Last modified on 2 June 2014, at 00:06

George Eliot

The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.

Mary Ann Evans (22 November 181922 December 1880) was an English novelist and poet, more well-known by her pen name George Eliot, who also for a time used Marian and Mary Anne as variant spellings of her name. Despite the strong social customs of her times against such arrangements, she lived unmarried with fellow writer George Henry Lewes‎‎ for over 20 years.

QuotesEdit

My own experience and development deepen everyday my conviction that our moral progress may be measured by the degree in which we sympathize with individual suffering and individual joy.
  • My own experience and development deepen everyday my conviction that our moral progress may be measured by the degree in which we sympathize with individual suffering and individual joy.
    • Letter to Charles Bray (15 November 1857)
We have all a chance of meeting with some pity, some tenderness, some charity, when we are dead: it is the living only who cannot be forgiven — the living only from whom men's indulgence and reverence are held off...
  • If art does not enlarge men's sympathies, it does nothing morally.
    • Letter to Charles Bray (5 July 1859)
  • I wish to use my last hours of ease and strength in telling the strange story of my experience. I have never fully unbosomed myself to any human being; I have never been encouraged to trust much in the sympathy of my fellow-men. But we have all a chance of meeting with some pity, some tenderness, some charity, when we are dead: it is the living only who cannot be forgiven — the living only from whom men's indulgence and reverence are held off, like the rain by the hard east wind. While the heart beats, bruise it — it is your only opportunity; while the eye can still turn towards you with moist, timid entreaty, freeze it with an icy unanswering gaze; while the ear, that delicate messenger to the inmost sanctuary of the soul, can still take in the tones of kindness, put it off with hard civility, or sneering compliment, or envious affectation of indifference; while the creative brain can still throb with the sense of injustice, with the yearning for brotherly recognition — make haste — oppress it with your ill-considered judgements, your trivial comparisons, your careless misrepresentations.
  • Our deeds are like children that are born to us; they live and act apart from our own will. Nay, children may be strangled, but deeds never: they have an indestructible life both in and out of our consciousness;
  • His mind was destitute of that dread which has been erroneously decried as if it were nothing higher than a man’s animal care for his own skin: that awe of the Divine Nemesis which was felt by religious pagans, and, though it took a more positive form under Christianity, is still felt by the mass of mankind simply as a vague fear at anything which is called wrong-doing. Such terror of the unseen is so far above mere sensual cowardice that it will annihilate that cowardice: it is the initial recognition of a moral law restraining desire, and checks the hard bold scrutiny of imperfect thought into obligations which can never be proved to have any sanctity in the abscence of feeling.
  • An ass may bray a good while before he shakes the stars down.
    • Romola (1863), Book III, Chapter XVII
The realm of silence is large enough beyond the grave. This is the world of light and speech, and I shall take leave to tell you that you are very dear.
  • I'm proof against that word failure. I've seen behind it. The only failure a man ought to fear is failure of cleaving to the purpose he sees to be best.
  • An election is coming. Universal peace is declared, and the foxes have a sincere interest in prolonging the lives of the poultry.
    • Felix Holt, the Radical (1866)
The darkest night that ever fell upon the earth never hid the light, never put out the stars. It only made the stars more keenly, kindly glancing, as if in protest against the darkness.
  • 'Tis God gives skill,
    But not without men's hands
    : He could not make
    Antonio Stradivari's violins
    Without Antonio.
    • Stradivarius (c. 1868)
  • I like not only to be loved, but also to be told that I am loved. I am not sure that you are of the same kind. But the realm of silence is large enough beyond the grave. This is the world of light and speech, and I shall take leave to tell you that you are very dear.
  • Blessed is the man who, having nothing to say, abstains from giving us wordy evidence of the fact.
    • Impressions of Theophrastus Such, chapter 4 (1879)
  • The darkest night that ever fell upon the earth never hid the light, never put out the stars. It only made the stars more keenly, kindly glancing, as if in protest against the darkness.
    • As quoted in Golden Gleams of Thought from the Words of Leading Orators, Divines, Philosophers, Statesmen and Poets (1881) by S. Pollock Linn; also in Still Waters (1913)
  • The golden moments in the stream of life rush past us, and we see nothing but sand; the angels come to visit us, and we only know them when they are gone.
    • Reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895), p. 563
  • Blessed is the influence of one true, loving human soul on another.
    • As quoted in The New Dictionary of Thoughts : A Cyclopedia of Quotations from the Best Authors of the World, both Ancient and Modern (1960) compiled by Tryon Edwards, C. N. Catrevas, Jonathan Edwards, and Ralph Emerson Browns.
  • The difficulty is, to decide how far resolution should set in the direction of activity rather than in the acceptance of a more negative state.
    • Journal entry, December 31, 1877
  • I began ... 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.
    • Impressions of Theophrastus Such, Part 1
  • Examining the world in order to find consolation is very much like looking carefully over the pages of a great book in order to find our own name. ... Whether we find what we want or not, our preoccupation has hindered us from a true knowledge of the contents.
    • Impressions of Theophrastus Such, Part 1
  • ... that modern sect of Flagellants who make a ritual of lashing — not themselves but — all their neighbours.
    • Impressions of Theophrastus Such, Part 2

