George Eliot, Silas Marner: Vol. 1, Ch. 1

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It was partly to this vague fear that Marner was indebted for protecting him from the persecution that his singularities might have drawn upon him, but still more to the fact that, the old linen-weaver in the neighbouring parish of Tarley being dead, his handicraft made him a highly welcome settler to the richer housewives of the district, and even to the more providentw cottagers, who had their little stock of yarn at the year's end. Their sense of his usefulness would have counteracted any repugnance or suspicion which was not confirmed by a deficiency in the quality or the tale of the cloth he wove for them. And the years had rolled on without producing any change in the impressions of the neighbours concerning Marner, except the change from novelty to habit. At the end of fifteen years the Raveloe men said just the same things about Silas Marner as at the beginning: they did not say them quite so often, but they believed them much more strongly when they did say them. There was only one important addition which the years had brought: it was, that Master Marner had laid by a fine sight of money somewhere, and that he could buy up "bigger men" than himself.

But while opinion concerning him had remained nearly stationary, and his daily habits had presented scarcely any visible change, Marner's inward life had been a history and a metamorphosis, as that of every fervid nature must be when it has fled, or been condemned, to solitude.d His life, before he came to Raveloe, had been filled with the movement, the mental activity, and the close fellowship, which, in that day as in this, marked the life of an artisanh early incorporated in a narrow religious sect, where the poorest layman has the chance of distinguishing himself by gifts of speech, and has, at the very least, the weight of a silent voter in the government of his community. Marner was highly thought of in that little hidden world, known to itself as the church assembling in Lantern Yard;h he was believed to be a young man of exemplary life and ardent faith; and a peculiar interest had been centred in him ever since he had fallen, at a prayer-meeting, into a mysterious rigidity and suspension of consciousness, which, lasting for an hour or more, had been mistaken for death. To have sought a medical explanation for this phenomenon would have been held by Silas himself, as well as by his minister and fellow-members, a wilful self-exclusion from the spiritual significance that might lie therein.d Silas was evidently a brother selected for a peculiar discipline; and though the effort to interpret this discipline was discouraged by the absence, on his part, of any spiritual vision during his outward trance, yet it was believed by himself and others that its effect was seen in an accession of light and fervour. A less truthful man than he might have been tempted into the subsequent creation of a vision in the form of resurgent memory;w a less sane man might have believed in such a creation; but Silas was both sane and honest, though, as with many honest and fervent men, culture had not defined any channels for his sense of mystery, and so it spread itself over the proper pathway of inquiry and knowledge.d He had inherited from his mother some acquaintance with medicinal herbs and their preparation—a little store of wisdom which she had imparted to him as a solemn bequest—but of late years he had had doubts about the lawfulness of applying this knowledge, believing that herbs could have no efficacy without prayer, and that prayer might suffice without herbs; so that the inherited delight he had in wandering in the fields in search of foxglove and dandelion and coltsfoot,h began to wear to him the character of a temptation.

Among the members of his church there was one young man, a little older than himself, with whom he had long lived in such close friendship that it was the custom of their Lantern Yard brethren to call them David and Jonathan.d The real name of the friend was William Dane, and he, too, was regarded as a shining instance of youthful piety, though somewhat given to over-severity towards weaker brethren, and to be so dazzled by his own light as to hold himself wiser than his teachers. But whatever blemishes others might discern in William, to his friend's mind he was faultless; for Marner had one of those impressible self-doubting natures which, at an inexperienced age, admire imperativenessw and lean on contradiction. The expression of trusting simplicity in Marner's face, heightened by that absence of special observation, that defenceless, deer-like gaze which belongs to large prominent eyes, was strongly contrasted by the self-complacent suppression of inward triumph that lurked in the narrow slanting eyes and compressed lips of William Dane. One of the most frequent topics of conversation between the two friends was Assurance of salvation: Silas confessed that he could never arrive at anything higher than hope mingled with fear, and listened with longing wonder when William declared that he had possessed unshaken assurance ever since, in the period of his conversion, he had dreamed that he saw the words "calling and election sure"d standing by themselves on a white page in the open Bible. Such colloquies have occupied many a pair of pale-faced weavers, whose unnurtured souls have been like young winged things, fluttering forsaken in the twilight.

X [w] provident

With a foresight that factors in Providence's surprises, often "mishaps,"which one must be prepared for. "Hap" comes from Middle English and means luck or good fortune. 

 

X [d] had been a history and a metamorphosis, as th…

Mind

The villagers know nothing of his history and the "metamorphosis" that occasioned his flight and misanthropic retreat. Eliot suggests that extreme idiosyncrasy such as Marner's originates in a sensitive mind that a trauma has damaged. 

X [h] an artisan

Often an independent worker in a trade that requires an apprenticeship to learn special skills, such as those a blacksmith, wheelwright, or shoemaker requires.

X [h] Lantern Yard;

Places

There are brickyards, graveyards, vineyards, orch(y)ards, shipyards, railyards, etc. Lantern Yard appears to have been a small working-class and artisan district in a Midlands town such as Eliot's birthplace, Coventry.  A “yard” is "An enclosure set apart for the growing, rearing, breeding, or storing of something or the carrying on of some work or business" (…

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X [d] To have sought a medical explanation for this…

Body

From Medieval Catholicism on, certain abnormal physical or mental conditions, including madness and idiocy, were supposed to show the touch of God, as in, "he is touched," meaning insane. Silas speaks of his malady as a "visitation," of the sort Joan of Arc had. Some evangelical sects interpreted the malady as having "spiritual significance." 

The sect is an airless chamber that excludes all intellectual and scientific ideas. 

X [w] in the form of resurgent memory;

Mind

Silas might have claimed to have had a divine vision in the past, which now resurfaced as a memory.

X [d] culture had not defined any channels for his …

Religion

Eliot's tactful language harbors a devastating critique. Isolated from modern culture and its conventions regarding the acquisition and testing of knowledge, Silas's myopia is compounded by something like intellectual cataracts that have "spread itself over the proper pathway of inquiry and knowledge." The pathway would be empirical, inductive, and logical. …

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X [h] foxglove and dandelion and coltsfoot,

Body

Foxglove is the source of digitalis, which treats heart maladies such as arrhythmia and atrial fibrillation.  

Dandelion is used for loss of appetite, upset stomach, intestinal gas, gallstones, joint pain, muscle aches, eczema, and bruises. Dandelion is also used to increase urine production and as a laxative and has been used as a digestive.

Coltsfoot, which belongs to the daisy family, treated respiratory ailments, gout, rheumatism, and fevers.

X [d] David and Jonathan.

Religion

1 Samuel 18: "As soon as he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. And Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father's house. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul.…

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X [w] imperativeness

Imperious; given to command; authoritative. 

 

X [d] "calling and election sure"

Religion

Dane claims that his dream's words prove he is among the Elect, dreams being for Lantern Yard a form of divine visitation. Freud will later describe some dreams as "wish-fulfillment." Given Dane's subsequent lies, we've reason to believe that he fabricated his dream. The doctrine of Election originates with Calvinism and maintains that there are those rare few who have been chosen (predestined) by God to ascend to heaven, regardless of their behavior on earth.