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Lives of Girls Who Became Famous Sarah Knowles Bolton

George Eliot

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Going to the Exposition at New Orleans, I took for reading on the journey, the life of George Eliot, by her husband, Mr. J.W. Cross, written with great delicacy and beauty. An accident delayed us, so that for three days I enjoyed this insight into a wonderful life. I copied the amazing list of books she had read, and transferred to my note-book many of her beautiful thoughts. To-day I have been reading the book again; a clear, vivid picture of a very great woman, whose works, says the Spectator, "are the best specimens of powerful, simple English, since Shakespeare."

What made her a superior woman? Not wealthy parentage; not congenial surroundings. She had a generous, sympathetic heart for a foundation, and on this she built a scholarship that even few men can equal. She loved science, and philosophy, and language, and mathematics, and grew broad enough to discuss great questions and think great thoughts. And yet she was affectionate, tender, and gentle.

Mary Ann Evans was born Nov. 22, 1819, at Arbury Farm, a mile from Griff, in Warwickshire, England. When four months old the family moved to Griff, where the girl lived till she was twenty-one, in a two-story, old-fashioned, red brick house, the walls covered with ivy. Two Norway firs and an old yew-tree shaded the lawn. The father, Robert Evans, a man of intelligence and good sense, was bred a builder and carpenter, afterward becoming a land-agent for one of the large estates. The mother was a woman of sterling character, practical and capable.

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For the three children, Christiana, Isaac, and Mary Ann, there was little variety in the commonplace life at Griff. Twice a day the coach from Birmingham to Stamford passed by the house, and the coachman and guard in scarlet were a great diversion. She thus describes, the locality in Felix Holt: "Here were powerful men walking queerly, with knees bent outward from squatting in the mine, going home to throw themselves down in their blackened flannel, and sleep through the daylight, then rise and spend much of their high wages at the alehouse with their fellows of the Benefit Club; here the pale, eager faces of handloom weavers, men and women, haggard from sitting up late at night to finish the week's work, hardly begun till the Wednesday. Everywhere the cottages and the small children were dirty, for the languid mothers gave their strength to the loom."

Mary Ann was an affectionate, sensitive child, fond of out-door sports, imitating everything she saw her brother do, and early in life feeling in her heart that she was to be "somebody." When but four years old, she would seat herself at the piano and play, though she did not know one note from another, that the servant might see that she was a distinguished person! Her life was a happy one, as is shown in her Brother and Sister Sonnet:--

"But were another childhood's world my share,
I would be born a little sister there."

At five, the mother being in poor health, the child was sent to a boarding-school with her sister, Chrissy, where she remained three or four years. The older scholars petted her, calling her "little mamma." At eight she went to a larger school, at Nuneaton, where one of the teachers, Miss Lewis, became her life-long friend. The child had the greatest fondness for reading, her first book, a Linnet's Life, being tenderly cared for all her days. Aesop's Fables were read and re-read. At this time a neighbor had loaned one of the Waverley novels to the older sister, who returned it before Mary Ann had finished it. Distressed at this break in the story, she began to write out as nearly as she could remember, the whole volume for herself. Her amazed family re-borrowed the book, and the child was happy. The mother sometimes protested against the use of so many candles for night reading, and rightly feared that her eyes would be spoiled.

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Lives of Girls Who Became Famous
Sarah Knowles Bolton

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