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George Eliot's Life, as Related in Her Letters and Journals. Vol. 3 (of 3)

George Eliot's Life, as Related in Her Letters and Journals. Vol. 3 (of 3)
George Eliot

George Eliot

George Eliot's Life, as Related in Her Letters and Journals. Vol. 3 (of 3)

CHAPTER XIV

The new year of 1867 opens with the description of the journey to Spain

Letter to Madame Bodichon, Jan. 1867, from Bordeaux.

We prolonged our stay in Paris in order to see Madame Mohl, who was very good to us; invited the Scherers and other interesting people to meet us at dinner on the 29th, and tempted us to stay and breakfast with her on the 31st, by promising to invite Renan, which she did successfully, and so procured us a bit of experience that we were glad to have, over and above the pleasure of seeing a little more of herself and M. Mohl. I like them both, and wish there were a chance of knowing them better. We paid for our pleasure by being obliged to walk in the rain (from the impossibility of getting a carriage) all the way from the Rue de Rivoli – where a charitable German printer, who had taken us up in his fiacre, was obliged to set us down – to the Hôtel du Helder, through streets literally jammed with carriages and omnibuses, carrying people who were doing the severe social duties of the last day in the year. The rain it raineth every day, with the exception of yesterday; we can't travel away from it, apparently. But we start in desperation for Bayonne in half an hour.

Letter to Mrs. Congreve, 16th Jan. 1867, from Biarritz.

Snow on the ground here, too – more, we are told, than has been seen here for fifteen years before. But it has been obliging enough to fall in the night, and the sky is glorious this morning, as it was yesterday. Sunday was the one exception since the 6th, when we arrived here to a state of weather which has allowed us to be out of doors the greater part of our daylight. We think it curious that, among the many persons who have talked to us about Biarritz, the Brownings alone have ever spoken of its natural beauties; yet these are transcendent. We agree that the sea never seemed so magnificent to us before, though we have seen the Atlantic breaking on the rocks at Ilfracombe and on the great granite walls of the Scilly Isles. In the southern division of the bay we see the sun set over the Pyrenees; and in the northern we have two splendid stretches of sand, one with huge fragments of dark rock scattered about for the waves to leap over, the other an unbroken level, firm to the feet, where the hindmost line of wave sends up its spray on the horizon like a suddenly rising cloud. This part of the bay is worthily called the Chambre de l'Amour; and we have its beauties all to ourselves, which, alas! in this stage of the world, one can't help feeling to be an advantage. The few families and bachelors who are here (chiefly English) scarcely ever come across our path. The days pass so rapidly, we can hardly believe in their number when we come to count them. After breakfast we both read the "Politique" – George one volume and I another – interrupting each other continually with questions and remarks. That morning study keeps me in a state of enthusiasm through the day – a moral glow, which is a sort of milieu subjectif for the sublime sea and sky. Mr. Lewes is converted to the warmest admiration of the chapter on language in the third volume, which about three years ago he thought slightly of. I think the first chapter of the fourth volume is among the finest of all, and the most finely written. My gratitude increases continually for the illumination Comte has contributed to my life. But we both of us study with a sense of having still much to learn and to understand. About ten or half-past ten we go out for our morning walk; and then, while we plunge about in the sand or march along the cliff, George draws out a book and tries my paces in Spanish, demanding a quick-as-light translation of nouns and phrases. Presently I retort upon him, and prove that it is easier to ask than to answer. We find this system of vivâ-voce mutual instruction so successful that we are disgusted with ourselves for not having used it before through all our many years of companionship; and we are making projects for giving new interest to Regent's Park by pursuing all sorts of studies in the same way there. We seldom come indoors till one o'clock, and we turn out again at three, often remaining to see the sunset. One other thing I have been reading here which I must tell you of. It is a series of three papers by Saveney, in the Revue des Deux Mondes of last year, on "La Physique Moderne," an excellent summary, giving a glimpse of the great vista opened in that region. I think you would like to read them when you are strong enough for that sort of exertion.

We stayed three days in Paris, and passed our time very agreeably. The first day we dined with Madame Mohl, who had kindly invited Professor Scherer and his wife, Jules Simon, Lomenie, Lavergne, "and others" to meet us. That was on the Saturday, and she tempted us to stay the following Monday by saying she would invite Renan to breakfast with us. Renan's appearance is something between the Catholic priest and the dissenting minister. His manners are very amiable, his talk pleasant, but not distinguished. We are entertaining great projects as to our further journeying. It will be best for you to address Poste Restante, Barcelona.

