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volume. George Eliot was more austere, more un-
flinching, and of ruder intellectual constancy than
Mill. She never withdrew from the position that
she had taken up, of denying and rejecting ; she stood



122 THE LIFE OF GEORGE ELIOT.

to that to the end : Avhat slic did was to advance to
the far higher perception tliat denial and rejection
are not the aspects best worth attending to or dwell-
ing upon. She had little patience with those who
fear that the doctrine of protoplasm must dry up the
springs of human effort. Any one who trembles at
that catastrophe may profit by a powerful remons-
trance of hers in the pages before us (iii. 245-250,
also 228).

The consideration of molecular physics is not the direct
ground of human love and moral action, any more than it
is the direct means of composing a noble picture or of
enjoying great music. One might as well hope to dissect
one's own body and be merry in doing it, as take molecular
physics (in which you must banish from your field of view
what is specifically human) to be your dominant guide, your
determiner of motives, in what is solely human. That
every study has its bearing on every other is true ; but
pain and relief, love and sorrow, have their peculiar
history which make an experience and knowledge over
and above the swing of atoms.

With regard to the pains and limitations of one's
personal lot, I suppose there is not a single man or woman
who has not more or less need of that stoical resignation
which is often a hidden heroism, or who, in considering his
or her past history, is not aware that it has been cruelly
affected by the ignorant or selfish action of some fellow-
being in a more or less close relation of life. And to my
mind there can be no stronger motive than this perception,
to an energetic effort that the lives nearest to us shall not
suffer in a like manner from ns.

As to duration and the way in which it affects your
view of the human history, what is really the difference
to your imagination between infinitude and billions when



THE LIFE OF GEOKGE ELIOT. 123

you have to consider the value of human experience ? Will
you say that since your life has a term of threescore years
and ten, it was really a matter of indifference whether you
were a cripple with a wretched skin disease, or an active
creature with a mind at large for the enjoyment of know-
ledge, and with a nature which has attracted others to you ?

For herself, she remained in the position described
in one of her letters in 1860 (ii. 283) : — 'I have faith
in the working out of higher possibilities than the
Catholic or any other Church has presented ; and
those who have strength to wait and endure are bound
to accept no formula which their whole souls — their
intellect, as well as their emotions — do not embrace
with entire reverence. The highest calling and
election is to do ivithout opium, and live through all our
pain with conscious, clear-eyed endurance.' She would
never accept the common optimism. As she says
here : — ' Life, though a good to men on the whole,
is a doubtful good to many, and to some not a good
at all. To my thought it is a source of constant
mental distortion to make the denial of this a part of
religion — to go on pretending things are better than
they are.'

Of the afflicting dealings with the world of spirits,
which in those days were comparatively limited to the
untutored minds of America, but which since have
come to exert so singular a fascination for some of
the most brilliant of George Eliot's younger friends
/"see iii. 204), she thought as any sensible Philistine
among us persists in thinking to this day : —



124 THE LIFE OF GEORGE ELIOT.

If it were another spirit aping Charlotte Bronto — if
here and there at rare spots and among peo]ile of a certain
temperament, or even at many spots and among people of
all temperaments, tricksy spirits are liable to rise as a sort
of earth-bubbles and set furniture in movement, and tell
things which we either know already or should be as well
without knowing — I must frankly confess that I liave but
a feeble interest in these doings, feeling ray life very short
for the supreme and awful revelations of a more orderly
and intelligible kind which I shall die with an imperfect
knowledge of. If there were miserable spirits whom we
could help — then I think we should pause and have
patience with their trivial-mindedness ; but otherwise I
don't feel bound to study them more than I am bound to
study the special follies of a peculiar phase of human
society. Others, who feel differently, and are attracted
towards this study, are making an experiment for us as to
whether anything better than bewilderment can come of
it. At present it seems to me that to rest any fundamental
part of religion on such a basis is a melancholy misguid-
ance of men's minds from the true sources of high and
pure emotion (iii. 161).