Scenes of Clerical Life (1858)Edit

Any coward can fight a battle when he's sure of winning; but give me the man who has pluck to fight when he's sure of losing. That's my way, sir; and there are many victories worse than a defeat.
The blessed work of helping the world forward, happily does not wait to be done by perfect men.
This volume contains three stories: "The Sad Fortunes of the Rev. Amos Barton", "Mr Gilfil's Love Story" and "Janet's Repentance". The full text is available from Project Gutenberg.
  • Nice distinctions are troublesome. It is so much easier to say that a thing is black, than to discriminate the particular shade of brown, blue, or green, to which it really belongs. It is so much easier to make up your mind that your neighbour is good for nothing, than to enter into all the circumstances that would oblige you to modify that opinion.
    • "The Sad Fortunes of the Rev. Amos Barton" Ch. 4
  • Every man who is not a monster, a mathematician, or a mad philosopher, is the slave of some woman or other.
    • "The Sad Fortunes of the Rev. Amos Barton" Ch. 4
  • [Most people] are neither extraordinarily silly, nor extraordinarily wicked, nor extraordinarily wise; their eyes are neither deep and liquid with sentiment, nor sparkling with suppressed witticisms; they have probably had no hairbreadth escapes or thrilling adventures; their brains are certainly not pregnant with genius, and their passions have not manifested themselves at all after the fashion of a volcano. … Depend upon it, you would gain unspeakably if you would learn with me to see some of the poetry and the pathos, the tragedy and the comedy, lying in the experience of a human soul that looks out through dull grey eyes, and that speaks in a voice of quite ordinary tones.
    • "The Sad Fortunes of the Rev. Amos Barton" Ch. 5
  • Any coward can fight a battle when he's sure of winning; but give me the man who has pluck to fight when he's sure of losing. That's my way, sir; and there are many victories worse than a defeat.
  • Opposition may become sweet to a man when he has christened it persecution.
    • Janet's Repentance, Ch. 8
  • The blessed work of helping the world forward, happily does not wait to be done by perfect men.
    • "Janet's Repentance" Ch. 10 in Scenes of Clerical Life (1858); this has appeared in paraphrased form as: "The important work of moving the world forward does not wait to be done by perfect men."
  • Worldly faces, never look so worldly as at a funeral.
    • "Janet's Repentance" Ch. 25
  • Who can prove
    Wit to be witty when with deeper ground
    Dulness intuitive declares wit dull?
    • A College Breakfast-party, reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919)

Adam Bede (1859)Edit

Full text online
  • It's but little good you'll do a-watering the last year's crop.
  • Deep, unspeakable suffering may well be called a baptism, a regeneration, the initiation into a new state.
  • We hand folks over to God's mercy, and show none ourselves.
  • Our deeds determine us, as much as we determine our deeds ...
  • Consequences are unpitying. Our deeds carry their terrible consequences, quite apart from any fluctuations that went before — consequences that are hardly ever confined to ourselves.
  • Family likeness has often a deep sadness in it. Nature, that great tragic dramatist, knits us together by bone and muscle, and divides us by the subtler web of our brains; blends yearning and repulsion; and ties us by our heart-strings to the beings that jar us at every movement.
  • Imagination is a licensed trespasser: it has no fear of dogs, but may climb over walls and peep in at windows with impunity.
  • The natur o' things doesn't change, though it seems as if one's own life was nothing but change. The square o' four is sixteen, and you must lengthen your lever in proportion to your weight, is as true when a man's miserable as when he's happy; and the best o' working is, it gives you a grip hold o' things outside your own lot".
  • Love has a way of cheating itself consciously, like a child who plays at solitary hide-and-seek; it is pleased with assurances that it all the while disbelieves.
  • "There's folks as make bad butter and trusten to the salt t' hide it." (Mrs Poyser).
  • It was a still afternoon — the golden light was lingering languidly among the upper boughs, only glancing down here and there on the purple pathway and its edge of faintly sprinkled moss: an afternoon in which destiny disguises her cold awful face behind a hazy radiant veil, encloses us in warm downy wings, and poisons us with violet-scented breath.
  • Such young unfurrowed souls roll to meet each other like two velvet peaches that touch softly and are at rest; they mingle as easily as two brooklets that ask for nothing but to entwine themselves and ripple with ever-interlacing curves in the leafiest hiding-places.
Falsehood is so easy, truth so difficult...
  • Her heart lived in no cherished secrets of its own, but in feelings which it longed to share with all the world.
  • People who love downy peaches are apt not to think of the stone, and sometimes jar their teeth terribly against it.
  • One can say everything best over a meal.
  • "I like breakfast-time better than any other moment in the day," said Mr. Irwine. "No dust has settled on one's mind then, and it presents a clear mirror to the rays of things".
