Half Title
 Title Page
 Front Matter
 Quote from George Eliot to Dr....
 Table of Contents
 From Christianity to Positivis...
 The Nature of Things
 The Moral Order
 The Objective and subjective approaches...
 The Essence of Christianity
 Experiments in life
 The three stages of moral...
 The three stages: Adam Bede and...
 The three stages: Middlemarch
 Self and society
 Man and man
 The reconciliatioin of realism...
 Back Matter

Group Title: Experiments in life: George Eliot's quest for values
Title: Experiments in life
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00001614/00001
 Material Information
Title: Experiments in life George Eliot's quest for values
Physical Description: xii, 281 p. : ; 24 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Paris, Bernard J
Publisher: Wayne State University Press
Place of Publication: Detroit
Publication Date: 1965
Genre: government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Bibliography: Bibliographical references included in "Notes" (p. 251-261) Bibliography: p. 262-268.
Statement of Responsibility: by Bernard J. Paris.
Funding: Psychological study of the arts.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00001614
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: aleph - 000298937
oclc - 00360793
notis - ABS5344
lccn - 65013719
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Table of Contents
    Half Title
        Half Title 1
        Half Title 2
    Title Page
        Title Page
    Front Matter
        Front Matter
    Quote from George Eliot to Dr. Joseph Frank Payne
        Unnumbered ( 6 )
        Preface 1
        Preface 2
        Preface 3
        Preface 4
    Table of Contents
        Table of Contents 1
        Table of Contents 2
        Table of Contents 3
        Table of Contents 4
    From Christianity to Positivism
        Page 1
        Page 2
        Page 3
        Page 4
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        Page 18
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        Page 23
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    The Nature of Things
        Page 25
        Page 26
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    The Moral Order
        Page 52
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    The Objective and subjective approaches to reality
        Page 72
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    The Essence of Christianity
        Page 89
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    Experiments in life
        Page 114
        Page 115
        Page 116
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        Page 121
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        Page 123
        Page 124
        Page 125
        Page 126
        Page 127
    The three stages of moral development
        Page 128
        Page 129
        Page 130
        Page 131
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        Page 146
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        Page 148
    The three stages: Adam Bede and Maggie Tulliver
        Page 149
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        Page 168
    The three stages: Middlemarch
        Page 169
        Page 170
        Page 171
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        Page 191
        Page 192
    Self and society
        Page 193
        Page 194
        Page 195
        Page 196
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    Man and man
        Page 223
        Page 224
        Page 225
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    The reconciliatioin of realism and moralism
        Page 242
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        Page 280
        Page 281
    Back Matter
        Page 282
Full Text



Bernard J. Paris
Michigan State University


Copyright 1965 by Wayne State University Press, Detroit 2, Michigan

All rights reserved

Published simultaneously in Canada by Ambassador Books, Limited

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 65-13719


JMy writing is simply a set of experiments in life-an endeavour to
see what our thought and emotion may be capable of-what stores of
motive ... give promise of'a better after which we may strive-
what gains from past revelations and discipline we must strive to
keep hold of as something more sure than shifting theory. I become
more and more timid-with less daring to adopt any formula which
does not get itself clothed for me in some human figure and indi-
vidual experience, and perhaps that is a sign that if I help others to
see at all it must be through that medium of art.
-George Eliot to Dr. Joseph Frank Payne, January 25, 1876


Since F. R. Leavis included George Eliot within the Great Tradition,
there have been a number of studies both of her life and of her works.
None, however, attempts what I try to do here. For another book
which examines her ideas in relation to her time, and her art in re-
lation to her ideas, we must go back to George Willis Cooke's George
Eliot, first published in 1883. I do not mean to say that there has been
no interest in her ideas; critics continually cite her humanism as
one of the main reasons why we find her so interesting. But recent
students of George Eliot have been primarily concerned with her
technique, with analyzing her formal qualities and establishing her
greatness as an artist. My study of her intellectual development and
of the ways in which she employed her novels in her quest for values
in a Godless universe will, I hope, contribute to a more complete
appreciation of her achievement.
This book, then, is complementary to the work of such recent critics
as Barbara Hardy, Reva Stump, and W. J. Harvey. I did not design
it to be so, for I had completed my own investigations before I read
these critics. When their books appeared, I had the pleasant sense that
we were all reading the same George Eliot; in a number of cases we
had come to similar conclusions but by quite different routes.


If my approach to the novels is to be classified, it should be called
thematic. The question that I am chiefly concerned with is: What
comment do the works make upon human nature, the human con-
dition, and human values? My approach is both historical and critical.
I have tried to see George Eliot's thought in relation to her intellectual
milieu and to see her novels in relation to her thought. At the same
time, I have tried to avoid imposing an intellectual system upon the
novels by allowing my cose reading of the fiction and my study of
the philosophic background gradually to illuminate each other. I
began by carefully analyzing the novels, and this analysis has shaped
my view of their ideological framework quite as much as my study
of the philosophers has shaped my view of the novels.
For purposes of clarity and economy, however, I have more or less
separated my discussions of the philosophic background and of the
fiction. Chapters I through V' deal with George Eliot's ideas as they
were shaped by her intellectual milieu. They should interest the
historian of ideas and of the Victorian age as well as the student of
fiction. In the pivotal sixth chapter I argue that George Eliot hoped
through her novels, which she spoke of as "experiments in life," to
discover enduring truths which would ennoble human existence and
replace the outmoded beliefs and institutions of the past. Because of
her distrust of "shifting theory" and her reluctance to "adopt any
formula which does not get itself clothed ... in some human figure
and individual experience," art was the only means she could confi-
dently employ for the discovery, verification, and expression of these
truths. Chapters VII through XI examine the novels. They consider
first the three stages of moral development through which George
Eliot's characters go, then the moral implications of the relation be-
tween the individual and his social medium, and finally the religious
nature of interpersonal relationships. The final chapter attempts to
synthesize what my study both of the intellectual milieu and of the
novels themselves tells us, finally, about George Eliot's quest for
values in a universe without God.
My purpose has been to explicate rather than to evaluate. There is
one value judgment, however, which is implicit in my book as a
whole; that is, that George Eliot is worth studying with the utmost
seriousness. Mr. Leavis, Mrs. Hardy, and Mr. Harvey have made ex-


cellent cases for her greatness. The time has come in George Eliot
criticism when she no longer needs to be defended as an important
artist, when she can be studied as an acknowledged master; and it
is in this spirit that I have studied her.

I first studied George Eliot with Professor Earl R. Wasserman, of
the Johns Hopkins University, and I shall always be indebted to him
for stimulating my interest in the novel and for teaching me how
to read analytically. To Professor J. Hillis Miller, also of Johns
Hopkins, I am thankful both for his inspiration and for his careful,
yet sympathetic, criticism of the earliest versions of my manuscript.
Professors Charles R. Anderson and Ludwig Edelstein of Johns
Hopkins, J. Burke Severs and James R. Frakes of Lehigh University,
and Sam S. Baskett of Michigan State University have also read my
manuscript, and their advice and support has been most helpful to
me. I am especially grateful to Jackson I. Cope for his continued en-
couragement and sustaining faith.
I am grateful for two Michigan State All University Research
Grants, which have enabled me to put the manuscript in final shape
for the Wayne State University Press, and to Mrs. John B. Friedman,
who typed with care. The portions of my study which have appeared
in Studies in Philology, The Humanist, and ELH are included
here, much revised, with the kind permission of the editors of these
My deepest debts are to my parents, without whose assistance this
book may never have been written, and to my wife, without whose
aid and insight I must have written a lesser work.
B. J. P.




I. Realism and Moralism
II. Sensuous Force versus Spiritual Passion
III. From Christianity to Pantheism
IV. Realism: the Demand for Objectivity
V. A Christian Consciousness Without a Creed

1. Introduction
II. The Order of Things
III. The Web of Relations
IV. Vision
V. Man and His Medium
VI. Character and Knowledge

I. The Two Orders
II. The Ethical Process


I. The Approach
II. "The True or Anthropological Essence of Religion"
111. "The False or Theological Essence of Christianity"




1. Stage One
II. Stage Two
III. Stage Three

1. Adam Bede
II. Maggie Tulliver


1. Introduction
II. Daniel Deronda
111. Fedalma and Don Silva
IV. Romola

I. Introduction
II. Felix and Esther
III. Daniel and Gwendolen









George Eliot's personal experience recapitulated Auguste Comte's
famous Law of the Three Stages of human development; her ap-
proach to reality was first theological, then metaphysical, and finally
positivistic. The mature George Eliot sought to reconcile the satis-
faction of the needs of the heart, which was the great strength of the
old creeds, with the allegiance to empirically verifiable truth that was
the foundation of modern thought. With Guildenstern in "A College
Breakfast-Party," she demanded that the religion of the future
"satisfy ideal man,/His utmost reason and his utmost love." George
Eliot was both a realist and a moralist. Realism and moralism were
the two strongest demands of her culture and of her nature, and her
problem was to satisfy both by reconciling them. This problem was
the matrix of her artistic impulse, and it determined both her tech-
nique and her subject matter; for her art was the means by which
she pursued its solution.
Realism in art, which is usually connected with nominalism and
empiricism in philosophy,1 took its rise in the late Middle Ages. "It
was," writes Alfred Whitehead, "the rise of interest in natural objects
and in natural occurrences for their own sakes. The natural foliage of
a district was sculptured in out-of-the-way spots of the later buildings,


merely as exhibiting delight in those familiar objects. The whole
atmosphere of every art exhibited a direct joy in the apprehension of
the things which lie around us."2 The rise of realism was an early
sign of that shift in emphasis to the sensuous, the earthly, the im-
mediate, which has been one of the major developments in Western
civilization since the Middle Ages. Realism stresses the sensuous
apprehension of reality at the expense of the metaphysical or the theo-
logical; it is concerned with the thisness rather than with the what-
ness of things. Concerning the Dutch genre painters, with whose art
George Eliot compared her own in the famous statement of her
esthetic theory in Chapter XVII of Adam Bede, Mario Praz writes:

With the exclusion of all transcendental aims, the painter's attention
could be devoted to the rendering of material objects with complete
and sincere abandonment, to the enjoyment of their richness, their
quality, their charm. Hence, in the greatest of these painters .. the
firm intensity of contemplation that charges the object represented
with a fullness of energy undiverted by any metaphysical intention.
.. And so, in this school of painting, realism triumphs.8

George Eliot, a realist, took direct pleasure in the apprehension and
representation of reality; her novels, in their specificity, reveal this.
Her senses responded to the slightest impression: she was intensely
alive to the qualities of things. In her essay on German wit she
complains of the German's want of "delicate perception" and "sensi-
bility to gradation":

All his subtlety is reserved for the region of metaphysics. For Identitat,
in the abstract, no one can have an acuter vision; but in the concrete
he is satisfied with a very loose approximation. He has the finest nose
for Empirismus in philosophical doctrine, but the presence of more or
less tobacco-smoke in the air he breathes is imperceptible to him. To
the typical German -Vetter Michel-it is indifferent whether his door-
lock will catch; whether his teacup be more or less than an inch thick;
whether or not his book have every other leaf unstitched; whether his
neighbor's conversation be more or less of a shout; whether he pro-
nounced b or p, t or d; whether or not his adored one's teeth be few
and far between.4


Although a spontaneous delight in concrete reality is his starting
point, the sophisticated realist, like the scientist, wants to add to our
knowledge of the nature of things. George Eliot tried to present a
true picture of man and his environment; her novels can be read,
from one point of view, as scientific case studies of specific social,
political, economic, historical, psychological, and religious phenomena.
Like most of the other positivists, she wanted not only to describe,
but also to relieve the human condition. G. H. Lewes proclaimed that
"the Intellect is the servant, not the lord of the Heart; and Science
is a futile, frivolous pursuit unless it subserve some grand re-
ligious aim."5 Lewes is here echoing Comte, who made the affections
central in his system, as he said they had been in the theological stage
of human development. "The intellect," said Comte, "should devote
itself exclusively to the problems which the heart suggests, the ulti-
mate object being to find proper satisfaction for our various wants."6
The scientist's dispassionate study of the relations of things, it was
hoped, would enable man to discern and submit to the unalterable
and to strive effectively after the possible. Only through positive
knowledge could man adapt himself to reality and reality to his needs.
Realism was thus the servant of moralism.
To say that George Eliot was a moralist does not mean that she
employed her art chiefly as a means of teaching ethical lessons; she fre-
quently and explicitly repudiated didacticism in art. And the problem
of developing a secular ethic, though important, was only one facet of
her moralism. Basic in her moralism was her concern with religious ex-
perience. Her private experience had made her aware of the strength
and insistence of man's religious need; she knew that, regardless of
his rational estimate of reality, man has a demand, in Suzanne
Langer's phrase, to orient himself religiously in the cosmos. One of
man's most basic religious drives, and hence a central concern of
George Eliot's moralism, is his urge to overcome his sense of loneli-
ness, of apartness, of alienation from the world around him. He needs
somehow to control and understand and humanize the indifferent,
mysterious otherness outside of himself, to make it one with himself,
to find a home in it.
The greatest mediators between the self and the world had been


the Christian church-with its revelation, its ritual, and its Redeemer
-and the Platonistic philosophic tradition; but for George Eliot and
her fellow positivists Christianity and Idealism no longer possessed
religious virtue, for while they served the purposes of moralism, they
failed to meet the demands of realism. They were felt to be merely
the projections of inner drives and experiences into the external
order; they tell us nothing of the world, though they give us deep
insight into the nature of man. Thus they could not provide the
realist with a sense of religious orientation in the cosmos. But the
need for such orientation remained; indeed it grew more intense
with the deprivation of the old satisfactions.
Insofar as she was a realist, Eliot's approach to life was scientific,
and she was committed to science's picture of man and the universe-
a picture that tended to undermine man's traditional sense of his own
dignity and purpose, to leave him without guidance or consolation.
Insofar as she was a moralist, she sought means of satisfying the
heart's needs and ways of redefining man's cherished conceptions of
life and of himself. She tried to bring together in and through her
art what Henry Myers calls the "two fundamentally different views
of life, two ways of looking at man and the universe, one from within,
the other from the outside." "The first view," writes Myers, "is personal
and insighted.... From the individual's own point of view, the world
begins and ends with his awareness of it. As long as he clings to this
point of view, and believes in its validity, man is at home in the uni-
verse .. It is a world of values The second view is impersonal
and external When man sees himself from within and the world
as his world, he is the measure of all things; when he insists upon
viewing himself from the outside only, he discovers that he is no
longer the measure of anything." The major artist, according to
Myers, is the tragic realist, who presents us with "a world which,
though it is not impersonal and dehumanized as is the world seen
from the outside only, is nevertheless a world common to all."' It was
precisely the balance that Myers describes-between involvement and
detachment, between subjectivity and objectivity, between a self-
mirroring dream world and a world impersonal and dehumanized-
that George Eliot sought.
George Eliot's problem, then, was to discover a means of mediation


between the individual and the alien cosmos which would be con-
sonant with the teachings of science and would at the same time
satisfy the individual's demand for a moral relation to the universe. To
understand why she was confronted with this problem and how she
attempted to solve it, we must know something of her intellectual
and moral development. It was only after she had abandoned both
Christianity and pantheism that the problem arose, and it was only
because she had been a Christian and a pantheist that the need to
solve it was so imperative.
Before her break with Christianity George Eliot (then Marian
Evans) was an ardent, otherworldly Evangelical who suffered from
constant inner conflict, for she was simultaneously pulled in opposite
directions. Under the influence of her religious creed she sought to
submit herself entirely to the will of God and to live for him alone.
She tried to relate all things to God's plan for the world. She practiced
asceticism, denying the flesh and living not for the present but for
eternity. She wrote to her Evangelical friend, teacher, and spiritual
confidant Maria Lewis:

I was once told that there was nothing out of myself to prevent my
becoming as eminently holy as St. Paul.... 0 that we could live only
for Eternity, that we could realize its nearness! if you do not
distinctly remember it, do turn to the passage in Young's "Infidel re-
claimed" beginning O vain vain vain all else, Eternity! and do love
the lines for my sake.8

She felt guilty about her delight in nature; although she found much
to admire in Wordsworth, she wished that there could be added to
many of her "favorite morceaux ... an indication of less satisfaction
in terrene objects, a more frequent upturning of the soul's eye"
(Letters I, 34; see also I, 66). She regarded the world of material
things and human beings as a snare for the soul, a temptation away
from that highest good which is to "live and delight in conscious union
with Him who condescends to say, 'Ye shall no more call me Baali
or Lord but ye shall call me Ishi, my husband'" (Letters, I, 46). She
wrote to Miss Lewis:


when I hear of the marrying and giving in marriage that is
constantly being transacted I can only sigh for those who are multi-
plying earthly ties which though powerful enough to detach their
heart and thoughts from heaven, are so brittle as to be liable to be
snapped asunder at every breeze. I must believe that those are
happiest who are considering this life merely a pilgrimage, a scene
calling for diligence and watchfulness, not for repose and amusement.
(Letters, I, 6)

Her striving for a marriage with God precluded any thought of an
earthly love. But she was attracted by men. In May, 1840, she wrote
to Miss Lewis of Joseph Brezzi, her language teacher: "My pilot too
is anything but uninteresting, all external grace and mental power,
but 'Cease ye from man' is engraven on my amulet." A few months
earlier she had adopted a similar posture of renunciation with regard
to another attractive young man whose name we do not know: "the
image now seldom arises in consequence of entire occupation and, I
trust in some degree, desire and prayer to be free from rebelling
against Him whose I am by right, whose I would be by adoption"
(Letters, I, 46, 51; see also I, 48-49, 70).
Marian Evans' religious creed did not demand an entire renunciation
of the world and its pleasures. And she chose renunciation not be-
cause she was naturally ascetic, but because her nature was strongly
sensuous and she was enamoured of this world. She craved the world's
recognition and acclaim; she hungered for enjoyment and love. She
frequently spoke of her pride and ambition, of the difficulty of sub-
duing the flesh and resisting the strong pull of her worldly desires.9
Her religion taught her to regard the present moment as a droplet
in the ocean of eternity, but she wished to fill it with the pleasures of
nature and learning and love. She recognized her spiritual danger and
strove to renounce the world completely, the completeness and in-
tensity of her renunciation being indicative of how well she loved

I do not deny [she wrote Miss Lewis] that there may be many who
can partake with a high degree of zest of all the lawful enjoyments
the world can offer and yet live in near communion with their God;
who can warmly love the creature, and yet be careful that the Creator


maintains his supremity in their hearts; but I confess that in my short
experience and narrow sphere of action I have never been able to
attain this; I find, as Dr. Johnson said respecting his wine, total ab-
stinence much easier than moderation. (Letters, I, 6)

Her first extant poem, written at the age of nineteen, was entitled

As o'er the fields by evening's light I stray,
I hear a still, small whisper--"Come away!
Thou must to this bright, lovely world soon say

The mandate I'd obey, my lamp prepare,
Gird up my garments, give my soul to pray'r,
And say to earth and all that breathe earth's air

She displays no contempt of the world, but she does manifest an ex-
treme of spiritual discipline. In the succeeding stanzas she bids fare-
well to the heavenly bodies, to animate and inanimate nature, to
books, and to the Bible and kindred (which she will meet again in
heaven). The final stanza, speaking of heaven, leaves us in no doubt
of her sensuousness:

There shall my new born senses find new joy,
New sounds, new sights my eyes and ears employ,
Nor fear that word that here brings sad alloy,

The opposing tendencies that produced inner conflict and an un-
balanced response to life in the young Marian Evans are best described
in their relation to each other by the German painter Naumann's
comments on Dorothea Casaubon in Middlemarch. During her
honeymoon stay in Rome, just after her first open clash with Casaubon,
Dorothea was observed by Naumann and Will Ladislaw while she
paused in front of the statue of the reclining Ariadne in the Vatican.
Naumann, struck by her rich beauty in combination with her
Quakerish dress and her posture of "brooding abstraction," remarked


to Will: "What do you think of that for a fine bit of antithesis? .
There lies antique beauty, not corpse-like even in death, but arrested
in the complete contentment of its sensuous perfection: and here
stands beauty in its breathing life, with the consciousness of Christian
centuries in its bosom." A moment later he spoke of Dorothea as
"antique form animated by Christian sentiment-a sort of Christian
Antigone-sensuous force controlled by spiritual passion" (Chap.
XIX).11 Naumann's comments suggest a way of understanding
Marian Evans' consciousness and her historical situation. As G. H.
Lewes wrote to John Blackwood, Dorothea "is more like her creator
than any one else and more so than any other of her creations" (Letters,
V, 308). It is clear to anyone who knows both Dorothea and George
Eliot that George Eliot called upon her recollections of her own
youthful consciousness in creating the Dorothea of the early chapters
of Middlemarch and that part of her picture of the early Dorothea
represents her mature judgment of her own Evangelical personality.
In Dorothea Brooke and Marian Evans we find the same conflict
between sensuous force and spiritual passion, produced by the same
combination of a sensuous nature and a Christian consciousness.
Dorothea, like Marian Evans, sought always for meaning and value;
the here and now must be significantly related to the world at large, to
the past, to the future, and to eternity. Will Ladislaw remonstrated
with her for "her want of sturdy neutral delight in things as they
were" (Chap. XXX). Dorothea's delight in physical activity and in
beauty was strong; but she was a product of the Christian experience
of the world, and she could not rest content in an immediate enjoy-
ment of life. She loved the countryside and horseback riding, but "she
felt that she enjoyed" riding "in a pagan sensuous way, and always
looked forward to renouncing it" (Chap. I). Dorothea could not be
persuaded by Celia to wear some of their mother's jewelry, yet she
responded to the beauty of the gems with an intensity that was un-
known to her worldly sister. The habit of her mind, her "conscious-
ness of Christian centuries," impelled her to seek a larger meaning
in her delight:

"How very beautiful these gems arel It is strange how deeply
colours seem to penetrate one, like scent. I suppose that is the reason


why gems are used as spiritual emblems in the Revelation of St. John.
They look like fragments of heaven." All the while her thought
was trying to justify her delight in the colours by merging them in
her mystic religious joy. (Chap. I)

In both Dorothea and Marian Evans, the consciousness of the
Christian centuries inhibited a free appreciation of art. On the subject
of novel reading, Marian wrote to Maria Lewis: "The weapons of
the Christian warfare were never sharpened at the forge of romance.
... For my part I am ready to sit down and weep at the impossibility
of my understanding or barely knowing even a fraction of the sum
of objects that present themselves for our contemplation in books and
in life. Have I then any time to spend on things that never existed?"
(Letters, I, 23)12 Dorothea complained to Will Ladislaw that "all
this immense expense of art, that seems somehow to lie outside life
and make it no better for the world, pains one" (Chap. XXII).
Dorothea's limited, narrowly directed education was partly responsible
for her inability to see the value of art; but no amount of academic
instruction in the arts could have enabled Dorothea to delight in the
representation of reality for its own sake. Her sensuous force was
dominated by her spiritual passion. Had she become conscious of the
statue in front of her as she stood brooding in the Vatican she would
have been disturbed by its "antique beauty arrested in the com-
plete contentment of its sensuous perfection."
Dorothea's response to life was unbalanced; her consuming search
for personal and social significance and her pervading concern for
the ends of life made her humorless and blind to much of the life
around her. Though her nature was capable of intense sensuous
pleasure, as is evidenced by her love of riding and her response to the
gems, she practiced continual self-denial and self-restraint; she could
not yield herself up to the experience of the moment. Her response
to life lacked spontaneity. For all her high-mindedness and earnest-
ness-indeed, because of them-Dorothea appears to us in the early
chapters of Middlemarch as a slightly ludicrous and unappealingly
Purtanic figure.
The conflict in Marian Evans between sensuous force and spiritual
passion, which makes her appear such an uneasy, unattractive figure


through the first 120 pages of her letters, was partially resolved by
her break with Christianity. If she had remained a Christian she
would never have become a novelist; if she had never been a Christian
her art would not have been so strongly moralistic. After the break
with Christianity at the end of 1841 her sensuous force and spiritual
passion were both directed towards the earthly and the human; she
was now able to feel spontaneous delight in what she had formerly
felt compelled to renounce. In 1847 she wrote to Sara Hennell of her
trip to the Isle of Wight: "I heartily wish you had been with me to see
all the beauties which have gladdened my soul and made me feel that
this earth is as good a heaven as I ought to dream of" (Letters, I, 239).
She experienced a joyous sense of liberation, which she expressed in
a letter written in August 1842, to Francis Watts, a clergyman whom
her pious neighbors the Sibrees had sent to bring her back into the
I confess to you that I feel it an inexpressible relief to be freed from
the apprehension of what Finney well describes, that at each moment
I tread on chords that will vibrate for weal or woe to all eternity. I
could shed tears of joy to believe that in this lovely world I may lie
on the grass and ruminate on possibilities without dreading lest my
conclusions should be ever-lastingly fatal. It seems to me that the
awful anticipations entailed by a reception of all the dogmas in the
New Testament operate unfavourably on moral beauty by disturbing
that spontaneity, that choice of the good for its own sake, that answers
my ideal. (Letters, I, 143-144)

Marian Evans gained, then, both a moral liberation-which was
to create as many problems as it solved-and that freedom to take a
sturdy neutral delight in things as they are which is the foundation of
her realistic art. The strong sensuousness of her nature was now free
to express itself. That it had been present before her break with
Christianity is clearly demonstrated by a letter written in March 1841,
probably to Martha Jackson, headed "Letters [sic] from a Town
Mouse to a Country Mouse." The writer, the town mouse, is imagin-
ing "that we are strolling together round your five acres":

Towzer's nose pushes itself against my fingers, and then my fingers
wander about his rough coat as I write. I am in the country, without


the trouble of packing up: I see the autumn berries, I snuff the pecul-
iar freshness of the autumn air between the hedge rows in the green
lane, and the new soil the plough is turning over in the next field; or
I wrap my cloak about me and enjoy the December hoar frost that
defines every lingering brown leaf on the brambles or the young oaks;
or I please myself in detecting the very earliest spring buds, and the
delicate hints of colour on the bough tips; or I hear the swirl of the
scythe as I watch the delicate grasses trembling under the eager flight
and restless alighting of the humming insects; or I stand entranced
before the glory of form and colour in the ripe full-eared corn field.
(Letters, I, 85-86)

It must be kept in mind, however, that while Marian Evans' break
with Christianity resulted in a moral liberation that was also a freeing
of her sensuous force, it did not diminish her desire to experience life
religiously. The letter to Francis Watts indicates the prevailing moral
bias of her thought. She abandoned the dogmas of Christianity, but
she could not abandon the Christian habit of mind, "the consciousness
of Christian centuries in her bosom," that had become an integral
part of her being. Her Christian consciousness remained with her all
her life, shaping the way in which she addressed herself to reality.

After her break with Christianity, Marian Evans did not immedi-
ately arrive at the purely secular humanism that characterizes her
mature thought and art. Nor did she go from a Christian universe
in which every thought and action vibrated "for weal or woe to all
eternity" to a meaningless universe in which life is to be experienced
blindly and disconnectedly from moment to moment. From her
readings in such writers as Wordsworth, Carlyle, Spinoza, Bray, and
Hennell, she derived a pantheism which permitted her to retain many
of her old values despite her rejection of the authority of the Bible.
The Higher Criticism of Hennell and Strauss, while it attacked
orthodox conceptions of Christianity, attempted to show that the
Scriptures, despite their lack of historical authority, are a repository of
eternal spiritual truths. Christ remained an object of veneration: for
Hennell he was the hero endowed with unclouded right reason, and
for Strauss he bodied forth the profoundest teaching of the Hegelian


philosophy in that he symbolized the ultimate union of matter and
spirit, phenomenal and noumenal, man and God.
Both Spinoza, whose Tractatus Theologico-Politicus Marian Evans
began to translate in March 1843, and Charles Christian Hennell,
whose Inquiry Concerning the Origin of Christianity was the im-
mediate cause of her rejection of Christianity, replaced theology with
metaphysics by affirming the inseparability of God from his creation.
God is nature; whatever is, is one. He is immanent in the laws of
nature and in the rational faculties of man. Everything that exists is
fraught with divine significance. The pantheism of Spinoza and
Hennell, along with the ideas propounded in Charles Bray's The
Philosophy of Necessity (1841), enabled Marian Evans to accept the
determinism of science without sacrificing her belief that a spiritual
principle governs the universe. God exists. He is revealed to man not
miraculously through a special collection of writings but through
man's own mind contemplating itself and the course of nature.18 Her
break with Christianity did not, then, involve a complete revolution
in her world view. Although some of her beliefs underwent radical
change, many were simply cast into a new form.
Hennell concluded his Inquiry (1838) with a brief exposition of the
new religion that was to supplant and improve upon the old, and
in Christian Theism (1839) he developed his ideas more fully. In
April 1842, Marian Evans wrote to Francis Watts: "I feel with
Coleridge that, the notion of Revelation abandoned, there is ever a
tendency towards Pantheism, and the personality of the Deity is not
to be maintained quite satisfactorily apart from Christianity" (Letters,
I, 136). Hennell's concern, too, in Christian Theism was to speculate
"on the direction which the religious sentiments of men may be ex-
pected to take after the relinquishment of their belief in miraculous
revelations." According to him, man will come to see nature as the
source of his truth and the object of his veneration. Man's hope lies
in the fact that nature's God-given law is progress, a movement
towards that kingdom of heaven on earth that was at the center of
Christ's teachings (hence Christian theism). God reveals himself
and his purposes for man through nature: ". the hieroglyphics
are ineffaceable; the tablet is continually within view; time, then,
must ever bring men nearer to Nature's great revelation, the full


knowledge of God." "Nature presents us with a magnificent and
harmonious pattern. .... The pattern makes its own declaration of a
designing mind. .. ." Not only in the physical universe, but also in
man, especially in the great man, do we find revealed the nature and
purpose of the Deity. The universe has purpose and direction, and,
like its maker, it is beneficent to man. The "Soul of the World" is "a
principle bearing close relationship to man's heart, and beaming forth
through all material things to the intellectual eye." Questions con-
cerning happiness, the grounds of ethical action, and the meaning and
purpose of life are answered by Nature: "The Natural Consequences
of actions become the Scripture of God's will concerning the
conduct of man." It is at once man's purpose and salvation (happiness)
to put himself in harmony with the will of God as it is revealed in
the constitution of human and physical nature.14
Marian Evans must have greeted Hennell's reasoning eagerly, for
now she could at once be liberated from the fears and restrictions of
her Evangelicism and remain in possession of a belief that gave
significance to life.1" Pantheism, by identifying the material with the
spiritual, the natural with the supernatural, permitted the intimate
combination of sensuous force and spiritual passion, of realism and
moralism. Thing and value, sensuous delight and moral relation were
one. Thus, she wrote to Mrs. Pears, in March 1842:

There are externals that I could ill part with--the deep, blue,
glorious heavens, bending as they do over all, presenting the same
arch, emblem of a truer omnipresence, wherever we may be chased,
and all the sweet, peace-breathing sights and sounds of this lovely
Earth. These, and the thoughts of the good and great are an inex-
haustible world of delights, and the felt desire to be one in will and
design with the Great Mind that has laid open to us these treasures is
the Sun that warms and fructifies it. (Letters, I, 133)

The reconciliation of sensuous force and spiritual passion which
pantheism provided is even more clearly indicated in her letter to
Martha Jackson in December, 1841, during or just after her intensive
study of the Bible and her reading of Hennell. She wished that there
were some way in which she could hasten the acquisition of knowl-
edge, to "make up for girlish miseducation and idleness":


This is the fool's hectic of wishing, which must give place to a deter-
mination in the view of all past truant-playing, to enjoy and improve
to the utmost the treasures of earth, air, and sky through the rest of
our journey. This is true gratitude and its last expression. This beauti-
ful world is given to us children of men as a trial-field indeed, a gym-
nasium wherein temperance and self-government are both means and
ends, but withal as an Eden to dress and to keep with songs of adora-
tion to the Giver. Each little plant, the very lichens that clothe the
dead boughs, are lovely and useful, and a link that would be missed
in the chain of being. And so we, dear Martha, have our place of use-
fulness and fitness, and cannot fail if we are true to the indications of
His will who has originated and sustains our existence to be harmoniz-
ing notes in the great chorus of praise ever ascending from every part
of the universe. (Letters, I, 123)

It is difficult to say exactly how long Marian Evans was a pantheist.
Her letters through April 1849 contain scattered pantheistic utter-
ances.16 In February 1849, she wrote to John Sibree: ". to me even
the works of our own Stanfield and Roberts and Creswick [landscape
painters] bring a whole world of thought and bliss--'a sense of some-
thing far more deeply interfused.' The ocean and the sky and the
everlasting hills are spirit to me, and they will never be robbed of their
sublimity" (Letters, I, 248). And in the following month she asked
him: "Is not the universe itself a perpetual utterance of the One
Being?" (Letters, I, 253.)
By 1852, and probably before, she had rejected pantheism. In a letter
of July 1852, to John Chapman, she expressed her opposition to the
school of thought "that looks on manhood as a type of the godhead
and on Jesus as the Ideal Man" and contended that "a nobler presenta-
tion of humanity has yet to be given in resignation to individual
nothingness, than could ever be shown of a being who believes in the
phantasmagoria of hope unsustained by reason" (Letters, II, 48-49).
Instrumental in her rejection of pantheism, of course, was her contact
with the positivistic philosophies of Comte, Mill, Spencer, Feuerbach,
and Lewes. In March and April of 1849 she still spoke of "the divine-
human soul" and "the living soul-the breath of God within us"
(Letters, I, 278, 280). Five years later, in the "Literature" column of


the Leader, she was engaged in defending the materialist position
against the attacks of the spiritualists. Her article is not easily accessible
and is worth quoting at length:

In an article on Locke in the Edinburgh Review the writer, while
vindicating Locke from what he calls a "gross physiological bias,"
admits that there is a "tang of materialism" in him, and that there is
too much truth in the accusation that "his philosophy smells of the
earth, earthy." Of course, "gross materialist" and grovellingg material-
ism" come to the lips or the pen of "lofty spiritualists" as inevitably
as the "Venerable Bede" or the "admirable Crichton;" but those .
who decline to accept any conclusions drawn from definitions of the
"immaterial," who find no reason to think contemptuously of matter,
and who hold that the "smell of the earth" is a very wholesome smell
for human nostrils, may very fairly protest against this opprobrious
christening as a begging of the question. To the theory that the mind
of man has some kindred with that of the brutes, the spiritualist says,
with the Mormon prophet, "The very idea lessens man in my estima-
tion. I know better"; but cogent as this reasoning may be, the man of
"gross physiological bias" may reply that in his estimation this theory
does not lessen man He may say that the ill-name grovellingg" is
most appropriately applied to what narrows sympathy and admiration,
and that in elevating the material and the earthly to the height of his
loving reverence he is so much the farther from that negative condi-
tion,-that to raise "a mortal to the skies" evidences the same love of
the angelic as to bring "an angel down."17

As this passage indicates, the forces which led to Marian Evans'
abandonment of the old creed provided her at the same time with a
basis for a new system of values. But the rejection of pantheism was
a more serious and a more radical step than the break with Christi-
anity-intellectually, if not psychologically-for there was no ready-
made explanation of the universe and man's relation to it to take the
place of pantheism as pantheism had taken the place of Christianity.
The new philosophies provided facts about the human condition and
methods of discovery and verification; but they were less successful
in answering questions of meaning, end, and value, in giving man a
sense of religious orientation in the cosmos.


The basic problem that confronted the mature George Eliot first
took shape with her rejection of pantheism. Its nature was determined
not only by the loss of old values but also by the demand of her
realism for objectivity, for irreducible stubborn facts. I have already
suggested the sources of her realism; its epistemological basis I shall
discuss in Chapter V. Here I shall be concerned with her realism as
it was a habit of mind and a manifestation of the positivistic spirit
of the age.
Even when truth clashes with deeply held beliefs, George Eliot felt,
or is offensive to the desires of the ego, it must.be faced and accepted.
"It seems to me pre-eminently desirable," she wrote to Mrs. Peter
Taylor, "that we should learn not to make our personal comfort a
standard of truth" (Letters, IV, 367). George Eliot was often upset
when the true state of affairs, even though painful, was kept from
her. Upon hearing belatedly of the death of a mutual friend, she
wrote to Sara Hennell: "I think you and I are alike in this, that we
can get no good out of pretended comforts, which are the devices of
self-love, but would rather, in spite of pain, grow into endurance of
all naked truths" (Letters, IV, 201).
In his manuscript notebook, entitled "Thoughts of G. H. Lewes,"
Lewes expressed very well what was essentially George Eliot's attitude:

So little do men care for Truth, & so much for Flattery, that false
doctrines are urged on our acceptance solely on the ground of their
flattery of our self-love or our desires. When Science proved that man
was organized like animals, and that his mental functions were de-
pendent on his bodily structure, the proof was rejected not because it
was seen to be invalid, but because it "degraded man to the level of
the brute."18

Lewes elaborated upon this idea, again in a way that is completely
parallel to George Eliot's position, in his editorial "Causeries" column
in the Fortnightly Review:

The other day a critic avowed his opposition to Mr. John Mill's philos-
ophy on the ground of its being "dreary and cheerless." This is indeed


a common weakness. While every one loudly proclaims his earnest
desire to arrive at the truth, many reject the truth if they imagine it is
likely to be unpleasant. The fact is, truth is only the object of the
intellect; and most men argue as much from the data of their feelings,
as from the data of logic. They wish to ascertain what is, but they
wish the result to accord with their preconception of what ought to
be. Instead of loyally submitting their minds to the conclusions of re-
search, they affix a condition to their submission, and withhold assent
unless the conclusion is agreeable. Thus it is that certain theories are
offered to us under the tempting guise of being lofty or consoling; and
against others we are solemnly warned as being cheerless and degrad-
ing; whether they are true or false seems of much less moment; or
rather their truth and falsehood are supposed to be involved in the
assumption of their loftiness and cheerfulness. The answer to this is
twofold. The facts of the universe have their own order, and this
order, which we desire to ascertain, is quite irrespective of our feel-
ings. Upon what ground can we claim that truth shall be cheerful and
consolatory? and however we may wish the truth to be pleasant to us,
how will our wishes affect the actual order of things? Suppose that
the truth is such as rudely to shake our preconceptions, and painfully
to press upon our sensibilities-as indeed truth often does-shall we
not rather resign ourselves to this necessity, and shall we not be
stronger from our clearer vision and our more patient resignation?19

Lewes' remarks constitute a classic expression and defense of the
realistic spirit of the age.
George Eliot's demand for objectivity was more than a philosophic
attitude brought into being by her contact with positivism; to a cer-
tain extent, it was an involuntary habit of mind, a part of her nature.
(Like all of us, of course, she had a number of things about which
she could not be objective and which she did not wish to face.) As
we have seen, she could not bear to have news of suffering concealed
from her. In 1862 she wrote to Mme. Bodichon:

Miss Allen, however, kept back the sad part of the news-poor Ellen's
illness, which I would rather have known; for in this as in all other
cases, I think the highest and best thing is rather to suffer with real /
suffering than to be happy in the imagination of an unreal good. I
would rather know that the beings I love are in some trouble and


suffer because of it, even though I can't help them, than be fancying
them happy when they are not so, and making myself comfortable on
the strength of this false belief. And so I am impatient of all ignorance
and concealment: I don't say, "that is wise" but simply "that is my
nature." (Letters, IV, 13)

George Eliot's unflinching examination of the human lot often gave
rise to melancholy and pessimism. She consoled Mrs. Charles Bray
on the death of her adopted child Nelly (1865) by asserting her belief
that it is a blessing, a "salvation," to die young:

Life, though a good to men on the whole, is a doubtful good to many,
and to some not a good at all. To my thought it is a source of constant
mental distortion to make the denial of this a part of religion, to go on
pretending things are better than they are. (Letters, IV, 183)

There is seldom in George Eliot's work a glossing over of the hard-
ness of the human condition in order to arrive at desired solutions to
human problems. There is no facile optimism rearranging the nature
of things to suit its own purposes. The facing of facts is perhaps the
primary quality of her realism.
One of the clearest expressions of her concept of objectivity occurs
in the semi-autobiographical first chapter of The Impressions of
Theophrastus Such. Theophrastus is a sensitive, ineffectual man whose
physical peculiarity and unattractiveness prevent him from receiving
his due recognition in an unjust world. As a result, he early begins
"to seek for some consoling point of view some comfortable
fanaticism which might supply the needed self-satisfaction." He
fastens on to the doctrine of compensation, but ultimately rejects it
because, while it allows him to shape the undefined future after his
own desires, it obviously cannot apply to the "multitude with as bad
a share as mine, who, instead of getting their corresponding compen-
sation, were getting beyond the reach of it in old age":

I dropped a form of consolation which seemed to be encouraging
me in the persuasion that my discontent was the chief evil in the
world, and my benefit the soul of good in that evil. May there not be
at least a partial release from the imprisoning verdict that a man's


philosophy is the formula of his personality? In certain branches of
science we can ascertain our personal equation, the measure of differ-
ence between our own judgments and an average standard: may there
not be some corresponding correction of our personal partialities in
moral theorising? ... is there no remedy or corrective for that inward
squint which consists in a dissatisfied egoism or other want of mental
balance? In my conscience I saw that the bias of personal discontent
was just as misleading and odious as the bias of self-satisfaction.
Whether we look through the rose-coloured glass or the indigo, we are
equally far from the hues which the healthy human eye beholds in
heaven above and earth below. I began to dread ways of consoling
which were really a flattering of native illusions, to watch with
peculiar alarm lest what I called my philosophic estimate of the
human lot in general, should be a mere prose lyric expressing my own
pain and consequent bad temper. The standing-ground worth striving
after seemed to be some Delectable Mountain, whence I could see
things in proportions as little as possible determined by that self-
partiality which certainly plays a necessary part in our bodily suste-
nance, but has a starving effect on the mind .

Objectivity-seeing the external world as it is in fact rather than as
we wish it to be-is a leading motif in George Eliot's thought and art.
Throughout her life, by means of her art, she sought to discover
what in fact the human condition is. She was searching for an objec-
tive philosophy of action and values, the conditions of which Theo-
phrastus clearly describes. The novel, as she practiced it, was an ex-
ercise in objectivity; the position she adopted towards her characters,
as omniscient narrator, exactly corresponds to Theophrastus' Delectable
Mountain. She strove for an objective but "passionately interested
contemplation" of life, a combination of sympathetic insight and
Objectivity, however, has its dangers. The egoist, the purely sub-
jective man, exalts his selfhood by projecting it outward until it consti-
tutes the cosmos; but in doing this he isolates himself from the true
external world and completely loses contact with it. When the outer
world impinges upon him, shattering the illusion, he is apt to be
bewildered or destroyed, reduced to physical or psychic nothingness.
The purely objective man, on the other hand, by detaching himself


from his private lot and identifying himself completely with the non-
self, is in danger of losing his selfhood, of dissolving his ego, and thus
of also being reduced to nothingness. Both the complete egoist and the
completely objective man fail as social beings, for they cannot es-
tablish relations with their fellow men, the one because he is entirely
self-enclosed and the other because he has no self with which to relate.
There must be a reconciliation, therefore, between objectivity and
subjectivity, just as there must be a reconciliation between realism and
moralism. Theophrastus states the problem for us:

I am really at the point of finding that this world would be worth
living in without any lot of one's own. Is it not possible for me to
enjoy the scenery of the earth without saying to myself, I have a
cabbage-garden in it? But this sounds like the lunacy of fancying
oneself everybody else and being unable to play one's own part de-
cently-another form of the disloyal attempt to be independent of the
common lot, and to live without a sharing of pain.
Perhaps I have made self-betrayals enough already to show that I
have not arrived at that non-human independence.

The problem of adjusting the relation between objectivity and sub-
jectivity in the way in which one addresses the world becomes, then,
the problem of defining the self. Viewing the matter from a slightly
different but complementary point of view, the world must be seen
neither as completely other, alien to the self (an annihilating experi-
ence), nor as entirely identical with the self, a reflection of self. The
latter view provides a religious orientation which is illusory, and the
former makes a religious orientation impossible.
George Eliot placed her major emphasis, however, upon the need
for objectivity. She believed that man is born a subjective creature and
that objectivity is developed only through the painful education of
experience. Those of her characters who yearn for a religious orienta-
tion in the cosmos often vainly seek satisfaction through illusion. Her
novels are filled with egoists, with characters whose immaturity or
desire to escape frustration leads them to confuse the internal and
the external. Their divorce from external reality always results in
their failure to find the satisfaction they are seeking, and it usually
brings pain to others. In this respect George Eliot's insistence on ob-


jectivity is a product of her moralism. Subjectivity is destructive of
morality; the egoist is as alien to his fellows as the non-moral, in-
different physical universe, and he causes them the same anguish.
George Eliot's realistic facing of the evils and limitations which
were often explained away by traditional philosophy and religion
touched her view of life with a melancholy pessimism; but she was
not without the optimistic belief, so characteristic of her age, that
painful truth would eventually lead man to a higher life and a nobler
religion than any he had known. "I have faith," she wrote in 1860 to
Mme. Bodichon, "in the working-out of higher possibilities than the
Catholic or any other church has presented, and those who have
strength to wait and endure, are bound to accept no formula which
their whole souls-their intellect as well as their emotions-do not
embrace with entire reverence. The highest 'calling and election' is
to do without opium and live through all our pain with conscious,
clear-eyed endurance" (Letters, III, 366).

After her rejection of Christianity Marian Evans still lived in a
universe in which the natural and the supernatural orders interpene-
trated each other; and although she no longer believed in personal
immortality, she still felt that man's spiritual nature linked him to
God. Her insistence on human mortality was very important, of
course, for it was the basis of her new humanistic approach to life; it
turned her attention from heaven and eternity to man's now all im-
portant earthly existence, and it liberated her sensuous force from
the restraints which had been imposed by her otherworldly spiritual
passion. But her new belief harmonized in many essentials with the
one she had abandoned. By endowing all existence with a divine
presence and purpose, pantheism satisfied her need for a sense of
religious orientation in the cosmos. When she rejected pantheism,
however, she found herself in a universe that was unrelated to any
value-giving supernatural order. The old questions of purpose and
value had to be grappled with all over again, and there was nothing
built into the order of things to assure that there were any answers.
The old systematic explanations of human life were gone, and there


was no new systematic explanation, despite the efforts of Comte and
Spencer, to take their place.
Marian Evans' mental condition in the early 1850's had much in
common with that of the inexperienced Dorothea Brooke; both had
a consciousness of Christian centuries in their bosoms but had no
creed by which their consciousness could be satisfied. Dorothea has
the Puritan's habit of incessant introspection and looking for signs;
but the Puritan knew, as she does not, how to interpret his experi-
ence. Because she lacks a binding theory of life Dorothea has a per-
petual fear that she may not be justified in her beliefs and actions.
Plagued by uncertainty, she feels herself a slave to her own ignorance
and has a militant desire for knowledge (see Chap. VII). The tenor
of her mind is Christian, but in essence she is modern man looking
for a creed where there is none to be found. In addition to being the
product of centuries of Christian consciousness, Dorothea is, like her
creator, also the product of an age basically secular in its orientation,
an age of intellectual and social fragmentation. In Dorothea, George
Eliot dramatized her own quest for values.
Her rejection of the old creeds left George Eliot with a need of
new consolations for the hardship and injustice of the human lot.
Both Christianity and pantheism had provided consolation for mis-
fortune and apparent injustice through their conception of the uni-
verse as providentially ordered. Christianity, in addition, offered
eternal bliss through belief in a God who had suffered so that man
could be saved. With these consolations gone, what was to sustain
man through a painful existence (his only one) in a blind, indifferent
universe? Actually, George Eliot sought not consolations, but a means
of reconciling man to the realities of his lot. She wrote to Sara Hen-
nell: ". .it seems to me that the-conception of religion as chiefly
valuable for the personal consolations that may be extracted from it,
is among the most active sources of falsity. The test of a higher re-
ligion might be, that it should enable the believer to do without the
consolations which his egoism would demand" (Letters, V, 68-69).
The difficulty, the tragedy, of the human lot lies, in George Eliot's
view, chiefly in the disparity between the inward and the outward,
in the "irreparable collision between the individual and the general."
"Tragedy consists," she argued, "in the terrible difficulty" of the


"adjustment of our individual needs to the dire necessities of our
lot."20 She attributed the timelessness of Greek tragedy to its insistence
upon the inevitability and universality of the collision between the
individual and the general: "They had the same essential elements
of life presented to them as we have, and their art symbolized these
in grand schematic forms. The Prometheus represents the ineffectual
struggle to redeem the small and miserable race of man, against the
stronger adverse ordinances that govern the frame of things with a
triumphant power" (Cross's Life, III, 37).
But she did not feel that man must accept the painful disparity be-
tween wish and reality with blind submission. Whereas the traditional
religions had taught complete submission to the will of God and the
vanity or sinfulness of attempting to alter the existing order, the
positivist, with his Comtian motto of "resignation and activity," strove
to resign himself to the unalterable and to mitigate or eliminate acci-
dental evils. Thus, in addition to seeking a means of reconciling man
to his fate, she hoped to see how the human condition could be
The need for a way to accept and endure the painful disparity be-
tween the inward and the outward is vividly depicted in the plight
of Maggie Tulliver in The Mill on the Floss. Although her nature
had always been in disharmony with her environment, Maggie be-
came painfully aware of the disparity between her inner impulses and
outer facts only after the illness and financial ruin of her father, when
she could no longer live in dream worlds and when all other opiates
were denied her. She was desperately in need of succor, of some way
of conceiving life which would give her soul a sense of being at home
in the world and would make the pain of existence bearable. The
pleasures of nature, of music, of family affection were gone. Her
school books "were all barren of comfort" and "so were the hard dry
questions on Christian Doctrine: There was no flavour in them-no
strength." Maggie "wanted some explanation of this hard, real life
... : she wanted some key that would enable her to understand, and,
in understanding, endure, the heavy weight that had fallen on her
young heart" (Book IV, Chap. III). "To the usual precocity of the
girl," Maggie "added that early experience of struggle, of conflict
between inward impulse and outward fact, which is the lot of every


imaginative and passionate nature" (Book IV, Chap. II). "No
wonder," George Eliot reflected, "when there is this contrast between
the outward and the inward, that painful collisions come of it (Book
III, Chap. V).
Both Maggie Tulliver and Dorothea Brooke are eager, passionate
creatures whose natures are oppressed by the indifference, and some-
times the hostility, of external reality. Their plight typifies George
Eliot's conception of human destiny; her novels show men and women
grappling with the circumstances of their lives, seeking ways to escape
frustration and despair, searching for a home for themselves in the
world. Many of her characters do not experience the central problem
of human existence-the "contrast between the outward and the in-
ward"-in the same ways as Maggie and Dorothea; but it is there,
built into the nature of things, for all.
George Eliot devoted the years of her maturity, after her rejection
of pantheism, to the reconciliation of realism and moralism. She
sought, for both personal and social reasons, to satisfy the demands of
her Christian consciousness by arriving at a conception of life which
would endow it with meaning and value; she searched for a way to
reconcile man to the pain which is an inevitable consequence of his
unequal struggle with the forces outside himself; and she strove to
meliorate the harshness of life by reducing the disparity between the
inward and the outward. Her problem was created by the fact that
her Christian consciousness was severed from its historical sources by
her adherence to the methods and data of realism. The forces of
realism, however, played a dual role in her mental development; they
both created her problems and contributed to their solution. Her con-
ception of life was never in suspension; she constantly developed new
points of view in the process of discarding the old ones. Her rejection
of Christianity and pantheism was brought about by her knowledge
of the cosmological and epistemological tenets of positive science; and,
as the following chapters will show, the cosmology and epistemology
of science were instrumental in leading George Eliot to a morality
which, for her, met the needs of the heart and yet was independent
of supernatural sources and sanctions.


With her abandonment of pantheism George Eliot turned to em-
piricism for an understanding of man, nature, and society. From the
positive philosophies of Auguste Comte, John Stuart Mill, Herbert
Spencer, George Henry Lewes, and Ludwig Feuerbach, she derived
the premises upon which her aesthetic theory, her representation of
life, and her understanding of moral and religious phenomena are
based. The principles of the positivistic cosmology and epistemology
constitute the most general laws of her fictional worlds; they are the
presuppositions which govern every phase of her thought.
In her article on W. E. H. Lecky's History of Rationalism, George
Eliot spoke of the basic tenet of the scientific cosmology--"the great
conception of universal regular sequence, without partiality and with-
out caprice"--as "the conception which is the most potent force at
work in the modification of our faith, and of the practical form given
to our sentiments."' She was quick to see the moral implications of
the scientific cosmology. In her review of Mackay's The Progress of
the Intellect, she complained that the notion of undeviating law "is
still perversely ignored in our social organization, our ethics and our
religion." She felt that the regularity of nature is a boon to man, for
it alone can "give value to experience and render education in the


true sense possible." With man's new knowledge comes a new power
which promises a continual improvement in the human condition.
Further, the conception of invariability of sequence, which in the
moral sphere is the "inexorable law of consequences," leads us to see
the experience of past ages as part of the "education of the race":
"every mistake, every absurdity into which poor human nature has
fallen, may be looked on as an experiment of which we may reap the
George Eliot was aware that nature's orderliness also has its darker
issues. The order of things can be neither denied nor resisted without
disastrous consequences; but submission to it will not necessarily
avert calamity or suffering. The idea of a deity who orders phenomena
for the benefit of the species or the individual, who responds to men's
prayers, or who compensates for injustice is a waking dream of the
human mind. There is no reprieve from death, and there is no for-
giveness of sins; causes are invariably followed by their effects, and
once a deed is done it is ineradicable. Man's desire for absolute, im-
mediate power over the course of things can never be fulfilled. But
she felt that once man devotes himself to the study of things as they
are, his position is far from hopeless. The disparity between the inner
and the outer can never be eliminated, but it can be diminished by
scientific knowledge.
The epistemology of positivism was no less important for George
Eliot than its cosmology. A satisfactory relation to external reality is
impossible, she felt, without an accurate conception of how things are
ordered. Felix Holt tells the workingmen that "the way to get rid of
folly is to get rid of vain expectations, and of thoughts that don't agree
with the nature of things" (Chap. XXX). In her review of Ruskin's
Modern Painters, Vol. III, George Eliot advocated the application of
science's objective approach to reality to every phase of life:
The truth of infinite value that he teaches is realism-the doctrine
that all truth and beauty are to be attained by a humble and faithful
study of nature, and not by substituting vague forms, bred by imagina-
tion on the mists of feeling, in place of definite, substantial reality.
The thorough acceptance of this doctrine would remould our life; and
he who teaches its application to any one department of human activ-
ity with such power as Mr. Ruskin's, is a prophet for his generation.3


There is instance after instance, in her novels, of worldly failure and
of moral error and frustration resulting from thoughts that don't
agree with the nature of things.
George Eliot employed her novels as a means of envisioning the
implications for human existence of the order of things and of the
subjective and objective approaches to reality. As the next several
chapters will show, her vision of human nature, the human condition,
and human values was largely shaped by the cosmology, sociology,
and psychology of science. All of her characters can be classified, and
understood, in terms of their tendency towards egoism or objectivity.
The novel was the means by which she experimentally brought into
contact the dispassionate order of things and the passionate subjec-
tivity of human beings in an effort to discover their true relation to
each other and to explore the possibilities of a reconciliation between

The primary tenets of the positive cosmology were: (1) that all
phenomena manifest the law of causation, and (2) that change results
from the interaction of the laws of the entities involved. These con-
ceptions illuminated every area of human inquiry, not only physical
science, but also the sciences of biology, psychology, and sociology,
and, through them, moral theory.
The Law of Causation, according to Mill, "is but the familiar truth,
that invariability of succession is found by observation to obtain be-
tween every fact in nature and some other fact which has preceded
it."4 The great aim of the nineteenth-century positivists was to extend
the realm of nature and to make science coextensive with it by demon-
strating that social and psychic phenomena, which had hitherto been
explained by metaphysical speculation, are subject to the universal law
of natural causation. That which is beyond nature, if there is anything,
is completely unknowable, and speculation about it and about the
nature of things in themselves is fruitless. The primary purpose of
Comte's Cours de Philosophie Positive was to make all of our funda-
mental conceptions homogeneous by establishing the science of social
physics.5 And in the concluding section of his Logic ("On the Logic
of the Moral Sciences"), Mill endeavored to answer the question


"which the decay of old opinions, and the agitation that disturbs
European society to its inmost depths" had rendered supremely im-
portant: namely,

Whether moral and social phenomena are really exceptions to the gen-
eral certainty and uniformity of the course of nature; and how far the
methods by which so many of the laws of the physical world have
been numbered among truths irrevocably acquired and universally
assented to, can be made instrumental to the formation of a similar
body of received doctrine in moral and political science. (Logic, p. v)

Man was no longer seen to be separate from nature; he is entirely
a part of it, and all of his ideas and institutions are the result of
natural processes. By studying their history and the conditions under
which they occur, we can begin to understand, control, and predict
social and psychic phenomena.
Change results from the interaction of the laws of the entities in-
volved. The positivists rejected any conception of the laws of nature
as imposed. Many theologians and metaphysicians contended that
God had imposed laws upon nature, making that orderly and har-
monious which would otherwise be chaotic. Metaphysicians held, as
G. H. Lewes put it, that law has "not only an objective existence in
the phenomena, but an objective existence independent of the phe-
nomena; that Law is independent of the phenomena which it
rules."6 Thus, laws are not the manifestations of phenomena, but
phenomena are manifestations of the spiritual laws which govern
them. For the positivists, on the other hand, the laws of nature are
not separable from the phenomena which manifest them. Lewes
argued that a law expresses "the observed series of positions. It is the
process of phenomena, not an agent apart from them, not an agency
determining them, but simply the ideal summation of their position"
(PLM, I, 283). To make a law an entity in itself is to commit the
error of reifying abstractions. There is no such thing as a deviation
from the laws of nature: the process is the law. Nature has an overall
order, in the sense that it frequently repeats itself, because identical
conditions often recur.
The metaphysical tradition frequently presented a universe in which


each object is causally independent of all other objects. Each object
was endowed with its own nature by God, and, like Leibnitz's
windowless monads, it could enter into relation with other objects
only through a supernatural agency. The Cartesians, as Mill pointed
out, "affirmed it to be impossible that a material and a mental fact
could be causes of one another. They regarded them as mere Occasions
on which the real agent, God, thought fit to exert his power as a
Cause." The impossibility of conceiving mutual action between mind
and matter led, Mill claims, to a denial of the possibility of action of
matter upon matter: "The deus ex machine was ultimately called in
to produce a spark on the occasion of a flint and steel coming together,
or to break an egg on the occasion its falling on the ground" (Logic,
p. 261).
The positivists, on the other hand, held that objects have direct con-
tact with each other; that it is this contact which produces phenomena;
and, very important, that the contact between objects results in a
change in their physio-chemical properties or laws. The results of their
interactions are a consequence of their laws, and their laws are, to a
large degree, the embodied history of their previous interactions.
Change is gradual, but it may result in the emergence of novelty. The
present state of the universe is to be explained not in terms of an
imposed divine plan, but by the concept of evolution. Lewes wrote:
"Final causes are said to have made things for each other, when in
point of fact, the things were evolved, one out of the other, or both
out of a common ground."7
Natural sequences are the product not of noumenal agencies, nor
simply of the direct action of one thing upon another, but of the
interaction of the causes (i.e., groups of relations or properties) which
constitute them. When a change occurs in an object, the object itself
is not merely the theater of the change, but one of its causes. Accord-
ing to Mill, "things are never more active than in the production of
those phenomena in which they are said to be acted upon .. patients
are always agents; in a great proportion, indeed, of all natural phe-
nomena, they are so to such a degree as to react forcibly on the causes
which acted upon them" (Logic, p. 242). It is impossible to explain
why phenomena are determined by the laws of the objects which
enter into them, but experience shows that this is and has been the


case and is our warrant for believing that nature will continue to
operate in this manner. The law of causation is simply a brute fact.
The positivistic explanation of the why of things provides man with
a power over nature which he can use to satisfy the desires of his
heart, but it cannot satisfy his moral urge for a meaning in the order
of things. Things are what they are. And they are what they are be-
cause they are what they are: because they have been what they have
been, because they have been acted upon by what has acted upon
them, because they act in accordance with their laws, their natures.
The universe as a whole is orderly because the behavior of each of
its components is determined by its properties. What are its properties?
Its properties are its relations to other entities and to our consciousness;
its properties are identical with its behavior, its laws. It acts the way
it does because it is what it is; it is what it is because it acts the way
it does.

Science pictured the universe as a vast network of relations: in the
language of Comte and Lewes, as an organism composed of many
smaller organisms which are related at once to each other and to the
whole; or, to use Mill's metaphor, as a web composed of dynamically
interwoven phenomena. George Eliot employed the metaphors of the
organism and the web again and again. In Romola, for example, speak-
ing, of the interdependence of individual and society, she wrote:

Since that Easter a great change had come over the prospects of
Florence; and as in the tree that bears a myriad of blossoms, each
single bud with its fruit is dependent on the primary circulation of
the sap, so the fortunes of Tito and Romola were dependent on certain
grand political and social conditions which made an epoch in the
history of Italy. (Chap. XXI)

In Middlemarch she explains that the modern author, unlike Fielding,
has little time for pleasant digressions: "I at least have so much to
do in unravelling certain human lots, and seeing how they were
woven and interwoven, that all the light I can command must be
concentrated on that particular web, and not dispersed over that
tempting range of relevancies called the universe" (Chap. XV)8. The


nature of the web which constitutes the cosmos of her novels is clearly
described in Mill's Logic.
Mill emphasized that the regularity of the course of nature is the
product not of one uniformity, but of the interconnection of a great
number of less general uniformities. The various classes of phenomena,
each having their own laws, are "much intermixed and entangled
with one another," and hence, "the regularity which exists in nature
is a web composed of distinct threads" (Logic, p. 231). The web of the
present is the product of past interweavings; it has been formed by a
process of evolution. The threads are only hypothetically distinct; they
are in fact so intricately interwoven that we cannot account for any
one without seeing it in relation to a great many others. The way in
which the web is put together is explained in Mill's discussion of two
subsidiary aspects of the law of universal causation: one, the plurality
of causes and the intermixture of effects, and the other, the composi-
tion of causes.
Every phenomenon has a plurality of causes. In the physical sciences,
under laboratory conditions, it is relatively easy to master all of the
causes which produce a given effect. But the states of mind and actions
of human beings and the structure and institutions of societies are the
products of an immense number of causes, all of which must be taken
into account. Some of these causes are of such a general nature that
they may be taken for granted in explaining a specific event; but
even so, the network of causes which must be envisaged to explain
any human phenomenon is extremely complex.
Think, for example, of how many causes are operative in Mr.
Tulliver's decision, in The Mill on the Floss, to have Tom educated
by Mr. Stelling. Or note how many social, political, and economic
conditions and personal motivations, each with its own complex his-
tory, George Eliot depicts in her explanation of the election day riot
at Treby Magna and its consequences for Felix Holt. Not only does
she show every situation and action as the product of natural causes;
she also strives to give the whole picture, the whole network of re-
lations, past and present, inner and outer, or as much of it as possible.
What she does not present in detail, she suggests. A very large part
of "Janet's Repentance" is devoted to depicting the numerous ante-
cedent and co-existent causes and conditions of Janet's relation to


Mr. Tryan. If the Evangelical movement had not come to Milby, Mr.
Tryan would not have been there; and if certain social, economic,
and political changes had not occurred in the life of the nation and
in the life of the town, the Evangelical movement would not have
come to Milby. Mr. Tryan would not be in Milby as an Evangelical
preacher if he had not had the experience which led him to devote
himself to the religious life. Further, if Mr. Tryan had not had this
experience he would not have the character and the sympathy which
enable him to be an inspiration to Janet.
In the phenomena of politics and history, Mill writes, "Plurality of
Causes exists in almost boundless excess, and effects are, for the most
part, inextricably interwoven with one another." Such phenomena are
"liable to be affected directly or indirectly either in plus or in minus
by nearly every fact which exists, or event which occurs, in human
society" (Logic, p. 324). The multiplicity of causes involved in human
affairs endows them with a complexity which resists analysis. In ex-
pressing her agreement with Charles Bray's necessitarian doctrine that
"mind presents itself under the same condition of invariableness of
antecedent and consequent as all other phenomena," George Eliot
noted that the difference between mental and physical phenomena is
"that the true antecedent and consequent are proportionately difficult
to discover as the phenomena are more complex" (Letters, II, 403).
Mill points out that although it may be possible to reduce social and
psychic phenomena to a few general laws (e.g., the law of association
of ideas), or to discover the major causes which act upon men and
societies as a whole, such knowledge does little to explain individual

Suppose that all which passes in the mind of man is determined by a
few simple laws; still, if those laws be such that there is not one of
the facts surrounding a human being, or of the events which happen
to him, that does not influence in some mode or degree his subsequent
mental history, and if the circumstances of different human beings
are extremely different, it will be no wonder if very few propositions
can be made respecting the details of their conduct or feelings, which
will be true of mankind. (Logic, p. 598)


Such considerations led George Eliot to distrust all abstract approaches
to human behavior and to try to represent life in all its concreteness
and complexity.
"All laws of causation," Mill writes, "in consequence of their lia-
bility to be counteracted, require to be stated in words affirmative of
tendencies only, and not of actual results" (Logic, p. 319). The effect
that each cause tends to produce may be-in fact, usually is-thwarted
or modified by the laws of the other entities with which it interacts.
The effect of all the causes is "identical with the sum of their separate
effects" (Logic, p. 267). But when a great many causes are in opera-
tion, it is difficult to ascertain or predict the effect of any one cause.
"In social phenomena," Mill contends, "the Composition of Causes
is the universal law" (Logic, p. 608). As phenomena become more
complex, the web they weave becomes more tangled. Applied to the
human situation, the composition of causes means, for one thing,
that our intentions are seldom completely realized; our actions may,
indeed, produce results which are quite alien to what we had antici-
pated or desired and which are entirely unforeseeable. Mill, like
George Eliot, objects to the Benthamite school of political science
because the Benthamites relied much too heavily upon the unimpeded
effects of legislation, failing to recognize that legislation is but one
among the many interacting causes which determine the structure
and course of society.
The composition of causes is consistently operative in George Eliot's
plots. Felix Holt's fate at the election riots is a striking example of how
this principle manifests itself in human affairs. Felix' noble aims were
again and again thwarted by the electioneering machinery which Mr.
Johnson set in motion on behalf of Harold Transome. At his first en-
counter with Johnson, Felix' plan to get the workingmen to set up a
school for their sons received a blow. As he returned home, Felix
thought to himself: "Where's the good ... of pulling at such a tangled
skein as this electioneering trickery?" (Chap. XIII; see epigraph to
Chap. XI.) When he attempted to avert serious trouble by leading the
election day crowd out of town Felix knew that "he was in the midst
of a tangled business" (Chap. XXXIII). His efforts were of no avail,
for there were a number of "sharp-visaged men" in the crowd who
wished the cover of a riot for private pillage: "While Felix was enter-


training his ardent purpose, these other sons of Adam were entertain-
ing another purpose of their peculiar sort, and the moment was come
when they were to have their triumph" (Chap. XXXIII). And in pur-
suing his noble but fruitless plan Felix accidentally killed constable
George Eliot's characters frequently find their aspirations and in-
tentions thwarted by the retarding friction of circumstance, by the re-
sistance which their will encounters in the will of others and in the
pre-existing network of relations which constitutes their medium.
Farebrother, himself a frustrated man, sums up the situation in his
comment on Lydgate's ambitious and confident plans for medical
reform and discovery: "You have not only got the old Adam in your-
self against you, but you have got all those descendants of the original
Adam who form the society around you. You see, I have paid twelve
or thirteen years more than you for my knowledge of difficulties"
(Middlemarch, Chap. XVII).

The cosmology of science, then, presented George Eliot with a world
that is characterized by universal regular sequence, slow but incessant
evolutionary change, and enormous complexity. Above all, it is a
world in which phenomena are extensively interrelated and inter-
dependent. "Who having a practised vision may not see," she asks,
"that ignorance of the true bond between events, and false conceit
of means whereby sequences may be compelled-like that falsity of
eyesight which overlooks the gradations of distance, seeing that which
is afar off as if it were within a step or a grasp-precipitates the
mistaken soul on destruction?'* She strove to enlighten her readers by
presenting, in her novels, the connections of things. Even more im-
portant, she sought, by depicting the connectedness of things, to de-
velop in her readers mental vision, the habit of mind that imagina-
tively surrounds every event with the network of relations, past,
present, and prospective, in which it exists.
Herbert Spencer lays down the rule that "there can be no correct
idea of a part without a correct idea of the correlative whole." If
the part is not conceived in relation to the whole to which it belongs,
"its relations to existence in general are misapprehended" and we


cannot understand "the position which the part occupies in relation
to other parts."'1 Observation, though the chief source and test of
truth, cannot possibly furnish the comprehensive picture of reality
which is necessary for a true understanding of any given phenomenon.
Observation of the apparent relations of things must be supplemented
by a vision or imagination of the existing but unapparent relations.
Truth, scientific, moral, or artistic, is impossible without vision. After
visiting George Eliot in June, 1861, John Blackwood wrote to his wife:
"I never heard anything so good as her distinction between what is
called the real and the imaginative. It amounted to this, That you
could not have the former without the latter and greater quality.
Any real observation of life and character must be limited, and the
imagination must fill in and give life to the picture" (Letters, III, 427).
If it is impossible to have the real without the imaginative, it is
likewise impossible to have a powerful and veracious imagination
without a large store of accurately observed detail. The task of im-
agination is to find the hidden relations between these details, to con-
struct the whole out of its visible fragments.

Powerful imagination [George Eliot writes] is not false outward
vision, but intense inward representation, and a creative energy con-
stantly fed by susceptibility to the veriest minutiae of experience,
which it reproduces and constructs in fresh and fresh wholes; not the
habitual confusion of provable fact with the fictions of fancy and
transient inclination, but a breadth of ideal association which informs
every material object, every incidental fact with far-reaching memories
and stored residues of passion, bringing into new light the less obvious
relations of human existence."

Truth lies in the combination of experience and vision.
The characteristics of imagination, or mental vision, are essentially
the same whether the area of application be human behavior, astron-
omy, biology, or pathology. Both the artist and the scientist, for ex-
ample, project from the known to the unknown, from the visible to
the invisible, in order to approach the whole truth. George Eliot pref-
aces Chapter XVI of Daniel Deronda, in which she gives Deronda's
psychological history, with the following epigraph:


Men, like planets, have both a visible and an invisible history. The
astronomer threads the darkness with strict deduction, accounting so
for every visible arc in the wanderer's orbit; and the narrator of
human actions, if he did his work with the same completeness, would
have to thread the hidden pathways of feeling and thought which lead
up to every moment of action, and to those moments of intense suffer-
ing which take the quality of action.

Lydgate, in Middlemarch, hoped to discover the single primitive tissue
which forms the common basis from which all else has developed by
differentiation: "he longed to demonstrate the more intimate relations
of living structure, and help to define men's thoughts more accurately
after the true order" (Chap. XV).
Through Lydgate George Eliot presents her conception of the work-
ings of the objective, scientific, imagination. Lydgate was fascinated
by Louis' new book on fever:

Fever had obscure conditions, and gave him that delightful labour of
the imagination which is not mere arbitrariness, but the exercise of
disciplined power-combining and constructing with the clearest eye
for probabilities and the fullest obedience to knowledge; and then, in
yet more energetic alliance with impartial Nature, standing aloof to
invent tests by which to try its own work.
Many men have been praised as vividly imaginative on the strength
of their own profuseness in indifferent drawing or cheap narration:-
reports of very poor talk going on in distant orbs; or portraits of
Lucifer coming down on his bad errands as a large ugly man with
bat's wings and spurts of phosphorescence; or exaggerations of wan-
tonness that seem to reflect life in a diseased dream. But these kinds
of inspiration Lydgate regarded as rather vulgar and vinous compared
with the imagination that reveals subtle actions inaccessible by any
sort of lens, but tracked in that outer darkness through long pathways
of necessary sequence by the inward light which is the last refinement
of Energy, capable of bathing even the ethereal atoms in its ideally
illuminated space. He was enamoured of that arduous invention
which is the very eye of research, provisionally framing its object and
correcting it to more and more exactness of relation; he wanted to
pierce the obscurity of those minute processes which prepare human


misery and joy, those invisible thoroughfares which are the first
lurking-places of anguish, mania, and crime, that delicate poise and
transition which determine the growth of happy or unhappy con-
sciousness (Chap. XVI).

Unfortunately, Lydgate does not bring his vision of causes, conse-
quences, and connections to bear upon his relations with his fellow
men; he brought "a much more testing vision of details and relations
into this pathological study than he had ever thought it necessary to
apply to the complexities of love and marriage, these being subjects on
which he felt himself amply informed by literature, and that tradi-
tional wisdom which is handed down in the genial conversation of
men" (Chap. XVI). And his failure in human knowledge negates
his great potentialities as a scientist.12
An extensive discussion of vision and its function in science and
in art occurs in Chapters II and III of G. H. Lewes' The Principles
of Success in Literature. Lewes' and George Eliot's views are, it will be
clear, identical. Lewes argues that perception, inference, ratiocination,
and imagination are all forms of mental vision; they all involve the
"extension of the known to the unknown, of the apparent to the

The mental vision by which in Perception we see the unapparent de-
tails-i.e., by which sensations formerly co-existing with the one now
affecting us are reinstated under the form of ideas which represent
the objects-is a process implied in all Ratiocination, which also pre-
sents an ideal series, such as would be a series of sensations, if the
objects themselves were before us .... Correct reasoning is ... seeing
with the mind's eye. False reasoning is distorted or defective

Lewes defines imagination as "the power of forming images; it re-
instates, in a visible group, those objects which are invisible, either
from absence or from imperfection of our senses." It supplies "the
energy of Sense where Sense cannot reach."
Imagination is necessary in science because "the relations of sequence
among phenomena must be seen; they are hidden; they can only be
seen mentally." If all phenomena were available to the senses, "a


glance would be science"; "it is because we see little, that we have to
imagine much." From known facts the scientist infers unapparent
facts: "he does so by an effort of imagination ... : he makes a mental
picture of the unapparent fact, and then sets about to prove that his
picture does in some way correspond with the reality." Like George
Eliot, Lewes objects to those who laud hypotheses "as imaginative
in proportion as" they depart "from all suggestion of experience. ...
To imagine-to form an image-we must have the numerous relations
of things present to the mind and see the objects in their actual order."
Vision acts in two ways: it perceives objects of sense with great pre-
cision, and it forms ideal pictures of objects and relations beyond
"All great authors," writes Lewes, "are seers." It is the purpose of
literature "to show others what they failed to see." If we were to
meet Shakespeare, "we should notice that he had an independent
way of looking at things. He would constantly bring before us some
latent fact, some unsuspected relation, some resemblance between dis-
similar things." If we took a walk with him and he described that
walk, he would "surprise us with revelations." We could "then and
thereafter see all that he points out; but we needed his vision to direct
our own. And it is one of the incalculable influences of poetry that
each new revelation is an education of the eye and the feelings." When
we are in contact with "an independent mind which sees" we discover
"how servile we have been to habit and opinion, how blind to what
we also might have seen, had we used our eyes. The link, so long
hidden, has now been made visible to us."
Lewes vigorously opposed those who regard the scientific and artistic
processes as radically different. "Philosophy and Art," he argued, "both
render the invisible visible by imagination." The experimental process
employed by the scientist to test his hypotheses is analogous to the
novelist's invention of a story:
The experiments by which the problem may be solved have to be im-
agined; and to imagine a good experiment is as difficult as to invent a
good fable, for we must have distinctly present-in clear mental vision
-the known qualities and relations of all the objects, and must see
what will be the effect of introducing some new qualifying agent....
Easy enough, indeed, is the ordinary practice of experiment, which is


either a mere repetition or variation of experiments already devised
(as ordinary story-tellers re-tell the stories of others), or else a hap-
hazard, blundering way of bringing phenomena together, to see what
will happen. To invent is another process. The discoverer and the poet
are inventors; and they are so because their mental vision detects the
unapparent, unsuspected facts, almost as vividly as ocular vision rests
on the apparent and familiar.18

This is the best description I know of the process by which George
Eliot conceived and developed the action of her novels; and it cer-
tainly defines one sense in which her novels are "experiments in life.""4
George Eliot, whom Lewes referred to as "a very imaginative
writer," was fond, as we have seen, of pointing to the similarities be-
tween the problems and techniques of the story teller and those of
the scientist. Chapter I of Daniel Deronda has the following epigraph:

Men can do nothing without the make-believe of a beginning. Even
Science, the strict measure, is obliged to start with a make-believe
unit, and must fix on a point in the star's unceasing journey when his
sidereal clock shall pretend that time is at Nought. His less accurate
grandmother Poetry has always been understood to start in the mid-
dle; but on reflection it appears that her proceeding is not very differ-
ent from his; since Science, too, reckons backwards as well as for-
wards, divides his unit into billions, and with his clock-finger at
Nought really sets off in medias res. No retrospect will take us to the
true beginning; and whether our prologue be in heaven or on earth,
it is but a fraction of that all-presupposing fact with which our story
sets out.

Daniel Deronda opens in the middle of things, with the encounter be-
tween Deronda and Gwendolen in the casino at Leubronn; and the
novel as a whole can be viewed as an elaboration of the web of rela-
tions which forms the context of the incidents and states of mind de-
picted in the first two chapters. The significance of these chapters is
gradually unfolded as they are encompassed with a past and a future
which give them meaning. It is only after we know Gwendolen's his-
tory that we can appreciate the impact upon 'her of the two crucial
events with which the novel opens-her experience with Deronda and
her reception of the news of financial disaster. As the story, after


Chapter XXV, moves in time beyond the events of the opening, the
narrator and the characters again and again refer back to Deronda's
glance which chilled Gwendolen when she was at the peak of her
gambling success and to the necklace which Deronda redeemed for
her. Gwendolen's financial difficulties, in combination with her char-
acter, lead to her morally degrading marriage to Grandcourt; and her
relationship with Deronda, the tone of which is set in Chapters I and
II, leads to her moral redemption. The full meaning of the opening
chapters in relation to Gwendolen is available only at the end of
the novel when we see the outcome of her relationship with Deronda.
But this, of course, is an exaggeration; for not only can we never arrive
at the true beginning, but also, as Eliot was fond of pointing out,
"fruit and blossom hang together harvest and spring-time are
continually one."
In Daniel Deronda-and, in'varying ways, in most of her novels-
George Eliot makes signal use of the point of view of the omniscient
narrator to impress upon the reader the fact of the connectedness of
things and the need to envision the hidden relations of visible phenom-
ena. The novel, by imaginatively transcending the limits of human per-
ception, presents a truer, more complete picture of life than can be per-
ceived by the actual participant in life situations. In life the individual
has a very limited perception of the network of relations in which
he exists and acts. He cannot directly experience, for example, the
subjectivity of others. Further, his perspective is necessarily relative;
he sees things in relation to himself or as they strike his consciousness.
The omniscient narrator, on the other hand, sees the totality of the
relations, internal as well as external, involved in a given situation.
And the omniscient narrator views phenomena objectively, as they
are in fact related to each other, rather than as they are related to
a special subjectivity. The world of the novel, illuminated by the
imagination of the author, is perfectly intelligible. The reader, having
become identified with the narrator's objective viewpoint, and having
been made aware of normally hidden relations, will be better able to
imagine the order of things in which he lives and his relation to it.
The real, he will have learned, cannot be grasped without the imagina-
The proper exercise of mental vision has extremely significant moral


consequences for George Eliot. One of the greatest deterrents to
wrongdoing and incentives to right behavior is a vision of the con-
sequences of our deeds. Much evil is the result of stupidity, lack of
vision, or faulty vision. But a truly accurate vision of consequences re-
quires such a high degree of knowledge and imagination that Herbert
Spencer, for example, felt that we can not yet effectively substitute a
scientific conception of Nemesis for the more traditional incentives and
deterrents.1l In novel after novel George Eliot vividly presents the
consequences of wrongdoing, leading the reader to become very much
aware, at least, of the complexity and inevitability of the chain of
consequences which good and evil deeds set in motion.
According to Comte, the application of the scientific intelligence to
the study of society "may strengthen social feeling by diffusing juster
views of the relations in which the various parts of society stand to
each other; or it may guide its application by dwelling on the lessons
which the past offers to the future.""17 In her notes on the "Historic
Imagination," George Eliot advocates imaginative re-creation of great
events in the past.

The exercise of a veracious imagination in historical picturing seems
to be capable of a development that might help the judgment greatly
with regard to present and future events. By veracious imagination, I
mean the working out in detail of the various steps by which a politi-
cal or social change was reached, using all extant evidence and sup-
plying deficiencies by careful analogical creation. How triumphant
opinions originally spread; how institutions arose; what were the
conditions of great inventions, discoveries, or theoretic conceptions;
what circumstances affecting individual lots are attendant on the decay
of long-established systems-all these grand elements of history require
the illumination of special imaginative treatment. for want of
such real, minute vision of how changes came about in the past, we
fall into ridiculously inconsistent estimates of actual movements, con-
demning in the present what we belaud in the past, and pronouncing
impossible processes that have been repeated again and again in the
historical preparation of the very system under which we live.18

Her careful presentation of social, political, and religious movements
in such novels as Adam Bede, Felix Holt, Romola, and Middlemarch


clearly reflects the methods and aims which she assigns to the historic
Like Comte, she felt that a vision of social interconnectedness would
strengthen social feeling; the individual would become aware of his
solidarity with his fellows and of his own importance in the social
order. In her "Notes on 'The Spanish Gypsy'" she expresses her con-
viction that "love, pity, constituting sympathy, and generous joy with
regard to the lot of our fellow-men has been growing since the
beginning." And these moral sentiments have been "enormously en-
hanced by wider vision of results, by an imagination actively interested
in the lot of mankind generally."1
In both the individual and the race, vision is the product of a long
and painful evolution through the three stages of moral development.
The child and the savage see all things in relation to themselves rather
than in relation to each other. It is only after men have been made to
realize the autonomy of the outer world and have experienced conscious
suffering that they can come to the heightened awareness of the con-
nections of things and of the inner states of others that for George
Eliot is the chief characteristic of moral and intellectual maturity.

The positivists depicted society as an evolving organism composed of
interacting organs which are themselves organisms. This conception of
society appears to have originated with Comte's discussion of social
statics, which is "the investigation of the laws of action and reaction
of the different parts of the social system." Mill, Spencer, Lewes, and
George Eliot agreed with Comte in opposing "the existing philosophi-
cal practice of contemplating social elements separately, as if they had
an independent existence," and in insisting that the proper procedure
is "to regard them as in mutual relation, and forming a whole which
compels us to treat them in combination."20 The positivistic concep-
tion of society as ai organism profoundly influenced George Eliot's
vision of the human condition and resulted in what she called a "so-
Because of the dynamic interconnection of the social elements, the
fate of each individual is largely determined by the state of the whole,
and the state of the whole is modifiable by the actions of individuals.


Although the individual is but an organ in the social organism-
subordinate to the whole, and helpless to defy it or to shape his in-
dividual lot independently of it-he is, nevertheless, capable of exerting
a plastic force upon it. "A man," wrote Lewes, "although powerless
against Society, becomes a power with Society" (PLM, I, 139). The
individual initiates changes in the whole indirectly, by acting upon
its parts. Action upon the parts is ultimately communicated to the
whole, but often in a very diluted or altered form. Men are sharers
of a common fate, and, at the same time, each man helps to determine
the fate of his fellows.
"Society stands before us," wrote George Eliot, "like that wonder-
ful piece of life, the human body, with all its various parts depending
on one another." And "because the body is made up of so many
various parts, all related to each other," all are likely "to feel the effect
if any one of them goes wrong." It is only a lack of vision that can
lead us to conclude that "there is no better rule needful for men than
that each should tug and rive for what will please him, without caring
how that tugging will act on the fine widespread network of society
in which he is fast meshed."21 Even a rudimentary understanding of
the structure of the social organism convinces us of the identity of
self-interest and social good. The order of things is such that we
often contribute to the welfare of our fellows while pursuing our own
ends. In Impressions of Theophrastus Such, George Eliot claims that
"any molecule of the body politic working towards his own interest
in an orderly way gets his understanding more or less penetrated with
the fact that his interest is included in that of a large number."22
The connectedness of things does not always work for public and
private good. Often the individual must suffer for the sins and blun-
ders of others. Since the web of relations in which we act is so ex-
tensive and so entangled blunders are hard to avoid and are wide-
spread in their effects. A recurrent theme in George Eliot is the evil
which comes about through casual acts of thoughtlessness or through
well-meaning incompetence. Spencer points out that as civilization has
advanced and life has become more highly socialized, the extensive-
ness, heterogeneity, and intricacy of the human environment has
rapidly increased; and while this has knit men together in closer
fellowship, it has also made knowledge and adaptation extremely


difficult. More often than not, in George Eliot's fiction, there is a
painful disparity between the individual's nature and the circumstances
in which he finds himself; the medium presents limitations, retarding
friction, as well as possibilities. Altering the old proverb "into agree-
ment with new formulas," she postulated that "the Internal Order
proposes and the External Order disposes" (Letters, V, 102). "For a
long while to come," she wrote to Mrs. Congreve, "I suppose human
energy will be greatly taken up with resignation rather than action"
(Letters, IV, 115).
We must accept the unalterable limitations of our lot and act within
them in the best possible way. "The great division of our lot," George
Eliot wrote in 1878, "is that between what is immodifiable and is the
object of resignation and that which is modifiable by hopeful activity
-by new conceptions and new deeds" (Letters, VII, 56). The formula
is Comte's. In 1853, she had written to Mrs. Henry Houghton: "I
enjoy life more than I ever did before, not only on account of outward
things, but because I have better learned that as Comte and other wise
men have said, 'Notre vraie destinee se compose de resignation et
d'activit' (Letters, II, 134). She did not underestimate the difficulty
of resignation. In 1866 she wrote to Sara Hennell that she enjoyed
study more than ever: "But that very fact makes me more in need of
resignation to the certain approach of age and death Unfeigned,
unselfish, cheerful resignation is difficult. But I strive to get it"
(Letters, IV, 316). The previous year she had written to Bessie Rayner
Parkes: "The calm acceptance of a lot and faithful devotedness to
whatever may come, seems to me quite as noble as the energetic
creating of a lot" (Letters, IV, 196).
Typical of resignation is Sethe Bede, who lives by Christ's words
in the Sermon on the Mount-"Take therefore no thought for the
morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself."
Seth's resignation is manifested in his generally acquiescent attitude
and in his apparent lack of jealousy, resentment, and frustration when
Dinah marries Adam, his brother. In Seth there is no balance between
resignation and activity. His resignation is coupled with his day-
dreaming and his other-worldliness, which serve him as means of com-
pensation and escape. In contrast is Adam, whose motto is "God helps
those who help themselves." Adam, a strong, determined, effective


man, is initially wanting in resignation, as is indicated by his im-
patience with his father and mother. Adam-like Maggie Tulliver,
Dorothea Brooke, Lydgate, Farebrother, Romola, and Felix Holt-
must learn to bear frustration and to accept the weaknesses of human
beings and the limitations of the human lot. Those-like Arthur
Donnithorne, Mrs. Transome, Tito Melema, or Gwendolen Harleth
-who rebel against the restraints and ties to which their life in so-
ciety commits them bring painful consequences upon themselves and
usually upon others.
The proper exercise both of resignation and of activity requires an
informed vision of the web of relations in which we exist. George
Eliot does not advocate an attitude of blind resignation any more
than she favors impetuous activity. We should accept those evils only
which cannot be altered. Our actions should always be governed by
a sober awareness of realities. Concerning debate on colonial problems,
she wrote to Mrs. Mark Pattison: "It is piteous to see men talking
diffusely and to no purpose about what has been or what ought to have
been when the only object of statesmanship should be to find the best
course that can be" (Letters, VI, 343).
The interdependence of the various parts of the social organism
works, as we have seen, for both good and ill. The individual is com-
mitted, without choice, to a social life. He cannot disengage his lot
from that of his fellows; and, just as he cannot help being acted upon,
he cannot act for himself alone-he cannot help shaping the lives of
others. As a consequence of this dynamic relation of the individual to
his fellows, moral responsibility, duty, is built into the order of things.
Often this duty is onerous; but more often it is a precious source
of moral direction and value. Not only does the individual have a
moral responsibility towards those with whom he has an intimate
bond; he is also a contributor to the proper or improper functioning
of the organism as a whole, future as well as present. "The progress
of the world," George Eliot wrote to Mrs. Ponsonby in December
1874, "which you say can only come at the right time-can certainly
never come at all save by the modified action of the individual beings
who compose the world" (Letters, VI, 99). In February 1875, she wrote
to Mrs. Ponsonby of Herbert Spencer's anxiety to "vindicate himself
from neglect of the logical necessity that the evolution of the abstrac-


tion 'society' is dependent on the modified action of the units; indeed
he is very sensitive on the point of being supposed to teach an enervat-
ing fatalism" (Letters, VI, 124).
A vision of the connectedness of things provides man with a sense of
religious orientation in the universe. When he relinquishes the con-
ception of a loving, law-giving deity who grants his wishes, judges his
actions, and exercises unceasing providence, the individual, confronted
with the vastness, indifference, and seeming meaninglessness of the
cosmos, often feels his own existence to be futile and insignificant.
A vision of the connectedness of things, George Eliot felt, when it is
combined with the recognition that human consciousness is the sole
criterion of human worth, brings to the individual a sense of the im-
portance of his life. For he sees that his actions affect not only his own
well-being, but also that of his fellows. Through his relations with
his fellows he gives definition and extended existence to his own
George Eliot was fond of pointing out that one man can influence
a vast number of individuals whose sphere of activity is remote from
his own. Since the effects he produces in others continue beyond his
death, the individual has an impersonal immortality. He consciously
experiences this immortality in that he enjoys it imaginatively in life,
for the imagination makes the future live in the present. The cos-
mology of science would not permit George Eliot to imagine a per-
sonal existence beyond the grave, but it did enable her to imagine an
impersonal existence, an existence in and through others. In place of
the conventional heaven, she envisioned
the choir invisible
Of those immortal dead who live again
In minds made better by their presence.

Each man's effort should be to live in such a way that his influence
will likewise persist; for
So to live is heaven:
To make undying music in the world.23

Their conception of society as an organism produced in George
Eliot and the positivists a profound distrust of abstract theories and


a marked tendency towards conservatism-not in principles so much
as in methods and expectations. In Comte's Philosophy of the Sciences
(p. 33) Lewes, echoing Comte, complains that men's thinking about
society is still so metaphysical that "they almost universally believe in
the absurd notion of a political change being wrought by an altera-
tion in the Government, or by the adoption of some scheme." Lewes
objects to forms of government being "given to a nation, instead of
growing out of the national tendencies and ideas." We must replace
"the old theological, mechanical conception" of society "by a dynami-
cal conception, and understand that the social organism has its laws of
growth and development, like the human organism."
As Lewes' remarks suggest, the conservatism of the positivists was
heightened by their perception of the role of the past in shaping the
present. Defending Comte against the accusation that he slights the
importance of history, Lewes wrote to Sara Hennell: "no one has
more clearly seen and expressed that truth, that the past rules the
present, lives in it, and that we are but the growth and outcome of
the past" (Letters, III, 320). Mill, citing Comte, pointed out that
"what we now are and do" is the result "mainly of the qualities pro-
duced in us by the whole previous history of humanity" (Logic,
p. 633). Society is not merely an organism, it is an evolved organism;
its present state is its embodied history. It is impossible successfully
to institute a change in society which is at variance with the characters
of the individuals who compose it, or which would defy the relations
already existing in the social organism. Change must be gradually
evolved from the interaction of man and his medium. In an article
in the Leader, George Eliot wrote: "There is a perpetual action and re-
action between individuals and institutions; we must try and mend by
little and little-the only way in which human things can be
Her exposition of Riehl's "social-political-conservatism" exactly de-
scribes her own position:

He sees in European society incarnate history, and any attempt to dis-
engage it from its historical elements must, he believes, be simply de-
structive of social vitality. What has grown up historically can only
die out historically, by the gradual operation of necessary laws. The


external conditions which society has inherited from the past are but
the manifestation of inherited conditions in the human beings who
compose it; the internal conditions and the external are related to
each other as the organism and its medium, and development can take
place only by the gradual consentaneous development of both.

"The nature of European men," she continues, "has its roots inter-
twined with the past, and can only be developed by allowing those
roots to remain undisturbed while the process of development is going
on, until that perfect ripeness of the seed which carries with it a life
independent of the root."2' George Eliot was, to use her own word, a
meliorist. Improvement is possible because of the gradual action of
the parts of society upon the whole, but it is bound to be very slow
because present conditions are deeply rooted in the past-we will not
understand how deeply until we have examined her belief in the in-
heritance of acquired characteristics. In the 1840's she was in sympathy
with radical measures; the Revolution of 1848 aroused great hopes in
her. Her contact with positivism quickly revised her attitudes, which
from the early 1850's underwent little change. In August 1878, she
wrote to D'Albert-Durade: "You remember me as much less of a
conservative than I have now become. I care as much or more for the
interests of the people, but I believe less in the help they will get from
democrats" (Letters, VII, 47).
The more we know of society in its details, she contended in her
essay on Riehl, "the more thoroughly we shall be convinced that a
universal social policy has no validity except on paper, and can never
be carried into successful practice." "A wise social policy must be based
not simply on abstract social science, but on the natural history of
social bodies." Riehl shows that the mechanical procedures of the
German bureaucracy, failing to recognize the community as "an
organism the conditions of which are bound up with the historical
characteristics of the peasant," have been "disintegrating and ruinous
to the peasant character." What Riehl has done for our understanding
of the German peasantry makes clear the need for similar studies of
English life:

If any man of sufficient moral and intellectual breadth, whose observa-
tions would not be vitiated by a foregone conclusion, or by a profes-


sional point of view, would devote himself to studying the natural
history of our social classes, especially of the small shopkeepers, arti-
sans, and peasantry, the degree in which they are influenced by local
conditions, their maxims and habits, the points of view from which
they regard their religious teachers, and the degree in which they are
influenced by religious doctrines, the interactions of the various classes
on each other, and what are the tendencies in their position towards
disintegration or towards development; and if, after all this study, he
would give us the results of his observations in a book well nourished
with specific facts, his work would be a valuable aid to the social and
political reformer.26

This program was very likely in her mind when she wrote Scenes of
Clerical Life, Adam Bede, The Mill on the Floss, Silas Marner, and
Felix Holt. These works are contributions to the data of sociology.

The principle that change results from the interaction of the laws
of the agencies involved was basic to George Eliot's understanding of
human thought and behavior. The fates of the men and women who
people her novels are determined by the interaction of character and
circumstance. The individual exists in a medium the nature of which
largely determines his character and his fate. But the way in which his
environment affects him is the consequence of his own nature. Mr.
Irwine tells Arthur Donnithorne: "A man can never do anything at
variance with his own nature. He carries within him the germ of his
most exceptional action" (Adam Bede, Chap. XVI). Circumstances,
however, are responsible for bringing the germs of character to their
good or bad fruition. Arthur's flaws of character, for example, might
never have disclosed themselves under a different set of conditions.
"Ships," George Eliot comments, "certainly, are liable to casualties,
which sometimes make terribly evident some flaw in their construc-
tion, that would never have been discoverable in smooth water; and
many a 'good fellow,' through a disastrous combination of circum-
stances, has undergone a like betrayal" (Chap. XII). Our fate, then, is
both determined by us and determined for us. This is succinctly ex-
pressed in her epigraph to Chapter IV of Middlemarch:


1st Gent. Our deeds are fetters that we forge ourselves.
2nd Gent. Ay, truly: but I think it is the world
That brings the iron.

Character, for George Eliot, is neither immutable nor imposed; it is
evolved. It would be risky, she remarks early in Middlemarch (Chap.
XV), to bet on Lydgate's future, even with a close knowledge of his
character; "for character too is a process and an unfolding. The man
was still in the making, as much as the Middlemarch doctor and im-
mortal discoverer, and there were both virtues and faults capable of
shrinking or expanding." An individual's inherited organization ini-
tially determines how he will be affected by external stimuli. But as
he reacts to external agencies according to the laws of his nature and
of theirs, his nature is altered. Each new experience modifies the ex-
periencing subject, and each new modification is at once the product
of all previous modifications and a determinant of all subsequent ex-
periences and modifications. Lewes writes: "Although an organ can
only respond to a stimulus according to its own modes, which depend
on its structure, and which vary with the variations of structure, yet
the very reaction itself tends to establish a modification which will
alter subsequent reactions" (PLM, I, 117). An individual's character
at any given moment is not the sum of all preceding experiences but
the evolved resultant of them; it is embodied history. Change takes
place slowly but continuously. One's past self is inescapable; it is
immanent in the present self. The individual's earlier experiences
tend to exert a profound influence upon the total development of his
character. (See the epigraph to Chap. VIII of Felix Holt.) Character,
then, is the evolved and evolving product of hereditary organization
and experience.
The positivists derive not only character but also knowledge from
the interaction of the conscious subject and his medium. They reject
the metaphysical conceptions of innate ideas, imposed categories of
perception, and intuitive knowledge of noumena. Experience is the
source and limit of knowledge, and experience is the product of the
interaction of subject and object. It is, says Lewes, "the sum of the
modifications which arise from the relations of the Sensitive Organism
to its environment."27 Experience includes ratiocination as well as


sensation; it involves "not only the direct presentations to Sense, but
the indirect representations-the verifiable inferences from Sense"
(PLM, I, 29).
Our knowing faculties respond to the external world in accordance
with the laws of their organization. The response produces modifica-
tions in organization which determine the nature of subsequent re-
sponses, and so on. In the act of knowing, consciousness is an active
agency contributing to the nature of its impressions. According to
Lewes, the great point at issue between the positivists and the meta-
physicians is whether "the Laws of Consciousness evolved out of the
relations between the Sensitive Organism and its environment" or are
"pre-existent, and independent of any such relations." Lewes argues
that the relation of consciousness to its medium is not one of pure
passivity, as is supposed by the extreme Sensationalists, and that con-
sciousness does not have "a pure spontaneity, undetermined by the
conditions of the Organism and its environment" as the a priori school
holds. Consciousness is not "absolved from the universal law of action
and reaction." "Mind," says Lewes, "is a successive evolution from
experiences, and its laws are the action of results. The Forms of
Thought are developed just as the Forms of an Organism are de-
Like character, the forms of thought are based upon organization;
and organization is the product not only of the experience of the
individual, but also, to a far greater degree, of the experience of the
race. George Eliot, Lewes, and Spencer attribute man's apparently
innate moral sentiments and modes of cognition to the biological
transmission of the structural modifications produced in organisms by
their experience. As the following chapter will show, George Eliot's
belief in the inheritance of acquired characteristics is an important
aspect of her conception of the nature of things: the biological trans-
mission of the results of experience is one of the several aspects of the
cosmic order of things which contribute to the evolution of a moral
order which is at once a part of and in opposition to the amoral cosmic


George Eliot held the cosmos to be composed of two disparate, yet
interrelated orders: the moral order and the non-moral order, or the
human order and the cosmic order. Man-being at once a social, sym-
pathetic being and an individual, self-regarding being-is a part of
both orders. His inward nature and the outward conditions of his
existence are the products partly of the social and psychic evolution of
the race and partly of the cosmic evolutionary process. The moral
progress of the race and the virtue and satisfaction of the individual
depend upon the predominance of the human over the nonhuman,
upon the ability of social man to triumph over the unconscious forces
which oppress him from without and the egoistic impulses which
drive him from within. Human life has true meaning and value,
George Eliot insisted, only when the human order is recognized to be
supreme in its own sphere, when it is seen to be the sole source and
sufficient sanction of moral values.
The moral order is manifested in love and fellow-feeling between
individuals, in the products and traditions of human culture, in the
laws and institutions of society, in the creeds, symbols, and ceremonies
of religion; in general, in any human institution or activity which by
interposing itself between the individual and the unhuman otherness
of the order of things lessens the disparity between the inward and


the outward and humanizes the world. The moral order is not inde-
pendent of the non-moral order but exists within it and is in some
respects a product of it. Moral phenomena, like the phenomena of
physics and biology, are the necessary products of antecedent natural
causes and coexistent natural conditions; and change results from the
interaction of the laws of the agencies involved. Because of this social
science is possible.
The moral order is an evolved order, but its evolution differs from
that found in the non-moral order in that it is produced and directed
in some degree by human feeling and conscious purpose, causal agen-
cies which are entirely absent in non-moral evolution. Hence moral
evolution is often in conflict with the tendencies of non-moral evolu-
tion; the function of the moral order, in fact, is to ameliorate the
suffering caused by the non-moral conditions of life. In a letter to John
Morley in which she attempted to clarify her views on woman suf-
frage and the proper position of women in society, George Eliot at-
tacked "the 'intention of Nature' argument, which is to me a pitiable
fallacy." Not nature, not biological evolution which is indifferent to
human suffering, but human feeling is the proper source of social
goals. "As a fact of mere zoological evolution," she argued, woman
has "the worse share in existence. But for that very reason I would the
more contend that in the moral evolution we have 'an art which does
mend nature.' It is the function of love in the largest sense, to mitigate
the harshness of all fatalities." She contended that "the goal towards
which we are proceeding is ... as near an approach to equivalence of
good for woman and for man as can be secured by the effort of growing
moral force to lighten the pressure of hard non-moral outward condi-
tions" (Letters, IV, 364-65).
The distinction between the moral and the non-moral orders was
not a product of her personal world-view; it was thoroughly elabo-
rated by her fellow positivists. A useful discussion of several aspects of
this distinction occurs in T. H. Huxley's famous essays entitled "Evo-
lution and Ethics." Since these appeared in 1894, they did not, of
course, influence George Eliot, but their terminology is convenient
and most of the ideas they express were current in the 1860's and
In order properly to determine "whether there is, or is not, a sanc-


tion for morality in the ways of the cosmos," it is necessary, Huxley
argues, that we recognize the essential dissimilarities between the
"cosmic process" and the "ethical process." The ethical process, which
is manifested in the development of civilization, is artificial in the
sense that its products, like all products of art, "could not be brought
about in the state of nature"-that is, without the interposition of
human energy and intelligence. Huxley recognizes that the ethical
process "is, strictly speaking, part and parcel of the cosmic process," but
he holds that there is, nevertheless, a constant antagonism between the
cosmic process and the artificial process which is a part of it.
In its early forms human society was "as much a product of organic
necessity as that of the bees." Social union aided survival in the con-
flict with surrounding forces, and those societies whose members were
most devoted to the common welfare were naturally selected. Thus
the cosmic process, whose "characteristic feature ... is the intense and
unceasing competition of the struggle for existence," gave birth to the
ethical process, which attempts to eliminate "that struggle, by the
removal of the conditions which gave rise to it." The cosmic process,
however, also produced man's aggressive, selfish qualities. This is
man's "inheritance (the reality at the bottom of the doctrine of origi-
nal sin) from the long series of ancestors, human and semi-human
and brutal, in whom the strength of this innate tendency to self-
assertion was the condition of victory in the struggle for existence."
Although self-assertiveness is "one of the essential conditions of suc-
cess in the war with the state of nature outside," it is "the sure agent
of the destruction of society if allowed free play within." Since the
ethical process tends more and more, in the course of its development,
to place "restraints upon the struggle for existence between men in
society," it is "in opposition to the principle of the cosmic process."
Huxley concludes that "cosmic nature is no school of virtue but the
headquarters of the enemy of ethical nature"; that "the ethical progress
of society depends not on imitating the cosmic process, still less in
running away from it, but in combating it." "In place of ruthless self-
assertion" the ethical process "demands self-restraint; in place of
thrusting aside, or treading down all competitors, it requires that the
individual shall not merely respect but shall help his fellows; its influ-
ence is directed, not so much to the survival of the fittest, as to the


fitting of as many as possible to survive." In the moral order natural
selection is resisted, and artificial selection (employed by the gardener
and the breeder) is unthinkable. The moral order works at "the
creation of conditions more favorable than those of the state of nature;
to the end of facilitating the free expansion of the innate faculties of
the citizen, so far as it is consistent with the general good." With his
energy and intelligence providing the means, and his socially devel-
oped sympathy and conscience dictating the ends, man has "succeeded
in building up an artificial world within the cosmos"; and it is to this
world, not to cosmic nature, that his moral life belongs.
George Eliot's conception of the moral order was, as the letter to
Morley makes clear, very similar to Huxley's version of the ethical
process. It is quite possible that she was influenced by Herbert Spen-
cer's distinction between inorganic, organic, and super-organic evolu-
tion. Spencer spoke of social evolution as super-organic, though, like
Huxley, he made no absolute separation between the organic and the
super-organic processes. Super-organic evolution "must have arisen by
insensible steps out of the organic," and it is at every point subject to
the influence of the physical environment and the cosmic process. In
its initial stages social evolution depends almost entirely upon environ-
mental conditions and upon the qualities of the individual members of
the social group. In time, however, these original factors are eclipsed
in importance by "the secondary or derived sets of factors, which social
evolution itself brings into play." Spencer recognized the immense in-
fluence on the course of social development of such super-organic
products as tools, language, scientific knowledge, traditions, laws,
religious creeds and institutions, codes of behavior, and works of art.
Super-organic products and influences "gradually form an addi-
tional environment, which eventually becomes even more important
than the original environments-so much more important that there
arises the possibility of carrying on a high type of social life under in-
organic and organic conditions which originally would have prevented
We find similar ideas developed by G. H. Lewes. Man, says Lewes,
is a product of both the animal kingdom and the social organism-
"the soul of man has thus a double root, a double history" (PLM, I,
125). Man's egoistic impulses, his concern for himself at the expense


of others, are manifestations of his animal nature; but his moral life,
his desire for the welfare of others, is the consequence of his relation
to society. The moral education of the individual is the process by
which his animal egoism is subdued and transformed into altruism by
his social experience. Civilization, not primitive nature, is the source
of our highest life and greatest good: "Culture transforms Nature
physically and morally, fashioning the forest and the swamp into
garden and meadow-lands, the selfish savage into the sympathetic
citizen." As an animal organism man merely adjusts himself to the
conditions in his external medium. As a moral being he "creates, and
is in turn modified by, the social medium, for Society is the product
of human feelings, and its existence is pari passu developed with the
feelings which in turn it modifies and enlarges at each stage."3
George Eliot's conception of the moral order was crucial in the reso-
lution of two major problems which she confronted in her effort to
construct a realistic morality. She needed to explain, without recourse
to a supernatural agency, the source of man's moral virtues and his
consciousness of right and wrong; and she had to establish an em-
pirical sanction for social values and for the dignity of the individual.

The fact that man is, even though imperfectly, a moral being, with
a conception of right and wrong, a sense of guilt, and a feeling of duty
and love towards his fellows was one of the chief supports of theology
and idealistic philosophy. Man's moral qualities, the idealists con-
tended, can be explained only by the existence of a God. Since man's
moral conceptions have a divine parentage, they are absolutely valid.
Theologians tended to emphasize the revealed teachings of the church
as the chief source, guide, and impetus of ethical action. They con-
tended that moral virtue and a belief in Christian doctrine are in-
separably connected; that a rejection of Christian dogma was almost
sure to result in moral chaos. Mrs. Elma Stuart confided to George
Eliot that she was "troubled in mind" by the arguments of W. H.
Mallock in his article "Modern Atheism: Its Attitude towards Moral-
ity," which appeared in the January, 1877, issue of Contemporary
Review. Mallock contended, as George Eliot put it, that apart from
the central dogmas of Christianity "there is nothing in the constitution


of things to produce, to favour, or to demand a course of action called
right." George Eliot advised Mrs. Stuart to "put the words 'cleanliness'
and 'uncleanliness' for 'virtue' and 'vice,' and consider how fully you
have come not only to regard cleanliness as a duty, but to shudder at
uncleanliness"; and to ask "what are the doctrines which, if taken
from you, would make you at once sink into uncleanly habits yourself,
and think it indifferent to the health of mankind whether such a habit
as that of cleanliness existed in the world or not" (Letters, VI, 338-
As her letter to Mrs. Stuart suggests, George Eliot held moral atti-
tudes to be the products chiefly of deeply ingrained feelings, feelings
which do not depend for either their existence or their continuance
upon doctrines of any kind. The presence of these feelings she at-
tributed to the natural operation of the human ethical process, a
process which itself produced the religious and philosophic conceptions
by which supernaturalists explain it. She wrote to Mrs. Ponsonby that
her novels

have for their main bearing ... a conclusion without which I could
not have cared to write any representation of life-namely, that the
fellowship between man and man which has been the principle of
development, social and moral, is not dependent on conceptions of
what is not man: and that the idea of God, so far as it has been a high
spiritual influence, is the ideal of a goodness entirely human (i.e., an
exaltation of the human). (Letters, VI, 98)

She felt that man's social virtues have become historically and psycho-
logically allied with doctrines, like those concerning the nature and
existence of God and of an after-life, which the findings of science
show to be unfounded and very probably false. But she was convinced
that the denial of these doctrines need not have a deleterious effect
upon morality if we understand the true source, nature, and sanction
of moral values and actions.

In June 1879, George Eliot wrote to Frederick Harrison in reference
to G. H. Lewes' The Study of Psychology: "It is melancholy enough
that to most of our polite readers the Social Factor in Psychology
would be a dull subject. For it is certainly no conceit of ours which


pronounces it to be the supremely interesting element in the thinking
of our time" (Letters, VII, 161). According to Lewes, human psychic
phenomena cannot be fully explained unless they are regarded as the
products of our interaction with the super-organically evolved social
medium and of our organic inheritance from the past-of the "psycho-
logical evolution of sociological material" (PLM, I, 134).
There has evolved in man, and in man alone, consciousness, the abil-
ity to separate "Self from Not-self," "objects from feelings." Conscious-
ness is "that Inner Sense which Kant marks as the distinguishing
attribute of man when it makes its own affections objects of thought."
Consciousness is the primary source of the moral order; it produces
that awareness of species, of others as different from yet like ourselves,
which is the basis ofall ethical action, of the sense of solidarity with
our kind which leads us to sacrifice our own immediate gratification
for the good of others. "The law of animal action," writes Lewes, "is
Individualism; its motto is 'Each for himself against all.' The ideal of
human action is Altruism; its motto is 'Each with others, all for
By its ability to organize and transmit experience and to raise "per-
sonal relations into impersonal conceptions," consciousness creates
society. Between the individual man and the cosmos there is interposed
the social medium. The higher animals have structures much like our
own; but they are separated from us by an impassable barrier due to
the fact that they have no social medium with which to interact. In
the social medium, with its product, the general mind, we find

the impersonal experiences of Tradition accumulating for each indi-
vidual a fund of knowledge, an instrument of Power which magnifies
his existence. The experiences of many become the guide of each; they
do not all perish with the individual; much survives, takes form in
opinion, precept, and law, in prejudice and superstition. The feelings
of each are blended into a general consciousness, which in turn reacts
upon the individual consciousness. And this mighty impersonality is
at once the product and the factor of social evolution.4

The social experience of the race is organized, transmitted, and im-
pressed upon the individual not only by means of impersonal tradi-


tion, but also through the agency of biological evolution. George Eliot,
Spencer, Lewes, and Darwin (somewhat hesitantly) believed that
habit modifies organic structure, and that acquired structural modifi-
cations are biologically transmitted. Spencer and Lewes invoked the
inheritance of acquired characteristics to explain the presence of a
priori forms of thought as well as the existence of innate moral pre-
dispositions. They felt that in this way they could reconcile the em-
piricism of Locke and Hume with the idealism of Kant. The laws of
consciousness, they granted, cannot be derived from the experience of
the individual; but they are, nevertheless, the products of experience-
of the accumulated, organized, and biologically transmitted experience
of the race. The individual is endowed with modes of perception
which are antecedent to and independent of his experience; "but this
is historical, not transcendental; it is itself the product of Experience,
though not of the individual" (PLM, I, 150). The term "experience,"
Lewes argued, includes "not only the individual experiences, slowly
acquired, but the accumulated Experience of the race, organised in
Language, condensed in Instruments and Axioms, and in what may
be called the inherited Intuitions" (PLM, I, 29). We do not inherit
the specific experiences of our ancestors; we inherit tendencies to
respond coherently and sensitively to the stimuli which modified
their organic structures. Without the appropriate stimuli, our in-
herited tendencies either never become actualized or are modified.
"What is conspicuous in the case of Intellect," Lewes wrote, "may
also be discerned in Conscience. Both are social products. The heredi-
tary transmission of organized tendencies .. enables us to reconcile
the a priori intuitional with the experiential theory." Man's innate
moral sense, he insisted, does not bring with it definite conceptions of
what is right and what is wrong: "What it carries are certain organ-
ized predispositions that spontaneously or docilely issue in the benefi-
cent forms of action which the experience of society has classed as
right."' The individual's own experiences play an important role in
determining his moral and intellectual life; but they are not, as the
associationists had argued, the sole causes.
As Herbert Spencer puts it, man is to a large degree "organically
moral." Harald Hiffding remarks that the importance of Spencer's
Principles of Psychology (1855) "lies in the fact that, although based


on empirical philosophy, it emphasizes the impossibility of explaining
individual consciousness by the experiences of the individual himself."6
To understand the conscious life of the individual, we must take into
account the experiences of the race as they are embodied in society
and in our psychological organizations. George Eliot, Spencer, Lewes,
and Darwin all agree that conscious consideration of self-interest,
pleasure and pain, reward and punishment, the general good, etc., is
less important than instinctive or habitual feeling as an impetus to
moral action. Darwin observes that "man seems often to act impul-
sively, that is from instinct or long habit, without any consciousness of
pleasure." "In many instances," he feels, "it is probable that instincts
are persistently followed from the mere force of inheritance, without
stimulus of either pleasure or pain Hence the common assump-
tion that men must be impelled to every action by experiencing some
pleasure or pain may be erroneous."7
Spencer did not put aside entirely the principle of utility. He felt
that man's inherited tendencies and traditions are the result of slowly,
often unconsciously, accumulated and organized racial experiences of
utility. His position is succinctly set forth in a famous letter to Mill,
in which he denies that he is anti-utilitarian:

To make my position fully understood, it seems needful to add that,
corresponding to the fundamental propositions of a developed Moral
Science, there have been, and still are, developing in the race, certain
fundamental moral intuitions; and that, though these moral intui-
tions are the results of accumulated experiences of Utility, gradually
organized and inherited, they have come to be quite independent of
conscious experience. Just in the same way that I believe the intuition
of space, possessed by any living individual, to have arisen from
organized and consolidated experiences of all antecedent individuals
who bequeathed to him their slowly-developed nervous organizations
-just as I believe that this intuition, requiring only to be made defi-
nite and complete by personal experiences, has practically become a
form of thought, apparently quite independent of experience; so do I
believe that the experiences of utility organized and consolidated
through all past generations of the human race, have been producing
corresponding nervous modifications, which, by continued transmis-
sion and accumulation, have become in us certain faculties of moral


intuition-certain emotions responding to right and wrong conduct,
which have no apparent basis in the individual experiences of utility.8

George Eliot employed Spencer's and Lewes' theory of the in-
heritance of racial experience directly in The Spanish Gypsy and
Daniel Deronda. She praised Sara Hennell's Thoughts in Aid of
Faith because of "the largeness and insight with which it estimates
Christianity as an 'organized experience,' a grand advance in the
moral development of the race" (Letters, III, 315-16). Two passages
in it in which the influence of Herbert Spencer is apparent, received
particular approbation.10 Sara Hennell argued that it is surely errone-
ous to regard Christianity as "a mere excrescence, the product of
morbid, fanatical humors," as something which can be cast aside once
its doctrines are seen to be fallacious; for the Christian experience of
past ages has "moulded actually anew" our internal constitutions.
Christianity has become "an integral part of the organic life of hu-
manity." In the second passage she described the sentiments of Chris-
tianity which are born within us as the product "of the whole of
previous human existence"; they are "slumbering as it were in our
nature, ready to be awakened into action immediately they are roused
by hint of corresponding circumstances." All men of Christian parent-
age are born with the consciousness of the Christian centuries in their
bosoms, and no view of life is satisfactory which does not make pro-
vision for that consciousness.

Although George Eliot attacked the efforts of theologians to derive
all moral dispositions and values from Christianity, she by no means
denied the cultural and ethical importance of Christian tradition. In-
deed, she felt that many Christian doctrines embody, either in pre-
cepts or in symbols, profound moral truths. But instead of morality
being initially inspired and sanctioned by religious creeds, religious
creeds, in her view, were originally inspired and sanctioned by the
moral emotions and perceptions of mankind. "I look at it," says Adam
Bede, "as if the doctrines was like finding names for your feelings."
To find that which is universally valuable in religious creeds, we must
discover the feelings which they name.
George Eliot strove to discover the enduring truth in Christianity by


putting aside speculation and turning to experience. As early as
October 1843, she wrote to Sara Hennell: "Speculative truth begins to
appear but a shadow of individual minds, agreement between intel-
lects seems unattainable, and we turn to the truth of feeling as the
only universal bond of union" (Letters, I, 162). In 1859 she wrote to

I have no longer any antagonism towards any faith in which human
sorrow and human longing for purity have expressed themselves; on
the contrary, I have a sympathy with it that predominates over all
argumentative tendencies. I have not returned to dogmatic Christi-
anity .but I see in it the highest expression of the religious senti-
ment that has yet found its place in the history of mankind, and I
have the profoundest interest in the inward life of sincere Christians
in all ages .. on many points where I used to delight in expressing
intellectual difference, I now delight in feeling an emotional agree-
ment. (Letters, III, 231)

The intellectual differences between man and man, between past and
present, give way to emotional accord when we recognize all systems
of value and belief to be expressions of human experience. "All the great
religions of the world historically considered," George Eliot wrote in
1873, "are rightly the objects of deep reverence and sympathy-they
are the record of spiritual struggles which are the types of our own"
(Letters, V, 447-48).
The beneficial influence of The Imitation of Christ upon Maggie
Tulliver is an excellent example of how Christian experience of the
past can be living truth in the present, despite the fact that the form
in which it was cast is now alien. In her bewilderment and discontent
with her lot, Maggie sought a vision of life which would enable her
to understand and endure her pain. The Imitation of Christ had sig-
nificance for Maggie because it presented self-renunciation more as an
experience than as a theological doctrine. The inner life of Thomas a
Kempis spoke directly to the inner life of Maggie Tulliver: "She
knew nothing of doctrines and systems-of mysticism or quietism;
but this voice out of the far-off Middle Ages was the direct communi-
cation of a human soul's belief and experience, and came to Maggie as
an unquestioned message" (Book IV, Chap. III). It is because Thomas


a Kempis has deeply felt the doctrines he is teaching that The Imita-
tion of Christ has a profound meaning for men of every age and be-

I suppose that is the reason why the small old-fashioned book, for
which you need only pay six-pence at a book-stall, works miracles to
this day, turning bitter waters into sweetness: while expensive sermons
and treatises, newly issued, leave all things as they were before. It was
written down by a hand that waited for the heart's prompting; it is
the chronicle of a solitary, hidden anguish, struggle, trust and triumph
-not written on velvet cushions to teach endurance to those who are
treading with bleeding feet on the stones. And so it remains to all
time a lasting record of human needs and human consolations: the
voice of a brother who, ages ago, felt and suffered and renounced-in
the cloister, perhaps, with serge gown and tonsured head, with much
chanting and long fasts, and with a fashion of speech different from
ours-but under the same silent far-off heavens, and with the same
passionate desires, the same strivings, the same failures, the same
weariness. (Book IV, Chap. III)

George Eliot died, we are told, with a copy of The Imitation of
Christ by her bed."
George Eliot's awareness of the truths of experience which underlie
creeds was partly the result of her own history. As a positivist, she was
highly conscious of the disparity between her old and new world-
views; but she was also aware of an emotional continuity between her
old and new selves, between her old and new experiences of life. In
1875 she wrote to Mrs. Ponsonby: "I should urge you to consider your
early religious experience as a portion of valid knowledge, and to
cherish its emotional results in relation to objects and ideas which are
either substitutes or metamorphoses of the earlier" (Letters, VI, 120).
The truth of feeling was not only the bond of union between past and
present and between men of differing philosophies; it was also the
bond of union between the Evangelical Marian Evans and the posi-
tivistic George Eliot.

