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the narrow Puritan who forbids all the merriment only never thought of affirming it, but who even
are adopting it. But it is one thing to adopt a
tice; and again another thing to receive it, as it GEORGE ELIOT AS A GODLESS WRITER.
were in solution, into our daily thoughts and feel
ings, so that we not only act and think by it, but [The subjoined passage from a long essay in the also instinctively judge and feel by it. This third last “ Edinburgh Review," on George Eliot, is emi. stage is the one that is reached latest, and we nently valuable in itself, and will have additional doubt whether as yet any considerable body of interest to some of our readers as bearing on the
men and women have attained to it. The nearsubject of an article in the Editor's Table of our May number, entitled “ Paganism in Fiction.”—EDI- found in the novels of George Eliot : only there
est approach to it, so far as we know, is to be TOR APPLETONS' JOURNAL.]
even it is not reached perfectly; for the moral She is the first great godless writer of fiction standard of the novelist, and the rational justifithat has appeared in England; perhaps, in the cation of her own judgments and sympathies, sense in which we use the expression, the first are not present to her mind instinctively, and as that has appeared in Europe. To say this may matters of course; but they are for ever being sound a paradox or an insult; but it is neither. consciously emphasized by herself, and for ever And this will appear presently, when we have being pointed out, more or less directly, to the explained the meaning which we attach to the reader. At any rate, in the world of earnest art, obnoxious word godless.
she is the first legitimate fruit of our modern We must remember that generally, up to the atheistic pietism; and, as such, she is an object present time, human conduct was, among serious of extreme interest, if not to artistic epicures, at people, supposed to bear reference, before all any rate to all anxious inquirers into human desthings, to some power above ourselves, and of a tiny. For in her writings we have some sort of different nature, to whom our souls belonged, presentation of a world of high endeavor, pure and for whose sake we were bound to keep them morality, and strong enthusiasm, existing and in pure. And this conception has so penetrated our full work, without any reference to, or help from, modern civilization that it has been implied in the thought of God. Godless in its literal sense, the entire lives and thoughts of numbers who not and divested of all vindictive meaning, exactly
describes her writings. They are without God, She urges with a solemn eloquence, she seems to not against him. They do not deny, but they see in a solemn ecstasy, that a man's highest life silently and skillfully ignore him. We have the is to be found in sorrow, borne for the sake of same old liturgies of human faith and action, only others; and that all seeming miseries may be they are intercepted and appropriated by a new turned to blessings, by making an offering of object, when they seemed to be on their way to them to something beyond ourselves. But an the old. The glory and the devotion that were offering to what? To the God who has made once given to God are transferred silently to us, loved us, and suffered for us, and into whose
presence we may one day win admission ? To The way in which this feat is performed is no such God; but to some impersonal cause, very remarkable; for the characters she presents some force of human progress. “Make your us with are suffered rarely, if ever, to hold opin- marriage-sorrows,” says Savonarola to Romola, ions that are consciously to themselves at all akin“ an offering, too, my daughter: an offering to to the author's. On the contrary, they are most the great work by which sin and sorrow are to of them Christian people, with the love of God be made to cease.” This is the one teaching of and the fear of hell presumably before their eyes. all her novels; and its fundamental difference But, in all their more vital struggles after God, from the higher Christian teaching lies in this, the supernatural element in their beliefs is repre- that it asserts the part to be greater and more sented as having no effect on them. It is treated complete than the whole; that it asserts those as a husk or shell, concealing, or perhaps shelter- human hopes, and loves, and enthusiasms which ing, something more precious than itself; or at Christianity has developed for us, and bequeathed best conveying a truth in metaphor through the to us, to be in reality complete in themselves, and channel of a sacramental lie. Mr. Tryan, in clogged and weighted only, not supported by, “Janet's Repentance," and Savonarola in “Ro- what were once supposed to be their divine founmola," are both of them marked instances of dations. this; and the author's dealing with these charac- This fact, as we have said before, is probably ters is exceedingly skillful. Mr. Tryan is a cler- little suspected by the majority of George Eliot's gyman, passionately devoted to his sacred calling, readers. These carry with them the lamp of an ardent disciple of a special school of divinity, their own religion into that tender but gloomy and eaten up with the sincerest zeal for souls. world into which the author leads them; and do And yet the writer contrives to exhibit all that not perceive what the only light is, with which it she wishes us to admire in him as resting on a would be else provided. They have themselves basis with which his religious beliefs have nothing supplied what is wanting before they have felt at all to do. In her portrait of Savonarola this the want. And they have imagined