Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 24 (1993)
George Eliot's business and personal relations with John Blackwood, head of the Edinburgh publishing firm William Blackwood & Sons from 1852-1879, have been well documented in Gordon Haight's detailed biographical study and his edition of her letters. On John's death in 1879, his nephew William Blackwood III took over the running of the firm, and continued maintaining close business and personal contact with George Eliot until her death on 22 December 1880. Two unpublished letters relating to the death of William' s brother George Frederick Blackwood, found in MS. 30,039 of the Blackwood files in the National Library of Scotland, and reproduced here in full, highlight further this personal relationship.
The first letter was written in response to a note from William on 13 August 1880. The note, of which there exists only an extract in the Blackwood outgoing letter books, reproduced in Volume 7 of The George Eliot Letters, ostensibly concerned business details and sales figures for George Eliot's works. From Eliot's response, however, it is obvious that William Blackwood had also written more intimately about his concerns over his brother's fate in Afghanistan. George Frederick Blackwood, a Major in the Bengal Artillery and William's sole surviving brother, had been engaged in fighting Afghan rebels throughout 1880. Following a battle against sizeable Afghan forces at Maiwand on 27 July 1880, he was reported missing in action, and presumed dead. It was not until early September, though, that his relations in Edinburgh received confirmation of this fact. The initial uncertainty over George's fate, and its effect on his family and close friends, is reflected in William's frequent references to him in his business letters of August and September. George Eliot's quick and heartfelt response highlights her sensitivity to the situation.