George Eliot’s religion is highly interesting, and in many ways it is suggestive and profitable. Her insistence on feeling and sympathy as its main impulses is profoundly significant; but that teaching is as good for Theism or Christianity as for the Religion of Humanity, and needs everywhere to be accepted. In like manner, her altruistic spirit may be accepted and realized by those who can find no sympathy for her intellectual speculations. Love of man, self-sacrifice for human good, cannot be urged by too many teachers. The greater the number of motives leading to that result, the better for man.
Whatever may be said of George Eliot’s philosophy and theology, her moral purpose was sound and her ethical intent noble. She had a strong passion for the ethical life, her convictions regarding it were very deep and earnest, and she dwelt lovingly on all its higher accomplishments. Her books are saturated with moral teaching, and her own life was ordered after a lofty ethical standard. She seems to have yearned most eagerly after a life of moral helpfulness and goodness, and she has made her novels the teachers of a vigorous morality.
Her friends bear enthusiastic testimony to the nobleness of her moral life and to her zeal for ethical culture. We are told by one of them that “she had upbuilt with strenuous pains a resolute virtue,” conquering many faults, and gaining a lofty nobleness of spirit. Another has said, that “precious as the writings of George Eliot are and must always be, her life and character were yet more beautiful than they.” Her zeal for morality was very great; she was an ethical prophet; the moral order of life roused her mind to a lofty inspiration. If she could not conceive of God, if she could not believe in immortality, yet she accepted duty as peremptory and absolute. Her faith in duty and charity seemed all the more vigorous and confident because her religion was so attenuated and imperfect. Love of man with her grew into something like that mighty and absorbing love of God which is to be seen in some of the greatest souls. Morality became to her a religion, not so intense as with saints and prophets, but more sympathetic and ardent than with most ethical teachers. She was no stoic, no teacher of moral precepts, no didactic debater about moral duties, no mere dilettante advocate of human rights. She was a warm, tender, yearning, sympathetic, womanly friend of individuals, who hoped great things for humanity, and who believed that man can find happiness and true culture only in a moral life.