Letter to Madame Bodichon, 2d Feb. 1867.

Are you astonished to see our whereabouts? We left Biarritz for San Sebastian, where we stayed three days; and both there and all our way to Barcelona our life has been a succession of delights. We have had perfect weather, blue skies, and a warm sun. We travelled from San Sebastian to Saragossa, where we passed two nights; then to Lerida for one night, and yesterday to Barcelona. You know the scenery from San Sebastian to Alsasua, through the lower Pyrenees, because it lies on the way to Burgos and Madrid. At Alsasua we turned off through Navarre into Aragon, seeing famous Pampeluna, looking as beautiful as it did ages ago among the grand hills. At Saragossa the scene was thoroughly changed; all through Aragon, as far as we could see, I should think the country resembles the highlands of Central Spain. There is the most striking effect of hills, flanking the plain of Saragossa, I ever saw. They are of palish clay, washed by the rains into undulating forms, and some slight herbage upon them makes the shadows of an exquisite blue.

These hills accompanied us in the distance all the way through Aragon, the snowy mountains topping them in the far distance. The land is all pale brown, the numerous towns and villages just match the land, and so do the sheepfolds, built of mud or stone. The herbage is all of an ashy green. Perhaps if I had been in Africa I should say, as you do, that the country reminded me of Africa; as it is, I think of all I have read about the East. The men who look on while others work at Saragossa also seem to belong to the East, with a great striped blanket wrapped grandly round them, and a kerchief tied about their hair. But though Aragon was held by the Moors longer than any part of Northern Spain, the features and skins of the people seem to me to bear less traces of the mixture there must have been than one would fairly expect. Saragossa has a grand character still, in spite of the stucco with which the people have daubed the beautiful small brick of which the houses are built. Here and there one sees a house left undesecrated by stucco; and all of them have the fluted tiles and the broad eaves beautifully ornamented. Again, one side of the old cathedral still shows the exquisite inlaid work which, in the façade, has been overlaid hideously. Gradually, as we left Aragon and entered Catalonia, the face of the country changed, and we had almost every sort of beauty in succession; last of all, between Monserrat and Barcelona, a perfect garden, with the richest red soil – blossoms on the plum and cherry trees, aloes thick in the hedges. At present we are waiting for the Spanish hardships to begin. Even at Lerida, a place scarcely at all affected by foreign travellers, we were perfectly comfortable – and such sights! The people scattered on the brown slopes of rough earth round the fortress – the women knitting, etc., the men playing at cards, one wonderful, gaudily dressed group; another of handsome gypsies. We are actually going by steam-boat to Alicante, and from Alicante to Malaga. Then we mean to see Granada, Cordova, and Seville. We shall only stay here a few days – if this weather continues.

Letter to Frederic Harrison, 18th Feb. 1867, from Granada.

Your kind letter, written on the 5th, reached me here this morning. I had not heard of the criticism in the Edinburgh. Mr. Lewes read the article, but did not tell me of the reviewer's legal wisdom, thinking that it would only vex me to no purpose. However, I had felt sure that something of that sort must have appeared in one review article or another. I am heartily glad and grateful that you have helped justice in general, as well as justice to me in particular, by getting the vindication written for the Pall Mall. It was the best possible measure to adopt. Since we left Barcelona, a fortnight ago, we have seen no English papers, so that we have been in the dark as to English news.

Were you not surprised to hear that we had come so far? The journey from San Sebastian by Saragossa and Lerida turned out to be so easy and delightful that we ceased to tremble, and determined to carry out our project of going by steamer to Alicante and Malaga. You cannot do better than follow our example; I mean, so far as coming to Spain is concerned. Believe none of the fictions that bookmakers get printed about the horrors of Spanish hotels and cookery, or the hardships of Spanish travel – still less about the rudeness of Spaniards. It is true that we have not yet endured the long railway journeys through Central Spain, but wherever we have been hitherto we have found nothing formidable, even for our rickety bodies.

We came hither from Malaga in the berlina (coupé) of the diligence, and have assured ourselves that Mr. Blackburne's description of a supposed hen-roost, overturned in the Alameda at Malaga, which proved to be the Granada diligence, is an invention. The vehicle is comfortable enough, and the road is perfect; and at the end of it we have found ourselves in one of the loveliest scenes on earth.

