British literary critic and author George Henry Lewes was born on April 18, 1817 in London, England. He became part of the mid-Victorian ferment of ideas which encouraged discussion of Darwinism, positivism, and religious skepticism. However, he is perhaps best known today for having openly lived with author George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans), his soul-mate whose life and writings were enriched by their friendship, although they were never married. Lewes was an illegitimate son of a minor poet, John Lee Lewes, and Elizabeth Ashweek and grandson of comic actor Charles Lee Lewes. His mother married a retired sea captain when he was six and frequent changes of home meant he was educated in different places. Having abandoned successively a commercial and a medical career, he seriously thought of becoming an actor and appeared several times on stage between 1841 and 1850. Finally he devoted himself to literature, science and philosophy. He was friends with Leigh Hunt, and through him, entered London literary society and met John Stuart Mill, Thomas Carlyle, and Charles Dickens. In 1841 he married Agnes Jervis, daughter of Swynfen Stevens Jervis. Lewes met writer Mary Anne Evans, later to be famous as author George Eliot, in 1851, and by 1854 they had decided to live together. Lewes and Agnes Jervis had agreed to have an open marriage, and in addition to the three children they had together, Agnes had several children by other men.
Lewes supported himself by contributing reviews and articles to numerous magazines discussing a wide range of subjects, often imperfect but revealing acute critical judgment enlightened by philosophic study. In 1845–46, Lewes published The Biographical History of Philosophy, an attempt to depict the life of philosophers as an ever-renewed fruitless labor to attain the unattainable. In 1847–48, he published two novels Ranthrope, and Rose, Blanche and Violet. In 1850 he collaborated with Thornton Leigh Hunt in the foundation of the Leader, of which he was the literary editor. In 1853 he republished under the title of Comte's Philosophy of the Sciences a series of papers which had appeared in that journal. The culmination of Lewes's work in prose literature is the Life of Goethe (1855), probably the best known of his writings. Lewes’ versatility, and his combination of scientific with literary tastes, eminently fitted him to appreciate the wide-ranging activity of the German poet. Lewes died on November 30, 1878 in London, England and was buried at Highgate Cemetery (East) in London.
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