that the betreatment is yet more distinguishable and yet liefs which they do not find dwelt upon, have more significant. His chief connection with the been presupposed as true, instead of being studistory in which she introduces him, is his conver- ously ignored as false. But if we would really sion of the heroine, from the neo-paganism of the see George Eliot in all her full significance, we Renaissance to the precepts of Christ, and to a must not close our eyes thus. If we do, we shall humble acceptance of sorrow. But in all his ex- not only miss the one thing which she has rehortations to her, and they are some of them sin- nounced much to teach us, but we shall miss gularly beautiful, there is hardly one appeal to something that is of an importance far more Christianity on its supernatural side. Savonarola general. We shall miss the first concrete exis the spokesman of humanity made divine, not amples of the workings of the new religion of of Deity made human. In so far as he is not this, humanity, and the only means as yet offered us but the reverse of this, there, according to George by which to test the results of it, as seen or anEliot, lies his weakness and not his strength. ticipated by one of its own apostles. Further, if The “higher life,” the withdrawal from man for we look at her in this way, and with this intenthe sake of communion with God, is for her a tion, her work, which seems so chaotic when diseased weakness, if not a wickedness. The judged by any mere artistic tests, becomes conChrist of the Christian Church says, “If a man gruous and intelligible. It is not so much a love father and mother more than me, he is not series of novels, interspersed with philosophical worthy of me.” The Christ of George Eliot says reflections; it is a gradual setting forth of a phithe exact opposite, “A man is not worthy of me losophy and religion of life, illustrated by a conunless he love me less than father or mother.” tinuous succession of diagrams. That this is the With her, as she says often and explicitly, the true view of the matter has been getting more “ transcendent morality” is to share willingly in and more evident as the career of the author has the “common lot,” and not to seek escape from proceeded. How far this line of development ties“ after those ties have ceased to be pleasant.” has been conscious and intentional, with herself, it is not ours to inquire. But, consciously or un- although from the very nature of the case closely consciously, the main stream of her powers has connected with them. It is, therefore, by her drifted into the philosophic channel, and has left philosophy that she has the strongest claim to be her artistic powers as a mere auxiliary to these, judged.
been served by it. Now, the real reason for the THE PURPOSE OF FICTION.
novel, the why and wherefore that men and women IT T is a recent theory that fiction must depict the delight in the fictitious fortunes of other men and
mishaps and defeats of life with realistic fidelity. women, is because something is given which supThe heroes and heroines of the earlier novel under- plements nature, which bestows that which life too went innumerable tribulations, but always in the end often denies. Every man has at heart a passionate overcame adverse circumstances as well as enemies, love for what may be called the symmetries of fateand sat down in peace with their hearts' desires ac- for the rewards that follow earnest and honest encomplished. This regulation dénoúment is now a deavor, and the justice that gives us finally full comgood deal derided, and story-writers are absolutely pensation for all that we endure. Through all the taking excessive pains to make their characters per- calamities and mishaps that surround us, we dream manently unhappy. A marriage in the last chapter of possibilities—we imagine the good that will come is looked upon as a weak concession to a conventional by and by to cheer us ; of difficulties that are assailed and inartistic prejudice, and heroes and heroines are and overcome, of enemies that are put down, of the thus made for the express purpose of exemplifying felicitous completion of our schemes. And it is exdefeat, and showing how the best-laid plans may actly because these dreams so rarely come true in real come to grief. It seems to be the accepted method life, that we delight in those inventions called novels, to select characters with marked flaws in them, in wherein wrong and suffering are suitably rectified. order to indicate how “the rift" will “by and by When mischance pursues us, there is sweet compenmake the music mute.” This wanton design to make sation in following the career of a hero who oversadness the fashion clearly arises from the notion that comes misfortunes, and wrests things to his own art should consist of devices for showing all the un. ends. In real life, bitterness and jealousy may be handsome features of life, all the disagreeable and felt at the better fortunes of other men ; but in the calamitous possibilities that beset mankind; and he novel the hero is the very reader's self, and all the thus is thought to be a master hand who is most exo felicitous achievements and successes are enjoyed pert in multiplying mischances, and who exhibits the with almost as much zest as if they were his very greatest ingenuity in bringing right things to wrong own. The very foundation of fiction, its significance ends. For the sake of that part of the community and meaning, lies in this power to reflect each reader that by this theory are subjected to a great deal of in one of the principal personages. It shows us gratuitous suffering, we venture to inquire into the what we would like to do, and what we know we legitimacy of the current dogma.
