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Going to the Exposition at New Orleans, I took for reading on the
journey, the life of George Eliot, by her husband, Mr. J.W. Cross,
written with great delicacy and beauty. An accident delayed us, so
that for three days I enjoyed this insight into a wonderful life. I
copied the amazing list of books she had read, and transferred to my
note-book many of her beautiful thoughts. To-day I have been reading
the book again; a clear, vivid picture of a very great wom
n, whose
works, says the _Spectator_, "are the best specimens of powerful,
simple English, since Shakespeare."
What made her a superior woman? Not wealthy parentage; not congenial
surroundings. She had a generous, sympathetic heart for a foundation,
and on this she built a scholarship that even few men can equal. She
loved science, and philosophy, and language, and mathematics, and grew
broad enough to discuss great questions and think great thoughts. And
yet she was affectionate, tender, and gentle.
Mary Ann Evans was born Nov. 22, 1819, at Arbury Farm, a mile from
Griff, in Warwickshire, England. When four months old the family
moved to Griff, where the girl lived till she was twenty-one, in a
two-story, old-fashioned, red brick house, the walls covered with
ivy. Two Norway firs and an old yew-tree shaded the lawn. The father,
Robert Evans, a man of intelligence and good sense, was bred a builder
and carpenter, afterward becoming a land-agent for one of the large
estates. The mother was a woman of sterling character, practical and
For the three children, Christiana, Isaac, and Mary Ann, there was
little variety in the commonplace life at Griff. Twice a day the coach
from Birmingham to Stamford passed by the house, and the coachman
and guard in scarlet were a great diversion. She thus describes, the
locality in _Felix Holt_: "Here were powerful men walking queerly,
with knees bent outward from squatting in the mine, going home to
throw themselves down in their blackened flannel, and sleep through
the daylight, then rise and spend much of their high wages at the
alehouse with their fellows of the Benefit Club; here the pale, eager
faces of handloom weavers, men and women, haggard from sitting up late
at night to finish the week's work, hardly begun till the Wednesday.
Everywhere the cottages and the small children were dirty, for the
languid mothers gave their strength to the loom."
Mary Ann was an affectionate, sensitive child, fond of out-door
sports, imitating everything she saw her brother do, and early in
life feeling in her heart that she was to be "somebody." When but four
years old, she would seat herself at the piano and play, though she
did not know one note from another, that the servant might see that
she was a distinguished person! Her life was a happy one, as is shown
in her _Brother and Sister Sonnet_:--
"But were another childhood's world my share,
I would be born a little sister there."
At five, the mother being in poor health, the child was sent to a
boarding-school with her sister, Chrissy, where she remained three or
four years. The older scholars petted her, calling her "little mamma."
At eight she went to a larger school, at Nuneaton, where one of the
teachers, Miss Lewis, became her life-long friend. The child had the
greatest fondness for reading, her first book, a _Linnet's Life_,
being tenderly cared for all her days. _Aesop's Fables_ were read and
re-read. At this time a neighbor had loaned one of the Waverley novels
to the older sister, who returned it before Mary Ann had finished
it. Distressed at this break in the story, she began to write out as
nearly as she could remember, the whole volume for herself. Her amazed
family re-borrowed the book, and the child was happy. The mother
sometimes protested against the use of so many candles for night
reading, and rightly feared that her eyes would be spoiled.
At the next school, at Coventry, Mary Ann so surpassed her comrades
that they stood in awe of her, but managed to overcome this when
a basket of dainties came in from the country home. In 1836 the
excellent mother died. Mary Ann wrote to a friend in after life, "I
began at sixteen to be acquainted with the unspeakable grief of a last
parting, in the death of my mother." In the following spring Chrissy
was married, and after a good cry with her brother over this breaking
up of the home circle, Mary Ann took upon herself the household
duties, and became the care-taker instead of the school-girl. Although
so young she took a leading part in the benevolent work of the
Her love for books increased. She engaged a well-known teacher to come
from Coventry and give her lessons in French, German, and Italian,
while another helped her in music, of which she was passionately fond.
