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The Birthplace of George Eliot by W. B.

 

As the traveller is whirled along over the great stretch of railway between Liverpool and London, he passes (about midway) through Nuneaton, a busy little manufacturing town, situated in a most delightful and fruitful part of the "Garden Land." About two miles from this town (which the gifted authoress has dubbed "Milby" in her Scenes of Clerical Life), on the broad smooth highway leading to the ancient and renowned city of Coventry, stands the house where Marian Evans was born. It is a large brick building, surrounded by a well-stocked and pleasant garden, devoid of ornament, but highly suggestive of comfort and convenience—such a house as our forefathers used to build fifty years ago, when comfort was not sacrificed to appearance, and when the owner had more to do with the design than the architect.

Robert Evans, the father of the renowned authoress, was bailiff to Lord Howe and to Sir Roger Newdigate—father of the present M. P. of that name, who is such an earnest champion of Protestantism as it is reflected in the Church of England, and who has made such earnest but as yet fruitless endeavors to have a bill passed for the periodical visitation and inspection of the monastic and conventual institutions of Great Britain. Her brother, Isaac P. Evans, still occupies that responsible position, and resides in the old homestead. The country around Mrs. Lewes's early home is rich in historic associations. Not far away is Bosworth Field, and in another direction are the ruins of Astley Castle, within whose strong walls Lady Jane Grey passed a portion of her brief, chequered life. Near the castle stands—or stood—a tree in which her father, the duke of Suffolk, took refuge when pursued by the emissaries of the sanguinary queen. A small table used by him while concealed in the huge hollow trunk is still preserved.

There are several very ancient churches in the vicinity of the residence where George Eliot passed her early days. The parish church of Nuneaton, to which she alludes in her Scenes of Clerical Life, is a grand structure, six hundred years old, with a massive embattled tower containing a chime of eight melodious bells; and Coton (Shepperton) Church, which in her girlhood she attended with her parents, is perhaps still more ancient, as it is certainly more weatherbeaten and venerable in appearance. The writer's parents have often seen the future authoress sitting in the antiquated, high-peaked family pew and taking part with grave attention in the service.

In Atteborough, a village in the same neighborhood, there resided an eccentric character named Joe Liggens. He had received a university education, but, lacking application and industry, had chosen no pursuit in life, and passed his time in lounging around his native village and frequenting the tap-room of its alehouse, where, surrounded by an admiring crowd, he puffed away at his long pipe, removing it from his lips only when he deigned to express an opinion upon some subject of debate and give his open-mouthed hearers the benefit of his wisdom and erudition. When Scenes of Clerical Life first appeared in Blackwood's Magazine, describing places and persons familiar to the villagers, they naturally wondered who the author could be, and decided at last that it could be no other than Joe Liggens. Had he not been to Oxford? Didn't he know Latin and all sorts of things? And wasn't he acquainted with the scenes and personages described in the new book? No one else could be thought of combining these various and essential qualifications. When Joe was questioned on the subject he merely smiled and said nothing—the strongest confirmatory proof, and an exhibition of the modesty inherent in genius. In recognition of the honor he had conferred upon his native place, a subscription was started for the impecunious Joe, and a goodly sum was on the point of being presented to him when the real name of "George Eliot" was revealed, and Joe Liggens found himself treated as an impostor by those who had thrust upon him undeserved honors.

W. B.