We shall remain here till the 23d, and then go to Cordova first, to Seville next, and finally to Madrid, making our way homeward from thence by easy stages. We expect to be in the smoky haze of London again soon after the middle of March, if not before.

I wish I could believe that you were all having anything like the clear skies and warm sun which have cheered our journeying for the last month. At Alicante we walked among the palm-trees with their golden fruit hanging in rich clusters, and felt a more delightful warmth than that of an English summer. Last night we walked out and saw the towers of the Alhambra, the wide Vega, and the snowy mountains, by the brilliant moonlight. You see, we are getting a great deal of pleasure, but we are not working, as you seem charitably to imagine. We tire ourselves, but only with seeing or going to see unforgetable things. You will say that we ought to work to better purpose when we get home. Amen. But just now we read nothing but Spanish novels – and not much of those. We said good-bye to philosophy and science when we packed up our trunks at Biarritz.

Please keep some friendship warm for us, that we may not be too much chilled by the English weather when we get back.

Letter to John Blackwood, 21st Feb. 1867.

We are both heartily rejoiced that we came to Spain. It was a great longing of mine, for, three years ago, I began to interest myself in Spanish history and literature, and have had a work lying by me, partly written, the subject of which is connected with Spain. Whether I shall ever bring it to maturity so as to satisfy myself sufficiently to print it is a question not settled; but it is a work very near my heart. We have had perfect weather ever since the 27th of January – magnificent skies and a summer sun. At Alicante, walking among the palm-trees, with the bare brown rocks and brown houses in the background, we fancied ourselves in the tropics; and a gentleman who travelled with us assured us that the aspect of the country closely resembled Aden, on the Red Sea. Here, at Granada, of course, it is much colder, but the sun shines uninterruptedly; and in the middle of the day, to stand in the sunshine against a wall, reminds me of my sensations at Florence in the beginning of June. The aspect of Granada as we first approached it was a slight disappointment to me, but the beauty of its position can hardly be surpassed. To stand on one of the towers of the Alhambra and see the sun set behind the dark mountains of Loja, and send its after-glow on the white summits of the Sierra Nevada, while the lovely Vega spreads below, ready to yield all things pleasant to the eye and good for food, is worth a very long, long journey. We shall start to-morrow evening for Cordova; then we shall go to Seville, back to Cordova, and on to Madrid.

During our short stay in Paris we went a little into society, and saw, among other people who interested us, Professor Scherer, of whom you know something. He charmed me greatly. He is a Genevese, you know, and does not talk in ready-made epigrams, like a clever Frenchman, but with well-chosen, moderate words, intended to express what he really thinks and feels. He is highly cultivated; and his wife, who was with him, is an Englishwoman of refined, simple manners.

Letter to Mrs. Congreve, 10th Mch. 1867, from Biarritz.

At Biarritz again, you see, after our long, delightful journey, in which we have made a great loop all round the east and through the centre of Spain. Mr. Lewes says he thinks he never enjoyed a journey so much, and you will see him so changed – so much plumper and ruddier – that if pity has entered much into your regard for him he will be in danger of losing something by his bodily prosperity. We crowned our pleasures in Spain with the sight of the pictures in the Madrid gallery. The skies were as blue at Madrid as they had been through the previous part of our journeying, but the air was bitterly cold; and naughty officials receive money for warming the museum, but find other uses for the money. I caught a severe cold the last day of our visit, and, after an uncomfortable day and night's railway journey, arrived at Biarritz, only fit for bed and coddling.

Journal, 1867.

March 16.– This evening we got home after a journey to the south of Spain. I go to my poem and the construction of two prose works – if possible.

Letter to John Blackwood, 18th Mch. 1867.

We got home on Saturday evening, after as fine a passage from Calais to Dover as we ever had, even in summer. Your letter was among the pleasant things that smiled at me on my return, and helped to reconcile me to the rather rude transition from summer to winter which we have made in our journey from Biarritz. This morning it is snowing hard and the wind is roaring – a sufficiently sharp contrast to the hot sun, the dust, and the mosquitoes of Seville.

We have had a glorious journey. The skies alone, both night and day, were worth travelling all the way to see. We went to Cordova and Seville, but we feared the cold of the central lands in the north, and resisted the temptation to see Toledo, or anything else than the Madrid pictures, which are transcendent.