Later, she studied Greek, Latin, Spanish, and Hebrew. Shut up in
the farm-house, hungering for knowledge, she applied herself with
a persistency and earnestness that by-and-by were to bear their
legitimate fruit. That she felt the privation of a collegiate course
is undoubted. She says in _Daniel Deronda_: "You may try, but you can
never imagine what it is to have a man's force of genius in you, and
yet to suffer the slavery of being a girl."
She did not neglect her household duties. One of her hands, which
were noticeable for their beauty of shape, was broader than the other,
which, she used to say with some pride, was owing to the butter
and cheese she had made. At twenty she was reading the _Life of
Wilberforce_, Josephus' _History of the Jews_, Spenser's _Faery Queen,
Don Quixote_, Milton, Bacon, Mrs. Somerville's _Connection of the
Physical Sciences_, and Wordsworth. The latter was always an especial
favorite, and his life, by Frederick Myers in the _Men of Letters_
series, was one of the last books she ever read.
Already she was learning the illimitableness of knowledge. "For my
part," she says, "I am ready to sit down and weep at the impossibility
of my understanding or barely knowing a fraction of the sum of objects
that present themselves for our contemplation in books and in life."
About this time Mr. Evans left the farm, and moved to Foleshill, near
Coventry. The poor people at Griff were very sorry, and said, "We
shall never have another Mary Ann Evans." Marian, as she was now
called, found at Foleshill a few intellectual and companionable
friends, Mr. and Mrs. Bray, both authors, and Miss Hennell, their
Through the influence of these friends she gave up some of her
evangelical views, but she never ceased to be a devoted student
and lover of the Bible. She was happy in her communing with nature.
"Delicious autumn," she said. "My very soul is wedded to it, and if
I were a bird, I would fly about the earth, seeking the successive
autumns.... I have been revelling in Nichol's _Architecture, of
the Heavens and Phenomena of the Solar System_, and have been in
imagination winging my flight from system to system, from universe to
In 1844, when Miss Evans was twenty-five years old, she began the
translation of Strauss' _Life of Jesus_. The lady who was to marry
Miss Hennell's brother had partially done the work, and asked Miss
Evans to finish it. For nearly three years she gave it all the time at
her command, receiving only one hundred dollars for the labor.
It was a difficult and weary work. "When I can work fast," she said,
"I am never weary, nor do I regret either that the work has been begun
or that I have undertaken it. I am only inclined to vow that I will
never translate again, if I live to correct the sheets for Strauss."
When the book was finished, it was declared to be "A faithful,
elegant, and scholarlike translation ... word for word, thought for
thought, and sentence for sentence." Strauss himself was delighted
with it.
The days passed as usual in the quiet home. Now she and her father,
the latter in failing health, visited the Isle of Wight, and saw
beautiful Alum Bay, with its "high precipice, the strata upheaved
perpendicularly in rainbow,--like streaks of the brightest maize,
violet, pink, blue, red, brown, and brilliant white,--worn by the
weather into fantastic fretwork, the deep blue sky above, and the
glorious sea below." Who of us has not felt this same delight in
looking upon this picture, painted by nature?
Now Ralph Waldo Emerson, as well as other famous people, visited the
Bray family. Miss Evans writes: "I have seen Emerson,--the first _man_
I have ever seen." High praise indeed from our "great, calm soul,"
as he called Miss Evans. "I am grateful for the Carlyle eulogium (on
Emerson). I have shed some quite delicious tears over it. This is
a world worth abiding in while one man can thus venerate and love
Each evening she played on the piano to her admiring father, and
finally, through months of illness, carried him down tenderly to the
grave. He died May 31, 1849.
Worn with care, Miss Evans went upon the Continent with the Brays,
visiting Paris, Milan, the Italian lakes, and finally resting for some
months at Geneva'. As her means were limited, she tried to sell her
_Encyclopaedia Britannica_ at half-price, so that she could have money
for music lessons, and to attend a course of lectures on experimental
physics, by the renowned Professor de la Rive. She was also carefully
reading socialistic themes, Proudhon, Rousseau, and others. She wrote
to friends: "The days are really only two hours long, and I have so
many things to do that I go to bed every night miserable because I
have left out something I meant to do.... I take a dose of mathematics
every day to prevent my brain from becoming quite soft."
