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George Eliot (1902)

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Leslie Stephen


1 THE diffidence from which George Eliot suffered happily took the form of prompting to conscientious workmanship. As Lewes said, she was "ambitious" as well as "shy." That she aimed at so high a mark showed a consciousness of great powers, but not an equal confidence that they could be brought to bear upon the task. A genuine success could only be reached by a strenuous application on a well-considered scheme. The little discouragement of Blackwood's inadequate appreciation of Janet's Repentance only induced her to take a larger canvas, which would give room for a fuller manifestation of her genius. She finished Janet's Repentance on 9th October 1857, and began Adam Bede on 22nd October. She completed the first volume by the following March; wrote the second during a following tour in Germany; and after returning to England at the beginning of September, completed the third volume on 16th November. It was published in the beginning of 1858. When recording these dates in her journal she gives also an interesting account of the genesis of the book. It was suggested by an anecdote which she had heard from an aunt, the Methodist preacher, Mrs. Samuel Evans. Mrs. Evans, she says, was a "very small, black-eyed woman, who in the days of her strength could not rest without exhorting and remonstrating in season and out of season." She had become much gentler when, at the age of about sixty, she visited Griff and made the acquaintance of her niece. She was very "loving and kind"; and the niece, then under twenty, given to strict reticence about her "inward life," was encouraged to confide in her aunt. This, as already quoted, shows the affectionate relationship which sprang up. They only met twice afterwards, and Mrs. Evans died in 1849. The anecdote which Mrs. Evans had told was of a girl who was hanged for child-murder. Mrs. Evans had passed a night in prayer with her and induced her to make a confession. She afterwards accompanied the criminal in the cart to the place of execution. George Eliot had been deeply affected by this account, and while writing her first story spoke of it to Lewes. He observed, with his keen eye to business, that the prison scene would make an effective incident in a story. The novel was accordingly worked out with a view to this climax. Mrs. Evans was transformed into Dinah Morris, though materially altered in the process. The child-murder implies the seducer, Arthur Donnithorne, and the true lover, Adam Bede. For Adam Bede, she took her father as in some degree the model, though again carefully avoiding direct portraiture. These points established, the general situation is defined, and the development follows simply and naturally. Lewes was responsible for two important points. He was convinced by the first three chapters that Dinah Morris would be the centre of interest for readers. She had there been introduced as preaching and receiving an offer of marriage from Seth Bede. He inferred that she should be the "principal figure at the last"; and the remainder of the story was written with this end "constantly in view." Lewes's other remark was that Adam Bede was becoming too passive. He ought to be brought into more direct collision with Arthur Donnithorne. George Eliot was impressed by this suggestion; and one night, while listening to "William Tell" at the Munich Opera, the fight between the two lovers came upon her as a "necessity." An account of the way in which a work of genius has been created is always interesting; and in this case, I think that it helps to explain some important characteristics of the story.
2 Adam Bede, whatever else may be said of it, placed the author in the first rank of the "Victorian" novelists. Some of us can still look back with fondness to the middle of the last century, and recall the period which seems--to our old-fashioned tastes at least--to have been a flowering time of genius. Within a few years on either side of 1850 many great lights of literature arose or culminated. By David Copperfield, which appeared in 1850, Dickens' popular empire, one may say, was finally established; and if his best work was done, his admirers steadily increased in number. Thackeray's Vanity Fair, Pendennis, Esmond, and The Newcomes came out between 1847 and 1855. Miss Brontë's short and most brilliant apparition lasted from 1847 to 1853. The versatile Bulwer was opening a new and popular vein by The Caxtons and My Novel in 1850 and 1853, preaching sound domestic morality and omitting the True and the Beautiful. All Charles Kingsley's really powerful works of fiction--Alton Locke, Yeast, Hypatia, and Westward Ho!