  • These fellow-mortals, every one, must be accepted as they are: you can neither straighten their noses, nor brighten their wit, nor rectify their dispositions; and it is these people — amongst whom your life is passed — that it is needful you should tolerate, pity, and love: it is these more or less ugly, stupid, inconsistent people whose movements of goodness you should be able to admire — for whom you should cherish all possible hopes, all possible patience. And I would not, even if I had the choice, be the clever novelist who could create a world so much better than this, in which we get up in the morning to do our daily work, that you would be likely to turn a harder, colder eye on the dusty streets and the common green fields — on the real breathing men and women, who can be chilled by your indifference or injured by your prejudice; who can be cheered and helped onward by your fellow-feeling, your forbearance, your outspoken, brave justice.
    So I am content to tell my simple story, without trying to make things seem better than they were; dreading nothing, indeed, but falsity, which, in spite of one's best efforts, there is reason to dread. Falsehood is so easy, truth so difficult. The pencil is conscious of a delightful facility in drawing a griffin — the longer the claws, and the larger the wings, the better; but that marvellous facility which we mistook for genius is apt to forsake us when we want to draw a real unexaggerated lion. Examine your words well, and you will find that even when you have no motive to be false, it is a very hard thing to say the exact truth, even about your own immediate feelings — much harder than to say something fine about them which is not the exact truth.
  • Human feeling is like the mighty rivers that bless the earth: it does not wait for beauty — it flows with resistless force and brings beauty with it.
  • All honour and reverence to the divine beauty of form! Let us cultivate it to the utmost in men, women, and children — in our gardens and in our houses. But let us love that other beauty too, which lies in no secret of proportion, but in the secret of deep human sympathy. Paint us an angel, if you can, with a floating violet robe, and a face paled by the celestial light; paint us yet oftener a Madonna, turning her mild face upward and opening her arms to welcome the divine glory; but do not impose on us any aesthetic rules which shall banish from the region of Art those old women scraping carrots with their work-worn hands, those heavy clowns taking holiday in a dingy pot-house, those rounded backs and stupid weather-beaten faces that have bent over the spade and done the rough work of the world — those homes with their tin pans, their brown pitchers, their rough curs, and their clusters of onions. In this world there are so many of these common coarse people, who have no picturesque sentimental wretchedness! It is so needful we should remember their existence, else we may happen to leave them quite out of our religion and philosophy and frame lofty theories which only fit a world of extremes. Therefore, let Art always remind us of them; therefore let us always have men ready to give the loving pains of a life to the faithful representing of commonplace things — men who see beauty in these commonplace things, and delight in showing how kindly the light of heaven falls on them. There are few prophets in the world; few sublimely beautiful women; few heroes. I can't afford to give all my love and reverence to such rarities: I want a great deal of those feelings for my every-day fellow-men, especially for the few in the foreground of the great multitude, whose faces I know, whose hands I touch for whom I have to make way with kindly courtesy.
  • It seems to me now, if I was to find Father at home to-night, I should behave different; but there's no knowing — perhaps nothing 'ud be a lesson to us if it didn't come too late.
  • It was the last weakness he meant to indulge in; and a man never lies with more delicious languor under the influence of a passion than when he has persuaded himself that he shall subdue it to-morrow.
  • There are so many of us, and our lots are so different, what wonder that Nature's mood is often in harsh contrast with the great crisis of our lives? We are children of a large family, and must learn, as such children do, not to expect that our hurts will be made much of — to be content with little nurture and caressing, and help each other the more.
  • There is no despair so absolute as that which comes with the first moments of our first great sorrow, when we have not yet known what it is to have suffered and be healed, to have despaired and to have recovered hope.
  • There's no pleasure i' living if you're to be corked up for ever, and only dribble your mind out by the sly, like a leaky barrel.
  • It is well known to all experienced minds that our firmest convictions are often dependent on subtle impressions for which words are quite too coarse a medium.
  • Men's lives are as thoroughly blended with each other as the air they breathe: evil spreads as necessarily as disease.
  • Doubtless a great anguish may do the work of years, and we may come out from that baptism of fire with a soul full of new awe and new pity.
  • How is it that the poets have said so many fine things about our first love, so few about our later love? Are their first poems their best? Or are not those the best which come from their fuller thought, their larger experience, their deeper-rooted affections?
  • They kissed each other with a deep joy.
    What greater thing is there for two human souls, than to feel that they are joined for life — to strengthen each other in all labour, to rest on each other in all sorrow, to minister to each other in all pain, to be one with each other in silent unspeakable memories at the moment of the last parting?
  • You told me the truth when you said to me once, "There's a sort of wrong that can never be made up for".
  • Come in, Adam, and rest; it has been a hard day for thee.
  • He was like a cock who thought the sun had risen to hear him crow.
    • Chapter 33. Compare: Edmond Rostand, Chantecler: Hymn to the Sun, Act II, Sc. 3:
      Je recule
      Ébloui de me voir moi même tout vermeil
      Et d’avoir, moi, le coq, fait élever le soleil.

      I fall back
      dazzled at beholding myself all rosy red,
      At having, I myself, caused the sun to rise.
  • Howiver, I'm not denyin' the women are foolish: God Almighty made 'em to match the men.

The Mill on the Floss (1860)Edit

It seems to me we can never give up longing and wishing while we are thoroughly alive. There are certain things we feel to be beautiful and good, and we must hunger after them...
  • Anger and jealousy can no more bear to lose sight of their objects than love...
    • Book I, ch. x
  • Our life is determined for us — and it makes the mind very free when we give up wishing and only think of bearing what is laid upon us and doing what is given us to do.
    • Book V, ch. i
  • I should like to know what is the proper function of women, if it is not to make reasons for husbands to stay at home, and still stronger reasons for bachelors to go out.
    • Book VI, ch. vi
  • I think I should have no other mortal wants, if I could always have plenty of music. It seems to infuse strength into my limbs, and ideas into my brain. Life seems to go on without effort, when I am filled with music.
  • I've never any pity for conceited people, because I think they carry their comfort about with them.
  • Childhood has no forebodings; but then, it is soothed by no memories of outlived sorrow.
  • How lovely the little river is, with its dark changing wavelets! It seems to me like a living companion while I wander along the bank, and listen to its low, placid voice . . .
  • Better spend an extra hundred or two on your son's education, than leave it him in your will.
  • These bitter sorrows of childhood! when sorrow is all new and strange, when hope has not yet got wings to fly beyond the days and weeks, and the space from summer to summer seems measureless.
  • We could never have loved the earth so well if we had had no childhood in it...
  • If a man means to be hard, let him keep in his saddle and speak from that height, above the level of pleading eyes, and with the command of a distant horizon.
  • Ugly and deformed people have great need of unusual virtues, because they are likely to be extremely uncomfortable without them.
  • There was no gleam, no shadow, for the heavens, too, were one still, pale cloud; no sound or motion in anything but the dark river that flowed and moaned like an unresting sorrow.
  • High achievements demand some other unusual qualification besides an unusual desire for high prizes.
  • It is doubtful whether our soldiers would be maintained if there were not pacific people at home who like to fancy themselves soldiers. War, like other dramatic spectacles, might possibly cease for want of a "public."
  • If boys and men are to be welded together in the glow of transient feeling, they must be made of metal that will mix, else they inevitably fall asunder when the heat dies out.
  • If I got places, sir, it was because I made myself fit for 'em. If you want to slip into a round hole, you must make a ball of yourself; that's where it is.
  • It seems to me we can never give up longing and wishing while we are thoroughly alive. There are certain things we feel to be beautiful and good, and we must hunger after them. How can we ever be satisfied without them until our feelings are deadened?
  • She and Stephen were in that stage of courtship which makes the most exquisite moment of youth, the freshest blossom-time of passion, — when each is sure of the other's love, but no formal declaration has been made, and all is mutual divination, exalting the most trivial word, the lightest gesture, into thrills delicate and delicious as wafted jasmine scent.
  • One gets a bad habit of being unhappy.
  • There is something strangely winning to most women in that offer of the firm arm; the help is not wanted physically at that moment, but the sense of help, the presence of strength that is outside them and yet theirs, meets a continual want of the imagination.
  • Jealousy is never satisfied with anything short of an omniscience that would detect the subtlest fold of the heart.
  • More helpful than all wisdom is one draught of simple human pity that will not forsake us.
  • Nature repairs her ravages, — repairs them with her sunshine, and with human labor. The desolation wrought by that flood had left little visible trace on the face of the earth, five years after. The fifth autumn was rich in golden cornstacks, rising in thick clusters among the distant hedgerows; the wharves and warehouses on the Floss were busy again, with echoes of eager voices, with hopeful lading and unlading.
    And every man and woman mentioned in this history was still living, except those whose end we know.
  • Nature repairs her ravages, but not all. The uptorn trees are not rooted again; the parted hills are left scarred; if there is a new growth, the trees are not the same as the old, and the hills underneath their green vesture bear the marks of the past rending. To the eyes that have dwelt on the past, there is no thorough repair.
  • Renunciation remains sorrow, though a sorrow borne willingly.
  • But then the need of being loved, the strongest need ... in poor Maggie’s nature, began to wrestle with her pride and soon threw it.

Silas Marner (1861)Edit

Full text online
In old days there were angels who came and took men by the hand and led them away from the city of destruction. We see no white-winged angels now. But yet men are led away from threatening destruction: a hand is put into theirs, which leads them forth gently towards a calm and bright land, so that they look no more backward; and the hand may be a little child's.
  • Do we not wile away moments of inanity or fatigued waiting by repeating some trivial movement or sound, until the repetition has bred a want, which is incipient habit?
  • When Squire Cass's standing dishes diminished in plenty and freshness, his guests had nothing to do but to walk a little higher up the village to Mr. Osgood's, at the Orchards, and they found hams and chines uncut, pork-pies with the scent of the fire in them, spun butter in all its freshness — everything, in fact, that appetites at leisure could desire, in perhaps greater perfection, though not in greater abundance, than at Squire Cass's.
  • The rich ate and drank freely, accepting gout and apoplexy as things that ran mysteriously in respectable families . . .
  • That big muscular frame of his held plenty of animal courage, but helped him to no decision when the dangers to be braved were such as could neither be knocked down nor throttled.
  • The yoke a man creates for himself by wrong-doing will breed hate in the kindliest nature . . .
  • A man will tell you that he has worked in a mine for forty years unhurt by an accident as a reason why he should apprehend no danger, though the roof is beginning to sink . . .
  • Instead of trying to still his fears, he encouraged them, with that superstitious impression which clings to us all, that if we expect evil very strongly it is the less likely to come . . .
  • He had a sense that the old man meant to be good-natured and neighbourly; but the kindness fell on him as sunshine falls on the wretched — he had no heart to taste it, and felt that it was very far off him.
  • Formerly, his heart had been as a locked casket with its treasure inside; but now the casket was empty, and the lock was broken. Left groping in darkness, with his prop utterly gone, Silas had inevitably a sense, though a dull and half-despairing one, that if any help came to him it must come from without; and there was a slight stirring of expectation at the sight of his fellow-men, a faint consciousness of dependence on their goodwill.
  • She was perfectly quiet now, but not asleep — only soothed by sweet porridge and warmth into that wide-gazing calm which makes us older human beings, with our inward turmoil, feel a certain awe in the presence of a little child, such as we feel before some quiet majesty or beauty in the earth or sky — before a steady glowing planet, or a full-flowered eglantine, or the bending trees over a silent pathway.
  • "Ah," said Dolly, with soothing gravity, "it's like the night and the morning, and the sleeping and the waking, and the rain and the harvest — one goes and the other comes, and we know nothing how nor where. We may strive and scrat and fend, but it's little we can do arter all — the big things come and go wi' no striving o' our'n — they do, that they do; and I think you're in the right on it to keep the little un, Master Marner, seeing as it's been sent to you, though there's folks as thinks different".
  • In old days there were angels who came and took men by the hand and led them away from the city of destruction. We see no white-winged angels now. But yet men are led away from threatening destruction: a hand is put into theirs, which leads them forth gently towards a calm and bright land, so that they look no more backward; and the hand may be a little child's.
  • That quiet mutual gaze of a trusting husband and wife is like the first moment of rest or refuge from a great weariness or a great danger — not to be interfered with by speech or action which would distract the sensations from the fresh enjoyment of repose.
  • When a man had deserved his good luck, it was the part of his neighbors to wish him joy.