On her return to England, she visited the Brays, and met Mr. Chapman,
the editor of the _Westminster Review_, and Mr. Mackay, upon whose
_Progress of the Intellect_ she had just written a review. Mr. Chapman
must have been deeply impressed with the learning and ability of Miss
Evans, for he offered her the position of assistant editor of the
magazine,--a most unusual position for a woman, since its contributors
were Froude, Carlyle, John Stuart Mill, and other able men.
Miss Evans accepted, and went to board with Mr. Chapman's family in
London. How different this from the quiet life at Foleshill! The best
society, that is, the greatest in mind, opened wide its doors to her.
Herbert Spencer, who had just published _Social Statics_, became one of
her best friends. Harriet Martineau came often to see her. Grote was
very friendly.
The woman-editor was now thirty-two; her massive head covered with
brown curls, blue-gray eyes, mobile, sympathetic mouth, strong
chin, pale face, and soft, low voice, like Dorothea's in
_Middlemarch_,--"the voice of a soul that has once lived in an Aeolian
harp." Mr. Bray thought that Miss Evans' head, after that of Napoleon,
showed the largest development from brow to ear of any person's
She had extraordinary power of expression, and extraordinary
psychological powers, but her chief attraction was her universal
sympathy. "She essentially resembled Socrates," says Mathilde Blind,
"in her manner of eliciting whatsoever capacity for thought might
be latent in the people she came in contact with; were it only a
shoemaker or day-laborer, she would never rest till she had found out
in what points that particular man differed from other men of his
class. She always rather educed what was in others than impressed
herself on them; showing much kindliness of heart in drawing out
people who were shy. Sympathy was the keynote of her nature, the
source of her iridescent humor, of her subtle knowledge of character,
of her dramatic genius." No person attains to permanent fame without
Miss Evans now found her heart and hands full of work. Her first
article was a review of Carlyle's _Life of John Sterling_. She was
fond of biography. She said: "We have often wished that genius would
incline itself more frequently to the task of the biographer,
that when some great or good person dies, instead of the dreary
three-or-five volume compilation of letter and diary and detail,
little to the purpose, which two-thirds of the public have not the
chance, nor the other third the inclination, to read, we could have
a real 'life,' setting forth briefly and vividly the man's inward and
outward struggles, aims, and achievements, so as to make clear the
meaning which his experience has for his fellows.
"A few such lives (chiefly autobiographies) the world possesses,
and they have, perhaps, been more influential on the formation of
character than any other kind of reading.... It is a help to read such
a life as Margaret Fuller's. How inexpressibly touching that passage
from her journal, 'I shall always reign through the intellect, but the
life! the life! O my God! shall that never be sweet?' I am thankful,
as if for myself, that it was sweet at last."
The great minds which Miss Evans met made life a constant joy, though
she was frail in health. Now Herbert Spencer took her to hear _William
Tell_ or the _Creation_. She wrote of him: "We have agreed that we
are not in love with each other, and that there is no reason why we
should not have as much of each other's society as we like. He is a
good, delightful creature, and I always feel better for being with
him.... My brightest spot, next to my love of _old_ friends, is the
deliciously calm, _new_ friendship that Herbert Spencer gives me.
We see each other every day, and have a delightful _camaraderie_ in
everything. But for him my life would be desolate enough."
There is no telling what this happy friendship might have resulted in,
if Mr. Spencer had not introduced to Miss Evans, George Henry Lewes, a
man of brilliant conversational powers, who had written a _History of
Philosophy_, two novels, _Ranthorpe_, and _Rose, Blanche, and Violet_,
and was a contributor to several reviews. Mr. Lewes was a witty
and versatile man, a dramatic critic, an actor for a short time,
unsuccessful as an editor of a newspaper, and unsuccessful in his
domestic relations.
That he loved Miss Evans is not strange; that she admired him, while
she pitied him and his three sons in their broken home-life, is
perhaps not strange. At first she did not like him, nor did Margaret
Fuller, but Miss Evans says: "Mr. Lewes is kind and attentive, and has
quite won my regard, after having had a good deal of my vituperation.
Like a few other people in the world, he is much better than he seems.
A man of heart and conscience wearing a mask of flippancy."
Miss Evans tired of her hard work, as who does not in this working
world? "I am bothered to death," she writes, "with article-reading and
scrap-work of all sorts; it is clear my poor head will never produce
anything under these circumstances; _but I am patient_.... I had
a long call from George Combe yesterday. He says he thinks the
_Westminster_ under _my_ management the most important means of
enlightenment of a literary nature in existence; the _Edinburgh_,
under Jeffrey, nothing to it, etc. I wish _I_ thought so too."
Sick with continued headaches, she went up to the English lakes to
visit Miss Martineau. The coach, at half-past six in the evening,
stopped at "The Knoll," and a beaming face came to welcome her. During
the evening, she says, "Miss Martineau came behind me, put her hands
round me, and kissed me in the prettiest way, telling me she was so
glad she had got me here."
Meantime Miss Evans was writing learned and valuable articles on
_Taxation, Woman in France, Evangelical Teaching_, etc. She received
five hundred dollars yearly from her father's estate, but she lived
simply, that she might spend much of this for poor relations.
In 1854 she resigned her position on the _Westminster_, and went with
Mr. Lewes to Germany, forming a union which thousands who love her
must regard as the great mistake of a very great life.
Mr. Lewes was collecting materials for his _Life of Goethe_. This took
them to Goethe's home at Weimar. "By the side of the bed," she says,
"stands a stuffed chair where he used to sit and read while he drank
his coffee in the morning. It was not until very late in his life that
he adopted the luxury of an armchair. From the other side of the
study one enters the library, which is fitted up in a very make-shift
fashion, with rough deal shelves, and bits of paper, with Philosophy,
History, etc., written on them, to mark the classification of the
books. Among such memorials one breathes deeply, and the tears rush to
one's eyes."
George Eliot met Liszt, and "for the first time in her life beheld
real inspiration,--for the first time heard the true tones of the
piano." Rauch, the great sculptor, called upon them, and "won our
hearts by his beautiful person and the benignant and intelligent charm
of his conversation."
Both writers were hard at work. George Eliot was writing an article
on _Weimar_ for _Fraser_, on _Cumming_ for _Westminster_, and
translating Spinoza's _Ethics_. No name was signed to these
productions, as it would not do to have it known that a woman wrote
them. The education of most women was so meagre that the articles
would have been considered of little value. Happily Girton and Newnham
colleges are changing this estimate of the sex. Women do not like
to be regarded as inferior; then they must educate themselves as
thoroughly as the best men are educated.
Mr. Lewes was not well. "This is a terrible trial to us poor
scribblers," she writes, "to whom health is money, as well as all
other things worth having." They had but one sitting-room between
them, and the scratching of another pen so affected her nerves, as to
drive her nearly wild. Pecuniarily, life was a harder struggle than
ever, for there were four more mouths to be fed,--Mr. Lewes' three
sons and their mother.
"Our life is intensely occupied, and the days are far too short,"
she writes. They were reading in every spare moment, twelve plays of
Shakespeare, Goethe's works, _Wilhelm Meister, Goetz von Berlichingen,
Hermann and Dorothea, Iphigenia, Wanderjahre, Italianische Reise_,
and others; Heine's poems; Lessing's _Laocooen_ and _Nathan the
Wise_; Macaulay's _History of England_; Moore's _Life of Sheridan_;
Brougham's _Lives of Men of Letters_; White's _History of Selborne_;
Whewell's _History of Inductive Sciences_; Boswell; Carpenter's
_Comparative Physiology_; Jones' _Animal Kingdom_; Alison's _History
of Europe_; Kahnis' _History of German Protestantism_; Schrader's
_German Mythology_; Kingsley's _Greek Heroes_; and the _Iliad_ and
_Odyssey_ in the original. She says, "If you want delightful reading,
get Lowell's _My Study Windows_, and read the essays called _My Garden
Acquaintances_ and _Winter_." No wonder they were busy.
On their return from Germany they went to the sea-shore, that Mr.