--appeared between 1850 and 1855. Mrs. Gaskell had first made a mark by Mary Barton in 1848, which was followed by Cranford and North and South, the last in 1855. Trollope, after some failures, was beginning to set forth the humours of Barsetshire by the Warden in 1855; and Charles Reade became a popular novelist by Christie Johnstone in 1853, and Never too late to Mend in 1856. In 1855, I may add, Mr. George Meredith's Shaving of Shagpat was praised and reviewed by George Eliot; but the author had long to wait for a general recognition of his genius. Anyhow, an ample and attractive feast was provided for those who had the good fortune to be at the novel-reading age in the fifties. The future historian of literature may settle to his own satisfaction what was the permanent value of the different stars in this constellation, and what was the relation which George Eliot was to bear to her competitors. He will no doubt analyse the spirit of the age and explain how the novelists, more or less unconsciously, reflected the dominant ideas which were agitating the social organism. I am content to say that a retrospect, coloured perhaps by some personal illusion, seems to suggest a very comfortable state of things. People, we are told, were absurdly optimistic in those days; they had not learned that the universe was out of joint, and were too respectable to look into the dark and nasty sides of human life. The generation which had been in its ardent youth during the Reform of 1832 believed in progress and expected the millennium rather too confidently. It liked plain common-sense. Scott's romanticism and Byron's sentimentalism represented obsolete phases of feeling, and suggested only burlesque or ridicule. The novelists were occupied in constructing a most elaborate panorama of the manners and customs of their own times with a minuteness and psychological analysis not known to their predecessors. Their work is, of course, an implicit "criticism of life." Thackeray's special bugbear, snobbism, represents the effete aristocratic prejudices out of which the world was slowly struggling. Dickens applied fiction to assail the abuses, which were a legacy from the old order--debtors' prisons, and workhouses, and Yorkshire schools, and the "circumlocution office." The "social question" was being treated by Kingsley and Mrs. Glaskell. But little was said which had any direct bearing upon those religious or philosophical problems in which George Eliot was especially interested. The novelists when they approach such topics speak with sincere respect of religious belief, though they obviously hold also that true Christianity is something very different from the creeds which are nominally accepted by the churches. They regard such matters as generally outside of their sphere, and simply accept the view of the sensible layman with a prejudice against bigotry and priestcraft. Here was one special province for the new writer. George Eliot alone came to fiction from philosophy. She was, as we have sufficiently seen, familiar with the speculations of her day, and had accepted the most advanced rationalist opinions. But, on the other hand, she had a strong religious sentiment which asserted itself the more as she abandoned the dogmatic system. She puts this emphatically in her letters at the time. She had, as she tells M. D'Albert in 1859, abandoned the old spirit of "antagonism" which had possessed her ten years before. She now sympathises with "any faith in which human sorrow and human longing for purity have expressed themselves." She thinks, too, that Christianity is the highest expression of the religious sentiment that has yet found its place in the history of mankind, and has the "profoundest interest in the inward life of sincere Christians in all ages." She has ceased, she says a little later, to have any sympathy with freethinkers as a class, and holds that a "spiritual blight comes with no faith." It is characteristic that Buckle, who was startling the world at this time, inspires her with "personal dislike," as "an irreligious conceited man." It is therefore intelligible that she should take a Methodist preacher for her centre of interest. Methodism, she says, in the opening of Adam Bede, was a "rudimentary culture" for the simple peasantry; it "linked their thoughts with the past," and "suffused their souls with the sense of a pitying, loving, infinite presence, sweet as summer to the homeless needy." Methodism, to some of her readers, may mean "low-pitched gables up dingy streets, sleek grocers, sponging preachers, and hypocritical jargon--elements which are regarded as an exhaustive analysis of Methodism in many fashionable quarters." Certainly that would be true of readers of Dickens. Stiggins and Chadband and their like were wonderful caricatures, but imply a very summary "analysis." The difference is significant. George Eliot had gone much further than Dickens in explicit rejection of the popular religion, considered as a system of doctrine; but she found her ideal heroine in one of its typical representatives.
