The later essays of George Eliot have the same characteristics as the earlier ones, and are mainly of interest because they furnish additional evidences of her philosophical, ethical and political opinions. While they indicate the profound thoughtfulness of her mind, her deep concern about the largest problems of human existence, and her rare ethical tone and purpose, they add little or nothing to her literary reputation. It is very plain that while George Eliot was not a poet in the largest, truest sense, she was still less an essayist in that genial, widely sympathetic sense which has adorned English literature with so many noble books of comment on the foibles and the virtues of man. Her manner is heavy, her thoughts philosophical, her purpose doctrinal: and the result is far from satisfactory to the lover of fine essay-writing.
She needs the glow of her imagination, the depth of her emotions, to relieve and lighten the burden of her thoughts. But in her essays she is less wise, less racy and expressive, than in the didactic passages of her novels. She could best make her comment on the ways of life while describing a character or studying an action. These additions to her narrative and conversation are, to the thoughtful reader, among the best portions of her novels, for they give meaning to all the rest, and throw a flood of light on the hidden facts of life. She is never so great, so wise, so profoundly inspired by her theme, as in many of these passages.
There is need, however, in her case, of the large surrounding life of her novels in order to draw out this wisdom and inspiration. Her essays lack in the fine sentiment and the fervid eloquence of the chorus-utterances in her novels. They give little evidence that she would have attained to great things had she followed the early purpose of her life. In view of what she has written in the shape of essays, no one can regret that she confined her chief efforts to her imaginative prose creations. Yet her essays have a special value on account of their subjects, and they will be read by many with a hearty appreciation, simply because they were George Eliot’s. No one thoroughly interested in the work done by the great realistic novelist can afford to overlook her essays, even if they do not nearly touch the highest mark in their kind.