Christianity, then, is not the source of the moral order for George
Eliot, but, as a form of organized experience, it is certainly an im-


portant part of the ethical process. Under the influence of the positiv-
ists, she came to feel that all of the traditions, creeds, institutions, laws,
and ceremonials of society contribute to the moral order, along with
the sentiments which their social heritage and identification inspire
in the breasts of individuals. Tradition, she felt, is "the basis of our
best life"; moral life is based on sentiment, and "our sentiments may
be called organized traditions" (Essays, p. 181). Sentiment saves exist-
ence from absurdity, for it hallows and sanctifies that which reason
finds meaningless or relative. Sentiment moves us to acts of goodness,
of unselfishness, of reverence, for which reason provides no motivation
or rationale: The only check to turning the bones of our ancestors into
spoons "is a sentiment, which will coerce none who do not hold that
sentiments are the better part of the world's wealth" (Daniel Deronda,
epigraph to Chap. XXXIII).
George Eliot placed great emphasis upon the importance, for the
individual, of having "that sense of special belonging which is the
root of human virtues, both public and private." "The effective bond
of human action is feeling"; and one of the most morally valuable of
feelings is the sense of identification with a racial, political, social, or
religious group, or with an historical tradition-the feeling of being
part of a worthy corporate body: "The pride which identifies us with
a great historic body is a humanising, elevating habit of mind, inspir-
ing sacrifices of individual comfort, gain, or other selfish ambition, for
the sake of the ideal whole; and no man swayed by such a sentiment
can become completely abject."12 Their devotion to the cause of their
people inspires self-sacrifice and heroic effort in men like Mordecai,
Savonarola, and Zarca, and in women like Romola and Fedalma.
Through identification with the social group it is possible to gain
spiritual independence of the accidents of one's own lot and a sense of
the enduring significance of one's life and deeds.
In Mirah's purity in the midst of evil and in the Cohens' kindliness
in the midst of their crass commercialism, we have examples of the
moral power of sensed racial identity and of inherited racial character-
istics. According to George Eliot, it is because the Jews have "a feeling
of race, a sense of corporate existence, unique in its intensity" that they
have retained many virtues and a surprising vitality despite the fact
that they have lived many centuries under extremely demoralizing


conditions. The vigor and intensity of Jewish life, like the vigor
and intensity of Florentine life in Romola, is largely due to the rich-
ness of inherited tradition. In Romola, Francesco Cei, a man who has
shaken off old prejudices, finds many objects for jest in the pageant
celebrating the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, patron saint of Flor-
ence. "Life," he remarks, "was never anything but a perpetual see-saw
between gravity and jest." Pietro Cennini, a worshipper of the ancients
and a public-spirited man, replies:

Keep your jest then till your end of the pole is uppermost .. and
that is not when the great bond of our Republic is expressing itself
in ancient symbols, without which the vulgar would be conscious of
nothing beyond their own petty wants of back and stomach, and
never rise to the sense of community in religion and law. There has
been no great people without processions, and the man who thinks
himself too wise to be moved by them to anything but contempt, is
like the puddle that was proud of standing alone while the river
rushed by. (Chap. VIII)

George Eliot recognized that tradition frequently sanctions errone-
ous ideas and harmful practices; but insofar as it is a potent force for
order and fellowship, tradition should be maintained; and insofar as it
embodies our best wisdom, our noblest sentiments and ideals, and is
the chief cause of that moral life which is the distinction and the glory
of man, it should be venerated.
In Tito Melema Eliot presented the moral consequences which oc-
cur when tradition and a sense of social loyalty fail to take root in a
basically selfish nature. Tito's selfishness alone cannot explain his com-
plete lack of trustworthiness; it is re-enforced by his rationalistic
hedonism, by his lack of hereditary ties in Florence, and by his scepti-
cal attitude toward the usages, codes, and religious creeds of society.
When Romola tells Bernardo del Nero that he will soon forget that
Tito is not a Florentine, her godfather replies: "It seems to me he is
one of the demoni, who are of no particular country His mind is
a little too nimble to be weighted with all the stuff we men carry
about in our hearts" (Chap. XIX). Tito recognizes no higher law of
action than his own interests; he has no sense of that moral order, that
doctrine of consequences, which tradition holds over the heads of


wrongdoers. He had been "nurtured in erudite familiarity with
disputes concerning the Chief Good, which had after all, he consid-
ered, left it a matter of taste" (Chap. XLVI). In morality, reason is
the servant of desire; socially inspired sentiments and feelings of im-
mediate love and sympathy are far more trustworthy as guides and
effective as sources of ethical action.
Even Tito is not entirely immune to the influence of traditional
moral standards, especially when they are vigorously supported by
public opinion. After he has convinced himself that he has amply
repaid Baldassare for his care and kindness, that his chief duty is now
to himself, that Baldassare is dead, he experiences a private sense of
shame at what he knows all would hold to be the violation of a sacred

he had avowed to himself a choice which he would have been ashamed
to avow to others, and which would have made him ashamed in the
resurgent presence of his father. But the inward shame, the reflex of
that outward law which the great heart of mankind makes for every
individual man, a reflex which will exist even in the absence of the
sympathetic impulses that need no law, but rush to the deed of
fidelity and pity as inevitably as the brute mother shields her young
from the attack of the hereditary enemy-that inward shame was
showing its blushes in Tito's determined assertion to himself that his
father was dead, or that at least search was hopeless. (Chap IX)

Social law has wrought itself into Tito's inner nature, but not deeply
and powerfully enough to triumph in the conflict of motivations.

There are, then, apart from the dogmas of Christianity, a number of
forces in the constitution of things which, in George Eliot's view, pro-
duce, favor, and demand a course of action called right. In addition to
the "outward law which the great heart of mankind makes for every
individual man" and its inward reflex in conscience, there is fellow
feeling which springs from "the sympathetic impulses that need no
law." The noblest and most enduring parts of tradition are objectifica-
tions of sympathetic experience, and sympathy is important in render-
ing the individual sensitive to the beliefs and codes of his society.
Darwin points out that "however great weight we may attribute to


public opinion, our regard for the approbation and disapprobation of
our fellows depends on sympathy, which forms an essential part
of the social instinct and is indeed its foundation-stone"; and he cites
with approval Bain's contention that "the love of praise and the strong
feeling of glory, and the still stronger horror of scorn and infamy, 'are
due to the workings of sympathy.' "13
The sympathetic tendencies may be encouraged by tradition, but
sympathy is antecedent to tradition and potentially superior to it. The
individual who has a strongly sympathetic nature combined with pro-
found personal experience and the ability to imagine the inward states
of others has a moral life independent of tradition; he has a truer
sense of good and evil and a more highly developed conscience than
tradition could supply. Lewes remarks that in the lower stages of
moral development remorse is connected chiefly with fear of punish-
ment; "but in a mind where the educated tracing of hurtful conse-
quences to others is associated with a sympathetic imagination of their
suffering, Remorse is the agonised sense, the contrite contempla-
tion, of the wound inflicted on another.... The sanction which was
once the outside whip has become the inward sympathetic pang.""14
The internalization of tradition also produces a private sense of re-
morse, but the remorse is independent of the actual goodness or bad-
ness of the violation which causes it. When they are strong enough,
the sympathetic tendencies can lead an individual to rebel against the
harsh usages of tradition, even when such rebellion involves great
personal sacrifice.
According to Darwin, Spencer, and Lewes, man is innately social
and sympathetic; he has a strong desire for the company of his fellows,
and he feels for and with them. Sympathy and sociality were initially
products of the cosmic process; they arose through random variation
and were naturally selected because of their survival value. They were
instrumental in the formation and strengthening of social groups, and
they have been strengthened and developed by habit and by the en-
couraging influence of the social medium. Even so, the development
of these moral qualities in man has been very slow because, as Spencer
points out, "this moral evolution" has at each stage been "negatively
restrained .. by defect of intelligence" and "positively restrained by
the predatory activities .necessitated by the antagonisms of socie-


ties." The competition between societies has contributed to an increase
of fellow feeling among the members of each group, but it has pre-
vented the giving of sympathy to members of other groups. In order
for the society to survive, the natures of its members have "to continue
such that destructive activities are not painful to them but on the
whole pleasurable." Spencer concluded that "only when the struggle
for existence has ceased to go on under the form of war" can those
"highest social sentiments which have sympathy for their root .
attain their fullest development.""'
Lack of intelligence is also an obstacle to sympathy. "The egoistic
impulses," Lewes explains, "are directed towards objects simply so far
as these are the means of satisfying a desire. The altruistic impulses,
on the contrary, have greater need of Intelligence to understand the
object itself in all its relations" (PLM, I, 153). A sympathetic feeling
is one which is excited by the signs of that feeling in another person;
intelligence, that is, mental vision, is needed to read the signs. Without
vision there is little or no sympathy. An increase in vision usually pro-
duces an increase in sympathy. Sympathy and vision are both depend-
ent upon experience. Unless we have had an experience much like
that which another person is undergoing, we cannot perceive and
share the states of feeling signified by that person's behavior. "Suffer-
ing," says Lewes, "humanizes." Experience and vision unite to pro-
duce sympathy. Spencer is careful to insist that "higher representative
power does not involve greater commiseration, unless there have been
received painful experiences like, or akin to, those which are wit-
nessed. ... since unless a sensation or emotion has been felt, it cannot
be sympathetically excited." Spencer's next remark succinctly explains
the situation of Adam Bede at the beginning of the novel: "For this
reason strong persons, though they may be essentially sympathetic in
their natures, cannot adequately enter into the feelings of the weak.""l
It would be difficult to overestimate the importance of the experi-
ence-vision-sympathy pattern in George Eliot's understanding of the
moral process; it pervades her letters, essays, novels, and poems. When
Mrs. Ponsonby complained that science's rejection of immortality
made her regard human existence as unimportant and human actions
and values, therefore, as insignificant, George Eliot replied that surely
she had not lost


all keen sense of what is cruel and injurious-all belief that your con-
duct (and therefore the conduct of others) can have any difference of
effect on the wellbeing of those immediately about you (and therefore
on those afar off), whether you carelessly follow your selfish moods or
encourage that vision of others' needs which is the source of justice,
tenderness, sympathy in the fullest sense? .
With regard to the pains and limitations of one's personal lot, I
suppose that there is not a single man, or woman, who has not more
or less need of that stoical resignation which is often a hidden heroism,
or who, in considering his or her past history is not aware that it has
been cruelly affected by the ignorance or selfish action of some fellow-
being in a more or less close relation of life. And to my mind, there
can be no stronger motive, than this perception, to an energetic effort
that the lives nearest to us shall not suffer in a like manner from us.
(Letters, VI, 98-99)

Our own suffering, if it does not simply embitter, leads us to be sym-
pathetic with the suffering of others, and our sympathy leads us to
behave so that others will not suffer as we have. The moral action of
sympathy is independent of law or creed; and George Eliot implies
that it is quite independent of the supposedly demoralizing effects of
the scientific picture of man and the cosmos.
George Eliot opposed those who felt that the sole basis of morality
is man's selfish desire for reward and fear of punishment. Edward
Young, whose religion, she contended, was nothing but "egoism
turned heavenward," had made the fear of future punishment man's
sole inducement to ethical action: "If it were not for the prospect of
immortality, he considers, it would be wise and agreeable to be in-
decent ; and, heaven apart, it would be extremely irrational in
any man not to be a knave." In the person of an hypothetical un-
believer, she attributes Young's position to his "utter want of moral

I am just and honest, not because I expect to live in another world,
but, because, having felt the pain of injustice and dishonesty towards
myself, I have a fellow-feeling with other men, who would suffer the
same pain if I were unjust or dishonest towards them. The fact
is, I do not love myself alone, whatever logical necessity there may be


for that conclusion in your mind.... It is a pang to me to witness the
suffering of a fellow-being, and I feel his suffering the more acutely
because he is mortal-because his life is so short, and I would have it,
if possible, filled with happiness and not misery. Through my union
and fellowship with the men and women I have seen, I feel a like,
though a fainter, sympathy with those I have not seen; and I am able
so to live in imagination with the generations to come, that their good
is not alien to me, and is a stimulus to me to labour for ends which
may not benefit myself, but will benefit them.17

George Eliot viewed suffering as a part of man's education which
leads him from his innate subjectivity to objectivity-that is, to an
awareness of the interior life of others.
This is emphatic in her novels and I devote three chapters to it
later under the heading of "The Three Stages of Moral Development."
Suffering shocks us out of the first stage, in which self is seen as the
center of the world and the world as an extension of self, into the
second stage, in which the world is seen as alien and the self as insig-
nificant. It can, if it promotes vision and sympathy, nurture us to
moral maturity, the third stage. Vision and sympathy unite us with
others, reducing the disparity between inner and outer for ourselves,
and prompting us to function as mediator for others. A concern for
future rewards and punishments tends to enmesh us in our egoism by
encouraging us to regard others as means to our own ends.
George Eliot felt that although abstract theories exert a powerful in-
fluence upon attitudes and actions, morally pernicious beliefs are often
ignored in practice when the individual's sympathetic emotions are
sufficiently powerful. In Adam Bede, speaking of Methodism, she
exclaims: "it is possible, thank Heaven! to have very erroneous
theories and very sublime feelings" (Chap. III). The best morality
she argues, is that which is based upon feeling and exhibits "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." "It is only where
moral emotion is comparatively weak that the contemplation of a rule
or theory habitually mingles with its action; ... the minds which are
predominantly didactic are deficient in sympathetic emotion" (Essays,
p. 59).


The ethical process, George Eliot held, though productive of creeds
and dogmas, is not dependent for its origin or continuance upon them.
Its chief agent is human feeling-the sympathetic feeling that is the
product of experience and vision, and the social sentiment that is pro-
duced by the interaction of the individual and the social order. George
Eliot, Spencer, Darwin, and Lewes not only disagreed with those
thinkers who held conscience and the moral sentiments to be entirely
innate and a priori-God-given; but they also opposed empiricists like
Mill and Alexander Bain who denied that moral virtues and judg-
ments were in any sense innate and attempted to derive them solely
from painful and pleasurable associations in the experience of the indi-
vidual."8 Man's moral impulses and judgments, they contended, are
partly innate and partly acquired; partly the result of the organic
evolution of the race and the super-organic evolution of society, and
partly the result of the individual's experience. The individual's ex-
perience, moreover, is determined not only by external stimuli, but
also by his inherited psychic organization which responds to these
stimuli in accordance with its innate laws. Man is not simply an ani-
mal endowed with a very highly developed nervous system; he is a
social being with social feelings. He is different from other social ani-
mals by virtue of the fact that his social feelings have become em-
bodied in an on-going society replete with codes and institutions and
traditions. Man's social feelings have thus created an ethical process
which constantly modifies and is modified by the social experience of
successive generations of individuals.
The moral order, then, has both an inward existence in individuals
and an outward existence in society. The interactions of man and his
medium result in moral progress: society exerts an ever increasing in-
fluence upon its individual members, thus strengthening the inward
moral tendencies; and socially-oriented individuals, who are growing
more numerous, work for the betterment of society.


The truth of infinite value that he teaches is realism-the doctrine
that all truth and beauty are to be attained by a humble and faithful
study of nature, and not by substituting vague forms, bred by imagi-
nation on the mists of feeling, in place of definite, substantial reality.
The thorough acceptance of this doctrine would remould our life; and
he who teaches its application to any one department of human activ-
ity with such power as Mr. Ruskin's is a prophet for his generation.1

For George Eliot and her fellow positivists almost all issues-scien-
tific, moral, aesthetic, political, or economic-were phases of the prob-
lem of knowledge. The primary goal of positivism was to secure the
triumph of empirical methodology by demonstrating its applicability
to all areas of human interest and by attacking metaphysical thinking
wherever it was found.
The positivists branded as metaphysical any philosophy which dis-
played the following characteristics: (1) a concern with ontology and
teleology; (2) a belief either in innate ideas or in laws of thought and
categories of perception that do not have their origin in experience;
(3) a belief in the possibility of an immediate, intuitive knowledge of
the existence and nature of a reality which transcends experience; and
(4) a method and test of knowledge which relies upon introspection,


or upon a dialectic which, assuming a built-in correspondence between
the internal and the external, bypasses or slights sensory experience
and works from the inward to the outward. The basic epistemological
conceptions of the positivists were: (1) that experience is the limit of
knowledge, and hence that consideration of first and final causes, or
of any realm beyond experience, is fruitless and misleading; (2) that
we have neither divinely implanted innate ideas nor imposed cate-
gories of perception-that the contents and modes of consciousness are
entirely the product of evolution and experience; (3) that all knowl-
edge of the external world is relative, i.e., that things cannot be known
as they are in themselves, but only as they appear to human conscious-
ness; and (4) that no conception of external reality can be accepted as
true without verification, that experience or consonance with experi-
ence and not logical consistency or belief is the test of truth, and that
the objective method-which bends the mind to the outward shows of
things instead of ordering external existence according to the precon-
ceptions or wishes of the mind-is the only path to truth.
The aims of the empiricists are clearly set forth in George Eliot's
review of O. F. Gruppe's Gegenwart und Zukunft der Philosophie in
Deutschland. Gruppe's chief concern is, according to her,
the rectification of the method of philosophical inquiry, which, as he
justly insists, is the essential preliminary to all true progress. It is, he
says, simply to a reform in method that we owe all the splendid
achievements of modern natural science, and it is only by the exten-
sion of that reform to every department of philosophical inquiry that
here also any of what Bacon calls "fruit" can be obtained.

To achieve its proper end philosophy must, in the future, "renounce
metaphysics: it must renounce the ambitious attempt to form a theory
of the universe, to know things in their causes and first principles." Its
real task is the application of the empirical methodology "to the in-
vestigation of Psychology, with its subordinate department Aesthetics;
to Ethics; and to the principles of Jurisprudence." George Eliot's clos-
ing remarks identify her as a militant empiricist: she finds great
interest "in the fact that a German professor of philosophy renounces
the attempt to climb to a heaven by the rainbow bridge of 'the high
priori road,' and is content humbly to use his muscles in treading the


uphill a posteriori path which will lead, not indeed to heaven, but to
an eminence whence we may see very bright and blessed things on
George Eliot's chief criticism of Gruppe is that he fails to give ade-
quate recognition to the work of John Stuart Mill. In Mill's Logic, she
contends, the reformation and extension of method that Gruppe calls
for have been largely achieved. Like Gruppe, Mill sees the empirical
epistemology as the crucial factor in all efforts to improve man's
intellectual and social state. In his Autobiography, Mill explains that
his chief purpose in writing the Logic was to clear the way for social
and political reforms. The cause of liberalism was impeded, he felt,
by the support which the metaphysical epistemology gave to conserva-
tive tendencies and existing institutions. The Logic was designed to
counter "the German, or a priori view of human knowledge, and of
the knowing faculties" by supplying a "text-book of the opposite doc-
trine-that which derives all knowledge from experience." The idea
that "truths external to the mind may be known by intuition or con-
sciousness, independently of observation and experience" is, Mill con-
tends, the chief support of "false doctrines and bad institutions," and
results in a "false philosophy in morals, politics, and religion":
By the aid of this theory, every inveterate belief and every intense feel-
ing, of which the origin is not remembered, is enabled to dispense
with the obligation of justifying itself by reason, and is erected into
its own all-sufficient voucher and justification. There never was such
an instrument devised for consecrating all deep-seated prejudices.

In recounting his motives for writing the Examination of Sir William
Hamilton's Philosophy, Mill again stresses the fact that the difference
between the intuitional and experimental schools "lies at the founda-
tion of all the greatest differences of practical opinion in an age of
progress." If conservative interests are to be overcome, there must be
a "hand-to-hand fight" between the empirical and the metaphysical
epistemologies. In the Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philos-
ophy Mill engaged in such a fight; and it was this book, which ap-
peared one hundred and one years after Reid's first attack on Hume,
that finally gave British empiricism a decisive victory over the Scottish
Common Sense School.3


Although Mill took exception to many aspects of the philosophical
system of Auguste Comte, his recognition of the conflict between the
metaphysical and the empirical epistemologies as the crucial issue of
the day is partly attributable to Comte's influence. Comte interpreted
the history of human culture and the contemporary fragmentation of
beliefs in terms of the conflict between theology, metaphysics, and
positivism. His own philosophy, Comte contended, marked the
emergence of positivism as the sole and ultimate program for knowl-
edge and action. Traditional social, political, economic, and religious
theories and institutions were, in Comte's view, largely the products
of the theological and metaphysical habits of mind. Comte's view of
history is succinctly embodied in his Law of the Three Stages. Basing
his argument upon an empirical study of the "development of human
intelligence" as it is manifested in the history of the species and in the
psychological evolution of the individual, Comte contended "that each
of our leading conceptions,-each branch of our knowledge,-passes
successively through three different theoretical conditions: the Theo-
logical or fictitious; the Metaphysical, or abstract; and the Scientific,
or positive." That the human mind successively employs these three
modes of thought is a consequence of its nature: "the first is the neces-
sary point of departure of the human understanding; and the third is
its fixed and definitive state." In philosophy the final state of develop-
ment is reached when the mind turns away from "the vain search
after Absolute notions ... and applies itself to the study of... laws,-
that is,... invariable relations of succession and resemblance. Reason-
ing and observation, duly combined, are the means of this knowl-
George Henry Lewes, in his History of Philosophy from Thales to
Comte follows the lead of Comte, presenting the development of
Western thought in classical antiquity from theology to metaphysics.
He then examines the medieval subjugation of metaphysics by theol-
ogy, and the emergence of positive science and the emancipation of
metaphysics from theology at the close of the Middle Ages. About
sixty years after Bacon endeavored to turn the attention of philosophy
to positive science, the subjective method, as it was defined for modern
thought by Descartes, was carried to its extreme results in the pan-
theistic idealism of Spinoza. This, Lewes contends, brought about the


first crisis in modern philosophy. Philosophers were led by Spinoza's
demonstration of the conclusions which their premises logically in-
volved to question the validity of the premises:

Spinozism or Scepticism? There seemed no third alternative. Nor
was there a third alternative, so long as Philosophy persisted in its
ontological and absolute claims-persisted in the metaphysical method,
in the search for truths lying beyond the sphere of relativity. A new
conception of Philosophy was needed to restore the shattered confi-
dence of philosophers.