3 If, therefore, we accept the author's view, Adam Bede is to derive its main interest from Dinah Morris. Her sermon at the opening is to strike the keynote; and we are to share the impression which it makes upon Seth Bede, that "she's too good and holy for any man, let alone me." This view of the book did not strike everybody. The Saturday Review contained a "laudatory" but "characteristic criticism." "Dinah," she exclaims, "is not mentioned!" It is "characteristic," no doubt, because in those days the Saturday Review, though it had a most brilliant staff of writers, was not distinguished by "enthusiasm," and would be least of all inclined to expend enthusiasm upon a Methodist preacher. There is, we know, a class of beings which has a natural antipathy to holy water. Perhaps it is due to some such weakness that I must confess to a certain sympathy with that unlucky reviewer. Undoubtedly, Dinah Morris is not only an elaborate, but a most skilful and loving portrait of a beautiful soul. Reading the book carefully, one must admit that she performs her part admirably. She shows unerring delicacy and nobility of feeling; and her sermons are expositions of that side of her creed which clearly ought to appeal to one's better nature. I fully admit, therefore, that I ought to accept Seth Bede's estimate, and to fall in love with this undeniable saint, if indeed my reverence ought not to be too strong to admit of love. My failure to do my duty in this respect may possibly be shared by some fellow sinners. It is true, I think, though perhaps lamentable, that perfect characters in fiction have a tendency to be insipid. One wants some little touch of frailty to convince one that they are really human. It was strange, said George Eliot, that people should fancy that she had "copied" Dinah Morris's sermons and prayers, when they were really "written with hot tears as they surged up in her own mind." They have no doubt the earnestness of genuine feeling. And yet to me that accounts for one characteristic without quite justifying it. Mrs. Samuel Evans had, one may assume, the defects incident to her position. She must have been provincial and ignorant, and the beautiful soul shone through an imperfect medium. George Eliot, in modifying or, as she thought, entirely changing the "individuality," has deprived her heroine of the colouring which would make her fully harmonise with her surroundings. She is a little too good not only for Seth but for this world, and I have a difficulty in obeying the summons to fall upon my knees and worship.
4 People of happier constitution must accept this as a confession. I only wish to explain why I feel myself to be rather at cross purposes with my author, and to admit that the criticism which I am about to make may, if not erroneous, be based upon partly insufficient reasons. That criticism is briefly that the development of the story does not quite follow the lines required by the reader's sympathies. The main situation naturally reminds one of Scott's Heart of Midlothian. Both novels turn upon an accusation of child-murder, and Jeanie and Effie Deans correspond roughly to Dinah Morris and Hetty Sorrel. To "compare" the two, except by admitting that they are both masterpieces in different styles, would be absurd: both in their strength and their weakness they are obviously to be judged by different standards; and I only speak of Scott because his story suggests one significant difference. The interest of the Heart of Midlothian culminates in the trial scene where Jeanie Deans has to make the choice between telling the fatal truth or saving her sister by perjury. Scott treats it magnificently in his own way by broad masculine touches. One advantage is naturally offered by the facts from which he started. Jeanie Deans is exposed to a tremendous ordeal, which brings out most effectively her character, and involves a true tragical catastrophe. The scene in the prison, which, as George Eliot tells us, was to be the climax of Adam Bede, is curiously wanting in impressiveness of this nature. Poor helpless little Hester Sorrel has been convicted of murder, and expects to be hanged next day. Dinah Morris goes to her in order to persuade her to make a confession. From the point of view of the persons concerned that was no doubt a very desirable result. But it does not in the least matter to the story, as Hetty's guilt has been already conclusively proved. Neither is it a result which requires any great ability for its achievement. Hetty is anything but a criminal who would make a point of "dying game." She is a most pathetic figure, bewildered, deserted, and in immediate prospect of the gallows; and is quite unable to make any opposition to the woman who comes to her with the first message of love from outside her prison. To have failed to extract a confession from her would have shown a singular want of capacity in her spiritual guide. One would have expected that a humdrum gaol chaplain, or a rough revivalist with threats of hell-fire, could equally have accomplished that end. Dinah Morris undoubtedly does her duty with admirable tact and tenderness, and shows herself to be--what we know her to be--a woman with a beautiful soul. The result, however, is that the real interest of the scene is with the pathetic criminal, and not with the admirable female confessor. The story of Hetty's wanderings in search of her seducer is told with inimitable force and pathos; and we are not surprised to learn that it was written continuously under the influence of strong feeling. Hetty moves us to the core. Dinah Morris, on the other hand, instead of forming the real centre of interest, is a most charming person, who looks in occasionally, and acts as an edifying and eloquent chorus to comment upon the behaviour of the people in whom we are really interested. The last book, therefore, comes upon us, if we take this view, as superfluous and rather unpleasant. Hetty is despatched to Botany Bay, and we are suddenly invited to be interested in a new love affair, when we discover that the saint is not above marrying, and that Adam Bede, who up to this time has been passionately in love with Hetty, can be sensible enough to discover the merits of her antithesis. The tragedy is put aside; all the unpleasant results are swept away as carefully as possible; and everything is made to end happily in the good old fashion.
