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Adam Bede

are: you can neither straighten their noses, nor brighten their wit, nor rectify their
dispositions; and it is these people--amongst whom your life is passed--that it is
needful you should tolerate, pity, and love: it is these more or less ugly, stupid,
inconsistent people whose movements of goodness you should be able to
admire-- for whom you should cherish all possible hopes, all possible patience.
And I would not, even if I had the choice, be the clever novelist who could create
a world so much better than this, in which we get up in the morning to do our
daily work, that you would be likely to turn a harder, colder eye on the dusty
streets and the common green fields--on the real breathing men and women,
who can be chilled by your indifference or injured by your prejudice; who can be
cheered and helped onward by your fellow- feeling, your forbearance, your
outspoken, brave justice.
So I am content to tell my simple story, without trying to make things seem better
than they were; dreading nothing, indeed, but falsity, which, in spite of one's best
efforts, there is reason to dread. Falsehood is so easy, truth so difficult. The
pencil is conscious of a delightful facility in drawing a griffin--the longer the claws,
and the larger the wings, the better; but that marvellous facility which we mistook
for genius is apt to forsake us when we want to draw a real unexaggerated lion.
Examine your words well, and you will find that even when you have no motive to
be false, it is a very hard thing to say the exact truth, even about your own
immediate feelings--much harder than to say something fine about them which is
NOT the exact truth.
It is for this rare, precious quality of truthfulness that I delight in many Dutch
paintings, which lofty-minded people despise. I find a source of delicious
sympathy in these faithful pictures of a monotonous homely existence, which has
been the fate of so many more among my fellow-mortals than a life of pomp or of
absolute indigence, of tragic suffering or of world-stirring actions. I turn, without
shrinking, from cloud-borne angels, from prophets, sibyls, and heroic warriors, to
an old woman bending over her flower-pot, or eating her solitary dinner, while the
noonday light, softened perhaps by a screen of leaves, falls on her mob-cap, and
just touches the rim of her spinning-wheel, and her stone jug, and all those cheap
common things which are the precious necessaries of life to her--or I turn to that
village wedding, kept between four brown walls, where an awkward bridegroom
opens the dance with a high-shouldered, broad-faced bride, while elderly and
middle-aged friends look on, with very irregular noses and lips, and probably with
quart-pots in their hands, but with an expression of unmistakable contentment
and goodwill. "Foh!" says my idealistic friend, "what vulgar details! What good is
there in taking all these pains to give an exact likeness of old women and
clowns? What a low phase of life! What clumsy, ugly people!"
But bless us, things may be lovable that are not altogether handsome, I hope? I
am not at all sure that the majority of the human race have not been ugly, and
even among those "lords of their kind," the British, squat figures, ill-shapen
nostrils, and dingy complexions are not startling exceptions. Yet there is a great
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