The period of George Eliot's productions was from
1856, the date of her first stories, down to 1876,
when she wrote, not under her brightest star, her
last novel of Daniel Deronda. During this time the
great literary influences of the epoch immediately
preceding had not indeed fallen silent, but the most
fruitful seed had been sown. Carlyle's Sartor (1833-
1834), and his Miscellaneous Essays (collected, 1839),
were in all hands ; but he had fallen into the terrible
slough of his Prussian history (1858-1865), and the
last word of his evangel had gone forth to all whom it



THE LIFE OF GEORGE ELIOT, 125

concerned. In Memoriam, whose noble music and
deep-browed thought awoke such new and wide
response in men's hearts, was pubhshed in 1850.
The second volume of Modern Painters, of Avliich I
have heard George Eliot say, as of In MenK/riam too,
that she owed much and very much to it, belongs to
an earlier date still (1846), and when it appeared,
though George Eliot was born in the same year as
its author, she was still translating Strauss at Coventry.
Mr. Browning, for whose genius she had such admira-
tion, and who was always so good a friend, did indeed
produce during this period some work which the
adepts find as full of power and beauty as any that
ever came from his pen. But Mr. Browning's genius
has moved rather apart from the general currents of
his time, creating character and working out motives
from within, undisturbed by transient shadows from
the passing questions and answers of the day.

The romantic movement was then upon its fall.
The great Oxford movement, which besides its purely
ecclesiastical effects, had linked English religion once
more to human history, and which was itself one of
the unexpected outcomes of the romantic movement,
had spent its original force, and no longer interested
the stronger minds among the rising generation.
The hour had sounded for the scientific movement.
In 1859 was published the Origin of Species, un-
doubtedly the most far-reaching agency of the time,
supported as it was by a volume of new knowledge
which came pouring in from many sides. The same



126 THE LIFE OF GEORGE ELIOT.

period saw the important speculations of Mr. Spencer,
whose influence on George Eliot had from their first
acquaintance been of a very decisive kind. Two
years after the Origin of Species came Maine's Ancient
Law, and that was followed by the accumulations of
Mr. Tylor and others, exhibiting order and fixed
correlation among great sets of facts which had
hitherto lain in that cheerful chaos of general
knowledge which has been called general ignorance.
The excitement was immense. Evolution, develop-
ment, heredity, adaptation, variety, survival, natural
selection, were so many patent pass-keys that were to
open every chamber.

George Eliot's novels, as they were the imaginative
application of this great influx of new ideas, so they
fitted in with the moods which those ideas had called
up. 'My function,' she said (iii. 330), 'is that of the
aesthetic, not the doctrinal teacher — the rousing of the
nobler emotions which make mankind desire the social
right, not the prescribing of special measures, con-
cerning which the artistic mind, however strongly
moved by social sympathy, is often not the best
judge.' Her influence in this direction over serious
and impressionable minds was great indeed. The
spii'it of her art exactly harmonised with the new
thoughts that were shaking the world of her con-
temporaries. Other artists had drawn their pictures
with a strong ethical background, but she gave a
finer colour and a more spacious air to her ethics by
showing the individual passions and emotions of her



THE LIFE OF GEOKGE ELIOT. 127

characters, their adventures and their fortunes, as
evolving themselves from long series of antecedent
causes, and bound up Avith many widely operating
forces and distant events. Here, too, we find our-
selves in the full stream of evolution, heredity,
survival, and fixed inexorable law.

This scientific quality of her work maybe considered
to have stood in the way of her own aim. That the
nobler emotions roused by her writings tend to ' make
manldnd desire the social right ' is not to be doubted ;
that we are not sure that she imparts peculiar energy
to the desire. What she kindles is not a very strenu-
ous, aggressive, and operative desire. The sense of
the iron limitations that are set to improvement in
present and future by inexorable forces of the past,
is stronger in her than any intrepid resolution to press
on to whatever improvement may chance to be Avithin
reach if we only make the attempt. In energy, in
inspiration, in the kindling of living faith in social
effort, George Sand, not to speak of Mazzini, takes a
far higher place.

