Sunday, October 09, 2016

Middlemarch Book One

From Chapter 1

She was usually spoken of as being remarkably clever, but with the
addition that her sister Celia had more common-sense. Nevertheless,
Celia wore scarcely more trimmings; and it was only to close
observers that her dress differed from her sister's, and had a shade
of coquetry in its arrangements; for Miss Brooke's plain dressing
was due to mixed conditions, in most of which her sister shared.
The pride of being ladies had something to do with it: the Brooke
connections, though not exactly aristocratic, were unquestionably
"good:" if you inquired backward for a generation or two, you would
not find any yard-measuring or parcel-tying forefathers--anything
lower than an admiral or a clergyman; and there was even an ancestor
discernible as a Puritan gentleman who served under Cromwell,
but afterwards conformed, and managed to come out of all political
troubles as the proprietor of a respectable family estate.
Young women of such birth, living in a quiet country-house,
and attending a village church hardly larger than a parlor,
naturally regarded frippery as the ambition of a huckster's daughter.
Then there was well-bred economy, which in those days made show in
dress the first item to be deducted from, when any margin was required
for expenses more distinctive of rank. Such reasons would have been
enough to account for plain dress, quite apart from religious feeling;
but in Miss Brooke's case, religion alone would have determined it;
and Celia mildly acquiesced in all her sister's sentiments,
only infusing them with that common-sense which is able to accept
momentous doctrines without any eccentric agitation. Dorothea knew
many passages of Pascal's Pensees and of Jeremy Taylor by heart;
and to her the destinies of mankind, seen by the light of Christianity,
made the solicitudes of feminine fashion appear an occupation
for Bedlam. She could not reconcile the anxieties of a spiritual
life involving eternal consequences, with a keen interest in gimp
and artificial protrusions of drapery. Her mind was theoretic,
and yearned by its nature after some lofty conception of the world
which might frankly include the parish of Tipton and her own rule
of conduct there; she was enamoured of intensity and greatness,
and rash in embracing whatever seemed to her to have those aspects;
likely to seek martyrdom, to make retractations, and then to incur
martyrdom after all in a quarter where she had not sought it.


It was hardly a year since they had come to live at Tipton Grange
with their uncle, a man nearly sixty, of acquiescent temper,
miscellaneous opinions, and uncertain vote. He had travelled
in his younger years, and was held in this part of the county
to have contracted a too rambling habit of mind. Mr. Brooke's
conclusions were as difficult to predict as the weather: it was
only safe to say that he would act with benevolent intentions,
and that he would spend as little money as possible in carrying
them out. For the most glutinously indefinite minds enclose some
hard grains of habit; and a man has been seen lax about all his
own interests except the retention of his snuff-box, concerning
which he was watchful, suspicious, and greedy of clutch.

In Mr. Brooke the hereditary strain of Puritan energy was clearly
in abeyance; but in his niece Dorothea it glowed alike through faults
and virtues, turning sometimes into impatience of her uncle's talk
or his way of "letting things be" on his estate, and making her long
all the more for the time when she would be of age and have some
command of money for generous schemes.


And how should Dorothea not marry?--a girl so handsome and with
such prospects? Nothing could hinder it but her love of extremes,
and her insistence on regulating life according to notions which
might cause a wary man to hesitate before he made her an offer,
or even might lead her at last to refuse all offers. A young lady
of some birth and fortune, who knelt suddenly down on a brick floor
by the side of a sick laborer and prayed fervidly as if she thought
herself living in the time of the Apostles--who had strange whims
of fasting like a Papist, and of sitting up at night to read old
theological books! Such a wife might awaken you some fine morning with
a new scheme for the application of her income which would interfere
with political economy and the keeping of saddle-horses: a man would
naturally think twice before he risked himself in such fellowship.
Women were expected to have weak opinions; but the great safeguard
of society and of domestic life was, that opinions were not acted on.
Sane people did what their neighbors did, so that if any lunatics
were at large, one might know and avoid them.

The rural opinion about the new young ladies, even among the cottagers,
was generally in favor of Celia, as being so amiable and innocent-looking,
while Miss Brooke's large eyes seemed, like her religion, too unusual
and striking. Poor Dorothea! compared with her, the innocent-looking
Celia was knowing and worldly-wise; so much subtler is a human mind
than the outside tissues which make a sort of blazonry or clock-face
for it.

Yet those who approached Dorothea, though prejudiced against her
by this alarming hearsay, found that she had a charm unaccountably
reconcilable with it.  Most men thought her bewitching when she
was on horseback. She loved the fresh air and the various aspects
of the country, and when her eyes and cheeks glowed with mingled
pleasure she looked very little like a devotee. Riding was an
indulgence which she allowed herself in spite of conscientious qualms;
she felt that she enjoyed it in a pagan sensuous way, and always
looked forward to renouncing it.


