A Critical History of English Poetry

By Herbert J. C. Grierson; J. C. Smith | Go to book overview

Chapter Thirty-seven
MID-VICTORIAN POETRY

(4) MEREDITH AND HARDY

GEORGE MEREDITH ( 1828-1909) was older than any of the pre- Raphaelite group, yet he seems to belong intellectually to a younger generation, not because he accepted the evolutionary hypothesis-- they all did that--but because he went on to accept Darwin's theory of Natural Selection and to apply it in his novels and poems to the interpretation of modern life.

All Meredith's poems might be called, what he calls one section of them, A Reading of Earth. Whether his thought owed anything to Fechner we do not know, but the key to it is given in a line that Fechner might have taken for his motto:

Till we conceive her living we go distraught.

Conceive Earth dead: then we are strangers here, consoling ourselves with dreams of a Beyond that shall free us from her hollowness. But conceive her living, and the evolutionary process is seen as the path by which she mounts to view her just Lord through the eyes of her great venture, Man. The path, you say, is red with blood; but Nature red in tooth and claw does not horrify Meredith: he scorns the sentimentalism that whimpers over those that have fallen in the struggle for life. Struggle proves strength, and strength is Earth's first need, for from strength comes pure blood, and from pure blood brain, by which Man has mastered the brutes. But brain is not Earth's ultimate goal: she has not travailed for millions of years only to produce a cunning animal who uses his wits merely to gratify his senses, whose sole aim in life is "ventral ease." Earth's ultimate goal is Spirit. Meredith does not pass from the natural to the spiritual per saltum, as Huxley did; no, the spiritual is rooted in the natural. Earth disowns the ascetic and the sentimentalist, who sever their roots in the natural life, no less than the sensualist who rises no higher; but to those who serve her she lends her

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