It was certainly not the business of an artist to
form judgments in the sphere of practical politics,
but George Eliot was far too humane a nature not
to be deeply moved by momentous events as they
passed. Yet her observations, at any rate after
1848, seldom show that energy of sympathy of which
we have been speaking, and these observations illus-
trate our point. We can hardly think that anything
was ever said about the great civil war in America,



128 THE LIFE OF GEORGE ELIOT.

SO curiously far-fetched as the following reflection : —
' My best consolation is that an example on so
tremendous a scale of the need for the education of
mankind through the affections and sentiments, as a
basis for true development, will have a strong influence
on all thinkers, and be a check to the arid narrow
antagonism which in some quarters is held to be the
only form of Hberal thought' (ii. 335).

In 1848, as we have said, she felt the hopes of the
hour in all their fulness. To a friend she writes
(i. 179): — 'You and Carlyle (have you seen his
article in last week's Examiner ?) are the only two
people who feel just as I would have them — who can
glory in what is actually great and beautiful without
putting forth any cold reservations and incredulities
to save their credit for wisdom. I am all the more
delighted with your enthusiasm because I didn't
expect it. I feared that you lacked I'evolutionary
ardour. But no — you are just as sans-culottish and
rash as I would have you. You are not one of those
sages whose reason keeps so tight a rein on their
emotions that they are too constantly occupied in
calculating consequences to rejoice in any great mani-
festation of the forces that underlie our everyday
existence.

' I thought we had fallen on such evil days that
we were to see no really great movement — that ours
was what St. Simon calls a purely critical epoch, not
at all an organic one ; but I begin to be glad of my
date. I would consent, however, to have a year dipt



THE LIFE OF GEOEGE ELIOT. 129

off my life for the sake of witnessing such a scene as
that of the men of the barricades bowing to the image
of Christ, ' who first taught fraternity to men.' One
trembles to look into every fresh newspaper lest there
should be something to mar the picture ; but hitherto
even the scoffing newspaper critics have been com-
pelled into a tone of genuine respect for the French
people and the Provisional Government. Lamartine
can act a poem if he cannot write one of the very
first order. I hope that beautiful face given to him
in the pictorial newspaper is really his : it is worthy
of an aureole. I have little patience with people
who can find time to pity Louis Philippe and his
moustachioed sons. Certainly our decayed monarchs
should be pensioned off : we should have an hospital
for them, or a sort of zoological garden, where these
worn-out humbugs may be preserved. It is but jus-
tice tliat we should keep them, since we have spoiled
them for any honest trade. Let them sit on soft
cushions, and have their dinner regularly, but, for
heaven's sake, preserve me from sentimentalising
over a pampered old man when the earth has its
millions of unfed souls and bodies. Surely he is not
so Ahab-like as to wish that the revolution had been
deferred till his son's days : and I think the shades
of the Stuarts would have some reason to complain
if the Bourbons, who are so little better than they,
had been allowed to reign much longer.'

The hopes of '48 were not very accurately ful-
filled, and in George Ehot they never came to life

VOL. III. K



130 THE LIFE OF GEORGE ELIOT.

again. Yet in social things wo may be sure that
undying hope is the secret of vision.

There is a passage in Coleridge's Friend which
seems to represent the outcome of George Eliot's
teaching on most, and not the worst, of her readers :
— ' The tangle of delusions,' says Coleridge, ' which
stifled and distorted the growing tree of our well-
being has been torn away ; the parasite weeds that
fed on its very roots have been plucked up with a
salutary violence. To us there remain only quiet
duties, the constant care, the gradual improvement,
the cautious and unhazardous labours of the in-
dustrious though contented gardener — to prune, to
strengthen, to engraft, and one by one to remove
from its leaves and fresh shoots the slug and the
caterpillar.' Coleridge goes farther than George
Eliot, when he adds the exhortation — ' Far be it from
us to undervalue with light and senseless detraction
the conscientious hardihood of our predecessors, or
even to condemn in them that vehemence to which
the blessings it won for us leave us now neither temp-
tation nor pretext.'

