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all reading for three months, that they may really know what magic lies latent between the two covers of the simplest volume. Only by such an act of asceticism is it possible to render the mental palate sensitive to the full flavour of a fine thought or a musical sentence. Every page has been as delicious to me as the plate of bread and cheese, with the accompanying glass of home-brewed beer, on which you and I have sometimes heliogabalised (a splendid word, my own invention, after a six hours' fast, and a long pedestrian stretch through Cumbrian or Cambrian air. I have been breaking my literary fast with a more dainty dish, viz. George Eliot's “Spanish Gypsy," which has been sent to Stainton to be reviewed. I have had great expectations, and they have not been disappointed. It is a great book : a book which appeals to those things in one which lie deepest, and which cannot be moved without a simultaneous upheaval of the whole superincumbent mass of one's nature. I think it is this quality in it which Stainton means to describe, when he speaks of it as a stirring book. Macaulay's “Lays of Ancient Rome” are stirring, in the ordinary popular sense of the word; but they touch only the outside shell of our being, while this “Spanish Gypsy” is one of the books which touch the centre. It is, I think, the most melancholy book I ever read in my life: more melancholy than even
“Romola,” or the “ Mill on the Floss." It is really more than melancholy—it is terrible: not with the paltry terror of the sensational romancer, but with that terror which seems inevitably to spring from any unveiling of the deepest facts of human nature and human experience ;—those facts which are altogether beyond the reach of our control; which themselves control all other facts; and, howsoever the individual pattern may vary, make up the constant unvarying warp of every life.
Its subject (so far as a dramatic poem can be said to have a subject apart from its plot) is the resistless influence of a man's past over his present and his future: in that past being included not only the few years of his single life, but the past of his family and his race—the past which has made him who he is, as well as what he is; and has encircled him with an atmosphere of opinion, feeling, taste, and tradition, from which alone he draws the breath of his spiritual life. The hero-or rather, the principal character—of the book is a Spanish duke named Silva, betrothed to Fedalma, a Gypsy girl, who has been brought up by his mother. Fedalma's father, Zarca, a Gypsy leader, finds her out, and commands her to leave her lover and follow him. He is a man whose whole soul is centred in the wellbeing and aggrandizement of his tribe ; and he looks forward to a Gypsy kingdom in Africa, of which Fedalma is to be queen. As her father speaks she feels the unconquerable stirrings of race within her; the Zincalo blood surges over and drowns the foreign will ; and, with unflinching resolve, but ever deepening despair, she follows him, leaving for Don Silva only a brief written farewell. As soon as he discovers her retreat he follows her; and, finding her still loving but quite inexorable, he turns his back upon his nation, his religion, the ties of his past, the traditions of his race; and, for the sake of his great love, swears allegiance to the Gypsy chief. The fortress of Bedmar which Silva had deserted is taken by Zarca's band ; Silva's friends are slain, and he, overcome with remorse, stabs Zarca.
Shortly afterwards he and Fedalma meet for a few moments only to exchange eternal farewells, and the story comes to a solemn end.
The one supremely impressive thing in the poem is the power with which it enforces the idea that a man's past is his absolute master : that for him who breaks with it there is nothing but sharp catastrophe and ruin. Tennyson says,
“Man is man, and master of his fate :"
the whole teaching of the “Spanish Gypsy” is, that man is under the dominion of stern laws which he must obey, and inexorable conditions with which he must comply; meaning by them not the laws and conditions which press equally on all men, but certain fetters which have been forged by Destiny for him alone.
If he yield obedience and compliance, these awful powers will be his allies and helpers; if not, they will fall upon him, crush him, and grind him to powder. We seem to be taught that even a good thing becomes bad when it breaks the harmony and consistency of a life. Even Silva, who rebels against the dominion, says,
“If we lost our love,
And here, just at the close of the poem, Fedalma speaks thus of the fate which has ruined and blasted two lives :
“Our dear young love—its breath was happiness !
But it had grown upon a larger life
Thus far the teaching of the book is quite plain ; but one question is suggested which I do not think is answered. Supposing these laws of fate to exist, how far are they moral laws; that is, how far are we justified in defying them and braving the consequences? Do they stand in any relation to our consciences, or are they merely unmoral laws like the law of gravitation ? I look in vain through the book for even a hinted solution of this important problem. We are told how Don Silva broke away from his past, and how in so doing he committed a great wrong and brought about a great ruin; but the ordinary verdict would certainly be that the wrong lay not in the mere act of thus breaking away, but in the treachery, dishonour, and selfishness which that act, in his case, necessarily involved; and that the ruin was the consequence of a wrong which need not necessarily be present in a course of action which separates a man from the traditions and associations which belong to the past of himself and his race.
If George Eliot wishes to teach that moral wrong was essentiallyand not merely accidentally-involved in Silva's acts the result of such teaching is to make Christianity opposed to the moral order of the universe; for its first requirement is a forsaking of the things that are behind, and a pressing on to those which are before ;a renunciation of the past so complete as to justify the use of such figures as resurrection from the dead, and a being born again.
There are many noble passages in the book which, once read, will live in the mind for ever.
Here is one upon which I have just opened': it is the only one I have time to quote, for this letter is growing unwieldy. The lines are put into the mouth of Zarca, one of the most purely heroic characters in modern literature. Fedalma asks him what certain good will be brought about by her desertion of her lover, and of everything that has hitherto made her life worth living; and he replies,