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George Eliot (1902)

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Leslie Stephen


CHAPTER IX.
ROMOLA.

1 THE inference which I have just suggested may seem to be contradicted by facts. While at Florence George Eliot conceived "a great project," of which she wrote to Blackwood during her homeward journey. She is anxious to keep it secret, and it will require a great deal of "study and labour," but she is "athirst to begin." The project, as she shortly afterwards explains, is for a historical novel, the scene to be Florence, and the period that of Savonarola's career. She postponed the work, however, till she had finished Silas Marner, and then made another visit to Florence in the spring of 1861. She spent thirty-four days there in May and June, devoting the morning hours to "looking at streets, books, and pictures, in hunting up old books at shops and stalls, or in reading at the Magliabecchian Library." She feels "very brave," and enjoys the thought of work. "It may turn out," she adds, "that I can't work freely and full enough in the medium I have chosen, and in that case I must give it up; for I will never write anything to which my whole heart, mind, and conscience don't consent; so that I may feel it was something--however small--which wanted to be done in this world, and that I am just the organ for that small bit of work." Nobody, it may safely be said, could have undertaken a great task in a more conscientious spirit. She was, as usual, tormented by "hopelessness and melancholy." In August I "got," she says, "into a state of so much wretchedness in attempting to concentrate my thoughts on the construction of my novel, that I became desperate, and suddenly burst my bonds, saying, I will not think of writing." A week later, however, she conceives her plot "with new distinctness." Gradually she gets to work, and "crams"--if the word may pass--with amazing diligence. A list of the books which she read during the last half of 1861 gives some illustration of the course of study. Among them are Villari's and Burlamacchi's lives of Savonarola, Machiavelli, Petrarch, and other Italian authors, Sismondi's history of the Italian republics, besides various excursions into Gibbon, Hallam, Heeren, and Muratori, and occasional digressions into other literary regions. She began Romola "again" on January 1, 1862, and a note of three weeks later is suggestive. She has been "detained from writing by the necessity of gathering particulars, first, about Lorenzo de' Medici's death; secondly, about the possible retardation of Easter; third, about Corpus Christi Day; fourthly, about Savonarola's preaching in the Quaresima of 1492." She also finished La Mandragola--a second reading for the sake of Florentine expressions--and began La Calendra. The question will intrude, What would have become of Ivanhoe if Scott had bothered himself about the possible retardation of Easter? The answer, indeed, is obvious, that Ivanhoe would not have been written. One of the results to George Eliot of this excessive conscientiousness is what might be anticipated. She has looked into some of the notebooks in which she recorded her former fits of depression; "but," she says, "it is impossible for me to believe that I have ever been in so unpromising and despairing a state as I now feel." She has, however, made a start, and is as usual encouraged by Lewes's applause.
2 Soon after this George Smith, the eminent publisher, offered £10,000 for the copyright of the new novel, of which some report had got abroad. He wished it to appear in the Cornhill Magazine, which was still in its brilliant youth. Thackeray was just retiring from the editorship, but he and many others of the most eminent writers of the day were still contributors. George Eliot had only written about sixty pages of her story, and was still in the depths of depression. She doubted whether it would ever be finished or ever good for anything. Offers of £10,000 are cheering even to the most high-minded authors. Greater sums have been made by successful novelists in recent years, but at that time the proposal was one, as Lewes said, of "unheard-of magnificence." She declined it at first on the ground of her unwillingness to begin the publication at the early date first fixed by Smith (May). Afterwards, however, she accepted £7000 for its appearance in the Cornhill, where it accordingly came out in fourteen parts, from July 1862 to August 1863. She had finished the last number on the 9th June 1863. Lewes advised her to accept this periodical mode of publication, because he thought that the book would have the advantage of being studied slowly and deliberately, instead of being read at a gallop. It is understood that the experiment was not a success in the magazine from the commercial point of view. To make up in some degree for this disappointment, she made a present to the Cornhill of Brother Jacob--the short and not very satisfactory story previously written. Romola was not well adapted for being broken up into fragments, and some people, it appears, evaded Lewes's ingenious trap. They waited till the work came out as a whole, or preferred not reading it at all to reading it "slowly." Perhaps it was too good for an audience of average readers. She received a great deal of pretty encouragement "from immense big-wigs--some of them saying that Romola is the finest book they ever read." Some "big-wigs" were less enthusiastic, but the more orthodox opinion was that Romola was a literary masterpiece, though full recognition of its merits was a proof of superior taste. The success, to whatever it amounted, had been won at a heavy cost. She felt at times as though she were working under a heavy leaden weight. The writing "ploughed into her" more than any of her other books. She began it, she said, as a young woman, and finished it as an old woman.
