23 JUNE 1866, Page 16


GEORGE Euors NEW NOVEL.* Iv there is any fault in this rich and fascinating story, which, like almost all its predecessors from the same hand, will probably live as long as English literature, it is in an overflowing affluence of lively and striking detail, which hardly leaves room for that force, subtlety, and intensity in the carving out of the principal characters, which marked Adam Bede and Roniola. This is the brightest, the least penetrated with inner melancholy, of all George Eliot's stories, and there are wanting in it, perhaps as a conse- quence, some degrees of that deep-cut purpose graven by a brood- ing imagination, which gave the former tales so much grandeur of outline. There is no single group here which we shall remem- ber and recur to with the same sense of large accession of intellectual wealth that was conferred on us by the companion pictures of Tito and Tessa in the Florentine story, and of Dinah and Hetty in Adam Bede. With very slight exceptions all the sketches in these three volumes,—sketches marvellous in their variety of touch and reality of tone,—are perfect after their sort, and some are drawn with a power that no other living writer has yet displayed. But looking back on the tale, as we lay it down, there seems to be no group in it which towers above the general personnel of the story, and lays hold of the imagination with an attraction blended of force and simplicity such as belongs, for instance, to the pictorial effect of Raphael's Cartoons ;—and this there certainly was in the greater, though probably less rich and lively, tales by the same author, to which we have alluded. In the present case the central ground of the story is occupied by figures more finished indeed, but scarcely grander and more impressive than the minor characters it contains. "Felix Holt the Radical" is no doubt, himself, a fine picture. Yet the great struggle in his mind between political and moral radicalism which gives the thread of unity to the story is almost past away before it opens ; and though it has left behind it a sort of torso enthusiasm which flings itself nobly but half wildly into the social life around, with bare, if any, recognition for that above it, there is no sufficient development in the character, or doubt about its decisions, to make it a really great central interest. There is none of the rapid movement, either upwards or downwards, either of moral gain or tragic deterioration, in him, which made the central interests of Adam Bede and Romola so profound. And though he is a quite new and perhaps finer type of the same form of merely secular and industrial nobleness which the authoress took so much pains in working out in Adam Bede, the political ferment and agitation of the time in which he lives has taken away all that sobriety and reserve which gives a certain dignity to the self-contained young carpenter, without leading to that other form of dignity proper to enthusiastic characters given by humility and reverence. With all the nobility of Felix bit's character, there is a certain rudeness and baldness about it, a want of delicate intellectual and moral shades, and something, too, of the awelessness of abrupt passion, which, though highly dramatic, are not features so fascinating as to make up for the absence of development, the absence of any dramatic growth. A man who blurts out abruptly to a stranger, "You believe in conversion ; well, I was converted by six weeks' debauchery,"—is, with all his grandeur of aim, a harsh mutilated sort of figure, that can scarcely occupy the central position of a story without making the story itself take something of the torso effect in the imagination. To our mind, Felix Holt seems a grand stump of a character in an impressive but fixed attitude. His radicalism far surpasses the radicalism of the political scribes and pharisees, but has the baldness connected with the word ' radicalism ' hanging round it still. This no doubt George Eliot's dramatic genius clearly perceived and fully intended. Yet to. make nobility of this sort the central power of the story, —subor- dinatineto it almost carefully all the more delicate types of spiri- tual beauty, such as are so beautifully delineated in Rufus Lyon, the Independent minister, and finely sketched, though only sketched, in Philip Debarry, produces in our mind a certain artistic pain, like that of a piece of sculpture in which an incomplete or mutilated statue of massive mould is the centre of a group of others less grand in build, but finished and of finer symmetry. Next to the sentence we have already quoted, in which Felix Holt,

• Felix Holt

Blackwood. the Bakal. By George Eliot 3 vole. Edinburgh and London :

out of mere delight as it were in the nakedness of strong expres- sion, ascribes his conversion 'to "six weeks' debauchery," instead of to the latent faith against the pricks of which he must have been, during the six weeks' debauchery, violently kicking,—the passage most powerfully defining the essence of his character is the following :—