O May I Join the Choir Invisible (1867)Edit

O May I Join the Choir Invisible
O may I join the choir invisible
Of those immortal dead who live again
In minds made better by their presence...
  • O may I join the choir invisible
    Of those immortal dead who live again
    In minds made better by their presence; live
    In pulses stirred to generosity,
    In deeds of daring rectitude, in scorn
    For miserable aims that end with self,
    In thoughts sublime that pierce the night like stars,
    And with their mild persistence urge men's search
    To vaster issues.
  • This is life to come, —
    Which martyred men have made more glorious
    For us who strive to follow. May I reach
    That purest heaven, — be to other souls
    The cup of strength in some great agony,
    Enkindle generous ardor, feed pure love,
    Beget the smiles that have no cruelty,
    Be the sweet presence of a good diffused,
    And in diffusion ever more intense!
    So shall I join the choir invisible
    Whose music is the gladness of the world.

The Spanish Gypsy (1868)Edit

  • Creeds of terror.
    • Book 1
  • A serious ape whom none take seriously,
    Obliged in this fool's world to earn his nuts
    By hard buffoonery.
    • Book 1
  • His smile is sweetened by his gravity.
    • Book 1
  • Certain winds will make men's temper bad.
    • Book 1
  • Sad as a wasted passion.
    • Book 1
  • Knightly love is blent with reverence
    As heavenly air is blent with heavenly blue.
    • Book 1
  • Inclination snatches arguments
    To make indulgence seem judicious choice.
    • Book 1
  • Perhaps the wind
    Wails so in winter for the summers dead,
    And all sad sounds are nature's funeral cries
    For what has been and is not.
    • Book 1

The Legend of Jubal (1869)Edit

A poem based on the biblical character Jubal - Full text online
When Cain was driven from Jehovah's land
He wandered eastward, seeking some far strand
Ruled by kind gods who asked no offerings
Save pure field-fruits...
He never had a doubt that such gods were;
He looked within, and saw them mirrored there.
Spirits might be sad
For lack of speech to tell us they are glad.
  • When Cain was driven from Jehovah's land
    He wandered eastward, seeking some far strand
    Ruled by kind gods who asked no offerings
    Save pure field-fruits
    , as aromatic things,
    To feed the subtler sense of frames divine
    That lived on fragrance for their food and [wine]]:
    Wild joyous gods, who winked at faults and folly,
    And could be pitiful and melancholy.
    He never had a doubt that such gods were;
    He looked within, and saw them mirrored there.
  • There comes a night when all too late
    The mind shall long to prompt the achieving hand,
    The eager thought behind closed portals stand,
    And the last wishes to the mute lips press
    Buried ere death in silent helplessness.
  • While the arm is strong to strike and heave,
    Let soul and arm give shape that will abide...
  • Lamech's sons were heroes of their race:
    Jubal, the eldest, bore upon his face
    The look of that calm river-god, the Nile,
    Mildly secure in power that needs not guile.
  • Jubal had a frame
    Fashioned to finer senses, which became
    A yearning for some hidden soul of things
    ,
    Some outward touch complete on inner springs
    That vaguely moving bred a lonely pain,
    A want that did but stronger grow with gain
    Of all good else, as spirits might be sad
    For lack of speech to tell us they are glad.
  • Each day he wrought and better than he planned,
    Shape breeding shape beneath his restless hand.
    (The soul without still helps the soul within,
    And its deft magic ends what we begin.)

    Nay, in his dreams his hammer he would wield
    And seem to see a myriad types revealed,
    Then spring with wondering triumphant cry,
    And, lest the inspiring vision should go by,
    Would rush to labor with that plastic zeal
    Which all the passion of our life can steal
    For force to work with. Each day saw the birth
    Of various forms, which, flung upon the earth,
    Seemed harmless toys to cheat the exacting hour,
    But were as seeds instinct with hidden power.
    • On the work of the metal-smith Tubal-Cain
  • Then, as the metal shapes more various grew,
    And, hurled upon each other, resonance drew,
    Each gave new tones, the revelations dim
    Of some external soul that spoke for him
    :
    The hollow vessel's clang, the clash, the boom,
    Like light that makes wide spiritual room
    And skyey spaces in the spaceless thought,
    To Jubal such enlarged passion brought,
    That love, hope, rage, and all experience,
    Were fused in vaster being, fetching thence
    Concords and discords, cadences and cries
    That seemed from some world-shrouded soul-to rise,
    Some rapture more intense, some mightier rage,
    Some living sea that burst the bounds of man's brief age.
The song shall spread and swell as rivers do,
And I will teach our youth with skill to woo
This living lyre, to know its secret will;
Its fine division of the good and ill.
So shall men call me sire of harmony,
And where great Song is, there my life shall be.
  • Jubal sat lonely, all around was dim,
    Yet his face glowed with light revealed to him
  • Such patience have the heroes who begin,
    Sailing the first toward lands which others win.

    Jubal must dare as great beginners dare,
    Strike form's first way in matter rude and bare,
    And, yearning vaguely toward the plenteous choir
    Of the world's harvest, make one poor small lyre.
  • "This wonder which my soul hath found,
    This heart of music in the might of sound,
    Shall forthwith be the share of all our race,
    And like the morning gladden common space:
    The song shall spread and swell as rivers do,
    And I will teach our youth with skill to woo
    This living lyre, to know its secret will;
    Its fine division of the good and ill.
    So shall men call me sire of harmony,
    And where great Song is, there my life shall be.
    "
    Thus glorying as a god beneficent,
    Forth from his solitary joy he went
    To bless mankind.
The heart must break
For lack of voice, or fingers that can wake
The lyre's full answer; nay, its chords were all
Too few to meet the growing spirit's call.
  • 'Twas easy following where invention trod
    — All eyes can see when light flows out from God.

    And thus did Jubal to his race reveal
    Music their larger soul, where woe and weal
    Filling the resonant chords, the song, the dance,
    Moved with a wider-winged utterance.
  • New voices come to me where'er I roam,
    My heart too widens with its widening home:
    But song grows weaker, and the heart must break
    For lack of voice, or fingers that can wake
    The lyre's full answer; nay, its chords were all
    Too few to meet the growing spirit's call.