3 It would be absurd to speak without profound respect of a book which represents the application of an exceptionally powerful intellect carrying out a great scheme with so serious and sustained a purpose. The critic may well be unwilling to place himself in the seat of judgment, or to suppose that he can divine with any confidence what will be the opinion of posterity, if that vague and multitudinous body troubles itself to arrive at any definite opinion on the matter. On the other hand, it is not very difficult to say what one thinks oneself, and one may hope to suggest a remark or two which may be worth at least the trouble of refuting. Romola is to me one of the most provoking of books. I am alternately seduced into admiration and repelled by what seems to me a most lamentable misapplication of first-rate powers. I will speak frankly on both topics, without pretending to reach a precise valuation of merits.
4 The "historical novel " is a literary hybrid which is apt to offend opposite sides. Either the historian condemns it for its inaccuracy, or the novel-reader complains of its dulness. It is hard to avoid that Scylla and Charybdis. In my youth, I remember that classical students used to pore over two lively works, Gallus and Charicles, which represented the efforts of a German professor to empty a dictionary of classical antiquities into the framework of a novel. They were no doubt accurate, but I don't know whether anybody ever read them through. Scott's historical romances, on the other hand, fascinated the world, but are generally marked by a gallant indifference to any quantity of anachronisms. A historical critic, I suppose, would tear Ivanhoe to pieces, and forbid any student to read a book which would confuse his ideas in direct proportion to the literary attractiveness. Of course, we may request the historical critic to mind his own business. I have often thought that the beginning of Ivanhoe, the scene in the forest where Gurth and Wamba are chatting at the foot of the old barrow, and encounter the Templar and the Prior on their way to Cedric's house, is the best opening of a story ever written. It is inimitably graphic and picturesque, and introduces us at once to a set of actors most dramatically contrasted. Moreover, the interest does not flag till certain unfortunate concessions to the old-fashioned rules of story-telling spoil the concluding scenes. Still it is true that the indifference to accuracy, or even possibility, forces one to admit that it requires a rather juvenile readiness to accept the obvious unrealities. It suggests the thought that the charm might be even heightened if, for example, Robin Hood and Friar Tuck had a little stronger resemblance to real or at least possible outlaws. The problem had been attacked by two or three of George Eliot's contemporaries. Bulwer in Rienzi had, like George Eliot, found a theme in Italian history, besides dealing with Harold and with Warwick the Last of the Barons. Though Freeman admired Harold, and George Eliot read Rienzi respectfully, I do not suppose that these rapid dashes into a mixture of fiction, history, and political philosophy can now interest any one. Kingsley in Hypatia and Westward Ho! had shown abundant vigour as a story-teller, in spite of a large infusion of the religious and political pamphleteer; but did not convince readers that he had given the true spirit of his periods. Charles Reade's remarkable novel The Cloister and the Hearth, which appeared in 1861, was a more serious attempt to make general history into fiction, and has been greatly admired by some eminent critics, such as Mr. Swinburne, who possibly have in mind the comparison with Romola. I only mention these books, however, to justify the remark that, in a period when the serious study of history was developing, the attempt to combine the vigour of Scott with more thorough knowledge of facts represented a very natural and plausible enterprise.