" Yon seem to care so little about yourself.'—' You are thoroughly mistaken,' said Felix. 'It is just because I'm a very ambitious fellow, with very hungry passions, wanting a great deal to satisfy me, that I have chosen to give up what people call worldly good. At least that has been one determining reason. It all depends on what a man gets into his consciousness—what life thrusts into his mind, so that it becomes present to him as remorse is present to the guilty, or a mechanical problem to an inventive genius. There are two things I've got present in that way : one of them is the picture of what I should hate to be. I'm determined never to go about making my face simpering or solemn, and telling professional lies for profit ; or to get tangled in affairs where I must wink at dishonesty and pocket the proceeds, and justify that knavery as part of esystem that can't alter. If I once went into that sort of struggle for success, I should want to win—I should defend the wrong that I had once identified myself with. I should become every- thing that I see now beforehand to be detestable. And what's more I should do this, as men are doing it every day, for a ridiculously small prize—perhaps for none at all—perhaps for the sake of two parlours' a rank eligible for the churchwardenship, a discontented wife and several unhopeful children.'—Esther felt a terrible pressure on her heart—the certainty of her remoteness from Felix—the sense that she was utterly trivial to him.—' The other thing that's got into my mind likes splinter, said Felix, after a pause, is the life of the miserable—the spawning life of vice and hunger. I'll never be one of the sleek dogs. The old Catho- lics are right, with their higher rule and their lower. Some are called to subject themselves to a harder discipline, and renounce things volun- tarily which are lawful for others. It is the old word—" necessity is laid

upon me."--' It seems to me you are stricter than my father No ! I quarrel with no delight that is not base or cruel, but one must sometimes accommodate one's self to a small share. That is the lot of the majo- rity. I would wish the minority joy, only they don't want my wishes.'"

That is thoroughly dramatic, and very noble of its kind. The deep-lurking scepticism in the sentence, "It all depends on what a man gets into his consciousness—what life thrusts into his mind, so that it becomes present to him as remorse is present to the guilty, or a mechanical problem to an inventive genius," is no doubt meant as part of the secret of his power over Esther, whose wsthetic tastes were all of the visible and sensuous kind, and whose conscience is not susceptible to mystical, or even purely spiritual influences. Nothing can be better painted than the relation between the lovers. A sort of brawny nobility and grandeur of purpose, ardent, purely disinterested, yet intelligible, definite, secular, irreverent, was just the sort to break rudely into the equally limited though aesthetic dreams of beauty and luxury, —dreams of an atta-of-roses life,—which are attributed to Esther Lyon. Yet the relation of the two, briefly as it is drawn, does not make a central interest equal to that of George Eliot's greater novels.

Harold Transome, the worldly Radical candidate for Loamshire, seems to us on the whole the most original character in the book, —or at least the most original now from our present author, who has more than once given us characters not indeed individually like Rufus Lyon, for the saintly old Independent minister is a new and exquisite sketch,—but of the same general type, as, for instance, in Seth Bede. But Harold Transome, with his keen eye for business, his prompt and cavalier choice of measures for carry- ing out his own ends, his kindly contempt for views which differ from his own, his half-unconsciousness, half-indifference with respect to the pain he causes in brushing aside the incompatible wishes of others, his sincere wish to give his proud, able, and sensitive mother every comfort and pleasure to which a super- annuated grandmamma is justly entitled and no more, his pride of descent, and Radical impatience with immemorial Tory prejudices, his slightly epicure habits derived from Asiatic life, and his general "fullness of bread," is a figure which no one but George Eliot could well have painted. The scene in which his first return to his old home is sketched, when, without knowing it, he rides rough- shod over his mother's feelings, dashes at once into business, takes up the North Loamshire Herald within the first five minutes, to run his eye down the advertisements, says, " Gad ! what a wreck poor father is !" and insouciantly drops the fact that he is a Radical without any consciousness of the jar the avowal causes his mother, is one of the most brilliant our author has ever drawn. His mother herself, stately, unreverend, eaten up by pride and self-contempt rather than self-reproach for having lost her good name and her practical power over the estate by a long- extinguished passion for an attorney below her in birth and breed- ing, as well as essentially selfish, vulgar, and mean at heart, is almost as finely drawn as her sou, except in her relations with the attorney

himself, which are not adequately " motived " or imaginatively justified. That a woman so severe in hereditary feeling and

so haughty individually, should have sacrificed so much for such a man, is not of course incredible, but, as it is the turning-point of the whole story, should have been made probable and natural. Mrs. Transome and Jermyn, both of them individually finely drawn, are never brought together without a sense on the part of the reader that the key of their past relation to each other is lost, and that it demands therefore the only violent assumption of the story. - There is no limit, except the limit of space, to the wealth of sub- sidiary observation and humour with which this story is crowded. "Uncle Lingon," Mrs. Trausome's brother, otherwise called Parson Jack, is one of the finest minor sketches George Eliot has ever drawn. Himself a Tory, his easiness and good-humour of nature determine him to support his nephew in spite of his Radicalism, and his electioneering speech on this occasion is worth a good sum of money in the way of hints to any man similarly situated:—