Lewes might perfect his _Sea-side Studies_. George Eliot entered
heartily into the work. "We were immensely excited," she says, "by the
discovery of this little red mesembryanthemum. It was a _crescendo_ of
delight when we found a 'strawberry,' and a _fortissimo_ when I, for
the first time, saw the pale, fawn-colored tentacles of an _Anthea
cereus_ viciously waving like little serpents in a low-tide pool."
They read here Gosse's _Rambles on the Devonshire Coast_, Edward's
_Zoology_, Harvey's sea-side book, and other scientific works.
And now at thirty-seven George Eliot was to begin her creative work.
Mr. Lewes had often said to her, "You have wit, description, and
philosophy--those go a good way towards the production of a novel."
"It had always been a vague dream of mine," she says, "that sometime
or other I might write a novel ... but I never went further toward
the actual writing than an introductory chapter, describing a
Staffordshire village, and the life of the neighboring farm-houses;
and as the years passed on I lost any hope that. I should ever be
able to write a novel, just as I desponded about everything else in my
future life. I always thought I was deficient in dramatic power, both
of construction and dialogue, but I felt I should be at my ease in the
descriptive parts."
After she had written a portion of _Amos Barton_ in her _Scenes of
Clerical Life_, she read it to Mr. Lewes, who told her that now he
was sure she could write good dialogue, but not as yet sure about her
pathos. One evening, in his absence, she wrote the scene describing
Milly's death, and read it to Mr. Lewes, on his return. "We both cried
over it," she says, "and then he came up to me and kissed me, saying,
'I think your pathos is better than your fun!'"
Mr. Lewes sent the story to Blackwood, with the signature of "George
Eliot,"--the first name chosen because it was his own name, and the
last because it pleased her fancy. Mr. Lewes wrote that this story
by a friend of his, showed, according to his judgment, "such humor,
pathos, vivid presentation, and nice observation as have not been
exhibited, in this style, since the _Vicar of Wakefield_."
Mr. John Blackwood accepted the story, but made some comments which
discouraged the author from trying another. Mr. Lewes wrote him the
effects of his words, which he hastened to withdraw, as there was so
much to be said in praise that he really desired more stories from the
same pen, and sent her a check for two hundred and fifty dollars.
This was evidently soothing, as _Mr. Gilfil's Love Story_ and _Janet's
Repentance_ were at once written. Much interest began to be expressed
about the author. Some said Bulwer wrote the sketches. Thackeray
praised them, and Arthur Helps said, "He is a great writer." Copies of
the stories bound together, with the title _Scenes of Clerical
Life_, were sent to Froude, Dickens, Thackeray, Tennyson, Ruskin, and
Faraday. Dickens praised the humor and the pathos, and thought the
author was a woman.
Jane Welch Carlyle thought it "a _human_ book, written out of the
heart of a live man, not merely out of the brain of an author, full
of tenderness and pathos, without a scrap of sentimentality, of sense
without dogmatism, of earnestness without twaddle--a book that makes
one feel friends at once and for always with the man or woman who
wrote it." She guessed the author was "a man of middle age, with a
wife, from whom he has got those beautiful _feminine_ touches in his
book, a good many children, and a dog that he has as much fondness for
as I have for my little Nero."
Mr. Lewes was delighted, and said, "Her fame is beginning." George
Eliot was growing happier, for her nature had been somewhat
despondent. She used to say, "Expecting disappointments is the only
form of hope with which I am familiar." She said, "I feel a deep
satisfaction in having done a bit of faithful work that will perhaps
remain, like a primrose-root in the hedgerow, and gladden and chasten
human hearts in years to come." "'Conscience goes to the hammering
in of nails' is my gospel," she would say. "Writing is part of my
religion, and I can write no word that is not prompted from within.
At the same time I believe that almost all the best books in the world
have been written with the hope of getting money for them."
"My life has deepened unspeakably during the last year: I feel a
greater capacity for moral and intellectual enjoyment, a more acute
sense of my deficiencies in the past, a more solemn desire to be
faithful to coming duties."
For _Scenes of Clerical Life_ she received six hundred dollars for the
first edition, and much more after her other books appeared.
