A Half-Century of Greatness: The Creative Imagination of Europe, 1848-1884

By Frederic Ewen; Jeffrey Wollock | Go to book overview

Part Six
Woman of Valor
George Eliot and the Victorians

Were it not a pleasant thing
To fall asleep with all one's friends;
To pass with all our social ties
To silence from the paths of men;
And every hundred years to rise
And learn the world, and sleep again;
To sleep through terms of mighty wars,
And wake on science grown to more,
On secrets of the brain, the stars,
As well as aught of fairy lore;
And all that else the years will show,
The Poet-forms of stronger hours,
The vast Republic that may grow,
The Federations and the Powers;
Titanic forces taking birth
In divers seasons, divers climes;
For we are Ancients of the earth,
And in the morning of the times.

“L'Envoi”

So Tennyson dreams in his early poetic career in the 1830s. If we, today, are the unfulfilled inheritors of those dreams, the heirs of those “titanic forces” as well as of untold anxieties and questings, it may, perhaps, do us good to look back, instead of forward—at least for the moment—say, a hundred years or so, into an age which has done so much to shape our own, to trace back to the roots of our own being and thinking, listen again to the roar of progress, the excitements of discoveries, the hopes, promises, and even despairs, as well as achievements and questionings, not very much unlike ours—though, to the historic eye and perspective, simplified in comparison— as the past so often is to the more sophisticated present. We think of our age as one of incomparable upheaval (which it is), of rebellion and discontent, and we envy what we believe to have been the placidity of the Victorians, and especially of Victorian womanhood.

Let us then turn back to a letter written a century and a quarter ago;

My dear Father, As all my efforts in conversation have hitherto failed in making you aware
of my real nature of my sentiments, I am induced to try if I can express myself more
clearly on paper so that both I in writing and you in reading may have our judgements

-441-

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