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    Book 4 - Chapter 1

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    Chapter 30
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    A Variation of Protestantism Unknown to Bossuet

    Journeying down the Rhone on a summer's day, you have perhaps felt the
    sunshine made dreary by those ruined villages which stud the banks in
    certain parts of its course, telling how the swift river once rose,
    like an angry, destroying god, sweeping down the feeble generations
    whose breath is in their nostrils, and making their thought, between
    the effect produced on us by these dismal remnants of commonplace
    houses, which in their best days were but the sign of a sordid life,
    belonging in all its details to our own vulgar era, and the effect
    produced by those ruins on the castled Rhine, which have crumbled and
    mellowed into such harmony with the green and rocky steeps that they
    seem to have a natural fitness, like the mountain-pine; nay, even in
    the day when they were built they must have had this fitness, as if
    they had been raised by an earth-born race, who had inherited from
    their mighty parent a sublime instinct of form. And that was a day of
    romance; If those robber-barons were somewhat grim and drunken ogres,
    they had a certain grandeur of the wild beast in them,--they were
    forest boars with tusks, tearing and rending, not the ordinary
    domestic grunter; they represented the demon forces forever in
    collision with beauty, virtue, and the gentle uses of life; they made
    a fine contrast in the picture with the wandering minstrel, the
    soft-lipped princess, the pious recluse, and the timid Israelite. That
    was a time of color, when the sunlight fell on glancing steel and
    floating banners; a time of adventure and fierce struggle,--nay, of
    living, religious art and religious enthusiasm; for were not
    cathedrals built in those days, and did not great emperors leave their
    Western palaces to die before the infidel strongholds in the sacred
    East? Therefore it is that these Rhine castles thrill me with a sense
    of poetry; they belong to the grand historic life of humanity, and
    raise up for me the vision of an echo. But these dead-tinted,
    hollow-eyed, angular skeletons of villages on the Rhone oppress me
    with the feeling that human life--very much of it--is a narrow, ugly,
    grovelling existence, which even calamity does not elevate, but rather
    tends to exhibit in all its bare vulgarity of conception; and I have a
    cruel conviction that the lives these ruins are the traces of were
    part of a gross sum of obscure vitality, that will be swept into the
    same oblivion with the generations of ants and beavers.

    Perhaps something akin to this oppressive feeling may have weighed
    upon you in watching this old-fashioned family life on the banks of
    the Floss, which even sorrow hardly suffices to lift above the level
    of the tragi-comic. It is a sordid life, you say, this of the
    Tullivers and Dodsons, irradiated by no sublime principles, no
    romantic visions, no active, self-renouncing faith; moved by none of
    those wild, uncontrollable passions which create the dark shadows of
    misery and crime; without that primitive, rough simplicity of wants,
    that hard, submissive, ill-paid toil, that childlike spelling-out of
    what nature has written, which gives its poetry to peasant life. Here
    one has conventional worldly notions and habits without instruction
    and without polish, surely the most prosaic form of human life; proud
    respectability in a gig of unfashionable build; worldliness without
    side-dishes. Observing these people narrowly, even when the iron hand
    of misfortune has shaken them from their unquestioning hold on the
    world, one sees little trace of religion, still less of a
    distinctively Christian creed. Their belief in the Unseen, so far as
    it manifests itself at all, seems to be rather a pagan kind; their
    moral notions, though held with strong tenacity, seem to have no
    standard beyond hereditary custom. You could not live among such
    people; you are stifled for want of an outlet toward something
    beautiful, great, or noble; you are irritated with these dull men and
    women, as a kind of population out of keeping with the earth on which
    they live,--with this rich plain where the great river flows forever
    onward, and links the small pulse of the old English town with the
    beatings of the world's mighty heart. A vigorous superstition, that
    lashes its gods or lashes its own back, seems to be more congruous
    with the mystery of the human lot, than the mental condition of these
    emmet-like Dodsons and Tullivers.

    I share with you this sense of oppressive narrowness; but it is
    necessary that we should feel it, if we care to understand how it
    acted on the lives of Tom and Maggie,--how it has acted on young
    natures in many generations, that in the onward tendency of human
    things have risen above the mental level of the generation before
    them, to which they have been nevertheless tied by the strongest
    fibres of their hearts. The suffering, whether of martyr or victim,
    which belongs to every historical advance of mankind, is represented
    in this way in every town, and by hundreds of obscure hearths; and we
    need not shrink from this comparison of small things with great; for
    does not science tell us that its highest striving is after the
    ascertainment of a unity which shall bind the smallest things with the
    greatest? In natural science, I have understood, there is nothing
    petty to the mind that has a large vision of relations, and to which
    every single object suggests a vast sum of conditions. It is surely
    the same with the observation of human life.

