18 JULY 1863, Page 17



IT was easy to be mistaken in the first chapters of this book, and it is pleasant to acknowledge that we were mistaken, and had not the insight to see the first faint signs of one of the greatest works of modern fiction. It is from no desire to vindicate that mistake that we regret that Romoll should have been published in fragments. That it was not in any way affected by this mode of publication,—that it was not written in fragments, but was created by a continuous arti.tic effort, is clear enough. Still, perhaps, that is one reason for the inadequacy of the first hn- pression. George Eliot's drawings all require a certain space, like Raffael's Cartoons, and are not of that kind which produce their effect by the reiteration of scenes each complete in itself. You have to unroll a large surface of the picture before even the smallest unit of its effect is attained. And this is far more true of this, probably the author's greatest work, than of her English tales. In the latter, the constant and striking delineation of social features with which we are all familiar, satisfies the mind in the detail almost as much as in the complete whole. It takes a considerable _apace to get a full view of Hetty or Dinah in "Adam Bede," and a still greater space to understand the characters of Adam, or of Arthur Donnithome. But, in the meantime, the vivid detail, the dry humour, the English pictures with which we are all so familiar, fascinate and satisfy us even before we have gained this clear view of the whole characters. This cannot be so when even greater power is s13wa, in mastering the life of a foreign nation in a past age. We do not care about the light Florentine buzz with which so great a part of the first volume is filled. Its allusions are half riddles, and its liveliness a blank to us. Small local colours depend for their charm on the familiarity of small local knowledge. Then, again, George Eliot is—we will not say much greater as an imaginative painter of characters than as an imaginative painter of action, for action, also, she paints with marvellous power,—but much more inclined for the one than the other. What her characters do is always sub- ordinate with her to what they are. This is the highest artistic power, but it carries its inconveniences with it. She does not carry her readers away, as it is called ; it is generally easy to stop read- ing her; she satisfies you for the moment, and does not make you look forward to the end. She has Sir Walter Scott's art for re- vivifying the past,—but not Scott's dynamical force in making you plunge into it with as headlong an interest as into the pre- sent. For this she compensates by a deeper and wider intel- lectual grasp,—but still it is easy enough to understand why half-developed characters, sketched in with unfamiliar local 'colours on a background of history that has long melted away, 'should have looked strange and uninviting, especially when not carried off by any exciting current of event, to the ordinary

reader's eye. It is marvellous that, in spite of these disadvantages, the wide and calm imaginative power of the writer should have produced a work which is likely to be permanently identified with English literature,—in which Italy and England may feel a common pride.

* Remota. By George Eliot. Three Vols. London: Smith and Elder.

The great artistic purpose of the story is to trace out the con- flict between liberal culture and the more passionate form of the Christian faith in that strange era, which has so many points of resemblance with the present, when the two in their most cha- racteristic forms struggled for pre-eminence over Florentines who had been educated into the half-pedantic and half-idealistic scho- larship of Lorenzo de Medici, who faintly shared the new scien- tific impulses of the age of Columbus and Copernicus, and whose hearts and consciences were stirred by the preaching, political as well as spiritual, of one of the very greatest as well as earliest of the reformers—the Dominican friar Savonarola. No period could be found when mingling faith and culture effervesced with more curious result. In some great and noble minds the new Learn- ing, clearing away the petty rubbish of Romanist superstition, and revealing the mighty simplicities of the great age of Greece, grew into a feeling that supplied all the stimulus of fever, if not the rest of faith, and of these the author has drawn a very fine picture in the blind Florentine scholar, Bemis's father, Bardo, who, with a restless fire in his heart, "hung over the books and lived with the shadows" all his life. Nothing is more striking and masterly in the story than the subtle skill with which the dominant influence of this scholarship over the imagination of the elder generation of that time,—the generation which saw the first revival of learning, is delineated in the pictures of Bardo and Baldassarre. In the former you get something like a glimpse of the stately passion for learning which, in a later age (though England was then naturally behind Italy), took so vital a hold of the intellect of Milton, and overlaid his powerful imagi- nation with all its rich fretwork of elaborate classical allusion. In the latter character,—Baldassarre, the same impression is conveyed in a still more subtle and striking form, because by painting the intermittent flashes of intellectual power in a scholar's failing memory, and its alternations with an almost animal passion of revenge, we gain not only a more distinct knowledge of the re- lative value in which scholarship was there and then held as com- pared with other human capacities, but a novel sense of sympathy which, in an age of diffused culture like this, it is not very easy to at- tain with the extravagance, as we should now think, of the price set upon it. There are few passages of subtler literary grandeur in Englith romance than that which paints the electrifying effect of a thrill of vindictive passion on Baldassarre's paralyzed memory, in recalling once more his full command of Greek learning, and the sense of power which thus returned to him :—