" When his red eagle face and white hair were seen on the platform, the Dissenters hardly cheered this questionable Radical ; but to make amends, all the Tory farmers gave him a friendly hurray.'—'Let's hear what old Jack will say for himself,' was the predominant feeling among them ; he'll have something funny to say, I'll bet a penny.' It was only Lawyer Labron's young clerks and their hangers-on who were sufficiently dead to Trebian traditions to assail the parson with various sharp-edged interjections, such as broken shells, and cries of Cock-a- doodle-doo.'—' Come now, my lads,' he began, in his full, pompous, yet jovial tones, thrusting his hands into the stuffed-out pockets of his greatcoat, I'll tell you what; I'm a parson, you know ; I ought to re- turn good for evil. So here are some good nuts for you to crack in re- turn for your shells:—There was a roar of laughter and cheering as he threw handfuls of nuts and filberts among the crowd.—'Come, now, you'll say I used to be a Tory; and some of you, whose faces I know as well as I know the head of my own crab-stick, will say that's why I'm a good fellow. But now I'll tell you something else. It's for that very reason—that I used to be a Tory, and am a good fellow—that I go along with my nephew here, who is a thoroughgoing Liberal. For will anybody here come forward and say, "A good fellow has no need to tack about and change his road ?" No, there's not one of you such a Tomnoddy. What's good for one time is bad for another. If anybody contradicts that, ask him to eat pickled pork when he's thirsty, and to bathe in the Lapp there when the spikes of ice are shooting. And that's the reason why the men who are the boat Liberals now are the very men who used to be the best Tories. There isn't a nastier horse than your horse that'll jib and back and turn round when there is but one road for him to go, and that's the road before him. And my nephew here—he comes of a Tory breed, you know—I'll answer for the Lingons. In the old Tory times there was never a pup belonging to a Lingon but would howl if a Whig came near him. The Lingon blood is good, rich, old Tory blood— like good rich milk—and that's why, when the right time comes, it throws up a Liberal cream. The best sort of Tory turns to the best sort of Radical. There's plenty of Radical scum—I say, beware of the scum, and look out for the cream. And here's my nephew—some of the cream, if there is any : none of your Whigs, none of your painted water that looks as if it ran, and it's standing still all the while; none of your spinning-jenny fellows. A gentleman • but up to all sorts of business. I'm no fool myself ; I'm forced to wink a good deal, for fear of seeing too much, for a neighbourly man must let himself be cheated a little. But though I've never been out of my own country, I know less about it than my nephew does. You may tell what he is, and only look at him. There's one sort of fellow sees nothing but the end of his own nose, and another sort that sees nothing but the hinder side of the moon • but my nephew Harold is of another sort; he sees everything that's at hitting distance, and he's not one to miss his mark. A good-looking man in his prime ! Not a greenhorn; not a shrivelled old fellow, who'll come to speak to you and find he's left his teeth at home by mistake. Harold Transome will do you credit ; if anybody says the Radicals are a set of sneaks, Brummagem halfpennies, scamps who want to play pitch and toss with the property of the country, you can say, "Look at the member for North Loamshire I " And mind what you'll hear him say; he'll go in for making everything right—Poor-laws and Charities and Church— he wants to reform em all. Perhaps you'll say, "There's that Parson Lingon talking about Church Reform—why, he belongs to the Church himself—he wants reforming too." Well, well, wait a bit, and you'll hear by-and-by that old Parson Lingon is reformed—shoots no more, cracks his joke no more, has drunk his last bottle ; .the dogs, the old pointers, will be sorry ; but you'll hear that the Parson at Little Treby is a new man. That's what Church Reform is sure to come to before long. So now hero are some more nuts for you, lads, and I leave you to listen to your candidate. Here he is—give him a good hurray ; wave your hats, and I'll begin. Hurray !"

