Middlemarch Musings
Here are some excerpts from that masterpiece of civilization-- George Eliot's Middlemarch

 

Manners must be very marked indeed before they cease to be interpreted by preconceptions either confident or distrustful.

   --from Chapter II
 

For surely all must admit that a man may be puffed and belauded, envied, ridiculed, counted upon as a tool and fallen in love with, or at least selected as a future husband, and yet remain virtually unknown -- known merely as a cluster of signs for his neighbours’ false suppositions.

   --from Chapter XV
 

One’s self-satisfaction is an untaxed kind of property which it is very unpleasant to find depreciated.

Certainly, small feet and perfectly turned shoulders aid the impression of refined manners, and the right thing said seems quite astonishingly right when it is accompanied with exquisite curves of lip and eyelid.

Many men have have been praised as vividly imaginative on the strength of their profuseness in indifferent drawing or cheap narration -- reports of very poor talk going on in distant orbs, or portraits of Lucifer coming down on his bad errands as a large ugly man with bat’s wings and spurts of phosphorescence, or exaggerations of wantonness that seen to reflect life in a diseased dream.  But these kinds of inspiration  Lydgate* regarded as rather vulgar and vinous compared with the imagination that reveals subtle actions inaccessible by any sort of lens, but tracked in that outer darkness through long pathways of necessary sequence by the inward light which is the last refinement of energy, capable of  bathing even the ethereal atoms in its ideally illuminated space.  He for his part had tossed away all cheap inventions where ignorance finds itself able and at ease; he was enamoured of that arduous invention which is the very eye of research, provisionally framing its object and correcting it to more and more exactness of relation; he wanted to pierce the obscurity of those invisible thoroughfares which are the first lurking-places of anguish, mania, and crime, that delicate poise and transition which determine the growth of happy or unhappy consciousness.

   --from Chapter XVI
 

* Lydgate-- A young doctor recently arrived in Middlemarch.  A central protagonist.
 

Lydgate:  Don’t you think men overrate the necessity for humouring everybody’s nonsense till they get despised by the very fools they humour?  The shortest way is to make your value felt so that people must put up with you whether you flatter them or not.

Farebrother*:  With all my heart.  But then you must be sure of having the value, and you must keep yoyurself independent.  Very few men can do that.  Either you slip out of service altogether and become good for nothing or you wear the harness and draw a good deal where your yoke-fellows pull you....

Farebrother:  I don’t translate my own convenience into other people’s duties.

   --from Chapter XVII

*Farebrother-- A reflective pastor in the Middlemarch area.  A supporting character.
 

A sense of contributing to form the world’s opinion makes conversation particularly cheerful.

   --from Chapter XXII
 

The dreamlike association of something alien and ill-understood with the deepest secrets of her experience seemed to mirror that sense of loneliness which was due to the very ardour of Dorothea’s* nature.

   --from Chapter  XXXIV

*Dorothea-- The young woman at the center of Middlemarch’s drama.
 

There was something horrible to Dorothea in the sensation which this unresponsive hardness inflicted on her.  This is a strong word, but not too strong:  it is in these acts called trivialities that the seeds of joy are forever wasted until men and women look around with haggard faces at the devastation their own waste has made and say the earth bears no harvest of sweetness-- calling their denial knowledge.

   --from Chapter XLII
 

She was always trying to be what her husband wished and never able to repose on his delight in what she was.

   --from Chpapter XLVIII
 

It seemed clear that where there was a baby, things were right enough, and that error, in general, was a mere lack of that central poising force.

   --from Chapter L

But what we call our despair is often only the painful eagerness of unfed hope.

but with regard to critical occasions, it often happens that all moments seem comfortably remote until the last.

   --from Chapter  LI
 

For the egoism which enters into our theories does not affect their sincerity; rather, the more our egoism is satisfied, the more robust is our belief.

   --from Chapter LIII
 

The spiritual kind of rescue was a genuine need with him.  There may be coarse hypocrites, who consciously affect beliefs and emotions for the sake of gulling the world, but Bulstrode* was not one of them.  He was simply a man whose desires had been stronger than his theoretic beliefs.  If this be hypocrisy, it is a process which shows itself occasionally in us all, to whatever confession we belong, and whether we believe in the future perfection of our race or in the nearest date fixed for the end of the world; whether we regard the earth as a putrefying nidus for a saved remnant, including ourselves, or have a passionate belief in the solidarity of mankind.

There is no general doctrine which is not capable of eating out our morality if unchecked by the deep-seated habit of direct fellow-feeling with individual fellow-men.

For religion can only change when the emotions which fill it are changed, and the religion of personal fear remains nearly at the level of the savage.

   --from Chapter LXI

*Bulstrode-- The chief Middlemarch bigshot.  Not a member of the landed gentry, but a self-made man, of sorts.
 

Lydgate certainly had good reason to reflect on the service his practice did him in counteracting his personal cares.  He had no longer free energy enough for spontaneous research and speculative thinking, but by the bedside of patients the direct, external calls on his judgement and sympathies brought the added impulse needed to draw him out of himself.  It was not simply that beneficent harness of  routine which enables silly men to live respectably and unhappy men to live calmly; it was a perpetual claim on the immediate fresh application of thought and on the consideration of another’s need and trial.

   --from Chpater LXVI
 

His mind was crowded with images and conjectures, which were a language to his hopes and fears, just as we hear tones from the vibrations which shake our whole system.

It was more bearable to do without tenderness for himself than to see that his own tenderness could make no amends for the lack of other things to her.

   --from Chapter LXIX
 

It was only the common trick of desire, which avails itself of any irrelevant scepticism, finding larger room for itself in all uncertainty about effects, in every obscurity that looks like the absence of law.

   --from Chapter LXX
 

Everybody liked better to conjecture how the thing was than simply to know it, for conjecture soon became more confident than knowledge and had a more liberal allowance for the incompatible.

   --from Chapter LXXI
 

The presence of a noble nature, generous in its wishes, ardent in its charity, changes the lights for us:  we begin to see things again in their larger, quieter masses and to believe that we too can be seen and judged in the wholeness of our character.

   --from Chapter LXXVI
 

Pain must enter into its glorified life of memory before it can turn into compasion.

   --from Chapter LXXVIII
 

Certainly those determning acts of her life were not ideally beautiful.  They were the mixed result of young and noble impulse struggling amidst the conditions of an imperfect social state, in which great feelings will often take the aspect of error, and great faith the aspect of illusion.  For there is no creature whose inward being is so strong that it is not greatly determined by what lies outside it.  A new Thersa will hardly have the opportunity of reforming a conventual life, any more than a new Anitgone 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.
     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.

   --from the Finale
 
 

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