THE LIFE OF GEORGE ELIOT
On Literary Biography 93
As a mere letter-writer will not rank among the famous masters 96
Mr. Myers’s Essay 100
Letter to Mr. Harrison 107
Hebrew her favourite study 112
Limitless persistency in application 113
Mr. R.W. Mackay’s Progress of the Intellect 120
The period of her productions, 1856-1876 124
Mr. Browning 125
An aesthetic not a doctrinal teacher 126
Disliked vehemence 130
THE LIFE OF GEORGE ELIOT.
The illustrious woman who is the subject of these volumes makes a remark to her publisher which is at least as relevant now as it was then. Can nothing be done, she asks, by dispassionate criticism towards the reform of our national habits in the matter of literary biography? ’Is it anything short of odious that as soon as a man is dead his desk should be raked, and every insignificant memorandum which he never meant for the public be printed for the gossiping amusement of people too idle to reread his books?’ Autobiography, she says, at least saves a man or a woman that the world is curious about, from the publication of a string of mistakes called Memoirs. Even to autobiography, however, she confesses her deep repugnance unless it can be written so as to involve neither self-glorification nor impeachment of others—a condition, by the way, with which hardly any, save Mill’s, can be said to comply. ’I like,’ she proceeds, ’that He being dead yet speaketh should have quite another meaning than that’ (iii. 226, 297, 307). She shows the same fastidious apprehension still more clearly in another way. ’I have destroyed almost all my friends’ letters to me,’ she says, ’because they were only intended for my eyes, and could only fall into the hands of persons who knew little of the writers if I allowed them to remain till after my death. In proportion as I love every form of piety—which is venerating love—I hate hard curiosity; and, unhappily, my experience has impressed me with the sense that hard curiosity is the more common temper of mind’ (ii. 286). There is probably little difference among us in respect of such experience as that.
[Footnote 1: George Eliot’s Life. By J.W. Cross. Three volumes. Blackwood and Sons. 1885.]