The Mill on the Floss HTML version

Book IV: The Valley of Humiliation
IV.1. 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;