The examples Marcia gives vary quite a bit, & on first blush only the
last one seems to me to be a real parallel to Eliot's usage. In most of
them "a little life" refers to the the whole lifespan of the person,
rather than the little life _in_ him or her at a given time. I'm crowded
today and can't give it much thought.
Marcia Karp wrote:
> I must leave the house, but shall now post some other uses of "little
> life." More later ... Marcia
> 1596 Shakes. 1 Hen. IV, v. iv. 102 What? Old Acquaintance? Could not all
> this flesh Keepe in a little life?
> 1600 — A.Y.L. iii. v. 43 'Ods my little life, I thinke she meanes to
> tangle my eies too.
> 1610 Shakes. Temp. iv. i. 158 We are such stuffe As dreames are made on;
> and our little life Is rounded with a sleepe.
> 1627 Hakewill Apol. iii. ix. (1630) 261 That little life of it
> [Rhetoric] which remained being reserved only in the predicancie of
> 1669 H. More Exp. 7 Epist. ix. 142 The same formal profession will this
> Church of Laodicea hold on spiritlessly and lazily, with little life or
> 1742 Young Nt. Th. viii. 455 All the distinctions of this little life
> Are quite cutaneous, foreign to the man.
> 1784 Jerningham Matilda in Evans Old Ball. II. xlii. 252 Yes, Yes! his
> little life is fled, His heaveless breast is cold.
> 1858 Hawthorne Fr. & It. Jrnls. II. 220 The languor of Rome,–its weary
> pavements, its little life.
> 1865 Dickens Mut. Fr. i. xiv, Very little life was to be seen on either
> 1868 Mrs. Whitney P. Strong vii, ‘One less little life in the world’,
> said I, hypersentimentally.
> 1888 Mrs. H. Ward R. Elsmere xxi, One of them<dd>was sitting up<dd>and
> coughing its little life away.
> 1912 W. Deeping Sincerity vii. 56 A good lady whose troubles had been so
> many pinfalls in the closeted selfishness of her little life.
> 1914 W. De Morgan When Ghost meets Ghost ii. vi. 504 She brought a
> couple of young loglets to keep a little life in the fire.