    The former songs seem little, yet no more
    Can soul, hand, voice, with interchanging lore
    Tell what the earth is saying unto me:
    The secret is too great, I hear confusedly.
  • No farther will I travel: once again
    My brethren I will see, and that fair plain
    Where I and song were born.
    There fresh-voiced youth
    Will pour my strains with all the early truth
    Which now abides not in my voice and hands,
    But only in the soul, the will that stands
    Helpless to move. My tribe remembering Will cry,
    "'Tis he!" and run to greet me, welcoming.
Sudden and near the trumpet's notes out-spread,
And soon his eyes could see the metal flower,
Shining upturned, out on the morning pour
Its incense audible...
  • Sudden and near the trumpet's notes out-spread,
    And soon his eyes could see the metal flower,
    Shining upturned, out on the morning pour
    Its incense audible; could see a train
    From out the street slow-winding on the plain
    With lyres and cymbals, flutes and psalteries,
    While men, youths, maids, in concert sang to these
    With various throat, or in succession poured,
    Or in full volume mingled. But one word
    Ruled each recurrent rise and answering fall,
    As when the multitudes adoring call
    On some great name divine, their common soul,
    The common need, love, joy, that knits them in one whole.
    The word was "Jubal!"... "Jubal" filled the air,
    And seemed to ride aloft, a spirit there,
    Creator of the choir, the full-fraught strain
    That grateful rolled itself to him again.
    The aged man adust upon the bank
    — Whom no eye saw — at first with rapture drank
    The bliss of music, then, with swelling heart,
    Felt, this was his own being's greater part,
    The universal joy once born in him.
  • No eye saw him, while with loving pride
    Each voice with each in praise of Jubal vied.

    Must he in conscious trance, dumb, helpless lie
    While all that ardent kindred passed him by?
    His flesh cried out to live with living men,
    And join that soul which to the inward ken
    Of all the hymning train was present there.
  • He rushed before them to the glittering space,
    And, with a strength that was but strong desire,
    Cried, "I am Jubal, I!.... I made the lyre!"
    The tones amid a lake of silence fell
    Broken and strained, as if a feeble bell
    Had tuneless pealed the triumph of a land
    To listening crowds in expectation spanned.
    Sudden came showers of laughter on that lake;
    They spread along the train from front to wake
    In one great storm of merriment, while he
    Shrank doubting whether he could Jubal be...
The immortal name of Jubal filled the sky,
While Jubal lonely laid him down to die.
  • But ere the laughter died from out the rear,
    Anger in front saw profanation near;
    Jubal was but a name in each man's faith
    For glorious power untouched by that slow death
    Which creeps with creeping time
    ; this too, the spot,
    And this the day, it must be crime to blot,
    Even with scoffing at a madman's lie:
    Jubal was not a name to wed with mockery.
    Two rushed upon him: two, the most devout
    In honor of great Jubal, thrust him out,
    And beat him with their flutes.
    'Twas little need;
    He strove not, cried not, but with tottering speed,
    As if the scorn and howls were driving wind
    That urged his body, serving so the mind
    Which could but shrink and yearn, he sought the screen
    Of thorny thickets, and there fell unseen.
    The immortal name of Jubal filled the sky,
    While Jubal lonely laid him down to die.
  • He said within his soul, "'This is the end:
    O'er all the earth to where the-heavens bend
    And hem men's travel, I have breathed my soul:
    I lie here now the remnant of that whole,
    The embers of a life, a lonely pain;
    As far-off rivers to my thirst were vain,
    So of my mighty years nought comes to me again".
  • I see a face of love,
    Fair as sweet music when my heart was strong:
    Yea — art thou come again to me, great Song?"
    The face bent over him like silver night
    In long-remembered summers; that calm light
    Of days which shine in firmaments of thought,
    That past unchangeable, from change still wrought.
  • "Jubal," the face said, "I am thy loved Past,
    The soul that makes thee one from first to last.
    I am the angel of thy life and death,
    Thy outbreathed being drawing its last breath.
    Am I not thine alone, a dear dead bride
    Who blest thy lot above all men's beside?
  • Wouldst thou have asked aught else from any god
    Whether with gleaming feet on earth he trod
    Or thundered through the skies — aught else for share
    Of mortal good, than in thy soul to bear
    The growth of song, and feel the sweet unrest
    Of the world's spring-tide in thy conscious breast?

    No, thou hadst grasped thy lot with all its pain,
    Nor loosed it any painless lot to gain
    Where music's voice was silent; for thy fate
    Was human music's self incorporate:
    Thy senses' keenness and thy passionate strife
    Were flesh of her flesh and her womb of Life.
  • With thy coming Melody was come.
    This was thy lot, to feel, create, bestow,
    And that immeasurable life to know
    From which the fleshly self falls shrivelled, dead,
    A seed primeval that has forests bred.
  • It is the glory of the heritage
    Thy life has left, that makes thy outcast age:
    Thy limbs shall lie dark, tombless on this sod,
    Because thou shinest in man's soul, a god,
    Who found and gave new passion and new joy
    That nought but Earth's destruction can destroy.
    Thy gifts to give was thine of men alone:
    'Twas but in giving that thou couldst atone
    For too much wealth amid their poverty.