"Not for the world, not for the world. A cross is the last thing
I would wear as a trinket." Dorothea shuddered slightly.

"Then you will think it wicked in me to wear it," said Celia, uneasily.

"No, dear, no," said Dorothea, stroking her sister's cheek.
"Souls have complexions too: what will suit one will not suit another."

"But you might like to keep it for mamma's sake."

"No, I have other things of mamma's--her sandal-wood box which I am
so fond of--plenty of things. In fact, they are all yours, dear.
We need discuss them no longer. There--take away your property."

Celia felt a little hurt. There was a strong assumption of superiority
in this Puritanic toleration, hardly less trying to the blond
flesh of an unenthusiastic sister than a Puritanic persecution.

"But how can I wear ornaments if you, who are the elder sister,
will never wear them?"

"Nay, Celia, that is too much to ask, that I should wear trinkets
to keep you in countenance. If I were to put on such a necklace
as that, I should feel as if I had been pirouetting. The world
would go round with me, and I should not know how to walk."

Celia had unclasped the necklace and drawn it off. "It would be
a little tight for your neck; something to lie down and hang would
suit you better," she said, with some satisfaction. The complete
unfitness of the necklace from all points of view for Dorothea,
made Celia happier in taking it. She was opening some ring-boxes,
which disclosed a fine emerald with diamonds, and just then the sun
passing beyond a cloud sent a bright gleam over the table.

"How very beautiful these gems are!" said Dorothea, under a new current
of feeling, as sudden as the gleam. "It is strange how deeply colors
seem to penetrate one, like scent. I suppose that is the reason why
gems are used as spiritual emblems in the Revelation of St. John.
They look like fragments of heaven. I think that emerald is more
beautiful than any of them."

From Chapter 2

A great mistake, Chettam," interposed Mr. Brooke, "going into
electrifying your land and that kind of thing, and making a parlor
of your cow-house. It won't do. I went into science a great deal
myself at one time; but I saw it would not do. It leads to everything;
you can let nothing alone. No, no--see that your tenants don't sell
their straw, and that kind of thing; and give them draining-tiles,
you know. But your fancy farming will not do--the most expensive
sort of whistle you can buy: you may as well keep a pack of hounds."
"Young ladies don't understand political economy, you know,"
said Mr. Brooke, smiling towards Mr. Casaubon. "I remember when we
were all reading Adam Smith. _There_ is a book, now. I took in all
the new ideas at one time--human perfectibility, now. But some say,
history moves in circles; and that may be very well argued; I have
argued it myself. The fact is, human reason may carry you a little
too far--over the hedge, in fact. It carried me a good way at one time;
but I saw it would not do. I pulled up; I pulled up in time.
But not too hard. I have always been in favor of a little theory: we
must have Thought; else we shall be landed back in the dark ages.
"But you are fond of riding, Miss Brooke," Sir James presently took
an opportunity of saying. "I should have thought you would enter
a little into the pleasures of hunting. I wish you would let me
send over a chestnut horse for you to try. It has been trained
for a lady. I saw you on Saturday cantering over the hill on a nag
not worthy of you. My groom shall bring Corydon for you every day,
if you will only mention the time."

"Thank you, you are very good. I mean to give up riding.
I shall not ride any more," said Dorothea, urged to this brusque
resolution by a little annoyance that Sir James would be soliciting
her attention when she wanted to give it all to Mr. Casaubon.

"No, that is too hard," said Sir James, in a tone of reproach that
showed strong interest. "Your sister is given to self-mortification,
is she not?" he continued, turning to Celia, who sat at his right hand.

"I think she is," said Celia, feeling afraid lest she should say
something that would not please her sister, and blushing as prettily
as possible above her necklace. "She likes giving up."


Miss Brooke was clearly forgetting herself, and Celia thought so.

"I wonder you show temper, Dorothea."

"It is so painful in you, Celia, that you will look at human
beings as if they were merely animals with a toilet, and never
see the great soul in a man's face."

"Has Mr. Casaubon a great soul?" Celia was not without a touch
of naive malice.

"Yes, I believe he has," said Dorothea, with the full voice
of decision. "Everything I see in him corresponds to his pamphlet
on Biblical Cosmology."

"He talks very little," said Celia

"There is no one for him to talk to."

Celia thought privately, "Dorothea quite despises Sir James Chettam;
I believe she would not accept him." Celia felt that this was a pity.
She had never been deceived as to the object of the baronet's interest.
Sometimes, indeed, she had reflected that Dodo would perhaps not
make a husband happy who had not her way of looking at things;
and stifled in the depths of her heart was the feeling that her sister
was too religious for family comfort. Notions and scruples were
like spilt needles, making one afraid of treading, or sitting down,
or even eating.