Mrs. Holt, the quack medicine vendor, who is so strong against the rejection of " works " as an element in salvation, boasting, "I thank the Lord that I never needed to put myself on a level with the thief on the cross," and who, when her son puts his veto on the sale of noxious drugs as a universal cure, holds that with God's blessing the most noxious drugs may become beneficial, though without suggesting any reason for her somewhat arbitrary expec- tation that a universal blessing would actually attend the use of the said noxious drugs, is a picture than which Dickens himself has not drawn anything much better, though he has drawn much in the same style. Witness the passage where she says, "I read my Bible, and I know in Jude, where it's been stained with the dried tulip leaves this many a year, as you're told not to rail at your betters if they was the devil himself." But the picture of Deaner, "the hardheaded, godless," little, serving woman, with a sort of worship for her mistress, Mrs. Transome, slich as was paid to a goddess "in ages when it was not thought necessary or likely that a goddess should be very moral," and a hearty contempt for- any "born servant who did not submissively accept the rigid fate which had given her born superiors," is a picture that is far too intellectually conceived for any modern author but George Eliot. Indeed she never seems to us more subtle than in delineating all the types of the purely secular mind which she always defines so powerfully, and so delicately, in relation to the reflections of a more spiritual and more reverent thought. Thus, when Mrs. Transome says, "I am afraid of even expecting anything good

again," Denner replies, "That's weakness, Madam. Things don't happen because they're bad or good, else all eggs would be addled

or none at all, and at the most it is but six to the dozen. There's good chances and bad chances, and nobody's luck is pulled only by one string." How dramatic that is, and what a strong type not exactly of kitchen infidelity, but of housekeeper's room infidelity, it 'expresses ! You see in it the keen, calculating mind of a superior servant, accustomed to manage ; and yet so habitually

suited, and so accustomed to the hard frictions with vulgar minds and the incidents of menial life, that all the unseen world has

become for it absolutely non-existent. What a depth of insight is there not in that defence of Denner's,—still the keen secular-

housekeeper who justifies nature, as if nature, too, boasted the thrift of a keen secular housekeeper,—for the lot of woman :—" It mayn't

be good luck to be a womau, but one begins with it from a baby ; one gets used to it. And I shouldn't like to be a man, to cough so loud and stand straddling about on a wet day, and be so wasteful with meat and drink. They're a coarse, lot I think."

The vividly intellectual insight and humour which dots the book from beginning to end are, however, its most diffused charm,

—the insight and humour, we mean, which mark off the para- doxes of the world in relation to a background of deep and finely traced thought. When we are told of Mrs. Transome that "she had no ultimate analysis of things which went beyond blood and. family, —the Herons of Fanshore or the Badgers of Hillbury,"— and when Esther reflects that a solitary elevation to wealth would look "as-chill and dreary as the offer of dignities in an unknown country," what a world of clear reflection on the phenomena of society and the philosophy of social rank the remarks imply. Then what a charm there is in flashes of humour such as the following, in comparing an inferior public-house at Sproxton,

"The Blue Cow," with the more prosperous one called "The Sugar Loaf." "It had something of the forlorn air of an abandoned capital ; and the company at the Blue Cow was of

an inferior kind,—equal, of course, in the fundamental attributes of humanity, such as desire for beer, but not equal in ability to pay for it ; "—or in this,—where the little boys in seal-skin caps who receive largesse of halfpence scattered by the election agent, Mr.

Johnson, on a Sunday morning, are so much astonished at this unprecedented phenomenon that "they were not without hope that an entirely new order of things had set in ;"—or, again, in the election

agent's address to the Sproxton colliers and the interpolated re- marks of his audience:—" ' What's trade now without steam ? and what is steam without coal ? And mark you this, gentlemen,— there's no man and no government can make coal.' A brief,

loud 'Haw, haw,' showed that this fact was appreciated. Nor-

freeston' nayther,' said a wide-mouthed, wiry man called Gills, who wished for an exhaustive treatment of the subject, being a stone-

cutter." And these are but illustrations of an intellectual insight

and humour which sparkle over the whole surface of the story, so that it is scarcely possible to read a page without being struck by the incidental contrast between the gleam of some thought which comes from no superficial stratum, and the reality of some delineation which no mind that does not thoroughly love to play on the surface could have drawn. The same striking depth and beauty of style sparkles, we notice, in all those mottos to the

chapters which,—not being quoted from any other author,—are, we conclude, George Eliot's own. If so, we may infer that she must have written poetry and drama of no common order, which at some time or other may be permitted to see the light. We quote the following as a specimen, not of the poetry so much, as of

the dramatic play in some of these passages :—

"Ist Citizen.—Sir, there's a hurry in the veins of youth That makes a vice of virtue by excess.

"2nd Citizen.—What if the coolness of our tardier veins Be loss of virtue ?

"1st Citizen.—All things cool with time,— The sun itself, they say, till heat shall find A general level, nowhere in excess.

"2nd Citizen. —'Tis a poor climax, to my weaker thought That future middlingness."