Middlemarch (1871)Edit

Full text online
That Spanish woman who lived three hundred years ago, was certainly not the last of her kind...
What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult to each other?
  • Who that cares much to know the history of man, and how the mysterious mixture behaves under the varying experiments of Time, has not dwelt, at least briefly, on the life of Saint Theresa, has not smiled with some gentleness at the thought of the little girl walking forth one morning hand-in-hand with her still smaller brother, to go and seek martyrdom in the country of the Moors? Out they toddled from rugged Avila, wide-eyed and helpless-looking as two fawns, but with human hearts, already beating to a national idea; until domestic reality met them in the shape of uncles, and turned them back from their great resolve. That child-pilgrimage was a fit beginning. Theresa's passionate, ideal nature demanded an epic life: what were many-volumed romances of chivalry and the social conquests of a brilliant girl to her? Her flame quickly burned up that light fuel; and, fed from within, soared after some illimitable satisfaction, some object which would never justify weariness, which would reconcile self-despair with the rapturous consciousness of life beyond self. She found her epos in the reform of a religious order.
    • Prelude
  • That Spanish woman who lived three hundred years ago, was certainly not the last of her kind. Many Theresas have been born who found for themselves no epic life wherein there was a constant unfolding of far-resonant action; perhaps only a life of mistakes, the offspring of a certain spiritual grandeur ill-matched with the meanness of opportunity; perhaps a tragic failure which found no sacred poet and sank unwept into oblivion.
    • Prelude
  • Some have felt that these blundering lives are due to the inconvenient indefiniteness with which the Supreme Power has fashioned the natures of women: if there were one level of feminine incompetence as strict as the ability to count three and no more, the social lot of women might be treated with scientific certitude. Meanwhile the indefiniteness remains, and the limits of variation are really much wider than any one would imagine from the sameness of women's coiffure and the favorite love-stories in prose and verse. Here and there a cygnet is reared uneasily among the ducklings in the brown pond, and never finds the living stream in fellowship with its own oary-footed kind. Here and there is born a Saint Theresa, foundress of nothing, whose loving heart-beats and sobs after an unattained goodness tremble off and are dispersed among hindrances, instead of centring in some long-recognizable deed.
    • Prelude
  • Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress.
    • First lines.
  • She could not reconcile the anxieties of a spiritual life involving eternal consequences, with a keen interest in gimp and artificial protrusions of drapery. Her mind was theoretic, and yearned by its nature after some lofty conception of the world which might frankly include the parish of Tipton and her own rule of conduct there; she was enamoured of intensity and greatness, and rash in embracing whatever seemed to her to have those aspects; likely to seek martyrdom, to make retractations, and then to incur martyrdom after all in a quarter where she had not sought it. Certainly such elements in the character of a marriageable girl tended to interfere with her lot, and hinder it from being decided according to custom, by good looks, vanity, and merely canine affection.
  • Sane people did what their neighbors did, so that if any lunatics were at large, one might know and avoid them.
    • Chapter 1 (misprinted as "Some people did" in some editions, such as Penguin Signet Classics).
  • If youth is the season of hope, it is often so only in the sense that our elders are hopeful about us; for no age is so apt as youth to think its emotions, partings, and resolves are the last of their kind. Each crisis seems final, simply because it is new.
  • What loneliness is more lonely than distrust?
  • Will not a tiny speck very close to our vision blot out the glory of the world, and leave only a margin by which we see the blot?
  • People glorify all sorts of bravery except the bravery they might show on behalf of their nearest neighbors.
  • One must be poor to know the luxury of giving!
  • Every limit is a beginning as well as an ending. Who can quit young lives after being long in company with them, and not desire to know what befell them in their after-years? For the fragment of a life, however typical, is not the sample of an even web: promises may not be kept, and an ardent outset may be followed by declension; latent powers may find their long-waited opportunity; a past error may urge a grand retrieval.
  • Marriage, which has been the bourne of so many narratives, is still a great beginning, as it was to Adam and Eve, who kept their honeymoon in Eden, but had their first little one among the thorns and thistles of the wilderness. It is still the beginning of the home epic — the gradual conquest or irremediable loss of that complete union which makes the advancing years a climax, and age the harvest of sweet memories in common.
  • Some set out, like Crusaders of old, with a glorious equipment of hope and enthusiasm and get broken by the way, wanting patience with each other and the world.
  • What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult to each other? I cannot be indifferent to the troubles of a man who advised me in my trouble, and attended me in my illness.
  • There is no creature whose inward being is so strong that it is not greatly determined by what lies outside it. A new Theresa will hardly have the opportunity of reforming a conventual life, any more than a new Antigone will spend her heroic piety in daring all for the sake of a brother's burial: the medium in which their ardent deeds took shape is forever gone. But we insignificant people with our daily words and acts are preparing the lives of many Dorotheas, some of which may present a far sadder sacrifice than that of the Dorothea whose story we know.
  • But what we call our despair is often only the painful eagerness of unfed hope.
  • Her finely touched spirit had still its fine issues, though they were not widely visible. Her full nature, like that river of which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.
    • Last lines

