Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 33 (2002) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/
Wherefore we come to lay this laurel wreath –
Humbly, in reparation for the past,
Proudly, in honour of thy worth,
With Reverence, as believing still
In beauty, truth and love.
George Eliot, or Mary Ann Evans as she was known when she lived here in Nuneaton, died on 22 December 1880. She was buried in Highgate Cemetery, on 29 December, in unconsecrated ground in a grave adjoining that of George Henry Lewes. The coffin was loaded with loving tributes in the shape of lilies, camellias, and other beautiful white flowers with here and there a small bouquet of violets.
Earlier there had been a Unitarian funeral service in the chapel conducted by the Rev. Doctor Sadler and attended by the chief mourners: Mr. J. W. Cross, Mr. Isaac Evans, Mr. C. L. Lewes, Mr. W. Cross, Mr. Albert Druce, Mr. W. H. Hall, Mr. F. Otter, and the Rev. F. R. Evans, Bedworth's own Canon Evans, Rector of Bedworth 1876 to 1927. They were accompanied by a host of other eminent and distinguished Victorians. Phrases borrowed from Rev. Doctor Sadler's funeral address are pertinent today, for
We are gathered together today not only to perform an office of reverent affection, but also as representatives of a vast company from far and near, who are present with us in spirit, and sympathize with every tribute of respect and honour which is paid to the earthly part and the memory of a greatly-gifted woman....
or: 'We are in no need now to ask who is, or shall be the greatest. Her place amongst the greatest of the living and the dead in the walks of literature is beyond question. She is one of few, the immortal names that were not born to die ... '; and again:
How patiently she toiled to render her work in all its details as little imperfect as might be. How green she kept the remembrance of all those companions to whom she owed a moulding and elevating influence, especially in her old home and of him who was its head, her father...
Her father, Robert Evans, agent for the Arbury Estate, kept diaries, a few of which form part of the George Eliot collection in Nuneaton. He paid many visits to Bedworth, to collect rents for the Nicholas Chamberlaine Trust, to report on the state of property - particularly on cottages in Collycroft - to meet with Henry Bellairs and to visit the Almshouses. I would like to think that sometimes Mary Ann went with him and that she knew Bedworth, for she certainly must have passed through it many times on her way to Coventry.