    Certainly the religious and moral ideas of the Dodsons and Tullivers
    were of too specific a kind to be arrived at deductively, from the
    statement that they were part of the Protestant population of Great
    Britain. Their theory of life had its core of soundness, as all
    theories must have on which decent and prosperous families have been
    reared and have flourished; but it had the very slightest tincture of
    theology. If, in the maiden days of the Dodson sisters, their Bibles
    opened more easily at some parts than others, it was because of dried
    tulip-petals, which had been distributed quite impartially, without
    preference for the historical, devotional, or doctrinal. Their
    religion was of a simple, semi-pagan kind, but there was no heresy in
    it,--if heresy properly means choice,--for they didn't know there was
    any other religion, except that of chapel-goers, which appeared to run
    in families, like asthma. How _should_ they know? The vicar of their
    pleasant rural parish was not a controversialist, but a good hand at
    whist, and one who had a joke always ready for a blooming female
    parishioner. The religion of the Dodsons consisted in revering
    whatever was customary and respectable; it was necessary to be
    baptized, else one could not be buried in the church-yard, and to take
    the sacrament before death, as a security against more dimly
    understood perils; but it was of equal necessity to have the proper
    pall-bearers and well-cured hams at one's funeral, and to leave an
    unimpeachable will. A Dodson would not be taxed with the omission of
    anything that was becoming, or that belonged to that eternal fitness
    of things which was plainly indicated in the practice of the most
    substantial parishioners, and in the family traditions,--such as
    obedience to parents, faithfulness to kindred, industry, rigid
    honesty, thrift, the thorough scouring of wooden and copper utensils,
    the hoarding of coins likely to disappear from the currency, the
    production of first-rate commodities for the market, and the general
    preference of whatever was home-made. The Dodsons were a very proud
    race, and their pride lay in the utter frustration of all desire to
    tax them with a breach of traditional duty or propriety. A wholesome
    pride in many respects, since it identified honor with perfect
    integrity, thoroughness of work, and faithfulness to admitted rules;
    and society owes some worthy qualities in many of her members to
    mothers of the Dodson class, who made their butter and their fromenty
    well, and would have felt disgraced to make it otherwise. To be honest
    and poor was never a Dodson motto, still less to seem rich though
    being poor; rather, the family badge was to be honest and rich, and
    not only rich, but richer than was supposed. To live respected, and
    have the proper bearers at your funeral, was an achievement of the
    ends of existence that would be entirely nullified if, on the reading
    of your will, you sank in the opinion of your fellow-men, either by
    turning out to be poorer than they expected, or by leaving your money
    in a capricious manner, without strict regard to degrees of kin. The
    right thing must always be done toward kindred. The right thing was to
    correct them severely, if they were other than a credit to the family,
    but still not to alienate from them the smallest rightful share in the
    family shoebuckles and other property. A conspicuous quality in the
    Dodson character was its genuineness; its vices and virtues alike were
    phases of a proud honest egoism, which had a hearty dislike to
    whatever made against its own credit and interest, and would be
    frankly hard of speech to inconvenient "kin," but would never forsake
    or ignore them,--would not let them want bread, but only require them
    to eat it with bitter herbs.

    The same sort of traditional belief ran in the Tulliver veins, but it
    was carried in richer blood, having elements of generous imprudence,
    warm affection, and hot-tempered rashness. Mr. Tulliver's grandfather
    had been heard to say that he was descended from one Ralph Tulliver, a
    wonderfully clever fellow, who had ruined himself. It is likely enough
    that the clever Ralph was a high liver, rode spirited horses, and was
    very decidedly of his own opinion. On the other hand, nobody had ever
    heard of a Dodson who had ruined himself; it was not the way of that
    family.

    If such were the views of life on which the Dodsons and Tullivers had
    been reared in the praiseworthy past of Pitt and high prices, you will
    infer from what you already know concerning the state of society in
    St. Ogg's, that there had been no highly modifying influence to act on
    them in their maturer life. It was still possible, even in that later
    time of anti-Catholic preaching, for people to hold many pagan ideas,
    and believe themselves good church-people, notwithstanding; so we need
    hardly feel any surprise at the fact that Mr. Tulliver, though a
    regular church-goer, recorded his vindictiveness on the fly-leaf of
    his Bible. It was not that any harm could be said concerning the vicar
    of that charming rural parish to which Dorlcote Mill belonged; he was
    a man of excellent family, an irreproachable bachelor, of elegant
    pursuits,--had taken honors, and held a fellowship. Mr. Tulliver
    regarded him with dutiful respect, as he did everything else belonging
    to the church-service; but he considered that church was one thing and
    common-sense another, and he wanted nobody to tell _him_ what
    commonsense was. Certain seeds which are required to find a nidus for
    themselves under unfavorable circumstances have been supplied by
    nature with an apparatus of hooks, so that they will get a hold on
    very unreceptive surfaces. The spiritual seed which had been scattered
    over Mr. Tulliver had apparently been destitute of any corresponding
    provision, and had slipped off to the winds again, from a total
    absence of hooks.
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