Monday, 10 November 2008

Casaubon and the middle-aged scholar

Reading Middlemarch - slowly...

"He has got no good red blood in his body," said Sir James.
"No. Somebody put a drop under a magnifying glass, and it was all semicolons and parentheses," said Mrs Cadwallader.
"Why does he not bring out his book, instead of marrying?" said Sir James, with a disgust which he held warranted by the sound feeling of an English layman.
"Oh he dreams footnotes, and they run away with his brains. They say, when he was a boy, he made an abstract of 'Hop o' my Thumb,' and he has been making abstracts ever since.

George Eliot, Middlemarch, p.96

But at present this caution against a too hasty judgement interests me more in relation to Mr Casaubon...does it follow that he was fairly represented...? I protest against any absolute conclusion, any prejudice derived from Mrs Cadwallader's contmpt for a neighbouring clergyman's alleged greatness of soul, of Sir James' poor opinion of his rival's legs...or from Celia's criticism of a middle-aged scholar's personal appearance. I am not sure that the greatest man of his age, if ever that solitary superlative existed, could escape these unfavourable reflections of himself in various small mirrors...

Suppose we turn from outside estimates of a man, to wonder, with keener interest, what is the report of his own consciousness about his doings or capacity: with what hindrances he is carrying on his daily labours; what fading of hopes, or what deeper fixity of self-delusion the years are marking off within him; and with what spirit he wrestles against universal pressure, which will one day be too heavy for him, and bring his heart to its final pause.

Doubtless his lot is important in his own eyes; and the chief reason that we think he asks too large a place in our consideration must be our want of room for him.

George Eliot, Middlemarch, p.110

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