George Eliot wrote this letter to her friend Emilia Francis Pattison two months before she started writing her novel Middlemarch. In the letter, Eliot expresses her belief that relationships between ordinary individuals have an effect far beyond those immediately concerned: ‘It seems to me more than ever that in all our affectionate relations we have some of the moral treasure of the world under our charge’. This idea recurs throughout Middlemarch, most famously in its final line:
the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.
Emilia Francis Pattison
Emilia Francis Pattison (1840–1904; known as Francis and later, Lady Dilke), was a writer, critic and advocate of women’s rights. At the time of this letter, she was married to Mark Pattison, a priest and Rector of Lincoln College, Oxford. Francis was some 20 years younger than George Eliot, but the two had a close relationship and wrote to one another regularly.
Francis was also much younger than her scholar husband, and very religious. Their marriage was not a happy one, and when Middlemarch was first published, there was speculation that she was the model for Dorothea Brooke.