English, Department of


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The George Eliot Review 25 (1994) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/


The George Eliot Review 2018 (25)


Today, Alfred Lord Tennyson's successor as the Poet Laureate, Alfred Austin (1835- 1913), is a largely forgotten literary name from the late Victorian and Edwardian worlds of yesteryear. Austin's connection with George Eliot and G. H. Lewes will not be found documented in G. S. Haight's nine volume edition of The George Eliot Letters (New Haven, 1954-78) and his name does not appear in its index. The Autobiography of Alfred Austin Poet Laureate 1835-1910 (2 vols., 1911: reprinted AMS Press, New York, 1973) does refer to meetings between George Eliot, George Henry Lewes and Alfred Austin. G. H. Lewes the editor of the Fortnightly Review published Austin's 'Notes Curious and Critical made at Perugia', November 1866, pp. 666-81.

In his Autobiography Austin writes:

Not until several years later did I meet him, and George Eliot, at dinner at Lord and Lady Wolseley's, when they were living in Portman Square, and I was assigned the honour of taking down the authoress of Adarn Bede, and Lewes was assigned to my wife. I remember the first thing she said to me, as we sate down, with her extraordinarily soft sweet voice, as she looked across the table, 'An ideal poet's wife'; and, during the rest of dinner, I had the pleasure of her conversation. But not to anticipate further the years yet to. come, I remember that, encouraged by Lewes' s kind note about the Perugia paper, I sent him the following sonnet, which likewise he accepted with another generous acknowledgment, adding that it had given much pleasure to his wife; in some measure, no doubt, because it expressed the 'Meliorism' which, midway between Pessimism and Optimism, represented her theory of the march and destiny of mankind:

Because I failed, shall I asperse the End

With scorn or doubt, my failure to excuse; '

Gainst arduous Truth my feeble falseness use,

Like that worst foe, a vain splenetic friend?

Deem'st thou, self-amorous fool, the High will bend

If that thy utmost stature prove too small?

Though thou be dwarf, some other is more tall.

The End is fixed; have faith; the means will mend,

Failures but carve a pathway to success;

Our force is many, so our aim be one:

The foremost drop; on, those behind must press.

What boots my doing, so the deed be done?

Let my poor body lie beneath the breach:

I clomb and fell; who stand on me will reach. (I, 205-206)