And now another work, a longer one, was growing in her mind, _Adam
Bede_, the germ of which, she says, was an anecdote told her by her
aunt, Elizabeth Evans, the Dinah Morris of the book. A very ignorant
girl had murdered her child, and refused to confess it. Mrs. Evans,
who was a Methodist preacher, stayed with her all night, praying with
her, and at last she burst into tears and confessed her crime.
Mrs. Evans went with her in the cart to the place of execution, and
ministered to the unhappy girl till death came.
When the first pages of _Adam Bede_ were shown to Mr. Blackwood,
he said, "That will do." George Eliot and Mr. Lewes went to Munich,
Dresden, and Vienna for rest and change, and she prepared much of the
book in this time. When it was finished, she wrote on the manuscript,
_Jubilate_. "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."
For this novel she received four thousand dollars for the copyright
for four years. Fame had actually come. All the literary world were
talking about it. John Murray said there had never been such a book.
Charles Reade said, putting his finger on Lisbeth's account of her
coming home with her husband from their marriage, "the finest thing
since Shakespeare." A workingman wrote: "Forgive me, dear sir, my
boldness in asking you to give us a cheap edition. You would confer on
us a great boon. I can get plenty of trash for a few pence, but I am
sick of it." Mr. Charles Buxton said, in the House of Commons: "As the
farmer's wife says in _Adam Bede_, 'It wants to be hatched over again
and hatched different.'" This of course greatly helped to popularize
the book.
To George Eliot all this was cause for the deepest gratitude. They
were able now to rent a home at Wandworth, and move to it at once.
The poverty and the drudgery of life seemed over. She said: "I sing my
magnificat in a quiet way, and have a great deal of deep, silent joy;
but few authors, I suppose, who have had a real success, have known
less of the flush and the sensations of triumph that are talked of as
the accompaniments of success. I often think of my dreams when I was
four or five and twenty. I thought then how happy fame would make
me.... I am assured now that _Adam Bede_ was worth writing,--worth
living through those long years to write. But now it seems impossible
that I shall ever write anything so good and true again." Up to this
time the world did not know who George Eliot was; but as a man by
the name of Liggins laid claim to the authorship, and tried to borrow
money for his needs because Blackwood would not pay him, the real name
of the author had to be divulged.
Five thousand copies of _Adam Bede_ were sold the first two weeks, and
sixteen thousand the first year. So excellent was the sale that Mr.
Blackwood sent her four thousand dollars in addition to the first
four. The work was soon translated into French, German, and Hungarian.
Mr. Lewes' _Physiology of Common Life_ was now published, but it
brought little pecuniary return.
The reading was carried on as usual by the two students. The _Life
of George Stephenson_; the _Electra_ of Sophocles; the _Agamemnon_ of
Aeschylus, Harriet Martineau's _British Empire in India_; and _History
of the Thirty Years' Peace_; Beranger, _Modern Painters_, containing
some of the finest writing of the age; Overbech on Greek art; Anna
Mary Howitt's book on Munich; Carlyle's _Life of Frederick the Great_;
Darwin's _Origin of Species_; Emerson's _Man the Reformer_, "which
comes to me with fresh beauty and meaning"; Buckle's _History of
Civilization_; Plato and Aristotle.
An American publisher now offered her six thousand dollars for a book,
but she was obliged to decline, for she was writing the _Mill on the
Floss_, in 1860, for which Blackwood gave her ten thousand dollars
for the first edition of four thousand copies, and Harper & Brothers
fifteen hundred dollars for using it also. Tauchnitz paid her five
hundred for the German reprint.
She said: "I am grateful and yet rather sad to have finished; sad that
I shall live with my people on the banks of the Floss no longer. But
it is time that I should go, and absorb some new life and gather fresh
ideas." They went at once to Italy, where they spent several months in
Florence, Venice, and Rome.
In the former city she made her studies for her great novel, _Romola_.