5 I cannot, therefore, accept Adam Bede as centred upon this religious motive. On that assumption it ought to have been called Dinah Morris; and the other characters should have been interesting as transmitting or resisting the grace which inspires her. But there all hostile criticism may end. I can be unfeignedly grateful to the beautiful Methodist for introducing me to a delightful circle, who were evoked from George Eliot's early memories. If they won't stay in the background, I am all the better pleased. Adam Beds himself is, one is forced to guess, a closer portrait of her father than she intended. We are told that an old friend of Robert Evans had the story read to him, and sat up for hours to listen to descriptions which he recognized, exclaiming at intervals: 'That's Robert, that's Robert to the life!' No doubt an ordinary reader exaggerates superficial resemblances, and is blind to more refined differences which seem all-important to the writer. That the father was one model is undisputed; and one remark is suggested by the portrait, namely, that in spite of her learning and her philosophy, George Eliot is always pre-eminently feminine. The Scenes of Clerical Life suggested, as we have seen, a dispute as to the sex of the author. Now that we know, we can, of course, see that others ought to have showed Dickens's penetration. There is always, I fancy, a difference which should be perceptible to acute critics. Men drawn by women, even by the ablest, are never quite of the masculine gender. They may, indeed, be admirable portraits, but still portraits drawn from outside. In each of the clerical stories, the official heroes are men--Amos Barton, Gilfil, and Tryan. But in each of them the women--Milly and Caterina and Janet--are drawn with a more intimate sympathy; and though a man might have been author of the heroes, no man, as we may safely say now, could have described the heroines. Adam Bede is a most admirable portrait; but we can, I think, see clearly enough that he always corresponds to the view which an intelligent daughter takes of a respected father. That is, perhaps, the way in which one would like to have one's portrait taken; but one is sensible that the likeness though correct is not quite exhaustive. One characteristic point is the kind of resentment with which the true woman contemplates a man unduly attracted by female beauty. Adam Bede's passion for Hetty produces an exposition of the theory: "How pretty the little puss looks in that odd dress! It would be the easiest folly in the world to fall in love with her," with her "sweet baby-like roundness," "the delicate dark rings of hair," and the "great dark eyes with their long eyelashes." "What a prize the man gets who wins a sweet bride like Hetty!" "The dear, young, round, soft, flexible thing!" A man is conscious of being a great "physiognomist" under such circumstances, and thinks that "Nature has written out his bride's character for him in those exquisite lines of cheek and lip and chin, in those eyelids delicate as petals, in those long lashes curled like the stamen of a flower, in the dark liquid depths of those wonderful eyes!" That was the way in which Adam Bede reasoned, poor man! George Eliot knows better, and suspects "that there is no direct correlation between eyelashes and morals; or else, that the eyelashes express the disposition of the fair one's grandmother, which is on the whole less important to us." In fact, as she truly remarks, "it is generally the feminine eye that first detects the moral deficiencies hidden under the 'dear deceit' of beauty," and Mrs. Poyser is not to be hoodwinked. "She's no better than a peacock, as 'ud strut about on the wall, and spread its tail when the sun shone if all the folks i' the parish was dying: there's nothing seems to give her a turn i' th' inside, not even when we thought Totty had tumbled into the pit." Mrs. Poyser, no doubt, is as right as usual, and the remark, indeed, had been made, like most others, by satirists of both sexes; but it is specially congenial to the feminine mind. Miss Brontë, for example, looks on with similar indignation at the dulness of man when "Dr. John" in Villette is attracted by the frivolous Ginevra Fanshawe. George Eliot had an eye for the "kitten-like" beauty of brainless young women, and her power over the male sex is described as a sort of natural perversity. "Every man who is not a monster, a mathematician, or a mad philosopher," she says in Amos Barton, "is the slave of some woman or other," and we must confess the undeniable truth. Strong men do fall in love with pretty fools. Perhaps we are not as much ashamed of it as we should be. Hetty is made so thoroughly charming in her way that we sympathise with Adam Bede's love for her, and are quite aware that many precedents might be adduced for him since the time of Samson. George Eliot thinks it necessary to apologize, by showing eloquently that feminine beauty may affect a strong man like music; and to remonstrate in rather superfluous irony with the sensible people who despise such weaknesses. No apology is necessary. Rather we see the point of Lewes's suggestion. We can perceive that the real danger was that Adam might be too "passive." His love for Hetty, we might fancy, is to be passed over as if it were a painful admission of imperfect sanity. Luckily the fight with Arthur Donnithorne, when the flirtation begins to excite suspicion, reassures us. It shows that Adam can really be as great a fool as he ought to be; and afterwards when the whole story comes to light, his agony is as genuine and forcible as we can desire. Adam, in fact, is powerfully drawn from the striking scene, when he sits up at night to finish the coffin left by his drunken father and hears the mysterious stroke of the willow wand which intimates that the father is being drowned, down to the last interview with Hetty after her conviction. The character reacts, as we feel that it ought to react, under the given circumstances. If his later discovery of Dinah's merits does not strike us quite in the same way, we must sorrowfully admit that it is possible. Men do become commonplace and reasonable as they grow older.
6 Meanwhile, though I have spoken of Adam Bede from the point of view suggested by the author's theory, it is neither Dinah Morris nor Adam himself who really made the fortune of the book. Adam Bede for most of us means pre-eminently Mrs. Poyser. Her dairy is really the centre of the whole microcosm. We are first introduced to it as the background which makes the "kitten-like" beauty of Hester Sorrel irresistible to young Captain Donnithorne. But Mrs. Poyser is the presiding genius. She represents the very spirit of the place; and her influence is the secret of the harmony of the little world of squire and parson and parish clerk and schoolmaster and blacksmith and carpenter and shepherd and carter. Each of these types is admirably sketched in turn, but the pivot of the whole is the farm in which Mrs. Poyser displays her conversational powers. The little rustic world is painted in colours heightened by affection. There is, it may be, a little more of Goldsmith's beautifying touch than of Crabbe's uncompromising realism. But it is marvellously life-like, and Mrs. Poyser's delightful shrewdness seems to guarantee the fidelity of the portraits. She had no humbug about her, and one naturally takes it for granted that they must be as she sees them. It is, indeed, needless to insist upon her excellence; for Mrs. Poyser became at once one of the immortals. She was quoted by Charles Buxton--as George Eliot was pleased to hear--in the House of Commons before she had been for three months before the public: "It wants to be hatched over again, and hatched different." One is glad to know that Mrs. Poyser's wit was quite original. "I have no stock of proverbs in my memory," said George Eliot; "and there is not one thing put into Mrs. Poyser's mouth that is not fresh from my own mint." She had written the dialogue with obvious enjoyment, and appreciated its merits herself. "You're mighty fond o' Craig," Mrs. Poyser had said "in confidence to her husband"; "but for my part, I think he 's welly like a cock as thinks the sun's rose o' purpose to hear him crow." She said it to other people, it seems, for Mr. Irwine quotes the remark to his mother as one of the "capital things" he has heard her say. "That is an Aesop's fable in a sentence," he adds; and he remarks that Mrs. Poyser is "quite original in her talk, one of the untaught wits that help to stock a country with proverbs." It is not often that an author ventures to praise his own speeches; and that George Eliot did so shows how much Mrs. Poyser's special wit was one ingredient of her own intellectual tendency. In her later novels one sometimes regrets that Mrs. Poyser did not come to the fore to temper the graver moods. Mrs. Poyser may take rank with Sam Weller as one of the irresistible humorists. She has a special gift for attracting us by the most unscrupulous feats of sophistry. Poor Molly breaks a jug, and has been just driven to tears by Mrs. Poyser's eloquence for her unparalleled clumsiness, when Mrs. Poyser repeats the feat, to the amusement of her husband. "It 's all very fine to look on and grin," she retorts; "but there's times when the crockery seems alive, an' flies out o' your hand like a bird.... What is to be broke will be broke, for I never dropped a thing i' my life for want o' holding it, else I should never ha' kept the crockery all these 'ears as I bought at my own wedding." She quenches an outburst of laughter soon after by summoning up a sudden vision of her being laid up in bed, and the children dying, and the murrain coming among the cattle, and everything going to rack and ruin--a prophetic picture which, though logically irrelevant, is most effective rhetorically. Another brilliant specimen of the same figure of speech occurs when she is roused to speak her mind to the squire, who has hinted at giving the farm to a new tenant. "It's a pity," she says, "but what Mr. Thurle should take it, and see if he likes to live in a house wi' all the plagues o' Egypt in't--wi' the cellar full o' water, and frogs and toads hoppin' up the steps by dozens--and the floors-rotten, and the rats and mice gnawing every bit o' cheese, and runnin' over our heads as we lie i' bed till we expect 'em to eat us up alive--as it's a mercy they hanna eat the children long ago." It is superfluous to quote fragments of Mrs. Poyser's familiar eloquence--spoilt by necessary curtailment--except to suggest the problem, Why is she so charming? The answer is, I suppose, in a general way to be found in the delicious contrast between Mrs. Poyser's intense shrewdness and strong affections, with the quick temper and the vivacity with which she snatches at the most preposterous flights of fancy which will bewilder and discomfit her antagonists for the moment. A logician might amuse himself by analysing her ingenious arguments. Meanwhile her love for her husband and the irrepressible Totty--one of the portraits which, without being sentimental, shows George Eliot's most feminine appreciation of the charms of childhood--and even her kindness to Hetty, though she does see through that young woman's weaknesses, entitles her to the regard felt for her by all readers. That regard, indeed, is so well established that I am only using fragments to recall, not to justify the universal sentiment. I will only note in passing that a full criticism of Adam Bede would have to touch upon many other subordinate characters. Bartle Massey, for example, the schoolmaster, is in his way, an admirable pendant to Mrs. Poyser. Adam Bede's mother is equally life-like, and the passage in which she speaks of her wedding was judiciously noticed by Charles Reads as a masterly touch of human nature. Seth Bede, I confess, bores me.
7 If I cannot say, therefore, that Adam Bede impresses me as the author intended it to impress her readers, I think that by a kind of felicitous accident it came to be a masterpiece in a rather different sense. The memory of Mrs. Samuel Evans brought up a vivid picture of the little world in which she moved; though her world, as represented by Adam Bede and Mrs. Poyser themselves, looked upon Methodism as rather an intruding and questionable force than as the spiritual leaven which was to redeem it. George Eliot, meaning to set forth the beauty of Dinah Morris's character, incidentally comes to draw a more attractive picture of the sinners whom she ought to have awakened. Dinah gives up preaching when the Society decides against the practice, whereas her prototype, it is said, joined another sect rather than be silenced. Dinah settles down by her domestic hearth, and Adam remains a sound Churchman. He admits in his old age, we are told, that the excellent vicar, Mr. Irwine, "didn't go into deep speritial experience," and only preached short moral sermons. Apparently Adam thought none the worse of him. He quotes Mrs. Poyser's dictum that Mr. "Irwine was like a good meal o' victual; you were the better for him without thinking on it; and Mr. Ryde [his successor] was like a dose of physic; he gripped you and worreted you, and after all he left you much the same." We get the impression that Mrs. Poyser and Adam took the most judicious view; and that the rustic congregation, with its "ruddy faces and bright waistcoats," which reposed in the great square pews and listened to Mr. Irwine's moral without attaching any particular meaning to theological formula, did very well without stronger spiritual stimulants. "The world," in Sir W. Besant's formula, "went very well then." Adam Bede, like Waverley, might have had for a second title 'Tis Sixty Years Since; and the verdict seems to be that the simple society of that period was sound at the core; wholesome and kindly, if not very exciting. The pathos to be found in commonplace lives was the main topic of the Scenes of Clerical Life; and now, looking back with fondness to her early days, and through them to the early days of her parents, George Eliot finds a beauty not in the individuals alone, but in the whole quiet humdrum order of existence of the rustic population. Everybody is treated with a kindly touch. Even the seducer, Arthur Donnithorne, instead of being the wicked baronet who generally appears on such occasions, is a thoroughly amiable, if rather weak, young man, who is not aware of the sufferings of his victim till too late, and then does all he can to obviate unpleasant consequences. "At present," she says, writing a little later, my "mind works with most freedom and the keenest sense of poetry in my remotest past, and there are many strata to be worked through before I can begin to use, artistically, any material I may gather in the present." The world of Adam Bede clearly is the world of her first years, harmonized by loving memories and informed, no doubt, with more beauty than it actually possessed. Her philosophy, indeed, reminds her that the range of ideas of her characters was singularly narrow and hopelessly obsolete. She has no sympathy with the romanticism which leads to reactionary fancies. She is perfectly well aware of the darker sides of the past, though she does not insist upon them. She has herself breathed a larger atmosphere. Only her affectionate recognition of the merits of the old world makes one feel how much conservatism really underlay her acceptance, in the purely intellectual sphere, of radical opinions.