" He leaned to take up the fragments of the dagger ; then he turned towards the book which lay open at his side. It was a fine large manu- script, an odd volume of Pausanias. The moonlight was upon it, and he could see the large letters at the head of the page : MEnHNIKA. KB'.

In old days he had known Pausanias familiarly ; yet an hour or two ago he had been looking hopelessly at that page, and it had suggested no more meaning to him than if the letters had been black weather- marks on a wall ; but at this moment they were once more the magic signs that conjure up a world. That moonbeam falling on the letters had raised Messenia before him, and its struggle against the Spartan oppression. He snatched up the book, but the light was too pale for him to read further by. No matter : he knew that chapter ; he read inwardly. He saw the stoning of the traitor Aristocrates—stoned by a whole people' who cast him out from their borders to Ho unburied, and set up a pillar with verses upon it, telling how Time bad brought home justice to the unjust. The words arose within him, and stirred in- numerable vibrations of memory. Ho forgot that he was old: he could almost have shouted. The light was come again, mother of knowledge and joy ! In that exultation his limbs recovered their strength : he started up with his broken dagger and book, and went out under the broad moonlight. It was a nipping frosty air, but Baldassarre could feel no chill—he only felt the glow of conscious power. He walked about and paused on all the open spots of that high ground, and looked down on the domed and towered city, sleeping darkly under its sleeping guardians, the mountains ; on the pale gleam of the river ; on the valley vanishing towards the peaks of snow ; and felt himself master of them all. That sense of mental empire which belongs to us all in moments of exceptional clearness, was intensified for him by the long days and nights in which memory had been little more than the conscious- ness of something gone. That city, which had been a weary labyrinth, was material that he could subdue to his purposes now : his mind

glanced through its affairs with flashing conjecture ; he was once more a man who knew cities, whose sense of vision was instructed with largo experience, and who felt the keen delight of holding an things in the grasp of language. Names ! Images l—his mind rushed through its wealth without pausing, like one who enters on a great inheritance."

This passage, taken with those which lead up to it, whether they refer to Bardo or Baldassarre, has the effect of reproduc- ing one great feature in the ago of the revival of learning with the finest effect—that sense of large human power which the mastery over a great ancient language, itself the key to a magnificent literature, gave, and which made scholarship then a passion, while with us it has almost relapsed into an anti- quarian dryasdust pursuit. We realize again, in reading about Bardo and Baldassarre, how, for these times, the first sentence of St. John, "In the beginning was the Word," had regained all its force, to the exclusion, perhaps, of the further assertion that the Word was with God and was God. That sense of the great power of language, of which we have now so little, which, indeed, it is the tendency of the present day to depreciate, was in that day full of a new vigour, and to some extent contested with the nrysteties of the Gospel the control of great men's souls. This rO is the pictu which Romola makes so living for us. We find here the strife between the keen definite knowledge of the reviving Greek learning, and the turbid visionary mysticism of the re- viving Dominican piety. We find a younger generation, repre- sented by Roinola, and Dino, and Tito, that has inherited this scholarship, and finds it wholly inadequate for its wants, looking upon that almost as dry bones which the older generation felt to be stimulating nourishment,—and either turning from it, like Dino, to the rapture of mystical asceticism, or using it, like Tit', as a useful sharp-edged tool in the battle of Florentine politics, or trying, like Romola, to turn it to its true • purpose, viz., that of clarifying and sifting the false from the true elements in the great mysterious faith presented to her con- science by Savonarola. The pride of laborious farseeing scholar- ship, gazing with clear scornful eyes at the inarticulate convulsive esctasies of faith—all the powers of language rebelling pas- sionately, as it were, against the deep and fervent passions which transcend the containing powers of language, and boil over its edges, in religious, or even in the opposite animal raptures,—this is a picture wonderfully painted, and which produces all the more impression, that the minute vivid ripple of the light gossip of the Florentine market-place gives a ground-tone to the book.

