Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 128.djvu/773

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763
THE QUAKER'S HAT.

has indeed studied these limits carefully, and well knows how powerful they are. But she has as carefully prepared us in this character for a selfishness which should pass the limits of the conventional, and hurry on into flagrant evil, or even crime.

It is quite true, we suppose, that many of the women of this great novelist will be the delights of English literature as long as the language endures. The spiritual beauty of Dinah, the childish and almost involuntary selfishness and love of ease which give a strange pathos to the tragic fate of Hetty, the vague ardour of Dorothea, the thin amiability, hut thorough unlovableness, of Rosamond, all these, and many other feminine paintings by the same hand, will be historic pictures in our literature, if human foresight be worth anything, at least as long as Sir Walter Scott's studies of James, and Baby Charles, and Elizabeth, and Mary Stuart, and Leicester are regarded as historic pictures in this land. But George Eliot's heroines are certainly never likely to be remarkable for airiness of touch. It is not Sir Joshua Reynolds, but rather Vandyk, or even Rembrandt, among the portrait-painters whom she resembles. She is always in earnest about her women, and makes the reader in earnest too, — you cannot pass her characters by with mere amusement, as you can many of Shakespeare's and some of Scott's, and not a few of Miss Austen's. There is the Puritan intensity of feeling, the Miltonic weight of thought, in all George Eliot's drawings of women. If they are superficial in character and feeling, the superficiality is insisted on as a sort of crime. If they are not superficial, the depth is brought out with an energy that is sometimes almost painful. We have the same kind of exaltation of tone which Milton so dearly loved in most of George Eliot's poems; indeed, these poems have a distinctly Miltonic weight both of didactic feeling and of the rhythm which comes of it. In "Armgart," for example, there is all the Miltonic tone of feeling applied, in rhythm often almost as Miltonic, to measure the standard of a woman's ambition and devotion. Thus her world of women, at all events, is a world of larger stature than the average world we know; indeed, she can hardly sketch the shadows and phantoms by which so much of the real world is peopled, without impatience and scorn. She cannot laugh at the world — of women at least — as other writers equally great can. Where is there such a picture as Miss Austen's of Lydia Bennet in "Pride and Prejudice," or Mrs. Elton in "Emma," or even Emma herself, or Miss Crawford in "Mansfield Park;" or even such pictures as Sir Walter Scott's Di Vernon and Catharine Seyton? With men, it is true, George Eliot can deal somewhat more lightly. Mr. Brooke, for instance, and Mr. Cadwallader in "Middlemarch," and the admirable parish clerk, Mr. Macey, in "Silas Marner," and the rector and his son in the new tale of "Daniel Deronda," are touched off with comparative lightness of manner. Our author probably indulges more neutrality of feeling in relation to men than she does in relation to women. She does not regard them as beings whose duty it is to be very much in earnest, and who are almost contemptible or wicked if they are otherwise. And yet she handles even men more gravely than most novelists. She has more of the stress and assiduity of Richardson than of the ease of Fielding in her drawing. Nevertheless, there are many of her male creations — Fred Vincy, in "Middlemarch," is an excellent example — who have really but little earnestness in them, and yet who are not so consciously weighed in the balance and found wanting as the woman in the same condition. There is something of the large and grave statuesque style in all George Eliot's studies of women. She cannot bear to treat them with indifference. If they are not what she approves, she makes it painfully, emphatically evident. If they are, she dwells upon their earnestness and aspiration with an almost Puritanic moral intensity, which shows how eagerly she muses on her ideal of woman's life.




From The Saturday Review.

THE QUAKER'S HAT.

A very big book might be written on the part played by the hat in history. If the mad hatter of "Alice in Wonderland" had undertaken to write a history of the world, he could have summed up the leading epochs in the development of European civilization under headings designated by the prominent headpiece of each epoch. What better symbol for the old Greek epoch than the stephanos, for the old Roman epoch than the civic crown, for the Byzantine empire than the diadem, for the Middle Ages than the papal tiara, or for the revolution than the bonnet rouge?