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George Eliot's Life, as Related in Her Letters and Journals. Vol. 2 (of 3)

George Eliot's Life, as Related in Her Letters and Journals. Vol. 2 (of 3)
George Eliot

George Eliot

George Eliot's Life, as Related in Her Letters and Journals. Vol. 2 (of 3)

CHAPTER VIII

Journal, 1858.

Jan. 2.– George has returned this evening from a week's visit to Vernon Hill. On coming up-stairs he said, "I have some very pretty news for you – something in my pocket." I was at a loss to conjecture, and thought confusedly of possible opinions from admiring readers, when he drew the Times from his pocket – to-day's number, containing a review of the "Scenes of Clerical Life." He had happened to ask a gentleman in the railway carriage, coming up to London, to allow him to look at the Times, and felt quite agitated and tremulous when his eyes alighted on the review. Finding he had time to go into town before the train started, he bought a copy there. It is a highly favorable notice, and, as far as it goes, appreciatory.

When G. went into town he called at Nutt's, and Mrs. Nutt said to him, "I think you don't know our curate. He says the author of 'Clerical Scenes' is a High Churchman; for though Mr. Tryan is said to be Low Church, his feelings and actions are those of a High Churchman." (The curate himself being of course High Church.) There were some pleasant scraps of admiration also gathered for me at Vernon Hill. Doyle happening to mention the treatment of children in the stories, Helps said, "Oh, he is a great writer!"

I wonder how I shall feel about these little details ten years hence, if I am alive. At present I value them as grounds for hoping that my writing may succeed, and so give value to my life; as indications that I can touch the hearts of my fellow-men, and so sprinkle some precious grain as the result of the long years in which I have been inert and suffering. But at present fear and trembling still predominate over hope.

Jan. 5.– To-day the "Clerical Scenes" came in their two-volume dress, looking very handsome.

Jan. 8.– News of the subscription – 580, with a probable addition of 25 for Longmans. Mudie has taken 350. When we used to talk of the probable subscription, G. always said, "I dare say it will be 250!" (The final number subscribed for was 650.)

I ordered copies to be sent to the following persons: Froude, Dickens, Thackeray, Tennyson, Ruskin, Faraday, the author of "Companions of my Solitude," Albert Smith, Mrs. Carlyle.

On the 20th of January I received the following letter from Dickens:

Letter from Charles Dickens to George Eliot, 17th Jan. 1858.

"Tavistock House, London,

Monday, 17th Jan. 1858

"My dear Sir, – I have been so strongly affected by the two first tales in the book you have had the kindness to send me, through Messrs. Blackwood, that I hope you will excuse my writing to you to express my admiration of their extraordinary merit. The exquisite truth and delicacy, both of the humor and the pathos of these stories, I have never seen the like of; and they have impressed me in a manner that I should find it very difficult to describe to you, if I had the impertinence to try.

"In addressing these few words of thankfulness to the creator of the Sad Fortunes of the Rev. Amos Barton, and the sad love-story of Mr. Gilfil, I am (I presume) bound to adopt the name that it pleases that excellent writer to assume. I can suggest no better one: but I should have been strongly disposed, if I had been left to my own devices, to address the said writer as a woman. I have observed what seemed to me such womanly touches in those moving fictions, that the assurance on the title-page is insufficient to satisfy me even now. If they originated with no woman, I believe that no man ever before had the art of making himself mentally so like a woman since the world began.

"You will not suppose that I have any vulgar wish to fathom your secret. I mention the point as one of great interest to me – not of mere curiosity. If it should ever suit your convenience and inclination to show me the face of the man, or woman, who has written so charmingly, it will be a very memorable occasion to me. If otherwise, I shall always hold that impalpable personage in loving attachment and respect, and shall yield myself up to all future utterances from the same source, with a perfect confidence in their making me wiser and better. – Your obliged and faithful servant and admirer,

"Charles Dickens

"George Eliot, Esq."

Journal, 1858.

Jan. 21.– To-day came the following letter from Froude:

Letter from J A. Froude to George Eliot, 17th Jan. 1858.

"Northdown House, Bideford, 17th Jan. 1858.

"Dear Sir, – I do not know when I have experienced a more pleasant surprise than when, on opening a book parcel two mornings ago, I found it to contain 'Scenes of Clerical Life,' 'From the author.' I do not often see Blackwood; but in accidental glances I had made acquaintance with 'Janet's Repentance,' and had found there something extremely different from general magazine stories. When I read the advertisement of the republication, I intended fully, at my leisure, to look at the companions of the story which had so much struck me, and now I find myself sought out by the person whose workmanship I had admired, for the special present of it.

"You would not, I imagine, care much for flattering speeches, and to go into detail about the book would carry me farther than at present there is occasion to go. I can only thank you most sincerely for the delight which it has given me; and both I myself, and my wife, trust that the acquaintance which we seem to have made with you through your writings may improve into something more tangible. I do not know whether I am addressing a young man or an old – a clergyman or a layman. Perhaps, if you answer this note, you may give us some information about yourself. But at any rate, should business or pleasure bring you into this part of the world, pray believe that you will find a warm welcome if you will accept our hospitality. – Once more, with my best thanks, believe me, faithfully yours,

    J. A. Froude."

Letter to Miss Sara Hennell, 17th Jan. 1858.

I have long ceased to feel any sympathy with mere antagonism and destruction; and all crudity of expression marks, I think, a deficiency in subtlety of thought as well as in breadth of moral and poetic feeling. Mr. William Smith, the author of "Thorndale," is an old acquaintance of Mr. Lewes's. I should say an old friend, only I don't like the too ready use of that word. Mr. Lewes admires and esteems him very highly. He is a very accomplished man – a bachelor, with a small independent income; used to write very effective articles on miscellaneous subjects in Blackwood. I shall like to know what you think of "Thorndale." I don't know whether you look out for Ruskin's books whenever they appear. His little book on the "Political Economy of Art" contains some magnificent passages, mixed up with stupendous specimens of arrogant absurdity on some economical points. But I venerate him as one of the great teachers of the day. The grand doctrines of truth and sincerity in art, and the nobleness and solemnity of our human life, which he teaches with the inspiration of a Hebrew prophet, must be stirring up young minds in a promising way. The two last volumes of "Modern Painters" contain, I think, some of the finest writing of the age. He is strongly akin to the sublimest part of Wordsworth – whom, by-the-bye, we are reading with fresh admiration for his beauties and tolerance for his faults. Our present plans are: to remain here till about the end of March, then to go to Munich, which I long to see. We shall live there several months, seeing the wonderful galleries in leisure moments. Our living here is so much more expensive than living abroad that we save more than the expenses of our journeying; and as our work can be as well done there as here for some months, we lay in much more capital, in the shape of knowledge and experience, by going abroad.

Journal, 1858.

Jan. 18.– I have begun the "Eumenides," having finished the "Choephoræ." We are reading Wordsworth in the evening. At least G. is reading him to me. I am still reading aloud Miss Martineau's History.

Letter to John Blackwood, 21st Jan. 1858.

I am sure you will be interested in Dickens's letter, which I enclose, begging you to return it as soon as you can, and not to allow any one besides yourself and Major Blackwood to share in the knowledge of its contents. There can be no harm, of course, in every one's knowing that Dickens admires the "Scenes," but I should not like any more specific allusion made to the words of a private letter. There can hardly be any climax of approbation for me after this; and I am so deeply moved by the finely felt and finely expressed sympathy of the letter, that the iron mask of my incognito seems quite painful in forbidding me to tell Dickens how thoroughly his generous impulse has been appreciated. If you should have an opportunity of conveying this feeling of mine to him in any way, you would oblige me by doing so. By-the-bye, you probably remember sending me, some months ago, a letter from the Rev. Archer Gurney – a very warm, simple-spoken letter – praising me for qualities which I most of all care to be praised for. I should like to send him a copy of the "Scenes," since I could make no acknowledgment of his letter in any other way. I don't know his address, but perhaps Mr. Langford would be good enough to look it out in the Clergy List.

Journal, 1858.

Jan. 23.– There appeared a well-written and enthusiastic article on "Clerical Scenes" in the Statesman. We hear there was a poor article in the Globe– of feebly written praise – the previous week, but beyond this we have not yet heard of any notices from the press.

Jan. 26.– Came a very pleasant letter from Mrs. Carlyle, thanking the author of "Clerical Scenes" for the present of his book, praising it very highly, and saying that her husband had promised to read it when released from his mountain of history.

Letter from Mrs. Carlyle to George Eliot, 21st Jan. 1858.

"5 Cheyne Row, Chelsea,

21st Jan. 1858

"Dear Sir, – I have to thank you for a surprise, a pleasure, and a – consolation (!) all in one book! And I do thank you most sincerely. I cannot divine what inspired the good thought to send me your book; since (if the name on the title-page be your real name) it could not have been personal regard; there has never been a George Eliot among my friends or acquaintance. But neither, I am sure, could you divine the circumstances under which I should read the book, and the particular benefit it should confer on me! I read it – at least the first volume – during one of the most (physically) wretched nights of my life – sitting up in bed, unable to get a wink of sleep for fever and sore throat – and it helped me through that dreary night as well – better than the most sympathetic helpful friend watching by my bedside could have done!

"You will believe that the book needed to be something more than a 'new novel' for me; that I could at my years, and after so much reading, read it in positive torment, and be beguiled by it of the torment! that it needed to be the one sort of book, however named, that still takes hold of me, and that grows rarer every year – a human book – written out of the heart of a live man, not merely out of the brain of an author – full of tenderness and pathos, without a scrap of sentimentality, of sense without dogmatism, of earnestness without twaddle – a book that makes one feel friends at once and for always with the man or woman who wrote it!

"In guessing at why you gave me this good gift, I have thought amongst other things, 'Oh, perhaps it was a delicate way of presenting the novel to my husband, he being over head and ears in history.' If that was it, I compliment you on your tact! for my husband is much likelier to read the 'Scenes' on my responsibility than on a venture of his own – though, as a general rule, never opening a novel, he has engaged to read this one whenever he has some leisure from his present task.

"I hope to know some day if the person I am addressing bears any resemblance in external things to the idea I have conceived of him in my mind – a man of middle age, with a wife, from whom he has got those beautiful feminine touches in his book – a good many children, and a dog that he has as much fondness for as I have for my little Nero! For the rest – not just a clergyman, but brother or first cousin to a clergyman! How ridiculous all this may read beside the reality. Anyhow – I honestly confess I am very curious about you, and look forward with what Mr. Carlyle would call 'a good, healthy, genuine desire' to shaking hands with you some day. – In the meanwhile, I remain, your obliged

Jane W. Carlyle."

Journal, 1858.

Jan. 30.– Received a letter from Faraday, thanking me very gracefully for the present of the "Scenes." Blackwood mentions, in enclosing this letter, that Simpkin & Marshall have sent for twelve additional copies – the first sign of a move since the subscription. The other night we looked into the life of Charlotte Brontë, to see how long it was before "Jane Eyre" came into demand at the libraries, and we found it was not until six weeks after publication. It is just three weeks now since I heard news of the subscription for my book.

Letter from M. Faraday to George Eliot, 28th Jan. 1858.

"Royal Institution, 28th Jan. 1858

"Sir, – I cannot resist the pleasure of thanking you for what I esteem a great kindness: the present of your thoughts embodied in the two volumes you have sent me. They have been, and will be again, a very pleasant relief from mental occupation among my own pursuits. Such rest I find at times not merely agreeable, but essential. – Again thanking you, I beg to remain, your very obliged servant,

M. Faraday
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