feel. The young lady who reads many novels has It is often assumed that the purpose of fiction is many lovers, and is married many times. The muchfulfilled by the delineation of character. This is an talked-of psychological novel is valuable for this error, we are convinced. No matter how skillfully reason solely, because it analyzes successfully our own peculiarities of mind or tendencies of feeling may moods and emotions; and the extent to which peobe portrayed, they are really side conditions of the ple delight in the novel always depends upon the novel. They are necessary, it is true, to give vitality facility with which they can transfer themselves to the to the picture. Without them the people of the pages they are reading. If fiction did not succeed story would not seem to be genuine, and conse- in getting us out of ourselves, in creating worlds quently would fail to awaken our sympathies. It more delightful than the world we experience, in no doubt requires a high degree of skill to depict fashioning things better to our liking than Fate fashcharacter truthfully and logically—to look into the ions them, it is certain that novels would go genminds of men and see their workings, to trace the erally unread. If we are right in this, the true operations of cause and effect, to measure accurately function of the novel is at once apparent. It must and depict authentically the reflex actions of tem- give us pictures of life with a great core of sweetperament and emotion. But when a novel is con. ness, enlarging our individuality by multiplying our fined to these things, it is like a splendid highway experiences and delights—the artistic requirements that leads nowhere ; and, however well we may be being simply that the people and incidents shall be briefly entertained by its ornamental attractions, possible and wholly thinkable. The writers who there will be a feeling that no adequate end has imagine they can secure sympathy by endowing their
characters with unheard-of virtues, or showering upon not sometimes succeed in being too realistic; it only them impossible good fortunes, defeat their ends; shows that painters and poets often build better than but writers who, in disgust at these excesses, turn they know. around and portray characters without charm, and The deduction we have made indicates that the substitute calamities for blessings, drift altogether passion for realism is not likely to go as far as its away, not only from public sympathy, but from the friends desire ; and the tendency is likely to be arreal purpose of the novel.
rested by the conspicuous absurdity of a few ambiIf these notions are sound, it follows that the tious attempts in this direction. In pictorial art old-fashioned novel is the novel on the right model realism has probably already had its day; the cry in this particular only, however. The novel has everywhere now is for imaginative painting, for the improved in many things; it is more flexible, more poetic and the ideal in nature. In literature the natural and easy, and at the same time more dra. camp is wholly in confusion, everybody seeming to matic; but the old practical theory that it is the busi- be struggling for a school of his own, while he beness of the novelist to rescue his hero and heroine labors everybody else who attempts the same thing, from the evils that surround them, and bring all their realism having no very conspicuous following except trials to a happy end, was founded on a right per- in France. On the stage realistic art seems to be ception of the reason for the novel, was the instinc- gaining rather than losing, especially in England. tive recognition of the principle we have endeavored We recall seeing, in London, Sheridan's “School to indicate. Distinctly, nobody wants novels that for Scandal” in a reconstructed form, after it had reproduce all the sufferings and struggles of real life been acted for more than two hundred nights. It unless supplemented with those compensations that in was the “School for Scandal" with Sheridan left out real life ought to follow, but rarely do; for the novel —with all the breadth, the humor, the pointed wit, is nothing more than a device for setting the dis- the essential qualities that make the play what it is, orders of life right, and making us all happy by the deliberately eliminated. Sir Peter Teazle had lost contemplation of final, and so often rightly called all his crustiness, Lady Teazle all her brilliant poetic justice. The novel that does not do this thing sparkle, Charles Surface all his overflowing spirits, for us may entertain a good many people by its and the entire group of scandal-mongers all the spice character sketches and its descriptions, but, in miss- in their malice. The stage was set in some very ing the fundamental purpose of the novel, must fail pretty scenes, giving careful studies of the drawingto command the earnest sympathies of the general rooms of the period, and the ladies and gentlemen world of readers.
