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The Ethics of George Eliot's Works   By: (-1879?)

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The greater part of the following Essay was written several years ago. It was too long for any of the periodicals to which the author had been in the habit of occasionally contributing, and no thought was then entertained of publishing it in a separate form. One day, however, during his last illness, the talk happened to turn on George Eliot's Works, and he mentioned his long forgotten paper. One of the friends then present a competent critic and high literary authority expressed a wish to see it, and his opinion was so favourable that its publication was determined on. The author then proposed to complete his work by taking up 'Middlemarch' and 'Deronda'; and if any trace of failing vigour is discernible in these latter pages, the reader will bear in mind that the greater portion of them was composed when the author was rapidly sinking under a painful disease, and that the concluding paragraphs were dictated to his daughter after the power of writing had failed him, only five days before his death.


It is a source of great gratification to the friends of the author that his little volume has already been so well received that the second edition has been out of print for some time. In now publishing a third, they have been influenced by two considerations, the continued demand for the book, and the favourable opinion expressed of it by "George Eliot" herself, which, since her lamented death, delicacy no longer forbids them to make public.

In a letter to her friend and publisher, the late Mr John Blackwood, received soon after the appearance of the first edition, she writes, with reference to certain passages: "They seemed to me more penetrating and finely felt than almost anything I have read in the way of printed comments on my own writings." Again, in a letter to a friend of the author, she says: "When I read the volume in the summer, I felt as if I had been deprived of something that should have fallen to my share in never having made his personal acquaintance. And it would have been a great benefit, a great stimulus to me to have known some years earlier that my work was being sanctioned by the sympathy of a mind endowed with so much insight and delicate sensibility. It is difficult for me to speak of what others may regard as an excessive estimate of my own work, but I will venture to mention the keen perception shown in the note on page 29, as something that gave me peculiar satisfaction."

Once more. In an article in the 'Contemporary Review' of last month, on "The Moral Influence of George Eliot," by "One who knew her," the writer says: "It happens that the only criticism which we have heard mentioned as giving her pleasure, was a little posthumous volume published by Messrs Blackwood."

With such testimony in its favour, it is hoped a third edition will not be thought uncalled for.

March 1881.


"There is in man a higher than love of happiness: he can do without happiness, and instead thereof find blessedness."

Such may be regarded as the fundamental lesson which one of the great teachers of our time has been labouring to impress upon the age. The truth, and the practical corollary from it, are not now first enunciated. Representing, as we believe it to do, the practical aspect of the noblest reality in man that which most directly represents Him in whose image he is made it has found doctrinal expression more or less perfect from the earliest times. The older Theosophies and Philosophies Gymnosophist and Cynic, Chaldaic and Pythagorean, Epicurean and Stoic, Platonist and Eclectic were all attempts to embody it in teaching, and to carry it out in life. They saw, indeed, but imperfectly, and their expressions of the truth are all one sided and inadequate... Continue reading book >>

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