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George Eliot
by [?]

I dreamed of playing “I-spy” through Kenilworth Castle with Shakespeare, Walter Scott, Mary Ann Evans and a youth I used to know in boyhood by the name of Bill Hursey. We chased each other across the drawbridge, through the portcullis, down the slippery stones into the donjon-keep, around the moat, and up the stone steps to the topmost turret of the towers. Finally Shakespeare was “it,” but he got mad and refused to play. Walter Scott said it was “no fair,” and Bill Hursey thrust out the knuckle of one middle finger in a very threatening way and offered to “do” the boy from Stratford. Then Mary Ann rushed in to still the tempest. There’s no telling what would have happened had not the landlady just then rapped at my door and asked if I had called. I awoke with a start and with the guilty feeling that I had been shouting in my sleep. I saw it was morning. “No–that is, yes; my shaving-water, please.”

After breakfast the landlady’s boy offered for five shillings to take me in his donkey-cart to the birthplace of George Eliot. He explained that the house was just seven miles north; but Baalam’s express is always slow, so I concluded to walk. At Coventry a cab-owner proposed to show me the house, which he declared was near Kenilworth, for twelve shillings. The advantages of seeing Kenilworth at the same time were dwelt upon at great length by cabby, but I harkened not to the voice of the siren. I got a good lunch at the hotel, and asked the innkeeper if he could tell me where George Eliot was born. He did not know, but said he could show me a house around the corner where a family of Eliots lived.

Then I walked on to Nuneaton. A charming walk it was; past quaint old houses, some with straw-thatched roofs, others tile–roses clambering over the doors and flowering hedgerows white with hawthorn-flowers.

Occasionally, I met a farmer’s cart drawn by one of those great, fat, gentle Shire horses that George Eliot has described so well. All spoke of peace and plenty, quiet and rest. The green fields and the flowers, the lark-song and the sunshine, the dipping willows by the stream, and the arch of the old stone bridge as I approached the village–all these I had seen and known and felt before from “Mill on the Floss.”

I found the house where they say the novelist was born. A plain, whitewashed, stone structure, built two hundred years ago; two stories, the upper chambers low, with gable-windows; a little garden at the side bright with flowers, where sweet marjoram vied with onions and beets; all spoke of humble thrift and homely cares. In front was a great chestnut-tree, and in the roadway near were two ancient elms where saucy crows were building a nest.

Here, after her mother died, Mary Ann Evans was housekeeper. Little more than a child–tall, timid, and far from strong–she cooked and scrubbed and washed, and was herself the mother to brothers and sisters. Her father was a carpenter by trade and agent for a rich landowner. He was a stern man–orderly, earnest, industrious, studious. On rides about the country he would take the tall, hollow-eyed girl with him, and at such times he would talk to her of the great outside world where wondrous things were done. The child toiled hard, but found time to read and question–and there is always time to think. Soon she had outgrown some of her good father’s beliefs, and this grieved him greatly; so much, indeed, that her extra-loving attention to his needs, in a hope to neutralize his displeasure, only irritated him the more. And if there is soft, subdued sadness in much of George Eliot’s writing we can guess the reason. The onward and upward march ever means sad separation.

When Mary Ann was blossoming into womanhood her father moved over near Coventry, and here the ambitious girl first found companionship in her intellectual desires. Here she met men and women, older than herself, who were animated, earnest thinkers. They read and then they discussed, and then they spoke the things that they felt were true. Those eight years at Coventry transformed the awkward country girl into a woman of intellect and purpose. She knew somewhat of all sciences, all philosophies, and she had become a proficient scholar in German and French. How did she acquire this knowledge? How is any education acquired if not through effort prompted by desire?