She read Sismondi's _History of the Italian Republics_, Tenneman's
_History of Philosophy_, T.A. Trollope's _Beata_, Hallam on the _Study
of Roman Law in the Middle Ages_, Gibbon on the _Revival of Greek
Learning_, Burlamachi's _Life of Savonarola_; also Villari's life
of the great preacher, Mrs. Jameson's _Sacred and Legendary Art_,
Machiavelli's works, Petrarch's Letters, _Casa Guidi Windows_, Buhle's
_History of Modern Philosophy_, Story's _Roba di Roma_, Liddell's
_Rome_, Gibbon, Mosheim, and one might almost say the whole range of
Italian literature in the original. Of Mommsen's _History of Rome_
she said, "It is so fine that I count all minds graceless who read it
without the deepest stirrings."
The study necessary to make one familiar with fifteenth century times
was almost limitless. No wonder she told Mr. Cross, years afterward,
"I began _Romola_ a young woman, I finished it an old woman"; but
that, with _Adam Bede_ and _Middlemarch_, will be her monument. "What
courage and patience," she says, "are wanted for every life that
aims to produce anything!" "In authorship I hold carelessness to be
a mortal sin." "I took unspeakable pains in preparing to write
For this one book, on which she spent a year and a half, _Cornhill
Magazine_ paid her the small fortune of thirty-five thousand dollars.
She purchased a pleasant home, "The Priory," Regent's Park, where she
made her friends welcome, though she never made calls upon any, for
lack of time. She had found, like Victor Hugo, that time is a very
precious thing for those who wish to succeed in life. Browning,
Huxley, and Herbert Spencer often came to dine.
Says Mr. Cross, in his admirable life: "The entertainment was
frequently varied by music when any good performer happened to be
present. I think, however, that the majority of visitors delighted
chiefly to come for the chance of a few words with George Eliot
alone. When the drawing-room door of the Priory opened, a first glance
revealed her always in the same low arm-chair on the left-hand side
of the fire. On entering, a visitor's eye was at once arrested by the
massive head. The abundant hair, streaked with gray now, was draped
with lace, arranged mantilla fashion, coming to a point at the top
of the forehead. If she were engaged in conversation, her body was
usually bent forward with eager, anxious desire to get as close as
possible to the person with whom she talked. She had a great
dislike to raising her voice, and often became so wholly absorbed in
conversation that the announcement of an in-coming visitor failed to
attract her attention; but the moment the eyes were lifted up, and
recognized a friend, they smiled a rare welcome--sincere, cordial,
grave--a welcome that was felt to come straight from the heart, not
graduated according to any social distinction."
After much reading of Fawcett, Mill, and other writers on political
economy, _Felix Holt_ was written, in 1866, and for this she received
from Blackwood twenty-five thousand dollars.
Very much worn with her work, though Mr. Lewes relieved her in every
way possible, by writing letters and looking over all criticisms of
her books, which she never read, she was obliged to go to Germany for
In 1868 she published her long poem, _The Spanish Gypsy_, reading
Spanish literature carefully, and finally passing some time in Spain,
that she might be the better able to make a lasting work. Had she
given her life to poetry, doubtless she would have been a great poet.
_Silas Marner_, written before _Romola_, in 1861, had been well
received, and _Middlemarch_, in 1872, made a great sensation. It was
translated into several languages. George Bancroft wrote her from
Berlin that everybody was reading it. For this she received a much
larger sum than the thirty-five thousand which she was paid for
A home was now purchased in Surrey, with eight or nine acres of
pleasure grounds, for George Eliot had always longed for trees and
flowers about her house. "Sunlight and sweet air," she said, "make a
new creature of me." _Daniel Deronda_ followed in 1876, for which, it
is said, she read nearly a thousand volumes. Whether this be true
or not, the list of books given in her life, of her reading in these
later years, is as astonishing as it is helpful for any who desire
real knowledge.
At Witley, in Surrey, they lived a quiet life, seeing only a few
friends like the Tennysons, the Du Mauriers, and Sir Henry and Lady
Holland. Both were growing older, and Mr. Lewes was in very poor
health. Finally, after a ten days' illness, he died, Nov. 28, 1878.
To George Eliot this loss was immeasurable. She needed his help and
his affection. She said, "I like not only to be loved, but also to
be told that I am loved," and he had idolized her. He said: "I owe
Spencer a debt of gratitude. It was through him that I learned to know
Marian,--to know her was to love her, and since then, my life has been
a new birth. To her I owe all my prosperity and all my happiness. God
bless her!"
