Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

racters with some definite watchword, in Mr. Tulliver's too-often reiterated comment on the puzzlingness of life. George Eliot must beware of this caricaturist's danger, which seems to threaten for the first time in this tale. But in Mr. Tulliver's case at least it is a mere threatening. His character is conceived and executed throughout with true fire, and with his death the deepest interest of the tale scems to expire. The excitement of the fragment which follows is of a spurious and theatrical sort, when compared with the sympathy which the gradual cracking of Tulliver's strong nature under the pressure of adversity, and the rankling wounds of real or fancied injury, has wrung from us. Philip Wakem is conceived with far less force, though there is genius in the sketch. But the central interest of the book is undoubtedly meant to grow out of the characters and mutual relations of the brother and sister. Merely in order adequately to explain their natures and destinies, all the elaborate group of aunts and uncles is said—though we think with some exaggeration—to be portrayed. If their career is a fit subject in itself, adequately conceived and artistically delineated, the book is justified; if not, it must be pronounced more or less a failure.

We have already intimated that to us it does seem, in many respects, a failure, and this on more than one ground. First, as to the artistic failure: it was a bold attempt to make the misunderstandings of a brother and sister the subject of a tragic story, and it was more than a bold, it was a very rash, attempt to do so with Tom Tulliver for one of the two chief actors. We do not deny the great power with which his character is drawn, but it is at best a hard and repulsive character. Even from the first it is difficult to feel that it could be any privilege to Maggie to be thoroughly appreciated by him. It is not easy to believe, and the author herself does not seem to believe entirely, that it was any very overwhelming misery to be depreciated by him. Hence the alienation between the brother and sister is not painful to us; the reconciliation is not a relief; and we do not feel as we are intended to feel, and ought to feel, if the tale were truly tragic,—that for Maggie to be reunited to him in the moment of their death adds any solemn satisfaction to the ending of her troubled life. The truth is, that the tale does not really, though it does formally, turn on the sister's and brother's mutual affection. Other interests have to be invoked which entirely throw this into the background; and no one can read the whole without feeling that the motto it bears, “ In their deaths they were not divided,” is very deceptive as a key-note to the burden of the story. Admirably as the childhood of Tom and Maggie is painted, the attachment between them is never deep on his side, and never absorbing on hers; and few readers would have perused the account of Mr. Tom Tulliver's death by drowning, had he been drowned alone, with more than that decent official regret yhich is due to the final disappearance of an ably-executed character. The interest which the intrinsie relations between the brother and the sister cannot excite is, therefore, eked out by the course of Maggie's upprosperous love; and this leads us off at a tangent into a new field, where the whole issue turns on a moral problem foreign to the main subject of the story.

Nor is this merely an artistic defect. This discontinuity in the story is closely connected also with the complaint we have to make against it as regards its embodiment of moral elements. The intention of the author is to describe the growth of character in two neglected minds of widely different constitutions,—the impulsive, imaginative, admiration-loving girl, and the unimaginative, self-sufficient, inflexible boy. They grow up among relations whose narrow and prejudiced traditions, thoughts, and manners, stiffen still more the naturally stiff mind and will of Tom; while they drive into reaction the wider, intellect, warmer heart, and more pliant nature of Maggie. The dead level of the class of society depicted is, the author tells us, so depicted intentionally; for without knowing what it was, we could not have understood the form of character assumed by either brother or sister. It was absolutely necessary, we are told, to realise that their father and mother, uncles and aunts, were virtually heathens, with no gods except family tradition, custom, and local respectability, in order to understand the unreal sentimental shape which her late-attained faith assumed in Maggie's case, and the self-satisfied dogmatism of Tom's atti- i tude towards his sister where he thought her in the wrong. For this reason it is that we are permitted no glimpse of a deeper: world, except in the heroine alone, and that the rich and various : forms of life which are so powerfully delineated in Adam Bede i are exchanged for the sterile flats of habit, on which the social as well as individual life of this tale are built. Such are the conditions of the children's joint world. Tom's nature is the natural fruit of those conditions, acting on a strong but narrow understanding, and an iron will

. Maggie's nature is the result of that recoil from those conditions which a noble and imagina- i tive nature, cager for sympathy, and fond of admiration, wouldexperience.

Nor bave we any exception to take to the general truth of the delineation. Up to the end of the second volume the effect

1 on Maggie's mind of an isolated lot amid those who do not in the least understand her thoughts and wants, the craving for sympathy which leads her into virtual deception, and the secret

[ocr errors]

engagement to the deformed and sensitive Philip Wakem, entered into from feelings that are more kindly and grateful than intense, are finely delineated. Tom's rude and almost insolent interference is equally well told. It is when we come to the third volume, which is intended to portray the effect on Maggie of an irresistible and yet unhappy and unworthy passion, her conflict with it, the moral problems to which it leads, and her ultimate victory over it,—that we seem to lose sight at once of the artistic power of the author, and of the delicate moral discrimination which is so conspicuous in Adam Bede.