5 It may be taken for granted that the first condition of success is that you should become a contemporary of the society described. It is no easy task to go back for some centuries; to immerse yourself so thoroughly in the extinct modes of thought and sentiment that you can instinctively feel what the actors would have felt under the supposed circumstances. You can see into the mind of a British rustic of sixty years ago, especially if you happen to have been his daughter; but to get back to the inhabitant of Florence in the fifteenth century requires a more difficult transformation. Did George Eliot achieve it even approximately? To that, as it seems to me, there can be but one answer. She saw most clearly that the feat was necessary. She tried to qualify herself most industriously, but the very nature of her preparation shows the extreme difficulty, or, as I think, the impracticability of the task. "She spent," says an admiring critic, "six weeks" (really seven) "in Florence in order to familiarize herself with the manners and conversation of the inhabitants." In spite of this, it is said, her characters, when she began to write, not only "refused to speak Italian to her, but refused to speak at all." By hard reading, however, she reduced "these recalcitrant spirits to order," and "succeeded so well, especially in her delineation of the lower classes, that they have been recognized by Italians as true to life." The Italians are an eminently intelligent as well as an eminently courteous people; and we will hope that these anonymous critics had not to put any great strain upon their consciences. Yet one cannot help contrasting this initiation into the Italian characteristics with the unconscious process which had lasted for twenty years at Chilvers-Coton. Seven weeks is a brief period for acclimatization in a new social atmosphere. If an intelligent Italian lady had spent seven weeks at the Charing Cross Hotel, walked diligently about Leicester Square and the Strand, read steadily at the British Museum, and rummaged old bookshops in back streets, how much knowledge would she have acquired of the British costermonger? No doubt with the help of a few books on London labour, and study of Sam Weller's cockney slang, she might manage to make him talk and behave himself in such a way that a critic could not put his finger upon any directly assignable blunder. There is, too, a certain likeness between human beings everywhere, which might save the costermonger from being a mere monstrosity. But one would not expect a very vivid realization of the genuine Englishman; nor can I see any indications that the description of the Italian "lower classes" in Romola gets beyond careful observance of costume and commonplace. George Eliot had not, like some novelists, been primarily interested in a period, steeped her mind in its literature simply for the love of it, and then felt a prompting to give form to her impressions. "They," said Scott, speaking of certain imitators, "have to read old books and consult antiquarian collections to get their knowledge. I write because I have long since read such works, and possess, thanks to a strong memory, the information which they have to seek for." [Journal, i. 275.] George Eliot had, it is to be presumed, a fair knowledge of the general outlines of history. She came to Florence as a highly intelligent sightseer; and it then struck her that "the place would make a picturesque background, and that the Savonarola period offered a number of interesting situations. She proceeded to get up the necessary knowledge; but with the result like that which happens when a manager presents Julius Caesar or Coriolanus in the costume "of the period." The costume may be as correct as the manager's archaeological knowledge allows, but Julius Caesar and Coriolanus remain what Shakespeare made them, not ancient Romans at all, but frankly and unmistakably Elizabethans.