came in, talked, and went out with an easy, grace. ful, well-bred manner that was wholly untheatrical,
but at the same time wholly colorless. It was, no HISTRIONIC REALISM,
doubt, an excellent imitation of “good form,” but
the soul of Sheridan's wit had escaped into thin air. Realism has its advocates and its opponents; but, Realistic enterprises of this kind seem to be more after all, is there or can there be such a thing as per- common on the English stage than with us. An fect realism in either literature or the arts? Zola English essayist, deploring innovations of this charhas doubtless come nearer to it than any one else, acter, informs us that the histrionic realist, not conand this is the reason why he is so repulsive to many tent with incursions into modern comedy and dramatic persons; but would he be tolerated at all if he whol. romance, has ventured to subject Shakespeare himly obliterated every distinction between his pictures self to the new theory. Here is an account which and the ugly facts? There is, even in a delineation he gives of two recent renditions of Shakespearean of squalor, however much the artist may endeavor characters : to be faithful, a certain vivid, picturesque effect that the real scene does not possess. Art is tolerably An actor of admitted ability, for example, has treated sure to bestow on its most objectionable and realistic us to a representation of Shylock, in which the profound transpositions some quality or elevating touch that sense of wrong, the identification of the man's injuries lifts them from repulsiveness to sympathy; and the with those of his people, and the yearning for a terrible very persons who are most determined that art in all revenge, were discarded as so many turgid excesses.
The Jew dwindled, in consequence, from a representaits forms shall be exact copies of nature, unconscious- tive and poetic figure into an ill-used and, on the whole, ly give little ideal touches that subtly transform the
very reasonable individual. Now and then, indeed, he object or the scene. Beggars, for instance, have complained of his injuries with a touch of asperity, but been painted, modeled, and delineated on the stage, with a willingness to argue out his case, and a general often with a very resolute purpose to make them moderation of tone, that left quite inexplicable his relentreal, but in every instance the rags in the copy have less adherence to his bond. For this the white heat of lost the disgusting foulness of the original, and fallen passion which imagination alone can conceive and porin lines or produced effects of light and shade that tray might have accounted; but imagination the actor were agreeable rather than offensive. Art thus in- had intentionally renounced. At a later period another stinctively finds pleasant features in the worst sub. performer, who had been gradually advancing in his art,
found a chance of presenting himself as Othello. That jects, and idealizes by virtue of a fundamental law, he, too, was a disciple of the reasonable school which even when it imagines it is strictly realizing. It eschews violence of expression soon became evident. does not follow from this fact, however, that art does The generous but half-civilized Moor, with his transports
of love and jealousy, sank into an amiable and much be of mere calico; but we ask that, like her collar and tried gentleman, whose meek subjection to the arts of cuffs, it be spotless, and that she shall not come slipshod lago it was really irritating to witness. Deep emotion upon the scene. Yet how very possible it might be in subsided into sentiment, passion into temper, terrible real life, and with no blame to Jenny, that, at the time misgiving into uneasy perplexity. As in the case of Shy- of William's entrance, she should be upon her knees lock, it was difficult to trace the grand catastrophe to polishing the grate, and that her dress, her hands, her human impulses so carefully restrained. The massive very face, should bear the traces of her occupation ! scheme of the plot and its dénoúment fell in upon its frail If, however, dramatist or novelist were so to present our supports. The design of the poet belonged to the un- Jenny at this critical moment, should we not (always changing truths of our being. The modes of represent supposing our interest in her to be serious) have just ing it were derived from the artificial and fleeting man- cause of quarrel with him? We had expected to be ners of contemporary life, and thus lost the seal of im- pleasantly touched by the reunion of the pair after danagination.