George Eliot disliked vehemence more and more
as her work advanced. The word 'crudity,' so fre-
quently on her lips, stood for all that was objection-
able and distasteful. The conservatism of an artistic
moral nature was shocked by the seeming peril to
which priceless moral elements of human character
were exposed by the energumens of i)rogress. Their
impatient hopes for the present appeared to her



THE LIFE OF GEORGE ELIOT. 131

rather unscientific ; tlieir disregard of the past very
irreverent and impious. Mill had the same feeling
when he disgusted his father by standing up for
Wordsworth, on the ground that Wordsworth was
helping to keep alive in human nature elements which
utilitarians and innovators would need when their pres-
ent and particular work was done. Mill, being free
from the exaltations that make the artist, kept a truer
balance. His famous pair of essays on Bentham and
Coleridge were pubhshed (for the first time, so far as
our generation was concerned) in the same year as
Adam Bede, and I can vividly remember how the
' Coleridge ' first awoke in many of us, who were then
youths at Oxford, that sense of truth having many
mansions, and that desire and power of sympathy
with the past, with the positive bases of the social
fabric, and with the value of Permanence in States,
which form the reputable side of all conservatisms.
This sentiment and conviction never took richer or
more mature form than in the best work of George
Eliot, and her stories lighted up with a fervid glow
the truths that minds of another type had just brought
to the surface. It was this that made her a great
moral force at that epoch, especially for all who were
capable by intellectual training of standing at her
point of view. We even, as I have said, tried hard
to love her poetry, but the effort has ended less in
love than in a very distant homage to the majestic in
intention and the sonorous in execution. In fiction,
too, as the years go by, we begin to crave more fancy,



132 THE LIFE OF GEORGE ELIOT.

illusion, enchantment, than the quality of her genius
allowed. But the loftiness of her character is abid-
ing, and it passes nobly through the ordeal of an
honest biography. ' For the lessons,' says the fine
critic already quoted, ' most imperatively needed by
the mass of men, the lessons of deliberate kindness,
of careful truth, of unwavering endeavour, — for these
plain themes one could not ask a more convincing
teacher than she whom we are commemorating now.
Everything in her aspect and presence was in keeping
with the bent of her soul. The deeply-lined face,
the too marked and massive features, were united
with an air of delicate refinement, which in one way
was the more impressive because it seemed to proceed
so entirely from within. Nay, the inward beauty
would sometimes quite transform the external harsh-
ness ; there would be moments when the thin hands
that entwined themselves in their eagerness, the ear-
nest figure that bowed forward to speak and hear,
the deep gaze moving from one face to another with
a grave appeal, — all these seemed the transparent
symbols that showed the presence of a wise, be-
nignant soul.' As a wise, benignant soul George
Eliot will still remain for all right- judging men and
women.



ON PATTISON'S MEMOIRS.^

To reckon the subject of this vohime among leading
minds who have stamped a deep influence on our
generation, is not possible even to the friendliest
partiality. That was not his position, and nobody
could be less likely than he would himself have been
to claim it. Pattison started no new problem. His
name is associated with no fertile speculation, and
with no work of the first degree of importance. Nor
was he any more intended for a practical leader than
for an intellectual discoverer. He did not belong to
the class of authoritative men who are born to give
decisions from the chair. Measured by any standard
commensurate to his remarkable faculties, Pattison's
life would be generally regarded as pale, negative,
and ineffectual. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that
he had a certain singular quality about him that made
his society more interesting, more piquant, and more
sapid than that of many men of a far wider importance
and more commanding achievement.

Critics have spoken of his learning, but the

' Memoirs. By Mark Pattison, late Rector of Lincoln
College, Oxford. London, 1885.



134 ON pattison's memoirs.

description is only relatively accurate. Of him, in
this respect, we may say, what he said of Erasmus.
• Erasmus, though justly styled by Muretus, eruditm
sane vir ac muUce ledionis, was not a learned man in
the special sense of the word — not an Srudit. He was
the man of letters. He did not make a study a part
of antiquity for its own sake, but used it as an instru-
ment of culture.' The result of culture in Pattison's
actual life was not by any means ideal. For instance,
he was head of a college for nearly a quarter of a
century, and except as a decorative figure-head with a
high literary reputation, he did little more to advance
the working interests of his college during these five-
and-twenty years than if he had been one of the
venerable academic abuses of the worst days before
reform. But his temperament, his reading, his recoil
from Catholicism, combined with the strong reflective
powers bestowed upon him by nature to produce a
personality that was unlike other people, and infinitely
more curious and salient than many who had a firmer
grasp of the art of right living. In an age of effusion
to be reserved, and in days of universal professions of
sympathy to show a saturnine front, was to be an
original. There was nobody in whose company one
felt so much of the ineff'able comfort of being quite
safe against an attack of platitude. There was nobody
on whom one might so surely count in the course of
an hour's talk for some stroke of irony or pungent
suggestion, or, at the worst, some significant, admoni-
tory, and almost luminous manifestation of the great



ON pattison's memoirs. 135

ars taccndi. In spite of his copious and ordered
knowledge, Pattison could hardly be said to have an
affluent mind. He did not impart intellectual direction
like Mill, nor morally impress himself like George
Eliot. Even in pithy humour he was inferior to
Bagehot, who was certainly one of the most remarkable
of the secondary figures of our generation. But he
made every one aware of contact with the reality
of a living intelligence. It was evident that he
had no designs upon you. He was not thinking
of shaking a conviction, nor even of sm'prising ad-
miration.

Everlasting neutrality, no doubt, may soon become
a tiresome affectation. But we can afford to spare a
few moments from our solid day to the Sage, if we
are so lucky as to hit upon one ; always provided that
he be not of those whom La Bruy^re has described as
being made into sages by a certain natural mediocrity
of mind. Whatever else may be said of Pattison, at
least he was never mediocre, never vapid, trite, or
common. Nor was he one of those false pi'etenders
to the judicial mind, who 'mistake for sober sense
And wise reserve, the plea of indolence.' On the
contrary, his industry and spirit of laborious acquisi-
tion were his best credentials. He was invested to
our young imaginations with the attraction of the
literary explorer, who had ' voyaged through strange
seas of thought alone,' had traversed broad continents
of knowledge, had ransacked all the wisdom of printed
books, and had by native courage and resource saved



136 ON pattihon's memoiks.

himself from the engulfiiig waters of the great Move-
ment.

The Memoirs of such a man may not be one of
the monuments of literature. His little volume is
not one of those romantic histories of the soul, from
the Confessions of Augustine to the Confessions of
Jean Jacques, by which men and women liave been
beguiled, enlightened, or inspired in their pilgrimage.
It is not one of those idealised and highly embellished
versions of an actual existence, with which such superb
artists as George Sand, Quinet, and Eenan, have
delighted people of good literary taste. What the
Rector has done is to deliver a tolerably plain and
unvarnished tale of the advance of a peculiar type of
mind along a path of its own, in days of intellectual
storm and stress. It stirs no depths, it gives no
powerful stimulus to the desire after either know-
ledge or virtue — in a word, it does not belong to the
literature of edification. But it is an instructive
account of a curious character, and contains valuable
hints for more than one important chapter in the
mental history of the century.

Mark Pattison, born in 1813, passed his youthful
days at the rectory of Hauxwell, a village in Wensley-
dale, on the edge of the great uplands that stretch
northwards towards Richmond and Barnard Castle,
and form an outwork of the Pennine range and the
backbone of northern England. The scene has been
described in that biography of his Sister Dora, Avhich
he here so unceremoniously despatches as a romance.



ON PATTISON'S MEMOIES. 137

'Hauxwell is a tiny village lying on the southern
slope of a hill, from whence an extensive view of the
moors and Wensleydale is obtained. It contains
between two and three hundred inhabitants. The
rectory is a pretty little dwelling, some half-mile from
the church, which is a fine old building much shut in
by trees. The whole village, even on a bright summer
day, gives the traveller an impression of intense quiet,
if not of dulness ; but in winter, when the snow lies
thickly for weeks together in the narrow lane, the only
thoroughfare of the place ; when the distant moors
also look cold in their garment of white, and the large
expanse of sky is covered with leaden-coloured clouds ;
when the very streams with which the country abounds
are frozen into silence — then indeed may Hauxwell
be called a lonely village.'

Pattison's father had been educated, badly enough,
at Brasenose, but though his own literary instincts
were of the slightest, he had social ambition enough
to destine his son from the first to go to Oxford and



Online LibraryJohn MorleyCritical miscellanies (Volume 3) → online text (page 9 of 25)