The new conception came in the form of the proposition that all
knowledge is relative. Inquiries into teleology and ontology must be
held in abeyance until the nature and limits of knowledge are es-
tablished: "the hopeless failures of so many generations suggested
that the seekers had begun their search at the wrong end."
The second crisis in modern philosophy occurred with the reaction
of Kant and the Scottish Common Sense School to the Scepticism
of Hume and the Sensationalism of Locke and his followers in the
Sensational School-Condillac, Hartley, Erasmus Darwin, de Tracy,
and Cabanis. The major issue was the status of the mind: Is it an
autonomous entity or an integral part of the body? The Sensational
School, which, says Lewes, was the chief object of the reaction,
brought philosophy to the point where it must either accept psy-
chology as a branch of biology or fall "back upon Metaphysics which
modern Science gloried in having escaped forever":

The first issue was too repulsive for the majority of philosophers. It
was repulsive because it disturbed the sacred associations of awe which
surrounded the mystery of Mind, and because it was said by antag-
onists to lead to degrading and immoral conclusions; which it did not,
and which it could not lead to, if true; though antagonists chose to
affirm that it was not true, because they assumed that it led to the
immoral conclusions.

Lewes' account of the German Idealists-Fichte, Schelling, and
Hegel-who in claiming the possibility of absolute intuitive knowl-
edge had returned to the assumptions and methods of Spinoza, is


more polemical than expository. Lewes concludes his history trium-
phantly, however, with a laudatory discussion of Comte, who has, he
feels, assured the ultimate victory of positivism and the defeat of
metaphysics by establishing the scientific basis of all disciplines, in-
cluding psychology and Comte's special contribution, sociology.

Hitherto the History of Philosophy has been that of a long period of
preparation. A new era dawns with the transformation of Science into
Philosophy. Henceforward History will record development, not revo-
lution-convergence of effort, not conflict.... The constitution of the
Positive Philosophy closes the period of preparation, and opens the
period of evolution.5

Like Gruppe, Mill, and Comte, Lewes saw the conflict between the
metaphysical and empirical approaches to reality as centrally important
in almost all areas of human activity. He endeavored systematically
to apply the principles of the empirical epistemology to the problems
of literary criticism and aesthetic creation in Principles of Success in
Literature. A single passage from his Life of Goethe will clearly
illustrate his concern with the moral and aesthetic implications of
the objective methodology. By way of defining Goethe's mental
characteristics, he cited the contention of Frederick Schlegel and S. T.
Coleridge that every man is born either a Platonist or an Aristotelian.
This distinction, said Lewes, is between two types of intellect, the
subjective and the objective. The subjective intellect is "eminently
personal," while the objective is "eminently impersonal." The objec-
tive intellect disengages "itself as much as possible from its own
prepossessions, striving to see and represent objects as they exist"; the
subjective views "all objects in the light of its own feelings and pre-
conceptions." In philosophy the contrast is between the realist and
the idealist: "The realist argues from Nature upwards. The
idealist argues from an Idea downwards."
Not only in philosophy and art, but also in morals there is "a
constant antagonism" between the objective and subjective, or the
realistic and idealistic, modes of thought:

Thus in Morals the Platonists are those who seek the highest morality
out of human nature, instead of in the healthy development of all


human tendencies, and their due coordination; they hope, in the sup-
pression of integral faculties, to attain some super-human standard.
They call that Ideal which no Reality can reach, but for which we
should strive. They draw from their own minds, or from the
dogmas handed to them by tradition, an arbitrary mould, into which
they attempt to fuse the organic activity of Nature.

The idealistic conceptions of human nature and human destiny owe
their power over the minds of men to the fact that they satisfy man's
craving for a glorified existence, a craving so powerful that it easily
leads to self-delusion.
Goethe's intellect, Lewes tells us, belongs to the objective class. As
an artist, as a philosopher, as a moralist, and as a scientist he invari-
ably confronted his ideas with concrete reality. His characters are real
men and women; his art, the material of which is drawn largely from
his own experience, represents life and not an idea of life; his works
do not have their moral evaluations arbitrarily superimposed upon
them but "carry their moral with them, in them." He sought in
morality not something out of nature, but "the high and harmonious
action of all human tendencies."

In every page of his works [says Lewes] may be read a strong feeling
for the real, the concrete, the living; and a repugnance as strong for
the vague, the abstract, or the supersensuous. His constant striving
was to study Nature, so as to see her directly, and not through the
mists of fancy, or through the distortions of prejudice,-to look at
men, and into them,-to apprehend things as they were. .. If we
look through his works with critical attention, we shall observe the
concrete tendency determining-first, his choice of subjects; secondly,
his handling of character; and, thirdly,.his style.6

As the comment on Ruskin which introduced this chapter indicates,
George Eliot ascribed to realism an importance equal to that given it
by Comte, Mill, and Lewes. "The thorough acceptance" of realism,
she felt, "would remould our life." The position enunciated in her
review of Modern Painters encourages an approach to her mind and
art similar to that employed by Lewes in his study of Goethe. Many of
her views on life and art, and much of her fiction, can be explained


in terms of her adherence to the empirical epistemology. Equally im-
portant is her familiarity with the conflict between the objective and
subjective approaches to reality, a conflict which she experienced in
her own intellectual and moral development. She is concerned in her
novels not only with exploring the implications for human life of
empiricism, but also with portraying the nature and consequences
of the subjective approach to reality. Her aim is to define the proper
sphere of each approach to reality, to show the good or evil conse-
quences of each when properly or improperly used, and to effect a
reconciliation between the conflicting claims of realism and moralism.
Let us now examine more closely the views of George Eliot and those
of her fellow positivists concerning the opposing characteristics of the
objective and subjective approaches to reality.

As the positivists see it, the essential characteristic of the metaphysi-
cal method is that it confuses the objective with the subjective. It con-
verts the internal into the external, thereby making the subjective and
the objective orders identical. There is no clear distinction between
self and non-self; the world is an extension of the ego. The desires
of the heart, the preconceptions of the intellect, and the qualities of
human nature are projected into outer phenomena and are then
assumed to have an objective existence. For Comte, both the theo-
logical and the metaphysical stages of thought are examples of sub-
jective thinking. "In the theological stage," wrote Comte, "the human
mind supposes all phenomena to be produced by the immediate
action of supernatural beings." In the metaphysical stage, "the mind
supposes, instead of supernatural beings, abstract forces, veritable
entities (that is, personified abstractions) inherent in all beings, and
capable of producing all phenomena."7 Feuerbach contended that the
conceptions of both religion and traditional philosophy are products
of the projection and reification of some element of human experience.
The difference between them, for him, was, as Sidney Hook observed,
"that in religion the hypostasis found its expression in concrete objects
of sense and imagination while in philosophy the hypostasis was ab-
stract and conceptual."8
Lewes attributed the creation of metaphysical entities to the mind's
tendency to reify abstractions. The mind, having made generalizations


from particular experiences, considers these generalizations as uni-
versals which have an autonomous existence. The tendency of the
subjective method "is to confound concepts with percepts, ideas with
objects, conjectures with realities." The tendency to explain the ob-
jective by the subjective, to transpose the internal into the external,
accounts, according to Lewes, for the fetichism of children, the poly-
theism of primitive cultures, and the metaphysics and physics of the
idealistic philosophers.
The primary object of philosophical inquiry, according to Lewes, is
to ascertain the state of affairs which exists in the external world so
that we can adapt internal to external relations. That the non-self has
a real existence he holds to be as ultimate and irrefutable a datum of
consciousness as that the thinking self exists (see PLM, I, 157, 163).
The external world not only exists; it also exhibits an autonomous
order which does not necessarily correspond to the order of thought.
Truth, he says, lies "in the correspondence between the order of ideas
and the order of phenomena, so that the one becomes a reflection
of the other." He identifies the chief source of error as "the Subjective
current determining the direction of the thought." When, "instead of
the movement of Thought being controlled by the movement of
Things," the subjective current dominates the mind's activity, it
disturbs "the clear reflection of the objective order," and results in
"concepts and judgments which have no corresponding objects."'
The difference between the objective and subjective approaches is
not that the one is inductive and the other deductive; science, as Mill
argued at great length, can accomplish little without deduction.
George Eliot defended Mill against Gruppe's criticism of the im-
portance which he gives to deduction in the Logic: "Deduction, as
Mill shows, is a means of registering and using the results of
induction, indispensable to any great progress in science."10 "The true
antithesis," writes Lewes, "is between verified and unverified cases
of Induction and Deduction."'" One can form a theory on the basis
of little or no evidence and remain a positive thinker if the theory
is then tested by seeing if it coincides or is consonant with sensory
experience. Goethe, according to Lewes, "was a positive thinker on
the a priori Method; a Method vicious only when the seeker rests
contented with his own assumptions, or seeks only a partial hasty


confrontation with facts .; a Method eminently philosophic when
it merely goes before the facts, anticipating what will be the tardy
conclusions of experience." Goethe "everywhere sought in the order of
Nature for verification of the ideas which he had conceived a priori."12
The metaphysician, however, even if his starting point is derived
from observation, does not test his speculations by confrontation with
external reality. He often pursues knowledge of the objective order
by introspection or by deduction from the premises which intro-
spection yields. The method of metaphysics, writes Lewes, "is the
determination of the external order according to analogies drawn
from within. The culmination of this method is seen in the funda-
mental axiom of Des Cartes and Spinoza: all clear ideas are true.""
The accuracy of our conceptions is determined by their logical con-
sistency and their harmony with our preconceptions rather than by
their agreement with external facts. Traditional beliefs, imaginative
constructions, and egoistic prepossessions play a larger role in the
formation of our idea of the world than do sense-data.
The method of metaphysics, which is identical with that of theology,
is nearly illustrated by Mr. Casaubon's procedure in his proposed
Key to All Mythologies. Casaubon's method is exactly the opposite
of that employed by Lydgate in his medical research. Lydgate, we
remember, worked by the objective method, employing observation,
induction, mental vision (leading to the formation of hypotheses),
and experiential verification.x4 Casaubon began with the a priori
assumption "that all the mythical systems or erratic mythical frag-
ments in the world were corruptions of a tradition originally re-
vealed." He did not arrive at this conception after research, by
envisioning the probable state of affairs on the basis of partial evi-
dence; he began with his thesis and interpreted all evidence in the
light of it. And, quite naturally, he found what he had anticipated:
"Having once mastered the true position and taken a firm footing
there, the vast field of mythical constructions became intelligible, nay,
luminous with the reflected light of correspondences" (Middlemarch,
Chap. III). What Casaubon found was the reflection of his own
premise. He was further prevented from arriving at the truth by the
fact that his work was not undertaken in the spirit of disinterested
research, but as a means of satisfying the claims of his ego. He was


concerned less with truth than with gaining personal glory and
smiting his enemies. Dorothea could evaluate his work better than
he: "It was not wonderful that, in spite of her small instruction,
her judgment in this matter was truer than his: for she looked with
unbiassed comparison and healthy sense at probabilities on which he
had risked all his egoism" (Chap. XLVIII).
Theory and egoism, forming a powerful subjective current, stood
between Casaubon and the facts. The external world lost its solidity
for him, and he existed in a subjective world of his own construction,
a world which he could mold as he pleased. His theory "was not
likely to bruise itself unawares against discoveries: it floated among
flexible conjectures .: it was a method of interpretation which was
not tested by the necessity of forming anything which had sharper
collisions than an elaborate notion of Gog and Magog: it was as free
from interruptions as a plan for threading the stars together" (Chap.
XLVIII). The mind in which the subjective current is dominant,
instead of seeing things as they are, often sees them as it wants them
to be, as it feels they ought to be. George Eliot objected to the eclec-
ticism of Victor Cousin because "the investigator under this system
does not appear to us to be working by what Lord Bacon calls a 'dry
light,' but to be rather seeking for something that he himself wants.""
George Eliot vigorously attacked the subjective approach as it
appears in religious thought in her essay "Evangelical Teaching: Dr.
Cumming." This, like the essay on Young, is a biting satire on the
moral deficiency of a widely-respected teacher of Christian theology.
Like Bulstrode in Middlemarch, Cumming treats external facts in
a subjective way, rationalizing, twisting them about to make them
fit into a preconceived notion of God's plan. Cumming unscrupulously
manipulates evidence in order to make the Scriptures support his
brand of Calvinistic Protestantism and in order to defend his con-
ception of Scriptural authority. George Eliot does not, however, accuse
him of hypocrisy or conscious dishonesty. His "unscrupulosity of
statement" stems from his subjective habit of thought. Insofar as a
defense of Christian theology requires the distortion of evidence,
which she feels that it almost necessarily must in modern times, that
theology is a cause of immorality. She does not doubt the genuineness
of Cumming's zeal for Christianity,


or the sincerity of his conviction that the doctrines he preaches are
necessary to salvation; on the contrary, we regard the flagrant un-
veracity found on his pages as an indirect result of that conviction-
as a result, namely, of the intellectual and moral distortion of view
which is inevitably produced by assigning to dogmas, based on a very
complex structure of evidence, the place and authority of first truths.
A distinct appreciation of the value of evidence-in other words the
intellectual perception of truth-is more closely allied to truthfulness
of statement, or the moral quality of veracity, than is generally ad-
mitted. That highest moral habit, the constant preference of truth,
both theoretically and practically, pre-eminently demands the co-
operation of the intellect with the impulses. And it is commonly
seen that, in proportion as religious sects believe themselves to be
guided by direct inspiration rather than by a spontaneous exertion of
their faculties, their sense of truthfulness is misty and confused. .
Minds fettered by this doctrine no longer inquire concerning a propo-
sition whether it is attested by sufficient evidence, but whether it
accords with Scripture; they do not search for facts, as such, but for
facts that will bear out their doctrine. It is easy to see that this
mental habit blunts not only the perception of truth, but the sense of
truthfulness, and that the man whose faith drives him into fallacies
treads close upon the precipice of falsehood.

"The fundamental faith for man," George Eliot writes, "is faith in
the result of a brave, honest, and steady use of all his faculties."'1
In George Eliot's view, we are all born egoists. Both the individual
and the race, in their childhood, regard the world almost entirely
from the subjective point of view. Maturation is the process of recog-
nizing the independent existence of outer phenomena, of yielding up
the absolute supremacy of the self. In defining "the initial stage of
all speculation," Lewes quotes Goethe's essay on "Experiment as the
Mediator between the Object and the Subject": "Man regards at first
all external objects with reference to himself; and rightly so, for his
whole fate depends on them, on the pleasure or pain which they
cause him, on their utility or danger to him." In many respects, how-
ever, this approach to reality defeats its own ends, for it cannot
possibly arrive at the truth of things, and man remains powerless to
control the conditions of his existence. By a long series of defeats and


a gradual accumulation of experience, mankind has finally been
brought to the positive stage of thought. The objective method is not
easy to accept and employ, for it requires rigorous self-restraint: Goethe
remarks how much more difficult is the task of discerning objects
according to this Method, i.e., not as related to us, but as related to
one another. Our touchstone of pleasure or pain is given up. With
godlike indifference we become spectators and seek that which is,
not that which touches us."'1
The great division among George Eliot's characters is between
egoists and those who approach reality objectively. The complications
of her plots frequently stem from the egoism of central characters; and
the development of the action often hinges upon or produces the
education of the protagonist from egoism to objectivity. The role of
the subjective and the objective approaches to reality in the moral
lives of George Eliot's characters I shall examine at length in my
discussion of the three stages of moral development in Chapter VII.s

Perhaps the most extreme form of the subjective approach to ex-
ternal reality, the positivists felt, is found in religion. "The religious
mind," Feuerbach proclaimed in The Essence of Christianity, "does
not distinguish between subjective and objective,-it has no doubts; it
has the faculty, not of discerning other things than itself, but of
seeing its own conceptions out of itself as distinct beings." The real
external order is supplanted by an illusory external order which is
simply the subjectivity of the individual made into an object: "the
religious mind ... has the immediate certainty that all its involuntary,
spontaneous affections are impressions from without, manifestations
of another being.""1
Thus Bulstrode justifies his lust for personal power and dominance
and excuses the injuries he inflicts upon others by seeing himself as
the chosen servant of God and referring all of his actions to the
divine plan. He believes that what he wants to do is actually what
God wants him to do; that every opportunity for gain which comes
his way, even when it involves what the world would call crime or
injustice, is providentially arranged, is a sign, a directive, from God.
Dinah Morris, too, guides her actions by heaven-sent signs and di-
rectives which are really her own "spontaneous affections" seen as


"impressions from without, manifestations of another being." Dinah
desires the welfare of others; hence God always "leads" her to acts
of self-sacrifice and altruism. When she falls in love with Adam she is
afraid to marry him because their love might lead her away from
God's service. She finds, however, that her love for Adam is the
strongest drive of her nature; and when she accepts him she says,
"Adam ... it is the Divine Will" (Chap. LIV).
Feuerbach tries to show that almost all of religion's conceptions of
God and the world are in reality unconscious objectifications of man's
own nature, needs, and desires. According to him, the autonomous
existence of physical nature and the teachings of science are inimical
to religion. The religious doctrines of creation out of nothing, provi-
dence, prayer, and faith, he argues, are all objectifications of man's
desires for the obliteration of physical nature and the supremacy of
his own subjectivity.
In the inmost depths of his soul, Feuerbach asserts, man would
prefer that the world did not exist. Since the world and matter do in
fact exist, there is a contradiction between subjective desires and ob-
jective reality. How can man expel the world from his consciousness,
so that it will not disturb him in "the beatitude of the unlimited
soul"? Only "by making the world itself a product of will, by giving
it an arbitrary existence always hovering between existence and non-
existence, always awaiting its annihilation." In the doctrine of creation
out of nothing man affirms "the non-essentiality, the nothingness of
the world" and the omnipotence, the independence, the unlimitedness
of the will. "The culminating point of the principle of subjectivity is
creation out of nothing." The objective world arose from nothingness
at the command of the will and is doomed by the will to annihilation;
only subjectivity is underived and enduring. In God the Creator man
conceives his own subjective nature when the limiting world is
separated from it. By the doctrine of creation out of nothing man
subjectively triumphs over the external order, characterized by in-
eluctable, impersonal causal sequences, that stands between himself
and the absolute.
By his belief in Providence and miracle, which are merely versions
of the doctrine of creation out of nothing, man exempts himself from
any connection with the physical world, denies "the reality of ex-


ternal things," and asserts "the infinite value of his existence." In a
world governed by a supernatural Providence, the individual need not
be concerned with achieving his ends by material means, for material
circumstances are entirely subservient to the will of God, which is, of
course, really man's own will projected into objectivity. Things should
happen as he wants them to precisely because it is he who wants
them so to happen. Fred Vincy, for example, expects that his Uncle
Featherstone will give him a sum of money large enough to cover
all of his debts. When he counts the bills he gets he discovers that
"they actually presented the absurdity of being less than his hopeful-
ness had decided that they must be. What can the fitness of things
mean, if not their fitness to a man's expectations? Failing this, absurd-
ity and atheism gape behind him" (Middlemarch, Chap. XIV). Fred,
like so many of George Eliot's egoists, sees all the world in relation to
himself and cannot conceive that things will turn out differently than
he wishes them to. "Having ample funds at disposal in his own
hopefulness," Fred is confident that he will be able to meet the bill
for which Caleb Garth has assumed responsibility:

You will hardly demand that his confidence should have a basis in
external facts; such confidence, we know, is something less coarse and
materialistic: it is a comfortable disposition leading us to expect that
the wisdom of providence or the folly of our friends, the mysteries of
luck or the still greater mystery of our high individual value in the
universe, will bring about agreeable issues, such as are consistent with
our good taste in costume, and our general preference for the best
style of thing. (Ch. XXIII)

"The essence of faith," says Feuerbach, "is the idea that that which
man wishes actually is." Hope, in the theological sense, is belief in
the fulfillment of those wishes which are not yet realized. The object
of faith and hope is miracle, for faith and hope are "nothing else
than confidence in Athe reality of the subjective in opposition to the
limitations or laws of Nature and reason." Faith and hope are directed
not only towards sensible miracles, but also, and more and more
frequently as science gains in power, towards the complete realization
of man's subjective desires in heaven. Prayer is "the wish of the
heart," the desire for miracle, "expressed with confidence in its ful-

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