This encouragement to err on the side of tenderness is typical of George Eliot, who quietly, gently pleads for greater kindness and humanity in our dealings with one another. See other pleas for pity, compassion and tolerance, by Theodore Dreiser and John Keats.
George Eliot’s comes from a favourite novel, Adam Bede. Published in 1859 it evokes a period some 60 years earlier, being set around the start of the 19th century: an apparently timeless, still mainly agrarian society, but on the cusp of the Industrial Revolution.
The strength of Adam Bede lies in its characterization including the eponymous cabinet maker and the dizzyingly pretty, dizzyingly superficial Hetty whose lack of deep feeling and moral compass brings her to a tragic pass.
‘It is never our tenderness that we repent of, but our severity.’
Source: George Eliot, Adam Bede (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985 (1859)), p. 97
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