ger and anxiety-to be touched, perhaps, all the more by
the thought that affection sheds a gleam of romance upon The attempt to take Hamlet, Romeo, Juliet, even the humblest fortunes ; when suddenly our unskillRosalind, and Imogen out of their proper atmos. ful exhibitor disenchants us by his rude contrast between phere is a sacrilege, but to retain the poetic language the sentiment excited and the form of its exposition. and yet kill the poetic spirit is monstrous as well as
Our thoughts had been directed to Jenny's feelings; they absurd. The realists may throw overboard if they are violently diverted to her complexion and her gown. will the stilted style and theatrical mannerisms with If we do not frown at so absurd a disappointment, we which heroic characters are often personated, but no- broken. Should he plead that a real William might have
shall certainly laugh. In either case the writer's spell is thing of their poetic loftiness, of their ideal elevation, discovered a real Jenny under the very circumstances deelements which if not true to the accidents of casual scribed, we reply that it was quite as possible to present life, are yet true to the emotions and aspirations of her in fiction under more pleasing ones, that the author our inner nature. We unconsciously, as we have al- was free to choose the manner of representation, and ready said, idealize the rags of a beggar; the painter that he willfully chose to offend that instinct which assigns can not depict a tree or a brick wall that he does not to mental conditions forms that correspond with themgive it some grace or picturesque suggestion ; and
an instinct, we repeat, that is a far deeper reality than assuredly the imaginative personages of our literature any which springs from mere external accident. should be held on their ideal plane. As an instance of how necessarily and how inevitably the art of ordinary life, the pictures of which are called real
THE OBELISK. scenes and events, give even to homely incidents an imaginative touch, the following, from the essayist
As it is now tolerably certain that the Egyptian referred to, is instructive :
obelisk known as Cleopatra's Needle will be removed It may, we think, be laid down as a principle that to New York, a good many persons are greatly diswhenever modes of exhibition, though borrowed from tressed in consequence. We did not hear of any out. the facts of actual life, excite our disgust and revulsion, rage done to Egypt when the companion obelisk was they cease to have a place in art; in other words, they taken to London ; nor did anybody then discover the cease to be representative, since, in our recoil from them, unfitness of an ancient monument in the midst of we necessarily lose sight of the mental qualities or states modern civilization, as certain would-be acute critics they were intended to represent. If it be urged that such modes of exhibition are justified, inasmuch as they spring
are now doing. “When an obelisk," exclaims one from the realities of external life, we reply that our dis- writer, “ was set up in Egypt it was placed before gust at them springs also from reality. It springs, in a some temple, and on its sides were inscribed the word, from a law of our nature which, since it is part of events connected with the building of the temple and ourselves, while the forms exhibited are derived only from the name of the monarch who raised it. Cleopatra's the external world, is for us the deeper reality of the two. Needle so placed, and so long as it is allowed to If this be true, no representation that wantonly shocks stand on its present site, will be full of interest to all the mind can be legitimate in art. Let us glance, in the nations. Take it away, and the charm is broken. first place, at modes of representation which, without in. And how out of place would this stone record apspiring the deeper sentiment of disgust, simply violate taste. We are brought in contact with such modes when. pear in America—a record that dates from before ever a conception that appeals to our sympathies is pre- the Christian era-set up in a city of yesterday ! sented to us in a form that offends them. Let us suppose
... The obelisks of Egypt are part of that counthat, in some drama of humble life, two lovers meet after try; they date from the earliest period in its history, a long separation, made more bitter by suspense. Take and can have little or no expression beyond its boun. it that young William the sailor, whose ship has been daries.” This would be very well if it did not prolong overdue, is once more on English ground, that he ceed from wrong premises. An Egyptian obelisk hastens to present himself to his betrothed, anxious would be a relic of the past similar to those we Jenny, the farm-laborer's daughter. Let it be granted that these humble lovers have engaged our interest, and gather in museums, and consequently it would be just that we expect pleasure from witnessing their happy
as pertinent to say that the Elgin Marbles are out of meeting. Our gratification at this event will be seriously place in the British Museum, or the Cesnola collecimpaired if, even with regard to dress, the swain and tion of ancient pottery out of place in the Metro. maiden do not make as agreeable an appearance as con- politan Museum of Art, as to affirm that an ancient sists with their state in life. Jenny's gown may perhaps obelisk must be seen only in the place where it was