And let us say at once that we do not believe that this tale adopts or embodies any questionable moral principle. The charge which we bring against it is not that of asserting false principles, or failing to assert true ones. The painful impression produced is due entirely to the interpolation into the picture of a noble though not faultless character,—of an episode so inconsistent with its general tenor, as to force on us the conviction that the author does not believe any amount of native fidelity and delicacy of character powerful enough to protect her heroine against the overmastering fascination of what she calls the "law of attraction." She evidently estimates all

“ the natural safeguards which position, duty, and feeling in á refined and delicate nature can impose as utterly inadequate to defend her against the approaches of physical passion. She enthrones physiological law so far above both affections and conscience in point of strength, that she represents Maggie as drifting helplessly into a vortex of passion, and rescued at last only by the last spasmodic effort of a nearly overpowered will.

Maggie is staying with her cousin Lucy, to whom she is tenderly attached. Her cousin is known to be all but engaged to Mr. Stephen Guest, while she herself is pledged at heart to Philip Wakem. But the idea, if it can be so called, of this unpleasant part of the book is, that a powerful physique, and the self-possessed nature which rarely goes with a diseased or delicate physique, is an essential to command the full passion of Maggie's heart, which Mr. Stephen Guest strives for and obtains. The man is a pinchbeck hero,—not of sterling metal at all; indeed, the sketch of him is poor, and does not even realise him strongly to our minds.' But the grave fault of the episode is the assumption that the ingrained affectionateness and fidelity of Maggie's nature should be 'no' protection against the approaches of her quite unmotived passion for Lucy's lover. It must be remembered that, whatever were the defects of the social influences under which she is represented as having been educated, an intense regard for the claims of kindred and the

a

claims of justice are depicted as deeply rooted in all her relations. This feeling is painted as reproduced in full force both in brother and sister; and yet it never even occurs to the author that these deeply implanted principles would have exercised so powerful a latent effect as to counteract effectually any

a “elective affinities" between her and Mr. Guest. The whole of this portion of the book is a kind of enthusiastic homage to physiological law, and seems to us as untrue to nature as it is unpleasant and indelicate. The light of a character in itself transparently beautiful is here almost extinguished in very unfragrant fumes of physiological smoke.

When we have said this, we have exhausted our moral protest. It seems to us entirely unjust to represent the final struggle as otherwise than decisive as well as noble. Exception has been taken to the following passage, as if it involved any hesitation as to the alternative between passion and duty :

“The great problem of the shifting relation between passion and duty is clear to no man who is capable of apprehending it: the question, whether the moment has come in which a man has fallen below the possibility of a renunciation that will carry any efficacy, and must accept the sway of a passion against which he had struggled as a trespass, is one for which we have no master-key that will fit all cases. The casuists have become a by-word of reproach ; but their perverted spirit of minute discrimination was the shadow of a truth to which eyes and hearts are too often fatally sealed: the truth, that moral judgments must remain false and hollow, unless they are checked and enlightened by a perpetual reference to the special circumstances that mark the individual lot."

The clear meaning of the author is,-and it is not only true, but evidently a result of deep and thoughtful moral sentiment, -not of course that passion can or ought ever to put in a claim above duty, but that the true course of duty will change from time to time if passion be indulged, so that a return to what would once have been the right course will often be the wrong

In other words, though it is never too late to clear any life of moral weakness or sin, it is often too late to clear it of the consequences of former moral weakness or sin; and the time will come when to attempt to ignore the past, and act as though the problem of duty were unchanged by what it has brought, will be itself the most lamentable symptom of a conscience weakened by transgression. For our own part, we hold that if once, without violence to all the impressions produced by the earlier part of the book, we could imagine Maggie in the situation towards Mr. Stephen Guest into which the author has driven her, there is the most perfect delicacy and truthfulness displayed in the description of her conflict and her victory. What we do cordially protest against, as a very dark blot on a fine picture, is the virtual assumption that the most deeply-rooted habits of thought and feeling in the finest natures are far too weak to paralyse the force of this assumed physiological omnipotence. There seem to us to be false and degrading assumptions in the delineation of the temptation, but the truest moral insight in the picture of the final conflict and the ultimate victory.

course now.

We have now indicated, imperfectly enough, the leading characteristics of the genius, whose broad and humorous sketches of English life, and profound insight into the commonest parts of the commonest natures, are likely, we trust, often to rivet our admiration afresh. We will not believe that the flavour of bitterness, the tendency slightly to magnify the dreariness and dullness of human nature, to caricature the worldliness of the wa and all the blinding dust of life, the disposition to exaggerate the relative influence of the lowest elements in our moral constitution, which appear in The Mill on the Floss, are any indication that one of the most genial and sunny, as well as one of the most powerful and noble, of modern English authors is losing any part of her delicate apprehension of the unfailing springs of beauty and truth. She is not in any danger of falling into that unreal ideality which ignores the minute and frail and earthly side of human nature. But there is quite as great a danger of unreality in the opposite direction,—of that unreality which is so intent on the skin and the wrinkles and the earthly fibres, that it loses all trace of the inextinguishable fountains of life beneath. The author of Adam Bede can scarcely fall into unreality such as this.

ART. XI.-MR. GLADSTONE.

Speech of the Chancellor of the E. chequer on the Finance of the

Year and the Treaty of Commerce with France. Delivered in the House of Commons, on Friday, February 10, 1860. Corrected by

the Author. We believe that Quarterly essayists have a peculiar mission in relation to the characters of public men. We believe it is their duty to be personal. This idea may seem ridiculous to some of our readers; but let us consider the circumstances carefully. We allow that personality abounds already, that the names of public men are for ever on our lips, that we never take up a newspaper without seeing them. But this incessant personality

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »