in his eye which
was not to be tamed by any sickness, by any suffering, which overcame all
other feeling on looking at him."

George Henry Lewes was born in London, April 18, 1817. His grandfather was
a well-known comedian. His education was received in a very desultory
manner. He was at school for a time in Jersey, and also in Brittany, where
he acquired a thorough command of French. Later he attended a famous school
in Greenwich, kept by a Dr. Burney. After leaving school he went into a
notary's office, and then he became a clerk to a Russia merchant. His mind
was, however, attracted to scientific and philosophic studies, and he
betrayed little interest either in the law or in commercial pursuits. Then
he took up the study of medicine, giving thorough attention to anatomy and
physiology. It is said that his horror of the dissecting-room was so great
as to cause him to abandon the purpose to become a physician. All this time
his mind was steadily drawn to philosophy, and he gave as much time to it
as he could. The bent, of his mind was early developed, and in 1836, when
only nineteen, he had projected a treatise on the philosophy of mind, in
which he proposed to give a physiological interpretation to the doctrines
of Reid, Stewart and Brown. At the age of twenty he gave a course of
lectures on this subject; and to this line of thought he held ever after.
One of the influences which led to his departure from a strict
interpretation of the Scotch metaphysicians was the influence of Spinoza.
As indicating the eagerness with which he pursued his studies in all
directions, and the earnestness of his purpose at so early an age, his own
account of a club he attended at this time [Footnote: Fortnightly Review,
April 1,1866, introductory to the article on Spinoza.] may be mentioned. In
this account he describes a Jew by the name of Cohen, who first introduced
him to the study of Spinoza, and who has mistakenly been supposed to be the
original of Mordecai in _Daniel Deronda_.

The sixth member of this club, who "studied anatomy and many other things,
with vast aspirations, and no very definite career before him," was Lewes
himself, in all probability. His eager desire for knowledge took him to
Germany in 1838, where he remained for two years in the same desultory
study of many subjects. He became thoroughly acquainted with the German
language and life, and gave much attention to German literature and
philosophy. On his return to England, Lewes entered upon his literary
career, which was remarkable for its versatility and productiveness. In
1841 he wrote "The Noble Heart," a three-act tragedy, published in 1852.
His studies of Spinoza found expression in one of the first essays on the
subject published in England. In 1843, he published in the _Westminster
Review_ his conclusions on that thinker. His essay was reprinted in a
separate form, attracting much attention, and in 1846 was incorporated into
a larger work, the result of his studies in Germany and of his interest in
philosophy. In 1845, at the age of twenty-nine, he published a history of
philosophy, in which he undertook to criticise all metaphysical systems
from the inductive and scientific point of view. This work was his
_Biographical History of Philosophy_. It appeared in four small volumes in
Knight's weekly series of popular books devoted to the diffusion of
knowledge among the people. Lewes touched a popular demand in this book,
reaching the wants of many readers. He continued through many years to
elaborate his studies on these subjects and to re-work his materials. New
and enlarged editions, each time making the book substantially a new one,
were published in 1857, in 1867 and in 1871. No solid book of the century
has sold better; and it has been translated into several continental
languages.

Lewes did not confine himself to philosophy. Other and very different
subjects also attracted his attention. His mind ranged in many directions,
and his flexible genius found subjects of interest on all sides. In 1846 he
published a little book on _The Spanish Drama: Lope de Vega and Calderon_,
a slight affair, full of his peculiar prejudices, and devoted mainly to an
unsympathetic criticism. The following year he gave to the world an
ambitious novel, _Ranthorpe_. It seems to have been well read in its day,
was translated into German and reprinted on the continent by Tauchnitz. The
plot is well conceived, but the story is rapidly told, full of incident and
tragedy, and there is a subtle air of unreality about it. The experiences
of a poet are unfolded in a romantic form, and the attempt is made to show
what is the true purpose and spirit in which literature can be successfully
pursued. To this end there is a discussion running through the book on the
various phases of the literary life, much in the manner of Fielding.
_Ranthorpe_ would now be regarded as a very dull novel, and it is crude,
full of the sensational, with little analysis of character and much action.

It was read, however, by Charlotte Brontë with great interest, and she
wrote of it to the author in these words: "In reading _Ranthorpe_ I have
read a new book - not a reprint - not a reflection of any other book, but _a
new book_. I did not know such books were written now. It is very different
to any of the popular works of fiction; it fills the mind with fresh
knowledge. Your experience and your convictions are made the reader's; and
to an author, at least, they have a value and an interest quite unusual."
In 1848, Lewes published another novel of a very different kind - _Rose,
Blanche and Violet_. This was a society novel, intended to reach the minds
of the ordinary novel-readers, but was not so successful as the first. It
has little plot or incident, but has much freshness of thought and
originality of style.

