Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 24 (1993)
George Eliot and religion is a vast subject and one that can only be lightly touched on today. But it is relevant to our being here because of the memorial stone in front of us. It took 100 years to get here and, because of the years of fund-raising by the George Eliot Fellowship as well as the many visits to the Abbey to negotiate the placing of the memorial stone in Poets' Corner in June 1980, is perhaps even more significant to us than a tomb or memorial would be that bad been erected in 1880 instead of 1980. This tiny part of a great church feels as if it truly belongs to us. At this memorial which we worked so hard to provide we can express our veneration, our admiration, our gratitude for her genius and our affection for her as a warm, loving and human woman. As individuals, we all know what she means to us personally. Her place in our lives, whether small or large, is significant. If it were not, we wouldn't be here today. This is not just the last item in a visit to London from the provinces - it is an act of public and private tribute to a very great lady.
Why did it take 100 years for the memorial to get here? John Cross, whom she married only 7th months before her death in December 1880, wanted her to be buried in Westminster Abbey among the other great names in our literary heritage. He asked their old friend Herbert Spencer to help and Spencer telegraphed Dean Stanley who replied that be would need strong representations before making such a decision. John Tyndall, an editorial friend, told Stanley 'The verdict of the future will be that Dean Stanley has enshrined a woman whose achievements were without parallel in the previous history of womankind'. But there was strong opposition, too. T.H. Huxley described her as having bad 'a life and opinions in notorious antagonism to Christian practice in regard to marriage and Christian theory in regard to dogma'. John Cross did not press the issue, wisely, I am sure, and the unconsecrated part of Highgate Cemetery received her mortal remains instead of these hallowed walls.