This fundamental conflict between the Greek scholarship and the mystical Christian faith which runs through the book, is made even more striking by the treacherous character of the man who represents the Greek culture cut adrift from all vestige of moral or religious faith. The fine gradations of social dissimulation, so characteristic of Florence in the Medicean era, ranging from the one politic insincerity of Savonarola, which raises so grand a struggle in his mind, down to the easy-sliding treachery of Tito, bring up before us in another shape the characteristic contrasts of the age between that earnest spirit which revived the old culture, because it was truer than tlfe degraded current superstitions,—that pliant worldliness which adopted, and adapted itself to it, because it was an in- strument of finer edge and wider u.ility,—and lastly, that fervent faith which despised it as substituting the study of a dead past for the great conflict of a living present. Tito's smooth dissimula- tion is all the more striking a picture, because it comes out as the natural fruit of a mind almost incapable of either strong conviction or strong personal fidelity, gliding about in an age when strong convictions were coming to the birth, and among a race barely redeemed from that spirit of political falsehood which was just going to be called Machiavellian by a proud sense of loyalty to personal and party ties. Tito is pictured, as the Greeks of that time perhaps deserved to be pictured, not as originally false, but as naturally pleasure-loving, and swerving aside before every unpleasant obstacle in the straight path, at the instance of a quick intelligence and a keen dislike both to personal collisions and to personal sacrifices. His character is, to use a mathe- matical term, the osculating curve which touches that of each of the others at the surface, and nowhere else--Savonarola's at the point of his external political policy, Romola's in her love of beauty and hatred of the turbid malarious exhalations of visionary excitement, and the scholarly enthusiasm of Bardo only in the apt classical knowledge, by no means in the ardour of his love for it. On Tito's very first entrance on to the stage, the Florentine artist of the story, Piero di Cosine:), is eager to paint him as a S.inon, not that there is treachery in his face, but that there is in it the softness and suppleness, and gliding ease of movement, and nimbleness of intellect, which, in a time of political passion, seem likely to lead to treachery, because, first, they qualify, both intellectually and morally, for the traitor's part, and, next, they serve to mask his play. From this first scene, when the fatal ease of the man's manner is first suggested, to the noble scene at the conclusion, in which he sounds, and sounds successfully, Savonarola's too eager statesmanship, with intent to betray him to the Duke of Milan and the Pope, you see Tito's character grow into the foulest treachery, simply from its consistent desire to compass every pleasant end which suggests itself to him as feasible, without openly facing, if he can help it, any one's severe displeasure. Nor is anything drawn more finely than the peculiar species of fear which is an essential part of this charaoter,—a fear which, in the last resort, spurs the keen intellect of the man into a certain desperate energy, but which usually remains too cowardly even to understand itself, and lurks on in the- character as a kind of unconscious resentment against those who wring from him the exercise of such an energy. A. character essentially treacherous only because it is full of soft fluid selfishness is one of the most difficult to paint. But whether when locking up the crucifix, which Romola received from her dying brother's hands, in the little temple crowned with the figures of Ariadne and Bacchus, and fondly calling her "Regina miss," which somehow conveys that he less loves the woman than passionately admires her—or buying his "garment of fear," the coat of light chain armour, from the armour-smith,. —or thoughtlessly deceiving the poor little contadina Tessa by the mock marriage at the carnival—or shrinking before Romola's indignation into that frigid tone of empty affectionateness. which is the clearest sign of a contracted heart—or interpreting

the Latin proclamation to the people with a veil of god-natureover his treacherous purpose—or crowned in the feast at the-

Rucellai Gardens, and paling suddenly beneath Baldassarre's vin- dictive glance—or petting Tessa and her children in his hiding- place on the bill—the same wonderful power is maintained throughout, of stamping on our imagination with the full force of a master hand a character which seems naturally too fluent for the artist's purpose. There is not a more wonderful p:cce of painting in English romance than this figure of Tito.