Mr. John Walter Cross, for some time a wealthy banker in New York, had
long been a friend of the family, and though many years younger than
George Eliot, became her helper in these days of need. A George Henry
Lewes studentship, of the value of one thousand dollars yearly, was to
be given to Cambridge for some worthy student of either sex, in memory
of the man she had loved. "I want to live a little time that I may do
certain things for his sake," she said. She grew despondent, and the
Cross family used every means to win her away from her sorrow.
Mr. Cross' mother, to whom he was devotedly attached, had also died,
and the loneliness of both made their companionship more comforting.
They read Dante together in the original, and gradually the younger
man found that his heart was deeply interested. It was the higher kind
of love, the honor of mind for mind and soul for soul.
"I shall be," she said, "a better, more loving creature than I could
have been in solitude. To be constantly, lovingly grateful for this
gift of a perfect love is the best illumination of one's mind to all
the possible good there may be in store for man on this troublous
little planet."
Mr. Cross and George Eliot were married, May 6, 1880, a year and a
half after Mr. Lewes' death, his son Charles giving her away, and went
at once to Italy. She wrote: "Marriage has seemed to restore me to my
old self.... To feel daily the loveliness of a nature close to me, and
to feel grateful for it, is the fountain of tenderness and strength
to endure." Having passed through a severe illness, she wrote to a
friend: "I have been cared for by something much better than angelic
tenderness.... If it is any good for me that my life has been
prolonged till now, I believe it is owing to this miraculous affection
that has chosen to watch over me."
She did not forget Mr. Lewes. In looking upon the Grande Chartreuse,
she said, "I would still give up my own life willingly, if he could
have the happiness instead of me."
On their return to London, they made their winter home at 4 Cheyne
Walk, Chelsea, a plain brick house. The days were gliding by happily.
George Eliot was interested as ever in all great subjects, giving five
hundred dollars for woman's higher education at Girton College, and
helping many a struggling author, or providing for some poor friend of
early times who was proud to be remembered.
She and Mr. Cross began their reading for the day with the Bible, she
especially enjoying Isaiah, Jeremiah, and St. Paul's Epistles. Then
they read Max Muller's works, Shakespeare, Milton, Scott, and whatever
was best in English, French, and German literature. Milton she called
her demigod. Her husband says she had "a limitless persistency in
application." Her health was better, and she gave promise of doing
more great work. When urged to write her autobiography, she said, half
sighing and half smiling: "The only thing I should care much to dwell
on would be the absolute despair I suffered from, of ever being able
to achieve anything. No one could ever have felt greater despair, and
a knowledge of this might be a help to some other struggler."
Friday afternoon, Dec. 17, she went to see _Agamemnon_ performed in
Greek by Oxford students, and the next afternoon to a concert at St.
James Hall. She took cold, and on Monday was treated for sore throat.
On Wednesday evening the doctors came, and she whispered to her
husband, "Tell them I have great pain in the left side." This was
the last word. She died with every faculty bright, and her heart
responsive to all noble things.
She loved knowledge to the end. She said, "My constant groan is that
I must leave so much of the greatest writing which the centuries have
sifted for me, unread for want of time."
She had the broadest charity for those whose views differed from
hers. She said, "The best lesson of tolerance we have to learn, is to
tolerate intolerance." She hoped for and "looked forward to the time
when the impulse to help our fellows shall be as immediate and as
irresistible as that which I feel to grasp something firm if I am
One Sunday afternoon I went to her grave in Highgate Cemetery, London.
A gray granite shaft, about twenty-five feet high, stands above it,
with these beautiful words from her great poem:--
"O may I join the choir invisible,
Of those immortal dead who live again
In minds made better by their presence."
BORN, 22d NOVEMBEr, 1819;
DIED, 22d DECEMBEr, 1880.
A stone coping is around this grave, and bouquets of yellow crocuses
and hyacinths lie upon it. Next to her grave is a horizontal slab,
with the name of George Henry Lewes upon the stone.