It would be quite impossible for George Eliot to write an essay without some fresh thought or some new suggestion. To those who admire her genius and are in sympathy with her teachings this volume will have a special interest. Its few essays which touch upon moral or speculative subjects are of the utmost value as interpretations of her life and thought.
All her essays, the later as the earlier, are mainly of interest as aids to an understanding of her philosophy. Nothing is worthless which helps us clearly to comprehend an original mind.
THE ANALYTIC METHOD.
George Eliot’s literary method was that of Fielding and Thackeray, both of whom evidently influenced her manner. Their realism, and especially their method of comment and moral observation, she made her own. She had little sympathy with the romanticism of Scott or the idealism of Dickens. Her moral aims, her intense faith in altruism, kept her from making her art a mere process of photographing nature. Nature always had a moral meaning to her, a meaning in reference to man’s happiness and health of soul; and that moral bearing of all human experiences gave dignity and purpose to her art.
It was the method of Scott to present the romantic, picturesque and poetic side of life. He was not untrue to nature, but he cared more for beauty and sentiment than for fact. He sometimes perverted the historic incidents he made use of, but he caught the spirit of the time with which he was dealing with absolute fidelity. In this capacity for historic interpretation he surpassed George Eliot, who had not his instinctive insight into the past. Scott had no theory about the past, no philosophy of history was known to him; but above all novelists he had the power to see by the light of other days, and to make the dead times live again. Not George Eliot and not Thackeray was his rival in this historic insight and poetic power of interpretation; and his superior success was due not only to his peculiar genius but also to his romanticism. Scott failed where George Eliot succeeded, in giving an intellectual interpretation of life. With certain social and moral tendencies he was clearly at home. On its side of adventure and social impulse and craving for a wider life, as a single instance of his power, he was a true interpreter