Daniel Deronda (1876)Edit

Full text online
Those who trust us educate us.
  • The best augury of a man's success in his profession is that he thinks it the finest in the world.
  • The beings closest to us, whether in love or hate, are often virtually our interpreters of the world, and some feather-headed gentleman or lady whom in passing we regret to take as legal tender for a human being may be acting as a melancholy theory of life in the minds of those who live with them — like a piece of yellow and wavy glass that distorts form and makes colour an affliction. Their trivial sentences, their petty standards, their low suspicions, their loveless ennui, may be making somebody else's life no better than a promenade through a pantheon of ugly idols.
  • The mother's yearning, that completest type of the life in another life which is the essence of real human love, feels the presence of the cherished child even in the debased, degraded man.
  • A difference of taste in jokes is a great strain on the affections.
  • It is good to be unselfish and generous; but don't carry that too far. It will not do to give yourself to be melted down for the benefit of the tallow-trade; you must know where to find yourself.
    • This has been paraphrased as: "Be courteous, be obliging, but don't give yourself over to be melted down for the benefit of the tallow trade."
  • The miller's daughter of fourteen could not believe that high gentry behaved badly to their wives, but her mother instructed her — "Oh, child, men's men: gentle or simple, they're much of a muchness..."
  • Vanity is as ill at ease under indifference as tenderness is under a love which it cannot return . . .
  • Gossip is a sort of smoke that comes from the dirty tobacco-pipes of of those who diffuse it: it proves nothing but the bad taste of the smoker.
  • Ignorance gives one a large range of probabilities.
  • You know nothing about Hope, that immortal, delicious maiden forever courted forever propitious, whom fools have called deceitful, as if it were Hope that carried the cup of disappointment, whereas it is her deadly enemy, Certainty, whom she only escapes by transformation.
  • There's no disappointment in memory, and one's exaggerations are always on the good side.
  • A human life, I think, should be well rooted in some spot of native land, where it may get the love of tender kinship for the face of earth, for the labours men go forth to, for the sounds and accents that haunt it, for whatever will give that early home a familiar unmistakeable difference amidst the future widening of knowledge: a spot where the definiteness of early memories may be inwrought with affection, and kindly acquaintance with all neighbours, even to the dogs and donkeys, may spread not by sentimental effort and reflection, but as a sweet habbit of the blood. At five years old, mortals are not prepared to be citizens of the world, to be stimulated by abstract nouns, to soar above preference into impartiality; and that prejudice in favour of milk with which we blindly begin, is a type of the way body and soul must get nourished at least for a time. The best introduction to astronomy is to think of the nightly heavens as a little lot of stars belonging to one's own homestead.
  • There is a great deal of unmapped country within us which would have to be taken into account in an explanation of our gusts and storms.
    • Book 3, Ch. 24


MisattributedEdit

Oh, the comfort — the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person — having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together…
  • Oh, the comfort —
    the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person —
    having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words,
    but pouring them all right out,
    just as they are,
    chaff and grain together;
    certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them,
    keep what is worth keeping,
    and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.
    • Thiis was published without credit in The Best Loved Poems of the American People (1936) with the title "Friendship", and since that time has sometimes been misattributed to Eliot; it is actually an adaptation of lines by Dinah Craik, in A Life for a Life (1859):
Oh, the comfort — the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person — having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together; certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.

Quotes about EliotEdit

  • She is magnificently ugly — deliciously hideous... in this vast ugliness resides a most powerful beauty which, in a very few minutes steals forth and charms the mind, so that you end as I ended, in falling in love with her.
  • What is remarkable, extraordinary — and the process remains inscrutable and mysterious — is that this quiet, anxious, sedentary, serious, invalidical English lady, without animal spirits, without adventures, without extravagance, assumption, or bravado, should have made us believe that nothing in the world was alien to her; should have produced such rich, deep, masterly pictures of the multifold life of man.
    • Henry James, Atlantic Monthly (May 1885)
  • Have you read anything beautiful lately? Do make sure somehow to get hold of and read the books by Eliot, you won’t be sorry, Adam Bede, Silas Marner, Felix Holt, Romola (Savonarola’s story), Scenes of clerical life. You know we gave the 3 underlined ones to Pa on his birthday last year. When I get the time for reading, I’ll read them again.
    • Vincent van Gogh, letter to Theo van Gogh (3 March 1878) The Complete Letters of Vincent van Gogh
  • What I’m getting at, among other things, is that Eliot is masterly in execution, but above and beyond that is that extra something of singular genius of which I would say: perhaps one improves by reading these books — or, these books have the power to invigorate. I recently re-read Eliot’s Felix Holt, The radical. This book has been very well translated into Dutch. I hope you know it — if you don’t know it, see if you can’t get hold of it somewhere. There are certain ideas about life in it that I find outstanding — profound things said in a plain way — it’s a book written with great spirit, and various scenes are described exactly as Frank Holl or someone like him would draw them. It’s a similar conception and outlook. There aren’t many writers who are as thoroughly sincere and good as Eliot.
    • Vincent van Gogh, letter to Anthon van Rappard (21 March 1883) The Complete Letters of Vincent van Gogh.
  • Perhaps you thought that George Eliot was the author of Middlemarch. No: according to Professor Eagleton, the phrase “George Eliot” signifies nothing more than the insertion of certain specific ideological determinations -- Evangelical Christianity, rural organicism, incipient feminism, petty-bourgeois moralism -- into a hegemonic ideological formation which is partly supported, partly embarrassed by their presence. [...]
    The idea is to downgrade the notion of individual genius, as if George Eliot’s personal contribution to the writing of Middlemarch were somehow accidental, the more important thing being the “specific ideological determinations” she embodied. The main point of all this is that nothing is what it seems; or, as Professor Eagleton puts it in Criticism and Ideology, “there is no ‘immanent’ value”: everything in the realm of culture is determined by something outside culture–namely (catch that whiff of vulgarity?) the oppressive economic relations of capitalism.
  • You see, it was really George Eliot who started it all… It was she who started putting all the action inside.
    • D. H. Lawrence, quoted in D. H. Lawrence: a personal record Jessie Chambers Wood (1935)
  • Folks will want things intellectually done, so they take refuge in George Eliot. I am very fond of her, but I wish she'd take her specs off, and come down off the public platform.
  • Once, when she [Eliot] was asked which real-life person had been the inspiration for Casaubon — a man whose "soul was sensitive without being enthusiastic; it was too languid to thrill out of self-consciousness into passionate delight; it went on fluttering in the swampy ground where it was hatched, thinking of its own winds and never flying" — she tapped her own breast.
    • Rebecca Mead, “Middlemarch and Me,” The New Yorker (14 February 2011)

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