George Eliot's Grave, Highgate Cemetery, London

George Eliot's grave in the Eastern Cemetery of Highgate Cemetery, Swain's Lane, London N6. The first part of the inscription is from the second and third lines of her own poem, "The Choir Invisible" (1867) and reads: "Of those immortal dead who live again / In minds made better by their presence" (Eliot, 441-42). George Eliot died rather unexpectedly on 22 December 1880 at her new home of 4, Cheyne Walk, Chelsea. She was 61, and her chronic ill health had been compounded by a chill caught at a concert. The announcement in the Times reported her death as that of a "woman of rare and noble endowments, a great figure in our literature" (6). On the day of the funeral, 29 December 1880, it took one and a half hours for the procession to reach the cemetery. Her husband John Cross and other family members, including her brother Isaac, were in the first carriage, her close friends Herbert Spencer and Robert Browning among those in the third carriage; and in the other carriages (eight altogether) were, for example, the publishers Charles Kegan Paul and William Blackwood. Oscar Browning, the Eton master and historian, was there too, and he later wrote a biography of Eliot in which he left this account of his arrival at Cheyne Walk and the events that followed:

I was one of the mourners at her funeral on December 29th. As I entered the lower room in Cheyne Walk, her portrait, by Sir Frederick Burton, faced me, and brought back with startling vividness the charm of her living presence. The day was cold and stormy, filled with violent gusts of wind and rain. During the long drive to Highgate Cemetery, Mr. William Blackwood, who was with me, told me the story of her works. Despite the miserable weather, the churchyard was crowded with men and women, an orderly and respectful throng, deeply stirred with sympathy. Among the mourners, the most noticeable form was that of Isaac Evans, tall and slightly bent, his features recalling with a striking veracity the lineaments of the dead. The service in the crowded chapel was impressive, and nowhere more so than when the preacher quoted the words of her well-known hymn, which reminded us that her spirit had joined the choir invisible, "whose music is the gladness of the world." (138-39)

The service was held by a Unitarian minister in the Dissenters' chapel at the cemetery. Other mourners included the sculptor Thomas Woolner and the publisher George Smith. Invited too were the artists Val Prinsep, John Millais and George du Maurier; the scientist T. H. Huxley; the pundit and poet (and friend of Woolner) Francis Palgrave; the editor and statesman John Morley; other men of letters like Lytton Strachey and Sir Leslie Stephen; and many more. Despite the awful weather, a huge number of people attended, "including an unusual proportion of ladies" ("Funeral of George Eliot"). She was buried next to G. H. Lewes.

Photograph on left, text and formatting by Jacqueline Banerjee. Photograph on right by Robert Freidus. [You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL. Click on the images for larger pictures.]

Sources

Browning, Ocar. Life of George Eliot. London: Walter Scott, Ltd., 1892. Internet Archive. 30 July 2013.

Eliot, George. Poems of George Eliot. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, nd. 441-42. Internet Archive. 30 July 2013.

"Funeral of George Eliot." Times. 30 Dec. 1880: 6. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 30 July 2013.

"A woman of rare and noble endowments." Times. 24 Dec. 1880: 7. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 30 July 2013.


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Last modified 15 February 2014