The same year appeared his _Life of Robespierre_, the result of original
investigations, and based largely on unpublished correspondence. Without
any sympathy of opinion with Robespierre, and without any purpose of
vindicating his character, Lewes told the true story of his life, and
showed wherein he had been grossly misrepresented. The book was one of
much interest, though it lacked in true historic insight and was clumsily
written. While these works were appearing, Lewes was a voluminous
contributor to the periodical literature of the day. He wrote, at this
time and later, for the _Edinburgh Review_, the _Foreign Quarterly_,
_British Quarterly_, _Westminster Review_, _Fraser's Magazine_,
_Blackwood's Magazine_, _Cornhill Monthly_, _Saturday Review_, in the
_Classical Museum_, the _Morning Chronicle_, the _Atlas_ and various other
periodicals, and on a great variety of subjects. His work of this kind was
increased when in 1849 he became the literary editor of _The Leader_
newspaper, a weekly journal of radical thought and politics. His
versatility, freshness of thought and vigor of expression made this
department of _The Leader_ of great interest. His reviews of books were
always good, and his literary articles piquant and forcible. In the first
volume he published a story called _The Apprenticeship of Life_. In April,
1852, he began in its columns a series of eighteen articles on Comte's
Positive Philosophy. In connection with the second article of this series
he asked for subscriptions in aid of Comte, and in the third reported that
three workingmen had sent in money. These subscriptions were continued
while the articles were in progress, and amounted to a considerable sum. In
1854 these essays were republished in Bohn's _Scientific Library_ under the
title of _Comte's Philosophy of the Sciences_. The _Leader_ was ably
conducted, but it was radical and outspoken, and did not receive the
support it deserved. In 1854 his connection with it came to an end.

While connected with _The Leader_, Lewes had turned his attention to
Goethe, and made a thorough study of his life and opinions. After spending
many months in Weimar, and as a result of his studies in Germany, he
published in 1855 his _Life and Works of Goethe_. It was carefully
re-written in 1873, and the substance of it was given in an abbreviated
and more popular form a few years later. This has usually been accepted
as the best book about Goethe written in English. Mr. Anthony Trollope
expresses the usual opinion when he says, "As a critical biography of
one of the great heroes of literature it is almost perfect. It is short,
easily understood by common readers, singularly graphic, exhaustive, and
altogether devoted to the subject." On the other hand, Bayard Taylor
said that "Lewes's entertaining apology hardly deserves the name of a
biography." It is an opinionated book, controversial, egotistic, and
unnecessarily critical. It was written less with the purpose of
interpreting Goethe to the English reader than of giving expression
to Lewes's own views on many subjects. His chapters on Goethe's science
and on his realism are marked by an extreme dogmatism. The poetic and
religious side of Goethe's nature he was incapable of understanding, and
always misrepresents, as he did that side of his nature which allied Goethe
with Schiller and the other idealists. Lewes was always polemical, had some
theory to champion, some battle to fight. He did not write for the sake of
the subject, but because the subject afforded an arena of battle for the
theories to the advocacy of which he gave his life.

With the completion of his _Life of Goethe_, Lewes turned his attention
more than ever to physiological studies, though he had continued to give
them much attention in the midst of his other pursuits. In 1858 appeared
his _Seaside Studies_, in which he recorded the results of his original
investigations at Ilfracombe, Tenby, Scilly Isles and Jersey. This volume
is written in a plain descriptive style, containing many interesting
accounts of scenery and adventure, explanations of the methods of study of
animal life at the seashore, how experiments are carried on, the results of
these special studies, and much of controversy with other observers. It
combines science and description in a happy manner. Another result of his
physiological studies was a paper "On the Spinal Cord as a Centre of
Sensation and Volition," read before the British Association for the
Advancement of Science, in 1858. This was followed the next year by three
published addresses on "The Nervous System," in which he presented those
theories which were more carefully developed in his latest work, where he
gave a systematic account of his philosophy. From this time on to his death
the greater part of his energies were given to these studies, and to the
building up of a philosophy based on physiology. A popular work, in which
many of his theories are unfolded, and marked throughout by his peculiar
ideas in regard to the relations of body and mind, was published in 1858.
This was his _Physiology of Common Life_, a work of great value, and
written in a simple, comprehensive style, suited to the wants of the
general reader. In the first volume he wrote of hunger and thirst, food and
drink, digestion, structure and uses of the blood, circulation of the
blood, respiration and suffocation, and why we are warm and how we keep so.
The second treats of feeling and thinking, the mind and the brain, our
senses and sensations, sleep and dreams, the qualities we inherit from our
parents, and life and death. In 1860 he printed in _The Cornhill Magazine_
a series of six papers on animal life. They were reprinted in book form in
1861, under the title of _Studies in Animal Life_. More strictly scientific
than his _Seaside Studies_, they were even more popular in style, and
intended for the general reader. While these books were being published he
was at work on a more strictly scientific task, and one intended for the
thoughtful and philosophic reader. This was his _Aristotle: a Chapter from
the History of Science, including Analyses of Aristotle's Scientific
Writings_, which was completed early in 1862, but not published until 1864.
As in his previous works, Lewes is here mainly concerned with an exposition
of his theories of the inductive method, and he judges Aristotle from this
somewhat narrow position. He refuses Aristotle a place among scientific
observers, but says he gave a great impulse towards scientific study, while
in intellectual force he was a giant. The book contains no recognition of
Aristotle's value as a philosopher; indeed his metaphysics are treated with
entire distrust or indifference. His fame is pronounced to be justifiably
colossal, but it is said he did not lay the basis of any physical science.
It is a work of controversy rather than of unbiassed exposition, and its
method is dry and difficult.

