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In endless mirth
--fearing only that it is too true.1
GEORGE ELIOT (1819–1880)
(MARY Ann Cross) I
DON'T know whether you strongly share, as I do,
the old belief that made men say the gods loved those who died young.
It seems to me truer than ever, now life has become more complex, and more and more difficult problems have to be worked out. Life, though a good to men on the whole, is a doubtful good to many, and to some not a good at all. To my thought, it is a source of constant mental distortion to make the denial of this a part of religion—to go on pretending things are better than they are.
To me early death takes the aspect of salvation; though I feel, too, that those who live and suffer may sometimes have the greater blessedness of being a salvation.2
All the great religions of the world, historically considered, are rightly the objects of deep reverence and sympathy — they are the record of spiritual struggles, which are the types of our own. This is to 1 From letter to Coventry Patmore, April 20, 1880.
2 From letter written March 18, 1865.
me pre-eminently true of Hebrewism and Christianity, on which my own youth was nourished. And in this sense I have no antagonism towards any religious belief, but a strong outflow of sympathy. Every community met to worship the highest Good (which is understood to be expressed by God) carries me along in its main current; and if there were not reasons against my following such an inclination, I should go to church or chapel, constantly, for the sake of the delightful emotions of fellowship which come me in religious assemblies—the very nature of such assemblies being the recognition of a binding belief or spiritual law, which is to lift us into willing obedience, and save us from the slavery of unregulated passion or impulse. And with regard to other people, it seems to me that those who have no definite conviction which constitutes a protesting faith, may often more beneficially cherish the good within them and be better members of society by a conformity, based on the recognised good in the public belief, than by a nonconformity which has nothing but negatives to utter.1
O may I join the choir invisible
1 From letter to J. W. Cross, October 20, 1873.
This is life to come,
HENRY THOMAS BUCKLE
“PHILOSOPHERS tell us that there is no future
punishment, and that is a great comfort. Society could not exist if it were not to punish crime; but we have no right to blame the criminal who has become what he is through a series of events over which he has had no real control. Knowing this, how can we believe that the Great Causer of all these events can at last punish His creature?” “How do we know that there is a future state?” I inquired. “Know it we do not," he answered, “for it is transcendental; but our instincts lead us to believe." “ And what do you think on the question of personality in a future state ?" I asked. .. “I believe that what we have done here will not be lost to us, but also that the mind of the philosopher and that of the idiot will be equal after death. The
1 From “O may I join the Choir Invisible.”
difference we now see in them is owing to the material through which the intellect filters. If mind is immortal it cannot really be diseased."
Where we have garnered up our hearts, and where our treasure is, thieves break in and spoil. Methinks, that in that moment of desolation the best of us would succumb but for the deep conviction that all is not really over; that we have as yet seen only a part; and that something remains behind. Something behind ; something which the eye of reason cannot discern, but on which the eye of affection is fixed. What is that which, passing over us like a shadow, strains the aching vision as we gaze at it? Whence comes that sense of mysterious companionship in the midst of solitude; that ineffable feeling which cheers the afflicted? Why is it that at these times our minds are thrown back on themselves, and, being so thrown, have a forecast of another and a higher state? If this be a delusion, it is one which the affections have themselves created, and we must believe that the purest and noblest elements of our nature conspire to deceive us. So surely as we lose what we love, so surely does hope mingle with grief.2
(1822–1888) AND though we wear out life, alas !
Distracted as a homeless wind,
In seeking what we shall not find; 1 From Life and Writings, by Alfred Henry Huth (Conversations with Mrs. Huth.)
2 Written after his mother's death, April 1859.
Yet we shall one day gain, life past,
Then we shall know our friends !—though much
:· Long we try in vain to speak and act Our hidden self, and what we say and do Is eloquent, is well—but 'tis not true!
1 From "
A Farewell” (to his sister).