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The Personal Edition of
THE VEIL LIFTED
Doubleday, Page & Co.
It was as an essayist, in the pages of the Westminster Review, that George Eliot made her entry into English literature,-or into the journalism that was nearer to literature than any journalism of to-day. It was as an essayist that she said her last words to us, in the Impressions of Theophrastus Such. Nearly thirty years—twenty of which were spent in novel-writing—separated the Westminster article on " Worldliness and Other-Worldliness ” from the last of the Impressions. To turn back to the first essay is to call up in our minds the figure of the young authoress, brought suddenly into the best literary circle that the London of the fifties knew. In Theophrastus Such we meet the writer crowned with years and fame ; secure of her audience, and yielding, not unworthily, to the temptation to use up a little accumulated material.
The most surprising characteristic of these miscellanies is their uniformity of style and temper from first to last. The knowledge, the information of the writer keep pace with the years ; the point of view is not shifted by a hair’s-breadth. Her art matures, grows from point to point, in many directions, between Clerical Scenes and Silas Marner, Romola and The Mill on the Floss. Her philosophy is already mature
. before the Clerical Scenes are written.
We have hinted that the gulf between journalism and literature in the fifties was bridged over by work of George Eliot's kind. Rather, the old-fashioned ideal of journalism was that of the essayist ;-a definition which makes it the more difficult to classify George Eliot's essays on the one side or the other. In subject matter the majority of them are journalism merely, the treatment of one or two-the Heine
particularly-sustains them under the tests of literature. “ Reviewing ” in those days was a weighty business ; press notices were not dashed off in a night ; space meted out to them by the thousand words, or much less generously. It was in 1850, on her return from the continent, where she spent the autumn after her father's death, that the way gradually opened up for a literary career. Her sole work of this nature hitherto had been her translations of Strauss's Leben Jesu and Spinoza's De Deo, which had come to her hand through her friendship with the Brays at Coventry. Already, during the last months spent at Foleshill with her father, her diaries and letters have given suggestive glimpses of the growth of her mind, and the spiritual struggles through which she was brought to reject many of those Christian doctrines which she had formerly beld dear, and to lay hold of what she fully believed to be a truer, broader, and deeper religious life.
say it now and I say it once for all," she declares passionately when the crisis is over, “ that I am in- . fluenced in my own conduct at the present time by far higher considerations, and by a nobler ideal of duty, than I ever was while I held the evangelical beliefs." Another passage is admirably typical of that keener insight into the highest meaning of the gospel stories which came to her, as to many of us, as the reward of intellectual honesty. “I have been thinking of that most beautiful passage in Luke's gospel, the appearance of Jesus to the disciples at Emmaus. How universal in its significance ! The soul that has hopelessly followed its Jesus—its impersonation of the highest and best -all in despondency ; its thoughts all refuted, its dreams all dissipated! Then comes another Jesus-another, but the same—the same highest and best, only chastened-crucified instead of triumphant-and the soul learns that this is the true way to conquest and glory. And then there is the burning of the heart which assures us that this was the Lord !'-that this is the inspiration from above; the true Comforter that leads unto truth." The translation of some of the more destructive parts of Strauss had been so painful to her that she confessed she could hardly have got through it but for the consoling image of the Risen Christma cast from Thorwaldsen's sculpture-which was ever before her in her little study at Foleshill. Yet all this time she was eagerly craving more activity for her whole nature. " I have a profound faith that the serpent's head will be bruised," she says.
« This conscious kind of false life that is ever endeavor. ing to form itself within us, and eat away our true life, will be overcome by continued accession of vitality, by our perpetual increase in quantity of existence'as Foster calls it. Creation is the super-added life of the intellect : sympathy, allembracing love, the superadded moral life.”
The visit to Geneva, where she made lifelong friends of M. and Mme. D’Albert, her host and hostess, formed a sort of rallying-point in the young writer's career. She returned home in March, 1850, having written a short time before : “I can only think with a shudder of returning to England. It looks to me like a land of gloom, of ennui, of platitude, but in the midst of all this it is the land of duty and affection, and the only ardent hope I have for my future life is to have given to me some woman's duty, -some possibility of devoting myself where I may see a daily result of pure calm blessedness in the life of another.”
The circle of friends to whom she returned from Geneva was small indeed. Her brother and sister were both married. The trio formed by Mr. and Mrs. Charles Bray and Miss Sara Hennell made a real “home," however, and with them she stayed the spring and summer. Mr. Chapman, the publisher, and other literary visitors came frequently to Rosehill, and evidently fired “Miss Evans," as she was then, with ambitions towards London. “Will you send me," she writes to a friend, before she has been home many weeks,
an account of Mr. Chapman's prices for lodgers, and if you know anything of other boarding-houses, etc., in London ? Will you tell me what you can ? I am not asking you merely for the sake of giving you trouble. I am really anxious to know.” Her review of Mackay's " Progress of the Intellect," which she wrote in the autumn of the same year, probably helped a good deal towards the carrying out of the London plan,