Scenes of Clerical Life

George Eliot
Scenes of Clerical Life, by
George Eliot

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Title: Scenes of Clerical Life
Author: George Eliot
Release Date: February 16, 2006 [EBook #17780]
Language: English
Character set encoding: ASCII

Produced by James Tenison

Scenes of Clerical Life


DENT London
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Printed in Great Britain
This edition was first published in Everyman's Library in 1910

George Eliot, or Mary Ann Evans, was born at Arbury Farm, in the
parish of Chilvers Coton, Warwickshire, on the 22nd of November,
1819. She was the fifth and last child of her father by his second
wife--of that father whose sound sense and integrity she so keenly
appreciated, and who was to a certain extent the original of her famous
characters of Adam Bede and Caleb Garth.
Both during and after her schooldays George Eliot's history was that of
a mind continually out-growing its conditions. She became an excellent
housewife and a devoted daughter, but her nature was too large for so
cramped a life. 'You may try,' she writes in Daniel Deronda, 'but you
can never imagine what it is to have a man's force of genius in you, and
to suffer the slavery of being a girl.'
While her powers were growing she necessarily passed through many
phases. She became deeply religious, and wrote poetry, pious and sweet,
fair of its kind. Music was a passion with her; in a characteristic letter
written at the age of twenty to a friend she tries but fails to describe her
experience on hearing the 'Messiah' of Birmingham: 'With a stupid,
drowsy sensation, produced by standing sentinel over damson cheese
and a warm stove, I cannot do better than ask you to read, if accessible,

Wordsworth's short poem on the "Power of Sound."' There you have a
concise history of George Eliot's life at this period, divided as it was
between music, literature, and damson cheese.
Sixteen years of mental work and effort then lay between her and her
first achievement; years during which she read industriously and
thought more than she read. The classics, French, German, and Italian
literature, she laid them all under contribution. She had besides the art
of fortunate friendship: her mind naturally chose out the greater
intelligences among those she encountered; it was through a warm and
enduring friendship with Herbert Spencer that she met at last with
George Henry Lewes whose wife she became.
In this way she served no trifling apprenticeship. Natural genius,
experience of life, culture, and great companionship had joined to make
her what she was, a philosopher both natural and developed; and, what
is more rare, a philosopher with a sense of humour and a perception of
the dramatic. Thus when her chance came she was fully equipped to
meet it.
It came when, at the age of thirty-six she began to write 'Amos Barton,'
her first attempt at fiction, and one that fixed her career. The story
appeared in 'Blackwood's Magazine,' and was followed by 'Mr. Gilfil's
Love Story' and 'Janet's Repentance.' Of the three, 'Mr. Gilfil's Love
Story' is perhaps the most finished and artistic; while 'Amos Barton' has
qualities of humour and tenderness that have not often been equalled.
'Janet's Repentance,' strong though it is, and containing the remarkable
sketch of Mr. Tryan, is perhaps less surely attractive.
The stories, all three of them, have a particular value as records of an
English country life that is rapidly passing away. Moreover, it is
country life seen through the medium of a powerful and right-judging
personality. It is her intimate and thorough knowledge of big things and
small, of literature and damson cheese, enabling her and us to see all
round her characters, that provides these characters with their ample
background of light and shade.
It is well to realise that since George Eliot's day the fashion of writing,

the temper of the modern mind, are quite changed; it is a curious fact
that the more sophisticated we become the simpler grows our speech.
Nowadays we talk as nearly as we may in words of one syllable. Our
style is stripped more and more of its Latinity. Our writers are more
and more in love with French methods--with the delicate clearness of
short phrases in which every word tells; with the rejection of all
intellectual ambulations round about a subject. To the fanatics of
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