Early in the year 1865, a few literary men in London conceived the project
of a new review, which should avoid what they conceived to be the errors of
the old ones. It was to be eclectic in its doctrinal position, contain only
the best literature, all articles were to be signed by the author's name,
and it was to be published by a joint-stock company. Lewes was invited to
become the editor of this new periodical, and after much urging he
consented. The first number of _The Fortnightly Review_ was published May
15,1865, It proved a financial failure, and was soon sold to a publishing
firm. The eclectic theory was abandoned, and the _Review_ became an
agnostic and radical organ under the management of its second editor, John
Morley. Lewes edited six volumes, when, in 1867, he was obliged, on account
of his health, to resign his position. He made the _Review_ an independent
and able exponent of current thought, and he kept it up to a very high
standard of literary excellence. His own contributions were among the best
things it contained, and give a good indication of the wide range of his
talent. In the first volume he published papers on "The Heart and the
Brain," and on the poetry of Robert Buchanan, as well as a series of four
very able and valuable papers on "The Principles of Success in Literature."
In the second volume he wrote about "Mr. Grote's Plato." In the third he
dealt with "Victor Hugo's Latest Poems," "Criticism in relation to Novels,"
and "Auguste Comte." In this volume he began a series of essays entitled
"Causeries," in which he treated, in a light vein, of the passing topics of
the day. He wrote of Spinoza in the fourth volume, and of "Comte and Mill"
in the sixth, contributing nothing to the fifth. After Morley became the
editor, in the ninth and tenth volumes, he published three papers on
Darwin's hypothesis, and in 1878 there was a paper of his on the "Dread and
Dislike of Science." He also had a criticism of Dickens in the July number
of 1872, full of his subtle power of analysis and literary insight.

Lewes in early life had a strong inclination to become an actor, and he did
go on the stage for a short time. He wrote and translated several plays,
one of his adaptations becoming very popular. He wrote dramatic criticisms
for the _Pall Mall Gazette_ and other journals, during many years. In 1875,
a volume of these papers was published with the title, _On Actors and the
Art of Acting_. It treated in a pleasant way, and with keen insight, of
Edmund Kean, Charles Kean, Rachel, Macready, Fan-en, Charles Matthews,
Frédéric Lemaitre, the two Keeleys, Shakspere as actor and critic, natural
acting, foreign actors on our stage, the drama of Paris in 1865, Germany in
1867, and Spain in 1867, and of his first impressions of Salvini. Another
piece of work done by him was the furnishing, in 1867, of an explanatory
text to accompany Kaulbach's _Female Characters of Goethe_.

The last years of Lewes's life were devoted to the preparation of a
systematic exposition of his physiological philosophy. As early as the year
1858, he was at work on the nervous system, and, soon after, his studies
took a systematic shape. In his series of volumes on the _Problems of Life
and Mind_ he gave to the world a new theory of the mind and of knowledge.
In the first two volumes, published in 1874, and entitled _The Foundations
of a Creed_, he developed his views on the methods of philosophic research.
These were followed in 1877 by a third volume, on _The Physical Basis of
Life_. After his death his wife edited two small volumes on Psychology,
which included all the writing he left in a form ready for publication. His
work was left incomplete, but its publication had gone far enough to show
the methods to be followed and the main conclusions to be reached.

Concerning the work done by Lewes in philosophy, there will be much
difference of opinion. He did much through his various expositions to make



Online LibraryGeorge Willis CookeGeorge Eliot; a Critical Study of Her Life, Writings & Philosophy → online text (page 5 of 39)