6 Meanwhile the attempt to be historically accurate has a painfully numbing effect on her imagination. She seems to be always trembling at the possibility of an intruding anachronism. She tells an admirable critic, R. H. Hutton, that "there is scarcely a phrase, an incident, an allusion [in Romola] that did not gather its value to me from its supposed subservience to my main artistic purpose." She always strives after as full a vision of the medium in which a "character moves as of the character itself. The psychological causes which prompted me to give such details of Florentine life and history as I have given are precisely the same as those which determined me in giving the details of English village life." That, no doubt, is perfectly true; but then she had seen the English details with her own eyes, and she only makes a judicious selection from authorities when describing Florentine details. There was, it appears, an article of dress called a "scarsella," which always gets upon my nerves in Romola. The thing will intrude without any (to me) perceptible relation to her "main artistic purpose." The scarlet waistcoats and brand-new white smock-frocks in Adam Bede make a picture at once. We see the rustics on their way to the squire's feast; but this wretched scarsella worries me, and only suggests a hint for Leighton's illustrations. A more important result of this weakness is shown in another case defended by George Eliot herself. She complains that "the general ignorance of old Florentine literature" and other causes have led to misunderstandings of many parts of Romola--"the scene of the quack doctor and the monkey, for example, which is a specimen not of humour as I relish it, but of the practical joking which was the amusement of the gravest old Florentines, and without which no conception of them would be historical. The whole piquancy of that scene in question was intended to lie in the antithesis between the puerility which stood for wit and humour in the old republic, and the majesty of its front in graver matters." She appeals to the precedent of the chase of the false herald in Quentin Durward, which makes Louis XI. and Charles of Burgundy "laugh even to tears." Now, I am quite unable to speak of the historical accuracy. All one can say is that if the ancient Florentines laughed so heartily at the dreary joke of imposing a monkey upon a quack for a baby, they must have been duller than one would have supposed. The precedent from Scott is curiously inapplicable. The scene in Quentin Durward is effective and an essential part of the story, because the "joke" shows both the brutality of the performers and the cunning of Louis XI. The king is skilfully getting rid of a cast-off agent in his intrigues against Charles with the help of Charles himself. To detail a wearisome practical joke in all its native unadulterated badness in order to make a contrast with other parts of the book is a hazardous experiment. It is to be deliberately dull, because history proves that people could be dull four centuries ago. The truth is that in her English books George Eliot can make bad joking amusing, because she makes us smile not at the joke, but at the jokers. The talkers at the "Rainbow" are inimitable, because their talk is so pointless. Here the incongruity which is to interest us has to be gradually inferred from subsequent reflection, and the writer falls into the common error of boring us by describing bores.
7 These are trifling illustrations of the more general difficulty. Romola is to give us the spirit of the Renaissance. It requires no dissertation to show why the Renaissance should have a surpassing charm for the imagination. There is, I suppose, no book which opens the eyes of the respectable modern reader with more startling effect than the autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini in the next generation. The combination of artistic inspiration, intellectual audacity, gross superstition, and supreme indifference to morality, gives the shock of entering a new world where all established formula break down, or are in a chaotic state of internecine conflict. When we take up a book in which one is to be a contemporary with the Borgias, and to have personal interviews with Machiavelli, we may expect a similar sensation. We are to be spectators of a state of things in which the elementary human passions have been let loose, when violence and treachery are normal parts of the day's work, where new intellectual horizons have opened, and yet the old creeds are still potent, and there is the strangest mingling of high aspirations and brutal indulgence, when the nobler and baser elements of belief are so strangely blended that the ruffian is still religious, and the enlightened reformer fanatically superstitious. If anybody derives any vivid impressions of such a world from Romola, his eyes must be much keener than mine. George Eliot has, it must be noticed, chosen one of the two alternatives which are open to the historical novelist. She deals with a private history and the great public characters, and their political proceedings remain for the most part in the background. Savonarola, indeed, has to act in the story as well as in the history. Hutton considers the portrait of the reformer to be one of George Eliot's great triumphs, and appeals especially to one scene. I am the more glad to be able to point to an appreciative and genial criticism, as I have to confess my inability to accept it. I should have taken the same scene for the clearest illustration of failure. The prophet is in his cell. He is trying to make up his mind to accept the test proposed by his enemies. Representatives of both parties are to walk through fire, counting upon a miraculous intervention; the flames are to burn the heretic and spare the orthodox. Savonarola's enthusiasm prompts him to run the risk; but when he tries to imagine the scene, the flesh shrinks, he begins to suspect that the appeal may be presumptuous, and is well aware at the bottom of his mind that it is a trap devised by his enemies. To show Savonarola tortured by these conflicting impulses would no doubt require the highest dramatic genius. What we really have is not the concrete man at all, but a long and very able psychological analysis of his mental state. A bit of it gets into inverted commas to pass for a soliloquy; but instead of seeing and hearing Savonarola, we are really listening through several pages to a highly intelligent lecture upon an interesting specimen. The style becomes cumbrous and flagging. I venture to quote a long sentence as a specimen of George Eliot at her worst. The acceptance of the ordeal is inevitable: "Not that Savonarola had uttered and written a falsity when he declared his belief in a future supernatural attestation of his work; but his mind was so constituted that while it was easy for him to believe in a miracle which, being distant and undefined, was screened behind the strong reasons he saw for its occurrence, and yet easier for him to have a belief in inward miracles such as his own prophetic inspiration and divinely-wrought intuitions, it was at the same time insurmountably difficult to him to believe in the probability of a miracle which, like this of being carried unhurt through the fire, pressed in all its details on his imagination and involved a demand not only for belief but for exceptional action." Savonarola's mind was surely, in this respect, constituted like most people's; we all think that we can bear the dentist's forceps till we get into his armchair; but this almost Germanic concatenation of clauses not only puts such obvious truths languidly, but keeps Savonarola himself at a distance. We are not listening to a Hamlet, but to a judicious critic analysing the state of mind which prompts "to be or not to be." The same languor affects all the historical framework of the story. We come upon many scenes which seem to demand a forcible presentation: the entry of the French into Florence; the "bonfire of Vanities"; and the strange tragicomedy of the ordeal; but when we want to see the crowd and bustle and the play of popular fun and passion, we get careful narrative; and as half of it,--we do not know which half,--is obviously only fiction, we think that we might as well have been reading Guicciardini or Professor Villari. The story of the political intrigues is necessary to determine the fate of the characters; but it is as dull as any of the ordinary history books. Machiavelli talks, but he talks like a book, and does not manage one really good bit of Mephistophelian cynicism. The great men of Florence seem to be as prosy when they are feasting as when they are playing practical jokes. One of them receives credit for "short and pithy" speech to which the "formal dignity" of his interlocutor is an amusing contrast. This short and pithy gentleman manages to take a page to say that he takes the Savonarola party to be composed of psalm-singing humbugs, not to be trusted by men of sense.
8 If my irreverence reveals a real defect in my author instead of myself, I think that the defect is explicable. George Eliot, I have suggested, was a woman; a woman, too, of rather delicate health, exhausted by hard work; and, moreover, a woman who, in spite of her philosophy, was eminently respectable, and brought up in a quiet middle-class atmosphere. "To bring in a lion among ladies is a most dreadful thing," we know, "and there is not a more fearful wildfowl than your lion living." Benvenuto Cellini would certainly have been "a fearful wildfowl" in St. John's Wood; and though by dint of conscientious reading George Eliot knew a great deal about the ruffian geniuses of the Renaissance, she could not throw herself into any real sympathy with them. Such a feat required the audacity of a Victor Hugo and, perhaps, the indifference to propriety of a modern realist. The criticism would be summed up by calling the book "academic"; meaning, I take it, that it suggests the professor's chair; and implies the belief that a careful study of authorities, and scrupulous attention to aesthetic canons, will be a sufficient outfit for a journey into the regions of romance. George Eliot was not blind to such considerations; and George Lewes, in his capacity of critic, could put them very keenly in writing of other people. His enthusiastic admiration for George Eliot perhaps obscured to him what he would have been the first to see elsewhere; and, anyhow, he encouraged her tendencies to a questionable direction of her genius.