8 The Scenes of Clerical Life had made a more decided success with critics than with the public. Adam Bede had an equal and triumphant success with both classes. The original agreement with Blackwood had been for £800 for four years' copyright. Seven editions and 16,000 copies were printed during the first year (1859). Blackwood acknowledged the success generously by another check for £800, and gave back the copyright. He offered at the same time £2000 for 4000 copies of her next novel, and proposed to pay at the same rate for subsequent editions. The pecuniary success put her at once and permanently beyond the reach of any pecuniary pressure. Meanwhile she had received hearty greetings on all sides. In April she notes that she has left off recording the "pleasant letters and words" that had come to her: "the success has been so triumphantly beyond anything I had dreamed of, that it would be tiresome to put down particulars." "Shall I ever," she asks herself, "write another book as true as Adam Bede?" The "weight of the future presses on me and makes itself felt even more than the deep satisfaction of the past and present." Old friends had been delighted. One of them, Mme. Bodichon, had discovered the authorship, though she had only inferred it from extracts in the reviews. Her friends the Brays were not so perspicacious, and were "overwhelmed with surprise" when in June she revealed the secret to them. She reopened her acquaintance with M. D'Albert by announcing to him that she had "turned out" to be, like him, "an artist," though in words, not with the pencil. Mr. Herbert Spencer wrote an "enthusiastic" letter, and declared that he felt the better for reading the book. Mrs. Carlyle felt herself in "charity with the whole human race" after the same experience, though her husband apparently could not be persuaded to try whether his views of the race could be softened by the same application. Letters from Froude and John Brown of Rab and his Friends called forth grateful acknowledgments. Fellow-novelists were equally warm. Dickens made her personal acquaintance, and begged for a novel in Household Words. Charles Reade declared that "Adam Bede was the finest thing since Shakespeare." Mrs. Gaskell said how "earnestly, fully, and humbly" she admired both Adam Bede and its precursors. "I never read anything so complete and beautiful in fiction in my life before." Bulwer, with less expansiveness, pronounced the book to be "worthy of great admiration," and congratulated Blackwood upon his discovery. He thought, it seems, from a later note, that the defects of the book were the use of dialect and the marriage of Adam Bede. "I would have my teeth drawn," says George Eliot, "rather than give up either." One comic incident occurred amidst this general chorus of praise. The originals of some of the descriptions in the novel had been guessed by people familiar with the neighbourhood; and in searching for an author, they had guessed at a Mr. Liggins, who dwelt in that region. A Warwickshire friend, writing to the real author, asked her whether she had read the books written under the name of George Eliot, and told her the secret of the Liggins authorship. Mr. Liggins, he added, got no profit out of Adam Bede, and gave it freely to Blackwood. The incident was not unparalleled. A young lady, shortly after this time, made a false claim to one of Trollope's stories, then appearing anonymously in a magazine. The claim being taken seriously, she had not the heart to disavow it; and her father soon afterwards called upon the proprietor to inquire indignantly why his daughter had been allowed to write gratuitously. It does not appear whether Mr. Liggins accepted the authorship or only refrained from a direct disavowal. The claim seems to have caused rather more vexation than was necessary; but the main result was that the secret soon became known. It had been revealed to Blackwood in the previous year (Feb. 1858), soon after the publication of the Clerical Scenes.

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