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George Henry Lewes

Updated on February 26, 2012


George Henry Lewes was an English writer, positivist philosopher, and intimate friend of George Eliot. He was born in London on April 18, 1817. He was in turn clerk, medical student, and student of philosophy in Germany.

He returned to England in 1840 to devote himself to writing literary and dramatic criticism.

Lewes' first impOItant work was his Biographical History of Philosophy (1846), showing connections between the personal lives and the thought of the great philosophers. It presented the positivism of Auguste Comte as the greatest achievement of philosophy and led to his publication in 1853 of a digest of Comte's Philosophy of the Sciences. Lewes published his Life of Robespierre in 1849, and his Life of Goethe (1855) won him a European reputation. Meanwhile he served as literary editor of the Leader.

From 1854 he was largely engaged in physiological studies with special reference to philosophical problems. He wrote Seaside Studies (1858), Physiology of Common Life (1860) , Studies in Animal Life (1862) , and Aristotle, A Chapter from the History of Science (1864). His chief work, aiming at systematizing his philosophy, is Problems of Life and Mind (1873-1879).

Lewes wrote two novels and, under the pseudonym Slingsby Laurance, various stage plays. He also wrote books dealing with acting, the Spanish drama, and psychology. In 1840, Lewes married Agnes Jarvis. They joined a communal marriage with three other couples, including Thornton Leigh Hunt, cofound er with Lewes of the Leader. Hunt had two children by Agnes, and Lewes left her. From 1854 he lived with Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot). As agent, critic, and mentor, Lewes is credited with making it possible for her to write masterpieces. His best works were also written during their association.

Lewes died in London on November 30, 1878.


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