Among the letters awaiting me was one from an American travelling in Europe, who gives me the history of a copy of "Felix Holt," which, he says, has been read by no end of people, and is now on its way through Ireland, "where he found many friends anxious but unable to get it." It seems people nowadays economize in nothing but books. I found also the letter of a "Conveyancer" in the Pall Mall, justifying the law of "Felix Holt" in answer to the Edinburgh reviewer. I did not know, before I was told of this letter in reply, that the Edinburgh reviewer had found fault with my law.

Journal, 1867.

March 21.– Received from Blackwood a check for £2166 13s. 4d., being the second instalment of £1666 13s. 4d. towards the £5000 for "Felix Holt," together with £500 as the first instalment of £1000 for ten years' copyright of the cheap edition of my novels.

Letter to John Blackwood, 21st Mch. 1867.

Your letters, with the valuable enclosure of a check for £2166 13s. 4d., have come to me this morning, and I am much obliged to you for your punctual attention.

I long to see a specimen of the cheap edition of the novels. As to the illustrations, I have adjusted my hopes so as to save myself from any great shock. When I remember my own childish happiness in a frightfully illustrated copy of the "Vicar of Wakefield," I can believe that illustration may be a great good relatively, and that my own present liking has no weight in the question.

I fancy that the placarding at railway stations is an effective measure, for Ruskin was never more mistaken than in asserting that people have no spare time to observe anything in such places. I am a very poor reader of advertisements, but even I am forced to get them unpleasantly by heart at the stations.

It is rather a vexatious kind of tribute when people write, as my American correspondent did, to tell me of one paper-covered American copy of "Felix Holt" brought to Europe and serving for so many readers that it was in danger of being worn away under their hands. He, good man, finds it easy "to urge greater circulation by means of cheap sale," having "found so many friends in Ireland anxious but unable to obtain the book." I suppose putting it in a yellow cover with figures on it, reminding one of the outside of a show, and charging a shilling for it, is what we are expected to do for the good of mankind. Even then I fear it would hardly bear the rivalry of "The Pretty Milliner," or of "The Horrible Secret."

The work connected with Spain is not a romance. It is – prepare your fortitude – it is – a poem. I conceived the plot, and wrote nearly the whole as a drama in 1864. Mr. Lewes advised me to put it by for a time and take it up again, with a view to recasting it. He thinks hopefully of it. I need not tell you that I am not hopeful, but I am quite sure the subject is fine. It is not historic, but has merely historic connections. The plot was wrought out entirely as an incorporation of my own ideas. Of course, if it is ever finished to my satisfaction, it is not a work for us to get money by, but Mr. Lewes urges and insists that it shall be done. I have also my private projects about an English novel, but I am afraid of speaking as if I could depend on myself; at present I am rather dizzy, and not settled down to home habits of regular occupation.

I understand that the conveyancer who wrote to the Pall Mall is an excellent lawyer in his department, and the lecturer on Real Property at the Law Institution.

If a reviewer ever checked himself by considering that a writer whom he thinks worth praising would take some pains to know the truth about a matter which is the very hinge of said writer's story, review articles would cut a shrunken figure.

Journal, 1867.

May 5.– We went to Bouverie Street to hear the first of a course of lectures on Positivism, delivered by Dr. Congreve. There were present seventy-five people, chiefly men.

May 11.– We had Mr. and Mrs. Call to dine with us, and an evening party afterwards.

May 12.– We went to hear Dr. Congreve's second lecture. The morning was thoroughly wet; the audience smaller, but still good.

Letter to Miss Sara Hennell, 13th May, 1867.

Yesterday we went to the second of a course of lectures which Dr. Congreve is delivering on Positivism in Bouverie Street. At the first lecture on the 5th there was a considerable audience – about seventy-five, chiefly men – of various ranks, from lords and M.P.'s downwards, or upwards, for what is called social distinction seems to be in a shifting condition just now. Yesterday the wet weather doubtless helped to reduce the audience; still it was good. Curiosity brings some, interest in the subject others, and the rest go with the wish to express adhesion more or less thorough.

I am afraid you have ceased to care much about pictures, else I should wish that you could see the Exhibition of Historical Portraits at Kensington. It is really worth a little fatigue to see the English of past generations in their habit as they lived – especially when Gainsborough and Sir Joshua are the painters. But even Sir Godfrey Kneller delights me occasionally with a finely conceived portrait carefully painted. There is an unforgetable portrait of Newton by him.

Journal, 1867.

May 27.– Went with G. to the Academy Exhibition.
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