Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
Epilogue to Mr. Gilfils Love Story
By George Eliot (Mary Ann Cross) (18191880)
From Scenes from Clerical Life
THIS was Mr. Gilfils love-story, which lay far back from the time when he sat, worn and gray, by his lonely fireside in Shepperton Vicarage. Rich brown locks, passionate love, and deep early sorrow, strangely different as they seem from the scanty white hairs, the apathetic content, and the unexpectant quiescence of old age, are but part of the same lifes journey; as the bright Italian plains, with the sweet Addio of their beckoning maidens, are part of the same days travel that brings us to the other side of the mountain, between the sombre rocky walls and among the guttural voices of the Valais.
To those who were familiar only with the gray-haired vicar, jogging leisurely along on his old chestnut cob, it would perhaps have been hard to believe that he had ever been the Maynard Gilfil, who, with a heart full of passion and tenderness, had urged his black Kitty to her swiftest gallop on the way to Callam, or that the old gentleman of caustic tongue and bucolic tastes and sparing habits had known all the deep secrets of devoted love, had struggled through its days and nights of anguish, and trembled under its unspeakable joys. And indeed the Mr. Gilfil of those late Shepperton days had more of the knots and ruggedness of poor human nature than there lay any clear hint of in the open-eyed loving Maynard. But it is with men as with trees: if you lop off their finest branches, into which they were pouring their young life-juice, the wounds will be healed over with some rough boss, some odd excrescence; and what might have been a grand tree expanding into liberal shade is but a whimsical, misshapen trunk. Many an irritating fault, many an unlovely oddity, has come of a hard sorrow, which has crushed and maimed the nature just when it was expanding into plenteous beauty; and the trivial erring life which we visit with our harsh blame may be but as the unsteady motion of a man whose best limb is withered.
And so the dear old vicar, though he had something of the knotted whimsical character of the poor lopped oak, had yet been sketched out by Nature as a noble tree. The heart of him was sound, the grain was of the finest; and in the gray-haired man who filled his pocket with sugar-plums for the little children, whose most biting words were directed against the evil doing of the rich man, and who, with all his social pipes and slipshod talk, never sank below the highest level of his parishioners respect, there was the main trunk of the same brave, faithful, tender nature that had poured out the finest, freshest forces of its life-current in a first and only lovethe love of Tina.