9 Yet I do not deny that there was much to be said for the judgment of the contemporary critics who held that Romola would be one of the permanent masterpieces of English literature. Before I can adjust my own impressions to theirs, I must be allowed to remove from my mind any lingering impression that Romola and Tito lived at Florence in the fifteenth century. They were only masquerading there, and getting the necessary "properties" from the history-shops at which such things are provided for the diligent student. Romola was, I take it, a cousin of Maggie Tulliver, though of loftier character, and provided with a thorough classical culture. The religious crisis through which she had to pass was not due to Savonarola, but to modern controversies. The antagonistic principles which were in conflict in the Renaissance period are still in existence, though they have entered into different combinations, and are tested by different issues. There are still Machiavellians, I believe, in politics, and Epicureans in art and morals, and the tender soul still finds something of the charm in the Catholic ideal of life which appealed to Romola through Savonarola. If, therefore, we venture to drop the history, or to consider it as a mere conventional background, we can still be interested in the real subject of the book, the ordeal through which Romola has to pass, and the tragedy of a high feminine nature exposed to such doubts and conflicting impulses as may still present themselves in different shapes. I could wish, indeed, that there were a good deal less history, or that it had been handled with more audacity. But for all that, Romola and her immediate surroundings make a very impressive group, which may affect us like some masterpiece in which a painter has made use of conventional and unreal accessories. The central idea, or, if we choose to say so, the "moral" of the book, is clearly indicated. The pressing problem for Romola, we are told, when she comes under the influence of Savonarola, is not to settle questions of controversy, but "to keep alive that flame of unselfish emotion by which a life of sadness might well be a life of active love." She is so moved by the "grand energies" of the prophet's nature that she can listen patiently even to his prophecies. She is profoundly impressed in the scene in which he comes nearest to being a living person; and tells her that to run away from her husband is really to be self-willed and moved by selfish purposes. She is to "make her marriage-sorrows an offering" and to live for Florence, where she has been placed by God, who addresses her through her teacher. The light abandonment of ties because they have ceased to be pleasant is "the uprooting of social and personal virtue." Her marriage has ceased to be for her the "mystic union which is its own guarantee of indissolubleness"; and there is no compensation "for the woman who feels that the chief relation of her life has been no more than a mistake." She has lost her crown. The deepest secret of human blessedness has half whispered itself "to her and then for ever passed away." She accepts the position till presently even Savonarola ceases to command her confidence. She finds that he can hoodwink his conscience for the benefit of his sect. "No one who has ever known what it is to lose faith in a fellow-man whom he has profoundly loved and reverenced will lightly say that the shock can leave the faith in an Invisible Goodness unshaken." Romola despairs of finding any consistent duty. "What force was there to create for her that supremely hallowed motive which men call duty, but which can have no inward constraining existence save through some form of constraining love?" The solution, so far as there is one, comes in a form which one cannot altogether admire. Poor Romola, in her despair, gets into a miscellaneous boat lying ashore; and the boat drifts away in a manner rarely practised by boats in real life, and spontaneously lands her in a place where everybody is dying of the plague, and she can therefore make herself useful to her fellow-creatures. She clearly ought to have been drowned, like Maggie, and we feel that Providence is made to interfere rather awkwardly. Perhaps, too, Romola's sentiments show rather too clearly that she has been prematurely impressed by the Positivist "religion of humanity." But a fine nature torn by conflicting duties and ideals, and endeavouring to find some worthy conciliation, presents an admirable theme, and often enables George Eliot to show her highest powers of delineation. Readers in general cannot feel quite so warmly to Romola as to the childish Maggie; she is a little too hard and statuesque, and drops her husband rather too coolly and decisively as soon as she finds out that he is capable of disregarding her sentiments. Still she is one of the few figures who occupy a permanent and peculiar niche in the great gallery of fiction; and if she is a trifle chilly and over-dignified, one must admit that she is not the less lifelike. She is, moreover, the only one--to my feeling--of George Eliot's women whose marriage has not something annoying. She marries a thorough scoundrel, it is true, but the misconception to which she falls a victim is one