Of Romola it is less easy to say whether one is absolutely satisfied or not. The soupcon of hardness of which one is conscious as somewhat detracting from her power, the skill with which the author has prepared us for a mental struggle exactly similar, even in its minutest features, to what might occur to- day between the claims of a sublime faith appealing to the- conscience, and a distaste for miracle or vision in its prophet, the striking contrast with Tessa, the ignorant "pretty little pigeon,"' who thinks every one who is kind to her a saint,—all render it a. little difficult to say whether we know her intimately, or whether we have only a very artistic idea of what she is not, and what she is only by inference and contrast. Our own feeling is that Romola is the least perfect figure in the book, though a fine one,—that she- is a shade more modernized than the others, several shades leas individual, and, after all, though the pivot of her character turns,. as it were, on faith, that she does not distinctly show any faith except the faith in rigid honour, in human pity, and partially also in Savonarola's personal greatness and power. We do not say the character is not natural,—we only say it is half- revealed and more suggested than fully painted, though these harder feminine characters always seem to ask to be outlined more strongly than any others.

But the great and concentrated interest of the book—at least, after the wonderful development of Tito's character—is the por- trait of Savonarola, whicli it is almost impossible not to feel as faithful as history, as it is great as romance. You see the same large human-hearted Italian Luther, narrower than Luther on some sides, owing to the thin Medicean culture against which he led the reaction, but with a far more statesmanlike and political purpose, and far snore fiery imagination, the same, in fact, whom Mr. Maurice has delineated intellectually with so much delicate fidelity in his history of modern philosophy, and who im- presses himself upon us in almost everything he wrote, but yet never before presented clearly to the eye. His portrait evincets almost as great a graphic power, and far more scrupulous care than Sir Walter Scott used in those pictures of the various Stewarts which will certainly outlive the very different origi- nals. Nothing can be finer and more impressive—nothing more difficult to make fine and impressive—than Savonarola's exhorta- tion to Roinola to return to the home from which she was flying. You see in every word the man's profound trust in God as the author of all human ties, and of all social and political ties, breaking through the fetters of his Dominican order, and assert- ing the divine order in natsre rather than the divine order out of nature. This, however, is not the finest picture given of him. The finest is contained in the profoundly pathetic scene in which Savonarola, having in the fervour of his eloquence committed God to working him a miracle at the right moment, is brought to book both by his enemies and friends on the question of the trial by fire, and kneels in prayer that in fact refuses to be prayer, but rises into a political debate within himself as to the policy of seeming to take a step which be knows he must somehow evade. "While his lips were uttering audibly cor mundum crea in nte, his mind was still filled with the images of the snare his enemies had prepared for him, still busy with the arguments by which he could justify himself against their taunts and accusations." But the scene is too long and too fine for us to spoil it by snatching it from the context, and is, indeed, closely bound up with the noble picture of the encounter with Tito which follows. Our author rejects apparently the authenticity of the last great words attributed to -Savonarola as he is dying on the scaffold, which Mr. Maurice accepts. "The voice of the Papal emissary," says the historian of philosophy, "was heard proclaiming that Savonarola was cut off from the Church militant and triumphant. Another voice was heard saying, No, not from the Church triumphant, they cannot shut me out of that.'" It is a pity that George Eliot rejects, as we suppose she does, the evidence for these words. They would have formed a far higher artistic end- ing to her story than the somewhat feeble and womanish chapter with which it concludes,—the only blot on the book. Large and genial as is the sympathy with Savonarola, there is, perhaps, no wish to represent his faith altogether as a triumphant faith. Yet Romola's faith in goodness and self-sacrifice, and in little children and "the eternal marriage of love and duty," and so forth, which the proem tells us is ever to last, would be an idle dream for the world, without a Christ in whose eternal nature all these realities live and grow.

But the defects, if they are defects, in this book, and the cer- tainly somewhat unfortunate amplification of Florentine gossip in the first volume, before the reader is drawn into that rushing tide of Savonarola's revolution round the skirts of which Tito's . treacherous destiny hovers, like a bird of prey over a raging battle, are blemishes too slight to do more than distinguish still more vividly the high purpose and calm imaginative serenity of this great romance. It will never be George Eliot's most popular book,—it seems to us, however, much the greatest she has yet produced. -