On its theoretic and perceptive side, morality touches science; on its emotional side, art. Now the products of art are great in proportion as they result from that immediate prompting of innate power which we call genius, and not from labored obedience to a theory or rule; and the presence of genius, or innate prompting, is directly opposed to the perpetual consciousness of a rule. The action of faculty is imperious, and excludes the reflection why it should act. In the same way, in proportion as morality is emotional, i.e., has affinity with art, it will exhibit itself in direct sympathetic feeling and action, and not as the recognition of a rule. Love does not say, “I ought to love”—it loves. Pity does not say, “It is right to be pitiful”—it pities. Justice does not say, “I am bound to be just”—it feels justly. It is only where moral emotion is comparatively weak that the contemplation of a rule or theory habitually mingles with its action; and in accordance with this; we think experience, both in literature and life, has shown that the minds which are pre-eminently didactic—which insist on a “lesson,” and despise everything that will not convey a moral, are deficient in sympathetic emotion.
The moral and social problems of life seem to fire her creative powers, kindle her imagination, and give rein to her genius. While the thoughtful reader may find in Felix Holt and Middlemarch more that interests his speculative faculties than of what will satisfy his sentiments and imagination, yet he must keep in mind the fact that these are works depending largely for their effect on the mind to their poetic qualities. There is in them both a large and thoughtful contemplation of life, but with a constant reference to its passion, sentiment and ideal aims. If they are realistic it is not to the exclusion of spiritual elements; and the poetic, sentimental phases of human existence are never ignored.
The purpose of George Eliot’s last novel is distinctly constructive. While there is much of criticism in its pages, and criticism of the severest kind, its aim is that of spiritual renewal and upbuilding. It unfolds her conception of social growth, and of the influence of tradition and the national idea, much more completely than any other of her works. Moreover, it is all aglow with moral enthusiasm and spiritual ardor. It indicates a greater spontaneity than any of her books after The Mill on the Floss, and gives ample evidence that it possessed and absorbed the author’s mind with its purpose and spirit. It is written from a great depth of conviction and moral earnestness. That it is her greatest book, artistically considered, there is no reason for believing; that it has its serious limitations as a literary creation all the critics have said. Yet it remains also to be said, that for largeness of aim, wealth of sentiment, and purity of moral teaching, no other book of George Eliot’s surpasses Daniel Deronda. Indeed, in its realization of the spiritual basis of life, and in its portrayal of the religious sentiment, as these are understood by positivism, this book surpasses every other, by whomsoever written.