which we feel to be thoroughly natural under the circumstances. Her husband, Tito, is frequently mentioned as one of George Eliot's greatest triumphs. The cause of her success is, as I take it, that Tito is thoroughly and to his fingers' ends a woman. I do not intend to condemn the conception, for undoubtedly there are men whose characters are essentially feminine. Tito is of the material of which the Delilahs are made, the treacherous, caressing, sensuous creatures who involve strong men in their meshes as Tito fascinates the rather masculine Romola. In several of her novels George Eliot contrasts the higher feminine nature with this lower type. Dinah Morris is relieved against the "kitten-like" Hetty; Maggie against Lucy Deane; and Dorothea against Celia Brooke; and in Romola itself we have Tessa, who, indeed, is so much of a kitten that she approaches very nearly to be an idiot. Tito is the kitten, or rather the panther-cub, grown to full size, and showing all the grace and malignity of his kind. He has the feminine nervousness, and "trembles like a maid at sight of spear and shield." When he catches sight of an enemy with a dagger, his face at once commends itself to a painter for the exhibition of the passion of fear. He is not cruel out of mere badness, but from effeminacy; he dislikes the sight of suffering, and would rather not inflict it where he must be a witness of it; but he can suppress the sympathy instead of the suffering, and does not mind how much his victims suffer so long as they are out of his sight. He has "a native repugnance to sights of death and pain," and would rather get rid of an enemy by exiling him than by putting him to death. But when the sentence is passed, he is comforted by reflecting upon the security which will come to him when the enemy's head is well off his shoulders. He is so thoroughly feminine that we have to be reminded that he could on occasion show "a masculine effectiveness of intellect and purpose." When he is fairly driven into a corner, that is, he can show his claws and act, for once, like a man. But his general position among his more violent associates is like that of a beautiful and treacherous woman who makes delicate caressing and ingenious equivocation do the work of the rougher and more downright masculine methods. He is most admirably adapted to impose upon his high-minded wife, who has the reluctance to admit suspicion which marks noble and simple characters, but is also apt, unfortunately, to imply a deficiency of common sense. The tragedy which follows for Romola is inevitable, and is developed with George Eliot's full power. If we can put aside the historical paraphernalia, forget the dates and the historical Savonarola and Machiavelli, there remains a singularly powerful representation of an interesting spiritual history; of the ordeal through which a lofty nature has to pass when brought into collision with characters of baser composition; thrown into despair by the successive collapses of each of the supports to which it clings; and finding some solution in spite of its bewilderment amidst conflicting gospels, in each of which truth and falsehood are strangely mixed. There is hardly any novel, except the Mill on the Floss, in which the stages in the inner life of a thoughtful and tender nature are set forth with so much tenderness and sympathy. If Romola is far less attractive than Maggie, her story is more consistently developed to the end. She may remind us of another heroine who once set everybody weeping--although the histories of the two are in most respects diametrically contrasted. Clarissa Harlowe had very different troubles to undergo; she was too well instructed in the doctrines of the Church of England to be bothered by any religious doubts; and the respectable society in which she was brought up had no affinity to the Renaissance. The similarity is chiefly confined to the fact that both stories have a moral and a unity of interest, dependent upon a model young woman as the central figure, but there is one other resemblance: Clarissa's troubles, like Romola's, raise the question whether the moral conventions of the society in which she lives have a sanctity which should forbid the individual woman ever to defy them on behalf of her own happiness. It is curious that upon that point George Eliot seems on the whole to agree with Richardson. Romola is perplexed by the thought that the "law is sacred," but that "rebellion may be sacred too." There are moments in life when the soul must dare to act on its own "warrant," though the punishment may be incurred if the warrant has been false. Clarissa incurs all her troubles by running away from home, and Romola by her revolt against her husband; and though Romola finally escapes with her life, she has to suffer a heavy penalty. It is only, however, upon the general point that I mean to insist. Hardly any heroine since Clarissa has been so effective a centre of interest as Romola; and if I regret that she was moved out of her own century and surrounded by a mass of irrelevant matter of antiquarian of sub-historical interest, I will not presume to quarrel with people who do not admit the incongruity.

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