Thursday, 6 December 2012

George Eliot's negligent hair

The long-serving first librarian at the London Library in St James’s Square kept a commonplace book of ‘anecdotes and personal experiences’ from which the Library is posting excerpts on its blogsite.  
Robert Harrison’s anecdotes from 1859 include this pretty accurate pen-portrait of George Eliot: 
Miss Evans, the author of Adam Bede, etc., etc., translator of Strauss’s Life of Jesus, possesses, says Dr. Chapman (of West[minster] Review), one of the most massive intellects of our time. Combe, the physiologist and phrenologist told him (Chapman) that he had never seen a woman’s head indicative of so much power, and very few men’s heads.       She is an agreeable conversationalist, full of knowledge - but her external graces are small and few, coiffure and toilette generally being of the negligent sort.  She was bred a Wesleyan and “turned out of her father’s house on account of her religious opinions or negations, which being of the most advanced school of freethinking make one wonder at the sketch of 'Dinah'.”

Then in 1873 there’s an account of Tennyson going to a magic show:
Dec 4/73 One day last week Tennyson, the laureate went with W. Allingham [the poet],  to see Dr Lynn the conjurer at the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly. They are both very self-conscious men but dred to show it, thro’ imagining the world’s eye to be always on them.  The Laureate especially is morbidly sensitive about strangers noticing him in any way or drawing attention to him.   Conjurers however know no distinctions, and Lynn, who probably did not know his visitor by sight, walked up to him and asking what he had in his beard, seemed to pull out an egg therefrom, then another from his ear - the poet’s ear! – and to the amazed attention of the whole audience and the author of the “Idylls”.  Fancy his horror and disgust! 

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