Dorothea colored with pleasure, and looked up gratefully to the speaker.
Here was a man who could understand the higher inward life,
and with whom there could be some spiritual communion; nay, who could
illuminate principle with the widest knowledge a man whose learning
almost amounted to a proof of whatever he believed!

Dorothea's inferences may seem large; but really life could never have
gone on at any period but for this liberal allowance of conclusions,
which has facilitated marriage under the difficulties of civilization.
Has any one ever pinched into its pilulous smallness the cobweb
of pre-matrimonial acquaintanceship?

"Certainly," said good Sir James. "Miss Brooke shall not be urged
to tell reasons she would rather be silent upon. I am sure her
reasons would do her honor."

He was not in the least jealous of the interest with which Dorothea
had looked up at Mr. Casaubon: it never occurred to him that a girl
to whom he was meditating an offer of marriage could care for a dried
bookworm towards fifty, except, indeed, in a religious sort of way,
as for a clergyman of some distinction.

Chapter 3

Dorothea by this time had looked deep into the ungauged reservoir
of Mr. Casaubon's mind, seeing reflected there in vague labyrinthine
extension every quality she herself brought; had opened much of
her own experience to him, and had understood from him the scope
of his great work, also of attractively labyrinthine extent.
For he had been as instructive as Milton's "affable archangel;"
and with something of the archangelic manner he told her how he had
undertaken to show (what indeed had been attempted before, but not
with that thoroughness, justice of comparison, and effectiveness
of arrangement at which Mr. Casaubon aimed) that all the mythical
systems or erratic mythical fragments in the world were corruptions
of a tradition originally revealed. Having once mastered the true
position and taken a firm footing there, the vast field of mythical
constructions became intelligible, nay, luminous with the reflected
light of correspondences. But to gather in this great harvest
of truth was no light or speedy work. His notes already made
a formidable range of volumes, but the crowning task would be to
condense these voluminous still-accumulating results and bring them,
like the earlier vintage of Hippocratic books, to fit a little shelf.

Miss Brooke argued from words and dispositions not less unhesitatingly
than other young ladies of her age. Signs are small measurable things,
but interpretations are illimitable, and in girls of sweet,
ardent nature, every sign is apt to conjure up wonder, hope, belief,
vast as a sky, and colored by a diffused thimbleful of matter in
the shape of knowledge. They are not always too grossly deceived;
for Sinbad himself may have fallen by good-luck on a true description,
and wrong reasoning sometimes lands poor mortals in right conclusions:
starting a long way off the true point, and proceeding by loops
and zigzags, we now and then arrive just where we ought to be.
Because Miss Brooke was hasty in her trust, it is not therefore
clear that Mr. Casaubon was unworthy of it.


She walked briskly in the brisk air, the color rose in her cheeks,
and her straw bonnet (which our contemporaries might look at
with conjectural curiosity as at an obsolete form of basket)
fell a little backward. She would perhaps be hardly characterized
enough if it were omitted that she wore her brown hair flatly braided
and coiled behind so as to expose the outline of her head in a
daring manner at a time when public feeling required the meagreness
of nature to be dissimulated by tall barricades of frizzed curls
and bows, never surpassed by any great race except the Feejeean.

The intensity of her religious disposition,
the coercion it exercised over her life, was but one aspect of a
nature altogether ardent, theoretic, and intellectually consequent:
and with such a nature struggling in the bands of a narrow teaching,
hemmed in by a social life which seemed nothing but a labyrinth
of petty courses, a walled-in maze of small paths that led
no whither, the outcome was sure to strike others as at once
exaggeration and inconsistency. The thing which seemed to her best,
she wanted to justify by the completest knowledge; and not to live
in a pretended admission of rules which were never acted on.
Into this soul-hunger as yet all her youthful passion was poured;
the union which attracted her was one that would deliver her from her
girlish subjection to her own ignorance, and give her the freedom of
voluntary submission to a guide who would take her along the grandest path.


Celia was present while the plans were being examined, and observed
Sir James's illusion. "He thinks that Dodo cares about him,
and she only cares about her plans. Yet I am not certain that she
would refuse him if she thought he would let her manage everything
and carry out all her notions. And how very uncomfortable Sir
James would be! I cannot bear notions."

It was Celia's private luxury to indulge in this dislike.
She dared not confess it to her sister in any direct statement,
for that would be laying herself open to a demonstration that
she was somehow or other at war with all goodness. But on
safe opportunities, she had an indirect mode of making her negative
wisdom tell upon Dorothea, and calling her down from her rhapsodic
mood by reminding her that people were staring, not listening.
Celia was not impulsive: what she had to say could wait,
and came from her always with the same quiet staccato evenness.
When people talked with energy and emphasis she watched their faces
and features merely. She never could understand how well-bred
persons consented to sing and open their mouths in the ridiculous
manner requisite for that vocal exercise.

No comments: